In My Kitchen, April 2022

There’s always more to do in a garden, the commitment is ongoing, but the work keeps me sane in these dark times. Once I cross the threshold, which is a rather unromantic industrial looking tall gate, I find peace, timelessness and a belief in something greater than my own existence, a space beyond the worries of the world. I suppose you could call it hope, as vegetable gardening is about the future, a belief that through careful nurturing, the earth will be productive and plants will provide more food, that the bees and insects will continue to play their role, that seed will become flower, and flower fruit, then seed once more.

When I walk through the orto, I enter a trance like state, while still unconsciously doing what needs to be done. A little weeding here and there, gently transplanting self – sown lettuces to better spots, coaxing a pumpkin vine to take a different route, or watching the white butterfly moths as they rise from the brassica beds in the morning sun, and all this under a vast sky, wrapped in total silence and the aura of our planet, until a kookaburra laughs from the gum trees beyond, kookoook kaakaa, breaking the spell. It’s meditation and an antidote to these times, but it’s also fragile, so fragile. I close the gate behind me and return to the kitchen, the other centre of life for me. Nature and nurture.

Autumn is the busiest time of the year in the garden and consequently so it is in my kitchen. The tomatoes are still producing, but slowing down now. Their life cycle began in late July, when I germinated the seed in our north facing windows. It has been a long journey and now the seed is being selected from the best plants to preserve for seeding later this year. Every year I plant around 15 San Marzano tomatoes. Their fruit, an egg shaped thick skinned tomato, is kept strictly for saucing. To date we’ve made passata from around 21 kilos of fruit. This year one plant surprised me. We had a few spare plants leftover and so I shoved one in the citrus grove, adding a spade full of compost and some sugar cane mulch. It has grown into a sprawling ground bush of around two metres square. To date, I’ve picked 96 tomatoes from it, and there are still heaps more green tomatoes ripening. It will survive for another month.

The peppers and capsicums are all turning red, finally, which means it’s preserving time in the kitchen. Traditional Italian recipes use the old techniques of sott’olio and sott’aceto, under oil and under vinegar, or sun drying and salt curing. I’ve been inspired by the recipes found in Preserving the Italian Way, by Pietro Demaio. I first read about this specialist cookbook in the April edition of Gourmet Traveller and during an insanely annoying 3 am insomniac moment, I purchased a copy. It arrived promptly and I’ve used two recipes to date. The book includes chapters on preserving vegetables in oil and vinegar, then moves on to chapters on funghi, olives, herbs, syrups, bread, fish, cheese, cured meats, wine and liqueurs. Other than the meat chapter, I will get great use out of this book. It’s a gem. Today I bottled a jar of long red chillies under vinegar, and made the delicious sounding Involtini di Peperoni, little rolled capsicum strips stuffed with anchovy, capers and chilli preserved under oil. Both these preserves are now hidden in a dark spot for a month or so to cure. I often wonder why I do this when big jars of preserves such as peppers, cucumbers, capsicums and so on are cheap to buy from shops such as Bas Foods, Terra Madre, Harvest and Psarakos, to name a few of my favourite places. The cost of white wine vinegar has increased dramatically over the last two years, (ordinary white vinegar isn’t recommended for preserving) and using good olive oil, as recommended by Pietro, does not come cheaply. I guess the proof will be in the eating. The produce is organic and the process is hand crafted rather than industrial.

pickled long red chillis

Involtini di peperoni. Capsicum strips stuffed with caper, chilli and anchovy.

This year’s fruits were disappointing. Only the apples were prolific as well as the figs, which are finally ripening. Most of the other fruits lost their flowers during an extremely destructive storm last Spring, affecting power supplies and bringing down trees across the State. One of my favourite apple concoctions comes from a cookbook by Lorenza de’Medici.1 I’ve written about this lovely dessert before, but it’s worth re- visiting the recipe, as I do every Autumn. If you grow the fruit, your only expense is the butter for the pastry and a slug of Marsala, for the lovely fruit mixture, if not also for you. If you can’t be fussed (that almost sounds like a slip of the tongue) making the pastry, the fruit mixture makes an excellent crumble.

Charlotte di frutta.

For the Short pastry.

  • 350 g plain flour
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 125 g sugar
  • 225 g butter
  • pinch of  salt

For the filling

  • 1 orange
  • 300 g blood plums
  • 1 kg apples
  • 225 g sugar
  • grated peel of 1 lemon
  • 2 Tbsp Marsala
  • 3 cloves


  1. Prepare the short crust pastry. Place the dry ingredients in the food processor, add the butter, process, then the egg yolks, until mixed and formed into a ball. ( you can do this by hand if you prefer). Roll or press into a flat slab, wrap in cling wrap and let rest in the fridge for an hour or so.
  2. Meanwhile, make the filling. Grate the orange peel and reserve. Peel the orange, removing any pith, and divide into segments. Peel the plums and apples and cut into pieces. Cook the fruit together with the sugar, lemon and orange peel, Marsala, cloves and vanilla pod for 20 minutes, uncovered, over low heat.
  3. Butter and flour a 25 cm springform pan. Roll out two-thirds of the pastry to line the base and sides of the pan. Fill with the cooled cooked fruit and cover with the remaining pastry, rolled out thinly. Cook in a preheated oven at 180 degrees c /350 f for 45 minutes. Let cool before removing from the pan. Dust with icing sugar,and serve at room temperature with cream Serves 8-10.
Charlotta di Frutta

Not far from my garden, the sprawling chook house is another spot where I can lose myself totally. I do like our eggs so much. Some of our lovely lunches consist of a herb omelette and a garden salad. As most of my larger chooks are now in semi- retirement, living out their remaining years in relative chook luxury, with an orchard to run in, spare greens from our garden, and a tree to perch in, some decisions need to be made about the blokes. There are too many roosters so two must go. Discussing the methods of dispatch is akin to the opening scenes of Macbeth, ‘If it were done, when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly’. Gone are the days when some locals would happily take young roosters to eat, or the Cambodians would bid a dollar or two for a fancy rooster, especially the black skinned silkies, at the Mernda poultry auction. That old market site is now a new sprawling suburb. Last week we visited a nearby hatchery in the Yarra Valley and bought 6 female day old chickens- don’t ask what happens to the newly hatched roosters. And don’t ask what the free range egg farmers do with their laying hens after 18 months when they become less productive. It’s a mean old world.

I’m definitely keeping this fella, he’s quiet and a bit fancy.
Six day old chickens, which were popped under a clucky hen on dark. She eagerly tucked them under her white warm fluffy body.
Lunch sorted

Happy easter Holidays dear Readers. And thanks to Sherry who hosts this monthly In My Kitchen series. My kitchen and garden come as a total package so you can excuse the divergence from the main theme.

Just out of the oven this morning, sourdough HC Buns. We ate four, with butter. This is the easiest and by far the tastiest recipe I’ve made in a while. It’s a keeper. Contact me if you would like the recipe.

19 thoughts on “In My Kitchen, April 2022”

  1. I was so immersed in what you were saying that I hadn’t noticed the lack of photos! But now they have been added – and i have seen the fruit tart – my eyes have become bullseyes😀 I really enjoyed your musings – and of course the talk of food.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ah yes Jan, we gardeners know about that muse. that first draft seemed to sneak out before I was ready, as I’m so unused to blogging these days, it took me a while to acquaint myself with the process. That fruit tart is a beauty if you have a mob coming around.


  2. Your kitchen and your garden are a most welcome package, Francesca. I understand the peace and calm you feel walking through your garden gate. New neighbors installed a tall privacy fence for them, but I enjoy it, also. Walking among my flowers in my pajamas is a special pleasure with no eyes to peer and see what I’m doing. Just enjoying the quiet. We are heading toward warmer temps, so I relish this time in the yard until it gets too hot and keeps me inside. Happy Easter to you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s rather nice, a privacy fence so you can wander in your PJs or less. I don’t have any close neighbours so I often rip off my shirt when I get too hot. The garden makes me do strange things. I often find my glasses down there, or a tshirt. Enjoy your Spring time Lois.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice segue from growing to preserving to eating… and in these strange times where would we be without gardens and food to keep our thoughts occupied and our taste buds and stomachs satisfied. Preserving the Italian Way… what an interesting book, I have one similar yet unattempted, you’ve inspired me to dig it out.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Even tho’ I have been delighted by your photos of cockies, kookas and yummy dishes I wished were on my plate here on Instagram it is great to see you communicating at somewhat greater length here ! Even tho’ when reading I always realize how much more I should have and could have done myself ! Well, you were a lifelong teacher and guess still are. Am envious of your garden produce – living in a gated community I am not able to ‘steal’ quite as much land as you have . . . but shall try better than herbs in pots next season . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Herbs are wonderful in pots and make an excellent meal in themselves. I have a friend who gardens in pots. If she buys a bunch of spring onions, she pops some in pots where they continue to grow. Big tall pots work better for this, along with some mulch in summer. And all that tap water from washing veg collected to go on the herbs. I think fresh herbs make a meal. Last night, at the beach camp, I made a Thai curry and my son handed over some Thai basil. Nice, except it came in a plastic container. The herbs from shops are often marketed like this. Another good reason to grow your own.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Your beautiful description of the final harvest time in your garden highlights the difference in northern & southern hemispheres. We are still at the hunger time (as it was for the pre-global people) when nothing at all is coming from our gardens or local farms. Even my father (born in 1905) talked about the desperate situation in April in his village, which still stands in Belarus. In fact it stands where the Russians are staging yet another genocide, like the one that eliminated any possible kinship between me and the current population.

    But I got off the track of your beautiful harvest and your wonderful preserved vegetables. I have no doubt that they exceed the taste and quality of anything in a shop! As global prices rise (like special vinegar!) I’m sure we will pay more for the artisan products as well.

    Thank you for all the lovely visions of delicous.

    best… mae at

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Going off the track is very important in these times. I found it really difficult to write about foid in the first place. In fact my first draft was about those in the world with no kitchens. But I ditched it as it was too overwhelmingly depressing.
      The hunger time is something we don’t understand, given the era we’ve lived in. But maybe we will. I imagine that you have been to visit Belarus, the home of your ancestors. The news gets worse each day.
      I saw a very brief interview with an older woman who had just emerged from a long period sheltering underground. She said ‘they stole our pickled cucumbers and lard….’.This stayed with me, and reminded me that during those pre global times, preserves kept people alive.
      All the best Mae.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Nothing my father ever said made any of us want to visit Belarus! I’m aware that for a while in the 1990s and maybe a decade after some organizations were running roots trips for the descendants of the lucky escapees, but I have no feeling of rootedness there at all, my only country is America, and I think my father felt that too.

        best… mae

        Liked by 1 person

  6. oh yes that fruit tart/pie/cake looks wonderful francesca! Those little chicks are so cute and it is awful to think of what happens to the wee boys. I sometimes wonder why i make my own Worcester sauce when it is so cheap to buy! but the joy of making it … love your garden shots too. thanks for being part of IMK. cheers Sherry

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh your chicks! We recently bought two Ancona chickens. I had no idea there was an Italian breed. We have called them Florence and Rome. They are faster than Hussein Bolt and very hard to catch when they escape from the run, which they cleverly escape how to do. Buona pasqua signora.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ciao Signorina, anconas are cute. We had some years ago. Love your names. I have around 22 hens and roosters, not counting new chickens, too many to name, but the fellas usually get a title.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. And a happy Easter to you! Great post Francesca … Your tomatoes sound fabulous. Ours were great this year too .. although not enough to make Passata! Our fruit was disappointing too .. but we had loads of plums! The birds enjoyed our apples and pears .. shame on them. That book sounds good too .. Im forever after new recipes. As for that Apple dessert, how I wish I lived closer! Hugs x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello dear friend. Those birds are cheeky but then that’s part of country life. Even the nets didn’t deter ours.
      I keep thinking of your vast olive grove. Picking this year? It must be harvest time right now. If I lived closer, I could come and help. Xx

      Liked by 1 person

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