Friday, 25 January 2019

Tender vegetables and tough decisions

After a season of trying to protect our pumpkin, butternut and courgettes against attacks by pumpkin flies, I had to accept defeat. We used the stung courgettes as best we could by rescuing as much of the affected vegetables as possible. It was clear that nothing would come of the pumpkin and butternut plants though.

I catch a lot of the pumpkin flies in the bait stations. Apparently however, it is not enough to safeguard the vegetables from attack. Trying to grow organic vegetables was never going to be easy. Losing a complete season to pests, is not good for the morale of this vegetable grower.

Last Saturday, I decided to remove all the affected plants. In the process I cleared three vegetable beds. On the positive side, these are now available for planting new crops. A seed company has been luring me with new varieties of garlic. I am strongly considering planting some in March/April.

The clean vegetable beds make me feel more in control of my garden. I could not help feeling that I got a one-over on the fruit flies. By removing the vegetables that were their prime targets, I have hopefully ended the cycle of infestation.

In the process, I might have reduced the variety of vegetables available for meals from the garden, but those remaining are still impressive. We are harvesting beet, carrots, mealies, brinjals, beans, tomatoes, peppers, chillies, onions, paw-paws, grenadillas, figs and a variety of herbs.

In retrospect, while we might be losing a lot of food to pests, we are still receiving an abundant supply of food from our garden. The basketsful being brought to the kitchen, are one of the greatest pleasures of life. Growing our own food has changed us in ways that we could not have expected.

One does think differently about food when you grow your own. Particularly when you start planning your meals for January when planting the seeds in September. One never knows quite how much you will harvest from each bed, but one has to be prepared for abundance. I am constantly looking at new ways of preparing vegetables for a meal. It helps to maintain variety and the element of surprise between the kitchen and the diningroom.

Throughout summer, the kitchen table resembles a composition perfect for a still-life painting. It looks like a picture waiting for an artist to capture on canvas. A scene that will bring joy to the viewer. I use my creativity to paint with the food on a plate. My creations live as long as the meal. However, the joy of the process of planting, harvesting and cooking our own vegetables, endures.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Rustic apricot jam – Towerwater style

Summer in the Klein Karoo without apricots would not be summer. Similarly, the orchard at Towerwater would not be an orchard without at least two apricot trees. Royal apricots remind me of the road between the towns of Barrydale and Montagu. In earlier days farmstalls were run on the honesty system along this route.

The honesty system meant that farmstalls were not staffed. It worked on the basis of taking what you want, and paying what you owe. Most often, one would leave more money, because to take change out of the jar just felt wrong. And paying a little extra did not really matter, because the fruit would be very cheap, fresh and delicious.

There used to be a Royal apricot orchard as one enters Montagu from the Barrydale side. It would have a large table on the side packed with trays of freshly picked apricots. This stall also used to be run on the honesty system. I can still taste those deep orange Royal apricots that were so sweet that the sweetness burnt your throat.

But those days are long gone. It is sad to think that the days of simple honesty might also be long gone.

Perhaps I wanted to plant a memory when I planted the Royal apricot tree in the orchard. A memory of the sweet taste of apricots on those hot summer days in the Klein Karoo.

We try to eat as much of the fresh Bulida and Royal apricots from the orchard as possible, but there is always an abundance of sun kissed apricots that calls for alternative uses. This year we decided to make a rustic apricot jam containing large pieces of soft fruit.

Rustic Apricot Jam Recipe

2kg Apricots halved and pitted
2kg Sugar
Juice of 1 lemon

In a large saucepan, layer the apricot halves (hollow side up) and sugar each layer. Pour over the lemon juice, replace the lid and leave overnight. This process also helps ensure that the fruit stays whole when cooked.
The next day, cook the apricots over a moderate heat so that the sugar dissolves. Remember that the sugar must first dissolve before the saucepan comes to the boil. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Scoop off foam.

Do the cold-saucer test after 25 minutes of cooking to test the fluidity of the jam. If still too fluid, cook it a bit longer. The jam is ready when a skin forms on the jam sample in the saucer after a minute. Bottle the jam in hot, sterilised jars and seal immediately.

The jam is delicious and filled with soft fruit pieces. Perfect on a slice of hot buttered toast.