Archive for the ‘Berries’ Category

A Melon By Any Other Name Would Taste As Sweet

They may have been tiny this year but they weren’t short on flavour!

Eden’s Gem Rockmelon

Today I sent my rockmelon plants off to the compost but not before I harvested the last fruit of the season. This was a very strange crop indeed. The fruit were much much smaller than I imagined they would be. These were meant to be ‘Edens Gem’ rockmelon. Well, they were… but they weren’t softball sized as they should have been. They were like little rockmelon berries. Well, technically they are – botanically, rockmelons are modified berries or pepoes. Theres an interesting fact for you!

I think that this was a seed issue as the plant was quite healthy and the fruit were amazing (albeit so very very small).

Now, I want to put this out there because this was a total revelation to me: unripe rockmelon make an amazing substitute for cucumber! Yes indeedy!

When I pulled up the vine there were a few immature fruit still hanging there. Curiosity got the better of me so, I cut into them to see what I would find. Naturally I had to have a little taste. It was just like cucumber, only sweeter. So, into the salad they went.

I think I know what I’ll be doing with my melons next year! (oh behave!)

Have you ever grown Eden’s Gem?

How did you fare?

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How To Propagate Strawberries

Ok folks here is a very quick and cheap way to get new strawberry plants for free!

During late summer – early autumn you will notice your strawberry plants sending out long stems that have a knobbly clusters like you see in the picture below.

Strawberry stolons or "runners".

These are often referred to as “runners” or in botany we call them “stolons“. Quite simply they are a specialised above ground shoots that emit roots, allowing stoloniferous plants, like strawberries, to colonise themselves.

Strawberry stolon

Strawberry stolon. Roots forming.

It is best not to propagate too many stolons from each plant as this can exhaust the parent plant and weaken the growth of your developing runners. I think four is plenty.

To propagate your own strawberries you will need:

  • a pot or tray
  • some potting mix or compost
  • a pin
  • Or if you don’t have a pin you can use a piece of thick wire and some wire cutters.

You can easily make your own pins from an old coat hanger just as I have done below.

Old coat hanger wire cut into short pieces.

Bend the wire over the wire cutters.

Now you have pegs.

DIY pins.

First fill your pot or tray with potting mix or compost. Pat it down with the palm of your hand so that it is level and firm. This will give the roots something to grab on to.

Fill your tray/pot with potting mix or compost.

Now take your stolons and place them on your filled tray or pot.

Stolons in place.

Pin it into place on top of the potting mix. You want the stolons to be fixed firmly in place so that the base of the stolon is in contact with the potting mix.

Insert your pin to anchor stolon.

When your new plants have developed a good root system you will see the roots through the holes at the bottom of your pot or tray (this can take around 3 weeks).

Cut your new plant free from the parent plant, making sure that you cut nice and close to the base. This will prevent the spent stem from rotting and potentially harming your new plant.

Cut close to the base.

And there you have it! New strawberries from old plants!

Naturally, if your strawberries are in the ground and you want to propagate them direct into your soil you can do so. I would advise you to pull back your straw and pin the runners into place where it suits you, not where it suits the plant. It is your garden after all!

Of course you can grow from seed or division but this truly is the easiest way to propagate. Also, propagating in this way means that you will produce clones of the parent plant and this is great because then you know exactly what kind of fruit will get when the plant matures.

If you don’t have your own plants to propagate from have no shame asking a friend or neighbour that does. Remember, love is sharing!

Strawberry Jam with Kaffir Lime and Vanilla

You know, I have a thing for making jam! Whenever I hear of fruit that is in need of rescuing my mind goes wild with potential jam recipes. I’m cool with the traditional single fruit recipes but, I love to mix it up a bit too.

So, when I came in with a couple of kilos of strawberries recently I thought hmm… what do we have here that might be just a bit different? Well, I almost always have a few vanilla pods in the cupboard but, while I was outside picking a few limes I looked over at the Kaffir Lime tree and had an epiphany… Strawberry Jam with Kaffir Lime and Vanilla. Yeah baby!

Here it is:

Wash the strawberries quickly to get rid of any dust or critters.

Chop the fruit.

Add the sugar and vanilla. Give it a mix and leave it for 10 min.

Add the Kaffir Lime leaves.

Cook for 30 odd minutes then ladle jam into hot jars.

Check out your fancy work.

Ok lick your fingers.

Done!

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I have three rules when it comes to jam:

1. NEVER add water!!

2. Don’t walk away from it!

3. Don’t overcook it!

Jam shouldn’t be a scary thing to cook. It’s actually very easy. You just have to make sure that you are prepared before you start. It shouldn’t be something that you rush to finish. Take it slow, make it with love and you will have people lining up at your front door. You will! Be prepared!

I cooked this for no longer than 30 minutes.

Oh and FYI I’m not a “jam setter”. Frankly I don’t like my jam to be supermarket set. Thanks to Edith for the inspiration. Of course I don’t want my jam to be too runny but I have found that if you focus on setting your jams you will:

  • overcook your jam
  • loose that fresh fruity flavour
  • and if using pectin sachets or pectin sugar you will change the flavour of the jam.

Because we make most things from scratch here we are really sensitive to the taste of many preservatives. Yes, sometimes they are necessary but as far as pectin in your jam is concerned – forgeddaboudit!

My hot tips for this (and many other jams):

Use what you have and adjust the recipe to cater to however much fruit you have. I generally like to make my jam in batches of 3kg but, you have to use what you have and in this case it was 2kg.

I used to use 50/50 fruit to sugar but, I remember Jamie Oliver once saying that you really only need about 300g per kilo of fruit because you are only preserving your fruit for one year and lets face it by this time next year this jam will be long gone and you’ll be ready for a new batch anyway. Well, I tried it and the results were great – I haven’t looked back. Thanks Jamie!

I use lime a lot in my jam but, this is mostly because that is what I have on the tree. If I had lemons that’s what I’d use. Please don’t send yourself broke buying limes when lemons or grapefruit would suffice. Having said that, I am loving the flavour of the lime!

The recipe:

Strawberry Jam with Kaffir Lime and Vanilla

  • 2kg Strawberries
  • 600g sugar
  • 1 Vanilla bean
  • 2 Kaffir Lime leaves
  • the juice of one lime (about 2 tbsp) or use lemon if that’s all you have

Cut your strawberries (or not it’s up to you) and place in a pot.

Cover the strawberries with the sugar. Give them a quick stir and leave them for 10 min. This will release their juice. When they’re ready they will smell divine!

Mash them with a potato masher or with your hands.

Slice the vanilla bean in half, scrape the seeds and add both the seeds and the bean along with the Kaffir Lime leaves to your pot.

Turn on the heat (med – not too high) and cook for around 30 minutes. Skimming the froth off the top as it cooks. Stir it often and make sure that it doesn’t catch on the bottom. If it starts to catch, turn it right down.

Ladle into sterilized jars while it is hot.

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If you like the sound of that jam check in tomorrow because I have a recipe that will make your Christmas!

Strawberry Season

Well folks we’re certainly in the thick of the strawberry season now.

It’s a good idea at this time of year to get out there and check the condition of your strawberry plants. Keeping them clean and healthy is the key to good yields.

Strawberries really are one of the easiest and most rewarding plants to have in your garden. You just need to make sure that they are planted in free draining soil that has been enriched with compost and sheep or cow manure (well, that’s just my preference!). It is a common practice to mound your soil, this is to ensure good drainage and it is certainly a good idea. Oh and don’t bother with black plastic, this is an agricultural technique and absolutely not necessary in the home garden.

Pruning your strawberries:

Use a nice clean pair of scissors to snip away dead or yellowing leaves. Cut low to the base of the plant to prevent left over leaf stems rotting and causing fungal problems. I like to use either a sharp pointed pair of scissors or nail scissors so that I can get deep down into the plant and also to avoid cutting healthy leaves. It can be a delicate job but definitely not a hard or time consuming one.

Don’t mind my dirty pot, I had a few other pots standing around it and it kept getting splashed with potting mix when I watered them. It’s beautiful and clean now but, I really should have cleaned it before my photos =) oops!

I do grow my strawberries in the garden by the way but, I have been testing some strawberries in the greensmart pot. They have done exceptionally well. I will have to replace the potting mix every second season to prevent disease and maintain the vigour of the plants.

Now, please don’t tug at the spent leaves as you will disturb the roots and possibly break your crowns. You don’t want that!

I give my strawberries a thorough clean up about twice a year. That said, I look at them often and if I see bits I don’t like they get the snip! I love my strawberries (and my plants) so I give them a bit of love from time to time and boy do they thank me for it. “Checkin’ the strawbs” it’s just one of those regular things I do when I’m wandering around my garden and it only takes a few seconds.

FYI – about 30 plants will be sufficient to feed a family of four. If you can’t afford to buy 30 plants in one hit well, fair enough! Buy what you can when you can. Buying them bare rooted can be quite an economical way to do it. If you look after your plants you will be able to propagate them as their runners develop during summer. When they have taken root snip off the runner and you’ll have a new plant to add to your collection.

One quick thing – when you harvest your strawberries leave a bit of the stem on as I have done in my picture below. These are a couple of my White Frais De Bois strawberries that I just picked now after tucking my chooks into bed. They may be tiny but they taste like sherbet and we love!

Frais De Bois

Check in tomorrow to see what I did with my strawberry harvest! Oh-la-la!

I think it might be a great time for a few strawberry recipes.

Foxy Brown!

Foxy Brown espresso and café

I’ve been doing a little bit of work down at Foxy Brown Café in Westgarth (aka Northcote). The owners and staff, aside from being warm, friendly, family oriented people, are all very much down to earth. As such they wanted to be able to utilise their surrounding gardens to grow things for use in their kitchen. It’s a great idea and it’s something, thankfully, that is really taking off in Melbourne. “Thankfully” I say, not because it means more work for me, but because I care about where my food comes from and I’m sure that there are many others out there like me. It’s wonderful to know that at least some of the food café’s are now preparing is grown right outside their door. I think that it’s a great demonstration of the commitment of such proprietors to deliver best quality food to their customers.

Hard at work!

As you can see I’ve been working in the herb garden at the front of the café. I’ve jam packed this bed with as many plants as it can handle. First I removed the tomatoes that occupied the side of this bed through summer. Then there was a general tidy up, mostly removing the much-loved coriander, which had previously gone to seed. I replaced all of those plants with a slow bolting variety. I’ve added my heirloom carrots, peas, spring onions and tatsoi for their salads and some sweet alyssum for colour and bee fodder (relax, there won’t be swarms of bees). Everything else was cracking on: thyme, oregano, chives, parsley, basil ( ah, the ones I had to replace because some naughty person thought they were grown for their benefit! NOT!). The overall best performers have been the strawberries which have been treating clients and passers by with bursts of sweet red goodness. They are self propagating all over the place. Free plants + more strawberries = a big thumbs up from everybody.

Peas

A little history: Foxy Brown Café occupies a former Milk Bar (Corner Store) and is, after many years, once again serving the community, beautifully and possibly better than it ever has in the past. It is located in a lovely leafy neighbourhood setting, just a stones throw away from Dennis and Westgath stations on the Hurstbridge line. The coffee, roasted by both Josh Bailey and Patrick Sloane is interesting, diverse and lovingly prepared. The food is delicious and wholesome. And a bonus for the mums among us – it’s absolutely a baby friendly café.

One of my favorite things about Foxy is watching the young families coming in, mum and dad reading the paper, the kids colouring books or playing cars around the crockery. The kids of the neighbourhood love to come dressed in their favourite costumes, some kids drop by to sit on the couch out the front and demonstrate the latest song they’ve written [FoxyTalent]. It’s a great place for everyone.

Look, they might say their sixes funny, but that’s alright. So, get down, for the best damn brown in town =) and check out our garden while you’re there.

FOXY BROWN espresso bar and café

31a South Cres, Westgarth, Melbourne 3070

Open 7 days a week 7:30am – 5pm

www.foxybrown.com.au.

Berry delicious

Just in case you have been wondering what I did with those beautiful berries I picked the other day – I made some cute little berry and custard cups and last night I treated us to a tasty ice cream sundaes.

For the custard cups I just layered stewed fruit (rhubarb and rose), custard and fresh fruit.

Rhubarb, rose and berry custard cups

The sundaes were very quick and easy. I simply layered fresh berries, best quality vanilla bean ice cream and boysenberry sauce.

Vanilla and berry sundaes

Boysenberry sauce:

150g Boysenberries

Juice of 1 mandarine

3-4tbsp of raw sugar

Pour the mandarine juice berries and sugar into a saucepan. Cook until the berries have completely collapsed and the sauce is getting syrupy. Strain the sauce either in a tea strainer or a muslin cloth to keep out any seeds. If using a strainer you will have to squash the seeds against the sides to make sure you have all of the fruit. Allow the sauce to cool. This sauce will keep in the fridge for about 3-4 days.

You can use it to do all kinds of posh things like, pop it in the blender with some ice cream or yogurt and fresh berries to make yummy smoothie. Stir it through some custard and use the mix to fill fruit tarts or fold the sauce through whipped cream to spread between the layers of a sponge cake. Or as I will be doing tomorrow, stirring it through icing sugar and using it to decorate my Christmas cookies.

Berry nice!

I just dashed inside to show you all the beautiful berries that I have been outside picking. We have boysenberries, red and white currants, raspberries and Gigi De Boisberries.

They are devilishly moreish.

Wait a minute! That's not a berry!

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