The Lemons of the Amalfi Coast

capril_limoniSorrento is known for it’s lemons. In fact, it’s not just Sorrento; it’s the whole of this corner of Campania, up and down the Amalfi coast and on Capri. These aren’t ordinary lemons. These are Giant Lemons. Read more….

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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

Salt of the Earth

Salt. it used to be the core of the spice trade, Romans were paid in it, humans have been preserving food with it for millennia.. Without it, our nerves couldn’t function, we couldn’t digest food, and yet we need less than one teaspoon of it a day to stay healthy…no wonder we’ve evolved to think it makes our food taste more yummy.

So it doesn’t surprise me that there are people out there devoted to the stuff –  to the extent of carrying round their favourite type in case of being caught in the face of an improperly unseasoned dish (see Jeffrey Steingarten’s article ‘Salt’), and the increasing availability of specialist salt types in supermarkets and delis; and even stores devoted only to seasonings.

I was in Melbourne recently and stumbled upon just such a place – a magical emporium of salts, spices and herbs in Block Arcade in the CBD, going by the gloriously European name of Gewurzhaus.

Racks of spices in the window caught my eye; I always make a beeline in the search for something new I haven’t tried before (which reminds me; I still haven’t used that panch phora I bought a little while back). I have drawers full of seasonings; spices and herbs, (though most of the herbs are fresh in the garden), dried native peppers and fruits.

On this occasion though it was the equally impressive racks of salts drawing me to the back of the store.  I have only pink Murray River, an ageing jar of Tetsuya’s black truffle salt, and rock salt at home, so I was seriously impressed by the range! There must’ve been 20 or more varieties, from the positively trad black truffle salt to the more esoteric vintage merlot salt (couldn’t think of a use for that, but it was a beautiful colour). Maldon sea salt drew a smile to my face, as I used to live not too far from there in the UK.  Gorgeous cornflower blue speckles in the Himalayan blue salt looked so pretty I knew I’d never be able to bring myself to use it:

There’s even a Bavarian Roast chicken salt – though what a Bavarian chicken looks like is probably best not investigated. Visions of chickens in tiny leather lederhosen and pork pie hats. *shakes head to remove disturbing visions*

In the end I plumped for the two most dramatic; black lava and salish alder smoked salts. The black salty crystals look amazingly stark against a pale background – I need to find a way to use this without it looking like black pepper, and to keep those wonderful big pyramids of crystal intact:

The Salish Alder smoked has an astonishing hit of scent as soon as you open the lid; imagine a smokery full of kippers, or smoked cheddar, a traditional smoked speck. Proper English smoked bacon. Smoky flavours make up some of the best, most reliably memorable foods ever, don’t they?  I’d had an amazing smoky tomato with my breakfast at Cumulus Inc that morning and immediately started planning my experiments with the fragrant crystals as soon as I got home!

I just can’t wait to use this one.

During my wanderings on the same visit I also came across a deli selling lemon salt; obviously my weekend for seasonings:

Produced by Absolute Natural, the flavour isn’t pronounced, but I’m looking forward to trying it on a nice delicately flavoured fish, or roast chicken.