Strange fruits and varied veges

TV chefs and food columnists use veges I can’t find in the shops. Shops can only sell what growers grow. And growers grow what they are sure will sell…

Growing your own gives you a choice. As well as tried and true varieties, most vege plots or home orchards have a few fruits that are strangers to the supermarket, and veges more varied than the shop stocks.

There are several benefits to growing these “unusual” crops:

Cost: when you find fresh figs they’re expensive, I envy the people with flourishing fig trees, hopefully ours will start to crop next year…

Taste: our Bramley apple tree is also small, but we got a couple of apple pies from this old cooking variety. Their taste (with plenty of sugar, as they’re “tart”) is richer and deeper than pies made with Granny Smiths.

More productive: Esme mentioned a long necked courgette that produced big crops. I wonder if she’s saved some seed?

Being trendy: Cavolo Nero, a sort of bluish Italian kale was food columns a couple of years ago, as tasting better than ordinary kale. Barbara didn’t like kale, but loves these tasty fresh leaves steamed and salted then drizzled with olive oil or butter.

Looking good: Artichokes could fit any of the categories above, expensive, delicious (if you like them, not everyone does), perennially trendy, but often grown for the impressive giant grey-green thistle leaves.

All the examples I’ve mentioned are easy to grow, and flourish round here. What strange fruits or varied veges would you add to the list? We are now planting some Radicchio (Italian chicory) seedlings that Jenny gave us, I wonder how you eat Radicchio?

Troll Cream

If you make mayonnaise or other yolk-based sauces you will always have a pot (or more) of egg whites languishing in the fridge. Yet egg whites are a fascinating and fun ingredient.

More than meringues

Of course they can make meringues and meringues are versatile accompaniments to many desert dishes. Yet a few basic properties of egg whites make them much more versatile.

When whipped they form quite stable foams. The more they are whipped the more stable (since the air bubbles get smaller). The more water is added (within reason) 1 Reason here being defined as: if you get greedy eventually you reach a limit case and the whole thing collapses. the greater the volume of the foam.

Sugar (by increasing the viscosity of the water) helps stabilise the foam.

When heated the proteins in egg white coagulate, firming the foam.

Troll Cream

This Scandinavian dessert uses some of these properties. It is dead simple, just whip egg white, add fruit juice or syrup and whip some more. Add sugar as needed for taste (and to stabilise) et voilà, Troll Cream!

Enter the Vauquelin

Martin Lersch, Norewegian molecular gastronome, uses the last of these characteristics to produce a variant of the Scandinavian ‘Troll Cream” that is like a cross between a Kiwi pavlova and a mousse. He names it in honour of French chemist Louis Nicolas Vauquelin.

Just make a Troll Cream, spoon the mix onto greaseproof paper and heat in a microwave for about 8-10 seconds. The timing is crucial as can be seen from the photo above. In our microwave the Vauquelin on the left had 10 seconds and is nicely done while the one on the right had 20 and has collapsed.

I used Blackcurrant syrup for the fruit, but the taste is (of course) only as good as the fruit, next time I will try something more sophisticated.

Baked Vauquelin

Vauquelin can naturally be baked (like meringues) but if the temperature is too high they will lose their colour as the sugar caramelises. One needs a temperature only a little above 100⁰C to dry them without caramelising the sugar. This is hardly worth the effort.


Notes   [ + ]

1. Reason here being defined as: if you get greedy eventually you reach a limit case and the whole thing collapses.

Unsustainable Backyards

When it all comes together it’s a dream. Lettuce and basil, artichokes and snow peas, beetroot and figs… well not together in the one dish in each case, but you get the picture: good fresh food that tastes way better than tired shop bought produce. When things work well that’s what it is like, weeds controlled by a thick mat of straw, watering with a hose when the rain refuses to arrive on schedule, rabbits restrained by a chicken wire fence, and possums down the offal pit after a quick humane death in the Timm’s trap.

That’s when things work well… most years though, they don’t. In spring and early summer 2011-12 we were putting the finishing touches to my book on God as mother in the Bible and Christian worship, in 2012-13 we were teaching in Sri Lanka, in 2013-14 it was lectures in the Philippines, in 2014-15 we went to the UK for mum’s funeral, in 2017-18 it was alternating storms and drought… (I can’t remember my excuse for 2016-17, sorry!) Every year something crops up, and my crops either bolt, die of thirst, or get eaten by predators. My backyard is unsustainable, unless I am there in those crucial weeks to sustain it.

Of course there is another sense in which backyards can be unsustainable. The garden centres have shelves full of specialist weedkillers, guaranteed (or at least claimed) to kill only undesirable plants and let your veges/flowers/lawn flourish – but many of which operate “systemically” and kill the bees we need to pollinate the cherries we grow for the possums to steal. More shelves of chemical fertilisers, that promote big healthy veges, but seep away into the streams and also promote invasive algal and plant growth that starves fish and crustaceans of the oxygen they need.

Both kinds of unsustainable need tackling… now, what in my diary for next spring?

Town and country growing

Living in town is like living on another planet! Fruit and vege growing faces different pests and problems. In town the main pests are insects, and poor soil quality is the commonest problem.

Our main pests have four-legs, not six. Rabbits devour seedlings like locusts in Egypt, they also strip the bark from young trees. Possums not only decimate bush (compare the lush forest filled with birdsong at Otanewainuku, with bush where the possums are less well controlled), overnight they can strip our fruit trees of a not-yet ripe crop. And, when sheep, cattle or pigs (yours or your neighbours) get into the garden…

Our friends Jenny and Perry live on a hundred acres in Oropi. They have Red Devon cattle, some sheep from an Ag Research breeding program (our new ram comes from their flock, like our last one who produced ‘too many’ twins), and some cute cross-breed pigs. They are farmers from way back, and well-used to country living. They are diversifying into a variety of animals to feed themselves now. They are also starting a beautiful vege patch. The raised beds are arranged in concentric circles bordered by macrocarpa sleepers milled from trees at their previous place. The day we visited things were less orderly than they’d planned – the piglets got into the vege garden! They have also lost hundreds of seedling natives they planted as a shelter belt. Rabbits have decimated them, they have been bad this year despite everyone’s efforts to control them.

The pests are different in the country, and we deal with them differently, instead of sprays and powders, we use good fences, possum traps and guns… For a hobby I read and animate Beatrix Potter stories, but I never thought I’d become Mr. MacGregor!

Sauerkraut: or grow your own bacteria

We’ve been growing our own bacteria. Not nasty ones from slovenly cleaning, but useful “probiotic” ones, giving a pleasant sour taste to pickles without using vinegar.

I’d assumed making non-vinegar pickles was difficult, needed special equipment and possibly dangerous. Kitchen stores, sprouting as fast as cookery programmes on TV, have fancy, expensive German crocks (with weights to press the cabbage “right”).

A free e-book from dispelled my excuses. I used big jars, cleverly weighted with small jars fitted inside, water-filled, as weights).

The recipe is simple:

  • 1 tight cabbage (red or green)
  • Salt 2.5%, or 25g per kilo of cabbage

The method is nearly as simple. Put aside outer leaves. Remove the core, slice fairly thinly. Sprinkle with salt and mix, pound it. I used a wooden mallet we hadn’t found a use for since I stopped making Chicken Kiev, but you could use a jam jar or a rolling pin. This softens the cabbage allowing the salt to penetrate. Once it looks damp, pack the cabbage into the big jar, pushed down to exclude air. When it’s fairly full, cover with bits of the outer leaves, forming a “lid” inside the jar. Put your little jar full of water in, to press the “lid” down. Cover with a plastic bag, to keep unwanted bugs out. Soon you’ll have mysterious, bubbling jars on the workbench (on a tray to catch any spills).

After a few days (depending how sour you like your Kraut, and on weather, the precise mix of bacterial flora on your cabbage, and even perhaps phase of the moon) it will be ready: crunchy and sour, the ideal accompaniment to sausages and lentils, or salads with salami and other cured meats. For colour contrast I made both plain and red-cabbage kraut and cauliflower florets coloured yellow with turmeric (which take twice as long to mature.

Gelification: or edible pearls

One of the simplest Molecular Gastronomy techniques is cheap yet powerful. Gelification simply means turning something into a gel. Your mother or granny (or come to that the people who cooked your school/hospital/prison dinners) used gelification if only when making jellies (what the Americans call Gello).

This post will introduce the fun and delicious results you can get through gelification by making edible pearls.

What you will need

Juice (I used commercial beetroot and purple carrot 1 This commercial juice is sweetened with apple juice, so I’ll use the pearls as a decoration/sauce for roast pork. but I have also used orange and lemon, and balsamic vinegar pearls are really fun for brightening a salad – almost any liquid you can eat can make edible pearls)

Agar agar sounds complicated but you can buy it at many Asian stores, some supermarkets, or online from stockists like Equagold.  2 $16 sounds expensive for a mere 60g, But that will make 60 times the quantity I used for Barbara and me, and if your local stores have it they will be much cheaper.

Vegetable oil (I used rice bran, posh people use Extra Virgin Olive Oil, I will when I am making pearls to dress a salad, but for this I plan on washing my fruit pearls).

Dropper or syringe look around a little and you’ll find droppers or syringes available cheaply (I’d try your local plastic box shop or $2 shop).

Tall glass or jam jar the taller and narrower the better within reason.


Put the oil in the glass or jar (not too full, you need space for the juice) in the freezer for about 30 mins (some oils like olive need to be watched, so they do not set to solids) others can be left much longer.

Take juice and agar agar. Half a teaspoon (2.5g) of agar agar will set one cup of juice, I did half that for decoration/sauce for two people.

Sprinkle the agar agar on top of the juice in a pan, warm till just bubbling, stirring as needed.

Dribble the hot (as near boiling as is comfortable) juice 3 Agar agar sets at 32-40⁰C but only melts at 80⁰C into the oil. Enjoy watching the pearls form as they drift to the bottom of the glass. As in this video:



Coming soon: gelification recipes and suggestions, starting with a Vegan crème brûlée with citrus pearls.

Notes   [ + ]

1. This commercial juice is sweetened with apple juice, so I’ll use the pearls as a decoration/sauce for roast pork.
2. $16 sounds expensive for a mere 60g, But that will make 60 times the quantity I used for Barbara and me, and if your local stores have it they will be much cheaper.
3. Agar agar sets at 32-40⁰C but only melts at 80⁰C

Molecular Gastronomy (simple and cheap)

This new series Molecular Gastronomy (simple and cheap) makes molecular recipes simple: explaining the techniques without mystification or complication. It also aims to let you try Molecular Gastronomy at home on a budget.

Molecular Gastronomy is a silly and complicated name for having fun with cooking and eating. After all, molecular means ‘to do with molecules’ so basically chemistry and physics. Gastronomy means to do with the science and art of cooking and eating. But all cooking has to do with using chemistry or physics (or more often both) to change the food we eat. The only gastronomy that is NOT ‘molecular’ is preparing and eating raw food!

So this series will introduce ‘Molecular Gastronomy’. We’ll keep it simple. We’ll also avoid expensive equipment (as far as possible) and complex kits. Other sites offer great kits and impressive gadgets. Here we want cheap Molecular Gastronomy.


Coming tomorrow: Gelification: edible pearls will describe a simple cheap Molecular Gastronomy technique to add bursts of perhaps surprising flavour to your cooking.

New life for an old blog?

This blog has been moribund, the reason is a mix of pride and shame. I am proud of having adapted to living on a lifestyle block, and of caring for animals (cattle, sheep, and pigs) fairly successfully as well as growing fruit and veges (with rather less success as we are at 400m and enjoy cold winds which carry passing clouds across the property). But this combination means we have been far from the ideal of repentant carnivores, rather we have been eating lots of/too much meat, because that is easy and cheap to grow ourselves, while cabbages are harder work, and beans or lentils must be bought from far far away. Being a locavore and living here implies being an unrepentant carnivore.

However, I have a new interest, molecular gastronomy (a horribly pretentious and often inaccurate name for having fun using the science and art of food to produce food that is delicious or entertaining in often surprising ways).

Like many who are intrigued by Heston Blumenthal, or today our local restaurant, producing foams, pearls, ‘caviars’ and the like, I dreamed of doing the same at home. When Scripture Union gave me a generous Prezzie card, as well as the joy of seeing kiwi in the wild. 1 So, I treated myself to a ‘Molecular Gastronomy Kit’.

I’ve begun to have fun with it. I am sold on ‘molecular gastronomy’ at home. But as well as the silly pretentious name (which we now have little chance of changing), the high cost of entry (both in money and in time) seems unnecessary. So I plan a new section for this dying blog, Molecular Gastronomy (simple and cheap). I plan to show you in a number of simple steps some of the best techniques and point you (especially Kiwis who do not have the same access to specialised stores) to cheap sources of equipment and ingredients.

Notes   [ + ]


Stories Food Growers tell


In wintery April weather, we chatted over a prolonged afternoon tea. As well as asking each other’s advice, like Chris wondering about planting chokos, we also shared surplus produce and stories.

Some were proper food-growing tales, like Jenny J’s disaster when two heifers got out of the paddock and into the veggies. Apparently, they walked delicately down the paths, causing minimal damage to the infrastructure, despite their half ton weights, yet in their hunger devastated the veggies all the same. Our White Face who loved to jump never got close to the veggie patch, though several times she visited the neighbour’s steers after achieving a clear round, not even nicking the top bar of the gate.

Talking of clear rounds, the other Jenny is an accomplished equestrian, but it seems riding camels is not the same as riding horses. She took an early tumble on her first camel experience. She hastily remounted, so her host would not see her indignity. How does one hastily mount a camel? They seem such unfriendly creatures, and I thought camel rides required the handler to make the beast sit before inexperienced riders attempted mounting. I guess that’s the difference between a real farmer and an ex-townie, real farmers can make even camels obey!

The White Face heifer I mentioned earlier, Freckles, was not at all obedient the day we tried to load her on the truck. Although our little yards are over 5 feet high, she managed to get her forequarters out in her bid for freedom. We had to stand guard, “persuading” her back, or I am sure she’d somehow have escaped and eaten our veggies.

The prize for the oddest job recounted that afternoon goes to Tim and Joanna, deconstructing their orchid houses. Often harder work than building them in the first place. Their little orchard already produced so many surplus Beurre Bosc pears that after the group took what they wanted there were still more for me to share more widely.

Vietnamese Aubergine


This recipe is deceptively simple and yet delicious (common characteristics of Vietnamese cuisine). Eat on its own with rice for makes a light Vegan meal, or as tasty vegetable dish for larger meals.


2 tsp oil (peanut is authentic)
1 clove garlic (finely chopped)
2 tomatoes
1 tsp lemongrass
1 1/2 Tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar (palm sugar is authentic)
2 small or 1 large aubergine cut into 1cm chunks (the thin Asian ones are authentic, so 2)
1 spring onion (chopped)
1 red chilli (cut finely, scrape off the to make the dish less hot)
pinch turmeric
pinch pepper


Fry the garlic, add tomato and lemongrass, add 2 Tbsp water, stirring. After a couple of minutes add half fish sauce, sugar and aubergine. Add 1 cup water and rest of fish sauce and sugar, add turmeric, pepper and the stalk of the lemongrass (if you are using the real thing). Simmer for about 7 more minutes till the aubergine is cooked, garnish with chilli, spring onions and basil (or other herbs like corriander)