Saturday, October 22, 2011

How does your garden grow

We think Polly is a slightly neurotic mother to be. She's a good sitter but perhaps a bit too good. See, when she started sitting she didn't even get out of the nest to poo and her eggs got all dirty. She also broke one. But we cleaned out her nest and she got right back on. She worked out that she had to get out of the nest to feed and poo. Things were looking up...but then today she broke another egg! So again we cleaned out the nest and again she got right back on. Her due date is one week today. Fingers crossed!

Loads of sweet peas, salvias and still heaps of other flowers are in bloom. We still have lots of lettuce, parsley, beets, onions, beans, carrots, celery, spinach and a few sad looking cabbages and caulies which we should be greatful for (who cares if they are not prize winning, perfect, genetically modified, chemical doused things - they are good and wholesome and home grown! At least that's what I tell my boys!). The zuchs, squash, toms and basil are in and growing well.

This garlic is what we grew at Hilton Harvest! And we have more to harvest in our home garden.
And the most exciting news this week is that Quin has his training wheels off! He can even stand up on his pedals and yell 'Woooh!' as he zooms down the hill. Now we just have to try to make it to South Beach like his little friend Oscar. We are off the the Freo Family Bike Picnic tomorrow. We can fit Quin and his bike in our cargo bike. Perfect!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fruity yum yums

Fruity yum yums reminds me of birdy num nums, howdy partner and other silliness. And when I think of Peter Sellers and the brilliance of another of his films Being There, I can't help feeling sad about how he didn't get an Oscar for it (probably the greatest acting performance not to receive an Oscar). If you haven't seen go get it out. Anyway, I'm getting side tracked a bit so I'll get back on track.

Mid spring is mulberry season in Perth and the fruit is bountiful. It's one of the few berries that do well here since most need lower temps than we get, so it's something to look forward to. The season is fairly short (around 6 weeks) and this means that huge amounts of fruit are available in a short space of time. This can happen with many fruits and the challenge is to find ways to preserve it so it doesn't get wasted and so you can have fruit out of season, without the food miles and packaging, preservatives, etc that come with shop bought produce. Kids love most fruit fresh off the tree, but even they can't gorge themselves on it all.

This is where preserving comes into its own. There are loads of ways to preserve fruits (jam, cordial, chutney, preserving juice or fresh fruit in vacuum sealed jars, drying, freezing, etc.), but one method I hadn't tried until recently was making fruit leather. I saw a recipe which caught my fancy and have just been trying it out. It's yum.

The recipe is one of Pam Corbin's (or Pam jam as she's sometimes known) of River Cottage fame, in River Cottage Handbook No.2, Preserves. I don't think she'll sue me if I tell you the recipe. Mix 500 grams of fruit (could be any, recipe says blackberry, I used mulberry, my mum did figs) and the same amount of cooking apple (500g after peeling and coring) with the juice of 1 lemon.

Cook these gently in a saucepan until they're soft and pureed (20-50 mins).

Then rub them through a seive or mouli into a bowl. You should have about 700g of puree. Add 150 grams of honey and mix well.

Divide the puree between 2 baking trays (24 by 30cm, line with baking paper).

Put the trays in the oven and cook for 12-18 hours at a very low setting (60C or gas mark one eighth). I found I couldn't get my old oven that low, so in the end I turned it way down and left the door open a crack. This made it between 75-90C, which seemed to work for the 12 hours. 12 hours in the oven, won't that bankrupt me I hear you say. Don't worry, it used about 6 kW of gas which costs us around 60 cents. Peel the leather off the sheets, it should be soft and pliable and peel off easily. I was surprised at how easily it came off.

Voila, the leather is done! The first batch was a disaster (good for nowt but compost), but undeterred I tried again. I think the oven temp was too high and I left it for too long. I recommend putting it on around 8pm when you have the next day free, this way you can check it when you get up and either take it out or keep it going a while.

The second batch turned out beaut. Wrap it in greaseproof paper and store it in an airtight container, it should keep up to 5 months. Needless to say it's absolutely gorgeous. My taste is more more on the umami side, but I still love it. 

I'm just about to do my third batch, trying to get as much fruit off the neighbour's tree before it gets pruned. Many (crazy) people actually think of mulberries as a nuisance because of the stains it can cause. This is a real shame because it means so much is wasted, but it's also good in a way because you can harvest as much as you want even if you don't have your own tree.

It's the school hols right now, but when school starts again I'm betting that all the kids will be jealous of Quin's mulberry leather in his lunch box...

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Our Daily Bread

It's taken me ages to get good at making my own bread. During my previous attempts I would try to convince myself that my hard, weapon like creations were just rustic and crusty. But actually if I swung it at an intruder I would have concussed him or her. No one liked it and we all secretly craved fluffy, white, bowel cancer bread from the shops. So I gave up and left my jar of sourdough leven to go pink and funky in the depths of my fridge. Actually it's still there. Don't tell Ads or I will have to clean it out. 

I'm always amazed at how susceptible I am to being inspired by wonderful people. In the case of sourdough breadmaking it took two; my work colleague who would often proudly (and rightly so) show me her beautiful bread at lunch time and another friend who gave me the practicalities of an actual recipe (!) and a fresh jar of leven. The recipe came from gnowfglins and the instructions were really good and clear. She also gave me a sourdough cracker recipe which is something I thought, like puff pastry, would be impossible to make but it turns out it's easy! 

Every week or so I feed up my leven, make my dough, let it rise over night (usually), then bake them the next day. I freeze one and eat the other. I love it. I love buying my 12.5kgs of organic flour at the local organic collective and feeding my leven and watching it bubble. I love smelling the leven every time I feed it. I still love taking the tea towel off the bowl after 8 hours and feeling happily surprised at how much it has risen. But the thing I love most of all is putting my fresh, organic, perfectly golden brown loafs in to an old plastic bag that I have used dozens of times before!

I have discovered one tip about getting a nice shape. I snip the slits with a pair of scissors. When I used a knife I could never get the slits deep enough and the bread would crack down the length of one side, but now they rise nice and evenly, as pictured above!

Here is my Vacola jar of leven. I like the recipe because it uses lots of leven and I don't waste any. I feel I can afford organic flour because good bought bread costs a bomb, but I must be saving heaps by making my own. Often I add seeds (home grown poppy is my fav!) and do half wholemeal half white which we all seem to like. 

Making good bread is one of those things that I just don't know why everyone isn't doing themselves. It's easy, cheap, really good for you, fun, environmentally streets ahead of the bought variety and makes your house smell homely. I feel like such a good housewife when I make bread. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Motherly Instincts

Tonight we put a dozen fertile eggs under Polly. She is our broodiest girl, viciously broody. She doesn't just peck you when you collect the eggs, she pecks and twists and has drawn blood more than once. I think she will be a very good and dedicated mum.

This is the first time we have tried to hatch our own chooks and its all very exciting! Adam made a little enclosure for Polly with a big dog kennel (off the verge) and a lawn mower grass catcher (also off the verge) for a nest. We made her little nest and dusted it with derris dust to keep off any mites. We went off to Oakford to collect the fertile eggs this afternoon - they are Isa Brown cross. When we got home we moved Polly from her normal nesting box to her new family home nesting box but she became a little unsettled and came off the nest. The lady we got the eggs off suggested we put a grate over the nesting box so she stays put, so we did that and she stayed (of course!) and tonight we put the eggs under her. She gave Ads a good peck so we think this is a good sign.

We want to increase and diversify our flock with Isa Brown type chooks, you know the boring looking little brown girls that just lay and lay even through winter. Our beautiful Australorps and Winedotts are indeed beautiful and lay well in spring through autumn but go off the lay in winter. I think we will all get a kick out of seeing chicks hatch under Polly and we think Polly will be in seventh heaven with her own little brood to love and protect. Keep your fingers crossed that Polly will prove us right about her character!