I will be looking back at the summer that has just past and will recall this as “Tomato Summer” Our summer started off slowly heat wise and then descended into extremely humid weather; humid enough to nearly knock off the two pumpkin patches I planted in the young orchard. This summer, despite a consistently frustrating rat invasion from next door’s clandestine poultry farm and the big wind storm that blew through with screaming winds and felled a massive eucalyptus tree in the bottom of the orchard, our flattened vegetable garden still managed to produce a vast quantity of Roma and self sown round tomatoes) and other intentionally planted vegetables that one enjoys in summer time.
When I work in the vegetable garden during the end of a hot day, I always think of the Gershwin and Heyward lyrics of “summer time and the livin is easy”. I tend to agree with these memorable song words but the reality for me this summer just past has been what to do with the abundance that the garden decided to yield. Whilst the “livin” might be easy in one sense, in a preserving sense, summer time always means a lot of work in the kitchen on top of my self employment as a bead embroidery artist. Autumn is here and I am still harvesting summer produce. I’m not talking about a handful of beans but half a bucket full at a time. We go through the flattened tomato bushes every day and add a few more to the trays of them that are ripening on the back verandah. Three big trays full means another session with the tomato passata machine is on the agenda. We have already completed three tomato passata production sessions.
My husband Jonathan converted a rather useless front foyer cupboard into a kitchen preserves cupboard, simply by closing off the foyer entrance and opening up the kitchen wall to reverse the cupboard around. This simple renovation worked a treat. All Jonathan has to do now is make a suitable door. Finally, I have my “Vacola cupboard” where all my preserving for the season is kept on hand.
Apples are from a wildly sown apple tree down near Robin Hood area over the other side the the M1 Freeway. A massive, ancient tree produces these beautiful cookers every autumn. I have experimented with the apples this year as they are a little on the dry side thanks to three months with no rain at all. I added a large bottle of sweet apple cider to the big preserving pan and then the sliced, peeled and cored apples.
The apples were cooked down until a combination of pulp and pieces. I grated the rind of a lemon from the tree out front into the batch and added only 1/3 cup caster sugar to take the acidic edge off these wild apples. The apple cider added a depth of flavour to the apples. I vacuum sealed these in my Fowler’s Vacola home bottling outfit. I’d say apple success as each tub contains one kilogram of processed pie apple; enough for a family sized apple pie this coming winter. I also made two batches of pure apple pulp. I could also use the pulp underneath a paving of crumble as well. My favourite, however, is plain apple with a dollop of unsweetened yoghurt on top. The tang of the wild apples compliment the sour yoghurt. Simple but delicious.
The raspberries this year were sensational. I made up a batch of raspberry jam and a few bottles of the old fashioned raspberry vinegar – the sweet version that is. One tablespoon of raspberry vinegar in a tall glass and topped up with sparkling mineral or soda water and you end up with a first class sweet yet acidic cool drink that positively zings with raspberry flavour. Do you like my “special” jam funnel? Jonathan cut down a two litre plastic bottle. One of the best tools I use in the preserving game.
Aubergines took their precious time to grow and ripen, as they did last year. I will have to plant earlier in the season. I grew three varieties this year. This batch in the bowl ended up being turned into a delicious aubergine curry pickle to enjoy with some yoghurt, rice and home made curry in winter time. Also smashing (fantastic in Australian parlance) when served with dahl and a small flourish of sour yoghurt on top. The ladle below right is full of strawberry conserve I made from our own strawberries. This conserve takes three days to make but the results are worth the time and effort because with care, a good deal of the strawberries remain whole, captured in their delicious ruby red jelly. The preserves on the left are peeled Roma and small yellow tomatoes with basil, crinkle cut cucumber, green tomato, onion, semi dried tomato and zucchini pickles; a delicious addition to a slice of home made bread with some goat’s cheese. Green tomato chutney, strawberry conserve in the front, alongside a brick of basil pesto I store in the freezer. I add pesto to winter minestrone and also into a meat based sugo which has been made in my family since time immemorial; another ancestral recipe. I also make smaller blocks of pesto that are frozen into ice cube trays. A couple of pesto cubes melted down and added to freshly cooked pasta is just the ticket.
There is a certain satisfaction one gains from putting up garden produce for use in the coming year. Home preserving is very economical. The pie apples cost me approximately 80 cents per 1 kilogram tub to produce. Fifty cents of that was the cost of the rubber ring alone. I am able to capture the essence of summer without any preservatives and salt. I have an increasingly worrying chemical insensitivity so it makes health sense to me to bottle my own produce. The practice of food preservation is positively ancestral in my family. We are the sum total of all our ancestors.