Everything I Know

When I was younger I had one of those posters, the one that went “Everything I know I learned from [insert name of TV show, literary figure, favourite book] etc”.
Today I was digging up my spent broad bean plants in the front garden and realised that I’d actually learned quite a bit from this small patch of ground over the past few months. Just to show how things have changed I’ve put in one of the photos I showed you when I first started writing the blog for comparison with today’s photo of those poor old spent broad beans.

It was clear that the broad beans all needed pulling out to be replaced by whatever seedlings we had in desperate need of planting (nothing like the scientific approach here!). Except, I knew that one plant had started to produce lots of new pods, so that one would stay. The reason this plant was producing again was that we’d followed a suggestion by Hugh F-W (River Cottage Spring) that you could pick the tender shoots of broad beans to eat while waiting for the pods themselves to mature. Not only would this stave off cravings for broad beans but it would also encourage the plants to re-direct their growth into the beans. It worked. The only thing was as I collected the dried pods to save the beans for next years crop I realised that many of the broad beans didn’t know they were ‘finished’. As I pulled them out I saw that almost all of them were shooting again from the bottom. Not only that, but those plants whose shoots were over about 10cms tall were also already carrying pods, some quite large.

Clearly the broad beans hadn’t read the gardening book. I was seeing natural selection taking place before my very eyes. Some plants had produced their pods and had already dropped their seeds onto the ground. Others had taken advantage of the food they’d been given several weeks ago and the good rain of the past week and were pushing on to produce another crop of beans and thereby developing a different strategy to grow on seeds for the following year. Nearly a quarter of my broad bean plants have remained in the bed. On some I’ve trimmed back the old stems while others still have vigorous old growth. I’m going to let them teach me what they need.

What I learned is that as a gardener I have the option to allow my plants rather more leeway in their growing habits than I might be able to do if I was a commercial producer. I’ve also learned that while the gardening books can give guidance and advice, I also need to learn from my own garden. I need to consult the genius loci (the genius of the place) before I make my decisions. As a gardener I only need to meet (predominantly) my own needs. Like my tiny crop of berries the other day which were transformed into a delicious breakfast, I can keep my broad beans growing because I know I will derive not only another meal or two from the plants that were left, but enjoyment from cooking and eating food I have grown with my garden.

My poster – Star Trek – and as I said to my broad beans today:

“May you live long and prosper”.


And the corn is as high…

I know I bang on about how much my corn benefits from having a good feed of compost every few weeks. To prove to myself that I wasn’t just imagining this improvement I measured the height of some of our recently planted Golden Bantam sweet corn. On the day I mulched and composted the corn most of the group of 8 plants were between 20 and 30 cms high at the central point of the stem where the leaves emerge. Today, eight days later I have found that all these plants are now 50 to 60cms tall at the same point. I’m glad its not just my imagination or I would think I’d had just a bit too much Christmas cheer!

We ate our first apricots today. This seasons crop will be smaller than last years, but the fruit tastes great. We’ve had to net the tree as our local birds also share our high opinion of the fruit and had already started eating it where they could. The rain has certainly helped give a boost to all the plants in the garden so we’ll be harvesting quite a bit of veg over the coming weeks. Our Borlotti beans appear to be doing particularly well and all things being equal we expect a good harvest.

Our recycling bin collection was today so once the truck had been we transferred all the water captured in the buckets into it as a temporary storage measure. Even if we get rain later this week I’m sure we’ll have used our supply up in the bin before the next recycling collection day.

Bright Star

Today we went to see Bright Star, the film by Jane Campion about the relationship between John Keats and Fannie Brawne. It was a stunning film from the opening to the closing scenes. I must say that while I couldn’t remember any specific poems of his, prior to going to see the film,  I did hear enough specific phrases from his work, during the film, to remind me that so much of his work has passed into general usage that it is often better known through parody, rather than in its own right. Perhaps the greatest testament to the quality of the film was that all but two of the people in our session of the film sat silently through the complete end-credits during which Ben Whishaw (the actor who plays Keats) read Ode to a Nightingale.

Slim, but tasty, pickings

I picked what berries we available from the garden this morning – as you can see there were barely enough to do anything with. However I’d been catching up on Lacepetticoat’s blog and she provided the solution (http://lacepetticoat.wordpress.com, see her December 14 post). I had a mango seeking self expression and with the strawberry chopped up it provided a wonderful addition to pancakes. As TB likes neither strawberry or mango he had the raspberries and blueberries – just enough to spark up one pancake.

With the rain and the generally overcast conditions we’ve been reading rather than doing things outside. I’ve been reading the biography of Janet Ross – A Castle in Tuscany, by Sarah Benjamin (Pier 9, 2006) which fortuitously arrived for me at the Library just before Christmas. Today I got up to the chapter covering her writing of Leaves from our Tuscan Kitchen. I couldn’t resist pulling that book out as well. I decided to make Crescioni, a deep-fried ravioli filled with a spinach and herb mix (the filling could be just about anything you like). I also decided to make the ravioli myself – something I’ve only tackled once before. Luckily TB makes pasta frequently so we have the machine and he was able to give me some handy tips, literally. The pasta dough, completely simple, one egg added to 100gms of flour, then kneaded until it comes together. Given my standard pastry making experience I’d have made it lot wetter, but TB advised that only a minute amount of water should be added just to bring all the crumbly bits together. To do this I put a few drops of water onto one hand and then proceeded to knead the dough some more. That was all that it required – not the “few black-clad grandmothers and aunts who have the build for kneading and the time to spare”. I’m not sure who to attribute this completely superfluous, not to mention disparaging remark to, I think it could be from the pen of Mr Waterfield, Janet Ross’s great great nephew who edited the 1973 Penguin edition I own, it seems unlikely to be that of Janet Ross herself as it is followed by comments on commercial pastas. Anyway we had a very tasty lunch of it and TB added several stuffed zucchini flowers, with a cheesy (ricotta), diced sauteed mushrooms, truffle salsa (from a bottle from the Essential Ingredient, www.theessentialingredient.com.au), accented stuffing of his own devising.

Later on in the day I worked on tyeing acorns into two pieces of silk, from an old kimono and lining, which I’ve placed into jars filled with Spotted Gum bark dye. I’ll leave these to solarise for several weeks. I hope to get a variation in colour from the two wood types – we’ll see.


Christmas blessings

On Christmas day we had 30.6mm of rain (BOM reading for Tuggeranong). This is the largest amount of rain that has fallen in one day since December 2008! With Boxing Day added in we had a total (measured in our gauge) of 54 mm.

Our tank is 2/3rds full and we filled every other bucket we could find. We can’t afford to waste this bounty.


Merry Christmas

Just in case you run out of interesting topics to discuss over the coming days you may like to debate the top 10 cook/food books of the decade. This selection is provided by the Guardian newspaper in the UK and is therefore rather UK biased
Just to avoid argument we own 4 of the top 10. They are, of course the two books by Michael Pollan, the River Cottage Meat Cook book and David Thompson’s Thai Food.

The decade also introduced us to Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson! and most of us are probably well over their TV personnas by now (I exempt their recipes as I still cook a lot of Nigellas and I know friends still cook with jamie frequently).

From an Australian perspective I would have to lead the way with Stephanie Alexander’s Cook’s Companion (tragically we have both editions – not necessary but useful for weighing things down!). For Australian’s the decade heralded the rise of Stefano di Pieri, Maggie Beer, Kylie Kwong and now Luke Nguyen. Who knows we may yet see that gondola going down the Murray again in 2010.

All that remains is for me to wish you all a Merry Christmas and sufficient rain for your gardens to be productive in 2010!


Beans and Berries

It’s changing of the guard time in the area of bean production. Last night we combined the last of the Broad Beans and the first Borlotti Beans, along with our Komatsu (Japanese Spinach) and garlic in a quick stir fry to go with our home-made pork and fennel sausages. We also noticed that the Lazy Housewife and a second planting of Borlotti beans have started to produced pods, very tiny ones. The Edamame continue to grow well but I’m on alert because when I was watering yesterday I noticed that there were many small bugs, weevils I think, gathering on the pods – not an encouraging sign.
We have a bit of variety, but not much quantity on the berry front. I have both Lowanna and Nelly Kelly strawberries in production. The Lowanna always out-produce the Nelly Kellys, but the Nelly Kellys have a better flavour (to my taste buds at least). A friend gave me three raspberry plants a few months ago and much to our surprise they’ve produced fruit in their first season. Although, given that they were from a clump of existing canes there should be no reason why they wouldn’t produce. The berries are very tasty but are only appearing in small numbers so far.
We are growing three varieties of blueberries, early, middle and late fruiting types. So far the early variety Denise had an unanticipated setback when it accidently got mown over early in spring – it is recovering but won’t be producing fruit this year. The middle fruiting variety Blue Ray is producing fruit, not a lot, but it looks promising, if it survives summer, for future production. We really haven’t had sufficient fruit to decide on how tasty it is. The late fruit-er Brigitta has produced a few berries, but at this time appears somewhat less prolific than Blue Ray. I’ve given the plants some compost and mulched them this week. It looks like Denise may be suffering from sunburn so I may have to rig up some shade for it if I want it to survive January and February. Blue Ray and Brigitta are getting some shade from the nectarine tree and seem to have escaped frazzled leaves for the time being.

I also cooked up another Hugh F-W recipe (River Cottage Every Day) for Digestive biscuits – I think a quintessentially English contrivance of which I am very fond. I used the spelt flour again and had no problems with the recipe. I will say that I chose to use rolled oats rather than oat meal as suggested by the recipe. Next time I’ll either have to use oatmeal or will give the rolled oats a whizz in the blender as the rolled oats made using my biscuit cutters somewhat less than effective. Not that this is interfering with the taste!


Luring the locals

Ever since I moved to the southern side of Canberra, there have been a number of roadside stalls, some permanent and some seasonal selling produce to anyone passing by. The latest crop of stalls seem to focus around Sulwood Drive, on either side of the roundabout, where it crosses Athlon Drive. No doubt this is in part to the wide verges which allow cars to pull off the road fairly easily and safely.

The current crop include the Fish Truck – a family group from Bateman’s Bay – who travel from the coast Thursdays through to Saturday bringing fresh caught fish and South Coast oysters and a few other not so local items such as prawns (too nice not to buy anyway). They are sited on the Waniassa side of the road where their presence has been sanctioned by the ACT Government who have provided the truck with access to their own power pole. Our most recent purchase were two Snapper which TB hot roasted and then turned into a version of Hugh F-W’s Hot Smoked Trout P??t?? (River Cottage Every Day, Bloomsbury Press 2009). Very tasty!

On the Kambah side things are a bit more variable. Thursdays and Fridays sees the Deli Van, selling a range of Maltese products, including pastries and gelati – they also go to both Northside and Southside Farmer’s markets on the weekend. Their coil of pork sausage, made in Sydney, happily fed 4 hungry adults with quite a bit left over. They may be joined, on the same day by a produce seller, focusing on fruit and sometimes on the weekends by people who sell slabs of timber for woodworkers.

The other good local source of food are the various temples and monasteries that are located in nearby suburbs. Last weekend we went for the first time to the Hindu Temple in Torrens where they provide vegetarian food from 11.00 am to 2.00pm on the first three Saturdays of every month. On the fourth Saturday they provide a similar opportunity for Northside residents at the Gungahlin Community Centre. The food which is really tasty can be eaten under a ‘shelter shed’ in the temple grounds or taken away. There were about six combination meals on offer or you could just select whichever curry or dosa you wanted. Boy was the food good! The surprise highlight was what we could only describe as a curry Chiko roll – similar in construction to that old standby of the beach-side shop – with a very thin coating of crumbs around a tasty curry filling. Of course it tasted so much better than the ‘original’ version.

If you are interested in things ‘local’ you may want to check out the recent program on living locally produced by the ABC and available for listening or download at http://www.abc.net.au/rn/360/stories/2009/2716437.htm. For a much broader approach you may want to track down a copy of ‘The Lure of the Local’ (The New Press, New York, 1997) by the art theorist and writer Lucy Lippard who writes about finding our sense of place in the contemporary world, community, land use, how we see nature, how we create landscape and how our landscape creates us This is not a quick read but does do the old ‘making you think’ trick.


And the winner is …

Yes my friend M has won the Cherry Tomato class for the production of edible tomato fruit before Christmas. Photographic evidence provided below. Our Cherry tomatoes aren’t even colouring up as yet.

However the battle still rages for the first edible large tomatoes. Here we are neck and neck with M who is trying both some of the same varieties as us, Mortgage Lifter and Siberians, but also several commercially produced varieties. Of course neither of us will have edible fruit this month – perhaps by the end of January! Let me know how your plants are going.