Food News


The capsicum plants are in the ground and the tomato seedlings are doing well but it’s the celery – and a new trick with newspaper – that Stephanie Alexander is most excited about this month.


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Well, I couldn’t resist, I now have my very own herbaceous border, small compared with those magical gardens I saw in England but glorious nonetheless. It has been a team effort with my gardener doing the heavy work, her garden designer friend advising and laying out a lovely plan and all curbing my enthusiasm for too many different things, and the result is a delight. As I write the plants are just starting to flower. I am in love with the foxgloves and the new roses. I have Madame Isaac Pereire, Stanwell Perpetual and Tess of the d’Urbervilles. My border will be mostly in luscious purples, rose-pinks, white and some silver-grey. I have salvias and verbena, and campanula and aquilegia and many, many more. I have been warned that it will take 12 months to attain its full glory.

I did have an anxious couple of weeks when all the existing shrubs had to come out for relocation or to go to foster homes. Passers-by worried too. There were many inquiries as to my intention, and one woman asked my gardener, “Does she intend to plant more vegetables?” A Greek neighbour leant over the fence and asked if she could have one of my globe artichoke plants in exchange for some rocket seedlings. I dug up one of the smaller plants but cannot believe that her rocket clump will grow. I usually select an enclosed space, such as a wine tub, and broadcast rocket seed freely. It is important to keep rocket picked so it doesn’t become leggy and impossibly bitter. And if it has, pull it up and probably it will have seeded itself and new plants will emerge.

Elsewhere in the garden, the sweet peas I purchased at the Chelsea Flower Show are growing well and should soon be covering their frames with pastel-coloured flowers. The blossom on the peach and the nectarines has all finished for the year and the fruit is setting. This month I am looking forward to the glory of my five crabapple trees all about to flower. I have an anxious eye on the new miniature cherry. Will it produce even one cherry this year?

The collard greens that I planted out in June have been luxuriant. I am about to pull them out to give me space for some summer prettiness but they were delicious in late winter cooked with smoked ham hocks as is traditional in the southern states of America. I have always loved the sound of pork with collards and “pot likker”. The greens become soft and mellow with long cooking and are more reminiscent of kale than of regular cabbage. The largest leaves were nearly 50cm long. They became enormous plants and I don’t think I shall grow them again, preferring to give the space to sprouting broccoli which is such a generous plant and much more compact. Apparently commercial growers ignore the side shoots – it’s not economical to go over the plants again, I expect – but I love being able to pick these super-tender side shoots that can continue for weeks after the main head has been cut.

The warmer soil has encouraged me to plant some capsicum plants and soon I will move my tomato seedlings into open ground. I have seedlings of black Russian, black Krim (my favourite last season) and an unknown oxheart variety that I saved seeds from in February. I cut back the eggplant bushes last season and they have started to grow back. Just in case they don’t flourish, I have also started a few new plants of listada di Gandia eggplant.

Two months ago I wrapped each of my celery plants in many folds of newspaper and tied each one firmly with twine. I’ve been thrilled at the result. Quite a few very small snails and slugs had enjoyed the protection of the newspaper, but I also have the crispest, whitest, crunchiest stalks. Once well-washed and free of the afore-mentioned invaders, my celery has featured in many a lunchtime salad tossed with frilly leaves, soft goat’s cheese, or anchovies. I also made a very lovely soup in the tradition of potato and leek, substituting a lot of sliced celery for the leeks. When both potato and celery were quite soft I added several handfuls of very fresh watercress leaves. I turned up the heat for just a few minutes before puréeing the lot and straining it. The result was a beautiful pale-green soup with a little bite from the watercress.

The French rarely serve butter with cheese. An exception is Roquefort, which is almost always offered with butter. I squashed about one-third unsalted butter with two-thirds Roquefort and made a very retro party appetiser by piping this soft mix into the channels of my perfect white celery sticks. And still on my celery theme, I made another classic – Waldorf salad – using more of my celery, orange segments, toasted walnuts, and a little sour cream. I also added thinly sliced nashi pear (which I did not grow).

I am still enjoying broad beans and peas and am starting to wonder where the beans will go. It is a dilemma in a small garden space, not just for reasons of rotation, but a question of where to put the next crop when the earlier one is still producing. Not a bad problem to have though.

Until next time.


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

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