This January I’d like to invite you on a tour of our edible garden (I’d call it ‘my’ garden but Jackie does all the work).
The plan is for you to join Jackie and I on a gathering stroll in the garden and orchards then retire to the dining room for a meal based on what we’ve found growing.
Given the slight issue of time travel we will have anticipated some of your finds and pre-picked and cooked ahead that morning as well as me cooking from the open kitchen during lunch.
Head chef Jeremy will join us for a demonstration of what he might have done in comparison to some of the dishes I will present – a little Kiwi rustic vs French refined in our Aussie kitchen.
It will be each Monday in January. I learn something every time I’m in the garden and I’m looking forward to sharing the summer pickings, Jackie’s fabulous expertise and a leisurely meal of food that will speak for itself. Can’t come on a Monday? Talk to us about customising your own group or buying a gift voucher as Christmas gifts for the garden obsessed.
But that’s January, a lifetime and Christmas away. And we know its nearly Christmas because I just plugged buying gift vouchers; well now you know I’ve moved into the marketing department!
My heart and that of Zin House remains firmly in the garden. It’s been a big year of recognition for excellence and I like to think also for authenticity. It’s always bothered me when pocket handkerchief gardens feeding 1,000 + covers talk baldly about cooking what they grow. All of us who do the hard yards, and I include our colleagues at Pipeclay Pumphouse here, know what it takes to actually grow the talk.
I remain infuriated with the obsession for how food looks over how it’s grown and how it tastes. The greatest compliment you can give us is to tuck in with lots of yum’s, stretch out over the privilege of a meal that isn’t sandwiched between the two hours most convenient to someones spreadsheet, bring your friends to share a sunset and continue to support our small country restaurant as it grows.
Whilst ‘the marketing department’ may be very happy for you to shoot your meal, I’d much rather you just savoured it.
When I was little a badge turned up in the house that said ‘Flour Power’. Desperate to imitate my peace sign and flare wearing older sisters, I wore the badge for weeks, just slightly confused that the word was spelt wrongly.
I only vaguely recall the activism taking place around me or the row that followed my fathers announcement that he wanted to pack us all up for a teaching position in Sierra Leone. I experienced my first crush as handsome young men in uniform passed through our home – boys on leave from or heading to Vietnam, calling to pay their respects to my parents.
I would spend hours and days on end in our rambling garden, fascinated in particular with flowers of all descriptions. I gained endless entertainment creating stick people frames and then dressing them with petals – my favourite the flowing miniature gowns from iris and rhododendron petals matched to faces of pansy or lilac.
When filling a vase with almond blossom last weekend the petals and scent tumbled me backwards nearly fifty years. Suddenly I could remember the colours and smells, the place and time as if I was actually there.
The point is – and there is one, I am still delighted by flowers – their uses, usefulness, perfume and now also their flavours. These days I use flowers on some of our dishes, not because it is fashionable, but in spite of it being so.
Borage and rocket flowers nestled over wagyu prosciutto are not only pretty but play a role in the dish. The blue and cream visually offset the side dish of pickled beetroot while bringing to life the otherwise dull look of the meat. Most diners claim to be able to pick up the taste of oyster in the borage and rocket flowers are herbaceous and peppery.
Right now broad bean and snow pea flowers are tasty in a salad as are the pretty yellow choy sum gone to seed.
Dainty blue rosemary blooms are slightly numbing, oily tasting and with a distinctly rosemary burst. Pretty in pink gone to seed radish tastes not radishy but blandly pleasant.
In summer chamomile flowers will be plucked freshly from the garden and steeped for tea, as will the borage.
While critics applaud chefs for piling our plates with ‘soil’, some are also saying flowers are passe. How can beauty in any form be passe? If the ceramics, toiletries, linen and furnishings in the restaurant need serve only function too, then I will save a fortune!
The fashion police will always bleat about what we should and should not do – what is cool and what is not.
The person who created the slogan on the badge a little Kiwi girl wore in the 70’s, they understood having food was more important than having the ‘right’ food.
Parents still farewelling children off to fight on foreign shores and the entomologists struggling to save the worlds bees from Varroa mite – these are just some who might think you can eat what you like – and be grateful that you can.
If you want to put a flower in your hair, or your food, go for it.
Make Jam Not War
Marmalade as taught to me by Lesley Russell
2 kg citrus of any sort
4 litres water
2 kg sugar
Cut the fruit into pieces, remove seeds and whiz in a processor
Cover with the water and leave overnight
Next day boil the fruit and water with a lid on until soft, about 30 mins
Measure the liquid and add 3/4 sugar by volume ( 4 cups fruit = 3 cups sugar)
Boil (no lid) until set, about 40 minutes or more.