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.
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!
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!
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):
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.
Really only 5 minutes including cleaning up … enjoy!
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
1 cup sugar
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 tspn ground cinnamon
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
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
To make the topping, mix the dry ingredients together and set aside.
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.
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.
The topping can be quite crumbly, but it is sweet and delicious and worth a bit of mess on the bench-top!
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.
Last weekend, some 22 friends and relatives joined us on the farm to transform areas of paddock to areas of revegetation. We were lucky enough to have some other good friends grow our Trees for Life order this year so we have been able to watch their progress from the time the seeds were planted. Trees for Life is a community of people working to revegetate South Australia and conserve its remnant vegetation. We collected 585 trees this year from our grower friends and from Saturday morning until Sunday lunchtime, a group of us dug holes, planted trees, placed tree guards and had some great fun along the way. We planted up two areas of our farm.
Saturday saw us plant 260 trees which we hope will form a windbreak for our dam, protecting it in future years from the hot, harsh north winds of summer and reducing evaporation of our precious water supply. We also hope that these trees will reduce the flow of water through our paddocks and onto our road area, thereby reducing erosion and loss of top soil. Finally we expect this tree belt will provide shelter for our stock in years to come.
Here is how we started – a few people in the morning and more in the afternoon, a line in the paddock made of flour, outlining the area to be planted up – seemed a bit daunting when it was a blank paddock.
We were closely supervised by the cows who took great interest in what we were doing, that is until they realised we weren’t there to feed them:
And by the end of the day, many hands had made light work of 260 trees – although our bodies still ached a little!
We did have some help along the way. Our youngest tree planter was not quite three years old, but knew how to select a good plant and place it where it will grow:
Even Superman came out to help …
Amid the camaraderie and conversation, we dug, planted, refilled holes and applied tree guards under a beautiful blue late autumn sky. New friends were made, old friends caught up and long lost cousins re-united – a group of like minded individuals, concerned about the environment and the future of our planet, doing a little something to make a difference.
On the Sunday morning we decided to do a bit more planting – because we just weren’t aching quite enough in all of our joints and muscles!
And so we set out to plant a small wind break in what is earmarked to become our horticulture paddock.
And when we were finished we counted just over 100 trees … not a bad morning’s work.
We couldn’t have done it without the energy and running legs of the junior tree planters who enthusiastically chose plants, passed out tree guards, dug holes, played behind the farm shed, carried materials and kept us entertained while we worked.
All in all, it was an amazing weekend, where good friends came together to make a difference. Without them we would have a lot more trees still in plastic waiting for a place on our farm and we wouldn’t have enjoyed such great company and determination to impact our world positively. If you’ve never been involved in a tree planting or re-vegetation project, I highly recommend it!
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.
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.
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!
When we first dreamed of owning our own farm, one of our objectives was that we would breed and sell heritage breed animals- those animals which are rare or endangered because they don’t necessarily fit the goals of large commercial production farms, which are still worth having. We chose Dexter cattle, partly for this reason. They are a small Irish breed, with a reputation for being quite docile, easy to handle, easy birthers and good mothers. Dexters have been in Australia since the late 1800’s but overall herd numbers remain low across Australia. They are considered a ‘dual-purpose’ breed. If we want or need to milk them in future, we will be able to do that. But for now we will enjoy breeding them, sharing them with others and, yes eating their meat when the time comes. They have less impact on the soil as their feet are much smaller than their commercial cousins and two Dexters can be raised and maintained on the same amount of land that would be required for one standard breed of cattle.
When we first embarked on our journey towards living a more sustainable life and considered the impact we had been having on the planet, we spent a lot of time discussing whether we could become vegetarians or whether, for us, meat is an important part of our diet. I fully respect those who make the decision to go without meat, for ethical or personal reasons. We, however decided that meat was a part of our diet we both valued, and so we knew that we needed to produce our meat as sustainably as possible, with as little impact on the planet as we could.
So we grass feed our small herd and don’t supplement with any grains or other mixes. The cattle free range and self-wean their off-spring to keep them as close to their natural state as possible. We try to give them a relaxed, cattle-friendly life for however long they are with us and we only keep as many as we need.
Our breeding plan was subverted last year when we realised some of the cows we had purchased earlier in the year were already pregnant. You can read about the surprises they gave us here.
One of our objectives is to breed and share our Dexters with others and so on the weekend, we sold 2 of our lovely girls to a friend. They were our first sale and while we were a bit sad to see them go, it is nice to know they are going to a farm where they will be appreciated and well cared for. And it gave us both a sense of achievement that we have started to sell these wonderful animals for others to enjoy as well.
So we said good-bye to Astrid and Bella, her calf – we loved having you on our farm!