Apples and Anticipation

If I could, I think I’d be a fruitarian. My incredibly tolerant GP and my always dodgy iron levels would have a fit, but (with an occasional green salad) I’d be perfectly happy – especially this time of year! At the moment, besides all the vegetables, I’ve just finished eating fresh apricots and berries and I’m waiting on big crops of plums and nectarines.

In anticipation, I picked about 2 kg of unripe plums yesterday to thin the tree out a little and a big handful of Green Shiso leaves from the greenhouse. Though these are a European prune plum, I’m going to try and make Umeboshi with them, using this recipe I found on Makiko Itoh’s site. I love the salty, sour taste and I think the sake will add a really interesting note to this ferment.

2 kg unripe plums and aromatic green Shiso leaves – aka Beefsteak Plant

After washing, removing stems and soaking the plums most of the day, I packed them in sterilised glass jars, layered with washed leaves and a fairly high percentage of cooking salt (about 12%). I covered them all with a half bottle of good sake that was never finished (shameful, I know!), weighed them down firmly and capped the jars with pickle pipes that allow gases to escape. The three jars are now on my pantry shelf and this morning I increased the pressure on the fruit, the liquid has risen and they’re starting to look and smell like a good ferment. I have no idea if my makeshift adaption of this simple Umeboshi recipe is going to work – but it’s going to be fun finding out 🙂

Over the last few years I’ve been seeking out interesting fruit trees on dwarfing rootstock that I can grow in wicking barrels. I’ve been experimenting with citrus trees, but living in Tasmania (traditionally called “The Apple Isle”), the obvious choice was a few bare-rooted apple trees that I bought from Woodbridge Nursery and put into wicking barrels. After seeing some very healthy growth and knocking all the embryonic fruit off last year, I thought I’d let them go this spring and see what happened. These strong little trees have all flowered and set fruit – and despite my thinning and some wind damage – the results have been outstanding. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to dealing with codling moth in early spring and will need to put it on my monthly garden schedule from now on.

The flavour of any apple you’ve grown yourself is a lovely experience and something I recommend everyone try if you have the opportunity. I’ve been fussing around the trees like a mother hen, gathering a few Royal Gala windfalls the past couple of weeks and found for the most part, they’ve been quite ripe and incredibly sweet. (Brown seeds are a great indicator of ripeness).

I’ve mainly concentrated on dessert apples such as Royal Gala and Pomme de Neige with a couple of crossover later varieties like Sturmer Pippin and McIntosh to extend the season and for cider. So, when I discovered a McIntosh windfall this morning, I wasn’t expecting it to edible let alone ripe!

The McIntosh is a very old Canadian late variety that’s popular as a dessert apple in the US but never really took off here in Australia. I recall having one as a kid and remembering the name and the flavour, as I have McIntosh forebears from Edinburgh. It’s also listed as a great blending apple for cider, providing copious amounts of sweet juice. Well, I can certainly attest to that! This beastie was a wonderful thing to eat, full of rich flavour and beautifully crisp.

Fresh McIntosh apple slices for morning tea

I also have a Medlar, Fig, Oranges, Pears, even a Lime and a gorgeous Huonville Crabapple all in tubs and growing well. Today’s experience has convinced me to get a few dedicated cider apples to join my mini orchard next year. I’m also currently reading Annie Proulx and Lew Nichols excellent book and being a cider lover from way back, I’m pretty sold on the idea 🙂

Sadly, the last few days have brought quite awful news from the north of the state with respect to all fruit and vegetable growers here. Larvae of the destructive Queensland Fruit Fly (Bactrocera tryoni) has been discovered at Spreyton (a major commercial fruit and vegetable growing area) on a backyard apricot tree. To give you some idea of what devastation they can cause, my friend Rob in Queensland (one of the best gardeners I know) can show you better than I can describe it! (As an aside, Rob’s YouTube channel is an absolute must for any urban farmer and where I initially learned about making self-watering wicking containers!)

I’ve searched over my ripening chillies, nectarines and plums as best I can but will be setting out syrup traps in the next couple of days to see exactly what’s coming in to my yard and greenhouse. I just hope that as a fruit loving community, we here in Tasmania can rally together to keep a vigilant eye out. This is an insect we can well live without!

My first home-grown McIntosh apple!

Apricots and Eggs – A Story of Summer Glut

I had a day off yesterday and it was hot here in Hobart, so I decided to whittle down the egg glut a bit and bottle some of the bowls of apricots that were starting to take over the kitchen!

Apricots are my favourite summer fruit and I love growing my own. Sadly, the old Moorpark apricot tree that was in the yard when I arrived had brown rot and despite all my efforts, I had to cut it down two summers ago. Knowing I was fighting a losing battle, I planted a new tree about two and a half years ago, an improved Moorpark variety called “Brillianz”.

This is the first year I’ve let this little apricot tree set fruit and wanted to give it an opportunity to establish before taking on the burden of producing a full crop. It’s a lovely fruit to eat fresh but I also had a box of beautiful Weck preserving jars I wanted to fill up, and there’s nothing quite like opening a jar of apricots in the middle of winter to have in a pie or with custard – it’s like summer in a bottle!

The littlest apricot tree a few weeks ago

 

Bottled Apricots (aka Summer in a Jar) 

Traditionally in my family, summer preserving was a family event, with everyone getting involved but we would often be processing very large amounts of fruit. Bottling (or canning as it’s called in the US) a couple of kilos of apricots is ridiculously easy and something I encourage everyone to do if they have the opportunity. They taste so much better than store bought and (particularly if you’ve grown the fruit) you’ll know exactly what’s in your jars. If you have access to home grown fruit and some reasonable bottling jars (they sometimes come up secondhand), your biggest investment is time. If I’m working alone, I like to put a podcast on or some favourite music to listen to while I work. Dancing in the kitchen is mandatory 🙂

Apart from the fruit, you’ll need the following;

Good quality preserving jars, lids/seals and bands/clamps

A large stockpot

Clean tea towel

Filtered or rain water

Tongs or bottle clamps

Cooking thermometer (I prefer the ones that attach to the edge of the stock pot. They’re inexpensive, easy to clean and easy to read)

I always start with the jars, lids, seals and/or bands, washing them thoroughly, checking for any chips or sharp points on the glass and rinsing them thoroughly in clean hot water. This simple step is possibly the most important in getting good results from bottling. Then it’s time to go over the fruit and with apricots, I always use slightly under or just ripe fruit. Over ripe apricots turn to mush with processing and are better eaten fresh or stewed and frozen.

And while I’m in the realm of “tips and tricks”, despite what many people say, it isn’t necessary to use syrup to bottle fruit successfully. I’ve always processed mine in just plain water (filtered or rain water) and never had a problem with either storage or flavour. Apart from being much healthier, it cuts down on cost and time.

With these lovely Weck jars, I filled them generously with halved fruit (pip or stone removed), topped to the brim with cold, filtered water, put the seal in place on the glass lid, covered and clamped down. Each 370 ml (12.5 oz) jar held six whole fruit, so in total I used 36 apricots.

I have a set of cheap stainless steel stock pots (thank you eBay!) for making things like jam, syrups or stock and I find them perfect for processing bottled fruit. The trick is to put something on the bottom of the pan to create a barrier between the heat source and the glass jars – a folded tea towel is excellent.

Put the clamped jars on the tea towel and pour in warm water, making sure the jars are fully immersed. Bring the temperature up to 85 C (185 F) over an hour and maintain this temperature for another 30 minutes.

At the end of processing, I usually wait another 10 minutes and ladle some of the water off before trying to remove the jars with bottling tongs. Dropping a glass jar with boiling fruit inside is really not a good look, so please take care with this part of the process! Put the jars on a cooling rack or board out of the way, so you don’t have to move them the rest of the day. Allow them to cool completely before trying to test for a seal, and any that haven’t sealed properly are still fine to eat. They will keep for a few days in the refrigerator and make a great quick dessert.

Once the sealed jars are cooled, label them and store on a pantry shelf, away from direct sunlight. They will last unopened for at least a year, though I doubt this little batch will make it past winter!

My chickens won’t stop laying this summer and I found myself again with way too many eggs for my household to deal with. I decided to make some very simple little egg-based tarts to freeze for lunches with some local bacon and a pastry that uses oil instead of butter. This is the basic recipe but it can be dressed up by adding a little minced garlic and/or onion when cooking the bacon or with a little grated parmesan and finely chopped herbs. If you want a vegetarian option, the bacon can be left out and substituted by lightly frying minced garlic, onion, finely shredded celery and mushroom. The options are as endless as your imagination – and what you’ve got on hand.

L-R: Blind baked case, bacon and bacon with ladled egg mixture

Simple Egg and Bacon Tarts (Makes 10)

Pastry:

1 cup (250g) Plain Flour

½ teas Baking Powder

Pinch of salt

¼ cup olive oil

Up to ¼ cup water

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl, making a well in the middle. Add the oil first and mix thoroughly (it should be crumbly and soft). Then add water, a little at a time, to bring it to a ball. Cover and put in the refrigerator for at least 10 minutes.

Cut the dough in half and cover the unused portion so it doesn’t dry out. Roll out the other half of the dough on a lightly floured surface – I cheated and used my hand-cranked pasta machine and it was perfect!

Use a bowl or small plate to cut out rounds slightly bigger than your tart pans (mine are old Willow 3” tins) and press the pastry into each tin. Fork them to stop the pastry rising or use baking beads (or a handful of dry haricot beans) and blind bake for 10 minutes in a moderate oven. Allow to cool before filling.

Filling:

6 rashers of bacon, diced

12 fresh eggs

¼ cup flour

Grated nutmeg

Seasoning to taste

Parsley &/or chives, chopped finely (optional)

In a heavy pan, gently fry the diced bacon until it’s browned. Take off the heat and with a slotted spoon remove to a plate lined with kitchen paper to drain and allow to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, break the eggs and whisk them very well. Add a little grated nutmeg and season to taste and mix in chopped herbs if using. Sift the flour in and mix thoroughly, making sure there’s no lumps.

To assemble, arrange the ten pastry shells on a baking sheet and divide the bacon into each. Using a large spoon or soup ladle, divide the egg mixture into each shell, being careful not to overfill them. Bake in a moderate oven for 10-15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and cool for a few minutes before taking them from the tins, then allow them to cool completely on a rack. One per person with a green salad makes a lovely light lunch.

Enjoy and let me know how you go with these simple recipes 🙂

The finished tarts, cooling on the rack

Boxes and Bounty

As a gardening experiment last month, I made a few wicking boxes for my front balcony. It faces east, across the River Derwent and while the view is lovely, it gets all the morning sun and can be quite windy. This time of year, we can’t walk on the concrete in bare feet before 2pm! I’ve grown salad greens in containers out there since I moved in, over six years ago but it’s a lot of work and difficult keeping water up to them with baking sun and drying winds.

IMG_20151215_102432I started out buying two food grade plastic crates from my local hardware store (I think they were 23 litre size), the kind that are often used as recycling boxes. All other materials were either recycled or things I had on hand.

Old hose was spiked with holes and laid in the bottom, with the refill end slotted into a length of larger diameter poly pipe to make it easier to pour water into. It looks pretty ugly but it works!

Next, I put a layer of gravel over the hose, making sure the refill end IMG_20151215_102947didn’t get buried as you can see in the photo. By the way, this gravel wouldn’t be my ideal but it was sitting in a pile begging to be used up and there was just enough to do all the boxes 🙂

At the top of the gravel, I carefully drilled a small overflow hole diagonally opposite the refill hose. This means water won’t build up and start getting smelly and the plants won’t rot in overly wet soil.

IMG_20151215_103048Next, I covered the gravel with some old tea towels that weren’t really wonderful for wiping dishes anymore. They allow the water to pass through but not the soil. Eventually, they will rot away and I’ll have to replace them but it was good to recycle them. Old shade cloth would be ideal if you have it.

At this stage, I put a thin layer of good quality potting mix over the top, and I recommend not cutting any corners with this. The better the soil, the better the plants! I mixed well rotted sheep poo and plenty of mushroom compost in large bucket and worked this through layers of potting mix until the box was fairly full. The result was a friable, rich mix, perfect for quick growing summer salad veggies.

I made sure the soil was damp before planting out the first seedlings and watered them overhead for the first couple of days, until the water reservoir started to do its thing. I ended up doing eight boxes in total and crammed in fast growing Pak Choi, Portulaca, Red Amaranth, Grumolo Verde Chicory, Garland Chrysanthemum and even Silverbeet. The results have been fabulous

IMG_20151215_110116

The pic above was taken 15th December 2015 and the pic below a month later, the 14th January 2016. The results have been incredibly successful and I’m only having to refill the reservoir about once every three or four days instead of overhead watering morning and night. Despite the fact salad is my favourite meal of the day, I can barely keep up with the amount of food these boxes are producing!

IMG_20160114_173535

Do you grow vegetables in containers? What are your top tips? Please leave a comment below – I love to hear from you all! 

Shiso and Cider Vinegar – A Heavenly Match

Over the years I’ve grown quite a lot of that most wonderful annual herb, Perilla, Shiso or Beefsteak Plant. Traditionally, it’s found in Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese dishes, and Shiso is its Japanese name. In particular the green variety (Perilla frutescens) which I prefer, seems to like my greenhouse very much. The unusual aroma and flavour is a welcome addition to summer salads in my household. Flavour-wise, I think it plays a similar role to Basil in Mediterranean dishes, and it is sometimes sold as Japanese Basil. I just wash the leaves thoroughly, put them through the salad spinner and chiffonade them. We also love it as a flavouring for steamed rice and stir fries and the whole leaves for tempura.

Pickling liquid and Shiso leaves in a jar

Pickling liquid and Shiso leaves in a jar

 

This year I’ve had a fabulous crop and I began to wonder what else I could do with it. That got me thinking about other Japanese flavours and what would happen if I started experimenting with a pickle. In Japan, Green Shiso is salted and the whole leaves are layered in jars for use during the cooler months and the Red Shiso is used to make Umeboshi but I found a wonderful cucumber recipe at Food52 that I’ve adapted for my needs. I wanted to have pickled leaves I could use whole as wrappers or shred up as required and this looks like a winner!

I made this yesterday 🙂

Refrigerator Pickled Shiso

15-20 large Shiso leaves           1/4 cup sugar                       1 tablespoon salt

3 tablespoons Mirin                1 cup Apple Cider vinegar       A clean pickle jar and lid (300-400g)

Wash the Shiso leaves carefully to remove any grit, pat dry or put through a salad spinner to remove excess moisture. Lay the leaves on top of each other and very carefully roll them, feeding the entire roll into the jar. In a non-metallic mixing bowl whisk the other ingredients thoroughly until the sugar and salt are dissolved.

Pour this over the Shiso leaves, close firmly and refrigerate. This will be ready to use in a few hours but will benefit from leaving for at least a couple of days. I have no idea how long the leaves will last in the refrigerator but as I use a few and make room, I plan to add some thin slices of the little cucumbers that are starting to fruit.

I confess I took a nibble this morning and it’s as wonderful as I hoped it would be. The big factor for me is the flavour of the pickling liquid, which is very similar to a dipping sauce. Also, I used some of the vinegar I made from a failed cider about three months ago and it’s pretty special just on its own! I will write a post about processing the vinegar with details and photos soon.

I’m also planning to dehydrate some of the crop, grind it and mix with a little shredded nori and toasted sesame seeds to make my own furikake and I’m considering getting a fermenting jar and making Korean Gaennip Kimchee. There’s also an idea brewing in my mind about making Shiso oil, similar to the Basil oil I make relentlessly through summer. I’ll keep you posted on that 🙂

Meanwhile, I’ve finished and submitted my assignment and I’m back to my wonderful people at OAK Tasmania tomorrow – summer holidays are over for me. But the days are still long and luscious for gardening and cooking.

Stay well and happy friends,

Debra ❤

Beautiful Shiso

Beautiful Shiso

More Lemons!

Things have been really busy around here!

Besides the constants of plants to water and harvest in summer, there’s animals to care for and ensure they’re protected from the heat of the day and ongoing development work in the garden. And then there’s the excess – mostly eggs, raspberries and basil at this house – and what to do with them. Lots of quiche, raspberry cheesecake, cordial, basil oil and pesto for the freezer at the moment. On top of that I’ve been writing a short story for my latest university unit (yes, Griffith Uni Online know no summer holidays!) which has been really quite demanding.

IMG_20160104_143007

Just when I thought it was safe to go back to the kitchen, I caught up with my friend Sara last week and she gave me a bag full of lemons. I was able to trade a bottle of Raspberry Vinegar Cordial, which has been threatening to take over my pantry cupboards!

Well, I had a think about what works in my household. We’re not jam or marmalade eaters but dried fruit, cordials and syrups for drinks and ice cream are very popular. So I spent the afternoon peeling lemon zest for the dehydrator and making a simple Lemon Syrup with the juice.

I confess I lost count of the lemons but it was at least 20. After peeling the zest I put it in a non-metallic bowl overnight while I dealt with the poor denuded lemons – they look awful without their beautiful skins! Here’s my recipe, it’s really easy!

IMG_20160104_171135

Simple Lemon Syrup (makes about 6 cups)

3 1/2 cups fresh lemon juice       3 cups white sugar

Before beginning, sterilise glass jars in the oven and put their lids in a saucepan of boiling water on the back of the stove.

Next put the juice in a clean pan on medium heat with the white sugar. (I removed the pips but left some pulp in the juice – we like pulp). Keep stirring until the sugar is dissolved and simmer for about 10 minutes. Once the syrup is ready, take a couple of jars from the oven and carefully put them on a board or heatproof mat next to the syrup pan. Ladle it into the hot jars and seal immediately.

If you want to keep the syrup for a longer period of time, I recommend processing them in a water bath (canning method) for 10 minutes so they’ll be good on the pantry shelf for about a year – if it lasts that long!

IMG_20160104_171910

Dried Lemon Zest

This is really very simple and one of the best bonus uses for lemons you know have come from a chemical free garden. I have a dehydrator and my peelings were enough to put over three trays, lined with baking paper. In total it took about 10-12 hours to dry it all properly without cooking it. It it possible to do this in a conventional oven but it needs to be very cool.

My three large trays reduced down to a jar of wonderfully dry, aromatic peel. I’ll use this in baking, marinades and plan to crush some up fine for mixing with salt, and some with dried chillies as a herb rub.

Personally, I think it’s worth doing this just for the smell – it was heavenly!

IMG_20160109_141551

I’ll probably put another post up in the next few days about my favourite summer herb – shiso. Meanwhile, have a great weekend wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.

Debra ❤