Tag Archives: Food

The Preservation Society

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“Father: It’s been nine months since my last confession.”Nah, I’m not religious but Holy Moly has it been a long time between drinks on this blog!

Busy, busy, yeah you’ve heard it all before…work, kids, life. Doesn’t matter; here we are. And just this week life presented a lovely little window of garden abundance and time: two sweet things that rarely coincide so I grasped it with both hands and my pantry and fridge are slowly filling in its wake.

First, let me just say: TOMATOES.

And, oh what a glut we’ve had! However, I’m proud to say I’m learning from years past and this time I’ve succession planted. So while we’ve had a tremendous short-term haul of Black Krim, Mortgage Lifters, Tommy Toe and others I can’t even remember, they’re still coming! Green Zebras are ripening (although it’s hard to tell with that variety) and the orange Jaune Flammee and stripey Tigerella too. I planted six different varieties of cherry tomatoes that grew to such gargantuan proportions it was almost a little scary how much fruit we were harvesting. Reinforcements were called; it was all hands on deck!

One of the pleasures of growing so much food is giving it away to grateful friends, family and neighbours who rarely, if ever, experience the superior flavour and quality of homegrown produce. But that said, I  would still rather keep as much of it as possible to feed my own family. And so began the wave of preserving, a joyful yet time-consuming necessity.

Here’s a taster of what I’ve made so far:

  • 14 bottles of tomatoes made in my Mum’s old Fowlers Vacola system, which I subsequently overheated and broke. Ugh!
  • Tomato Ketchup (3 bottles)
  • Tomato and Eggplant Chutney (6 jars)
  • Dried cherry tomatoes (3 bottles) sprinkled with garlic salt and dried basil and marinated in virgin olive oil
  • Slow-cooked oven-baked tomato sauce (2 bottles). This is a recipe from Stephanie Alexander’s “Kitchen Garden Companion” cookbook.

This is, of course, in addition to gorging on fresh tomatoes for breakfast lunch and dinner. Eggs poached in chopped tomatoes for breakfast, bruschetta for lunch, Tray Baked Salmon with Olives, Green Beans, Anchovies and Tomatoes for dinner (thank you Jamie Oliver).

img_3692But it’s not all tomatoes. The cucumbers are starting to assert themselves in the pecking order of the vegie patch with a tidy harvest of 14 cucs in an afternoon (right after I’d just bought one from the shops – what was I thinking?!) So I thought I’d turn my hand to pickling given my son’s penchant for dill pickles. And this was the result: Bread ‘n Butter Pickles. It’s another recipe from Stephanie Alexander’s “Kitchen Garden Companion” cookbook and I’ve got to say: absolutely delicious! Surprisingly so. I’m not usually the biggest pickle fan but these are incredibly moreish and the kids we’re in there with forks, shovelling them into their mouths. So there’ll be more of them to come.

What else? We’ve made Decadent Chocolate and Beetroot cake and Beetroot Relish with all the beetroots coming out of the garden (one of my all-time favourite vegies for its versatility.) Basil pesto is next on the agenda. I do this at the end of summer every year and freeze it in ice cube trays, then bag ’em. They’re great for popping into your spaghetti bolognaise sauce, as a pizza sauce base, adding them to fresh pasta with parmesan and olive oil for the laziest mid-week meal ever (my kids love it!)

Ah yes, I haven’t had this kind of time for ages so it’s just dumb luck that it coincided with harvest. I’ve changed my work situation (for the better I hope) as there are new business ventures to explore. Stay tuned for more on that later.

Sunday Mango Magic

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I can’t believe that I once hated the funky taste and slimy texture of mangoes. Now I think they’re divine! So when we went to the Kalamunda Markets last Sunday and saw a stall selling the most ENORMOUS mangoes I’d ever seen, well, we couldn’t resist. They had large boxes of second grade R2E2 mangoes for $20 – BARGAIN!

Despite a few black spots on the skin, which I assume is caused by Anthracnose, a common fungus affecting mangoes, the flesh was flawless and absolutely superb. And jeepers, there was a lot of it! The R2E2 mango has a sliver of a seed, unlike the Kensington Pride variety, which I have planted at Edgefield, so the amount of meat we got off these ginormous fruit was impressive.

We got home and set to work preserving them because they weren’t going to last much longer fresh. Needless to say, we gorged ourselves on fresh fruit but we chopped most of it up and put it into large ziplock bags to freeze. Mmm, mango smoothies. We also thinly sliced a couple to dry in the food dehydrator and I then made a double recipe of Jamie Oliver’s “Black Rice, Hazelnut and Mango pudding”  for breakfast during the week. I could barely keep the kids hands off it!

Preserving takes time but when you can get your hands on in-season gluts like this or better yet, grow your own, then it’s SO worth doing. We actually went to the market to see if we could get a couple of boxes of end of season tomatoes in order to bottle them for the winter but we were too late.

Turns out it was Sunday Mango Magic instead!

 

Rockmelon, but not as you know it

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 Yes this is rockmelon (or cantaloupe for my North American friends) not pumpkin. It’s an heirloom variety called ‘Delice de la Table’ and it’s fragrant, juicy, firm and absolutely delicious. Been checking these babies daily outside my laundry door till finally they were ready…today. Hooray! 

  
 

Sunshine & love in a jar

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We simply couldn’t eat them fast enough, those soft, scarlet globes of goodness. Something had to be done because there was no way I was going to watch the mountain of gloriously ripe tomatoes slowly sink into a mushy, fetid puddle and I didn’t want to give them all away just yet.

However, ripe, organic tomatoes I’ve found also help grease the wheels of commerce with a little welcome baggy given to Nigel Thompson from Earth and Water who we called back to fix the pump YET AGAIN. We gave tomatoes and cucumbers to a mate who had lent us some camping gear for our recent holiday and received rapturous appreciation. A heavy bag was given to my favourite neighbour whose daughter Niamh goo-ed and gaa-ed over the tomatoes and scoffed the lot.

It feels great to share the love.

Blissed out on tomatoes

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This is what it’s all about.

We arrived home from our two-week holiday in Denmark after a 5 ½ hour drive to a clean house, dinner in the fridge (thanks to our fabulous housesitters Bill and Sue), a happy dog, a new clutch of four chicks and a vegie garden bursting at the seams with the most INCREDIBLE vegies you’ve ever seen. It was Christmas all over again!

I was singing as I collected 43 huge, ripe tomatoes (Tommy Toe, Mortgage Lifter, Black Russian), cherry tomatoes (Pink Bumblebee, Tigerella, Broad Ripple Yellow Currant) cucumbers (Lemon, Double Yield, Suyu Long, Richmond Green Apple), beetroot, basil and a massive bowl full of green beans. La la la!

So in reality, each of those mouth-watering, soft, juicy, flavoursome, lovingly tended, organic tomatoes probably cost me $20 each (especially in the light of the recent reticulation project). But hey, that’s not the point. You couldn’t buy them from the shops if you tried.

Besides, the enjoyment I got from unwrapping each tomato from its fruit fly protection mesh bag to reveal the warm glow of its deep pink and scarlet belly, to feel the soft give against my fingers of its ripe, bulging mass, to smell the fecundity in the air – well, that’s priceless (and pretty sexy in a totally geeked out gardening kinda way.)

So, needless to say, henceforth we are eating tomatoes (and cucumbers and beans) for every meal. My lucky neighbour Rach and my sister will be on the receiving end of some glorious tomato goodness soon but other than that I’m going to selfishly binge out. I’m already dreaming of the Tuscan Tomato Bread Salad I’m going to make for dinner tonight. Bruschetta and poached eggs for breakfast, Caprese salad for lunch…I could go on.

This is why I garden

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I don’t often post food photos but I should because this is one of the main reasons I garden, so I can eat food like this, straight from my patch to my kitchen to my plate to my tummy. Yum! The crayfish were a gift from my sister, caught by her father in law. The beetroot, asparagus, salad greens and new potatoes are from my garden. Pretty much just the feta (and lots of butter) were bought. I was in food heaven. Not bad for a casual Sunday night dinner. 

 

Just Eat It. A Food Waste Story.

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I’ve only seen this movie trailer so far but it highlights an issue close to my heart and I can’t wait to see the full documentary. It’s so great that there are folks out there raising the awareness of the general public to hidden issues like this. You hear whispers and read snippets about organisations that are attempting to do something about all the food waste by giving it to shelters and such, and that’s great. But it’s not addressing the real issue of our overwhelming ignorance about food waste.

What I don’t understand is why the big chain supermarkets, like Woolworths and Coles here in Australia, don’t simply ASK their clientele (most of us) what we want. I can’t imagine I’m in the minority when I say, I don’t need my banana to have a perfect curvature and length in order to buy, eat and be nourished by it. And that goes for all the ridiculous policies that dictate the viability of fruit and vegetables. If we were only to be shown and offered that which is currently considered unacceptable produce, I guarantee it would sell like hotcakes.

I hope movies like this create such a stir that “we the people” demand the big chain supermarkets change their stupid and unsustainable policies.

OK, I’ll get off my soap box now…grrr!

Where food ethics meat reality: killing our own chickens

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Toni Carroll, my friend and “chook mentor” who, thankfully, walked us through the whole process.

The three cockerels cock-a-doodle-dooing sealed their fate. We’d bred them from our own flock. They were handsome cross-breds out of our spunky Silver Spangled Hamburgh rooster, Dirk Diggler, and half Isa Brown half Coronation Sussex hens (I think). It was time to put into action what Jeff and I had been reading, watching on TV and talking about for a long time. Authors Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food), Joel Salatin (Food Inc and numerous books) and Matthew Evans (Goumet Farmer and The Dirty Chef) to name but a few had, over time, influenced us in a way that had made us want to get closer to our food, or rather, to source it closer to home. And how much closer can you get than raising it yourself?

At the moment, raising and killing our own fowl for meat is about as far as we are willing and able to go. The romantic notion of pigs, a cow for milk / beef or various other animals is unviable on our current 1-acre smallholding and we’re ok with that. This was, in itself, a very large first step for us and one of which we’re rather proud. It’s funny how killing your own animals for meat IS such a big deal. Probably the majority or the population eats meat but we have become so removed from that first step in the process that it has become thought of as an extraordinary act of brutality at which most people cringe. But now that we have gotten over the “hump”, done the deed once, I think it will become a much less gruesome task and one that I associate with fresh, delicious, complex meat for cooking and eating rather than the thoughtless killing of another animal.

I called Toni Carroll with whom I’d become friends through various chicken-related adventures and she came over on Sunday, 30 March to show Jeff and I how to kill, gut, clean, skin and pluck our young roosters ready for eating. While I admit it was a confronting task, at the end of it I was surprised to say I didn’t find it as bad as I thought I would. The most difficult part was breaking its neck. This is an optional step but one I wanted to learn how to do and it seemed easier than trying to chop the head off a live chicken, which I imagined would flap around like a crazy thing while I was wielding a cleaver. Not a comforting thought. So Toni showed me how to break its neck by holding on to its legs, lying it flat on the floor of the garage with a broom handle over its neck, standing on both sides of the pole and simply pulling the bird up hard till its neck snapped or stretched. Then came the worst bit. The inevitable convulsions of a dead but seemingly very alive bird which flapped, writhed and gasped for air. Despite assurances from Toni that it was very much dead and just its nerves were jangling, I found that part uncomfortable. Funny really given that I’d done the very same thing with a million fish before in my lifetime. Hopefully, this will become “normal” for me too over time.

Jeff had a go too but he opted to go straight to the beheading. And what I feared might happen, did. While making a clean cut, the convulsing bird slipped out of his grasp and went flip-flopping headless across the yard. I’ve got to say, it was a hilarious, if somewhat gruesome sight. Jeff and Toni got spattered in blood but he quickly retrieved the bird and we bled them into a bucket.

So onto the next step. We decided to skin two of them for a casserole and pluck one, leaving the skin on for roasting. I boiled a large pot of water and dipped one of the birds into it for about 15 secs before plucking, which I found surprisingly easy. Toni demonstrated on one and Jeff skinned the other. The gutting was unpleasant because of the smell but was over quickly. Then it was good wash under the tap and we were done. Toni advised the birds needed to rest for 2-3 days either in the fridge or the freezer to allow the meat to relax from the rigor mortis. 

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Plucking one of the cockerels ready for roasting.

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The look on Jeff’s face says it all: blergghh!

Then came the best bit – eating. On Sunday, 6th April, I prepared the most delicious casserole I think I’ve ever made, if I do say so myself.

Jo’s recipe for Edgefield Homegrown Chicken Casserole

Ingredients

Two whole chickens cut in quarters
Bacon
Mushrooms
Pickling onions
Garlic
Thyme
White wine
Vegetable stock and water
Tomato paste
Salt and pepper
Kale

I think that’s it for ingredients from memory. I just flew by the seat of my pants in terms of a recipe and it turned out great. The meat was really delicious. It was darker in colour, had more texture and was firmer than shop-bought chicken. The flavour was slightly gamier and more “chickeny” – just as Matthew Evans had described. Major thumbs up from all around my table so I was stoked.

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So all round it was a very positive experience and one we are now prepared to continue doing, which is good because I’m rather enjoying breeding chooks and with that comes surplus roosters. This is by far the best thing I can think of doing with them.

 

 

Homesteading: time-consuming but satisfying work

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We’ve had a glut of lemons, oranges, grapefruit, silverbeet and leek (the last of the season) plus endless mulberries and strawberries at Edgefield of late. So I’ve been channelling Martha Stewart and doing some serious homesteading, in my spare time, of which I seem to have very little these days! A friend who came up for lunch recently after looking at my vegie garden asked: “Where do you find the time?” And I was kinda stuck for an answer and eventually said: “I make time.” I’ve been thinking about that ever since. When not working (as in paid work) or actively looking after the kids and cooking, I am ALWAYS outside in the garden. Sometimes I wonder what people without a garden / property do with all their spare time! RELAX I’m sure, read books, have hobbies, exercise, etc. I find I go in waves of enthusiasm for all the gardening and property maintenance. While I definitely enjoy it, sometimes it’s just plain tedious, hard work and I wonder why I’ve made such a rod for my own back. I’m not very good at finding balance in this area but I’m working on it. 

So anyway, we have a freezer and fridge full of produce at the moment, which is awesome, and I’ve been focusing my meals as much as possible around my available garden produce. It certainly makes for a different mindset when you’re thinking about the evening meal.

  • Lemon ice cubes and frozen lemon quarters
  • Lemonade
  • Lemon cordial
  • Lemon butter
  • Preserved lemons
  • Lemon tart
  • Orange, lemon and grapefruit juice
  • Strawberry jam
  • Mulberry jam
  • Mulberry icecream
  • Bags of frozen chopped up silverbeet and leek
  • Lots of silverbeet and leek in vegie bakes, lasagne, stirfrys, etc

Oh! And we’re finally eating the bunch of bananas that I’ve been patiently waiting to ripen for over a year now. They are magnificent! Creamy, soft and full of flavour – delicious! And there’s another bunch forming too, yay.

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Lemon butter, mulberry and strawberry jam, orange juice and bags of silverbeet ready for freezing.

The nice thing about preserving is that while yes it’s a lot of work, you enjoy it for such a long time afterwards. We still have 1/2 dozen jars of marmalade in the pantry from Jeff’s last attempt to break the back of the overwhelming amount of citrus (it didn’t even make a dent.) I won’t be buying jam for a long time either, and it’s a lovely thing to give away. No-one says no to homemade strawberry jam, yum!

Anyway, it’s Sunday and I have a fence to take down and reticulation to fix so best be off…

The last of the Navel oranges

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The last of the Navel oranges

I collected the last of our delicious Navel oranges today before the parrots could eat any more. While a little smaller than in years gone by due to such a hot dry summer, their flavour has been superb and we’ve been gorging ourselves for months now. Winter is made so much better when you have established citrus trees.