Ruby salt bush (Enchylaena tomentosa)

ruby-salt-bush

Ruby salt bush is really easy to grow and it’s part of my bush tucker garden out the front yard. It likes full sun and can survive off rain fall once established. While it was growing I pinched out the top growing branch to keep it short as it’s known to be top heavy and can fall over and snap. Mine is a low sprawling 1 metre high shrub.

At this time of year the little red berries are starting to ripen up. To harvest just place a your hand under the branch and tap the berries with your fingers. The ripe berries knock off really easily and fall into your hand. They can be eaten fresh by putting them whole into your mouth and mash lightly between your teeth. Suck the juice then spit out the seed. I don’t break the seed in my teeth as it’s a bit bitter. The flesh has light delicate sweet flavour with an undercurrent of saltiness. Small amounts of the leaves can also been eaten, preferably after boiling to remove some of the oxalic acid.

Ruby saltbush kombucha recipe

A handful of ripe ruby salt bush berries

700ml kombucha

Prepare the first ferment of kombucha like you normally would. Remove your scoby and set aside in your scoby hotel. Prepare the berries by washing them and removing any damaged ones. Place them into a bowl then crush gently with the back of a fork. Put the berries and any released juice in the bottle leaving 3cm of air below the lid. I use a recycled Bickford soft drink bottle for this. Secure the air tight lid on the bottle and place overnight at room temperature in a dark cupboard.

It will gain fizz, a ruby red colour and the delicate sweetness of the berries. I strain the fruit out using a tea strainer and decant into a new bottle and refrigerate. If the berries are left in it will progressively get saltier and lose any sweetness.

Dolmades

dolmades

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.

Muntries aka Kunzea pomifera

I planted some muntries in my front yard in the hope of plentiful summer berries just out my front door. In retrospect they are in the totally wrong spot and it’s amazing they are still alive. The patch has other native shrubs which mean they don’t get a huge amount of sun. Muntries like full sun and sandy soil. Mine have shade and clay soil where they are growing. So they haven’t sprawled out like they do in the wild and they haven’t fruited either. Nonetheless, given that they are content I’ll be leaving them there to see what happens. I’m really keen to have my own supply and will be experimenting with a growing some more up a trellis in full sun later on.

It’s the start of muntrie season at the moment and for now I’ll have to be content to just admire this little patch I came across while down the coast the other day.

Apparently, muntries were traditionally pounded into cakes and dried like fruit leather. These cakes were then traded with other Aboriginal groups for goods. Like any berry they are a delicacy and take time to pick but the taste is well worth it. These would be delicious dried and included in muesli or added fresh to recipes in place of sultanas or berries. They have a crisp apple flavour when fresh.

Huevos rancheros

This breakfast dish is comfort food for me as it reminds me of my childhood, my aunties and my grandmother. This time of year is great for cooking this up as the eggs, tomatoes and spring onions are all collected from my backyard.

2 eggs

2 finely chopped spring onions

1 large overripe tomato or large handful of cherry tomatoes, diced

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper

Put oil in pan on a medium heat. Add spring onions and soften for a minute. Add tomatoes and wait until it starts caramelising. Keep moving around the pan as this should only take a couple of minutes and it will start sticking. Crack eggs whole over the mix and loosely scramble. You still want to see the yolk and the white separate. It will only take a couple of minutes for the eggs to cook through. Season with salt and pepper to taste when serving.

Serve with arepas and baked ricotta. Serves 2.

 

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.

Garlic

garlic

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.

Tomatoes

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.

tomatoes

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.

tomato-harvest

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.

Passata recipe

passata

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.