Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Souped up for spring

One hundred and twenty five kilometre an hour winds are due to arrive some time in the next hour. Its pretty wild and pouring with rain outside for the first week of spring with the odd rumble of thunder passing by.

Spring is delicious for so many reasons...literally too. Green leafy vegetables plumped with winter rain, bright happy strawberries and the first sexy asparagus at the Farmers Market last weekend- I am happy. The mint in the garden is abundant, perfect for the spring lamb. The ancient chickens have been stirred by a little sunshine and the longer days and are laying at least one egg a day between the three of them.  I love the change of diet that comes with the change of season.

The swiftly changing weather is hard to predict and there are a lot of colds and flu around and our bodies need a boost. I reach for one of the spring gardens unsung heroes, watercress. At its best now in ponds, paddocks and fast flowing streams, nasturtium officinale is actually a member of the brassica family and rivals kale as a superfood . Rich in vitamins A, C, K, iron, calcium, manganese and other nutrients, leaves flowers and seeds are all edible. It is a useful forage plant but a word of caution: when harvesting in the wild, do not gather from areas that are either down stream from or part of grazing paddocks or have any sort of water contamination. Watercress is a favourite food for a freshwater snail that acts as a host for liver fluke which can effect humans.
Dulse (palmaria palmata) is another super food. Add some dried dulse seaweed (available at your health food shop) and you will gain the benefits of Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, C and E potassium, calcium, phosphorus, chromium, iodine, zinc and trace elements.

This soup is the best spring tonic, warm and nourishing, one of my all time favourite recipes of forager Fiona Bird  and is from her book "The Foragers Kitchen" given to me by a dear friend who spends a lot of time on South Uist, the island where Fiona lives. See more about the legend that is Fiona on her Facebook page. Her books are available to order on line in Australia.

This recipe calls for smoked haddock, (I use smoked cod) and pin head oats. I have used a tablespoon of quick oats with no ill effect. I suspect they are there to prevent the milk curdling as it simmers.

Smoked Haddock, Dulse and Watercress Soup

30g butter
1Tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
250g potatoes, peeled and diced small
1Tbsp dried dulse flakes
2 Cups milk
1Tbsp quick oats
200g fillet smoked cod
300ml water
2 Tbsp roughly chopped watercress (or more!)

Melt butter and oil in a saucepan, add onion, cook briefly before adding potatoes, dulse and oats.Stir well, cover and simmer over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring to check the potatoes are not sticking to the pan. Add a little of the milk if necessary.

Add the milk and the fish, skin side up. Cover and continue to cook slowly.

After 4-5 minutes, lift the fish out of the liquid and peel off the skin. Flake the fish and return to the pan. Add water and watercress and cook 2-3 minutes. Test that the potatoes are cooked before serving.

Taste for seasoning...smoked fish is nowhere near as salty as it used to be. Add a generous amount of black pepper if you like it and top each bowl with a little extra watercress.
Serves four as a starter but I serve as two hearty main meals to enjoy while waiting for the next sunny day!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Glass Pickles

shade grown
It is not often that two of my obsessions overlap in a serendipitous way. At the end of autumn I was walking with a friend along along estuary where he lives when I realised we were standing at the edge of a marshy area full of samphire.  I have never seen it near home so I harvested a small handful to take home to pickle. This Australian member of the genus salacornia, I believe to be tecticornia halophytea favourite plant of mine. Looking very much like the succulent 'Dead Man's Fingers' it thrives in tidal rivers, estuaries and salty marshland where it acts against erosion. A small shrub, it appears to have no leaves, only succulent stems. In shaded areas, it can double its height when given year round water. New growth is brilliant green,   during summer the older branches become pink or red.

Common names include 'sea asparagus', 'sea bean', 'sea pickle' and 'pousse-pierre' after the patron saint of fishermen. comes the link to another obsession,,,,'glasswort' is another common name for samphire. Prior to the nineteenth century, the ashes of glasswort and saltwort were used as a source of soda ash for glass making. Other varieties are used as a source of biofuel, salt and building materials.High in nitrogen, it can be a good source of fodder. Aboriginal Australians collected the seeds to grind into flour.
washed for pickling
Samphire is a useful foraging plant. As with any native plants, it is best to check local regulations before harvesting. With samphire and marsh species, it is important to check the waterways in which they grow to avoid contamination. The best time to harvest is in spring when they are plump and juicy and the waterways have had a good flush of rain. I harvested mine at the end of summer and some of the stalks are a bit tough. Only take the top of the green shoots so as not to kill the plant.

The taste varies from  seaweed-salty to green-bland when it is grown in freshwater. It can be eaten raw, steamed or preserved. Traditionally it is served with seafood and historically, in spring, English fishmongers would present a bunch with every purchase (which was often binned by the ungrateful customer as 'poor' food).

Nutritionally it is a good source of vitamin A, calcium and iron. It can also be a source of selenium, which it draws from the soil and transpires into the atmosphere. This may need a note of caution not to consume large amounts in areas of samphire from soils rich in selenium.This is not usually a problem in Australia as our soils are selenium poor, except possibly where there is run off from commercial grain producing paddocks.

spice jars are the perfect shape
There are lots of methods to pickle samphire. After washing and removing the tough parts of the stems, either blanch in boiling water, drain and let dry then cover with cider or white wine vinegar, with or without spices. Or simply pack into sterile jars and pour over boiling vinegar and seal.
As a side dish, lightly steam and dress with lemon and butter or olive oil. Use raw is salads, pickled with fish, white meats and mild cheeses.

Samphire plants have recently appeared in nurseries in the coastal plants section. Tough and water wise, they are a worthwhile addition to your garden for so many reasons. I have taken some cuttings.I don't think the homegrown varieties will have that lovely salty taste but if you have high levels of salt in your water source, it could be just the plant for you.

As for collecting glass...that is purely for pleasure!

glass by Gerry Reilly

Friday, February 19, 2016

Bush, Bog Rolls and Bikers

The new track
No apologies for today's title. 

Just after Christmas, work began on widening the southern half of the Margaret River walk trail, closing the loop along the river. It being summer holidays here meant an increase of traffic on the northern side.The new path, when it opened was shocking...a wide expanse of bare orange dust, in parts through newly cleared forest.  Two weeks later we had an unexpected downpour and our new path turned to mud.

There were grumblings amongst the regular forest users. They are an eclectic bunch, most of us know each other and our dogs, by sight, if not by name. Since The Hairy Marron, the new bike shop, opened at the bridge, the amount of mountain bike traffic on the paths has increased and walkers need to be alert.They don't have time to chat, pat the dogs or to admire the new sculptures by our rock man, who quietly creates sculptures from stones along the path that vanish within a few days. Nor the woman you will find perched on a log or a seat chanting in the early morning.
Rock man at work

At the weir, the new path has made the entrance to the southern portion more obvious and is has become a magnet for illegal campers who strew the car park with litter and the forest alongside with used toilet paper and worse.These visitors who speed through miss a lot, the strange sound of the 'nail gun' tree which leads you to think there is a building site in the forest and its mate on the south side who screeches like a possum. They don't see the bright yellow leeches who cross the path after rain and miss the wonderful giant caterpillar that turns into one of the largest moths in the forest and the shy birds that come near if you are silent. I wonder if in spring they see the orchids and the marron who crawl lazily under the bridge?

We live in paradise here, it can make you selfish. Change is often difficult. The forest has changed and more people can now appreciate it, which hopefully will mean care for it too. 

New karris to meet
The summer rain and following high winds have softened the path with fallen leaves The extreme heat has caused the karri trees to begin shedding their bark and helped it settle into the landscape. The Rotary Club has installed some benches  and the workmen have left the odd large rock along side the trail that can be used to rest a while too. We are beginning to appreciate the fact we can now walk three abreast and no longer have to watch for snakes in the damp spots close to the water (although the snakes have been seen checking out the new path too.) We have met some new trees and cheer on the Zamia palms pushing through the compacted dirt. At the end of the path, 'Hairy' welcomes us with a smile and we can appreciate their excellent coffee and the boys in bike shorts setting off on their bikes while we moan about the tourists!
Fat as my thumb and long as my finger!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Tropical glow without the juicer

The turmeric is halfway through its growth cycle at the moment. There is no sign yet of the creamy white fragrant flowers. It will be the end of summer, if not autumn, before the tops start to die back and a few weeks more till harvest. This is my third year growing turmeric. I am still amazed it is still alive after our cool wet winters.

It was originally planted in a pot of good quality potting mix enhanced with various manures and mulched with lupin hay. Being in a pot makes it easier to shift its position if the weather gets too cold. Last year I placed them in the shade of the north facing fence which here, means it is warmed all day by the sun. This year they are again north facing but under shade cloth against the rendered brick walls of the raised beds where I can keep an eye on them from the kitchen window.
The first year I left it be in its pot. That meant that much of the root in the centre of the pot had become sodden and too rotten to harvest. Still, there was over a kilo of fresh root in that pot, plenty to play with.

If you wish to dry your turmeric, it is best done soon after harvest. After washing, finely slice the roots into equal thicknesses, not bothering to peel them. Lay them on racks, evenly spaced. You can dehydrate in your food dryer, I simply left them in the house on the dryer racks and they were dry within a week. You can store in an airtight jar and grind as needed or grind the whole lot into a powder ready for cooking.

Homemade turmeric powder may not seem as brightly coloured as commercial powder. This depends on many factors, including the fact that imported turmeric is irradiated when passing through customs which strangely enhances the colour. The taste and the aroma of home grown are infinitely superior in my experience. This crop from one pot will last me for cooking until the next is ready.
Turmeric is much in favour at the moment as a gentle anti-inflammatory due to its active compound, curcumin, which gives it the lovely yellow colour. The United States National Library of Medicine’s database, Medline, a bibliographic data base, shows over 600 potential health benefits. However, curcumin does not become active until it is a) heated, b) eaten with black pepper to increase its bioavailability and c) adding ghee, coconut or olive oil when cooking. So, stop juicing it right now and start frying it gently and adding it to your meals. Otherwise you will have a very low absorption rate and waste all those precious attributes.

 It is all very easy… Look to traditional Indian recipes, they all follow these principles: curry powder always contains pepper and all curry pastes are gently fried before adding other ingredients.

Monday, January 4, 2016

A Nasty Christmas?

Today is January the 4th, time to get back to work for many of us. Living in a tourist town, the time to walk, swim, shop and drink coffee is before ten in the morning. The summer crowds begin to gather then, driving me to head for home and settle down to work.

Last year was a particularly good year for nasturtiums in the garden. Now you have all opened your Christmas presents and I won't be spoiling the surprise, I can share how I made them.
Theses recipes are from 'Cooking with Flowers'...coming soon!

Nasturtium Vinegar

Fill a jar with the reddest nasturtium flowers you can find.
Top up with good white wine vinegar and put lid on.
Allow to steep for a week.
Strain and bottle.

Pickled Nasturtium Pods

Fill a jar with young nasturtium seeds, they need to be small and green. If they are pale and hard, they are too old to pickle and will turn out like ball bearings, leave them for next years crop of plants.
Cover with water.
Rinse each day for 3 days.
The water will smell dreadful, it is the bitter principles leaching out.
Day 4, place in a sieve to drain and dry slightly before returning to the jar.
Top up the jar with cider vinegar to cover the seeds and replace lid.
Leave a week or more before using as a great substitute for capers. 

So, that as the present...
Here's the recipe that went with it:

Nasturtium Dressing

1 egg yolk
1 tsp  French mustard
2 tsp sugar
2 Tbsp nasturtium vinegar
2 drops of Tabasco
Salt to taste
Combine all ingredients in a food processor or with a stick blender.
Sunflower or grape seed oil
Gradually drizzle in until the mixture thickens.
2Tbsp pickled nasturtium seeds, chopped fine
1 small gherkin, chopped fine
1-2 tsp finely chopped fresh lemon thyme

Serve with seafood, potatoes or as a salad dressing.
If you would like to see it a stronger shade of pink, chop 4 red nasturtium flowers and stir through. Stir again before serving OR mix in 2 tsp of tomato sauce if flowers aren’t available.