A Break in the Weather

At last there’s a break in the weather, a cool snap with a little rain. Is it time to rejoice or was that last shower just another drizzle of hope? This summer and autumn have been hot and dry, pleasant weather if you’re by the seaside, but not so kind for those who love their gardens and farms. An omen of what’s to come? To date, we have had around 60 ml of rainfall over the last three months. The tanks and dams are low, the fruit trees are dropping their leaves too early: rabbits crawl up and over fences in search of something green to eat, starting with their favourite snack, the ring- barking of fruit trees before looking for small gaps in the well fenced vegetable patch. The figs look like hard little bullets and have given up the battle.

Midst our paddocks of desiccation, there are some welcome surprises. The quinces are fabulous this year, picked just in time before the birds got desperate. Such an old-fashioned and demanding fruit, I love the way they turn from hard golden knobbly lumps into the most exotic concoctions. How do you describe the flavour and colour of poached quince?

With the sound of the rain on the tin roof, my thoughts turn to food and preserves. Quince jelly, quince syrup, perhaps to use as an exotic base for gin, a torta of ricotta and quince cubes, quince ice cream, the syrup swirled through a softened tub of good vanilla ice cream, perhaps some Spanish membrillo.

Long thin eggplants have been fruiting for months. While not as useful as the fat varieties, they grow more abundantly in our micro-climate.

After chopping the eggplant for a Chinese dish, I noticed their resemblance to the cushions.

The Pink Lady apples are the star this year. We grow 13 varieties of apple, and each has its year. The crop has been well protected by netting, though the desperado cockatoos are beginning to notice. Picked and stored in the fridge, they are reasonable keepers.

With the change of season, I hope to return to my usual pattern of posting and cooking. There will be more recipes coming and anecdotes of one kind or another, simple stories about the beauty of life. As the saying goes, ‘I’ll keep you posted’.

 

 

Because We Are Too Many

I’m a contadina ( peasant woman) at heart, having moved to the country years ago, when self-sufficiency and the ‘back to the earth’ movement was in its heyday, long before real estate agents and marketers grabbed hold of the catchy phrase ‘tree change’ to hoodwink city folk onto small farms in the bush. Looking back on that life of vegetable growing, chook breeding, orchard planting and raising a few miniature Dexter cows, I can see that it has been a rewarding yet extremely demanding lifestyle. And now some tough decisions need to be made.

Auntie Derry
Auntie Derry

This year’s drought has been challenging. Our five Dexter cows, all named and loved, have been relying on bought hay for months. The front cleared paddocks, around 13 acres, have been bare and bleached since Christmas. The five Dexters unwittingly share their grass with mobs of hungry kangaroos and rabbits, the latter becoming more invasive during drought years.

The Hungry Dexters
The hungry Dexters and some welcome rain.

The Dexters listen for the sound of the back door opening in the morning and begin their hungry mooing. They wait for a car to travel up the driveway and chase it like crazy circus animals, all legs flying in the dust. Stepping outside into the morning’s Autumn mist, they are waiting for me, their gentle gaze longing for another hay bale. I look back at them, our pets, Delilah, Derry, Duffy, Dougie and Oh Danny Boy and all I can think of is Little Father Time’s maudlin phrase, “because we are too many” from Jude the Obscure. Two or three of our Dexters have to go.

Friendly and Inquisative Dexters
Friendly and inquisitive Dexters

About Dexters

The Dexter breed originated in south-western Ireland. The breed almost disappeared in Ireland, but was still maintained as a pure breed in a number of small herds in England. The Dexter is a small breed and is naturally a miniature cow. They are usually black, a dark-red or dun, they are always single-coloured except for some very minor white marking on the udder or behind the navel. Horns are rather small and thick and grow outward with a forward curve on the male and upward on the female. The breed is suitable for beef or milk production.

We keep Dexters to mow our grass and use their manure on our gardens. They are inquisitive and very friendly.

Abandoned Cottages of the Outback, Sunday Stills.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe history of settlement of the outback, South Australia, particularly around the Flinders Ranges, is intriguing, especially if you have travelled north of Quorn or Hawker and noted the many abandoned stone cottages.  Idealistic farmers, many with German background, hoping to make their fortune in wheat growing, took up large tracts of land in this semi desert area, believing that ‘the rain would follow the plough’.

The basic premise of this theory was that increased human settlement in the region and cultivation of soil would result in an increased rainfall over time, rendering the land more fertile and lush as the population increased. The theory was widely promoted in the 1870s as a justification for settlement in the Great Plains of America and was also used to justify the expansion of wheat growing on marginal land in South Australia during that period.š Despite the warnings of  climatologist, George Goyder² in 1865, farmers continued to believe this fallacy and took up land north of Quorn, near the Flinders Ranges in South Australia.

Today we can witness hundreds of ruins and shattered dreams along the highways and small tracks in this area, as recurring droughts eventually drove these settlers away. Their abandoned hand-built stone houses are hauntingly beautiful, set amidst plains of grey-green saltbush, red sandy earth, with a backdrop of purple escarpments and ranges. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Thanks Ed,of Sunday Stills, for this week’s prompt. š.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rain_follows_the_plow 2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goyder%27s_Line http://ashadocs.org/aha/03/03_04_Young.pdf