Preserved lemons

Nothing sour about this story!

When friend Alex gifted me a large bag of freshly picked lemons from her tree, immediately I knew that their preservation would be my first priority. As it happens, there were way too many for the jars I selected and now I look forward to incorporating lemons into my meals everyday – until I run out. By comparison my lemon tree is young and, while producing well, it’s a small annual crop at this stage.

Many different methods are touted as best for preserving lemons. I will describe and show you my method – one that couldn’t be simpler.

I scald glass jars and lids and dry thoroughly. Then I wash/scrub the surface of the lemon to remove air pollution or general handling. Note: all the skin and the flesh will be preserved. The stalk of each lemon is sliced off, then wedges are cut (these can be whatever size suits – some recipes preserve half lemons, some quarter lemons – my latest batch consisted of 6 wedges per lemon). I prod and push to remove all the pips.

Into the base of a jar I pour salt to cover, then drop in the wedges from the first lemon.

With lid closed tightly I shake the contents to coat the lemon with salt. Open up. With more wedges I repeat the process until I can press the last wedges tightly to fill at jar height level. More salt is poured before tightening the lid of the jar.

I rest the jar upside down to let juices and salt mingle and when bored by waiting, give the jar a shake or two and leave upright.

In a dark cupboard the jars are initially stored upside down. On day two I turn them right side up and then leave and forget. The longer the jars are left the softer the lemon rinds become so that the contents become somewhat of a homogenous glue.

I start using these after a few months but the timing of use choice is yours. Over time the colour of the mixture changes from the bright yellow of the freshly picked lemons to a brownish colour – but they are still edible. Besides, if you don’t use them until that ‘aged’ stage then, when cooked in a meal you do not see them; they dissolve into the meal. The following photos show my new jars compared to one filled in July 2021 – one that I am still using with delight.

How do you use your preserved lemons? They can be used in vegetable and meat dishes. One piece from my jars (don’t wash off the salt), chopped finely and stirred evenly through the vegetable mix, is enough for a meal for one. For incorporating within meat dishes, I recommend you experiment with placing preserved wedges of the lemon and learn the locations for the best effect.

Usually I try a Moroccan or middle eastern approach with appropriate spicy flavours, and perhaps include pitted dates. This gives the dish saltiness, sweetness and the occasional tang from the lemon. Wonderfully delicious. Please let me know your successful experiments and recipes.

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RTBG 12th May 2022

A blanket of greyed clouds formed the umbrella for the day, and the temperature failed to rise to anything remotely comfortable – Neil had started before us in 4 degrees. At lunch we sat in the hardly ‘balmy’ temperature of around 12-13 degrees – or were we balmy. As I closed my mind to the cold, it crossed my mind that I was bonkers. It was one of those gloomy autumn days when staying at home with a good book and a glass of wine could have been preferable. But a few of us were undeterred and turned up for work in the Food Garden of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG).

Our Coordinator Adam spent most of the day working elsewhere on a major Botanical Gardens project and so, with a few directive suggestions, we set to work and when unsure, we used trusty Google. Neil plucked off the lower leaves from the Brussels Sprouts with the intention to create some distance from aphids and to remove their hiding places. Visitors to the Food Garden always stopped to ask him what and why – they looked so strange when semi-nude.

Tony harvested what he could wherever he could find fresh produce suitable for charity. I watched him removing leaves from stalks of two types of basil.

 Meg kept warm by raking and sweeping flurries of spent leaves from the many paths.

Trixie tackled some weeds and Neil dug over some garden beds.

Pam and I separated cloves from two varieties of garlic bulbs and selected non-rotted shallots. 

Then we plunged our fingers and tools into the soil and planted the garlic.

With the raking and planting assistance of Lesley, collectively we finished two beds and planted a third with the shallots.

Later a second bed of shallots were planted.

The recent increased rainfall has encouraged the proliferation of fungi around our gardens and in the wilderness (see the Tasmanian Fungi group on Facebook).  A number of colour camouflaged fungi were pushing out of the soil in various parts of the Food Garden.

At the end of the day on my way to the exit, I admired the relationship of the coloured signs to the colouring leaves of the tree somewhat behind it.  I wondered if this was a happy accident or whether it had been a deliberate choice.

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Thursday 28th April 2022 RTBG

It was one of those mornings when the Bridgewater Jerry filled the air above the Derwent River and spread left and right across the Greater Hobart areas. Kunanyi was missing. Nipaluna seemed to be missing. Occasionally the sun found holes and pushed its light through – first I watched its golden light at home and then at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Garden (RTBG).

Perhaps the softness of the air helped to strengthen the relaxed spirit of camaraderie and willingness to be productive in the Food Garden of the RTBG on Thursday. The return of a much travelled volunteer and the start of a new one also helped expand the convivial laughter and chatter over an adventurous green tomato cake (recipe to anyone who asks) washed down by our morning cuppa.

In the muted light, I marvelled at varieties of fungi which had pushed their way around through the soil at the edges of a lettuce garden bed. Fairy sized seats.

The harvest was underway. Beets and rhubarb had been picked ready for delivery to charity – Second Bite.

Weeding, path making and seed collection were the tasks for the day. Medicago and Flick (Cardamine hirsute) weeds were the most prevalent unwanted plants across the Food Garden and different volunteers tackled their removal from different spaces to the rubbish bins, not the compost, to reduce the chance of ‘reinfection’. I note flick weed is an edible suitable for salads but its use as such would be too obscure for those receiving the charity donations so this plant is not harvested for distribution.

Buggy loads of sawdust were shovelled over the pathways.

The soya bean plants, which had been growing slowly for months, had hundreds of seed pods to be picked. These will be used to create new larger crops next year, after which time, we may experiment with making our own tofu and other soya based products.

Elsewhere across the Botanical Gardens, the brilliant colours of autumn leaves created stunning displays.

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Ulverstone, Tasmania

On the north west coast of Tasmania, my birthplace was Burnie.  While the small town of Ulverstone is less than 30 kms east, I never knew it well; to me it was an impediment to be driven through on the way to somewhere. Over the past weekend I discovered the pleasantness of its central streets and more.

The draw-card was a screening by Art Screen Events, at the Leven Theatre, of Verdi’s opera Rigoletto from the Metropolitan Opera in New York. 

Overcoming many bussing challenges, I travelled from Hobart via Launceston and Devonport to arrive in Ulverstone late in the day as the clouds hung leadenly and the first rain fell. It is easy, on a sunny day, to forget why the paddocks of the north west coast are bright lime-green – the rich lushness grows from the frequent rain and the moderate temperatures. I shouldn’t have been surprised when the rain fell and then RAIN fell and the pattern of soft and hard rain alternated all night. Dramatic. Cleansing. Next morning the sky was bright blue dashed with a few of the cleanest puffiest clouds. Buildings, the streets, the vehicles all look washed by the deluge and everything sparkled in the sun.

My first discovery was a new $10.5 million complex, known as The Hive. Completed only 6 months ago, this state of the art building houses a Visitor Information Centre, a retail outlet, a variety of studios for artists, a woodworkers workshop, a planetarium, science centre, a museum, an art gallery and a cafe. Each Saturday, The Hive offers a small market for the sale of work by local artists. I was particularly impressed with the simplicity and elegance with which museum artefacts were displayed, and with the restraint used in hanging an exhibition of one person’s paintings. Classy. Accessible. Professional.

From The Hive I meandered through local streets, past an AFL football ground where a game was underway, and headed towards  Button’s Beach. Autumn leaves decorated the footpaths and needed to be scuffed into the air with a purposeful toe. The  Beach Hut café, where I found the best ever veggie burger, was a recommendable discovery!

I watched as rain fell over Bass Strait, from a mushroom cloud, and never moved to wet Ulverstone.

After a leisurely stroll along the beach I wandered through further streets eventually finding myself along the Leven River edge redevelopment, with Pedro’s fish outlet and Buttons Brewery offering booze and food in an upmarket venue.

Ulverstone’s streets are graced with stately 19th century buildings.

My afternoon was filled with the joys of sensational music and scintillatingly beautiful singing as a fresh new production of Rigoletto was performed in sophisticated sets that helped tell the story. In the presence of great musicians the experience can be so thrilling that I almost stop breathing and I feel my heart wants to do a somersault in exaltation. I am delighted that post Covid, such performances / screenings are again possible and more newly presented operas will be screened in the coming months. I may have more to say about Ulverstone in the future!

Back on 19th August 1950, my parents married: the first night of their honeymoon was spent at Ulverstone in the then glamorous Lighthouse Hotel. This hotel still exists and so, of course, I booked in. With its art deco curves I suspect the building may date from the early to mid 1940s as were others sporting art deco features around town. The most outstanding feature of the hotel was a lighthouse which stood prominently on the roof, despite the hotel being in the centre of the business district and no-where near the river or the sea.

Over the years, the hotel has suffered a number of refurbishments and renovations and, I am sorry to say, the lighthouse was removed in 2017 and replaced with an uninspired colorbond style steel roof and ceiling indoors.  The Advocate newspaper reported the hotel owner’s comment; “The dome is well past its use by date, we are installing a new roof”.

Looking up the street towards the Hotel, clearly this once impressive building seems slumped and ordinary with a tiny pokey configuration on the roof where the lighthouse once beamed. The whimsy of the past has been obliterated.

Light

Overall, there is plenty to do in and around Ulverstone if you like to take casual walks and simply see how others live.  Perfect for a short and gentle holiday.

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Critters in the garden 31st March 2022

Thanks to Pam I can share photographs of a couple of garden critters that were disturbed when working in the Food Garden of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG).  One of the jobs that the volunteer team tackled this week, was to remove rotting wooden edges to a garden bed.  Within these a Christmas Beetle and a Wolf spider had made their home. When disturbed, the spider ran up a wall to stay and watch proceedings, presumably hoping all would settle down soon and that s/he could return to the ‘home’ spot where a ready feast of smaller insects roamed.

The Wolf Spider from the family, Lycosidae and species, Tasmanicosa godeffroyi has a bite that is poisonous but not lethal to humans. Although non-aggressive, they bite freely if provoked and should be considered dangerous to humans. The bite may be very painful. First aid and medical attention should be sought as soon as possible, particularly for children or the elderly. But it is encouraging to know that wolf spiders don’t jump on humans to attack them. In fact, wolf spiders  are quite scared of humans and will only bite them if they’re intimidated or if you come too close to them. Needless to say the Food Garden volunteers were relaxed and were comfortable as the Wolf Spider ran off and stayed still, once watching from the camouflaging patterns on a wall. 

Characteristically the spider is a long-legged and hairy with males growing to 2.0 cm and females to 3.5 cm.  It relies on good eyesight to catch prey, and has three rows of eyes, two at the back, two in the centre and four in the front. Wolf spiders are robust, agile, fast-moving ground hunters that chase down or ambush prey. They live anywhere they can find insects to eat and are one measure of a healthy garden.

Tasmania’s Christmas Beetle, the Lamprima aurata, is a bright green and gold stag beetle, although the colours vary from place to place; on the coast, the beetles can be dark purple or bronze and no-one knows why. It has been suggested the colour differences might be associated with the chemical content of the soil. This beetle is otherwise known as a scarab beetle of the anoplognathus species. 

Fewer examples of these beetles have been seen in recent years and the reason for their absence is unknown.

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Sequel to the Cinderella pumpkin story

Wedges of my first Rouge Vif D’Etampes pumpkin are now spread across Hobart. 

Most friends told me they will make pumpkin soup so I decided to pass on one of my standard but very different recipes: a meal I make fairly regularly. The star ingredient is in this case, of course, the Cinderella pumpkin. With washed skin on, a wedge of pumpkin is cut into pieces. In a pot with some water, the pumpkin is boiled for up to 10 minutes – the time depends on the size of the pieces.

The second component is a pesto.  Each time I make this I use different nuts, herbs, and/or spices. No two mixes are ever the same which makes the meal forever interesting. Today’s pesto was a crush of almonds, rock salt, powdered cumin and turmeric and cayenne pepper, one or two cloves of garlic, chopped parsley and a splash of high quality extra virgin olive oil.

Once the pumpkin is cooked it is poured into a bowl already containing the pesto and then partly crushed while mixing with the pesto.

Now what?  Simply start eating this Pesto’d Pumpkin. It adds sunshine to a wonderful Tasmanian autumn.

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Cinderella’s carriage

I save seed from the fruits of vegetables and herbs and so do others.

Early last year I enjoyed eating a wedge of Robyn and Andrew’s Golden Nugget pumpkins and around that time accepted pumpkin seed from them. When I germinated those seeds at the end of last year I had visions of gorgeous bright orange balls across the straw in my gardens. However, what I planted grew and grew and then some. When I sent photos to Robyn she laughed and said no – those seeds were not from smallish Golden Nuggets. Instead I was growing a French heirloom variety known as Rouge Vif d’Entampes, and the pumpkins would be large!

Their seed had originally been purchased from ‘Seed Freaks’, a Huon-based company producing open-pollinated organically grown seeds from pumpkins grown  in 2020. I was informed that the blurb on the seed packet stated these pumpkins were ‘The model for Cinderella’s carriage and that this French heirloom grows well in a cooler climate and produces large fruits which are full flavoured, good for roasts/soups’.

I googled to find out more. This cucurbita maxima is known as the ‘Cinderella’ pumpkin because of its stunning, bright-orange colour and shape – it looks like the carriage in the fairy tale that takes the girl to the ball where she meets her prince. Etampes is an ancient commune near Paris, and the pumpkins were said to be popular in Paris’s Central Market in the 1880s. Rouge Vif d’Etampes pumpkin seeds were first offered commercially in America by W. Atlee Burpee in 1883. And now here they are in Tasmania.

While “Rouge vif” translates as “vivid red”, my pumpkins are a soft orange colour with a flattish shape looking something like a cheese wheel. Apparently the maximum size of the fruits average 10–15 lb or 9kg (20lb) depending on which source of information you read.  Well surprise, surprise – something in my soil and mulching practices has produced monsters roughly three times that weight!  Yesterday I picked the smallest one of many and that pumpkin weighed 16Kgs. Yes 16Kgs. I weighed it three times to be sure.

Curious to see whether I picked the pumpkin too early, and to generally see what the interior looked like, I cut into this beauty.  Gold!  Gold! Gold!

And lots of seeds.  Anyone want to collect some from me?

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A holiday in the Horseradish 24th March 2022

Always early to arrive in the Food Garden at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG), fellow volunteer Neil was hard at work clearing the expanding forests of horseradish plants – just the tops, not digging down for their tasty roots. Not yet. Another time. Trust me, none of this is any holiday!

As wonderful as the root is for sauces and to add zest and spice to a meal, the plant is desperate to grow deep and explore more and more ground and can become a nuisance. Once you have a horseradish plant in the ground, it is almost impossible to contain or to remove. The roots are deep and resist lifting in their entirety.  They are always determined to leave a little piece of themselves to start anew. One that I was growing in a pot at home, let it’s root leave through the hole in the pot’s bottom and off it went.  When I lifted the pot with great difficulty, I was astonished how far the root had spread. With repetitive effort I have stopped the spread. The pot now sits on a barren rock and, right now, the plant is looking a little unwell – it wants more space, it wants to spread. For the time being, I will do what happened to the RTBG Food Garden horseradish plants – nip off the leaves and stalks to ground level.

While the Food Garden’s store of horseradish was being brought to ground, tomatoes, pumpkins, zucchinis, quinces and more were harvested ready to take to charity.

Elsewhere, in a small garden bed, a couple of us looked in awe at two weeks growth of lettuces from the recent thrashing.

Over time we relocated a selection of those plants to their own bed giving them space to grow. They will provide a ground cover to protect the soil from drying out too much and a harvestable crop (if the wallabies don’t chew them down overnight) for charity in a few weeks’ time. After watering in, handfuls of blood and bone were distributed around the garden edge and across the bed – as a smelly deterrent to the wallabies and to provide nourishment for the plants.

Meanwhile a couple of others carried five tray loads of silver beet plants and gave them a new home.

Once these jobs were finished, a buggy load of compost was brought to the Food Garden and then shovelled across the horseradish beds, and raked.

During the afternoon we tackled the fresh growth of weeds in the tea plantation: irritating flick weed, devious brown oxalis, occasional purslane, and a few other less frequent varieties. Our amiable chatter, in the warm autumn sun, was a fitting conclusion to a productive work day. I felt revitalised with a spring in my step as I headed off to catch the bus home. Back home, I looked around my garden and felt inspired again.

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Shaking the lettuce 10th March 2022

Two weeks ago in the Food Garden of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG), our wonderful volunteer team made some simple but important advances.  As usual, and extremely importantly, Tony harvested produce for charity and, being that time of the year, the boxes were filled with tomatoes – with a mixed collection of varieties.

Elsewhere through the Garden, some vegetables were colour coordinated with their leaves or they were almost hidden beneath their plant canopies.

An extensive exercise to rid the soil of the weed (a plant that is out of place and not wanted in it’s current position) known as Purslane (which is wonderfully edible in salads and stir fries and other dishes) was a tricky proposition around the basil and mustards.

These flattish, ground covering plants hide beautifully and are a challenge to remove without lifting out the wanted plants. Unfortunately Purslane is not wanted by the charitable food organisations (well it is a weed, isn’t it! – that is, most people don’t know it as an edible vegetable), so it was either to be piled into the rubbish bins (not for composting because it is difficult to kill) or I could choose to take it home. Now I have plants establishing themselves throughout my garden. If our Australian food security is a fragile situation and if the cost of vegetables soars as anticipated, as the result of the substantial floods in southern Qld and along most of the coast of New South Wales, then knowing I will always have a green food source at hand is some comfort.  Containing its spread will be my greatest challenge.

Back to the Food Garden – the highlight for the day started when we uprooted lettuces which had gone to seed. Large heads of fluffing seeds were waiting to find a new home. Thrashing these on clear ground released thousands of seeds, and was a wonderfully satisfying process.

Watch this video.

At the end of the day I walked away past the freshly clipped hedge that frames the (comparatively) new raised garden bed.  A spectacular sky lighted the landscape in that moment!

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Rediscovering Freycinet part 7 of 7

Time to head home. We pointed the car southwards and started the journey.

During the Wineglass Bay Cruise the crew shucked fresh oysters for us. On enquiry they were not from the local Freycinet Oyster farm rather from further south near the settlement of Dolphin Sands. We listened to directions and on our return trip to Hobart called into the Melshell Oyster Shack. The owner explained that, apart from selling to the casual visitor, they sold their oysters only to four restaurants in the Freycinet area and to Pennicott’s Wineglass Bay Cruise. This was not a glamorous site developed for mass tourism. It was a simple set up but one where I felt very comfortable. Pleasantly sitting in the sun, we shared a dozen fresh-shucked oysters, and took home an extra dozen each. Delicious. I feel so sorry for those who have never acquired a taste for these tempting morsels. Tasmania has a number of oyster farms scattered around the state and the oysters from each are discernibly different.

As we left Melshell, we took one last look at the mountains of the Freycinet Peninsula in the distance.

From time to time we stopped and, after stepping from the car, enjoyed the sea air and the immense spaces. Such a place was at the top of the hill from Spiky Beach.

The east coast is blessed with dozens of beaches, usually without a soul walking along them for most of the day. All perfect for a swim, a picnic or a stroll. Some with camping sites nearby. In future I will be happier to explore more of these than to visit mass tourism sites.

I named this blog post series with ‘Freycinet’ but that downplays the beauty and value of the whole trek along the east coast, the extraordinary views from outstanding vantage points above the water and down at beach and rock level. The destination was the Freycinet peninsula, but it was the journey there and back as well as the Freycinet experiences that enriched this holiday.

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