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The last of the fallen leaves have been gathered. I have dumped them in the Aerobin. Some gardeners advise storing damp leaves in a black plastic rubbish bag poked with a few holes and letting them slowly rot down before using them as mulch. But they take a surprisingly long time to decompose. The roses have been pruned and the hydrangeas cut back. Behind the hydrangeas are yellow wallflowers and now they have the space to spread out.
Since last month I have done quite a bit of planting. Winter is the best time to plant bare-rooted trees, roses or bare-rooted canes of raspberries or gooseberries. I get excited leafing through plant catalogues and then reality hits. I do not have room for any more trees, nor for a hedge of raspberries. In fact, I am going to ask my gardener to cut down a very old crab-apple in the front garden. It produces fewer and fewer dark pink blossoms each year and its boughs are too close to the power line.
I've planted garlic and it's already shooting through the mulch. It will be six months before the harvest. The flat-leaf parsley has self-seeded in surprising places. I can pick a really large bunch and make a variation on leek and potato soup by cooking garlic slowly in cream and then whizzing the potato and leek soup with the creamy garlic and a lot of parsley leaves that have been dunked in and out of boiling water. Just a few minutes in the blender makes a soup of the most wondrous spring green.
Purple-podded peas, pinwheel-striped beetroot and round-headed radicchio are coming along and the first heads of broccoli are forming. I love the combination of broccoli and anchovies. It makes a good pasta sauce and a delicious and fast side dish with almost anything. Blanch the broccoli florets and the peeled and chopped stems for two or three minutes in plenty of water. Meanwhile, melt some anchovies in olive oil over medium heat and then drop in the drained broccoli. I like to add a sliced red chilli too.
I have a small hothouse and it's tempting to start trays and trays of seeds now. But the crate gardens are still full of broad beans, celery, spinach, chard, carrots and leeks, and will be for the next two months, so I will delay starting more seeds for another month or so, when I may have room for the transplants. Each of the crates is now covered with bird netting, supported by crossed hoops of poly pipe rammed onto stakes in each corner of the crate. They look very good, actually - at first glance one might think I was raising a rare parrot in each rather than vegetables.
I spent a weekend with friends at Dunkeld to enjoy Dan Hunter's food at the Royal Mail Hotel. We were invited to stroll through the kitchen gardens, which are extensive. I loved the wine barrels planted closely with a mixture of edibles and ornamentals. Basil growing with salad leaves, with snapdragons and violas and calendula - such a bright and cheerful sight. I immediately came home and tucked seedlings of violas and sweet peas among all my salad plants and planted Iceland poppies wherever I could find a spare patch.
This month sees lots of interest in citrus. My very rare bergamot orange is laden, and the tangelo has about a dozen fruits. These citrus do not really get enough sunshine, so it will be interesting to see if the fruit ripens. I grow the bergamot for its highly perfumed, thick rind, which I have never yet managed to candy as well as I would like. Even after several blanchings, and long, slow cooking with its own weight in sugar, the peel hardens more than I like. I wonder whether a reader can help me?
This year for the first time my four-year-old rainforest finger lime is laden with fruit. Sean Moran, from Sean's Panaroma in Sydney's Bondi, has a recipe for a custard tart with a finger lime topping in his book Let It Simmer. I'm going to try it. Otherwise, all I can think of doing is ordering unopened oysters, shucking them and offering a bowl of squeezed finger lime "caviar" as an exquisite topping.
I bought a kilo of cumquats at my local farmers' market and made
my favourite cumquat marmalade. It set magnificently. (My own tree
is just an infant.) The fruit was perfect for marmalade - not wet
or soggy or overripe - and cooking it fast in my French copper jam
pan may have helped. And it goes without saying that my ancient
lemon tree is full of lemons.
The mornings are really brisk - out with the soup recipes!
Until next time.
PHOTOGRAPHY VANESSA LEVIS STYLING VANESSA AUSTIN
For information on Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Garden Foundation and schools program, visit www.kitchengardenfoundation.org.au.
This article is from the July 2010 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine.
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