It’s been a busy couple’ve weeks. Summer is here with a vengeance; we had our first 37 degree (Celcius) day yesterday, although it’s back to a more pleasant temperature today. I have my first sunburn of the summer, because I’m a very silly cat and failed to put sunscreen on before heading out to the Asparagus Masterclass at Edgecombe Bros in the Swan Valley on Friday.
Brilliant class, in spite of the sunburn. We started with a brief history of the winery and the local area, and some morning tea. Then all 16 of us tromped over to one of the asparagus patches and harvested several kg of fresh asparagus – and ate probably as much again. The gentleman facilitating the class said to eat as much as we wanted while we picked, so we snacked on freshly picked raw asparagus, which is delicious. Almost the flavour of fresh garden peas, or avocado; nutty and slightly sweet. Our harvest was lightly poached, and then BBQed with olive oil and salt while we enjoyed a wine tasting and tapas platter in the courtyard of the Edgecombe Bros cafe/winery, in the shade of flowering olive trees and grapevines. It was the perfect chilled out lazy summer afternoon. Then we gorged on BBQed asparagus with shaved parmesan, chased with muscat soaked figs in chocolate. I love the floral, fruity flavours of muscat grapes and wines, so combining that with dried fig is just.. nom. I may be in love. They sent us home full of delicious things and sunshine and wine, with a complimentary recipe pack.
The actual info about asparagus boils down to: asparagus is actually really easy and quick to cook. You can eat it raw, and like most vegetables where that’s the case, it should really only be lightly cooked if you’re going to cook it. If you can snap the stem easily by bending it, it’s fresh and tender, no matter what the diameter of the spear is, as younger or smaller plants produce thinner spears which are just as delicious as the thicker ones produced by bigger or more mature plants.
My last foodie course (I have a weakness for these things, I love learning new food things almost as much as I love learning new gardening things) was two weeks ago, at the Roleystone Family Centre. We went there to learn how to make fresh mozarella, from Megan Radaich of www.foodpreserving.org. The class was fantastic, really informative and easy to follow – and it resulted in delicious cheese. Things I didn’t realise: mozarella is a fresh cheese, like ricotta, and you can only make mozarella using non-homogenised milk. Most cheeses can be made with homogenised milk if you add calcium chloride to “fix” the proteins which are torn up by the homogenisation process, but the calcium chloride interferes with the stretching process in mozarella making, so you end up with dry, non-stretchy cheese which is a lot more like ricotta than it should be.
Mozarella is also the easiest cheese I’ve tried so far except ricotta. Combine milk and citric acid, heat slowly to 32 degrees C, add rennet and leave to set. Once you have fully set curds, cut the curds then heat again to 42 degrees C. Gently remove the curds from the whey with a slotted spoon, and place into a microwave proof bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds, then kinda massage lightly to get some more whey out. Repeat the microwaving and massaging step 2 – 3 times, until the cheese gets sort of shiny on the surface and stretches easily. Put it into iced salt water (10% – 20% brine) for about 15 minutes – and it’s done. Eat that day for best flavour.
To continue the foodie theme, I’ve been obsessed with pomegranates for the last couple’ve weeks. No food-preparation course to blame on this one; it’s mostly because of my last major assignment for my university course. The paper I wrote was about the economic feasibility of dehesa style agroforestry in WA, looking at which trees would be effective options. Turns out, pomegranates are one of the best. Highly productive, fruit within 2 – 3 years of planting from seed or cuttings, and the fruit commands a relatively high price even if sold wholesale to retailers, for the fresh fruit market or for juice. And of course you can make pomegranate mollasses from it. Pomegranate mollasses, which is actually sour-sweet rather than just sweet as you might expect from the name, is one of my more recent discoveries. I bought some on a whim, and have been adding it to things and testing it out. I highly recommend that people try it. It adds a balanced sweet-sour note to savoury dishes – a teaspoon or two in a thai curry, for example, rounds out the flavours better than anything else, almost like a fish sauce. I think what I’m saying is that it’s full of umami flavours, but it doesn’t overpower other flavours the way many umami things (garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes, fish sauce, ..) can do.
We’re just starting to get to the point where we can put in some long term productive crops here. The apples are going in a few per season (apple trees are expensive! especially heirloom varieties which have to be shipped over from Tasmania or NSW), so in a couple’ve years we should start getting decent apple crops. I just need to get our cider-making skill sup to scratch by then, since cider and cider vinegar are two of the products we’re planning to produce. But aside from some small scale production of fresh fruit (we’ll end up with more apricots than we can possibly eat from our three trees, for example, but it’s not going to be a major product either), we haven’t 100% settled on our production niche. I’m leaning towards dates, pomegranates, pomegranate mollasses, and balsamic style gourmet vinegars. (Oh, yes, there will be grapevines. I checked yesterday, and in the space we have allocated for them, I think we can fit 60 vines. So we might try our hand at making fortified wines as well.)
Anyway, that’s where we are at the moment. Everything is flowering, and the geese are starting to get their grownup feathers. The baby chicks are getting bigger every day, and the adult chickens are doing their chickeny thing. I found a blutongue lizard in the chicken coop this morning, sharing their breakfast (eating his fill while the chooks watched from the other side of the coop), so I might need to keep an eye out for him. Bluetongues are gorgeous, and I’m super glad we have a couple living near the house (they decrease the incidence of snakes), but they do eat eggs so I’ll just encourage him to keep out of the chicken coop. It’s sunny, and the breeze is blowing past the roses and bringing me rose scents, and life is pretty good.