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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Growers Markets, Food Elitism and The Little Man

This is my second year selling my excess produce at market and I have a few observations.

I have a very ordinary suburban backyard. So ordinary in fact that many people are disappointed  and experience feelings of anticlimax when they see how average it all is. Truth is we make good use of our space and it is testament that nearly every yard can be sustaining.
We grow without chemicals, have done for at least 20years. I don't even bother with Pyrethrum sprays anymore. I find keeping things in balance so that the whole system works together are far more conducive and economical. Insects and bugs are good for your garden and are pollinators too. Everything is part of somebody else's food chain, even fungi, so you don't want to be eradicating anything
The growers market at Perth (Tas) held in the beautiful gardens of ut si cafe. It is a converted old Anglican church with an edible landscape and a creative and energetic team of passionate people. The growers market is a result of one of the owners, Colette, trying to embody all her passions into one living space. She is passionate about food, people, the seasons, community, ethical meat production and organics.
She does not charge any fees for stall holders.
The cafe is simply trying to be the facilitator that brings a community together to access local food free from chemicals. Food grown in the season and with minimal oil miles.
This allows excess garden produce to be shared with others and for people to network together and meet and chat at market like the old days. 
Simple conversations birth new recipes and growing tips between growers and buyers.
Food at it's most basic and best.
Many times I have added up several items that someone has bought and said $4.50 and people are stunned at the price and expect it to be dearer. It's simple though; it's local, fresh and comes with low overheads.
It is a big curve of education though, I have people coming down to the market wanting to buy basil in early spring when frost is still on the ground and though there is about 5-6 other varieties of herbs flourishing, they still want to be able to buy a summer herb out of season.
It has taken a couple of years but I am gradually seeing more locals coming to get fresh produce now realising that it isn't an elitist "foodie-fad" market but a place to get something to put in the pot for dinner.

A lot of people pay lip service to the idea of growers markets and fresh, local organic food but at the end of the day they are not well patronised by these same people. One reason is because they would really rather just buy everything at a supermarket; newspapers, toiletries, meat, vegetables, baked goods, hardware....even petrol. And there are a lot of closed newsagents and butchers etc to attest to that.
The other reason is that people lack imagination and skill. A lot of people find it impossible to look at a selection of 5 or 6 seasonal ingredients and come up with a couple of different meals. Many people have lost the art of cooking with fresh herbs too. 

So a couple of us battle on trying to encourage other growers to bring their excess to market to provide greater quantities and choice for people. I see food falling off trees in people's yards and when I suggest they bring it to the market, they say "I wouldn't have enough".
What is enough? Is it better that food should rot on the ground rather than be distributed within the community. So what if you sell out in an hour? The money you make from the plums can be used to buy fresh peas and rhubarb from someone else. Everyone goes home richer, mostly in spirit.
And now a new challenge. 
A Farmer's Market starting in the bigger town where an average stall costs $50. If you charge a premium to sell then prices have to reflect that to cover costs. To charge more, food has to be seen as more. This is when fresh and local becomes boutique and commercial. Simple backyard growers are in another league entirely but there does need to be somewhere for the small commercial growers to showcase their goods.
 I am an absolute champion of struggling small businesses and small growers but I hate being deliberately ripped off and I have been recently- BIG TIME! I use the words "heritage" and "heirloom" to describe and inform, not to jack up the prices. 

Someone related an interesting story the other day;
"I put a perfectly good fridge on the footpath with a sign on the front 'give away', and there it sat. After a time I changed the sign to 'For Sale $100'. Do you know that fridge was 'stolen' within minutes"
It is a shame that it is only the things with a significant dollar value that makes us perceive real value.

At the end of the day a Green Zebra is still a tomato and a Purple Sapphire is still a potato. 
But then maybe it is my perceptions that are skewed. I've been accused more then once of being too cheap!
Do you support your local growers?
Do you think your local markets represent value for money?
Or do you think food has just gained too much wank-factor?
Do you make the extra effort to buy from specialist individuals, like butchers and newsagents and growers?
More importantly....
Do you have excess in your garden and would you like to spend  a gorgeous Saturday morning meeting a few real people and swapping some recipes?
See you at ut si Saturdays, 8-12.

This is an Alan Jackson song I like called
"The Little Man"

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Rhubarb Cordial

Not what you were expecting probably but that is because my rhubarb is green, green, green.
Nothing wrong with that but the richly red varieties seem to be the rage and they do produce pretty pink hues.

Gather your rhubarb stalks and discard the leaves. These are toxic but all is not wasted, you can make a pest spray from them and it is at this time of year that the sap suckers and leaf hoppers and white fly are increasing their numbers.
Wash your stalks and chop them up and into a pot.
The smell is heady and fresh like summer grass with the dew evaporating in a hot morning sun.
This recipe is for about 3kg of rhubarb but you can adjust the quantities quite easily to suit your harvest.
Also into the pot with the rhubarb place 150ml of water. Tis a scant amount but you are wanting the juices from the rhubarb and you will extract these gently by placing on the lowest heat and allowing the mass to soften and collapse. I did cover my pot with a lid slightly ajar as I didn't want any of the liquids to evaporate.

Slowly it cooks and collapses and the lovely apple green colour has changed to a tinned asparagus colour!
Take your muslin square and dredge it in boiling water....
Oh dear! I use a cloth for draining cheese curds and such at least 3-4 times a year but I can never find it when I need it. Again I make a mental note that I need to find a more logical place to store it.
So from the fabric stash I take a scrap of the most divine fine cotton and sterilize.

I placed the divine fabric over a bowl and secured with a rubber band and some string, allowing a very slight hollow to take the pulp. Pour the pulp and juice in and cover it with the trailing ends to prevent any contaminants (flies) and allow to sit for several hours or overnight dripping it's way through to the bowl beneath.

For every 1litre of liquid add 700g of sugar and 75ml of lemon juice in a saucepan dissolving the sugar and bringing it up to about 70C. 
Sterilize you bottles (15min in the oven at 100C) and using a funnel, pour the hot liquid into the hot bottles.

So by the time you have run out of Elder Flower cordial, you will be able to continue the season with Rhubarb cordial. It is luscious and refreshing when mixed with a soda water. 
I found this recipe here.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Women's Page From the 1950's

It started with rhubarb....
As I was making rhubarb cordial I got to thinking about the renaissance rhubarb is making  these days. It was once an old fashioned veg rarely enjoyed by anyone under 50yrs. I used to think there was not enough sugar in the world to make it palatable. 
My introduction to rhubarb was a mushy stewed stringy looking mass of dirty green. I was not greatly impressed. But that was in the past and I am now embracing the new rhubarb.
Anyhow, as I said, I got to thinking and wondered if there were any recipes in my grandmother's cookbook, I wondered how she might have used it.
I leafed through "Chocolate Tall Tales", "Strawberry Valentines" and "Ginger Blow-Away Sponge" and tucked into the pages I found a newspaper clipping called,

Domestic Diary
 by Jean Cooper.
Made two cakes using only three eggs; the first from the white the second from the yolks.
MOONLIGHT CAKE is made by creaming 1/3 cup of butter and adding 1 1/2 cups of SR flour, 1 cup of sugar, 1/2 teas salt, 1/2 cup of milk, 1/2 teas vanilla and mixing for 400 strokes (love it). Add stiffly beaten whites of three eggs; mix 200 strokes; spread in a greased layer tin and bake about 20 mins. When cold ice and cut into fingers or squares.
SUNSHINE CAKE - use the same quantities and ingredients, substituting yolks for egg whites. Bake in different shaped tin; ice with chocolate icing and sprinkle with nuts.

A little gem don't you think and handy for when you are baking for a fund raiser cake stall.

And then I got to thinking....
I wonder who Jean Cooper was?
And good old google brought up this page....

with another entry into the Domestic Diary, this time something about removing decals in the bathroom (I remember those!) The clipping is from the QLD newspaper The Courier Mail 17th January 1951.
The article items on this page are clearly targeted towards women and as you would imagine, so are the advertisements. What an interesting snapshot of society and times. There is a rather large article by Lady Cilento under the pen-name of Medical Mother who wrote for the Courier Mail for decades. She was an amazing lady and a real pioneer when it comes to vitamin therapy.

How about that ad in the lower corner for Super Sheltox (I remember that name too) household insecticide. The advertisement says, "You need only spray your home six times a year and still keep it pest free..." 
Thats because its DDT!
And what about the "Vitamin Fortified" Weet-Bix, they are still giving us that bunk on the packet. Not that I have anything against Weet-Bix but they do over exaggerate the nutrition.
No surprise there is also a weight loss ad, "Eat While You Slim".
A blast from the past.
So that's where rhubarb musings took me.
Down memory lane walking with my grandmother's eyes of the past and glimpses into the womens world of the 50s.
Tomorrow I should have some rhubarb cordial to tell you about.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Celebrating Life, Death and Australia Day

It seems very quiet around my blog I know but in the world of real life time its been very busy.
I love the new cups at ut si cafe, they remind me of ripe squash and pumpkins. Their garden is the perfect spot for enjoying the gorgeous summer days of endless blue skies....
and isn't that a double edged sword!
No Rain!
A lot of my time has been devoted to watering.

I have been at the market every Saturday and everything is really growing quite quickly now and thirstily sucking up all the water I can give it as more respiration is happening across the leaves in this weather. A lot of people think a plant is all about the roots but there is a lot going on in the upstairs too.

I have been devoting a lot of time to the tomatoes and this is the first year I have tried the Florida Weave method for staking and I am so far very happy with it. You can read  more about it here on Funkbunny's blog. Although you can't really tell by this photo, I am able to transverse the bed between the plants, they are held quite orderly in their rows and supported in lines. The fruit is still small at this stage and I will be interested to see how this method copes with more weight.

I have been invited to a lot of people's places for dinner. There are so many kind people keeping me busy and filling my nights so that I am not moping and lonely with Craig far from home.
For the first time I went to a Murder Mystery Party and it was so much fun. It was set in New Orleans Mardi Gras time and I was invited to make a Lemon Meringue Pie to take along. I highly recommend this recipe and will be making one of these for Craig when he comes home.

I have been busy with the chickens too as people have come to collect them now they are grown to pullets. As readers correctly suspected there were two roosters and one has gone to a new home in the country by the river. I understand his name is now not Rooster 1 but Lord Pedro of Midworld. As the numbers dwindle so too does the workload and when another 6 pullets go on Sunday, the 2 that I am babysitting go back to their home and the remaining rooster is dispatched for dinner, I will be finally back to a normal flock again. This week I also had to cull the oldest girl from the flock. She was four years old, well past laying and really, really cranky. She sat on the nest all day long, week in week out denying access to any other hen putting everyone off the lay. She pecked at anything viciously within spit distance and when she was off the nest she was denying all others access to the water and the food. The flock has settled remarkably quickly with her gone and I even imagined I could here them singing in munchkin voices "Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead"
She is too tough for eating but I will make stock from her today.

It has been a very bust time at work with extra hours and long days, I don't know how the doctors do it.
This week is also the Living Better With Less class week and Perth had their class last night because of Australia Day today. It will be off to Exeter on Sunday for theirs. This month we have been talking about berries; growing, harvesting and preserving and some organic gardening tips for pests and diseases. With the berry prices around $4+ for a 150g punnet, this is one place you can save a fortune by going to pick your own farms or growing some at home. Berries are so packed with nutrition and they should be a significant part of people's summer diets.
After class I was lucky enough to still be in time to catch the Australia Day fireworks from the balcony at a friend's place overlooking the city and the river. It was a spectacular show that I enjoyed while eating Apricot Chicken in the glow.
I am not sleeping very well with Craig gone, in fact one day I was up for 23hrs straight, but I'm sure things will settle and adjust. I feel exhausted but at the same time very blessed to have so many beautiful caring people in my life.
Happy Australia Day everyone, I'll be having a small BBQ dinner with Craig's family, another blessing, and I hope you are also celebrating with your loved ones too.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Greengage Jam with Ginger

It hasn't all been cherries around here.
The stone fruit is ripening and really coming into it's own now.

I love Greengage Plums and could eat them until I was sick. Pretty much one has too anyway because they have such a short life-span. Once they are ripe they can be past it within 24-48hrs so you do have to be quick. That is also why they are rarely on market shelves as they don't travel very well so it is really handy to know people in your neighborhood with trees.

One of the important rules of jam making is to cook the fruit slowly on low heat thus releasing the pectin that will help the jam set and then rapidly on a higher heat after the sugar is added.
I still prefer the old fashioned way of boiling the jars and lids for 10 mins to sterilize and then placing them upside down in a warm oven. Once the jam is at set I then bottle it hot into the hot jars sealing immediately.

The pectin in the fruit is key to getting jam to set and plums have plenty. I test for set on a cold plate.
In this picture there is a very light coloured blob on the left that I tested after about 10 mins of rapid boil. You can see how thin the mixture is and that it doesn't hold a shape but spreads readily. The blob at the top was after another 10 mins of rapid boil. Once cooled this test patch though thicker than the first still runs fairly freely. If I push the jam with my finger the jam quickly flows back into the trail I've made.
The last test blob is noticeably darker and thicker and once cooled I can push the edge with my finger and see the surface kind of wrinkle like tight surface tension. Another way to test for set is by checking the temperature which will reach 104C or 220F. The Vacola bottling thermometer comes in handy again!

So the basic recipe I used.....
3kg of Greengage plums
1 1/2 cups of water
1/3 cup of lemon juice
3kg of sugar
1/2 cup chopped preserved ginger

Cook the fruit gently in the water until softened. 
Add the sugar, lemon juice, ginger and some of the rind from the lemons if you like.
Stir till thoroughly dissolved and increase the temperature to a gentle boil.
Keep checking for set and don't let your jam burn on the bottom, that is an awful mess to clean (not to mention it taints the whole batch)
Had I had Green Ginger Wine on hand I think I would have used that instead of water to poach the fruit. 
 I think whiskey would also go well with this jam. 

This makes a very respectable amount of jam which I like as there is plenty for the shelf and some for giving.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Citrus and Cinnamon Muscovado Syrup

Sitting On Top Of Our World inspired me in this post to step outside my square which is bottling fruit in plain water. They used a light syrup of raw sugar, rosewater and cinnamon and I have been licking my lips ever since.
After I made my last batch of preserved lemon peel I had some pure heavy syrup leftover in the fridge. I had used mostly muscovado sugar so it's dark and rich and almost caramelly with a marmalade taint. I used this to make a medium syrup 1/4 parts. I also added a cinnamon stick and Orange Flower water.
This would work well for peaches or apricots but I used it for......

Still bright beautiful orbs of ruby and I look forward to these when the summer has gone.
I hope Sitting On Top Of Our World's recipe or this one inspires you to try something different and a little more adventurous too.
Please share with us in the comments your inspirational syrupy concoctions.
What about.....
Liquorice and Orange,
Vanilla and Cinnamon,
Honey and Ginger,

Monday, January 9, 2012

Cherry Time

If you draw a 100km radius around Young NSW you have an area holding 2million sheep.
It is the "Cherry Capital of Australia".
The cherry festival is held the first week in December every year.
Above is a collage of some of the signs in the area. They were taken from the car with my phone but I was trying to capture the art form that they are within themselves.
Some are decades old and some are owner made.

Every year I post about cherries and I always find it an exciting time. I have some waiting in the fridge right now for bottling. One of the doctors at work has been enjoying my bottled cherries from last season with a dollop of vanilla yoghurt on top for afternoon tea. So refreshing and nutritionally packed for boosting him on till a late finish at 7.30pm.

My bottled cherries come in handy often for one of my favourite recipes of Moroccan Meatballs in Cherry Sauce, a dish using lots of cinnamon and cumin.
Here is another recipe I have found in my "Mrs Beeton's Cookery and Household Management" book.

Some of my favourite things that

Cherries Go With......
Orange juice and rind
Soft Cheese

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Cottage - Young NSW

The first week in Young NSW was spent in the one and only caravan park.
It has been established a long time but continual improvements have modernised many aspects.
We stayed in the only remaining original little cabin which was probably built in the 50s but still held much charm. (Even more charming if the hot water cylinder and the air cooler had been working!)
Much of the signage around the place is still original and in this gorgeous cursive script.
I think a retro fitted caravan park would be darling.
While there I did lots of cooking and froze dozens of meals for Craig. It's amazing what you can do with one pot and one fry pan. Taking continual dips in the pool was a life saver as the heat in the little cabin reached over 40C. 
Evening times was the funniest. We would spread a sheet on the lawn in front of the cabin until about 10pm when things finally cooled down a bit. From here we watched the rabbits fighting with the magpies who in turn fought with the ducks for territory. Such funny squabbling. We avoided turning on any lights as it attracted about a trillion different species of flying insects. Occasionally fruit bats would cross the night sky as Young is a big stone fruit growing area.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Quiet and Proud

I am home.

My Love has flown to feather the nest.

The house is so quiet without him......

Well that and the fact that we finally ditched the 22yr old fridge that constantly groaned day and night.
The new fridge is so quiet I keep checking to see if the power has been cut off!

Seriously though,
I have been so touched by the kind words and helpful suggestions and multitude of cyber hugs from blog friends and the quiet supportive assurances from friends who have stopped by today. My world is still a beautiful place and I can't tell you how proud I am of that man of mine.

He has stepped up to the plate and once again taken up one of the oldest and hardest professions in this country. Certainly not a man afraid of hard work. 

I will also add that his first day it was 39C and I can't imagine what it was in the shed.

Thank you for allowing me a little self-pity and some over-proud indulgences.

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