Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

March update

April 2, 2016

The Big Dry persists.

In the first 8 months of last year, we had 424 mm rain, an increase of 17 mm over Melbourne’s average for that period. In the last 7 months since then, we’ve had only 50% of normal rainfall and that was in the critical spring/summer months, when plants are putting on growth, flowering and setting seed and fruit is swelling. I’ve tried to keep water up to all the fruit trees and berry-producing shrubs and my latest water bill shows I’ve used much more than normal. And that was with 18,000 litres in 3 tanks, which quickly ran out. The 3 large pools at the rear of the property have dried out; the third one (which is up to my waist when full), has only ever dried out once before in the last 16 years.

The rest of the plants—mostly natives and those in the bush have been left to survive as well as they can. Many have died. Even the bracken fern in the bush is looking peaky and when that happens, you know it’s dry!

So, I wait and hope. The ground is cooling down and without rain soon, I don’t expect to find many edible mushrooms, not that there are ever many of those anyway, but it is nice to get at least one hunt-and-gather meal.

Rain or no rain, life goes on.

All the summer veggies have been pulled out and the wicking boxes and tubs topped up with fresh compost. I’ve sown peas at the rear of most boxes, where there is wire for them to climb on :


I planted my garlic on the 21st of the month….it being the autumn equinox. I had prepared a bed down the back earlier in the year, but it is all so dry down there that I decided to plant it in the other half of the new bath, where the soil is richer and moister :


That’s self-sown mizuna on the left. The chooks are getting most of it.


Within 10 days green shoots were showing :


I am so pleased with my quinces. I put apple socks on some of them, otherwise I wouldn’t have harvested any :


This is what the birds did to those that weren’t protected :


When they had turned yellow I picked about half a dozen and left them on the kitchen bench for a couple more weeks. There are still another half dozen on the tree. It was my first real harvest. Not bad for something that was grown from a seed :


I cooked them in the slow cooker for 10 hours. 700 ml of water, a cup of sugar, a couple of cinnamon sticks, a dash of lemon juice and one star anise (thanks to Y for the recipe). The flavour is superb and while the colour isn’t the deepest I’ve seen, it’s the best I’ve ever achieved :


If the tree fruits as well next season, I’ll protect more of the fruit and do some serious bottling.

The leaves on the persimmon are starting to colour up and fall and the fruits I’ve ‘apple-socked’ are becoming more visible :


Are they starting to colour up under their socks? :


Yep, looking good :


Now I can see them more easily, I can count them and it looks like about a dozen :



The critical time will be when all the leaves are gone and just the fruits are left hanging on the tree. I’ll have to pray the socks will do their job and keep birds and possums off, or failing that, sit under the tree 24/7 with a shotgun. This will only be the second year I’ve had a harvest off the tree and it’s 8 years old. Persimmons are one of the most beautiful fruits I’ve ever tasted. This variety isn’t the one that’s eaten when it’s crunchy; it’s the one that goes soft and the inside is like rich apricot jam. You slice off the top and spoon it out. I’m salivating just thinking about it.

Tamarillos are starting to ripen, too. There won’t be as many this year as something caused most of the flower buds to fall :


My Naranka Gold pumpkin has lost most of its leaves and I’m hoping the single fruit will be ripe enough to contain fertile seed. I used my last seed to grow it and haven’t seen any more for sale (it’s grown exclusively for Coles) :


Seedlings of kale, broccoli and Chinese cabbage are waiting in the wings. I’m keeping them in the polyhouse as there are still white butterflies about :


I’ve sown carrots in 2 wicking boxes and leeks are on the way for winter. There are a few green capsicums still on the bushes and chickweed has self-sown in a wicking box. The chooks will get most of it, but I’m cutting it for scrambled eggs for me.

All I’m picking now from the garden is silver beet, a bit of rhubarb and some Asian greens. Oh, and Bonny the chook is still laying but only a couple a week now. But there are tomatoes, tomato puree and beans in the freezer, 2 large jars of dried tomatoes in the cupboard and pickled cucumbers in the fridge. Summer’s bounty is over until next season.

New cooker…but not for the kitchen

July 5, 2014

Here ’tis:

cobb-cookerIt’s a Cobb Oven.

It’s a sort of mini barbecue cum camp cooker and has to be used outdoors.

I read about it at Around the Mulberry Tree blog and it caught my interest, because I’m looking to save on bottled gas.

The Cobb website is here.

I checked out the website and found that Ray’s Outdoors sell them. We have a store locally so I went and had a look. I liked what I saw but decided I’d go home and think about it a bit more.

Then a friend rang and said Ray’s were having a sale and the Cobb was available with $60 discount. That decided it. I went and bought one. I also got a couple of accessories—the griddle and the frying dish—they were on special, too.

When I got it home, I discovered that the mini pizza stone (diameter 26 cm), I’d bought some time ago and hadn’t used, fitted it exactly. Another bonus. I can cook pizza on it.

The only disappointment is that I can’t use wood to fuel it; it will only use BBQ heat beads in the heating grate, but they’re cheap enough and I will still make a rocket stove at some time in the future.

I’ll use it out on the deck. I’m waiting for a day without rain and freezing winds to try it out.

It’s all about resilience really. Permaculture design says that each function in a permaculture system should be provided by more than one element. So for cooking (a major function), I’ll have electricity, gas, the Cobb and a rocket stove. When electricity and gas fail, as fossil fuels start to run out, I’ll still have the other two. And when I can’t buy BBQ fuel any longer, the rocket stove and the fuel I can source from the property, will come into it’s own.



The Aussie meat pie

April 10, 2014

It needs no introduction to Aussies, but if you’re an overseas reader, then you need to know that the good ol’ Aussie meat pie (with lashings of tomato sauce) is a cultural icon, without which no Aussie football match would be complete.

If you’re not a footy fan, there’s always the supermarket freezer compartment, where the defrost, heat ‘n’ eat variety can be obtained.

I love a meaty-flakey-pastry meat pie, but I try to stay away from processed foods, remembering Michael Pollan’s advice (in In Defence of Food*), to not eat anything with more than 5 ingredients on the label. So it’s got to be a home-made variety.

I cheated and borrowed a piemaker from a friend:



I cheated again and used bought pastry but I made the filling.

Half a kilo of premium mince. Onion, garlic and parsley, chopped in the Thermomix:


Mix together and stir fry it all in the wok till cooked. I prefer to use a wok because there’s plenty of room to really toss it around without fear of any ending up on the bench or the kitchen floor:


Add flavours and seasonings of choice. I added some tomato relish, plum chutney (because I had a lot), a dash of Worcester sauce and I can’t remember what else. I kept tasting and stopped when I was happy with it. It shouldn’t be too sloppy.

I intended this to be frozen in batches, so pie-sized portions (about half a cup), go into small containers:


These ones lock together. Quite handy for stacking in the freezer:


A pastry cutter comes with the piemaker. It cuts a top and a bottom. Two pies to one sheet of pastry. The bottoms have 6 slits which, with a bit of manual dexterity and crimping of edges, can be formed into little cups. The tops stay flat:



Heat the piemaker till the green light says ‘ready’. Now comes the tricky bit. Without burning any fingers, skillfully drop the bottoms into the hollows, then fill with the filling. You have to be quick here, as the bottoms are already starting to cook. As you can see I made one meat and one apple and sultana (for dessert) and as you can also see, there isn’t time to get the lighting and the focus perfect (Nigella would  have her own expert cameraperson. I don’t):


Pop on the tops (again without burning fingers) and close the lid. While they’re cooking there’s time to wipe the greasy fingermarks off the camera. You need to check periodically, by lifting the lid. Not done yet:


Ah, that’s more like it. Doesn’t take more than a few minutes:


A squirt of Dijon mustard, some buttered broccolini, home-grown gold zucchini and that’s dinner:


And not a football in sight!

* I discovered there’s a free download of Pollan’s book here. Not sure if it’s complete or legal, or if Pollan gets anything out of it, but you can give it a go. Or do the right thing and buy the book.

I should also mention that you can make a heap of pies in one sitting and freeze them for later heating. The choice is yours.