Housework II

On Sunday morning we awoke to steady rain that persisted throughout the day. We decided to head off to the Southside Farmers Market which was absolutely jumping. Clearly the rain wasn’t stopping anyone from getting their new season cherries and stone fruit. It’s great to see the market’s popularity increasing so much. Apart from selecting some delicious Danish pastries from the folks at 210 Degrees Patisserie & Bakery (their regular shop can be found at the Hughes shops) and a kilo of new-season macadamias, we picked up a Saw-leaf mustard plant and an Orange Thyme plant for the garden. The flavour of oranges is very strong in the leaves of the thyme – I’m not sure what we will use it for but I’m sure something will come to mind.

Back at Chez Fork it only seemed natural to settle in for a day of cooking and food processing to the background hum of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Spring DVD.

Firstly the I tackled the parsnips. If you need a lesson in what happens to the seedlings of rootcrops if you try to transplant them just look at the parsnips on the right-hand side of the photo.

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As the plants had started to put out a flowering stalk I knew that they would be too tough to eat directly. However, I wasn’t keen to throw away all the time, effort, not to mention soil and compost that had gone into their production. The answer was to clean them, cut them up into chunks and throw them in the freezer to be included in a soup stock (one that your strain the stock veggies out of before you make the soup.) This could also be done with similarly past-their-best carrots and beetroots.

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Next up was the re-found cauliflower, along with two others that were also reaching their use-by date.

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Not a pretty sight I’ll grant you but blanched (see below) and put in the freezer to be reincarnated as cauliflower cheese or curried cauliflower, the optics will be irrelevant. Also don’t forget to peel the stems and chop them up to be eaten along with the florets.

Finally the broad beans. I was passing my broad bean dip recipe along to a co-worker last week when I was asked about how to prepare the beans for eating. Now you may be one of the myriad of people whose lives have been blighted by only partially or poorly prepared broad beans. Indeed I’ve also encountered some thinking that these beans can only be eaten dried – not true. Believe me they are really yummy when properly prepared. If you are a broad bean virgin read on, the rest of you can skip the next few sentences.

First take the beans out of the pods. Chuck the pods into the compost heap and keep the beans. Bring about half a saucepan of water to the boil,  (choose a saucepan big enough to fit your beans with some space left over). Once the water has reached boiling point put your beans in and let them boil for 2-3 minutes. This process is called blanching and is the standard way of preparing most veggies for freezing. Drain the beans and let them cool down a bit before you start to peel them (stick them in some cold water if you are in a rush). Now this is where some people stop processing the beans and if you are unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end you will be served a bean with a thick grey, rubbery coat, not nice. Getting rid of the coat is as easy (or fiddly) as peeling them a second time. Some beans may come out of the boiling process with a split in their skins, if so a slight squeeze should see the inner bean pop out. If not take a small sharp knife and make a small slit in the outer coating and squeeze to remove the inner bean. Any bean less than a centimetre in length will be soft enough to be eaten with the skin on. Your reward will be a plate of bright green beans. 

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What you see here are the blanched beans, just out of the saucepan, on the right-hand side and the final peeled beans on the left-hand side. You can now use the twice peeled beans by frying with some butter or sage leaves or turn them into a paste for use as a dip (if you leave it thick) or a pasta sauce (if you thin the paste out with some oil or some of the cooking water from your pasta or as a spead on your sandwiches.

Broad Bean paste (for dips or sauces)

Put your broad beans into a food processor, or mash by hand if you want a more rustic look, or you can’t be bothered with the machine. Add two tablespoons of your choice of oil to get started (Olive oil would be fairly traditional), add some grated parmesan, an anchovy or two (less is more here), however much garlic you like and a good grinding of black pepper. Now depending on how thick you want your finished paste you will probably need to add some more oil along the way. Buono appetito!

PS if I want to freeze my broad beans I just pop the blanched beans into a bag and stick them in the freezer. I deal with the second peeling once the beans are de-frosted. I think the outer skin helps protect the inner bean from possible freezer damage.

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Housework I

It was Joan Rivers who said “I hate housework! You make the beds, you do the dishes and six months later you have to start all over again.” Apart from the fact I love gardening, the time has definitely rolled around again for re-making the beds (I agree about the housework).

On Saturday we pulled out the remaining parsnips in pipes and purple sprouting broccoli (we’ve been eating them since mid-September), with a view to planting our tomatoes in the bed. We have kept one purple sprouting broccoli plant for the seeds (front right of the picture along with a large weed which has since been removed) and I have plans for the parsnips.

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Before anyone gets overly excited I will say that our idea of crop rotation is just don’t plant the same thing in the same place twice in a row. I can never find the rotation chart when I want to and here at Chez Fork we are rarely able to bring ourselves to rip out plants that are still producing. The other thing about pulling out the old stuff was that we found all this other stuff we didn’t even know we had. In my case three potatoes, three onions and a long forgotton cauliflower – well one brassica looks pretty much like another when you aren’t paying attention.

It was quite instructive to see that half the bed, where two or three crops have been grown over the last year and have therefore been manured and mulched had a vastly improved soil structure to the other end of the bed. In poorer part of the bed we’d grown carrots last year and then the purple sprouting broccoli this winter. Clearly with less mulch and regular addition of compost it was no where near as ‘good’ a soil as the other end. I was able to get some of our rotted compost onto the garden bed – the compost was full of worms so I only lightly forked it in so they could get on with their work.

Meanwhile on the other side of the garden TB was rennovating our second most venerable concrete block bed with a view to making our second wicking bed. Out came a very scraggy spinach and enough broad beans pods to yield 500 gms of beans. Like me TB also found some lost things – in his case a very welcome self-sown warrigal greens seedling. Unfortunately we are still looking for the good pair of secateurs and they could be anywhere!

Our first bed wicking bed is going great guns and we have not watered it since I built it at the beginning of October (er yes, it has rained a bit since then).

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As you can see the peas and silver beet are growing well. And my Purple Podded Peas are podding!

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Apart from not having to water so often the other good reason for a second wicking bed here is to stop the roots of the wattle tree from stealing all the moisture from the plants. Like me TB also found some lost things – in his case a very welcome self-sown warrigal greens seedling. Unfortunately we are still looking for the good pair of secateurs and they could be anywhere!

After calling it quits for the day we awoke the next morning to see that the “rain had interrupted play”.

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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A Green Winter

One of the things that most surprised me when we got seriously into gardening was that you could keep growing some plants all through winter. This was because I ???knew??? that everything stopped growing in winter, duh! Well our garden is currently a picture of green. It may not be as rampantly lush as at other times of the year but it is productive.

It???s green because the predominant plants growing above ground are members of the Brassica family. Currently we have kale Cavolo Nero and also a plant of frilly Russian kale that I bought at the Farmer???s Market last weekend. I read that the various kales taste different to one another but my Russian kale is a bit small to harvest at present so the taste-off will have to come later. We also have collard greens, which are another non-heading cabbage type thingy (which are now recovering from the major Cabbage White caterpillar attack). There are also a few ???normal??? cabbages just starting to form their ???heads??? and Purple Sprouting broccoli.

In the green but not a Brassica category we have plenty of silver beet, stacks of sorrel and also the warrigal greens soldiering on. Snow peas, bush peas and broad beans are all growing happily away but apart from picking the tips out of the broad beans (good in stir fry and encourages energy to go into pod production) we won???t be harvesting anything from those for a few months. BTW those five non-starter broad beans I mentioned several weeks ago were so stung by my comments that every last one of them has now shot! So that is a 100% germination of the Aqua Dulce/Leviathon Longpod I planted.

All of these green things go into the ubiquitous Green Soup. This can be anything green in a home-made meat stock. Favourites at Chez Fork are silver beet with mashed chickpeas, broccoli soup (a bit early for that) and sorrel soup with its lovely lemon flavour.This one is silver beet and chickpea served with some yoghurt and Franquette walnuts.

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Kale also goes into soups and stir fry. It is great cut fine and simmered in just enough stock to cook and then served on toast with a dash of olive oil – you can also add some fried bacon (a Maggie Beer recipe). Warrigal greens are for unbelievably good creamed spinach.

We are still harvesting our root crops planted in summer, carrots and potatoes. What is good is that they keep perfectly well in the ground here until you need them. I have had mixed success with growing parsnips. I tried direct sewing into the garden and also sewing into seedling pots. None of the direct sewn plants came up ??? I believe this was because it was difficult to keep the soil consistently moist as parsnip seed has a long germination period. I did a bit better, well three seedlings, in the pots but only one survived the transplant (it???s growing very vigorously now). However the best result I???ve had came with a suggestion from Tino at Gardening Australia to grow parsnips in pipes! Tino suggests that you use pvc pipes that are 40cm long to allow for the tap root of the plant to grow sufficiently deep. So far the germination rate has been easily over 90% and the plants seem to be coming along very well. I???m also trying two plants in an olive oil tin which is about 30 cm deep. I???d like to see if this works as the tins are rather easier to get than cutting up lengths of plastic pipe.

Parsnips on 20 April …

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and … today!

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