Saturday, July 28, 2012

Marmalade Making 101

Following up on the citrus season blog, the co driver armed herself with various recipes, a boiler, fruit, sugar and jars for her first attempt at marmalade making.
After looking at the recipes, it was decided that the double cooked version might be a little too adventurous for a first attempt so she settled on a mixed fruit version.
The oranges, lemons and grapefruit were all finely sliced and added with water to the boiler.
Pips, discarded peel and pith were put into a muslin bag and also put in.
After a few hours of boiling the sugar was finally added.
Now came the hard part.
When will it be ready? No one wants runny jam.

 The pectin test is the conventional way.
There are varying ways of doing this. After a few unsatisfactory attempts, we finally settled on the method in the Australian Women's Weekly Cook Book published way back in the dark ages! All the measurements are imperial in the book which is a little disconcerting at first for us who have struggled for the last 45 years to forget all that stuff. No problem for the co driver however who is by now well and truly bimetrological.
So she put some saucers in the fridge and after 30 minutes spooned a little jam onto one and then back in the fridge. A few minutes later she ran her finger through the jam until finally by saucer #5 it was gelling and crinkling to the touch.
Then she waited a thin skin began to form on the jam in the boiler (this ensures the fruit pieces stay in suspension in the jar) then filled the jars that had been sterilizing in the oven.
Then on with the lids!
This morning I had some on toast!
Now she is ready for the double cooked version.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Mystery of American Cherries

A little while ago I mentioned that USA cherries were in local supermarkets and were very cheap.
They have become even cheaper.
Last week we paid the equivalent of around $US4.00 lb.
I sent my dedicated shopper spy in the mid west of USA out to find the prices there.
They range between $US2.49 - $3.49 lb on special but the normal price seems to be $US4.00 lb or maybe a little higher

So how come they can be exported all the way to Australia (you would have to assume by airfreight), go through all the rigours of quarantine inspections/treatments and then be distributed around the country for about the same price?
Are the good citizens of the USA subsidizing our out of season cherry consumption?
Not that I am complaining.
They are just great!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Citrus Season

Winter is citrus season. The supermarkets and fruit shops are full of oranges, mandarins, grapefruit, tangelos, cumquats etc.
But every self respecting gardener in our area has a citrus tree of some sort.
Our neighbours have oranges, limes  and grapefruit and next door Gail makes some of the best double cooked marmalade in the state, maybe even the country.
We have three lemon trees just loaded with fruit this year.

There is one problem with our lemons though.
They look a little funny. They are a bit distorted with spiky skins and scabby marks.
This is a result of being infected with citrus scab (Elsinoe fawcettii). This fungus causes the fruit to distort and grow very thick skins.
It also attacks the leaves and twigs of the trees.

To combat the disease, regular sprays of a copper based fungicide are needed. Our Ag Department says that by neglecting to spray the trees they will eventually stop producing and eventually die, probably after 10-12 years.
But really, the juice and flesh of the fruit are unaffected and it is such a hassle spraying against this disease ie. getting the timings right, I just don't bother. Our trees have been flourishing for 20 years plus!
And surprisingly some fruit is completely unaffected.

Gail says she is too busy to make her marmalade this year (a young son just at school plus a one year old can do that to you) but she has agreed to give the co driver her marmalade recipe plus some oranges so she can have a try.
Will keep you posted on the result.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mother and Daughter Doing Well

Plants propagate in a number of ways, either naturally eg. seed or with man’s assistance eg. cuttings.
Sexual reproduction by seed generally does not produce a daughter plant with same characteristics as the mother plant although there are plenty of exceptions particularly in cereal crops eg. lines.
Asexual or vegetative reproduction however does and the daughter plant is always an exact replica of its mother.
Examples of asexual reproduction include cuttings (stem, leaf, bud and root), grafting and budding, layering (simple, mound, air) all of which are mostly carried out by man.
But plants can also reproduce vegetatively themselves eg. runners, suckers, crowns, bulbs.
We have a very old Camellia plant (C. japonica) growing in our garden.

It produced a sucker (adventitious shoot) which was growing about 1m away from the mother on her horizontal root system.
So as an experiment, I chopped it off leaving a piece of the mother plant root attached, dug it up and replanted it in a pot.
It grew well for a couple of years and this winter it produced its first flowers which, surprise surprise, are exactly the same as its mothers.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Trip to Orange / Part 3

Sunday morning broke cold and crisp but sunny and we headed out to the Ophir area just north of Orange.
Gold was first discovered here in 1851 and was the first major gold find in Australian history. There is still a working mine in the area.
It's a pretty place in the gorge where the Summerhill and Lewis Ponds Creeks meet and there are walks for those who want  to explore the old workings and tunnels. But you need to keep to the tracks. Old shafts abound and not all are documented.
For the old miners, who worked around 500 claims, the gold ran out 10 months after the initial discovery and all that is left of the township now are remnants of some buildings and a grave yard.


Back in Orange we sought out the new Charles Sturt University Winery tasting rooms. The University in Wagga Wagga has its own vineyards and a working winery as an essential part of their Viticulture and Wine Science degree courses. They not only use their own grapes, including those grown on the Orange campus, but also bring in fruit from other cool climate areas of New South Wales. These include the Hilltops region around Young through to Tumbarumba in the Snowy Mountains and down to Gundagai.
The nicely appointed tasting rooms had just opened with an enthusiastic crew in place so we got right royal treatment tasting all the way through their range from sparklings, whites, reds to rose'. We didn't venture into their fortified range.
An early advocate of screw cap closures, the university now puts all its sparkling wine under crown seal replacing the wired cork ( Mon dieu! Sacrilège!!!!)
We liked their 2011 Sauvignon Blanc made from fruit grown in their Orange campus vineyard, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot made predominantly from Hilltops fruit, 2009 Cabernet/Shiraz from Orange and 2010 Tempranillo from Tumbarumba with its minimalist "T" label.
And getting a 25% discount for being an alumni member was icing on the cake. Since its inception in 1977, the CSU winery has been awarded over 28 trophies, 98 gold, 18 silver and 483 bronze medals in national wine shows.

The next stop was Ross Hill Wines on the slopes of Mt. Canobolas. They had two wine ranges, one fruit driven and one with a little more winemaker's input. The winemaker, Phil Kernery, was running the cellar door and it was interesting to listen to his philosophy.
'Good wine starts in the vineyard' was a catch phrase not high on his list.
We tasted through both ranges and appreciated in this case the complexity that the winemaker's input can introduce. In many cases I have found that too much of it, especially in the whites, can overpower the fruit in a negative way. But that was not the case here. The Pinnacle 2011 Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc were simply wild yeast fermented yielding wines of intensity, complexity, fine texture and length.
The Pinnacle 2010 Pinot Noir was naturally fermented by wild yeasts, macerated on skins for 4 weeks and matured in 25% new French oak for 10 months. A very light style but the intensity of flavour and the length were amazing.
The Pinnacle 2010 Shiraz for me, was the red wine of the trip.
The tasting notes say " hand picked and naturally fermented by wild yeasts in small open fermenters at our brand new Wallace Lane winery, matured in small French oak for eighteen months, this wine is powerful, aromatic and densely layered, showing the capacity of the Orange region for growing multi dimensional reds of great character"
Can't argue with that!

During our discussions, we found out that Ross Hill makes Hedberg Hill's wines and that there was stock of the late harvest Riesling we liked so much being prepared for release in their cool store. Phil called Peter up and we 'bid' for two bottles on a cash basis.
Peter kindly agreed.
So after a tour of the winery that was the end of our wine tasting adventure. We wanted a simple meal that night so found a new Japanese restaurant in town, Mr.Sushi King which, despite the hokey name, fitted the bill exactly.
Next morning we headed home via Canowindra through more beautiful country to Cowra and then basically back along the route we had come with all our booty clinking away in the back of the car.

So with our Hunter Valley trip a few weeks ago and now this one, we are well stocked up.
Plenty of wine to put down and lots for current drinking.
Life is pretty good!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Trip to Orange / Part 2

Orange has a long history of fruit growing particularly apples, cherries, stone fruit and grapes.
The modern development of the wine industry in the region began in the early 1980s and by the late 1990s there were 1350 ha under vine.
The Orange Wine Region is one of the few in Australia officially defined solely by altitude and is the area above 600m in the local government areas of Orange, Cabonne and Blayney. This is basically a circle around the city of Orange. The area is ideal for grape growing and wine making due to a combination of geology, soils, climate and temperature.
Together these factors combine to produce grapes and wine of distinct flavours and colour.
More details on the Orange Region terroir can be found here.

Our first stop was Hedberg Hill Wines.
Peter Hedberg was a lecturer throughout my course at Orange and was instrumental in getting me interested in grape growing and convincing me to continue studies of viticulture and wine making at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga.
He established the vineyard at the Orange campus and my Cabernet Sauvignon vines are from cuttings taken from that vineyard.

We tasted the entire range of Peter's cool climate whites with the 2010 Viognier (2 gold and one silver medal so far) and 2011 Sauvignon Blanc (one bronze medal so far) being outstanding. Then it was onto the reds. My favourite was the 2011 Tempranillo. Typical savoury flavor with fine tannins and good length.
There was also a late harvest slightly botrytized Riesling dessert wine but it was not quite ready for commercial release. Both the co driver and I loved this wine.
Then it was on to Printhie Wines near Molong.
They have two ranges of wines, one a cheaper fruit driven style, the other, more complex.
We liked the fruit driven 2011 Sauvignon Blanc better than its dearer brother but the more complex 2011 Riesling and 2009 Pinot Noir were great wines.
The vineyard sits on rolling hills at the far reaches of the region with the ancient extinct volcano, Mt. Canobolas just visible on the horizon. A perfect place to taste and relax and try to get warm in the midday sun.

After a quick late lunch in Molong we drove up to the top of Mt. Canobolas which at nearly 1400m dominates the area. It's a rough road for the last few kilometers but worth it when you get there. The views of the surrounding area, almost 360 degrees, is stunning especially if you ignore the communication towers that litter the mountain top. And to our surprise there were still remnants of snow lying among the trees on the shaded south side of the mountain as a result of last week's snow storm.

Then it was a quick trip back to our accommodation to get ready for our dinner out at the Racine Restaurant. This was a great meal in a nice intimate room with good service. The wine list prices were not OTT and we were happy to select a Hedberg Hill Tempranillo that went well with my venison starter and baked salmon main.
Then it was 'home' again for another bottle of wine and a few games of 'quick' scrabble.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Trip to Orange / Part 1

Our extended long weekend away started with the drive to our nation’s capital, Canberra, usually about 2 hours west over the mountains. This trip lasted a lot longer with at least eight road work sites holding us up. We shouldn’t complain as the Kings Highway is our main connector west from the coast and is notorious for accidents so any improvements are welcome.
Our main aim in Canberra was to get the co driver’s permanent residence visa renewed. This is a 5 yearly chore which could be avoided by her taking out citizenship and she is now seriously thinking about that.
Apart from dealing with the Department of Immigration and their foibles (they tend to continually move the goal posts), we also fitted in a couple of quilt shops and a quick visit to the city centre mall. 

Sydney and Canberra are our only ‘big smoke’ experiences.
We also spent a couple of pleasant hours in the National Botanic Gardens with its huge collection of native Australian flora, a lot set out in simulated regional environments.
We stayed overnight in Canberra’s newest hotel, the Aria, which was at bargain basement promotional rates and is very nice. It is in the suburb of Dixon well known for it’s eateries but we chose Pulp Kitchen in Ainslie which was a simple bistro style with excellent food.
After a huge breakfast at Debacle in Braddon, we headed north west through the country towns of Yass (quilt shop) Boorowa (quilt shop), Cowra (quilt shop) and then Millthorpe (quilt shop) for a late lunch at the Old Mill Café.                                                                                                                                        

This part of the country looks great with all the rain we have had. They struggled for years through the drought but now the sheep and cattle are thriving and the winter crops were in. The rolling hills and distant mountain ranges with their bluish haze look great in the winter light.
After a wine tasting at Angullong Wine’s cellar door in town, it was onto Orange where we met up with our neighbours from down the road at our Edwardian cottage accommodation.
Orange has a population of around 40,000 and is a major provincial centre.
Main industries include agriculture (fruit, vegetables and wine), mining, health services and education.
Originally called Blackman's Swamp and established as a convict settlement in 1822, it was proclaimed a village and named Orange by Major Thomas Mitchell, famous explorer and surveyor of South Eastern Australia, in 1846 in honour of Prince William of Orange (later to be the first king of Holland).
Apparently Thomas had served with William in the Peninsula War (1807-1814) in Spain.
Obviously this is a little more romantic than being named after a citrus fruit.

I know Orange fairly well. I studied horticulture there in the 1990s at the University of Sydney on an external basis but had to attend residential classes three or four times a year over four years. It is now a campus of Charles Sturt University. The city has certainly changed since I was last there in 1996 for graduation.
Dinner that night was at Lolli Redini regarded as one of the ‘best places’ in town and which has a national reputation. It lived up to the hype. Food was great, wine list extensive (and expensive) but, to be picky, the service is maybe a little too formal.
Orange is at around 900m elevation and a long way from the sea. Temperatures in winter are below zero in the mornings and struggle to make double figures during the day. Snow falls are not unknown. As the car was covered in ice in the morning and the wineries don’t open until 10am, there was no need to make an early start.
But there were three quilt stores in town and they were all on the itinerary for our first day.
So began our combined quilt store visiting and wine tasting day.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

London Olympic Games 2012

The Olympic Games in London are nearly upon us.
It’s something I really look forward to every four years. I think it all started back in November 1956 in Melbourne when the games came to the Southern Hemisphere for the first time. I was a 10 year old then and well into sport, particularly Australian Rules football and cricket.
Then suddenly this huge international sporting event swept over the city. Melbourne (and Australia) had never seen anything like this before. Australia was pretty isolated back then. It took weeks by ship to get anywhere outside the country and overseas air travel was not the norm. It took days to get from Sydney to London with Qantas on the "Kangaroo Route" at a return cost equivalent to 130 weeks average pay.
Our family didn’t have money enough in those days to buy games tickets so we, and most everyone else, watched the events on TV which had been rushed into service for the first time in Australia. We would stand for hours in front of the local electrical goods store window watching the grainy black and white action on the tiny screen.
My father did manage however to take me to the marathon circuit to watch and cheer the runners puffing by.
Little did we know that when a young Ron Clarke (who worked for my father) ran into the stadium and lit the flame at the opening ceremony he would become one of the greatest long distance runners of all time setting seventeen world records but never to winning Olympic gold.

We all had our heroes. Mine were of course Australian, Betty Cuthbert, John Landy, Dawn Fraser and Chilla Porter. But who would forget the Russian Vladimir Kuts who ran the competition off their feet from the front in the 5000 and 10000m (and did a lap of honour around the stadium fence before second and third place finished), American sprinter Bobby Morrow and Irish 1500m runner Ron Delaney.
And there was blood in the pool when the Russians met the Hungarians in water polo with the latter taking out some revenge for the brutal suppression of the Hungarian uprising a month or so before.
Then there was the epic struggle in the high jump pit well into the dark between Chilla Porter and American Charles Dumas, with the Australian just failing to win gold.
It was then I decided I wanted to be a high jumper. In those days you did the scissors or the western roll to get over the bar and land in a rather hard sandpit. The Fosbury Flop was another 12 years away. The necessary equipment was built and set up in our back yard and I used to practice for hours.
It was obvious to all except me that any Olympic glory in that discipline was well out of reach.
But it turned out I could run with 100m and 200m being my pet events (well, in those days it was 100 and 220 yards). Never a world beater, I did well at high school and state level before surfing started to consume my sporting life.

 Still, every four years I have dropped everything and followed 'the Games'. Australia is one of the few countries to have attended all modern Olympics and we always did rather well for a country with such a small population. But with the Cold War raging and sporting prowess being a major component of that, we were left behind due to our rather naive notion of what amateur sport was. When we did not win one medal in the Montreal games, the government of the day was shaken out of its lethargy and the Australian Institute of Sport was formed to professionally train potential Olympians in all disciplines. This has worked out pretty well and we now usually end up in the top ten medal count..
Australia was lucky enough to get the games again in Sydney in 2000.
What a great two weeks that was. The city was abuzz and it was party time 24/7.
The opening ceremony was a magnificent affair and when the Australian men’s 4x100m swimming team blasted the odds on favourite Americans out of the pool a couple of nights later (“My biased opinion says that we will smash them (Australia's 4x100m team) like guitars”, USA swim team leader Gary Hall Jnr had said), we knew we were in for some great competition. Remembering the Australian team standing there on the pool's edge playing air guitar in front of the dismayed Americans always brings a smile.
From Eric Malonga (Eric the Eel) who was a swimmer from Equatorial Guinea who nearly had to be rescued from drowning due to exhaustion in the pool during a 100m heat to Australia’s Cathy Freeman who won the 400m carrying the entire nation on her back, it was all very exciting.

So now we have 10,490 athletes from 205 countries gathering in London to vie for 302 gold medals in 26 sports at 34 venues.
Our satellite TV provider is giving us 8 channels of non stop viewing 24 hours a day for the duration. According to them this means 3200 hours,1100 of which will be live. All sports will be covered from heats to finals.
The time difference between London and Sydney is 9 hours so all the live action will be through our night and well into the early hours of the morning.
Lots of coffee and afternoon naps will be in order. The co driver has all her quilting and sewing projects lined up. Extra firewood has been cut.
As our two famous sporting commentators HG Nelson and Rampaging Roy Slaven say “too much sport is barely enough!”

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Winter Fruit Bowl

Winter doesn't mean the end of fresh fruit.
The late apples are still coming in and the citrus begins to arrive. All sorts of mandarin varieties as well as tangelos, juicy oranges and ruby grapefruit are available.
Strangely this year we are getting really cheap strawberries.
In winter????
I thought they would have to be imported but, no, they are from Queensland (where the season usually starts in August) and Victoria (November) so the hot houses must be running overtime.
Talking of imported fruit, Australia has some of the strictest quarantine laws in the world. Anyone exporting fruit to this country must be jumping through hoops. But it must be worth it.

Last year we saw American cherries for the first time. They are here again now and pretty cheap $A10/kg ($US 4.50lb). Big and juicy and much better than the local ones which come into season just before Christmas.
Californian table grapes and berry fruits are readily available too. Citrus from the USA is not uncommon. They come in during our off season. I have seen Australian citrus in American supermarkets during their off season so guess there is some reciprocal trade.
But imports are not limited to fruit. Out of season fresh vegetables appear as well. Asparagus from Peru and Israel, shallots from Holland and garlic from China. Of course New Zealand being so close and having similar quarantine concerns are a major supplier.
The import of processed vegetables, mainly from Asia is another subject (and point of concern) we won't go into here.
Well, not for now, anyway.