Food News


When nature asserts itself, Stephanie Alexander finds comfort in a handful of blueberries and some marvellous black Krim tomatoes.


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I have taken my computer into the garden, all the better to enjoy the view of deep-blue royal Cape plumbago, a backdrop to the Burgundy lace roses in full flower for the second time. They are rewarding me for that light prune in December.

Sadly, it has not been a good year for the miniature fruit trees. They were sprayed for curly leaf before bud burst, and flowered abundantly, but most of the fruit fell; and the peach tree has set just one fruit after a bumper crop last year. Consolation is that there will be plenty of quinces and almonds a bit later on. My one and only blueberry bush has yielded a few handfuls of berries to add to my breakfast smoothie. Blueberries are irresistible to the birds. My young plant has been safe under a large bamboo cloche, but that will not suffice with an extra year’s growth, so the plant will have to be completely netted to ensure that I get the harvest next year.

Just to remind me that nature is in control, and not me, my prized finger lime has severe dieback after producing masses of flowers in late spring. Almost all the leaves have disappeared, leaving a very thorny skeleton, and yet there are swelling fruits attached to nearly bare limbs. Last year I had an amazing crop – well over 50 full-sized fruits, the first meaningful harvest after five years of tender loving care.

And still on the topic of fruit, I have planted a single green gooseberry bush. It is growing strongly, and I have high hopes of at least one gooseberry pie in a month or so. It would be great to have room for raspberry canes, but I do not, so raspberries are a priority on my farmers’ market mornings.

My three apple crate gardens have all changed character. The carrot/leek/spring onion box is now home to the pimientos de Padrón I mentioned last month, the seeds successfully propagated in my hothouse; the celery/broad bean box now has generously cropping dwarf snow peas, dwarf sugar snap peas, cucumbers and more Manchester carrots coming along. The third box now has strawberries that have cropped well but are finishing. Not sure what will follow them yet.

A few months ago I participated in a fundraising dinner at Bondi Public School, and my friend Sean Moran concluded the meal with a sublime strawberry ice-cream and a strawberry jelly. I will have to wait for the Bondi cookbook to appear before making the jelly, but I did make the strawberry crush ice-cream that Sean has in his own book Let It Simmer. Delicious.

In the front garden there are plenty of beans. The bush beans are not as successful as the climbing pole variety, and bending to pick them every day is hard on my aching back (another reason for my enthusiasm for the apple crate gardens). And they seem more prone to insect attack and wind damage.

The zucchini are still fruiting generously with little evidence of powdery mildew on the leaves yet. So far, if just one leaf is looking smudgy I remove it and add it to the green waste bin, not the compost. I know that the approved organic remedy is a milk spray using one part milk to nine parts water, but I have yet to try it. Doesn’t the garden smell of sour milk? Maybe not. I shall probably find out.

And while the basil is still luxuriant I must remember to make my pesto. I recently read a food writer’s claims that pesto will last for only a week. I was surprised by this. I bottle mine in small jars, press it down really well and cover it with a half-centimetre layer of olive oil. I refrigerate the jars and use them for months, always using a clean spoon and always pressing the surface again so as to remove any air pockets.

The marvellous tomato crop goes on. The black Krim has been my favourite this year. Not a day goes by without my eating at least two tomatoes in some manner. I also continue to make panfuls of roasted tomato sauce, which I freeze in small takeaway containers. This is cook’s gold later in the year to just drop, still frozen, into a soup or stew.

I hope everyone has been making panzanella – one of the most delicious and simplest of the many Mediterranean ways with tomatoes. I will tell you my method:

Chop ripe tomatoes and chunks of cucumber into a bowl. Sauté torn cubes of day-old sourdough bread for a minute or two in olive oil and add to the bowl. Add thinly sliced raw red onion if you like (I don’t). Add plenty of torn basil, salt and pepper, and dress the whole lot liberally with the best extra-virgin olive oil and wine vinegar you can find. Most importantly, allow the salad to soak up the dressing before serving. The bread should be definitely damp.

Remember that if hand watering is necessary, the morning is best for the plants and for the gardener.

Until next time.


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

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