We had the good fortune to be invited to pick apricots near Dunback. The day was clear and sunny and this year the trees were laden with sweet, ripe, pink cheeked fruit. The orchard is organic and amazingly free of bugs, wasps, birds and the like and the taste of the fruit was the best we had ever eaten.
Sheep roam the orchard and once we had explained the difference between sheep poo (ok) and dog poo (not ok) to the city kids, everyone got stuck in, munching and chatting as they picked in the shade of the trees. The baby grazed on whatever fruit he found on the ground until he announced “I don’t NEED apricots!” . When I commented on the meagre contents on Mrs BYF’s bucket she claimed to have eaten at least one tree’s worth and that it should be factored in to her harvest.
We had a great day out in the peaceful countryside. We met lovely hospitable people, drank great coffee and beer, and came home happy and pleased with our haul.
Back in the kitchen, we made jam, dried some, froze some, preserved some, and, with the smallest fruit, bottled them in grappa. We will need some warmth when the Dunedin winter bites so hopefully we will be able to keep our hands off these bottles until then.
Not being very hungry tonight, I decided to pick a few artichokes and cook them the way the Romans do to enjoy with the foccacia I baked this morning. A glass of my dry white wine complimented a simple and satisfying meal.
CARCHIOFI ALLA ROMANO ( adapted from one of the great Marcella Hazan’s recipes )
As many artichokes as you can fit snugly in your deep cast iron casserole or heavy bottomed pot. Keep about 50mm of stem attached to the artichoke because this is how the Romans serve them
2 or 3 cloves of garlic chopped fine. More if you like!
1 small handful of mint leaves chopped very fine
1 small handful of parsley chopped fine
1/2 cup of oil
Prepare the artichokes by slicing about 25mm off the top of the artichoke getting rid of spikes and a lot of the inedible green parts of the leaves. Peel away the hard outer leaves of the artichoke until the white leaves have only a little green at the top. Peel the green outer layer off the stem. I use an apple corer to dig the choke out from the centre without damaging the base of the artichoke. As each artichoke is cleaned, drop it in a bowl full of cold water with the lemons squeezed in. Drop the halves of squeezed lemon in the water too. Mix the garlic, parseley, salt and mint in a bowl. Press most of it in to the cavities of the artichokes. Put the oil in the pot and place the artichokes stem side up in the pot. Rub the last bit of the garlic mix on the outsides of the artichokes. Add enough water to cover most of the artichokes, keeping the stems dry. Put the lid on tightly. Cook on medium until tender when prodded with a knife. Serve with the sauce left in the pot poured over the artichokes. Eat the right away. ENJOY and remember the wine!
Mrs BYF is fanatical about not wasting any food that the garden produces. Her attitude has resulted in many memorable dishes ranging from fantastic, better that any world class restaurant, etc. etc., to (seldom, I might add) never to be attempted again, EVER!
I was going to let the cardoon buds flower, because the bees love them, and ‘they’ say that only the stems should be eaten, but Mrs BYF commanded me to “bring them in!”. After all the cardoons grow so well in Dunedin and my plants were well over 3 meters high with lots of flowers. They were all boiled in a big pot of water, with a squeeze of lemon and some salt, then peeled, chokes removed and the hearts put under oil. The taste and texture of the hearts proved to be sensational, perhaps a bit more starchy, at the same time almost creamy, than artichokes. We eat them as antipasto or on panini with roast bell peppers (peperoni) and fried eggplant (melanzane). The real taste of Italy in Dunedin. Unbelievable !
Just to take the non wastage policy a bit further, Mrs BYF used the inedibles for a lovely vegetable arrangement of rosemary, flowering cardoon and fennel fronds. The cardoon flowers are beautiful and, surprisingly, sweet smelling.
I love eating fresh produce in season and preserving all the excesses during the growing season for the rest of the year. Summer fruits and vegetables are expensive in winter and in summer there is a lot of glut and waste, especially at the small local green grocer who sells his fruit and vegetables fresh, in season and does not keep things in cool rooms for years. The supermarkets hold fresh foods over until they can hike the price so I avoid them. Why buy expensive bad produce, albeit blemish free if one can have uglier and tastier produce for less .
I do not have a glass house ( green house? ) and find it impossible to grow the vegetables that are important for Italian food like capsicum and eggplant in Dunedin. My solution is to have a good relationship with the local shop and to buy fresh produce that he can not sell. A small blemish or spot of rot, a wrinkle here and there, a few tomatoes that are too ripe for locals but just ripe and soft enough for a great sauce can be had for very little money. The shop keeper gets in money he would not have had, and it helps me to process things like eggplant, capsicum, tomatoes and a variety of fruits for use out of season without going bankrupt. I prevent, in a small way the waste of good food and wish I could convince more people to do the same.
Vegetables can be preserved in many ways, as sauce or ingredients for soups and stews or dried. Fruits are made in to jam or pitted and vacuum sealed to bake in to pies and tarts. I always sort fruit and the best specimens are devoured by the troops before being processed.
We have been pretty busy. The worst thing to process are the delicious cherries. Every one has to be pipped before jam can be made or the can be pasteurised for baking. I have a stiff shoulder and my arm and hand hurts. My hands and nails are stained purple and I have purple juice spots on my face. Keeping going is essential, though, because in dealing with this type of product ” time is of the essence “, seriously!
Cured olives (picked last year in Cromwell), dried tomatoes, garden salad, peperoni sott’ olio (capsicum under olive oil), peperoni grigliati (roasted capsicum), calabrese salame, pickled onions, provolone cheese, focaccia and, of course, dry wine (apple and black currant) – ALL HOME MADE. I am very happy with the result of all the hard work. A few more kilograms tomatoes, capsicums and eggplants processed should see us through the winter.
I had to deliver some quails (among other things) to Gore and Invercargill. Never having been that far south of Dunedin we decided to take our time and make it a two day holiday. On the way I confirmed my suspicion that the very best people like quails! Everyone I met along the way that kept quails were true animal lovers that owned other types of birds and animals too.
The standout meeting was just outside Gore where we met two amazing women who had a huge dairy and also bred small dogs, turkeys, ducks and huge Shire horses, kept tame black swans, parrots etc. Their massive hothouse was also the quail paradise, with the quails roaming freely among the vegetables. All their animals are tame and can be petted and I held a black swan in my arms for the first time. I was impressed by how very hard working they were, with their excellent animal housing and with how well loved and cared for their animals were. We had a lot to talk about and I left feeling that I could happily have spent a few more hours with them.
In one strange coincidence we met a lady with quails, of course, and many other animals as well as a very insistent lamb bleating for milk at the gate. At our next stop we talked about our previous meeting and the lamb, and found that we were dealing with a mother and daughter, neither knew that we were known to the other.
On the way back we took the scenic road along the sea through the Catlins. The scenery was marvelous all the way home! What a beautiful bit of country.
We every so often admired the scenery whilst having very enjoyable picnics.
If one had a bucket list of animals one can be chased by, mine would have a few ticks already! Elephant – tick (but, I was in a car ). Rhino – almost tick ( we were told which way to run should the wind turn, so it could have happened) . Humongous sea lion – Yup! It emerged from the surf a few meters away from where we were peacefully having a coffee causing us to grab the baby , cameras and picnic things and run. He followed us and almost caught up when we doubled back around a volcanic rock an he continued on wondering where we had gone. He was not the only sea lion on the beach, one was sleeping on its back in the sand and another seemed to try and kill a smaller animal by lying on top of it and biting it. All very exciting – who needs Bondi’s cafes if one could have a wild beach in Dunedin.
The sea was too rough for us to swim but we did paddle in the pristine ice blue water and the water did not feel cold at all. The drive there is spectacular as is the beach. Very few people were to be seen considering it was Sunday and the hottest day of the year so far. Another day in paradise!