Currants

100_4192 cropNew Zealand produces about 8,000 tonnes of blackcurrants each year—5% of world production. We have at least one large blackcurrant farm nearby, and more popping up, as a craze for blackcurrant products grows. Marketing for blackcurrant products focuses on their health benefits (antioxidants, vitamin C).

We grow both red and black currants, but not for their health benefits. We grow them for their flavour, colour, and prolific production.

Let’s forget healthy entirely–currants’ bright colours and tart flavour make for beautiful and decadent pies, jams and ice cream. They liven up fruit salad, and their juice makes a lovely drink on a hot day, mixed with tonic water and a splash of gin.

And you can toast your health with that!

See! Three Pea! Oh!

100_4187 smI couldn’t help myself, what with Star Wars release date coming up…

In truth, it’s four pea varieties. I just can’t seem to stop myself from planting them. And it’s still not enough to get us through the year—peas are so good in just about everything!

I plant snow peas, sugar snap peas, and two varieties of shelling pea each year. My favourites have become the purple shelling peas. The plants are tall and vigorous, they have gorgeous purple flowers and pods, and they just keep on giving through the heat of summer, even after all the other peas have given up. The only problem is that the peas themselves are grey when cooked—delicious, but not so attractive.

My favourite way to eat peas is standing up in the garden as a pick-me-up while weeding—juicy, crunchy and sweet. The kids take them in their lunch boxes, and a big bowl of them vanishes faster than cookies at Christmas parties.

And Santa’s reindeer will eat as many as we put out for them!

Carrot thinnings

100_4178 smI used to hate thinning carrots—it’s tedious work at best. But that was before I changed how I thin.

When thinning most crops, I naturally pull out the smallest plants, leaving the robust ones to grow and produce. This is how I used to thin carrots.

But if I thin the carrots by pulling out the biggest ones, I end up with a big bag full of beautiful little carrots to eat. Then the smaller ones will grow, and I’ll get to pick and eat them later on. Makes the thinning job so much nicer, because I know I’ll get dinner out of the deal.

 

The Cherry Mystery

100_4169 smWhen you move onto an old property, it takes a while to become familiar with all the plants previous owners planted. Our property was blessed with a variety of fruit trees. There are a few apples—three varieties, from what we’ve seen, though we can only identify one of them. There’s a late-season peach. And there is a cherry tree. The cherry tree is old and had been damaged repeatedly over the years.

In the spring, the first years on the property, we would watch as the tree put out a few flowers, but we never saw a ripe fruit. The birds seemed to eat them all before they ripened.

Then one year the tree flowered profusely. It was loaded with cherries. But still, they didn’t seem to ripen before they were eaten by the birds.

That’s when it finally dawned on us—it was a yellow cherry! The fruits were ripening. The birds knew that—they can see the change in reflected UV light when a berry is ripe—but we didn’t.

Once we knew what the cherries were, we were able to get a harvest most years, in spite of the birds. It’s still difficult for me to tell when one is ripe by look, but I pick by feel—a ripe cherry is subtly softer than a nearly ripe one.

We still don’t know the variety. The fruits are relatively small. They’re sweet, but very heavy in cyanide flavour, and we can’t decide if they’re better for eating fresh or baking.

This year is a bumper year for cherries, so we’ll be able to have them both ways. This morning’s harvest was more than enough for a pie, so you can guess what we’re having for dessert tonight!

Chocolate Hearts

100_4101 smAnother must-make Christmas cookie is chocolate shortbread hearts. This is another recipe from my mother-in-law. Another recipe whose origin is lost in the mists of time. This one is quite possibly my favourite cookie ever. It’s a good thing the recipe isn’t a large one…

2 cups flour

½ cup Dutch-process cocoa

¼ tsp baking soda

1 cup unsalted butter

1 cup confectioners sugar (sifted)

1 ¼ tsp vanilla

Cream butter. Add sugar and beat 2 minutes. Beat in vanilla and add sifted dry ingredients. Roll to 1/3 inch (mine are more like ¼ inch) between sheets of wax paper. Chill 2 hours. Cut out and bake at 325°F (160°C) for 16 to 18 minutes.

Hide them if you want to actually have a chance to eat any yourself.

Gingerbread

100_4159 sm‘Tis the season, and though I’d rather be eating strawberries, I feel culturally obliged to bake cookies.

And I’m obliged by my husband to bake gingerbread…

his mother’s recipe…

because that’s THE gingerbread recipe, according to him.

As gingerbread goes, it is a very nice recipe—full of lemon and orange in addition to the ginger and cinnamon. And the dough rolls and cuts well.

And it makes a TON of cookies!

Thankfully, this year the kids did all the decorating!

 

 

Colours of the Season

100_4093 smStrawberries, gooseberries, black currants, red currants, cherries, raspberries—they all seem to come at once in a tsunami of colour and flavour.

The weeks before Christmas are filled with jam, pies, and shortbread. Fingers are permanently stained with juice. Festive splatters decorate the kitchen walls and floor. Bowls of green and red fruit stand in for more traditional holiday decorations.

Today, we put up the Christmas tree and made the first jam of the season.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Christmas Doggerel

Seasonally adjusted Christmas tree--the Christmas bean!

Seasonally adjusted Christmas tree–the Christmas bean!

It wouldn’t be Christmas in New Zealand if I didn’t completely trash at least one Christmas song by writing a geographically appropriate version for us.

And so, to kick off the Christmas season, here it is–to the tune of Chestnuts Roasting Over an Open Fire.

 

Marshmallows toasting o’re the campfire.

Sand crabs nipping at your toes.

Yuletide carols being sung by a choir,

And folks with sun block on their nose.

 

Everybody knows a wetsuit and some ice cream

Help to make the season bright.

Tiny tots with a sunburn will seem

To find it hard to sleep tonight.

 

They’re tracking Santa’s every vector.

He’s loaded lots of toys and goodies on his tractor.

And every mother’s child is gonna spy

To see if sheep really know how to fly.

 

And so I’m offering this simple phrase

To kids from one to ninety-two.

Although it’s been said many times, many ways,

Kia ora to you.

Watch Out—She’s Packing Secateurs!

Among my favourite garden tools is a pair of small, straight-bladed secateurs. In addition to the secateur function, the tool also acts as a knife—the “back” edge of each blade is sharpened.

It took me a few very deep, nasty cuts to my fingers before I quite got the hang of this tool. When I use it to trim goat hooves, I have to wear heavy gloves, because the goats always kick and send the blade into my hand.

Thankfully, the tool comes with a sheath. The sheath clips to a belt or pocket, and I’ve found it quite handy to always have a knife and secateurs with me in the garden. So I’ve taken to automatically clipping it on when I go to the garden.

With my secateurs at my hip, I feel like I’m packing heat.

**Apologies—I spent most of my day away from internet access, only got home at 10.30 pm, and didn’t get a photo for today’s post. At least I got it posted…just an hour to go in the day!

A Beautiful Girl Buys Cherries

100_4090I sat outside a coffee shop nursing a flat white while I waited for my car’s broken seat belt to be replaced. The morning was warm and sunny, but my mood wasn’t. Not only was I spending half my day waiting for my car, before I left home, we’d been hit once again by the neighbour’s overspray.

But as I sat there, an elderly couple came shuffling serenely along the sidewalk. They were dressed to the nines in coordinate cream-coloured outfits, and walked arm in arm.

The gentleman addressed me as they approached.

“Excuse me. It has been over a year since we were here last. I believe there is another seating area like this one on the other side?”

His smile extracted the first of the day from me.

“Yes,” I said.

“And I suppose they put a beautiful young girl like you right here to attract business, eh?”

(For the record, I am 45, and my predominant hair colour is grey—he was either nearly blind, or being incredibly kind. I believe it was the latter).

“Well, you have a lovely spot here to sit and do your paperwork,” he concluded. (I had a story in front of me that I was editing).

“Have a lovely day!” I called to the pair as they shuffled into the cafe.

Later in the afternoon, I stopped by the roadside to buy cherries. The woman in front of me was trying to use her eftpos card to pay, but it wasn’t working. She had no cash, so she turned away, disappointed.

After the gift the elderly gentleman had given me in the morning, what could I do, but buy her a bag of cherries?