Wendyl’s country diary:
the fruits of summer
One of the greatest pleasures I’ve had up north during winter has been eating the food our land produced over the summer. For the first time since we bought our place, the plum, apple and peach trees produced loads of fruit, which I preserved in old Agee jars, knowing that come winter I would really enjoy making fruit crumble. Which is exactly what happened. In fact, I should probably stop making fruit crumble and get back to the days of not eating dessert!
I also made fig chutney from the figs I managed to get before the birds ate them all, and green tomato chutney from the last, unripened tomatoes.
Then I successfully made – thanks to a recipe from Lynda Hallinan – guava jelly from the cherry guavas that are always plentiful in summer. I’d never been able to make a jelly that set before, so I’m deeply indebted to Lynda.
The only food I didn’t manage to preserve were the feijoas, because I was overseas when they were ripe. My friends who harvested them informed me I have a nasty case of guava moth, so I’ve just put a pheromone trap in the feijoa trees in the hope of catching the male moths before they mate. I’ve also sprayed the trees with neem oil and raked away all the debris at the bottom of the trees where moth larvae live and sprinkled neem tree granules, so hopefully the next harvest will be clean.
At the moment I am making marmalade from the last of the grapefruit and a few of the lemons. It’s a very easy recipe (see right) because you just chop them all up, seeds and all, soak overnight, then boil up with sugar the next day.
I’ve made enough to keep us going for a year, which isn’t much as I’m the only person who eats marmalade in my family, but I’ve also made dozens of small jars to give away. My mum and dad love it and the team at the magazine don’t mind when I hand over jars of preserves from up north.
I think giving the gift of preserves is a really lovely thing to do. I once gave the late great Paul Holmes a jar of my marmalade and he loved the stuff so much he asked me for more.
My friend Michelle is a preservative, like me, and I’m always delighted to see her because she gives me a bottle of her amazing spicy tomato sauce… and because she’s great company, obviously!
Before I had a small orchard, I taught myself how to preserve by buying up produce when it was in season and cheap. A box of apricots came back with me from Hawke’s Bay destined for the Agee jars, and I once spent a day driving around Auckland in search of Damson plums to make Damson gin. I had been watching a lot of Miss Marple episodes on TV and just had to find out what it tasted like. I still have a tiny bottle in my pantry, which I bring out on special occasions.
The only problem with being a preservative is that you also become addicted to collecting Agee jars. Ten years ago, you could get a big box full for just $5. Now they cost that much each. But I have all my friends and family on high alert when they go to op shops to keep an eye out for a bargain.
If you have a couple of grapefruit and a lemon lying around, have a go at this recipe and see if, like me, you get hooked on preserves. Finely chop grapefruit and lemon, skin and all (about 1cm pieces), collecting the juice as you go, and put in a bowl. Cover with the water. Leave overnight (it smells gorgeous). In the morning, boil for 45 minutes until it goes a bit pulpy and soft. Let cool a little and then pour back into the bowl. For each cup of pulp, add a cup of sugar and put back into the pot. Boil briskly until it reaches setting point. To tell this, take a spoonful out and put on a cold saucer. When you run your finger through the puddle there should be a clear channel left which doesn’t fill up. Pour into sterilised jars. (Wash jars well and put in a 110°C oven for 10 minutes. Boil lids in a pot of boiling water for the same time.)
I think giving the gift of preserves is a really lovely thing to do.