≡ Menu

summer-fruit-bowl

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.  
Yule bowlThen in Spring I posted a picture of it filled with spring fruit – pawpaws and strawberries in my part of the world.

spring-fruit

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.

{ 4 comments }

zucchini glut

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.

{ 5 comments }

grape vine

The grapes are hanging thick and heavy in our pergola.  Such a useful plant.  In winter the bare vines let the north western afternoon sun stream onto the verandah, warming the floor and creating a nice spot for proving bread or sitting with a book.  In spring the fresh, delicate leaves make dolmades, wonderful lunch or picnic or party food.  In summer the vines are thick with leaves blocking the afternoon sun and making cool green shade.  And giving us grapes.

I don’t know what variety this vine is – it’s over twenty years old now and my record keeping wasn’t real good then.  I do remember that it has been bearing well since my kids were very little, which means it must have borne well in its early years and still keeps going.  Grape vines can live for over a century.  We prune it every year in autumn, and prune it back heavily every few years.  But otherwise it gets no attention – no watering, no mulch, no fertilising.

The bush turkeys feast on them, and drop lots, and some years the grapes are so heavy I have to let the chooks out to clean up under the pergola or we start to smell like a party house after a three day bender.  We eat lots straight off the vine. I make schiacciata (just sourdough mixed with grapes and rosemary and turned into focaccia), I put grapes in salads, but in a good grape year, there are still more grapes to deal with.

The permaculture motto is “you don’t have a surplus of slugs, you have a deficit of ducks”, so my standard solution to gluts of anything is to look for more eaters.  But grapes don’t travel well, or last long in the corner mailbox in the heat.  So I make grape must, or really sapa or saba or mosto cotto depending on which part of the Mediterranean you listen to.

Grape must is red grapes, skins, seeds and all, cooked, strained and reduced down to a thick syrup. Cooking the skins in with it adds the resveratrol, that may or may not be good for everything from heart health to cancer preventative to anti-aging.  Real balsamic vinegar  is made from it and it is one of those traditional miracle cures for everything, and at the very least it has lots of polyphenols and antioxidants, and, no need for anything else, it is very delicious.

Real balsamic takes years and years and years to ferment and reduce. Expensive fake balsamic vinegar you buy in the supermarket is red wine vinegar with a bit of grape must added to it. Cheap balsamic is just red wine vinegar with syrup and colouring. I don’t have the patience or skill for real balsamic, but making good quality fake balsamic is very easy. In the long days of high summer, we have solar power to waste, so I can leave the slow cooker on all day using free power to cook and reduce the grapes to a thick, dark red syrup that is almost crystalline.   Four litres reduced to this little pot of crimson gold.

grape must

To make it, I fill the slow cooker with grapes and cook for a few hours with the lid off.  Then I use a potato masher to release the juice and keep cooking.  Eventually I want to reduce the must to a thick syrup, but at some point, I need to strain out the skins and seeds.  The longer the skins are in there, the more resveratrol, but also, the more syrupy the must and the harder it is to strain. I leave it as long as I dare, then pour into an open weave cheesecloth lined colander and squeeze the syrupy juice through the cloth, back into the slow cooker to reduce some more.

At this point, the syrup is properly called saba.  It is thick and sweet and it will keep in the fridge for a year easily.  Most of it is doled out by the teaspoon in salad dressings, marinades and in recipes where you might use honey.  Some though is a splurged treat – grape must on sourdough french toast with yoghurt.  Roman decadence.

french toast with grape must and yoghurt

{ 6 comments }

This picture is from an “In Season” post from four years ago.  Oddly, considering how neglected my garden is at the moment, I’m harvesting pretty well the same lot.  This time of year is a season of the first of things and the last of things in my garden, as the winter plantings finally end and the first of the spring plantings start to bear. Today I stripped out all the remaining broad beans and the last of the peas for shelling, so I can feel some broad bean, pea, mint and lemon puree coming on.  There is lots of celery but it is starting to flower so not for much longer now.  The later rounds of broccoli are bearing main heads and the earlier rounds side shoots, but I’m expecting cabbage and web moths to arrive soonish.  They’ll finish off the chinese cabbages too.  The cavallo nero kale has been prolific all winter but it’s starting to get aphids now.

I still have bulk silver beet but all the earlier plantings are now running to seed.  All my parsley has run to seed, and I am now harvesting seed from coriander and dill too.  Rocket has run to seed, but the nasturtiums are rocketing along and providing that peppery-ness in salads.  Though I still have lots of lettuce, the number of varieties is going down.

I’ll have some Eureka lemons most of the year, but the bush lemons are finished and I’m picking the very last of the late season mandarins and grapefruits. The grape vines are laden and though the grapes will be a month or so yet, I’m using the leaves regularly.

I’ve stopped cutting asparagus for the year but just as the asparagus finish, I start cutting artichokes.  The new zucchini are getting to a good size to pick young fruit as well as flowers.  I picked the very first of the Corno de Toro capsicum today, a bit green still but there are lots more coming on.  The first of the season’s new potatoes – such a treat – along with baby cucumbers and the first of the squash.

I am also picking the first of the season’s fresh garlic – early, but then I planted early too.  Fresh, juicy garlic is a totally different thing to the dried up imports from China.  If you don’t grow your own, look out for fresh local garlic at Farmers Markets from now on.  It’s an experience!

With fruit, this is berry season – strawberries, blueberries, white and purple mulberries.  It doesn’t last long so I’m making the most of it.  Paw paws are still in bulk, and the white mulberries are laden this year.

So that’s what I’ll be basing my cooking around this month.

{ 21 comments }

box of vegies

In my kitchen is a box of vegies that I’ve packed to send to the Bentley CSG blockade vigil.  A small group of hardy souls are maintaining a vigil there,  so as to be able to let us all know when we’re needed to stop the drill rig.  It means all the rest of the 90% of the region’s population who oppose gas mining can get on with their lives meanwhile. It’s tedious work, just watching a gateway and I thank them for being willing to do it.  Metgasco is imposing a huge cost on us all in making us do this – we have way better things to do than defend against looters.

tomatoes

In my kitchen is a big bowl of mixed tomatoes – cherries, Principe Borghese grapes, yellow cherries, and Yugoslavs. I’ve had a bowl of tomatoes on the bench for several months now.  I’m lucky that there are some tomatoes in my garden most of the year, but this late summer peak of the season is such luxurious excess!

olivesIn my kitchen are this year’s olives, now in their brine solution for the next three months.  We still have four big jars of last year’s olives left and they are perfect for eating now after three months in brine then nine months marinating in oil and spices.  This year I held my nerve a little longer and we have more black than green ones so I’m very happy!

persimmons

In my kitchen is a bowl of persimmons.  There were more but my partner loves them.  I thought for a bit too long about what I could make with them and now there are so few left that I don’t have to think any more.

beans

In my kitchen are some pie dishes full of shelled beans drying.  We’re at the stage in the year now when the bean jars start to fill up.  The white ones are Blue Lakes, the mottled ones are Rattlesnakes, the brown ones are Purple Kings, and the black ones are Turtle Beans.  All except for the turtles are tall climbers that we’ve been eating as green beans up till now, but now we can’t keep up so I let them mature, shell and dry them, and store them to cook over winter.

sunflower

And in my kitchen is a sunflower in a vase, just for making me happy every time I look at it.

I love seeing what’s happening in others’  kitchens.  Head over to Fig Jam and Lime Cordial for the list.

{ 9 comments }

tomatoes

Back from welcoming Teo into the world, and a few days of warm weather with a lucky 50mm of rain , and the tomatoes have gone berzerk.  The big beefsteak one in the front is a Yugoslav, the one at the back a Brandywine.  These are my two favourite big tomato varieties.  They are both a bit fruit fly prone, so I have to be a bit lucky to get them – some years are worse for fruit fly than others.  And I only try for them early in the season – I won’t plant any more now.  They are both supurb flavoured tomatoes though, and worth growing for dishes where the tomatoes are the star, like Margherita Pizza or Tomatoes as Themselves or Pasta Puttanesca.

The small red grape-shaped tomatoes are Principe Borghese.  It’s an indeterminate, climbing variety that yields really heavy crops of sweet, meaty, fruit fly resistant tomatoes.  My breeding seems to have gone towards smaller and many-er than the standard kind – the seed you buy are likely to be more like mini-Romas.  They are one of my long-time favourite varieties, less seedy and more solid than cherries and good fresh or for cooking or bottling or sauce making, and very robust and reliable.

The yellow cherries are a new favourite.  I got the seed from some wild ones I found rambling all over a native bed in a park.  They were yielding really heavily even in poor soil, no water, lots of competition, harsh sun.  I’ve always been a bit shy of yellow tomatoes, thinking them a bit sallow but these are a good real tomato flavour (if a bit pale alongside the Brandywines :).  They are also prolific and so hardy, I haven’t planted any this year – they’re all self-seeded ones. The red cherries are the same – self-seeded, fruit fly resistant, hardy and prolific.

There’s a couple of Romas in there too, hiding.  They are fruit fly resistant and hardy, if not quite as prolific as the Principes and cherries.  Some years I go for San Mazanos but they tend to be a bit more disease prone.

I grow all indeterminate varieties, so all the plants bearing now should keep on producing right through until winter.  Summer really has started.

[relatedPosts]

{ 5 comments }

in season in February

My pickings today loaded up my kitchen bench.  Mangoes are biennial, and this is a mango year, so I’ve been making smoothies and cakes and pickles and chutney and sorbet, and giving lots away.  The spring this year was wet enough for the pomegranates to fruit well – often our springs are too dry – and the tamarillos are all ripening at once.  I’m back to growing enough tomatoes to bottle some, the snake beans and green and purple and Madagascar beans are all bearing enough for both eating green and letting mature for the bean jars, and the  chilis and capsicums have all started to ripen at once.  The tromboncino dropped fruit in the heat wave early in the new year, but the rain since has brought them all back into glut again, and the Suyo Long cucumbers are bearing well enough to become a favourite variety.  I’m making pesto from sweet basil, and I have lots of lemon, lime and Thai basil too. Feels like such luxury to have such glorious abundance. Now I just need to decide how to deal with it all!

As well as all the glut crops, we are picking the first of the figs, passionfruit, and carambolas and the last of the paw paws, and the occasional Jackfruit (which can make a glut just with one fruit).  Our peaches are finished, but stonefruit are still well in season in many places.  The geese have decided they like eating banana palms, which would be an issue except that the wild brush turkeys have been getting all the  bananas for years. If we were shorter on fruit I’d need to do something about that, but I’ve run out of good ideas to try.  I figure I’m just fattening up the brush turkeys as security in case of real famine times!

I still have a few zucchinis planted and bearing but the tromboncinos are good competition for them.  The yellow button squash make a nice change sometimes.  The next patch of  sweet corn is just about ready. We’re between pumpkins – the potkins are finished and the Japs about to come on. I’ve had better success with eggplants this year than usual.  There’s the usual carrots and beets, and as usual the greens are scarce this time of year.

My ginger and turmeric love the heat and rain this time of year.  I have both as perennial plots – I just dig some when I want it – but this time of year the plants are growing like crazy.

So this is the harvest around which I base my cooking this time of year.  I’d love to hear what’s harvesting in other places.

[relatedPosts]

{ 18 comments }

red and gold

I love this time of year, when everything I harvest is the most magnificent colour.  I ate the first of many mangoes for the season today. Mangoes  are biennial but not every second year is good.  It’s a complex mix of rain and heat at the right time that makes this kind of luck.  We still have  paw paws  though it is getting to the end of their season, but our seedling peaches are on now and only for a couple of weeks. The  grapes are hanging thick and purple (good mango years also tend to be good grape years).  Our lychees are just starting to colour, and the pomegranates are great big heavy jewel filled globes. There are also figs coming on, still green yet but one to look forward to.  My daughter’s very favourite fruit in the world is tamarillos so we’re picking a bucket full to take over for Christmas with her.  We even have some golden bananas despite the best efforts of turkeys and geese.

This is turning into a really good tomato year too.  I have yellow cherry and yellow pear, red grape and red pear, brandywine and principe borghese all bearing, and a tiny red tomato that I don’t remember planting, fruiting in trusses of lolly-sweet jewels.  The Corno de Toro and banana and supermarket flat  capsicums  and a variety of chilis and peppers at various heats are all starting to bear well.  The zucchinis and all their relatives are in glut – tromboncino  and squash and this year potkin pumpkins.  I don’t usually get pumpkin till a bit later, so I am really enjoying these early ones.  I’m getting better at cucumbers these days – just enough for raita or tzatziki as a side dish for most meals and not so many that the chooks are sick of them!

And I am very proud of my eggplants this year.  Flea beetles are one of my troublesome pests and they’re around this year, but the predators seem to be just about keeping up with them.   We have harvested the first round of sweet corn and the second is about to be ready.  There are more beans than we can eat green and the  bean jars are starting to fill with dried beans for storage.  The Rattlesnakes have been the champions up till now but the snake beans are just seriously starting to bear now.

My ginger and turmeric and galangal struggle though our normally dry spring but come into their own now the thunderstorm season has started. They love the heat and rain. There are all the usual carrots and beets.

A table laden with red and gold for this season of feasts.  Happy solstice, and have a wonderful Christmas filled with love and joy and good things to eat.

[relatedPosts]

{ 7 comments }

The paw paws have been prolific this year.  We’re eating one a day most days, but they’re starting to slow down from now on.  The strawberries weren’t as good this year as last year, mostly because I got too busy in winter to plant out a new bed or mulch up and compost the old one, so they were a bit neglected and they paid out on me for it.  But this year looks like being another bumper year, like 2010, for mangoes. The trees are so laden, I’m thinking about green mango recipes. Our grape vines are also laden.

I live too far north and low for good stone fruits – we get some from a thick skinned seedling peach tree, but I’ve cut out most of the stone fruit. It’s just more work than a good permaculturist can justify to keep the fruit fly off.  But we do get some at the local Farmer’s Market coming from the northern Tablelands, which is nearly in my local zone as the crow flies, just 600 metres or so higher.

Blueberries are also just about to come into season and I’m lucky enough to live in a good blueberry growing region.

As far as vegetables go, it’s already well and truly summer in my garden.  No more brassicas – broccoli, kale, cabbage – but all the curcubits – tromboncino, squash, cucumbers. We’ve had lots of asparagus over the last few months, even having to rescue it regularly from wallabies that will go to extreme lengths for asparagus. But it’s time now to let it grow out. Rocket and flat leaf parsley are the main greens.

I’ve dug all the spring planted spuds now – this is the last of them.  Then no more potatoes until the autumn harvest comes in in May. This year I seem to have beaten the tomato viruses that plagued me year before last.  Last year I went very easy on tomatoes so as to rest most of the beds from them.  And it has worked. I’ve been harvesting Principe Borghese,  Roma, Yellow cherry, yellow pear, and Brandyvine  – a big bowlful every day. Beans are all bearing well. So far it has been mostly Rattlesnakes, bearing continuously and copiously for a couple of months now. But I also now have  Blue Lake and Purple King to choose from, and snake beans very soon.

My garlic is in, not so many as last year, and beetroot, for some reason, are doing well this year.

So that’s what I’m  basing my cooking around at the moment.  I’d love to hear what is in season in your garden.

[relatedPosts]

{ 10 comments }