Monday, November 26, 2012


Lemons, lemons... I love them, all my friends and neighbours love them, and yet there are more. Time to make lemon cordial, and lemon peel, in time for Christmas baking.

I bought some bottles, picked a lot of lemons, and used this recipe, which is no different to every other lemon cordial recipe, but happens to come from a lovely local blog.

One and a half litres of lemon juice is a LOT of lemons. More than this. There had already been one trip to the compost... very wearing on the wrists. But once you have juice it is a very quick and easy process, and the cordial is divine, and so is the wonderful lemony aroma in the kitchen while it is warming. I am so excited to have another use for lemons, another preserving skill, another yummy product made entirely in my kitchen from my garden (well, if I had a sugar tree...). Posy demanded homemade lemonade for her birthday party (lemon  cordial, water, soda water, floating lemon slices, ice cubes), and now we have something nice for children to drink when they come over, so I don't have to offer fruit juice (yes, those children, who don't believe that water is a beverage..).

All those lemon halves left over? Well, inspired again by Tanya's blog, I cut some up and used Stephanie Alexander's recipe from The Cook's Companion (best cook book in the world for kitchen gardeners, arranged by ingredient. She has never failed me) to make lemon peel. First you slowly bring the peel to a boil several times, in fresh water each time, to take away the bitterness, then bring to the boil in a sugar syrup until the peel is translucent (takes ages), then drain and dry it. I dried mine in the dehydrator because I didn't want them cluttering up the kitchen for days. Then roll them in caster sugar, and store in a jar to snack on use for baking. It's a recipe that keeps on giving because you are left with a lemon-flavoured sugar syrup. Pancakes? Poaching fruit?

The more I learn how to cook from the garden, the more exciting cooking becomes. I would never have dreamed of poaching apples in lemon syrup, or that you don't need expensive Canadian maple syrup on pancakes, except that I had a by-product to use up. This, I imagine, is how local cuisines develop. From the gardens of cooks who can't bear to waste anything they have put so much time and effort into.

Well, after Lemonade Experiment No 1, a chance word with Rosy's teacher revealed that the Grade Six class were going to be responsible for the Lemonade Stand at the school fair.

'If only I knew someone who knows how to make lemonade.' sighed her teacher. Well....

A week later I was making lemon cordial with twenty-four twelve year olds in their classroom. You have never seen such enthusiasm, such a lot of lemon juice, such a lot of sticky..

The children had brought along bags and bags of lemons from backyard trees, plus lemon squeezers. One of the other mums provided twenty screw-cap wine bottles (she will remain nameless..). One teacher, three mums, the gas cook top from the classroom next door. Five children cut lemons, fifteen squeezed and strained, right at their desks, and four helped to measure and stir and cook the lemonade on the bench next to the sink. We ended up quadrupling the recipe, using six litres of lemon juice, and making sixteen litres of lemon cordial concentrate, which later made up about eighty litres of lemonade with water and soda water. They sold out at the fair.

This was such a fun, if exhausting experience. It shows how simple it is, really, to bring sensible, practical knowledge into the classroom. I was astounded that this all happened in a regular classroom with only a sink and a portable gas cooktop as equipment. And how quickly knowledge can be passed along. One week I read a recipe on the internet, the next day I had a new skill, the week after that twenty four children and four other adults also had a new skill, and something good to do with all those lemons!

It is, of course, one thing to plant a lemon tree, but if you don't know how to use lemons, they will get put in the compost. I heard so many stories from the kids about how their neighbour/granny/cousin's hairdresser were so pleased to get rid of the lemons from their backyard trees. I so often talk to people who feel that their fruit trees are liabilities, quite decorative, but then they drop all this annoying fruit on the ground...

My mission is to rescue all this unloved fruit, and find ways to use it. How wonderful if I could manage not to buy fruit, but visit the backyards of all my friends through the year, and turn their garden trash into my pantry treasure. Or even just share recipes. At least one of the other parent-help mums from our lemonade day went off with the recipe to go and make lemon cordial from her own lemon tree. More lemons saved from the compost.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

How to be a Heroine..

I was going to write about so many things: artichokes and lemons and calendula infusions, and my favourite Canadian novel, but I'm too busy reading Mansfield Park.

Today was cleaning-the-bathroom day, but who can scrub grout when Fanny is being bullied into marriage with the personable but odious Mr Crawford? It's not like I don't know what happens, because I have read it at least half a dozen times, but every time the suspense kills me.

And I like Fanny, though I don't know why, because she cries all the time. Amelia Smedley cries constantly throughout Vanity Fair, and I just want to slap her, because she is so stupid and helpless, but I sympathise with Fanny. Maybe because there are not many heroines who are shy and awkward, who blush at all the wrong moments, and who are unfashionably exhausted after half an hour of walking in the shrubbery. She is the anti-heroine, with only her kind heart to recommend her. But that is enough for her to triumph over the Mean Girls.  Moral integrity, and a fondness for books and gardens. It's all you need...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

After Decluttering Comes Mindfulness, or Never Shop Again

Before our current renovation I spent about six months decluttering to remove approximately half of our possessions so that we could fill up our house with plasterboard, drop saws, cans of paint and a set of stairs that came in kit form. It went against all my natural hoarding instincts to get rid of all those really indispensable treasures, but I honestly can't remember any of them now that they are gone.

Now that we are (mostly) done with renovating and refilling our house with furniture and stuff that was packed in boxes, we are having to be incredibly tough on our acquisitive instincts. If there is no cupboard space for it, it has to go. I now have a smaller, but much nicer kitchen. All the storage space is taken up, and there is simply no room for any new kitchen doohickeys. Well, I could buy a new spatula, but not the salad spinner I was thinking would be nice, unless I get rid of something else that is the size of a salad spinner. While I contemplate what else we could do without, I continue to pat the lettuce dry in a tea towel.

I moved out of home at nineteen with hardly any stuff, and have spent twenty years accumulating it, with the happy assistance of family and friends. Now we realise, we're kind of done with stuff. We're going to need to replace towels and broken crockery, but lots of our stuff will last longer than we will. So barring the house burning down, I can contemplate a future without shopping. I am very happy about that.

All we have to do now is somehow dispose of a shed full of boxes that we haven't unpacked yet. Maybe we could just burn it down...

Friday, November 2, 2012

Baking is for Other People

Unlike, oh, everybody else on the whole world wide web, I am not such a good cook. Not terribly organised or efficient, and I tend to get distracted at completely the wrong moment. I invariably under- or drastically over-cook something at dinner (last night it was limp steamed vegetables). However, I do give myself points for turning up. Every day, come hell or high water, there I am, making something nutritious (not always appreciated by the children. They would prefer a feckless mother who fed them junk food or fish fingers).

And I am also on the turning-on-the-oven-once-to-cook-everything bandwagon again. Yesterday Rosy made brownies, I made apple and rhubarb crumble, and dinner, and banana cake, which I grievously over-cooked, but which still came out flat and rubbery. How does that happen? I think I will skip banana cake in the future, as it is a reliable failure in my kitchen. Except when The Girl makes it. Everything she makes turns out light and fluffy. If you detect a note of sour grapes here, it is because the grapes are definitely sour. How does one person make fluffy cake, and the other not, in the same kitchen with the same recipe? My grandma used to say it is how you hold your mouth. My mouth is a little puckered, what with all the sour grapes...

Still, it is wonderful to have turned out one brilliant and two competent cooks, despite my shortcomings in that direction. The eight year old, like me, prefers other people to cook for her. Lillies of the field, that's what we are!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Christmas Cake Made Easy


Christmas Cake Without Tears, or Indeed, Trouble of Any Kind. Here is the secret...

First, spend years putting up with children in the kitchen, breaking eggs all over the floor, splattering the walls with chocolate mixture from the beaters, and inadvertantly leaving the lid off the blender...

Then say, 'Oh yes please!' when they want to make the Christmas Cake by themselves. Well, what actually happened is that The Girl weighed all the dried fruit, zested and juiced the lemon and mixed in the sherry while Posy and Rosy ate the raisins.


Then the next day The Girl creamed the butter and sugar and mixed in the flour and spices while the little girls watched TV. Then it was time to mix in the fruit and make a wish. At that point, Rosy and Posy were very helpful. Also with the licking out the bowl part. Meanwhile The Girl lined a baking tin with paper and baked the cake for three hours.

Now it is my turn. I get to pour brandy over the cold cake every evening for several days. I am quite good at this. Then I shall wrap it up in baking paper and foil, and store it in the wardrobe until Christmas.

Here is my grandma's recipe if you would like to try it. This is one of my first posts. The children are small and cute, the kitchen slummy..