Date and Apple Scones

My mother had a tried and true everyday scone recipe, based on that in the Edmonds Cookery Book, that won her prizes at the farming district’s local Flower Show in the 1950s. The aroma of date scones for afternoon tea fresh out of the hot oven wafted from the house as we four children walked from the school bus across the paddock to the house. Dad always had afternoon tea before milking the cows. No leftovers.

The scones were made with pure New Zealand butter cut into six cups of white flour, Edmonds “sure to rise” baking powder, salt and sugar using a knife then mixed with creamy unpasteurised farm milk. Chopped dried dates were layered on half the dough that was folded over before being cut into large squares before being brushed with milk and sprinkled with cinnamon flavoured white sugar. Mum taught my sister and I to have a light touch with the dough and to not over-mix the ingredients. Our measurements were approximate and remain so to this day.

My own scone making has evolved through the years. With a type-2 diabetic in the family, ingredient adjustments to tried and true recipes are necessary. Himself loves home baked goodies.He has found it useful to be able to grab a scone from the freezer for an after-gym-workout snack when his sugar level tends to get low. Hence I make a double quantity.

Date and Apple scones
Hot scones fresh from the oven

Essentially I still start with six cups of flour, which could be a mix of white with buckwheat or wholemeal flours, and baking powder. I  add spices such as cardamom or cinnamon and no longer add salt or sugar to the scone dough. A rice bran spread with no palm oil is cut into the flour. Chopped succulent Medjool dates and grated apple are mixed with fresh orange juice before being added with buttermilk to the dry ingredients. I cut the dough into smaller shapes than in the past. The top of the dough is brushed with milk and finished with a light sprinkling of cinnamon  mixed with raw sugar before being baked in a hot oven.

I like to think Mum would be pleased how her date scone recipe has evolved. Simple everyday baking, a fresh scone with a cup of tea or coffee is hard to beat.

Ingredients

  • 5 cups of white flour
  • 1 cup of buckwheat flour
  • 12 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom
  • 150 grams rice bran spread
  • 2 cups buttermilk – about
  • ¾ cup chopped medjool dates and ½ grated apple with skin on, soaked in juice of 1 orange
  • cinnamon mixed with raw sugar

Method

  • Sift the dry ingredients.
  • Cut the spread into the flour until it is like breadcrumbs.
  • Mix buttermilk and fruit mixture to form a soft dough.
  • Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead lightly
  • Line an oven with baking paper.
  • Cut dough into shapes and place on tray.
  • Brush tops with milk.
  • Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.
  • Makes about 15-18 depending on size.
  • Bake at 220°C for about 10 minutes.

The Sudden Loss of a Pet Baby Rabbit

New Nest in the Hay Feed Bowl
Sibling bunnies snuggled in happier times in Mama’s dry feed bowl incidentally adorned with a garden art rabbit.

Little Kit

24 October 2017 ~ 21 November 2017

28 days

Mini-lop baby rabbit of Oreo and Paws

Once there were 5 kits. Now there is 1.

Much loved family pet rabbit

 

It has been a distressing and emotional day. Sudden death of any animal is hard to take. But we live in a rural environment and as the saying goes, ‘where there’s livestock, there’s dead stock’. It is never easy. Over time, we have dealt with the deaths of cats, a calf and poultry. They are never just animals to us. They each had pet names. Grandsons came home from school this afternoon to the tearful reality of the loss of their beloved baby rabbit. The boys had questions. We had questions. How could this happen so suddenly?  

This little bright-eyed bundle of white fur hip-hopped into our hearts. Little Kit suckled Mum and grew fast. From Day 12, Little Kit nibbled at greens and hay and rabbit pellets, just like Mum. Becoming more curious after its eyes opened, the big hop from the confines of the hutch became a regular activity. The sibling kits would snuggle and curl up together after a feed and clean from Mum, on their bedding pine shavings inside the hutch. Life was good for the siblings.

Yesterday, it was life as usual in the rabbit world. Early that evening, Little Kit had a gunky left eye that closed up. It was not interested in nibbling or moving. I wiped the eye with clean cotton pad moistened with a saline solution. That seemed to help a bit. Later the mother rabbit was seen licking her baby. We decided to take the Kit to the vet in the morning thinking it was an eye infection.

Early this morning, Little Kit was a very distressed bunny. It had managed to move from the hutch into the run. I reached to pick it up to check its condition and it screamed. A sound I never wish to hear again. It moved clumsily, was shivering and the eye was clean and half open. Its sibling was snuggling up as if it was trying to be a blanket to warm up its sibling. The mother was licking its baby. The sibling also licked its body. Both healthy rabbits seemed to be comforting and caring the sick baby rabbit. Oreo, the mother, stopped to eat she yet remained close and watchful. This sight was so touching. Heart wrenching.

As I prepared the carry cage for our trip to the vet, I noticed Oreo and the sibling had distanced themselves from the sick kit. It had become floppy and and cold to touch. I picked the kit up and wrapped it in a warm soft rug. The vet said the probable cause of death in the surgery at 11 a.m. was ‘encephalo zoon cuniculi’. It is a nasty condition, common in domestic rabbits, that can be passed in-utero and symptoms can manifest weeks later after birth as has happened today.

The grandsons absorbed the terrible facts and a google search gave more information. Our concern is now for the remaining pet rabbits. We must especially watch the sibling kit.

We mourn a little creature who put life into living and enriched our lives by being. 

 

Bunnies and Bridge Aren’t a Fit

My brain has turned to rabbit mush. It has been 22 days since they were born. Newborns in any household bring on that ‘brain mush’ effect. My senses are tuned to responding to the demands and needs of these small creatures.  

It is now routine at 6 a.m. for me to forage under the totara trees along the stream bank for fresh dewy puha, dandelions and thistles. By 7.30 a.m. the rabbit hutch has been cleaned, the kits have a frolic while Oreo, their mother, has her breakfast. Rabbit housekeeping  is repeated for Paws’, the father rabbit, cage. He is let out for a thirty-minute run in the orchard before he too is fed back in his cage.

20171011_130901
Foraging for puha, dandelions and grass along the stream bank

There was the initial burst of enthusiasm for the novelty of rabbit care before school Agricultural Day in October. Paws showed off his moves and earned Grandson an Agricultural Day Certificate. Grandson considers job done. And apparently, 6 a.m. is not a civilised hour to be up and getting wet by the morning dew on the long grass in the paddock. The boys are not impressed that Nana at their age had to herd the cows, no quad bike, from their night paddock to the shed and help her Dad with milking and feed the calves. So last century.  Grandsons of the  household are getting ready for school – so they say with a device in one hand. But they are out the door at 8 a.m.

Hen care is next, the Brown Shavers indignant they have been usurped and made to wait because of these furry intruders. Squawking loudly, they stand and poo in their water dish, peck at and clamber over each other and crowd the opening of the chicken cage run.  I remember to smell the Sweet Peas that scramble over the bean frame in the vegetable garden. The flowers are just glorious at this time of the year. I do a few household chores and get myself ready to rush out the door.

One morning a week, I attend formal lessons for beginning players at the Bridge Club , a fifteen-minute drive into town. It is more like a mad dash through the door just after the lesson has started. We were learning about Responder’s Rebids and having a choice of bidding No Trumps if my hand had no fit with my partner’s suit. So what do I do? Bid like it was a game of 500. I called 6 No Trumps. As the complexity of these lessons increases, I am convinced I will never get the hang of Bridge. Two other players are in a similar situation grandparenting two young dogs and empathise with the challenge to get a fit between small young animal care and learning bridge. Breathe, we tell ourselves. We laugh. Our Bridge instructor is wonderfully patient. 

Oreo the mini-lop rabbit gives birth

Tuesday, 24th October is a date when I would like to have been proven wrong about the saying, breeding like rabbits.

Oreo Mini-lop Rabbit
Oreo feeding on dandelions and fresh grass

In my previous blog about Paws, mentioned how excited Grandson at the arrival of an unexpected second pet rabbit and how his Mum said she had got Oreo ‘not long ago’ from the S.P.C.A. and that because she was so young,‘things should be alright’.

Paws and Oreo are parents
Kits cocooned in Mum’s downy fur

Oreo, a mini-lop rabbit, gave birth to her first litter of five kits about midday. She showed strong basic instincts in her preparation for the birth and mothering.

She had tried digging a burrow from the cage. She had plucked fur from her lower abdomen to make a soft downy cocoon for her babies in the straw nest created some days earlier. In this way, Oreo exposed her nipples ready to suckle her kits.

There was a time lag of about three hours between the birth and when we were able to separate the new mother and her kits from Paws, the father. Too late, I think. Oreo is probably pregnant again. 

Mother and babies are doing well.

We wound back time on a school morning

Single-parent of three, Son had a 5 a.m. workday start. Grandparents were left in charge of getting the boys ready for school. Easy. We know what to do from when Daddy and Uncle were boys.

8.00 a.m. “Aren’t we taking the boys to school this morning?” Poppa and I swing into action. I don’t think we slept in this late when Daddy and Uncle were boys.  Throw some clothes on. Splash water on my face. Run fingers through my hair. Ready!

8.10 a.m. Make wholesome multigrain bread cheese and other filling sandwiches, add a pottle of yoghurt, packet of raisins and fresh fruit to the lunchboxes. “Dad lets us have pretzels in a snackbag” “We’re allowed Snax biscuits.” “I don’t like bananas.” “Don’t want raisins.” “I just had jam sandwiches when I was a boy,” announced Poppa? “Just put your lunches in your schoolbags”.

“All boys need to eat breakfast brain food for learning. Especially as it’s a cold wet morning – I’ll warm the milk”. “I want cold milk”. “Why can’t I have sugar on my cereal? It tastes better.” “See that word sucre on the nutrition information label – it means sugar and there’s 10 grams already in the cereal in your bowl” (7-year old has advanced maths and language skills).  Lesson over. “Yes. You can have a toasted muffin with strawberry jam on it.”

8.20 a.m. “No! You can’t play a game on the computer. Turn it off. Now!” The clock ticks on. The boys are reminded to clean their teeth, to make their beds and to get their shoes and jackets on. It’s pressure time to get to school before 8.45 a.m.

8.25a.m. “We need a dollar today. There’s a Talent Show at lunchtime. A crumpled school notice found at the bottom a schoolbag informs us that ‘it will be a gold coin donation to watch’. I haven’t any loose change but Poppa says he had two $1 coins and four 20 cent coins! “It has to be a gold coin,” argues 9-year old. Conversation  dissolves into the meaning of ‘donation’ and the value of the lower denomination coins. He remains convinced that younger bro will not be allowed in to watch. 7-year old is happy with the arrangement. Of the three boys, he’s most able to argue his way past the doorkeeper.

8.30 a.m. The rain is relentless as we drive down the road. I focus as  while demister clears the windscreen. Then I realise 11-year old has left his Science Fair project display board at the house. “Don’t need it till Tuesday”. “How are you going to work on your project in class then?” “I’ve did my title printout on the colour printer in the classroom.” Memories of 11-year old’s Dad and 11th-hour school projects flash through my mind.  “What about the report on your data? Can you ask your teacher to help you how to write it? Teacher said it’s to be done for homework.”

8.40 a.m. “Have a good day, boys. Love you.” “See’ya, Nana.”

8.43 a.m. Text from Son. ‘How were the boys this morning?’

9.03 a.m. Reply to Son. Okay. Got off to slow start. Learned 11-year old has to finish SF at home. Said he doesn’t know how to write the report. Sounds like kids more interested in designing coloured title printouts.’

Later. Sitting at the table, staring at the remains of the boys’ breakfast with coffee and toast in hand, still dressed in my scruffy gardening work clothes, I’m thinking, what has changed? Nothing really. Those beautifully coiffed and coutured senior citizen couples who flit across our screens and pages adorned with perfectly ordered households and grandchildren aren’t real. Sigh! It’d be nice to step into that picture for a moment in time. But this morning we wound back time but not our biological clocks. No matter what, we’re Nana and Pop. And that’s a precious thing.

Apples ~ a crisp and crunchy heritage

When we were kids and if we were hungry, my brothers, sister and I would venture down the paddock and into a large old orchard at the site of the original farm homestead, planted by the settler-owner at about the start of the 20th century, more than fifty years before our family lived on the farm. People grew and preserved their own food back then. What was remarkable about this old overgrown orchard was the range of varieties. Local old folk spoke of the deep interest by the original owners, who had had no children, had in gardening.

Large untended trees still produced some fruit in season of a variety of plums, white fleshed, crimson-skinned nectarines, large golden peaches (we referred to them as the ‘million dollar peach’ – I’ve not seen this variety since. Mum said it was easy to preserve because it was freestone), black grapes, Chinese Gooseberries (now called Kiwi fruit), Yellow Banana Passionfruit, lemons,  navel oranges, Granny Smith and Golden Delicious apples. We climbed high into those old trees to pick the fruit.

No, I’m not imaging or idealising the unique qualities of those fruits.  I have it straight from the horse’s mouth about the deliciousness of apples. Once when eating a Golden delicious apple, I turned to see Queenie our horse trot up behind me on the other side of the fence, reach over and snatch the apple out of my hand. We didn’t know it then how spoiled we were to have access to these organically grown heirloom fruits.

Post-WWII pastoral farming practices commanded the efficient use of arable land. Grass was king. Cows grazed grass that converted into income earning creamy milk to make what New Zealand became so good at doing, churning out butter, cheese and milk powder.  Dad cleared the old orchard and a newly grassed paddock meant extra grazing for more cows. A new orchard was planted next to our house. Queenie could no longer reach over the fence from the horse paddock to munch an apple.

In 2001, I ordered and planted heirloom fruit trees, grafted onto rootstock from parent trees certified as being true to label. I selected Northern Spy apple tree rootstock which meant I could expect a vigorous tree that would tolerate our poor clay soil. We transformed a disused commercial nursery site into the sheltered orchard we have today. I pick-axed through a deep layer of scoria down to the clay base. Dolomite was applied to help break down the clay. Compost was used to build up each planting area. A windbreak border of medium height flaxes continues to protect the fruit trees from prevailing westerly wind. Comfrey was under-planted to act as a living mulch. Pelletised sheep manure gave the trees a good start.  Chickens now scratch away at the weeds and apply  the fertiliser.

Fifteen years later, our apple trees have grown true to description. Again, our family is snacking on heritage fruit picked from our own trees, preserving  and popping apples into the grandkids’ school lunchboxes.

Red Delicious which is a good pollen donor and crops more heavily when grown with other apples, ripens in March, has dark red apples with deep striping on the skin and is juicy and aromatic. We prefer to eat this apple fresh. it holds its shape when cooked. Golden Delicious crops best when grown with Red Delicious, ripens in mid-March has a golden colour, is thin skinned, and is a crisp, juicy, sweet, taste treat when left to ripen on the tree. This apple cooks well without sugar. Another disease resistant apple we grow and just love is Captain Kidd. It ripens earlier, is very crisp, juicy, sweet and is a good all-round keeping, eating and cooking fruit.

 

 

Chocolate Cake ~ firm family favourite

 

This image of the 1950s Edmonds Cookery Book is part of my cooking heritage. My mother, like many New Zealand women, referred to the recipes in her battered copy to bake a range of goodies for daily morning and afternoon teas. Sadly, we no longer have her copy of this particular edition that my sister and I used when we helped Mum in the kitchen during busy times on the farm feeding workers and visitors. Over the  years, we modified the recipes and adapted ingredients.  Classic Edmonds recipes that we used in the 1950s have stood the test of time.

Mum’s great-grandchildren love eating the same goodies we enjoyed as children – and this chocolate cake never fails the yummy test. 9-year old grandson, owner of an Edmonds Beginner’s Cookbook reprinted in 2015, is proud of his baking efforts. Chocolate cake baking tradition lives on.

Ingredients One-Egg Chocolate Cake

  • 50 grams butter
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup standard plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • few drops vanilla essence
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup milk

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 190ºC.
  • Prepare one 20cm cake tin. Line with baking paper. I often prepare a muffin tray to make 12 mini-cakes
  • Melt butter and syrup in a small saucepan.
  • Put melted ingredients into a bowl. Add egg and sugar. Beat well.
  • Sift cocoa, flour and baking powder together. Fold sifted ingredients and vanilla essence into egg mixture.
  • Dissolve baking soda in milk. Fold into egg mixture.
  • Pour the mixture into cake tin.
  • Bake 30 minutes or until the cake springs back when lightly touched.
  • Leave cake to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes.

Decorate to suit

  • Quick chocolate icing. Mix 1 to 2 cups icing sugar, 1 tablespoon cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon softened butter, vanilla essence and a small amount of warm water to get a smooth consistency. Spread icing over cake. Sprinkle desiccated coconut threads over icing.
  • Cake could be split into two halves so that a filling of whipped cream and sliced fresh fruit e.g. strawberries can be added.
  • Top of the plain cake could just be lightly dusted with icing sugar.