plant profile: rosemary

2016/11/30 deej 0

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) grows brilliantly in Perth. It’s commonly planted as a hedge, and can easily be collected (in Perth, it’s a great urban foraging target, because it’s planted so widely, and grows so enthusiastically). Rosemary is very strongly flavoured, but it can be used in salads as well as for flavouring food, and can also be used to make a caffeine free tea (technically an infusion). Rosemary is also a fantastic bee plant, with a long flowering period.

 

Although often used to flavour lamb or mutton dishes, rosemary works equally well with goat, pork, rabbit, fish or chicken. I haven’t tried it with other poultry (duck, goose, quail, squab, …) although I suspect it would work. It can work really well with beef too, as long as you don’t over-salt the dish. Try using the long stems of the rosemary shrub, stripped of leaves, as skewers for kebabs – meat or vegetable – for a summer BBQ. The leaves can be infused in oil or vinegar, which then makes a great salad dressing.

 

We have several rosemary plants around the house, both in the herb garden and other spots. I love the smell of it, which is released whenever you brush past it or run your hand through the foliage. I also put rosemary sprigs in my cupboards to (a) scent the sheets, blankets, etc., and (b) discourage moths. I don’t know if it actually does discourage moths, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Ours are all the traditional blue-flowered variety, but I’m trying to grow some cuttings of a variegated blue rosemary, and a pink flowered type.

 

Rosemary grows very easily from cuttings. It’s one of the easiest plants to root, along with hibiscus, pelargoniums, willow and frangipanis. Cut a piece of rosemary at least 10 – 20 cm in length, and trim the leaves off the bottom half to two thirds of the stem, then stick the end in some good compost or potting mix and keep it moist. The remaining leaves will mostly die, but the stick will start putting out new leaves in  a week or two. You can use some rooting hormone powder on the base of the cutting, but it isn’t necessary with rosemary.
 

What rosemary needs:

  • Water – Newly planted rosemary needs to be watered every day in hot weather, or every few days in cool or rainy weather. Once established, the plants are very drought hardy and can survive an entire WA summer without supplementary water if they have to. A good soak (2 – 5 L per plant) every week or two does help though.

 

  • Sunlight – Full sun. These pretties evolved in the dry hills of the Mediterranean; they don’t like shade. Established plants can handle part shade, but they thrive in full sunlight.

 

  • Soil – Well drained, sandy soils are best. Rosemary doesn’t seem to care if the soil is a bit acid or a bit alkaline, and they have some salt tolerance. They’re a good coastal plant, really. Don’t plant them in heavy clay, as they don’t like wet feet or boggy ground.

 

  • Space – An adult rosemary bush will, if left unattended, sprawl across about a square m, and grow about 1 m tall. They take pruning very well, though, and can be kept contained by pruning to size or even clipping to make a hedge. Rosemary will grow happily in a large pot as well, and can survive indoors as long as it gets lots of light.

 

  • Warmth – Rosemary likes the heat, but can handle the cold. Damaged by heavy frosts.

 

What rosemary has to offer:

  • Edible leaves and flowers.

 

  • Decorative, hardy landscaping plant.

 

  • More rosemary from cuttings or seed.

 

  • Good against soil erosion; it roots strongly and deeply without being invasive.

 

Images sourced from Wikimedia Commons:
File:Bee_on_rosemary.jpg

preserving summer

2016/11/16 deej 0

There’s something really deeply satisfying about picking and preparing – and preserving – your own food. Everything from jam and chutney to wine, cider, mead or beer, to vinegars, pickles, cheeses, yoghurt, jerky, .. So many delicious things. Preserving food isn’t just good fun, though; it’s an important means of extending the season of seasonal foods without adding millions of food miles by eating imported foods from who knows where. It’s a link to our cultural and gastronomic history, to foods our grandparents would have enjoyed and the cultures which those foods came from. And it’s a way of recalling the best parts of summer when the chilly, grey winter weather gets you down a bit – which is funny, given the unseasonally wet, stormy, cool weather we’re having at the moment.

 

I love every food preservation technique I’ve tried or eaten the results of. I’ve dehydrated things, and pickled things, I’ve made cheese and yoghurt from fresh milk, and I’ve preserved fruit in syrup. Today’s little google rabbit-hole has been jam-making. It’s a little too early for stone fruit still, although the early nectarines are in the shops and I can see them ripening in the orchards through the Swan Valley. It’s much too early for figs. But figs are today’s topic, mainly because I just ate a caramelised fig yoghurt and remembered how much I love that flavour. And our fig trees are just putting out their new leaves for summer, so I’m thinking wistfully of the futuer in which they are covered in delicious, jammy fruit.

 

Caramelised fig things have a slight burnt-sugar bitterness to them which balances the sticky sweetness of the fig, and brings out the deeper, fortified wine, golden afternoon sunshine notes from the fruit. One of my favourite applications of it is in Maggie Beer’s Burnt Fig, Honeycomb & Caramel Icecream, which is amazing. The key to the icecream, which is otherwise a honey and caramel flavoured custard icecream, pleasant but nothing special, is the Burnt Fig Jam (or, in fact, burnt fig syrup for the icecream). That burnt fig jam is pretty good, but it’s a little strong for me; I want the caramelised flavour without quite so much of the burnt flavour.

 

Maggie Beer’s burnt fig jam is made, according to her website, by reducing the figs with no water, then adding sugar and cooking until ‘burnt’, then adding some lemon juice to sharpen the flavour. The burnt fig syrup for the icecream contains figs, sugar, lemon juice, and a brown sugar syrup made with brown sugar, water, and verjuice. Amounts aren’t mentioned, unfortunately. Most fig jam recipes call for 1 part sugar to 2 parts figs by weight (actually anywhere from 300g – 750g sugar per kg of figs, but generally 500g to 1 kg). The method varies widely. I’ve never made fig jam myself, although I’ve made some very successful jams using citrus, berries, and guavas (not all together).

 

Nonetheless and undaunted, I am currently fascinated by the subject. So here’s my research-based thought experiment: caramelised fig jam. To be tested as soon as fig season arrives.

 

Caramelised Fig Jam

1 kg fresh, ripe figs

250g demerara or rapadura sugar (basically dark brown, mollases tasting sugar)

250g honey

juice of 1 -2 lemons (or to taste)

(optional) 1 Tbsp verjuice

(optional) 1 – 2 tsp spices or herbs – e.g. cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, star anise, black pepper, rosemary, lemon or orange rind, lemon thyme, sliced red chillis, ..

 

  • Roughly chop the figs. Stir together the chopped figs and the brown sugar, and refrigerate overnight.
  • Place the figs, sugar, and any liquid which has been released from the figs overnight into a heavy bottomed saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat until the figs are soft and cooked through, and the sugar is completely dissolved. Mash the figs gently to break them up further.
  • Stir in the honey, and any spices if you’re using them. Whole spices are better than ground, so half a star anise, or a small cinnamon quill is preferable to the equivalent in dried, ground spice. Either way works, though.
  • Bring to the boil, then cook over a very low heat for 45 minutes, or until thickened and sticky. Make sure to stir often.
  • Add verjuice and lemon juice; taste and adjust to your preferred level of tartness. Remove any whole spices or herbs.
  • Continue to cook until the jam is thick and sticky, and begins to stick to the bottom of the saucepan. You should be able to judge the degree of caramelisation (or burning) by smell. Be careful not to overdo it.
  • Cool slightly and seal in sterilised jars. Store in the fridge once completely cool.

 

Inspiration came from these sources:

 

And for those interested in the forest gardening side of things, the varieties of fig we currently have in the ground are:

  • White Genoa – Hardy in cooler weather; also known as Lattarula or Lemon due to the lemony flavour of ripe fruit. The fruit are large and very sweet, with yellowish green or chartreuse skin and rich amber pulp.  Good fro eating fresh, drying, or making jam.
  • Brown Turkey – Large fruit with green skin overlaid with brown, pink juicy flesh, and a sweet rich flavour. This is a great all-round fig, good for eating fresh or drying, cooking with or making into jam.
  • Esperance Heritage – A lesser known variety, this is listed in several rare fruit catalogues and it is still sold commercially by a few nurseries – but there are no descriptions of it online.

 

I also plan to put in:

  • Blue Provence – A rare fig, once grown more widely in Australia, Blue Provence fruit have a blue-violet skin and blue-purple tinged pulp with red seeds. The fruit are soft and sweet, and with than many anthocyanins (the purple-red colour found in berries and pomegranates), they’re full of antioxidants too.
  • Panache – Also called the Tiger fig, this unusual fruit is variegated (striped!) green on yellow. The flesh is strawberry pink, and delicious without being overly sweet, meaning that this is a good fig to eat fresh or use in salads.
  • Preston’s Prolific – This is a very high quality fig, with large, greenish-brownor purple fruit. The flesh is cream coloured, while the pulp is amber and sweet. 
  • White Adriatic – An Italian variety with thin yellowish-green skin and red flesh which has been likened to strawberry jam. Excellent flavour eaten fresh, and good for drying. A friend of mine has a tree, and we’ve dried fruit form it before – the dried fruit is a fantastic snack, not quite as sweet as dried figs often are.

 

And possibly some others. Probably. We’ll see.

 

plant profile: pomegranate

2016/04/15 deej 0

Pomegranates are a traditional Mediterranean fruit, along with olives, grapes, figs, plums, dates, and apples (yes, plums and apples are traditional Mediterranean fruit). It’s an attractive, multi-stemmed shrub or small tree, growing to be 6 – 10 m tall, with glossy green leaves and brightly coloured flowers which can be quite showy in some varieties. The fruit are quite large, between an orange and a grapefruit in size, and coloured pink to orange when ripe. There are multiple cultivars with slightly different fruit characteristics.

 

The seeds of the fruit are surrounded by individual ‘bubbles’ of red or pink, juicy pulp. Seeds are eaten whole, with the pulp. As well as being eaten fresh, pomegranates are often juiced to produce not only fruit juice but also various syrups  (grenadine, pomegranate molasses), pomegranate wine, and vinegars.

 

Pomegranates can be grown as single trees, as hedges, or even as bonsai. They are both self-pollinated and pollinated by insects, though cross pollination results in better fruit set. The seeds germinate readily, although most commercial propagation is by hardwood cuttings.

 

We have two pomegranates planted so far, mainly because they are a traditional Mediterranean food plant and one of the objectives for Gallifrey Forest farm is to produce as wide a variety of climate-appropriate foods as possible (and economically plausible) on a small acreage. They’ve been in the ground for 3 years, but the location we chose for them originally wasn’t a good one – unlike many plants not native to Australia, when people say that pomegranates like full sun they mean even in summer in WA full sun.

 

After three years of sickly baby trees which didn’t grow and had yellowish leaves most of the time in spite of all the soil amendment and fertilisation we could apply, I decided that they had to be moved. Within days of moving them to a new, sunnier location near the figs we’d just planted behind the workshop, they were growing new, bright green leaves and looking happy for the first time ever. The rabbits or kangaroos got to the new, bright green leaves and growing tips before we got to putting wire tree guards around them, but they are growing back and still looking happy. If I hadn’t seen them mooching along looking sick for so long I’d almost believe that pomegranates were one of the hardiest plants I’ve tried growing. Apparently part shade in the early morning and mid to late afternoon is way too much shade for happy pomegranates.

 

In any case, now that they look like they might survive to one day fruit, it occurs to me that pomegranate-based balsamic vinegar could be a taste sensation – regular pomegranate vinegar is delicious, as is regular (grape-must based) balsamic. Combining the techniques used to produce authentic 7 year aged balsamic with the complex flavours of pomegranate fruit could be a thing. Now we just have to create a market for it. 🙂

 

What pomegrataes need:

  • Water – Not too much of this, but they do need watering. Like figs, they’re more delicate than you expect during their first year or so in the ground, and need regular water.

 

  • Sunlight – All of it. Literally full sun all day. This is not an understorey plant.

 

  • Soil – They seem to be happy with anything, but free draining is best.

 

  • Space – Pomegranates are technically a large shrub, not a tree. They grow outwards as well as up, and they will turn into a spiny thicket if you don’t keep them pruned and trained.

 

  • Warmth – Pomegranates don’t like frost, especially when young. But they can usually survive a light frost.


What pomegranates have to offer:

  • Edible fruit, useful for juicing as well as eating fresh or making syrups and vinegars. There are lots of different varieties of pomegranate trees, which vary in the flavour and appearance of the fruit, but all varieties (even the ‘ornamental’ ones with tiny dwarf fruit) have delicious edible fruit. We have one ‘Wonderful‘ and one ‘Rosaveya‘ planted.

 

  • Landscaping – these are tough, low-maintenance, pretty little trees.

 

  • New plants, from seed or cuttings (hardwood cuttings 25 – 50 cm long, treated with rooting hormone).

Images sourced from Wikimedia Commons:
File:Pommegranate_tree01.jpg
File:Pomegranate_fruit.jpg
File:Punica_granatum_flower.jpg
File:Granadas_-_Pomegranates.jpg
File:Pomegranate02_edit.jpg
File:Punica_granatum_%28Jardin_des_plantes%29.jpg