First Steps

I think it is important that we don’t forget the excitement of starting on this journey of growing our own food. So I was very excited when I heard the news yesterday that one of the Fork family has just made her first Ceasar Salad with her first homegrown Cos Lettuce. I’m sure she felt a great deal of achievement with this apparently simple step. So we say congratulations and well done!

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Almost Spring

Well there is no doubting that we have had some fantastic weather this weekend – enough to remind us that spring is just a few days away. However all of you who went out and bought tomatoes starter packs on the weekend, yes you were spotted at the nursery, don’t lose sight of the fact that on Wednesday and Thursday last week the temperature didn’t make it to 10 degrees and on Friday it was snowing – at least at the level of the 6th floor of our building in Civic.

The frost on Saturday morning at least heralded a beautiful day and the snow on the Brindabellas reminded me of one of the reasons I chose to move to the Southside of Canberra.

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This is the view from Sulwood Drive on Saturday morning …

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The view from Chez Fork is a bit limited by trees.

I was finally able to get out into the garden and start some of those jobs I’ve been putting off – like weeding! Oh joy. Having weeded the broadbean bed and the adjacent path, I was able to put down some woodchip on the paths, courtesy of 4 trees that were felled and chipped at a nearby house. More weeding and spreading remains to be done but at least some progress can be seen.

My parsnips in pipes have been thriving, so much so that they were starting to reach their limit of growth in their containers, as you can see.

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TB had the brilliant idea of just putting them back into the ground, pipes and all. Perfect. Now I’m just hoping that the cat doesn’t decide they are the just the thing to rub up against.

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You can see the main broad bean bed (with the red poles) and the newly mulched path. To the left of the photo there is a group of broad beans planted earlier in the season which are now starting to flower prolifically, although seed set will be haphazard while we are still likely to have frosts. In September 2009 there were four frosts (but winter last year was rather milder than this winter) and the last frost of the year was in October.

One final thought, while we may hope for the introduction of the National Broadband network sooner rather than later, there is still use to be found in those old copper networks. I give you the National Broad Bean Support Network, proudly supported by my old telephone extension cord!

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Golden Fruit from the West

A friend of mine has just visited from Cootamundra and has given me eight lovely grapefruit from her tree.

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The question of course is what to do with them. Each one is weighing in at about 500gms. My first choice was to use two (just two!) of them to make a double batch of grapefruit marmalade. I had some for breakfast this morning and I hope my friends’ like it because I can’t see us eating it all.

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For my second dish second was a variation of Freya Povey’s Orange Cake. My vague recollection, which might be completely wrong, is that this came from one of Ian Parmenter’s Consuming Passions collections. And hasn’t it been good to see Ian again appearing as a guest on Poh’s Kitchen. Obviously living in Margaret River is doing him no harm at all! BTW dear Aunty still has a site where you can find lots of recipes (but sadly not this one) and they have also re-released his previous books as a compilation in 2009.

Back to Freya’s cake and variations thereof. This is dead simple, but you will need a couple of hours to prepare it unless you cook your oranges/grapefruit first and handle the cake making at another time.

Ingredients:       2 large oranges, or 1 similarly sized grapefruit

                        250gms of ground almonds

                        250 gms of raw sugar

5 large eggs

                        1 teaspoon of bi-carb soda (baking soda

Optional extras: 2 teaspoons of orange liqueur; a teaspoon of mixed spice; or both

  • Firstly take the oranges, or grapefruit and boil it until it is soft, This may take up to two hours (but mine was done in about 75 minutes)
  • Drain and allow fruit to cool, then chop roughly, including the peel and the pith and take out the seeds.
  • Whack this in a blender and turn it into a pulpy mess.
  • In a bowl cream eggs and sugar and then add all the other ingredients.
  • Line a large cake tin and bake at 200° for up to 90 minutes

Watch it as you may need to cover the top of the cake so it doesn’t burn. As this is made with almond meal don’t expect it to rise too dramatically. Enjoy!

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Stranger in a strange land

Howling gales are blowing up the Tuggeranong Valley.
The wattles are starting to show the first signs of yellow on their buds.
The local magpie has started attacking the postman as he delivers mail on his motorbike.

These are the signs I know that indicate a change of seasons in my local area. The howling gales in particular stick in my mind because they were blowing just as strongly when I bought Chez Fork in August all those years ago.

And yes, I am deliberately ignoring such obvious signs of my tulip and daffodil bulbs springing up in the garden and the budding of cherry trees, because while these are signs of seasonal change they are not signs that truly belong to this country.

Last weekend Message Stick showed a program featuring Frances Bodkin, a 76 year old D’harawal woman from the south of Sydney. While she is known to many as “Aunty Fran” she is known to me as the author of the Encyclopaedia Botanica which was, at the time it was published, the largest single-authored, single-illustrated book published in Australia. The program focussed on her close observation of the land and what this could say about local climatic conditions and seasons. The basis of her knowledge is traditional D’harawal knowledge that was given to her by her mother and which she also examined through her university studies (she has degrees in Climatology, Geomorphology, and Environmental Science). It was obvious, even though she could only give the small number of examples during the program, that by comparison most Australians have bugger all knowledge of our local seasonal signs.

Thankfully there is hope that the knowledge of people like Aunty Fran will become more widely known. The Bureau of Meteorology is running the Indigenous Weather Knowledge project . The project is still in its early stages, as can be seen by the seven somewhat lonely dots, spread across the map of the continent. But exchanges of knowledge with indigenous groups and research is ongoing. In the south east of the country there are just two dots. One is that of the D’harawal in Sydney and the other is from the Brambuk people from the Hall’s Gap region.

Looking at the Brambuk 6 seasonal calendar I can see that it seems to have some relationship to what we are currently experiencing in Canberra. The detailed matrix of signs  indicates that we are in the ‘pre-spring’ period (late July to August) when we can expect the wettest months, dramatic weather changes (six seasons in one day) and rivers running high. Sounds familiar! I will now also be looking out for other signs such as the Wedge-tailed eagles fledging their young. I’ll be checking out over the next month whether the eagles living on the Waniassa Hills Nature Reserve have young flying with them.

I no longer want to be a stranger in my own land.

 

Potato Post

Well two milestones to mention this week …

Our dam levels are now past 60% WOO, HOO! If this doesn’t move you then you haven’t been on water restrictions for the past 10 years! According to one of our more weather-minded friends the dams haven’t been this high since 2006. The ACT government is discussing easing back on water restrictions, but I hope they don’t go too crazy as I think it has been a not bad thing that local residents have actually had to think seriously about our water supply rather than go on with business as usual.

On a more personal note the blog has passed its 5,000 site visit! So thank you very much to all my regular readers and hello to the visitors who’ve been dropping by in recent times.

Back to the important stuff. We’ve finally got organised and ordered our seedling potatoes for this year. We left it somewhat late so we’ve missed out on the Dutch Creams. However that does leave the way open to try some other varieties. Per usual we’ve gone with The Lost Seed for our supplies. We’ve selected Bismarck, Pink Eyes and Red Norlands. I think we’ve grown a few Pink Eyes before but the other two are new to me. I also snuck in an order for Purple Podded Peas which are supposed to be both an eating variety and one that can be keept as died peas for winter use. Somehow we’ve never managed to keep our peas beyond the fresh eating stage!

TB is lining up to start his tomato seeds on the heater mat, which we did at this time last year, to get some seedlings off to a good start for the Christmas tomato race. I see that in the ‘new in August’ section of their catalogue that The Lost Seed are offering some 10 varieties of tomato … maybe I need to put in another order. I’ll definitely be growing the seed from my ‘front garden’ tomatoes again this year. I’m not sure whether they are a Roma or an Amish paste or a cross of both but boy did they produce well, particularly at the end of the season for us last year.

A bit of a harvest

The problem with winter is that I just don’t get out in the garden as much as I should and combined with a major amnesia attack of what I’d planted earlier in the season I nearly missed out on harvesting my first cauliflowers. You see I thought they were cabbages. It was only when I went to check out why they seemed to be so slow in forming hearts that I realised my mistake. The other problem is that I got my timing wrong. Flowering, which is what they are doing, at this time of the year with all of the frosts we are having, is not a good idea. You can see the damage in the picture.

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I  was able to use two of them with some judicious cutting out of the damaged bits. I used a recipe of Madhur Jaffrey’s, from Eastern Vegetarian Cooking, rather un-excitingly called Eggs, Potato and Cauliflower. It’s base is a flavourful combination of ginger, garlic, fenugreek seeds, chilli, onions, tumeric and curry leaves so it tasted really good. I’m afraid that my photo lacks somewhat of the ‘stylist’s’ touch and so you may not be at all inspired by the dish. However, we enjoyed it and were glad that we had enough for some leftovers!

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I also took the opportunity of our fine weather on Sunday to get out and do some plant feeding, as suggested on Gardening Australia. Chook pellets for the onions and garlic; blood and bone on the brassicas; and dolomite lime on the peas and broad beans. The only one I didn’t do, for lack of the product was spray fish emulsion on the leafy greens such as lettuces. I also intend to do some watering of all our crops, using our various compost teas, to help the plants retain vigour in the frosty weather and help get them ready for spring.

TB also completed our first big spring preparation task – espalier-ing (is there such a word?) our apple trees. As you can see the trees are young and have some way to grow. Hopefully our good winter rains will set them up well for this year’s growing season.

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Cruisin’ the Cupboards

I was once in a class where we were challenged to go for a year making art without buying any art materials – as it was pointed out we are always complaining that we had no time to make art, but always had time to run to the art shop to buy materials. Similarly TB and I were considering why, given the bounty from the garden and what we have preserved and what is already in the cupboards why are we forever running to the shop to buy more food?

So we’ve decided to accept the challenge and cruise the cupboards for the month of August to explore what we can make with what we already have. Like my art mentor said you just have to get creative! We do not foresee running short of any major food group – we have a fair bit of Dexter the cow in the freezer, both Spaghetti and Trombone Squash aging gracefully in the shed and lots of greens and a few carrots in the garden beds. Then there is the box of lentils …. one and a half packets of red lentils, ‘french style’ lentils, mung beans, yellow split peas, blue peas, not to mention the pearl barley. Hopefully we’ll be more inspired by Barry Vera  or Greg Malouf  than by Neil from the Young Ones.

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To get us started on our way Bishlet put me on to a great Jill Dupleix recipe for Tuna and White Bean toast, here’s the recipe link, a great Saturday lunch, or any day lunch. We used our home bottled tuna and some tinned beans to make our batch. Obviously you might use a tin of tuna and some dried beans that have been soaked and cooked. It is all about being creative. Tonight we’ll be having curried soup – home made stock, garlic, some trombone squash and some cooked borlotti beans and some curry powder (come on when did you last open that tin of curry powder) all whizzed up in the blender. We think we’ll have enough wheat flour to make regular loaves of bread, but if we don’t there’s always besan, potato and rice flour lurking in another box at the back of the cupboard.

So here’s to the 100 metre diet! (apologies to Novella Carpenter for the metric conversion).