Pan Fried Figs in Apple Toffee

Because we are now past the solstice, it is time for the figs to begin to ripen. We enjoy them cooked in a little butter with a squeeze of lemon juice and a dash of our own preserved, concentrated apple juice. It slowly simmers down to a concentrate of apple toffee with soft poached figs.

It is pretty amazing, but last nights figs in preserved rich red preserved plum juice was  even a little better I feel. It’s all so hard to say, as every bit of it is so, fragrant, soft and delicious. Wonderfully soft and engaging while being a little bit sharp and sweet and delicately textural. It’s one of the few times where a little bit of ice-cream goes so well. It improves it and extends the texture, mouth feel and flavour.

So simple, so flavourful, so easy. Plant yourself a fig tree and enjoy the benefits – if you can keep the birds away!

Nina had to spend quite some time bagging the fruit to protect it from the birds.


Peppers, with Peppers, with Pepperoni

This months meat meal is pork. Pork in the form of a hot spiced sausage. I know that I shouldn’t be eating preserved meats. There is plenty of evidence out there to indicate that the preservatives like sodium nitrate and not at all healthy, but on a special occasion once a year. I think that the phrase, everything in moderation might apply.

So, last night I made green peppers (capsicum), with chilli peppers and pepperoni sausage. Actually, it wasn’t pepperoni at all, it was chorizo, but I like the sound of the alliteration. I could have called it chorizo with chilli and chapsicum, but that isn’t as good.

It turned out pretty well. I was pleased with it. Everything except the sausage came from our garden. I started by frying very finely sliced leeks in olive oil until they were golden and crispy, then added 1/2 a knob of finest diced garlic along with the roughly chopped capsicums and chills, plus the chunks of chorizo. Stir fried for a few minutes and then simmered with the lid on for a couple more to sweat out all the juices.

It was hot and spicy, but still crisp and crunchy to bite into. lovely!


I am very grateful to be able to live this wholesome, self-reliant life.

Sugo and Passata

The summer is over and we are now firmly into the autumn. The leaves on the fruit trees in the orchards are turning yellow and dropping, but there is still plenty of action in the vegetable garden. In this late season, the little yellow tomatoes are doing well and sprawling all over the garden beds, putting down adventitious roots as they go and still flowering and fruiting well. They sprawl about the place like drunken revellers at the end of a very boozy party, making a mess and refusing to leave. I’ve picked a wicker basketful full of these little wonders. They are slowing down now, but I can still fill the basket once a week.


 I am engaged in the repetitive task of boiling them down into tomato sugo, then sieving the result and heating it again to reduce it further and concentrate the full flavour of summer tomatoes. I will find lots of uses for it in the coming months for the winter stews and casseroles. Then in spring and even early summer I will use it up in all manner sauces. We don’t get our first ripe tomatoes here until around, or even after Xmas, but even then, they start of in a very shy way, only giving us just enough ripe fruit for our salad lunches.
The really productive time for tomatoes is now, right at the end of the season. So it’s sugo and passata making time.
I make my own version of preserved tomato pulp. I add in onion, garlic, capsicum, chilli and basil, as these are all producing well at this time of year, so it makes sense to incorporate all that I have in the garden that is compatible.
If I’m pressed for time, and aren’t we all, always pressed for time? I just make a quick boiled down sugo or sauce. Mostly tomatoes, placed in a big stew pan and brought to the boil. Seeds and skins all left in and the whole lot ladled into heated glass jars straight from the oven. This works OK, but the flavour from the seeds and skins that are left in there is not as good as when they are removed. It seems to make the sauce a bit thin and sharp somehow? So, I’ve found that it is worth the effort to pass the whole lot through the rotary moullii sieve. But time is always in short supply, so time has to be made for a good passata. Passata sauce has to be sieved. I believe that ‘passata’ means passed through a sieve in Italian? Passata = passed? Whereas ’sugo’ just means sauce.
I haven’t made sugo for two years now. I prefer the flavour of passata, so that is what I plan to do again this season and every year. But the best of intensions often get side tracked or even de-railed completely. So when everything goes temporarily pear shaped. I can still make sugo. I have tried to make time to get every batch of this autumns tomatoes twice cooked and moulied. so far I have been successful and have let other things go temporarily to make the time for it. Something has to give and that something is watching the grim offerings on what Peter Rushforth use to call ‘The idiot box’! No loss there.
I like to add some herbs of whatever takes my fancy. I must say that my favourite is always basil, sweet basil, and plenty of it, but I also vary it with sweet marjoram, thyme and or bay leaves. And of course pepper, but very little salt, just a touch. I make my own salt substitute mix, but that’s another story for another blog.
 I like to brown some brown onions in olive oil to start with. We are getting to the end of our own onions by this time of the year. I’ve never been very successful with growing a years worth of onions. The small seeds soon get swamped out with weeds and it’s a lot of work to get them up and above the competition, so that I can mulch them to suppress the weeds. I do what I can, but it’s never enough. Still, we do get some onions to dry for 3 or 4 months use.
I dice the onions very fine so that they will break down easily and eventually pass through the fine mouli easily. I soften them out slowly in Australian olive oil and when they are translucent, I add in a few knobs of our smallest, under-size garlic. We grow a few hundred knobs of garlic each year and about a quarter of them never reach a suitable size, for one reason or another. They remail small, about 1.5 to 3 cm acress, not worth plaiting and hanging. They all get sun-dried and then stored in a large wooden bowl on the kitchen counter. I top and tail them and cut them in half, crush them with the side of a knife to break down the fibres and release all the flavour and them drop them into the pot with skins and all. It will all get sieved out at the end, so it won’t matter. Peeling small garlic cloves is a really slow and in this case an almost pointless job as I’m going to sieve it anyway. So this is my easy, fast solution to the small garlic clove problem. How to use everything that we grow, the good, the ugly and the undersized!
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I put on two medium sized boilers of tomatoes, capsicum, chilli, basil mix. This time there is even a few zucchini’s in there and a couple of very ripe aubergines. It is easily reduced down to just one medium boiler of passata after it has all been passed through the mouli. I re-heat it all and bring it to the boil for a few minutes and then let is simmer slowly to reduce and concentrate. It also sterilises it. Meanwhile I get the glass jars washed and ready to pre-heat in the oven to 120oC for 10 minutes or so and I simmer the lids equally.
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The easiest part of the whole exercise is to pour the concentrated liquid puree into the jars and screw on the caps. As they cool, I can hear the sharp, loud ‘clack’ noise as the whole lot shrinks and creates a vacuum in each of the jars in turn, sucking down the ‘pop-top’ lid, to indicate that it is now vacuum sealed These jars will now keep for up to 12 months without any further energy being applied to them. It’s a wonderfully fast and efficient way to preserve food. It’s the cooking and sieving that takes the time, but spread over a couple of evenings, it’s not such a big job and I really enjoy it. It’s a seasonal special event. Something to be looked forward to and relished because it’s a real, honest, creative activity. It might also be supremely healthy, tomato juice concentrate, loaded with lycopene, especially the way that we do it, entirely organic and free of any fertilisers, sprays and preservatives. Even if lycopene isn’t as healthy as some people claim, passata is still amazingly delicious.
I don’t think that many people are aware of this kind of activity these days and how important it is to take control of your own life and take as much personal responsibility for your actions and your own health as possible. It doesn’t get exhibited, or advertised, talked about or reviewed. It is not sexy or marketable. It is just one of the small invisible things that we do to make a tiny part of our larger life here.
The really big job as always, is the washing up!
Best wishes
The saucy Ms Sugo and her concentrated Mr Passata

Blessed are the Cheese Makers

We live out our quiet days here in the Southern Highlands. On most days, nothing much happens. I turn the stiffening porcelain slip on the drying area. We throw or turn pots. We mow, weed and water the gardens and orchards. We harvest, preserve and cook our vegetables. We make clay and glazes from the rocks, ashes and shales that I collect out and about in the local environment. Some of it is 100% sourced off our own special little piece of land, right here.
We like to support local endeavours and a while ago we were invited to visit the local sheeps milk dairy. The pecora dairy has about 120 milking sheep of the East Friesian breed variety. The dairy isn’t open to visitors, but our son buys their sheeps milk, pecorino cheese for the Biota restaurant where he works.
The dairy makes a range of pecorino cheeses from their sheeps milk. We have bought 3 of them over the years that they have operated here. Apparently there are only two flocks of milking sheep in Australia. This one here locally and another one in a different state.
We arrive with our son just before milking time and all the sheep have made their way down from the hills and far pastures to the dairy, ready for the milking. It takes about an hour to milk  the 120 odd sheep in groups of about 10 in the milking stalls. The sheep come in for the milking twice a day, morning and night. Each one gets closely examined and scrutinised while in the care of the milk maid. She examines them closely and makes remarks on the progress of a pregnancy or anything else unusual that might appear.
The sheep get a feed of a high protein supplement while they are being milked. There is an ingenious contraption that feeds them while they are being milked. They are very keen to get their noses into the trough as soon as the gates open and allow them in for the milking. The contraption allocates a place at the feeding trough and a pair of suction milking cups to each animal individually. As they take their place at the trough, they push a bar that opens the gate for the next sheep to enter, and so in turn the whole row is neatly filled. The complete arrangement is raised up, so that the milkers don’t have to bend. Once milked and fed, the whole calliope folds in on itself and rises up to allow the sheep to walk through and out of the building, allowing the next batch of 10 sheep to enter. They anticipate the workings of the milking sequence and cue up and wait on the race. Waiting their turn.
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It’s a beautiful thing to see and experience. These organic, wholesome people love their sheep and care for them lovingly. They take a lot of time over their charges and treat them with care and affection.
We are very privileged to be allowed to tag along with our son on this special occasion and we are grateful.
We come home to a light supper of, you guessed it,  some local pecorino cheeses, a few of our hazel nuts and some fresh garden veggies.
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The Lovely asks if we should think about making cheese again.
I say No Whey!

The Chalking Room Floor

I have just finished building a new kiln for the National Art School in Sydney. Used another pallet of lightweight refractory bricks and turned the empty pallet that they came on into another arch formwork. Every kiln I build is custom built for the customer to suit their specific requirements, so every kiln seems to turn out just a little bit different. Hence I need to make a new arch formwork for most of them. I have stacks of different sized formers in stock, just waiting for someone to order a kiln that is the same cross-section, rise and dimension. But it rarely happens. It’s a lot of work to make the shuttering for each kiln, but it is absolutely necessary if you want a beautiful arch that won’t drop spalls down onto your work during the firing. I really like to recycle the empty pallet and its nails, into something positive with a real purpose, instead of just burning it.
Arch formers are actually quite lovely things in their own right if they are made with care and attention to detail, and yet nobody sees them. They remain an invisible, but necessary part of the creation of a beautiful object.
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Warren tells me a story about the medieval tradition of the chalking floor or the tracing floor. A special room in a cathedral, where in ancient times the master masons would plan out the architectural details of a building and snap out chalk lines of the dimensions of the job at hand, directly onto the plastered stone floor in real time and one-to-one scale. These plans were then transposed to the workmen on the job in many seperate, small details, so that no one person, except the master mason knew the whole story and how the design, angles and dimensions were achieved.
I chalk out the details of the arch to be built onto the steel workbench top with boilermakers chalk and this is then transposed onto the pallet wood that I have just dissassembled and recovered for re-use. Warren watches me working out the details. Swinging the radius with a trammel line and dividing the inner arc by the taper of the brick unit size. It’s medieval in its simplicity and complexity. Nothing has changed in one thousand years. A plumb line, a straight edge, a measure and some chalk. The end result is beautiful and elegant. I now know the size, taper, and number of arch bricks that I need to cut to make a perfect arch, as well as the angle and dimension of the springer bricks that will support the arch.
However, unlike the ancient masons, I will use a diamond blade saw bench and a steel jig to do the precise cutting.
The Lovely comes down to the workshop with freshly chilled, dark grape juice drinks for us on this very hot day and asks what I am doing, looking over at me chalking out my secret mens business. I explain that if I tell her, then she will have to die!
Only the master mason can know the secret of our techniques. Nothing personal, it’s just the medieval Master Masons traditional Lore.
She tells me that I can make my own dark grape juice in future.
But she can’t tell me the recipe otherwise I’ll have to die! Seems fair.
fond regards from Mr and Mrs Mason


It’s autumn now and the grapes are fully ripe. We have been dealing with them in batches over the last few weeks. Yesterday we made the last pick. The Vendange is over for another year. All safely picked, juiced, heat-treated, sterilised and bottled. The rich red dark grape juice bottled in this way will keep for 12 months easily. We make it now in the autumn and drink most of it as a refreshing cool drink next summer in 9 months time.

We have preserved dark grape juice from both our shiraz grapes as well as our isabella fragolino varieties. They both make good dark grape juice, but I think that I prefer the slightly foxy, aromatic density of the fragolino juice to the somewhat austere and peppery shiraz. We abandoned making wine from our grapes sometime ago, as it takes a lot of effort for something that is just plain ordinary and we can buy good wine quite cheaply here in Australia. We have learnt to be selective about where we expend our limited energies, so as to get the best return on our efforts.
After a lot of experiments, we have learnt that dark grape juice is the best that we can do with what we’ve got, although, this year, early in the season, The Resourceful One also tried her hand at making very early season verjuice.
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We macerate the grapes and sieve out the fresh unfermented ‘must’, skins and seeds. The pure juice is heated on the stove to sterilise it and then bottled into heated jars, fresh from the oven. It all takes time, but this is the quickest and most efficient way that we have found to deal with the harvest, that gives and exceptional quality of product. It also has the added benefit of requiring no energy to store it for a year and keep it beautifully preserved for when you really appreciate it.
We have been out and when we return in the evening, we find Annabelle Sloujetté’s ute spread-eagled across the front of our house. She has her own key and has let herself in. She is on her way somewhere, or back, and slides her ute into a sort of parked position in the front garden. She asks where Janine is and I have to say that I don’t know. She was here with me just a minute ago. “Ah! Slougetté responds. ‘Miss Flit’. That is why I call her Miss Flit. She flits in and she flits out, never stays still long enough to carry on a complete conversation. A complete conversation with ‘Miss Flit’ is like a Dickens serialised novel. It takes time and you have to be patient as it evolves.”
We end the day with a vegetarian BBQ. Nothing special, just quick and simple, place your sliced, freshly picked vegetables on the barbie and turn them when they are softened, Zucchini, aubergines, little golden nugget pumpkin and capsicums. They couldn’t be fresher and cooking outside at this time of year in the evening is a delight. The cooling breeze has arrived and the aromas emanating make my mouth water in anticipation. I make an autumn salsa out of our little, late-season, yellow  tomatoes, some garlic and chillis, while the bbq looks after itself. The girls are tête-à-tête, deep in gossip.
I plate up to table and we eat them with relish. I like a spoonful of my piquant home-made spicy plum sauce on my bbq’d veggies, but quince paste also works well I think.
When we wake, she is gone. Only her tell-tale signature circle work on the front lawn tells the tale of her visit.
Best wishes
From Mr and Mrs Flit