January is supposed to start with promises to self on issues of great importance, right? Zin should be getting Zen.
On a farm when everything decides to ripen at once the year starts with the loud demands of rapidly ripening fruit. This is overlaid with the inherited (or absorbed) psychological subtext that ‘waste is sin’. Days start from half sleep mental notes of picking orders, processing possibilities and storage to sale solutions.
So some plan to drink less (really not helpful to our business) eat less (really bad idea) exercise more (make bread to avoid tuck-shop arms). If you really want to be helpful, I need you to eat more jam, relish and pie.
When someone skinny, fit and pious arches a brow when you reach for another slice/piece/glass – tell them you’re just doing your bit to help a farmer.
I don’t know (or choose not to know) anyone who doesn’t like the gift of a jar of homemade jam – it’s like a hug in a jar. If you grow or receive the gift of excess fruit these are my top tips for quick results.
2 kg fruit
2 kg sugar
1 or 2 lemons
Boil rapidly for ten minutes or until a little cooled in a saucer sets.
Remove lemon, pour into hot sterilised jar and lid immediately.
That, is it. These tips may help:
If you are using low pectin fruit like strawberries add some jam setter (pectin) or high pectin fruit like apple grated through.
Add a smattering of less ripe fruit to aid setting.
NEVER try to cook more than 2kg at a time.
Add a knob of butter to rid a foamy top
Use the largest pot you can with a heavy bottom (I mean the pot) Smaller pot, smaller batch.
Fruit with stones that are not free may be easier cook and then remove the stone, most will float to the surface. Don’t worry about the odd stone.
If you are too busy for jam, relish or pie right now and the fruit looks like it might crawl off the bench if you leave it one more day, roast fruit with a little butter and sugar and pop in the fridge or freezer. This should only take a few minutes and it will now keep to make some pies or top ice-cream or as a base for a more exotic chilli jam/relish.
I once looked at the $10 price tag on a pot of fresh mint tea in a fancy restaurant and wondered who on earth would pay that, until after dinner my partner did just that.
Which reinforces both the importance of immersing your guests in a fabulous experience where cost is somewhat secondary and also how ridiculously simple it is to grow your own.
Camomile (healing & calming), peppermint (anti-inflamatory, and lemon verbena (for colic, flatulence & candida) are all flourishing at the moment. Borage makes a good digestive drink, elderflower is a pleasant and pretty tea (anti-viral) and even better with a little lemon and honey.
The more I look around the garden the more I want to steep things rather than just cook them. The only thing rivaling my tea fetish at the moment is my tempura obsession. Coming from a country that batters and deep fries oysters and (real) scallops in takeaway stores perhaps it’s in my DNA. or maybe its just that anything battered and deep fried tastes great.
The ultimate tempura batter is simply white wine whisked with flour to a pouring consistency. Ensure the oil is good and hot and dip anything thin, young and greenish (and not a dinner guest). We’re using vine leaves at the moment and the aforementioned elderflowers.
If you’re worried about the effect of eating fried food simply follow up with a nice cup of tea.
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.