Kitchen Garden Guides

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Carl Barnes and Glass Gem Corn

….. truly an inspiration to all who save seeds.

A stunning variety selected by Carl Barnes, a part-Cherokee farmer and breeder, from several traditional corn varieties. Produces a diversity of gorgeous translucent, jewel-colored ears, each one unique. A popcorn, the kernels may be ground into cornmeal or popped….


…..For millennia, people have elegantly interacted with the plants that sustain them through careful selection and seed saving. This process, repeated year after year, changes and adapts the plants to take on any number of desirable characteristics, from enhanced color and flavor to disease resistance and hardiness.

The bounty of genetic diversity our ancestral farmers and gardeners created in this way was shared and handed down across generations. But under today’s industrial agricultural paradigm of monocropping, GMOs, and hybrid seeds, this incredible diversity has been narrowed to a shred of its former abundance. A 1983 study compared the seed varieties found in the USDA seed bank at the time with those available in commercial seed catalogs in 1903. The results were striking.

Of the 408 different tomato varieties on the market at the turn of the century, less than 80 were present in the USDA collection. Similarly, lettuces that once flourished with 497 heirloom varieties were only represented by 36 varieties. The same held true for most other veggies including sweet corn, of which only a dozen cultivars were preserved out of 307 unique varieties once available in the catalogs. Though this data leaves some questions around actual diversity decline, the trend toward dwindling crop diversity is alarming. In just a few generations, both the time-honored knowledge of seed saving and many irreplaceable seeds are in danger of disappearing.

Though much of this diversity may be gone, all hope is not lost. The emergence of a breathtaking heirloom variety like Glass Gem reveals that the art and magic of seed saving lives on. It reminds us that we can return to this age-old practice and restore beauty, wonder, and abundance to our world. Indeed, this renaissance is already underway. The rising seed library movement is encouraging local gardeners to become crop breeders and empowering communities to reclaim sovereignty over their food. Our pioneering Seed School program at Native Seeds/SEARCH is training people from all walks of life in building sustainable local seed systems rooted in ancient traditions. And as eye-popping images of Glass Gem continue to spread around the world, Carl Barnes’ kaleidoscopic corn has become a beacon—and perhaps an inspiring symbol—for the global seed-saving revival….

Copied from “Native Seeds”, an American native seed company.

Photo: Thank you for the new Glass Gem Corn photo from Seed Freedom.  Seeds available from Native Seeds/SEARCH:

Seed Freedom Fortnight

I cannot understand people who are not interested in where their food comes from and swap stories on Facebook about where you can get really cheap ‘food’. We live in different worlds, them and me, but are neighbours. They would rather drive half an hour through rural Tasmania to a cheap shop, than spend half an hour in the garden, sowing a whole season’s food or shopping at the market on a Sunday.

This video says it better than I can…. join with Vandana Shiva and take up one of the actions she mentions, to save your freedom to choose what you eat, now and forever.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Gardening Australia gets to the core and soars to the stars….

"Meet Joost Bakker - artist, florist, inventor, architect, builder, landscape designer, restaurateur and eco-entrepreneur. He's a big ideas man."


I have been getting a little tired of Gardening Australia but this week hit the spot for me, with some amazing innovations that really are world firsts. Honestly, each segment was not just interesting but so inspiring and creative that I wanted to jump up out of my chair and go and join in. If you can, watch it on iview.


It started with this wonderful man…. Joost Bakker…. who has ideas and just gets them done…. "I just believe that we don't need to generate any waste in any of the things that we do in everyday life," says Joost. "We can live in a world that is sustainable and doesn't need to have an impact and we don't need to put anything in landfill. Everything endlessly reusable and recyclable - that's my philosophy."

Sure we’ve heard that all before but Joost is a BIG ideas man…..he designs recyclable houses, he recycles buildings, he turns 100% of his cafe waste into compost on site. He is just simply wonderful!!

"In this cafe, we don't have any rubbish bins," says Joost. "We don't accept anything in cardboard, we don't accept anything in glass - so our milk comes in stainless steel vats, our whiskey comes in wooden barrels, all the produce comes in black returnable plastic crates.

And there’s so much more!

"Well, if you look at Sweden, they've decided that by 2020 they're going to be totally self-sufficient in fertiliser. So every new house that gets built there has a urine-harvesting toilet with a tank and the government comes and empties the tank once a year. Urine is sterile*, so you can store it for a long time and they have equipment that injects it into the soil," says Joost. "So, rather than using chemical-based fertilisers they want to use natural fertilisers."

And I bet he gets this one done….

"I'd love to put a farm on top of an office tower in Melbourne. That's my goal. I actually want to show how much food we can grow with the waste that the restaurant generates. I want to have a restaurant, a farm, a composter and use things like olive pips to generate energy and have a completely enclosed loop of a supermarket at the base, where people can buy the produce that we've grown. Anyway, I'm working on it. It's a big dream. It'll happen. I'll make it happen!"

Suddenly the rest of the world seems so small.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Gluten-free, diabetic and other internal malfunctions….

Having an organic wholefoods business has introduced me to a whole world of people and their reasons for seeking what they require, from me. Of course there are some, like me, whose philosophies demand they think about all the aspects of what they do, before settling on buying any product, especially food.

However, I would say that the majority of my customers come to my shop because they have dietary problems of one sort or another and I am someone they can ask for assistance in finding what they need.

The digestive tracks of Australia and many other parts of the world are rebelling! When so many people, from  8 to 80 years of age, have a small range of very debilitating dietary problems then something is seriously wrong with a lot of what is being sold as food to these people. Sure, maybe they should be growing their vegetables (some of them already are), but this is more about those things we usually don’t grow, like grains, dried fruit, nuts, milk and meat.

“I don’t have time” is the response I most often get when I suggest people read EVERY label and avoid EVERY thing with numbers or ingredients that are not a food.

“Ok” I say “You know what? Neither do I…. so you want to know what I do?”

“Oh yes please!” (So, now they have gone from saying its all too hard, to being really keen to know an easy answer and this is step 1 completed already!)

“ Right… I only buy processed foods that have 1 ingredient” I answer.

“Hmmm…. what do you mean?” They ask.

“Well, if I want sultanas, I only buy sultanas. Look at most packets in the supermarket and what you thought was a good old, Australian brand of Australian sultanas now is owned by a foreign company and the sultanas are not Australian either.  Moreover, the sultanas now also contain oil and preservatives.”

“Oh, well, why is that? Should I care?” Asks a now slightly concerned customer.

“Rancid oil is linked to cancer. There is no control over the oil on these sultanas; we don’t know where it comes from or even what it is, never mind how old it was when mixed with the sultanas to make them all shiny…. and if fruit is well grown and properly dried it does not need a chemical to preserve it; that is what the drying is supposed to do…. preserve things!” (We are not launching into the whole organic thing here yet…. just awareness.)

Customer now thinks of their children and all the sultanas they feed them and now is dead keen to get started on this new and very simple way of shopping and eating.

Since we are standing in my Pantry Room, I open a bucket of sultanas…. organic, Australian and grown by a man called Mark; no oil, no preservatives, just good, old-fashioned, Australian sultanas, like the customer thought she was buying in the supermarket.

And that is what is so unfortunate; most people just don’t realise that things have changed. They still remember, as I do, TipTop wholemeal bread delivered to your door early every morning, (by a man with a horse and cart, in my childhood!!) when bread was real bread; grown, milled and baked with real, local ingredients, not numbers and cheap fillers made in a factory somewhere.

…..When milk came in re-usable glass bottles, fresh on your door step every morning, from cows eating grass not far away; unhomogenised, with real cream on top, not white water that has been taken apart and remade according to some industrial recipe, on the other side of the country then packed in plastic and stacked in supermarkets.

…. When meat animals lived entirely on pasture and the better the skill of the farmer to manage his pasture herbage, the better the meat. Pasture used to be made up of dozens of annual and perennial grasses and herbs, packed with natural nutrition. Now animals are crowded into feed lots and fed artificial food to tenderise their flesh and make them gain weight, with no account taken of the the discomfort of the animal’s digestion nor that of the humans who are going to eat this industrial protein.

….. When grandpa and grandma grew vegetables and shared them with the extended family or people shopped daily in greengrocer shops or markets stacked up with local, seasonal produce not weekly in supermarkets buying vegetables grown in China, Peru or Thailand while our own Australian farmers go broke trying to compete against those highly sprayed, unsafe, fresh and frozen vegetables.

If you think I am dreaming, then watch Landline for a while and listen to the farmers. Watch this week’s Landline, in fact, and learn about our last vegetable processor, Simplot, that packs Australian frozen peas, tinned corn and all the other things you think will always be there for you, and how they are struggling to keep going. To me, not having Birds Eye Australian frozen peas would be like the elephant going extinct…. seemingly impossible but devastatingly near.

All of this is responsible for the problems my customers have with their health. The other thing is the promotion of processed goods as healthy food. Muesli bars, fruit yoghurts, ready-made and frozen meals, cheap pastas and breads, lite milk, baked potato chips, artificial sweeteners etc etc ….. these are treats or emergency rations, not foods for everyday eating. They all have attractive packets, proclaiming their virtues which people believe because they have never realised that they are being tricked and deceived.

I was brought up to question everything and my mother was interested in health and food. I was lucky. Most people only begin to question their food choices when they are diagnosed with something that has been plaguing them for years. It is not fair. I have seen couples struggling to accept that one of them can no longer eat wheat or gluten or dairy foods and what this is going to mean for the whole family.

Our health system is a sickness system. No doctor I have ever been to has asked me what I ate or what I fed my children.

All I can do is write it down here and hope I save one person…. if you want biscuits, make them from the best, individual ingredients there are. If you “don’t have time” then don’t eat biscuits. You are entirely what you eat.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Cygnet Library Garden Project Open Day

It has been 3 years since I first thought I would like to help renovate the Cygnet Library garden. Finally, a few months ago, a friend and I were allowed to start on its rejuvenation. Something I have learned from permaculture is to always have 3 reasons for using a plant and all along I have wanted the garden to be not just decorative but also edible and educational, including as many native Tasmanian bush foods as possible. 

When I say ‘garden’ you would no doubt imagine something much grander than this tiny strip of barren soil, only about 10cms deep, under which is a solid bed of road base! We did not know about the shallow soil until after we had started to do the work! It is a challenge and I feel my reputation as the writer of the monthly garden column in the local paper is very much at stake here!

Carol is lovely to work with. She is a keen scavenger, like me, and has added many plants she has grown from cuttings, from saved seeds gathered in neighbour’s gardens and from bargains at garage sales. She is an artist and, in time, is going to add some sorely needed artist creations if we can get permission to work around the whole perimeter of the library.

With such shallow soil the only thing to do is to plant very small plants, known to be happy in such a situation, with the idea that their roots will grow sideways. Eventually, when they grow, there will be a wonderful, edible shrubbery interspersed with annual herbs, flowers and vegetables. Summer will be the test but if such a garden can thrive anywhere, it will be here, where the temperatures are mild, there is some humidity and some summer rain. The librarians are fabulous and will keep an eye on things and do some watering when we are not there. Luckily the library is in the main street so I pass it whenever I walk to the shops and Carol does too.

Next step is to add some vertical elements. These will be made of prunings and so on from various trees, some native and some not, cut from our gardens and those of one of the librarians. Heather has also provided some Tasmanian pepperberry plants which self sow in her bush garden. This is the start of our bush foods collection.

All these words…. because I am a little embarrassed when I look at my photos, to see how insignificant it all looks. When I am there, planting or weeding and working amongst the plants, it seems so gorgeous!!


Native viola, a pretty addition to salads. Will spread and self sow.
The biggest bit of the garden!
Ornamental kale, which is also delicious. Nice salad leaves.
Tas. Pepperberry. Leaves and berries are very peppery.


Cygnet Library Garden Project Open Day
Library garden walk, talk & morning tea with volunteersimage Carol and Kate

imageCome along and find out what’s going on….

    There’s a lot more than you think!image

          Friday Oct 11th, 11am

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Early Spring Pasta Bake…. from the garden

I have a wonderful book called ‘Vegetables from an Italian Garden’ and I have a wonderful vegetable garden from which to cook. The book is so different to any other vegetable book I know; it is very hard to explain why, except that the recipes for each vegetable are simple, always delicious, made for gardeners and not full of cheese, tomato paste and pasta. It also is about growing the vegetables and is arranged by season.

On Tuesdays I cook some meals for a busy, local family. They collect a range of vegetarian things from my home; always including some soup, mains, patties, bread and salads which I make with vegetables from my garden whenever I can. I make enough of each dish for me as well which saves me cooking for a couple of nights.

They love a big baked pasta dish, full of cheese, to feed the hungry teenagers. But I am not so keen on this, so this week I adapted it to my tastes and baked mine in a separate dish. I have some beautiful, voluptuous fennel bulbs in my garden at the moment which will bolt soon so now is the time to use them.

The fennel filling part of the recipe was inspired by the book I mentioned, which has several lovely recipes for fennel bulbs. I didn’t know it was going to be sooooo delicious and did not take photos but, anyway, it doesn’t look that exciting!

This is what I did for my version but is enough for a large lasagne dish. There is more explanation at the bottom. I am so hopeless!!:

  • Top and tail 3 large fennel bulbs, making sure they are free from slugs if they are from your garden like mine were!
  • Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Put the fennel bulbs in and simmer 30 minutes. Drain but reserve the liquid. Slice the fennel thinly when cool enough to handle.
  • At the same time bring another pan of water to the boil and cook plenty of good quality pasta, eg fettuccine, orecchiette, penne or other.
  • Hard boil 3 eggs. Peel and carefully slice into quarters.
  • Chop 2 or 3 stems of fresh spring garlic stems, all of them, from bottom to the top of the greens. Or, if you have garlic bulbs, crush and chop several cloves.
  • Chop up a good handful of greens, such as mizuna, silver beet etc
  • Chop up some mushrooms if you have them but ok to omit.
  • Make a green peppercorn sauce, using some of the fennel cooking water. Make it runnier than my recipe on that link.
  • Have some grated cheese at hand for the top…. Just a little, don’t drown out the subtle flavours of this dish with too much cheese!

When you are ready, just assemble the layers into a large baking dish:

  • first start with a drizzle of the peppercorn sauce
  • then half of the pasta.
  • next, half the sliced fennel bulbs, eggs, mushrooms, greens, garlic
  • then half the peppercorn sauce
  • repeat and sprinkle the top with a good cheese but not too much
  • pour 1/2 cup or more of water around the edges

Bake 160C for 20 minutes until just beginning to colour a little. You don’t want it all dark and crisp like you do with a tomatoey lasagne.

***Actually, I made mine in a single serve soufflĂ© dish, and only had 1 layer. For the big one I made for the family I used 1/2 the green peppercorn sauce recipe and put that in the middle but for the top I mixed 2 eggs and a fair bit of yoghurt, poured than over and then grated cheese onto it. But if you don’t have home made yoghurt or your own chooks, then the peppercorn sauce on top would be fine…. I eat it by the spoonful.***

Monday, September 2, 2013

Sally’s Chinese Noodle Soup for breakfast, lunch or dinner

Sally and I run separate cooking classes. Sally is Chinese and her classes are fabulous and very popular. I mostly do sourdough bread workshops but a few other things too. We each send out emails advertising our next classes. I forward her emails to people on my list and Sally forwards my emails to her list…… it is all very complicated and sometimes people end up getting the emails several times. So today I went to Sally’s beautiful new house and we combined our lists.


Then Sally made us a quick lunch. It was so delicious and simple. Here’s what she did:

Into a wok put about 6 Sichuan pepper flowers and turn up the heat. Then add a dash of rice bran / peanut oil. Leave until it is really hot and the peppercorns turn black.

Turn off the heat and let it cool while you chop a spring onion and slice a piece of ginger and add then to the pan gently so it does not splatter and burn you. Leave for a couple of minutes.

Turn the heat back on and add some bottled tomatoes, about 1 – 2 cups  water, a few fermented black beans and a dash of soy sauce.

When this is coming to the boil, add a good handful of thin, dry noodles and cook as per the packet.

Meanwhile chop some greens from the garden and add them to the wok just before serving, along with 2 raw eggs (which cook gently in the hot soup). Drizzle over some sesame oil.

Top with some edible flowers, such as these bok choy. The whole thing took about 10 minutes. Sally and her husband often have this for breakfast in winter. Serves 2.

Sally made fresh soy milk too, which she usually drinks hot, during the afternoon, with a teaspoon of honey. She has made it in a Thermomix but says it works better in her Chinese soy milk machine which looks just like this one. This took about the same amount of time as the soup, after she had soaked the soy beans overnight. The soy milk tasted so different and fresh compared to the commercial stuff from the shops.

The lunch and the soy milk were a real treat. Sitting there talking to Sally was a very relaxing and lovely way to spend the morning and, as it turned out, some of the afternoon as well !! I will definitely make the soup often and I have asked Sally if I can provide her with all the organic, Australian soy beans she ever needs, if she will make me a litre of soy milk once a week. Nice.

ps Sally uses the pulp left over from making the soy milk, in her spring onion pancakes, with some polenta and egg.