I have been travelling again. I had the opportunity to travel with my elder daughter to exotic Jamaica, last visited by me over forty years ago. Whilst you were all freezing and enjoying the generous rainfall, I was sweltering in 30+ temperatures with high humidity. I slept under a mosquito net, which was a different experience, and swam almost every day in the balmy ocean.
It was mango season, as well as the season for tiny sweet bananas and papaya and small delicious pineapples, so you can imagine what I had for breakfast each day. As we travelled over the mountains past tiny settlements along very bumpy and stony roads, we often stopped at roadside food stalls or fruit stands. Favourite dishes were goat curry served with rice and peas cooked in coconut milk, and jerked pork and jerked chicken, served with bammy cakes, made from grated cassava root. The national dish of Jamaica is ackee and saltfish, which was always on offer at breakfast time. The ackee fruit looks like scrambled egg and tastes a little like avocado. It is a fascinating tree with capsicum-sized pinky-red fruits that burst open when ripe to display shiny black seeds (inedible) and the creamy flesh. Unless the fruits have opened naturally, it is said that the fruit is poisonous.
Once back in Australia it was off to Brisbane to officially launch the expansion of the grants by the Queensland Government with the Queensland Minister for Education Hon. Cameron Dick. Minister Dick really enjoyed his tour of the garden, and I loved tasting a variety of spidery-red kale that, as one student told me, tasted like cooked potato. And it did too! In the kitchen we watched the capable students of Bulimba SS serve up their pumpkin bruschetta and tomato bruschetta. Both were excellent.
And then it was off to Western Australia, firstly to attend the Truffle Festival at Mundaring, half an hour from Perth, before visiting several schools over the next few days. And did it rain! All the Western Australians were grinning from ear to ear as the state has been in drought for a long time. We sympathised but we did get very wet, several times! Both East Maddington PS and Palmyra PS sent students to the Truffle Festival, and Bertram PS set up and displayed a magnificent Harvest Table. The demonstration was very successful, and the students received rousing applause.
It is always exciting to visit Kitchen Garden Schools for the first time, and meet the students and the Specialists. Several of the new kitchens were very colourful, with cupboards and benchtops finished in bright colours. I met a hen called Stephanie. I now understand wicking gardens properly and I enjoyed a delicious Caesar salad and a potato & herb frittata at one school, Desley’s Mum’s potato & silver beet curry at another, a beetroot & cumin seed dip with flat bread at another, and I missed out on a stunning lunch prepared by the students at Bertram PS as I had an appointment with the Western Australian Minister for Education. I was told later about the rhubarb & apple oat crumble to finish!
My own garden is between seasons. The peas are still growing. Both golden and red beetroot are ready for harvesting. The frilly oakleaf lettuces are growing well, as are several green leafy plants such as rainbow chard, collard greens and sprouting broccoli. The broad beans are in flower in one of my raised beds and are so tall I may have to stand on a stepladder to harvest them. As I write the almond tree is in full bloom, the first of the edible trees to flower, although the peach and nectarine are just a few days away.
With the first spring sunshine I am eager to start sowing some seeds in my small hothouse. And it is a good time to plant some more leek seedlings (deeply to maximise the white shank), and to direct-sow some carrots and turnips.
I was so inspired by the very beautiful Chelsea Flower Show in London earlier in the year (and encouraged by the end of the drought), that I am having my own front garden replanted as a small herbaceous border. Cannot wait to see those foxgloves, and campanula, and the new fragrant roses, in bloom. I have to be patient as it will probably take two years for the ‘new look’ to settle in. My venerable lemon tree has had a mighty cutback in an attempt to eradicate the leaf gall, and it looks a bit crestfallen. Left a big tub of lemons, more than a hundred, outside the front gate and invited all the neighbours to help themselves. Had several thank you notes pushed into the letterbox.
Now that the soil has warmed up, it is time to add a dressing of Rocket Fuel. And it is also time to plant disease-free seed potatoes. Plant more broccoli and more salads and more carrots. Try a different salad variety this season.
My purple-podded and yellow-podded peas are such fun. They do need a strong support of at least two metres tall. And even then some snails attacked them more than a metre from the ground. As I have just six plants there is not often more than a good handful ready to pick every couple of days, so I drop the shelled peas into pasta, and simmer them alongside a sautéed piece of veal schnitzel. The broad beans are much more generous. I am enjoying them every which way – raw crushed with parmesan and olive oil on grilled bread; quickly blanched and double-peeled and added to almost any spring dish. And in a few weeks I will start my first climbing beans.
Happy spring everyone.