Harvest Festival

This time of year can by quite satisfying for gardener cooks. Satisfying, yet also anxiety provoking, if time is of the essence. We’ve harvested the Viognier, though I was stuck in Auckland, committed to television appearances because of political shenanigans in the Act and new Mana party. So CCQC and Simon, assisted by Nick and Rowan picked. The little tractor decided to blow itself up, so we borrowed a quad bike from Craggy Range. The Viognier litrage was down, but the brix came in at 24.5 so that’s very good indeed. Small but perfectly formed, and we didn’t even need to inoculate it as after two days in the barrel it’s bubbling away from wild yeasts in the winery.

I had been whisked up to Auckland by the Herald on Sunday to cover the political stuff, while other staff did all-nighters on the Royal Wedding, and came home completely exhausted, so it was lovely to recuperate doing the things I always do when I need to replenish the system – cooking. This year’s been a great year for chillies so I made all the extras into chilli jelly. Chillies are good for losing weight since they speed up the metabolism, and they’re also good for colds and flu because they ease congestion. So we’ve been enjoying chilli jelly on everything from cheese and crackers, to sliced apple. I’ve also been cutting late artichokes, boiling them (with halved lemon to stop them going brown), then peeling away to the hearts, served drizzled with virgin local olive oil and sea salt. What could be more lovely, and more simple? Here’s a beautiful artichoke which did flower – as photographed by Mike White –  in my garden:

My sorrel just loves the bantam tutae it’s grown in. Thriving. I picked a huge bunch of sharp green leaves and made a rich sorrel puree and served it with Scottie’s aged Angus prime fillet steak. Sweat the sorrel leaves (take the spines out first, they’re bitter), puree with mustard, cream, what have you. We’ve also enjoyed wild Italian arugula salad with crushed walnuts (from Mum’s garden – my walnut tree only planted last year); an amazing first crop of Feijoas from our tree only planted last year, but every day during summer I emptied the chooks’ water over it; celery-leaf soup. The rhubarb never disappoints – breakfast every morning with yoghurt and tonight I think I’ll make myself a rhubarb pie.

One of my brown bantams (Mikki or Nikki) got swiped by a hawk, so the others are very wary every time that dark shadow swoops over above them. They’re great, the banties, because they keep laying eggs all winter, they don’t leave their tutae all over the verandahs, they put themselves to bed at night and they’re easy on the gardens. I think I’ll let Pip hatch some more eggs. Plus their colours are so vivid. Pip’s white and B (the bantam rooster) is golden.

This afternoon I walked down to the boundary and picked some ripe olives from Te Hera, where they just go to waste, and have started the brining process. Kete came along, as is her habit, and this time Scaredy Kat, the newest wee thing, came too. She was dumped here at Christmas and is as crazy as Titewai Harawera on stilts, but she’s gradually getting a little less Scaredy. Soon I’ll be able to trap her in the shed when she goes in to get her feed, then take her to the vet to be spayed and inoculated. Kete hates! her and hisses if she gets too close. She looks like a little feral doesn’t she? Whereas Kete (above) is such a duchess.

You may think I’m mad, but I think I’m so blessed to live in such a beautiful valley, with only animals for company when I’m on my own.

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