Saturday in the garden; Sunday in the kitchen

An autumn Saturday in the garden at Matakana invariably means spending Sunday in the kitchen.  This weekend has been no exception.

Yesterday’s harvest included pears, apples, figs and a few kilo of still-green tomatoes.  We also brought home Lebanese cucumbers, peppers, watercress, leeks, beetroot, carrot thinnings, lettuce, beans, a pumpkin and a couple of zucchini.

The tomatoes are now green tomato chutney.  We will eat the best of the figs fresh, but I slow roasted the others with honey and a sprinkling of cinnamon.  The apples have been stewed for breakfasts – one bowl for now and a container for the freezer.

We ate a couple of pears fresh last evening with creamy blue cheese, which must be one of the best tasting food combinations ever.  Others are in the oven right now, roasting for adding to the salad we’re having for dinner.

It’s a real harvest salad:  fresh watercress from the stream that runs through our property at Matakana; baked, peeled and quartered beetroot; sliced Lebanese cucumber; avocado grown by my friend Jude south of Auckland; and crumbled vintage sheep feta bought locally but made in Invercargill.  And, of course, the pears.

If we’re still hungry after all that, there’s always the honey-roasted figs and yoghurt.

Savoury roasted pears are delicious.  This is a recipe from Annabel Langbein’s book “Eat Fresh”.

Halve and core two just ripe pears and slice into wedges.  Mix together 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of rice vinegar, 1 teaspoon of sugar, salt and pepper.  Add the pears and toss to coat.  Then spread in a single layer in a baking dish and roast for 20 minutes at 200 ºC.

Annabel then adds half a cup of fresh walnut pieces and roasts another 10 minutes.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have the walnuts – a situation I hope to remedy when I visit my sister Jane on Banks Peninsula, near Christchurch, next week.  She has 12 walnut trees which looked loaded last time I saw them.


Goodbye summer. Hello winter.

The transition from summer garden to winter garden is hard.  If you’re like me you want the keep the tomatoes, courgettes, peppers and cucumbers going as long as possible.  But that means less space for planting and sowing winter crops like leeks, broccoli, cauliflower and parsnip.  I need to bite the bullet and just get clearing!

The quality of my tomatoes has gone downhill very fast.  My ‘Charlie’s Wartime Italian’ –  so called because the seed was brought back by someone called Charlie in his sock at the end of WW II – began rotting faster than they ripened. Thanks to the warm, wet autumn. I’ve cleared the bed and got it ready for planting out bulb fennel seedlings.  The other tomato bed – organic beefsteaks grown from Kings Seed – is being cleared next weekend.  There are still good looking green tomatoes so I am going to hang the plants in the potting shed in the hope that some will ripen.  But I will also pick some to contribute to my next batch of barbecue relish a la Digby Law.

I think I suggested in January that everyone plants a second round of courgettes.  Well, mine were a failure. All flowers and no fruit.  They are definitely past their use-by date.  I will throw in some more compost and plant spinach seedlings in the empty space.

The Lebanese cucumber are still going strong, as are the peppers. I will leave those a while longer, and then sow more carrot and parsnip seed in their place.

I know that the old gardening books promote sowing carrots, parsnips, and leeks etc way back in December or January.  I like these vegetables young – not old and woody. A real treat lately has been eating parsnip thinnings, roasted with freshly harvested pumpkin, beetroot, red onion and potato.  Yum!

I anticipate making sowings of carrots and parsnips throughout the winter.  And, as I harvest the leeks I will plant more so that they don’t get a chance to grow old and tough.  But, then, my garden is north of Auckland!

In summary, now is the time to:

  • Begin clearing away summer crops that have stopped producing
  • Sow carrots, parsnips and beetroot as space becomes available
  • Plant bulb fennel, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, chard, kohl rabi etc
  • Keep the salad garden producing with successional sowings/plantings of lettuce, rocket and spring onion



Summer’s bounty

The early potatoes, peas and broad beans have – like Christmas – come and gone. We have eaten the first ripe tomatoes, harvested the garlic and red onions, and feasted on salads.

In this unusually wet northern New Zealand summer, we are not fretting about watering the garden.  It’s doing very nicely without the help of the pump we bought last year so that we could take water from the creek to supplement the rainwater we collect.  The rainwater tank is full to overflowing, as are the buckets we position under drips.

I still find things to fret about, however.  What gardener doesn’t?

For a start, there’re the tomatoes.  They are literally dripping with shiney green fruit.  But how can I keep them healthy in these humid conditions without resorting to sprays?

Then there are the Lebanese cucumbers.  I sowed six seeds, planning to keep only the three strongest seedlings to grow on.  But all six looked strong and healthy.  How could I possibly discard any?  The result is I now have six plants producing approximately a bucket of cucumbers a week.  The neighbours are loving them!

As for the zuchini:  well, two plants would have been ample.  But I have four.  All producing furiously in these warm, wet conditions.  On the bright side, the abundance of zuchini has forced us to look at new ways to eat them.  My favourite is grilled, drained and served with anything – on salads, with scrambled eggs for breakfast and in frittata.

Then there are the dwarf beans…they’re just coming into full production and I am scouring the recipe books to find new ways to eat them.  Any ideas?

Peas Please!

No child should miss the experience of eating green peas, fresh from the just-picked pod.  It’s one of life’s magical moments.

My best memories are of the first peas of the season.  I must say the magic palled a little after night after night sitting around the farm’s kitchen table, shelling buckets of peas for freezing.  My parents believed in growing in bulk – after all, you could never be certain that famine and starvation were not just around the corner!  The big chest freezer – the first in our farming neighbourhood – groaned under the weight of them.  We children groaned our way through winter meal after winter meal served with pre-frozen peas.

As an adult, I grow peas but I NEVER freeze them.  I eat them fresh and sweet – raw in a salad, lightly boiled with a sprig of mint with lamb, or tossed into a risotto or paella.

Growing peas is easy.   Make a shallow furrow in well dug soil that has had plenty of compost in the previous year.  Place the seed (use real seed, not peas from the pack in your freezer) about 5cm apart along the furrow.  Rake soil over the seed.  Then firm the surface.

What’s not so easy is protecting your germinating peas from slugs, snails, mice and birds.  Play it safe – cover the ground after you’ve sown.  Wire netting is ideal but even newspaper will keep birds at bay until the pea shoots appear.

Set out bait for slugs and snails.  Organic or inorganic.

Or, if you want to really play it safe, sow your peas in a seed tray and transplant seedlings into the ground when they are big enough to fend for themselves.  Even then, it may pay to put out some slug and snail bait.

Peas love to climb.  Twiggy sticks pushed into the ground will stop them from sprawling all over the garden.  Or, provide them with a wire netting fence to climb.

Happy growing!

I did it!  I planted 10 Cliffs Kidney seed potatoes on Saturday. Now, let’s see when they are ready to eat.

There was a time, when I lived in at the end of a no-exit road in the south Wairarapa, that I always had new potatoes for our Guy Fawkes night feast.  But there the soil was sandy loam and, although I didn’t appreciate it at the time, it was the BEST gardening soil.

I harvested our first asparagus.  Five spears now sit in the refrigerator, waiting for inspiration!   It’s three years since I planted the asparagus so, according to arparagus-growing lore, I can harvest one in three spears.

We also cut the raspberries to the ground, weeded and smothered them with sheep poo.  We’ve had lousy pickings of our raspberries – the birds get every single one in spring.  So our late pruning is aimed at getting a good autumn harvest, when the birds are not as hungry.  It’s their last chance – no raspberries this year and they’re gone!

Elsewhere in the garden:  the cauliflowers look as though they will “flower” in the next couple of weeks; I got a really good picking from new lettuce under microclima; there’s heaps of brocoli but it’s still a good six weeks away; the red sprouting brocoli that was ravaged by rabbits is recovering under netting; there are still three or four savoy cabbage to pick; there’s no sign of the carrots I sowed the weekend before last; and thanks to a bit of thinning and transplanting I now have an entire bed of red and white onions.

And, would you believe it, it snowed in Auckland today!





…to get early potatoes started

I wouldn’t normally recommend using valuable space in a raised garden for growing potatoes.  I make an exception for early potatoes, planted in August/September and eaten before Christmas with lashings of butter and a generous sprinkling of chopped mint.  Who could resist?

I also love that moment when you lift a root literally dripping with baby potatoes from the ground. So satisfying, and so exciting if the grower is a child.

With the worst of the winter over (hopefully) now is the time to get your early potatoes going.  You should be able to squeeze two rows into a raised garden a metre wide.

First buy some “certified” seed potatoes.  These are potatoes, sold loosely or in bags at nurseries, that have come from disease-free growers.  Yes, you probably could use the supermarket potatoes that have sprouted in the bottom of the cupboard.  But you run the risk of introducing nasty viruses to your garden.

Choose a variety bred especially for early cropping.  My favourites are Jersey Benne and Cliffs Kidney.

Look carefully at each potato.  At one end you will see where the potato was connected to the mother plant.  At the other, you should see a cluster of “eyes” ready to sprout.  This is called the “rose” end.  When you plant your potatoes, you will plant them with the rose upwards.

Prepare your garden bed by heaping on compost. Actually any bulky organic manure will do except mushroom compost – because it has lime in it.  You can fork it over the entire garden.  Or, you can put half a bucket to a bucketful in each spot where you will plant a potato.  Either way, potatoes love lots of the stuff.

Plant by burying each potato 10cm below the surface.  Each potato should be 30cm apart.  Your rows should be 50cm apart.  (You would plant main crop potatoes further apart.)

In two or three weeks, the first sprouts will appear.  Start “earthing” them up by pulling the soil up around the stems with a pull hoe.  At the same time, spread a handful of fish fertiliser or blood and bone around each plant.  Repeat the process every two to three weeks to keep the weeds down and the light away from the baby potatoes until the leaves of the plants are touching.

In three to four months from planting, do a bit of exploratory digging by hand.  This is called bandycooting.  If you can feel potatoes the size of eggs, then you can probably dig them.  Put a fork as deep as possible under the plant and gently lift the potatoes out of the ground.

Just dig as many as you need for the next meal.  New potatoes always taste best when they eaten fresh from the garden.



Remembering Casablanca

Sarah (No 2 daughter) and I went to Morocco a few years back.  We were looking forward to trying the famous cuisine and determined to eat what and where the locals eat.  On our first night in Casablanca we spotted a café we thought would fit the bill.  The problem was my French.  What I assured Sarah would be a tasty lamb tagine turned out to be goats’ brains.  “Yuk”, said Sarah.  “I’ll buy a French dictionary,” said I sheepishly.

I should have known better.  In a Madrid café a few years earlier I was stumped by the Spanish menu.  Trying to be helpful, the waiter put his hands on his hips, flapped his arms and made noises like a chicken.  “Ah, chicken wings!  Yes please,” I exclaimed.    And out came a plate piled high with chicken livers.

I’m telling you this story because this week my friends and I had a girls’ cook-in and it was my turn to do the main course.  So I cooked a lamb tagine, using a recipe from Jo Seager’s You shouldn’t have gone to so much trouble, darling. My book has been so well used, it’s falling apart and the page this recipe is on is splattered with food stains.  Here’s the recpie:

Ingredients:     1 kg diced lean lamb; 3 tablespoons oil; 1 large onion, roughly chopped; 6 cloves crushed garlic (the only thing in this dish from my garden); 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 tablespoon fresh or 1 teaspoon dried tarragon; 2 teaspoons ground cumin; 1 1/2 cups water or chicken stock; 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice; 1 teaspoon grated orange find; 15 pitted prunes; 2 tablespoons clear honey; salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste; 1.4 cup blanched almonds (I use slivers); 1/4 cup sesame seeds; 1/4 cup raisins.

What you do:  heat the oil in a large frying plan.  Add lamb, onion and garlic, stir over a medium heat for 3-4 minutes. Then add the spices and herbs, water, orange juide and rind.  Mix well and pour into a large covered casserole.  Bake for 1 1/2 hours at 160C.

Then, season with salt & pepper, add the honey and prunes.  Cook 10 more minutes to soften the prunes.

In a small frypan, with just a splash of oil, fry the almonds and sesame seeds.  Add the raisins and swirl the pan around to warm them, then sprinkle the mixutre over the meat.

Serve with rice or couscous.