Duncan and I had the opportunity to reflect on our autumn garden at Nundle in April @countrystylemag's 'In the garden' by Georgina Reid of @theplanthunter. Echoing the story, I've picked our medlars for making medlar jelly to serve with pork or poultry. This is our best ever crop of medlars. Usually, I accept a bag of picked fruit from Hanging Rock plantswoman Beth Moore. The medlars are softening, a process of rotting called bletting. This increases the sugar content and decreases the tannin. When we have a mixture of bletted and firm fruit (a couple of weeks), I'll make medlar jelly.
Here's an extended version of our answers to Georgina's questions about our autumn garden.
What does autumn look like in your garden?
Autumn mornings draw the curtain on spectacular shows of sunlight streaming through cloud and mist settled in low-lying areas of paddocks. The gentler light reveals dew drops caught in intricate spider webs among the skeletons of summer crops left to dry and seed in the vegetable garden.
From a distance the garden is dotted with gold and red autumn hues as the box elders lining the driveway, claret ash, pome and stone fruit trees start to colour and the ground is littered with leaves that we leave to self-mulch or mow and scatter on the garden beds.
What veggies are you planting now?
We usually expect our first frost, and consequently first wood fires, around Anzac Day. The colder months can be a struggle for us, very cold and dry, but we usually keep up a good crop of lettuce, rocket, silverbeet, kale, and broccoli to add to stews and make lunchtime salads served with warm quinoa and poached eggs throughout winter. We plant garlic cloves from from Roy’s Garlic, a local institution. Peas go in but won’t make a show until September. Young leeks can continue to be planted out until early autumn, and faster root crops like turnips will be ready for winter baking and stews.
What jobs are on your autumn gardening list?
Autumn is a time of storing and preserving the summer harvest. We plant a large crop of Roma tomatoes and basil to make jars of passata as bases for pasta sauce and slow cooked stews. We pick the remaining green tomatoes to make green tomato relish. The chook tractor of Isa Brown chickens goes on clean-up in the summer beds, working new organic matter into the soil. They generally stay there through the cold months. We dig and store potatoes in the garden in a clamp made from layers of soil, hay and potatoes.
There are always a few surprises in the garden, like randomly spreading, self-seeded pumpkins, and zucchinis that we make into soups
I keep an eye on the crabapples and it’s a race to beat the birds to pick them for making crabapple jelly.
What is your favourite thing about autumn?
I love the gifts of excess produce shared by friends. I can count on veteran Nundle gardener Beth Moore, in her eighties, to drop in a bag of intriguing looking golden medlars, for making medlar jelly. Fellow gardener Natasha Sutherland gave me a bag of cumquats last year that I made into cumquat marmalade for our marmalade-loving son, Gryff. We enjoy visiting Kirrily and Derek Derek Blomfield at Caroona on the Liverpool Plains to pick olives for pickling (we’ve just opened the last jar from autumn 2017).
Any tool recommendations from Exchange stores?
The Burgon and Ball apple picker is literally a helping hand in the garden for picking high fruit (and has uses beyond apples of course), the razor hoe is an invaluable multi-tool for weeding, pulling out spent crops, making holes for seeds and seedlings, and smoothing over soil. Michael Drinkwater’s Hand Forged hoe is used almost daily. While a colander isn’t strictly a garden tool it is something we use in the garden most days for picking lettuce, broccoli, kale, silverbeet or beans and giving them a rinse under the tap or hose before taking them into the kitchen to make dinner.
Medlar Jelly, from 'Not Just Jam' by Matthew Evans
Ingredients: 1.8kg medlars, a mix of firm and bletted fruit, about 1kg sugar, 1 cinnamon stick, juice of 1/2 lemon, strained, 2 strips of lemon peel.
Day 1: Cut the medlars into quarters and place in a stainless steel saucepan. Just cover the fruit with water and bring to the boil. Cook the medlars until soft. Pour into a colander or sieve lined with muslin (or jelly bag), set it over a bowl or jug and leave to drip overnight. Avoid squeezing the pulp or it will cloud your jelly.
Day 2: Wash and sterilise four 250ml jars. Place a saucer in the freezer to test setting point later. Measure the medlar juice. For every 600ml of juice add 450g of sugar. Heat the juice in a jam pan, or what's on hand, and warm the sugar in a low oven, before adding to the hot juice. Add the cinnamon stick, lemon juice and peel. Bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved then continue to gently boil for about 40 minutes until setting point is reached (dribble a little of the jam on the saucer from the freezer, leave for 30 seconds and aim for wrinkling when you run your finger across the jam drop). Pour into sterilised jars and seal. Store for up to one year. Refrigerate after opening.