Half a dozen eggplants or six aubergines

IMG_0590Growing up in a home full of hand made goodies and preserves we had everything you might expect, from Fowlers Vacola jars of peaches and fruit to long neck beer bottles of tomato sauce, everything that could be bottled usually was. Anyone who had a similar experience knows that the flavours and freshness of what you can produce at home is always superior to what you can purchase for your local supermarket. So we grow up and seek out to master and reproduce these handed down recipes.

But somehow I forgot all about this one. A Melanzane  (Italian for eggplant) sandwich with mortadella and parmesan cheese is a thing of beauty, toast it for lunch on a cold winters day and you have a very happy Rigoniman. A recent trip to my parents’ reminded me of this delicacy and at the end of the weekend I was on my way with recipe and an appetite for something I hadn’t tasted in years.

Any local fruit and veggie store will sell eggplants and in season you can pick them up for a bargain, alternatively they are easy to grow and one plant should produce at least  half a dozen jars. Here are the steps.

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  • Wash and sterilize jars.
  • Remove stems and peel, cut fruit into 6-8mm slices.
  • Lay slices in colander and sprinkle about 1/2 a teaspoon of salt between each layer, weigh down for 2 hours.
  • Bring enough vinegar to the boil and add sliced fruit, boil for three minutes taking care not to over cook.
  • Remove fruit and rinse, pat dry using paper towel or tea-towel, you must remove all moisture from the fruit.
  • Cut the slices into 2cm thick widths and begin packing jars, pack fruit into jars in layers adding a pinch of chilli, pepper corns and sliced garlic every 3-4 layers then top up with olive oil. Continue layering until jar is almost full and fruit is covered with oil. Pack fruit tightly making sure to remove all air bubbles.

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The jarred fruit matures in flavour and will be best after a couple of weeks, store them in your larder and they should last at least to then next year’s Malanzane season but good luck, we’ve already eaten our first jar.
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Chickens

If you have ever wanted all the benefit of waking at sun up with none of the inconvenience of setting your alarm, then you should consider keeping your own chickens. Most people will tell you that a rooster is happy to take the place as said alarm and this is certainly true, but in keeping only hens you may still find yourself with a wake up call, although somewhat quieter. Not to put anyone off the idea but you do need to be aware of what you’re getting into. Plus, the benefits far outnumber the alarm. We rise early and for most of the time take pleasure in the call of our rooster waking us accompanied by his lovely clutch of hens. IMG_0871

Eggs! If you have Peter Russell-Clarke on hand and his egg cooking skills then fantastic, but most of us we are going to have to get creative. Obviously your breakfast forecast is going to be rich, a favourite of ours is poaching. No need for any fancy centrifuge or vinegar with your own fresh eggs, just pop them in and by the time your toast is done so is your poaching. Breakfast is only the start, frittata or quiche, devilled eggs, and you’ll never have to buy packet pasta again! The options are plentiful and the outlook is delicious. In times of egg glut, barter them with friends for whatever you can’t produce yourself. Like the elusive lemon tree, something every home would of had only a generation ago, try as we might, they just won’t grow in Woodend. Thanks to this system we are kept in lemons too.

You can hunt out a poultry auction or most town markets will have someone flogging fowl, of course you could just ask at your local poultry supply store. Seek out advice and read up online about which breeds suit your local environment. But here’s some food for thought: Australorps are a big bird that lay well and are a good meat bird, ISA Browns make great layers and Bantams are smaller and happy to be cuddled, but we love them all.

The chicken run is important too,  and the internet has some great advice on how to set up their new  home, a search in your preferred search engine will offer all the advice you’ll ever need. The basic things to keep in mind are: IMG_4709

  • Make sure the run and coop is big enough for your birds.
  • Hens need a dry place to scratch about and perch at night.
  • Always make sure they have enough food and water
  • If you are keeping your hens in a coop, they will occasionally enjoy a visit about your yard. A free range chicken is much happier, productive and tastier!

Other than eggs the other commodity your chickens and more likely roosters produce is meat, once again the internet is full of useful guides and videos on how to harvest this. Many people may turn their nose up at the idea of this but it’s something that almost everyone in this country would have done not all that long ago, many people in other countries still do today. I had to question whether I should be eating meat if I couldn’t go through the steps involved to harvest it and it’s something I would ask everyone to consider.

IMG_0265So if you’re in need of a pet, some food or an alarm clock then chickens might be the right move for you. And the by product (chicken manure) is fantastic for your garden, our tomato crop is weeks ahead of anyone in our neighbourhood. More on this soon…

BWACK!

Pomodoro per passata

What do you get when you combine over a third of a ton of bursting ripe roma tomatoes, just as much red wine and the labour day long weekend. The answer is one of the busiest preserving weekends of the year, and this year’s was our biggest yet. To be honest, tomato season came a little early this year, so away we went…

IMG_0469Most greengrocers or markets sell tomatoes but the ones you’re looking for are best and cheapest in peak season, normally toward the end of summer. From late February to early April all over the country tomatoes are being boxed up by the truck load and sold by the box load. This year our supplier came by mere coincidence during a trip to a local ham and smallgoods factory in Thomastown, Melbourne. The hand painted Pomodoro Per Passata or “Tomatoes For Sauce”  sign was the clue, and we were off, a short detour through an industrial estate and we found it. Tomato Town, Piazza Pomodoro or just some disused shed come alive for six busy weeks.

Here’s the deal. A small sun-bleached Mediterranean gent is going to wander out, if he greets you in Italian you’re in! If not no bother, he still knows you have cash and more than likely want some of his merch. Load up with tomatoes, advice and whatever else Antonio insists you need and hit the road.

A side note on the tomato purchase. A box can vary in size, the poly styrofoam boxes pictured are most common and hold about 18kg but we have purchased boxes as small as 10kg.

How much? I’ve seen tomatoes from as cheap as $6 for a 10kg box to $25 for a 18kg, a good price about $1.20 a kilogram but this depends on the season.

What type of tomatoes are best? Most people say Roma but you can use whatever you can get your hands on. Romas have a thicker skin, using this method we remove them so keep this in mind. And remember, if in doubt, ask Antonio.

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By now you may have noticed some of your tomatoes are less than perfect, this is fine and completely normal, sauce tomatoes can be seconds or fruit too ripe to send to the shops. The riper the tomatoes, the richer the sauce. it’s like my Italian grandmother says “The riper the tomatoes, the richer the sauce”. First wash your fruit, this is done by submerging your fruit in a bath of water, washing and then moved to a second bath to rinse.

In a large pot bring some water to the boil and add your fruit or as much as will fit in batches, Boil for three minutes and drain. This step helps to remove the acid from the sauce, If you have ever seen a bottle of sauce with a clear liquid floating on top the sauce, this is what we are draining here. Another option is to roast your tomatoes, this takes longer but can result in a stronger flavoured sauce.

And now we pass the boiled and drained fruit over to Giancarlo and Ricardo to pass through some kind of separator, this step removes the skin and seeds and leaves us with the pulpy tomato extract. There are many ways to do this, by hand or machine but when you are processing large quantities a good sauce separator is a must.

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If you’re planing on keeping your sauce for the year you need jars, wash them and dry sterilise them in your oven. We add salt and sugar, garlic and basil in the following ratio.

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  • Per 1 kilogram of pulp
  • Five gams Salt
  • Five grams Sugar
  • One peeled clove of Garlic per bottle
  • Two of three Basil leaves per bottle

The filled jars are then processed at boiling point for 1 hour, and cooled over night on a wooden surface. Our favourite uses for the passata vary from Italian ragout to spicy curry goat, but the limitations are only from your imagination.

Bon appetite!

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