October

I am anticipating October as I write this. The almond tree finished its flowering just when the quince and the crabapples started to show rosy buds. My new persimmon and miniature sweet cherry are in the ground and I am anxiously awaiting signs that they like their new position. I do love the beginning of spring, when the ground has warmed and the plants put on a spurt of growth. The peas are covering their bamboo supports, the leeks are thickening, I have enjoyed the first few meals from the broad beans, and the vegetable beds are dotted with self-sown frilly oakleaf lettuces.

Inspired by all the prettiness of the English gardens I recently visited, I have asked a garden designer friend to do a little makeover of the front narrow border, which will give me much joy and help me remember my trip. After I'd pored over several rose books and marked literally dozens of glorious blooms, she has very firmly decreed that there is space for just two roses, but three plants of each. I have decided on the fragrant, repeat-flowering Madame Isaac Pereire and the Stanwell Perpetual damask. I begged and won permission to also include Tess of the D'Urbervilles, a fragrant luscious deep-purple beauty that flowers only in the spring.

I was invited to this year's truffle festival at Mundaring, half an hour east of Perth. This industry is growing very strongly. Despite some serious rain, thousands turned out to eat truffled risotto, slow-cooked beef ribs with truffle, salmon with truffle butter, and many other delicacies. You could also buy your very own inoculated tree, as well as truffle paste, truffle mustard and so on.

I attended a dinner cooked by Alain Fabr├Ęgues and Philippe Mouchel and can still taste the creamed eggs presented in the shell with a tiny fried truffle sandwich balanced on top of the eggshell, and the exquisite dish of melting salmon on tender spinach with a generous shaving of truffles on top and a slick of butter sauce. Glorious. I bought my own truffle and have made a paste using parsley and celery from the garden chopped very finely with a little garlic, some streaky bacon and plenty of truffle. I have worked this paste under the skin of a large free-range chicken, covered it with many layers of plastic wrap and left it in the refrigerator to infuse before I cook it tomorrow. Whenever I open the refrigerator a wave of truffle perfume hits me.

While in Perth I visited several schools that are part of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program. Some had just completed their infrastructure and were proudly displaying very colourful kitchens. At Singleton I was taken to view the hen house, which had its own flowering window box and a hen named Stephanie! At Westfield Park we admired the aquaponic systems and the wicking beds, both projects made by the students. At Harmony I ate a truly lovely Caesar salad, a potato and silverbeet frittata and tiny herb scones.

And then I went travelling again. This time I holidayed with my daughter in Jamaica and was immersed in a lush tropical landscape. Poinciana trees were brilliant. Bougainvillea came in every colour. Breadfruit hung from enormous trees. The strange ackee was in season, so we could have the traditional breakfast of ackee and salted codfish. It was also mango and papaya season, and roadside fruit stalls offered many varieties of both, plus tiny sweet pineapples and many varieties of banana for a dollar or so for a whole hand. Driving over the mountains we came across Packy's Pond, a roadside cookshop. Smiling handsome Carl had a coal fire fed by long branches of pimiento wood. The pimiento tree produces the berries that we call allspice. I was told that if the berries are picked green and soaked in rum, the drink is very good for stomach ache. The leaves, when crushed, are highly aromatic and the wood is considered essential for a proper "jerk" fire.

Iron pots were balanced on the coals. The chalked menu offered tripe and beans; rice and peas; jerk pork; yams; curried goat; and calalloo, a green vegetable that we know as amaranth. We chose rice and peas, curried goat and some jerked pork with callaloo, eaten with a plastic spoon from a tin plate. This was quite possibly the most delicious meal we had in Jamaica, although I should not forget the grilled lobster tail at Jakes, a very hip resort at Treasure Beach.

A highlight was meeting a very old lady at the market in Ocho Rios who carefully explained how she cooked her sweet potato pudding. It was cooked in an iron camp oven balanced on a raised tray of coals, with another tray of hot coals on top. She said the pudding would take six hours to cook, and that the pudding and "stove" were described locally as "hell on top, hell on the bottom, but hallelujah in the middle". She intended to sit alongside the pot for the whole time and occasionally add a little more coal. She gave me the recipe, which commenced with five pounds of grated sweet potato. I think I will need to divide the ingredients in four.

Until next time.

PHOTOGRAPHY ARMELLE HABIB

This article is from the October 2011 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.


MORE INFO

For more information on Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Garden Foundation and schools, check out her website.

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