Archives for posts with tag: garden

QuinceQuick! For those of you in New Zealand/southern hemisphere find some quince before winter truly takes hold. Make quince paste, jam or jelly, scrub the furry fruit, cut, roast and boil away, stock up for a whole winter of cheese boards. If you are like me at the moment this leap into action, this leap into the kitchen will be just the thing to anchor everything in place.

QuinceQuince and avocadoIt’s been busy around here: assignments, uni club, assignments, an internship, fundraising sausage sizzle, more assignments and occasionally I have found time to work for actual money which is nice, because you know, the rent doesn’t pay itself. And amongst all the writing about historical print journalism, the political economy of modern news media, the role of a copy-editor and the rules of punctuation, I have helped on photography shoots, defrosted a 5cm wall of ice from my freezer, listened on repeat to an eclectic playlist – Bruce Springsteen, Macklemore, Angus and Julia Stone, the Beach House, Fleetwood Mac.

I’ve had a freezing weekend away in Christchurch, and have been reading up on HTML code, because now seems as good a time as any to become a code geek. I have been reading short stories and essays by and on Katherine Mansfield and I have been devouring anything written by Joan Didion, and God could these women write! I have eaten more kebabs, pizza slices and take-out sushi in the past couple of weeks than I’d like to admit and between our flat and Georgie being at home in Wellington for over a week, I have shared more bottles of wine than I’d like to admit.

quince bathscrubbed quinceWhat I’m leading up to here is that the days have been full and apart from the people and the wine and the great literature I am growing tired of this year. My parents commented the other day about how fast the year is going, can we believe we are a third through 2013 already? I said quite loudly and with a melodramatic exhale of breath, “Thank God!” I feel quite indifferent to the routines of going to class, sitting in a lecture hall, moving from one computer desk to another, moving from one essay writing assignment to another. These feelings are not new or particular to only myself – I think all students feel this as uni wraps up and new projects seem within reach.

roasted and wrinkledpulled apartUnfortunately these feelings of indifference have weedled their way into the kitchen, hence the take-out sushi, kebabs and pizza. But food – good food, real food – has an ability to make us take notice. I’ve written this before, of food’s power to redirect our attention and our priorities.

Avocado and oilavocado, fig, bookAutumn produce has been worthy of attention. Fresh figs, feijoas, quince, the most crisp, tart cooking apples and sweet, juicy eating apples. Local pears, the flesh the softest I have ever eaten and new golden kiwifruit, rich and mellow, quite different to their acidic, green cousins. The last of my summer tomatoes – green and peppery, and four of the most beautiful avocados, so oily and rich, from the tree at the olive grove. In the northern hemisphere people are heralding the arrival of spring produce in all its green glory, but I think we simply like the change in seasons, the chance to honour something new.

avocado in halfgreen tomato and avocadoThis autumn quince proved to be most interesting to cook with. It seems I haven’t learned that raw quince is very sour and shouldn’t be consumed in its raw state, no matter how fragrant it smells or buttercup yellow it is. But cooked into a thick, dark pink paste the quince becomes sweet, the fragrance intensifies, like roses and apples. My kitchen smelled wonderful. Quince paste is a relatively time consuming task but on the day I made it there seemed to be nothing more remedial than standing at the bench peeling the skins from the roasted fruit or stirring gently at the stove.

ready to setQuince pasteQuince and cheesePerrin gave me the quince, passed on to him from a kindly fruit and vegetable shop owner up the road. The figs, scavenged from my neighbour’s tree (who perhaps does not realise figs are $22/kg, never picks them and let’s them ripen for the birds) were eaten in greedy, mischievous lust, ripped open to expose their pink beaded insides. While I stood in my kitchen stirring fruit paste I began to think about scavenged fruit, free fruit and reasons why it seems to feel special, treasured, honoured. Can we appreciate the downy skins of a quince or the crispness of an apple or the spurting juicy seeds of a tomato more when they come from somewhere we know? I don’t mean the supermarket we know, but if we can put a face, a place, a time, a field or a road to food I’m sure it’s likely to be more significant to the consumer and treated with all the respect it deserves.

So these are thoughts that occupy my mind at the moment – an argument for local, community eating. These thoughts and days spent at the stove are valuable and interesting. I make room for them, prioritise them, amongst everything else.

Lois Daish’s Quince Paste (Penny Porritt’s Quince Paste)

I love my Lois Daish book. Every time I look through it I vow to make a blog project out of it – to cook my way through the year with Lois Daish. As for Penny Porritt, I believe she was a Listener columnist at some point, but anyway Daish’s recipe comes from her.

Take your quince and scrub gently to remove the down. Place the whole fruit in a casserole pot or roasting dish and pour over 1/2 cup of water. Cover with a lid or tightly wrapped tin foil and bake at 150°C for 2-3 hours (closer to 3, I would say) until the fruit is pink and tender. Remove from the oven and when cool enough to handle, scrape off the skins, cut each quince in half and pull out the core.

Weigh the fruit and then purée in a blender or pass through a mouli. Place the pulp in a pot and measure out enough sugar to equal 3/4 the weight of the prepared quince. Add to the pan of purée and heat gently, stirring occasionally. Cook gently for about 45 minutes, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. The paste is ready when it is so thick that you can drag a wooden spoon through the mix and still see the bottom of the pot.

Lightly oil a shallow heatproof container – I used a similar sized dish that I would make a brownie or slice in. Cool the quince paste for a few minutes and then scrape into the dish. Smooth the top and put somewhere warm and dry for a day or two (I left it in my switched off oven). Once dried out, cut the paste into blocks, wrap in baking paper and store in a plastic container in the fridge.

Dried lavender and oregano
About a year ago we planted our first garden at the flat. Previously our garden had looked like an ecological war zone, but to plant vegetables, herbs and flowers was doing something good – a small give back to the land. We grew beetroot, celery, spinach and picked stems of oregano, parsley, coriander, thyme and rosemary for our cooking. Then the winter came and while the plants withered and were overrun by weeds, we grew lazy.

Spring came. The quarterly change of seasons, such a reliable stake in the ground as each year fills up and tumbles by. Perrin and I got to work on one of the first warm days of the season. I tugged and ripped up weed clogged earth, sacrificing the skin of my hands and arms, while Perrin built a planter box from salvaged wood. We tilled and fertilised, watered and planned what to grow.
Snow peasfrilled and capped snow peas
Now, a few months later, most of my garden is flourishing. I planted sweet corn, tall and with leaves that wave gently. Silk is beginning to sprout from the small bulges along the stalk; soon they will be ready. Spinach thrived here last year, and now if you look down from the balcony you’ll see two small square plots; one with dark forest green spinach and the other a hard wearing rosemary plant. Spanakopita will be on the menu soon.

Between the corn plants on one garden terrace, bright orange marigolds beckon the bees. The flower heads are nearly the size of my palm and new buds, long and slender like bullets, wait patiently their turn. Between the corn on the next garden terrace are two snow pea plants. Their curling tendrils grasp each other and the nearby oregano plant which oddly prospered beneath the canopy of winter weeds.
Corn ears and silkMarigoldsA flowering apple cucumber plant
The tomato plant, though, I am most proud of. It sits in all its bushy beauty in the planter box on my balcony. The balcony has glass sides creating a greenhouse effect, and sometimes I stand out there just to smell the grassy, peppery, fresh scent. I chose a green zebra tomato plant, a move away from the all too common red. I would love to see purple, black, striped and green tomatoes grace our market stalls, but until that day I might have to grow them myself.
Green zebra tomato Peppery sweet flesh
I have a strange affinity for the green zebra tomato plant, which is particularly strange when you consider that before last night I had never actually eaten one. During my last month in France when I lived and worked with the woman who ran a market garden we planted close to 200 green zebra tomato plants. It wasn’t until after we had carried them from the greenhouse to the truck, from the truck to the garden, positioned them along the rows, dug 200 holes and placed every last green zebra tomato plant, tucking the soil around their stems, that I realised green zebra, or grinzibra as I had heard it in thick French accents, were English words denoting their pale and dark green stripes. Jokes on me, kids.

Last night, a Saturday night, but any other night by my standards, a little harvest took place in my garden. I delicately snipped five fully grown snow peas above their pixie edged caps. I pulled whole lettuces from the planter box and peeled away their outer leaves to reveal the young shoots within, each one with a spine intricately curled upon the other. My one green tomato, soft yet firm to the touch, was sliced into eighths, each piece holding tiny green seeds.
A green saladSnap and crunch
I bought a bag of green beans, vaguely prickly to touch, but with snap and crunch. Fresh beans have piz-zaz and oomph. Next a cup of cooked quinoa, lemon zest and half a diced pear for sweetness. A strange combination, perhaps, but there was such a sense of satisfaction in its varied greenery, in the sweet earthy flavours and knowing the goodness of the ingredients. The next morning, a perfect hard-boiled egg and a few rashers of bacon and there was a breakfast salad.
Breakfast salad
My parents spent much of my childhood tending to their garden and I never really understood the appeal. But now, this summer, I fancy myself a grower, a cultivator, a green fingered girl. I dream of self sustainability, revel in seeing a worm weave its way through my soil and continue to marvel at the power of the elements in creating, or destroying, a garden.

There was an open invitation to lunch at my flat last Sunday. The invite was worded something along these lines: “Harriet will cook. There will be food, the oven will be turned on, and Holy Crap, she will even make a trip to the market AND supermarket.” The occasion was so momentous it required me to refer to myself in the third person. I couldn’t quite believe I would enter my kitchen to do anything more than pour a bowl of cereal.

But it happened! I went to the market for fresh produce – even in the rain – enjoying the green of the spring vegetables. The people looked a little damp and and the market was quieter than usual but the vegetables looked fresh and bright. There is not a lot in the way of new season fruit at the moment – a few punnets of pale strawberries, early stone fruit yet to become juicy and fragrant and the last of the winter’s apples, their skins a little waxy from storage, but the vegetables are at their prime. Crisp asparagus spears, beautiful lettuce heads like open flowers, baby new potatoes, freshly dug, with their clear skins shining beneath the dark earth.

I wanted a simple Sunday lunch, one with easy ingredients, but one that still required actual cooking and preparation of food. I wanted to cook, to slowly put things together, to enjoy being in the kitchen. I planned my menu – a snacking sort of affair – with every recipe from Skye Gyngell’s book How I cook. This beautiful book is the latest addition to my cookbook shelf, a birthday gift from Ollie and Jason, so it is quite appropriate that Ollie was there to sample the first recipes.

Menu du jour:

Strawberries and grapes in a lemon ginger syrup
Pulled bread
Oeufs en cocotte
Lemon and poppy seed cake

I made the lemon and poppy seed cake first. Normally I avoid bagels and cakes and sandwiches with poppy seeds, preferring the stronger flavour of sea salt or herbs for savoury foods, and afraid of spending all day smiling with black dots between my teeth. But with poppy seeds on hand, I took a leap of faith, trusting Skye Gyngell’s recipe.

But a lemon cake should only be a lemon cake, I feel. The soft sweet-sharp of lemons is enough for me. It needs no crunch, or contrast in texture, no adjustment in any sense. The only crunch I like is the smallest shatter beneath teeth of a lemon juice and sugar crust.

I stand by my aversion to poppy seeds but if you enjoy this marriage then Skye’s recipe is light and moist, ideal for breakfast or afternoon tea. The cake is iced in How I Cook, but to pour a lemon sugar syrup over a cake fresh from the oven is the loveliest way to dress a cake.

Diced strawberries and halved red grapes in a ginger citrus juice were my own addition to the menu – a reminder to myself that fruit need not boring, or simply eat-in-hand. I sometimes forget that fruit, like many things, with the simplest of tinkering can be made better, can be made to sing.

The pulled bread is a recipe I am most pleased to have in my repertoire now, and to share here. Like this beer bread it comes together in a matter of minutes and is the ideal base for all sorts of extras – sweet and savoury. Cinnamon sugar woven throughout, or berry jam – sticky and concentrated in flavour – are ideas I’d like to try. Sun-dried tomatoes or black olives – strong and salty – would give this quick bread a little extra zing. Without these additions the bread is perfectly good; dense and with a good crust, it’s a mop-up-sauce, dip-in-soup, soldiers-in-eggs sort of bread.

Which brings us to our next course: oeufs en cocotte. I had been vaguely aware of this dish for a while, either known to me as oeufs en cocotte or baked eggs, I’m not too sure, but it wasn’t until I watched Rachel Khoo make oeufs en cocotte in tea cups did they jump from the periphery to the fore-front of my thoughts. Khoo used creme fraiche in her oeufs en cocotte, Gyngell, double cream. Possibly I went out on a whim, but yoghurt, strangely, was the link between each course of my Sunday lunch. I chose to use a generous dollop of thick Greek yoghurt in each teacup, atop buttered spinach, a few torn basil leaves and strips of prosciutto de parma (from Big Bad Wolf!).

The yoghurt cooked up beautifully, warm and salty and a bit like cottage cheese. Oeufs en cocotte is one of those dishes where the ingredients are so simple and so good in their natural state that it seems unlikely for anything overly wonderful to happen after 10 minutes in the oven, but that is probably why magic does indeed happen here.

Skye Gyngell’s Lemon and Poppy Seed Cake

The recipe calls for a 20x11cm loaf tin – I need a bigger loaf tin so made my cake in a 20cm diameter cake tin. Apart from the lemon sugar syrup I poured over the hot cake, and the choice of tin, this recipe is unchanged from the original. Perhaps half milk, half yoghurt would be a good idea next time, and lemon juice added to the batter.

115 grams unsalted butter
175 grams caster sugar
finely grated zest of 3 lemons
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
35 grams poppy seeds
275 grams plain flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
230ml whole milk
4 large egg whites

Syrup

juice of 2 lemons
2 heaped tablespoons caster sugar

Preheat oven to 170°C. Line a 20cm cake or loaf tin with baking paper.

Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and smooth. Add lemon zest, vanilla and poppy seeds, then sift flour and baking powder together over the mixture. Stir a couple of times, then pour in the milk and briefly stir again.

Whisk the egg whites in a clean dry bowl until soft peaks form. Fold a third into the batter using a metal spoon, then slowly fold in the rest of the egg whites.

Spoon the mixture into prepared tin and bake for 1 hour, or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. While the cake is baking mix the syrup ingredients together until most of the sugar has dissolved. Once the cake is removed from the oven pour over the syrup while cake is still in tin. Leave to soak in for several minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.

Cake best served warm.

Skye Gyngell’s Pulled Bread

This recipe was barely adapted from the original, save for an egg yolk wash and an extra scattering of rock salt on top before baking.

450 grams plain white flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
375ml milk

1 egg yolk plus a dash of water (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 220°C. Sift dry ingredients into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in the milk. Using one hand scoop the flour and milk around the bowl until a dough forms – the dough should be soft but not wet or sticky.

Turn the dough onto a well floured surface and knead lightly for a couple of seconds. Shape the dough into a long sausage, bend in the middle and loosely weave together. Make the egg wash by combining the yolk with a small amount of water.

Place dough on a baking sheet and brush egg wash over the dough. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes before reducing temperature to 200°C, then bake for a further 15 minutes. The bread should be golden on the outside and when given a tap with your knuckles should sound hollow.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool, but serve slightly warm with salted butter.

Skye Gyngell’s Oeufs en cocotte

Instead of a tablespoon of double cream in each ramekin, I used a tablespoon of thick Greek yoghurt placed on top of the spinach and beneath the egg. I also reduced by half the amount of parma ham, so 4 slices instead of 8, due to the size of my ramekins/tea cups.

200 grams spinach
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
knob of butter
a few torn basil leaves
4 slices of prosciutto de parma, or similar
4 large eggs
4 tablespoons thick Greek yoghurt
freshly grated nutmeg to taste
50 grams Parmesan cheese, grated

Pre-heat oven to 200°C. Thoroughly wash the spinach leaves and drain well. Place a large dry pan over a low heat and add the spinach. Cook briefly until the spinach has just wilted. Set aside until the spinach is cold enough to handle, then using kitchen towels squeeze all excess moisture from the spinach.

Place the blanched spinach in a frying pan with the knob of butter and heat through. Season with salt and pepper. Divide among the four ramekins then add the basil leaves. Place a dollop of yoghurt in each ramekin or teacup. Arrange parma ham on top of yoghurt, then a small grating of nutmeg. Crack an egg into each ramekin, and finish with a small amount of grated Parmesan cheese.

Place the ramekins in a roasting dish and pour hot water to come two-thirds up the sides of the dishes. Cook for 8-10 minutes or until the egg whites have set and the yolks are to your liking.

Lift the ramekins out of the bain marie and dry off. Serve on a plate with bread cut for dipping into yolks.

Serves 4.


I think I have mentioned our garden here before, but never in great detail. When we first moved to this flat the back garden was less of a garden and more of a twisted, tangled pile of noxious weeds. We had no idea what was underneath it, and despite the promises of our landlord, we never thought we would find out. But the weeds grew and grew at an alarming rate, perhaps a foot a day during summer. We began to fear they would pull down our already rotting balcony, wrapping their tendrils through its splintered wood until one day when it would collapse beneath us as we hung out our washing. We were worried the neighbours might call the local council complaining of the environmental hazard that lurked, and flourished, I might add, in Thorndon.

Then one day, all the weeds were gone. Just like that, the landlord came. We were not even that worried about the lack of suitable notice. Beneath the mess we discovered a little paved courtyard and four small terraced garden plots. One of the pavers is cracked and the bricks are crooked and chipped, like old teeth. One of the steps near the terrace is ruptured, as if torn in half by an earthquake. But for most of the day it is bathed in sun, perfect for a little garden.

On a beautiful day in early February we set to work tidying, pulling up the snaking roots of the convolvulus with great vigour. We scattered plenty of fertiliser; goodness knows the last time this soil had seen a spade or even sunlight. Francesca, Susan and I planted coriander, oregano, Italian parsley, thyme and mint in our herb terrace. We planted celery and beetroot: possibly a strange combination of vegetables but we had missed the boat on the early summer planting. We added lavender, marigolds, purple pansies and a hydrangea bush for a bit of colour across the terraces.

In the six weeks or so since we planted our garden it has done everything it should. Plants have flowered and grown. The beetroot leaves have deep red veins, the celery is a lovely pale green and the parsley is pratically a bush. We have kept the noxious weeds at bay, turned the soil and reaped the rewards of cooking with our home grown herbs and vegetables. Everything smells fantastic; every time I pick a sprig of thyme or parsley or rosemary I cup my hands, holding the herbs inside and inhale deeply. The sweet, thick fragrance never ceases to make me smile. We grew this!

Our coriander has fared extremely well, perhaps a little too well. It grew with great gusto, more so than we were prepared for. We must have missed the few days when coriander has the slender roots and thin stalks of the sort you find at the market. Ours became woody and tough, the thick branches falling to the ground under their weight. The best way to use it was to make coriander pesto. It is the most brillant green, with light flecks of cashew nut. We have eaten it with pasta and it makes a superb toast spread when paired with goat’s milk feta and tomato.

I’m looking forward to winter planting, and for next spring too. A garden could be just what we need to give us some bearing on Wellington’s mixed up seasons.