In My Scottish Kitchen, September 2017

One of the most common complaints of the traveller is the dearth of vegetables served along the way in any type of eatery, cafe, restaurant or pub. Despite veggies being in vogue, we don’t see many on the plate, other than a token salad or a potato, the latter usually in the form of the dreaded chip. After 6 weeks on the road, we were longing for our own apartment or little house, just to be able to cook a pile of vegetables, a soup or vegetable bake, as well as catch up on some washing. It’s rather ironic really, that these simple domestic tasks become so overwhelmingly desirable when you no longer have them.

View from our York Kitchen. Had to pick some wild weeds along the way- purple buddlea is the local weed, growing out of walls and concrete paths. Adding a homely touch to the plastic ikea plants and slate tiled York roof tops.

Our first pot of soup, a leek and potato soup, seemed fitting for our little kitchen in Aberystwyth, Wales. Our York apartment, a spacious Ikea fitted out place in a converted office building, provided the means to cook, but as we were also visiting friends that week, we had little chance to use it. My dear friend JA made some wonderful salads and dishes loaded with veggies from her Lottie ( affectionate English name for an allotment garden), the most memorable dish being her Summer Pudding, filled with plump, ripe blackberries picked from verges, along with raspberries and blueberries cured inside a mold of organic white bread. Ecstasy. There’s an art to making these carmine concoctions that taste like berry velvet.

View from JA’s apartment, overlooking the Minster, York. JA’s Australian roots have given her a passion for freshly grown vegetables.

Now that we’re in Skye, our little stone cottage by the sea has enabled some real cooking to take place. But first, before driving across to the island, we did a big veggie shop in Inverness. Vegetables are much cheaper in Britain than Australia, so long as you stick to seasonal ingredients that are locally grown. My big bag of vegetables, including a cute Wonky cabbage, cost very little, necessitating a few little add ons, such as box of raspberries, some odd looking flat peaches, French butter, lovely cheeses, some Scottish and others a bit too French, and of course, a bottle of single malt whisky. All in the name of keeping up with the locals, of course. Or as the late Angus Grant, fiddle player from Shooglenifty would say, in the only words I have ever heard him sing, ‘Suck that mother down,’ during his live solo on the tune ‘Whisky Kiss.’

On special for 16 Quid. Going down nicely. In memory of Ian Channing.

Wonky vegetables are NQR shaped produce, an idea that has also taking off in Australia. We don’t need perfectly shaped vegetables thankyou, and we definitely don’t need them wrapped in plastic. Most of my bargain veggies came pre -wrapped or bagged in acres of plastic. I’m wondering if the ‘War on Waste’ campaign is happening in Britain and Scotland. The other aspect I found unusual about the local supermarkets was the volume of pre-prepared foods. You name it, it’s available, pre-cooked and ready to ding. Fish cakes, fish pie ingredients, including the sauce, pre-cooked mussels, all sorts of meals, mash, even mashed swede. I’m not sure that Jamie Oliver has made much impression on the English diet.

Wonky Cabbage, 45 p

I was hoping to find a farmer’s market on Skye to supplement these goods. It turns out that farmers markets are quite rare, but then given the climate, I can understand why. We found one at Glendale in the north-west of Skye, a longish drive. We arrived early to find 7 stalls huddled together against the wind: one lady had a pile of fresh organic chicken carcasses for stock, another chap had one small bag of rainbow chard and black kale, nearby was the cucumber specialist, with two kinds on offer, on another table were a few carrots and apples and further down a lady with some sticky buns. And in the midst of all this I found the lady from Tinctoria, a specialist hand spinner and dyer from these parts. She has been hand dyeing since the 1980s and grows her own herbs to make the most extraordinary colours. Needless to say, I wanted them all.

Green ball, dyed from Brazilwood then over dyed with Indigo, the pink is Brazilwood and the blue is from Woad. Not quite kitchen goods but probably made in a kitchen. Dyewoods are woods providing  dyes for textiles. Some of the more important include: Brazilwood or Brazil from Brazil, producing a red dye. Catechu or cutch from Acacia wood, producing a dark brown dye. Old Fustic from India and Africa produces a yellow dye.

My vegetable stash is lasting well. In my Skye kitchen I’ve made lentil and vegetable soups, swede, onion and Orkney cheddar bake, pan scorched green beans with garlic and lemon, ( loving the very skinny beans here), caramelised whole shallots in olive oil, butter and beetroot glaze, Cullen Skink full of undyed smoked haddock, pasta with veggies, mushroom risotto, cauliflower cheese and loads of salads. My cooking has taken on a distinctive Scottish style- the view outside my kitchen window, the rain and the ever-changing Skye light having a profound effect on my cooking and pastimes. It’s odd, given my gypsy tendencies, how homely and settled I feel here.

Simple foods, just vegetables, some butter and cheese. The swede bake layered with onion and Orkney cheddar was a winner.
A bag of shallots become caramelised in olive oil, with some fleur de sel butter, and a reduction of balsamic and beetroot dressing.
Cullen Skink, with smoked haddock, potato, leek, and parsley. Crofter’s bread and French butter.

Fat Raspberries, sweet and seasonal, lead to the obvious choice of dessert- Cranachan- except that I was rather heavy-handed with the single malt and the toasted oats. It ended up more like an alcoholic breakfast. Mr T has promised to pick some neglected black berries along the verges, down near Maelrubha’s well; before we leave this special place, I’ll try to make a more restrained blackberry version.

A heavy-handed Cranachan. Too many oats and way too much single malt.
Crafting and Crofting. My travelling project, a bramble berry scarf, in memory of Skye.

I could go on and on about the wonders of Skye and how inspired I feel here, but I’ll save it for another time, another ramble into the mist. The media file below depicts views from our cottage. It’s hard to stay sane around such ever shifting beauty.

Thanks once again to Sherry from Sherry’s Pickings for hosting this monthly series.

Tidal cottage on Breakish. I could stay here for a few months or more. Celtic dreaming.

Invercargill Farmers’ Market

A pottle of delicious things, Invercargill Framers' Market.
A pottle of delicious things, Invercargill Farmers’ Market.

This sign on a food counter at the Invercargill Farmers Market intrigued me. I had never heard of the word pottle before. Have you? The young woman behind the counter held up a large disposable cup (a kind of show and tell lesson) and explained that these were pottles. She was equally intrigued to find out what I would call them. I had to think- hmm- a cup maybe, or a container or a serve? She declared that pottle was a more apt description and wondered why I had never used this label.

Colourful Kohlraby, Invercargill Farmers' Market
Colourful Kohlraby, Invercargill Farmers’ Market

A pottle, according to Colllins Dictionary, ( imagine an annoying Steven Fry voice here) is an archaic measure for liquids equal to half a gallon, or a small conical punnet of strawberries or other fruit or, in New Zealand, a small plastic or cardboard food container.

Purple Kale and Brussel Sprouts, Invercargill Farmers' Market
Purple Kale and Brussel Sprouts, Invercargill Farmers’ Market

These pottles were quite grand in size and the contents of said pottles were mighty tempting but at 10 am, it was just too early to indulge in a pottle of a battered mussels with aioli or fried calamari rings, which is a crying shame as this was a missed bargain. ( if only I had a good old hangover, I might have polished off both).

Huge Southern Swedes - a Tess of the D'urbervilles moment.
Huge Southern Swedes – a Tess of the D’urbervilles moment.

The vegetables on the 46th Latitude grow large and luscious in late Autumn. The Vegetable Man with the big truck explained that the air on his farm was  extremely dry- ‘we live close to the largest desert in the world, Antarctica, which sucks all the moisture out of the air. Our vegetables never suffer from any mould or bacteria as a result.’ In May, the late Autumn vegetables are alive and abundant, straight from the source, and I am thankful that I am travelling around New Zealand in a motorhome, enabling me to buy and cook such gorgeous produce. His farm experiences temperatures of  up to minus 15c in winter. Crops above the ground simply turn to mush.

Happy and Handsome Invercargill farmer offers me a slice of fresh kohlrabi.
Happy and Handsome Invercargill farmer offers me a slice of fresh kohlrabi.

If you are travelling down south in Autumn, a timely visit to the Invercargill farmers’ market is a must. It is a small market, but apart from a pottle of calamari, you can purchase some of the following: swedes, Jerusalem artichokes, kale and broccoli, brussel sprouts and cabbage, parsnips, leeks and carrots, freshly dug potatoes, yams and celeriac. Other vendors supply new seasons pears, apples and plums, garlic, cheeses and eggs.

Invercargill Cabbage
Invercargill Cabbage

Another Invercargill gem for the self caterer is Kings Seafoods in Ythan Street. The array of fresh and smoked fish is enormously tempting. We bought fresh sole fillets, smoked Hapuka, smoked salmon fins and sadly, not a kilo of the little neck clams ( $11) because they had run out.

The Invercargill Market runs every Sunday from 9.30 am.

https://web.facebook.com/southernfarmersmarket?_rdr

Compost Recipe and Garden Monthly, November 2014

I’m going to start with the most important thing a garden requires- compost. Without a consistent approach to compost making, your garden will not thrive. So let’s head down into the heart of darkness.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALook inside this bin. Some mornings it sends up little smoke signals as I open the lid. We have five bins in permanent production. I have just emptied two mature lots onto the Spring beds. The other three are in various stages of breaking down.

When we built our vegetable patches five years ago, we had no natural topsoil at all. Our beds have been built up over the years with good compost. After every growing season, they need topping up and refreshing. I learnt how to make better compost from Wendy Mathers of the Food Farm, through workshops run by our local Council. Before I attended Wendy’s workshop, my compost approach was not based on correct layering and so the results were patchy.  I have heard a lot of nonsense over the years about mythological practices and debates about what constitutes good composting technique. Correct layering, using everyday found matter, is the answer.  I follow this recipe and am enjoying great results, with a bin maturing every three months or so, full of lovely fresh black soil alive with pink earthworms.  Here’s the recipe:

Compost Recipe – developed by Ross & Wendy Mather, Food Farm, St Andrews, Victoria 

The base ingredient is one bucket of  green matter, that is, vegetable scraps, or fresh grass/weeds then add to this one item from nitrogen column and any two items from carbon column.

Nitrogen                                  Carbon
1 bucket manure                     1 bucket straw
2 cups pelletised manure      1 bucket paper
1 cup blood and bone             1 bucket dry leaves
1 bucket Lucerne                     1 bucket sugarcane mulch

Too much carbon slows decomposition, and too much nitrogen smells. If you have vinegar flies, add more carbon and check your ratios.

In late Autumn, I have an abundant supply of crunchy oak leaves providing the carbon matter. In summer, I save newspapers and shred them on site. Newspaper ink is vegetable based. You tear along the grain so that it shreds easily. I use cow and chook manure as I keep these animals, but the list provides alternatives for suburban gardeners. Weeds can be used so long as they are drowned thoroughly first to destroy any seed.

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Wandering around the Spring vegetable patch after some welcome rain, my photo lens and I discover the close up beauty of new life. Seeds sprout and develop quickly, young grapes form on vines, last month’s quince flowers are now miniature fruits, the pears and apples are in flower and fruit, and the nectarines already colourful.

butterhead lettuce
butterhead lettuce

Each photo suggests a task. The little lettuce seeds need thinning and transplanting. I often wrap up a few clumps then make transportable containers using wet newspaper. Seedlings were once sold this way from nurseries.

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The strawberries are happy but I need to ‘acquire’ the materials for a walk in cloche. I am always on the look out for stuff in tip shops but thick poly piping is well sought after. We have stolen three veggie patch beds for raspberries and strawberries. Now we are short of room for summer vegetable crops. The children love to pick berries and eat them on site, as do the birds.
The boysenberries have gone crazy and need containing. More freezer space is required!

Boysenberries
Boysenberries

The zucchini plants are well on the way and I should see the start of the plague next week. Traditionally in Melbourne, zucchini begin to fruit one week after Melbourne Cup Day. Melbourne Cup Day ( the first Tuesday of November) is used as a marker for all sorts of gardening activities. Some say that tomatoes must be planted from Cup day onwards. I plant mine much earlier, in the ridiculous hope that I might have tomatoes by Christmas.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the surprise bed, one dedicated to out of date seed, the Cucurbit family seeds all germinated ( all were five years out of date) as well as the borlotti beans. These little squash need thinning out and sharing.

squash and cucumbers from the surprise bed
squash and cucumbers from the surprise bed.

Winter crops are now going to seed and I save the best specimen of each vegetable for seed collecting.  The only problem is that these giants take up valuable space. The importance of home seed collecting is that you end up with a variety, after some years, that is most adapted to your particular microclimate, as well as preserving the strongest of the species. Darwin at work! These seeds are swapped and given away. Sometimes, like all things, new genes are introduced. The red lettuce below was found years ago in a mesclun lettuce seed mix. I have saved this one to provide summer colour contrast to a lettuce bowl.

My favourite red lettuce is saved each year. Anyone know its name?
My favourite dark red lettuce is saved each year. Anyone know its name?

The grapes will be prolific this year: netting takes place in a month or so.  This year I plan to preserve some vine leaves for dolmade making, and the method can be found on Debi’s site here. I must be selective about this as the leaves shade the grapes from the vicious summer sun.

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The young nectarines are already bird attractors. Those hungry birds, mostly Eastern Rosellas, Crimson Rosellas, white Cockatoos, Corellas,  and King Parrots, will attack young, hard fruit for fun; just testing, they say.  The nets will come out soon, a big task to cover around 30 fruit trees in production. Even olive trees need netting.

young nectarine
young nectarine

The artichokes are late this year, probably because I transplanted them last Autumn. I love their grey -green foliage and will use these small ones shaved in a pasta dish this week

Artcichokes ready to pick and cook
artichokes ready to pick and cook

The broad beans continue to grace our garden and plates. Other currently harvested crops include radicchio, rugola, and lettuce.

broadbean glut. Time to freeze.
Broadbean glut. Time to freeze.

This post forms part of Garden Share Collective  a monthly round up of food growing bloggers.  If you lived next door, we could share seed and seasons of plenty.

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Garden Monthly. June 2014

This is a quick round up of my June garden.  More importantly, it is my garden diary which compels me to record the seasonality of my own produce, as well as enjoying other garden stories from around the globe.

                                                The Harvest.

Firstly, the Asians:  limes, lemon grass, chilli, coriander and Kaffir lime leaves. I can see a curry or guacamole coming up soon. Or perhaps some lemon grass tea.

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The baby turnips and pepper were baked with some other ( stored ) home produce.ImageImage

                                            The Veggie Garden

These two beds below were seeded on March 25th and are now ready to pick ( except for the broccoli). Young turnips, tatsoi, lettuce, radish, dill and coriander, silverbeet, and self sown bok choi are now abundant.Image

ImageThese strawberries think it is Spring, due to the unseasonable warm weather we have experienced this May. Will they have a chance to colour? The crazy yellow eggplants refuse to die. Shame that I don’t really like them.ImageImage

                                                 The ‘TO DO’ list.

  • plant broad beans in patches that could benefit from a nitrogen fix.
  • finish off planting out the garlic ( an endless task)
  • make a few more beds of winter lettuce and rocket.
  • remind the family to pick the broccoli heads in our absence, ensuring a future supply of side shoots.
  • protect the lemon grass from future frost.

In the photo below, Renato farewells the girls, my Dexter cows, Delilah, Derry and Duffy. Renato has been working as a volunteer Wwoofer on our property, on and off for two months. From Milano and a high tech working world, he loves farming and Australia and is always researching interesting approaches to everyday tasks. He has gathered endless quantities of manure from these paddocks, spreading it on all the fruit trees and olives and adding it to the compost.  Good gardening depends on good compost and manure.  Grazie Mille Renato.

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Garden Monthly. May 2014.

As April draws to a close, it’s time to take a spin around the veggie garden. The seeds I planted on March 25th are up and nearly ready for transplanting or thinning out. In this bed are: radicchio, cavolo nero  (Tuscan kale), rainbow chard, beetroot, French radish, cos lettuce, mixed lettuce, spinach and turnips. Lots of good things for winter soups and salads.ImageThe next bed is my Surprise bed. I had too many packets of out of date seeds, most dating back to 2009, so I threw the whole lot in this bed. So far, the results are good, with tatsoi, mustard, coriander, and other mysteries popping up.Image You have to congratulate the zucchini plants. They bear from late November to late April-that’s five months and still producing. I picked another three this morning, which formed the basis of a grilled zucchini and marinated fetta salad.

ImageThe chilli are so slow to colour. If we stay frost-free, they will hang on for a few more months and finally turn red.ImageThe raspberries are putting on a repeat performance, some as big as strawberries. First up, best dressed.  When there are so few, they never quite make it to the table.ImageThe Greek Basil bushes remain healthy and the Cavolo Nero from last winter is having a renaissance.ImageImageTo do list includes:

  • preparing beds for garlic planting. I prefer to plant garlic cloves in May, but so long as they go in before Winter Solstice, June 21st, they will be fine. I have a huge stash tucked away in a dark corner of my pantry. My new trick is to bury some whole bulbs under the cold earth in May, ( weather depending) and when I see green shoots, I lift the bulbs and separate the cloves into neat rows. I attempt to grow around 300 plus a year- one whole bulb for every day plus more for planting out the year after. Garlic loves rich soil and requires Winter and Spring watering if the season turns dry.
  • cleaning up the last remaining tomato bushes and adding the stalks to the bonfire stack (not safe to compost old tomato vines, they say) and tying up the stakes for next year.
  • Preparing the beds for sowing broad bean seeds. More manure and more compost needed. Our Wwoofer, Renato, is happy to help.
  • Thinning out and/or transplanting seedlings from last month’s sowing.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA