Cool Summer

I’ve got myself in a state where I don’t like my photos any more, so I’m using  C’s photos until that changes.

The long hot days of summer have not really materialised this year, and a flock of baby crickets in the bed last night signal the end wIll be starting soon. The weather has been patchy and cool for what should have been the warmest months. We have had mists and rains, while the East coast has been verging on drought. Never-the-less it was a treat to have enough water to water plants that needed it, and there is always something that likes the weather.

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Many of our fruit trees are just starting to really produce, including the grape vine, and the cool weather doesn’t seem to have worried them. The plums have been fantastic this year, and I made a beautiful jelly yesterday from the Louisa plums which had fallen off the tree or cracked in the rain. The Satsuma plums have produced heavily and don’t seem to crack. They are delicious dried so we have had the driers running flat out. I’ve made verjuice with the grapes, and it’s lovely.

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The misty weather caught us out in a couple of shortcuts we thought we could get away with in our frantic haste this spring. One was to to plant an early Agria potato crop using potatoes left from last year, the other was to re-use last year’s tomato frames without moving them. All spring and early summer we had lots of yummy chips, but a couple weeks ago the potatoes all got blight and had to be dug up, including the Red Fantasy (strange name but a beautiful potato) which could have produced more.

Everything is late, with our first pick of enough tomatoes for sauce only 2 weeks ago, and chillies and peppers just starting to flower. The tomatoes are showing signs of blight, but if we can only have a stretch of warm dryish weather we can still get a crop I think. The parsnips are only small still, however they can last well into winter.

Kumara and Zucchini are doing well, and the watermelons in the greenhouse are getting good sized melons, but our most successful crop this year has been micro/mini greens. We started growing these in the greenhouse in raised beds last Autumn , and it worked so well that we built some more outside. In the photo you can see a newly planted bed and an older one.

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We have had fabulous salads all summer with baby amaranth, radish, beetroot, chicory, lettuce, basil, corn salad, coriander, mustard, sorrel, purple cabbage, and pea ‘feathers’. It would be nice to cut them every day, but a big container full lasts all week if kept in the fridge. It does use a lot of seed, so I have been rescuing some of the mini greens when they are finished harvesting and growing them on for seed. This looks a bit messy in the garden, and I have to fight the birds for the brassica seeds, but I have been successful so far with mustard, cabbage, radish, coriander, ruby chard, and beetroot.

 

Kumara sweet potatoe

Growing Kumara or Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes or Kumara as they are called in NZ come in a few different types, from quite dry to sweet and moist. We eat them several times a week either roasted, mashed, as wedges or occasionally as chips, which are wonderful but fattening and a bit of effort to make. The leaves are also good in stir fries.

Continue reading “Growing Kumara or Sweet Potatoes”

Apple cider making

Easter – cider and jelly and the ‘blood moon’

We spent yesterday and Friday making cider and then several years worth of apple jelly with the ‘pomace’. Chili jelly, mint jelly, sage jelly, and normal apple. As I used up about 8 kilos of sugar I listened to a show on National Radio how bad sugar is, and another about making cider (did you know commercial cider has only 30% apples?)

It was rainy for part of the day yesterday, so a good day for making jelly. The day before was fine, so a good day for making cider.

Cider making is so messy and there are lots of buckets and the chopper and the press to be hosed off afterwards so it’s nice to do that outdoors in the sun over some dry part of the garden.

Easter is a great time to do this as it really took the best part of 2 days. In a pinch you could freeze the pomace and do it later though.

Half of the apples we used were frozen apples from last year. These were very ripe when they were frozen. We kept ‘sweating’ them last year while we waited to have time to make the cider. Finally they started going off so we just put them in plastic bags in the freezer. These provided the ‘Sweet’ and most of the raw ones from this year were Grannies and not terribly ripe so that provided the sour. We even put in a few of our crab apples.

The frozen apples made lots of sweet juice – they released the juice much more easily for the cider. I would do this again, even if it’s just putting early sweet apples in the freezer for a month or so.

It’s the sort of thing where most of the time is in the clean up and set up, so you could easily make double or triple the amount. Next time it would be better to cut the apples up before freezing, as they take a lot of freezer space whole. They also tend to clog the chopper so it would be better to mix the raw and frozen from the start.

Using frozen apples meant there was less juice left in the pulp for jelly, which meant a lot of water needed to be added. It still set properly, so the pectin was still there, and it absorbed the mint and Chili flavour well and tasted good. I think it would be fine for pectin too. For the plain apple jelly I used the raw pomace. I couldn’t use all of it so the worms had a good feed as well.

We tried 2 mint jelly recipes – one where you cook the apple with mint and vinegar, the other you just make normal jelly and then drag a bunch of mint in the jelly and add a few drops of green colouring before bottling. Both have chopped mint in the jar. Dragging the mint in the jelly gives a surprising strong fresh mint flavour so we did that for both. We will do a side by side test tonight with lamb roast.

The sage jelly and chili jelly both have a bit of vinegar in them as well. We tried the chile jelly on crackers last night. Quite hot and nice with cream cheese. I used about 12 diced red little hats and 1 green jalapeño all with seeds – initially for one batch, but I added more juice and sugar as it seemed very hot. I suspect it will get milder as time goes past.

I found that a kilo of sugar is about 4 cups, so that’s a lot of jelly, about 30 medium jars. The apple jelly smells like fresh apple juice and is nice on toast.

Apple Jelly

The 14 litres of cider is bubbling away nicely. This will go back to the city to bubble in the dark cupboard under the stairs for the next few months. We also had an extra 3 litres of juice for drinking as we didn’t have another Demi john. This was from about 4 big baskets or bins full of apples – 2 from last year and 2 from this year.

We celebrated by drinking some of the 2 year old cider which was delicious. It’s lighter than wine in alcohol and has a dry sparkling taste. Nothing like the sweet cider you buy. I could drink a lot more of it if we had more apples.

We watched the eclipse, it was clear for long enough to see it disappear slowly over about half an hour.

Bread and Butter Pickles

Bread ‘n’ Butter Pickles

I made bread and butter pickles with my gherkins which grew too big and Apple Cukes mixed. They are yummy with strong cheddar cheese and sourdough bread. There are still a few more this week so I might make a few more.

Mandolin for vegetable slicing
Having avoided the mandolin for years after seeing Rick Stein cut himself with one on TV, we used it and it saved so much time and did such a good job – and no injuries!

Making pickles with a mandolin

 Cutting Cucumbers on a mandolin

Last slices on the Mandolin

Putting the holder on for the last bit

Instant! And all even and thin. 🙂