Don’t get ahead of yourself

Spring is getting very close indeed and the urge to get out in the garden and “do something” is growing. But I need a bit of restraint as weather in these parts is quite variable just now.

So today I restricted myself to two urgent tasks, transplanting a rhubarb corm for a friend and tieing up the broad beans.

As you can see the rhubarb was rather bigger than I originally thought.

So into a larger container it went, along with some interference from the girls who wanted to pick the good bits out of the compost first.

With a little ‘help’ from my friends.

I left it a bit late to do this job so I hope the plant survives.

Thankfully the broad beans were a bit easier to manage, particularly after I put the chooks away. The plants are growing away nicely and we can expect a big growth spurt once the warm weather really arrives.

Broad beans at the end of winter.

In went the poles and out came three t-shirts worth of ‘rope. I can’t remember just how long we’ve been using this to tie up the broad beans but it’s been a few years now. As you can probably see there is no real rhyme or reason to my tieing pattern. Just keep winding until it runs out.

A crazy cat’s cradle for the broad beans!

Oh and I did manage a bit of weeding while I was there. Enough to keep the chooks happy at least.

Three of the four chooks, the other one was trying to jump up and eat my camera.

Plum Loco

I hope you had a great Christmas, I can scarcely believe that we are already in to the new year! But even now I can’t take much of a break. You see my friend called me the other day and asked if I wanted some of the plums from her tree – of course the answer was yes. So now I have several kilos of plums to deal with and its a 30 degree plus day here in Canberra.

Having been steadily eating our way through our previous year’s bottlings of jam and preserves I’m in full agreement with TB that we really don’t need much more in the way of jam. But there will be some jam, in this case Plum, Rhubarb and Cherry.

All the ingredients ready to go (please ignore the sweet potatoes they are not part of this recipe!)
All the ingredients ready to go (please ignore the sweet potatoes they are not part of this recipe!)

I found the recipe in my Blue Chair Jam Cookbook. It was quite fortuitous as I often run out of ideas about how to use up all the rhubarb we grow and I still had the left-overs of the cherries I bought at Christmas. In all it made 10 small jars – but I had less fruit that the full recipe called for. Enough for us and our friends to share.

The finished jam
The finished jam

I’m also planning on making some adult-style plum swirl ice-cream. I got this idea from the December issue of New Zealand House and Garden, where they have a recipe for strawberry ripple ice-cream. I plan to substitute my plums for strawberries, which I have flavoured with cinnamon star anise and some dried orange peel to make a more sophisticated take on this dessert.

Theplums with cinnamon, star anise and orange peel, cooked and ready for the next step
Theplums with cinnamon, star anise and orange peel, cooked and ready for the next step

Not to be left out, TB decided he’d grab some plums to make a small bottle of umeshu (plum ‘wine’). This is so basic, just take some plain spirits eg vodka, or in this case some Chinese spirits, wash your fruit, place it in the jar and top with the alcohol. Leave it for several months to a year, in a cool dark spot, for a fruit-flavoured liqueur. We are hoping that this version will take on a pink colour from the plum skins.

Umeshu, in the bottle and just needing some time to develop.
Umeshu, in the bottle and just needing some time to develop.

Lastly I will do what my friend so sensibly suggested. Just stew the remaining fruit up, without sugar. When the cooked fruit is soft weigh, bag and freeze it ready for the time when you feel like making jam or can turn it into a plum tart.

The good cook

There are a plethora of cooking shows these days and there is just as much variety in their quality as there are chefs lining up for their 15 minutes of fame. One chefs on offer late last year was Simon Hopkinson, who while he may not be well known in Australia does have a lifetime of experience in the UK food scene.

I was pleasantly surprised to see his show because I’d picked up a marginally damaged copy of Hopkinson’s Second Helpings of Roast Chicken, an absolute bargain at $5 just the week before the show came aired.

This book focusses on recipes of his favourite ingredients, including rhubarb, which we seem to have a lot of at present. So a quick flick through the book and I was ready to make Suzanne Bourke’s Rhubarb Pie.

This barely qualifies as a recipe. All you need to do is take two sheets of commercial puff pastry  (OK you could make your own) and drape one over your baking tin, save the second for the lid. Hopkinson says to roll the pastry out thinner, but I couldn’t be bothered and it doessn’t seem to make any difference to the outcome that I can see.

Cut up 700gms of rhubarb then mix the rhubarb with 160gms of castor sugar and 1 teaspoon of cornflour together in a large bowl. Then dump the lot into your pastry-lined tin.


Pretty easy so far. Brush around the edges of the pastry with some milk and put you second sheet on top. Press around the edges with the tines of a fork to seal and make a nice pattern – just like I remember my Grandma doing. Trim excess pastry if you are so inclined.


Bake in the oven set at 200º C and cook for 20 minutes. Then lower the temperature to 150º C and cook for another 40 minutes or until golden brown.


I completely agree when Simon says “Eat with the best cream you can find …” (although I think we had this helping with home made icecream instead).

In for the long haul

There has been a bit of a discussion in the work kitchen lately about “what can I plant at this time of the year?” That’s the nice thing about gardening there is always something you can be planting or getting on with. Winter is a great time for putting in some classic perennial plants, that is, plants that grow from year to year without you having to do much with them. Perennial plants will form the backbone of your veggie garden for years to come

In July, that ever reliable saint of Australian gardening, the blessed Peter Cundall recommends suggests planting asparagus, rhubarb and Jerusalem artichokes (and yes the latter, are neither from Jerusalem nor are indeed artichokes). These plants are grown from crowns (asparagus and rhubarb) and tubers (Jerusalem artichokes). They are currently available from good nurseries and have even been spotted in a certain large hardware chain store. If you are lucky, you may get some from friends as now is the time for over-large rhubarb and asparagus crowns to be divided and the JA’s to be lifted.

Please think about where you are going to put these plants because they really need to be left undisturbed to get on with growing. I previously stuck my perennial vegs in a back corner of the yard, but I’m now not so sure that this is such a good plan. Its easy to forget these plants while tending to your annual crops. I’ve lost several rhubarb crowns over the years through lack of water and the possums might just get to your asparagus before you do.

We have just re-made our perennial bed, having decided to move it much closer to the front of the garden so we can keep a better eye on it. In addition to housing our asparagus and rhubarb, we have also transplanted our saffron bulbs there. At present I’m also growiing two teepees of purple podded peas at either end as they should be able to grow away before they interfere with the other plants – plus they will add some nitrogen to the soil.

Here are some of my thoughts about growing these plants:

aspraragus: get them into your garden as soon as you can because you really need to leave them to grow for 3 years before you can start regularly harvesting them. The plants need to develop a strong system of roots to produce a good supply of fat spears. I know this is very hard to do as TB has sprung me several times trying out the odd spear in the early years of growing. Thankfully we passed the 3 year stage last spring so we can now eat as much as we can grow.

rhubarb: not to everyone’s taste so don’t grow it if you don’t like it – it is truly scary the number of people who grow veggies they don’t actually eat because they are easy to grow! Biggest hint to new players –  rhubarb stems do not change colour as they grow up! they come in red or green versions that taste the same but are definitely not equal in the looks department. Look carefully at the plant label and check the stem colour of the crowns you are buying. These are not hydrangeas and you do not want to embarasse yourself by asking how do I get my green rhubarb stems to go red? Rhubarb plants are also gross feeders, (how I love that term!), in other words give them lots of manure during the growing season and keep up the water to them in hot weather.

Jerusalem artichokes: a very tasty tuber with a legendary capacity to produce ‘wind’ in the human digestive tract. I love them anyway. Also a bit of a garden thug, prone to taking over large areas of garden if they aren’t contained. We are growing ours in a tub this year, other options are to put them in a bed with very good edging – the tubers will multiply! The extra bonus is that the JA is a member of the sunfower family so  you can expect some lovely flowers in your garden later on in the season.


Summer BBQ

Well another hot day is on its way and I’ll be out with the hose very shortly to start watering before the heat hits (we only have a 3 hour time period in which we can water in the mornings). We will be hitting the old century mark (100º F) today so any activity will be confined to the next two hours before I come inside to stay.

Yesterday we went to a friend’s place for a BBQ, thankfully in the evening. We had been asked to bring some salads, particularly a leaf salad. I’d said yes, no worries and then started to wonder what I would bring. I knew that our lettuce had pretty much bolted and there is nothing much to our lettuce seedlings at this stage. A tour of the garden reassured me that while I wouldn’t be supplying a lettuce salad we did have leaves of all sorts that could be used. What ended up in the bowl was, two or three salvageable lettuce leaves, loose leaf chicory (an Italian variety) and wild rocket – these two formed the greatest contributions – celery leaves, basil, beetroot leaves, bucks horn (one of the Italian salad leaves I’m trying out this year), snow peas (our second crop) and garlic chives. TB dressed it with his Vietnamese Nuoc Cham dressing (3 tablespoons fish sauce, 100mls lime juice, 1 teaspoon rice vinegar, 2 cloves of garlic chopped, 1 long red chili chopped) which we had in the fridge.

I also got excited with the radishes and made the Smashed Chinese Pickled Radishes from the Japanese pickle book Tsukemono Japanese Pickled Vegetables by Kay Shimuzu (Shufunotomo Co. Ltd 1993). This is a dead simple recipe and worked really well. All you need do is pick your radishes, give them a clean up and leave them to sit for 15 minutes in a bowl of iced water. Take them out of the bowl and using something heavy, like the flat blade of a heavy kitchen knife or chopper you crush the radishes as you would a clove of garlic. If you have a small round variety you might be able to do them whole, otherwise cut the radishes into pieces about 2.5cm (1 inch) cubed before you try this manoeuvre. You may also want to place an old folded tea towel over the blade to avoid any mishaps to your hand. Put the crushed pieces back into the iced water for another 15 minutes. You then make the dressing as follows 1 tablespoon of shochu (Japanese whiskey, or sake, or just omit this ingredient as we did), 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of rice vinegar, 1 teaspoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon of sesame oil and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Put it into a small screw top jar and shake vigourously. Drain radishes, dress and serve.

…….. Sorry about that I just had to pop outside and do some watering. You can see that rampant growth is the order of the day!

While I was getting my leaves TB decided to pick some baby carrots and beets which he boiled whole and then cut into smaller pieces after they were cooked. He dressed these with 2 parts olive oil to one part Vietnamese dressing. At least TB had the presence of mind to take a photo of his dish – I completely forgot to take any photos!

My final dish was a variation on the baked rhubarb I’ve made previously. Cut rhubarb into 2-3 cm pieces and place as a single layer in a baking dish. Pour over the juice of one orange and about half a cup of honey. Bake in a 180º C oven until soft (about 20-30 minutes). Eat with cream, ice cream yoghurt, whatever.