Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Marvelous Mulberries!

And then all of a sudden... the fruit on the mulberry tree starts ripening! We hardly picked any fruit from this old tree last summer. The birds got most of it and we couldn't get access to the branches. They lay low on the ground and we just let them be. Then in winter we pruned the tree heavily. We cut back the dangling limbs and gave the tree a good haircut! The result has been a bumper crop of purple hand staining berries! 
The tree is big. Very big. In the picture below you can see Frans up on the 6 foot ladder. He has no hope of reaching the top berries at all. These will be treats for the parrots.
Our friend John however has a taller ladder. A lovely old wooden number that gave Frans a little extra reaching power! A canvas satchel with a bowl inside was what he used to gather the berries in. 
Climbing the tree gave him a few extra bowls!

Just when he thought his boyhood tree climbing days were over.....
I guess I should have worn gloves! My hands were not the only stained body parts however. The day we picked these berries it was 40 degrees. We waited till late afternoon when it was a cooler 35 degrees! Picking the warm berries was not a huge chore, as we picked them dressed in our swimmers. We would pick some, then drop into the pool for a quick cool down and keep going. There is one thing I hate at this time of the year, and that's the March flies! Man, they bite! And they leave horrible itchy welts on arms, legs and feet... wherever they land! By the time I had picked a decent load of berries, I looked like I had been in a war zone. I was slapping (and missing) the March flies that would sit on my exposed skin, and in the process I covered myself in mulberry juice. The hazards of berry picking!

Some of our other fruit and veg picking this past week has included beautiful peaches, zucchini, beetroot and parsnips.

After cooking and weighing the beetroot, I was left with just over 5 kilograms of flesh. I cooked up an enormous pot of beetroot relish. It took the entire morning to process, but it looks lovely in the jars. 

In last weekend's Saturday Age newspaper, there was a lovely article on Maeve O'Meara, the presenter of the Food Safari television programs. She cites one of her favourite finds is black Turkish mulberry jam. Well, here is our version, and you don't have to travel as far to get it! The fruit is grown, picked and processed right here on our little farm in the Otways! 
It must be time for morning tea.... A scone with a dollop of something sweets sounds like a good idea! 
Till next time, have a good week.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Never a dull moment!

The alarm clock was set for 6 am last Monday morning. We should be getting up early anyway, but some days we are a little lazier. We tend to work later into the evening while it is still light. Anyway, we needed to get up early to catch 15 ducks. Sounds easy. But we knew it wouldn't be and we had no idea how long it would take us. So Frans let out the chickens and managed to keep the ducks in the chook house. Then the fun began. I would try and corner a couple of ducks and Frans would dive for them. Most of the time they darted between his legs and flew to the opposite end of the coop. This mad act of chasing kept us going around in circles. Feathers and dust flying. We were not making progress. So it was time to bring out the artillery. A big stick with a fork at the end. Now it was up to me to corner a duck, strategically thrust the stick over its neck and in the process try not to strangle it. We managed to catch the rest. Probably out of luck than good planning. Only one mishap... Frans tripped and twisted his ankle but there was not time for sympathy!
Experience has taught Frans that the best way to catch a chicken or duck is to grab it by the tops of the wings, and to stay well away from sharp claws and webbed feet!
The ducks were loaded onto the trailer and off to the market they went. Our neighbour Graham went with Frans to show him the ropes.
And here are the mother ducks. Sitting again. Mr Harold keeps them company most of the day. He's very protective over his girls. So much so that sometimes Frans has put him into solitary confinement (a big pen) on his own as he pesters the little ones so much. He can be a real bully. When the ducks started laying eggs again, we decided to leave the eggs in the nest so we could have another batch of ducklings. Soon both ducks were trying to squash onto the same eggs. One morning Frans went into the coop and the ducks had separated their eggs into two neat nests and were comfortably sitting side by side, probably comparing notes on toddlers and giving birth! Clever ducks. Frans is convinced that they knew which eggs were theirs and selected the correct ones for themselves. I'm not too sure...
At the market, the ducks were sorted (by size and gender) and placed into lots. We sold all our ducks that day. A good thing as the feed is expensive and they eat a lot! We won't get rich selling a few ducks here and there. There's the feed, transport to the market, agent fees and the 3 months of looking after them. But there are benefits. They do a good job of pooping around the orchard area and in doing so add nutrients back into the ground. They keep the slugs and snails at bay and they give us beautiful eggs for baking. Frans would like to get rid of them, but I have a soft spot for them. 
Two goats waiting to be bought. Do we need a goat I wonder????


Last week Thursday the local health inspector came to have a look at our kitchen modifications. He was happy with them and we completed the necessary paperwork. He said we'd be able to start cooking as soon as we had our certificate. When was the next market he wanted to know. "Sunday!" we said. "oh, you'll want it in a hurry then". And just like that, Frans went into town on Friday and all the formalities were completed. He came home with the certificate in his hot little hand. I got cooking immediately. We didn't want to pass up on the opportunity of trying out what we hope to be one of our farm lines. We stayed up till way after midnight, struggling with a stupid printer. At one point I suggested we just forget it and leave the preserves till the following month. However, Frans does not give up easily, and finally we got all the labels printed and pasted onto the jars. 

Our little stand looked a little different this time. Instead of garlic (which we have sold out of), we had our preserves on the little table at the front. I still had all the crafty stuff towards the back of the stand. We were pleasantly surprised by the response we got to our jams and chutneys. We came home with only two jars of nectarine jam. We are encouraged! There are 5 markets in March around the district. I have madly started cooking up a storm. There are fruits ready to be picked and I don't want to waste any of it. The produce we're using is grown organically on our farm or our neighbour's. We hope to use only what we grow wherever possible.
On the table we have Nectarine Conserve, Raspberry Conserve, Mixed Berry Conserve, Boysenberry Conserve, Nectarine & Rhubarb Chutney, and lastly a favourite South African chutney made with green beans. 


The heading for this post is 'Never a dull moment'. And this is so true! On Monday morning Frans discovered a problem with our dam pump. It required some maintenance which also required removing thorny blackberry bushes to get to the problem. Not wanting to pass up an opportunity of gathering some wild berries, Nala and I headed down to the dam to help.
The berries are growing on the road side and we need to get rid of them. But first we collected a couple of kilograms of berries. It took us hours! Gloves are needed, and a steely determination.
I started picking berries, leaning carefully across the electric fence. I decided that I'd wait for Frans to walk back home to turn off the electricity!
At lunch time the cattle wandered down to the dam for a drink. 
We haven't had any rain to speak of since the beginning of December. The level of the water has dropped significantly. We water our garden from the dam. While we were down there, Frans decided to test out our fire pump. It was a tricky operation to get the pump going. Before you even start it up the pump has to be primed. Essentially this means you have to fill the pipe with water before you start. Easier said than done. Before long Frans was knee deep in mud. Our neighbours from down the road drove by and stopped for an 'across the fence' chat. Chris hopped over and being the ex fire captain in the area, he knew a short cut to priming the pump. It's really easy when you know how!
There's going to be more dam action in the next few days. Frans is re configuring his set up and the next stage will involve a swim to the middle. I'll be ready with my trusty little Sony!

And as it's Thursday already, I'll say "Have a great weekend"!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Project Kitchen... Done! So let's cook some zucchini!

Remember last week when I wrote about Frans going under the house to connect the pipes? Well, this is where he was meant to go. And he just couldn't bring himself to crawl over that long diagonal pipe you see below. 
So he decided to forget about going under the house and instead of waiting for Stephen, he would demolish a wall of paneling and access the pipes from inside the house. Of course there were beams in the way weren't there?! So he put down his tools and waited for Stephen. In the mean time we had exposed form work to admire and tools to step over till he arrived. 
And to the rescue he came!
Let me just say here that Stephen is a sparky. His usual dirty work happens in roof spaces. He's not a fan of going under houses either. His main concern was 'are there any snakes?'. Of course not. We hoped! This man is a legend. A job that Frans had procrastinated about for three days, took him about ten minutes. The job was not without its challenges. The biggest challenge being the small space, the spider webs and the dirt!
He emerged victorious and impressed his future father in law with his bravery. All that was left to do was for the future mother in law to wash those clothes! The least I could do...
And here's the completely installed and functional hands free hand basin. Neat!
And here is the newly painted wall, filled holes and neatly installed super dooper range hood. We will repaint the kitchen soon. Then the little wooden shelf with get a coat of paint as well. 
And so a newly completed kitchen upgrade required a celebration. The kitchen had been shrouded in plastic sheets with tools scattered all over the table. I had been out picking veggies and was keen to get cooking again. 


In mid September I planted a bunch of squash seeds. I bought a pack with six different varieties. Being so far south, our season seems a little later and shorter than the warmer areas. So it's with great excitement that I've started picking the fruits from these plants. Checking my planting notes I see that it took 12 weeks from seed to fruit. I've planted a few batches since then and I hope that I'll be picking zucchini for a little while longer. The challenge is always what to do with all the fruit when they ripen simultaneously. We have a favourite recipe. It's an Italian Stuffed Zucchini dish. It is simple to make and can be enjoyed for a few days. We eat it warm or at room temperature. It makes a great side dish at a barbecue or can be served as a main with a salad for a light lunch. Served with a chilled glass of something dry and white.
This is my version. I try and use ingredients that I have grown myself; the squash, onions, garlic and herbs. Then there is the egg that I use from our own hens and the breadcrumbs made from the bread I baked. We just planted a few olive trees, but it will be a while before we can press our own oil. So in the mean time it will have to be store bought. Australian of course.
A basket of mixed squash. 

All the ingredients are gathered. 
Zucchini - I used the pale green ones, as well as the round yellow and green.
Roast pumpkin (yes, it's still from those three pumpkins we cut up a few months ago! This is the last packet)
Herbs. I used dill and parsley.
Garlic. Just a few cloves. Chopped or crushed.
One onion chopped.
A cup or two of roast pumpkin, cut into 2cm cubes.
Olive oil.
About two cups of breadcrumbs.
A cup of grated Parmesan or strong cheese, grated.
Optional: A few spoons of ricotta cheese.
The first job is to gently saute' the onion in a pan with a little olive oil. Add the garlic cook till the onion is translucent. Don't brown it. 
While the onion is cooking, cut the squash in half length ways and scoop out the flesh. Some of the larger fruit have fairly big pips. You can separate the pips out if you wish or just chop them up with the rest of the flesh. They are soft and sweet and you will not notice them. I kept most of the pips aside. 
The flesh is then chopped up into small pieces. Place into a mixing bowl and add half the bread crumbs, herbs, onion, pumpkin, egg and half the cheese and mix together. Add the ricotta if you're using it. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Then fill the clean, scooped out shells with the filling.
Scatter the remaining breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese on top of each stuffed half.
Drizzle the tops with a little olive oil. Bake in a moderate oven untill the tops are golden. Around 45 minutes will do it.

And what about the pips you ask?
Well, I take a paper towel and place a group of seeds in a pile. I make a number of piles on the sheet. Then I leave them to dry. Once dry, I simply roll the sheet of pips up and store them in an envelope till I'm ready to plant them again. Write the date of harvest on the envelope! Planting these seeds will be around September this year. When I'm ready to plant, I'll just cut the sheet into squares, one pile of pips per square. Then I'll plant the square. I'll let the strongest two or three seedlings remain and remove the rest. 
Seed saving is great for the budget! Collecting seeds is a good way of ensuring your continuing vegetable planting ability without buying commercial seed. I only grow Organic seeds. No hybrids. This way I know my saved seeds will sprout and grow next season.
Back to the baked zucchini. Delicious! What you don't eat immediately, can be stored in the fridge for a few days. The larger halves can be sliced into chunks.  
Summer is a really busy time for us. The veggies are flourishing and the fruit trees are groaning with fruit. This week I'll be picking more nectarines. They are the white variety. Delicious when picked straight from the tree. I like them crunchy. Frans likes them a little softer. 
Two peach trees have fruit almost ready to be picked. One peach is pinkish-red and the other is a yellow variety. I don't know their names. Yet. When I was a kid my Mum made peach jam with yellow peaches. I have a vivid memory of little lumps in golden syrup, with a delicious peachy smell. I'm going to give it my best shot at trying to duplicate it!   
And here's wishing you a very peachy week!