Mandy Mandy Quite Contrary part #2

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*Collapses, flailing on the couch with relief*

Finally, tomato season is over. I made my final batch of green tomato chutney over the weekend, marking the end of what turned out to be months of weekend sauces, chutneys, relishes and salsas. I’ve pulled most of my tomato plants out – already replacing some with garlic, kale and leek – and this weekend I’ll pull the remaining ten or so. Already, there’s literally hundreds of baby tomato plants popping their heads up after self-seeding. What a shame they won’t last the winter! Along with tomato preserves, I’ve been pickling chilli, gherkins and other veggies, drying herbs and freezing berries. I feel very organised and prepared for any zombie apocalypse.

 

Raspberries!

Raspberries!

Berries

I’m still getting about half a dozen strawberries and maybe three or four ripe raspberries each day. While I did get to make loads of yummy stuff with the strawbs, there was never quite enough razzies in one day to do much with. So towards the end of the season, I’ve been freezing my berries. It’s by far the easiest and most practical way of preserving them for use later in the year. Raspberries, I simply pick and immediately pop into a small snap-lock bag in the freezer. I don’t even bother to wash them – my garden is totally organic, so I know there’s no unwanted chemicals hanging around, and the lack of water means no ice crystals will form on the fruit. I do, however, check the berries over for unwanted critters and hitchhikers! With strawberries, I’ll hull them first, and maybe slice the bigger ones in half. That’s it! Perfect for baking, defrosting to have with breakfast cereal, yogurt or desserts.

 

Strawberries and Raspberries ready for the freezer

Strawberries and Raspberries ready for the freezer

Herbs

Last summer, I turned most of my basil into pesto and froze it. I didn’t find it all that successful, and we struggled to use it all up. This year, along with chives, Italian parsley, oregano and celery leaves (sooo delicious!) I’ve been dehydrating my basil to use dried in the kitchen. It’s time consuming, but so, so simple. You can buy a basic dehydrator like mine for about $40 upwards. I think we paid around $60 five years ago. For herbs, just pick straight from the garden, remove leaves and check for critters. With chives, I hold a bunch in one hand and snip them into smaller pieces with scissors – much easier than cutting with a knife. Arrange leaves flat on the shelves of your dehydrator, and set to a low heat for about six to eight hours. You’ll know when they’re ready because the herbs will be crunchy. Your kitchen will smell AMAZING for days. Commercial dried herbs have nothing on the homemade stuff – you’ll find home dried herbs have a more concentrated flavour and are a great replacement when you can’t get hold of fresh produce.

Basil in the dehydrator

Basil in the dehydrator

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Raspberries and Blueberries and Strawberries – oh my!

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Suddenly – it’s that time of year again. All the hard work through the winter months in the garden is starting to pay off. I can pick an almost complete salad from my garden of greens and herbs, the tomatoes are beginning to flower (ready for sauce and chutney around February / March), the chillies and capsicums are blooming, celery is growing taller by the day – as is the sweet corn – the beans and snow peas are curling their way up supports and the zucchini is spreading far and wide. But the real show that summer – and Christmas! – has arrived here in Australia is the berries.

We’ve been growing blueberries, raspberries and strawberries for a few years now. I have three blueberry bushes in pots that are, for some inexplicable reason, suddenly giving us extra fat and juicy fruit this year compared to last season. These are the first ripe ones I’ve picked. Trust me when I say they only ‘just’ lasted long enough to take this pic before my kids devoured them.

Nom nom nom!

Nom nom nom!

The first of the raspberries were picked a few weeks ago. Right now, we’re getting about six a day from what started as three canes. Judging by the amount of flowers and baby berries on the canes – there will soon be a lot more than that!

First raspberries

And finally, the strawbs. During winter, I split our duo of strawberry plants that had begun bursting from their pots, and planted them in a special new strawberry patch. We’ve had to net the patch due to the local bird-life, but also the possums. It seems to be working.

Strawberries!

The Patch

Keeping the wildlife at bay…

I was hoping to have enough berries to make jam this year. I don’t like my chances of that, though. Not with my kids around anyway…