For better or worse

We have a couple of significant blackberry patches on our farm. By significant I mean at least 20m2. Significant enough for us to pick blackberries over a period of around 6 weeks, which is just now drawing to a close. Significant enough to be considered a weedy pest and to warrant some sort of weed control action. Such a dilemma – the promise of small, sweet flavour bombs, filled with vitamin C and the sun’s warmth, juxtaposed against the invasive, thorny sticks which climb through our fences and sucker under the ground to get to the water in our dam.

I wrote here of hoping to pick some blackberries – it didn’t happen that year as I just got waylaid and distracted by life. This year I did manage to pick blackberries – enough to make jam, eat with ice-cream and eat while picking more! They were amazingly sweet and juicy.

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I made simple apple and blackberry jam, with blackberries from our bushes and apples foraged from roadside trees a few kilometres from the farm. I spent $1.95 on sugar. That was the total cost of the jam. We made enough jam for ourselves, probably not enough to give away, but enough to satisfy our craving for blackberry and apple jam.  I put 750gm of fruit (about 80% blackberries and 20% apples) and 750gm of sugar into a pot and cooked it just above boiling point (around 105ºC) for long enough for it to start to thicken.

Making Blackberry Jam

Once it had thickened I poured into jars and put the lids on – wasn’t that difficult, just a little time consuming and totally worth the time spent.

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Now that the fruit is almost finished, we have set up our goats’ shelter and water near the blackberries – they love them too and will happily munch their way through the thorns, prickles and brambly sticks to get to the remaining fruit and the green leaves – there’s not much that is green at this time of the year, so they are happy to munch into blackberry leaves despite the thorny challenge presented. We are hoping that they will munch a significant portion of this particular patch down to a few sticks which can be cut back and burnt when the fire ban season ends. This will reduce the weed load on the farm and we will still have enough to provide us with some tasty fruit next year. It’s not so much that we need to eradicate the bushes completely; but that we need to make sure they are kept under control and don’t creep into the native vegetation and take over the local indigenous plantings. Here’s Maggie having a munch at those prickles…

Maggie in Blackberries

So each summer I think we will pick a few and give some more to the goats to keep them busy … For better or worse, they are good to have at the farm and make a great summer dessert, jam for winter and fodder for animals – I’m keeping them!


Autumn Harvest

I love this time of year. There seems to be a promise in the air.  The nights start cooling off and the days are warm and clear. We even had some rain last night which has cooled the whole garden down and given us some hope that dry earth is not all we will have this year. It has been dry in our part of the world for the best part of six months, with occasional showers between long spells of warm, dry weather. Which is nice if you like being outdoors, but it’s been getting dustier and dustier and the rain last night will only just hold the dust down for a few hours.

And yet nature surprises us with fruit for harvesting, despite the harsh summer. We are in the middle of our tomato glut which is late for our part of the world – in part due to the cool nights we have been experiencing this summer which doesn’t allow the fruit to set as readily. Our fig tree has been full of ripening fruit for a few weeks now. We netted it a while ago and we have been eagerly watching it to discover when the fruit is ripe. Like most plants, the ripening happens slowly to begin with and then there seems to be a rush of fruit and suddenly we have a glut on our hands.

Fig Tree

This morning we went out and picked two big armfuls of fruit – we just stood under the tree and took what we could reach. And now they have been cut and are sitting in the dehydrator. By tomorrow I will have luscious dried figs – if you have never tried figs this way you will be amazed at the intensity of the flavour!

Drying Figs

The promise of autumn is always delicious – figs, tomatoes, rhubarb, the lasts of the zucchini and cucumbers, strawberries still trying to ripen – the promise of rain and the new life that it brings. No wonder it’s my favourite time of year!


5 Minute Basil and Almond Pesto

I love those crunchy basil pesto dips that are sold in the supermarkets, but I don’t love the additives and preservatives that go with them – “the numbers” as I call them. I’ve become a bit more stringent about reading food labels as I’ve learnt more about food, how it is produced and how many food-like products there are in the supermarkets. Food-like products – something which looks like food, smells like food, but is made from highly processed inputs, chemicals and numbers.

My general rule of thumb these days is if there is something in the ingredients list that I don’t recognise or sounds like a chemistry lesson that I missed, then I don’t eat it. So it is always delightful to go to the garden in the middle of summer and pick fresh basil from my garden and turn it into pesto. This pesto is so quick and easy and forgiving, I can make it in about 5 minutes, not including time picking the basil, as I inevitably get sidetracked onto picking tomatoes, thinning seedlings or watering pots when I am out there. Once I return to the kitchen it is about 5 minutes from basil to pesto.  Here’s my recipe:

A big bunch of basil, freshly picked – about this much (this is my pasta strainer filled almost to the brim):

Basil

Place it all into the bowl of your food processor along with 1/4 – 1/2 cup of almonds – depending on how nutty you like it, a couple of handfuls of finely grated Parmesan cheese. Process it for around 30 seconds until the leaves disappear, keep the processor running and drizzle in some good quality, local olive oil – the Parmesan will absorb a lot of oil, so check the texture as you go until it is what you like. It will take around 60 seconds to process this all up. Don’t over process it or you will lose all the delicious texture.

Then spoon it into small pots – my mixture made two of these pots, so I froze one for use later. It is really nice added to a delicious winter vegetable soup, or scattered over a tossed salad if you can’t wait that long. And I put one in the fridge for dipping … soon.

Pesto

 

Really only 5 minutes including cleaning up … enjoy!

 

 


Rhubarb and Walnut Cake

One of the things I love the most about growing some of my own food is the sense of satisfaction and joy that I get in using those things in my cooking.  This morning I decided the rhubarb was ready and, knowing how much my husband LOVES rhubarb, I decided to bake one of my favourites, Rhubarb and Walnut Cake. I don’t remember where I got the original recipe from, but I have adjusted it over the years that I have made it, so here it is in it current form. Filled with homegrown rhubarb and backyard eggs, I make mine with locally produced bio-dynamic butter and yoghurt, so this cake has very few food miles too! And it’s lovely on a cool day with a cup of coffee.

Warm the oven to 180°C

Topping

1 cup sugar
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 tspn ground cinnamon

Cake

125g butter
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 egg
1 tspn bicarbonate of soda
1 cup (250g) plain/natural yoghurt
2 cups plain flour
1 cup (125g) chopped and stewed rhubarb (1.5 cm pieces), cooled

Method

To make the topping, mix the dry ingredients together and set aside.

Cake Topping

In a separate bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg.  Dissolve the bicarb soda into the yoghurt.  Add to the butter mixture and then beat in the flour.

Cake Mix

Fold in the rhubarb.  Pour into cake tin and sprinkle with topping.  Bake for 50 – 60 minutes.

I used stewed rhubarb (done in 4 minutes in the microwave), rather than raw and that creates a nice swirly look to the cake. Depending on your oven, you may need a longer baking time than suggested by the recipe, so it’s worth testing it with a skewer before removing it from the oven – This may be due to the added moisture that stewing the rhubarb provides.

Rhubarb and Walnut Cake

The topping can be quite crumbly, but it is sweet and delicious and worth a bit of mess on the bench-top!

Happy baking!


Vegetarian Free Zone: Growing our Own Meat

I want to write about growing our own meat, so if you’re a vegetarian, may I suggest you stop reading now as I don’t want to offend you but I also ask that you respect my right to choose the food I consume.

One of our objectives that we set out right from the beginning was being able to control as much of our food chain as possible, and if we don’t grow it ourselves, to at least know where it came from and how it was raised. Whether that be plant or animal.  I wrote earlier about the great debate we had over whether we could live without meat in our diets, so I won’t go into it again here. In the end, we both decided that we liked meat in our diets. Consciously, knowing the impact on the planet and, of course, the aniimal, we choose to eat meat.  We only eat meat a couple of times a week, the rest of the time our meals are mainly vegetarian and sometimes even vegan. But nonetheless it is a regular part of our diet.

So it was with great anticipation that we decided one of our steers had come of size and we booked the butcher.  We consciously decided to have the meat slaughtered on our own property as we believed this would be less stressful on the animals concerned, generate zero food miles and be a more humane way for the animal to die.

And the day came and the butcher arrived and, I must admit I was more than a bit squeamish. But if I choose to eat meat then I believe I should take responsibility for its production. We know with certainty that our animals are raised in a way that is as close to natural as possible. We do not use growth hormones or fertiliser in the paddock. They are allowed to free range and graze naturally.  We feed them no grain. They have a pretty good life while they are on our farm. And when it is time for them to go, it is quick and they don’t even see it coming.  Our first steer died with grass still hanging out the sides of his mouth as he chomped down on some fresh green fodder in the yard and he really had no idea what was coming, or what had happened. It was that quick.

I won’t go into the details between that and finding its way onto our plates, but I can say the flavour of that meat was something out of this world. Actually it had a lot more flavour than anything I can buy in the supermarket and it was full of Omega-3s and vitamins and nutrition that is often lost in long storage, freezing and transporting meat across the country, or worse, around the globe.

I would encourage everyone to at least be conscious of where your meat comes from, how it is raised, the welfare of the animal while it was alive and how it was killed. If you can’t grow your own, then at the very least get to know your local small business butcher or farmers’ market meat vendor and talk to them about how they raise their animals. The more we, as consumers, ask about how animals are treated, what is fed to them, either directly, or what is put on the grasses in the paddock, the more we will raise awareness that we want good, clean, healthy food in our bodies and we want animals to be treated as humanely as possible. Ask questions about whether the animal was grain fed – while some butchers promote this as being ideal, studies have shown that grain feeding changes the nutritional value of the meat. And we know that grain is not the natural diet of cows and sheep – it is simply used to fatten them up for sale to market so that farmer achieves a higher price. Find out what fertilisers are used in the paddock – they go from grass to animal to you … Take responsibility for what ends up on your plate. Consumer and consumer demand can effectively change farming practices around the world if enough of us speak up.

So next time you’re tucking into a nice medium-well done steak, have a thought for the animal who gave up his or her life for your benefit and be conscious of the weight of the decision to consume it.  It doesn’t have to be a morose time, but a time to enjoy and be thankful that we are lucky enough to have choice and to exercise conscious consumerism.

Bon Appetit!

Steak


A visit to an organic orchard

A couple of weeks ago we visited an organic apple orchard.  The event was arranged by our local organic, bio-dynamic group, OBDA. It was wonderful to see an orchard of such a scale embracing organic principles.  They have been certified organic for around 20 years and so have their processes and practices well honed!  The tour started with the orchardist crushing apples for juice – fresh pink ladies and gala apples squeezed right before our eyes and so delicious! The apple press was a small hand operated piece of equipment which I’d like to re-create one day for our own use.  It had a hand crank on the top, a feeder box for the apples which crushed them then fed them into the press below. The press was then moved underneath the hand operated press and the juice was squeezed out of them into a bucket. We couldn’t get enough of it – delicious is an understatement!  Here it is in action.

Apple Press

This was followed by a demonstration of how the apples are sorted for size and packed into large crates.  Once they are washed, they go onto a conveyor belt where they are sorted by size and dropped onto the appropriate belt for packing.

Washing Organic Apples

 Sorting Apples

Sorted Apples

It was great to see this in action.  This was followed by a demonstration on grafting fruit trees – apples actually!  And the orchardist was so generous with his knowledge – I might even have a go at this myself sometime – spring is the best time I hear, so I will have to wait a while.

We then headed up to a lovely courtyard area built by his son and had a tour of the orchard, followed by delicious fresh wood oven pizza (not topped with apples) and apple crumble – of course!

The whole day was inspiring, fun and educational and I would recommend to everyone, that if you have an opportunity to go and visit a working farm then go and do it – go and see how your food is really produced and get to know the farmer.  They are generous and helpful and filled with knowledge – and you might even get some to take home too!

Organic Apple

 


Our first produce for sale!

For some months now I have been attempting to grow some produce that can be sold. We have a wonderful shop in our local town which supports and promotes local growers and fresh organic produce. I have been an irregular customer of theirs for some years in their other shop on the other side of our peninsula. And about 3 months ago they opened a store in the town closest to us. Not only was I excited about this as a consumer, but it has been a dream of mine to grow and sell organic produce for some time … A way of generating some income from our farm which might help us to sustain our other activities.

But of course I have had to build the garden beds from scratch. I wrote about it here. So it has taken me some time to get things going and really establish some kind of food production which is over and above our own needs.  And I sourced some more rain water tanks to cut down – they make great raised beds and give an old tank new purpose.   I grew most things from seed because I haven’t been very good at that in the past and I thought it was a skill worth practicing. Here’s my lettuces just after they were planted out from the seedling tray …

First Lettuces in Tank

We only have one tank near the vegetable garden at this stage and it holds 1000 litres – which sounds like a lot, but each day I am using around 100 litres just to keep things alive.  We haven’t had any rain for over a month so my beloved has been carting water from our main tank and re-filling the garden tank, one bucket at a time to make sure we have enough for the vegetable garden. All the watering is being done by hand as we have not yet established our irrigation system.  While this sounds tedious, I find it very relaxing and as I wait for the watering can to refill, I potter around weeding the beds, tend to the seedlings or doing a couple of quick transplants of seedlings to beds or adding mulch to the beds as they need it.   There is always something to do while waiting and sometimes I just sit and enjoy the peace and quiet of an early morning or late evening.  Occasionally one of our resident kangaroos hops past on his or her way to greener pastures and does not seem to be too perturbed by my presence.

So it has been quite an achievement to get some produce to the point of being sale-able and in enough quantity to make it worth while, but it has been a pleasant endeavour along the way.

First Produce for Sale

I am sure this will be the first of many deliveries we make to our local grocery store!