Merrybower Heritage Orchard fruit can now be bought at our local Melbourne Deli!

What a week! With the fruit in the orchard ripening well in the current weather, Melbourne Deli have decided to stock our apples and pears – wow! It’s fantastic to see seven years of hard work of planting, pruning and feeding, finally coming to fruition (pun well and truly intended).

Melbourne Deli's amazing stock of hand-made and locally grown produce

It’s also extremely gratifying that there are like-minded people who not only want to buy locally grown fruit, but relish the idea of trying some of our country’s older varieties. After all, we planted everything we have in order to be as local as possible, and there are flavours here in Merrybower Heritage Orchard you will never find in a supermarket, or even an old-fashioned outdoor market! We have everything from the apple variety bred purely to make the best apple puree to accompany a Sunday roast pork, to an old 1600’s French variety for making authentic French-style Tart Tatin.

Merrybower Heritage Orchard fruit display - beautiful!

Each piece of fruit is hand-picked on the morning we deliver, checked for bruising and insect damage, washed, dried and lovingly packed into towel-lined wooden boxes or reusable plastic trays. Even the boxes are made here from wood we’ve kept, then sealed with a food-safe hard wax oil.

Shown are some of our early varieties:

Elton Beauty – from 1952, one of our more modern dessert varieties (and one of my personal favourites) which failed commercially as it missed the August markets – its sweet and juicy characteristics only really coming to the fore in September. Having said that, all of our fruit seems to be a week or two early this year, which is lucky for August buyers at the Melbourne Deli!

Worcester Pearmain – a classic popular dessert apple, nothing really to dislike about it. From 1873, it has a slight hint of strawberry in a good year, and also makes a decent stewing apple.

Yellow Ingestrie – the oddball apple from the 1800s, a small yellow variety that develops a distinct pineapple backnote as it ripens. It has Orange and Golden Pippin as parents.

Queen – an extremely handsome culinary apple from 1858 – once a very popular garden apple, especially in its native Essex, but rare to find today. It cooks to a brilliant yellow puree with a sharp and powerful flavour, but is also decent enough for baking.

First Walnut Harvest

2016 walnut harvestContrary to the doom and gloom of various people telling us we’ll never see a walnut from the tree we planted in the centre of the acre, today I picked 30 nuts from the floor and tree itself in our first walnut harvest! Who’d be daft enough to plant a full-sized walnut, which would take years to fruit and even then be ridiculously tall to harvest! Nope – our mini-walnut (about 30ft full grown) has started giving back the love. Shelling them was easy enough once in the swing of it, and I dried them out for a few hours on a low 100c heat. Rather than trying to preserve them, they’re just foil wrapped in the fridge, where I believe they could keep for a few months if needed. However, as I eat them every morning for breakfast, they won’t see the week out!

Winter Squash Harvest

2015 Winter SquashWith the first grass frosts expected any day, it seemed judicious to harvest the various winter squash and secrete them away in a dark place to wait the winter out, until we needed them.

Tonda Padana

It hasn’t been a bad harvest – the Tonda Padana, as ever, have done amazingly well – they’re the dark/light green stripey one with the light green stripes being raised quite proud (they’re mostly on the left). These are most definitely our favourite winter squash – we haven’t had a bad year yet, despite having extremes in weather over the years – from dry to wet, warm to cold.

Berrettina Piacentina

The Berrettina Piacentina weren’t quite so good – they’re the dusky green and orange striped at the back on the right. I think we may only have had one of them, and three Tondas – I know there was some argy bargy going on with planting stations when some failed to germinate!

Custard Whites

And then we have the Custard Whites – or UFOs as we like to call them. We still haven’t eaten one yet, but they look so funky I’d be happy to grow them purely for the fact they look like a happy winter squash (big, juicy and healthy!).

Butternut Rugosa

The big disaster was the Butternut Squash – Butternut Rugosa. We had absolutely nothing from them, any that had started to grow simply stopped developing and went moldy on the plant. The only thing I can put it down to was the three weekends we were away – but I’ll have to look into it.

Simple White Currant Cordial – Sugar & Sugar Free

This is such a simple recipe for white currant cordial, and one we had a go at last year for a sugar-free version which used red currants instead (essentially the same berry, with more pigmentation).

Every year we struggle to think of things to do with our white currants. I know there are many things we *can* do, but in reality, there’s only so much jelly you can eat, and we don’t eat enough meat to cook a portion up to accompany it when the berries are ripe. So as I stood by the two bushes we have, taking a break from turning some weeds over, I thought I’d look for a useful recipe that would keep, that didn’t involved freezing the blighters, which can be summed up as a ‘putting the (nice) problem off’ solution.

Cordial was the answer. Everyone likes a drink, albeit sugar-laden, so at the end of this post I’ve also added a sugar-free version. It won’t keep for long, but as it’s sugar-free you won’t feel guilty gulping it down!

Step 1 – Pick the currants! Bit obvious, but important, as it’s the step where you make sure you pick as many of the decent currants as possible, and none of the mouldy or dried currants. Just place a bag or similar under the currants and snip them off with a pair of scissors – easiest method. Jay cut ours on the promise that this drink, unlike many recent ones, was suitable for younger people!

Step 2 – Wash the currants thoroughly – stalks and all. Discard any currants that look dodgy, get rid of stray leaves.

2015 white currant cordia 1Step 3 – Place the currants in a pan – we use the invaluable, and much abused, jam pan. We started out with 3kg of white currants – stalks and all – don’t go to the trouble of removing them! We used to for some recipes, and it’s a needless pain if you’re going to seive the liquid anyway. Add 600ml of water for every kg.

2015 white currant cordia 2Step 4 – Cook them gently until they’re soft and the skins have broken down. In reality I forgot ours and left them on their initial high heat for a while. Suz saved them, turned them down again, and there were no noticeable adverse effects.

2015 white currant cordia 3Step 5 – Strain the juice. Finally, after several years of laying a cloth in a colander, we have invested in a strainer! Posh eh?! It’s one of those things you’d wished you’d done earlier, as we use the technique for so many things. They’ll drain pretty much instantly – I left them overnight and only gained an extra quarter cup of juice – not worth it really.

2015 white currant cordia 4Step 6 – Add 700g of sugar to every litre of juice, in a pan, and heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. I used demerara sugar, which doesn’t give the most pleasing final colour (dirty dishwater      brown!), but does taste delicious. For the sugar-free version I just added 15 sweeteners (Canderel tablets)  to a half litre of juice.

2015 white currant cordia 5Step 7 – Bottle the cordial in sterilised bottles.

The final cordial should keep for several months, but the sugar free version I don’t think will last anywhere near that. In fact I popped mine in the fridge and give it a week maximum, to be safe. To see the effect sugar has on the 2015 white currant cordia 6colour – the photograph to the right shows the sugar-free version in the foreground, with the two litres of juice with demerara sugar added behind.

I used sterlising powder for the bottles, which you can buy at any homebrew shop, and the bottles are some I purchased in a sale at IKEA ages ago – they seem quite sturdy (better than the new Kilner bottles if I’m honest – more metal in the clips).

Plum Wine Stage 3

Five days on and we’re at this stage of the process:

9. After five days transfer the liquid to the demijohns using the plastic tubing and funnel. Make sure all the equipment has been sterilised.

10. Avoiding disturbing any sediment, place the fermentation barrel at a higher level than a demijohn (e.g. put the barrel on a table and a demijohn on the floor), put one end of the plastic tubing in the barrel, and having placed the funnel in the neck of a demijohn give the other end of the tubing a strong suck to pull some of the wine in the tube up and over the edge of the barrel. Quickly remove your mouth and put the tube end into the funnel. The wine should start to drain.
11. Stop removing liquid when you get close to the bottom so you transfer as little of the sediment as possible. Once all the liquid is in a demijohn top up with water to bring to a gallon if you need to – but don’t try and make a gallon from 3/4 of a gallon of plum juice! Seal with a bung and airlock. Some people add something like Milton to the airlock, but I tend not to incase there’s a reverse pull on the liquid and it taints the wine. I prefer to replace the airlock regularly with a sterlised one.
2015 plum wine 412. You can now store the wine for months somewhere cool and frost free. At first the fermentation may start up again and you’ll see bubbles going through the airlock. Gradually the wine will clear.

So we have three demijohns of plum wine (very young) sat in the kitchen. As it says to store somewhere cool and frost free, we’ll pop it in the garage which is perfect. I must remember to check the airlocks regularly as they’re quite feisty at the moment!

And there’s also the question of what to do with the old ferment (pomace) left over at the bottom of the fermentation 2015 plum wine 5barrel? Others add water and sugar to get the levels right for wine-making, and make a “second wine”. Some then take the second wine and distill it to a liqueur. As gardeners, we’re going to add it to the compost bins – the pomace being rich in nitrogen, potassium and calcium!

Onion Harvest

Stur BC onions
Stur BC onions

The Grand 2015 Onion Harvest

What a cracking year for the onions and shallots! Two red onions (Karmen) can easily weigh in at 500g each, or around 1 pound in old weights! Luckily we had lots of help getting them in – the younger ‘bowerites did a grand job, and we ended up with a day of sunshine to begin the drying process – though they’ll have to stay on the garage floor for the next few weeks to finish off. My promise to myself is to get as many of the shallots (Picasso) pickled as is humanly possible – we’re about to finish off the final jar from last year!

All of them are picked for their storage qualities, though we tend to munch our way through the red onions quicker than the others as they don’t seem to store quite as well.

When it comes to storage, we tend to store the onions and shallots in blue plastic trays, which are used to deliver mushrooms in to takeaways – we know someone who knows someone who needed to get rid of them! Around half of the shallots are pickled, but we could up that number easily, and the garlic is strung up – although another post will show you that this year we actually plaited them! Unfortunately I didn’t video it, but I’ll put a video together for next year’s harvest – it’s a cinch, looks decent, and makes it convenient to hang them all in the house, ready for use.

Plum Jam Recipe

2015 Plum JamWith our small tree absolutely full to the brim with Victoria plums, Suz turned to the jam pan to help us preserve some of their plummy goodness 🙂 These are 500ml jars – enough for a while! I’ll post the recipe in a while…

Preserving Produce

2015 preserving 1It’s all starting to come in! Jay and Suz picked red currants, white currants, black currants, whilst I brought up the first of the broccolli. There were also some dessert gooseberries and raspberries – the stalwart of our summer puddings (and my particular favourite). These will all be frozen in the chest freezer, but the broccolli will need blanching first. The best guide we’ve found for preparing vegetables for freezing is The Reader’s Digest “Food from Your Garden and Allotment”. It really is a great resource and has handy tables for each produce in the back, giving clear instructions on how to prepare each vegetable for storage, including blanching times – anything really to make preserving produce a doddle.

2015 preserving 5Another piece of kit that gets a good hammering in our household is the jam pan – useful not only for jam, but boiling up large quantities of water for blanching.

For dinner we picked some of the Royal 2015 preserving 4Chantenay 3 carrots that have turned out well in the raised bed. We also added a Karmen red onion, some Green Magic F1 broccolli and a Golden Acre Primo III round cabbage, which are deliciously crunchy and fresh!

Finished Hay Bales

2015 Hay Bale TractorAnd once the deed is done – 68 bales need carting to their storage shed. What you really need is a kind neigbour with a tractor and bucket – what a welcome site (and we all fought over who would sit in the air-conditioned cab ;)).

Plastic Bin Baler

After the successful trial of the DIY plastic bin baler methed post a few days ago, here’s the video showing just how we did it. Small details changed by the end (this was the third bale we’d made using this method), such as cutting the two twine strands before getting into the bin, only treading it down once at the end by climbing in – but pushing it down with fists as the hay was added, as examples. But in general this was the method 🙂