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!


Soup

There is something very comforting about a warm, steaming bowl of soup on a cold winter’s day. Filled with goodness freshly picked from the garden or recently purchased from one of my favourite farmers’ markets, it is not only in the eating that I find comfort.

It is really in the making of soup that I find a happy place. The cutting and dicing of vegetables into a pot, considering likely combinations which work well together goes delightfully with the creativity of adding spices, seasoning and stock. The simple pleasure of smelling it all simmer and bubble as the mix takes on a new life form, warms my kitchen and soothes my soul.

I often make soup from recipes that I have in my head – the old reliable ones like my special pumpkin soup, minestrone or cream of zucchini soup which I can make almost with my eyes shut are soups I make often – partly because I love them and partly because this is often what I have a glut of from the garden. Then every now and then I challenge myself to make something different. Potato and leek is a sure winner in our house. Recently I added spinach to the soup and whizzed it all up with the stick blender. Potato, Leek and Spinach soup was born, partly inspired by an internet search and partly inspired by necessity.

Why did I add spinach? Because I had some in the fridge which had come in our weekly fruit and veg box and it needed using up – so in it went. And it was delicious! Served hot and steamy, with a dollop of cream and some hot crusty bread and butter on the side it made a lovely easy meal one weekend.

It is very comforting to create a warm, steaming bowl of soup on a cold winter’s day out of whatever is available and turn it into something delicious. Its even more comforting knowing that soup is very forgiving – I don’t tend to closely monitor quantities – rather I estimate ratios of one thing to another and then adjust to taste. If I don’t have one of the ingredients I will often substitute for another (for example, if you don’t have leeks, uses onions).

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Here’s the basic recipe for Potato, Leek and Spinach Soup – adjust according to what you have:

Potatoes – what ever type you have – about 1 – 1.5 kg, peeled and chopped

Leek – one or two to taste

Garlic – a couple of cloves, crushed

Vegetable Stock (or stock cube)

A dob of butter

Water – enough to completely cover the veggies (and stock) in the pot

A bunch of spinach or silver beet

Melt the butter in a deep pot then place the leeks and garlic into the butter on a medium heat and soften for about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes, stock and water. Turn up the heat to a rolling boil and cook until potatoes are soft. At this point check the water/stock level. Remove some if you think it is too much and set it aside. Blend the mixture using a stick blender (or food blender if you don’t have a stick blender). Add the shredded spinach and blend again. Add back some of the stock if you think the consistency is too thick. If you feel it is too thin, then return it to a rolling boil until you are happy with the consistency.

Serve with a dollop of cream and your favourite hot bread. Enjoy!


Tomatoes

I had the pleasure of going to one of my favourite farmers’ markets last weekend and aside from spending time with some good friends, I picked up 5 kgs of fresh ripe tomatoes. I always love a random bulk buy from the market because I love the challenge of finding something delicious to do with all that lovely produce.

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So I returned home and started to go through my tried and true recipes, tomato chutney, tomato soup, semi-dried tomatoes. In the end, it was local author and cook, Maggie Beer that won my heart for the day.

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Ans so I chopped and chopped and chopped all those lovely ripe tomatoes until they, along with a few other basic ingredients, were ready to cook.

 

And I boiled them and kept boiling them until they had reduced down into a beautiful, simple, yet Maggie Beer style pasta sauce.

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And now it is frozen in small batches in the freezer just waiting for a cold night after work when I don’t have time or energy to cook. The hard work is done – well not so much hard work, as sheer culinary pleasure on a Sunday afternoon and now I can look forward to enjoying it on another day. It is such a beautiful sauce it can be served alone or I could add meat or mushrooms and cheese to enhance it further. But I do think it needs to be served with home made pasta rather than shop bought pasta, but that I’ll leave for another afternoon!


Livestock

Part of our reason for buying 40 acres is so that we can work towards a higher level of self-sufficiency. While I recognise that we will never be fully self-sufficient – and I don’t believe we should be as we are naturally gregarious creatures – we are keen to control what goes into our food and eat healthy, organic food wherever possible as well as to generate a small income from our efforts.  While we grow our own veggies at home, we have now taken our first few steps towards self-sufficiency at the farm. In recent weeks we have had the good fortune to find someone who had too many Dexter cattle, so we purchased 5.  3 heifers, 1 cow and a steer.  The 4 girls will be used to breed more cattle and the steer will be fattened up for the freezer.  Dexters have a reputation for being quite docile and easy to handle, which is good for a city girl turned farm girl like myself.  Additionally Dexters can be grown for beef and milk.  While we won’t milk them yet, one day we may choose to, so we will have that option available to us should we need or choose it.

The Gorgeous One and I have debated for a long time whether we would grow our own meat and we both concluded that we like eating meat, we are conscious that we could probably do with eating a little less meat, but meat is a part of our diet that we both enjoy.  By growing our own, we are boycotting the huge feedlots that grow grain fed beef en-mass in confined spaces.  Our meat will be grass fed, organic and have plenty of room to free range.  We aim to provide a stress free life for them so that they have as good a life as possible for an ultimate food source.  The carbon footprint of our meat will be minimal and we have already started our tree planting plans to offset some of the greenhouse gases produced by the cattle.

Our second investment in the last month has been some Suffolk ewes.  Again, a step towards self-sufficient, organic, low carbon footprint meat.  But these girls will be kept for breeding and hopefully along the way they will produce some boys who can be Sunday roast or BBQ chops or Shanks … Suffolk lambs have a reputation for having lovely meat and while their wool is not long like merinos, it can be spun and is quite soft with good loft (great for making quilts we are told).

Suffolk Sheep

So we have begun our adventure … and now I have the challenge of finding suitable boys for our girls … in fact I don’t even need to rent a bull or a ram – it’s amazing what you can find on the internet!  Recently I found some Dexter semen for sale in NZ – only problem was that Australian quarantine laws and bio-security measures won’t allow it into Australia, so back to drawing board for me  … It sure beats shopping for shoes or handbags on line!