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September

Like so many Melburnians, I have recently enjoyed a holiday in Far North Queensland, a week at Palm Cove, long enough to enjoy the warmth, the morning walks on the beach and many hours relaxing and reading. Of course there was eating too. Crab is one of my favourite foods and I had a delicious spanner crab salad at Reef House, and a challenging tussle with a stir-fried mud crab at Nu Nu. I also tasted Nu Nu's millionaire's salad, made from hearts of coconut palm mixed with ripe honeydew melon, all sharpened with a lime dressing. I was intrigued by the palm heart and my query brought a sample from the kitchen. I was shown a chunk of young coconut palm, its cross-section clearly showing the creamy heart. The palm has to be splintered to get to this prize. I was told there was at least one Queensland farm propagating young trees just to supply this delicacy. One hopes that the demand does not grow too large. At least the palms that fringe the beaches are safe!

Another exotic vegetable taste hit me back home. I was given a tiny yacon plant, and it just grew and grew. Alan Davidson in The Oxford Companion to Food says it belongs to the sunflower family and is indigenous to South America. Other authorities have suggested it is also known as jicama - Davidson distinguishes the two as different species. My plant grew to well over a metre in all directions with very handsome large heart-shaped leaves. The leaves started to wilt at the same time as it started to produce small yellow flowers (very similar to Jerusalem artichoke flowers, so I am convinced it is of the sunflower family). I decided to dig it up. To my surprise it had produced about 20 spindle-shaped tubers, each maybe 12cm in length (completely different in shape from the round jicama tubers). To my palate it is not very interesting raw (although Davidson writes that he has enjoyed the sliced tubers in salads) . But I stir-fried it sliced with plenty of ginger and a handful of my own snow peas and it was quite something.

I have loads of baby salad plants coming along, having shaken the fluffy seedhead of my favourite variety into the nursery bed under the lemon tree. The first sprouting broccolini-type plants have been generous bearers and there are still side-shoots coming along. My early broad bean pods are just starting to fill out and I have planted another dozen plants. And I have kept up the planting of beetroot and snow peas. The purple-podded peas with their glorious violet sweet pea flowers have been a talking point with several neighbours. The peas are small, sweet and the usual green.

I received several responses to my query in the July issue of GT regarding how to deal with my bergamot orange peel. I hesitate to mention a failure but it may reassure others that even very experienced cooks have bad days. I soaked the peel overnight, then the next day I rinsed it, covered it generously with lightly salted cold water and brought it very slowly to the boil. After an hour it was still hard so I turned the stove right down to its lowest point and of course forgot it - I went to the movies and came home to blackened fragments in a completely dry pan.

I'm going to try to grow another passionfruit vine. My first vine grew well but was a bit shaded. I planted another and it died - I suspect it didn't get enough water during the summer of our worst drought. This year, with far more generous rainfall, could be the successful year. I'll grow it against a north-facing sunny trellis and I'll be sure to include plenty of well-rotted poultry manure before planting it. I absolutely adore passionfruit and have such fond memories of a prolific vine that grew at my childhood home.

My daphne hedge is still flowering and fills the air with its scent. And all the poppies that I planted are flowering. I love their trembling papery petals and their pastel colours. And I think I can see the faintest fuzz of green on the grapevine. Spring is just a moment away.

PHOTGRAPHY ARMELLE HABIB

This article is from the September 2010 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.

For information on Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Garden Foundation and schools program, visit www.kitchengardenfoundation.org.au.
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