At this time of year something really special happens on the coast. I have fallen in love with all the gorgeous edibles that grow over the hot summer months. Muntries, karkalla, boobialla, coastal rosemary and many others are singing a beautiful song right now. This little shrub Leucopogon parviflorus sang out to me, drawing me in to taste its sweet fruit. This one truly is a little gem. Eat when white and pearl like. Plant in sunny spot in sandy soils.
Wreath making has been done by many cultures for thousands of years. While the symbolism varies between individuals, for the materials it’s best to use what’s on hand and in season in the garden. This wreath made today symbolises for me the circle of life continuing throughout time. The end of the year is fast approaching with a new year soon to come. The spring growth of the grape vines have a bunch of forming grapes as a promise of the summer harvest to come. The olive leaves were used to symbolise peace with some baby olives as a promise of the autumn harvest and winter pickling to come.
Our household has developed a taste for kombucha and at $4 a bottle in the shops I’ve had to work out how to brew it at home. A friend lent me the very easy to follow book on ‘The art of probiotic nutrition’ by Kale Brock. It takes you through step by step on how to make kombucha. If you think it’s hard to make just check out this video from Kale to see just how easy it is.
Remove the scoby and place in glass jar with breathable lid and make sure it’s covered with Kombucha. Put the scoby aside in cupboard. With the rest of the Kombucha it’s time to do a secondary ferment.
While local hills strawberries are in season in the shops the varieties in my backyard come through earlier in October, November and into early December. I used about half a punnet for this recipe.
1/2 punnet strawberries
700 ml kombucha
You need a bottle with a nice airtight lid. I recycled a Bickfords soft drink bottle for this. I mashed about half a punnet of strawberries and placed in the sterilised bottle. Then I topped up the bottle with kombucha leaving about 2 cm of air. I tapped the bottle to get rid of any air bubbles and gave the fruit a little stir to ensure good contact with the liquid. Seal the lid and ferment for 1-3 days depending on the weather. Put it in a cupboard while it’s fermenting. Test each day and put in fridge when ready.
Be warned, to get the fizz you need to have a small amount of air up top. I left about 2cm and when I opened the bottle to test it, strawberry beer exploded out the top and kinda went everywhere. I’m not sure if it’s because it has been so hot the fermenting process sped up or if I should have left more air up top or I used too much fruit. Probably a combo of all three. The bad news is I lost about a quarter of the bottle. The good news is my ceiling, walls, floors and everything else in the kitchen have now had a good wipe down and I now have delicious fizzy strawberry beer. I didn’t strain the fruit out but if this was being kept for a while in the fridge before drinking I would strain the fruit out.
I have since read that it’s good to open a secondary ferment using a tea towel over the kitchen sink. And… I’ve found out that others find that strawberry kombucha is extra fizzy. I’ll be making this again for sure and making sure I open with tea towel over sink next time.
Grape vine leaves are in abundance at the moment and are sending out lots of growth. I’ve seen grape vines growing in lots of public places and it wouldn’t be difficult to forage some. I’m choosing to pick the vines growing over our fence that come in from our neighbours yard because I know they aren’t sprayed. Pick young leaves around the size of your hand for this recipe. Don’t pick any damaged leaves as the stuffing will just fall out. Try to pick in the morning and don’t pick leaves that are providing grapes with shade. Pick one or two lighter green leaves from each branch/shoot from the under story of the vine. Pick the leaves in early summer. Older leaves are tougher, more fibrous and can be bitter.
40 vine leaves
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion
100 gm uncooked basmati rice
50 gm quinoa
50 gm pine nuts
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon five spice
1/2 teaspoon cracked pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup mint, chopped finely
50 ml lemon juice
600ml vegetable stock or water
enough tomato to line base of pot
Wash the vine leaves and cut off stem with scissors. Blanch in salted boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain and then set aside in a tea towel. The leaves will turn a dull olive green.
Fry the onion gently until translucent. Mix dry ingredients and mint together in a bowl. Add cooked onion. I used whole cherry tomatoes to line the base of the pot. You could also line pot with sliced larger tomatoes.
Place a heaped teaspoon of the stuffing on each vine leave and roll up leaf. Start rolling from base of leaf upwards, then firmly tuck sides in. It’s ok to overlap smaller leaves to get a better rolling surface. Pack each rolled leaf firmly next to each other with the flap of the leaf on the bottom. This will stop it unrolling while its being stacked and while its cooking. Keep adding layers until all the rolls are packed in. Put a plate on top layer of the vines to stop them from moving in the water. Mix the lemon juice and stock and pour over the plate and bundles.
Bring to boil then simmer for 30 minutes. Allow to cool for 30 minutes in the pot before removing.
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.
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
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.
I love garlic so I decided to grow my own last year. I got some great tips from a friend who grows about half a ton each year to supply some of the local organic shops. First I had to work out how much we eat each year. We eat at least one bulb a week and thought we could grow extra to give some to family as gifts. Also grow extra to have plenty of seed (cloves) for next years planting.
I thought 80 should be enough. To get 80 plants I needed 80 cloves. For better results it’s important to start with organic bulbs. The non organic bulbs have usually been treated with a sprout inhibitor which will stunt the growth. Garlic gets planted on the Adelaide plains at Easter and is harvested at Christmas.
I prepared the soil well by adding heaps of compost, manure, and gypsum for my heavy clay soil. I planted the cloves in rows 15 cm apart, pointy side up and twice as deep as the clove. Then I watered in. After they sprouted I laid lucerne hay between the rows to stop the weeds coming up. I didn’t water much as they can rot. We get plenty of winter rains on the Adelaide plains but I did water a few times as the weather warmed up.
The garlic is ready to harvest when the stalks start to die back. I used a small garden fork to gently pry them out of the ground. Keep the dry stalks intact to use for plaiting them for storage. Hang in a place in the house with good ventilation and no direct sunlight as it will keep longer.
Keep the best bulbs aside as your seed stock for next year.
This year had a very long winter and my tomatoes have been very slow going. I really hope the tomato season gets going soon. In previous years the tomatoes have been pumping at this time of year starting at the beginning of December and finishing up around March.
Previously, I grew these cherry tomatoes on a simple tent like bamboo structure which worked well. The only downside was the ones growing on the inside needed specialist picking, luckily I had the perfect person with keen eyes to find them. The six plants were very prolific and supplied us with plenty of tomatoes.
Later in the season at the end of March I bought two big boxes of South Australian sauce tomatoes from the local fruit shop to make into tomato passata. There are lots of ways to make it and everyone who does make it seems to have their own special way to do it. A few of the ways to do it ask for the skin and seeds to be removed. I much prefer the idea of using all the fruit so that’s what I did. Also, I read that there is a spike in hospital admissions of people that have had sauce bottles explode in their face and burn them so I took that into account when experimenting with my first rather small batch of 20 kilos. I tried a couple of ways to do it and settled on a recipe I was happy with.
Twenty kilos sounds like a lot but it was so good we used the passata in everything. The flavour really was pretty amazing and I can see now why people devote a whole weekend to preserving this beautiful fruit. To work out how much our family uses in a year I have been saving all our passata jars to get an idea of exactly how much of this we actually eat. I will recycle these jars and use them to preserve the following years supply.
1 kg of tomatoes will make around 750 ml passata
Wash the tomatoes well and cut of any bad bits. Slice tomatoes in big chunks eg – four to six pieces, and place in big pot. Put pot on stove on medium heat. The juices should start being released from the tomatoes. Once they have released enough tomato juice get a stick blender and puree. Simmer the tomato puree until fragrant, 15 – 20 mins or so. Put puree into pre-washed and sterilised jars and seal lids. I used a combo of fowlers jars and supermarket passata bottles, you can also use beer bottles.
Get a preserving unit. I used an old one I picked up off Gumtree that has a built in thermometer. Our next door neighbour uses a large drum over a fire. Use whatever you have. Put a towel at the bottom of the unit and then start stacking the bottles in with tea towels, cloth, rags, newspaper (whatever you have on hand) to separate the bottles so they don’t break when the water is boiling. Fill the drum with cold water and slowly bring to the boil. I heated up my unit on the BBQ. Using the BBQ kept the kitchen cool and meant that I didn’t have to move it when hot to use my stove. Make sure the water boils for at least 30 mins and then turn the heat off.
Don’t try to remove the bottles at this stage as you might end up in hospital. Leave the bottles in the unit overnight and remove when cold the next morning. Store bottles somewhere dark until ready to eat. Enjoy.
Late December 2014, I gathered up this harvest from the garden to take away with us on our week away down the coast. I don’t normally pick this much at once as I prefer to pick it on day I eat it so its at its freshest.
The little bounty included eggplant, cucumbers, zucchini, kale, oregano, basil, parsley, four varieties of lettuce, pak choy, cherry tomatoes and eggs. Fast forward to Christmas 2016, spring was late and it has been particularly cold and wet with a couple of heat waves thrown in to confuse the plants. My eggplants and tomatoes are very late to fruit and my basil has not been happy either. I’ve only just had a couple of tomatoes ripen in the last few days.
The kale I was growing at the time back in 2014 was gettting munched on by the white cabbage moth. On reflection kale is happiest growing in cooler weather and struggles in the heat. I’ve since found out that the best way to grow kale through Adelaide’s hot summer is to grow in a wicking bed so it stays well hydrated and to also place a net over it so the moths don’t get a chance to get to the plant to lay their eggs.