28 Mar 2014

garden share collective: april

We’re on the tipping point of the seasons: the mornings are darker and cooler, but the days are still warm and sunny and delicious, without the fierceness of summer. Many here will tell you that autumn is the best time of the year, and their favourite season. It certainly is mine.

It’s also a tipping point for the vegie garden. Some of my crops are showing signs of slowing down or finishing; the tomatoes are one. With only four plants in the ground, I feel it keenly when even one decides it’s time to give up; that’s a quarter of my crop! I still have some fruit coming on, but I’m picking maybe once or twice a week, not every day.


This is true of the beans and peas too. The lazy housewife beans continue to thumb their nose at whoever named them, producing a handful of slim green pods very couple of days; so does the row of mixed climbing beans – yellow, green and purple; a haphazard, pretty line. Some of the peas planted in the first week of January are only just starting to turn from soft white flower into tender green pods. However, they are a disappointing supply; despite the consistently warm and sunny months and diligent watering from me, those peas and beans sown after Christmas have been poor performers.

This time of the year invites reflection on what has worked and what hasn’t. My first attempt at growing zucchinis was a modest success; each time I harvested a politely-sized specimen I got an inordinate thrill – I’ve grown a zucchini! Sadly I wasn’t overwhelmed by zukes, but I proved I could grow them, so they’ll definitely appear again next year, and in greater number.

What I won’t grow again is beetroot – a lot of time for a ‘one-off’ crop, and I don’t think that’s practical in such a small garden. ‘Come and come again’ things like peas and beans and tomatoes and silverbeet are more efficient, spreading the harvest and joy over many weeks.

And against all expectations, the basil grown in pots was far lusher than that grown in the ground. So back to pots, positioned in a sunny spot close to the back door, for quick dashes from the kitchen.

Currently growing and harvesting
  • Basil.
  • Beans.
  • Beetroot.
  • Capsicum. My goodness, this is slow! Like beetroots, may not re-appear next year.
  • Lettuce. Though soon salad season will be over!
  • Silverbeet.
  • Tomatoes, though not for much longer.
  • Zucchini, though not for much longer.

Things to do
  • Keep watering (though we are getting some very welcome rain) and seasoling.
  • Start planning the garden expansion – I want to convert more lawn space to garden beds so I can grow more tomatoes and maybe even corn.
  • Collect the gnarly old borlotti beans that hid under leaves and became monsters! I’ll collect the beans for next year’s planting
Don't forget to see others in the Garden Share Collective. Click on the logo in the column at right to see more green thumbs.

22 Mar 2014

roasted tomato sauce, roasted beetroot + apple sauce

There is a wonderfully comforting feeling I get as I take the trip from my kitchen to my garage headed for my curvy vintage chest freezer, carrying freshly made, labelled-and-dated vats of sauce or stewed summer fruit.

I used to think laying down these stores of summer riches was a bit domestic goddessy – look how wonderful I am, doing a little twirl in the kitchen now so in the depths of winter I am glossily ready with my tomato sauce or sweet stewed nectarines! That it was all a glamourous trick, being ever prepared and well-stocked.

But last weekend — as I made a few trips back and forth between kitchen and garage - I realised that it's not ‘exciting’; rather, it’s satisfying, knowing I am preparing for the winter ahead. It’s good to know that I’m enjoying tomatoes in all their glory now – and will be able to again in the gloomier months, albeit in a richer, garlickier sauce form.

I fuzzily remember the tale of the squirrel sensibly tucking away her stockpile of nuts. That’s a little what this is about: being sensible. But I also feel generations of women standing behind me, preserving summer’s bounty, colours and flavours for later. My plastic tubs of whizzed up roasted beetroot may not be as visually appealing as their carefully arranged glass jars of peach halves, but the intent, the result – and the pride – is the same.

Roasted tomato sauce
Inspired by Hugh F-W's recipe in 'River Cottage Veg Every Day'. In both sauces, quantities are free and easy – it’s more the methods and ingredients I wish to tell you about. They work whether you have a small crop or a large glut. Simply choose a baking dish or tray that will accommodate your harvest and go from there.
  • Preheat your oven to 200 and line your baking trays with baking paper (not foil).
  • Lay down a lush scattering of basil, or your favourite herbs. Marjoram and lemon thyme would work well.
  • Fill your tray with roughly chopped tomatoes. You can leave the skin on and the seeds in – we're not too fussy here at chez Dig In.
  • Peel three or four garlic cloves, cut into slivers, and stud your tomato chunks. I figure this embeds the fruit with the flavour and prevents the garlic from burning. Plus it’s fun.
  • Season generously with S&P, and lug heartily with good olive oil.
  • Pop in the oven and cook for at least an hour, or until soft and cooked through.
  • Remove from oven, allow to cool a little, then transfer the lot into your food processor (don’t forget the pan juices). Whizz til you achieve your desired texture – as smooth or as chunky as you prefer.
  • Ladle into freezer-proof containers, stick a few more fresh basil leaves into each one, then seal, label, date and freeze.

Roasted beetroot and apple sauce
This is quite thick, so when you use it, you may wish to thin it with water, stock, wine or cream. But it’s just as good thick like this. As before, don’t worry too much about quantities, be guided by your supply and tastes. Choose a baking dish or tray that will accommodate your harvest and go from there.
  • Preheat your oven to 200 and line your baking trays with foil, overlapping in the shape of a cross. You want to be able to wrap the ends up and enclose the beetroot entirely.
  • Roughly chop your beetroot and an apple (skin and all) and fill your tray.
  • Peel three or four garlic cloves and add to tray.
  • Season generously with S&P, pour in a good slosh of white wine (I guess about a quarter of a cup; you could use water), and lug heartily with good olive oil.
  • Wrap the foil up to enclose the beetroot like a snug parcel.
  • Pop in the oven and cook for at least an hour, or until soft and cooked through.
  • Remove from oven, allow to cool a little, then transfer the lot into your food processor (don’t forget the pan juices). Whizz til you achieve your desired texture – as smooth or as chunky as you prefer.
  • Ladle into freezer-proof containers then seal, label, date and freeze.
Thanks to Becs for this photo idea:

19 Mar 2014

my favourite ice cream

In the grand tradition of Anna Pavlova and Dame Nellie Melba having meringues and bits of toast named after them, I give you:

Yes, I'm famous! Well, at the Bellerive Farmgate Market at least. Perhaps.

Having swooned for many weeks over the decadently grown-up flavour of this ice cream - it brings to mind the dark, brittle lid of a sophisticated creme brulee - I found my vocal enthusiasm had been rewarded with my name up in lights, so to speak.

Unfortunately, I was away and did not witness this fleeting moment of fame in person; Sam (or 'the ice cream man') of The Contented Cow Ice Cream showed me this pic last weekend when I returned to the market and his stall. But you can surely imagine my delight. Especially when Sam told me that my flavour (yes, my flavour) had completely sold out. What a thrill! Such is the power of personal endorsement, even by a complete nobody.

Sadly the market closes for the winter months at the end of March. So I'll be eating as much of Sam's ... my ... our ice cream over the next couple of visits.

16 Mar 2014

lemon curd

Zap! Here is sunshine on a spoon! How many adjectives for lemon can you think of? Fresh and zingy are good ones to start with. But when coaxed into creamy perfection with butter and eggs - yes, that's lemon curd - well, I think of cheery domestic-goddess-goodness.

How can you not be happy when contemplating a great dollopy spoonful of something this yellow and sharp?

Lemon curd
Adapted from Nigella Lawson's 'How to be a domestic goddess'. I use more lemon, and make the curd over a double boiler - that is, a bowl sitting atop a saucepan of simmering water. Nigella uses the saucepan only, but I don't trust myself not to make lemony scrambled eggs, so gentle indirect heat is the way for me.
  • Juice enough lemons to produce 150 mls of juice.
  • Set up a large bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water on your stovetop.
  • Add 75 gms butter, 3 large eggs and 75 gms white sugar, whisking or stirring (depending on your implement) all the time to ensure the eggs don't scramble (if the odd white bit does form, just pick it out) and until the mixture starts to thicken. You'll feel this thickening beneath the spoon, just as you can catch that wonderful moment when you're whipping cream and it starts to get some body. It's one of cooking's quietly satisfying moments, don't you agree?
  • When nicely thick, transfer to a clean jar or bowl and allow to cool before covering. Store in the fridge and as Nigella would say, use greedily.

10 Mar 2014

summer salad

This is my favourite big bowl of food right now:

I look at this and think wow, a bowlful of happy rainbow colours. Of vitamins and minerals (or these days, antioxidants and phytonutrients). Of delicious fresh summer and autumn flavours. Of home-grown or farmers’-market-bought produce. Of good, good things!

It’s a warm salad of sorts – I like my salads to have something cooked in there, something large and filling – but really it’s just a hodge-podge from the kitchen and vegie garden that works together; a big colourful mash up.

So we start with a substantial foundation of hot potatoes (kipflers or dutch creams lately), or maybe some brown rice. Then my two favourite things at the moment. Beetroot that’s been roasted to soft perfection with garlic, wine, lemon, herbs and oil; then whizzed in the food processor (I was going to make my beetroot pasta sauce, but it never got that far). And zucchini grated into a juicy dark green-flecked pulp. Not cooked - just fresh and green and juicy, and tasting of the garden.

Great spoonfuls of those go in, then wedges of jelly-soft black krim tomatoes, my all time favouritest ever tomato. I am dreaming of expanding my vegie garden space next summer, with the main purpose of creating a whole block for black krim tomatoes. Their colour is darkly decadent, the soft flesh is sinfully good, and the taste is magnificent. Splendid cooked or in a salad like this.

That’s the bulk of the bowl. Then comes the toppings. A dollop of greek yoghurt, which says hello to the beetroot and makes a beautiful, beautiful magenta colour; some freshly-plucked basil leaves for their aniseedy flash; a scattering of toasted walnuts (or pine nuts; but like the greek yoghurt, walnuts work best with the beetroot); and some shiny dribble of flavoured oil – maybe walnut, maybe lemon, maybe garlic (oh, to have such choice!).

That, finally, is it. I have been happily eating this for days. I have transferred the lot (minus the spuds) into a bread roll, where it was just as joyous. And I am nowhere near tiring of the flavours or colours yet. Honestly, how could you?
What's your favourite meal right now?

1 Mar 2014

garden share collective: march

The two enemies of all tender young seedlings are the intense Tassie sun, which will zap you in seconds, and the blackbirds, well-documented here at Dig In.

So hats off to my mother for inventing this brilliant contraption; simple but effective:

What's hiding beneath?

A lettuce seedling!
It’s a very old wire hanging basket, upside down, held to the ground with hooks, and a handkerchief of shade cloth pegged to it. Secure against UV and birds, but still letting light and air and water in. Genius!

This month’s garden Share Collective post comes from my dad’s garden. If you’re a long-time reader of Dig In, you’re familiar with the space; I’ve chronicled it before, in totally opposite conditions – good times and bad.

So as my vegie garden is quietly and slowly growing along (I’m eating my tomatoes and zucchinis!), I thought we’d travel the winding highway down the Tasman Peninsula to visit mum and dad’s garden.
Let’s start by exploding the myth that some of you may be entertaining about the lush green Tassie countryside. Not so. In fact, I went to the opposite end of the state recently — to Burnie in the north-west — which is usually eye-achingly emerald. In a perverse way, I was looking forward to, well, turning green with envy. But no, there too it was brittle and beige. This hot dry summer has a lot to answer for.

Anyway, back to Boomer Bay. Dad, as you can see, clearly does not believe in mulch. He has only recently started putting it about (see the top pic), probably because I kept threatening to come down and do it for him. Time is the enemy — you may think once you’re retired, you’ll have endless, languid hours to while away; no, mum and dad say they are busier than ever. But they are also still doing ongoing work to fix the damage to their gardens from the January 2013 bushfires.

I actually had the bright idea of spotlighting dad’s garden for you after we’d done the morning harvest: ice cream containers full of scarlet runner beans (my favourite, with a strangely rough skin and flame-coloured flowers, and which I cannot grow at my place); the tomatoes — still early in the season, in all their gnarly glory. I am convinced that ugly tomatoes — ridged, bulbous, striped or blackened — have the best flavour.

Like tomatoes, I will happily ignore bland corn in the shops and wait for those brief summer weeks when dad’s crop is ready (I can’t fit corn in my vegie garden; tried one year and could fit nothing else!). The memory of homegrown corn’s sweet starchiness (and bits caught between the teeth) carries me thru until the next season.

Let’s go back and have a closer look at those tomatoes - they look a bit like someone crucified, arms outstretched. Apparently this is what you do.

Here is the work of a man who knows what he is doing — who clearly understands The Mysteries of The Tomato. This is what I will be aiming for next year. Maybe in 30 years time I will get it right (then again, my friend F does next to nothing to her tomato plants and she has pretty abundant crops. To discipline or not to discipline; that is the tomato question).

Mum's basil - not dad's. Important distinction. Also - better than my basil. You win the basil competition this year, mum
On an un-illustrated note, the fruit and berry harvests have been smaller this year. The fires destroyed some of dad’s trees; other factors have also taken their toll. Time to tend the trees has been an issue, as I said, with other garden resurrection tasks taking priority.

The parrots and other birds got in to the beautiful cleo apples before dad got to netting them, pointlessly pecking at unripe fruit then leaving it, damaged. And one Sunday of ferocious winds blew off half the quince crop, weeks before the nubbly fruit was ready.

In some ways, it’s meant we are not dealing with a glut of fruit (freezing, jamming, stewing, baking as well as eating), which can be seriously daunting. On the other hand, it is sad not to be so abundantly blessed by the usual richness of homegrown berries, stone and pome fruit.

Yes, gardening is a joy, full of pretty, delicious things, but it is also a hard lesson in realities; a reminder that Mother Nature will always have the upper hand — even if what she deals out is senseless and frustrating. Gardeners have to develop thick skins, to take the good with the bad.