The deliciously sweet tang of vitamin ‘C’

After the early peaches have peaked, it is time for the maxed-out berry season. This week we will pick a couple of kilos of youngberries from our canes each day, some times its 3 kgs in a pick. Janine has developed several recipes for using these deliciously tangy, sweet acidy berries, but there are so many that come into season so quickly, we can’t eat them all fresh from the canes. The best way to cope with the peak is to preserve them in vacuum jars. We use them later to make fruit jelly desert, or a jar of the preserved pulp is used in a berry baked sponge desert in the winter.

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Yesterday we picked just over 3 kgs. The panty is already well stocked, she made red berry juice by heating the berries in a big pan. No added water, just simmered in their own juice, sieved through a kitchen mouli, to remove the seeds, then bottled while still hot. It’ll keep for a year in the pantry.

Another favourite at this time is to use the berry juice to make a fruit/suger syrup for use in icecream. Berry ice cream is a very nice desert. Janine makes this very simply by mixing some berry juice sryup in with a packet of pure cream, then whipping it and freezing it. The mixture needs to be taken out of the freezer twice a day and re-whisked the next day to make it more fluffy. That’s it, cream suger and berries. Couldn’t be more basic, simple and deliciously fruity and tangy, totally natural and no added chemicals. Maybe the sugar and the dairy fat content of this recipe should carry a warning not to over-do it! A very small bowl of this after a nice meal in summer is pretty special.

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Peak Peach

We have reached peak early-peach season now. We are picking more than we can eat for breakfast and desert each day. When we get to this point of the harvest, it’s time to start preserving the excess for later in the year.

We still use the very old-fashioned vacuum preserving jars that we bought 2nd hand in the 1970’s. They are easy to use and keep the food well-preserved for a very long time without any extra energy being applied to keep them. Once heated and sealed, we store them in the pantry for the winter months when there is no fresh fruit from the orchards.

To store them most efficiently, we should segment them to get more into the jar, but preserving them whole retains the stone and the lovely marzipan flavour that comes with that. Marzipan flavour from peach stones and almonds is actually a very weak kind of cyanide. How can anything so poisonous be so delicious? Clearly there isn’t very much of it in there.

Janine poaches them for a few minutes before placing them in the jars and sealing them, followed by a slow-rolling simmer. Hey presto.

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The ‘Vacola’ company hand book  tells us that to get the first quality result necessary to win a prize at the local agricultural show or to take out a first at the CWA meeting. The fruit should never quite be brought to the boil, but kept at 99oC for an hour or so to sterilize it, but not overheat it and cause possible shrinkage  of the beautiful geometric packing order of the fruit!!!

Country women must have had a lot of spare time on their hands?

Peak Cherry Season

In this last week of spring, we are in peak cherry season here. We made the effort to cover the trees with netting a few weeks ago, so now we are reaping the benefits. If we don’t cover the fruit trees as the crops come into season and ripens, then the birds will take it all. We have learnt that we need to get the nets over the trees before the fruit colours – about a month in advance. We move the nets from tree to tree as the season progresses. Now, this week, there are simply too many cherries for the two of us to eat fresh at this time.

We eat as many as we can straight from the trees each day, but at this time of year we can’t keep up. If this is the worst problem that I have to cope with in my life, I have nothing to complain about.

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These last few days we have been stoning the excess of cherries and cooking them to preserve them. We have tried a couple of different recipes. For the first batch we de-pipped them and then brought them to a low simmer and added a spoonful of honey, a dash of white wine and a little squeeze of lemon juice. By blanching like this we can preserve them by either freezing them or keep them in the fridge for some days. We also tried blanching them in a small amount of cheap supermarket moscato wine. It is sweet and slightly acidic and does much the same job. much of a muchness.

We sit and work together at this time-consuming but very rewarding job. If you don’t put the effort in, you can’t claim the reward. Although it isn’t at the fore-front of our thinking at all times, we are cognisant of this very important attitude to life in general every day as  we plan our days work. We work with our hands, but also with our minds engaged in this self-reliant, mundane, seasonal work, quite simply because we have a long-term philosophy. We will continue to enjoy this beautiful after-dinner desert treat several times over the coming months.

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Hard work is it’s own reward. The real hard work was put in 40 years ago, when we dug the dams and installed the irregation lines, then  fenced the orchards.
It was only then that we could plant the cherry trees. Now we can enjoy the litteral fruits of our labours.

Mustard Pickles

Mustard Pickles are an odd thing. You need cucumbers from the heat of summer, and cauliflowers from the dead of winter to be flowering and bearing at the same time. I have no idea how this might have originated in history. I can only imagine that it is a modern invention. Sometime since global transport was invented, so that food stuffs could be hauled from warm to cold climates and vice versa.

I can’t make this kind of pickle to the traditional recipe. I choose to only make from what I can grow, so this is the time that we have our first early cauliflowers coming on. We have had our first plantings of cauliflower roasted, stir-fried, steamed, gratin’d, and as cauliflower soup, but still they come. So it’s time to pickle the last of the first plantings. When I think of cauliflower, I think of that thick, yellow, acidic/astringent/sweet/salty mustard pickle.

Cucumbers are listed as an essential engredient, But the cucumbers have all shrivelled and died in the hot and dry summer, weeks ago. So I do what I always do on these occations and I do what I can, with what I have. I have the last of the zucchinis, yellow, green and black. They will replace the cucumbers. I have capsicums, long and bell, both green and red, some sweet and some hot peppers, yellow, lime-green and red. Chilli  and onions, the last of the tomatoes, round red, pear shaped yellow and not quite ripe green. Plus some small carrots and a small celery plant. The last few items are not usually included in mustard pickles, but this is what I have. So this is what I will use. I decide to leave out the beetroots. I have lots of them, but I want the pickle to turn out yellow-ish, not red! This is not the usual blend, but its my own home grown autumnal blend. Zucchinis will work fine instead of the cucumbers.

Pickling has been used since the most ancient of times to preserve food from the summer harvest bounty, well into the winter and salting was always the preferred mode. If you add 2.5 % of the weight of the veggies as salt and massage it through the mix, the vegetables will sweat out their juices and then pickle themselves in their own brine over night, while at the same time setting up a natural ferment of lactic acid that consumes the sugars and stops any bacteria from growing in the acidic, low pH environment over the next few days.

Modern mustard pickles however, use a mix of salt, sugar and vinegar to preserve the vegetable mix. I wash and then chop up all the vegetables into small bite sized chunks, place them all in a 5 litre pot and add a good handful of salt. The mix is left to sweat out its juices overnight.

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After sitting in its own brine over-night, I pour off all the salty liquor and rinse a couple of times. When rinsing, I fill the pan with water, just to cover the vegetables, I pour off the water into a measuring jug and measure the amount water needed to fill the gaps between the veggies. This tells me that the 3 litres of chopped vegetables in the pan leaves 1.12 litres of gaps that need to be filled with the pickling liquid. So that is how i know how much pickling mix to make, as I’m not using a recipe with exact volumes of vegetables. I’m just making something by the seat of my pants and improvising. It doesn’t matter, it always tastes good, and I don’t want to make up too much or too little to cover the vegetables. Having rinsed all the salt off the vegetables,

I prepare a pickling mix of ;

1/2 cup of flour

2 teaspoons of mustard powder

1 table-spoon of Tumeric

2 teaspoons of black mustard seeds

2 teaspoons of white mustard seeds

1 teaspoon of curry powder

1/2 teaspoon of home-made dried cayenne pepper flakes

1/4 teaspoon of home-grown and dried hot chilli granules/flakes.

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I add Just enough cider vinegar to make a thin paste, that when heated, thickens, while being constantly stirred. Add a spoonful of salt and another of sugar to taste. This is then poured over the vegetables and the whole lot brought to the boil and simmered for just a few minutes to complete the thickening of the sauce and vegetable mix.

Pre-heat glass jars in the oven and simmer the lids. Spoon the thickened mix into the hot jars and seal with sterilised lids while still hot. Perfect! Don’t worry if the liquid seems a little bit thin. It will thicken when it cools.

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Serve as a condiment with a well aged cheddar style cheese or with cold meats. My own particular favourite cheese is 32 months aged, ‘Epicure’ Cheddar style cheese from New Zealand. Bitey and flavour-some. An excellent combination!

Sterilised in this way, these pickles will last all year, till the next cauliflower glut. If you don’t eat them all first!

 

Boiling and boiler-making

The first batch of new little wood fired dual/fuel kilns takes shape in my workshop. I could say ‘rolls off the assembly line’, but I’d be telling a lie. My kiln shed is only just big enough for 8 of these little gems at one time and there is definitely no assembly line, just a kind of organised chaos as all the parts get made individually and then assembled. I have 9 kilns ordered this time round. I can’t fit them all in comfortably, or even uncomfortably, so I decide to split the work into two parts. The 6 large and then 3 small units.

I spend an extraordinary amount of time making all the fiddly parts that go into handles and locating lugs etc. I spend 3 days on these parts, even with a bit of help from my lovely Swiss intern Catherine assisting. There are 100 lugs to be manufactured for just one small part of the first 6 kilns. Each part needs to be filed on all 4 sides and also have the corners filed down and rounded for safety, then a safely edge folded over to make it extra safe. In all there are about 1,000 individual actions that need to be performed on these tiny bits, just make one small part that no-one even realises is there.
That is until it is not there!
After three days of this monotony, I need a day in the garden!
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While all this industry is going on, there is still gardening to be done to continue the flow of food from the garden in 3 months time. The equinox is the time to plant garlic, as well as leeks, brocoli, cabbage and Kale. Cauliflowers and Brussel sprouts were already planted in January. Today I am planting radish seeds to make sure of a continuous supply of salad next month. The lettuce seeds are already up and thriving.
The 2nd planting of corn is all over and we are onto the 3rd crop now. The few small 2nd cobs on the old corn plants are rather small, but I pick them and dry them in the sunny kitchen window to dry them out. when they are fully dried, I’ll mill them up into polenta for winter comfort food.
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Today, I also harvested half of the coriander crop, as it is at peak leaf just now. This is the seed from the summer planting, which was the seed from the spring planting etc. I decided to make a coriander based green chilli paste.
Recipe;
A bucket of fresh picked coriander leaves
A hand full of green onions
4 long green chillis (hot)
The juice of one each, lemon and lime
Some salt to taste, I keep this to the minimum, but without it the full flavour profile insn’t realised.
Salt is evil stuff, it hardens your arteries and causes hypertension. It is added in far too greater quantities than is really needed to every processed convenience food. We all get way too much of it without even realising it! It’s up there with sugar as a harmfull ingrediant, simply because we eat too much of it.
We don’t buy any junk food, and hardly ever buy much processed foods, but it is still very wise to limit the intake of salt. As a result we don’t have high blood pressure. I think that the two are related.
Still, a tiny pinch of salt goes really well with just a few particular foods like; tomatoes, eggs, curries, pickles and this coriander paste.
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I manage to fill 2 plastic tubs with the concoction. It’s tangy, spicy, hot and very aromatic. 3/4 of it goes into the freezer in this way, so that it will keep for the rest of the year, as needed. The rest goes into the fridge for immediate use.
Items like pesto and coriander paste are not cooked, so can’t be sterilised with heat to preserve them. We don’t own a freezer, so we have to limit what we choose to freeze. This raw paste, pesto, bone marrow stock concentrate and a couple of meals, cooked in excess at the time to be frozen for emergency meals.
The last of the summer beetroot crop needs to be dealt with before it bolts, so I give them a fast roiling simmer for a few minutes to boil them and soften them a little and then drained and straight into hot bottles from the oven with preserving vinegar. i.e. cider vinegar with a spoon full of sugar plus a 1/2 of salt and brought to the boil with a few spices like, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, pepper corns, bay leaves, chillis and mustard seeds. Such a mix is variable and is different with every batch, as it takes my fancy. Pour the mix over the sliced beets and cap straight away while almost too hot to touch. They vacuum seal as they cool.
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Best wishes from Steve the industrious, well-preserved, boiler and boiler-maker.

The Equinox and Preserving Autumn in Jars

The Autumn equinox has just passed and the vegetable garden is doing well despite the prolonged dry spell. We have now had a little rain, but the dams are still very low or empty.

There are still some summer crops lingering on even though the night-time temperatures are falling, some of the days can still be quite hot. We pulled out a lot of spent summer plants and made room for the winter season plants.

We have already harvested the first cauliflowers and broccoli. We still have some late lingering tomatoes and the last planting of corn to go. But the capsicums, aubergines and chilis are thriving. I managed to get some late zucchini seeds in after Xmas and they have been producing modest numbers of fruit, so ratatouille and all its variations is still on the menu. There is even enough for me to make a couple of batches of passata pasta sauce.

   

 

 

I use some of the last remaining brown onions from our Xmas harvest and a few small knobs of our garlic, lightly browned in good olive oil. The smell fills the house. It’s one of life’s simple pleasures. Hot olive oil with onion and garlic frying. I simmer all the roughly chopped veggies down with a bottle of red wine to make a chunky style pasta sauce. Once its been reduced well and thickened up some what. It is ladled into our 40-year-old, glass Vacola jars and lidded and clipped down to be simmered for 40 mins to be sterilised and vacuum sealed. In this way, it will keep for a year at least, if not longer, if required.

The spring clips are removed the next day after the jars have cooled over night. We test the seal to make sure that they are all perfectly vacuum sealed. Then they are transferred to the pantry cupboard.

Autumn is also the time for preserving quinces. The quince crop is very small this year due to the drought, but there are a few fruit to pick. This is only because Janine was out in the garden early and netted and bagged the fruit to prevent the birds from getting them. The birds have been very aggressive this years, as I assume that the drought has driven them to hunger. We have more wallabies coming into the orchard too, looking to find extra tucker during the dry. Not to mention the influx of fruit bats or flying foxes, that have migrated up from the colony in Picton recently, possibly also driven by hunger?

The quinces are washed to remove the ‘fluff’ coating then peeled, cored and sliced. I baked them in a light sugar syrup with some cloves, cinnamon and star anise, and after baking, they turn an inviting ruby/russet colour.  We have some immediately for desert and then again for breakfast the next day. Totally yummy! The remainder are vacuum sealed in ‘Vacola’ jars for use later in the year.

 

 

We have harvested the last two late season almond trees and spend the evening de-husking and shelling the small late crop. We have 14 almond trees in our nuttery. We have many different varieties, from very round and almost spherical, to very long and thin. Some are hard shell and others paper shell. Some are slightly salty tasting, while others are somewhat bitter, I suspect that this bitterness is from the naturally occurring cyanide that is found in all the almond/peach related stone fruits. What ever it is it doesn’t seem to be doing us any harm over the past 40+ years of eating them.

 

Warm autumn wishes from Steve the nutter.

The Last Week of Summer

Here we are in the last week of summer already. We have survived the 44oC day and months of desiccating extended dry weather. Today it is raining – at last! It’s such a relief to hear the rain gently tapping on the tin roof of our house. I wish that it were hammering, but I’m grateful for this small amount of precipitation. It would be nice to see some water flow into the dam again. it’s been almost 12 months since the last time we collected water in the dam.

This hot weather that we have been having has brought on the nuts. The hazel nuts are all harvested now. We pick up a basket full every couple of days. Hazels are ripe when they fall off. So it’s just a matter of raking them up. They flower in clusters of one, twos and threes, sometimes even in quads, but that is less common.

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After each meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner, we sit at the kitchen table and shell and sort the viable nuts from the empty ones. This is done by dropping them on the kitchen table and seeing if they bounce or not, they are them saved or discarded into separate baskets. Full nuts don’t bounce. They just plonk down on the table with a thud. We test a few every now and then to confirm the bounce prediction and its usually correct. Empty nuts bounce all over the table. Only a couple of percent of the nuts are infertile.

The almonds are also ready just about now. Almonds split open their outer shell while still on the tree. So we know when they are ripe and ready to pick. We have to peel off the outer leathery ‘fruit’ coating and then crack the inner shell to get to the nut inside. The inner nut is nearly always quite damp, even in this very hot and dry weather. We spread them out on the kitchen floor in front of the big window, so that  they can dry out a little and become brittle, then we can crack them open with our fingers. This is quite time-consuming and luckily the almond crop follows on after the hazels have finished. We can only cope with one thing at a time.

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The almonds are not all off the tree. We have harvested 10 of the dozen trees. Almonds don’t like to get too wet when they are ripening. They have a tendency to go mouldy. We have 6 different varieties and the last two trees are a late variety. They may be OK if this rain is followed by another week of hot dry weather.

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The nut harvest is closely followed by the grape vintage. Both the shiraz and the isabellas are both ripe now. Yesterday we had a very big day picking, de-steming juicing, sterilizing and bottling about half the crop. We were both very tired by the end of the day, but now we have the best part of our years supply of dark grape juice in the pantry. So, although we are tired, we are satisfied and rewarded by our efforts. Not just this days work, but the 40 years prior effort, planning and preparation that have made this possible. We have managed to harvest and process and preserve half of the crop so far, about 9 baskets. Even if the weather stays manky now for the next week, we can’t lose. If its wet, we get the water and the garden thrives, if its dry, we’ll be out there harvesting the last of the crops.

My tank is half full.