Further experiments in extending crops...

28 May, 2014

As the previous experiment in extending summer crops into the depths of winter here in Melbourne has been quite successful (I've been getting quite a few ripening capsicums and peppers, and there are still flowers too), I've been thinking maybe I can extend these successes to another under-performing summer crop.


I planted about 10 eggplants last year and got nary a one all summer long. Granted I sowed the seed a bit on the late side (maybe October if my memory serves me correctly), but they were small and stunted and grew really slowly all summer, and were completely unproductive. 

Lazy gardener that I am I haven't yet gotten to pulling them out, but over the last month (perhaps due to the recent warm spell we Aussies have experienced) they have been looking more lush and green, and have been putting out flowers.

So I'm encouraging the strongest looking plants with a makeshift greenhouse arrangement.

I've used old sheets of glass to form a tower around three plants. I've put bricks inside the stucture to hopefully hold heat and release it overnight so the plants don't get too cold.

There have been even more flowers since the glass house went up.

And, joy of joys, the flowers are forming little tiny fruits. I couldn't quite get a photo of those so you'll just have to take my word for it.

I'm hopeful that I get a couple of eggplants, but even if I don't I am also aiming to keep the plants alive through the winter to see if I can get a second crop next summer. I don't know if it will work, but it will be fun to try.

Recipe Repertoire 6/52... sourdough bread

22 May, 2014

Unfortunately my resolution to try a new recipe every week has fallen by the wayside. But it's not all bad news, as over the last couple of weeks I've managed to get onto something that I've been meaning to do for a couple of years now: making sourdough bread.

I love the idea of having a living thing that you nourish, which in turns nourishes you. Not all that different from fruit and veg gardening I suppose.

So a couple of weeks ago I started my sourdough starter. I used the process from my baking book Bourke Street Bakery.

Making a sourdough starter basically consists of letting flour and water sit at room temperature, adding a little of each every day, until it starts bubbling.

It took two weeks of feeding until it was at the point where it was alive, and I could start sourdough making. Yay.

Now my sourdough starter lives in the fridge. I feed it every two days or so, and by the end of the week I have enough starter for one large or two small loaves of bread.

This is my jar of a week's worth of starter.

Note all the lovely active yeast-y goodness happening here.

I use a rough ratio of one part starter, one part water and one part flour.

This time I went with a mix of homeground spelt (thank you Thermomix!) and a little white flour.
All this got mixed in the KitchenAid. I love bread but I fully acknowledge I would not love bread (nor bother to make it) if I was doing the kneading myself.

It starts out not looking like much.

After about 10 minutes of slow-moderate going it looks a lot more like dough.

Then as all good dough's do, it gets proved. I put mine in my oven which I switch on for maybe 30 seconds. It gives it just a little warmth, which seems to be just what the mixture likes.

After a couple of hours it looks like this.

Now we knock back the dough and shape the loaf.

I just keep folding the outside edges into the centre to make a round loaf shape.


Now comes the delayed gratification. In regular bread baking you would leave this to prove again for an hour or so, and then bake. In sourdough you need a slower rise to develop the delicious sour flavour, and a cold slow rise is best. So this goes into the fridge overnight.

The next morning I take the risen dough out of the fridge and let it sit which I pre-heat the oven. Then it goes into the hot oven, with a little dish of water (somehow this makes for a crustier loaf - I don't know how), and is baked until when tapped on the underside the loaf sounds hollow.

Then there is even more delayed gratification to leave it to cool enough to eat.

Inevitably its gets there.

So far my loaves have all been a little on the flat side. I have searched the interwebs and it may be too much water (I will try less and see if a firmer dough holds its shape better) or it may be putting the bread into the oven on a cold tray means it doesn't get heat underneath quickly enough to allow it to rise properly, so I shall try putting it on a tray pre-heated with the oven pre-heat. I also think I will try some seeded, or maybe some fruit breads too, for fun.

Even though they are flat, they are delicious. I've been making lots of soups just to enjoy eating them with my own homemade sourdough bread.

Once the bread is made, that is not the end though. There is always a little starter left which will be fed for the week to make the next weeks bread.

Here we go again.

Harvest Monday...

19 May, 2014

It's been a while since I last joined in the global celebration that is Harvest Monday, courtesy of Daphne's Dandelions.

The current crops are showing the betwixt and between state of the garden; partly end of summer, partly start of winter.

At the end of the summer crops are the capsicums, zucchini's and green beans. The start of winter crops is demonstrated by the tuscan kale, the first of the brassicas to be really worth harvesting. The remaining veg crops of carrots and beetroot are the all rounders which seem to be in constant existence somewhere in the yard.

All of this veg went into a lovely soup, along with a few stored onions and some garlic.

The fruit crops are really very indicative of late autumn/early winter, with apples (this one is a Pink Lady), the great friend of apples, rhubarb, and the first of the lemons, which will also go very well with the aforementioned apple/rhubarb combo.

I've been doing a fair few baked apples for dessert lately, but I think today I'll branch out to stewed apple and rhubarb. Delicious with either yoghurt or custard, depending on the level of lavishness required.

So that's my Harvest Monday. I hope your Harvest Monday has been bountiful.

Morning meander...

17 May, 2014

Having been unwell the last week, I haven't been up to much in the garden. But being on the mend I felt up to a little morning meander today to see what the garden is up to.

Perpetual spinach being perpetual.

A few more zucchini's are likely before the plant completely curls up its toes.

Brassica's abound - these are broccoli.

Savoy cabbages starting to form.

Red Russian kale - grown from saved seed and randomly chucked into the espalier apple bed.

Autumn colours are showing - this is the smoke bush.

Asparagus bed going golden.

However the fig tree is pretty much done. (Don't you just love grey Melbourne skies.)

But it's not all bad news. The capsicums are happy in their greenhouse.

Alliums (potato onions, garlic and shallots) are coming along well.

There are still some cucumbers hiding amongst the apples.

And a solo tomato has braved the cold. I expect nothing will come of it, but feel I should support such a brave plant.

On the fruit front there are still lots of step-over Pink Lady apples...

... and Sundowners (which I've chosen to finally net just in case)

... and the two first Lady Williams, which I'm also protecting from potential fruit thieves.

No need to protect the lemons though. There are enough for everyone.
Also fruiting are the strawberries, but oddly as I'm sure you will agree. Anyone know what is going on here?

And though not strictly fruit, the violets are out. I may be making more sugared violets.

And lastly, the lilacs don't seem to know what season it is. I'm not complaining though. The scent is lovely.

May melon madness...

10 May, 2014

I am a lazy gardener. Sadly I am also, on occasion, a lazy harvester.

This is my main melon crop.

I picked them today.

A bit late in the season I admit. Ok, a lot late. But better late than never.

These melons all grew from seed sown in November last year and planted out in December. I think this year I shall have to sow much earlier, as not all of the melons have ripened properly.

I grew four watermelons: Golden Midget, Crimson Sweet, Sugar Baby and Orchid Sweet.

Now here comes my problem. I don't know exactly which is which. Given that they rambled all over the place and grew into each other, and I couldn't be bothered tracking the fruits back to identifying plants, it's a bit of guess work.

This one is (I think...) Orchid Sweet.

This one (I'm fairly sure, given it looks a lot like ones I've previously grown) is Sugar Baby.

Obviously there are melon liking rodents in my area.

These, by a process of elimination given there are no Golden Midgets (these are, as the name suggests, small and go yellow when they are ripe), must be Crimson Sweet.

The tiny baby ones are no bigger than a tennis ball.

Onto the rockmelons and cantaulopes.

I grew a few varieties, including; Lambkin's Hybrid, Tigger, Delice de la Table, Charetais and three others I can't recall the names of and cant find the tags in the garden.

Ah well.

This is a Lambkin's Hybrid, which pleasingly turns yellow when it is ripe.

This one was my top melon of last year, and has continued as a favourite.

This is a Tigger, which sadly hasn't properly ripened. This one is just starting to get the bright orange stripes to be worthy of the name, but hasn't quite got there.

Flavour-wise it was disappointing, but I'm going to give it another year with earlier sowing to hopefully give a longer growing time and get some fully ripe ones.

These are Charantais. I've had better. Again, these didn't fully ripen and were a little lackluster.

The only joy was that they were grown from saved seed. Hopefully next year will be better.

Now for the unknows.

This one I haven't tried yet, but don't think will be anything special as I don't think they are fully ripe.

These however were over-ripe, and becoming bug havens.

But that is not enough to deter me. I cut off the bad bits and tried them anyway, but they weren't very nice.

On the other side of the spectrum though were these.

Not only were they quite prolific (this is about half the crop as the rest I've been picking over the last few weeks), they are also quite tasty.

Pity I have no idea what variety they are to make sure I grow them again next year.

Never mind. There is still lots of melon to sooth my woes.

Hey pesto...

07 May, 2014

(Hahahaha - I love me a pun title!)

Over the weekend I finally got around (read: had nothing else to do) to harvesting my basil and making pesto.

As you can see the basil harvest was quite out of control. I just kept cutting it, chopping off the seed heads and remaining flowers, and chucking it into the bowl. I left one really healthy plant for seed saving. I've always struggled to get basil to survive, so hopefully this one will be easier to grow next season.

Of the massive bowlful, I only ended up using two thirds of the harvest, and the rest sadly went into the compost, purely because I had already made more pesto than I would ever use and had plenty to give away.

My process of pesto making is quite simple. After washing the leaves, removing them from the stalks and then drying well, I blend (using the ever fabulous Thermomix) one garlic clove and about 50g of cashew nuts (I don't like pine nuts) per three big handfuls of basil leaves. Then add about 100ml of olive oil and blend again.

"But where is the parmesan?" I hear you say. As I freeze my pesto, I add the parmesan when I defrost it. I suppose I could add it before freezing, but I like to freshly grate it. And this is the way I've done it in the past and it worked fine.

After blending I had a massive bowl of pesto.

Note the chunks of cashew throughout. I don't like it overblended to paste.

Now comes the slightly tricky bit. I put my pesto into tiny zip lock bags which hold about 2 tablespoons of pesto. This is a perfect amount for when I want a little pesto to add into soup, or on bread, or for pasta...

It also means I don't have a whole jar of it in the fridge going off before I can use it all. I've heard of people freezing it in ice cubes, but I don't see how you'd get the pesto flavour out of the tray after, and I can't see myself having a tray just for pesto. And you'd have to do it in batches as I'd sure have more than one ice cube tray worth. No, no, no. Too hard basket.

Despite being slightly fiddly, the zip lock bag process is easy.

Insert funnel into bag.

Add pesto to funnel.

Prod through with a spoon end or chopstick if it gets stuck.

I filled a heap (I think about 10 from memory) for the freezer, and a couple of pesto jars to give away.

To stop the gifted jars from fermenting too soon, I topped them with more oil. This will keep out some bad bacteria and should make them last a little longer.

There we are. Summer fresh flavours for future meals.