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.

 

 

Aubergine and Harissa

Call for immediate action was required when I stumbled on the link to this recipe for Aubergine and Harissa Dip while reading a post written by  insidekelskitchen  With a diabetic in the household, I am always keen to try new flavours and easy-to-prepare food using in-season garden fresh vegetables.

The aubergines and a red bell pepper chargrilled while I picked and prepared tomatoes that were slow roasted. Ciabatta bread from the freezer was thawed before being warmed in the oven.

As I have no Harissa Paste in the pantry and have not used Harissa  before, a quick google search was in order to fast learn how to make this spicy paste. I used a recipe by New Zealand cook, Annabel Langbein , the ingredients being

  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1-2 hot chillies
  • 1 tsp flaky salt
  • ¼ cup oil
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup tomato purée
  • 2 tsp rosewater or a pinch of sugar

To assemble the ‘dip’, I rough mashed the vegetable ingredients  using a fork and stirred the spice paste and seasonings to taste through the mixture.

Verdict. Ticked the boxes. Delicious for lunch served warm on crusty bread garnished with goatmilk feta cheese.! Packed with flavour. There are no leftovers. I can imagine this ‘dip’ combining well with chickpeas. But that’s another meal.

 

 

Grandson ~ creates a chilli salsa

 

9-year old grandson is so proud of his garden-to-the-table moment. A freshly picked Hungarian Yellow Wax chili pepper grown by him, was the hero of a salsa served with sweet corn tonight. Tapered in shape, this chili is well-flavoured, has a medium heat and is easy to grow.

In the best of Masterchef tradition, he selected his ingredients, he created his recipe as he chopped, stirred, tasted, adjusted and presented.  His salsa was brushed over freshly cooked sweet corn.  A great taste summer side dish.

Grandson’s homemade  salsa recipe: combine chopped yellow chili, freshly picked chopped parsley and basil leaves with melted butter, cold-pressed virgin olive oil, crushed garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper. On impulse, he added some diced Lebanese cucumber because that is his favourite vegetable. The quantities were decided as he prepared the chili salsa.

During the cook, he used sharp steel knives, deseeded a chili, melted butter in the microwave, worked cleanly. I showed my sons and now my grandchildren from pre-school age, safe use of equipment, creative cooking, food hygiene and kitchen management skills.

Learning happens in the kitchen. Together, we read recipes, do the maths of costs and amounts and learn about food culture. I believe all children need to learn how to plan a meal and to learn about people’s food likes and health needs.  This boy knows his grandfather is a diabetic, why I use lots of fresh ingredients and why I may cook a second dish for the same mealtime.

Usually when he cooks, I work alongside my grandson. We have chatted about my childhood years and the meals my family ate. My late mother’s chocolate cake recipe is now a firm favourite with her great-grandsons. Licking the mixing bowl clean is still an important Cooking 101 task. Tonight, as I wrapped monkfish in prosciutto, we talked about this pork meat and how it adds flavour to fish. My salsa verde had to be taste-tested and we compared the two salsas. Why I was using locally grown and pressed avocado oil and parmesan cheese? Why, indeed. I decided that monkfish is delicate it does not need to be overpowered with stronger flavours.

This 9-year old lad, my grandson, is well on his way to managing a kitchen and feeding the troops. It is not only a skill for healthy living but is also a great life interest.

 

 

Grandsons ~ cucumber, chillies and watermelon

Tonight’s meal will be extra special. 9-year old grandson harvested his very first cucumber off the plant grown from seed he sowed. He loves snacking on the small short green cucumbers.  The first vegetable he picked did not make it to the kitchen, it was too full of sunshine and rain, juicy and crunchy, crisp and refreshing on a summer day. A second cucumber had to be picked. Tonight, he will slice some to add to his Kiwi lamb hamburger. He wants to grate the remainder to mix with yoghurt to make a dip, he has seen me do this. My cooking is strongly influenced by Arabic dishes and flavours I enjoyed when I lived in the Middle East.

After lunch today, we ceremoniously picked the first of the firm, shiny, yellow chillies he also grew from seed. He was adamant he wanted to eat a fresh chilli. I insisted I taste test first to check its level of heat. Back in the kitchen, I showed him how to scrape the seeds and how to handle the chilli to avoid mouth tingling or burning sensation. He and 7-year old brother declared they now love chillies.  Grandson wants to add chopped yellow chilli to the cucumber yoghurt mixture. This has the makings of a tasty dip. My thinking is that I should make a flat bread with chickpea flour and cumin seeds as it will go well with the dip and with a vegetarian stew I am slow cooking.

Spicy eggplant stew.jpgEggplant and chickpeas and are staple pantry items. Mindful of the dietary needs of an adult diabetic in the household, I am make a second main dish using a recipe  Spiced Eggplant Stew with Roasted Pepper And Sundried Tomato Coulis posted by cookingforthetimechallenged in her blog. I added strips of char-grilled yellow and red peppers and a chopped courgette picked from the plant this morning. Leftover stew is great for lunch the next day.

Imagine their excitement as both grandsons made their greatest discovery. Sprawling over the garden bed, hidden under the foliage, are glossy green watermelons, round like footballs, heavy with juice.

Nothing, not even chocolate self-saucing pudding will beat this fruity dessert

Daniel checks watermelon ripeness.jpg