Surviving the Storm – A Sunday Night Recap

Well, it’s been quite a week! I’m not sure where it disappeared to, but I’m rugged up on the couch and it’s Sunday night here in Hobart.

At the moment, Tasmania is in the path of a series of westerly fronts, bringing much needed rain but some very damaging winds. There was some respite yesterday so I took the opportunity to spend some time in the garden, rearranging mulch, repairing torn bird netting and salvaging what I could of the broccoli crop.

And of course, I got to spend some quality time with the chickens and the now month old rabbits ❤

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Earlier this week I processed the rest of the chestnut crop, which was pretty poor this year due to very little rain in summer and no water to spare for the trees. But I find them so delicious and useful that every little piece has become precious to me and my family. I’d never really paid much attention to chestnuts until I moved here, with a mature tree in the backyard that provides several kilos of nuts every autumn with minimal care.

For any of you interested in how I process them, I did a post here a couple of years ago.

On Friday, I got a parcel in the post from a woman I met through Facebook, who lives in northern Tasmania. In it was a self addressed post bag for some chilli seeds – and two beautiful, handmade beanies.

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The photo doesn’t really do them justice, they are really a very dark black and a luscious purple – my favourite colour 🙂  Fran is also a blogger and you can find her here. I finished packaging her seeds during the week, I’ve been drying them slowly on paper.

IMG_20160513_210229Like most repetitive tasks, I think there’s something incredible meditative about sorting seeds. For me it’s akin to weeding or planting but a little more demanding, particularly when you’re trying to keep track of numbers and sort out obvious broken or dud seeds – much easier with peas and beans!

Nevertheless, it’s one of those jobs that I really enjoy doing on a cold night with some good music or a favourite movie on.

One thing I should’ve done though is wear gloves. Despite using broad head tweezers, I still got enough capanoids on my fingers to sting!

Once sorted, I put the seeds into paper packets I make from old (preferably heavy weight) paper. The recent batch for all my seeds this autumn came from some old (and quite dreadful) music books I found in the local tip shop. Although I revere books, I’ve recycled these so that no innocent child is ever forced to play those songs again – they are truly dreadful!

 

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I think the finished product looks rather nice and I hope Fran and her family enjoy the produce. One day we’ll meet in person I’m sure 🙂

The rain and wind came back with a vengeance today, so I took the opportunity to catch up with my current studies at Griffith University. I’m doing an online degree and this unit is Television Studies. My head is still full of textual analysis and particularly David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. For something most of us take for granted, television is really quite a complex and surprisingly demanding area of study – and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning some of the history and depth of the medium. This week I have to finish drafting my major essay on the enduring appeal of Doctor Who which has meant I’ve had to watch quite a lot of it (mostly David Tennant) in recent weeks.

Seriously, I love my life 😀

Stay well and be happy wherever you are ❤

Chinese New Year – Spicy Plum Sauce

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, it’s been quite chaotic! As we glide into the back end of summer here in Tasmania, I’ve been busy planning beds for winter vegetables, planting for autumn harvest, cropping the summer bounty, making feta cheese, dispatching the most recent rabbits (filling the freezer again!) and making sure our second doe (the beautiful Bella) is pregnant with another litter for autumn eating. My cupboards are full of cordials, flavoured oils, vinegars, dried fruit, and even home made Furikake, thanks to a brilliant crop of green shiso in the greenhouse this year. (Leave a comment if any of you are interested in a recipe for this).

Since the corner of shame has been revived, ready for a beehive later this year, the plum tree has loved all the extra attention and yielded a decent crop. As I write there’s three huge trays of plums in the dehydrator becoming prunes for use over winter and a couple more big bowls to do things with. Chinese New Year is coming up on Monday so I’ve decided to make Spicy Plum Sauce with 2 kilos of fruit.

I only make this every couple of years as my household aren’t big sauce or chutney fans but it’s a wonderful addition to stir fries, a marinade for barbecue chicken or rabbit and is fabulous as a dipping sauce with spring rolls, dumplings or just about anything! Also, we are all chilli lovers, so if you’re not as keen on the hot notes, adjust the number of chillies, remove the seeds, try a milder variety or even omit them altogether. Some of my treasured Habanero chillies got sunburn in the greenhouse while still green a couple of days ago, and this seemed an ideal use for them. I personally feel it’s important to make any recipe your own, rather than following someone else’s to to absolute letter. So this is my take on Spicy Plum Sauce this year – go and make it yours 🙂

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Spicy Plum Sauce

Ingredients:

2kg plums     1/2 cup soy sauce      1/2 cup Chinese cooking sherry   2 cups cider vinegar or white wine    1/2 cup brown sugar    1 red onion, finely diced    1 tab grated ginger      3-4 cloves garlic      6 habanero chillies, finely chopped

In a small square of muslin:  1 cinnamon quill    1 star anise     2-3 allspice berries   1 tsp cardamon pods   1 tsp coriander seed

Method:

Tie the spices in the muslin and hang off the handle of a stockpot. Halve and pit the plums, add them to the stockpot with the sherry, onion, ginger, garlic and vinegar or white wine. (If you like the sauce sharp, use vinegar).

Simmer it all together, stirring occasionally. Once the plums are starting to soften add the chopped chillies. Cook until the plums are falling apart. Allow to cool (I left mine overnight) and remove the muslin bag. If you like your sauce smooth, pour into a blender jar and blend thoroughly. If you like your sauce chunkier, use a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon.

Reheat and pot up into sterilised glass bottles (or jars if it’s chunky) and process in a water bath for extended shelf life.

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Meanwhile, have a wonderful Chinese New Year wherever you are 😀

Chilli Mania

I was chatting online this morning with some like minded souls, who are also in the midst of summer gardening. The subject of growing chilies in Tasmania came up and it made me realise what an addict I am. Where most of the people on the forum had a few chilies for various purposes, there was one fellow who had multiple plants – and me. I counted this morning when I watered the greenhouse. I have 15 different varieties this year, and most them multiple plants.

One part of the Chilli Collection

One part of the Chilli Collection

Chilies are so much more than just mouth burning, demonic plants for the insanely masochistic. There are many different notes that accompany the heat and will compliment different dishes in multiple ways. And there are many, many different varieties and levels of heat. I think it’s more a question of finding the flavours that suit you.

For my spice-loving household, I have everything from a ridiculously hot Rocoto or Tree Chili (C. pubesens aka. Manzano for the apple-shaped fruit) to a very mild, sweet form that is incredibly prolific and provides a lovely tangy note in salads.

Manzano or Rocoto Chilli

Manzano or Rocoto Chilli

At the moment, I’ve got Rocoto’s starting to size up while the plant is still producing beautiful purple flowers. This chilli really packed a punch in it’s first year. All the reading I’d done suggested it was a mid-heat fruit and being so thick and fleshy, I thought it’d be a good candidate for stuffing with cottage cheese and baking.

Well, I made it through half of mine before I couldn’t feel my tongue or lips anymore. It was more like a very nasty Habenero in terms of heat and had similar fruity overtones. Rocotos are still treasured but respectfully dried for winter curries now!

I’ve found over the years, the heat scale can be quite variable. It seems to depend so much on the growing season, which is relatively short here in Tasmania, how much water and sunlight the developing fruit gets and what the plant is fed. I grow all my chillies in the greenhouse at present and combined with the mega crop of basil I’ve got this summer, it’s getting pretty crowded in there! But the key feature seems to be speed. I’ve noticed over the years that really hot chillies are the ones that take longer to ripen, such as the Rocotos and Habeneros.

Whether I’m growing from seed or potting up purchased plants, I usually put some used coffee grounds and a little dolomite in my potting mix for chillies and enrich it with mushroom compost or worm castings. Like any greenhouse plant, the potting mix needs to be just right not too heavy – but not too sandy or pots will dry out quickly on even a relatively mild day. If planting out in garden beds, mulch is essential to keep the roots moist and keep them well watered.

I’m loathe to admit it, but I’ve been a bit slack this year – I still have four punnets to be pricked out into grow

The Punnets of Shame

The Punnets of Shame

tubes and two trays of grow tubes that have to put in pots!

Included in these are Poblano Ancho and Serrano chillies to go into pots and Red Habeneros, a stunning Royal Black and the last of my first (and favourite) Habenero that are finally big enough to go into grow tubes. (If you’re interested in making/recycling your own grow tubes, there’s a post about it here).

Some years ago on a whim, I bought a Habenero, who we named “Fabio” because he was the most beautiful chilli in the world. He survived as a house plant for several years and a couple of moves under quite atrocious conditions and gave us many beautiful, ridiculously hot chillies. In his last year, I managed to save quite a lot of seed – and this is the final batch.

I’m trying to be patient, waiting for Inferno, Ring of Fire and Hot Portugal seedlings to start flowering but it’s difficult! In the meantime, I’ve already been eating Jalapenos in salad, Cayenne and Thai chillies in curries and stir fries and I’ve started drying some in the dehydrator. The big winner so far is a heirloom Bulgarian form I picked up cheaply in spring. After being potted up, it hasn’t grow much but just keeps producing flowers and fruit non-stop! The fruit are quite long and go from dark green to a rich, carrot orange. The flavour is also rich and spicy, without being overbearingly hot.

And in the process of writing this blog, I’ve just bought some more unusual chilli seed for growing at the end of next winter. All in all, it’s chilli heaven here 😀

What’s your favourite chilli? Please leave a comment below.

Inferno budding up

Inferno budding up

Making Room – Day 22 NaBloPoMo 2015

Just a short post today, I’m tired tonight!

Because we have relatively mild summers here in Tasmania, I grow chillies and basil in pots in the greenhouse so I get the most out of them. When I first moved here six years ago, this was run down shed, full of weeds and cherry tree suckers and it took six months to get it into a workable state. All of the shelving is timber salvaged from the old shed.

I’ve been doing yet another clean out of the greenhouse the last couple of days, in an effort to make more room. It’s something I go through every spring as it tends to become a storage space in winter. But this year I’ve got more chilli plants already in pots – and a lot more on the way!

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So this is what it looks like after today. This is the front half, with a wonderful view to the outside and the main raspberry bed. Inside, there’s Sweet Basil in pots that I’ve already started cropping and two more punnets of Basil seedlings ready to be potted up. The area out of shot holds my eight very productive strawberry plants a storage shelf for plastic trays, tags and toilet roll grow tubes and further left is a bench where I can sit and work.

In this photo there’s also vegetables sizing up for planting out in the next few weeks, including zucchinis, beans, various salad vegetables and about 50 Asparagus seedlings.

At the far end on the top shelf is a tray with approximately eight different varieties of chillies that need to potting up – so many plants!

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Following around are mini cucumbers in a tub on the wood chip floor, Garlic Chives about to go out into the garden and my permanent chillies, a Rocoto (Capsicum pubescens), which has beautiful purple flowers and large, very hot fruit and a Scotch Bonnet (Capsicum chinense).  On the lower shelf are three pots of watercress, one of my favourite salad plants.

 

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The top shelf here is more chillies – did I mention my family love hot, spicy food? – Cayenne, Jalapeno, Habaneros and Thai and the last of the vegetables to be potted up. The lower shelf in this photo will eventually be filled with Mammoth, Lettuce Leaf and Thai Basil. Out of shot to the right is a shelf and small cupboard that might end up being more shelving for chillies!

So, that’s my greenhouse – probably my most productive space in the entire garden 🙂

What’s the most productive space in your garden? Do you have a greenhouse? Please leave a comment. 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunny Saturday – Day 21 NaBloPoMo 2015

I had a really lovely day today. It wasn’t too hot, there was a gentle breeze through the yard and there was lots of gardening to do. Who am I kidding – there’s always lots of gardening to do! Admittedly, I didn’t do a scrap of uni work today but I had such a busy week, I felt I deserved a day off.

It’s wonderful to watch everything grow and change this time of year. In the space of a few short weeks, we’ve gone from buds to flowers to fruit forming on the cherry, apricot, plum and nectarine trees. The strawberries have been delicious and reasonably plentiful despite having only a handful of plants. But this morning we picked and ate the first raspberries of the season.

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It was quite a momentous occasion, I think it always is for people who grow their own fruit. When I was a child in South Australia (a far more Mediterranean climate than here in Tasmania), we would pick the first stone fruit – usually early apricots – and my mother would cut it into equal pieces for us all to share and she insisted we make a wish on the first of the harvest. It’s a ritual I’ve continued to this day with my family and whoever happens to be with us when it happens.

This afternoon I started cleaning out the other side of the greenhouse in preparation of the main Basil and Chilli crops. Because the climate here in Hobart is on the cool side, I always grow these in plastic pots in the warmest spot I can find. So far I have all the common Sweet Basil (Ocimiun basilicum) potted up, about 40 plants this year. But there’s Thai, Mammoth and Lettuce Leaf (my favourite for pesto) plus more varieties of chillies ready to go now and nowhere to put them at the moment!

I’ll get it finished tomorrow. Meanwhile, tonight we had the first of the free range pork that arrived yesterday with a salad from the garden, featuring home made feta cheese I made about a month ago. It was a winner all round 😉

What are your favourite family rituals? Leave a comment below.