Addio Estate – Harvest Time

It’s that time of year again, the beginning of autumn when the bounty of summer comes in. And like so many of us who grow our own food, I’m feeling a bit inundated at the moment!

So far, I swapped some of my egg glut for a bag of crabapples and elderberries for jelly making; pickled and dried nectarines off our tree; dug and bagged potatoes (and I’ve still got more in the ground); eaten and dried so many beans; vainly tried to stem the attack of the killer zucchinis; dried enough prunes for the coming year but still the kitchen looks like it’s overflowing with plums now I’ve finally got the last of the fruit off.

Then there’s the tomatoes.

Some of you might recall I talked about some volunteer Roma tomatoes that survived winter in the worm farm and germinated in November. Well, quite a lot of them came up in one of the wicking barrels! I thinned the plants out and over the last month picked about 4 kg (just shy of 9 lb!) of perfectly delicious tomatoes.

Summer has been a very mixed bag here in Tasmania with much cooler temperatures and more rain than usual, and it seems we’re getting more balmy weather now that we’re officially into autumn. Everyone’s been complaining that tomatoes are slow to fruit, smaller than average and so on, but I think the flavour has been outstanding!

I don’t normally grow a lot of tomatoes but I decided to go for it this summer so I could bottle fruit as it ripens for use in winter stews and curries. This is reflected in the varieties I chose – Principe Borghese, San Marzano, Polish Giant and Debarao. These are all in various stages (the Debarao are still flowering) but I did bottle the first kilo of San Marzano this week and they are fabulous!

I didn’t factor in for the Roma crop (it was quite a surprise!) and that’s come in earlier than the rest. So I decided to make that wonderful Italian pantry staple, Passata. It’s kind of like making your own pasta sauce, totally to your taste and giving your winter meals a touch of those sun-kissed summer days.

Three things to note before we start. Firstly, I don’t blanch and peel the fruit for this as it takes a lot of time and basically I’m lazy. (In truth, I’d just blanched a couple of jars of small San Marzano tomatoes for bottling and was running out of time that night). Instead, I put the whole thing through the blender and the skins break down beautifully doing it this way. Secondly, I used a combination of Basil, Marjoram and Oregano because that’s what I had close at hand and we love those flavours. Sage, Thyme, Italian Parsley and even a little Rosemary would be just as good. And finally, this recipe uses chilies – another fruit I have in abundance here! – but it’s just as delicious without them, so don’t feel compelled to use them 😀

Deb’s Chili Passata

2 kg ripe Roma (or any plum-type) tomatoes             1 onion, chopped

1 head garlic, peeled                                                         6-12 chilies, chopped (optional)

2 tabs basil oil                                                                   ½ cup fresh basil

¼ cup oregano &/or marjoram                                     1 tab honey

¼ cup minimum Marsala or red wine                           salt to taste

Wash the tomatoes, remove any stems, bruises, etc. Put them in a large stockpot with the oil, garlic cloves, honey, onion, wine and chopped chilies. Heat slowly over a low heat until the tomatoes start to sweat and mash down. Stir occasionally but leave the lid on as much as possible.

Add the fresh herbs and continue cooking until it starts to look like a tomato soup. Season it to taste. Take off the heat, cover and leave overnight.

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The next day, put the cold tomato mix through a blender and pulse to the desired consistency. Clean and sterilise jars/bottles and lids/tops. Put the blended mixture back into the stockpot and reheat. Boil gently for at least two minutes. Take off the heat and prepare a tall stockpot for a water bath (or Fowlers Vacola or Ball canning/bottling vat).

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Ladle the hot Passata into sterilised jars, add ¼ or ½ tsp of citric acid to each jar, cover securely with sterilised lids and place in water bath. Bring the water up to the boil and hold for 20 minutes with the lid on. Turn off the heat and leave the jars to continue processing for another 15 -20 minutes.

Remove the jars carefully (they will be very hot) and put them on a board to cool. Check for a seal, label and store in a cool place. This will last unopened for up to a year but mine never lasts that long!

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This recipe made just over 2 liters and can be bottled in smaller jars as well – I just have lots of swing top bottles this year!

Enjoy, and if you try this recipe I’d love to hear what you think of it 😀

Take care and talk with you all soon, I have to go make Plum Butter now………..

Oh Beautiful Friday!

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My life is a little bit insane at the moment, hence the lack of blogging (sorry!)

I’m as always, up to my eyeballs with uni (getting a portfolio of poetry together this time) and work has started again at Oak Tasmania. This year, I’m doing my musical things with The Superstars and we have some big plans for 2017 but I’ve also started tutoring a Food Gardening group two mornings a week. It’s been hectic!

In the space of a couple of weeks, we’ve started doing experiments with growing carrots in pots rather than in traditional garden beds, resurrected the worm farm, started a vegetable and herbs seed bank, done quite a lot of weeding, cleaned out the small greenhouse that’s on site, potted up some basil and eggplants and planted some lettuce seedlings that are already up and running 🙂

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Future salad!

Eventually, we want to grow enough to pass on to the kitchen and provide the cooking courses with fresh, clean produce to turn into salads, soups and encourage better eating among the Oak staff and participants. I’m also hoping some of the seedlings will go home with the gardeners, most of whom are very keen!

This week we spotted a very old dinghy around the back of the site and we’ve decided to appropriate it. Our plan is to bed it in securely, fill it with sheep poo and some good loam and plant it out. The drainage is good – she came with lots of holes! – and we’re thinking about an experiment with some seed potatoes we discovered to begin with. Although they’re very late, in a raised bed we should get a crop and I think we should dress it up and name the old girl something like “The Good Ship Spudalicious”. (Photos are coming!)

Meanwhile, at home it’s a bit overwhelming with nectarines just finished and plums coming in and I’ll be getting the dehydrator out this weekend to turn most of the plums into prunes for the winter months. And I did get my one apricot off the new tree! A few months ago I cheered that there was one solitary fruit and it ended up perfect and utterly delicious ❤

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The maincrop bush tomatoes (San Marzano and Principe Borghese) are just starting to size up and ripen but the Debarao are still flowering and a little behind the Polish Giant Paste that are very green but already very big! Undoubtedly, the best cropper so far has been the bush Roma’s that were an unexpected bonus. I’ve been picking them just as they’ve started to colour and I’ve got a couple of kilos off them already that I plan to bottle in the next few weeks. Everyone’s tomatoes in southern Tasmania seem a little late this summer, but while the rest of the country’s been in a devastating heat wave, Tasmania has been relatively mild and surprisingly damp this year.

Principe Borghese Tomatoes

Principe Borghese Tomatoes

Last week I picked enough perfect grape vine leaves to put in brine for making Dolmades (stuffed vine leaves)

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At least I got the year right even though it’s February now!

and this week I put up two bottles of Pickled Nectarines. This is really simple and relatively quick. All I do is put halved and pitted nectarines into sterilised jars with a cinnamon quill, a star anise and piece of dried Habanero chili in each (totally optional!) and covered them with a heavily sweetened apple cider vinegar (the ratio is 1:1) while it’s still hot. Covered with sterilised lids and put the jars through a water bath for 15 minutes, these nectarines are wonderful with ice cream as a dessert or sliced with game meats. Just leave them for a few weeks for the flavours to develop.

And Wednesday, I had a great time playing a gig at Irish Murphy’s in Salamanca. Because of everything that’s going on in my life at the moment, I haven’t been playing as many solo shows and it was so good to play some songs and catch up with lots of friends 😀

Because I’m working more, I decided to make a mega Zucchini and Ham Slice to freeze and take for lunches – it’s a great way to use up some of the zucchini and egg glut! I used 8 eggs, three grated zucchini, a 1/4 cup of flour, a few left over boiled Nicola potatoes, some cubed ham (about 2 cups) a little fresh sage, thyme, marjoram, a couple of finely sliced Cayenne chilies and a grate of nutmeg. After I’d beaten all this together, I added about 1 1/2 cups of grated Colby cheese and about 1/2 cup of grated parmesan and baked it in a greased deep pan for about 45 mins in a moderate oven. I ended up with 7 generous serves that will make work lunches a lot easier!

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But now, it’s Friday night and I’m beat! All I’m good for is watching the cricket on television and drinking cups of tea. I keep looking across at the pile of clean washing and wish it would fold itself up……..

 

 

Catching Up With Life

It’s been a busy few weeks!

Summer holidays are only a memory now but it’s been great to be back at Oak, with the added bonus of a belated present from one of the Superstars. Kathryn, who is a very artistic young woman and becoming a capable songwriter, presented me with this gorgeous portrait she did when we had a morning tea break on Friday.

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Naturally, everyone knew all about it except me, and I confess I was incredibly thrilled and deeply touched by such an honour. Also, I’m involved in a very exciting new program at Oak – teaching folks how to build a food garden! There’ll be photos and posts in the ensuing weeks but I’ve got some very enthusiastic gardeners on my team and a lovely space to work in 😀

Meanwhile, it’s bedlam here at my place – the house has become a fully fledged work site, with scaffolding surrounding the building in readiness for a new roof and after that, the demolition of an old disused (and potentially dangerous) shed and eradication of many Tasmanian gardeners’ bane – English Ivy. I can’t even park in the driveway at present, let alone think about getting in a load of mushroom compost for the garden beds!

Fortunately, the bulk of the yard has been spared too much disruption, though the rabbits had to be moved away from the ivy infested shed. It’s the start of the annual food glut and I’ve been drying herbs to make my own Tuscan seasoning and I’m starting to be inundated with beans, chilies, basil, shiso, cucumbers, zucchinis and potatoes.

Tuscan Mix

Tuscan Mix

Today I picked more zucchini and discovered some of the “volunteer” Roma tomatoes from the worm farm already had ripe fruit. Because I’m the only one in the house who really likes zucchini, I’ve only got two plants this year, and I think it might be one plant too many! I didn’t pick for two days and discovered a yellow monster this morning! (Don’t be fooled, the tomatoes below are really very ripe but I think the yellow beast made most of them fade in the photo!)

 

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And today is Australia Day. Over the years, this has become a very fraught event for many indigenous people as it really only commemorates the arrival of the British and has been renamed by some people Invasion Day. There is a suggestion that the date be changed and I think it has merit. I think this is an ongoing conversation that we, as a country really need to have. There’s no doubt in my mind that we as a nation are losing much of what my parents and grandparents worked incredibly hard to attain. That is, an egalitarian society that welcomes new voices and a fair go for all.

As a white Australian (and therefore a descendant of immigrants), I don’t particularly like what the day has come to represent, with a lot of incredibly racist slurs aimed at marginalising recent immigrants and people of colour ranging around social media. And our politicians are certainly forgetting about the “fair go for all” aspect that I was brought up to cherish and respect, with increasingly draconian measures to further marginalise this country’s poorest people.

This saddens me so much. Having traveled a little, I know how wonderful this country can be and how grateful I am to live here. So, today I made it my business to think of the original inhabitants while working the soil, the dirt I am steward of. To contemplate the incredibly rich heritage our indigenous brothers and sisters have given us in sight of glorious kunanyi that calmly overlooks all of Hobart – and thank my lucky stars that my forebears (boat people) came to such a beautiful country.

Tread gently friends and have a wonderful day ❤

Some Like it Hot – Horseradish Sauce

Happy new year friends everywhere!

I’ve had a really lovely time, pottering in the garden, making things, seed saving and gearing up for a big harvest of potatoes, beans, chilies and tomatoes. Study has been high on my agenda too, and I submitted my first assignment for 2017 yesterday.

The broad bean crop from late spring was fabulous, and while I filched a few for some fresh bean side dishes, I decided to dry the majority for use in soups and stews over winter. It seems the rest of my household DO like these creamy, delicious and very healthy beans as long as they’re not boiled into oblivion – which still seems how most people serve them :-/

A couple of days ago I dug up the monster Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana, syn. Cochlearia armoracia), which was threatening to take over a significant section of the rhubarb bed! This member of the Brassica family is a wonderful herb and fresh Horseradish Sauce is so much nicer than the store-bought stuff. Having said that, it can be incredibly invasive and will grow from the tiniest piece of root.

The roots smell very mildly of mustard but don’t be fooled. As soon as they’re peeled and grated, ally isothiocyanate (mustard oil) is released, which can irritate mucous membranes in the nose and eyes. This makes me cry worse than peeling onions, so I suggest doing this in a well ventilated area and in small batches. Adding a little vinegar, lemon juice or ascorbic acid will immediately stop the production of mustard oil. I also like to add a little salt and sugar to enhance the flavour.

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I like to do the initial peeling in a sink full of cold water and put the white roots in a bowl. This ensures that the smell doesn’t get overpowering and that the roots are clean of every bit of dirt. By the way, I recommend only using the newer roots for this, the one in the picture above is ideal but any bigger can be woody. Old horseradish makes very bitter sauce when grated but they’re great for propagating more plants 😀

Horseradish Sauce (Makes 3 1/2-4 cups)

2 cups peeled fresh horseradish, grated (this can be done by hand or in a food processor)

1 1/2 teas salt

1 teas white sugar

1 1/2 cups vinegar (approximately)

a little cold water (optional)

Mix the salt and sugar carefully through the grated horseradish, being careful not to breathe too much of the pungent fumes (I put the extractor fan on when I make this!). Add the vinegar gradually and mix it very well. The vinegar counters the chemical reaction and production of mustard oil.

Naturally, I like it hot but some like it a little less intense so add a little cold water to cut back the heat.

Pot up into clean, small glass jars with screw top lids and refrigerate. This can be used immediately and will keep in the fridge for up to a year

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Also, I dug the Red Norland potatoes this morning. The tops had died back so they were ready to lift but the crop wasn’t huge. Mind you, they were planted a little later than I would’ve liked and there were only 12 seed potatoes. I haven’t weighed them but I imagine there’d be about 2 1/2-3 kg in the bucket.

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The Pentland Dell, Patrones and Carlingford plants are still green and strong, so I don’t think I’ll be harvesting them for at least another month.

A huge bonus for me was the soil improvement. I like to use potatoes to start new garden beds and this one was spectacular. Prior to the potatoes, I had the rabbit’s nursery hutch over this ground so it had some added preconditioning 😉

The soil was crumbly, dark and fluffy – very easy to get the potatoes out – and it was absolutely full of earthworms. A far cry from the hard, compacted dirt that used to be here!

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I’m planning to turn in the mulch, throw on some worm castings, sheep poo and mushroom compost and put more raspberries in this bed during winter.

Meanwhile, I have to think about what to have for dinner. Maybe a couple of Red Norland potatoes with garlic and horseradish butter and a piece of fish on a bed of silverbeet………

Take care friends and hope you’re all well and happy ❤

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Tis the Season

It’s Boxing Day here in Australia, which for me means the true start of summer holiday reading, grazing on leftovers, warm weather (usually) and the start of the Sydney/Hobart yacht race, which I usually don’t watch – living in Hobart I’m usually more interested in the finish!

But surpassing all these things, it’s the first day of the Melbourne Boxing Day test match. This year Australia are playing Pakistan and I’m enthralled already. Two of my friends are at the game and I think one year I’ll have to fork out the money and go myself, though I’m loath to give up my comfortable couch and grazing rights for a hard plastic seat and overpriced snacks!

The yard has been very productive too, there’s been loads of potatoes (and more to come) plus raspberries, strawberries, beans, the start of the cucumbers, the first of the basil and the mandatory salad greens that always grow in my garden. Interestingly, I’ve had some “volunteers” that have done very well the last few weeks.

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These Roma tomatoes came from seeds in the worm farm and ended up as fertiliser/soil conditioner when I was planting out the dwarf apples back in late winter. I’ve repotted a few that are flowering but it’s astonishing how well this batch has fared – and with no help at all from me!

The raspberries have been quite wonderful and there’s been a lot of luscious desserts this summer as well as just enjoying them fresh, straight off the bush ❤ We’re not a big jam-loving household but I think it’s worth experimenting and make a little sometimes just to add some variety. So, for something a little different (for me) I decided to make a few jars from the excess. Raspberries are a good source of pectin so jam making is pretty straightforward although there’s loads of warming the sugar before cooking tips and tricks. I’m too lazy for that! Here’s my basic recipe.

Lazy Woman’s Raspberry Jam (Makes about 3 x 300 ml jars)

500 g (1.1 lb) clean, whole raspberries

500 g (1.1 lb) white sugar

1 tab lemon juice

a small knob of butter

Pick over the berries and make sure they’re clean. I find this works best with a mix of very ripe and slightly under ripe fruit.  Put in a large, heavy based saucepan. Gently pour over the sugar and shake the pan to make sure the sugar covers and coats all the fruit. Cover and leave overnight.

The next day, wash glass jars and screw top lids (the “pop-top” kind) in warm, soapy water, rinse in hot clean water. Because we don’t eat a lot of jam, I tend to use small jars for this, nothing over 300 ml. Sterilise the jars in a cool oven and put the clean lids in a small saucepan of simmering water. This jam is fast to make, so I find it best to get the jars and lids done before I cook the jam.

Put the sugar and berries on a low heat and add a tablespoon of lemon juice. Shake the pan gently until the gorgeous raspberry juice starts to show through and increase the heat. Then stir occasionally to ensure the jam doesn’t stick. Bring it up to a simmer and continue to stir. Let it boil for a minute or two and toss in a small knob of butter. (This is a very old trick to eliminate the scum that sometimes forms on boiling jam – and it works with any and every jam!) Test for a set by putting a little on a saucer and letting it cool.

Once setting point is reached take the jam off the boil and put it on a heat-proof surface somewhere convenient and safe to pot up. Bring the sterilised lids in their saucepan to the same spot, a pair of tongs, oven-proof gloves or a tough tea towel handy to grab hot things and a heat proof board to put the filled jars!

With an oven mit or tea towel, get a hot, sterilised jar out of the oven. Carefully fill with the hot jam, which should pour quite easily. I use a small clean china cup for this, but be careful – jam scalds are not fun! Grab a lid with the tongs, shaking excess water off and very carefully screw it on the jar. Put on a heat-proof board or similar to cool slowly. Continue until all the jam is done.

As the jars cool on the board, press the center of the lid to ensure a seal. If the center won’t stay down (which happens occasionally) put this jar aside and use it first. Clean the outside of the jars with a clean damp cloth and label them clearly with name and date. This will store unopened in a cupboard for a couple of years but in my experience it usually gets eaten within a few months. Raspberry Jam will darken as it ages too, taking on a deep ruby hue.

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In the meantime, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish everyone the compliments of the season. It’s been quite the “annus horribilus” for me and many others but as with all things in life, it’s really what you make it and there’s been some truly wondrous things among  the moments of sadness. Thank you to so many for offering comments and kindness throughout this year, it’s very much appreciated.

Personally, I’m not a religious person but I respect the power of positive thought flowing through to positive deeds. So whatever you believe, be kind to each other. That way we can’t go wrong 😀 ❤

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kunanyi/Mt Wellington, Hobart 25th December 2016

And So It Goes – Day 30 NaBloPoMo 2016

Today is the last day of the blog challenge for 2016. I think this is the third year I’ve been involved with NaBloPoMo and this one’s probably been the easiest in many ways.

Life has been no less busy, in truth I’ve probably been more stressed than I have in years but after three years of NaBloPoMo and three years of constant writing for university under my belt, I tend to make time in my day to make these blog posts happen.

I’ve got back into the habit of writing!

And perhaps more to the point, I’ve got into the habit of seeing and doing things that I want to write about and share here. Today was a very good case in point – as soon as I saw this in the yard I wanted to write about it!

I had to say goodbye to my apricot tree a while back (my favourite fruit). Sadly, it had brown rot and I really couldn’t save it. In anticipation, I planted another two years ago. It’s doing really well and I decided to let it bear a couple of fruit this year so I could at least have a taste of apricot goodness. Unfortunately, we had some high winds and I found the few fruit I’d let stay had fallen 😦

And then, this morning while I was weeding around the tree, I found this!!!!

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It is quite big and won’t be ripe for at least another month, possibly six weeks, it might not even make it – who can tell? But it’s the only one on this little tree and I’m unbelievably thrilled.

Meanwhile, the rabbits and chickens are incredibly indignant. We’ve had workmen in to remove English Ivy from the backyard. The rabbits were upset that we had to move their hutches near the chickens and the chickens were indignant that the rabbits were there at all. And then there’s been all the noise and power tools upsetting everyone’s calm – it’s been bedlam! Hopefully, it will all be finished tomorrow and we can get back to the usual run-of-the-mill bedlam that passes for normality in my place 😀

I might take a break from blogging for a few days – I have baking to do tomorrow and my birthday to celebrate on Friday – but there’s things afoot that I’ll want to write about coming up.

So thank you for reading, and take care dear friends wherever you may be on this beautiful little planet. I’ll see you soon ❤

The Sweet Spice of Variety – Day 24 NaBloPoMo 2016

It’s been a hectic day, and it’s not going to ease up – so here’s a quick post for today.

After yesterday’s rain and being stuck indoors with books (bliss!) today couldn’t have been more different.

I spent a busy morning with the animals and trying to get my brushcutter working. I only use the thing a couple of times a year but it’s handy when the grass starts to get long, which is certainly the case at the moment. All the rain and then the sudden burst of warm weather meant the weeds have boomed this week and really need attending to.

Because I use it so infrequently, the brushcutter’s not running properly. So it’ll have to be serviced before I can really make an impact on the jungle!

Meanwhile, I had a delivery of sheep manure this morning. This is my preferred means of feeding garden beds and I’m pretty happy to have got 11 bags delivered to my gate by a really nice young guy who’s trying to make a living out of garden supplies. This much should last me almost two years, though a good deal of it will go around fruit trees, asparagus and the ever-hungry rhubarb bed!

Then I had to quickly get changed and pop down to a nearby coffee shop to meet my friend Jenna Cesar. She’s a fellow blogger and another online writing student who lives in Hobart. We had a lovely chat, and she interviewed me about the work I’ve been doing at Oak Tasmania with Callum and The Superstars. Jenna’s writing her piece for uni but will be publishing it on her blog in weeks to come and I’ll put a link up here when that happens.

After a quick lunch it was back to the yard to carefully move all the bags of manure into a pyramid (more like a ziggurat!) so it’s easy for me to access with my problematic spine!

My dear friend and former neighbour called around this afternoon too. I miss her very much – and so does the lovely Oscar. Karen rescued him a couple of years ago and when she and her daughter moved, there was only room at their new home for one bunny. So Snowflake (her daughter’s rabbit) went with them and Oscar stayed here with us, which is really lovely as he’s a beautiful little fellow. He was so excited to see Karen today he really wouldn’t sit still – it was just gorgeous.

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He’s a dwarf lop and such a character! We couldn’t get him to keep still for a photo until we got Bernard out to say hello! This is the first time they’ve come this close to each other as their hutches are quite apart.

There was some growling – but to be expected with buck rabbits! Also, we realised that Bernard Black at 10 weeks old is already larger than Oscar. Not difficult really – but how big is he going to grow?

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But once Oscar was removed from the scene, my little camera hog was his usual chilled and affectionate self ❤

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For something different, tonight I’m going to gather photos together and put up some ads on Facebook for plants that are extra to my family’s needs. I realised that I really do have too many tomatoes and basil plants!

And tomorrow I’m at Oak with The Superstars ❤

Life is good here – hope it is with you too 😀

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