Back in midwinter, I posted a picture of my new, very beautiful fruit bowl – a Yule gift – filled with winter fruit – oranges, mandarins, lemons, limes, grapefruit.
Then in Spring I posted a picture of it filled with spring fruit – pawpaws and strawberries in my part of the world.
And now it is full of mangoes and grapes. The first of the mangoes is j-u-st getting ripe. I admit we’ve cut a few a bit too early, impatience winning out. And still, really not quite there. Another week or so and it will be properly mango season. I have some jars of green mangoes salted on the bench and tomorrow I’ll make green mango pickle with them, and in a few weeks when the stringier, later mangoes get ripe I’ll make some mango and tomato chutney. But most will be mango smoothies and mangoes in salads and mango oatcakes for breakfast and lots just eaten as they are.
The grapes too are just coming on, maybe enough for a small batch of mosto cotto this year, but most will just be eaten as they are. Always something to fill the bowl.
Teo made his first cake. The cake was not bad at all for a two year old. The wild raspberry topping was the highlight. He and Grumpy (Lewie) went hunting and found all the wild raspberry patches nearby. Only a small proportion made it back for the cake.
Berries are only in season for a short, spring season. My strawberry patch this year is a victim of a very determined bandicoot all winter, so it’s not the big bowlful a day of some years, but still enough for strawberries and pawpaw and orange fruit salad for breakfast, with toasted macas and yoghurt.
Strawberries should be a luxury food. A couple of months of indulgence a year, sweetened by a whole year of waiting. There’s this thing with seasonal luxury foods, that they start out expensive and the price encourages every kind of scammy hereticism, pushing them to grow until you get something that is cheap and very very nasty. Like salmon. And turkey. And strawberries. Strawberries are one of the “Dirty Dozen“, and the best way to stay classy is to let them be what they are, a late spring treat. From your garden, or buy organic farmers’ market ones now, for a month or so, and remember how good they should be.
Back in June, I posted a picture of my new very beautiful Yule gift of this fruit bowl, filled with mid-winter fruit – lemons, limes, mandarins, oranges, grapefruit.
Now it is strawberries and pawpaws in my part of the world. They make my very favourite breakfast smoothie. (Maybe I lie there. I have many favourites – custard apple and orange is a strong contender too, and our mango trees are laden with babies, so no doubt at New Year I’ll be telling you it is mango and yoghurt, or maybe mango and pomegranate). If you are keeping calories down, paw paws and strawberries both have the added advantage of being surprisingly low.
And they make the best fruit salad, especially if you can find a late orange to add too.
Paw paws don’t travel well, so if you are not in a tropical or sub-tropical region, you will probably be as disappointed with any you buy as I am if I ever make the mistake of thinking I will find good apricots in northern NSW. But up here, we are in paw paw heaven this time of year.
Happy equinox everyone. For us in the southern hemisphere, it is ostara, the spring equinox, celebration of babies of every species (and rabbits and eggs). Celebration that life renews over and over, generation begatting generation into not just the 7th generation but forever. A good moment to reflect that this is sacred and our sacred duty to protect.
Some years I don’t bother with European cabbage. My winters are short. The cabbage moths are active right into autumn, and back by mid-Spring. Cabbages take up a surprising amount of room. You harvest them once (unlike broccoli or silver beet) and then they’re gone. Chinese cabbages are easier and fill the same slot, sort of.
And then I have a cabbage year and remember why I love them and vow I will plant cabbages every year.
We’ve been eating pink coleslaw, with homemade mayonnaise, shredded cabbage, grated carrots and beetroot and finely diced red onion. We’ve been eating shredded cabbage sautèed very quickly in half butter, half olive oil till it gets little crispy brown bits. We’ve been eating mini vego Chico Rolls. We’ve been eating minestrone. We’ve been eating Okonomiyaki – Japanese cabbage pancakes. We’ve been eating soft boiled eggs chopped up in a bowl with diced cabbage and a little mayo for breakfast. I’m even thinking I might make sauerkraut this year.
Remind me next autumn that cabbages are so worth it.
The green doesn’t look real does it? But it is, late winter in my garden and skies that look too blue to be real and garden greens that look too green to be real.
There was a lean patch there for a bit, where I didn’t reap what I didn’t sow a few months ago. But it’s back. This is such a productive time in my part of the world. Spring here is often harsh – windy and dry and unexpectedly hot. It means seedlings need shadehouse raising and coddling, and I am always a bit stingy with watering as I wait to see what the fire season will bring. Summers lull you into a false sense of great expectations, with rainstorms often enough to keep things going so long as they are well established and there is plenty of mulch, but then comes a frizzle day – a single day with temperatures in the 40’s and a hot dry north-westerly wind and you can’t stay home all day to rig up shade and mist and it’s all gone in one fell swoop. Then the late summer-early autumn floods when you find out if your drainage really is good enough.
And then comes this, late winter in my frost-free garden, with a season of just-enough rain and lots of clear, bright winter days and bandicoots kept (mostly) out of the garden beds and wallabies kept (mostly) out of the perimeter fence and bush turkeys kept (mostly) from doing too much damage and I think the resident possum has met up with the resident carpet snake so we are between possums.
Spinach is the glut crop. Real spinach grown in the ground in season is a different thing to the little packets of hydroponic baby spinach you get in the supermarket, and now is about the only time of year you will find it at farmer’s markets and in gardens. Spinach triangles and gozlemes and frittata and gnocchi and pie and piroshki and polenta and pikelets and pakora and soup and saag (both with and without meat) and under a poached egg or mushrooms for breakfast most mornings. And today little spinach and bocconcini rolls that I’ll post a recipe for sometime soon.
Lettuce is the other glut crop, with some kind of winter salad most days. There’s any amount of the leafy annual herbs – rocket and parsley and coriander and dill and spring onions too.
We’ve started harvesting asparagus, too early but there you go. Broccoli and snow peas and cauliflower and celery are coming on nicely, and carrots and leeks and and beets. My broad beans are flowering. It’s really too warm for them here but I have hope of at least a little crop. I have a nice stash of macadamias, hopefully enough to last through till the pecan season in autumn. The last of the limes to go with avocados. The last of the mandarins to last through till the strawberries (now flowering) start.
A late winter garden in sub-tropical climate is a lovely thing!
Sunlight in my basket.
Limes, lemons, mandarins, oranges. So many of them that I am making salted limes for adding to summer soda water and salted lemons for that little salty sour-sweet note that lifts so many dishes out of the ordinary. I’m making lime syrup for cordial, but not being a real sweet tooth, mostly for Asian style dipping sauce for things like rice paper rolls. I’m making Indian style Lime Pickle for curries (and for cheese and crackers), and mostly for giving away. I’m putting lemon and lime skins in cleaning vinegar to make lemon oil vinegar for cleaning – it’s my one-and-only cleaning product for floors and stove and shelves. I’m making lime and ginger marmalade – I can’t believe I’ve never posted that recipe.
But mostly, we are just using them fresh and glorying in the abundance while it lasts. This time of year tomatoes are scant. The ones you will be getting in the supermarket will likely be artificially ripened, tasteless, coming from a long way away, and very expensive. I still get a few cherry tomatoes hanging on in my frost free garden but mostly that cooking niche that needs a bit of sweet acidity is filled by citrus. So whereas in summer my pasta sauces are mostly tomato based – things like pasta puttanesca – this time of year they are lemon based – things like lemon caper parsley pasta sauce, or Lemon Feta Tortellini. Whereas in summer I add tomatoes to beans, in winter I add lemon. In summer, soups nearly always have tomatoes in them, in winter a squeeze of lemon juice. Summer salads have tomatoes and feta, winter salads have leafy greens and a lemon dressing.
It’s very neat the way tomatoes and lemons tag-team it.
I heard a mad story last October about a Northern Territory farmer growing out of season pumpkins for Halloween carving. It isn’t easy growing pumpkins out of season. No wonder they cost a fortune.
And here, at the moment, the verandah stack grows. The wheelbarrow in the garden is full. The ones that the bush turkeys have (wastefully) had a peck at get chucked into the front dam to feed the red claw, or into the garden the chooks are foraging at the moment for wonderful yellow high carotene eggs. And still they come.
Food waste is an odd concept. I mean, I get it. Vast quantities of resources are used growing, transporting, packaging, selling, refrigerating food that ends up in landfill so tangled up with plastic tubs and tetra packs that it’s not worth anyone’s while to untangle so the only solution is to put some dirt on top and walk away. I get it.
It’s just that for every other creature on the planet “food waste” is an oxymoron. If it’s food, something will eat it. Eventually. Perhaps an earthworm that likes it best when it’s got to the stage of slimy. Many fruits go in that boom bust cycle. The plant fruits prolifically all at once, the animals feast, the seeds get distributed, the waste goes back to the earth, life goes on.
It is southern hemisphere Halloween in a week. It is oh so easy to see where the tradition of carving pumpkin lanterns for Halloween originated. As the daylength starts to level out into the short days and long nights of winter, as the harvest season ends and the season of storytelling round the fire starts, as we come to terms with the fact that everything living dies, Halloween pumpkins are a celebration of the excess of autumn harvest season, of pumpkins in such abundance that even after the people and the chooks and the wildlife have eaten all they can, there are still pumpkins, not for wasting but for fanciful, ephemeral art.
There is a Marge Piercy poem that I think perfectly sums up zucchini called Attack of the Squash People. I think of it every year around this time. I learned some time ago to plant just a couple of zucchini seeds at a time, but then I discovered tromboncino.
Tromboncino substitutes for zucchini in pretty well any recipe. I like it a bit better – the texture is a bit firmer and it doesn’t have that edge of bitterness that larger zucchinis get. But then, I like that bit of bitterness too, and bitterness in vegetables is often a sign of antioxidant phytochemicals that are very good for you. Not always, alkaloids that do nasty things to your liver also taste bitter, which is probably why we omnivore humans have evolved to enjoy a bit of bitterness as adults, with full grown livers and a bit of education about what is safe to eat, but reject it as children.
Tromboncino fits better into my late summer garden. It is a rampant climber, like a very vigorous climbing cucumber in growth habits – a nifty trick that keeps it up off the ground conserving ground space and protecting it from mildew diseases. It lasts a long time – I’ve had tromboncinos overwinter and bear right through into the next spring. And if you think zucchini are prolific…
So this is my dilemma. A nice sequence of zucchini plants, so there is zucchini if I want it. For rattatouille for instance, that I think needs that bitterness. A nice range of tromboncino plants, so I can save seed without it being inbred. And not too many of either. A Gordian Knot.
I give a lot away, I have an extensive repertoire of recipes, I feed overgrown ones to the chooks, and still the kitchen bench at almost any time has more zucchini and trombies on it than it needs. Ah summer.