An Australian Christmas

‘Down under’ here in Australia the seasons are all backwards to the cook, born as she was in the northern hemisphere. With us, the longest day of the year occurs just four days before Christmas (on the 21st December), though our hottest day is likely to be somewhere in February.

From the book "Aussie Night Before Christmas" by Yvonne Morrison, available at ABC shops

So our chances of a white Christmas - holly, snow, candlelight and sleigh rides - are pretty much zero. For us it’s a season of cold beer, beaches, BBQs, picnics in parks, shorts and T-shirts. Christmas Day was mild this year, somewhere in the mid-30’s - that’s around 100 Fahrenheit if Centigrade is not your thing…

For the gardeners among us, it’s also a time of fresh fruit and berries and some of the best breakfasts of the year, featuring raspberries, strawberries, cherries, bananas, mandarins, apricots and nectarines on top of Australian sultanas, almonds and pumpkin seeds; peaches will be along in January…

The cook cooks the evening meal, but the gardener prepares breakfast, consisting largely of fruit and berries that are in season.

So Christmas day is generally a quiet day in the garden, with just some necessary watering done by hand in the quiet of the early morning and before the family lunch begins.

Christmas Eve was somewhat more hectic; the gardener had to lift the cook’s strawberry crop off the ground and into the gift he’d bought her - a raised Christmas garden bed away from mice, lizards and millipedes that also relish fresh strawberries. This was all done by evening, and looked fine on Christmas morning after overnight watering had settled the transplants.

Rasied beds are particularly important for strawberries, to keep them up above mice and lizrds, who love them as much as we do.

Boxing Day is spent quietly too, but then, on the fourth and last day of the Christmas public holidays, its back to the garden - onions and garlic are ready for harvest after their six month growing cycle, started way back on the shortest day of the year.

White and brown onions are laid out to dry on the mulched surface of the garden before storing them. Red onions are picked as needed for salads, as they won't 'keep'

Our middle son and his partner are over from their eighth-floor apartment in Melbourne and get to witness what they miss most by living in the big-city; fruit and vegetables picked straight from an Adelaide kitchen garden.

Freshly-picked white onion...

Did Mr Kiwi... the right thing by Ms/Mrs Kiwi at last?
Did he finally send out flowers?To enable the bees to pollinate the female flowers? And we'll finally get some fruit?So far the fruit is the biggest it ever grew. So, maybe this year? That would be nice! :)

Cucumber "Home-made Pickles"

The plants are looking rather good at the moment.
There are lots of tiny cucumbers on the plant.
I'm just hoping that they will all be pollinated and result in lots of yummy cucumbers to munch on. Even though they are called "Home-made Pickles", I will be using them to eat in salads. There are still plenty of jars with pickled cucumbers in the pantry.

Purple Congo Potatoes

‘I need potatoes!’, says the cook to the gardener…

‘AAhhRRrr!!!’ thinks the gardener, potatoes being out of season just now…

‘How about some nice beans? – I’ve got plenty of beans…’, says the gardener hopefully, earning a black look. This recipe calls for potatoes apparently, and there’s no suggestion in here that the gardener trudging down to the local shops is going to solve this one…

‘Potatoes from the garden’, repeats the cook, with all a woman’s logic and with just a faint suggestion that the gardener is depriving a village somewhere of an idiot.

If potatoes are needed in the kitchen, there must as a consequence be potatoes available somewhere in the garden.

‘OK, now we’re reduced to eating weeds’, thinks the gardener, no longer daring to speak his thoughts out loud. The family is coming to dinner in a few hours time – who needs a crisis on the threshold of that?

Purple congo potatoes

So weeds it is – ‘purple congo potato’ weeds, which live forever apparently, as I started with a handful from a fellow seed-saver decades ago, and the damn things just won’t go away – there's always one left in the ground that kicks off the next weed, and I know there’s a patch right down the back getting in the way of my developing pumpkins.

So out with the potato hoe, and 15 minutes later, a few kilograms of the world's ugliest potatoes make their way up to the kitchen to earn an ‘I told you so!’ look from the cook. A good husband is a man who understands just what his wife doesn’t say, so silence fills the silence that follows.

At least I don’t have to peel the bloody things (they’re tiny); we just cut them in half, skins and all, and drop them in the chicken curry. They make a very pretty mashed potato too, and don’t taste bad when roasted…

Purple congo potatoes halved and cooked in a chicken curry

All’s well that end’s well, I guess.

Berry brekkie

One of the marvellous things about a glut of berries is that breakfast turns into pure indulgence.

Take bowl, fill with selection of berries.Mix in (home-made) yoghurt. Enjoy. Simple but - oh! - so good. :)

Berry season

Berry picking has started in earnest in Gnomesville. This year we had to net the berry patch as the birds had started to move in.
First we had the little birds (wrens, thrushes, etc.), and we didn't worry too much. But then the magpies came in great numbers, and finally the yellow-tailed black cockatoos. That's when we knew we'd have to net the patch, as the cockatoos do a lot of damage. Not just eating the berries, but breaking off branches.
This is yesterday's haul. All together 3.5 kilos of berries.
There are raspberries, silvanberries, tayberries, yellow raspberries, boysenberries.And strawberries.

Autumn back to Spring

Even when lost in the hills behind Weingarten (Baden) natures pallette delights the solitary gardener.

German vegetable gardens – much like those in Australia – have been quietly fading away in the thirty years that this Aussie gardener has been trekking halfway around the globe on our annual pilgrimage to Baden-Württemberg to catch up with the German cook’s family. The economies of self-help have given way in both countries to the convenience of supermarkets and small garden plots have given way to lawn and leisure.

Yet the sun shone in southern Germany through October and early November, and while the cook cooked for the oldies, the gardener drifted through the countryside on an old bicycle that spends 11 months of each year in the garage. Once the main meal of the day had been eaten at lunchtime, the cook could put her feet up while the gardener cleaned up the kitchen and dining room.

Having been raised on German fairytales by the Brothers Grimm, living in an attic in Europe seems like a dream come true to an Australian used to wide horizons and Christmas in the middle of summer. Here below my attic window is the only working vegetable garden in all these rows of houses, in the backyard of Opa and Oma, who've passed their thrifty ways along to their daughter and Australian son-in-law. 

But every arrival is followed somewhere by a  departure, and just as the days shortened markedly, the trees lost their wondrously coloured leaves, the skies turned gray and the temperature fell through the floor, it was time once more fly the 16,000 kms (10,000 miles) home from Europe to our other life in southern Australia.


Spring rains and a five week absence have turned order in the veggie patch into jungle while a stiff dose of jet-lag makes any decision-making an effort. But I’d better hurry – next Thursday marks the beginning of the Australian summer,and I’ve got all sorts of crops now months behind schedule.

Ah well! – we’re both enjoying the Spring sunshine and the long hours of daylight that Nature and Qantas have delivered to us, as if to keep at least one garden somewhere in production…


The elder tree is laden with flowers again.
What a gorgeous sight that is!It started flowering a few weeks ago.I never get tired of our beautiful elder tree and its flowers.


This is a fairly new addition to my herb garden. It's a stunning plant. The leaves are a gorgeous silvery-green colour, and the long flower spike is laden with flowers, when in full bloom. Every part of it can be used for medicinal purposes, but I haven't experimented with it yet. It's also very low maintenance - always a bonus! :)

The Red Hot Pokers...

....are a-poking madly.

Strawberry bed

The strawberries are looking really good. However, they are still very small and green. The structures are in place - so that we can put netting over the bed when they ripen up. So, grow, strawberries, grow! :) We are ready!

Miner's lettuce flowering

Spring is such a beautiful season!One of my all-time favourite winter veggies is now flowering. Miner's lettuce.I let it go to seed every spring, and come autumn after the first rain, it pops up again. No work involved. :) What's not to like about this?!


The fruit trees are covered in blossoms and the bees are busy buzzing about.
The whole orchard looks a treat!

Apple blossoms.Bee busy on apple blossom.
Some pears have already set.Getting excited about our potential fruit harvest! Fingers crossed. :)

Cooking red cabbage

The whole place stinks of cabbage, and its no-ones fault but my own!


There’s something friendly about red cabbage that I’ve never felt for its green relatives, and I suspect that its because I get to grow it in summer rather than in winter when the green cabbages thrive under frosty conditions. Something went wrong last year though, and I planted the red cabbage late in summer, with the consequence that this last lot soldiered on through the winter and produced lots of small cabbages that I’ve now been cutting up for the cook just to get the darn things out of the garden to make way for Spring crops.

DSCN0010Normally we’d keep some of these red cabbages for salads, but this time we’re in a rush, and so we’ve cooked the 2kg of shredded cabbage harvested and will store this in jars.

Onions and apple are chopped and fried in butter and oil before the finely-shredded red cabbage is added. Sultanas, raisins, a little sugar, salt and pepper, balsamic vinegar and a bay leaf are thrown in, and after some frying the whole operation changes to steaming in a large pot with a lid on it, reducing the whole to a half.

DSCN0012Like so many things to do with cooking and gardening, this seems like a great deal of work for a small result. But that perception probably arises from the little we see these days of food preparation in a society fed on factory foods processed out of sight and designed for convenience, allowing one to spend ones days sitting before a television set instead of spending healthy time in kitchen and garden.

DSCN0017 I’m sure I’ll appreciate this home-grown recipe some time in the coming months, just as soon as the smell goes away.

In the meantime, I’m escaping the kitchen and grating duties to head out into the garden and plant more Dutch red cabbage. This time on-schedule…

Purple Cauliflower...

I know, I know. Purple Cauliflower. Again. Sorry. But I think this should be the last one for a long time. Until next winter, hopefully.

Everyone was curious to know, what colour it would have when cooked. Here it is, sautéed in a little butter.
Served with some home-made, spicy beef sausages and hand-cut chips (from home-grown potatoes).Gosh, it was good! :)

Midway mark for the garlic, onions and leeks

The allium family – chives, garlic, onions, leek – are the slow-growers of the vegetable world, needing six months from mid-winter to mid-summer to mature. As September rolls to an end and Spring is all around, three months of those six are now behind us since garlic-planting took place on the shortest day of the Australian year – the 21st of June.

Onions, leeks and garlic planted three months ago along drip-lines are to be packed around with pea-straw to hold in what will probably prove to be the last of the winter rains.

That the allium bed is in such good shape owes everything to the cook this year; she weeded nettles from the bed when the onions and garlic were small and vulnerable and so gave them a chance to survive.

In the past week we’ve been blessed with 35 mm of rain; today she was out there once more, packing pea-straw mulch between the rows to lock that rainfall into the soil against the coming heat.

Fitting perfectly between the rows, the cook lays blocks of pea-straw mulch delicately between rows of onions. Note the yellow-flowers of a 'kale' plant in the foreground, saved for seed, and the lettuces doing well among the garlic. There's no need to be a purist in a kitchen garden; what grows and has value gets to stay on.

And why is the cook doing this, not the gardener? While it’s true that she’s half my weight, twice as flexible and has four times the stamina, its a matter of logistics – at this time of year, the pressure to get crops in needs both cook and gardener. So there’s a ‘trade’ going on; the gardener is chain-sawing and mulching trees that the cook wanted sorted for her flower garden, so the heavy labour is elsewhere…

And the grapevines planted and mulched last week? Perfect timing for once; the rain soaked through the pea-straw and they’re doing well.

Barely visible against the background of pea-straw mulch, sixteen Isabella table grapevines have struck and are holding their own in the enclosed orchard next to the allium bed


Mulch in a ten-minute vineyard

Isabella table grapes grown from cuttings in a pot over winter

Anyone who experienced the fortnight of straight daily maximum temperatures over 40 degrees C (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in the drought-stricken summer of 2009/10 on the Adelaide Plains will now be preparing for a summer kitchen garden with a whole new sense of caution.

Top of the gardener’s list is to lock winter rainfall into the soil against evaporative forces over the next few months, and to keep that soil cool enough to bring various crops through.

Sixteen cutting are judged to have adequate root growth and are planted along the drip-lines that will support them in the coming years. The bales of pea-straw mulch that will be laid around the cuttings and over the surface drip-lines can be seen in the background. Later, these vines will be staked and trellised.The potting mix is washed off the roots and the bare-rooted cuttings are planted as quickly as possible into saturated soil; the drip lines – fed from the rain water tanks – have been running all night in preparation for this moment.  





A couple of other nasty things rolled over us as a consequence of that drought-stricken decade; fresh food prices went through the roof and so (much less visibly) did the cost of pea-straw mulch. Worse was to follow: water was rationed to the point that one had to live outside the law to grow one’s own food. The 60 000 litres of winter rain water that I am holding in my tanks will be enough for only a month’s supply in this large garden if the heat turns back on and spring rains fail us. To eke out that supply, I have to invest instead in bales of pea-straw laid down in slabs across the whole garden. Each bale costs A$7.00, and longer-lasting barley or lucerne straw costs significantly more.

Here, Coles Prolific Broad Beans are being grown for seed in order to grow even larger crops of ‘green mulch’ across the garden next winter. Not a bad investment, that $7 worth of seed now grown on to several kilograms of potential seed. So now in my Spring garden I plan for these harsh conditions, while hoping for the best. Every shower of rain is a blessing from now until next April. I’m paying for pea-straw mulch for this year, but next year’s winter garden will grow my own mulch in-situ while adding some soil nitrogen fixed from the atmosphere by broad bean crops grown this past winter for bulk seed; kilograms of it. Broad beans shade the soil long into late Spring, and can be cut down in place as mulch. I’m growing two types; the large heritage Aquadulce broad bean for eating, propagation and seed, and the smaller Coles Prolific as mulch.

This horseshoe-shaped row of 16 table grape vines surrounds the peach tree, which itself will benefit from the mulch and the nectarine grafts added this past winter. And so here in our fenced orchard, under a $100 coat of pea-straw mulch, are 16 Isabella table grapevines grown in a pot over winter and costing nothing at all (they were given to us by seed-saver friends). These grapes will provide fresh fruit on our breakfast table in year’s to come, even during drought and times of high food prices.

And yes, we did plant the grapevine cuttings in only ten-minutes; preparing the area and laying the mulch took up much more time…

Sowing Spring seeds

My Spring seed collection (as distinct from my autumn seed collection) has been sitting on my shed bench for weeks now, waiting for those harbingers of Spring; the honey bees. Today the whole garden resounded with their humming as they gathered nectar and pollen from the flowering citrus trees and the broccoli, rocket and cabbage flowers in the kitchen garden.

Seeds are sprinkled into a 2/3 deep layer of finely-sieved soil in old seed punnets packed into seed trays. The final 1/3 depth is filled with the same soil mixture. Each punnet is labelled with a pointed wooden slat made from window blinds.

While the plant nurseries have been alive with humans for some weeks now, it’s the activity of these bees that lets me know that Mother Nature has started her Spring engine in earnest after the quiet of the winter garden. It’s time to plant seeds.

For some years past I’ve experimented with various peat pots and potting mixtures into which to plant my Spring seed collection; those seeds, at any rate, that start life best as seedlings, rather than those best sown directly into the garden beds, such as the large seeds of sunflowers, cucumbers, beans, corn, zucchini and pumpkin.

But it’s all too tempting to mistake purchasing stuff with gardening; the natural adjunct to seed saving is to plant out one’s own seed, and it’s quicker too. Why is that? Well, because I’ve saved on all sorts of discarded seed punnets and seed trays, old coffee tins for seed storage, cake trays to stand seed trays on out of reach of earwigs, and flat wooden window blinds that can be cut up and used to label seed trays.

Chicken-made potting mix is made with the most basic equipment; a metal garbage tin lid to catch the sievings, an inexpensive round plastic sieve, and a shovel to fill the sieve with. Because this surface soil layer is bone dry at the moment, this nutitious mixture pours easily and can be added by hand to the seed punnets. But the real work in preparing for seed planting day has been done by the chickens whose breakfast table and toilet both reside under our huge old lemon tree; they have been scratching about for years turning the top layer of soil into a fine and nutritious seed-planting mix. One need only sieve off a shovelful or two of this wonderful natural material to replace bags of potting mix full of coconut fibre and man-made chemical nutrients.

There’s only one small catch – for reasons unknown to me, this great stuff comes out of the chicken yard so dry that for the moment it forms a ‘non-wetting soil’; water beads on the top of it instead of sinking in. So now begins the careful process of turning my seed trays into seedling trays by careful and very regular slow watering with rain water from a watering can.

Seed trays lined with old cotton cloth form shallow trays for bulk plantings of lettuce seed, spring onions and Chinese wombok. This heirloom watering can is used to fetch pure rainwater from the tanks to get the seedlings started; the salt content of rain water (unlike Adelaide's town water) is zero.

This allows the moisture to move in around the seeds and to kick Spring off in earnest.

Seed trays filled with labelled seed punnets are placed out in the sun on old inverted 'cake trays' that allow drainage while providing some mild obstacles to earwigs and slater beetles that would nibble off the young seedlings.

Purple Cauliflower

I just have to brag about this beauty! I will harvest this one tomorrow or Friday. Isn't it a ripper?! :)

Curry puffs

The leftover curry from the previous post was perfect as filling for curry puffs.I used the pastry recipe from Stephanie Alexander's "Cook's Companion". You can also find it here. It's easy to make, easy to work with and very tasty.Some of the curry puffs.
I filled the smallest of my cast iron frying pans with oil to do the deep frying.
The pastry got all blistery and flaky, as described in the recipe.
Served with a celeriac salad and some lacto-fermented carrots & cabbage. And chilli sauce. Delicious!

Garden Curry

The proper name for it is Chard & New Potato Curry. The recipe is here.

We had nearly all the ingredients in the garden. Here the greens (mustard leaves, kale, silverbeet, komatsuna, rapa, chinese broadleaf celery). Plus all the other ingredients. Instead of the onion I used some walking onions. The picture is out of focus, sorry, I must have been quite hungry.
The greens nearly didn't fit in the pot.
But wilted down in no time.
Finally, time to eat! It doesn't take long to prepare and cook. It was absolutely delicious. Well worth making! With the leftovers I made curry puffs. But that's another post. :)