My Garden ~ a Kiwi's take on life

"I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o'er vales and hills," William Wordsworth


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Pean ~ a heritage vegetable

In October, a friend gave me six vegetable seedlings. She described them as a cross between a Pea and a Bean, a heritage vegetable brought to New Zealand by Dalmatian people who settled in this country more than 100 years ago.

The seedlings have flourished and are growing skywards on the bean frame next to my scarlet runner beans. We pick young Peans and enjoy eating them raw. It is hard to say whether the Pean is a cross or whether it is a distinctive vegetable in its own right. I’ll let some pods grow large and see what eventuates.

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Young Pean, pod and seed, is nice to eat raw

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Pean: leafy plant, young pods and delicate white flowers

As is the way in summer, we now have a proliferation of beans. Tired and hot at the end of a busy week, I had no idea what dish I might create as I picked the green, butter and runner beans, Peans and green chilli for dinner tonight.

However, a recipe evolved and Friday night dinner happened for three adults, and three grandkids who must have sausages and sauce. Kids and vegetables – that is another story.

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Colourful medley of vegetables including Peans

  1. Slice 1 onion and saute in olive oil until soft
  2. Add 2 crushed cloves of garlic and 1 green chilli finely chopped
  3. Slice 1 red pepper (normally I would char-grill beforehand and peel) and saute with the onion
  4. Add 1 450g tin of chopped tomatoes. Stir and simmer.
  5. Top and tail and cut the beans and Peans.  Add to tomato mixture.
  6. Simmer gently until the vegetables are cooked to your liking.
  7. Season to taste.

I added some leftover black Kalamata olives that had been marinated in a chilli and red capsicum dressing and then served  this dish with crusty ciabatta bread.

As an after thought – I could have added some crumbled feta cheese. But – next time.

The Pean has earned its place in my vegetable garden and kitchen.


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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.

 

 


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ANZAC Biscuits ~ Kiwi classic recipe

ANZAC Biscuits is a New Zealand classic recipe. Crunchy outside, chewy inside, Kiwi kids love these delicious rolled oat-based biscuits which are quick and economical to make. They keep well – well, that is, if they do not get devoured by ever-hungry kids who prowl the pantry in search of food.

There is a blend of fact and fiction surrounding the origin of this legendary biscuit recipe. We grew up with the story that during World War I, people back home baked and sold goodies to help raise funds in support of the New Zealand war effort. Military historians found that these were not the biscuits that were sent to and eaten by the ANZAC soldiers at Gallipoli.

gallipoli 300x194 The ANZAC Biscuit“Biscuits! Army Biscuits! Consider the hardness of them. Remember the cracking of your dental plate, the breaking of this tooth, the splintering of that.” From Army Biscuits by Ormond Burton.

Staff at the National Army Museum did some research and found that contrary to popular belief there were no ANZAC biscuits at Gallipoli. The standard Army biscuit at this time was a rock hard tooth breaker also called the ship’s ANZAC biscuit.

Like many home cooks, I sometimes modify the recipe by adding dried fruit, nuts and seeds and adjust ingredient quantities to suit. It is a beginner-cook-friendly recipe. It is 25 April and in keeping with the spirit of our national remembrance day, I used the recipe from another Kiwi icon, Edmonds Cookery Book, to make a batch of ANZAC Biscuits.

Fresh-from-the-oven, the biscuits got the seal of approval from youngest grandson and his two brothers.

 

 


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ANZAC Day 25 April, “We will remember them”

Flanders poppies grow among the graves of soldiers who were killed in northern France. Grandson learned about 100 years of ANZAC history and in 2015, applied his knowledge to create a poppy remembrance garden for a school agricultural project.

Grandson knows 25 April is New Zealand’s national day to remember those fought and who died serving New Zealand during times of war. He knows his great-Grandfather fought in WWII and his ancestors fought in WWI.  He knows that in 1915, Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed at Gallipoli in Turkey, the site of New Zealand’s first major battle of World War One with the loss of over 2,700 New Zealand soldiers. He knows that since the first commemorative services in 1916,  Kiwis attend ANZAC services across the world, from dawn until dusk.

 

My childhood ANZAC commemoration memories are of services held over the years in the local rural community hall, of the silent stillness of the local people watching, moved by the drummer’s tapping accompanied by the tramp, tramp of the veterans’ feet  as they  marched in formation down the road past my grandfather’s house. I see the New Zealand flag fluttering at half-mast in the breeze. I hear the collective voice of my family, my neighbours, my community as we uttered in unison the words, “we will remember them”.  I hear the bugle sound the Last Post  at the close of our lament for the dead.

After the service, people linger. 25th April is a day to be together, to share, to retell stories.

I see my grandfather standing in silent respect, and later in conversation, he would tell that as a married man with children, he was a reservist and he managed his younger brothers’ farms while they, keen to “do their bit for King and country”, enlisted early in 1915, one of whom was ‘never the same’ after returning home from gas and trench warfare.

I see my great-Aunt, church organist and community stalwart, widowed in the early 1930s, childless and never remarried, after her husband, a WWI veteran turned to alcohol to fight his traumas and to die by his own hand.

I see my mother among a group of other war-brides, chatting about their families ‘back home’, recalling the bombing raids and rationing in wartime England, and I know that her Uncle lies in a marked grave in northern France.

I see Dad standing with an older local couple talking about his mate, their son who in WWII  was a prisoner of war with Dad, and who was shot in a camp. In 1992 at Dad’s funeral, the youngest of the three brothers in that family, delivered the eulogy. In part, he said

After my brother was killed, Ken arranged his funeral and then reclaimed his personal possessions. He carried them with him on that infamous forced march into Germany, and as soon as he arrived back in Walton he gave some of them to my parents. Years later when he felt, the time was right he gave the rest to me. I asked him why he had not thrown them away when he was enduring such extreme hardship himself. He replied, “I looked at them sometimes and thought I’ll do that tomorrow. Tomorrow never came.” Ken proved to our family that he was a true and loyal friend.

No-one ever forgets.

Over time in college, at university and as a teacher, I thought further about the pointlessness and horror of war through the words of poets like Wilfred Owen, Dulce et Decorum Est.

The Kiwi voice heard in the poem An Elegy for an Unknown Soldier written by James K. Baxter, son of conscientious objector Archibald Baxter, tells the story of a young nation sending antipodean troops to a theatre of war in a distant country, of painful personal realisations and of the futility of war.

An Elegy for an Unknown Soldier

There was a time when I would magnify
His ending; scatter words as if I wept
Tears not by own but man’s; there was a time.
But not now so. He died of a common sickness.

Nor did any new star shine
Upon the day when he came crying out
Of fleshy darkness to a world of pain,
And waxed eyelids let the daylight enter.

So felt and tasted, found earth good enough.
Later he played with stones and wondered
If there was land beyond the dark sea rim
And where the road led out of the farthest paddock.

Awkward at school, he could not master sums.
Could you expect him then to understand
The miracle and menace of his body
That grew as mushrooms grow from dusk to dawn?

He had the weight, though, for a football scrum,
And thought it fine to listen to the cheering
And drink beer with the boys, telling them tall
Stories of girls that he had never known.

So when the War came he was glad and sorry,
But soon enlisted. Then his mother cried
A little, and his father boasted how
He’d let him go, though needed for the farm.

Likely in Egypt he would find out something
About himself, if flies and drunkenness
And deadly heat could tell him much – until
In his first battle a shell splinter caught him.

So crown him with memorial bronze among
The older dead, child of a mountainous island.
Wings of a tarnished victory shadow him
Who born of silence has burned back to silence.

by James K. Baxter


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Jemima duck waddled into my garden

Jemima seemed most fitting to name our latest feathered friend. She waddled into our lives one morning about three weeks ago. Shy, yet trusting and friendly like Beatrix Potter’s Jemima Puddle Duck, she has let us hand feed her and even give her a cuddle, and she stops, holds her head in a way looking at us that suggests she is listening to us chat to her.

We think she is an escapee, that being from our neighbour’s duck pond across our stream where hundreds of ducks of different breeds live. Bruce happens to like ducks and geese. What child has not loved listening to Beatrix Potter’s stories about garden and farmyard animals being read to them? When they were little, I used to take my grandsons to scatter grain at feeding time. It is fun to stand in the middle of the noisy rush of quacking and honking birds, like a big city rush  hour which I no longer  miss..

In the  relaxed way things happen here, one day, we will wander over to Bruce and ask if he is missing a duck. His answer will be laconic and he will not know or even worry that Jemima has herself a new home. Bruce took on six ducks recently because their owner could no longer care for her pets. Jemima is probably from that small flock. She is earning her keep and is doing a great job scooping up the bugs and slugs in my garden. For now, Jemima can sleepover at our place and be one of the poultry girls.


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Happy 70th Birthday, Babyboomers ~ say it loud and proud

The Daily Post: Write about something that happened over the weekend as though it’s the top story on your local paper.

The first of the post-World War II babies born in 1946 are turning seventy this month.

Last Saturday, neighbours and friends joined family  to mark Brother-in-law’s (BiL) three score and ten milestone. BiL thought “about sixty people” were invited. BiL is the fifth generation of his family to live in the farmhouse built by his ancestor. The key to enjoying this occasion is to understand the traditions, the echo of a past way of life. BiL prides himself on being able to provide food from the sea and the land. And the beer must flow. It is the way things are done. Sister has been married to BiL for forty-five years. They have two sons and two grandchildren.

Eleven-year old announces the birthday, “he’s going to be seventy and we’re saying it loud and proud”.

“My mother used this pot” said BiL as he placed butchered lamb into the cast iron camp oven to be placed on the embers. How did women manage to lift these large heavy cooking pots? How did they endure the cooking fire heat in the summer like the warm temperatures in the weekend?  BiL, the youngest of five children, recalled his boyhood, living without electricity. “It was my job to split the kindling and get the fire going first thing in the morning and make my mother a cup of tea.”

It was like the clock stopped at the time when people lived off the land and hunted game animals and fished to feed their families. Into another pot went a dressed wild turkey. Older Nephew told me he “shot it up at the Cape”. The cured ham hanging on a hook came from a wild boar hunted in the “bush at the back of the farm.” Potatoes were dug and peeled and salads were prepared. The helpers picked at slices of locally processed salami made from scraps of the wild pork. Older nephew, a commercial fisherman, filleted and marinated the snapper in coconut milk and lemon juice. Earlier, he had dived for scallops and shucked these ready to be grilled. Sister placed seventy candles on the cake.

“It’s a proven scientific fact that people who have more birthdays, live longer.” After midnight the beer and wine was flowing as were the birthday tributes and old stories. The guests had eaten. BiL yarned about the golden summers of his youth about what he and his mate used to get up to. They worked on the land and hunted “without aches and pains”. Fifty years ago BiL could not have imagined how medical technology would replace his hip.

So the Babyboomers are turning seventy. Growing older is a privilege denied to many. Often friends and family have died or moved away. Seventy is a number to clap and count as the candles on the cake are blown out.

Husband told BiL as he handed a gift of aged Scotch whiskey, ”drink it with me, don’t keep it to drink at our wakes.” Celebrate age “loud and proud”.


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Bumblebees ~ these furry foragers are welcome in my garden

Today, as I showed a friend round my garden, we stopped by the self-sown pumpkin plants that have scrambled freely over a sunny spot. It was a visual delight as bumblebees, two to three at a time, crawled deep into the throats of the pollen-rich golden yellow flowers. Bumblebees flitted from flower to flower in their continual quest for nectar. Each precious insect played its essential ecological role for our benefit. Such hard-workers. I like these furry foragers, working in my garden. They are very welcome.

In January 2007.  I got lost in thought about the value of the beneficial insects. Years ago, Himself and I cleared a rambling Buddleia (B.davidii), an invasive pest plant, from our roadside boundary. Unfortunately, we disturbed a large colony of bumblebees nesting in the ground among the sprawling tangled root system. Beautiful bumblebees by the hundreds flew into the air as the tractor pulled the enormous trunk from the ground.

The prolific Buddleia flowers were obviously a great food source of pollen proteins and sugary nectar. The bumblebees were kind to us that day when in our ignorance we wrecked their nest. Quite a different story though when we’ve encountered and dealt to aggressive wasps in their nests.

I appreciate how various beneficial insects pollinate edible plants. Like the pumpkin blooms, the courgette, the cucumber and the watermelon flowers also seem to be attracting the bumblebees.

“Bumblebees rely almost entirely on flowering plants for food and their very existence is dependent on gaining adequate supplies of nectar and pollen, or `bee bread.’ Bumblebees work very long hours, foraging from dawn to dusk in search of nectar and pollen even on cold, rainy or foggy days which prevent other insects from flying.”

I read that to encourage bumblebees to live and work in my garden a permanent nesting box is part of the answer as does growing a diversity of flowering food-source plants across the seasons.