Apricots

apricots

Every year my neighbour lets us pick the apricots from their tree that hangs over our shared fence. There’s always plenty of fruit which also means working out how to preserve it. Previously I’ve turned it into a puree and fruit leather which has been a real hit. The recipe for fruit leather is here. This year I’ve made Apricot chutney to go with the cauliflower pakora we have every now and then which is a real treat in our house. I’ve also dried the fruit too – both recipes are below.

Apricot chutney

1.5 kg apricots

1 tablespoon oil
1 onion

1 teaspoon dried ginger
5 tablespoons honey
5 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup corn flour, mix in with a little cold water (to avoid lumps) before adding to main mix

Remove seeds of apricots, and slice into small 5 cent size pieces. Chop up the onions and cook for a few minutes on medium heat until golden. Add the apricots into the pot with the onions. Cover, and cook until softened and they release their liquids. Add the rest of the ingredients, stir well and cook for around 10 minutes until thickened.

Put mixture into pre-sterilised jars. Boil jars for 15 mins in preserving unit, turn off then remove when cool.

Dried apricots

Cars parked in the sun get hot, really hot. This recipe takes advantage of solar energy to naturally dehydrate the fruit.

Halve and pit the fresh apricots. Place on flat trays and put trays on the dash in your car. Crack window open a little to allow moisture to leave the car. Bring in trays if you need to use the car. Turn over once each day. It will take 2-3  days to dehydrate the fruit.

Here are the halved apricots on the dash next to the finished apricots.

The bright orange ones from the shops get gassed with sulphur for a longer shelf life. These haven’t been treated with sulphur which is why they are dark. Do a little experiment and taste the bright orange ones and home dried ones. The texture is the same but the flavour of summer apricots just isn’t there in the bright ones. The flavour and taste is as different as chalk and cheese. It’s so easy and well worth drying them at home.

Wild fennel pollen

This time of year wild fennel is flowering all over the Adelaide plains and the hills. While it grows a lot on the sides of roads, councils tend to spray poison a lot there too. This patch was growing near a creek. Wild fennel doesn’t grow bulbs like the stuff sold in the shops. The young fronds, seeds and pollen are edible.

wild-fennel

When I stopped to check this patch I also found a lovely fig tree with large plump figs on it. I’ll go back and collect those later when ripe.

I collected flower heads with firm yellow flowers on it like the photo below for saving the pollen. Be careful not to collect all the heads as these are food for bees and the flowers will turn into seeds which can be eaten green or at maturity. The mature seeds will also drop making new plants.

fennel.jpgThe flower heads should be put in a paper bag when transporting to catch any pollen that may fall out. When you get home take the flower heads out of the bag and rub together over a piece of white paper. You should see little yellow fluff dropping, this is the fresh fennel pollen. If you want dried pollen just leave the heads in the paper bag till it dries out then shake it loose from flower heads and store pollen in jar in the cupboard. Eight flower clusters will make about a tablespoon of pollen. I’m holding one cluster in the photo above.

I put my fresh pollen in the freezer overnight to kill any miniature bugs that may hiding in the pollen, then keep it in the fridge. The fresh pollen can be used as a spice and you don’t need much, just a pinch. It has a delicate aniseed flower. It can be added to cooked meals like pasta or to add flavour to a salad dressing.

Nasturtsiums

I felt like eating some nasturtium flowers and leaves today but the plant in my garden is looking pretty sad at the moment. It died back recently and has about four tiny leaves on it. I had to look further afield so I went down to a patch I know that grows by the river near my house. When I got there it looked like the whole area had been sprayed. Everything was dry and dead, which is why I don’t like foraging in public spaces.

Nasturtiums are pretty prolific so I knew I’d pass some on the way home which I did. The nasturtiums were growing through someones fence onto the sidewalk. There were plenty so I helped myself to some. Nasturtiums can be used medicinally, they are high in vitamin C and have antibiotic properties. I will be using the flowers and young leaves below in a salad.

nastursium

Previously I have also pickled the seeds. A couple of years ago I visited a friends property. She had a huge patch of nasturtiums and doesn’t spray them. They had all gone to seed and there were literally thousands of seeds to collect. I collected the young green seeds for this recipe. The older brown seeds are no good for pickling but can be used to grow new plants. Use the following pickled seeds like you would use capers.

Pickled nasturtium seeds (garden betty recipe)

2/3 cup young green nasturtium seed pods
1/4 cup salt
2 cups water
2/3 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 bay leaf

Separate the pods into individual seeds, and give them a rinse to remove any dirt. In a jar dissolve the salt in water. Add the nasturtium seeds, and keep the seeds submerged. Let the brine sit for a couple of days at room temperature. The seeds will turn a dull green during this stage.

Strain the seeds and rinse again to remove excess salt.

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the vinegar and sugar to a low boil for 1 minute and stir to dissolve.

Divide your seeds into small jars, then pour the hot vinegar over the seeds, covering them completely.Add a bay leaf to each jar.

Let the jars cool to room temperature before sealing with lids. At this point, you can either keep the jars at room temp or store them in the fridge.

The pickled pods will keep indefinitely in the vinegar, just use a clean utensil to remove the pods from the jar.

 

 

Urban foraging

Truth be told that most urban areas are not known for having edible plants growing in public spaces. Some notable exceptions to this include Cuba’s urban farming and the town of Todmorden in the UK. In Australia we have Buderim’s food street where the verges have been planted out with edibles to share. I really hope these exceptions become the norm one day.

Not incorporating edibles into urban landscapes is not only a shame but also means so many lost opportunities. So many lost opportunities to:

  • recognise the seasons and see what amazing produce is on offer
  • connect with others living in the community while picking and preserving the produce
  • taste produce at its best
  • have a closer connection to our environment
  • provide greater self reliance to get through difficult times.

There are laws around foraging in public places and while I’m not an expert it’s generally not encouraged. For example, in South Australia native plants can only be picked on crown land if you have a permit. It’s ok to forage natives on private property as long as it’s done responsibly and the local population remains intact. In urban areas issues of private land ownership arise and over harvesting of plant populations come into play. Most of the problems with foraging seem to stem from plant illiteracy and greed when people wish to profit from their finds.

I’m not going to go into detail about the principles of responsible foraging here other than:

  • know what you are picking
  • make sure you responsibly harvest whatever you are picking
  • pick what you need and leave what you don’t.

In my local area I have discovered some edibles growing along a council drain following an initial discovery of a plum tree. While picking the plums I noticed that there were also nectarines in the drain next to some of the dropped plums. I wandered up the drain to find where the nectarines were coming from. They were falling off a tree that was hanging over the fence. I also found in a very short distance a banana tree, grape vine, rosemary and mulberry tree.

This space is a great contender for some guerrilla gardening. The eroded drain provides a source of ground water for the established trees as well as a seasonal supply for watering the baby trees and plants by hand. Usually the drain is well dry at this time of year but had some water flowing due to the recent unusual storms. I’ll need to ponder a bit more about future guerrilla plantings in this space.

drain

Back to the plums. I gathered up some plums before Christmas and we ate them fresh. They were very tasty and tart which is how I like my plums. We went away for a week and during that time there was a four day heat wave. When I went back to the tree most of the fruit seemed to have fallen and it was now very ripe. They were still tasty so I collected some to make some fruit leather.

Plum leather recipe

plums

Get a large pot and a bowl ready for pips. Take the plums and squeeze between fingers over the pot. The seed should become loose and easy to remove. Place pips in bowl. Once all the plums have had their seeds removed squeeze some lemon over them. I used about half a lemon for 2 kgs of fruit. Put pot on medium heat on stove. Once the juices start releasing turn the heat down to simmer. Once enough juice has been released, use a stick blender to blend plums into a puree. Simmer for 10 mins and turn heat off.

At this point the puree needs to be dehydrated. If you have a dehydrator use that. I don’t have one so I use the oven. Prepare some baking trays by placing baking paper on them. Get a soup ladle and put the puree on the baking paper about 1/2 cm thick. Spread out puree evenly on tray using the back of a spoon and gently tap it to level out the puree. Place all the trays in the oven and cook on low heat 80c. Check regularly but expect it to take up to 8 hours to dehydrate. It’s ready when the mixture peels back from the baking paper.