Regular readers of Good Things may already know of journalist and writer, Hilary Burden. Hilary is the author of A Story of Seven Summers - Life in the Nuns' House, a delicious memoir with recipes that captures Hilary's return to Australia from London and her discovery of a ramshackle old place in Tasmania that she would be delighted to call home.
Hilary shares a similar food philosophy to my own in that she relishes the produce that every new season brings and is a keen supporter of growers and farmer's markets; but she also says that for her an appreciation of food is not about being a cook, a chef or a foodie. It's more about having an appreciation for where things come from and knowing what makes something truly itself.
It is with great pleasure that I welcome Hilary as a Good Things guest blogger and I'd also like to thank my Peter for compiling this post for me as I recover from a bout of illness. I hope to be fit and well very soon. And now, over to Hilary...
'Looking back over seven summers, I know that who I am is where I am. It might not be the secret to life, but it is the secret to this life... I'll tell how you that came to be and that will be the story of the Nuns' House.'
'I live in rural northeast Tasmania and operate hilbarn, a small fruit and vegetable fresh produce box business, with my partner in Karoola – hunting and gathering local and seasonal produce from farmers and growers, packing it into boxes and delivering it to customers across Tasmania. I met Lizzy when she interviewed me about my book A Story Of Seven Summers - Life in the Nuns' House and then wrote a lovely review.
I love living locally and making the most of what is available in my environment, whether that’s in my own back yard or in friends’. Hilbarn has grown through a passion for sharing what is bountiful and in fresh abundance and this is really the extent of my food philosophy: to cherish what the seasons offer us and make the most of what you have. Grow more, shop less! Grow what you know grows best with your hands in your soil. And source what you can't grow from local farmers and markets, or swap with friends.
There are very few days when the kitchen table isn’t covered with produce harvested or swapped, or just surplus to hilbarn requirements. Right now, it’s late autumn, although so far an unseasonally warm one – temperatures in the twenties when more normally they would be early to mid teens.
There's the last of the apples from my apple trees; quince from my sister in law’s garden; cumquats from my back yard tree I planted three years ago and now flourishing; mushrooms that popped up overnight on the front lawn (which we've identified as common portobello mushroom i.e. white on top and ranging from pink-ish to brown gills on the inside); as well as passionfruit from a hilbarn customer who left some for us in her recycle box when we home-delivered last week.
Plus, one of the strangest fruit I’ve ever seen: medlars from Rhonnie and Bob’s historic garden at The Pear Walk. They asked if we'd pick them as they were going away for a few weeks. Medlars look like a cross between a large rosehip and a small apple and apparently aren’t edible until they’re half rotten.
I am making my way through the passionfruit (mostly raw on muesli with yoghurt and Kate Smith's Caramel Butter she made for hilbarn boxes last week). We'll bake the quince (two cups of fruit to one cup of sugar, cover the fruit with water, add one vanilla bean, and bake in a covered casserole in a low oven for 4 hours). I'll share the apples between Barn (he loves a simple apple tart made with readymade puff pastry) and Jack and Kerouac, my two alpacas who think sliced apple is the best treat in the world. The cumquats will make it into a marmalade (see my favourite recipe below), if I don't give them to Kate first to make chutney.
And I'll wait for the medlars to age before trying out a recipe for roasted medlars I found in one of my recipe books. I'd love to hear from anyone who has any other ideas for what to do with them. Meantime, I’ll let Liz know how they turn out and send her a photo if they do!
In the meantime, enjoy this marmalade recipe and thank you Lizzy for the opportunity to share news from our Tasmanian harvest with your readers.
Despite their tropical colour, cumquats, like limes and most lemons, ripen in winter. This recipe is from Darina Allen's Ballymaloe Cookery Course Book - an old, much-splashed favourite which lives alongside Nigel Slater's Appetite, right next to the stove.
1.5 litres water
1.3 kg sugar
Slice the cumquats thinly crossways. Collect the seeds and put them in a small bowl with 225 mls of the water, allow to stand overnight. Put the cumquats in a larger bowl with the remaining water, cover and allow to stand overnight.
Next day, strain the seeds, saving the liquid (this now contains the pectin from the seeds). Discard the seeds. Put the cumquat mixture into a large saucepan with the reserved liquid from the seeds. Bring the mixture to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes or until the cumquats are very tender.
Warm the sugar for 10 minutes in a low oven. Add the warm sugar to the cumquats and stir until fully dissolved. Bring to the boil and cook rapidly with the lid off for about 15 minutes. Stir at intervals to prevent sticking. Test for a set. Pour into hot sterilised jars.
Making cumquat marmalade with Hilary...
The sliced cumquats and their seeds are soaked, separately, in water overnight. The seeds contribute pectin - essential for the jam to set.
See how the colour of the marmalade deepens beautifully after the sugar is added.
What I use to make jam: the silver funnel is my favourite kitchen ‘gadget’, it fits perfectly into the top of a jar so that jam can be poured in with minimal mess or spillage. I do a test for set by splashing a little onto a cold saucer and pushing it with a teaspoon. If the splash stays where it is after it’s been pushed and doesn’t move back into place... it’s set.
I use this vintage jam ladel to remove any froth from the top of the boiling jam. Do this towards the end of the boiling time while it’s still on the stove.
Here, I'm pouring the jam into clean sterile jars that have been heated in a low oven just before the bottling process.
The jars are snapped shut to cool overnight, with the marmalade ready for breakfast. Yum!'
Hilary, thank you so much for giving us a peek into your Autumn kitchen. Peter and I thoroughly enjoyed A Story of Seven Summers and would love to come visit you and Barn at The Nuns' House next time we are in Tassie.
Louise Sanders from 936 ABC Hobart interviewed Hilary for the Drive program. You can listen to the audio here.
NB: All of the above images appear with the kind courtesy of Hilary Burden and are copyright to Hilary Burden and hilbarn.
So dear readers, have you cooked with medlars, or grown them yourself? Please feel free to share your recipe/s here.
Cooking and writing have been a lifelong passion.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.