Category Archives: South Head

Rum, plums, corn and squash

ImageRum Pots and Cherries

What a hot day it’s been!  One of my plans for today was to find a use for the remaining plums along with some of the strawberries, now that latter are ripening up nicely.

I had been reading about rum pots, also known as rumtopf and romkrukke.  This seemed like a really cool way to preserve some of our fruits as they come to fruition on our trees.  I’ve mostly missed the boat re the plums, but starting now, I should be able to use our strawberries, pears, tamarillo and feijoa.  I also collected a few Cape gooseberries, as these grow like weeds around our property.

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The ideal container for a rum pot is a ceramic container or a dark jar, as the fruit should be protected from bright light.  I was also looking for something that would hold a decent amount of fruit.  In the end, the best containers I could find were some tall, glass spaghetti jars, enclosed in a metal sleeve, with a wee window on one side.  Into these I layered the fruit with 1/2 their weight in white sugar, then topped them up with dark rum until the fruit was just covered.

Sad Cherry Tale

Some years ago, my daughter Amiria had brought me back a small bucket of export quality lapin cherries from Summerfruit Orchards in Central Otago, where she had been employed fruit-picking.  I saved a few of the finest specimens, added them to a sturdy glass jar and covered them with brandy.  I kept this jar of cherries for 3 to 4 months, having placed it in a shady place at the corner of my kitchen bench – I’d rotate the jar regularly to keep the alcohol circulated through the fruit.

Ben was washing dishes one day and thought the jar of cherries something old to be discarded, so he tipped them into my compost bucket.  I didn’t notice that they were missing until it was too late.  I’m sure I’d have scooped them out of the compost bucket if I’d known straight away!

I still wonder about those cherries – what they would have tasted like…  But it’s a lesson on letting people know about the strange concoctions we have in our kitchens.

Asparagus

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It’s time to allow our asparagus plants to produce their ferny foliage so that they can grow strong and healthy for our Spring 2014 crop.  These plants have been in place for 4 years now, and this year we were eating spears continually from the end of September through to the end of December.  We had put in some plants of the regular green variety as well as having sown seeds of the purple, Asparagus Sweet Purple.

Freshly-picked asparagus, lightly steamed and served with melted butter is one of the special flavours of a spring garden.

Sweet Corn

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It’s been a busy time for Ben, collecting as much sweet corn as he can, before he runs out of energy.  Over the past 2 days, he’s harvested around 150 ears and has spent a good proportion of the day scraping off the kernels and freezing them free-flow for winter use.  It’s a time-consuming task and not much fun when it’s so hot outside, but well worth it.  He’s also frozen some of our runner beans.

I mixed up a batch of corn fritters for lunch – couldn’t resist it!  They were yummy!

Other Garden Tasks

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Other garden tasks undertaken today included cutting back the spent sweet peas from the back fence of our main vegetable garden.

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Around February last year I collected seeds from a patch of sweet peas I had sown the previous Winter.   We sowed these this year to see how they would turn out.  The blooms haven’t been as strong, nor as fragrant, and are in a very narrow range of colours: scarlet, vermillion and shades of pink, none of them particularly vivid.

This was disappointing on a couple of levels as (1) I’m not a pink or a red kind of a girl, and (2) I prefer my flowers to have a fragrance.

gardenia

The same can’t be said for our gardenia which has been flowering very well this year compared with last year.  We saved this shrub from our previous property in Titirangi, where it struggled with the paucity of sunlight.  I do love the beautiful waxy flowers with their creamy, honeysuckle fragrance.

bougainvillea

Another plant currently providing brilliant colour to the garden is the bougainvillea, Scarlet O’Hara.  This is another plant we saved from Titirangi.  There, it barely produced a single new shoot, and failed utterly to produce the beautiful crimson bracts.

Hibiscus Golden Oriel
Hibiscus Golden Oriel

We also recently planted a very garish looking hibiscus, Hibiscus Golden Oriel, a Hawaiian hybrid.  I couldn’t resist it, but usually don’t like flowers that combine the colour yellow with red!

Other tasks for today have involved checking on how the vegetables are progressing.  I have a habit of walking around my garden at least once a day, but often go back again in the late afternoon, mainly to check on what needs pruning or cutting back, or which vegetables are ready for harvest, which need to be pulled out, etc.  To be honest, there is not enough hours in the day, so I tend to just do the things that interest me at the time.

Buttercup & Butternut Squash
Buttercup & Butternut Squash

Today I was especially pleased with the progress of my squashes, Burgess Buttercup and Butternut Chieftain.  I’ve grown these two as I particularly like the taste of their flesh.  Also,  they are extremely prolific, which means we’ll be provided with many individual squashes of a perfect size for two people.

Thelma Saunders Sweet Potato
Thelma Saunders Sweet Potato

I’ve also grown a new pumpkin this year, Thelma Saunders Sweet Potato.  According to information I have read, this is the sweetest of the heirloom acorn squashes and is named after Thelma Sanders of Adair County, Missouri.  It is renowned for its cooking qualities and has won many a harvest bake-off competition in the USA.

It doesn’t seem to be producing as many pumpkins as I’d hoped, but there is still plenty of time until the end of the season.

I obtained seed for both the pumpkin and the squashes from Kings Seeds.

fruits

The passion fruit, macadamia nuts and pears are developing as expected.   I really need to somehow get to the top of the pear tree to thin the pears… ideally there should only be 2 – 3 fruit per bunch to allow them to grow properly.

The passion fruit are very fat and healthy looking, and the macadamia nuts look to be producing a good crop this year.

let_tom

The tomatoes are fine, although they seem to be a bit slower to ripen than at the same time  last year.  I have grown several varieties from seed: Mortgage Lifter, Cherokee Purple, Bloody Butcher, Black from Tula, Black Krim and Sun Cherry.  I especially like the ‘black’ tomatoes, but am always interested in trying new varieties.

The lettuces are bolting and I’ll have to compost them soon.  The basil is slow to grow, too.  I’m thinking this is to do with the lack of rain prior to Christmas, but they should put on good growth now that the weather has settled.

sunset

When the sun set today, we had generated a very respectable 14.59 KWh.  Not bad for our 11 panel / 2 KW system.  There is something so very satisfying about generating our own power from the sun.  I’ll never take this for granted!

Christmas, the New Year & Preserves

Heni Irihapeti's Blog

ImageThe beautiful vermillion-flowering gum, Corymbia ficifolia is in full bloom along our fence-line.  Every time I catch sight of it I am amazed by the blaze of colour it produces.

Christmas and New Year

The days leading in to Christmas and the New Year were filled with all the tasks associated with having 13 family members arrive for Christmas dinner.  This involved a large amount of cooking and tidying up, right from when we knocked off work on December 20th.  It’s only now that I feel I can relax a little and enjoy the remaining 5 days of my summer holidays.

The early Summer weather has been extremely changeable – very warm and humid, with summer showers on most days.  Not the gentle kind, but rather, heavy downpours that move on as quickly as they have arrived.  This time last year we were experiencing the beginnings of a drought that…

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Christmas, the New Year & Preserves

ImageThe beautiful vermillion-flowering gum, Corymbia ficifolia is in full bloom along our fence-line.  Every time I catch sight of it I am amazed by the blaze of colour it produces.

Christmas and New Year

The days leading in to Christmas and the New Year were filled with all the tasks associated with having 13 family members arrive for Christmas dinner.  This involved a large amount of cooking and tidying up, right from when we knocked off work on December 20th.  It’s only now that I feel I can relax a little and enjoy the remaining 5 days of my summer holidays.

The early Summer weather has been extremely changeable – very warm and humid, with summer showers on most days.  Not the gentle kind, but rather, heavy downpours that move on as quickly as they have arrived.  This time last year we were experiencing the beginnings of a drought that lasted for several months.  The rain may be annoying on days when we want to lie in the sun or take a dip in the pool, but it’s been amazing for the garden.

Preserving our sanity

With all the vegetables and fruit ripening around us, I’ve been itching to fill our shelves with preserves.  We tend to freeze a lot of produce, but there’s nothing quite as satisfying as cooking up a range of jams, sauces, chutneys and pickles.  I didn’t do anything about this last year, but was determined to not waste any scrap of food if I could help it, this year. I had come across reference to electric water baths for preserving produce, and this seemed a much better alternative to that of boiling jars in a big preserving pan on the stove top.  I searched and searched online to see if such an appliance could be purchased from anywhere in New Zealand, to no avail.

In the end, I had to spread my net wider and look to our neighbours across the Tasman for this very desirable piece of equipment.   We ordered a Kensington Food Preserver from Ozfarmer just prior to Christmas, and it arrived within the week.  This was surprisingly good service, given the distance and the fact that it was the Christmas period – a time when the mail service is already disrupted.

I have now used the preserver three times!  It’s so much easier to just load it up with my filled jars, turn it on, set the temperature, then leave it for the requisite amount of time.  I’ve been startled at the cost of the preserving jars and lids, however!

Since Christmas I’ve made batches of Plum Sauce, Plum Chutney, Corn Relish and Zucchini Pickle.

Corn

Our back paddock is rented by one of our neighbours (David) and used to grow sweet corn for the Christmas market.  What usually happens is that the pickers come through prior to Christmas to harvest the best and fattest ears, after which we are allowed to literally ‘help ourselves’.  Last year we froze several kilograms of corn, which lasted us well into the winter.  We scrape the kernels off the cobs and freeze them free-flow.

Yesterday, Ben picked 85 ears and plans to pick at least the same amount tomorrow.  Fortunately, a sunny day is forecast, as I like to think that our solar panels are producing lovely free power while we are boiling away water on the stove to blanch the kernels.

ImageI took the above photo earlier this evening – it was around 7.00 pm with the sun low in the sky to the west.  The amount of weeds growing up around the corn can be seen, but these are mostly grasses.  David has been experimenting with reducing his use of weed killers this year, which has relieved me greatly.  There is now a good deal of overseas data published to alert us to the  issues around the ongoing use of glyphosate.  Glyphosate is commonly used in New Zealand to ‘clean up’ pasture prior to planting crops and resistance to glyphosate has now been observed in New Zealand, as well.

Maize growing over our fence.
Maize growing over our fence.

Across the road there is a dairy farm, but our 3 acres is surrounded on all the other sides by fields of maize.  This year the maize seems to have grown incredibly tall and is so densely-planted that you can barely walk between the rows.  The maize won’t be harvested until April, by which time the kernels will have dried to the colour of rich gold.

Leila and Lottie thinking about sampling the corn
Leila and Lottie thinking about sampling the corn

Leila, Lottie and Lulu are a bit slow on the uptake.  When Ben threw them some cobs of corn that had been scraped, they just looked at them suspiciously.  It was some time before one of the hens decided to stab a cob with a tentative peck.  Even now, they aren’t that keen – unlike our previous three girls.

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Horseradish and Cream

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My beautiful lily Oriental Lily Gluhwein is flowering is the moment.  I planted the bulb a couple of years ago, and this year the plant has produced two very full stalks of flowers, despite the paucity of rain recently.

This morning we went for an excursion to a farm near Helensville to purchase some fresh, full-cream milk.  For a small fee, we were able to join up with a cooperative which means that we will be able to obtain fresh, unpasteurised milk, almost straight from the cows.

I’ve made soft cheeses before, using milk purchased from the supermarket, but it’s not that easy to find full cream milk in this day and age of trim and ultra-trim milk.  And everything I’ve read about making cheese tells me that the best milk to use is that sourced directly from a farm.

We embarked on our 70 km round trip at around 8.00 am, allowing time for brunch at The Cafe in Helensville and for the purchase of a 4 litre stainless steel milk can from RD1.

The agreed rendezvous was a dairy shed at the end of a dusty, gravel road, and we arrived right on time at 10.00 am.  I’m not sure what I expected, but there were quite a few people there ahead of us, carrying receptacles of various sizes and chatting amongst themselves.

The fresh milk is stored in a huge gleaming stainless steel tank.  Once you have joined the cooperative, it works on an honesty-box system.  We are able to turn up on any day between 9.00 and 11.00 am to purchase milk and/or any of the small range of other dairy products available, e.g. yoghurt, heavy cream, light cream or cream cheese.

We purchased 4 litres of the fresh milk, plus a jar of the heavy cream (for our Christmas Pudding on Wednesday).  And I’m definitely keen to buy some of the yoghurt, as it has been made using Caspian Sea culture.  This is a serial culturer, which means I can use the yoghurt to start new batches over and over again, and it’s one of the few yoghurts that will culture at room temperature.

When we arrived home, I used 1.5 litres of the milk to make a simple curd cheese.  The result is a soft, white cheese which can be used for sweet or savoury dishes.  My 1.5 litres produced 352 grams of the cheese.  Once it has drained through muslin, the curd forms a soft creamy ball which can be crumbled, sliced or cut into cubes, depending on what you wish to use if for.  You can also blend it with a little sugar and vanilla or cinnamon for a dessert cheese.  I added salt to today’s batch as I wanted a savoury cheese.

Our afternoon tea comprised of some toasted, freshly-baked Italian bread, sliced gherkins (from last week’s batch) and some of this lovely fresh cheese.

ImageLater in the day, Ben dug up some horseradish roots (Armoracia rusticana) to prepare Horseradish Cream. The plant itself looks quite a bit like a dock plant, and the roots are very long and stretch deeply into the soil.

Freshly-dug horseradish root.
Freshly-dug horseradish root.

Fresh horseradish is grated finely and mixed with fresh cream, lemon juice or vinegar, a pinch of sugar, then seasoned with a little salt and pepper.

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Horseradish is a member of the brassicaceae family, which includes cabbages, wasabi, and mustard – it has a very strong (hot) flavour and Horseradish Cream is very popular in Finland, where it’s called Piparjuurikerma.  Horseradish is also a traditional accompaniment to Gefilte Fish.

Freshly-made Horseradish Cream
Freshly-made Horseradish Cream

Our horseradish has been in the same spot in the vegetable garden for about three years now, and is growing very densely.  The slightest piece of root will start a new plant, so you need to take care not to put trimmings in the compost heap!  At some stage we’ll need to move the plants out of the vegetable garden to a more suitable site.  One of the many gardening tasks for ‘later on’.

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Apparently hens like horseradish, too!  Lottie ate a good proportion of this pile while Ben was trying to photograph it.  Afterwards, she cleaned her beak, and seemed non-affected.  I’m not sure what her egg will taste like tomorrow, though, and it should get rid of any worms!

As well as being a vermifuge, horseradish is great for clearing the sinuses and also has anti-bacterial properties.  There is some interesting other information about horseradish on this page Lilith’s Apothecary.  I really value having horseradish in our garden.