A 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
Regular readers will know that one of my abiding themes is the preservation of freshly grown gluts of crops. I love a loaded larder. Loaded Larder. Even the sound of it makes me happy.
This year has been the year of the chilli. I planted loads last year, seeds from my brother’s garden from the year before that. Most of them failed to launch, so I bought a habanero plant (Unknowing fool! I know now that it’s the second hottest chilli in the world, but I didn’t when I was standing in the garden centre, oh no.) This has resulted in harissas, chilli jams and pickles that to my palate are barely edible unless eaten in homeopathic quantities, and a freezer full of napalm globes to be used under extreme caution. Continue reading
The autumn garden. Already the summer is over, autumn has rushed by and in 2 weeks it will be winter. It’s time to clear out the remains of the pumpkin vines, which have spread their sprawling limbs all across the lawn, and reveal the leggy, uncut grass and weeds beneath, to cull the bolted lettuce and pick the ripening chillies. Oh so many chillies! My aubergines have been chugging away steadily, providing us with grilled, pickled, baked and fried dishes, mousaka, baba ganoush and sandwich fillers. I plagued everyone with my aubergine photos and recipes last year, so this year I have only one image, just because I can’t help myself. Continue reading
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. She’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
- 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.
Having had a gut full of wheat and lactose this week and suffering for it, I was determined to be good this weekend. In order to breakfast on my favourite avocado on rye, I needed rye bread. It’s also a vegan recipe, if that suits your circumstances.
- 400ml warm water
- 1 sachet dried yeast (7g)
- 4 cups rye flour (or 2 each of rye and spelt)
- 1 & 3/4 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 3 tablespoons barley malt (or treacle)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon caraway seeds (optional)
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds (optional)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, for greasing
Combine the yeast and warm water, and set aside until the yeast starts to bubble at the surface.
Add to the flour and process using a dough hook (or wear out your mixing arm if you’re being all manual about it) for about 5 minutes. It will be very sticky!
Coat a bowl with the olive oil with your hands and scrape the dough into it. Turn it over a couple of times to coat it with oil (your hands will still be oily which should help stop the dough sticking to you). Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and place in a warm place for the dough to rise. It needs to double in size.I put mine outside in the weak spring sunshine and it doubled in about an hour.
Knock the dough back – ie give it a couple of whacks to remove all the air – re-cover and leave it to rise a second time – another 1 – 1 1/2 hours.
Cover again and leave another half an hour or so to prove.
Pre heat your oven to 190ºC. Whack the loaf tin in and bake for 40 minutes or until the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the base (slip it out of the tin first!).
I got distracted talking to next door about their chickens and I let the loaf stay in just a little bit too long – hence this next photo shows a slightly over-browned bread!
Try to restrain yourself until the bread cools before slicing & slathering in butter* and jam.
*(that bit not vegan….)
It’s the first day of Spring, here in the Southern Hemisphere, and I picked my first peas today.
Only two pods were ready, but heck! it’s the symbolism that counts! We ate them in a salad of beetroot, beet tops, rocket, chives and spinach, all plucked from the garden today. Alongside were scrambled eggs from the chickens next door.
The most wonderful thing happened to me the other evening as we took a stroll along the beach, just as the sun dipped below the horizon. As we ambled, chatting inconsequentially, we noticed two middle aged couples stooping occasionally, rootling around in the sand and occasionally popping something in their bags. As we drew closer I could see what looked like shells in their bags, so I asked them – what was the go?
The two Italian ladies, for Italian they were, told me they were picking clams as they were enjoying their stroll, and showed me how to look for the tell tale pattern they leave in the sand as the surf retreats, wave after wave. To my delight, I caught one pretty much immediately and bam! I was hooked.
My ladies were keen to pass on their knowledge and boy, was I keen to learn, so we walked together for a while and I watched as they would stare intently at the retreating waves, and then pounce!
The key seemed to be a tiny catch in the sand, as if of a twig in a stream, and as it disappeared, it left behind it a slightly indented area in the sand. Very occasionally, it gave off a giveaway bubble as well.
I had a go myself, and quickly found I was quite good at it. That, or these clams are terminally slow. In no time I had a reasonable handful, and not much time after that, quarter of a bag full (Mr C had a spare on him, the well prepared chap). I felt elemental, a forager, a hunter gatherer, living off the land as early people must have, and other post gin and tonic romantic bollocks. It was pretty exciting though. So much fun! Before I knew it the moon was up and the light was the sulphur yellow of the electric floods by the RSL, and it was time to go home with my prizes.
Being a Brit, I’m not 100% on local species yet, so it took a search on the Sydney Seafood School’s website to realise that my clams were the much vaunted pipis I’ve heard Australians talk about. Fabulous!
Next, desanding them in fresh, then salted water – after reading a few posts on the best way to get them to spit the grit – it was amazing to see their little tongues (feet? Are they like snails?) poking out into the salted water, tasting their new home. Albeit a very temporary home. For looming large in their immediete future lay pan frying with garlic, ginger, spring onions and soy, with a splash of Mirin.
They took about 5 minutes to open under their steam bath. Next time* we’ll spend more time on the degritting process – we cracked after an hour and cooked them up anyway, and to be honest, they were kinda crunchier than optimal – but they were delicious!
*UPDATE : I’ve subsequently been told that fishing for pipis to eat is apparently restricted to certain areas and, as I’ve no idea where those areas are, I won’t be catching any more. I’ve amended this post and don’t recommend anyone does as I mistakenly did.
I’m trying to get around all the Coastal produce markets, but recently have found myself gravitating back a few times to The Entrance market – probably because of our recent discovery of The Entrance Lakehouse, for a spot of lunch.
Having visited the Creative Berowra market in its infancy (OK, so maybe not strictly the Central Coast) I’d been initially a touch disappointed by the limited number of stalls, then revisited and was impressed by its increase, so I figured it was time to go back to a few others.
Starting with the Woy Woy Arts and Produce market – second Sunday of the month. It’s another one that started small, but the last time I was there, it had some stalls I recognised from my last visit, plus newcomers such as Brasserie Bread along. Always a good sign; a market needs a few anchor stalls. Woy Woy itself is not the most cosmopolitan of townlets; in fact other than the awesome hippy monopoly that is the famed ‘Gnostic corner’, it seriously hasn’t much going for it. So I confess I really wasn’t expecting much. But here was a lively, albeit still pretty small, little group of stalls, occupying the grassy space by the Fishermans Wharf.
The emphasis is about 50/50 food vs crafts and art, a reasonable mix to keep a foodie’s interest, particularly as it has encouraged ‘single subject’ stalls; ie those who specialise in one thing. You can be sure that they know their subject well.
In this category are the lovely honey people, Honeybee Mine:
Probably the most keenly advertised of all the stalls – the only ones with signs outside the market encouraging people in – but happily not tedious hard sellers (don’t you hate it when people jump on you before you’ve had a chance to have a good stare?), these people really seem to know their honey. Whilst not operating any bees themselves so far as I could tell, they sell on for apiarist Greg Mulder, who operates out of the Hunter Valley and surrounds.
So: local, and it’s nice stuff too. Who doesn’t need a tub of honey in the larder? Always puzzles me how they can tell what the bees have been feeding on; one of those dark arts perhaps. Bee surveillance? But the honeys do actually taste different – there must be something in it…While I was there, a bee flew in to have a taste of some of the honey on a tasting stick – so I guess that is the ultimate seal of approval!
Even more local was the mushroom man Margin’s Mushrooms (his sign prominent on the windy road up out of Woy Woy to the freeway). As a fungi hater I avoided it like the plague, especially as he was frying up a storm and the smell of cooking mushrooms hung over the whole area. Mr C – who’s been known to gorge on the vile things when I’m away – was delighted.
Then there were the rosy, shiny trays of apples and plums on another stall – picked from the farm yesterday I was assured – $4 & $5 a box. Beautiful plump sweet plums with pale unblemished flesh. This is what I love about the one hit wonder stalls – they may only do one thing but by god they do it well.
On that same theme there’s the chilli man – I have a glut of super hot chillies at home so I didn’t partake, though I’ve stopped for a chat in the past and he was happy to chew the cud. And I think that’s what does it for me with these small markets in their early days; people have time to pass the time of day. Stop and chat. Tell you about their produce. Of course, this probably means they’re not as busy as they’d like to be, but hey ho, I’m the consumer, so obviously, it’s all about me.
Keen youngsters hanging around the fruit
And of course, Brasserie Bread. Who, amongst a huge range of goodies, do a mean sour cherry fruit sourdough that is to die for.
Amongst the others, who I neglected to snap, there are stalls for homemade cheese, native plants, fresh juice and stuffed olives.
The organiser’s stall with juice and mostly organic veggies
Even canine chums are catered for, with the Gourmet Dog Biscuits and Treats stall, who brought their own fan club/product tester:
Their puppy pizza and doggy doughnuts made me smile:
And these guys – injecting a somewhat funkier note than the crochet and beads people:
The prints reminded me of the last time I was in Long Jetty, at the Glass Onion Society.
Photography for sale
Plus, there were oils, bath things, body art, clothing and these hypnotic spinning mobiles. Wonder what the lorikeets will make of them:
Should you need small signs telling people you’re out fishing, well, you’re in luck there too.
One thing that does differentiate between this and purely food markets is the entertainment. Truly family friendly were the Drumbala folks, who’d brought a shedload of drums with them and were thrilling the kids with their drumming class:
There was such a happy vibe around these folks. Grinning kids, happy grown ups and a booty swishing beat!
Most impressive of all to me is the motivation behind this market. There’s a friendly vibe, a sense that it’s about community and change. Everyone knows Woy Woy is a bit of a sophistication black hole in an otherwise beautiful area, but these people, along with the Gnostic chaps, are really trying to do something about it. Talking to Liam Grant, one of the organisers (and running the organic veg and juice stall), made this clear; all the proceeds after running costs are spilt between 2 charities. One is local, for homeless folks and those down on their luck – Mary Mac’s. The other is PA Nepal, an international charity assisting the children of Nepalese prisoners. Yet this is done quietly and without fuss; it’s not advertised much, it’s just what they do.
I’ll be back to this market. I think I may become a regular. Owner/producer stalls have that special connection to their food, and they’re interested – obviously in a vested way, but that’s great for us the consumer. It makes for a way more satisfying food shopping experience. I imagine this was what life was, before the supermarket. Yes, I know, great if you have the time and resources. But for people like me, this is how I like to spend my downtime – browsing. And from the looks of the crowds around me, I wasn’t alone.
I’ve been so lucky with my crops of aubergines this year. Determined to avoid crop fatigue – you know, grew so many that you can’t stand the sight of them by the end of the season – I’ve been using them in as many different ways as I can think of.
There are as many ways to preserve as there are to serve, and I’ve tried a few over the years. But one of my favourites is just roasted, and bottled with olive oil and maybe the odd herb. Roasting brings out the unctiousness of aubergine and has the added bonus of removing the skins, leaving only the fluffy, soft interiors. And it couldn’t be simpler.
Wash and place on barbecue:
Look at those gorgeous colours!
Roast for about 20 minutes, turning ocasionally:
Myriad of purples and browns
Of course you could do this under the grill or in the oven, but in a hot Australian autumn, I’d much rather use the barbie. Plus you get an aroma from an ope flame that’s difficult to achieve in an oven. If you have a charcoal grill, top marks and happy days!
Once they are blackened all over and soft inside – obviously larger, fatter varieties will need cooking for longer – remove and cover. I usually put a plate over the bowl that I’ve placed them in. Allow to cool slightly; the steam caught in the sealed space will help the skins slide off. Once cool enough to handle, peel or scrape out the innards, discarding the skin. Use how you wish – baba ganoush, pickling, salads, the world is your proverbial.
I bottled mine, by sterilising a jar (yes, one mid sized jar was enough for all those (admittedly skinny) aubergines) in the oven for 10 minutes, and layering the roasted, seasoned aubergine with a mix of 3 parts olive oil to 1 part red wine vinegar. Leave a layer of oil over the top and seal firmly. Store in the fridge for added safety!
As to the baba ganoush. All I can say this time around is – don’t substitute korean sesame paste for tahini. It just doesn’t work. Next time I’ll stick to the recipe….
I have large pumpkins. Well, that is to say, the plants are enormous, rambling things, stretching out over my lawn for tens of feet. Unfortunately they don’t appear to be self fertile, and in the massive jumble of leaves it is no longer possible to tell if both plants are still going, or whether the smaller, weaker one has died. The result is, I have hundreds of flowers of both males and female persuasion, and so far, only 2 pumpkins.
Finally realising that my cross pollinating all these flowers wasn’t coming to anything, made me think about flower stuffing. I haven’t been all that keen on stuffed courgette flowers – too faffy, too much deep frying – but I was interested to read that the habit of stuffing courgette flowers may have arisen from stuffing pumpkin flowers. It pains me to see those lovely plump yellow baby globes rotting, unfertilised, on the vine, so I determined to give it a go.
Seeing as I’d made some ricotta and it was a rainy weekend, I figured my stars had aligned* and plucked a mass of pumpkins avec flower, as well as some thyme.
I mashed the picked thyme leaves into the ricotta, along with some light cream and olive oil, salt and pepper, and spooned this into each flower. I wasn’t sure whether to remove the stamens, so I opted to remove it in half the batch and leave half (it seemed to make no difference to the result).
Frying them in a wok allowed me to arrange them such that the thicker pumpkin end cooked for longer than the more delicate flower end. The result was surprisingly yummy – though the batter could have been slightly crispier, the filling suited the thyme and pepper perfectly.
*which is of course, ridiculous, astrological twaddle that I have no truck with