Tag Archives: fruit

Poutu-te-rangi / March

edge
Dry maize rustles musically in the breeze

From Sweltering Summer to Temperate Autumn

The maize along the fenceline is ready for harvest. It’s a visual reminder that summer is over. The days are slow to lighten and early to darken, and the grass is thick with dew when I make my way to the barn in the early morning. The gravel road is dry and whenever a large truck rattles by, great dusty clouds drift across to settle on our solar panels.

It’s been several weeks since I’ve written about South Head. Or about anything, for that matter. It’s been difficult to knuckle down to writing after taking time off over the Christmas/New Year period.

While it’s been a very long and hot summer, we’ve also had a decent amount of rain, which of course has meant that everything has just kept on growing. We’ve created enough gardens here to keep us busy every daytime hour, and for the first time I’ve been wondering if it’s too much. What with the dead-heading, the trimming, the watering, the sowing, the harvesting… not to mention the tying, the squashing (caterpillars), the sampling, the digging and the weeding, always the weeding. (It’s making me exhausted all over again, writing about it.)

alpaca
Kumeu A & P Show: curious alpaca & disinterested rooster

So… we’ve mostly been home over the weekends slaving away in an attempt to keep everything under control, with a couple of diversionary breaks visiting the local A & P Shows – I like to check out the poultry while Ben looks longingly at the tractors. ūüôā


 Bounty from the Garden

preserves
A selection of home preserves, from left to right: Beetroot; ‘Look Alike’ Lemon Curd; Spicy Tomato Sauce; Zucchini Pickle; Greek Tomato Paste

Since I last blogged we’ve harvested a parade of fresh produce, including grapes, lettuces, carrots, rhubarb, cannellino beans, sweet basil, garlic, cucumbers, peas, beans (green, yellow, purple), main crop potatoes (Agria), beetroot, silver beet, shallots, buttercup squash, tomatoes, butternut pumpkins and LOTS of of zucchini.

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A selection of produce, from left to right: white table grapes; cannellino beans; Rhubarb Tarte Tartin

To use up the rhubarb and zucchini I’ve made several Rhubarb Tarte Tartin and a few jars of Lemon Curd Look-Alike, as well as some zucchini pickle. But the neat thing about this year is that we haven’t had too much of one particular vegetable. Everything we’ve grown we’ve either eaten fresh, or I’ve cooked up, preserved, frozen or baked into something.

Tomatoes and Zucchinis

toms and peppers
Left to right: tomatoes & onions ready to be cooked for Tomato Relish; red and yellow habanero slices, arranged for drying

The tomatoes have been great, but I picked the last one yesterday and I know I’ll miss having them on hand at meal times. I’m glad that I preserved a good amount this season (Spicy Tomato Sauce, Tomato Relish, Greek Tomato Paste) and that I also froze about a dozen packs of frozen skinless tomato flesh for use during the cooler months.

Recipes

One of the easiest salads to throw together involves mixing chopped tomatoes with a handful of fresh basil (made into a paste), a generous squirt of extra virgin olive oil and finely sliced or diced zucchini or cucumber. I read somewhere that raw zucchini helps you feel ‘more full’ than some of our other salad vegetables, and it’s lovely and light when sliced thinly.

I love cooked zucchini, too. It’s such a versatile vegetable. My favourite quick recipe involves slicing the zucchinis thickly, then saut√©ing them in a small amount of olive oil along with crushed garlic and sage leaves. The sage leaves turn crispy and add a delightfully fragrant ‘crunch’ to the dish.

Habanero

peppers
3 stages of habanero peppers – fresh to dry

Our habanero chiles are ripening as I type, so I’m picking them each day, drying them, then nuking them in a small food processor. We’ll use the chile powder all through the year to jazz up our meals. One of my favourite uses is to sprinkle a liberal amount into cheese toasted sandwiches. Yum!! (It’s very hot, though – not for the chile uninitiated.)

I’ve also raised a pink variety of habanero this year. It’s currently at the flowering stage, so, no fruit, but I can’t wait to see what they look like!

Pears

pears
Autumn pears & the finished product

March in New Zealand is the month for pears and melons. Our old pear tree has produced a good amount of sound fruit this year and yesterday I bottled a small sample in a light syrup. Not sure why I haven’t processed our pears this way before – I usually freeze them for desserts – but I do like to see the finished product in our pantry. And it’s so easy to preserve them using the water-bath method.

I didn’t remember until after I’d finished that you’re supposed to pack the fruit tightly into the jars to avoid having them float to the top of the syrup… oh well… next time!

Melons

melons
Melon, ‘Collective Farm Woman’ (Cucumis melo)

I sowed seeds for a different melon this year, Collective Farm Woman. It’s a small Ukrainian melon from the Black Sea area, about the size of a honeydew, with pale flesh, the flavour delicately sweet and slightly evocative of bananas.


 Bantams!

bantams
Our new bantam hens (left) and Charlie

We picked up a trio of Bantams at the recent Helensville A & P Show. They’ve settled in well and having Charlie (the rooster) crow loudly at 5.15 am hasn’t been too much of a shock.

When we first let the bantams join the rest of the flock, they kept to themselves, but they’re now walking around alongside the others. They choose to sleep outside¬† – the rooster up high in a branch of one of the feijoa trees, and the two girls on the fence below. Not sure if they’ll ever voluntarily join the hens in the barn. Perhaps we’ll have to manually move them there in Winter when it gets cold at night.

That reminds me… feijoas! They’re growing plump on the trees. And just now I can see two fat kereru perched up on the yellow guava, eating the first of the golden yellow fruit. The kereru started visiting again a couple of weeks back – I guess our garden is part of their seasonal food cycle, too.


sunrise
Autumn: Looking across The Kaipara at dawn

 

 

 

 

Changing of the Season

 End of Summer

Maize being harvested.
Maize being harvested.

It’s definitely Autumn.¬† As I sit at my computer I can hear the rumble and whirr of the combined maize harvester driving along the paddock adjacent to our property.¬† As it moves down the rows, capturing everything in its path and discarding all but the individual maize kernels, great clouds of dust rise around it.

The wind has picked up this afternoon and is blowing in from the north… It was supposed to rain, and perhaps it still will, but right now it’s a mixture of bright sunlight and racing clouds.

The Garden

This beautiful buttercup squash weighed 3.189 kg.
This beautiful squash, ‘Burgess Buttercup’¬† weighed 3.189 kg.

Clean Up Tasks

It’s the time of year for clean-up and maintenance tasks in the garden. The squash and pumpkins are ready to be cut from their vines and stored in a dry and airy place.

The twisted brown tomato stalks need to be pulled out and burned, along with the remains of our former passion fruit vine.

I made the decision to remove the vine after it had finished cropping, due to it being afflicted with disease.¬† It has been incredibly productive this year, and I’m sure we have eaten more than 200 individual passion fruit.¬† So, it was with a heavy heart that I cut it away from the fence yesterday.¬† All that is left is to dig the roots out of the soil.

Fruit

A scattering of fruit; Feijoa and Guava.
A scattering of fruit; Feijoa and Guava.

Plump feijoa and red and yellow guava are strewn on the grass outside our kitchen window; an array of yellow, green and red baubles.

While the guava are quite definitely edible, now that the feijoa are ready they won’t get a look in with me. Back in Spring when the blackbirds were stripping the petals from the flowers, I could not have imagined that the trees would be so heavily-laden.

A pair of kererŇę in the yellow guava.
A pair of kereru in the yellow guava.

For several days we’ve had two plump kereru camped out in the fruit trees.¬† At night they seem to seek refuge in the golden totara, but by day they stay in the yellow guava, gorging on the fruit (they can swallow the guava whole!) or just sitting still in the sun.

Juicy pears.
Juicy pears.

We’ve also had many pears.¬† The only problem is getting to them before the blackbirds!¬† But if we go out early in the day we can usually rescue most of them.

Vegetables

peppers
Capsicum, Eggplant and Chillies.

For the first time, we’ve had eggplants that have grown to maturity and we’ve had an amazing crop of capsicum.¬† I’m hoping that these will keep cropping until May or June.¬† We also have abundant habanero and one other (unidentified) chilli pepper.¬† This latter plant came from a packet of chilli ‘Caribbean Blend’ so I’m not really sure what it is. We sampled it (with trepidation), and although it was hot, it didn’t seem as hot as a habanero, nor did it have the beautiful floral flavour that a habanero has.

Chilli peppers strung up in the barn.
Our new seasons’ chilli peppers strung up in the barn.

As you can see from the photo above, I’m going to dry the chillies this year.¬† We have such a huge chest freezer, that even with the baskets at the top, we tend to lose track of small things.¬† It will be interesting to see if I’m successful or not.¬† I thought it would be great to grind them up and use them with a pepper shaker.

This morning I took a bucket to the farm across the road and collected some field mushrooms. Yum!!! These are my favourite funghi.  They have such a rich taste in comparison with button mushrooms purchased from the supermarket.

Field mushrooms, freshly-picked this morning.
Field mushrooms, freshly-picked this morning.

They’ll be great sauteed in butter and stirred through some freshly made pasta.

After the Harvest

What's left after the harvester has done its job.
What’s left after the harvester has done its job.

The harvester has finished in the field.¬† All that is left behind are the husks and a few dried leaves.¬† It’ll be tough for the small shrubs we have on the fence-line, especially now that the wind is coming from the north.¬† For a good six months they’ve been sheltered by the maize!

The maize field is now stark against the sky.
The maize field is now stark against the sky.

This and That

View to the north as the sun was setting last night.
View to the north as the sun was setting last night.

Pumpkins and Squash

We harvested most of our squash during the past week.¬† It was a very good crop and I’m pleased with the varieties we chose to raise from seed this year.

Squash 'Butternut Chieftain' and 'Burgess Buttercup'
Squash ‘Butternut Chieftain’ and ‘Burgess Buttercup’, with ‘Thelma Saunders Sweet Potato’ in the foreground.

Even though I’ve tended to grow the larger pumpkins in the past, the beauty of the smaller varieties is that you can cut into one and don’t end up with a huge vegetable to eat or process in a short amount of time.

The butternut and buttercup squashes are ideal for a family of two.

Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin pie, straight from the oven.
Freshly-baked Pumpkin pie.

Keeping with the theme, I baked a pumpkin pie on Sunday, using some frozen mashed pumpkin from last year’s crop.¬† This was from a Crown pumpkin – a large variety with smooth, pale grey skin and sweet orange flesh.¬† Despite being frozen for all this time, the puree tasted very good.

A healthy serving of pumpkin pie.
A healthy serving of pumpkin pie.

The filling is comprised of  pureed pumpkin, evaporated milk, eggs, ground ginger, ground allspice and caster sugar.  The base is formed using sweet shortcrust pasty, which I baked blind before adding the filling.  The pie is topped with freshly-grated nutmeg.

I’m interested in experimenting with tofu to see if I can make a vegan version.

Rum Pot

Pears are falling daily from the old pear tree.
Pears are falling daily from the old pear tree.

You may recall that back at the beginning of January, I started a Rum Pot using strawberries, plums and some cape gooseberries.  With the pears ripening and dropping each day, I decided to add some in.

The fruit that has been macerating in the rum and sugar for the past couple of months, smelt extremely enticing.¬† I couldn’t resist tasting some of the liquor – it was very heady and almost spicy, reminding me of Christmas.¬† So, now the rum pots have pieces of pear in them as well!

A view of the fruit macerating in the rum pot.
A view of the fruit macerating in the rum pots.

The next fruit to ripen should be our feijoa.¬† I must admit that I’m not exactly sure how well the feijoa will enhance the mix, but we’ll see!¬† As much as I love fresh feijoa, they do sometimes have something of a chalky texture.

Brassica

On Wednesday (05 March)¬† I sowed seeds of the following Brassica – Broccoli ‘Premium Green’, Cabbage ‘Scarlet O’Hara’ and Cauliflower ‘All the Year Round’.¬† Brassica don’t seem to do so well in our hot, dry summers, but we have had good results during Winter and Spring.

I’m hoping that these will be ready to plant out in a month or so’s time.¬† The broccoli and cauliflower have sprouted already (5 days).

Swan Plants

Swan plant seed head, and monarch butterfly on flowers
Swan plant seed head, and monarch butterfly on flowers

The ‘swans’ on our swan plants (Asclepias physocarpa) are bursting with fluffy seeds.¬† We appear have the full cycle happening at once – tiny caterpillars, fat caterpillars, cocoons, adult butterflies, mating butterflies, flowers and seed pods.

The grass in some areas of the garden is carpeted with the ‘down’ from the seeds.¬† I suspect we may have something of a swan plant problem in 2014/2015.¬† But at the moment I can’t see that we’d ever have too much of them.¬† I love having the butterflies always present in the garden.

Swan Plant Beetle

beetle in seed-head and bursting swan pod.
Close up of swan plant beetle, and view of bursting seed pod.

When I was photographing the seed pods and their bursting seeds, I noticed a small insect inside.  I have since identified this as Arocatus rusticus, a native of Australia that has become established in New Zealand.

Despite the foliage and sap of the swan plant being toxic to plant-eating creatures, it seems that Arocatus rusticus has evolved the ability to overcome the toxin and store it in its own body.¬† You can’t really tell from my photo, but the insect is orange/red and brown in colour.¬† This is to warn off predators as the toxins stored in its body has made it toxic, too.

Molly and the Hens

Lottie does like to boss the Orpingtons around, though.
Lottie does like to boss the Orpingtons around.

The four new Orpington hens have settled well alongside our three Red Shavers.  Lottie is the boss of all seven, and every so often has to assert her dominance, usually by pushing in on a choice item of food, or by chasing one of the stragglers.  They all choose to sleep in the same hen house nowadays, often trying to squeeze onto the same perch!

Francesca, Pearl, Fatima and Hannah (the four Orpingtons) mostly stick together and if Lottie isn’t around, Leila and Lulu will often be found nearby.¬† Their favourite spot on these hot Autumn days is to sleep and dust bathe under the shade of the Feijoa trees.

Hannah and Fatima
Hannah and Fatima

When the Black Orpingtons were little, they looked so cute running around.  From a distance they looked like they were wearing burqa Рhence the name Fatima.  We named the other Black Orpington, Hannah, to maintain balance.

The Red Shavers are very naughty.¬† Lottie has taken to ‘disappearing’ in the mornings and not returning until sometime in the afternoon.¬† One day I spotted her hurrying across the road and into the trees on the other side.¬† We think that perhaps the house down the road may have something interesting to attract her – a rooster, maybe, but we’re not sure.¬† I’ve taken to not letting the hens out until after 10.00 am or so, to be sure they have laid all their eggs before one of them heads off further afield.

Yesterday Leila caught a small field-mouse which must have strayed from the maize field.¬† Poor wee thing – all three red hens set upon it – it didn’t have a chance.

Molly often watches the hens from a secluded spot.
Molly often watches the hens from a secluded spot.

Molly and the hens have developed a ‘kind’ of respect for each other.¬† But to me it seems like the only advantage Molly has, is that she is allowed inside the house and the hens aren’t.¬† Sometimes they look through the living room window at Molly, looking out.

I’ve seen them peck at her if she comes too close to them, but I’m sure she could defend herself if she had to.¬† When I go into the hen’s enclosed area in the morning to collect their eggs, Molly always accompanies me.¬† She has a good look around their area when they aren’t there.¬† I find this amusing.

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!