We just had the first frost last week. No damage to report and, I must say, I do enjoy the crisp mornings.
I am fighting a battle with the Indian myna birds. They have decided that my apple-crate gardens are their playground. Twice they have dug up my broad bean seeds looking for worms. And this morning, I found celery plants lying on top of the bed.
Another crate has just been planted out with strawberry runners from the best-tasting strawberry I had in a hanging basket. I have netted the crate, at least until the plants are more established. Strangely, the birds show no interest at all in the broccoli, kale and Asian greens in the front beds. I wonder if they just enjoy perching on the edge. A friend suggested that they also feel pretty safe 1 metre up in the air. As the broad beans are now pushing up strongly, I plan to “plant” some black poly pipe hoops and throw the netting over until I feel certain the plants can manage on their own.
My enthusiasm for the long, dimpled leaves of Tuscan kale continues. (Not only do the birds leave it alone, so do the cabbage white butterflies that savage any other brassica in the garden.) I pick a few leaves, wash them, slice away the central rib, shred or tear the leaves and slow-cook them in a covered frying pan with some sliced garlic, one of my red chillies and a couple of anchovy fillets. This makes an instant sauce for pasta or a bed for a fish fillet or a few meatballs. And Tuscan kale is the authentic green to use for the best-ever minestrone.
I pickled the long wax peppers that were a lovely mix of gold and red, and I’m impatient to try them. The recipe urges me to wait for four weeks. I also made a small quantity of an Indian pickle of pumpkin with tomato and plenty of spices. Next season, I will either coarsely grate the pumpkin or cut it into smaller dice – the big chunks and the spicy sauce don’t seem to have entirely married. Thin slices of the same stunning potimarron pumpkins brushed with olive oil are fantastic cooked directly on the barbecue. They can then be eaten as a salad sprinkled with sherry vinegar, or even used as a pizza topping under some melted cheese.
Sadly, my tomato harvest was not very impressive so there was no large batch of passata made, but I did manage about 2 litres of concentrated roast tomato sauce. My preferred way of making it (this is for the lazy cook) is to fill a large baking dish with roughly chopped tomatoes, skin and all. I add several bruised garlic cloves, a large handful of oregano and a generous slosh of extra-virgin olive oil. I set the oven to 120C, let it all cook together for about three hours, then push it through a food mill. I divide my sauce into several containers and freeze it without seasoning. I’ve learnt from past experience that it’s important to label all the containers. I always think I am going to remember what something is and when I made it but, after several mishaps where I found myself thawing soup instead of sauce, I am now much more meticulous.
And still on the subject of tomatoes, I saved seeds from the last of the green zebra, black Krim and an unnamed oxheart tomato for later in the year.
As winter settles in, growth in the garden has really slowed down. It’s becoming more and more difficult to keep a supply of salad greens. I am relying on my radicchio and the frilly oak leaf I grow from seed, which seems pretty resilient. My golden beetroot and Manchester carrots in the last apple crate have been thinned and are looking good. Those raised beds are a boon for people like me who have dodgy backs. I have dwarf-climbing snow peas edging one of my apple crates – I used the prunings from the ornamental grapevine as simple supports – and fattening leeks in another.
Without the flamboyance of the wax pepper, eggplant and basil bushes and the teepees of beans, the garden is looking a bit bare. This is a reality for vegetable gardens – they do wax and wane in abundance. Thank goodness for the artichoke plants that are thrusting strongly, and the Tuscan kale, which will easily grow to half-a-metre tall. I have moved my bean teepees to a new position and I’m growing climbing peas on them instead. I always include a few flowering plants among the edibles – not just for the bees, but for winter cheer. Calendula, marigold, heartsease and wallflowers are my current favourites.
Until next time.
PHOTOGRAPHY JULIE CRESPEL
This article is from the June 2010 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.