Monday, December 3, 2018

Mulberry vodka recipe

Mulberry vodka was mentioned. We have a mulberry tree. It felt like something worth investigating. The recipes I found appear to be very simple - always a plus.
Find a jar, 1/4 fill it with sugar.
Add in mulberries until it is 3/4 full and then top it up with vodka.
Leave to sit for 12 months, then remove the fruit and enjoy as a fruit liqueur.
I like experimenting with fruit alcoholic drinks, the plum brandy was delicious, plus this recipe sounded easy. It was just a matter of waiting until mulberry season.
Unfortunately mulberries ripen in the busy late November, early December period and they do it by falling on the ground.
I managed to collect some ripe mulberries, that I decided was enough for two jars one Saturday afternoon. But there was no vodka in the cupboard.
Adding the sugar and mulberries, the jars sat in the fridge awaiting a shopping trip.

Once the necessary vodka was purchased the jars were moved to the bottom of the pantry to do the infusing thing.
One week after the addition of the vodka and the colour of the mulberries is shifting to the vodka from the fruit. The sugar is still dissolving so I will continue to give them a regular shake.

One year sounds like a long wait. I think testing will begin in about six months to check for flavour development.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Making your own jar of olives

One of last things to preserve on the block are the olives.
We have four trees. I don't know what types, as they were here when we arrived. One has bigger black olives (that lost their black colour through the brining process), one has smaller green ones and another small black right through little olives.
To know when they were ready for picking. I tested them every week or so in May.

Testing for ripeness
I tested them by pushing a finger nail into the skin and checking the colour of the liquid. Once it went milky they were ripe.

I ended up picking the olives off the trees because it was easier, than shaking the tree and picking them up off the ground.
The green ones ripened earlier than the black ones.
Once inside all the articles I had read said to deal with them straight away, otherwise they would shrivel up.
So I washed them, made sure they were undamaged.
I had chosen to brine them because I had successfully done this before and it seems a good system to avoid spoilage. It is also pretty simple and just needs time and salt.
I put the washed olives into a clean jar with an air tight lid.

Brine solution for olives
I made up the brine solution of 1/4 cup of salt stirred until dissolved into a litre of water.

I filled the jars with the brine solution. The olives floats so I used a piece of cheesecloth just to keep them below the surface of the brine.
I set up calendar reminders in my phone to replace the brine after one week and then after two weeks and then once a month. Changing the brine solution means more of the bitter flavour (oleuropein) will leach out. I would empty the whole jar, give it a bit of a clean, rinse the olives and refill with more brine solution.

How long to keep brining
After three months, I tried an olive when I changed the brine solution. You give it a wash first to wash off the salty brine. Either it is okay or you spit it out super quick. Two jars were ready after four months, another is still too bitter so is currently in a new brine solution and I will test it next month.

What to do after brining
Some recipes say to leave the olives in brine and just keep changing it - rinsing the olives before use but I wanted them in the fridge so I am trialling a post recipe I found.

Post brining
Rinse the olives and place in a clean jar. Depending on how many jars you have done, you will need to adjust the amounts. I had two 300ml jars ready for eating so this made enough for the two jars.
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 vinegar (I used cider)
500ml water
pinch dried oregano
pinch dried thyme
Olive oil
Mix together everything but the olive oil until the salt has dissolved. Pour around the olives in the jar until it is full. Carefully pour a layer of olive oil over the top.
I am keeping mine in the fridge. After waiting all these months, I don't want to risk them spoiling. They are tasty.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

What tomato is best to grow?

There are so many varieties of tomato.

I am still experimenting with finding the tomatoes that best suit our growing conditions and what we want to use the tomatoes for - in our case primarily puree for cooking but also sauce and sandwiches. I like to give a variety more than one season to prove or disprove itself.
At the moment all my tomatoes are planted outside - not in a green house. They are all grown from seed apart from any plants we receive.

Season one I planted:
  • Organic Brandywine because it was supposed to be the best tasting tomato in the world
  • Mortgage Lifter because the story is neat of a farmer paying off his mortgage by selling these seedlings for a $1 each. Also because it was supposed to be good at producing a lot of tomatoes and disease resistant.
We ate them fresh.

Season two I added in:
  • Cherokee Purple because we bought them at a market once and it was the best tasting tomato we had ever tasted. It was so savoury it was close to salami than the usual tomato.
  • Cherry tomatoes Lady Bug because it won a top taste award once.
  • Cherry tomatoes Sungold because it was supposed to be a heavy cropper with a fine taste.
  • Some tomato plants we were given for free that produced many, large yellow tomatoes.
I made relish and sauce and puree.

Season three I added in:
  • Tommy Toe cherry tomatoes
  • San Marzano tomatoes because they are supposed to better for sauce and puree as they have more flesh and less watery juice
  • Beefsteak Select because it is supposed to be an old fashioned tomato with a good acid/sweetness balance and be great for slicing.
I made a lot of puree that was less watery and a thicker sauce.

My conclusions so far are:
  • Brandywine tomatoes are quite sweet and maybe this is why they are considered the best tomato in the US. They don't feel very balanced and maybe it is our soil but they are just not the best tasting tomato. I am not going to grow that particular seed anymore. They also seem susceptible to disease and don't produce a lot of fruit.
  • Cherokee purple are nice but I haven't yet successfully grown them to the flavour level, I have tasted from a market. I am continuing to persevere.
  • Of the cherry tomatoes the sungold were the most delicious and the most prolific. They are an F1 hybrid so you only get 15 seeds per packet. I may go back to these but am trialling Baxter's early bush and sugar plum this year for cherry tomatoes earlier in the season. The sungold's were most successful in the first year, with less success in the second year plantings. It is not a great idea to have cherry tomatoes planted together that are orange and red when ripe because it is confusing to know what is ripe.
  • San Marzano do make excellent sauce and puree. They are, however, susceptible to blossom end rot. This meant quite a bit of fruit I couldn't use. I am planting them again but I am also adding in a variety called costoluto fiorentino, which is supposed to be great for eating fresh, sauces and particularly for roasting.
  • Beefsteak, I think were good but will plant again this summer to see if they are preferred to the mortgage lifter.
I am narrowing down my preferences to:
  • A heavy producer that is tasty for puree and not too watery
  • A flavourful tomato for sandwiches and salads
  • An early in the season high producer of tasty cherry tomatoes
  • A variety I haven't tried yet in case there is a better tomato out there
  • For each of the four - easy to grow and disease resistance preferred.
Lastly ditch all your pizza sauce recipes and use this one: Secrets to a great tasting tomato sauce.
It is fast, easy and the taste is great - particularly if made with good flavourful tomatoes - now would that be san marzano or costoluto fiorentino, Cherokee purple or ......

Monday, July 30, 2018

Tips for top marmalade

Well it has been awhile. Life on the lifestyle block is a busy one.
The hardest thing about homemade marmalades, jams and jellies can be getting the setting right, without adding pectin - which seems like cheating. 
There are many marmalade recipes around. The one I made is a three fruits one using grapefruit, lemons and tangelos from our property.
I used a recipe from a Cordon Bleu cook book. I think these three tips made a difference to the set and the distribution of rind bits throughout the marmalade.
Note - this marmalade is a darker colour because I was running low on white sugar so used brown sugar as well. If you wanted to make a darker marmalade, substituting all the white sugar for brown would do that.

Top tips
1. Slice the fruit thinly, keep the pips aside. Put all the fruit in a bowl, cover with water. 
2. Tie up all the pips in some muslin/cloth and also add the parcel to the water. Leave overnight. Squeeze out the muslin with the pips in it. Quite a thick liquid comes out, which according to Cordon Bleu is the pectin. Tip the water and fruit into the saucepan before the making of your marmalade.

3. After you have boiled the fruit until soft, added the sugar (usually cup for cup of fruit) boiled it some more and got it to setting temperature (105C). Remove from heat and let cool for a bit. This seems to help the distribution of the rind throughout the jar. 

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Alcoholic drinks from fruit

After the success of the loquat liqueur that I now make every year, this year I wanted to try something new.
I came across this brandy plum recipe. It says people requested the plum brandy as gifts because it was so nice. I am not a brandy drinker but the loquat liqueur worked out so I was up for the challenge.
It worked really well, mine is quite sweet. It is very drinkable and delicious with a piece of dark chocolate.

This year we also made cider with our own apples. 

The apple festival in Wakefield is an opportunity to get apples pressed. I took along a mixed basket of our different apples and returned with 5 litres of delicious apple juice. 

I added 500ml of water to bring the specific gravity down so that the final alcoholic content would be around 4.7%. I did add yeast. I used a Belgian beer yeast because I thought the fruity notes would be nice. I let it ferment in our beer fermenting fridge at 18C until it stopped bubbling. 

It was quite dry tasting so I back sweetened it with splenda to the level of sweetness I preferred, through small additions. I bottled it with additional 5g sugar per bottle to make it fizz. 
It is very nice, sweet, but not oversweet, and with a strong apple flavour. Next time I might use an ale yeast instead because the flavours of the Belgian beer yeast I think detract from the apple. I think mixing apple varieties is a good idea to get a complex apple flavour.
I also want to experiment again with juicing rather than pressing. The juicer apple juice was not very nice compared to the pressed apple juice but I cannot find a reason why it should be so different.
This coming summer it might be time to try perry.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Growing parsnips successfully

Top tips learnt from growing parsnips

  • Plant them - they are really easy to grow
  • Thinning is a good idea or you get teeny ones beside the big ones
  • Plant in spring for a winter of fully grown parsnips
  • Make sure your soil is loose so that the parsnips can grow down easily or they have multiple roots rather than one large one.

Parsnip with Lego Darth Vader for size comparison

In trying to get my garden producing all year round, I planted parsnips in October with my spring plantings. I planted Guernsey parsnips.
I dug up the soil and made some small trenches for the seed.
I wasn't sure of success so I planted two rows.
I didn't expect many parsnips on my first attempt, so I didn't bother with the thinning.
The parsnips were watered regularly over the summer.
They grew very well.
They say to wait until after the first frost before harvest to make them sweeter. We did eat some before the first frost and after. They were all sweet and delicious.
We have had parsnips in the ground all winter.
They have kept well in the ground and when we have needed parsnips I have dug them up from the garden.
Something to note - apparently if they sprout again the middle becomes inedible so remember to dig them up before the weather warms up again - I must do this because the few still remaining in the ground have started sprouting.
Having parsnips, potatoes and kumara meant roast dinners could come from the garden. This year rather than just the salad season, we had a roast meal with all the vegetables from our garden, the sheep from the farm next door and cider made with our apples. We were quite proud.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Successful watermelon growing

The most satisfying thing to grow in the garden this year was watermelons.
I chose the moon and stars watermelon because it said it had excellent taste and across the internet people seemed to have success with this variety.
I grew the seeds indoors and didn't plant them out until late November.
Four water melon plants in this bed, plus a rogue potato plant
It was exciting to see little watermelons start to grow but would they taste like proper watermelons?
I watered them regularly and the summer was a hot one.
End of January
Once they started getting big I carefully place plastic lids under them to keep them off the wet ground.
Mid February
Mid February with lego man for size comparison
It was a long wait, watching the melons get bigger.
The test for ripeness is tapping and they should sound hollow. There are some handy YouTube videos on watermelon tapping. This was the best one I found as it is short and easy to hear the difference in sound.
The other sign I used was the browning of the curly piece of stem by the ripe watermelon. Once it was brown and dead looking, the watermelon is supposed to be ripe.
The watermelons ripened in early March. We got one watermelon a plant, which in kilograms was quite a bit of watermelon, especially when one kid doesn't really like it.

They are quite seedy these watermelon but they are sweet and juicy and delicious.
Once you have cut a watermelon, it does seem best to eat either immediately or within a few days for it still to be crisp. Taking a plate of watermelon places worked well, especially when we could say we grew it ourselves.
You can also make a pickle out of the rind that is a cross between a pickle and candied peel.
We have saved seeds and this year will plant half saved seeds and half new seed to see if we can get watermelons from the saved seed.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Growing kumara in the Lower Moutere

Top tips learnt on growing kumara

  • A long, hot summer
  • Digging a pit, lining the bottom with something, like cardboard, and refilling with loose soil
  • Cover the small shoots with netting so birds don't pull them out of the ground
  • Burying rocks in the soil, helps keeps the soil temperature up
  • Lifting the vines so they don't put down more little roots.

A bucket load of kumara

Last year I tried growing kumara.
I dug a pit, put some cardboard at the bottom and shovelled the dirt back on top.
I put the in shoots, purchased from the garden shop down the road, but I didn't cover them with netting and the birds pulled them all out of the ground.
I bought a second lot and planted them - with the moon and in a hook shape. But they only produced teeny weeny kumara that were not worth anything
This year I chose a more sunny position.
I dug a pit, lined the bottom with cardboard.
I planted shoots from the garden shop.
I covered them with netting.
I pushed some large stones into the top of the mound of earth to help retain heat in the soil.
It was a hot summer and I regularly watered the patch.
The vines grew very well. I pulled them up as they stretched along the ground to keep them from putting down more roots.
Working out the best time to harvest was tricky. Some information suggests when the leaves turn yellow and others before this.
We harvested in late March.
I have only been planting a small plot as an experimental bed. It was like an archaeological dig, following the vines down under ground to the tubers and bringing them out undamaged. It is easy to break the vines off from the tubers and then locating the tuber can be difficult so the gentle scrapping and loosening the soil and tubers with my hands helped to get all the tubers.
One of the bigger kumara I found was after I thought the pit was empty and was forking through the soil one last time. There it was a massive kumara.
All up from plants we harvested 4.5kg of kumara.
At the time kumara were selling for $7.50/kilo.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Summer harvest - tips to feeling a successful food grower

It is easy when gardening to get disheartened, with the crop yield, the vegetable size or the taste.
It is good to remember that it is likely each year a crop will probably fail. Failure is relatively cheap when growing from seed. One seed packet is an investment of $3-$4. So while it can feel a big fail, it had so much potential for success the investment is worth it.
But the weather plays such a big factor. This year was a fantastic, warm summer. We grew so many cucumbers and dill pickles we still have jars of them preserved. We gave them away, we ate them and we preserved them. The previous year was a very wet, cooler summer and my cucumber plants went brown and died.
Don't give up too early
Sometimes crops just take awhile to get going. I grew runner beans (blue lake runner beans) and in the first part of summer, I thought they were okay but not a great crop yield and they were quite small beans. However through the months they just got better - bigger beans and more of them. We were picking enough for four people every few days.

Spread the risk
Having a wide variety of vegetables planted, that suit different conditions, increases the likelihood of having some good wins.

Enjoy the wins
Watermelons were a stand out achievement this summer. I grew the seeds inside and didn't plant them out until late November. I planted Moon and Stars variety. All summer we watched them grow, watering them frequently and then as they got bigger, lifted them off the garden with plastic trays so they would not rot. We waited until the curly bit from where the fruit was attached to the vine, went brown and when you tapped it, it sounded hollow. A lot of tapping was involved.

The watermelon was sweet and juicy.
Next summer, it may not be the right conditions for watermelon. I am planting them again so we will have to see. I have also saved seeds from inside the last lot. I will plant some new seeds and some saved to see if they grow proper moon and stars watermelons. I only grow the one variety at the moment, so cross pollination should not be an issue.
Kumara were another great performer. I only planted a small patch but it returned 4.5kgs of kumara. This year they were expensive in the shops, so it was double win.

It is not you, it is the variety
Trialling different varieties of a vegetable also allows you to work out what works best for your garden soil and weather conditions. I am still working out the best varieties of tomatoes that suits our climate and also how we use tomatoes. Carrots are another one I am still undecided what variety works best for the soil conditions.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Growing dill pickles

Top tips learnt from growing dill pickles

  • A long, hot summer will give you a lot
  • If you have too many, let them grow bigger and eat as cucumber
  • Make sure you and everyone in your family really love pickles

This year we decided to grow dill pickles. I grew from seed cucumber homemade pickles from King Seeds through September and October indoors, in the sun and with watering every day.
I planted these out in late October when the weather was very warm.
I planted about six plants in the sunny position beyond the kumara patch. They were watered regularly and initially covered with netting until the plants were big enough to not be pulled out by the birds.
Once they started, they didn't stop producing and needed to be checked every day.
At one time the old fridge, my husband uses for keeping fermenting beer at the right temperature, was full of dill pickles fermenting. The photograph below is the first lot before another jar was also added. The pottery crock is full of pickles fermenting. The big pottery crock was filled several times over the season with fermenting pickles.
Fermenting sour pickles start to take over the beer fridge

Letting dill pickles ferment naturally produces the traditional sour pickles. These are delicious but different to the sweet preserved pickles you may be used to from the supermarket.
I used Alton Brown's sour pickle recipe.
I did get sick of translating the imperial measurements of this recipe so below are the metric amounts I used or adjusted to the right ratios, depending on the size of the jar and weight of cucumbers:

  • 155g salt, approximately 1/2 cup
  • 3.78 litres filtered water
  • 1.36 kg pickling cucumbers
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon dill seed
  • 1 tablespoon dill tips
Fermented pickles keep best if the pickles are whole, so you need big jars for storage. The ones I ended up slicing lengthwise to fit in smaller jars, have gone soft as the months have gone on.

If you prefer the supermarket style pickles, Alton Brown's kinda sorta sour pickles recipe are as good as any you buy. They also can be eaten straight away or I have also kept some of these jars sealed and they have lasted the distance and stayed crunchy many months later. In Alton's recipe he uses champagne and cider vinegar. I used all cider vinegar but also - because I was making these a lot - I used rice wine vinegar and any other vinegar we had in the house!

By the end of the cucumber season, the whole bottom shelf of the fridge and some of the preserving shelf was full of pickles! This may be more than we can eat before next season. We may have over pickled.

5 Favourite Sights Seen

  • 1996 Watching tropical lightning turn night to day, outside a little wooden church in a small village in Sabah.
  • 2004 Flying down the Rainbow Valley at 8000ft in a cessna on a clear blue day.
  • 2003 Seeing and hearing Michael Schmacher rolling out of the pit garage in his Ferrari in Hungary.
  • 2009 Chancing upon 100 or more dolphins just off the Kaikoura Coast swimming around, jumping out of the water, doing somersaults and generally having fun.
  • 2006 Finding a pool at the bottom of a waterfall in the bush at Kaikoura that was full of playing baby seals.