Saturday, 29 June 2013

Saturday Spotlight - Purple cauliflower

I am eagerly awaiting my first purple cauliflower.

This is the first time I have attempted a purple cauli.  I have grown white cauli for several years with mixed results. This year I couldn't resist the purple variety. I raised them from seed in February and it is just now that the first one is big enough to admire - still a while to picking time.

Just ten days or so ago this very cauli looked like this. They do start off looking white with a purplish tinge and as they mature the purple intensifies.

There is only a hint of the purple on the very edge of the leaves.

Caulis are generally tricky to grow and to get a head that in any way resembles the kind of heads one might buy from the greengrocers. I am not sure that the purple variety is any different. Still this one is looking pretty fantastic as it is. Let's see if it develops some size.I will report on it's performance.

As I haven't harvested any of these yet, I can't tell you if they stay purple on cooking. I hope they do.

I am contributing this to Liz's Saturday Spotlight.

May all your caulis grow and form tight white or purple curds!

Friday, 28 June 2013

Making Pancetta

Last week we were fortunate to successfully trap three wild pigs. In the post Mid-Winter Bounty I reported that we took advantage of the trapping and harvested as much meat as our ability and fridge space allowed.
In that post I mentioned that we were preserving the meat bounty by making pancetta and smoked hams.Well, many of you asked that I post on the processes and in this post I document how I am making  our own pancetta.

Making pancetta
I referred to the book Gourmet Farmer Deli Book  to make the pancetta - thank you lads.

The recipe required a 2kg piece of pork belly - we were able to harvest a 1.8kg piece. The pig was incredibly lean and so I am certain that the piece of pork belly we used was much leaner than is usually the case when making pancetta. Whether that will make any difference will I guess be seen in time.

Pancetta is essentially un-cooked and un-smoked piece of pork which is cured in salt and herbs and left to mature. The process goes like this (* indicates that the ingredient is from Highfield):

Pound 10 sage leaves*, 1 sprig of rosemary* and 10 black peppercorns with a half a teaspoon of salt. The resultant mix is a wonderfully green dryish rub. The recipe called for a grated nutmeg as well but unfortunately I didn't have any available (and I live in the bush so no quick trip to the shop!) and left the nutmeg out. I hope that it doesn't matter!

Add this to 200gms medium grained salt and rub into the pork belly*. Place the meat in a non-reactive dish and leave to cure in the fridge for three days. I am sorry, I didn't take a photo at this stage.

After three days it looks like this - the liquid has been drawn from the meat and the meat has darkened.

Rinse off the salt and  grind up another batch of sage, rosemary and peppercorns with another half a teaspoon of salt. Rub into the non-skin side of the meat. The texture of the meat has changed incredibly - it is dryer and harder.

At this point the recipe again calls for grated nutmeg...but, I didn't get to the shops.

Then, the scary bit - leave it to hang for 4 weeks but 6 weeks is said to be preferable. Hanging is supposed to happen in a cool and airy (but not breezy)  place at about 12 degrees C. In winter here is is generally a little warmer than that outside, so I decided to hang the meat inside. Our very basic house in winter is currently un-heated and un-insulated (that will change)... so generally quite cool and stable in temperature. I decided to hang the pancetta in the laundry.

You need to push some cotton twine thru the meat with a skewer to hang the meat.

Some flies from summer have survived in our house and are over-wintering here (despite our attempts to eradicate them!) so I ruled out hanging without some covering. I decided a loose-fitting protective covering of calico was the go. Here is the appropriately laundry-themed result.

So that's the story so far, at least until 4 weeks have elapsed. I am, hoping that it will look like pancetta and not be some slimy, horrible, smelly monster. Let's see.

In the meantime, have you preserved meat in some way? How?

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Sparrows' Grass

Today I planted a vegetable that I have been wanting to grow for ages. As a child I new it as Sparrows' Grass, but sensible adults would call it asparagus or heaven in a stalk.

I planted crowns - 5 of them, and bizarre looking things they are too - kind of like a spider with too many fleshy legs and with a bunch of brown buds in the middle.

Some crowns seem to have two sets of buds.

On two of the crowns there were actually baby white asparagus spears.

I prepared the bed well I think? It was a brand new bed  - one of the first I prepared in Fortress Wallaby my fenced vegetable plot.  It's been stewing for a few weeks now. Basically the bed was prepared by removing all the grass by digging carefully thru the soil and loading the bed  with different manurers - horse, cow, and sheep, all sourced from Highfield or the farm next door.  I also added some top soil from the property and finally today some less 'hot'  cow manure and some mushroom compost that I purchased.

I made some hills and trenches and laid the crowns over the hills, spreading the roots so they draped into the trenches.

Then I covered them up so that the top of the crown was covered with 10cms of soil. I planted them about 40cms apart.

I am not sure that I will be able to stop myself picking them for two years...apparently such restraint is required to ensure that the plants are strong.

Do you grow asparagus?  Did you plant seeds or crowns? How many crowns do you think is sufficient?

Monday, 24 June 2013

Harvest Monday - 24th June '13

It's been a good week for pickings despite the days being short and the mornings very frosty. It's also been a good time to hunker down inside and cook. This last week the pickings have been:

Two lovely bulbs. These will be eaten tonight in a wild pork loin dish.

The tops of the fennel were huge - it seems such a waste not to use the tops, but I have never used them before, have you? And if so what for?

I tried offering them to my chickens but they don't eat them.

I cut my fennel bulbs off at ground level leaving the roots in the soil. I find that the roots re-shoot with more baby fennel and that these ones grow on pretty quickly as their roots are big and deep.

There has been lots of parsley too, so much so that parsley now features in one of my vases.

The frosty mornings have pretty much nipped back my chilli plants and I suspect it wont be long before the plants are knocked out completely. I have been picking chillies - green and red - to make sure I get the most of the produce. Still, when you think about it, it is pretty good to have chillies survive into late June when I live in a frosty mountain area.

Wombok and spring onions
Wombok and spring onions are featuring in many meals, mostly stir-fried and in Asian-style dishes.

What's coming up soon? Purple cauliflower - they are looking so pretty.

How are your pickings?

I am contributing this to Daphne's Harvest Monday.  Soon her blog will feature pickings from around the world.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Mid-winter bounty

(Warning: This post contains images of dead animals and discreet references to butchery that some might find difficult.  If this is likely to offend please click elsewhere.)

Here we are in our first mid-winter in the bush and finally we have bounty, some very unexpected.

If not coming out of our ears then eggs are certainly coming out of their allotted space in the fridge. Finally our 4 chooky girls are all laying, producing more than we can currently get our mouths around. As a result, tomorrow is officially named 'Egg Day' and  we WILL have eggs for breakfast - poached I think - and I WILL make a cake (and perhaps some meringues), and, even so, there WILL be another 4 cackleberries tomorrow!

Wild pork
The other day we had the very good fortune of having three feral pigs trapped as part of a local authority's coordinated action to reduce the feral pig activity in the region. We are, as landholders, legally obliged to control feral animals (rabbits, pigs, goats and foxes, etc) found on our property.

In our case, a tribe of feral pigs were doing substantial damage to our conservation area, an area that protects critically endangered box forest. The activity of the pigs were opening the rare forest up to weeds and damaging the habitat of native animals.

Three pigs were trapped and shot and, in an attempt not to waste the bounty, the Lad and I  harvested as much of the wild pork that we and our fridge could manage. In the end we harvested most of what we could from one of the pigs - the pig to the left. (This is the most graphic of the pictures.)

As essentially city people who have moved to the bush, this was the first time we had ever attempted such an activity. I must say that it was a little confronting and very physically demanding work to 'break down' or 'butcher' a freshly dispatched pig, but armed with my experience of 'dressing' rabbits in the Rabbit Challenge, I felt somewhat prepared.

In both cases (with rabbits and with this pig) I have found the experience truly humbling. A cliché maybe but the experience has made me both appreciate the life of the pig and also the work of butchers. It's a hard thing to describe without sounding foolish so I wont try.

Somewhat surprisingly, the flesh was incredibly lean, clean and dark.

As a result of a whole day's work, I now have two leg hams and a pancetta curing ala Gourmet Farmer in the fridge before smoking and have tucked away a large amount of lean pork meat for stir-fries.

And tonight we had ribs, but more of that later...

I now fully appreciate why it takes a whole extended Italian family to take on the 'breaking down' of a pig. Perhaps, if this post doesn't outrage all my readership, I will post on my ham and pancetta making...

Gradually the vegetables are coming in too. We have eaten all the main heads of the Calabrese Broccoli already and are awaiting side shoots. Now it is the turn of the Womboks to glut. Soon there will be purple cauliflowers and Romanesco Broccoli, Savoy cabbages, fat beetroot and celery.

Today, as a result of a few frosty mornings, I have also harvested most of the chillies.

A Mid-Winter's Dinner
All these elements - eggs, wild pork and veg have come together tonight to feed us in a kind of Mid-Winter celebration.

 I am incapable of taking a decent photo of food (mostly because of the colour of the flash). So even though the photos look grim the dinner was fabulous and somehow feels like the ideal meal to celebrate the shortest day in our new bush home - food grown or from animals raised  by us, sauces made from fruit  sourced  from the roadside and, in case of the pork, meat butchered by us.

Here is what we ate - a star denotes from our property or near by. Roasted wild pork ribs* marinated in plum sauce* (made by me from gleaned plums from roadside trees), chilli*, ginger, hoisin and white peppercorns with egg* fried rice and stir-fried wombok*, spring onions* and tofu.

I feel like we have really started to live here.

How was your mid-winter/ mid-summer?

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Eric and Leslie

Meet Eric and Leslie our new alpaca guardians.
L-R : Leslie and Eric
Eric and Leslie are named after two of our grandparents and join our chooky girls who have the names of great aunts Myra, Mavis, Myrtle and Muriel and of course Geranium the Dexter cow who was named before we got her.

For a while I had contemplated  Latin names for them.  Perhaps Pablo and Neruda after the poet? Perhaps Gabriel and Garcia after GG Marquez the author?  Perhaps Fidel and Castro after the Cuban leader?

Still as little wary of us, ears back!
Then I pondered on Kerry and James (Packer - get it? - perhaps a joke only really understandable for the Australian audience) but then I thought that I would instantly dislike the poor little furry things  and decided that being named after a media mogul and his gambling  mogul son was not a good idea.

In the end, as the alpacas were the only males in our herd, I gave the honour of naming to The Lad and a fine job he did too. So Eric and Leslie they are.

Eric with Muriel and Myrtle and a view to the temporary veggie beds
At first we thought the skinny Leslie to be the dominant lad, but then the other day I witnessed them eating the grain I had set out for them. Eric dominated the container and promptly spat (as alpacas do) at Leslie several times when he approached for a feed. Very unpleasant! Poor Leslie, he didn't get to eat any of the food.

When they are not spitting, they make a very pleasant humming sound.

Eric and Leslie will guard our mob of sheep (when we get them) from foxes and the rumoured wild dogs and hopefully keep our cow somewhat company in the paddock.

Welcome Lads!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Clipping wings

I feel like I have done something horrible. Today I clipped the wings of my 4 chooky girls. They are free-range in daylight hours and spend the whole day eating grass and digging for grubs and slaters. I think they have a good life.

But today I decided to limit their freedom somewhat. I decided to do the 'operation' because, despite the fact that the fence to my veggie patch - Fortress Wallaby - is high enough to keep the bounding, browsing wallaby population away from my veggies, it isn't high enough to exclude chookies.

I had resigned myself to losing produce in my inadequately fenced temporary beds to the probing beaks of my chookies (I reckon I have lost a cabbage, 4 Purple caulis and a Romanesco Broccoli so far), but not prepared to lose produce from the permanent beds in Fortress Wallaby, so, I umm'ed and ahh'ed and today I did the deed.

I took instructions from  a new Organic Gardener mag on chookies, the Lad held the girlies one by one and I did the sniping.

It didn't seem right to take photos of the procedure.

They didn't seemed bothered at all really, aside from the indignity of being  held by a human! I guess they might seem bothered when they try to fly.

I apologised to them all (just like I thank them each individually each day for their cackleberries)  but feel like I am a bad chook mother.

As some kind of apologetic act, I picked a wombok and gave them a generous number of outer leaves.

They will get lots of produce from the garden but I guess now it will be when I chose. I still feel like I have done something bad to them.

Have you clipped the wings of your chookies?  How did you feel about it?

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Home improvement

We have made recent improvements to the home of our chooks. A paved entrance using local rock.

bolstered predator proofing by way of a concrete and wire obstacle topped by local rocks - a few more rocks to go, and

a water tank!

Now fetching clean water for the ladies is easy and the shed collects the water. Have roof - collect water is the motto.

The water tank is one of the few things bought to make the chook shed.
Most of the rest of the materials are recycled from around the farm.

The plumbing for the shed is from recycled materials as well. The guttering is a piece of agricultural pipe found on the property. It is very simply constructed by making a slit in the pipe and inserting the end of the corrugated iron into the slit.

The very handsome Lad is the chook shed home improver - thank you! The chooky girls say thank you too!

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The ghosts of Highfield

At Highfield the ghosts start appearing in late autumn. There are two types of ghosts out here in the bush.

The first type crawls from holes in the ground and leaves behind strange orange shells.

From their orange shells emerge the thumb-sized ghost moth,

which tap on the window in the evening.  See their little eyes glow?

Then there are the citrus ghosts.

These are my crude frost protectors flung over the baby citrus trees each night when the forecast minimum is 2 degrees Celsius or less. These frost cloths are thin old sheets I bought at the Gundagai Op Shop for $2.00 each.

Do you have interesting wildlife visit your garden? How do you protect your plants from frost damage?

Monday, 10 June 2013

Harvest Monday - 10th June '13

This week the winter produce has started to come in.  It's a great feeling. The pickings have been broccoli, chillies and some tiny capsicums picked green to beat the frost.

A little fennel - this bulb was picked as a baby fennel lightly sautéed to accompany a meal.

LOADS of parsley, loads and loads  - parsley with everything. At present I only have curled parsley.

More broccoli and the first of the cauliflower,

a rather pathetically small cauli, sigh!

A wonderful wombok,

much admired by Muriel the chicken,

Rocket, loads of rocket and a little rosemary. This rocket made a salad of rocket, shaved pecorino, garlic oil and lemon juice. It was fantastic.

It feels great to finally have so much produce. As a result, I have decided I don't need to buy any greens at all for the foreseeable. I have this produce and more coming thru. Finally after a horribly hard summer with almost no produce at all, this little pile of produce feels like true bounty.

How is your produce going? I am contributing this to Daphne's  Harvest Monday, pop over and see  the produce of others - there will be a little list of links to others' growings when the world turns a little more.


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