Gardening and the pleasure of sharing

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A few years ago one autumn afternoon travelling through the countryside northwest of Sydney, I came upon a roadside stall selling figs.

There is nothing I enjoy more than picking up supplies this way.  There were a number of different varieties to choose from along with some fig trees in pots available for purchase.  Being a keen gardener and growing my own figs, I had loads of questions about their gardening techniques and the varieties they were growing.

Gardeners can talk forever, eager to learn from one another.  As we chatted away, I had noticed that they didn't have the variety that I was growing.  Mine had been given to me by another keen gardener, it was the smallest cutting in a little pot.  I had nurtured it and it had grown into a lovely big tree.  Once again I had been on a road trip in the country and this gentleman had taken the time to show me all his trees and share his secrets on growing figs.  After sharing the story of my fig tree, I had offered to come back in the winter with some cuttings.

To their surprise I turned up one winters' afternoon with the cuttings.  They were delighted and promised to grow another tree for me, I was to get in touch the following year.  I wrote their business name on my kitchen blackboard so I wouldn't forget and there it stayed for many years as due to illness my driving around the countryside had been temporarily put on hold.  Friends occasionally would enquire about the name "figlicious" on the board as it stayed there year after year and I never stopped thinking about whether the cuttings had been successful.

Finally this autumn I made a visit and they invited me to see the farm.  How special it was to be shown around and to see all the trees that had grown from a handful of cuttings years earlier.  I was in fig heaven eating fresh figs picked directly from the tree.  I was told that the cuttings that I had given them many years ago were in fact known as "Baida" which in arabic means "white" and is a little known variety originally from Persia, whose skin ripens to a beautiful yellow hew with lovely fragrant white flesh inside.

They had never forgotten that winters' afternoon when I had dropped off the handful of cuttings and had wondered what had happened to me.  They were as delighted as I was to meet up again.  With my boot loaded with figs they had kindly given me as a gift, I was reminded that this had all been due to not only the love of figs but of the love of gardening and the growing of ones own.  In my experience most if not all gardeners love to pass on cuttings or seeds so others can enjoy the pleasures they have experienced.

Baked Figs + Prosciutto + Goats Cheese + Salad
serves 4

8 figs
8 slices of prosciutto
150g roll of goats cheese
small packet of micro greens
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

Wash and dry the figs and cut the tops off of the stems.  Stand the figs upright and cut a cross about half way down but not all the way to the base.  Then with your thumb and forefinger slightly squeeze the base of the figs, this will make it easier to fill with the goats cheese.  Make sure the goats cheese is cold, just removed from the fridge, before cutting into 8 slices, as this makes it easier to slice.  Fill each fig with a slice of cheese.  Wrap a slice of prosciutto around each fig then place them on a paper lined baking tray.  Bake in a pre-heated 200C oven for ten minutes or until the prosciutto is crispy and the cheese softened and toasted on top.  Remove from the oven and serve immediately with the salad. While the figs are baking, wash and spin the micro greens.  Mix the olive oil and pomegranate molasses together and set aside.  Place the salad on individual serving plates and serve two figs per person.  Drizzle with the dressing and sprinkle with salt.

Fig + Buffalo Mozzarella + Watercress salad

12 ripe figs
1 bunch of watercress
small packet of micro greens
6 buffalo mozzarella
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

Wash and dry the figs and cut the tops off of the stems.  Cut the figs in half.  Wash the micro greens and watercress thoroughly and spin dry.  Tear the mozzarella in half and then into quarters.  Place the prepared micro greens and watercress on a plater, then place the figs and mozzarella on top of the greens.  Drizzle with the dressing and sprinkle with salt to taste.

Note:  I use a pomegranate molasses that has no added sugar or colour.  I also like to use figs that are about to split their skins, this means I don't have to worry about cutting a cross in the top instead I turn them up upside down and with my thumb and forefinger I squeeze them open.

Figs + Yoghurt + Rosewater


Wash and dry the figs and cut the tops off of the stems.  Cut in half and then into quarters.  Place the figs in a bowl with yoghurt and splash with rosewater. Enjoy this for breakfast or as a snack anytime.

You may have noticed that there aren't any serving suggestions here.  I leave that to your discretion, enjoy.

Foraging for Blackberries

Saturday, March 15, 2014

There is something quite addictive about foraging for food or anything for that matter.  I do believe that it could in fact be genetic as I always have an instinctive need to know what's in season and available waiting to be foraged.

This was definitely the case on a recent trip to Tasmania.  I jumped at an opportunity to join Megan Morton, Australia's leading stylist, in Tasmania for her interstate programme of The School.  It was late summer early autumn, where the days are warm and long and the weather balmy, the days linger and the variety of late summer fruit plentiful.  As Autumn beacons the autumn fruits ripen and early varieties are begging to be picked.

Driving through the countryside, I had noticed only four weeks earlier, that there were plenty of blackberry bushes lining the roadside ladened with unripe berries.  I had made a mental note and this trip I was eager to see if they were ready to pick.  Not fazed by the fact that I was travelling and didn't have anything to put my beautiful black jewels in, I headed off to the local secondhand store and bought a large jar.  I found a spot off the main road and picked and ate blackberries to my hearts content with just the sound of the buzzing bumble bees and the birds to keep me company.

I never have a problem knowing what to do with my foraged loot. I often have too many ideas though and sometimes have to narrow the choices down to one or two.  Megan had asked me to provide some refreshments for the classes being held through The School so, as the weather was still warm and balmy, I decided to serve something cool and refreshing.

My first choice was blackberries with raspberries and strawberries with a splash of rose water.  This brings out the flavour of the berries, without the need for sugar, served with mascarpone cream.  The other option was blackberry lemon verbena panna cotta.  I decided to make this instead on my return home.

Blackberry + Raspberry + Strawberry  Mascarpone Cream

250 grams blackberries
250 grams raspberries
250 grams strawberries
2 tablespoons rose water

Wash and drain the berries, then place them in a bowl and add the rose water.  Leave to infuse for an hour before serving.  Always serve berries at room temperature this allows the flavour of the berries to be at their best.

Mascarpone Cream

150 grams mascarpone
150 grams creme fraiche or a thick creamy yoghurt

Place mascarpone and creme fraiche in a bowl and stir together.  You can add some raw honey if you wish or a splash of rose water according to your taste.  I find by adding creme fraiche or yoghurt to the mascarpone makes it less rich however feel free to just use mascarpone.

To serve place berries in glass or china bowls and top with mascarpone cream.

Lemon Verbena Blackberry Panna Cotta

600 ml cream
1 cup of lemon verbena leaves
juice of a lemon
2 sheets of gelatine

Place the cream, verbena leaves and the juice of a lemon in a saucepan and slowly bring to a simmer.  Remove from the heat and allow the leaves to infuse.  Place the gelatine sheets in a bowl of water for about 3-4 minutes or until soft.  Then squeeze the water from the gelatine sheets and add to the saucepan of hot cream.  Place the saucepan back on the heat and whisk gently until the gelatine is completely dissolved, do not boil.

Pour the mixture through a sieve into a heat proof jug to remove the verbena leaves, allow to cool slightly. Pour into little glasses for serving and place in the refrigerator overnight to set.

If you can't find lemon verbena leaves use the zest of a lemon instead.

For those of you who don't follow a Paleo lifestyle feel free to add a dessert spoon of raw honey to the warm cream prior to pouring into little glasses.  The blackberry compote does add a sweetness of its own.  I have found this to be more than sweet enough without having to resort to honey.

Blackberry Compote

350 grams blackberries fresh or frozen
1 tablespoon of water

Keep a few blackberries aside for garnishing then place remaining berries and water in a saucepan and bring gently to a simmer until berries are soft and juicy.  Remove from the heat and pour through a sieve over a heat proof jug and use the back of a wooden spoon to push the berries through.  Set aside until cool then keep in the refrigerator until ready to serve.  I find the berries sweet enough without the need to add sweetener, however feel free to add if you wish.

To serve, remove from the refrigerator and pour some blackberry compote over the top of the panna cotta and sprinkle a few of the reserved berries.

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