Select Page
Roses and Lavender

Roses and Lavender

Just because…..

Its pretty and smells nice and makes me happy.  These are the reasons that we live where we do and live how we do.  Just because.

Winter potatoes

Winter potatoes

Well, here we go again – the seasons have come around but this year we had a wet winter.  Not flooding but consistently moist.  And it appears that we planted potatoes in April and totally forgot about them.  I’m a bit pleased about that because the Victorian floods seem to have inflated the price of potatoes to nearly $3kg (thought I’d put that in there for historians in the years to come).

So having relocated the potato patch that we forgot about, gave no attention or water, we decided that it was time to dig them and voila’ as they say.  Went down there with one bucket and ended up going back for more.  And more.

At least one of the potatoes weighed over a kilo on its own.  Not sure why these did so well.  Ordinarily I would say fresh ground but it wasn’t.  All I can put it down to was the extra water that we don’t usually have over the winter.

Of course, it has destroyed the mango flowers but I guess we all want to eat potatoes a lot more than mangos.  And in the supermarket in August, they trotted out last season’s potatoes that had been cold stored, sold them very cheaply (before the price rise) and they sprouted like mad.  So every day of the last 6 weeks, we have been planting the sprouted bits of the supermarket potatoes in the morning after I cut them off the potatoes we had for tea.  Some of these are already knee high and I have high hopes of them.  It was the perfect staggered planting to keep up digging fresh potatoes all through summer.

Despite being terrifically lazy, I have good snake beans coming on for summer and some butter beans so I’m feeling optimistic about future tea times.  If only I had a pen full of fat piggies, I would be ecstatic.

Put the kettle on love…

Put the kettle on love…

Andrew, put the kettle on love……….I have always told my children that NO MATTER what happens, your first action should always be to put the kettle on.  Boyfriend left?  Dog died?  Just lost a leg?  World apocalypse?  No matter what – always put the kettle on.

This give you a chance to turn away from the others in the room (in order to get your facial expressions into a properly sympathetic mode), busy yourself about a purposeful activity while others run around in panic and get something hot and sweet inside you.  I’m afraid that you just couldn’t ask me to face the apocalypse without a nice cup of tea.

Interestingly, we think of tea as the fermented leaf of the camellia so well known as black tea.  This came to Europe and in particular England from China and the English embraced it with well bred and nasal enthusiasm.  Before that, teas were purely herbal with some evidence found of elderflower tea being brewed in Neolithic settlements.  It lost some popularity when the English population decided that ale was healthy but the Victorians (age wise not the place next to New South Wales) brought back tea drinking.  Partly because they were all competing in the world boring contest and partly because they wanted to support the East India Company in whom they had invested so much lovely money.  Gentlemen do not work.

While in chinese tea drinking mode, they paid a British botanist (actually a Scot) to disguise himself as a particularly weird chinese traveller and find out all the tea secrets of china with a view to establishing the industry within India which was the claytons England.  He did a remarkable job.  Before him, it was thought that black tea and green tea were two different plants.  He discovered it was only the processing that differed.  He commented that on inspecting the green tea manufacturing in China, he saw them putting green arsenic in the tea that they exported.  When questioned about the advisability/ safety of giving arsenic poisoning to all tea drinkers, he was told that the foreign devils like their tea green and are not at all fussy about what is in it.

Now, if you are thinking that you would like a bit of a modern taste sensation, sans the arsenic, I advise you to try blending your own tea.  I start off with black tea in a bodum or tea pot and add a little of something else like fresh peppermint, lemongrass, lemon myrtle leaves, lemon balm or any other culinary herb.  Amaze your friends by adding fresh citrus zest to the black or green tea.  Add some berries.  If you really must, go right ahead and drink this with sugar and milk if you really want to.

If you want to get really fancy, rosellas (see previous post) make a fabulous herbal tea, being the traditional ingredient of red zinger tea that we all thought was so daring in the ’70’s.  Add to them, lemon thyme and mix with black tea or not. 

So black tea with herbs or herbs without black tea.  A new one I saw on the weekend was a normal fresh green herbal tea.  If I want to make herbal tea, I use all herbs fresh because the dried ones just don’t mooove me.  My friend picked whatever he could find in the garden.  In this case, we had rosemary, lemon thyme and other stuff that I didn’t see.  He made a normal pot of tea by pouring boiling water over and steeping the leaves but he put a glob of honey in the pot with the herbs.

After it had cooled a bit, he poured half a glass of tea, dropped in some ice cubes and finished with half a glass of soda water and a twist of lime.  I can recommend this and I’m thinking that you could get super imaginative with this, even to the point of using a sugar syrup in the tea rather than honey and combining different herbs.

Don’t forget that many herbs make a good medicinal tea.  But I really have to be sick to try them.

Onions is onions

Onions is onions

To know one’s onions.  As sure as eggs are eggs.  Two fabulous and interchangeable sayings that are probably unique to the English language.

But is any meal complete without onions?  I have to say no, both from a culinary aspect and from a nutritional aspect.  Onions contain sulphur which allows the body to use amino acids.  So therefore, all meat meals need onions.  And virtually everything else.

Luckily they store so well, both dry stored and pickled.

But I read on the internet (where else) that you could regrow onions.  So every onion you cut for a meal, cut the root end off with about 2cm of flesh and just pop into the soil to regrow.

As you can see, these sprouted good green leaves in double quick time.  They just shoot up from the base within a week to ten days and keep growing from there.

I’ve yet to see if they form an onion base or how long this takes.  But I’m positive that they might do this.  I grew a beautiful onion in a load of horse poo that I threw on the garden one day.  I’m not sure how it got there but I’m thinking that some kitchen scraps may have been thrown in with the stable trash.

As they grow leaves, I have to assume that they form roots.  I’ll move the ones with leaves into a more permanent garden and leave the boxes just outside the kitchen so I can pop out with the onions bases anytime I’m cooking.  It doesn’t matter if they dry out for a day or two before you plant them.

Ultimately, once I have built up the prerequisite number of onions for my household and I have some idea of how long the new fruit will take to form, I should theoretically never have to buy another onion.  It also gives me a chance to grow some speciality onions like the Spanish red and I will only have to buy a few and keep recycling them, rather than having to try and source them and pay the extra when I want them.

Up until now I have bought exclusively brown onions because of their better storage but I can see me diverging into a sweet white onion.  Well, hoping for the best and remember, things are always worth a try at least.

Rosellas, obviously not feathered

Rosellas, obviously not feathered

For all the Victorians out there, rosellas grow on a bush.

For all the hipsters out there, you know when you go to a very special cocktail bar and they offer you “wild hibiscus in syrup” with your champagne cocktail (making it that lovely shade of pink that ladies like so much), that is also rosellas.  Baby boomers may remember the ultra-trendy red zinger tea that we scandalised our WW2 parents with.  It was based on dried rosellas.

Rosellas or wild hibiscus are an extremely traditional Queensland and northward crop.  I always heard that they originated in Hawaii but as they grow wild in the Northern Territory, I’m inclined to think they may have come from Indonesia or Polynesia. 

A stringy, leggy bush, they grow while flowers that look a little like a single small hibiscus.  The petals drop and the bush develops waxy red sepals over a large seed pod.  Its the waxy red petals that you use.  The seed pods are kept for next years sewing or for putting in the chook food.  Either is fine.

SO!  Rosella jam, cordial, chutney or dried for herbal tea.  They are all good and more importantly, basically free.  Today’s effort was rosella cordial which uses quite a bit of lemon juice also and gives a very tangy drink, ideal for children or for mixing with spirits.  Bottled while hot, it will keep in the fridge for quite a while.  Quite a long while, in fact, as I tested this on some of my unknowing friends and they didn’t die from cordial kept for well over a year.  (Hey friends, remember those beans I gave you in the casserole – I had a problem identifying them but apparently they are fit for eating……..)

You probably won’t find these products anywhere outside of Queensland, Australia.  I had some talks with a foliage wholesaler and told them that the seed pods burst and these babies just grew back through the lawn.  They suggested that was a good point if you are looking to build an industry on them.  In saying that though, they absolutely hate being transplanted.  The seeds are so plentiful that I rake some ground, strew plenty of seed over and water well.  If you can’t get a harvest out of that, you are being too particular.

Tradition has it that rosella is good for high blood pressure.  I wouldn’t know about this but I’m figuring it can’t be bad for it.  When the moment comes that I can no longer buy tea leaves, I will replace this completely with the dried rosellas.

Don’t those bottles just glow like a CQ garnet?  Try some if you can get your hands on it. 

Snake Bypass

Snake Bypass

Its been a bit quiet at the ranch while we struggle with the monsoon season.  Not that it is bringing any downpours.  This time last year, the river was in flood and I could quietly and dishonestly tell work that I was flooded in and have a day at home.  Of course, hubby was actually flooded in to work.  Imagine having to sleep at work.  But me and pets were snugly enjoying wet season 2015.

Not so this year.  We just have to endure the endless humidity and sticky high temperatures with no respite except going to work because there, someone pays for the airconditioning.

But we’ve finally done something worthwhile putting on the blog – the start of the grow tunnel empire.

This all came about because we had a horrendous year for snakes this year, especially the chook eating pythons.  We specialise in hens who sit their own eggs and mother so we are always thrilled when we get some chicks.  Its very different from loading an incubator and coming back in 21 days.  The thrill wears off a bit when we are nightly removing pythons and we started to lose not only chicks but full grown hens and roosters.  That was a bit scary – wondering which Jurassic python was waiting to drop on us when the chooks were no longer enough.

We considered ways to protect the chook pens, from tiny wire to electric wire.  Then at the same time, while patrolling for snakes, we realised how many possums, bandicoots and rats thought we were the mcdonalds of the vermin world and were getting a free feed at the expense of all our produce.  Again, there had to be an answer.

Enter the snake proof grow tunnel.  While rats cannot get through shade cloth, neither can snakes.  So we started building these with the idea that this years half grown chookies could live in there for a while, scratch up the weeds, fertilize to their hearts content and generally condition my grow tunnels.  Then we’ll rotate them onto the next grow tunnel while establishing crops after them. 

So we will not only rotate crops but we’ll rotate poultry as well and everyone will be safe while I turn the old chook pens into pig pens or shade houses or something else useful.

YAY for safe.  I hope to live to eat some more pumpkins.  I have visions of beans or cucumbers growing up strings in the grow tunnel, like you see them in commercial farms while pumpkins or sweet potatoes or just herbs roam the floor.  Hanging baskets or bags may grow strawberries if I’m in luck, all the while hopefully with the chookies handling the weeds on a part time basis.

Sure hope this works.  But thanks, Johnny for appreciating my scheme enough to help.  Enjoy the goodies.

The Decade of Olives

The Decade of Olives

I have a horror of nurturing fruit trees that don’t overwhelm me with abundance.  I expect to drown in peaches or wade through citrus as the seasons go.

So when hubby planted the olives, I expected great things of them, notwithstanding the fact that every one told me we a) weren’t in a Mediterranean climate and b) it was too humid here, leading to peacock spot disease and c) just don’t because we just don’t.

That is what we like to call a “red rag to a bull”.  Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do in my own paddock.  So we planted them and waited.  And waited.  Four years in I called for the chainsaw to get rid of them.  I’d had enough with no return.  Nope, hubby thinks that if they are greenish, that’s enough return for him.  So every six months, I would point out how I wanted them chopped down.

Until this year, year 10 of growing.  After 10 years of heaping hate and vitriol over the olive trees, this year we had a nice crop.  Not huge but more than enough.  I will never hear the end of this self-congratulation from hubby and I’m sure that the trees are looking smug as well.

But then I had to work out what to do with the olives.  Grabbing more of my second hand jam jars, I surfed the web trying to figure out not only how I could process them but what would be the easiest and most efficient way to do this.  Sorted into green and black, I decided to brine the green and layer dry salt into the black.

You know on the movies where they have those lovely homes with big country kitchens that you could just imagine filled with preserves and cooking?  Yeah, well they are movie sets.  And real country kitchens end up with food on the floor under the table because not only have you got tubs of brining olives on the table but jars of summer seeds, plates of drying seeds, the fruit bowl that doesn’t fit in the fridge, cuttings that you just have to plant, fermenting ginger beer and every other half finished job on the place.  So we spent weeks while daily replacing the salt water each day and waiting for these olives to get like the ones in the shop.

Did you know that commercially, olives are processed using caustic soda?  Think about that next time you have a martini.  Any wonder the food chain remains my number one concern.

Eventually, the chief olive taster told me that they were fine and you will see that they have been bottled in brine with a layer of olive oil on the top to seal them from the air.  The black ones were rinsed and soaked in fresh water and I will preserve them in olive oil for use.

All in all, if I do this again, I would brine the whole lot.  It uses less salt and much less olive oil which is an expensive bought input to my household.

Ten years to the first olive harvest.  It was a surprise and I should not underestimate the trees too much.  I’d still like to chop out those useless pecans though.

Autumn in Oz

Autumn in Oz

Not quite autumn yet…..actually we’ve only had the occasional relief from the wet season humidity and heat which they say gets worse every year. 

But pumpkins are so quintessentially autumn in the USA that I thought it was nearly close enough to have Halloween/ Great Pumpkin fantasies.

I love pumpkins.  They just sort of hang around down the paddock and grow madly when its wet and sometime later in the year when the snakes have gone to bed and we are adventurous enough to venture into the weed patch, we stumble over pumpkins just waiting to come up to the kitchen and be eaten.  They come pre-packed in their own storage container and many will last a good few months without refrigeration. 

Just be aware that there is a difference between pumpkins and squash.  And they are not supposed to be able to cross pollinate.  So the previous pumpkin post showing a jap pumpkin is actually a squash:  a softer, sweeter flesh that doesn’t keep as long (but still long enough).

Above from left to right is a blue hubbard squash, an ironbark pumpkin and a Cinderella pumpkin.

The squash is supposed to be a long keeper.  I have never grown and never tasted it so I’m looking forward to that.  The ironbark pumpkin was said to be a hard skinned Australian breed.   It has not given a good result but that could be the season, not the breed.  So it will be tried again.  The Cinderella pumpkin was an absolute surprise, given that I had forgotten that we planted it.  I did wonder what the big orange thing in the garden was.  We were waiting for the stem to brown off to pick it and it nearly doubled in size in the last few weeks of growth – possibly because we got some heavy rainfall after a dry summer. 

All of these are heritage non-hybrid so I will be saving the seeds.  The lovely thing is that each pumpkin have lots of seeds for me to be going on with next season.  So only one pumpkin represents a paddock full in the new growing year.

Next year, these three plus the japs which are super reliable and the Queensland Blue, in an attempt to keep fruit all year round. 

Ultimately, I want to try more breeds, especially the cow pumpkin which grows huge for feeding stock and the other one from which pepitas are made from the pumpkin seeds.  We’ll see what happens with that. 

And when the pumpkins stage a takeover, I’ll either have to eat faster or move out.  This year, Great Pumpkin, I would like to wish for less possums and bandicoots to eat my garden.

Finger Lickin’ Lemony Goodness

Finger Lickin’ Lemony Goodness

At the bottom you will see the finger limes.  They are the newest thing (almost) in haute cuisine and an oz native.  Inside them are tiny beads of citrusy taste.  Like the microbeads that they are trying to ban at the moment, except these are naturally occurring and fully edible.  They look and feel like caviar and are tremendous fun.

Except for trying to figure out what to do with them.

Real chefs put a dollop on a plate for garnish which is OK.  But a dollop here or there is not going to use up a tree full of fruit.  Hubby adds them to drinks where they promptly sink to the bottom or stick to the side of the glass.  They’re nice when you can get a mouthful of them.  And they DO NOT dissolve.

One good use of them is in tabouleh which is traditionally made with cous cous balls.  So the lemony balls fit right in and keep the nice lemon taste in the salad which is normally added with the lemon juice.

So today I decided to make a batch of lemon cheese (or lemon butter or lemon curd, depending on your nationality) and I added what seemed like a huge amount of finger lime balls into the batch when I cooked it.  It took 90 minutes to cut open the little fruit and scrape out the flesh.  If you were to look real close, you’d be able to see a hint of the little green balls in the yummy.  I’m fairly happy with it because they stay in one piece while you’re cooking and they keep the burst of tart lemon taste in the lemon cheese which can tend to be really too sweet.

So that was fun and worked.  Just a note about bottling the lemon cheese.  These are old jam jars which are cleaned well and kept for jams.  I sterilize the jars in the oven while I’m cooking the jam so they are heating for quite a while.  Then I take them out of the oven and bottle the batch straight away.  So you are putting quite warm jam into quite warm bottles.  While yelling and blowing on your finger tips, put a double layer of greaseproof paper over the top of the bottle and put the lid on tightly.  So the unsterilized lid never touches the jars or the batch.  When the whole thing cools down, it creates a bit of a vacuum seal which helps to keep the jam good. 

Lemon cheese contains whole egg so I refrigerate it at all times.  But with a fruit jam, sauce or something that doesn’t contain protein, I can use the warm bottling method and some things keep for a year on the shelf with no cool storing.   Some last for longer.  Always use your own judgement when you should eat something and unlike me, it’s often nice to label with date of making so you don’t die from 5 year old jam.  But honestly, I haven’t killed anyone ever….with jam.

Which Witch

Which Witch

There has been a lot of media coverage lately on the use of the word “witch”.  Well, in a totally gender free and non derogatory way, I thought I would introduce you to history’s greatest witch deflector – the elderberry.

There is evidence of the flowers of this being used in Neolithic times as a tea flavouring (before real tea from China was invented).  When I was a kid, all the old farmhouses in the bush had an elderberry tree planted generally by the front or back steps and I was warned never to eat the little black berries as they were poisonous.  Even then I wondered why you would bother with something you couldn’t pig out on.  It turns out that all those little old celtic and teutonic farmwives understood the importance of witchproofing your house entrances with a good, old elderberry.  I must say, that I have not had any problem with roaming witches since planting these.

Also the fact that the photo is taken hanging out my bedroom window should tell you that its summer here and I’m not going outside, even for a photo opportunity.

But in the grand scheme, elderberry – despite its propensity to get away and feralize the entire garden – is worthwhile planting.  The flowers contain natural yeast and every year I make elderberry champagne by simply soaking the flowers in a weak sugar syrup (or honey syrup), bottling and waiting until they go critical and fizzy.  The flowers can be used to bring along a sour dough or natural brew.  They can be made into a tea which is then used to make a herbal cordial.  The berries must be cooked but they contain a high degree of vitamin C.  And the berries have recently been exploited as stabilised elderberry compound which is bought as a pharmaceutical line and used to reduce the impact of colds and flu.  I must say that I make a rather good elderberry syrup cold cure and I personalize it with extra herbs to fix what ails you at the time.  Sore throat?  Thyme.  Fevers and malaise?  Echinacea.

And bonus?  Lack of witches.