March

The end of summer is a bittersweet moment tempered by the anticipation of one of the loveliest months of the year and the start of autumn with its soft afternoons and cooling evenings. The vine leaves are starting to fall and the crab-apple leaves are golden. Sun-loving vegetables such as eggplant and capsicum are still cropping.

I have just picked the last of my yellow peaches, relishing the scent as I ruffled the leaves. Some, I confess, have had a small bite taken from them. Despite the fruit cage around my three stone-fruit trees, a possum managed to find a way in. I'm going to make chutney with these final fruit and will cut well around the bite. My thinking is that with the vinegar and spices, no harm can befall me.

I hope I don't receive cautionary tales from readers warning me of nameless diseases.

I'm disappointed that even one possum managed to invade, given that I've just outlaid many thousands of dollars to have a new fence built. I specified uncapped corrugated iron, imagining the difficulty the possums would have clinging to the sharp edges compared with the old capping, which was really a possum highway. I'm not cruel, but possums are the gardener's enemy.

I've abandoned growing pepinos because every fruit was taken. And my quince tree has had every bit of new growth stripped and there will not be a single fruit this season.

My first crop of doughnut peaches (12 of them) survived intact, thanks to individual netted bags such as one sees in the tropics to protect fruit from fruit fly. This is possible when the crop is small, but I'm not sure how I would manage if the tree ever produced a hundred fruit.

A visit to chef Annie Smithers's home in Malmsbury confirmed that she no longer has any use for my crab-apples. Annie has planted dozens of her own trees, including one called Big Red that produces fruit the size of a small apple. Annie roasts them for the restaurant and serves them with pork or duck. I will have to find a use for a lot of crab-apple jelly myself, unless the parrots return to decimate the crop in a few weeks' time.

While at Annie's I admired her apple orchard. She says she chose some of the trees just because they had such wonderful names: Cat's Head, Peasgood Nonsuch and Bramley. And, she added, because some fluff up when they're cooked and some don't.

Tomatoes have been great this year although they ripened very late. I was especially proud of my propagation efforts. From a slice of a fabulous tomato given to me by Lina Siciliano from Rose Creek Estate, and an equally delicious but very different slice from an oxheart tomato shared by my friend (and fellow Gourmet Traveller contributor) Tony Tan, I successfully saved the seed and in my tiny hothouse propagated healthy plants that have delivered a reasonable crop. At the past couple of farmers' markets one could buy massive deep-red, bumpy tomatoes sold as "grandpa's tomatoes". I bought a few kilos to make even more roasted tomato sauce to store for the winter.

Lina made me a beautiful New Year present of some of the extraordinary olive oil made at Rose Creek Estate, and two figs, each as large as an emu's egg. The figs were marvellously sweet. I don't know if it's a special variety or simply evidence of the love and skill that is lavished on every plant at Rose Creek Estate.

The Diggers Club sells seeds for the rocket variety Pronto, described in the catalogue as "less sharp and peppery" than the regular variety. I found that if I sowed small quantities of seed at three-week intervals I had good crops over a long period and I could pick the leaves before they became too large. It tastes delicious. Mixed with leaves from my cut-and-come-again wine barrel of sensational salad (seeds from The Italian Gardener) and draped with some prosciutto and a small burrata cheese, it becomes one of my all-time favourite warm-weather lunches. I have probably raved about this method before but I can honestly say that I have been able to cut a large bowl of the tenderest leaves every night for at least six weeks from one planting. I wish you could see it.

I'm diving into the digital world, boldly attempting to embrace the new age of social media. If you like, you can now follow me on Twitter (@GrowCookEat), and I have started the Cook's Companion Club so I can stay in touch online. Do check it out. The invitation to join is at the top of my website, stephaniealexander.com.au.

Until next time.


More info

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

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