A ‘languishing’ of limes

I don’t think there is a collective noun for the sad collection of limes that I found at the bottom of our fridge this week. You see when I was looking at Annette Macfarlane’s new book last week, I found her recipe for Native Citrus marmalade. It was then that I remembered the native finger limes we’d bought at the farmer’s market about a month ago. Of course they had by now been reduced to the desiccated dark pink things in the photo. There were clearly not enough for the recipe so I went looking for something else to add, which is when I found the Tahitian Limes that were of a similar vintage, that were grown in my friend’s sheltered courtyard garden. I also decided to chuck in a lemon to make up the weight. Not a promising start.

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Because, in my usual fashion, I had not read Annette’s recipe correctly, I’d asked TB to buy me some orange juice, when what she’d actually asked for was the juice of four oranges. Who to turn to for advice? The blessed Sally Wise of course! So here is my conjoined Annette and Sally recipe for my ‘Left Behind Lime Marmalade’.

Ingredients:

500 grams of sharp flavoured citrus – finger limes, limes, lemons (finger limes are superb if you can get them and really add a fantastic flavour to this marmalade)

6 cups of orange juice (preferably with no added sugar)

1.5 kilograms of sugar

 Method

  • Slice your citrus thinly removing the seeds as you go (finger limes have stacks of seeds so be thorough), if using lemons you may want to cut them into quarters to get slices similar in size to the limes
  • Using 6 cups of orange juice cook the sliced citrus in a large saucepan, for about 20 minutes or until the fruit is soft (the pith will look transparent)
  • Add the sugar, stirring to dissolve and boil briskly for 20 minutes (at this stage test to see if it is starting to set by placing some of the marmalade on a saucer that has been placed in the fridge, put it back in the fridge for 2 minutes. Push your finger through the marmalade and if the surface wrinkles then it is at the setting point). If your marmalade isn’t quite there keep boiling for a few more minutes, but don’t let it go too dark.
  • Turn off the heat and let the mix stand for 10 minutes before bottling into sterilised glass jars.

 You can eat this marmalade as soon as it has cooled.

I won’t beat about the bush; this is the best marmalade that I have made so far. I think that the finger limes (the small circles of fruit in the picture) really ‘make’ the taste of this marmalade so do try them.

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An Audience with Cooking Royalty

Last Sunday we, not to mention another hundred or so other people went to an event at the National Museum of Australia on collecting cooking books. The guest of honour was none other than Margaret Fulton OBE who was interviewed by food historian Adele Wessell. I was so excited about going that I forgot to take my camera, luckily for us R remembered to bring his camera and the photos you see here were taken by him.

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 Margaret shared some interesting annecdotes, including learning early to let her hosts know that she only flew first class!  In discussing her original 1968 Margaret Fulton Cookbook she noted noted that at the time Australian women were bored with cooking meat and three vegs and they were prepared to take on eating a range of cuisines – a trait she felt was still not strong in many countries. The reason you see the same bowl with plum decoration several times in this book was that it was her bowl,

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as was the ‘exotic’ silver server (her mother’s silver fruit bowl) used to show off Persian Chicken. 

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Margaret made the food, supervised the photography and provided all the servings dishes etc. There were no food stylists in those days.

Margaret continues to be involved in current food issues including advocating strongly against factory-farmed chickens and pigs and genetically modified organisms.

After looking at a small selection of cooking books in depth, the afternoon was finished with a question and answer session and an autograph signing. And yes, I did get my 1968 edition Margaret Fulton cook book signed!

The hard way or the easy way

The past few days has seen me catching up on all those jobs that I’ve been putting off for the last few weeks.

As you can see the green manure crop planted in our front garden in early winter was well overdue for digging in.
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The aim with a green manure is to get it in under the soil surface and rotting down in order to increase the organic matter in your soil. This will improve the structure of your soil and also its moisture retaining capacity. In addition the dug in green manure will provide nutrients for your next crop.

Now lets get this clear – you can do this the hard way or the easy way.

Stage 1 cutting the green stuff down
The hard way
First I needed to cut down and chop up the growth on top. I did this with a trusty sharp spade. Chopping up and down gets rid of the stuff on top but once that was cut back I also used a shallow, diagonal cut to sever the roots below ground level.

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The easy way
If this sounds all too much for you the alternative is to set the lawn mower for a high cut and mow the top down.

Stage 2 getting the green stuff underground
The hard way
Using said trusty spade dig in and turn the soil over so that the green stuff is more or less hidden from view. Keep doing this until you collapse or the bed is completely turned over, or both. Now wait two weeks before you start planting.

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The easy way
Use the chopped down green manure as the first layer of a no dig garden bed. Chuck several handfuls of chook manure over the surface, then place large wodges of wet newspaper over the top completely covering any green stuff. Chuck more chook manure on and then cover with some sort of mulch such as straw, sugarcane mulch or pea straw.
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You should repeat layers adding some compost along the way and watering the drier layers to ensure that the layers start to break down. You should be able to plant into this straight away.

Leonie Norrington’s Gardening Australia article will give you some more detailed info on no dig gardens.  

A Fork at Floriade

I will say from the start that Floriade is really not my thing. I’m sorry but each year we see a variation on lots of brightly clashing coloured tulips and other bulbs laid out in fairly uninteresting displays. Its just not garden design as far as my definition goes. Of course tens of thousands of visitors disagree with me! which at least benefits the local economy.

Last week Bishlet and I took a quick turn around this years’ effort during our lunch break. Away from the mass displays a few random efforts at a native garden, an Alice in Wonderland and even a kitchen garden made a fitful attempt to enliven proceedings.

By way of apology my somewhat bizarre photographic effects have been achieved by the use of a phone camera.

So sit back and enjoy one of Felix M’s most well-known tunes – although I swear I didn’t realise it was called Spring Song before I selected it to enhance this blog experience.

 Here we go with the general view ….

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One plus to the stroll was the scent of hyacinths wafting over the garden beds.

What should have been a small gem by the National Botanic Gardens is left marooned in the middle of a grassy expanse. Forget this and go and visit the NB Garden’s Black Mountain site instead.

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The kitchen garden benefits by a structure of regular beds and formal plantings of kales and other herbs.

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The Lake George zebras are making a visit to Canberra.

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One bright spot is the ‘Amazing’ garden with its topiary animals.

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Even I love the outlandish Parrot Tulips – the pick of the bunch as far as I’m concerned – I presume they are too expensive to use more widely.

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By far and away the best feature of this year’s display isn’t even floral, it’s the umbrella walkway through the rhododendrons.

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These are lit up for the night time activities. Sorry you’ll just have to imagine this.

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They also have another function, providing some overhead protection from the fruit bat camp which is still being occupied by its furry flying occupants (check out the upper right hand side of the trees).

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Some random flower stacks …

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And some walking entertainment.

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A great sand castle, but what is it doing here?

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So push those crowds aside and enter at your own risk. You’ve been warned.

A is no longer Artichoke

Faithful readers of the Fork’s exploits will realise that I have been in search of a good, all-round veggie guide for some time to replace, or at least update, my trusty Reader’s Digest Guide to Gardening. I think I may have found it!

The ABC has just released a fully revised version of Annette McFarlane’s Organic Vegetable Gardening, which was first published in 2002. TB somewhat deflated my excitement by pointing out that we actually had a copy of the ‘old’ version already, oh well, all the better for purposes of comparison.

The book which is now twice the size of the original, roughly falls into two parts, the gardening basics and the A to Z guide. The opening section has the stuff you would expect from a good garden book these days. It has details on principles of organics, climatic information, setting up your beds, rotation plans, planting guides etc etc. Plus there are good sections on managing pests and diseases with organic-agreeable remedies.

There are several new sections added in this edition including Edible Flowers and Weeds, Fabulous Fungi and a Garden to Gourmet section which offers coverage, largely of herbs and spices, of relevance to particular cuisines. I particularly liked the section on Australian flavourings as this is a subject which it can still be hard to get information on.

The much larger A to Z section now starts with Amaranth, rather than Artichoke like it used to, reflecting the growing variety of plants that Australian veggie gardeners are currently getting into. New sections include Asian Cabbages and Asian Salad Greens and Australian natives and tropical crops being included for the first time. TB was pleased to see that among the expanded list of vegetables covered were water chestnuts and water spinach. I was thrilled to see some details on propagation of my favourite Warrigal Greens (New Zealand Spinach). Even the bean section has been expanded to include additional information on varieties of green beans (1 page) and 4 pages on other types of beans. There are lots more photos of veggies included in this edition along with more ‘Did you know?’ boxed snippets of information. The book also includes longer boxed sections, such as Fancy a Cuppa? which provides 4 pages of information on herbal teas, and even includes some recipes.

Each plant listed has a good summary at the top of the entry which is followed by propagation, growing, pest and diseases, harvesting and seed saving information. One of the most useful bits of information carried over from the earlier editions covers how many plants you should allow per person for growing. This is a really handy bit of advice for a question we often ask at our place.

The more I look at this book the more I like what I see. At $35 (soft cover) this is the book that I would be recommending for new veggie gardeners and well seasoned ones alike.
Annette McFarlane Organic Vegetable Gardening, ABC Books, available at ABC shops and presumably any reasonable book shop.

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Local Spring update

Following on from my earlier post about tuning in to my local landscape I have the following few updates.

The weather continues to be highly changeable with very strong winds and bouts of rain. While I haven’t spotted any fledgling Wedgtailed Eagles, a pair of Australian Ravens are happily nesting in my neighbours Blue Gum, and have been for the past month. This year they have built a new nest about 1 and a 1/2 metres from the one they used last year.

The native clematis (Clematis aristata) that grows here abouts is in splendid bloom. This specimen is in my garden and is creating a floriferous halo over one of my correas.

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What this clematis lacks in showy individual blooms it makes up for in sheer abundance of flowers. Once finished flowering it will develop the fluffy white seeds that give it its common name of ‘Old Man’s Beard’.

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Also just starting to break through are our ‘bluebells’, in this case Wahlenbergia communis, a native herb that grows commonly and widely throughout SE Australia and has had the happy knack of surviving, as ours did, even after the land has been subdivided. Once I found it growing on my nature strip I was keen to encourage this plant’s presence in my garden. The best way to do this is not to mow it down until the end of summer, if possible, to allow seed to set. It will flower throughout summer and its blue-mauve flowers make a great display in contrast to the yellow paper daisies I’m also cultivating on the nature strip.

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The plant grows from tubers underground, with very deep roots, which makes it difficult to transplant. It dies back over winter and these rosette’s are the sign of its return.

This plant is a close relative of our ACT floral emblem the ‘Royal Bluebell’, Wahlenbergia gloriosa. However W. gloriosa only naturally flowers in our sub-alpine areas of the ACT. It’s intensely coloured and much larger flowers make it a truly wonderful sight. While you can sometimes buy specimens of W. gloriosa they are difficult to grow in our gardens, preferring a moist shady spot which can be hard to maintain through our hot summers.

Cut and Come Again

I’ve been bartering with work colleagues, their eggs for our veggies. Todays swap was silverbeet and leeks for a half a dozen eggs. As I was cutting the leeks I remembered the tip I learned from Sister Mechtild, the nun responsible for looking after the gardens on the program The Abbey, (which was shown on the ABC a few years ago). Sister Mechtild pointed out that if you cut the leeks off above their base, that is don’t pull them out of the ground completely, they will re-shoot and grow another edible stem. Why throw away all the energy already invested in those strong roots.
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These are leeks that I’ve harvested over the past week. You can see the strong re-growth already.

Likewise when you cut the centre flower out of a broccoli  plant, the plant will go on to produce multiple side shoots all of which are edible and come in small convenient sizes for stir fries or florets that are the right size for cooking without the need for futher preparation.

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This apparently scraggy specimen has been producing edible side shoots for over a month and will probably do so for another month. However, you must keep cutting the shoots to encourage more to grow before they start to flower. 

When we grow veggies for our home consumption, unless you are feeding a very large family, we do not need to grow them as if we were farmers raising a commercial crop. If you grow plants to harvest all at the same time then all you end up with is a glut of food and a storage problem. There are any number of strategies that you can try to extend the harvesting time of your veggies and the overall productivity of your garden.

I’ve found that the most useful veggies in my garden are those that you can cut and come again. That is pick a few leaves for your meal and leave the bulk of the plant in the ground to keep producing. Loose leaf lettuces, spinaches, celery all fall into this category. This is a really good principle for anyone who is thinking about what they will be planting over the coming months.

Staggered growing or sucession planting, that is planting a few seedlings each week over a period of months rather than all in one hit is definitely the way to go. I think it was Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall that suggested sewing a new tray of seeds before you go to plant out your seedlings to ensure that you keep the plantings going. Which reminds me that I need to plant some more beetroot seeds today!

Another approach that extends the productivity of your garden is to take a harvest of young shoots, such as garlic, broad beans or peas, while the plant is growing, before harvesting the main crop of bulbs or pods. These shoots are great to throw into stir fries or even a salad. If you want to check this out in relation to garlic shoots you can pop on over to the Guardian vodcast of Earth to Alys, where Alys Fowler (host of the UK’s Gardeners’ World) shows how to use the flowering shoots of hard-neck garlic. BTW if you check out the earliest of her vodcasts on her allotment the timing is right for spring.