Spring is well and truly established. My own verandah hosts a curtain of blue wisteria and the spectacular climbing rose Gertrude Jekyll is full of fuschia-pink buds. A few more warm days and the buds will become fragrant blooms.
In the vegetable garden the broad beans are setting – I ate my first handful last night and they were possibly a bit too dainty. Better to give them an extra week. Artichoke heads are thrusting from their handsome leaves. The sprouting broccoli is still producing new shoots. And I am still enjoying crisp carrots, wonderfully tender salad leaves, and plenty of kale and silverbeet. This morning I spied the first tiny hump in one of my vegetable boxes announcing the first bush bean pushing through. And my tomato seedlings are growing well in the hothouse but are still too tiny to set out in the ground.
Travels over the past few weeks have included Margaret River Primary School in Western Australia to mark the launch of its kitchen garden program. My team of enthusiastic kitchen specialists worked together to make handmade oriecchiette which we served with broccoli and anchovies. The kitchen specialist Melanie Nicholls showed me some luscious orange peel she had candied which we used to garnish a dish of sliced oranges. I asked for the recipe as I wanted to have a third go at candying the peel of my very rare bergamot orange, and even rarer, I had a single cedro, the huge citrus usually found only in Sicily, but in this case a gift to me from Lina Siciliano. Lina and her husband Tony own Rose Creek Estate in the Melbourne suburb of Keilor and they are rapidly becoming legends for the extraordinary range of fruits, vegetables, herbs, wine and oil produced from their amazing suburban farm. I have the honour of launching the book that describes their activities, Growing Honest Food in a week or so. It is an extraordinary story.
Back home I used Melanie’s recipe and was thrilled with the results. I mixed some of the candied cedro with ricotta, mascarpone, pistachio and dark chocolate to make a luscious Italian zuccotto dessert for my friends. Recipe remembered from Stephanie and Maggie’s Tuscan Cookbook.
Travelling again I joined a bus tour of three of our Tasmanian schools, Moonah, St James’ College at Cygnet, and Snug. These bus tours provide an excellent opportunity for interested teachers or would-be kitchen gardeners to observe, ask questions, and in this case enjoy a stunning banquet of local treats provided by the staff and students at St James’ College, including an organic pig roasted in the school’s adobe oven. Definitely a first for a kitchen garden school!
The lasting memory of all three schools is of smiling enthusiastic students, of prolific gardens and bright kitchens humming with activity.
I have been asked to join a panel of food educators from several countries, including Alice Waters from the Edible Schoolyard Foundation in Berkeley, California to discuss our experiences at the Slow Food Terra Madre conference in Turin Italy. It will be exciting to hear what is happening in other countries and to be able to tell our own story.