We’re getting ready to drive south to join my family who live in a dairy farming community near Matamata in the Waikato. This will be the first Xmas we’ll have spent together in my old home since we moved to Northland some years ago. My brother will celebrate a significant birthday in the New Year and I suspect an Uncle may surprise us and fly out from England for the occasion. I want to take something special for Christmas dinner that my family would not normally eat. So right on cue, my heritage potatoes were ready for harvesting this afternoon. They’ll go nicely with roasted spring lamb. I’ll steam these potatoes with mint leaves and arrange a colourful platter display of the five potato varieties. I like to cook the blue potatoes separately because the colour ‘runs’ and tends to stain.
The soil is warm and friable and the potato growth has been prolific. This is the first time I’ve grown these two potato varieties. Top row: Kowiniwini (some refer to this as ‘zebra’). Bottom row: Maori.
I’ve written about Swift (an early variety) and Red Rascal in a previous post. Similarly, I’ve described Urenika (a blue tuber-like potato). I prefer to harvest these at an early stage when they are fairly small before they get too large because I find they tend to be floury when cooked.
What a difference two days can make in the garden in 90% humidity, sticky nor’-easterly wind and rainy weather. We went away for the weekend and returned to find beans, plums, mini-cabbages, spring onions, zucchini and strawberries all demanding to be picked.
Wilson’s Early – “Christmas Plum” ripens early in December. A small fruit with yellow-red skin. The flesh is yellow and juicy. It’s partly self-fertile but I planted it near the Omega plum tree just to be sure about cross-pollination. This tree doesn’t grow too large so is ideal for my orchard situation.
Freshly picked bush beans, spring onion, cabbage, zucchini and a variety of chinese cabbage are the basis of stir fried vegetables for tea tonight. I’ll toss freshly grated ginger through.
We’ll have the stir-fry with Pork Spare Ribs which are grilling as I write. They have been marinaded (no particular recipe – I just used ingredients at hand) made from freshly made plum puree, garlic, pepper and olive oil and tossed in sesame seeds.
It felt hotter outside than the official 20C today. The ground is dry and surface cracks indicate the need for rain. Never-the-less, early summer is here and this gardening month is busy with successive sowings, cultivation and harvesting.
I checked the growth of my potatoes planted 30 September. The Kowiniwini, Urenika and Maori heritage potatoes are about to burst into flower. I was somewhat surprised to find the Swift (early variety for Xmas ) potatoes are almost ready to be harvested. Two-year-old Grandson who became an expert ‘tato inspector last year, inducted baby brother in the art of choosing the biggest and the best ‘tato for dinner tonight. He also picked the very first tiny courgette of the season (as you do) when you’re a connoisseur of baby vegetables. The early potato crop probably thrived because of the thick applications of mulch. The soil around the plants was friable, warm and moist despite no watering and drying conditions. We are careful how we use water because our domestic water supply is from rainwater collection. We pump water from the stream to the troughs for the animals. So gardening for me must be about conserving moisture and mulching. Our predominantly clay soil becomes rock hard in the summer – digging is a no go – hence I follow a permacultural approach to diversity and building up soil to encourage worms and beneficial insects.
The Calendula are making a great show among the potatoes. With that in mind today, I filled gaps among the other vegetables with more heat-loving flowers as companion plants – Rudbeckia, Zinnia and French Marigolds. That should make the friendly insects giddy with delight (or confused should the pests have pesky intentions). November here is a great month for flowers – I use different edible flowers in salads and drinks.
I under-planted the sweet corn with a long green cucumber – my Dad used to do this as a living mulch so I though I’d give it a try this year as well as letting pumpkins sprawl under the corn plants. I could have used beans – but I have these growing elsewhere. My last tasks today were to plant Sweet Peppers and to stake Beefsteak tomatoes – under-planted with Sweet Basil of course as I have visions of home-made pesto in mind.
Fresh and spray-free produce from the garden to the pantry. I’ve never been so organised.
I’ll probably serve these pickles with whatever’s on hand – variety of cheeses, cracker biscuits or breads, carrot or celery sticks and the like – not forgetting the drinks.
The cauliflower is cut into small florets, the onions are finely sliced and salt is sprinkled over the vegetables to be left overnight. I have two recipes I use. One includes finely chopped fresh mint leaves, turmeric, cayenne pepper, allspice. The other includes crushed pineapple, dry mustard and curry powder. Both are simmered in white vinegar and then thickened with flour.
I like to add Cointreau when making strawberry jam.
Much later: I got carried away with being pleased with my ‘organised’ efforts in the kitchen that I took my eyes off the saucepan and the jam mixture boiled up and over onto the cooker top. What a mess (or pickle!)! Luckily the jam was cooked and is okay. While it set well, retained its flavour and colour, the boiling sugary spillage continued to bubble turning into a blackened burnt ‘toffee’ that adhered like super-glue to the cooktop surface. It’s taken me nearly an hour to clean the ceramic cooktop. It’s now the cleanest it’s been for ages. Moral of the story – a watched jam pot never boils over. I’ve done enough in the kitchen for this weekend. It’s raining (the garden needs watering so that’s okay), so I’m going to read the Sunday papers, do the Sudoku and Cryptic Crossword, and have a coffee.
As the weather gets muggier and warmer, growth in the garden is rapid and a conflict of interest happens as work gets busier with end-of-year reviewing and forward planning and pre-Christmas socials. The heat is also on in the kitchen. Friend Trish brought some grapefruit picked from her tree for me to make marmalade – just as my thoughts were on making cauliflower pickle. And I keep hearing the retail message that it’s-55-shopping-days-to a jolly Christmas. So, Christmas baking has been added to my To Do list. This year I’m making it easy on myself and like my sister, am using a favourite boiled fruit cake recipe which only needs three eggs and is quick to make. Food prices here have increased of late – but it’s still cheaper to make my own cake.
I sometimes wonder why I say I use a recipe when I nearly always modify it in some way and the end-result is different every time. This time, I substituted organic muscovado sugar for its rich flavour and texture and added brandy. What my sister and I tend to do because we’ve usually cook for large numbers, is to double quantities in such a basic recipe. The texture is lighter and slightly more crumbly than the richer cakes I usually make. Later, I’ll cut the double-sized cake into smaller pieces and then wrap them to be given as gifts.
The marmalade set well, is sharp to taste as we like it and clear so the shredded rind shows.
The cauliflower has been cut into small florets, the onions are finely sliced and salt has been sprinkled over the vegetables to be left overnight. I have two recipes I’m using. One includes finely chopped fresh mint leaves, turmeric, cayenne pepper, allspice. The other includes crushed pineapple, dry mustard and curry powder. Both simmered in white vinegar and then thickened.
Well, it’s Saturday evening. People throughout the country will get together, may be enjoy a barbeque and set off some fireworks to ‘celebrate’ Guy Fawkes. Fire-fighters don’t ‘celebrate’ – there’s always the idiot factor at work somewhere, I guess. Local councils are doing their best to encourage families to enjoy organised public displays. Sales of fireworks were restricted to about four days and then it’s only over-18 year olds who can buy them. Not the same sense of freedom as when we were kids.
The Swift, Kowiniwini and Maori heritage potatoes mentioned in my previous post are showing lots of healthy young leaves. Rather than earth the plants up, I’ll mulch each plant with rotted organic plant material. Our 6.5hp heavy duty petrol -powered chipper/mulcher machine has proved its value for many years (though now in the light of fuel price hikes, I’ll have to think about the cost). We recycle tree prunings (the machine can take branches up to 70mm in diameter) and other plant matter into mulch – the processed chip size is about 10 to 15mm . We can either directly feed the shredded matter onto a specific garden site or create a new compost pile. It is this organic matter that I’ll put round the potatoes. Today I’ll plant my Agria seedling potatoes. These are another favourite. They mash or crush well once cooked. The taste is great when combined with extra-virgin olive oil and freshly ground pepper. We sometimes use locally produced avocado oil. Now that’s a treat – we love this oil infused with lime – especially when cooking fish.
Broad Beans are another wonderful fresh garden taste we’ve been enjoying. I like to steam the beans with a sprig of savoury and then toss with crisp grilled bacon pieces through a pasta such as fettucini. The beans are just about finished and my other bean seedlings are ready to transplant. Today, our Labour Day public holiday is a traditional time to plant tomotoes. But the weather doesn’t know that and the winds here are westerly and cooling the temperatures. I’ll hold hold off planting tomatoes outside for a while. There’s lots of other gardening tasks to do.
My back tells me I’ve shovelled too much compost.
For the last three days, I’ve laboured, clearing garden beds and getting plants into the soil as well as preparing for later sowings of other vegies . I’m encouraged by the sight of all those wriggly worms, large and small, burrowing and digging for all their worth. I’ve delegated them the task of doing the serious work.
The old strawberry bed has had an overdue tidy-up and the runners now have nice sunny raised beds to grow in. Visions of lots of juicy red strawberries in time for Xmas, and jam-making ….. Still on my To Do List is a make-over of my Italian herbs in the pots.
I’ve mentioned in previous posts I can’t imagine not growing potatoes. I planted Swift as the Xmas new potato. This season, I’m trying Kowiniwini and Maori potatoes as additions to my small collection of heritage seeds. According to the information I got from the nursery about Kowiniwini is that it’s a good all rounder and keeper, crops well, is purple with white eyes. The Maori is round and large, with no inset eyes,has white flesh and a purple skin. I’ve been trying to get hold of King Edward seed potatoes. My Dad grew these when I was a kid. I’ll also plant Red Rascal later on.
I love to traipse around garden centres to see what’s new, read the labels and so on. Yesterday, I happened on a delightful floribunda rose Betty Boop. It struck a chord because of my mother’s given name and because I recalled her telling us once about similar sounding childhood nickname she was called by her brothers. I searched the history of this rose and found Betty Boop to have been a delightful Paramount pictures cartoon character in the 1930s – the time of Mum’s girlhood in England. I’ll buy this rose for Mum – she needs cheer in her life because of her declining health, and she does love her roses.