Cornucopia!

1

Could someone please pass the butter and salt...

Or should that be corn-u-copious? Who would have thought you could harvest buckets of fresh, sweet, succulent corn in the middle of a rather wintry May?

Back in January, I sowed 1200 sweetcorn seeds to fill up the gaps at the back of our wedding garden. I sowed it purely for decoration – I wanted a lush green backdrop and sweetcorn seemed the quickest, cheapest, most tropical-looking solution. I didn’t expect to get a crop; indeed the agricultural seed merchants I bought the bulk seed from initially wouldn’t sell it to me, because it was far too late in the season to be sowing it.

And they were right. The cobs that formed on the plants around our lawn were small and scungy. They were too far back in the border to get any benefit from the irrigation system, and then black aphids and green vege bugs (also known as shield beetles) descended like a plague and sucked the kernels dry.

But what a different story it has been on the steep hill below our house. This part of the garden used to be the chook run but, before the wedding, we carved it into four terraces with gravel paths to provide access for guests to get from their cars to the ceremony. My original plan was to sow wildflowers in the terraced beds, but then I ran out of time so I just chucked in heaps of corn just to keep the weeds at bay.

And now… we have ears of corn coming out of our ears. I should be composting the shabby old stalks after picking the cobs, but it’s far easier just to pull them out and biff them over the fence to the cows. They absolutely love the stuff. Ditto the chooks. They’re getting all the undersized cobs.

PS. NZ Gardener is now on Facebook. For tips and tricks or just to chat to us, click here.

Be still, my burning heart

9

Satsuma mandarins

My latest pregnancy craving? Mandarins.

Pros: Sweet, seedless, easy-peel ‘Satsuma’ mandarins are in season! I can buy them on my way home from a roadside stall near here for just $3/kg. They are divine. I could eat a whole bag in one go. Mum’s tree is also laden – she filled up my fruit bowl with even more mandarins this weekend.

Cons: Fresh citrus gives me chronic heartburn at the moment. I only have to look at a mandarin and my chest hurts. I’m chewing through antacid tablets almost as quickly as I’m chewing through the citrus. Ah well, not too many days to go now!

(But I have to admit, I a’m getting a bit tetchy about the state of my garden. Not being able to bend over is a definite disadvantage, but luckily Mum came to the rescue yesterday and put in a few punnets of cauliflowers, spinach, red-stemmed silverbeet and spring onions for me. This afternoon I also sowed a packet of ‘Dwarf Early Green’ broad beans, a packet of ‘Wiltshire Ripple’ sweet peas and prepared two dozen elderberry cuttings for the edible hedgerow I’m planning in our orchard. Now I just have to bribe my husband to mow the orchard so we can plant the 200 or so spring bulbs I’ve bought to go under the apple trees…)

Photo credit: Capay Satsuma Organic Mandarins

Bottling ginger beer

26

Homemade ginger beer

I went to a cafe recently where they tried to charge me $8 for a glass of ho-hum ginger beer. That’s, well, ridiculous. You can bottle the stuff by the litre at home for next to nothing. All you need to get started is a spoonful of yeast (even if you use Premium Ginger Beer Yeast from a home brew store, it’s only going to set you back $2.70), a 30g box of ground ginger ($2.24 from the supermarket), a 1kg bag of sugar ($2.84) and a couple of lemons. That’s only $7.78 – and that’s enough to make 5 litres (or 20 glasses). And it goes without saying that homemade ginger beer tastes at least 20 times better than the bought stuff too.

To make your own ginger beer, you need to make a ginger beer bug first. I’m not sure why it’s called a bug – Mum says she used to call it a plant – but really it’s just a jar of bubbling gingery goo. Start with 1-2 tablespoons of dried yeast (if you don’t use brewer’s yeast, use Edmonds Active Yeast – it has a yellow lid, whereas the bread yeast has a red one). Place the yeast in a glass jar with 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon ginger and 1 cup cold water. Cover the jar with a loose piece of fabric to stop bugs getting in but still allow the yeast to breathe, then place it somewhere warm for a day to get it going.

After that, feed the bug every day with 1 teaspoon sugar and 1 teaspoon ginger. Seven days later, you’re ready to bottle your first batch of fizz. In a large bowl, dissolve 2 cups sugar in 1 litre boiling water. Add the juice of 2-3 lemons and 4 litres of cold water. Then strain off the liquid off the top of the bug (set aside the sludge) and add to the water. Stir well and bottle.

I’ve been recycling plastic 1 litre water bottles (just because we had a stash of them left over from the wedding), but any soft drink bottles will do the trick. Keep an eye on them; as soon as they go hard or start to push out their bottoms, you know they’re full of fizz. Mine is generally ready to drink in 3-4 days. Chill the bottles before you open them; it calms the bubbles down.

The best thing about making ginger beer is that, once you’ve made the bug, all you have to do is keep feeding it. Once you’ve strained off the liquid, add a fresh cup of water to the sludge and start the whole process all over again (except you don’t need to add any yeast this time).

But what really spurred me to write about ginger beer today is that on Nine to Noon on National Radio this week, I heard chef Paul Jobin share his recipe for corned beef cooked in ginger beer. It sounds seriously good and, fortuitously, not only do I have plenty of ginger beer, I’ve also got several lumps of silverside in our freezer from the crazy old bull we culled last year!

To make Paul’s ginger corned beef, you need 1 corned silverside; 1 onion, peeled and sliced; 1 knob ginger, sliced; 1 orange, sliced; 1 lemon, sliced; 1 bay leaf; 4 sprigs thyme; 1 chilli, sliced; 2 bottles of ginger beer; and extra water.  In a saucepan or crockpot, add all ingredients, adding water to cover the corn beef. Bring to the boil and simmer for 1½ hours (or overnight in the slow cooker) or until a skewer inserts easily. Allow to cool down in the stock.