Sunday Scrumping

According to my dictionary the term to ‘scrump’ means to steal (apples) from an orchard or garden and all you old folkies out there will know that its is closely related to the term ‘scrumpy’ meaning a rough dry cider made from those selfsame apples. Of course the practice of scrumping these days generally refers to picking fruit from neglected street trees or abandoned trees on waste ground. There was even an article in the Canberra Times recently extolling the virtue of collecting these under utilised resources.


While driving between Canberra and Bairnsdale a few weeks ago, we noticed that there were plenty of trees on the roadside verges that were covered in fruit just waiting to be picked. We paid close attention to some trees that were fairly close to Canberra and this weekend we actually got out there to see what we could find. Lots as it turned out.

Our spot had the advantage of hosting a number of trees spread out along several hundred metres. Its not clear whether there were several varieties in the original planting or the variety was a result of the natural variability of apple trees. We tried five different trees and had five different flavours. What did surprise us was the almost complete absence of codling moth and other pests. I found two crisply refreshing tart varieties, one green and one red, while TB and R favoured the three sweeter versions we found. This composite picture shows just how much difference there was to be found.


We had anticipated fruit that thefruit would be small, bitter and/or riddled with pests. This was so far from the quality of the fruit we found that there was a distinct danger of getting ‘scrumpers tummy’ from taste-testing so much fruit.


From the look of some of the scats at the base of some trees it looked like the local fox population was suffering from exactly that.

An added bonus was a small cluster of quince trees from which we managed to find enough fruit for us to stew up for dessert later that evening.


As TB was cooking up a pork loin for dinner I also made some apple butter to go with it. We were ‘forced’ to eat the leftovers on our pancakes for breakfast the next morning. It’s OK I can hear you sobbing in sympathy even as I write this.


Between the three of us we managed to pick 82 kilos of fruit in about two hours. Of course now we just have to process it all!


Growing up

The Growing Good Gardeners lunch held at the Kitchen Cabinet on the 20th of March highlighted the gardening and cooking skills of the Majura and Berrima Primary Schools both of which are participating in the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Scheme. Originally started in Victorian schools in 2001 the program is now being expanded by the Australian Government to enable up to 190 eligible Australian schools to participate by 2012.

The fundamental philosophy that underpins the program is that by setting good examples and engaging children’s innate curiosity, as well as their energy and their taste buds, a positive and memorable food experience can be provided and this will form the basis of positive lifelong eating habits.  At present there are 180 schools participating, it seems a lot of schools but the reality is that there are just some 7,800 primary schools in Australia so the scheme is only reaching a very small fraction of Australian kids. Majura Primary is currently the only ACT school in the program. However there was no doubt about the level of excitement of the children who are already participating in the scheme and who gave presentations on the day.

In addition to great displays of produce and work undertaken by the kids from the two schools their gardens, along with Allsun and Ingelara Farms, provided all the garden produce that was used for the lunch.


The patron of the Kitchen Garden Foundation, Stephanie Alexander, was the key speaker. Stephanie summarised her aims for the program as producing “care in the garden and deliciousness on the plate”. The teachers and students from both schools spoke, as did Joyce Wilkie and Michael Plane from Allsun Farms. The kids were enthusiatic about the food they grew and what they cooked. One young wit noted that the home made hamburgers they cooked were so good that they just had to have seconds.


The food for the event was also very different in presentation from previous Kitchen Cabinet events we’ve been to. A tasting platter for entree included Baba ghanoush, Italian party cocktail sticks, beetroot carpaccio, antipasto vegetables, sweet corn fritters, sweet and sour pumpkin with mint and onion tart.


After that we weren’t sure if we could get the 11 different elements of the mains in.


Not to mention 3 dessert options …


We certainly all needed a good stint in the garden afterwards to work all that food off.

Cook like a girl

As I was stirring my peach and lemon marmalade this morning I decided there really was such a thing as ‘girly’ cooking. The marmalade was pinky-orange and smelled delicious (BTW when are blogs going to have a smell application so we can share these moments?).


While I’m sure my male friends will tuck into it quite happily it a peach marmalade just doesn’t strike me as having the same ‘grunt’ as a bitter orange or lemon marmalade. Not that I’m worried. Indeed I’m really pleased to see a whole group of young women putting out some fantastic recipes and writing engagingly about cooking. And all that lovely retro-influenced book design doesn’t hurt either!

Today’s revelation came to me courtesy of  Rachel Saunders Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, which I picked up ‘on spec’ from the ACT Public Library last Friday.


I was making my late summer version of her Early Summer Peach Marmalade, as one does. She has a slightly different approach to her technique, preferring to do initial preparation the day before and leaving the ingredients to macerate overnight before a final cooking. Rachel also has some lovely flavour variations – I’m looking very seriously at cooking Orange-Kumquat Marmalade with Cardamon. You can read more about Rachel’s cooking at her Blue Chair Fruit website.

It didn’t take me long to think of some other examples of exciting young cooks including Poh Ling Yeow who hosted Poh’s Kitchen one of my favourite cooking programs of 2010. 


Poh’s cookbook came my way via Santa last Christmas and its as enjoyable as Poh herself. The book is clearly targetting people new to cooking but there is plenty for the more experienced cook can learn. Indeed I owe Poh for encouraging me to make my first croissants from scratch.

Last but definitely not least is Molly Wizenberg, author of the blog Orangette, who published her book A Homemade Life in 2009.


I was somewhat concerned about the blog into book, some are good and many are truly regrettable. But there are no regrets with this book. My biggest problem was not being able to leap up immediately and cook the recipe at the end of each chapter, only being on the bus to work stopped me. I have since made her Winning Hearts and Minds chocolate cake. Chocolate is the operative word as there is only 1 tablespoon of flour in this cake! Yummo.


We were won over.

I know there are more good cooks out there, both young and old, and all of them an inspiration.

Ha-ogen Hanging On

It’s a race against time, my ha-ogen melon bush is succumbing to mould, which is hardly surprising given how continuously wet its been this summer.


I’m still hoping to harvest two more melons which are hanging precariously from the upper stem. They may be out of the way of the slugs and snails but are in danger of falling off the weakened vine. I’ve stepped in with a trick I’ve seen on my DVD of the Victorian Kitchen Garden (era not state). Unfortunately I have no bespoke melon nets and I can only find one onion bag, so the other melon is held up with a piece of old T-shirt. Not a pretty sight but hopefully they will make it.


I have managed to harvest a second melon which only had a relatively small crater eaten out of the top of it! (I’ve taken the photo from a more flattering angle). Another one was found rotted and completely chewed on the ground.


The taste is lovely and sweet, more delicate than your average green melon. It also seems that these melons are unlikely to be good keepers, so it really is a limited season product.


Anyway as TB noted we have now collected plenty of seed from the melons, rotten or not, so we will be able to plant many more later this year.


Autumn flavours

Following a weekend of good food, our expanding waistlines prompted a quick return to less calorie intense veggie dishes, but preferably ones that are not short on flavour.

Thanks heavens it’s Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to the rescue! Checking out his River Cottage Cookbook I came across a versatile recipe for a roasted tomato sauce that can easily be transformed into a soup.

Roasted Tomato Sauce
1 to 1.5 kgs of ripe tomatoes
4 cloves of garlic (more or less to your taste)
3 tablespoons of olive oil
salt and pepper to your taste.

Turn oven on to 180 degrees C. Cut your tomatoes in half and arrange them on a baking tray, cut side up, add salt and pepper. Chop garlic finely and mix into the olive oil and spread evenly over the tomatoes. Bake the tomatoes between 45 to 60 minutes until the tomatoes have crinkled up and the surfaces are browned (up to you how long you cook them but mine took just over an hour).


Push the cooked tomatoes through a sieve or a vegetable mill (mouli) and there is your tomato paste. Use it straight away or freeze for later.


Making a Roast Tomato and Pumpkin Soup from your sauce
Roasted Tomato Sauce as above
Stock (any type of stock will do but remember that the better your stock is the better the result will be)
1 1/2 cups peeled & chopped pumpkin (can be more or less depending on how much soup you are making)
3 tablespoons of cooked rice
1-2 teaspoons of sugar (to taste)

Take an equal quantity of roasted tomato sauce and of stock and heat them together. Add your pumpkin and cook it in the tomato/stock mixture until the pumpkin is soft. Add the cooked rice.

Pulse the lot in a blender until smooth. Taste the soup and add 1-2 teaspoons of sugar to counteract the acidity of the tomato. Sit down and enjoy!



We took off this weekend with friends M & R for a visit to Bairnsdale on the East Gippsland coast. Our friends had been there earlier in the year and decided they wanted a return visit. Having arrived mid-Friday afternoon we checked out the various locations of op-shops for the next days visits and found the pub, the Grand Terminus, where we were eating that night.

Dinner was very good. The Grand Terminus is one of those new pubs with bistro that are really lifting the standards of food in regional towns. While the food offered was to some degrees ‘standard’, I had caramelised pork belly, TB and M had lambshanks and R had fish and chips, all the meals were really well cooked and flavoursome. We washed the meal down with a local Sarsfield Pinot Noir (the wine list had a good selection of local wines as well as other Australian wines). To top it off the service was excellent and attentive. One staff member immediately spotted a dropped knife and replaced it before we even had a chance to ask for another. However dinner was forgotten as with other diners in the bistro we saw the first horrific footage of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

Saturday morning saw our first outing to the op shops where we each found a pleasing selection of objects. R’s happy find was a David Douglas Flameware coffee percolator for $2. This is a gem of 1960’s design from the US. You can find lots of the company’s coffee pots and fondue sets on the various interweb sale sites. I haven’t been able to find out much as yet who did the designs, David Douglas set up the company but was apparently not the designer per se. All components of the coffee pot were present and correct so it was soon pressed into use.


I then found some unidentified make of salt and pepper shakers, I’m guessing from the late 1950’s or early 1960’s, a simple design in turquoise with white ribs about 15 cms high.


Lunch was created out of a selection of local products from the Bairnsdale Gourmet Deli, including mixed vegetable and spice, morrocan vegetable and beetroot dips. On the more substantial side we had some of their pork pies and some locally made Maffra cheddar. We were also able to have a reviving coffee and cake at the deli before heading off to the second hand bookshop. A happy mornings hunting was had by all.

In the afternoon we headed off to Stratford on the Avon River (not that one) where in one locally developed community park we read the amazing story of the circus elephant that was killed when the truck it was travelling went under a bridge that was too low – not nice. Keeping our heads down we continued on to Sale where we were lucky to get into the Gippsland Regional Gallery just before closing time, where we caught up with the exhibition of the props, sets and character’s from Adam Elliot’s fantastic animated film Mary and Max (2009). This is a great exhibition and it was amazing being able to look at the models up close and personal.

More adventures in a later post ….

Out for the count

Well it’s been a bit quiet on the blog front lately as TB and I have been suffering from the dreaded lurgy for the better parts of two weeks. Sore throats interspersed with raging head colds and runny noses. The garden has largely been seen through the windows rather than worked in.

A ‘gentle’ sortie last weekend for more blackberries yielded another 4 kilos of fruit and sent me back to bed for two days. My one consolation was that this week I at last tasted my ha-ogen melon!

I managed to stagger out to the front garden and, while attempting to dislodge the slugs and slaters, accidentally pulled the fruit from the vine. Given that we are moving into autumn I decided that this might be my one chance to taste the fruit. I cut off both well chewed ends, cleaned out the seeds (saved for next year) and scraped the surface clean. I was left with two little pieces of fruit about 10cm by 5 cm. Not quite the triumph I was hoping for but enough to cheer me up on my bed of illness. I was so out of it that I didn’t even have the motivation to take a photograph of it! It tasted well, like a very pleasant ‘green’ melon. I really don’t think I can be more definitive until I manage to get a more complete fruit to try and I’m not sure about my chances on that one. Fingers crossed!

Early Autumn

It is a fine irony that on the very last day of summer I spotted my first tomato ripening on the bushes. Today when I checked there were plenty of fruit finally starting to show some colour. As these plants came from self-sewn stock over in M’s garden we weren’t quite sure what we were getting. Quite a few varieties as it turns out. Roma’s and what appears to be at least two ‘beefsteak’ type toms and a yellow one as well.


I’m also pleased to report that the bit of care and attention given to the raspberries a few weeks ago is also paying off. Not only are the plants making some strong new growth for next years fruit but we are also looking like getting an autumn crop of this years canes.


(I will just note that as it is quite overcast this morning the camera is setting the flash so it looks like I’m taking these photos in the middle of the night – not true, not even for me).

I know I’ve gone rather quiet lately on the progress of my ha-ogen melons, but progressing they are. I have one which has even started to ripen …


but the slugs have already started in on it!


Despite my disappointment I did notice that the slugs were getting stuck into the base a few days before the melon started to turn yellow. So I’ll be keeping a closer eye on these two babies which hopefully will come under less immediate threat.


Pressing matters

TB has always been somewhat of a brewer and was inspired by all the brews taking place in Hugh FW’s Rivercottage DVDs. So when several buckets of apples turned up courtesy of M it was only a small jump to making cider.

Our original though was that the apples were a cider-type being small and predominantly green. But we have concluded that they are probably some type of eating apple only a bit under-ripe. They certainly cooked up OK. But now for the big test, cider.

Of course no activity around Chez Fork is ever straight forward. We had tried pressing apples once before, rather to the cost of the vessel we tried to press into, (does the phrase ‘material destruction’ seem appropriate?) So TB set about building a better cider press. Several visits to the local metal shop and hardware store later he came up with this splendid hardwood and mild steel cider pressing vessel (heavens only knows what the correct name for it is).


The press itself is a 12 ton shop press which has only ever spent its working life in creative practices such as pressing handmade paper and cider.

To press the apples we first cut them up, skins and cores, then put them in cheesecloth, inside the pressing vessel. The press works so well that we had to keep inserting additional wooden blocks on top to get all the cider out. And here it is …


We had hopes of great batches …


But this is the reality …


1.25 litres ,oh well. At least we will be testing this batch in the near future.

Now we are ready for our next batch of apples – where are those old ladies?