Two dozen roses

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My new rose gardenI’ve been wearing rose tinted spectacles all day. Have just planted 24 bareroot roses in the stonewalled bed in front of the stables. They’re all from Tasman Bay Nurseries. I’ve gone all girly – I want bowls of fat, fragrant, full-petalled English roses to pick all summer. And, though I’m a spray-free sort of girl, I’m going to bomb the blighters with fungicide all season. Call me Bridezilla but I’m blowed if I’ll let black spot blight my big day. The aphids better watch their backs too, though it’s been such a frosty winter that I’m assuming the weather gods have well and truly sent them packing for now.

And for those of you who would like me to name names, I’ve planted: ‘Mme Isaac Pereire’, ‘Variegata di Bologna’, Rosa centifolia, ‘Chevy Chase’, ‘Gloire de Guilan’, ‘Brother Cadfael’, ‘Chianti’, ‘Falstaff’, ‘Gertrude Jekyll’, ‘Mary Rose’, ‘Prospero’, ‘Tess of the D’Ubervilles’, ‘Tradescant’, ‘William Shakespeare’, ‘Camaieux’, ‘Charles de Mills’, ‘William Lobb’, ‘Hansa’, ‘Roseraie de l’Hay’, ‘Scabrosa’, Rosa gallica versicolor, ‘English Elegance’ and ‘Heritage’.

Apples of my eye

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It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread: sliced apples, peeled and cored by a Chinese-made contraption that spits out a stark-naked apple slinky every seven seconds. These nifty gadgets are all over Trade Me, though I bought mine from the Environment Centre in Riverton, Southland. Best $27.50 I’ve ever spent.

An apple a day? We’re getting through a bag, sometimes two, of ‘Pink Lady’ each week. Next season, when our orchard starts bearing fruit, we’ll be spoiled for choice. I’ve planted the heirloom ‘Winter Banana’, ‘Granny Smith’, dwarf ‘Blush Babe’, ‘Oratia Beauty’, ‘Monty’s Surprise’ (it has the highest levels of cancer-fighting polyphenols in its peel), ‘Initial’, ‘Liberty’ and ‘Baujade’.

Apples are so adaptable. Apple sauce with roast pork, apple pies, crumble, cider and my Grandma Pat’s apple shortcake at Christmas. Grandma turns 93 next month. I rang her up to get her recipe. “A fair bit of butter, flour, sugar, baking powder and an egg,” she said.

First, stew sliced apples with a little water, lemon juice and sugar. The Edmonds Cookery Book recipe calls for three apples, but I use at least four. There’s nothing worse than an apple slice with a stingy smear of fruit in the middle. Next, rub 125g butter into 2 cups of sifted flour. Add 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 beaten egg, 3 tablespoons sugar and just enough milk
to make a firm dough. Divide dough in two. Roll out half to line a sponge roll tin. Strain apples, spread over evenly, then roll out remaining dough and, defying the laws of gravity, place it on top. “It’s a cow of a thing to do without breaking it,” advises Grandma. Prod with a fork before baking at 180C for 20 minutes. When cool, sprinkle with icing sugar and cut into even squares (to avoid squabbles).

Grandma actually prefers apple turnovers. So did my grandfather, Percy, who drowned in a ditch under an upturned tractor a decade before I was born. Grandma remarried and Granddad Evan wasn’t much fond of puff pastry. No wonder, because Grandma made it with mutton fat. It was free on the farm, whereas butter had to be bought. She invented her
own apple turnover recipe, spicing the fruit with cinnamon and nutmeg in a bid to disguise the flavour of the fat. “I never quite achieved it,” she confesses, half a century later, “but the shearers didn’t seem to mind”.

Self Sufficiently Lynda is published each week in Sunday magazine, in the Sunday Star-Times.

A cocky cockerel

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Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, or a man assaulted by a rooster. The Hunk from Hunua didn’t even see the cockerel coming. He was heading out to the clothesline to hang out his washing (we’re not married yet) when our adolescent rooster cornered him between a rock wall and a hard place. He tried to fend him off with his foot. But the rooster was in the mood for a fight. He crowed. He flapped. Then he attacked. The Hunk lost his balance, tripped over the laundry basket and landed on his back. It should have ended there but roosters don’t play fair. They’ll peck a man even when he’s down.

When I arrived home, minutes later, the Hunk was huffing off towardsthe orchard with a rifle in one hand, a fish filleting knife in the other. “Rooster. Is. Going. To. Die,” he explained. (I’ve edited out the expletives.)

I argued for a stay of execution. It’s not his fault, I said. Teenage testosterone is making him territorial. And anyway, I need to buy a bottle of Burgundy before I can make coq-au-vin.
As the cunning sod made his escape, swaggering off through the fruit trees, the Hunk set his telescopic sights on our free-range hens. They’d gone off the lay. It was a clear breach of contract. We feed them mash; they feed us eggs. That’s the deal. But we hadn’t had so much as an omelette in a month, whereas they were still getting through a 25kg bag of Peck N Lay each week. And let’s not forget the 8kg bag of Puppy Chow they stole from the stables. They ate $31 worth of dog food in less than 30 minutes.

I negotiated a ceasefire. Give the chooks a few more weeks, I said. Let’s just corral them – out of sight, out of mind – on the bank below the water tank. The Hunk put down his gun and grabbed a hammer. As he rigged up a rooster-proof fence, I poked my head into the old pump shed.

Turns out our girls hadn’t gone off the lay at all. Inside the shed there were 39 eggs piled up on a plank. One was still warm. I took it indoors. The other 38 could be a bit dubious, not that the dogs care. Scrambled eggs make a nice change from Puppy Chow.

The first spring blossoms

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Spring has sprung a month early. The first delicate marshmallow pink blossoms have burst open on the almond trees in the orchard paddock. It’s a double cause for celebration: not only is spring on its way, but almost all of the almond trees have now made it through a summer drought, an autumn of neglect, and a soggy winter. I planted them halfway down a south-facing hill about 10m away from the furthest spot our garden hose can reach, so I really didn’t fancy their chances, but so far, so good. Here’s hoping for a marzipan summer!