It’s not quite a week since I wrote that we picked the first youngberries of the season. Now, 6 days later we are in full harvest mode. This morning we picked 4 kilos of berries, we also picked 250 grams of blue berries and half a dozen strawberries.
Up until today we have been keeping up with the harvest. Eating them as we go in morning fruit salad. Then Janine made a sorbet/icecream sort of thing with just fruit and fresh cream, whipped up by hand intermittently every hour or so through the day as she took the batch out of the freezer as it stiffened. It made a pretty delicious dessert after dinner.
We have been up since early to do the watering and picking before the heat of the day set in. We are expecting 30oC today, so will spend the middle part of the day inside and out of the sun.
I also picked half a dozen hours old zucchinis with their flowers still attached. I will stuff these with cottage cheese and olives for lunch. This is our simple seasonal cuisine.
My inside work will be trying to finish off the big 4 metre x 2 metre arched window for the gallery space in the new pottery building. I’ve been plodding away on it for a couple of weeks now. It’s slow work as TIG welding aluminium creates a lot of heat in the metal frame, and aluminium expands and contracts a lot, which can lead to warping. Usually I would clamp a smaller job down onto a heavy steel-plate bench. but this window is so large, its bigger than my welding bench. so I have to be patient and allow it to cool down and shrink back to size between welding sessions. Hence the slow progress.
So far, I’ve been lucky, and it hasn’t warped much and is still within 1mm of square. That’s pretty good for my low level of skill.
We used to say the first ypungberries of the summer, but over the years of global heating progressing apace and nobody in government prepared to admit it or do anything to cut carbon emissions, we are almost certainly heading for a difficult future.
You can’t fix a problem, until you admit that you have one. The carbon industries through their financial leverage on both political parties and continued deceptive advertising have brought us to this critical point and show no signs of letting up.
So now we have to say the first young berries of the season, because it’s nearly all over in the late spring. We only have to put put one net up this year, as all the other fruit trees are either burnt , or badly damaged and cut back very hard to remove the damaged wood, so there will be no cherries or peaches, no apples, pears or plums, no avocados. Just the youngberries. They survived the fire because they were directly behind the house. I am grateful for what I have.
Youngberries are so special, just the right balance of sugar and acid. Unlike the mulberries that we have been feasting on for the past few weeks that have a mild sweetness, but with virtually no acid. They need lemon juice and zest to give them a bit of a kick. See previous recipes.
These berries are so nice, that we will be just eating them fresh off the canes for the first few days, until the crop overwhelms us and then we start to bottle them for later in the winter. We’re pretty lucky to have something so simple and so special fresh from the garden.
Our new chooks, Edna and Gladys, have been laying an egg a day for us this last week, so tonight we are ejoying a garden frittata with steamed zuchinis. At lunch we enjoyed a garden salad with steamed asparagus.
The best lunch isn’t perfect, The best lunch doesn’t last forever, but the best lunch is never finished.
However, Breakfast is always good, especially when it is fruit salad followed by coffee and mulberry tart.
The mulberries are still holding up against the marauding birds. I guess that this is because there are so few of them that have survived the catastrophic bush fires. We have 2 bower birds and friarbird in the tree fairly constantly, The crop has been very good because of the rains, so There is still some to go around.
I made my 5th attempt at the mulberry tart. I’m getting better at it and faster now with practice.
I’ve abandoned the lattice top, but added ‘lemonade’ lemon juice and zest to the recipe.
I’ve settled into a reliable recipe of
500g de-stemmed mulberries
40g plain flour
A shake of cinnamon powder and a dash of vanilla essence.
Juice and pulp of half a large lemon or all of a small one, plus grated zest, also juice of one small ‘lemonade’ lemon and zest of the skin.
Mix all these together in a mixing bowl. Blind bake the crust, add filling, and bake for 25 mins at 180oC. It seems to be fairly reliable. And delicious!
Serve on a beautiful hand made, ash glazed, wood fired platter.
Our new ‘Tree Change’ Chickens Gladys and Edna have landed.
We have been given a couple of young pullets. This was a nice surprise for us, as I was missing Hillary’s presence in and around the garden these last few weeks. She always kept me company whenever I was working outside – which was often. We had intended to get another coupe of chooks in the fullness of time. I had gone in and cleaned out the chicken house pretty thoroughly, then limed the soil to sweeten it. I took the laying box out into the sun and cleaned it pretty well and left it to bake in the sun to help clean it of any mould or fungus etc. I locked the house up and left it to sit. I thought that that would be it for some time. As we are flat out busy, The thought of getting new chickens was quite low on my agenda.
Last week, our very good friends Warren and Trudie asked us if we were interested in some more chickens, as one of Warrens clients had two to give away. They were living in a small hutch in a carport in Balmain. A small, densely populated, inner city suburb. I gather that their life was largely spent on concrete. We said yes, the time was right for us and they arrived here serendipitously on the weekend. We put them in their new house and they seemed to settle in straight away. They didn’t even explore their new surroundings. The first thing that they did was scratch at the earth floor, start to excavate a small hole, scratch out a few worms, which they ate with gusto, eat some soil and then take a dust bath, laying on their side and flicking dirt all over themselves and each other.They knew they were chooks and this is what chooks are programmed to do.
We brought them snails from the vegetable garden, which they fought over and snaffled down without hesitation. We also brought them a load of chickweed, lettuce leaves, spinach and cabbage leaves, which they torn to bits and downed feverishly. They weren’t very interested in the dried feed ‘layer Pellets’ and scratch mix of grains that we had in there for them. They seem to be very happy with the dirt. I hope so.
We will have to wean them off their inner city Balmain diet of sipping Chardonnay and eating smashed avocado on organic sour dough rye. From now on it’s going to be snails, worms and free range weeds and grasses and whatever else they can find for themselves. The move doesn’t seem to have bothered them one bit. They have both laid an egg a day, without interruption since they arrived. Going from a small inner city flat to 7 acres of garden, orchards and grassland bordered by bush will give them plenty of scope to live out a more ‘natural’ chooks life.
I’ve shown my self to be very shallow and fickle. These chooks have completely taken my mind off missing Hillary and I am now quite happy with the ‘transference’ of emotion. Welcome to your change of trees Gladys and Edna! Happy scratching.
Zucchinis come on so quickly. I planted all the new summer vegetables together at the one time back on 12th of September, then six weeks later, we had or first pick of new season fruit on the 22nd of Oct.
All the other summer vegetables are still growing a frame work of structure but not even flowering just yet, However, the earliest tomatoes are just starting to flower, but they are still a long way of having edible fruit. Due to Global Heating, in the last few years, we have been able to pick our first few ripe tomatoes just be fore Xmas.
I decided to pick the small fruit with the flowers still on and stuff the flowers with cottage cheese seasoned with a few chopped olives, capers and an anchovie. I fried them in a little olive oil for a minute or 3 and then added a little white wine and put the lid on to steam them for a further couple of minutes. The delicate flowers collapse around the seasoned cheese stuffing, while the fruit remains firm, but heated through. The flavour is very delicate and the texture matches perfectly. Our first of many such meals this season.
If I were Italian, I’d probably batter them and deep fry them, or in Paris they might cook them with a lot more butter. But I’m me, so I don’t use any salt, except that in the olives and anchovie, and I only use olive oil and then only a dash of that. This is meant to be healthy, fresh, organic, nurishing food. But not boring. I’d actually love to be writing about building the pottery, and better still about making and firing pots, but alas, all this rain has put back the builders start date another few weeks. I’m starting to be resigned to the fact that we won’t be making anything meaningful in the pottery till this time next year. Disapointing, but it is what it is.
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.
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.