Chilli gifts

While gardeners takes months to produce results, their cooks – especially when preparing ‘slow food’ with all the taste and nutrition locked in – also need plenty of time. So it’s a double pleasure for the gardener to be able to step in and provide a gift for friends - whipped together at the last minute - while the cook has her feet up and enjoying some well-earned rest.


So it is in our household at the moment, where about forty chilli bushes are bearing prolifically, and require little effort by the gardener to pick and arrange a small gift-basketful of enough chilli to provide any normal Australian household with heat for a year!

This small basketful of chillies (mixed with basil) contains habanera, scotch bell, bird’s eye, Hungarian, oriental, menzano, serrano and metano chillies.

A crop like this only happens every four or five years, and is necessary – apart from the need for gifts and chilli paste and powder – to propagate and refresh our chilli seed bank. Our original seeds came from nine plants purchased many years ago from an old Italian gentleman taking advantage of his roadside location on Kensington Road, on the north side of the road just opposite the Burnside Memorial Hospital. Each year, during the warmer months, he has a sign outside on the pavement: “Hot chilli bushes”, “New varieties – hotter than ever…” etc etc. At over $10 per plant, I haven’t been back. I haven’t needed to – each plant came with free seed – a gift to the very few gardeners willing to keep growing them onwards.








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How to store such a huge chilli crop for the intervening years? See chilli recipes and tips below (‘Harissa’ and ‘Hot Stuff’), and at The Mad Gnomes Strike Again


...or North African hot chilli paste.

So, you still have some chillies on your plants and don't know what to do with them? Harissa is a good way to use up a lot of them. It is also a very versatile paste. Can be used just to dunk a good piece of bread in (if you like a hot dip). Or with some grilled meats, or put in stews or in couscous, pasta, etc.

There are heaps of recipes for this paste on the internet. I changed things around a bit, so that I would get a mild paste.

Throw the following in a blender:

250g chopped chillies (I took out the seeds and membrane)
1 head of garlic (peeled and roughly chopped)
1 Tbsp ground coriander
1 Tbsp ground caraway seeds
1 Tbsp salt
a handful of parsley (traditionally coriander, but I didn't have any in the garden)
a small handful of mint
1 roughly chopped sweet capsicum
1 big handful of roughly chopped tomatoes
(the last two ingredients are only there to make the paste milder)

Add some oil to the blender to make a stiff paste.Fill into sterilized jars.
Cover with a thin film of oil.

Macadamias, field tomatoes and sugar cane

Almost the only native bush food grown and exported from Australia in significant quantities is the ‘macadamia nut’, a native of south-east Queensland. These highly nutritious nuts are particular delicious and addictive when coated with chocolate, so make a great gift from Aussie gardeners to overseas friends – just grab them at any airport as you rush to catch your flight!

Macadamia nuts are grown commercially on the rich red soils around Bundaberg in Queensland, where they are irrigated to maximise nut and oil production.



Just over the road from these macadamia trees, a few kilometres outside of Bundaberg, I discovered a field of commercial tomatoes (below) – a timely reminder to a kitchen gardener from Adelaide about the difference in scale that exists between backyard produce and commercial field or glass-house grown tomatoes. Indeed, most Australians eat these largely tasteless tomatoes for want of access to their own piece of soil…

Note the plastic evaporation and weed barrier through which these tomatoes are growing, below which drip lines provide the plants with both water and soluble nutrients in a process known as ‘fertigation’. The wires lying on the ground on either side of the row will be lifted up to support the tomatoes as they gain height.


And of course, as one would expect in Bundaberg, home of Bundaberg Rum, Bundaberg Sarsaparilla and that absolutely wonderful Bundaberg Ginger Beer, there’s sugar cane growing in huge acreages. The Bundaberg Port is dedicated to the process of storing and shipping the half-million tonnes per year of raw sugar output of half-a-dozen local mills. There’s even a huge tank of molasses, presumably piped below the road to the waiting holds of incoming ships.

Small railway tracks all over the district move the cane to the mills.


Hot stuff!

Have a glut of chillies? Don't know what to do with them?

One suggestion - dry them. Either string them up so that you have a lovely garland. Or just leave them on a tray in a single layer. Then what? That's what I did a few years back:

A basket of hot stuff. All kinds of hot chillies. Peruvian Purple, Serrano Tampequeno, Long Red Habanero, Astrakhanski 147, Cayenne, etc....

I really only grew Peruvian Purple as it's such a pretty plant (purple leaves and fruit that turns from red to dark purple). The fruit is thin-walled and full of seeds. I didn't use it much for cooking. However, it's perfect for drying and then grinding up.

Cut off stems. I usually peek inside to check that the inside and seeds are all clean. I cut the longer ones in half. Either avoid touching the seeds or wear gloves.

Grind. Then very, very carefully and slowly lift the lid. And preferably away from your face.

Put in air-tight jar. By now you should have had a whiff of the chilli heat. If you must, very, very carefully taste the powder. You could use the spoon as provided here. But you would be mad to do so. With all the Serrano Tampequenos and Peruvian Purple it is potent stuff.

Don't forget to clean the grinder very, very thoroughly. Your next espresso or cappuccino might give you an unexpected kick. If you do grind chillies very often it might be wise to invest in a grinder specifically for that purpose. I shall now go and grind some coffee beans for our afternoon cappuccino. Wish me luck!

The Stirling Market

Once a month, in the Adelaide Hills township of Stirling, a local street market provides much for the gardener, if not the cook… This year, with autumn under way, the European deciduous trees are changing colour, offering a picturesque background to the many stalls selling everything from plants and herbs to garden ornaments.
























In an Open Garden nearby, a troop of Africans entertained us with song and dance under the trees…


Autumn produce from an Adelaide Kitchen Garden

Today we’re off to visit friends in the Adelaide Hills, so there’s just time for a quick whip-around the garden to pick up a few fresh vegetables to take along as a small personal gift from an Adelaide Kitchen Garden…


Those pumpkins on the left are the sweet long-lasting Butternuts that we’ll be eating all through winter and into spring in soups and dips. The big orange vegetable is just a cucumber that’s been left on the vine for seed production, while the long white root vegetable down the back is a Daikon radish – a Japanese variety that doesn’t get ‘woody’ no matter how long it stays in the ground.


Up close, and clockwise from the top, are white-streaked eggplants, Daikon radish, lemon balm and sweet basil, Italian parsley, yellow capsicum, lemons, Golden Sunrise tomatoes, a mix of various chillies and dried seed pods of the German Lazy Wife bean – a very productive climbing bean given as a gift from one seed-saver to another.

Garlic shoots

Well, it didn't take long for that garlic to pop up! Look at these healthy shoots!
This must be one of the easiest and most rewarding vegetables to grow. Easy and pretty maintenance free. You only have to make sure you water the garlic for a few weeks after planting. Don't let them dry out. After that you keep the bed as weed-free as possible.

Planting Garlic

The last few days were ideal - weather-wise - to do some planting in the vegetable garden. Usually I plant my garlic in March, but the weather (and time) just did not permit this. As I am located in the Adelaide Hills where it gets cold a bit sooner than in the Plains, I try to plant as much as possible in March. The soil is still warm then and the plants get a good start. Anyway, we were lucky, as April has been a fantastic month so far. Mild, with some rain.

I had just finished planting my leeks, when I discovered that there was still room left in the bed for some garlic.

Quickly I went and got my Purple Monaro garlic that I had planted last year. I had set aside the biggest heads for replanting. This is a hardneck variety and does, unfortunately, not keep as long as the soft-neck variety. They are still delicious, though!

So, I poked a few holes with the dipper. Just deep enough so that the cloves slide in easily. Then they are covered with soil so that the pointy end is just below the surface.

I planted them 10cm apart and the rows possibly only 20cm. I might regret that, as it states everywhere to have the rows 40cm apart. Oh well. I am allowed to do whatever I want in my own garden. :)

In a few weeks, the first shoots should be visible. And in about 8 months, you can harvest your own delicious garlic!
(The garlic cloves in this picture are waiting to be covered with soil.)

Note: Soil preparation is pretty important. Garlic likes it sweet, so I added some gypsum to our acidic soil. Before that I had already added some good compost, composted manure and some bio-char.

Maultaschen soup

One of the great dishes to be found in Germany is Maultaschen soup, roughly translated as ‘snout-bag soup’. It’s a meal on its own, for it blends rich beef stock with little parcels of ground meat and greens wrapped in pastry. It takes a little time to make in one’s own kitchen, but the meal is reward enough, and its a great way to pick and use late summer greens from the gardener’s herb beds.


As always in our kitchen, we use home-ground Spelt flour to which eggs from our hens and whey have been added to make dough that ruminates away to itself overnight before we roll it out flat with a rolling pin on a floury surface.








The greens that go with the ground meat vary with the season; today we used French sorrel (dock), nettles, comfrey, parsley, basil, society garlic, and oregano fresh-picked from the garden, chopped fine and mixed in with fried onion and garlic.

DSCN0002 We own a share in a cow, so our milk is delivered by the dairy farmer himself. He occasionally has calf meat for sale, which we pickle in whey and store in glass jars in the cellar for days like today. This pickled meat is very soft and tender, and can be blended into a paste with the fried greens using a bar-mix. Spread this on the thinly-rolled dough with a spoon, and butter the far end.



Roll this up and press the handle of a wooden spoon across it to form tight little ‘pasties’ that can then be cut apart with a sharp knife without the filling falling out. These are cooked in simmering (not boiling) water for ten-to-fifteen minutes, then added to a hot salted soup stock of beef or lamb or chicken – whatever you have. Serve and eat!








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Autumn plantings for an Adelaide kitchen garden…

The rains have come at last to the Adelaide Plains, and the soil is ready for the autumn plantings. Our mild winters allow us to grow a whole new set of vegetables over autumn and winter, and now’s the time to be planting stuff out.

One small step is required in-between – to first clear out all the pests such as earwigs and slater beetles that have bred up under the summer mulch. This is as easy as turning your chicken flock into these beds, where they will scratch through the mulch in search of delicious and nutritious proteins, turning bugs into eggs and preventing your autumn seedlings from being nibbled off at night-time before they can get started. By the time the hens have finished a bed, the old straw mulch has been broken down somewhat (and scattered about) and the pests are gone. The surface of the soil has also been opened up, and the first rains are more easily absorbed. (If you don’t have chooks, rake off the old mulch and cultivate the surface by hand to attain the same end.)


If you haven’t been raising seeds for this moment – and it’s hard to do that while the summer heat lasts – then a good place to kick off the autumn plantings is a visit to the Adelaide Showground Farmers Market.


The place to go for seedlings – especially organic seedlings – is over to the Bickleigh Farms stand, where Diana and Jen have everything a kitchen gardener could need in the way of vegetable seedlings. Diana (on the left below) is also running the ‘Seeds for Health’ course on kitchen gardening at the Fern Avenue Community Garden on Wednesdays between 10am and 12pm for six weeks over autumn, beginning on the 21st April 2010. Book at the Cancer Care Centre on 8272 2411.DSCN0023

If its seeds you want, there’s always poor old Geoff – as you can see, even shoes are beyond his means!


There’s lots of food stalls – both inside and out, organic and not – so take your cash and a few shopping bags.


And finally, back home with lots of kale, leek, broccoli, kohl rabi, lettuces, and Asian vegetable seedlings, plus a few bags of Italian Purple Garlic for planting out now in time for a Christmas harvest. Because the seedlings are in ‘peat pots’, they can be sown directly into the ground – the roots just come on through the pot wall. This planting out is a quick operation, provided the chooks have done they’re work well!



Pizza from a kitchen garden

One simple way to have ‘fast food’ while eating from a kitchen garden is to make and freeze pizza during the autumn harvest.


Recipes for pizza, dough and bread-making abound, and so are not to be found here…


Our pizza-making methods differ in only a couple of ways; firstly, we grind the flour fresh using spelt grain, and secondly, we use ‘pizza stones’ for some of the pizzas (the round ones) to simulate the wood-fired oven taste of pizza when constrained to use a standard electric oven. The ‘pizza stones’ (white circular platters in the centre of the table above) are pre-heated before the shaped dough is dropped onto them.

The rectangular pizzas are made in ordinary flat baking trays. We use ‘pizza scissors’ (centre right, above) to cut the pizza into pieces for storage – this is a quicker method for thick-crusted pizzas than the cutting wheel method.

While the meat, cheese and flour grain have to be purchased in for pizzas, home-grown tomatoes, onions, garlic, chillies, olives, basil, rocket and capsicums add much of the flavour in sauce and toppings.