Category Archives: Gardening

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Easy Damson Plum Jam

Plum-Jam-Jars-webDamson plums are small and the flesh is quite sharp and sour, but in my view makes the absolute best plum jam in the world. I match the jam with nice cheeses on a platter with some slightly spicy cured meats. I am in heaven. 

Makes about 8 250ml jars. 

Ingredients 

1 1⁄2kg (3.3lb) whole, washed damson plums

3 cups water

5 cups sugar 

Method 

Combine the plums and the water and over a medium hot heat bring to a boil. 

Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 15 minutes, stirring constantly. 

Allow to cool enough to handle – or completely, if you like and fish out the pits. It’s a bit messy but well worth it. 

I put them in a colander over a large pot and pass the liquid and as much of the flesh that you can through and then start picking out the stones. Return the pulp to the rest of the jam to the pot once the pits are out. Bring them back to the boil and add the sugar to the plums, stirring to dissolve. 

Reduce the heat to a light, rolling simmer and cook to jam stage, about 20 minutes. 

Meanwhile, put the clean jars into a pre-heated oven at 140 C (300F). 

Return the plums to the jam kettle, and bring them back to the boil. Add the sugar to the plums, stirring to dissolve. 

Jam Stage Test 

Sheet or spoon test — Dip a cool metal spoon into the boiling jelly mixture. Raise the spoon out of the steam, about 12 inches above the pan. Turn the spoon so the liquid runs off the side. The jelly is done when the syrup forms two drops that flow together and sheet or hang off the edge of the spoon. 

Once the jam has reached setting point remove from the heat and stir and skim 5 minutes. 

Pour into hot sterilized jars and seal with lids sterilized according to the manufacturers directions. (Generally, boiled for 5 minutes.) 

Let cool, label and store when the jars have sealed.

How to Propagate Rosemary

Rosemary-CuttingsI was asked the other day, “how do I propagate Rosemary”

Its quite easy, I do it all the time as I love to give away herbs to people that are starting out.

  • Take the clippings from a branch with new growth (green stem).
  • This is typically in the spring, but could be anytime depending on the watering conditions and how fresh the new growing stems are.

Propagating New Stem Cuttings

Make short clippings.

You want to take a clipping that is about 75-125mm (3 to 5 inches) long.  In the past, years ago I tried rooting a bigger/longer branch with the assumption being that more plant would mean a faster result.  However, this approach was rather unsuccessful…  (Smaller is better).  

Rosemary-Cuttings-trimmedAs it turns out, roots sprout much better from a green stem than from a dark woody one.  In the case of  rosemary, that green part of the stem is found at the last 75-125mm (3 to 5 inches) of a branch when it is growing.  Therefore, if you have a shorter branch, you will have more green wood on the cutting.

Then you just follow normal rooting procedure.  

Make a short clipping from the end of a branch

Remove about an 25-50mm (an inch or two) of the lowest needle like leaves.

Stick the cut end in clean water, and be sure not to cover the remaining leaves with water

Rosemary-Cuttings-Glass-2Put the cuttings in bright shade.

Wait a few weeks and the cuttings will have developed roots. Plant these into individual small pots with some fine potting mix and watch then grow. These can then be planted into garden begs or into larger pots if container growing.

Cooking With Garlic

garlicIn a follow-up post to Garlic, I want to chat a little about cooking garlic. 

Garlic is an allium in the same family as onions, chives, shallots and leeks. It’s cultivated for the distinct flavour of its bulb. Garlic is high in vitamins B6 and C, and contains several minerals including magnesium, potassium and calcium. Garlic also contains essential oils, glucose and fructose. 

Selecting Garlic 

When selecting garlic, choose plump, firm bulbs with tight cloves. Bulbs that appear drier, where the skin easily falls off, are likely old. If you slice open your garlic clove and notice that there is a green stem inside, this indicates that your garlic is sprouting and past its prime. It is still okay to use the clove, but some find this green stem to be bitter and pungent. Simply remove the green stem prior to cooking. 

Using Garlic In Your Cooking 

One raw garlic clove, finely minced or pressed releases more flavor than a dozen cooked whole cloves. When garlic cloves are cooked or baked whole, the flavor mellows into a sweet, almost nutty flavor that hardly resembles any form of pungency. This nutty flavor makes a surprisingly nice addition to desserts, such as brownies or even ice cream. I also bake whole heads of garlic when I am making pumpkin soups. 

You can increase the health benefits you receive from garlic by letting it sit after you’ve chopped it or crushed it. If you give your chopped/crushed garlic time to sit before changing its temperature (through cooking) it will give the alliinase enzymes in garlic an opportunity to become active and this offers great health benefits, let it rest for about 8 minutes. 

Garlic-CookingGarlic and Heat 

When sautéing garlic, be very careful not to burn it. The flavour turns intensely bitter, and you’ll have to start over. Never put garlic into very hot oil. Oil heated over a medium heat will let the garlic release its wonderful taste infusing the oil. 

The smaller you cut it, the stronger the flavour. Chopping finely and/or pressing a clove exposes more surfaces to the air, causing a chemical reaction to produce that strong aroma and potent flavour. This is even more so when you have fresh garlic at the beginning of the harvest season.

If you have a good garlic press, you don’t even need to peel garlic cloves before pressing, which can be a wonderful time-saver. Just place the unpeeled clove in the tool cavity, press and discard the skins left in the cavity. 

Garlic

Garlic-KitchenI have been asked many times why garlic is so good for us. In this blog I offer up reasons as well as some tips to get the best from garlic. 

Allium sativum, commonly known as garlic, is a species in the onion genus, Allium. Its close relatives include the onion, shallot, leek, chive. Garlic has a history of human use of over 7,000 years and is native to central Asia. 

Garlic is a wonderful seasoning to add aroma, taste, and added nutrition to your dishes. I recommend using raw chopped or pressed garlic in many of your dishes to take advantage of the benefits derived from garlic. 

You can increase the health benefits you receive from garlic by letting it sit after you’ve chopped it or crushed it. If you give your chopped/crushed garlic time to sit before changing its temperature (through cooking) it will give the alliinase enzymes in garlic an opportunity to become active and this offers great health benefits. 

What this means is that the Allicin that is present in garlic has time to form properly. I let garlic rest for 8-10 minutes before I start to cook with it. This resting vastly improves the health benefits of garlic. 

For more on the health benefits of garlic follow this link to an article from Dr Mercola 

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/09/23/garlic-health-benefits.aspx 

Garlic-Braid-WebGrowing Garlic 

Garlic is a very easy plant to grow. It takes up very little room and if you prepare the soil you are planting into all it should need is to keep the soil moist. 

In general, the best times for planting are mid-autumn or early spring. Garlic needs a lot of full sun, but it might tolerate partial shade provided it’s not for very long during the day or growing season. The soil must be well dug over and crumbly. Sandy loam is best. 

Break up each bulb into cloves (little segments), it is these segments which you plant not the whole bulb. 

Bury each clove (segment) finger depth, at least 5 cm (2 inches) below the ground (twice as deep as the length of the clove). Space the cloves you are planting 20cm (8 inches) apart. 

Garlic is happy growing in pots and containers, in a pot the size of a kitchen bucket you can plant about 6 cloves of garlic. All that is required is good drainage, a position in full sun and good potting mix. 

Harvesting and Storage 

Loosen the area around each bulb with a shovel. Pull the bulbs out of the ground. Be careful with the digging process, since garlic tends to bruise easily.  

Wash them and leave to dry in a well-ventilated space or in the sun for a few days if rain is guaranteed not to fall. Garlic can get sunburned, so don’t leave them outside for too long. 

Store garlic in a cool, dry place in your home. Dried bulbs can be kept in a garlic keeper (usually made from pottery), and individual cloves can be pulled off as needed. 

Planting for a Winter Vegetable Garden

What to plant now

Plant broccoli, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, Brussels sprouts, endive, kale, leeks, lettuce, silverbeet, spinach and radish.

Sow broad beans directly into well-limed soil. Peas can also be sown straight into the ground.

Now’s the time to plant onions, including shallots and spring onions. They like a sunny, sheltered spot in limed soil. Shallots and spring onions can easily be grown in containers.

Container Grown Garlic

Time To Plant Garlic

Plant garlic cloves in a light, well-drained soil in full sun. Dig in plenty of compost and well-rotted manure before planting, or a general fertiliser high in potash.

Garlic from the supermarket is often sprayed with an anti-sprouting chemical, so buy cloves from a garden centre or mail-order nursery. Plant cloves just below the soil surface, 10cm apart.

Plant strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries and currants.

Plant citrus trees in a sunny, well-drained position. In cold areas, wait until after the risk of severe frost has passed.

Feeding and Maintenance

Feed leafy vegetables, including lettuce, silverbeet, spinach, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli, with a high nitrogen fertiliser. Leeks will also benefit from a regular feed.

Cut back and divide globe artichokes.

Divide rhubarb and replant into well-manured soil.

Mulch fruit trees and berry fruit plants to prevent weeds, which compete for nutrients.

Sprinkle a generous handful of Dolomite lime to each square metre around deciduous fruit trees.

In warmer regions, prepare a bed in advance for early potatoes. Dig soil over to aerate it, and add compost. If you have a green crop, dig it in and add some blood and bone. Potatoes like a rich, well-drained soil. Your bed should be ready for planting in a few weeks. Meanwhile, leave seed potatoes in open trays in good light to sprout. Potatoes can be planted out when shoots are 2.5-3cm long.

Vegetable and Flower Gardening In a Small Area

Vegetable & Flower Gardening In a Small Area – By Jimmy Boswell – Gluten Free Chef

You don’t need a large area to grow fresh vegetables, herbs and fruits. In many respects you don’t even need a garden. Over the years plant breeders have been developing varieties of plants designed to be grown in a small area or in containers. They have also focused on taste and high yields from small plantings.
 

Positives for container gardening
  • Don’t have to worry about weeds
  • Less garden pest problems
  • Self-watering planters means you can water less
  • Great for porches, decks, patios, and balconies
  • Easy to control soil health

The Small Vegetable Plot – Kids Can Grow

I am a keen advocate of small container gardens. When there is little or no space for a conventional garden planting a few pots and containers with some vegetables and herbs can be very rewarding both in the produce that you grow as well as the fun and happiness that it offers.
It is also something that you can get the kids involved with. Being in containers there is very little weeding required and kids can have their own pots growing things that they like to eat. They can care for their plants, watch them grow and when they harvest, the smiles on their faces is priceless.

I had my own little plot in the main vegetable garden and I remember digging, planting and harvesting, with a little help from Dad. I loved picking my produce and was always proud of what I grew.

Kids Gardens

Always, set space aside in your garden for the kids. Choose plants that are fun and easy to grow. Good plants for kids’ gardens are cherry tomatoes, herbs, sunflowers, and edible plants.

 
Diversify kids gardening plants to include various smells, textures, and tastes (like Mint) to keep them interested.

Container gardening is also great for kids. If worried about the kids getting messy, container gardening is great choice.

Getting Started

As I have mentioned container gardening does not take a lot of space but there are a few considerations when starting.

Light/Sun

Vegetables need about 6 or more hours of sun each day. Without sun, the fruits will not ripen and the plants will be stressed. In Winter with lower sunshine hours there are a few crops that can survive in light shade, lettuce and other greens, broccoli, but if you can’t provide sun, you might want to reconsider having a vegetable container garden. More so if you are getting kids involved. The last thing you want is to have a poor result for the children.

Water

Vegetables also require regular watering. Without regular water vegetables will not fill out and some, like tomatoes, will crack open if suddenly plumped up with water after struggling without for awhile.

On my deck I have lots of containers with a wide variety of plants. I do not have a tap close so when I need to give them a good watering I have plastic containers that are larger than the pots with the plants in them. I fill these large pots with water and place the plants in them and let them soak. I usually mix some liquid fertilizer in the water and give them a food at the same time.


Soil/Potting Mix

Vegetables need a soil that is rich in organic matter. The potting mix/soil is important to the growth of all plants, but more so with vegetables, because even taste is affected by the quality of the mix you are growing them in.

With a potting mix rich in organic matter it will not only help plants to grow but will also retains moisture.
Specialised Varieties

When you are looking for plants to grow in containers look for plants labeled with terms or words such as patio, pixie, tiny, baby or dwarf.

These will be varieties that have been bread for containers. Just because a plant is bred to be small doesn’t mean the fruits will be small or the yield will be less.

Herb Gardens

Herbs are generally pretty easy to grow and hearty. They need loose, well drained soil. But do not require a lot of attention. You can inter-plant with vegetables to use herbs for organic pest control. Or plant a separate herb container. It is a good idea to plant perennial herbs like chives, lavender, mints, oregano, rosemary, thyme, tarragon.

Planting herbs is a great way to supplement a small vegetable garden, too. Say you just decide on a few tomato plants. Growing herbs expands what you can cook with those tomatoes. Or just slice them fresh with a few sprigs of basil. Fresh foods are good on their own, too!

A Love of Thyme

 

Thyme is a herb I use in a lot of my cooking. It features in a lot of Sicilian, Italian and Greek dishes. It holds up very well when used in slow cooker or casserole dishes.

Garden thyme is a bush with gray-green leaves on a thin, woody stem and is a member of the mint family.

It is a herb that can be used both fresh and dried, whole or ground. It has a strong, sometimes pungent but has a pleasant flavor, resembling a blend of cloves and sage with mint notes.

Most common variety for cooking is English thyme. Other varieties include lemon thyme and caraway thyme. It has a subtle pine and lemon and spice flavor. It is versatile and widely complementary, but can overwhelm delicate foods. Use liberally but carefully. Thyme also combines well with rosemary, basil, and garlic.

Thyme is native to theMediterranean, which makes it a popular ingredient in Italian and Greek cooking. In the Mediterranean basin, it grows wild on the “hot, arid hillsides where it has infinitely more flavor than it ever achieves in cooler regions.

I always have some dried thyme in my spice rack but at the end of the day, fresh is best.

Cooking with Thyme is a little different that many others herbs. The leaves should be taken off their stalks. They can add a woody or stringy element to a dish that’s un-needed. It should be chopped finely and added early in the cooking to get rid of the strong bitter flavour of the fresh leaf that it can develop.

It’s wonderful in poultry, fish, and vegetable dishes and in slow cooked stews and soups. Its flavor blends well with many other herbs. Chopped fresh leaves are much more pungent than dried.

Thyme can be used with nearly all the meats, including seafood and shellfish. It can also be used to flavour egg dishes, casseroles and soups.If you are lucky enough to be able to grow your own, Keep in mind that thyme leaves are sweetest if picked just as the flowers appear.

When cooking with thyme, be aware that one fresh sprig equals the flavoring power of one-half teaspoon of dried thyme.

It is preferable to strip the leaves from the stems for your recipes when using either dry or fresh thyme because sometimes the stems can be woody. This is easily accomplished by placing the stem between the tines of a fork and pulling the stem in the opposite direction of the leaf growth. Of course, you can also use your fingers instead of a fork.

Some Uses

Add whole sprigs or chopped leaves at any stage of cooking. Thyme is a uniquely adaptable herb for meats, seafood, and summer and winter vegetables. Use springs in bouquet garni to fully flavor stocks, sauces and soups.

Add sprigs to slow-roasted tomatoes, braises, and pasta sauces to add depth. Infuse sprigs in poaching liquids for fruit desserts and in cream for caramel sauce.

Rub chopped leaves (fresh or dried) into beef, lamb, veal, or pork before roasting. Sprinkle over eggs, cheese dishes, vegetables, fish, or poultry. Add to soups, stews, stuffings, and rice. Brew into tea with a little rosemary and mint.

Lemon thyme can be used in cooking in much the same way as common thyme. The flavor is less pungent and distinctly lemony. It is particularly tasty in stuffing for veal and poultry. Mix chopped leaves into custards, puddings, and whipped-cream toppings. Sprinkle lightly over fresh strawberries and other acidic fruits.

Whether you grow them yourself or purchase them, herbs are the best, most healthy way to season your food. Farmers markets are a great place to get fresh and dried herbs.

Vegetable Freezing

Vegetable Freezing

Autumn is here and for many people its harvest time and as Autumn gets into full swing there lots of vegetables to be saved. 

Successful freezing depends on how quickly you can reduce the temperature of the food. Slow freezing may not make the food inedible but will affect flavour and, more importantly, nutritional value. Fast freezing halts bacterial growth instantly and produces very small ice crystals, which causes less damage to the cell structure of the food.
Before you commence preparing food for freezing you should turn your freezer on to its super or fast setting – preferably 3 hours or so before. This just keeps the motor running and drops the temperature as low as possible. When the food goes into the freezer it will cause the temperature to rise as the food cools. The super setting ensures the food already there remains at optimum temperature and the food being frozen cools as quickly as possible.

Do not try to freeze too much in one go – never more than 10% of the freezer capacity at a time.Also, the colder the food when it goes into the freezer, the less work the freezer has to do.

 

Vegetable Freezing Outline

Blanching time is in boiling water. Unless otherwise noted, chilling time in ice water should be the same as blanching time.
Vegetable
Preparation
Blanching Time/ Chilling Time
Asparagus
Wash and sort stalks according to size, discarding blemished stalks. Break off ends. Stalks may be left whole or cut into 30-50mm long pieces.
average diameter stalks – 3 minutes thicker stalks – 4 minutes.
Green Beans
Snap off tips. Rinse, then cut or break into desired sizes or freeze smaller beans whole.
3-1/2 minutes.
Italian Snap Beans
Wash, snap off ends and slice into 1″ to 1-1/2″ pieces.
3-1/2 minutes.
Beets
For young, tender beets-
Remove tops and cook until tender. Chill, then remove skins. Leave small beets whole. For medium to large beets, slice or cut into pieces. Pack into freezer boxes or bags.
not applicable
Broccoli
Remove leaves and tough ends. Cut through stalks lengthwise, leaving stems with 1″ to 1-1/2″ diameter heads, or cut into pieces. Soak in salt water (2 tablespoons salt to 1 quart water) to remove any insects and larvae. Rinse with tap water and drain.
pieces – 4 minutes
stems – 5 minutes.
Brussels Sprouts
Wash and trim any tough outer leaves. Soak in salt water (2 tablespoons salt to 1 quart water) to remove any insects and larvae. Rinse with tap water and drain.
medium sprouts – 4 minutes
large sprouts – 5 minutes.
Carrots
Remove tops, peel, and wash. Cut into 1/4″ thick slices.
3-1/2 minutes.
Cauliflower
Remove leaves, trim and wash. Split into individual 1″ to 1-1/2″ pieces. Soak in salt water (2 tablespoons salt to 1 quart water) to remove any insects and larvae. Rinse with tap water and drain.
4 minutes.
Corn-on-the-Cob
Husk, remove silk and trim off ends. Blanch in a large stockpot with 10 – 12 quarts of boiling water.
24 small ears, under 1-1/4″ diameter – 8 minutes
14 medium ears, 1-1/4″ to 1-1/2″ diameter – 8 minutes
10 large ears, over 1-1/2″ diameter – 11 minutes
Chilling time in ice water should be twice as long as blanching time
Corn – Cut from cob
Husk, remove silk and trim off ends. Use a corn cob cutter or a curved grapefruit knife to remove kernels from cob.
4-1/2 minutes
Kohlrabi
Remove tops, wash, peel and cut into 1/2″ cubes.
2-1/2 minutes.
Mushrooms
Wash and remove stems. Freeze smaller mushrooms whole
Cut medium and large mushrooms into 1/4″ slices.
To prevent browning, add 1 tablespoon lemon juice or 1/2 teaspoon ascorbic acid per quart of blanching water.
small whole mushrooms – 4 minutes
sliced mushrooms – 3 minutes.
Onions
Chopped onions can be packed and frozen without blanching To freeze larger pieces of onions or small whole onions – Peel onions, wash, and cut into quarter sections (except very small whole onions).
1-1/2 minutes
Green Peas, shelled
Wash and shell peas.
1-1/2 to 2 minutes
Sugar Peas or Edible Pod Peas
Wash; Remove stems and blossom ends; Leave whole.
2-1/2 to 3 minutes
Peppers
Chopped bell peppers can be packed and frozen without blanching.
For pepper halves or slices…Wash, remove stem and seeds. Cut in halves or slices
halves – 3 minutes
slices – 2 minutes.
Pumpkin
Cut; scoop out seeds; peel; and cut into pieces. Bake or steam until tender. Cool, then strain in a ricer, food mill or process in a food processor until smooth. Pack into containers and freeze.
not applicable
Spinach
Sort; remove any blemished leaves and tough stems; Wash.
1-1/2 to 2 minutes
Zucchini
Select 5″ to 7″ long, tender zucchini. Wash, peel and cut into 1/4″ to 1/2″ slices.
1/4″ slices – 3 minutes
1/2″ slices – 4 minutes
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