Walnut and Maple syrup biscuits

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Sometimes only a biscuit will do and I don’t mean a shop bought one (although custard creams will do at a pinch!) A still warm biccie fresh from the oven can really brighten a cold day or a hard mornings planting bulbs (250 so far….) since it’s raining walnuts here my memory was jogged to remember this recipe for a Walnut and Maple syrup biscuit. It doesn’t contain sugar but is sweetened by Maple Syrup and Rice Syrup. You can use raisins, sultanas, cranberries for the fruit – whatever you have to hand. There’s also no rolling out to do just a quick dollop on the baking tray. It also means that I can use one of my favourite kitchen gadgets – a coffee grinder. Now, I don’t drink coffee so this must be the only coffee grinder that has never ground a single bean. However, it’s been used to grind spices, nuts and even flowers (for my homemade concoctions). A pretty happy grinder all in all. If you don’t have a grinder just use your processor and scrape the sides down until everything is dust or buy ready ground walnuts!

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Mmmmm something very therapeutic about reducing things to rubble :-)

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Recipe

75g raisins/sultanas/cranberries
90g walnuts, ground
100g rolled oats
50g plain white flour
90g wholemeal flour
2 tsp cinnamon, ground
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp fine salt
5 Tblsp vegetable oil
5 Tblsp maple syrup
5 Tbsp brown rice syrup

Add your dried fruit to a small bowl and cover with boiling water to rehydrate them. Grind the walnuts and half of the rolled oats and add to a large bowl. Add all other dry ingredients.

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Then simply mix in the wet ingredients and the raisins and mix to a sticky dough. I always measure out the oil first. I find that the sticky maple syrup and rice syrup slip off the spoon a lot quicker – but maybe that’s just me being ultra impatient….

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Dollop dessert spoonfuls of the dough on to a baking sheet and cook at 180c for 13-15 minutes. I turn halfway through and cover with a sheet of baking paper to stop the edges burning.

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Hey presto! A yummy, chewy (really quite healthy for a biscuit) treat for a hard working gardener or those in need of a little comforting cheer….

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….oh….and a cup of tea :-)

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A Seedy Situation

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Papery trumpets of Bells of Ireland

One of the best things about Autumn is it’s incredible bounty. I spend most of my time here at The Fig Tree harvesting from the fig orchard and pootling down to Te Mata Figs to drop off the produce. I also spend a lot of time harvesting from the other trees around the place; walnut, persimmon, quince, feijoa and lime. It feels never ending as I scoop up a glut one day only to find a heap more the next. I’ve lived in this property long enough now to have my Go To chutney and preserving recipes and I will start sharing some of these as I make them. However, the other job I want to share is one that I’ve only just recently got into and that is seed saving.

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The architectural seed head of Scabiosa Starball

Saving seed makes economic sense (especially if you’re gardening on a large scale) but it also makes horticultural sense. I have found that the seed I have saved has a very high germination rate because it’s fresher. I save seed in the autumn and use it the following spring. This is a real plus point for saving your own. It’s also really easy. All you need are some paper bags, pen, scissors and a bit of time on a warm, dry day and you’re good to go.

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So how do you save seed? Some plants will make a seed pod, some will contain seed within the dying part of the flower and others will have seeds within fruit or berries. The key is to leave the flower on the plant until it goes brown and a bit crunchy. If you harvest too soon the seeds will be immature and won’t germinate. If you’re really organised you can tie a piece of string or ribbon  to particularly strong looking specimens so ensure strong seeds. However, I find that I collect and sow so much seed that I tend not to worry about this too much. Instinctively I tend to go for the larger heads anyway. Some flowers make it really easy-peasy and obvious where their seed is stored like poppies, calendular and nigella.

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The captivating seed head of Nigella

Nigella has the most stunning seed head that brings real interest and texture to posies. It’s well worth growing either the blue or the white variety because it’s flower is just as pretty with it’s feathery fronds as the seed pod. You effectively get two plants in one.

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Inside a Nigella seed pod

Split open the papery casing and you will find hundreds of tiny seeds just ready to be saved for next year. I often sow Nigella directly in autumn after harvesting seed. It’s very hardy and can withstand a bit of cold.

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Unripe seeds within an Honesty seed pod

Honesty is another fascinating seed pod. With the light behind it you can clearly see the large round seeds within. Like a little alien life force – it’s really beautiful.

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Honesty seeds ready to be collected

Wait a bit longer and the seed pod fades from bright green to brown and separates so the seeds can slip innocuously out.

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Iridescent moons

Once the seeds have slipped away it continues to fade to a silvery, gossamer thin disc – an iridescent moon –  perfect in an autumnal arrangement.

Other flowers like snapdragons, scabious and amaranthus are easy too – it’s just a case of waiting for the seed to dry off. Just pop them in a paper bag to dry and all the seed will be caught within the bag.

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Amaranthus Love Lies Bleeding with long tendrils of seed

Once you’ve grown amaranthus once you will never have to buy seed ever again. The long tail like catkins are packed with millions of tiny seed. These just crumble away when rubbed gently between finger and thumb. If seed doesn’t fall away easily then it’s not ready to harvest.

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Tiny amaranthus seed

Make sure you harvest the amaranthus or you will have a jungle next spring!

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Scabious Deep Waters seed pod

The beautiful seed pods of scabious Deep Waters are almost other worldly. As well as saving the seed you can also get another flush of flowers by giving the whole plant a haircut after it has flowered. Scabious is a hardy little trouper!

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Dried Bells of Ireland

There are some flowers who hide their seeds a little bit more than others; namely Bells of Ireland and Zinnia. I love both of these flowers but am often frustrated at the poor germination rates. This year I thought I’d up my chances by saving fresh seed to see if this helps. So grab yourself a handful of Bells and I’ll show you how easy it is to save.

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Dark circle of seed of Bells of Ireland

Once the bracts have turned papery you can see the dark centre. This circle makes up four seeds each of which is a triangle – like a piece of pie.

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Ouch!

Peel bag the papery skin and watch out for the spike behind the bract and tip the seed out into a bag.

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Perfect triangular seeds of Bells of Ireland

 

I am always fascinated by the perfect triangular shape of the seed and the neat way it forms a complete circle until broken apart – very clever.

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Zinnia Lime Green with crispy petals

With zinnia you might think that the centre contains the seeds but in actual fact it’s the dried up petals. Simply snip the petals leaving just a tiny bit to hold onto. Then pull gently and you have seeds.

Top seed Saving Tips

Never collect seed on a rainy day or when the dew is still on the grass

If seed doesn’t fall away easily either snip the whole flower and store in a bag to catch the seed or leave a bit longer

Always use a paper bag to store your seed and keep them away from moisture

Don’t forget to label the bag with the variety and the date. You’ll think that you’ll remember but you won’t!

If you have a glut of seeds try swapping them for other varieties with friends or google Seed Swapping Forums for one local to you

So have a go at saving seed. You’ll find yourself noticing that the fading beauty of flowers is just enchanting and save a bit of cash too.

Up and running again…..

My laptop blew up a few weeks ago and in true Fig Family style it took us ages to get round to replacing it. However, it’s been well worth the wait as we decided to plump for an Apple Mac. It’s all shiny and sleek and light as air. Rather flash in other words and I’m a little bit intimidated by it! However, turns out its full of fab features including iMovie. So, now I’m up and running again I thought I’d try my hand at compiling a little snippet of a movie featuring some of the jobs that I’ve been getting on with this Autumn. It’s not perfect and is quite possibly a bit cheesy and I’ve learnt a lot (video in landscape in particular). It was a lot of fun though and my eldest figlet really enjoyed laughing at me and telling me that I walk like a zombie and to put more energy into it!

So just a short post today but I’ve got lots to write about (especially collecting seeds) and quite possibly video too. So watch this space!

It’s raining, it’s pouring…..

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Wild and free Sunflower Vanilla Ice

But I’m certainly not snoring! I’m celebrating because it’s been a very dry summer and we need some water on our thirsty gardens. I can almost hear the slurp, slurp as the green and plant like amongst us suck up the moisture. Autumn is probably my favourite time of year (although I know I say that about Spring when she comes flouncing along in all her finery) because I like the Back To School feeling (I grew up in England remember where the school year starts in September) which was a promise of Fresh Starts. Now, in New Zealand it still heralds a start of sorts for me because it’s a time to reflect on the last growing season, learn from it and start planning for the new season. However, before the planning I still have a small matter of 500 fig trees to harvest!

 

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Black Genoa Figs ripening nicely in the sunshine

It’s full swing in the Figgery at the moment. My two ancient Brown Turkey trees are dripping with fruit although they are a whole month late this year due to the cold Spring. I’m finding that the majority of the fruit are classed as seconds or processing grade which means they’ll end up in Te Mata Fig’s chutneys, salamis and pastes. Normally when I begin picking the majority of the fruit will be 1st grade. I think it’s a combination of the fact that the figs have spent an extra month hanging around on the tree and they’re also pretty old and have been quite neglected on the pruning front.

 

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Beautiful Black Genoa figs

The main Fig Orchard is just two years old. I thought we may get a few figs this year but every variety is showing some fig action particularly the Black Genoa which is very exciting! It’s an easy fig to spot because when it’s ripe it’s purple coat glistens. The Black Genoa is a purple skinned, pear shaped fruit that contains a luscious red flesh that is very sweet. Great eaten straight from the tree or for use in jams. Or for a real treat try this Fig Muffin recipe.

200g self raising flour
Pinch of salt
2tsp cinnamon
125g caster sugar
100g brown sugar
1 orange or 2 satsumas
200g fresh Black Genoa figs (or other variety), chopped
250ml Greek Yoghurt
50g softened butter
1 egg, lightly beaten

Add all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Grate the zest of the orange (or satsumas) into another bowl with the yoghurt, butter and egg and beat together gently. Add to dry ingredients and fold together gently. Peel and chop orange (or satsumas) and add to mixture with the figs. You want small pieces of fruit so take your time. You should have a lumpy old mixture to spoon into muffin cases. Bake at 180c for 30-35 mins.

Delish! If only I had a photo to show you but sadly we scoffed the lot….. It’s quite hard to find baking recipes that call for fresh figs (lots using dried figs) so if you know of any please do let me know.

 

Flowers, flowers everywhere……

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Well just look at that….February already! No blog action during January at all I’m afraid. Spent many a day sniffing the salty air, cooling off in the sea and making sandcastles. Other lazy days were spent trying to keep cool during one of the hottest summers I’ve experienced to date in New Zealand. And, of course, I spent a lot of time wondering through the WildFlower Meadow observing all the new varieties blooming away and snipping happily in the Cut Flower Garden. I was lucky enough to be asked to sell some flower posies at our local Farmer’s Market to help out my Florist Friend. It was such an interesting and  fun morning. Interesting as a flower seller to see which flowers were the ones that sold first and fun because I met some really interesting and lovely people – many of whom just loved talking about flowers!

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Here’s my little stall complete with a huge bucket of Sunflower ‘Vanilla Ice’.

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I used a huge variety of my flowers and herbs and the scent was just delightful. In the posies above you can see Zinnia, alstromeria, echinecea buttons, apple mint, bergamont Bee balm, scabiosa, feverfew and ageratum. 

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In the posies above I used sedum, dahlia ‘Embrace’, mignonette, orange cosmos and amaranthus. the vase of dahlias are ‘Cafe au Lait’. These were really for show as they only have a few days vase life. It’s best to pick them slightly immature as the bud is half to two thirds open. They are probably one of the showiest flowers I know. A real Fleeting Beauty.

So aside from having fun at the market I have started to make a list of Things That I’ve Learnt from the last two seasons as a Cut Flower Grower.

Successional Sowing : as every good vege gardener knows, successional sowing is essential to avoid the ‘hungry gaps’. I made just two sowings (!) However, theis second sowing really came into it’s own for the flower stall. I had sown salvia tricolour and salvia Turkistan white, clary sage and antirrhinums. Perfect to pad out the posies. I was also glad to have my scented herbs to fall back on. The applemint, scented geraniums and Bergamont Bee Balm in particular.

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AWOL plants ; I had a few mysteriously disappearing plants namely asters, sweet williams, echinops ritro, aquilegia ‘Nora Barlow’ and Geum Mrs Bradshaw. One minute they were there, the next….vanished. I think some may have been swamped by their stronger green leaved neighbours. Must leave more space inbetween plantings.

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Keep the same varieties of a flower separate : Why? Well, I planted 4 types of zinnia and apart from Giant Lime I wasn’t sure which was which. Same with the sunflowers apart from Vanilla Ice. On the plus side I had the best crop of zinnia and sunflowers ever.

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Remove finished varieties and replace with new : This follows on from the successional sowing point but I did tend to leave finished varieties to run amok willy nilly with the weeds which is not something I’d care to repeat!

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Slow burners : Some of the varieties I chose to sow took AGES to flower including buplerum and ammi majus and ammi visnaga. I will be planting these well away form the Cutting Garden because they take up valuable space.

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Stake and support : An obvious one but my sunflowers and dahlias should have been staked sooner…. I did toy with th eidea of using pea netting horizontally for the taller plants to grow through as many flower farmers do. I think this would have been over kill for my space though. Perhaps just larkspur and corncockle.

Grow More! : When I started my Cutting garden it was purely for me. However, now I’m selling the flowers I need a better more oganised strategy and most of all I need to Grow Heaps More. The varieties that were snipped up the fastest included sweetpeas and sunflowers. Paeonies are the other popular flower here in Hawke’s Bay. The other flowers essential for filling and adding interest include sage clary, nigella, poppy seed heads, scented herbs, hydrangeas (especially white) to name a few.

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Plant bienniels : I was too late last autumn but this year I’m prepared. I’ll be sowing sweet williams, stocks, larkspur…..

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Next time…an update on the Wildflower Meadow.

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