Durian – an illustrated guide (thankfully, not scratch ‘n’ sniff)

So – I’ve been on holiday for a couple of weeks looking after relatives from blighty, making our own entertainment in the unseasonably warm surrounds of the Central Coast.

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Food wise, once we’d hit lovely new restaurant the Box on the Water at Ettalong a couple of times (great brekkie, great dinner, great coffee, though kiosk lunch slightly more variable – fish’n’chips basically ok, but my salad entirely devoid of any dressing) and gone the usual scenic café route (Point Café at Killcare a case in point) it was back to good ol’ home cooking. Laksa with home made laksa paste a la Christine Mansfield, pressure cooked rendang, Christmas in July (natch). And, on request from the Olds, a durian.

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Now, I’m not unfamiliar with durian. It’s stinkiness goes before it, usually literally, albeit this particular example (from a grocer in Chatswood) was actually remarkably bland smelling – until opened – though there were a few sidelong looks on the train as it commuted its way back along the North Shore line.

But with there just being the two of us, and durian being so big, and Mr C being an anglo, well….let’s just say it’s not a regular on our fruity 2 a day roster. In fact, basically I’ve never actually opened one myself before.

They look menacing right? A weaponisable, medieval mace of a fruit. No idea where to start? Well allow me to assist!

Start with either hand protectors (oven gloves would be good) or hold it with a newspaper as we did. Those spines mean business!

Take a good look at the fruit. You’ll see that there are actually sections in the shell, kinda giant segment lines in between the spines. Follow these to the point of the fruit and insert a large, sharp knife there. Follow the line of one of the spines down – the skin is tough so use your muscle power. ???????????????????????????????

Repeat with the next segment line – and when you get to the end, stick the knife into your cut and twist. The segments will pop open – OK, so pop is maybe an exaggeration, you probably will need to get your finger tips in and pull out your first durian segment:

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The custardy goodness revealed!

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Keep going until you’ve sectioned the whole fruit – it doesn’t keep that well so you may as well cut it all up at once.

Next, use a spoon to scoop out the soft, yellowish flesh, which will contain a dark brown, inedible seed. Discard the seeds.???????????????????????????????

While you’re at it, discard the shell too – unless you need to inflict injury upon someone, in which case throwing would be an option. ???????????????????????????????You’ll be left with a plateful of unedifying looking custardy mush (here pictured still with the seeds in amongst):

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According to the Olds, this one was a bit over ripe.

Next step: ignore the smell and tuck in! It’s going to be messy – this isn’t a first date food. Fingers – or cutlery if you have the patience. Enjoy the custard like texture, the faint savoury-ness of it. Think soft cooked scrambled eggs, crossed with….well actually I don’t know what. It’s its own thing. You love it, or hate it. It’s a Marmite fruit.

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Lemon & Lime Marmalade

IMG_8416A friend from Berry, NSW, has had a huge crop of lemons and limes this year, and I was lucky enough to share in the bounty with a small sackful. The limes had ripened beyond green and were – apart from the size – almost indistinguishable from the lemons. Their unwaxed skins help fill the kitchen with their clean, fresh smell. Citrus is one of my favourite scents. Continue reading

Fat Geese, and mincemeat

Christmas is coming; the goose is getting fat. Whilst I love a holiday as much as the next ex pat, I’ve found it a tad more tricky to get into the spirit since moving to Oz. It’s the heat. Christmas is the highlight of Winter. Christmas and Summer are not a natural fit to my northern hemisphere brain.

Part of the joys of Christmas for me are the rituals, and the slow build of anticipation as the end of December approaches. There’s the change of the seasons, the first nip of frost, the smell of pine trees, the smoke from the log fires, you get the picture. The food rituals are equally important of course; preparing for the descent of the entire family needs a bit of aforethought.

This year we have friends from the home country visiting, so I’m pushing out the boat a bit, and the start of this is the Making of Mincemeat. Continue reading

Souvenier Cabbage

One of the things I love the most about travelling around the state is visiting the many farm shops that line the highways. Whether they be fully fledged veg stalls the size of small supermarkets (the one outside Bellingen has it’s own petrol pumps so as to maximise drop bys), to a cardboard sign outside someone’s house, flogging excess garden produce, I love them all.

So it was no surprise to Mr C that our trip back from Bellingen recently took hours longer than it should have, mainly because I was slowly filling the back seat of the car with locally grown produce.

Any visit to the banana coast of course cannot be complete without a stash of beautiful yellow ‘nanas. But this time my eye was also caught by pineapples (not that local as they almost certainly came from Queensland, but hey! it was closer than it would have been….) – two different varieties – and many different varieties of avocado. Or snot pears, as my inlaws so charmingly describe them. Peppers, aubergines, nuts (local pecans), onions…into my basket they went. It doesn’t have to be exotic, as long as there’s the whiff of just-picked about it.???????????????????????????????

So it was that we reached Gladstone, NSW, a tiny place north of Kempsey just off the Pacific Highway. Really, there’s not a lot there. But what there is, is a small shop run by a lovely lady who sells her own produce from her farm, supplemented by her own chutneys and jams. IMG_6095She’d just picked a small box of broad beans and was anxious to show me how to pod them – and was delighted when I told her I usually grow my own; though hadn’t had the space this year. We bought a half kilo (I do get bored of double podding after a half kilo or so), some of her chilli mustard pickles, and half a freshly caught cabbage. We ate the broad beans in a simple pasta/olive oil & herbs combo with lots of parmesan that night; but what to do with that lovely cabbage?

Having BBQ pork belly in mind for dinner this week I immediately thought of a semi pickled cabbage accompaniment to cut through some of the fattiness. So it was only one small step beyond that to actually preserving my lovely cabbage for future enjoyment…

Pickled White Cabbage

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Ingredients

  • 1/4 large, firm headed white cabbage
  • 2 large carrots
  • 1 litre cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon each black peppercorns, fennel seeds and coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons each salt, sugar
  • 1 large clove of garlic, finely sliced
  • 2 large jars, sterilised. You’ll need to judge how many/what size according to the size of your cabbage.

Finely shred the carrot and cabbage. As this was a ‘homegrown’ cabbage, I washed the shreds. Even though the leaves of the cabbage were fairly close-knit, there was a bit of grit in between the leaves.

Place all the other ingredients in a non stick or stainless steel pan, and bring to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes to infuse flavours. ???????????????????????????????Meanwhile, carefully layer the carrot and cabbage into the jars, squashing them down as much as possible. When full, pour over the spiced vinegar. Leave for a few minutes for the vegetables to soften a little; you’ll find they will squash down further at this point and you can cram in even more. Really push them down, so as to leave as few airpockets as possible. Top with more vinegar if needed until all the vegetables are submerged.???????????????????????????????

Seal carefully and refrigerate. You’ll need to leave this for at least a week or two for the vinegar to mellow.???????????????????????????????

Plum tart

fruitcloseI’m often to be found in front of a food programme on the TV, with a scrap of paper, frantically writing down what I’m convinvced will be the most amazing recipe In The World. I guess it’s part of my desire to catalogue everything, to reduce impermenance to solid state. Or something.

Usually these are stored with the other, curling and yellowing scraps on the off chance I’ll do something with them. As I tend to be a ‘what can I do with this ingredient’ kind of cook, I rarely get through my little pile.

After watching Yotam Ottolenghi working his way around the middle east recently on a bunch of SBS reruns, I scribbled down his Goats cheese and fig tart. And filed it on my little pile, thinking one day I’d do something with it that didn’t use goat’s cheese (which is, of course, the spawn of the devil). I then noticed a blogger tweeting about buying figs and goats cheese and realised she was making this dish; I was in Thomas Dux at the time, and shortly afterward found myself looking at a delicious pile of glossy plums. Deep purple red and lovely pale creamy pink ones. ‘What the heck’ I thought, and bought them, along with some ricotta, and made my version of this tart. I won’t list all the ingredients because, as I later found, SBS have done it for me (see link above), save to say I used a sheet of puff pastry, lemon thyme from my garden and lime, rather than lemon.

pie before

 It looked and smelled gorgeous even before it went into the oven. I found I had to leave it in longer than I’d expected because the centre was still too soft, which gave a pleasingly burnt sugar tang. I liked it anyway:

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It was mighty good, and surprisingly not very sweet. 7/10 – but I prefer my frangipane mix to this ricotta version overall I think.

Hard Graft

Once we knew we were going to stay in Australia for a while, I’d started collecting odd trees I’d spotted in garden centres, usually in the ‘Wounded: About to Die’ section; cheapo misfits unwanted by anyone else. All of them on dwarf root stock, suited to a smallish garden and pots. They hung on to life, despite my mistreating them, but didn’t really thrive in their containers.

lime close up

This year, we were ready to start planting them out – and within weeks they were green, happy and much healthier looking! Our success made us braver about fitting more into our little plot, so as well as the Meyer Lemon, kaffir lime and Tahiti Lime we already had, we invested in a feijoa, a lychee, a native finger lime, and a ‘fruit salad’ – basically 3 trees grafted onto one root stock – of two plum varieties and a peach.

The great thing about grafted trees is that you can grow stuff that, were it full size, would require an orchard of English country house proportions. For a small garden – or even a balcony – you can have fruit bearing trees galore without crowding out all your sunlight and space. Some fruit trees pretty much have to be grafted, regardless of size – apples being the best example, as they don’t ‘come true’ when you try to grow them from seed.

So what the heck is a graft? Well, basically it’s the root bit of a tree, with another tree stuffed on top of it. Continue reading