On July 4th this year I started to blog my family recipes and stories for my family and friends. I am in another country from most of you. It is not as good as sitting around a table and eating and yarning with you all but I feel a little closer to you documenting the stories and sharing my food this way, whilst taking you through the gates of our little farm for tiny tiki tours. AND along the way I discovered that my family is growing and I am making new friends and renewing connections with my old friends!. SO for you all .. (bow).. here is a 2 month blog birthday surprise. Just in time for your labor day desserts and pre-spring picnics in jackets and hatties. Drum roll please!! I believe TA DA is the appropriate word. I made you MERINQUES!
Marvellous Merinques. And they are so delish! Oh no. Poor you. What a mean gift. You cannot tap them or smell them or bite them to feel the crackle and then chew the melty bit inside. What a cruel woman I am. (chomp, chomp, lick fingers, swallow, smack of sugary lips).
However all is not lost. I do not have to smash them flat and send them in a card for you. I will show you how to make them. And when you make an enormous mess, crunching your way through them, you can sing happy blog birthday, celi. Now keep in mind that my mother spent years perfecting making merinques. So we must be respectful. Solemn faces please. Like me she had a gas stove, but she found a way and I will share it with you. And I heard a few of you have been bemoaning your fate at having an electric oven but the good news is merinques cook better using dry electricity.
Now this has been a heavily guarded secret family recipe (though not as heavily guarded and secret as the pavlova)- so, ssshh, don’t tell anyone.
They are remarkably easy and very fast in the prep.
I told you they were simple. That is your total ingredients list!
Whisk egg whites until fluffy and proud. With beater still going strong – trickle the sugar in as slowly as you can, no – even slower than that – add half the sugar and beat until peaky. Mix the baking powder with the last of the sugar and slowly FOLD this in. You are adding air. Now with a teaspoon and a twist to get that dear little peak, pop little meringues onto a buttered and floured baking (cookie) sheet.
Into the oven at 250 for 10 minutes then turn down to 150 for one to two hours (if they start to brown turn the oven down some more), until they move across the sheet when you push them and are hard on the outside. Then turn the oven off. DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR AGAIN. Leave to cool in there. When the oven is quite cold you can retrieve them, in an electric oven you can leave them in overnight!
I so look forward to seeing what you eat these little darlings with. They are wonderful with all kinds of desserts. But for me. I eat them with freshly whipped, heavy, whole, decadent, real, unsweetened whipped cream, (from a cow) using nothing but my sticky fingers and drinking a glass of cold fruity Sangria with lots of lemon from Kay. See summer is not coming to an end! No more of that talk!
Now, these are simple, but every oven will cook differently so sometimes you need to tweak the times and temps. But always turn off at the end and leave in there to cool. They store very well in a sealed container, or lovely glass jar.
Have fun. Have a great weekend.
My Mother had a Purple Suit. But we only saw it once.
Today I have to get some house work done. I am a butterfly housekeeper. I flit from room to room about the house, gently flapping my wings in the heat and wondering why it is that I have come to this room anyway and wishing I was outside. I am at the dining room table, tidying,…is that a hummingbird moth outside the window, wait where is my camera, oh look I made a note about Mums purple suit, mm, where is my big notes pad, A3 should not be that hard to find. Where did this empty wine glass come from? Oh I had better dust the vitrola, there’s that picture of Great Aunt Sis, now where are Great Aunt Sis’ pearls. I think they are in this drawer, look, there is my pocket knife, is that Hairy Mclairy (sheep) I can hear bleating, Now, where is my dog, oh there he is on the verandah, gee my hanging canvas chair looks comfy, oh look at all those tomatoes on the harvest table, I better bring them in and start some more summer sauce, this kitchen needs cleaning, etc, etc, etc.
And you see I write at the same time, on the backs of envelopes, torn off bits of paper, paper towels, bank statements, shopping lists, margins in the newpaper. My ideas cannot wait, they must be written immediately or lost forever. And the little bits of paper get condensed into the big planning book. So as I attempt to house-keep I will find these little notes and drift with a handful of unfolded clean laundry, or a half dried saucepan, or cheese knife back to my desk in my cool summer study, make some vague notes and start to write again.
Ok, phew, housekeeping is exhausting. My Mother did have a purple suit. And I will tell you about it. It is a very short story. But made her laugh for years.
My Mother was going out to some kind of gathering with my Father. She was wearing a brand new purple suit. Maybe purple is too bold a word for the fabric, it was lilacy i suppose. As a child I thought it was quite awful, though I would give at least a tooth to have it now. It was a jacket and a skirt. The skirt straight, with a kick pleat and a trifle shorter than my mother usually wore. A slim long jacket that reached the hem of the skirt. In my memory the fabric was a little bit shiny but it was pre-miami Vice so I would say it was some kind of wool. She had cleaned her diamonds with toothpaste and a tooth brush that she kept specifically for this purpose, clipped on her gold bangles, a little foundation, red lipstick blotted on a tissue, black heels, spray of perfume, pat of the hair, kiss kiss, green eyes shining, hanky into the handbag and off they went.
They were back much sooner than expected. Here is what happened.
They were still at the appetisers stage, the men mooching about in one corner, the women mingling with their triangular handbags hanging on their arms, a little plate and nibbles. My mother was gregarious, she loved people and so was happily chatting, in her broken voice, with her friends, when she saw to her absolute horror that there was ANOTHER woman in the room wearing the SAME suit in the SAME colour. Oh the poor woman she thought. My mother ducked slightly and cast about for Dad. When in doubt find Dad.
She gave him The Sign. He was confused by The Sign so early in the evening and so she had to move closer, stepping out of her ring of friends and gave him the sign again. We have to GO. She simply could not stay in the same room, they must leave.
Then the woman appeared in front of my Mother. Loudly proclaiming: Oh look we are wearing the same suit, where did you get yours? My mother, casting stricken glances about for Dad, smiled sweetly and mumbled something. She never told me what. Trying to extracate herself from this conversation, before the woman became embarrassed. She just felt terrible for her because obviously my Mother looked better in that suit. The poor woman. So the story goes.
My mother put down her tiny plate, she had not met this woman before she must be new, then noticed that the lady had food on her face, a little something had caught on her chin. My mother felt doubly dreadful for the woman and trying to be kind, made those universal Food on Face motions. The woman, oblivious, just kept chatting about this happy purple coincidence. So stepping closer my mother’s hand darted in (of its own volition evidently) and wiped the food off the womans face! But it would not move, so she quickly pecked at the stuff with her thumb and finger every so delicately, to pull it off. But it was attached to the womans chin. My mother had hold of a HAIR on the womans chin and was pulling at it!
My mother was so mortified, she smiled an apology, shook her handbag higher into her elbow, raised her head, tried very hard not to look at her friends who were open-mouthed and about ready to roar laughing and exited the premises immediately, to wait for my father in the car.
When she got home she sat on my bed and told my sisters and I this terrible tale, eyes alive with laughter and horror, her hand over her mouth. She never wore the suit again.
Now back to my relocation housework.
Do you remember The Marlboro Man? The cowboy hat, the look, oh God that look. Back in the bad old days before Politically Correct Behaviour and the ugly C word, there were cigarette advertisements. Shock, horror and all that. A long campaign for Marlboro Cigarettes featuring the sexiest men in the world. Well when I was 16, I sure thought so. Do you remember the Marlboro Man?
I just wanted to make sure that you knew what the Marlboro Man looked like because I almost married him once. Oh well, yes you are right, there were more than one. So just roll them all together, the swagger, the slim hips, those shoulders, those boots. That look! The pick-up truck. The horse. That dip down to light his cigarette. Got him in your minds eye. Whether you loved him or hated him you have to admit that guy was all sex.
Now let us time travel back to teenage Celi. I passed my drivers license on my 15th birthday, well you could in those days. In fact the traffic cop who took me for my test said ‘You’re not a bad driver, you’re just not a very good one!’ Huh. Well it goes without saying that I went to sit my test in my convent girl school uniform!
My Dad had bought a little white mini van for the teenagers of the house to drive. So this one sunny summer morning I had stuffed my books into a bag, grabbed a towel and my confiscated bikini top that I had confiscated back without my Mothers actual knowledge, so it wasn’t really stealing and driven out to Ocean Beach by myself. I would read and work on joining all my freckles together into something resembling a tan. We were not allowed to sunbathe on the beach at home because Mum said it was bad for your skin. We had no idea what she was on about! It was hot. Dry. Perfect. The beach was delicious, I lazed about for a few hours swam, read, you know the thing.
Fast forward. I was on my way home. The windows down, radio blaring when I felt the tell-tale wiggle of an approaching flattie (flat tire). So I pulled over, driving in bare feet as you do and climbed out. Sure enough. The tell tale hiss. Not a problem, as kids we had been thoroughly coached by our dad on how to change a tire. In fact he used to send the girls out to rotate the tyres on his Rover just for the practice. What the boys were doing I have no idea, probably baking cupcakes or something. I proceeded to get out the spare, and the tools. I was dragging the jack into place (no mean feet in a long summer skirt and barefoot) when I heard a truck rattle to a stop behind my car. I looked up and guess who I saw.
You guessed it Laurel and Hardy but ancient, Laurel and Hardy gone bad and in messy old fishing garb. Two gents were beginning a slow descent from an old rattly truck. One emerged really really Tall and one really really Fat. Both pushing eighty or maybe ninety, well now that I think about it they could have been approaching a hundred. They were clambering down with great difficulty from their truck. Muttering and talking to themselves like these old codgers do. Thrilled to bits about having discovered a damsel in distress. All in flickery slow motion. The really fat one sort of toppled tippsely over and collapsed weazing onto the spare tire. Oh, we’ll do that, he said as he took the spannery thing out of my hand, and he proceeded to mash at the bolts, or lugs or whatever you call them. By this time Tall had reached us. He moved very, very slowly, it became painfully obvious that he was afraid that one or other of his limbs may fall off at any minute, every movement considered.
So to make a long story a trifle shorter, Tall had a bad back and could not bend over, Fat had bad knees and could not stand for long. There was a lot of heaving and creaking, and mumbling and sighing and huffing and puffing and that was just getting the pair of them situated in front of the flat tyre. I had to physically close my mouth a dozen times. No, no we’re fine lass don’t you worry. Together, though, they seemed to have worked out a way to create one reasonably useful old man. They told me to sit on the bank, don’t stand in my light. Watch out for the traffic, did I want a wee tipple? Oh no, probably too young. We will take care of this. Well I will just wet my whistle, don’t you worry, you will be on your way in no time. They worked at the lugs or whatever you call them, Tall ended up standing on the wrench to loosen a couple while Fat held it in place. Tall shoved the jack in and Fat jacked up the car. Together they levered the bad tire off. Then Fat swapped tire seats and they rolled the spare into place.
With enormous difficulty, no thats fine girlie we have it, they were trying to lift the spare tire on (mainly Fat as he was the low man, Tall holding it upright) when I heard a truck stop across the narrow country road. I stood up and looked across. The truck door opened and all I could see were The Marlboro mans boots, then his long long legs encased in those studio jeans. He unfolded himself out of his cab, his body lean and strong, turned to reveal a rebellious thick blonde mane of hair that blew up in the gentle summer breeze. He stood to his full height, adjusted his belt with two hands and smiled straight at me.
I was ablaze with light I am sure. I simply glowed at him. The soundtrack burst into violins and cellos and the birds sung the melody. I was 16 and I was in love. An unbearably handsome man was smiling at me! I mean I had beaten up and sometimes shouted actual words at my older brothers friends . One fell out of a row boat into the sea once and hit me in the face, with his head, when I was swimming. He apologised in a spluttery way, which was kind of intimate I suppose, if you didn’t count the black eye. But you see I went to a girls convent school. No man, no real grown up man had ever smiled straight at me before… well not like that. Choirs of angels. Pan in the woods. I almost fell flat on my face from lack of oxygen. I wished I had been wearing something more flattering other than this silly little hand me down top that didn’t fit properly and my long batik wrap around that only showed my bare toes!. And why was I so thin, I had no curves. I knew that men were meant to like curves. My Dad said that he could rent me to a deer hunter cause I was so thin. I could just sidle up to the deer and bonk it on the head with a stick. Save on bullets. That thin. A deer would not notice me. Thanks Dad. But the Marlboro Man noticed me. He smiled at me and said
‘You need any help?’ Oh , that smoky deep voice. Oh, he wanted to help me. My knees trembled. I opened my mouth to speak, drew in a breath. Mouth gobbing like a fish. Then Tall popped up from behind my tiny car, like an ancient jack-in-the-box stringing himself out to his full considerable height, dropped the tire which rolled onto Fat. Fat grunted, struggling against the tire, weazing to his feet. Hauling himself up the side of my car And before I could even make a sound. “Nope!” the old fella’s bellowed in unison. Their voices were suddenly strong and hale and hearty. “Nope, no we’re right. She’ll be right mate, Thanks.. yup, yup, mumble mumble” and DISMISSED my Marlboro Man with a wave of their stained and gnarled old hands. Then, galvanised, soaking up energy, they shot back into place hauling the tire onto the pins and practically twirling the wrench! Suddenly they were twenty years younger. Straightening their backs and rounding their chests. Eyes glinting. Off with you young chappy!
I turned and looked at Marlboro Man and he looked back at me. He raised his eyebrows. you ok? I looked at my old men as they muttered to each other, their youth pulsing alongside their age and looking back at my Marlboro Man, standing beside his truck, shimmering in the afternoon heat, an Adonis (in jeans). I raised my eyebrows back, with a shift of my bony shoulders and a head tilted to my old men and a nod. Marlboro Man lifted his head in assent, slid back into his truck and just drove away. As he drove off I realised that he had new tires in the back of his truck and a big Dunlop sign on the side. I am not making this up! He was a tire man! He would have had tools and everything.
Fat, now sitting on the deflated tire, taking another quick swig of his medicine, muttered ‘Showed that young buck!’ This is exactly what he said, I have never forgotton it. Tall snorted with satisfaction. And back to work they went. Darling, rusty old fellas. The whole thing had quite made their day.
I sat down again in my designated spot on the bank, watching the dust settle back down onto the road and could not help a small smile at my old knights in their battered grumbling armour as they worked on my car. Bless them.
In my accent scone rhymes with long. Just so’s you know. This blogging is such a silent affair. Because we are not making a scone that rhymes with bone today we are going to make light fluffy scones for which we long! Am I getting weird?
When I was growing up in the big house on the beach, overlooking Hawke Bay in New Zealand, I was the Martha of the household. I was the little cook. So when someone popped in for a cup of tea and a yarn, the catch cry was “Celi, can you whip us up a batch of scones?” So I would take my writing or the book I was reading into the kitchen and whip them up a batch of scones. Then eat mine hot in the kitchen with my books. My sisters were the Mary’s you see, even my mother was a Mary (her name was even Mary) and I was the Martha. I did not mind. I mean I really did not mind. Small talk is not my forte. Never has been and still is not. I am the one who says something completely out of context just as there is a chatter-pause. And you get that freeze of politely raised eyebrows- did she speak? Oh, I’m sorry, what was that dear? No. I was happier making scones and ferrying cups of tea in and out, while everyone else chatted, sitting on the couches in front of the big windows that overlooked the bright sea. In fact this second story room had a wall of windows and doors overlooking the bay so all the couches faced the sea – you could not turn your back on that view.
So when you hear the cry “Whip us up a batch of scones” from the Mary’s in your house – turn the oven on. Because you need a very hot oven. And it takes longer for an oven to heat up than it does to prepare your scones.
Quickly mix with your fingertips
Mix with spoon until you have a nice doughy ball.
Pat and shape gently. Set on buttered and floured cookie sheet and into your hot hot oven. Great Auntie Mid always said to cook scones for 5 minutes at 500. Which was fine on a big old coal range. In my gas oven I cooked this mornings scones for 10 minutes at 450.
The best bit is the variations. You can put almost anything you like in a scone. Or have them plain with a little sugar in the mix. This mornings were bacon and onion (add these at the flour stage) with cheese on top. My favourite are date scones with a sprinkle of sugar on top. Sultana scones were standard at the house on the beach. Another one I love is cheese and fresh parsley. If you add cheese you can decrease the butter a little.
Illinois was the fourth largest producer of wine grapes in the US up until Prohibition in 1919. Johns Great-grandmother being one of those paid up card carrying tough old prohibition women. I even have her prohibition prayer cards to prove it somewhere around here. During this period many vineyards were ripped out and put into corn and beans. My throat clenches at the thought. Sometimes a few vines were kept for (wink) ‘juice’. Since prohibition was lifted in 1933 the grapes have begun to slowly creep back into the state.
So Our John and I thought we would help out with the growth of local wine production. As our patriotic duty of course.
This year will be our first vintage. Though vintage is rather a grand term grand as I only have twenty vines producing so far. This is the third summer for these vines and so we are looking at a small but (fingers crossed) decadent harvest. I have planted Vidal Blanc. A sweet grape on a tough sub zero rootstock. It does not mind the terribly cold winters we have here and loves the dry breezy summers. This grape is perfect for those little bottles of sticky whites. Known as dessert wine in some circles. Later when I have more vines coming into production we will try our hand at an ice wine. But this season our objective is to get a nice quaffable wine into a bottle then back out again via a wine glass!
They have been grown organically so they are not the prettiest grapes. They were infested with the Japanese beetle a while ago so the vines are looking quite bare. Our trellisses and wires are sagging in some places. Those damn barn chooks spend way too much time in there. They were terribly pruned by a novice who is learning as she goes. But there are grapes there and this is the one crop that loves it dry at this time of year.
In Hawkes Bay in New Zealand, where I grew up, there are thousands of acres under grapes. The wine industry is huge and growing so fast. Each winery has a fancy pancy restaurant and tasting rooms and a wine cellar for their magnificent products. We trail around the vineyards every summer, tasting and giggling our way across Hawkes Bay. There are even wine trail bus tours (not that the locals need THOSE, in fact we make sure to avoid them). My favourite one to watch go by is a wine trail on horseback. The tourists get a guide and a horse and wander through the lazy Hawke’s Bay summer grapevines tasting as they go. They (the fun police) tried to make it illegal to ride a horse whilst drinking wine but the trails actually go through the vineyards so it is all good. Only very gentle, very slow, very patient, very sober horses need apply for this position! It is advertised as a good way to avoid drunk driving. ( My little brother was once charged with being ‘drunk and in charge of a bicycle with a pot on his head’ – he said he could not find his helmet and it is against the law to ride a bike without a helmet in NZ. Obviously a sensible chappie. He had not been on a wine trail though.)
For table grapes I have grown the Concord. I know I should be making jelly but they are so tasty I cannot stop myself eating them off the vine. I am the bad bird pecking at the grapes.
So we are watching the Vidal, they will be netted this week to keep the chickens and starlings out and then we will wait for the optimum day and BEGIN!
So the pasture is beginning to wane a bit. Not as much grass. At this time of year we put a harness on Daisy, the milk cow to be, and take her on a dog leash into the wild long grass. I am not kidding, I wander along (she will not be hurried) leading this cow – I come up to her shoulder, she is a bison of a cow. I lead this 1500 pound full grown Ayrshire like a dog, out the gate, around the outside of the fence and clip her to a long dog chain attached to a fence post. She has been doing this all her life and loves it because the leash and the click of the dog chain mean untouched long long green grass… her absolute fave! Click, click all good – I take her more water and will be back to shift her every few hours.
I meet Our John at the barn and we load another hundred bales of hay and straw. He takes more water to Daisy. I come in, the tomato sauce is on, the mail is in, I have posted my latest post and I am trying to decipher my grandmothers recipe for rissoles and I hear The Shout. If either of us hear The Shout we RUN straight out the door then dance around in circles like a bird dog, trying to get an idea of where the call for HELP has come from.
Another shout and I get the direction. I head South. As I run closer I hear what is being shouted. Which frankly cannot be repeated here (the language you know) but I got the jist of it, so I veer west, over a gate, grab the leash and a stray piece of rope back over another gate and jog North again.
Past where Daisy SHOULD be.. ok.. so now I am looking for John and a very tall escaped cow. I am running down the bank above the creek and I see nothing unusual, which only leaves the actual corn field. You will remember that we are surrounded on all four sides by corn fields. I appears that Daisy has escaped and is in the corn. This is not good. The corn is about 10 + foot high and thick. I can see nothing. Nothing.
TonTon and I dive into the corn, walk through about ten rows and then stop to listen, turning and peering down each row. We are blind in here there is nothing but corn stalks, soon I am not even sure which way I came in, so I watch TonTon listen, his ears veer to the west and so we walk that way for a bit going in deeper and deeper, another shout, it is muffled now but the general message is painfully clear, they are together and Our Johns language is very seriously in the gutter. I call back. I still only have a vague idea as to where they are. I am in a 60 acre field and that joins another field and another field right across the plains. I can see a scrap of sky above me and about five rows in on either side. It is suddenly very quiet. TonTon is trained to walk behind me, this command is ‘in behind’ and so this is where he is. I look at him, call him to the front and say ‘TonTon. See John.” (which means, find John) he is off, in fact he is instantly gone, and in seconds I am alone.. mm.. well that was useful. Then I hear him find John (one bark). I must be getting closer because I start to hear rustling, corn breaking, some new cuss words, and then Our John command ‘See C’ within a few seconds TonTon bursts into my row and barrels straight to me, panting. He turns and I follow him back towards John. Where did this man learn words like these, I smile as I move closer because he is alternating the most awful cussing with this sweet talk as he keeps Daisy calm and with him. So he is calling her all kinds of dreadful names in a sweet gentle voice. An unnerving combination.
Out of nowhere I see the paisley hide of the cow and the blue of Johns shirt, ‘TonTon down and stay’. I creep up and hand John his leash, then as he attaches his, I go around the other side and attach my rope to her harness. She is looking quite wild. But we have her now.
Ok, so Our John has her on one side and I have her on the other and we look at each other, eyebrows raised – which way is back?..(though it seems Our John has lost his sense of humour by now) .. mm…Daisy has begun to frantically pull every which way ripping off ears and munching on corn, sensing that her adventure is over.. BAD CORN too, Genetically Modified corn. I am completely lost. John looks up and with the instincts of a farm boy, heads out and I tell TonTon Go Home and he takes off in the same direction. And so we make for home, the rows are about 18inches apart and the plants about 4 inches together. Two adults being shouldered and shoved and stood on by a very annoyed cow means you are making your own trail out. There is very little room to maneuver in a corn field. We just hold onto her as she smashes and stomps her way destroying the perfect rows of corn until we erupt back out into the home orchard.
She is in a paddock now. No more tying out this summer. She has got a taste for the corn and there will be no stopping her dragging her chain and the fence with her. Poor naughty Daisy is supposed to be an organic GRASS fed cow! Ah well.
Those of you who have been in the corn fields with me before, the night the coyotes came, will notice that the corn is drying. The plant dries from the bottom up and is turning more golden every day. Soon it will begin it’s crackly whisper, my favourite sounds in the corn field. Any breath of air will set off a concert of bush stroke rustling in the field. It is worthy of a pause.
Now as promised: Grandmas rissoles
These are Grandma’s words. This is written in her beautiful copperplate handwriting as a big paragraph straight into my recipe book. I have placed the comma’s and full stops exactly where she placed them.
Left over mashed potatoes. Cold meat minced or cut into very small pieces, small onion chopped finely, parsley chopped, salt and pepper and a wee pinch of seasoning. Mix together, stir in with beaten egg. Dip hands in cold water and roll portion of the mix together then roll in flour, put into pan, all ready with really hot fat. Keep rissoles apart and shake pan frequently to prevent sticking. Remember to dip hands in cold water for rolling mix into balls.
Grandma was born in 1905 and died in the early 1990’s.
Actually I have her recipe for scones too, it is in my head, I will write that for you another time. Her scones were really good.
My grandfather, who we called Pa, loved rabbit stew. He had been a rabbiter in the Great Depression. After losing his trucking business, this was how he fed his family. He took his rifles, his old truck, his ammo and his dogs and drove up into the hills to hunt rabbits. He sold the pelts to the tanners and divided the meat out amongst the families.
In those times you grew and hunted your own food if you wanted to eat. This is how it was. I have only seen the pictures of the Depression of the 30’s in black and white so that time seems to have been lived sepia. Try as I might I cannot add colour. The depression left my grandmother with the same feeling. She was often querulous and scathing about the plenty that we had in the 70’s, which she directly compared to the Depression and so was bound and determined to teach us how to live frugally. For her it was a proper treat to walk into town and buy a cup of tea and a custard square. For us it was just a long walk.
So it was important to Pa and Grandma that we were all able to grow our own food, or hunt for it. That we could ‘make do’. As far as I know Pa only hunted rabbits, he never hunted anything else. He was not interested in an entire deer, he did not hunt for glory or antlers. He just wanted dinner. And My grandma cooked a mean rabbit stew. When I say mean that is exactly how it was. It was mean as in awful. My grandmother never grew out of her frugal use of ingredients and her overuse of salt as the only flavouring to a meal. I know it is fashionable to wax lyrical abut your grandmothers cooking but most of my grandmothers food turned me into a secretive hider of food. I could apparently put food into my mouth appear to chew and swallow, then put my hand to my mouth for a discreet cough and down the lump of inedible meat went to join the little freight train of childrens hands that were passing food under the table and dumping it into her pot plants, under cushions, behind chairs or into our mothers serviette for collecting later and feeding to the chooks when Grandma was not looking.
My Great-Aunts were the cooks of wonderful meals. My Grandma was the beautiful one. She really was a beautiful looking woman. She was dainty with the smoothest skin and wore her hair short and crimped and set in a twenties style all her long life. Her fingernails were always clean and well shaped, her hands slim and pale. As a young woman she was a millener. She had been raised for a modern life of music and books and sewing the tiniest of stitches. Her father was an editor of a newspaper. She and her sisters were educated and wore the latest fashions. They made their own clothes and they were beautiful. She was quiet, demure and fiery when raised. As a young girl she fell in love with and married this extraordinarily good looking, gregarious, young, strong, blue eyed charmer with the gift of the gab, and not a penny to his name. Our Pa. He would try his hand at anything and did, he would strike up a conversation with anyone at all and yarn for hours and did. And so her life took a wild, adventurous, sometimes dangerous and sometimes desperate turn. For soon after her marriage the Depression came. A real Depression.
But we will not stay in the depression with Grandma today, (though I would like to return as there are some fantastic stories from that time) for today we are going to fast forward to her granddaughter. Her little tiny, all knees and elbows granddaughter who was the apple of her grandma’s eye. The daughter of her daughter. Her first granddaughter. Me.
Pa and Grandma had another holiday home in a place way out in sheep country. Very different from Kumara and the cows. Huge open hills and shallow rivers lined in huge old willow trees. This place was all light. It had a bach, big, very basic, no electricity and an out-door dunny and a collection of odd little buildings surrounding it. We will return here another day as this place is not our ramble for today either.
Anyway Pa, who ruled with an iron rod or whatever stick was closest, chose this summer to teach me to shoot rabbits. Why I do not know. I was tiny and scrawny with this wild long curly hair that no-one but my grandma could get a brush through without a screaming fight. I was Grandma’s child. Grandma and I had one of those special bonds that sometimes blow up between a small girl and her grandmother. Pa was a towering terror to me. I was about ten or eleven years old the summer I was handed my first rifle and told I was to go out rabbiting with Pa. My stomach was roiling with nerves.
But as we walked up into the gently rolling scorched summer hills across farmland, my grandfather changed and softened and shape-shifted into a new grandfather. The crotchety short tempered old Grandad sitting on a tree stump grumbling in the yard sloughed off to reveal a long limbed, laughing, strong, old man. I was taught how to climb through a fence with a rifle and not shoot my foot off. I was taught how to hold a rifle -my hands manipulated into the correct positions, my trigger finger getting special instruction, the stock tucked into my bony shoulder and my legs knocked apart to get the proper stance. I was taught how to sight down the length of the barrel, lining up the two bits on top of the barrel that have to be dead on (no fancy stuff here). I was taught how to follow a running rabbit with the rifle, then run my eye and the barrel ahead of it at the same speed and shoot. I was taught never ever to let my head rise above the horizon. I was taught to breathe down and shoot. I was taught to be still and quiet for a very long time. I was taught that most importantly I had to kill the animal. I was shown where to shoot the rabbit so that it was instantly dead with no suffering. To wound was the most terrible thing. This could never happen. Pa was adamant about this.
I was placed just below a hilltop with a couple of dogs (to retrieve the rabbits) and a big view. Pa beside me with his rifle as back up and to my Pa’s absolute beaming delight I did not miss. I was evidently a natural. When I sighted down that barrel my nerves just disappeared. I hit everything I shot at. I was a star. My dogs brought in rabbit after rabbit. Day after day. All clean shots. Pa was so proud you would think he had given birth to me himself. For those few weeks of high summer I basked in the glory of this most unexpected talent and we were the hunters.
My brothers were appalled (they hated rabbit stew), my sisters giggled. My mother and grandmother were secretly proud. A girl who could shoot would never go hungry! Pa uncurled his spine and started telling stories and told anyone who came within shouting distance about the crack shot his eldest granddaughter had turned out to be.
And that summer my brothers and sisters and cousins and I pretended to eat a lot of rabbit stew!
The next summer that we came to this bach was terrible. I just could not make myself shoot the little rabbits any more than I could eat them. My Pa was heartbroken and went quite silent when he realised. He blamed puberty. he blamed the feminist movement. Heaving great sighs, he returned to his tree stump and mumbled about useless modern girls. I felt wretched with misery. But there was nothing for it. I had gone soft. Pa waited for my elder boy cousins to arrive with their own rifles, and I was consigned back into the rabble of laughing kids carrying huge heavy rocks into the deep river pools to see who could hold their breath the longest!
Grandma and Mum switched to cooking great legs of mutton that summer. My grandmother could stretch one roast of mutton into three or four meals. The roast was always good, then we waited through the next days of inevitable mutton stews and soups which were frankly horrible, until Grandma made rissoles out of the last of the mutton on the last day. We loved the rissoles.
I am going to share that rissole recipe with you tomorrow as we are running out of time today. And somewhere in my old recipe book is the original recipe written in there by my grandmother. I will find it for you.
My mother was the jam maker and my father preserved hundreds of jars of fruit,every summer. We ate one huge jar of peaches or pears every day at breakfast – if the season had been good. So it was kind of rare for one of my parents to make a chutney or relish. My great Aunts were the real chutney makers. It is a summer smell. A summer taste, along side all those other summer tastes. Chutney should be chunky with that whole sweet and sour thing going. It complements cold meats and is perfect with cheese.
But on the rare occasions that my mother did make a chutney it lasted about a week. So good. Today I thought I would be clever and make this batch with the yellow tomatoes. There are so many. I imagined I would get a creamy golden product. Instead I got a brown kind of snotty product. But it tastes perfect. The next batch I will make with the red tomatoes as it is really such a simple recipe. And the deep rich burgundy colour is a little more appetising!
My darling friend in NZ makes this every summer as well. She just makes it in tiny batches, whenever she gets a few extra tomatoes out of the garden. She is a very laid back cook. She just wanders about the kitchen as she drinks her coffee in the morning, throwing bits and pieces into the pot. Later in the day she pops it into any jars or containers she can find and seals it up. All very matter of fact. No fuss. We are sisters from different mothers. She is the sister who does not fuss. I said to her years ago that I had lost my Mothers recipe and she pulled out hers and it was the same one from the same book. An old NZ Womens Weekly recipe book if I remember rightly.
4lb ripe chopped tomatoes (about 16 big ones)
1lb peeled and chopped apples (about 4 or 5)
1lb onions, sliced and diced (about 4 or 5)
2 cups each of sultanas and raisins
1/4 tsp cayenne (or more if you want it hotter)
1tsp each dry mustard and ground allspice
3 heaped cups brown sugar
2 1/2 cups cider vinegar
Ladle hot chutney into hot jars, seal. These keep quite well in a dark cool cupboard but to be on the safe side you may choose to store them in the fridge.
Last night I roasted two chicken breasts, basting them with the last of the pickling brine and a little oil. After turning the chicken twice I slathered it with a little mountain of fresh warm chutney, grilled, after 10 minutes or so I topped that with heaps of grated parmesan and grilled some more. So good. And very pretty. Actually I almost took a picture but hunger got to me first. So here is a picture of Queenie’s bottom instead!
Back to the Farm.
There is more to this little farm than meets the eye. And in the interests of honest and transparent discussion I feel I must tell you something. I have been hiding this from you. I have a confession to make.
In a very large iron bathtub, down there in the gloom of my basement I keep .. um.. sigh.. Worms. (Gasp!). I know. It is a rather dark secret. I don’t tell many people because I am afraid they may look at me funny. Well, it is true that the moment I open my mouth and speak they look at me a bit funny (NZ accent) but no need to compound my problems.
Now there are a number of reasons why I have a Worm Farm. I drink a lot of coffee, it is all freshly ground every morning in Our Johns great grandmothers coffee grinder and it seems terrible to waste the coffee grounds after all the care we put into making the perfect cup and worms love those expensive coffee grounds. Also I really hate junk mail which is the only mail I receive, though I had to change my name to Miss T H E Resident just to get this rubbish, so I find enormous satisfaction in shredding it all up and feeding that to the worms!
The real reason of course is worm tea. This stuff is magic fertiliser. Really, really good fertiliser. And it is free. You can make it yourself. My bathtub has a small bucket under the drain to collect any tea. Plus you can make liquid fertiliser from the worm castings when you want more than a cup full. We spray gallons of it onto my recovering fields in the spring and of course the vegetable gardens. (Our John tried to tell me that maybe I should be spraying it under a full moon, naked with a hat on in case I got cold and doing some kind of funny dance. I don’t know. Seemed a little far fetched to me.)
To make worm tea from the castings fill an old thin pillow case with worm castings, immerse and suspend it from a stick in a really big bucket of water with a cup of molasses added. Using a fish tank air pump bubble the air under the bag for 24 hours. Dilute with water into your sprayer and use within the next 24 hours. Dig the left over soil into your garden around your favourite tree!
Worms are easy, they stay in their pen and they don’t talk back. Feed your worms with equal amounts of green and brown and keep moist. Just like regular compost. When I say green I mean, salads, peels, good weeds, anything really except dairy and meat. When I say brown I mean, paper shreds, coffee grinds, tea leaves, straw, autumn leaves, etc. I always keep a layer of shredded paper on top – there are little bugs that are important to this mini ecosystem and the shredded paper seems to keep them IN. Then a wet sheet of paper and your lid.
A wee worm farm is perfect for the small urban gardener. You can turn your left overs into the most beautiful soil conditioner plus the liquid gold fertiliser. Even if you are in a condo, maybe you have a garage, or back entrance or somewhere out of your home, you can start a wee worm farm to fertilise your house plants and recycle your kitchen waste. You can even use the worm casings to mix into your indoor potting mix.
Worm compost is made cold though (not heated like regular compost) so be aware that any seed you put in will grow when you bring it out.
Today I am making Mama’s Tomato Chutney so stand by for the recipe. And I really must practice my frisbee technique. TonTon has such a time!