Tag Archives: pickles

Surpluses, Beetles, Moths and Soap

Zucchini Surplus

Last Wednesday was a very warm day at South Head, becoming unbearably hot as the day progressed.  After work at 1.00 pm I went outside to check on the state of the garden but didn’t last in the heat for long.  I had taken some fresh water and a cup of pullet food to the new Orpingtons and then made my usual rounds.

Overgrown zucchinis, hiding in the vege patch
Overgrown zucchinis, hiding in the vege patch

It clearly doesn’t pay to leave zucchinis unchecked for more than a couple of days as I found some monsters vying for space under one of the plants.  When I brought them inside I discovered that the two largest weighed 1600 and 1200 grams respectively.

Sauteed zucchini with fresh ricotta
Sauteed zucchini with fresh ricotta

I am definitely getting to the stage of being ‘over’ zucchinis!  We have pickled, grated, fried, sauteed and stuffed them.  We’ve covered them in garlic, crispy sage, tomatoes, mushrooms, vinegars and spices.  I’m getting fussy now and am loath to use them once they’ve grown too fat.

Zucchini Pickle
Zucchini Pickle

However, having said this, I did come across a really good zucchini pickle recipe  which required 1 kg of diced zucchini.  I made a batch on Sunday, as I also had some more gherkins to pickle.  The other ingredients are chopped onions, turmeric, white vinegar, sugar, water and celery seeds and the result was a particularly yummy, sweet pickle, not unlike a sweet gherkin pickle, but (dare I say it) better.

I’ll definitely make this again and will type up the recipe at some point.

Freshly-picked peas
Freshly-picked peas

It’s great that our peas are have been coming along nicely, despite the paucity of rain.  We’ve had two meals from them so far this week, and (of course) have eaten quite a few straight from the vine.  That’s the only trouble with peas – having to resist the temptation to eat them straight from the plant – if you want to have enough left for a meal.

I’m glad now that I sowed another row a couple of weeks back.

Sparrow Zone

Sparrow Riviera in late Winter
Sparrow Riviera in late Winter

Talking of surpluses, we had named the long edge of the garage roof closest to the house ‘Sparrow Riviera’ as there are always so many sparrow families nesting there.  From just before dawn until well beyond dusk, the sound of sparrows going about their daily life is a constant.  They seem to be continually building new nests and raising new batches of babies.

Baby sparrows peeping out from under the roof
Baby sparrows peeping out from under the roof

The young ones are learning to fly at the moment and have amused us with their antics.  We know that if we see a fledgling flying towards us, we need to move aside or duck, as they haven’t quite honed up their skills sufficiently to avoid an unexpected obstacle.  They fly into windows and fall to the grass, temporarily stunned, or chirp plaintively from the roof, hoping a parent will come by and feed them.

Molly snoozing in the living room
Molly snoozing in the living room

If Molly has caught any of these new flyers, she must have devoured them completely as we haven’t seen any partially-eaten bodies.

Beetles and Moths

I’m always on the look-out for new bugs to identify.

Burnt pine longhorn beetle
Burnt pine longhorn beetle

Last Tuesday evening, when I went to take note of the solar power readings (I keep them on a spread-sheet) there was a Burnt Pine Longhorn Beetle (Arhopalus ferus) sitting on our back porch.

Apple Looper moth and Cabbage Tree moth
Left to right: Apple Looper moth; Cabbage Tree moth

I’ve also managed to photograph a couple of different moths – the tiny (15 mm wing-span) Apple Looper Moth (Phrissogonus laticostatus) and the endemic Cabbage Tree moth (Epiphryne verriculata)

Coffee Soap

For some time I’ve been meaning to mix up a new batch of soap.  In particular, some soap suitable for our vegans.  I finally found the time to doing this on Sunday.

I had already decided to try a Coffee Soap recipe that I’d come across thanks to being on David Fisher’s Candle and Soap-making mailing list.  It seemed like this would be a nice change from the usual scented soaps I’ve experimented with, and I’d also read that coffee-scented soap was useful for cooks, as it helped remove the odours of garlic and fish.

Soap isn’t that difficult to make and and can either be made traditionally, using different fats (i.e. beef or mutton), or by using vegetable oils.  The only ingredient you need to take care with when making soap, is lye, as this can be a very volatile and dangerous item to work with.  Special attention must be paid when adding the lye to the water, and one should always don protective glasses and gloves, and work in an area with good air circulation.  Lye is critical for soap making and soap cannot be made without it.  It reacts with the oils to form soap and glycerin.

Spicy Mandarin and Lemon Grass / Kaffir Lime soaps
Left to right: Spicy Mandarin soap; Lemon Grass/Kaffir Lime soap

Soaps I’ve made in the past are rosemary, cranberry/oatmeal, lavender, spicy mandarin and lemon grass/kaffir lime.   One batch makes quite a few individual soaps so I tend not to make soap too often.

Home-made soap has no preservatives and supposedly doesn’t last as long as commercial soaps, but some of our soaps are around 2-years old and still haven’t deteriorated noticeably.  I keep them in a dark drawer.

Basic Soap-Making Process

The soap-making process involves the careful measuring of the proportions of all the ingredients.  My basic vegan soap recipe includes water, canola oil, caster oil, olive oil, coconut oil and lye.  There are very good calculators online that help you work out the exact proportion of lye to use, based on the fats/oils in your recipe.

Coffee Mixture, Lye & Coffee, Melted Oils
Left to Right: Strong fresh coffee; Lye and coffee solution; Melted oils

The powdered lye is added carefully to the cold water (in this case to the coffee).   Adding lye to water causes a chemical reaction that generates a great deal of heat, so this has to then cool down.   Care must be taken not to inhale any fumes, too, and to avoid being burnt by the lye or the lye/water mixture.

While the lye/water mixture is cooling down, the oils are brought to within the 10 degrees of the same heat – you are aiming for between 90 and 110 F for both mixtures.  Once they have reached this range, the lye/water mixture can be carefully stirred into the oils.

Left to Right: Ready soap, finished soap
Left to Right: Coffee/Lye solution added to the oils; Mixture at trace consistency

The next step involves using a stick blender to stir the mixture until it reaches a thin pudding or gravy-like consistency (known as having ‘traced’).  When it’s ready, the drippings will leave a pattern on the surface if you lift the blender out of the mixture.  You could also use a whisk or a regular egg-beater, but thank goodness for technology as this would take ages!

Left to right: Soap poured into muffin tray; Finished soaps
Left to right: Soap poured into muffin tray; Finished soaps

I’ve been using a muffin tray as a soap mould as it’s easy to pop them out once they have set.  Soaps made using this method have to be left for two days, after which they should be ready for turning out of their moulds or cutting into blocks, etc.   The finished product should then be left to ‘cure’ for 3-4 weeks before use.

Hen Update

The four new pullets have settled in well.  We are thinking of opening the ‘door’ between the two parts of the run in about a week’s time.

Our red shavers are as mischievous as ever.  They will slip inside the back door if we leave it open, making straight for Molly’s cat-food or milk.  Once caught, they will meekly let us carry them back outside.  Lottie and Lulu are the most common culprits.

Actually, it can be very annoying.  Imagine a hot day with all the doors and windows open – I’ll be working away at some project and will hear the ‘tap, tap, tap’ of beak on plate, and will have to stop what I’m doing to chase the little biddy out.

Ben & Lottie
Ben & Lottie

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.


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.