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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. 

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.

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.

Eggplant. Why?

Eggplant. Why?

I mean, seriously, why?  Eggplant seems to taste like nothing on a good day and on a bad day, its bitter.  But my lovely neighbour grew them so I will persevere.

All sorts of cooking techniques are used to make it eatable but my favourite eggplant dish is deep fried in batter with guacamole dressing.  Obviously, I like deep fried batter and guacamole.  I’ve also used this technique on choko which is another vegetable that tastes like nothing but sort of in a good way, especially roasted with beef.

So above you see in the jam jars (recycled) eggplant which has been bottled with pepper, chilli, bay, thyme and preserved in good olive oil.  Behind in the vacola jars is the eggplant which is processed in apple cider vinegar and sealed for shelf storage.  To the right is the eggplant which I’m about to put in the dehydrator to make eggplant chips.  These chips can be rehydrated by boiling in water for five minutes.  And to the left, some bottled tomato sauce, as referred to in the earlier post – just to show off.

After about a month to season and age the eggplant preserved in oil, we will test it.  But I’m betting that they will all taste like what I put in the bottles.  Maybe I’m missing the point and the purpose of eggplant is to carry flavour or bulk out a meal.

Whichever, I’m nearly done with them unless the dehydrated works like a charm. 

Leftover Pie

Leftover Pie

My new triumph – leftover pie.  Made with layers of chicken, turkey, roast veg and some added onion and herbs. 

It looks very much like the photo but a close look would show that this is a photo of a cherry pie – not leftover pie.

This is because I always mean to take photos before I eat but I guess that I’m just not that kinda gal.  I’m just happy to get food on the table at about the right time and stopping to take photos really isn’t my bag.

Pastry, either savoury or sweet, is super easy.  It just takes a bit of mucking around to roll it out and it makes leftovers a bit more special.  Served with potato mash and green beans, it has disguised the fact that we have been noshing down on the same leftovers since Christmas day.

Seriously though, I now have leftovers of leftover pie and I’m totally confused as to what to do with that.  Logically, there must be an end to leftovers sometime.  Its not like they are student cooking of curried veg. 

Did you ever live in a student share house where they do a big pot of curried veg, eat several serves, add some water, add some veg and go around again?  The best student foods have been handed down from occupant to occupant for probably generations.  I figure that they are an encouragement to graduate and move out.  So the poultry will have to become acquainted with xmas leftovers at some stage.

In the kitchen … Paddock to plate

In the kitchen … Paddock to plate

This yummy pumpkin was picked in April this year.  So it has been stored for  ten months.

Initially, I stored it on its side in a sheltered outside area on the verandah.  On the side because any water sitting around the stalk area causes rot to set in and it rots through to the middle of the fruit.  And outside because I like the winter air to get onto the skin of the pumpkin.

Usually, hard skin pumpkins are the best for keeping but the Jap pumpkin is more truly a squash.  And I believe that they ripen as they sit.  This bright orange certainly looks like one of the most ripe pumpkins I’ve cooked with in a long time.  Which is a relief because the ones I see in the shops often look too green and I wouldn’t really like to eat them.

Once the weather turned a bit wet and hot, I brought all the pumpkins inside to store.  Occasionally I lose one which rots but not as often as you might think.  The beauty of that is that you can store and use pumpkins all year with only one crop per season.

While the Jap is universally enjoyed for its flavour and easy cutting, I have some small Queensland blues and this year I am experimenting with some other varieties.  Stay tuned for a run down on which become an efficient addition to your self sufficient garden.