Summer

Summer

By
Rohan Anderson
Contains
19 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781743790540
Photographer
Rohan Anderson & Kate Berry

Summer is a funny old beast. By the calendar it starts on 1 December, but in reality it’s a slow train. Up here in the hills, nothing seems to wake up until at least January. I’ll often check with local friends (who grow veg) to see what stage they’re at. I’m looking for some reassurance that I’m not doing something wrong: ‘Have you got your beans in yet?’, ‘Have your tomatoes flowered yet?’ Whatever news I get doesn’t seem to make a difference. My garden is still dragging its summer feet.

I’m well aware of my impatient nature, so I remind myself that things will eventually happen and I distract myself with chores until the weeks pass, the warm weather arrives and the garden takes hold. There’s a very short window of opportunity here, as we’re exposed somewhat, being positioned on a large hill in an already elevated highlands region. Wind is a killer for the garden. In winter it’s a fiercely cold wind, strong enough that last winter it blew every leaf off my young lemon tree. (Poor lemon tree. If it were a man, he’d be suffering from debilitating shrinkage.) In spring, the wind swirls and twirls, not really sure of what it’s doing. And by summer the wind is hot. Damn hot. Hot enough that it can draw every last inch of moisture from the leaves of my vegetables, like they’ve just walked on the surface of the sun. Not that plants can walk. I’m aware of that. I haven’t spent that much time living in the hills.

Just before Christmas, however, we get a little taste of summer. A mate has an extensive orchard with walls of climbing and bushing berries of all varieties. They seem to mark the real beginning of the warm-season food glut. Raspberries, gooseberries, blackcurrants and boysenberries are enjoyed as a welcome to summer. One year we were offered as many blackcurrants as we could pick. Kate made a killer cordial, one that seemed to be best enjoyed with vodka. Always with the vodka.

In a short time, the berries disappear and the real food comes to the fore. Flowers mature to fruit, meals suddenly shy away from having any association with meat, and we become faux vegetarians for a few months. Why eat meat when you’ve got access to veg this pure, this fresh? That’s what my whole approach to living is – to go wild over summer growing enough storable food for the winter lull.

This system seems logical, but it’s fraught with challenges. Timing is paramount. I’ve realised this over many a summer now. It’s okay for some varieties, but for those sensitive summer-lovin’ varieties it’s critical to get the timing right. If you get it wrong, the outcome is simple – less food. It’s as brutal as that. I must admit, that fact has taken a bit of getting used to since I stopped buying fresh produce from a supermarket. I guess that’s because I’d had the convenience my entire adult life. I’d grown accustomed to it. But now, out here and deciding to live this way, there is no convenience. I’ve made a commitment to live like this, with nature, with the seasons. It’s the most deliberate of choices.

Transition

By early summer I had rows of broad beans and peas still occupying the precious real estate I needed for summer crops. The damn things just kept on providing us with heaps of food! How annoying is that? Fresh, organic food. OMG, so annoying. I was reluctant to pull them out, but eventually I had to make a call. I spent an afternoon pulling every pea and bean from the plants, then I pulled those very plants from the ground.

The chooks had a mega-feed, as they tend to when I do a spell in the patch. But this time, they weren’t to be fed second-class weeds. No, this time, the chooks were to dine on fresh pea and broad bean leaves! I look after the girls and they look after me. There was, however, too much in the way of vegetative matter, so half of it went into a big pile destined to be compost for the following year. Not much gets wasted around here. First, I don’t have much cash, and secondly I just don’t like waste. There’s no point to it.

That evening we sat in the family room podding the little green goodies. Around 12 kilograms of broad beans went into the freezer. The first store of veg for winter (that is, if we could just hold off eating them during summer). I do want to share something with you, though, because I made a mistake and we can avoid that happening if I tell you this now. I didn’t blanch the beans before freezing them, and when I cook them now, they’re harder and taste slightly different. They’re still palatable, but they need to be cooked longer to soften them up. I guess I should have done to them what I do with corn pre-freezing, and blanched them then cooled them in iced water. Next year I’ll be all over that. And now I’ve saved you the pain of finding out by making the same mistake I did.

With my cache of peas and beans stored away, it was time to start some real planting for summer. With a long-handled shovel I dug a shovel’s depth into the soil and turned it over. This seems to help with drainage and mixes up all the detritus and detritivores, resulting in a nice friable medium for the soon-to-be-sown seeds to start their growing career. It’s at this point that I drag in some kid labour. Not because the job is easier with their ‘help’ but because I want them to feel some ownership over the veg garden.

I try to match up the right kid with the vegetable they most enjoy eating, with the idea that when the veg is mature, said kid can harvest it and will appreciate the experience. Well, that’s the intention anyway. It doesn’t always work, but no harm trying, right? In went a few rows of corn, a few varieties of summer beans, rocket and more peas. You can never get enough fresh green peas.

With our fingers black from the rich volcanic soil, we stood back and admired our laborious effort. Nothing but a few rows of dirt – so unfulfilling for the kids! I go to great lengths to remind them that the germination process is just a few weeks and they’ll soon be able to see baby veg plants, but who am I kidding really? Off they go, under the cypress pine to the swings from whence I’d just dragged them to ‘play’ in the garden. One day, though, these kids will remember. I know this for a fact, because this is exactly what my mum did for me, and I remember it and I cherish it, and those childhood experiences have made me the man I am today.

I have a habit of looking over my handiwork in the patch, and at this time of the year, early summer, the garden doesn’t give back a great deal of visual stimulation. It’s transition time and you see more soil than you do plant matter. It is, however, a garden full of promise. And were it not for the fact I’ve been growing summer vegetables for a few years now, I’d probably crack the sads and hang out on the swings with the kids. But I know that only a few months away the family will be enjoying as much summer veg as they can consume. I can rest easy in the knowledge that it’s still early summer and I have all my beans and corn in the ground. Now to wait with fingers crossed.

Summer babies

Back in spring I propagated a heap of seedlings for summer planting. I give lots of vegetables the direct-planting treatment but some respond very well to being nurtured in small pots until they’re of size and can be released from the baby plant nursery. It’s mostly zucchini, pumpkins, eggplants, tomatoes, basil and coriander that get this special treatment; almost everything else for summer I plant directly into the garden beds. I still use the toilet roll method. I also have a bunch of old seedling pots I use year after year. It seems to work well, especially if you’ve made yourself a little hot house to give the new seedlings a head start. Unfortunately for me, I failed to get the plastic over my new poly tunnel early enough so I just sat my seed trays in the boot room at the rear of the house. It’s full of windows and it faces north, so it’s blessed with plenty of light. For most of the plants I propagate, I’ll add two seeds per tube, allowing for the chance of one not germinating and me having a wasted empty tube with no seedling in it. As the seeds germinate I pluck out the smaller of the two and allow the faster, more robust seedling to continue growing.

All my summer veg has popped up, the magic leaves have broken out of the seed casing and with two tiny leaves opened up, they look like they want to be hugged. Now I might love my veg, but I know a big ol’ bear hug from this bloke will end badly for the seedlings, so I reserve my hug for later. Each day I give the little babies a gentle spray of water as I’m heading out to my chores. It’s not really a demanding job raising these babies. At least there are no shitty nappies or late-night screaming. And unlike human babies, it’s totally legal to eat these.

As the plants grew I made sure their little patch of soil was ready for them. All weeds got removed, and the soil turned and lifted with a little compost. It feels like summer is starting. The baby plants are lovingly deposited in the soil, and I use cut-open plastic bottles to give them some initial protection. I breathe a sigh of relief, comforted that the summer growing season has really started and this time, unlike a few seeds buried in the soil, I can see results. All I have to do now is hope we get a long summer, with plenty of hot days and oodles of warm sunlight.

Escape

It’d been a while since we’d had a holiday, and we can’t really afford a proper holiday so we bought an old caravan instead. We figured we’d get years of use out of it and it could also serve as a spare room for visitors. It was a bit of a steal actually – a 1971 Viscount six-berth for a few grand. The catch was a twelve-hour drive to pick it up, but once we had it back home and cleaned up, it was ready for us to drag to the closest beach, down on the Great Ocean Road. Off we headed with dreams of warm sand between our toes and endless afternoons fishing for dinner. Leaving the veg garden behind was worrisome, but I had some good folk stay over to keep an eye on the place for me. I didn’t care what they did at the house, as long as the garden got plenty of water on those forecast hot days.

The annual summer trip to the beach means fishing for me. I don’t surf, I don’t sunbake, but I do love eating freshly caught seafood. And luckily for me, a week down on the beach means plenty of time for fishing and foraging for the coastal bounty. Where we camp is right on the beach – well, not literally, but it’s just over the sand dune. From our caravan window we can see the waves rolling in, bikini-clad sunbakers, surfers having the times of their lives, and Henry the dog taking a dump on the beach. Henry!!!

As midday lazily turned to afternoon I’d grab my surf rod and head to the now much quieter beach. My dad had passed on his beautiful bamboo surf rod he made the year I was born. It hauls a mean cast, out past the breaker with ease. And with a bit of luck, I caught myself a nice Australian salmon and a few mullet. Not enough to feed an army but something to put a smile on my face and some food in our bellies. For days after that the fishing was harder work with little result, so I headed out on a local charter boat to access some deepwater fishing. Out we went into the blue, then finally the anchor was dropped and our lines went in. I had a pretty successful day with my guide, and as a result I brought home fish for us to enjoy for the next few days – mackerel, flathead, snapper and even dog shark.

When the fish is this fresh, I don’t like to muck around with it. What’s the point? You’ll disguise the natural flavour of the fish, which is not cool because that’s what should be celebrated, that fresh natural flavour – the richness of mackerel, the sweetness of flathead and the freshness of snapper, all beautiful fish in their own right. So I kept things simple. A bit of butter, salt and pepper, served with a wedge of lemon. Sometimes if I catch a good haul of Australian salmon, it’s then that I’ll play with different flavours. The meat of the Aussie salmon is all right on its own, but unlike these other fish it does tend to work well with a bit of introduced flavour magic.

After feasting on fish for a few days, we were ready to return home. We’d had a bit of a heatwave and the van was somehow becoming smaller and hotter, especially with four little girls on board, and Henry. Thankfully, the veg garden back home had been watered and, even with the extreme hot weather, I’d only lost some carrots, a few beans and the leaves of a patch of zucchini. The hot summer wind had been so dry that all the moisture had been drawn from some of the plants and they’d died, but the losses weren’t big. I was still on track to have plenty of veg to come, and plenty of veg to add to my provisions for winter.

Like Christmas, but not the evil consumer Christmas

I've been asked so many times, ‘Do you eat the zucchini flowers?’ Look, I probably have at some fancy restaurant and they probably tasted good, but to be honest I like to grow zucchini so I have zucchini to eat. And I’m just not very fancy. Well, not flower-eating fancy anyway. Zucchini is a pretty loved veg in this house. It goes in everything from soups to pasta and cakes. It’s loved for many reasons, notably its ease of growth, and it being the most prolific food producer in the garden. One zucchini plant can produce kilos of produce. Often there’s more zucchini than we need, but over the years I seem to be growing more. Why? Well, I’ve been using it in dishes my kids are more inclined to eat; Kate bakes with it; and after a million meals of pasta, soups and grilled-veg salads, I use the rest to make a relish or chutney. So it all gets used up. Even the odd zucchini that has a bit of rot in it goes to the chooks for a treat. Every zucchini gets used. Just not the flowers. Maybe I should eat the flowers.

So it’s really summer now. All my seeds have germinated. The garden is full of neat rows of beans and corn, and the poly tunnel is a hive of activity. All my darling zucchini plants are proudly boasting large leaves and happy bright-yellow flowers. So far this summer we’ve not really had much in the way of variety other than green peas, broad beans and the odd broccoli. Nothing else is really happening. I mean, sure, the poly tunnel is full of plants, but there’s just no food dripping off said plants. The rows of beans and corn are months away from providing food, and in any case both are destined to be stored for winter consumption. The zucchini will be the first of the summer veg we can actually eat in summer. It’s ironic, really, that during the peak growing season I don’t have much to eat! Well, that’s mostly my fault for not getting the plastic over the poly tunnel sooner in spring, but that’s another story. For a few weeks this summer, we’ll most likely have to rely on the humble zucchini more than anything else.

I wonder how I’ll feel about this approach by autumn. Will I be over zucchini?

I have to tell you that I did try another one of my little experiments in the garden. As well as raising zucchini seedlings in toilet rolls, I’ve also tried the direct-sowing approach to see if it would make a difference to speed of growth and productivity. I tried this experiment once with peas, and the direct-seeded peas absolutely killed the seedling version, I guess because they didn’t lose those few weeks seedlings do when they get transplanted. That root disturbance is a killer! So I tried the same experiment with zucchini and found no significant difference between the two. Kind of boring result, eh? I bet you were wishing I’d tell you something rad like the direct-seeded plants grow twice as fast and twice as large. Nope. Just boring old nothing. But both still gave me more zucchini than I needed.

Harissa the kisser

My poly tunnel is at DEFCON 1. I’ve got the biggest eggplant leaves I’ve ever seen, the highest tomato plants of all time and an entire side of the tunnel dedicated to chilli. Yes, it may seem like overkill, but I have a theory that’s served me well these past few years, and that is to grow bucket-loads of the stuff you really love. And I love chilli. I love it raw, I love it in cooking and most of all I love it turned into a sauce like a salsa picante. I drizzle those chilli sauces on everything. Heat and flavour! You can beat an egg, but you just can’t beat that combo of heat and flavour!

In the tunnel I have three varieties: jalapeño, habanero and fire chilli, which looks a lot like cayenne pepper. I’m guessing it is a cayenne, but the boys in the marketing department at the plant nursery must have thought ‘fire chilli’ sounded a bit more rad. That aside, my chilli have now flowered, most of them have been successfully pollinated and I now have fruit, mega amounts of chilli fruit. And my veg-growing mate Jack has heaps of chilli. So much chilli that he keeps bringing it over to my place to trade. I have so much chilli I could literally sell it at the Sunday market. But this chilli is too valuable as chilli to exchange for money.

In the depths of winter this chilli will warm me in two ways: first with its natural heat, and secondly it will warm my spirit. When days are short and dark clouds abound, that chilli sauce will lift my spirits. It will remind me of birds chirping in summer sun, plentiful flowers and the aromatics of a summer garden – all the things I’m taking care to enjoy right now while summer is in full swing. Each hot day of late will see me at the end of the hose, providing these productive plants with the gift of water. It’s my way of nurturing them. Each few weeks the progress is phenomenal. First the flowers come out, then tiny green fruits and now hundreds if not thousands of chillies of various shapes and sizes dangle on these pretty green bushes.

I’m fortunate to have planted so many chillies that I can afford the luxury of eating them in summer. My precious beans don’t get consumed at all over summer or autumn – I force myself to wait until winter, as they store indefinitely when dried – but chilli I can eat as much as I like. As for other fruits, there are so many applications that offer a multitude of culinary outcomes. When I first started growing chilli, it was one meagre pot plant that produced a few handfuls of chillies at best. Back then I didn’t eat so much chilli, nor did I make a range of sauces, chutneys and relishes. But now my appreciation for these fiery gems has grown. Of late I’ve been enjoying a breakfast with some chorizo and egg and a whole jalapeño – beautiful crunchy capsicum flavour with a little ‘hello’ heat! Lunchtime, chilli. Dinner, chilli. Chilli, chilli, chilli! Is good, yes?

With all this stock of chilli, I need to start preserving some for the larder. I have plenty of spare zucchini, so I’ve made a large batch of really hot relish. Kate’s done her bit and made her killer harissa, which, incidentally, we love on everything. The first time she made it was one of those beautiful food memories for me. Harissa is a wonderful hot chilli paste that originates from North Africa. It’s a heart-starter, for sure! Finding the balance between garlic and cumin seems to make it. Seriously, once you’ve made your own, you’ll never go back to store-bought. Just like every other food I’ve made over the years, nothing beats home-made. You get uniqueness in flavour and often the freshness of the ingredients is what takes it up a notch.

Jalapeño is my preferred chilli to grow. It’s pretty hot but it’s not as mad as habanero. Most of the crop is destined to be smoked into chipotle or made into my salsa picante. Man, I love this hot sauce! Over the years I’ve tried a heap of different brands, and the thing I’ve enjoyed about most of them was that balance of heat and flavour, tart and sweet. But most of all I love the smokiness of some brands. To get the smoked flavour in my sauce I add smoked pimentón and chipotle in adobo sauce. The beauty of this salsa is that I can capture summer’s main prize. During the winter, I’ll pour it over many meals when there isn’t a fresh chilli to be seen.

The salsa stores well in the larder, and all I have to remember is to keep the bottle in the refrigerator after opening. To be honest, an open bottle doesn’t last very long – it goes on everything! The beauty of making your own salsa picante is that you get to control the heat. If you like nuclear-powered heat then keep the seeds in. If you like your salsa a tad calmer, then remove the seeds. It’s totally up to you. Now, isn’t that how food production should be?

Oh, bugger

I'm not much of a gambler. I do, however, love the movies Casino, Maverick and Let It Ride. Go figure. A few months ago I made a bet, and it’s only now that I realise I bet on the wrong horse. In fact, I bet on the wrong crop. I’d managed to set up the vegetable garden last winter, which was ace, but it meant that I planted the broad bean crop a little later than usual. It’s just one of the realities of setting up a new garden at a new house. You have to allow a season or two to really get into the swing of things. The beans took a lot longer to finish off, which meant we were still harvesting late into spring and even into summer. So when the bean crop had finally come to an end it was definitely midsummer. It’s easy to get a bit cocky about the seasons when the sun is belting down and the hot wind blows in from the north. Feeling like I was in an endless summer, I decided to use the empty beds for growing corn. It was a gamble. I had two options: to plant a crop or to let the bed rest over summer. A bed resting over summer is out of the question. For this system of living off what you grow to work, you have to grow most of your food over summer. To leave a bed vacant for the remaining summer seems such a waste. So I wrangled a daughter or two and we set about planting a little corn crop.

At first there was promise. The germination rate was seemingly 100 per cent, and the tiny green corn shoots popped up in record time. The plants grew next to rows of white beans, summer broccoli and more beans. Did I mention I like beans? I looked after that corn crop with love and care. When the fierce winds came I roped the narrow crop together to give it strength. I kept the water up and the weeds down. But the season wouldn’t last forever. And it started to run out. Sure, I managed to harvest some corncobs, but we pulled more corn out of the ground at the end of the season that didn’t give us food. So I put all that energy and all those resources into something that didn’t give such a great return. These things happen. It’s not the end of the world. It just means that during winter I’ll have to eat more beans and kale than frozen corn.

Black beauties

Eggplant is a warm-loving plant and so it’s a no-brainer for summer, or so I thought. I’ve not had much luck over the last decade growing it up here in the Central Highlands. Our summer growing season just isn’t long enough. It seems that just as the plant has flowered, autumn arrives and chills the flowers into submission, and the result is one eggplant per plant, and even that eggplant is a bit miserable-looking. This summer, though, I’m trying a new approach, for I have a poly tunnel. When it’s hot outside, it’s molten hot inside the tunnel! How much hotter does the eggplant want it, eh?

The results so far have been very rewarding. The leaves alone are massive, which is encouraging in itself. They’re the biggest, healthiest eggplant leaves I’ve ever seen in my garden. As exciting as mega-sized eggplant leaves are, I can’t eat them. It’s the flowers I’m interested in. No, not for stuffing with foie gras and dipping in batter, finished with a foam of foraged treats. The flowers, when pollinated, turn into the much-coveted eggplant themselves. And now my plants have flowered prolifically and I have fruit! Autumn can come, it can bring its cold weather. We’re no longer in fear, for this year I have my plants warm in my tunnel of love. Here’s hoping I get so many eggplants I’ll become sick of them.

Eggplant as a summer veg tends to be enjoyed in summer, not winter. I can grill it and store it in olive oil, but it doesn’t store as long as I’d like it to. It’s great barbecued or grilled, and often ends up on the chargrill pan with a sprinkle of salt and a glug of olive oil. I’ve even used it in making a hot tomato and eggplant kasundi. That kasundi will end up with bacon, rocket and cheese in many a winter’s toasted sandwich … mmm, manwich! But for now, I’ll keep grilling these black beauties while the days are hot and long, and the barbecue weather reigns supreme.

One small piece of advice with growing the eggplants in the super-hot controlled environment of the poly tunnel. If you’re going to go to all this effort and try this method, I suggest you stake your plants. Mine grew so large and had so much fruit on them that some fell over with the excess weight. That might not sound like such a big deal, but if the main stem snaps and the fruit isn’t fully developed, you potentially miss out on eight to twelve eggplants, and in my world that’s a significant loss. So get out those old nylon stockings and secure the plants as they mature. Just don’t get busted trying on the old lady’s tights in the poly tunnel. Not that it’s happened to me.

Gold in the bottle

In early summer we enjoyed the odd feed of berries we’d traded with friends, as well as a few apricots, plums and now peaches. Soon there’ll be apples and pears to boot! So much fruit gets wasted as second-grade fruit that never ends up being sold commercially, and that’s where you can make a good store for your larder. It’s pretty cheap compared with A-grade fruit and if you think about it, most of it will be peeled before canning anyway, so any blemishes can be cut out.

Having a fully operational fruit and berry orchard will take time. And being a renter makes longing for such a thing even more frustrating. To overcome the possibility of having to move (yet again), I’ve planted my mini orchard in large wooden crates with the idea that when I do have to move, I can lift the crates onto a lorry with a tractor, then plant them at our ‘forever house’. At least I’ll get some fruit from the trees over the next few years while we save for land. In the meantime, I get my fruit from organic commercial growers, friends’ trees or the bush.

If you have a good greengrocer you might chat to them and see if they have access to commercially grown second-grade fruit for preserving. It’s a much cheaper alternative than buying the pretty stuff, and honestly you can’t tell the difference once you’ve processed and bottled them. We use the old Fowlers Vacola vacuum-sealed jars. They last forever and only the lids and rubber rings need to be replaced (although we tend to use the lids over and over again). These kits are everywhere to be found, a remnant of the old days when more people preserved their own, a time before we had large factory canneries. I reckon at some point in the 1950s these preserving kits were a mandatory wedding gift. You can pick up the boiling pots for a few bucks and if you buy in bulk the glasses are reasonably priced, especially when you consider you can use them year after year. The OG recycler. There are other brands out there that do the same thing, so use what’s most abundant and within your price range.

One of the best purchases I made from an old-wares shop years ago was a tiny handbook written sometime in the 1950s by the Fowlers Vacola company. It contains instructions on how to preserve almost every fruit, vegetable and sauce imaginable. It’s worth more to me than gold itself! Each year from spring to summer I refer to the handbook for instructions. It tells me how to prepare the fruit, what temperature to boil it to and for how long. It works every time. And the best thing is, I know we have fruit we can eat in winter that’s organic and stored in a light sugar syrup with no additives or preservatives. That’s worth the effort just for peace of mind. Now if I can only figure out how to avoid the wrinkled hands from preparing buckets of ripe fruit!

Little nippers

Each summer I try to get a good feed of yabbies (small freshwater crayfish). I just love the taste of them. It’s another food source that brings annual variety to the mix of food types. I mean, who wants to eat kale all year round? Yabbies are at their peak in summer, when they’re done with breeding and birthing, and simply concentrate on eating and fattening up. Good time to go harvest nature’s bounty, eh? They’re not overly hard to catch, either. You simply use an opera house net, pop some rotting stinky meat in the bait pouch, throw the net in the dam water and wait. Sometimes you get a magnificent haul, enough to feed the family, and sometimes you get a more modest catch, which just goes to the parents. Come on, don’t judge me!

What I find hilarious about ‘harvesting’ yabbies is the contradiction it presents to the anti-hunting idea in this country, notably anti-duck-hunting. Yabbies are native, they’re part of a natural wetland ecosystem and they’re obviously living beings – one may even suggest they’re sentient beings – so why is there no outcry when a haul of yabbies is eaten? Why is some meat deemed acceptable and other types unacceptable? An interesting conundrum. I ask the same question about fish. Why is it okay to kill a slimy wet trout but murderous to cut the throat of a live chicken? From what I can gather, it has something to do with feathers and fur. The more feathers and fur an animal has, the more valued it is, or the higher its potential for the snuggly, schmoopy-poopy, cutie pie cuddle factor. See, you can’t cuddle a wet trout or a crab. It’s just gross. I’ve tried it. You can, however, cuddle a fluffy little duckling or a cute Ryan Gosling … mmm, so dreamy.

It’s a phenomenon born of a society that’s too distant from the reality of food. If you’ve eaten, say, chicken meat all your life but never seen the conditions that chicken lived in, how can you have an informed view about said meat? If you’ve never caught a yabby for dinner or shot a wild duck for food, how can you have an informed opinion about it? You just can’t.

With this in mind, each year in summer I catch yabbies to eat. Why? Because it’s real food that nature provided. Sure, I have to kill a living being, but I’ve been doing that all my life. I’ve been a meat eater all my life. I’ve been killing animals all my life. It’s just that I used to outsource the killing part. Catching yabbies is yet another reminder that an animal will be killed so I can utilise its meat to continue my survival. That sickens some people. And that’s okay. It means more yabbies for me.

With my summer bucket of yabbies as full as it’s going to be, I head home for a feed. I’ve been boiling yabbies and freshwater crayfish since I was a wee boy. As a kid, I’d get out on the river on a Sunday, all my chores done the previous day, and catch some freshwater crayfish – beautiful large spiny crustaceans with a big tail and sweet meat. If I caught a few big ones, I was well fed, as they’re much larger than a yabby. I’d simply light a campfire, fill the billy with river water and pop the crays in when the water was boiling. I’d suck every bit of meat from the shell – it sure was a prized feed, more loved even than trout. As the years progressed, I’d make a garlic, butter and white wine sauce for the yabbies, a sure winner. This summer I wanted to try something different. I didn’t get as many yabbies as I would have liked, so I came up with a meal that would harness that sweet yabby flavour but could be stretched out and fill the stomach like a good po’boy needs.

Hothouse

Jerry Reed had a classic song, ‘When You’re Hot, You’re Hot’, and when it’s hot here it’s really hot. Even though we have a shortish summer due to our high altitude, it doesn’t mean we don’t have hot days. And when it’s super-hot, imagine how hot the hothouse poly tunnel is. It’s got to be over 50–60 degrees Celsius some days. When I built the tunnel I added two vents at one end and a door at the other. The idea is that the hot air has some directional flow, helped some days by a light breeze, and then escapes out any available exit point.

On a sunny day you can walk past one of the open vents and feel the heat desperately trying to escape from the tunnel. It’s amazing how much heat is generated simply from sunlight being trapped under plastic. I have to be careful to remember to open the vents during the daylight hours and close them in the evening. It’s an attempt to maintain a consistent temperature – not just the ambient temperature, but also the soil temp. The warm soil keeps the sensitive crops happy, and I’m keen to keep these guys happy. Think about where they originated: chilli, tomato, eggplant, capsicum – they’re all from the Americas. All of these summer vegetables I love to cook with are heat-loving plants. Wouldn’t it be easier if I just liked cool-climate vegetables like radishes? But man cannot survive on cold radishes alone. He must have chilli! Well, I must have chilli anyway. And I really don’t like radishes.

So far the poly tunnel has been an absolute hit with the crops. Everything’s ticking away as it should. The eggplant has massive leaves, flowers and fruit. The chillies have flowered, and a good crop of jalapeños has formed. There are plenty of cherry tomatoes for the kids to steal, and the zucchini plant is giving us a handful of fruit every week without fail. This poly tunnel is the best investment I’ve made for this garden and it looks like it’s really paid off. In late autumn I’ll plant green peas and broccoli, which should grow well during the winter months.

Corn-fed

I'd never really grown much corn, other than a small patch for fun, but last summer I had a nice little crop and it’s encouraged me to be a preserver this summer. With some help from one of the darling kids, we planted a long garden bed with handfuls of corn kernels. Within a week or so the bed was full of little emerging corn plants. Even though I think we’ve got the seeds in a little bit late in the season, I’m hoping that as summer rolls into autumn we might just get a mega crop. Here’s hoping.

The beaut thing about growing corn is that it’s easy to store frozen, which means it’s now a high priority on my list of things to grow. And as a grass species it doesn’t seem to be too thirsty, which works well for a dry summer. Last winter, with our little crop of corn stored in the freezer, we made corn fritters, which were magic for putting smiles on faces. Imagine being all sad with the winter blues, then biting into a fritter where corn kernels explode with each bite, popping out a burst of summer! It’s a great distraction from eating winter bean stews and kale, kale, kale. Let’s face it, corn is a happy food. Who doesn’t have memories of butter-smothered corncobs and corn particles stuck unavoidably between their teeth? Well, I do! And every time I bite into a corncob, I’m immediately transported back to a childhood dinner, with Mum wanting to watch Moonlighting and me wanting to watch Magnum P.I. Good corn-filled times.

Even though my corn hasn’t quite matured (still at the Justin Bieber stage), I’ve been getting my hands on corn from my veg-growing farmer friend Rod. And it’s so good, I often eat it raw. Here we go again, Rohan advocating raw food. What a damn foodie hipster! I do prefer it cooked, it’s just that sometimes I get too excited, kind of like sex. You know those moments when you just can’t get your pants off fast enough? Well, not that corn enters the bedroom, but it’s a damn exciting time in summer when the corn arrives. And this year from my garden it may be autumn corn. I’ll keep you posted.

Watching the growth

Summer’s been absolutely beautiful. I’m feeling good to be alive, surrounded by so much beauty. The bees are buzzing in the patch, the veg is growing, the weather is perfect … it’s utopia. Well, a little bubble of utopia. The days are long, the sun warms the skin – and the heart. Food is plentiful and fresh. The kids play outside all day long. I’ve even had a few spare moments to slip off into a hammock and snooze while the gentle summer breeze lulls me away. I’ve only seen a few snakes, and none on the house block, which is a good sign. We haven’t had any bushfires close by this year, and the water tanks are full, as is the spring-fed dam, allowing me to water the veg garden as much as I like. It’s an oasis. If only I owned the place.

Rental dilemmas aside, it’s just a beautiful time of year. Late summer is when everything seems to be a happy land. Most days, by late afternoon we’ll stop whatever we’ve been doing and hang out in the garden. A cold beer races down into the tummy, followed by another. There’s often good conversation in the garden, about one’s day, or plant progress, politics and world events. Everything happens outside. Even the cooking moves outside. Often at this time of the year, I’ll simply cut off some veg like zucchini, eggplant and capsicum, drizzle over a little olive juice and grill it on the barbecue. I’ll serve it with fresh basil, jalapeño and feta, seasoned with sea salt. Or I’ll set the rotisserie in a spin with a herb and pimentón–marinated rabbit or two. Some nights I’m sure I could just fall asleep on a blanket, staring up into the summer heavens. It’s a time that must be cherished because in five months it’s going to be as cold as a polar region. All this growing better get its act together or we’ll starve. Not really. We’ll always have plenty of kale. Kale! No more kale! (insert crazy-man eye twitching).

One thing that makes this time of year so gobsmackingly wonderful is the progress in the patch. Back in spring and early summer, it was in transition mode with more soil visible than foliage. But now it’s a sight to behold. Beans are in flower and climbing their way to the heavens. Sometimes I think the scarlet runner beans would grow to the clouds if only I built a ladder tall enough for them. The zucchini patch is so dense with large green leaves that you have to fight past the jungle to get to ground level and find your feed! Tomatoes form in groups like loitering teenagers, hanging out on aromatic branches. Broccolis stand firm, upright and proud, with blue-green leaves and large healthy florets, just begging to be picked. Visually, it’s a stark contrast to the beginning of summer. Often I’ll be watering the garden and shake my head at how much growth has taken place. All I did was plant the damn seed and look what happened! All this food. It’s real food, grown right here in my backyard.

This visual splendour makes me laugh at those sayings we have, like ‘paddock to plate’ or ‘spade to fork’. It’s just food! Do you think the families growing their food in rural Vietnam refer to the food they grow in their backyard as paddock to plate? No, they just call it food. Why, then, do we have to complicate things and confuse people with all these terms and phrases? I think it diminishes the message somewhat. Let’s face it, it’s just vegetables grown in your backyard or someone’s paddock. And anyway, all whole food is ‘paddock to plate’. Think about it.

I wish I could better describe this garden to you. I wish I had the literary capabilities to paint a stunning picture that would create a nice feeling for you to experience. I wish I could walk every one of you through the garden at this time of year, hand you fresh peas and beans, and send you on your way with a basket of produce.

Nothing to do with food, everything to do with comfort

It seems odd to be doing the most physically strenuous activity at the height of summer, but it’s something that just needs to be done. The house we’re currently renting was built just after World War II. It’s a standard old farmhouse, the same as most houses around here from that era. It’s weatherboard and well insulated, but even so, in winter it’s cold. It’s just plain cold everywhere here in winter. We have two fireplaces, but only really use one of them, which is a doored heater and very efficient at heating one end of the house. For any fire you need wood, and in this house it’s my responsibility to collect it. Just as it is for much of the food in the larder, it’s during summer that I need to concentrate on building my cache of fuel. And in case you’re wondering why we don’t use natural gas, let me tell you, we’re so very fortunate as to be remote enough not to be connected to the gas mains. Our only option for warmth is firewood. In any case, if you think about trees as a natural resource, they’re totally renewable, unlike gas reserves.

Now cutting firewood is one of those things that amazingly gives me a great sense of satisfaction. And I share this with a lot of other people, men and women alike. A good friend of mine, Jen, lives some of her time in a little place she calls the Pirate Shack, where wood heating is the only option. We’ve had plenty of talk about how we enjoy the process of cleaning fallen limbs, sawing the wood, stacking it for a year to cure and then splitting it and stacking it somewhere dry for winter fuel. Why is this chore enjoyed so much by so many? I blame Lego.

Think about it. It’s the whole stacking thing. Each cut log is a piece of Lego that makes the final construction, a damn big pile of wood. Like working with those plastic Lego pieces, the process becomes mind-numbingly methodical. Each piece is cut to the same length, then picked up, stacked neatly and so the process continues. Each time, the worker steps back and admires the construction taking place, just like a child building a knight’s castle with Lego.

I can spend a whole day getting lost with wood. I love the work the chainsaw does – it’s a real performer. And I love the log splitter coming down with force, smashing into the dried log, splitting it in half. The reward is in the pile of split logs building and building as the day progresses. It’s instant gratification. Secretly, your muscles are getting a workout, your shoulders working overtime, at first holding the chainsaw, next swinging the splitter. Mentally, I remind myself of the deposits I’m making in the fuel bank, and how this day will make my life in the future more comfortable. It’s an old way of thinking, especially with regard to heating for winter. I used to simply turn on the gas heater. Now I have to work for my heat.

Our lives are so much less physically intensive these days. Instead of cutting firewood, we simple press a button. Even before houses had fireplaces, people still had to roam the bush, bending and lifting, carting and hauling wood to their campfire. There are so many examples of how we used to be physical and now we just press buttons. I’ve lived both lives, and I have to say that even though this version involves more hard work that’s more physically demanding, it’s definitely more rewarding than just pressing a button and paying a gas bill. I know it’s not for everyone, and I don’t expect everyone to cut down trees and burn wood for heat, I’m just sharing how I feel about it.

I have a pile of wood I cut out from the domestic logging coupe last year, but it’s all too long, as I cut it for use in the large open fire down at the old schoolhouse where we lived a year back. I have the daunting task of recutting all the wood into shorter lengths, and then I have to start the splitting process. Then stacking. Man, I’m a glutton for punishment! It’s been an ongoing project for me over the summer. When we have a day of mild conditions, I fuel up the chainsaw and get to work. I’ll get into a trance-like state, lifting the next log, setting it in place, unlocking the saw, cutting, then adding the two new logs to the pile for splitting. Sometimes I wish the saw would run out of puff as I do, but it keeps going. Soon my pile of new logs is high and I start thinking about how long it’s going to take me to split, so I change jobs. I split for an hour or so then load the truck for the final task of stacking. My cache is getting larger. I feel like winter will be warm and secure. I love that feeling.

Tight lines

I’ve been dreaming about getting back on the water all summer: the cool water rushing between my legs, the sweet taste of snow-melted stream water, and the thought of the fly line whizzing and holding tight with a spectacular trout on the end of it. Instead, I’ve been cutting wood for the oncoming winter, tending the garden and delivering vegetables to the city. It’s easy to get caught up in what we think is important, and as much as growing the food and cutting firewood is important for keeping the house running, I still need to get out on the water. It’s imperative for my spiritual wellbeing. Jeff my fly-fishing mate has been on my back for months now, so it didn’t take much of a nudge to pack up the truck and head for the high country.

I do fish the local lakes and the odd creek and stream near home, but nothing beats time spent up in the high country fishing for trout. The drive is an absolute pain in the arse, but the destination is mind-blowing and spectacular. We drive for hours on flat, dry and barren land until we start the climb up. At first we cover the low hills, where the road meanders and winds its way around the landscape with rhythmic sway. Through plantation pine forests and aromatic eucalyptus we drive. The bush eventually changes from majestic towering mountain ash to stubby, gnarly snow gums. The air is pure up here – it’s crisp and your body feels excited with a sense of freedom. There are sparse human settlements here; it’s mostly just bush.

We have a few spots we’ve returned to, and every time we traverse the rocky track to our preferred campsite we both cross our fingers it’s vacant. We’ve actually never seen anyone there, just the remnants of dickhead campers who leave their rubbish for us to collect. The secret track is 4WD-access-only and my old truck manages it with ease. The rocks and loose stones make the truck slip with the descent, but taking it easy and slow is a sure bet. As we pull away from the last of the snow gums, the track opens out to a large valley clearing. The view here is amazing. The crystal-clear river snakes its way through the valley, with grass and native flowers covering the slopes back up to the bush line. It doesn’t take long until we can see the camp. No one there. What a relief!

The last bit of track is the most dangerous. It’s fallen away with heavy rain over the years and it’s a tight steep corner before the land flattens out. This is where it’s easy to tip a truck, so I take it nice and slow. The last point is so steep and unbalanced you can’t actually see the track over the bonnet – you kind of hope for the best. I land safely and, full of fisherman’s excitement, we both lunge from the truck straight to the water for a stickybeak.

It’s the height of summer now and blowflies buzz around our faces. The heat from the sun breaks out a summer sweat. The water is pure here; it’s mostly snow melt, and there’s no cattle for miles. It’s my favourite water to drink in the world – untouched by human interference. We set up camp and wait for the evening rise. Sure enough, the river delivers. Rise after rise and cast after cast, and then bang! The first trout of the trip. It’s a little one, so I let him go back to his home to get fat over the next year.

We fish every day without fail. Mornings are hot in the tents, so we get up at an early hour, cook a hearty meal, slide into our waders and head off to fish. Some days are just perfection and some not so much. Jeff has a stellar day catching more than twenty trout. I come in at a handful each day, and even though I never catch as many, I’m overjoyed nonetheless. The extreme heat in the middle of the day and afternoon keeps us hidden under shade back at our camp, for a siesta and a patient wait for the coolness and an evening rise. We eat well on these trips. I prepare before leaving home with a bit of emergency food just in case the trout aren’t on. It all comes from the backyard so we eat like kings, but most nights we smoke a trout or two, fry up some potatoes, and drink whisky and wine well into the evening. We tell tales of past fishing trips, pass around a doobie, and wax lyrical about how the world is a bit fucked. Each night I climb up into my rooftop tent with the biggest smile on my face. Here I am, totally happy. There’s no internet connection, no sign of mankind’s infrastructure, just us and the best damn river I’ve ever fished. Oh, and at night you drift asleep to the howl of the alpine dingoes singing their soulful tune. Could it get any better than this? I doubt it.

Beware the wankers

In any ‘sport’ there are wankers. They’re unavoidable. They love having all the best gear. They love telling you how expensive everything they have is. And they always get the newest equipment, just to ensure they’re above everyone else. Fly fishing is full of these wankers.

The reason people pay thousands of dollars for specialty fly rods and gear is that the trout are so intuitive they only strike at rods valued over $1000. No shit! This is what the wanker fisherman will tell you anyway. Now I’m not the world’s best fly fisherman. I’m well aware that I’ll be a student of the craft all my life. But I do know one thing: I’ve caught more fish on a cheaper, more affordable rod than I have on a more expensive rod. It’s that bloody consumerism disease – bigger is better and all that rubbish! I once found a secondhand fly rod for less than $40. It sat in a bargain bin of secondhand goods, out the front of a hunting and fishing store, and guess what? It catches fish! So beware of these wankers, and don’t become one yourself.

Summer is the best time for fly fishing, with the water flowing clear and fresh, and a multitude of insects on the water – a plethora of food for the fish to fatten up on, and for us to replicate with our flies. I don’t have much in the way of flowing water near home, just one sole river that’s a dangerous river to fish at the best of times. Most of my fly fishing is on the still water.

We’re very fortunate to have a spring-fed dam on the property we rent. Late last winter I dropped in around forty-five yearling rainbow trout I purchased from the hatchery. It was more of an experiment, really – I didn’t expect it to work very well, but it was worth a try. So now in summer the trout are feeding on the surface, showing off their sleek silver flesh, taunting me. I’ve been out of a morning, waving my fly rod backwards and forwards, presenting the fly and hoping for a strike. These fish are totally onto me – they must read my blog. No matter what type of fly I present, no matter how close to their noses it is, they simply refuse to strike. Frustrated by these smart trout, I’ve resorted to using a spinner. In the lure goes with a long cast. Plop! Into the water it drops. I reel in slowly, and the lure jiggles and wobbles like the sexy hip swagger of a lady. Nothing. But just to add salt to the wound, the trout follow the lure in to the bank, wink at me, then swim off. Bastards!

So, frustrated as I am, I have nowhere to turn but to my teenage approach – worm on a hook. By this time in summer, the water is low and the water plants are thick from the excess sunlight, so I use a float. I cast a few lines to double my score. I wait patiently as the trout gracefully rise to feed right in front of my very eyes. But again, I’m dodged. Not a trout on a hook. They’re laughing their fishy laugh at me. They’re talking to each other, they’re planning, talking tactics and proposing sinister ways to frustrate me. But I will get them one day. Even if it involves a shotgun and TNT. I will eat that trout.

In the meantime, while I’m mad with those nasty trout, I plan the annual cure for the fly fisherman’s itchy feet – the high-country fishing trip. A good mate of mine, Raynor, suggested we head for the Mitta Mitta, where his folks have a small cabin. Who in their right mind would say no to that? The Mitta is a beautiful river. It’s now controlled mostly by man-made dams and weirs, but as far as wild trout is concerned, it’s a fine river. As is the nearby Snowy Creek, which I’ve also never fished. What an adventure we had planned.

With another friend, Sam, we jumped in my truck and headed north-east to the mountains, with rods in the tub and hope in our hearts. We spent the weekend fishing beautiful water, but much of it in the Mitta was flowing fast, as it’s high summer and the irrigators downstream are crying out for water. This made successful fishing nigh on impossible. And the Snowy wasn’t much better. The hot summer weather had the trout sitting tight on the banks, keeping cool. My summer hasn’t been the raddest with regard to trout fishing. You could say it’s been a waste of time, given I didn’t bring back any food. But I think the time on the water has a different value than just acquiring food. What that value is, is for the individual to discover. For me though, it’s being there. Simply being on a river – so serene, so pretty – my dog walking alongside me on the banks, a friend to converse with, the sounds and smells of the bush. And even though I didn’t catch anything on this trip, the exciting thought that I might catch something is good enough.

A few weeks after the trip, my mate Jack did a food deal with me. He caught a few trout from his big dam and exchanged it for some of my food. A compromise, I guess, but you can’t get everything you want – especially when you’re dealing with fickle nature.

Little red

Looking at a ripe tomato is looking into the very heart of summer. They’ve been the symbol of summer for me for so many years now. I have fond memories of biting into ripe tomatoes when I was a kid on the farm. Warmed by the sun, those tomatoes had fleshy insides that would burst with sweetness. Darling miniature cherry tomatoes, eaten straight off the truss, enjoyed like a fruit from a tree. Most summers in my adult life I’ve grown tomatoes. Any house I’ve lived in that’s had a little patch of soil, I’ve planted a tomato or two in November. My whole life I’ve appreciated that aromatic signature, that smell you enjoy when you rub past the plant or water it.

I’ve loved every new set of flowers, and the potential of the ripe fruit they promise. Each meal with tomato in it is akin to eating a slice of summer. It’s sweet and fresh. To anyone who asks me to suggest which veg they should start their own patch with, I’ll often recommend tomatoes. They’ve had a strong influence on my life. I hope they can do the same for others.

I know. It sounds odd that I’m going on about bloody tomatoes! But they’re pretty amazing when grown by your own hands, on your patch of earth. The taste is unreal, and miles more enjoyable than a tomato grown in a solution on a hydroponic farm.

Growing tomatoes is purely a summer thing. The plant represents everything about summer – healthy green foliage, sunny yellow flowers and bountiful fruit. And that smell, there’s no mistaking it, it’s the aromatics of summer. Eating them any other time of the year is just odd.

I’m glad it only comes to visit for a few months of the year. Its absence gives me some time to long for it, and it’s not just the tomato itself that I long for, but warmth, the sun’s rays of life that make the plant grow. In the depths of winter, when my toes ache from the cold, the thought of walking through the garden picking ripe tomatoes is enough to improve my dull winter mood. We’ll reminisce about the previous summer, the crop we enjoyed, and the time it took to raise it to maturity in order to fruit. It’s quite an achievement not to let a plant die. It’s not necessarily hard labour, it’s simply remembering your role as a nurturer.

Each spring I’ll select a range of tomato varieties to propagate. It doesn’t matter which varieties I select, what matters is the practical outcome I wish to achieve, which is quite simply tomatoes to eat. I do like to try a few new types each year, for the sole purpose of keeping life interesting. Sometimes in winter I’ll flick through some tommie seed packets in a shop and just pick out a few. It’s buying into the idea of hope. Holding the seeds in my hand is the first step in a project aimed at eating them. It’s holding the promise of summer.

My tomatoes have been a challenge this year, just as the situation was last year. The yard I planted in last year just didn’t get enough full sun and, as a result, I had more unripe green tomatoes than ripe. This year, in a new backyard, I was a month or so behind in planting due to my delayed poly-tunnel construction, and I’ve missed out on a mega crop again. That’s just the reality of being a home grower. Sometimes you have a win, sometimes not. I’m not too disappointed, though. I’ve still been able to harvest enough tomatoes to keep the kitchen happy, just not enough to make big batches of passata or sauces.

We’re not far from autumn. The wind has returned with its bite. The house fire has even been lit, and the cobwebs dusted from my jackets. For now my tomatoes remain in the poly tunnel. Some are still flowering and some carry ripe fruit. I can’t bear to pull them all out – each year the thought of it gives me anxiety. I can’t help but compare the inevitability of pulling the plants out to my own mortality. These plants were born of a seed carrying genetic information, they grew and served their natural purpose, and eventually they will be removed from this earth – just as I will some day. But if one is to live with nature then one must accept what cannot be changed. And the reality is, we all live with nature. We all face the same shitty reality. We’ll all be pulled from the poly tunnel. Unlike the tomatoes, though, we’ll be able to ask ourselves if we served our purpose.

The best looking tomatoes, those that succeed above all others, are the ones whose seed I’ll keep for next season. The seeds are scooped out, cleaned of flesh and laid out on paper towel to dry. I write the name of each variety, and often, as for all vegetables, I’ll rename them. I like creating more memorable names, like ‘Yellow Gems’, ‘Tia’s Favourite’ or ‘Jack’s Revenge’. There are no rules with gardening. You can do whatever you like. It’s your garden. You rule. I have a sign on one of the gates to my garden – ‘Rohan’s Garden’ – which was a gift from the kids. When you enter, you walk onto sovereign soil where practical thinking triumphs over rules and regulations; where food is produced without chemical enhancement; where the approach to growing food relies on soil, water, plants and sunlight. It’s where everything makes sense.

It’s time for me to make way for autumn. The plants must go. There were some really late bloomers that I didn’t even get fruit from. They’re the first to be pulled out. My heart aches pulling these bastards out. There’s no escaping the reality that it’s the end of summer. It seemed so damn short. I have so much unfinished business, so many things I never got around to finishing. But what can I do? I’m only one man. I can only be in one place at a time, performing one task at a time. I can’t expect anything more from myself other than to try my best, to persevere when it’s easier to give up, to make peace when there’s still a fight. I know my enemy. It’s time.

Bottling fruit

I lack any form of sweet tooth, but my kids sure love the sweet stuff. They love fruit. One kid in the family loves eating fruit so much that it’s a rarity not to see her holding some form of fruit in her hand. All the kids love picking it from the trees and bushes when it’s in season, but they also want to eat it in the middle of winter – which means I need to preserve like crazy from summer to autumn. In winter and spring the kids are fed with bottled fruits from the warm season, and this keeps them happy. And that’s important to my happiness. Let’s face it, as a parent you’d rather feed your kids some preserved fruit than mass-produced sweets. Am I right?

When summer comes, I start hunting around all my spots for fruit. I check in with friends who have established trees and bushes, I check the fruit-set in my wild fruit locations, and I start chatting up the local commercial growers for deals on second-grade fruit. By the end of autumn we’ve got the larder well stocked – that is, if we’ve had a season of luck and high productivity. It’s not really a hard task to preserve fruit, it’s simply laborious. It’s a chore best done with someone to keep you company. We work as a team, which speeds up the process somewhat, and we can both laugh about our wrinkly fruit-processing hands.

We preserve the fruit that grows in our area, so we’re limited to mostly stone fruits, berries, apples and pears. After having a spiritual moment of tasting a peach off a friend’s tree, I discovered the variety was ‘Anzac’ and later bought one as bare-rooted stock. It’s still a few years away from providing us with buckets of peaches, so for now I’ll make do with our current system of labour for fruit. But there are other fruits I now enjoy that I never did before. I guess it may sound strange to many people that I didn’t really ever eat fruit, but I completely blame the large-scale commercial and supermarket system. It offered little variety, and because the fruit wasn’t always in season, it wasn’t at its peak, and no doubt put me off fruit altogether. To experience fruit from the trees when it’s ripe and in season, amazing. Funny, isn’t it? I now pick pears from a few secret wild trees. I allow them to get nice and ripe, almost overripe, then I devour them. Never had I tasted a pear like this – soft, sweet and juicy.

When preserving, we add a little bit of sugar to the syrup it’s stored in but try not to do too much else to it. That way we get to eat them as they were intended. We do make a nice spiced plum, though, which is great for adding to muffins in winter.

To make our light sugar syrup, we boil 5 litres water at a time then add 110 g sugar and stir until it’s dissolved. We process the fruit, stuff it firmly and tightly into sterilised jars and pour over the sugar syrup, allowing time for it to fill all the gaps and cracks between the cut fruit.

We seal the jars then stand them in a preserving unit and fill with enough cold water to almost fill the thermometer well (the water reservoir attached to the outside of the preserver). With the lid on the preserver, we bring the temperature slowly up to 92°C, which takes 45–60 minutes. Depending on the bottle size, we hold the temp at 92°C for a further 45–60 minutes. This works for all fruit.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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