Category Archives: Icy Creek

Train your Labrador to harvest chestnuts

 

And then please tell me what I can do to train mine. 

So where are all the chestnuts?

So where are all the chestnuts?

Labradors are legendary for lots of things, including various forms of human assistance, and, increasingly, truffle hunting. But when it comes to chestnuts, it seems that Moose and Elka could deal with their very own guidance program. I’m sure that it’s not that they don’t want to help. It’s just that the enormity of the task of prising open all those prickly chestnut burrs seems so utterly ridiculous. Maybe they have a point. Something to sleep on.

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Lucky to be at Icy Creek

The view of the house from the blackcurrant patch

The view of the house from the blackcurrant patch

Driving through the smoke haze in Melbourne on our way to Icy Creek this morning, exactly one week after hell descended on our corner of the world,  it was obvious that the potential hazards of this most tragic of summers aren’t completely  behind us yet. And then no sooner had we turned off the highway at the Robin Hood exit, we could see the Bunyip fires still burning. It’s only thanks to the superhuman efforts of the CFA that the situation is under control, for now at least.

Still. the weather forecast is reassuring in a qualified way: there’s no sign of the deluge we so badly need, but there are at least a few showers promised in the forecast period, and nothing over 30 (that’s 86F for our North American friends) in the week ahead.

The whole farm is covered in a thin layer of ash, as is the house, and much of the area looks predictably parched. But remarkably, the orchard trees are mostly holding up well, and there are still tinges of green in the freshly mowed paddocks. There’s fruit on the blackcurrant bushes, nectarines under the net waiting to be picked, ripening tomatoes bulging on their trusses, and the chestnuts are building up their prickly armoury.  

It’s hard to feel anything but lucky.

The orchard after its mandatory haircut today

The orchard after its mandatory haircut today

Black Currant Affairs

Blackcurrants harvested on New Year's Eve, 2008

Blackcurrants harvested on New Year's Eve, 2008

Forget New Year’s resolutions. I can tell you with some certainty that 2009 is going to kick off much the same way that 2008 is coming to a close – with me extracting small and fiddly black currants from their billowing bushes. It’s been a bumper crop this summer, but with so much effort required to harvest these delicate morsels by hand (the berries you can see in the picture above were a whole morning’s work), I’m already seeking expressions of interest to “outsauce” next summer’s haul.

That said, I don’t think I’d go quite as far as the legendary Louis Glowinski, who begins his spray about them in his classic tome “The Complete Book of Fruit Growing in Australia” with a damning dismissal. “Black currants are not decorative, they’re not a delight to have around”, he writes. “Their taste when fresh is unpleasant, and their smell is worse.” And they’re “obviously not for fresh eating”.

Much as they’re hard work, I beg to differ. Our black currants taste just fine straight off the bush, and they’re certainly terrific in desserts or over pancakes. I do, however, see what Glowinski’s getting at when he points out that they don’t ripen evenly, which makes extracting them from their tiny trusses pretty tedious – I’m sure that most of the armoury of Vitamin C they contain is expended on removing them one by one, day after day, year out, year in. In this respect they’re a lot more fuss and bother than jostaberries, which were conjured up in the middle of the 20th century by crossing black currants with gooseberries.

Still, at least I know that when the sun goes down this evening, there’ll be a glass of Kir waiting for me.

I’d better get back to them. Happy 2009.

Jostaberry Icecream & Redcurrant and Gooseberry Sorbet

The jostaberry ice-cream fan club

The jostaberry ice-cream fan club

With jostaberries at the their peak, we finally got to do some experiments in the kitchen with them last night and the icecream was voted a big success. While the berries themselves are black when ripe, the mix turns a psychedelic purple once the fruit is blended.

RECIPE

2 cups of jostaberries.

1  1/2 cups of cream

3/4 of a cup of sugar (go up to a cup if you like your icecream really sweet).

Combine jostaberries and sugar and heat until the sugar is dissolved and simmer for no more than five minutes. Blend the jostaberries but do not put them through a sieve. Cool, and then churn with the cream in an icecream churn.

We also made a sorbet out of this bowl of redcurrants and gooseberries.

These redcurrants and gooseberries share a common destiny

These redcurrants and gooseberries share a common destiny

RECIPE:

One cup gooseberry and/or redurrants

1/2 to 2/3 cup of sugar

Simmer to dissolve sugar and continue until gooseberries are just tender (no more than five minutes). Blend, and pass through a sieve. Churn and eat immediately, as this one won’t keep all that well.

A Very Goji Christmas

Goji berry trees on the first day at their new home
Goji berry trees on the first day at their new home

Thanks to a seasonal spending  spree curated by our two Chocolate Labradors, Moose and Elka, our orchard is now home to a pair of goji berry trees. Yes, I know that I have only this week been ruminating about the joys of unfashionability, but every now and then there’s nothing wrong with giving the next big thing a bash, notwithstanding the scepticism that’s been aired about their alleged nutritional value and anti-aging properties (see, for instance, this 2008 Herald Sun article). I’ve never tasted a goji berry, but it the labels on the plant are true then we’ll be able to report back on the part cranberry part cherry-flavoured fruits of this endeavour in a couple of years. In the meantime, Happy Holidays.

Farming with Labradors

Moose on high alert under the berry bushes

Moose on high alert under the berry bushes

Even harvesting summer berries can have its solitary side. But not if you have a couple of Chocolate Labradors ignoring your every command. While not as keen on eating redcurrants and jostaberries as his daughter, Elka, six year-old Moose (see above) still enjoys chilling out in the canopy between our redcurrants and blackcurrant bushes, providing welcome paws for thought and companionship, and, as far as can be meaningfully verified, keeps birds, snakes and vermin at bay. Of course, if we had any truffles lurking beneath our four hazelnut trees, they’d be onto them in a flash. In the weeks to come I’ll be posting  a few hundred of my favourite snaps of Moose and Elka hard at work at Icy Creek, but in the meantime, I’m sure you get an idea of how busy we all are from the “action” shots above and below.

Elka having a field day

Elka having a field day

Redcurrants, you’re pudding!

The don't realise this, but they're about to start swimming in a summer pudding

They don't realise this, but they're about to start swimming in a summer pudding

I’ve long believed that redcurrants were invented just to add a bit of a counterbalance to oversugared breakfast cereals. So this year, we’re keeping a few kilos of these frozen to give a bit of a kick to our muesli and pancakes.

On the bush they look better than just about any fruit I can think of, thanks in part to their almost translucent glow. They’re also a favourite with Elka, our two year-old chocolate Labrador, who can get manic after she eats them (even for a Lab). Could this be the canine equivalent of binging on raspberry cordial?  She won’t get too any of them today, in any case, as we have to get our stash down to the Outpost Retreat in Noojee, where you’ll almost certainly find them somewhere on the Christmas menu, along with our jostaberries.