We enjoyed yesterdays mulberry pie so much that I decided to have another go at it. That first one didn’t last 24 hours. Between desert, breakfast and morning tea, the two of us managed to polish it off.
Just in case your interested, de-stemming takes about 25 minutes per kilo of berries, or part thereof.
Prick the base, before lining with paper and blind baking.
For this pie, I experimented with 100 grams of sugar to 500 grams of fruit. I kept all the other ingredients the same. That’s just 1/5th of the amount of sugar to fruit and it still tasted sweet enough for me.
But maybe that’s just me? Anyway, it’s the ratio that I will use in the future. We had a special guest visiting today, so I had to give it another try for him, for afternoon tea.
In keeping with my philosophy of self reliance, we eat as much as we can from our own property, using whatever there is in the garden. This week the mulberries are on. The season will last a month and the birds will get the bigger share of the crop. We have a bowerbird that survived the fire somehow and a new arrival of a wattle bird. They spend the day in the foliage cackling, croaking, clicking and chirping. It must be beautiful for them in there with such abundance.
When we moved here in 1976, kookaburras were the only birds around. As we slowly developed the place digging dams for water storage, mowing the weeds to create some lawn and planting native shrubs all around the edges. We created a small paradise. Over the following years we had thousands of smaller birds move it to colonise the ‘new’ territory. It made it very hard to harvest any fruit from the newly developing orchard. It sort of proved the old saying ‘If you build it they will come’. The fire cleaned out all the shrub dwelling passerines, as they went to low dense cover to hide. This part of the forest burnt fast and fierce. However, we have started to see some migration of the smaller insect eaters back into the garden from territory farther afield.
We currently have 2 nascent populations of just a few individuals of superb wrens and fire tails. They are very busy nesting in the 4 remaining established native hypericifolia shrubs in our garden. These small trees were part of a much larger, longer hedge and somehow survived the catastrophe. Which is good for the small birds. I hope that they have a good breeding season and that their numbers recover quickly. We have been having some nice rain lately, so it could be a good summer for them. Back in the noisey mulberry tree, it only takes a few minutes to pick a bowl full of plump, ripe fruit at this stage with so many ripe berries to choose from, but picking isn’t the slow part. What takes time is snipping off the hard little stalks. These stalks are very firm and spoil the mouth feel of the soft, luscious and sweet, juicy fruit. You don’t have to de-stem, but the resultant pie is so much nicer without the annoying little hard stalks getting stuck in your teeth.
I use a recipe that I got off the internet. I like it because it’s so easy. However I have adapted it to suit myself. Most puddings and cake recipes I read seem to me to have way too much sugar in them. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, so I halve the quantity of sugar in most recipes, to no noticeable ill effect. Fruit recipes often call for equal parts of sugar and fruit, or half the weight of fruit as sugar. I have reduced this to a 1/4. Then I also add a squeeze of lemon or grated zest to give a little bit of tartness to cut through the bland sweetness.
I’m too lazy to make my own pastry, I’m always busy, so it’s amazing that I can make time to cook anything from scratch. So I buy frozen pastry packs in a dozen sheets at a time and they last half the year. Clearly, I don’t make a lot of pies. It’s not that I’m keen on home made fancy deserts, it’s more to do with the fact that I hate to see waste, and I can’t eat all the fruit raw!
In the early years here , we used to bottle the mulberries and vacuum seal them in ‘Fowler’ jars. but as soon as the youngberries were planted and came in to full production, we forgot about the mulberries, as the youngberries are just so much better in every way. So these days we eat the mulberries for a couple of weeks until the youngberries come on, then we leave the rest of the mulberries to the birds. We have to net the youngberries to keep the birds off, other wise we wouldn’t get hardly any.
Once the mulberries are de-stemmed, I mix 400g of the berries with 100g of sugar in a bowl. Add 3 tablespoons (approx.) of flour, the juice of 1 small or 1/2 of a large lemon, I also add in the pulp off the glass juicer. A squeeze of vanilla essence and a dusting of cinnamon powder.
I pre bake the base @ 180oC for 15 mins filled with a glass jar full of dried, home grown, baking beans that I keep in the pantry for exactly this purpose.
Hint – Put crumpled up, non-waxed, plain lunch wrap paper in the pie first, so that the beans don’t stick to the ‘pricked’ pastry base during cooking. Remove the beans and paper and continue cooking for another 5 mins until golden. If the base lifts up, just press it down again after it cools a bit, don’t burn your fingers. Pour all the ingredients into the pie crust and if you have some left over pastry, lay a few strips over the top as decoration, or you can lay another whole sheet over the top and prick holes in it to let the steam out. Bake @180 for about 15 to 20 mins, or until it looks done.
The smell of this pie when it emerges from the oven fills the room. It is enough to melt the Heart of the Knave and induce him to steal. My mother always said that the way to a mans heart was through his stomach! So, as I live with The King, and don’t want to be ‘beaten full score’, I surrender the tart to my King and we enjoy it en-concorde.
A nice seasonal desert, or afternoon tea. To be savoured and enjoyed in late spring, and then anticipated for the rest of the year.
Janine and I finished the wall and had a dozen visitors, Mark and Judith, who lost their house in the fire, Elizabeth, who lost her house in the fire, Jules, who lost her shed in the fire, Len whose house was damaged in the fire and lent me his generator in the week after the fire, Kevin who ran the recovery centre post-fire, The cars kept coming and stopping, complementing us on the wall, even the little trail bike rider who usually screams past in a cloud of annoying dust, slowed, stopped, did a bit of circle work in front of us , yelled out “nice wall”! and roared off in another cloud of choking dust.
I’ve started work on the big new arched window for the new pottery. It’s meant to reflect the big window in the house opposite. We’ll see how successful it is when I’m done. This window will be entirely made of welded metal so that it will be more fire resistant.
Finally, Vale our lovely chook, the last of The Spice Girls, the hen Formerly Know As Hillary, FKA Ginger and many other non-de-plumes, teller of great tales and the inspiration of many adventure stories has passed away. She had been going blind over the past month. She couldn’t perch any more, as she couldn’t see the rail, she wasn’t eating much, even a treat like snails, that she loved, she just didn’t know I was holding them out for her. I had to hold them in my hand and gently bump them up against her beak, then she would peck blindly at my palm to try and hit them, mostly pecking my fingers. On Saturday she fell off the verandah when I called her, as she couldn’t see the stairs and missed her footing.
Yesterday, she was very slow to come out of her house. I talked to her quietly encouraging her, she followed my voice, bumping into things that she would normally walk around, finally settling into the corner of my workshop. Her happy place, where she usually went to preen in the afternoon. She just sat on the floor with eyes closed. I fed her some bacon fat trimmings, her second favourite thing in the world and then sent her off play with her other sister chooks with the youth in Asia.
We are now half way through spring, and have been harvesting broad beans for a couple of weeks now. We start with the early little beans eaten raw to savour that unique broaden flavour that we haven’t tasted for 11 months. Broad beans have a short season, but that makes them all the more special. We pick the small immature bean pods and cook them whole, then as they mature, we pick the larger pods and shell them for the beans inside. They are really delicious at every stage.
We use broad beans in many ways, but they best in my opinion just lightly fried very quickly in olive oil, so that they are just warmed through and sprinkled with dried sweet basil and some cracked pepper. I take them off the heat as soon as the outer shell starts to split open.
I served them with a few fish cakes that Janine made.
We also made a broad bean risotto with Mushrooms, garlic and chilli.
I add the broad beans late in the cooking so that they don’t over cook.
We had a visit from some old friends for lunch. People who hadn’t been here since before the fire, so I cooked a small batch of Flatolli for them. Flatolli is my lazy flat version of Italian Canolli, without the deep-fried pastry tubes, hard boiled in lard. The filling is the same however. Ricotta and/or mascarpone filled with dried fruits soaked in liqueur.
I pre-baked the little pastry sections with beans to weigh them down, then filled them with a creamy desert filling. Easy! And very yummy.
I also attempted to make a pear, ricotta and almond flan or tart. I pre-simmered the quartered pear sections in a sugar syrup with a cinnamon stick, then placed the finely sliced poached sections on the almond/ricotta filling. This turned out very well indeed.
No one complained!
I’m trying to find ways to be useful and creative while we wait for our eternally slow builders to turn up. After we finalise our plans in June, paid our deposit on the first of August, we originally thought that we would have the building up to ‘lock-up’ stage by the end of September. Three months for a tin shed didn’t seem too unrealistic. But now we learn that the builders are saying end of November, from our current experience with them, we will most likely get to lock-up by mid December or even Xmas.I certainly hope that it is done in this calendar year!It’s a challenge to stay positive. In the meantime Janine and I are working on the gabian wall. I hope to finish that job by the weekend. We had a small group of our ex pottery students – who have become good friends, turn up to help finish the tall metal framework in front of the house and start to fill the gabian enclosure with crushed, recycled, concrete building material.
In a small personal sacrifice, I smashed up the last of our broken terracotta garden pots. It’s somehow comforting to get to find a positive and creative use for all these ‘dead’ terracotta planters. I couldn’t just trash them. So this down-sizeing to rubble, but up-scaleing to art is a suitable solution. Turning this disaster into something positive is a constant challenge. The final terracotta pot to go into the wall was a large cylindrical pot that was a ‘second’ grade reject from the Parliament House project in Canberra that I worked on with Cam Williams back in 1986. This pot was the very first piece made for the parliament and was fired here in Balmoral in our old kiln to test the body, slip and firing technique that we planned to use to do the rest of the job. As 250 pots were commissioned in total, we needed to rent a factory space and set up a very big kiln to get the job done on time. This first pot was the big test. It sat next to the old wood kiln chimney for the past 34 years, As it was broken into several pieces, it no longer had any real value, other than sentimental. It did however represent one year of my creative life. I thought that it was best up-cycled into the last bit of our new wall. Now, I will always know where it is.
We still have two other examples of these big cylindrical pots in our garden, just 2nds with minor cracks that happened during the 2 year project. One is still intact, but the other was smashed by the tree loppers when they were clearing up the mess here in our yard straight after the fire. One of the workers drove into it with the bobcat loader.Janine and I re-constructed it with wire strapping just to preserve it until I have the time to do a full kintsugi repair. It will take a lot of gold!
We also have 1 of the 5 massive, extra-large pots made for the New Parliament House Building out in our garden. There were only 4 of these 1.5 dia x 1.5 metre high monsters ordered for the project. The first one that we fired got a hair line crack, so we had to make another one. I got to keep the ‘spare’ one in the garden.
From black to green, from down to up, from negative to positive, from rubble to art. Nothing lasts, nothing is ever finished, nothing is perfect. I’m grateful to be still alive to be able to re-build a creative and beautiful environment.
The day started damp and foggy. A perfect start to a day allocated for the casting of our concrete piers, footings and floor for the new pottery workshop.
The concreters team were here just before 7am and were straight into their work. All professionals, they make it look so easy.I remember the nightmarish time that Janine and I endured trying cast the mine subsidence required concrete footings for our house all by ourselves, back in 1979, doing all the wheel barrowing and the screeding at the same time. We nearly killed ourselves to save money. Not these days. We are more than happy to pay these young guys to do all this work. Mind you, it is a lot easier now with concrete pumps and helicopter style floating machines to finish the surface.
They work in such a relaxed manner, with one concrete ready-mix truck at the pump, another waiting in the drive and one more out in the street.It all goes off like clockwork over the next 4 hours. 270 Sq. metres of slab, involving over 36 cu. M. of concrete in 7 trucks.Given the weight limit on these old country back roads and bridges, each truck is limited to 5.4 cu. M. per load.
I’m quite embarrassed about this 36 Cu. M. of concrete that I have to take responsibility for creating and owning. It amounts to an equal quantity of carbon dioxide that I have just put into the atmosphere. I have to admit that I’m not as green as I might have thought that I am or would like to be. It was a big decision to go with a concrete slab. The big moment came when I considered my ageing state and the fact that I will need to be getting around with the aid of a zimmer frame in the not too distant future. Having the whole site on one flat, level, surface will allow me to continue work here for longer than I would have been able to in the old pottery with its 5 seperate levels of floor. My only defence is that I have prevented many hundreds of tonnes of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere through our early adoption of solar power way back in 2007. Ours was the first solar power grid connected home in the highlands. As the electrical inspector, (They still had inspectors back then) told me that this was the first one that he had seen, and wasn’t exactly sure how to asses it. He and the solar electrician, both had their ‘Australian Electrical Standards’ books out to quote to each other why they thought what was the correct thing to do. They eventually agreed and the installation was passed without alteration. It was obviously the solar electricians first job too. He was the first solar qualified electrician in the Highlands.
Our chicken, Luigi Portland Gallus Domesticus, formerly known as Hillary, FKA Tenzing, FKA Ginger, decided to walk over the setting concrete to check out the levels and the quality of surface finish.
Having left her prints in the setting concrete, she is now qualified to join the Southern Highlands Print Makers Group! After satisfying herself that everything was in order, I managed to convince her that it was best to leave it to the tradesmen to complete the job, and she was happy to wander off to look for snails elsewhere. The final buff and polish was completed without Ms Portland Gallus’s help at about 4pm in the afternoon. A long hard days work for those concreters. I’m so glad that I didn’t have to do it at my age. We are now officially above ground. The construction has started!
Just in case there was any left over concrete, I had formed up a small frame to sit the gas bottles on in the future. Luckily the amount left over was pretty much exactly the right amount to fill the mould. Waste not want not!
We hope to see the steel frame construction team here in a couple of weeks to start assembling the portal frame, once the concrete has set and has had time to harden. This project is now a couple of months behind schedule, so there is no chance of being back in business with in the 12 month time frame that I had originally imagined. I’m so naive!I have virtually no building experience. I was only going on how long it took me to rebuild the last pottery after it was destroyed by fire in 1983. I was so much younger then, so Janine and I managed to scrounge all the 2nd hand building materials. Make all the mud bricks (with a lot of friends helping), rebuild, and be back making pots again in 12 months. The big difference is that I am now more than twice as old, and therefore not as energetic.We are relying on employing builders this time round. It’ll get done in due course sometime in the future…One good outcome of the delay, is that I have had time to do a bit of work in the garden and orchard. These were all jobs that needed to be done but would have gone unfinished if the building had been going up on time. There is always an up-side to every set back.
My next big job is to weld up the 4 metre x 2 metre arched window for the southern end of the Gallery space… I have about 3 to 4 weeks to get it done. Watch this space!
The very good news this week is that the builders have turned up at last – just two months late! Which was a bit angst making. However they are here now and starting to peg out the perimeter of the building floor slab. It suddenly looks bigger, but I’m told that everyone thinks that. Then they think that it looks smaller once the walls are up. Or so I’m told.
Whatever the outcome, I’m pleased to see some action on the site. We finished the retaining wall, filling the site with aggregate and levelling it off, half way through May. It’s been sitting there idle since then. Footings and slab will take a couple of weeks, then a couple more weeks to cure the concrete before the construction starts. Hopefully it won’t take more than a month to get to lock-up stage. The metal kit frame has been delivered and has been sitting there for a week now. The slab should have been cast and cured before that. But that’s how it goes in the building game.
Once the building is at lock-up stage, then Janine and I can get in and start to lay electrical cables and first fix. It would be good to get some of the insulation and lining in before the Xmas/January shut down.
However it goes, I’m so pleased to be getting started.
The spring equinox has passed without issue or any significant physical event. However, we have had a bit of a shock. We went to the accountant to see what we had to do to for the end of financial year with regard to our situation with the fire etc.
We were given the rather shocking news that any money that is paid into a company is considered income and is taxable! This was a considerable shock to us, as we weren’t expecting to hear that. We run a company called Hot and Sticky Pty Ltd. This means that we will have to pay a third of our insurance money out to the tax dept as Company Tax!
Well what can a bloke do? Go to the garden, pick what’s ripe, and cook it for dinner, that’s what. On the brighter side, the weather is improving. The days are getting longer. The summer garden is all planted out – well mostly, and we have had some rain, so everything is growing well. We have the last of the winters red cabbages maturing, so we have been eating a lot of sautèed cabbage.
I browned an onion in olive oil, chopped in a slice of short cut bacon and a chunk of diced chorizo, sautè till softened, add the sliced cabbage and then cover and simmer with a dash of wine. Pretty substantial and filling.
I spike it up with a chunk of my frozen homemade beef bone marrow and red wine concentrated stock. it rounds it out and mellows it very nicely.
Frugal, healthy and satisfying food, mostly from the garden, using just a little meat as a flavour enhancer. We have also done something similar using savoy cabbage, kale flower heads, carrots and celery.
It’s fun to work out what we can make with what is ready in the garden each day. Because we eat seasonally like this, we tend to heat a lot of similar things day after day. It’s a challenge to keep on reinventing how we can use the same ingredients over and over in different ways. A really big cabbage lasts us a whole week. It can become monotonous if you don’t think creatively about it.
I always trim even the small amount of fat off the short cut bacon, as this becomes a treat for Hillary, the chook formally known as Ginger. She needs to be considered in our culinary planning too.
The other day I made patatas bravas, with our potatoes cooked in duck fat, the last of the broccoli, a couple of slim pieces of pan fried ocean trout, and using the last jar of our home grown and bottled tomato sugo sauce. I used our own dried chilli flakes from last summer. No need to buy in the expensive, specially smoked, Spanish pimenton powder. We have our own naturally bush fire, smoked-on-the-bush chilis!
I am up just before dawn. There is a pale glow as the sun approaches the horizon. Shafts of light slant in horizontally through the kitchen window while we eat our breakfast. The pale light strikes my porridge bowl from one side and illuminates the shadow of my fingers through the thin porcelain. It’s a beautiful moment.
The cheerful bird song outside the window sounds as if they are happy about the early pale sunshine too.
It’s the first week of spring. We have just harvested our last tomatoes off the last self seeded plant that germinated after the fire. We are also about to plant our first tomatoes seedlings to get an early start on the spring growing season. We have never had tomatoes this late in the year before. It’s quite unbelievable. I would never have expected it. But here we are still eating fresh tomatoes while planting out next years crop. We really are in the throws of a racing-ahead global warming event, with very few frosts over winter and those that we did have were really quite mild, just minus one or two degrees. Where will this all end?
We are entering what the old-times used to call the hungry gap. This is when most of the winter vegetables are finishing up, but the new spring/summer crops haven’t started producing yet. We have celery, lettuce, tomatoes, raddish and asparagus from the garden for our lunch today, so we are still managing OK. The weather is suitably balmy for early spring just now. Last week and the week before were quite hot, up into the high 20’s. I joked to Janine that we had gone straight from winter to summer, with only 2 weeks of spring! But the weather has evened out a little now. In fact today is somewhat cooler with a little rain. It’s rather nice. I’m in no hurry for the dry heat of summer to set in and burn off all the fresh green spring growth.I have lashed out and bought 10 packets of flower seeds when they were on special at Aldi recently for just $1.20 per packet. I’m hoping that this summer might be a little bit wetter than the last 4 years of drought. I will plant the seeds anyway and hope for better times. I have started on the last 30 metre section of our front fence. This last bit will be 1.8 metres high to give extra fire protection to the house in the next fire event. At the moment it looks pretty awful just a row of steel posts, something like a detention centre. All it needs is some rolls of razor wire on top. I’m hoping that it will settle down visually when we get the stones in the mesh so that it flows on from the existing lower fence line on either side.
Where I dug out the old almond trees in the vegetable garden, I have spread some compost and dug it all in ready to plant this years spring/summer crops this weekend. I have made 15 new garden beds. About 1500mm x 900mm each in size. I have planted just 2 zucchini plants in each bed, so as to allow them some room to spread out as they mature, I have done this with the cucumbers and pumpkins as well. With the tomatoes, capsicums and egg plants have allowed 4 plants per bed, as they don’t spread as much.
As the shadows lengthen and the sun starts to set, I finally get the last of the seedlings planted. It’s been a long day in the garden. 24 metres of new garden beds. It’s a fitting replacement for the dozen almond trees that had outgrown their available space in this part of the veggie patch.
Planting anything with the expectation of it growing and thriving is an act of optimism. Planting a new summer vegetable garden is such an act. I live in hope that I will be able to water these tiny plants and watch them thrive and mature. I will weed them and mulch them with home made compost. Water them and finally pick them or their fruits to sustain us. By the time the rewards of harvest come around, I’ll be digging up the other veggie rows to plant the winter garden, such is the cycle of the seasons and life itself. I am so grateful to be able to live this grounded, positive, creative, harmonic life.
The lawn is green with a new spring flush of growth outside the kitchen window with its view into the new orchard and the dense cove of green clover. It’s nice, and very rewarding. Quite relaxing to look at. Of course, what we are really looking at here is a massive amount of hard physical work. So the rewards are all that much sweeter.
While we wait for the steel frames for our new pottery building to be delivered. They have been delayed twice now. I decided to build a small herb garden inside the new orchard. This southern end of the covered orchard frame is quite close to the kitchen. Much closer than the actual vegetable garden, which is a good 100 metre walk away. It’s a long way to go and get a sprig of parsley or a pinch of thyme leaves.
This took very little effort or time, just a few barrow loads of compost and a low wire netting fence to keep the chook out from scratching all the seeds and seedlings out of the ground.
This is the ideal spot, so close to the house, and totally enclosed, a herb border along the fence line. It got me to thinking… It would be quite pleasant to have a bit of colour here too. Directly in line of sight from the kitchen window. I decided to build a small cottage garden full of flowers, just a little something to lift my spirits. Flowers bring joy to the heart. I feel that I’m in need of some joy just now.
My friend Adrianne Ades sent us a lovely gift of several packets of flower seeds last year straight after the fire. I broadcast them into the orchard site in autumn, along with some red and white clover seeds. The clover came up straight away. I got it in just in time to get some growth before the winter set in. It’s still doing really well. So well, that the clover is smothering and out-competing the flowers. I keep looking around as I walk through the orchard while watering the newly planted bare-rooted fruit trees. But as yet nothing that I can recognise. I’m ever-hopfull that something will show up in the spring/summer.
So to this end, over the weekend, I ploughed up a small patch of weeds, bare earth and some stragling grasses. It’s an area that hasn’t recovered at all since the fire. It got pretty hot there in that spot. Janine has been wanting to plant a hedge of natives for herself, plus for the birds and bees, so we merged both ideas, planting the hedge of boronia, mint bush and a bunch of other small flowering natives along the orchard fence and my flowers out further, so that we can see them both in a scaled, tiered effect.
We got it all done in one day, but needed to spend another day to get the fence built, so as to keep Hillary the chook and the rabbits out. The longest time was spent with the crow bar and post hole shovel digging the post holes. I was given some 2nd hand galvanised pipe fence posts that were just about the right size, so that is what we used, waste not, want not. In the past, I might have preferred to see some wooden posts, but not now! Everything has to be steel or other non-flammable materials.
I made the fence out of left over bits of re-cycled chook wire netting and the old orchard gate that survived the fire. Now we water and wait.