They’re here!

AsparagusYesterday I had asparagus for the first time this spring. In this world of globally circulating food where very little is ‘seasonal’ any more, asparagus remain something available only for a couple of months each year. I look forward to the season, delight in eating gently steamed spears while I can, and then reminisce for the rest of the year … until it’s September again and the miracle reoccurs.

The spears above were over $1 each, so I’m not going to indulge too freely until the price becomes more reasonable. They were worth it though!

Learn a new skill

I have an on-going challenge this year as DH and I transition to vegetarianism. Learning new ways of cooking and coming up with interesting (and tasty) food on a near-daily basis is sometimes difficult and I have to confess that lately I’ve fallen off the ‘try new recipes’ wagon.

However the weekend brought some renewed enthusiasm to return to the fray and I opened my copy of The Accidental Vegetarian, Simon Rimmer’s book first published in 2004 (but only out in paperback since 2010, which is the edition I have). I chose the Lancashire cheese sausages with onion gravy, but had to do a rather fundamental substitution as we can’t get Lancashire cheese here in NZ (or if we can, not at shops in the rural heartland). So what you see below is Tasty Cheddar sausages frying happily, with the onion gravy behind.

The verdict? They were tasty and – most importantly to my DH – fulfilled the criteria of being “properly balanced between the four food groups: sugar, starch, grease, and burnt crunchy bits”.  (Thank you Terry Pratchett, for this wonderful quote – from Men at Arms).

Today I have not only learned a new way of creating sausages, I have also found a gravy that I can use again and again – it was absolutely delish!

Jelly making

I realised I’d had fruit in the freezer for a while and it was time to make jelly. Unlike jam making, where the fruit needs to be peeled, chopped, cored and otherwise dealt to, when you make jelly you can just pick the fruit over quickly, cover it all with water and rely on the jelly bag to take all the unwanted bits away. So easy!

Rather than make one small lot of crabapple jelly, and another of blackcurrant jelly, I decided to put the whole lot together. I put the (still frozen) fruit into the sink and picked it over well – some of the crabapples weren’t very good, so they went into the compost. Next I put all the fruit into my big stock pot, covered it with water, and gently brought it to the boil. As all the fruit was still mostly frozen, this took a while, but I’ve found it pays not to rush this step.

I simmered the fruit for nearly an hour, just on a gentle heat. Then I let it cool and strained the juice.  I brought the juice to the boil again and added sugar, and boiled the mixture until my magic confectionery thermometer read 104 C.

It always seems to take a long time to reach the crucial temperature – but when it’s reached, you know the jelly is going to set (and believe me, having to re-boil jelly because it didn’t set is no fun at all).

Working quickly, I poured the jelly into hot jars and screwed on the lids. It’s so satisfying hearing them ‘pop’ as they seal when the jars cool down.

I love holding the jars up to the light to see the pretty colour of the jelly.

The next day I labelled the jars and put them onto the shelf. 17 jars of lovely jelly – all ready to give to the friends who helped us with our olive harvest (and a few over so we have some jelly for toast and scones).

The labels came with issues of New Zealand Gardener – aren’t they pretty!

Feed the hungry

Harvesting the olives is once again underway – we had a three-week pause while we waited for the olives to further recover from the hard frost of mid-May, and to ripen a bit more.

Each weekend day the grove is a hive of activity, with olives being shaken, combed and picked from the branches; nets being dragged along the ground, laden with fruit; and the fruit gathered from the nets into trays ready to be taken away on the tractor. The kitchen is a hive of activity too. Here’s what was on the menu last Saturday:

Leek and potato soup

Freshly baked bread rolls

Home baking – oaty choc-chip cookies, prune loaf and Jenny’s brownie

…and fruit to finish off with.

Here’s a photo of the table before the hungry hordes descended:

Unfortunately I never remember to take an “after” shot to go with the “before” one! However I do have this photo of some of the hungry hordes!

Gathering up the net ready to drag it along to the next trees.