Wash and chop plums coarsely. Peel and chop onions.
Add both the plums and the onions to a large cooking pan, along with the 1/4 cup of water. Cook gently until soft.
Tie the cloves, allspice, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, root ginger and mustard seeds in a muslin bag using a length of string. Place the spice bag in the pan so that it is submerged in the plum/onion mixture and tie the end to the handle for easy removal. Add the brown sugar, salt and malt vinegar.
Cook uncovered, until mushy, then push through a colander or sieve.
Return the sieved pulp to a saucepan and simmer until it has reached the thickness of sauce required.
Bottle using your usual method in hot sterilised jars. Seal and store.
The easiest way to remove the skin from root ginger is by scraping gently with the curved edge of a small spoon.
This time round I used around 2/3 red-fleshed and 1/3 yellow-fleshed plums. Both had dark red skins.
I used the water bath method, heating the filled jars at 90C for 20 minutes.
This recipe makes around 600 – 800 mls, depending on how thorough you are with pushing the pulp through the sieve.
The sauce itself lasts a year and possibly longer. We tend to use it all before more than a year has elapsed.
As it ages it takes on a very rich dark colour, with a notable improvement in flavour.
Thinly slice the zucchinis using a sharp knife or a mandolin. Place these in a bowl with the finely-chopped onion and sprinkle with the salt. Cover with ice-cold water, stir to dissolve the salt, and leave for 1 hour. Drain the zucchini well and pat dry using a clean tea towel.
While the zucchini are soaking, add the vinegar, sugar, mustard powder, mustard seeds, celery seeds, habanero and ground turmeric to a preserving pan and bring to a simmer. Allow to bubble for 3 minutes, stirring to ensure the sugar is dissolved, then allow to cool until just warm. Add the zucchinis and stir.
Add the pickle to sterilised jars. I then used the water bath method to finish off this recipe.
This will make approximately 1 litre of the pickle. For this recipe I used the zucchini, Costasta Romanesco as it’s the only zucchini I grow these days. Not only does it produce the huge male flowers useful for stuffing and deep frying, but the texture and flavour of the flesh is far superior to that of regular zucchini.
Adapted from the ‘Crunchy Courgette Pickle’ recipe, posted on the BBC Good Food website.
Finely chop the oregano and the coriander, (until the moisture in the leaves is starting to ooze out). Neatly dice the capsicum and chop the onion finely.
Toast the ground cumin in a medium saucepan for 1 – 2 minutes (until aromatic). Add the onion, vinegar, sugar, oregano, habanero and salt, and bring to boiling point. Simmer for about 5 minutes. Add the capsicum and corn, and simmer for a further 3 – 4 minutes, or until the corn is cooked through.
Pour into hot sterilised jars and preserve using the water bath method.
Adapted from the recipe for ‘Cilantro Corn Relish’ from About.Com Home Cooking.
The 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!
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.
I 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.
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, 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.
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.
Later 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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
Heat the milk to boiling point in a stainless steel pan.
Remove from heat and add the lemon juice. Move the liquid very slowly with a plastic or wooden spoon, until a curd begins to form. The curds will start to cling together.
Leave for about 5 minutes, then pour through a colander or sieve lined with muslin or cheese-cloth. Ensure that the colander/sieve is sitting over another pan or a bowl to collect the whey.
Tie the neck of the cloth and hang the cheese from the tap so that it can drain into the sink. In about 10 minutes all of the whey will have drained off, and the remaining curd can be turned into a storage container. At this stage salt can be added to taste.
You can see the pattern from the cheese-cloth on the cheese I made today.
This cheese should be stored in the refrigerator and eaten within a few days. It’s great for savoury or sweet dishes. e.g. cheesecakes, as a base for dips, creamed for a dessert topping, sliced or crumbled into salads, etc.