Apple season

Apple cheeks, apple weeks, the race against the birds…

The inherited tree which has the codlin moth – I know it’s time to strip the tree when the birds begin to peck at the apple tops – this means they are sweet and ready. Cutting around the moth tunnels, making apple sauce which turn into breakfast or crumbles or just eaten with a teaspoon standing at the fridge when I realise I’m starving but have to do the school run in two minutes. (I continue to ‘battle’ against the codlin moth. They are determined creatures.) The commitment of using seasonal abundance. It’s a gift, sure, but it’s work. Sometimes hours and hour of work. Sitting at the table, making the meditation ‘can I take all the peel off in one go?’ Buckets and buckets of practice later tell me that I can’t, but it’s fun trying.

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The Ballerina apple tree which was a wedding present 20 years ago, and moved with us from flat to flat in a big pot, finally planted into the ground here and produces the most beautiful green and red apples, like the ones from Snow White…

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This tree on an abandoned section – the way fruit trees give and give, regardless of how they are tended or neglected. Walking onto ‘private property’ to pick the apples. Respecting the tree’s gift more than the human’s claim. Not wanting the generosity of the tree to go unnoticed, unappreciated. Leaving plenty for the birds.

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At my permaculture course, Duncan brings two beautiful baskets of apples from his small farm. Four heritage varieties – enough for everyone to take a few home to taste. On the permaculture course, people are passionate about plants, about fruit trees, about the earth. People have strong opinions – in discussion time the debates are weighty, rich, sometimes a little heated…but at lunch time, we sit around munching Duncan’s apples. That they are fine, crisp, tasty apples, we all agree on.

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The beauty of the simple backyard apple, wet from being rinsed in cold water, fresh-picked off the tree.

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free nature mandala*

*those of you who are ancient like me, might get the bad pun in the title…

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I love mandala. I often make little ones out of windfalls and flowers, in my backyard or when I’m out and about. I love the idea of art that sits there until the weather scatters it off in all directions. It’s meditative to make, then it goes…perfectly biodegradable art.

Here’s a simple one I made over Easter at Lake Taupo – there wasn’t much around so I had to hunt harder for materials – gorse flowers, pumice, kowhai pods…

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For some colourful mandala inspiration, check out my Pinterest board on this topic HERE.

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good year, bad year

Good year – beets…

Bad year – carrots…

I love the way vegetable gardeners (and farmers, no doubt) talk in terms of ‘good year’/’bad year’ for produce.

It has not been the best summer ever in my vegetable garden, but like every year there have been highs and lows.

Bad year:

Corn – after several excellent corn years – this one was a wash-out. Instead of the usual few weeks of corn eating, we have had just a few days. I try to rotate big crops, but I think the corn did not like the spot I put it in this year. Also I grew painted mountain corn for fun. It might make great masa (if you grow craploads, …like a paddock’s worth) but it tastes like arse when it’s fresh – woody, bland, chewy. I won’t be growing it again in my small urban garden, but it was good to have tried it and it is very pretty.

Pumpkins – I usually grow a dozen or so. Today’s inventory – I can only see five. Not enough to get us through the winter.

Garlic – my garlic just did not swell this year. It’s still in the garden, stunted and shallot-sized. Pathetic.

I continue to not be able to grow a decent carrot. I keep resolving not to try any more because they are SO CHEAP…but then I do try again because I am stubborn…this time they are at least big enough to be worth picking and eating – even if they are stubby and mutant. Look at the verdant, beautiful green foliage! I was sure there would be some giant carrots underneath – but no, they are ‘all mouth and no trousers’ as a friend of mine says to describe people who promise much and deliver bugger-all.

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Good year:

Beetroot – big fat pink globes. Beetroot remains in my top ten of vegetables to grow for being easy, pretty and tasty.

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Basil! Glossy bunches of basil in salads, on pasta, mmmm….pesto. I love you, Basil!

Tomatoes! Is there anything more joyful than picking a bowl full of sun-warm tomatoes every day for dinner? So pretty, so delicious, so heart-warming.

Apples – both of my apple trees have an abundance of apples this year and they seem to be ready earlier.

When crops fail I try not to think of the money, labour, water, time, energy spent on them….& focus on the crops which are obliging me! I’m sure a cost/benefit analysis of my vegetable gardening would prove that buying vegetables works out, if not cheaper, then the same….but then what would I do for entertainment around these parts?

 

 

 

crochet ghost stops his haunting to eat breakfast

My boy likes to hide in blankets.

He loves lying underneath the bean bag.

He loves making a nest of blankets and pillows in a tight corner.

He loves a three-person pile-up where the whole family lies on top of him, squashing him until he can’t quite expand his lungs…

& having a crochet-ghost at the breakfast table is not an unusual sight around here….

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a wish for you, a wish for me

Recently I saw THIS NECKLACE on etsy and fell in love. I’m going through a bit of a love affair with Dandelion. It’s a mysterious yet common plant – it has manifold healing properties. It is rich in history and symbolism. You can eat all parts of it. You can’t ever kill it off your property. It grows pretty much all around the world. To me, it’s a magical, special plant – I find it sad that people see it as a weed….I love a lot of ‘weeds’.

I thought, ‘maybe one day I will treat myself that necklace’….but then, I was in Spotlight and I saw some small glass bottles with cork lids, and I had an ‘aha’ moment. Why buy dandelion seeds from America when I have them all over my own back yard?

So I bought a couple of the wee bottles, harvested some dandelion seed, poked the seed inside with a knitting needle and voila! dandelion seed necklaces for me and a friend who was having a birthday!

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Dandelion seeds represent wishes – I think it’s a nice ‘totem’ to carry a bottle of wishes around your neck through the world.

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Review of ‘A Forager’s Treasury’ by Johanna Knox

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A Forager’s Treasury

By Johanna Knox

Allen & Unwin, $36.95

I’m late in writing this review – I’ve had the book for some weeks now and I was supposed to post a review last week, but it’s taken me a long time to gather my thoughts about it because, quite simply, I’m completely overwhelmed by how much I love this book and I couldn’t write the review sooner because it would have just been GUSH GUSH RAVE RAVE MAD WOMAN SPLUTTERINGS…

I can’t promise much better today, but I will try! This book is a must for anyone interested in foraging (obviously), but also herbal healing, Rongoa, bushcraft, nutrition, ecological principles of sustainability and conservation, folk wisdom and so much more! The book is rich in it’s content, it’s so much more than a mere guidebook, the author is a terrific writer and her sparkling prose and dry wit infuse the text with life. She is funny, self-effacing, humble and also extremely intelligent – it’s a beguiling combination.

The book is thoroughly researched and wonderfully New Zealand-specific (although there is plenty in here for overseas readers, also!) The writer brings her own direct experiences (and experiments!) into the text, which makes giving foraging a go seem so much more appealing. She is honest about her failures, her predilections and her biases, too. The book is not impartial and is all the richer for it! All through the text are small boxes of ‘extra for experts’ style gems of historical information and interesting stories relating to the text.

As well as all the botanical and culinary details necessary for foraging, Johanna goes beyond the basics to provide a feast of recipe ideas, she covers cooking, tisanes, syrups,  oils, freezing, pickling and so much more. The most special thing about the book for me, though, is that Johanna’s enthusiasm for plants and foraging makes it seem exciting, vital and fun. I have no doubt that the book will turn many foraging-newbies in to keen plant spotters and pickers. I also love the way Johanna captures the romantic aspect of foraging, the sheer joy of knowing a wild plant’s name and what it’s good for – the final section of the book ‘Wild Ways’ celebrates the foraging ‘lifestyle’ with ideas for bodycare, medicine, picnics and a look at the language of flowers. In case you are worried the recipes will all be for green weedy salads, fear not – there are recipes for all kinds of desserts, cakes, rich sauces – the gourmand will be satisfied as much as the health nut.

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My favourite recipe (again, appealing to the romantic part of me) is for ‘Lady Lindsay’s Feral Tea Sandwiches’ (I love the word ‘feral’ – it makes me want to dance around a blazing bonfire on a winter’s night!). I have copied Johanna’s description of these sandwiches for your entertainment:

Tea sandwiches are dainty…..I named this collection of ideas for Joan, Lady Lindsay who is best known for her haunting novel ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ …an evocative and primal exploration of Antipodean settler unease and awe for the land. With her highly privileged background, creative eccentricity and fascination for the land’s dangers and mysteries, I think Joan Lindsay would have liked these sandwiches. I fancy they are like her, with their refined exteriors and wild insides.” 

There follows a long recipe full of endless possibilities for a truly wild picnic!

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My only criticism of the book is the lack of an index, which makes looking up plants tricky if you aren’t sure of their parent plant family….but I anticipate somewhere in the next dozen reprints of this book, sure to become a bible of plant lore in New Zealand, the publishers will eventually put an index in.

I have already bought copies of this book for my father (keen bushman who likes to extend his bush-craft skills) and friends who love to garden and forage. It makes a wonderful gift for the green-minded, but first, buy a copy for yourself – even if you are new to foraging you are sure to catch the bug, and you will be amazed at what you can ‘forage’ even in your own backyard! (The chickweed and dandelion in the photographs came from my backyard, I chopped both finely and added to a pasta sauce.)

Thank you, Johanna for your gift of this very special book.

Don’t forget there is a website which accompanies the book HERE. I will share a foraging recipe which Johanna sent me with you sometime soon (I just need to cook it first so I can report on it’s flavour!)

 

 

Walnuts, irises, peas….

Over autumn I foraged HEAPS of walnuts, plus my parents gave me a big box….they’ve been drying off for six weeks. I’ve just started cracking into them and they are good, fresh, earthy, delicious. Now I have a happy walnut glut and will be thinking of ways to use walnuts so if you have any good recipes or food combinations, let me know! I started with cake, because…..cake. I made an Alison Holst Date & Walnut Cake recipe, a rich combination of finely chopped dates and walnuts with only two tablespoons of flour! I made ginger icing for it and we devoured it for afternoon tea. It was more like a pudding in consistency….no bad thing!

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On Saturday, I bought these irises at the vegetable market and also a twin bunch for my mother who was visiting. When I bought them they were very tightly closed. She took hers back to Taupo. Mine all opened at the same time the next day, hers didn’t open until today! Swamp-plain versus mountain-plain, I guess. What do plants MAKE of being shipped away from their home-terroir? Do they feel it?

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Finally, also at the vegetable market I bought this bunch of pea tops. I have a bit of a fetish for pea plants – I love them! Something about those curly little climbing tendrils makes me feel all strange and happy. I hadn’t seen such a thing for sale as a vegetable before. I would be happy to buy them every week!

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They taste slightly of pea, but mainly just of chlorophyl, of healthy green. I ate them in sandwiches and threw them into a soup I was making.

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I am writing a long, ongoing poem about vegetables in the vegetable garden and the way they grow. It’s an odd project – I’m trying to capture each plants ‘essential nature’ in a short 4-8 line stanza. Why am I doing this? I don’t know…a combination of fun and to get to know the things I grow more intimately? Here is the ‘pea’ stanza:

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Pea:

fragile bright filigree

upwards gentle

spirals intently

tiny hands holding

tender opaque baby