Tag Archives: apricots

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. 😀

 

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. 🙂

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. 🙂

-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. I may have to go on a starvation diet once the last of the indulgences are eaten. 🙂

RECIPES!

Apricot Cake 

  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! 😀

  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. 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]. 🙂

Oh, and…enjoy!

Meeks

 

 


Preserved #apricots and a #Wüsthof to grind

After the sadness of the Rickman and Bowie posts, I thought it would be nice to talk about joyful things for a change, and what could be more joyful than food and gadgets?

Before I begin though, let me tell you a little story. Back in the mists of time when The Offspring was but a twig, we lived in a leafy suburb of Melbourne called Heathmont. There I planted an apricot tree which flowered, fruited [abundantly] and sprouted a baby apricot tree of its own. When we sold the house, I potted up the baby apricot tree and it travelled with us for over fifteen years before we finally settled again in Warrandyte.

How that small, stunted apricot tree survived for so long in a pot I’ll never know, but it did, and more amazing still, it’s managed to survive and thrive in the not-so-welcoming soil of Warrandyte. But the proof of how special it is lies, as they say, in the eating, and boy are these apricots amazing. Store bought apricots may look luscious but the flavour is generally tart and ‘bland’. By contrast, the sun-warmed, sun-sweetened apricots from my little tree are incredibly sweet, even when they’re not completely ripe, and I’ve been eating them until they’re coming out of my ears!

Sadly, even my stomach has limits so this morning I stared long and hard at the 20 or so apricots left from the harvest. I tried drying the surplus last year, without much success, so what should I do with them this year?

I dismissed the idea of apricot jam without any hesitation; even I am not stupid enough to make that much of a mess for just 20 apricots. But what about compote? That would be quick and easy with minimal clean-up.

True, I thought, but compote will only last a couple of days in the fridge and I’m really sick of apricots….

Ah! But what about preserves? a sly little voice whispered in my ear.

Are you crazy? I scoffed. What do I know about preserving?

Nevertheless, a few minutes later I found myself typing ‘preserving apricots’ in Papa Google’s search box. That, eventually led to this:

apricot preserves

I’d like to say the process was simple and painless, but that would be a lie and I’m a nice girl. For starters, only one of the guides I read mentioned that it might be a good idea to have a specialist jar lifter on hand. For those not as au fait with this topic as moi -cough- a jar lifter looks like this:

jar lifter

As you can see, this nifty tool allows you to grip the lid of the boiling hot jar without burning yourself. The padded black bits on the feet [for want of a more technical term] stop the boiling hot glass from exploding when touched by a cold, metal implement.

Of course, I did not have a specialist jar lifter on hand, but I did know about hot glass and cold things, so I improvised with oven mitts like so:

apricots and oven mitts

[Don’t even think about doing this with multiple jars of preserves!]

I did manage to get the jar out of the boiling hot water without damaging it, or myself, but if I ever do this again, I will definitely invest in a jar lifter.

Another thing I might invest in is some proper, preserving equipment – like jars and lids. The jar I used originally contained Morello cherries, and I have no way of knowing if the seal still works. It looks as if it has worked as the lid has ‘sucked in’ a bit, but I still think we’ll be eating the apricots sooner rather than later. Just in case.

Once the jar was safely out of the pot, I wrapped it in a clean tea towel because another guide said to let the preserves cool down in a draft free place – again, to stop the temperature differences from damaging the jar…the kitchen…the cook….

And finally a word about the syrup. The first recipe I read called for a ratio of half-and-half for the syrup, i.e. half sugar, half water. Now to me, that would be unbearably sweet, and totally unnecessary as my home grown apricots are/were beautifully sweet already. That said, I wasn’t quite game to use plain water for the syrup, so I heated up 1/4 cup of organic demerara sugar with 2 cups of filtered water and let it boil for about a minute before taking it off the heat. As I was only preserving one jar of fruit, I ended up with about 1/3 of the syrup left over. I’ll update this post with the taste test once we’ve actually tried the preserves.:)

And now, as I’m still in a kitcheny mood, here’s an extra little bit about a wonderful gadget I was given as a gift by a foodie friend:

wusthof knife sharpener

Sorry to make you wait so long for an explanation of the title but I’m in a playful mood.

So. A knife sharpener, a German knife sharpener. What’s the big deal?

Let me start by saying that I have been sharpening kitchen knives since the days of the Wiltshire Staysharp scabbard – you know, the one where you sharpen the knife every time you push it into the scabbard, at least in theory. I also own one of those sharpening tools that butchers use. It looks good, but I’ve never used it because I don’t know how. More recently, The Offspring bought me a handy sharpener that actually does work, but I’m a little scared of sharpening myself with it so it doesn’t get used as often as it should. Net result: my knives spend most of their working lives being blunt.

Enter the Wüsthof.

I swear, I am not getting a commission or any kickbacks for this, but I have never used anything that worked as quickly and easily as this little beauty. The two grinding ‘wheels’ are labelled ‘coarse’ and ‘fine’ so I tried one of my kitchen knives on the coarse one first. I could feel the sharpener biting into the edge of the blade. After a couple of swipes I switched to the ‘fine’ grinding wheel and gave the knife a few more swipes. Then I tested it on a raw chicken drumstick.

Now I don’t know if any of you have ever tried to fillet a chicken drumstick, but it’s not easy. The shape is awkward and the meat lies snugly along the bone, making knife work difficult. But you should see how easy it is when you have a truly sharp knife! I’m just grateful I have a knife block in which to store my newly sharpened knife because I wouldn’t trust it loose in a drawer. Honestly, this thing is like a razor blade now!

So there you have it, some tips on preserving home-grown apricots [from a complete novice] and two gadgets that would be a welcome addition to any kitchen.

Enjoy!

Meeks

 

 


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