Category Archives: home-grown food

The taste of real food

Strawberries, glorious aren’t they?

The image above came from freeimages.com, and I can only assume the strawberries are store bought because mine look like this:

Yes, that is a bog standard dinner fork for comparison. My homegrown strawberries are truly tiny, and yet…when I bite into one my taste buds sit up and beg for more. No need for sugar, no need for whipped cream. These tiny red gems are so full of flavour, and natural sweetness, they literally do not need anything else to ‘enhance’ them.

To be honest, I haven’t bought strawberries from the shop in years. Not because I was growing my own but because they had no flavour unless drenched in sugar. Ditto tomatoes and apricots. The store bought ones are all big, beautiful and utterly tasteless. We may eat with our eyes, but these commercially grown fruits supply very little to our taste buds. They also tend to be expensive except when they are in season.

So what’s the answer? Grow your own, of course.

Wait! Don’t go.

Even if you only have a pocket sized garden, you can grow one, small apricot tree. They don’t grow very big, or at least the one that has been growing in my garden hasn’t. And they don’t require much care. I do water mine every night while it’s fruiting, but I don’t ‘feed’ it, or even cover it with netting half the time. Despite that, there’s usually enough for me, my little nephews and the neighbourhood wild life.

And this brings me to something even closer to my heart than good food – it’s the look on a child’s face when they first bite into warm, tree-ripened fruit. They blink in surprise, and then their little faces light up with wonder. I saw that wonder on my nephew’s face when his Dad lifted him up so he could pick and eat his own apricot, straight from my tree. I think it was a moment that neither of us will forget.

But what if you don’t even have a pocket sized garden?

All of the following pictures were taken on my deck. It’s about 2.5 x 6 [metres], so a decent size, but even if you only have 1 x 1 metre, you can plant one big pot with both a tomato and a strawberry in it. Both like a fair amount of water and seem happy to share. That is precisely what I’ve done here:

If you look to the left of the tomato, you can see the strawberry plant that shares its pot.

I invested in some big terracotta pots, but you don’t have to go to that much expense, a big plastic pot will do just as well. Size is the important thing because smaller pots dry out too quickly.

This is a pic of my basil pot, with a foot thrown in for comparison. There’s also a small tomato plant and some weeds. πŸ˜€

 

I’ve been harvesting that basil all summer for homemade pesto. Talk about a delicious, ‘free’ meal!

So what else do I have growing in pots?

I don’t have a great deal of lettuce at the moment, and little green caterpillars ate most of my rocket, but I do have heaps of continental parsley:

I’m also trying something new – watercress:

True to its name, watercress likes water, so I’m growing it in the bottom half of an old worm farm. This is where the worm ‘tea’ is supposed to collect so you can drain it off via the small tap at the bottom:

[In case anyone’s wondering, I released the worms into the garden first].

The watercress ‘pot’ is sitting on top of bricks so I can capture the excess water [it’s full of nutrients] and reuse it on the other pots.

Now, a word about costs. The lettuce, parsley and tomatoes have all grown from volunteer seed – i.e. from plants that were allowed to go to seed. This means they are expert survivors, and they cost me nothing but a paper bag to store the seeds. I bought the strawberry plant, but the basil and watercress seeds were donated by a family friend – thanks Alice! I’ll save their seeds for next year.

The only other costs were my time, water [getting more and more expensive] and a couple of bags of potting mix, so my deck plants are very economical. Unfortunately, my fruit trees are another matter. I have:

1 apricot

1 plumcot [apricot & plum hybrid]

1 apple

1 quince

1 fig

1 Morello cherry [new]

1 kiwi [she needs a male but they keep dying]

1 lemon

1 lime

2 feijoas

5 peaches [each a different variety]

Between them, these 16 fruit trees require so much water that I’m not even breaking even in terms of fruit vs costs. But…we get to eat unsprayed, tree ripened fruit for about 5 months of the year. For me, that’s enough to justify the time, effort and cost of keeping these trees alive. Plus, I kind of think that the water may also help to keep a bushfire from ravaging the place the one day. That’s probably wishful thinking, but we all need our illusions. πŸ™‚

So, should you grow your own? Really?

I believe that everyone can grow something, even if it’s just a few herbs, or a tomato/strawberry shared pot.

I also believe that everyone would benefit from growing something, no matter how small.

But…I’m convinced that kids need to learn what real food tastes like, and if they learn how to grow their own, all the better.

As always, I’d love to hear what you have to say. Do you grow your own? What? How much? Has it made a difference? Please share. πŸ™‚

-hugs-

Meeks

 


Apricot cake & triple-choc-biscuits

I remembered to take some photos this time so here are our latest baking creations [recipes follow for those so inclined]:

First up, the apricot cake:

All the apricots in the cake came from our own harvest, which was quite spectacular. These are photos of what we picked five days ago:

and these:

The total haul has probably been twice that much, all of it with a sweetness you have to taste to believe. We literally have apricots coming out of our ears. This is a pic of the compote we preserved:

The instrument of torture in the foreground is for removing boiling hot bottles from the sterilizing water. Worth every penny!

And finally the biscuits [cookies to my US friends]:

The odd lumps in the middle are whole pieces of chocolate [some dark some dairy milk] that bake with the biscuits. Like my chocolate mousse cake, this is something we don’t make often because it, too, is death-by-chocolate. If you scroll down to the recipe you’ll see why.Β I may have to go on a starvation diet once the last of the indulgences are eaten. πŸ™‚

RECIPES!

Apricot CakeΒ 

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 170 C [165 C if using fan forced] or 360 F.
  2. Lightly grease a 10″ [ 25 cm] diameter ringform cake tin and line the bottom with grease proof baking paper.
  3. Separate four large eggs. Place the yolks into a small bowl and the whites into a mixing bowl.
  4. Add 75 gm of caster sugar to the egg whites, plus a tiny pinch of salt, and beat on high until shiny and very stiff. Set aside in a cool place but not the fridge. You do not need to wash the beaters.
  5. In a second mixing bowl, place 200 gm of room temperature, unsalted butter and another 75 gm of caster sugar.
  6. Cream the butter and sugar until it’s pale and creamy.
  7. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well between each addition.
  8. Gently fold the stiff egg whites into the creamed butter. Do not over mix.
  9. Sift 200 gm of self raising flour and fold into the butter/egg mix. The cake mix will be quite firm. Only fold until it’s just combined.
  10. Pour the cake mix into the prepared tin and gently press to the edges.
  11. Lightly press fresh apricot halves all over the top of the cake mix. [I used about 3/4 of a kilo of fruit. If you want to use less, reduce the baking time a little to compensate].
  12. Place the cake in the middle of a preheated oven and bake for approx. 45 – 50 minutes. Do not open the oven for the first 20 minutes of baking.
  13. As the cake cooks it will rise up around the fruit. The cake is cooked when it shrinks slightly from the sides of the baking dish and/or a skewer pressed into the middle comes out clean [i.e. not sticky-gooey].
  14. Take the cake out of the over and allow to stand, in the baking dish, for about 5 minutes.
  15. Remove the outer ringform and place the cake [still on the bottom of the pan] onto a wire rack.
  16. Using the baking paper, gentle ease the cake off the bottom of the pan and onto the rack.
  17. When the cake is a bit cooler, and firmer, you can finally ease it off the baking paper as well. I wait until the cake is cool and then ease it straight onto the serving platter I intend to use.
  18. Dust the top of the cake with a little icing sugar [optional] and serve on its own or with cream. Bon appetit!

Triple Choc Biscuits

The main ingredient of this recipe is chocolate. I kid you not, a total of 500 gms of chocolate! πŸ˜€

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C [375 F] or about 175 C if using fan forced.
  2. Prepare the baking trays you will use to bake the biscuits. We used an Avanti biscuit press to make the smaller biscuits and discovered it does NOT work on baking paper; the biscuit dough has to be pressed directly onto the baking tray.Β We also made large, manual ‘balls’ of dough. These we placed on baking paper.
  3. Chop approx. 450 gm of dark cooking chocolate or a mix of dark and milk chocolate. We used 1/2 and 1/2 of Plaistowe Dark and Dairy Milk Chocolate. Reserve approx. 50 gm for the choc chip ‘dots’.
  4. Gently melt the 450 gms of chocolate with 125 gms of unsalted butter. [In the past, I’ve also use Slightly Salted Butter and simply omitted the salt later on]. You can use a microwave or simply use a bowl placed over a pot of gently simmering water on the stove.
  5. Remove the melted chocolate from the heat and stir in 1/2 a cup of caster sugar. It will look quite granular.
  6. Next, stir in 3 large, whole eggs, one at a time.
  7. Finally, sift 1 1/4 cups of plain flour with 2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa, 1 teaspoon of baking powder and a good pinch of salt. [If using slightly salted butter, omit the pinch of salt].
  8. Add the flour mix to the chocolate mix and stir until just combined.
  9. Cover the dough with cling wrap and place in the fridge for up to 1 hour [minimum of 10 minutes].
  10. Remove the dough from the the fridge and use a biscuit press to mould the biscuits.
  11. If you don’t have a biscuit press, scoop out a spoonful of dough with a spoon, very lightly roll into a ball and place the ball on the baking paper covered tray.
  12. Leave enough room on the tray for the biscuits to expand as they bake.
  13. When all the biscuits have been formed, gently press a small knob of chocolate into the middle of each biscuit and bake.
  14. For the Avanti biscuits, baking time should be no more that 6 minutes.
  15. For the hand-rolled balls, baking time should be around 10 minutes.
  16. The biscuits will still be a little soft when you take them out of the oven. Leave them on the baking tray until they firm up.
  17. Place biscuits on wire racks to finish cooling. Store in an air-tight container for up to 3 days [if they last that long]. πŸ™‚

Oh, and…enjoy!

Meeks

 

 


Food #gardening in mini greenhouses

The weather here in Melbourne is bleak and blustery, but we had a few minutes of sunshine earlier on so I raced out with my trusty phone to take these:

The pictures show the mini greenhouses I bought from Bunnings. They come in a flat pack -shiver- but everything fits together quite easily for a change, including the clear plastic ‘cover’ that fits over the frame. The covers go all the way to the floor [but do not ‘seal’ completely]. Access to the inside is via heavy duty zips.

I was skeptical, at first, but I quickly noticed that the interior of the greenhouses is noticeably warmer than the outside air, and visibility is usually low due to condensation on the plastic. I’m not sure how the plants will go in summer conditions, but at the moment I’m only watering a tiny bit, once every 2 weeks or so.

Wind is a bit of a problem here, but by positioning the mini greenhouses up against the wall, and anchoring them with big, earth filled ‘tubs’ [see below], both structures have survived the north winds we get up here, so far at least.

I don’t usually do product endorsements, but I liked the first mini greenhouse so much, I went back and bought a second one. The original contains some very happy lettuce and continental parsley while the new one contains BokChoy [?] also grown from seed.

If anyone is interested in growing some winter vegetables, here are the salient facts:

Position:

North facing deck, up against the brick wall of the house for both extra warmth and protection from the wind.

Supplier:

Bunnings in Eltham

Form:

Flat pack. No issues with putting it together.

Cost:

I think each mini greenhouse was around $29, so they were very cheap.

Tubs:

I found some ordinary, plastic storage tubs, the kind you can buy at the supermarket, and drilled holes through the bottom of each one. Then I placed the tubs on top of their own lids to catch excess water and provide a ‘well’ of water to draw on.

Cost:

The tubs were on special and again, at roughly $10 per tub, they were much cheaper than an equivalent plant pot. Another important point was that they fit very neatly inside the bottom of each mini greenhouse, thereby acting as a kind of ‘anchor’ against the wind.

I know the tubs won’t last for very long because of the UV etc, but when they disintegrate, I’ll simply buy new ones. In the meantime, I have lovely, lush lettuce almost ready to harvest and some Chinese vegetables coming on. Colour me happy. πŸ˜€

cheers

Meeks


#Feijoa bounty! Updated April 16, 2016

Just have a look at my harvest of feijoa!

feijoua bounty

And the trees are still groaning with fruit:

feijoua tree1

feijoua tree2

The two trees shown above are about seven years old, but this year is the first time we’ve had a crop. And it’s all due to mushroom compost! I fed the two trees in early spring, and I’ve watered them over most of the summer and it’s insane how much fruit they’ve given back.

The Offspring and I have been eating them for two weeks now, and I’ve given bagfuls to the neighbours, but I think I’ll have to put some out by the front gate tomorrow with a sign that reads – FREE to a good stomach.

cheers

Meeks

p.s. some of you may know the feijoa as the pineapple guava. πŸ™‚

p.p.s. and this is what they look like on the inside [you scoop them out with a spoon]:

feijoa on the inside 003

 


Size does matter…

You see before you a tale of two onions. They sprang from the same brown onion. They sprouted in the same pot. But one was transplanted while the other remained safely at home.

Exhibit A

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Exhibit B

Can you tell which is which?

cheers

Meeks


Flowering #cactus – anyone know its name?

cacti and lettuce 4

There’s a story behind this ugly-duckling beauty. Back when I was a kid, this cactus sat on a sort of plinth, outside our front door. It got a lot of sun and little else. Yet it flowered every single year.

When Mum died and Dad came to live with us in Warrandyte, the Daughter and I closed up their old house. One of the precious things we brought to our much smaller house was this cactus. I put it in a bigger pot. I gave it fresh new soil. I watered it. And the damn thing languished out in the garden with not a flower in sight. Sulking?

Then, as a last ditch effort I decided to bring the cactus up to the north-facing deck. I plonked it against the wall and pretty much forgot about it. Now this:

cacti and lettuce 1

Isn’t it lovely?

I’m over the moon to have the damn thing flowering so beautifully, but I have no idea what I finally did right. That’s why I need to find its name; so I can look it up. If any of you know, please, please, PLEASE tell me in comments!!!

And now, just to round out this post, here are a couple of pics of something I know how to get right – lettuce.

cacti and lettuce 2

cacti and lettuce 3

All these lovelies grew from seeds I harvested last year. The two onion plants grew from a tenacious brown onion that sprouted in my cupboard.

-hugs to all-

Meeks

p.s. If you know how to propogate cacti I’d love to know that too. I’ve tried cutting off a bit and sticking it in the ground, but it didn’t work. :/


Ah haz QUINCES!

quince sauce my quincesOkay, that may have been a little misleading – I have two quinces. See them there, next to the apple [on the counter I cleaned just for you]?

I grew those beauties! And tonight they become quince compote. I’ll be serving them, Hungarian style, as the accompaniment to home made chicken schnitzel. No rice, no pasta, no potatoes – just schnitzel and quinces. The two flavours and textures compliment each other beautifully.

Okay, now for a mini cooking class, and for once I actually took pics as I prepared the quinces. I don’t know what’s the matter with me, such efficiency is not normal. πŸ˜‰

1. First, peel your quince.

quince sauce peelAs you can see, I’m using a fairly heavy duty peeler.

That’s because raw quince is as hard to peel as pumpkin. Harder, actually, as you can’t afford to chop away half the fruit with the peel.

Do persevere though, and when you’re done, run the fruit under cold water as it browns very quickly once it’s naked.

2. Cutting, my way.

quince sauce in halvesLike a pumpkin, raw quince is very dense, and the core is hard to get out, so this is my way of making life easier on myself.

Cut the quince in half as shown in the photo to the left.

Then cut it into quarters, and finally into eighths.

Again, as you cut, dunk the cut pieces into water.

3. Exit the core.

quince sauce in eighthsThis cutting is like origami in reverse, but when you’re down to eighths, you can quite easily cut that section of core out using a sharp knife held at an angle.

Once the bits of core are out, you should be able to slice the remaining flesh quite easily.

I’m an impatient cook so I tend to slice the quince quite fine as it takes longer to cook than, say, an apple.

4. Into the pot.

Most recipes I found online called for insane amounts of sugar – i.e. 1 cup of sugar per 2 cups of liquid. I like to be able to taste the flavour of the quince, and I admit I don’t have a sweet tooth, so my version calls for about 3 cups of water to 1/2 a cup of sugar.

Using whichever set of ingredients you prefer, combine the sugar and water in a pot large enough to take the quinces and bring to the boil.

Pour the sliced quince into the sugar syrup. Jiggle the pot to get the quince settled into the syrup.

Bring the pot to the boil again, and then turn down to the gentlest simmer. Partially cover the pot with a lid – i.e. so the syrup doesn’t evaporate too quickly but steam can escape. Then simmer gently for about an hour until the quince are tender.

Tah Dah!

quince sauce in pot

Because I didn’t use a lot of sugar, the quince haven’t gone that delicate shade of pink you’re supposed to get, but I think they taste better. πŸ™‚

Serve hot with a meat [pork is lovely too], or allow to cool and have as a dessert with cream or ice-cream.

And now an apology. I know I’ve been slack lately, but I’ve been working hard trying to get myself some paid employment. I hope to have some news on that front later in the week. Until then, have a great weekend. πŸ™‚

cheers

Meeks

 

 


My alpaca proof kitchen garden

The sun is shining and I’m not feeling very cerebral so I’m going to show you some pictures of vegies. I know this will be an instant turn-off to some of you but I’m really excited about my odd kitchen garden even if you aren’t. πŸ˜€

First off, let me show you my backyard. And yes, it is huge. I live on 1.6 acres and that amazing view is one reason I love living in this fire-prone fringe suburb. Unfortunately, because this area isΒ fire-prone, one of my top priorities is keeping all that grass nice and short [so that there won’t be much to burn should a fire come through]. To do that I’ve opted for some big, four-legged lawn mowers called alpacas.

Now I know I’ve talked about the alpacas before but I may not have mentioned that alpacas adore lush, green, tasty things… like vegies and roses. In fact they like my precious plants far more than they like all that nice grass so I’ve had to fence off the areas where I’ve planted garden beds. I can get into these fenced off areas but I have to open a small section of fencing to do so and that can be a pain if I have to nip out at night to pick a handful of parsley for dinner.

Being an inventive little person I finally realised that my deck would be the perfect place on which to grow some herbs in pots. That was last year.

As you can see from these photos I’ve been much more ambitious this year. πŸ™‚

Lettuce, glorious lettuce! There’s all sorts of gourmet lettuce in there as well as some ordinary iceberg lettuces right in the middle. They are all still just babies but the beauty of growing lettuce in a big bowl like this is that you can just snip off a few leaves from each individual plant and still have enough for a fresh salad! And of course the plants just keep on growing.

The next photo shows some more iceberg lettuce in a small pot next to spring onions and radishes in the green pot. Radishes are so quick and easy to grow you could probably get a crop by growing them on a windowsill! They are ready to harvest once you can see those lovely red globes start to break the surface. I love small, tender radishes so once these little plants are eaten I’ll plant some fresh seeds.

And finally some of that parsley I was talking about. From left to right we have celery, parsley [and a few extra radishes], green peas and leek.

Once the frosts go away and spring finally decides to stay for more than just a day, I’ll be planting cherry tomatoes, basil and some hot chillies on the deck as well.

I doubt that I’ll harvest enough produce to save me from having to buy any vegies at all but with the artichokes, parsnip, garlic, dill and rosemary I have planted in one of the fenced off areas I’ll have something fresh for most of the year. -dance-

Happy blogging to you all,

-hugs-

Meeks

 


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