Gooseberry pie

It’s a good year for gooseberries. Our supply of them seems to be limited only by our tolerance for the spines. Gooseberry jam, gooseberry ice cream, and the tartest, most gorgeous pie…

4 cups fresh gooseberries, stemmed and tailed
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp nutmeg

pastry for 1 pie crust

Speedy Streusel:
2/3 cup wholemeal flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 tsp cinnamon
5 Tbsp melted butter

Roll out the dough and line a pie plate. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Mix all ingredients for the streusel, stirring until crumbly. Set aside.

Put gooseberries in a medium saucepan and add a few tablespoons of water. Heat over medium heat until the berries ‘pop’. Combine sugar, flour and nutmeg. Add these to the gooseberries and cook until thickened.

Pour gooseberries into the pie dough. Sprinkle streusel on top. Bake at 190ºC (375ºF) for 30 minutes. Cool completely before cutting.

This pie is very tart. Serve small slices, accompanied by whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

‘Tis the Season

And So It Begins…

We’ve been watching the berries for weeks, and the signs have been promising. The gooseberry bushes are dripping with fruit. The currants, too, promise a good harvest. In spite of a viral infection, even the strawberries are managing a crop. The raspberries are humming with bees, attracted to a plethora of flowers.

The first harvest was tiny—a handful of berries—but it marks the beginning of my favourite season on the property. The season of fresh fruit. It begins with strawberries and gooseberries, moves on to currants, cherries and raspberries, and ends with apricots and plums. Watermelons, apples, and peaches come late in the year, and they’re lovely, but nothing compares to the early summer fruits. Their season is short, but bountiful. It’s the season of jams, fruit pies, and fruit ice cream. The season of gooseberry fool, strawberry-smothered waffles, and apricot upside down cake. It is the season of plenty.

In festive red and green, ’tis the season, indeed.

An Abundance of Artichokes

It’s a terrible thing, having excess gourmet vegetables. We are in our usual springtime artichoke excess. It’s not unusual for us to eat eight or nine artichokes five days out of seven.

A quick online search shows artichokes currently selling for anywhere from US$3 to 10 per pound (that’s NZ$9-31/kg). Given we easily eat a kilo per meal…Well, you get the idea. If we had to pay for them, we couldn’t afford them.

Of course, the problem remains–what do you do with that many artichokes? We preserve quite a few for use at other times of the year, but that still leaves plenty to enjoy during the season.

We eat a lot of artichokes in risotto, pasta, pizza, and gratins. The other day, I tried a new way of preparing them–crusted with parmesan and baked.

It’s simple, if a bit time-consuming (it would be trivial if you simply bought canned or frozen artichokes).

First, prepare the artichokes: snap off the outer leaves, peel the base and stem, trim off the top 1/3 of the leaves, remove the choke and any spines on the inner leaves, and cut the remaining heart into wedges. Drop wedges into a bowl of lemon juice and water as you go to avoid browning. Drain and steam for 3-5 minutes, until just tender, but not falling apart.

Then prepare the breading: mix in a medium bowl 1 cup bread crumbs, 1 cup grated parmesan cheese, 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp paprika, 1/8 tsp cayenne, and black pepper to taste.

In another bowl, beat two eggs.

Dredge the artichoke wedges first in the egg, then in the breading to coat thoroughly. Arrange in one layer on an oiled baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes at 190°C (375°F) until brown.

I served them plain, but they would be lovely with a dipping sauce like aioli or skordalia. They made a delicious accompaniment to the tiropitas (spinach and feta triangles) and salad that rounded out the meal.

Stress Free…sort of

I’m getting better at this. Sort of.

Two weeks to plant out day, and I was able to spend a day at the beach without stressing.

Not that I didn’t stress, actually. I worked hard all day Saturday, and then scrambled to get more done Sunday morning before we left, and then scrambled to finish the rest when we got home Sunday evening.

But from the moment I stepped out the door to the moment I returned, I didn’t think about weeds, plants, animals, cleaning…nothing on the to-do list.

I slipped momentarily, sitting at the edge of a wood-chipped playground…There was a twitch plant growing up through the woodchips. I was sorely tempted to reach out and yank it out, but I stayed strong. That weed is still happily growing, though it was a near thing.

Maybe some day I’ll be able to take an overnight trip without stress. Baby steps.

Subterranean clover

Subterranean clover (Trifolium subterraneum), like other clovers throughout the world, is an important pasture species. And it’s also a weed.

I’ve grown quite fond of ‘sub-clover’ as it’s often called. It’s much smaller than red or white clover, and the flowers form in clusters of only 2-5 in each head (as opposed to the large clusters that make up each ‘flower’ of other clovers). It also has the interesting habit of turning its flower heads downward after germination, so that the seed pods develop underground (hence, its name).

What I like most about subterranean clover is the thick mat of low-growing greenery it can produce, even in the dry rock where the old driveway used to be. Without it, some areas of the lawn would be bare year-round.

I also like the fact clover is a nitrogen-fixing plant. The clover in the old driveway is improving the soil for other plants as it grows and dies. With its help, grass might some day thrive there (though I’m not holding my breath).

Unfortunately, sub-clover dies. Dramatically. Just when we’re desperate for green. It’s a winter annual, meaning it sprouts with the autumn rain, grows through winter and spring, and flowers in early summer. When summer turns hot and dry, the plant dies, its life cycle complete. The lawn outside my office is composed almost entirely of sub-clover, so when it goes, it’s grim.

The only consolation is that the grass dies shortly after the sub-clover. Summer is simply brown here.

So for now I’m enjoying the lush greenery underfoot. It’s wonderful while it lasts.

My First Selfie

So I’ve been doing a lot of weeding lately–clearing beds, dealing with a winter’s worth of growth…

As a rule, I don’t take selfies, but I felt a picture of the compost pile needed a person in it for scale. It was hard to get any shot that included both me and the top of the compost pile, but, here it is–my selfie with Mt. Weedmore.

Spittlebugs

Spring is spittlebug season. Just about the time I want to start picking and dehydrating the perennial herbs, the spittlebugs descend upon them. In bad years, it makes harvesting herbs a slimy task.

Spittlebugs are also known as frog hoppers. As adults, they are cute, squat, dun coloured insects with spectacular leaping abilities. They really do resemble frogs (with a little imagination).

It’s the nymphs that have the disgusting habit of spitting. Well, it’s actually not spit at all. The foamy slimy ‘spittle’ is a combination of fluid from the insect’s anus, and slimy gunk from glands on the insect’s abdomen. The insect sits head downward on the stem of a plant and exudes the ‘spittle’, letting it pour over its body and cover it completely. The resulting mass keeps the young insect protected from enemies and from drying wind and sun. Gross, but effective.

Like humans, who usually stop blowing bubbles in their milk as adults, spittlebugs leave off spittle production when they grow up. As adults, they use their hopping ability to avoid predators.

Some species of spittlebug can become significant agricultural pests, stunting the growth of herbaceous plants and some forestry trees, but in the home garden, they’re usually not much more than a minor nuisance.