Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Spring in my kitchen and out in the garden….

More than ever in my life, I am enjoying spring, here in southern Tasmania. As Frances says “September is the coming of the light”, when suddenly the dark lifts and reveals crisp and very early mornings. Whereas in Adelaide spring often leaps too quickly into the heat of summer, here at the bottom of the world we get brief glimpses of warm days and balmy nights, scattered between yet more rain and cold winds.

Today was one of those days, where everyone was smiling and gloriously relishing the sunshine on newly exposed bits of the body!

I was out in the garden. I walked into the shed to get something and I suddenly I remembered….

image Normally we grow food in the light, in the garden so I am not surprised that I had forgotten all about my endive, hidden in the shed, under cover of darkness! I thought it would all be dead or ….. something…. but no, it is still fabulous and fresh and growing like mad.

I was cooking rice to go with my dinner tonight, so I put a steamer over the rice and laid the endive in it, then covered it all with paper towel, as I always do when cooking rice. It turned out beautifully.

I can never believe how incredibly juicy endive is, so dense too, and never stringy or chewy. This was just like I remember in France. The rest I will probably eat raw, when its crunchy and irresistible!

 

image

image

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Early spring herbs and Mark Twain

Chervil, tarragon, parsley, coriander, garlic shoots…. of course there are others but these are my favourites. Tarragon is the new comer in early spring; the others are plentiful all winter but now are growing faster than ever and about to go to seed.

I use herbs in everything. They can change the same vegetables (and meat), into quite different meals. A dish made with seasonal vegetables, kaffir lime leaves, coriander, coconut milk and rice is entirely different to one made with the same vegetables plus parsley, garlic, lemon and pasta.

This is my forte, I think; making use of everything in the garden to produce delicious and varied meals, even when the vegetables stay the same for a few weeks. This is especially so with salads.

image

What is a salad? To me it is a combination of vegetables and herbs and spices, eaten cold but not necessarily raw. It is not puréed and turned into a dip, neither is it a combination of hot vegetables, nor is it a meat dish, although it may have a few bits of bacon as in a Caesar Salad. Menus these days are too loose with their salad titles, I think. To me, if it has meat, it is a such-and-such salad with meat and not a meat salad! I think restaurants do this in order to avoid having to serve fresh, crisp salads, preferring to pre-assemble some meat and horrid cheesy sauce then toss in some tasteless, hydroponic lettuce at the last minute and call it a salad. Well, they don’t fool me! I judge food establishments on their salads and the best one I know of in this part of the world is my place (oh, and Sandra’s!!).

image

The sprouting garlic bulbs on my windowsill provide an endless supply of very garlicky shoots, for adding to salads, sprinkling on a bowl of soup or over hot roast vegetables. I find them so irresistible that I will snip one off and eat it, any time of the day, even 6am while I am waiting for my coffee to heat. Crazy? Of course. But, as Mark Twain said “If you find yourself on the side of the majority, its time to pause and reflect”.

 

My sea of parsley is going to seed …..I can’t bare to let it happen without some serious eating….so, what uses heaps of parsley? Walnut and parsley pesto, tabouli, my spinach and fetta pie.

Same deal with the chervil that has been wonderful in salads and light dishes all winter. The French use it a lot. So, I typed recettes cerfeuil (French for chervil recipes) into the search engine, and now have a cornucopia of ideas for using more chervil than ever! Mr. Google will translate them for you but I try to practise my French! I love the sound of this one which means Split pea soup with chervil pesto and truffle oil…. oh lalalala. When I typed in “chervil recipes” I did not get anything so varied as these dishes. So, if you want something French or Spanish or whatever, ask Mr. Google to translate the ingredient from English to that language, then go and find the recipes and ask Mr. Google to translate them back into English for you. I hear that Mrs. Google also likes to bookmark these pages for herself :-)

So, pick your herbs and start cooking!

Bon appetit!

Friday, September 14, 2012

September Garden Guide

I write the monthly garden column for the local, weekly paper, called The Classifieds. It is published in the first Classifieds for the month which was last week. I basically write what I like but it is tricky because it covers such a range of micro-climates and I am not allowed to be too controversial !!! Sometimes there is room for photos and sometimes not. Usually I include a blog address for readers to visit and sometimes a book. This time I did neither!

Here is this month’s edition…..

Spring has sprung! In southern Tasmania this means warm, sunny moments mixed with chilly winds, big tides and plenty of rain. You can almost see the sap rising in every plant. Buds are bursting on fruit trees, winter vegetables are flowering and seeds that have been lying dormant in the soil for months are now sending up tiny shoots, soon to become our next crop of food.

Saturday September 1st was Wattle Day, Australia wide. Perfect timing for these parts; aren’t the wattles amazing this year! I have them dotted about in my garden and, together with masses of mixed daffodils, they turn my garden green and gold for months. As the wattles stop flowering, do give them a prune to keep them bushy and lush.

Before bud burst on many fruit trees it is worth giving another spray of Bordeaux or Burgundy mix to help reduce curly leaf (peaches and nectarines), and brown spot (some apples, especially Granny Smiths). See Peter Cundall’s recipe in the Tip of the Month box. Letting your chooks roam about under your fruit trees really reduces coddlin moth. Their sharp eyes (and beaks!) pick out the emerging larvae from the leaf litter and bark.

If you are keen to sow out in the soil but your garden is still very wet, try sowing onto ridges. I saw this done in a delightful community garden in France and also during the wet season in Singapore. Those of you who seek symmetry will adore the effect this has as the light moves across and makes shadows during the day and thin lines of green shine bright against the dark of the valleys, as the seedlings emerge. As the plants grow and the soil dries, the ridges collapse but it is enough to stop the seeds and seedlings drowning in the next few weeks. The opposite can be done when the weather is dry, ie sowing into the valleys, as in this photo, also in France.

image image


 Flowers, geese and grass
My daphne is in glorious, fragrant flower. To keep it in good shape for next year, I feed it (and the rest of the flower garden) every 3 months or so with blood and bone from the Cradoc abattoir and sometimes some potash. The leaves that fall in autumn from the deciduous trees nearby form a beautiful mat of mulch and my geese do all the weeding for me in this area simply by mowing, not scratching.

I have had 2 grey geese sisters mowing for me since last November. They are not allowed in the vegetable garden, but have free range over the rest of my acre. They eat very little besides grass, walking softly and slowly all day long, then having a good splash and swim in the pond before a midday rest on its bank. I highly recommend having 2 females.
They sleep on the water (even when the pond is frozen over!) so need no housing. The only reason you may want to feed them some grain is if you want to be able to regularly tempt them to follow you to a different area. I don’t feed them and they are perfectly happy and healthy. I have not needed to mow where they roam at all this year.

Seedlings to plants
Raising seeds is easy. All the know-how is in the seed. Turning those new seedlings into strong, healthy plants ready to plant out into your garden can be the hardest part of vegetable gardening.
This time of the year, when you have tiny tomato seedlings and you are waiting until November for the frosts to finish, there are some important tips to success.
•    Pot them up gradually, not from seedling tray to large pot in one go. Make them use up the soil they are in. This will ensure you get early flowers and not just masses of leaves. When the roots start coming out the bottom, it is time to pot them up.
•    Do not rely only on bought potting mix. I buy cheap potting mix and mix in ½ to 1/3 of home-made compost, plus a dash of Steve Solomon’s recipe for organic fertiliser* I also water the young seedlings with a seaweed tonic from time to time. In France I learned about stinging nettle tea as a tonic and use this now too, whenever any plants looks a bit off colour. Stinging nettles are a fabulous tool in the garden (and the kitchen!), being packed full of silicon which strengthens cell walls and helps to reduce pest and disease attack.
•    To keep growth happening through September, while the nights are often still very cold, supply tomatoes with warmth. Even a little will do, especially at night.
•    Provide bright light. Weak seedlings often result from not enough strong sunlight.
•    In a sheltered spot, on warm days, put them outside. A perpetually sheltered environment (such as a hot house) is a sure fire way of producing weak plants. Tough love helps the youngster to grow into a confident and happy adult. And it is good for your plants too!

Seed sowing guide

Indoors
Tomatoes,
Capsicums, chillis
Corn
Asparagus
Leeks
Peas
Herbs
Almost anything!
Chit or Plant out
Potatoes
Sunchokes
Chinese ‘sea shells’

 

Outside (late Sept if very cold)
Celery, celeriac (love it wet, lime)
Carrots
Parsnips
Onions, long keeping (lime well)
Kales
Spinach
Brassicas
Beetroot
Divide
Dahlias
Globe artichokes

 

Tip of the month

Peter Cundall’s Burgundy mix (http://www.abc.net.au/gardening/stories/s1631445.htm)

Bordeaux and Burgundy mix fungicidal sprays were developed in France, originally as a means of controlling problems of mildew on grape vines. They are also useful as a relatively safe means of controlling leafcurl disease of peach and nectarine trees, brown rot of stonefruit, brown spot on apples, raspberry leaf rust and other fungal diseases of plant. Do not use on plants in leaf.

Into half a plastic 10 litre bucket of tepid water add 100g washing soda (from the supermarket).
Into half a plastic 10 litre bucket of tepid water add 100g copper sulphate.
Slowly pour one into the other, so it does not froth up and splash everywhere.
The Burgundy mix will not clog the nozzle of the sprayer, unlike Bordeaux mix which uses lime.

*The new edition of Steve’s book “Growing Vegetables South of Australia” is available at the Cygnet Market.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Mint.

I picked a salad; some from the community garden, some from my own….. leaves of every shape, colour and culture. So what? I do this every few days. But today I had mint at last. Mint dies down here in winter and it is only this week that the shoots have been long enough to start picking again. Going all winter without mint is sad but not something I usually notice that much, until it returns!

Mint is so versatile and so distinctive. Mint goes with everything from lamb to chocolate. It can be eaten or drunk. If I don’t have any coriander, I use mint. If something needs a lift, mint will do it. Everyone seems to like it and there is a mint or two for every climate and every culture. Its even in toothpaste!

The first mint to wake up from winter here this year is spearmint….. I crushed a leaf and smelled it….. instant recognition….. Wriggleys Spearmint Chewing Gum from my childhood  ….in those little silver wrappers….. do they make that any more??

Mint. Probably my favourite herb.

Kitchen Garden Day around the world

 

World KGI day logo

How wonderful it was to be involved in something so positive and so rewarding as sharing the joy of growing our food with so many people, from such varied cultures.

Roger from Kitchen Gardeners International has put together a lovely slide show which you can watch here ….. 

 World Kitchen Garden Day 2012