Join me on a trip to India

 

indiatrip
My vivacious neighbour Alyson is not my husband’s favourite person. Alyson is a travel agent and furniture importer who specialises in exotic India (this year she brought home a shipping container load of ornate wrought-iron gates, most of which are now installed at Foggydale Farm, hence my hubby’s nervousness at the mere mention of her name!)

Anyway, Alyson and I have put together a blooming awesome itinerary for a two-week fully escorted tour of India next March, taking in all the sights from the Taj Mahal to the Valley of Flowers. Think Eat, Pray, Love… plus Gorgeous Gardens!

Here’s the basic itinerary: 13 nights/14 days, departing Auckland on 20 March 2017, flying Singapore Airlines.

Day 1: Arrive in Mumbai, transfer to our hotel for a two night stay. (Accommodation 4* Deluxe + 5* Heritage Property.) Relax and enjoy some leisure time together.

Day 2: After breakfast, we’ll board a ferry to Elephanta Island, for a 1-hour cruise affording picturesque seaside views. Thereafter, enjoy the city tour of Mumbai visiting Gateway of India (a triumphal arch to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary) with its turrets and intricate latticework carved into yellow basalt stone. We’ll check out the treasures at the Prince of Wales Museum (carefully preserved, this mid-Victorian Gothic-style building was built in 1904 with beautiful gardens); visit Dhobi Ghat and Crawford market.

Day 3: After breakfast, we’ll fly to Jaipur and check into our hotel for a two-night stay. The evening is free to relax at the hotel or explore the Jaipur Bazaar, famous for textiles, jewellery, bangles etc.

Day 4: After an early breakfast, we’ll head out on an excursion to the majestic Amber Fort with a photo stop at Hawa Mahal, poetically known as the “Palace of Winds”. Continue to Amber Fort, the former ancient capital of Jaipur state, a superb example of Rajput architecture. The most enthralling experience of Amber Fort is the gaily decorated elephant ride to the Amber Fort. Later, well take a guided tour of Jaipur city starting with the City Palace Museum, registered in the Guinness Book of Records to contain the biggest silver objects in the world. Conclude your sightseeing with a visit to Jantar Mantar. One of the famed observatories built by Sawai Jai Singh, it is a complex of astronomical instruments, chiselled out of stone.

Day 5: After breakfast, we’ll travel to Agra for a two-night stay. Agra is home to India’s most famous landmark, the Taj Mahal. En-route we’ll visit Abhaneri Stepwell, an ancient village in Rajasthan renowned for its early medieval monuments.

Day 6: We’ll take an early morning visit to the Taj Mahal (closed on Fridays), the epitome of love. Standing on the banks of the river Yamuna, it was built in the 17th century by the Mughal Emperor Shahjahan. This magnificent monument is built around a Charbagh or ‘four garden’ plan, split by watercourses, and reflects the influence of Persian architectural style. Come back to hotel for breakfast, followed by a sightseeing tour of the Agra Fort, built by Emperor Akbar; Itimad-ud-Daulah, nicknamed Baby Taj; a marble factory and then explore the colourful markets.

Day 7: After a leisurely breakfast, check out and travel to Delhi for a two night stay, with the rest of the day at your leisure.

Day 8: Take a guided sightseeing tour of Old & New Delhi. Begin with Old Delhi with a drive past Red Fort Palace to reach Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, built from red sandstone. Between the mosque and Chandni Chowk is a narrow shop-lined street along which you will be transported by cycle rickshaws on your most photogenic journey of the tour. We’ll also visit Khari Baoli, a street in Delhi famous for its wholesale grocery and Asia’s largest wholesale spice market, selling all kinds of spices, nuts, herbs and other food products. In the afternoon, explore New Delhi, which will include photo opportunities at some of the following attractions: the exterior of the Parliament House, the War Memorial Arch (India Gate) and residence of the President of India in New Delhi. Conclude your day with visit to Qutub Minar; being one of the most important landmarks of Delhi, with calligraphically decorated interiors and also inscriptions of verses of the Holy Quran.

Day 9: After breakfast we’ll fly to Srinagar, and be transferred to a traditional Kashmiri houseboat anchored on the prime location of Dal Lake, our accommodation for the next five nights.

Day 10: We travel to Gulmarg, Meadows of Flowers, situated 2,730 metres above sea level. The spring season starts by mid-March so it’s the best time visit Gulmarg. In spring, we will witness the meadows dotted with countless colourful bluebells, daisies, forget-me-nots and buttercups. Gulmarg is a wondrous mountain resort with the world’s highest golf course and also India’s premier ski resort. It’s a relaxed day to soak up the scenic beauty. On arrival, proceed for a local sightseeing tour of Gulmarg that includes a visit to famous nearby attractions. If you’re brave, take the gondola ride… Gulmarg is home to the world’s second highest cable car ride. In the evening, we’ll return to our houseboat.

Day 11: Explore the Dal-Lake, Waterways, Back Waters, Canals, Floating Garden, flower Garden, Vegetable Gardens of the lake area.

Day 12: We’re off to the Srinagar Tulip Festival – Asia’s biggest Tulip garden, on the shores of the famous Dal Lake. The garden looks like a silken carpet of bright coloured sprawling tulips over 5 hectares. The garden now boasts more than 2 million bulbs. Cultural programs, Kashmiri folk songs, sale of local handicrafts, and preparation of traditional Kashmiri cuisine forms an eminent part of the entertainment of visitors during the festival.

Day 13: The morning is free to explore the Tulip Garden, while later in the afternoon we explore the old city and visit Jama Masjid, originally built in 1394 and restored in 1672. As the largest mosque in Kashmir, Jama Masjid has 378 wooden pillars supporting the structure and is so large that it can accommodate thousands of devotees. Another great attraction is the Shah-e-Hamdan situated on the banks of River Jhelum.

Day 14: Enjoy breakfast together at our hotel. The tour concludes with a direct transfer to the Srinagar airport to board our Singapore Airlines flight home.

How much does it cost? A single room is $9790; double is $8490; internal flights $550 and tipping kitty approx $275 per person. For full details, talk to Alyson. Phone 09 292 4400, 021948508 or email: alyson@pushkar.co.nz

 

 

 

My new book!

Jam Sessions_Cover2I’m chuffed to announce that advance copies of my new book have just landed, (though I suspect my husband isn’t so chuffed about me chucking all his gear out of our red barn so I could clear enough space to store them!).

Foggydale Farm Jam Sessions is a 50:50 mix of growing and harvesting advice… and recipes for preserving all your homegrown harvests in homemade jams, jellies, compotes & chutneys, just like my Nanas used to make.

You can order copies for $55 (including free P&P anywhere in NZ) and I’ll personally autograph them for good measure. You can pay by credit card, internet banking or post a good old-fashioned cheque.

For more information and to see sample pages from the book, check out my little online store: www.foggydalefarm.co.nz

Happy preserving this summer!

Homemade tomato sauce

2tomatosauces

I’ve had a few emails this week about the column I wrote in the Sunday Star-Times about my attempt to make tomato sauce that tastes just like the red stuff. Here’s the story (including the recipe) if you missed it:
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It went down like an episode of Breaking Bad. Having made contact with a sympathetic small-town pharmacist, I sidled up to the counter and was handed a paper bag containing a disposable plastic syringe and a small bottle of acetic acid.

I went home, donned a pair of latex gloves, sterilised my stainless steel jam pan, sharpened a knife and embarked on an afternoon of bloody carnage. Obviously I wasn’t cooking a batch of crystal meth but something equally addictive: homemade Wattie’s Tomato Sauce.

In our house, nothing is safe from it. Not a sausage (especially a sausage). Not steak and chips. Not mince on toast. Not bacon and eggs. Not mashed potato nor fried rice nor pasta, including free-range fettuccine from the ovaries of our own chooks.

My husband and children go through a large bottle of Wattie’s Tomato Sauce every week. They are ferociously brand loyal. Not only does Heinz have no place in our home, every time I’ve tried to fob them off with homemade ketchup, they’ve shown a distinct lack of enthusiasm.

These days, you can find recipes for almost anything on the internet, from Coca Cola to Colonel Sanders’ 11 secret herbs and spices (paprika, onion, celery salt, sage, garlic, allspice, oregano, chilli, black pepper, basil and marjoram, apparently). But on the subject of Wattie’s Tomato Sauce, the world wide web was all but silent.

My search took me deep into the archives of foodlovers.co.nz, where, at 10.59pm on Thursday 7 February, 2008, a lady named Diane shared her half-century-old method with a glowing endorsement: “This IS like Wattie’s and is pure tomato!”

I weighed out Diane’s ingredients on a set of vintage imperial Salter scales: 12lb tomatoes, 2lb sugar, 3oz whole allspice, 3oz salt and 1.5oz glacial acetic acid from the chemist.

The method was just 16 words long: “Boil all except acid for 3 hours then put through blender/mouli. Add acid and bottle.”

Now for a quick chemistry lesson: acetic acid, which Wikipedia hilariously warns against confusing with the ascetic pursuit of abstinence from worldly pleasures, is the compound that makes vinegar smell sharp and taste sour. The acetic acid in vinegar comes from ethanol fermentation – white vinegar is made from leftover lactose from the dairy industry, malt vinegar from barley, cider vinegar from apples, balsamic from grapes, and so on – and is up to 5 per cent acetic acid, whereas glacial acetic acid is 99 per cent pure.

Why this matters, I have now learned, is that when you make sauces and chutneys with vinegar, it takes hours to boil off all that extra liquid, resulting in a dark brown sauce rather than a sea of red. But if you deseed the tomatoes first (the seeds and gel-like pulp also turn brown when boiled for any length of time), and add only two small spoonfuls of acetic acid as opposed to an entire bottle of vinegar, the sauce retains all of its colour and concentrated tomato flavour.

You must, of course, begin with only the beefiest, beautiful tomatoes. I acquired four crates of ‘Spanish Red’tomatoes from Curious Croppers in Clevedon – horticulturists to the stars, or at least the stars of the Auckland restaurant scene. I sliced each meaty tomato in half, plunging my fingers deep into their blood-red flesh and squeezing sensuously until the seedy pulp ejaculated into a bowl (strain and save the juice for Bloody Marys).

I also tinkered a bit with Diane’s recipe, halving the amount of salt and glacial acetic acid (history tells me that Digby Law and his ilk were rather more fond of vinegar than our modern palates) and adding a tablespoon of citric acid just before bottling in hot jars.

Then I assembled a panel of experts for a blind taste test. My husband, self-confessed sauce connoisseur, couldn’t tell the difference, though the kids remained suspicious until I decanted my DIY version into an empty Wattie’s sauce bottle.

“Profit is sweet,” said Sophocles, “even if it comes from deception.”

43 flowers for today

Biodiversity in bloom, in my garden today.

Biodiversity in bloom, in my garden today.

Remember that childhood game – was it called Memory? – where you were presented with a plate with a bunch of random things on it, then you were given a minute to memorise everything on it before reeling them off to score points?I’d be hopeless playing an adult version of this game with the flowers in my garden. Somehow, the more beautiful something is in bloom, the more likely it is that, while staring point-black at it, I won’t be able to recall its jolly name.

This afternoon, I took a little tiki-tour around my garden with my secateurs, and this is what I found:

1. Blood red abutilons, or Chinese lanterns. Such fabulously underrated shrubs for tucking into the gaps under deciduous trees, and easy to strike from cuttings (according to Julian Matthews). I wonder why these gorgeous, if a little gangly, plants aren’t easier to buy. They must have fallen out of fashion.
2. Annual blue forget-me-nots. Jason’s ex-girlfriend planted these under the silver birches at the end of the driveway, and they return year after year in a chintzy carpet of baby blue. I adore them.
3. Bluebells. The perfect companion for forget-me-nots, with the same provenance.
4. I think this is the cute wee Australian wax flower, Eriostemon myoporoides ‘Profusion’, but I wouldn’t stake my life on it.
5. Dainty white thrift, Armeria maritima ‘Alba’.
6. Dinky English daisies, Bellis perennis. I love, love, love them, even if they hate, hate, hate Auckland’s humid climate.
7. Pansies. Aww, look at their happy little faces.
8. The last of the winter-flowering Primula malacoides.
9. I have no idea what variety these creamy rhododendrons are, but by summer they’re so riddled with thrips that it looks like someone spraypainted their leaves white.
10. Apple blossoms. (We have so many apple trees that I figured I could sacrifice one bunch of ‘Gala’ for a photograph.)
11. False or Mexican orange blossom, Choiysa ternata. Horrible smelling beast, but rather lovely in my white garden. It reminds me that I must seek out a few plants of its posh sibling ‘Aztec Pearl’, which has smaller flowers but millions more of them.
12. It’s one of Murphy’s Laws of Gardening that the more you try to kill something, the stronger and healthier it will grow just to spite you. This pale lilac clematis fits into that category. It was here when I came and I moved it twice, with no thought for its welfare, but each time it bounced back. Meanwhile, every flamboyant ‘Nellie Moser’ and ‘Fireworks’ vine I have bought has met an untimely fate before its first season was out.
13. That teeny tiny blue flower is the very first bud to open on Sisyrinchium ‘Devon Skies’, a grassy little perennial that looks like a constellation of starry blue blooms in full flight in summer.
14. My friend Fiona gave me this one, and I think she said it was a fothergilla?
15. I bought this ti-tree last week because its name is Lynda. Well, close enough. It’s Leptospermum ‘Wiri Linda’, bred by Jack Hobbs.
16. Self-sown honeywort, Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’. I have a veritable forest of this stuff, and the bees are going bonkers for it.
17. Gah. Ranunculus. I’m giving up on them. This is my best bloom from over 100 corms. (For scale, notice how it is as small as a sprig of freesias.) I don’t know what the secret to big fat ranunculus is, but I wish someone would tell me!
18. Fabulously fragrant freesias. I have them in red, yellow, white and lilac.
19. Perennial ‘Bowle’s Mauve’ wallflowers are in bloom year-round in the garden in front of our stables. They’re so lovely. A favourite of my Grandma Clarice.
20. Purple-flowered honesty, beloved for its papery moon-like seed heads.
21. The deciduous azalea ‘Sweet Inspiration’, which has a daft name but oodles of beauty in spring. (And fragrance to boot!)
22. False Queen Anne’s Lace, Ammi majus. I’m going to try to dry some of this in summer; apparently the trick is to hang it upright through a mesh screen so that the lacy umbrella-like heads hold their shape.
23. My all-time favourite spring flower, Orlaya grandiflora. A hardy annual that self-seeds like the world’s prettiest weed every year. I wouldn’t be without it.
24. The first of my granny’s bonnets (Aquilegia) to bloom. Can never have too many of these tucked into the corners.
25. This giant white iberis or candytuft is a cracker of a plant. Mine were a gift from a group of generous Taranaki gardeners (when they visited my place a few years back, they “paid” one plant each!)
26. The giant Madeira geranium, Geranium maderense, most commonly has garish hot-pink flowers but this is the refined, and rare,  white form. It grows into a 1m-wide bush one year, then smothers itself in flowers the next. Then, more often than not, the blimming thing carks it. You can get it from Terry Hatch at Joy Plants.
27. The first of my (million or so) sweet williams. Yay! I have heaps of old-fashioned tall dianthus for picking.
28. Here’s a show-off shrub. A posh shrub. A fancy-pants, bet-no-one-else-has-it sort of shrub. It’s Calycanthus ‘Hartlage Wine’ and it’s divine. It’s deciduous, so when the spring foliage comes out it’s lavishly lush and lime-green, with sultry blooms of darkest claret. Mine cost $50 each, and were worth every cent. They’re just coming into bloom now.
29.  Viburnum ‘Summer Snowflake’, a compact viburnum that gets better every year. I’ve gone a bit mad for viburnums this year, with six new plants sitting in the driveway awaiting planting.
30. The red geum ‘Mrs Bradshaw’ is an oldie but a goodie, but its new double-flowered electric orange cousin ‘Fireball’ is even better. I think it’s fabulous.
31. The snowball tree, Viburnum opulus ‘Sterile’ has flowers of lime that age to pure white. I wish it lasted better in the vase. I suspect you need to treat the stems somehow because mine always hang their heads in shame by the following morning.
32. You’d have to be a miserable so-and-so not to melt a little at the sight of spring poppies. Mine (all self-sown) are mostly red, but also come in baby pink, white, orange and scarlet.
33. One of the very first perennials I ever fell in love with was Solomon’s seal, Polygonatum multiflorum. It grows like a weed in Mum’s garden, and I’m thrilled to report that it’s finally, after a couple of years of desperate coaxing, heading in that direction here too. So graceful it is, like a ballerina but with several dozens pairs of white slippers slung over each arm.
34. Fond. Yes, I’m very fond of the little perennial viola ‘Maggie Mott’. Not awestruck or smitten or infatuated or anything stronger than fond, but there’s nothing wrong with fondness!
35. Verbenas do well here in summer. At least, the ones that Jack Frost doesn’t murder do well. Not sure how these two escaped his attentions last winter.
36. At the end of our driveway there’s an anonymous red carpet rose that manages to bloom in the gloom beneath a copper beech tree. It looks very much like Flower Carpet Red in bloom, except the single flowers are borne from these perfect buttonhole buds.
37. ‘Souvenir de Mme. Leonnie Viennot’ – an old-fashioned rambling rose that’s the perfect choice for any farm gate.
38. The ornamental cherry Prunus ‘Shimidsu Sakura’ has these flouncy fat blossoms, but it’s hit and miss here. My two trees only have about half a dozen clusters of blossoms each because the rotten rosellas eat them.
39. This is the best dark purple lavender. And I’d love to tell you its name but I can’t because I’ve forgotten it. I think it was in the Bee series. But then again, perhaps it was just a random purchase. I’ll never know.
40. Another wallflower, sold to me as ‘Bowle’s Mauve’ but quite a bit paler.
41. Self-sown viper’s bugloss, Echium vulgare. It’s a weed, frankly, and bristly.
42. Another dainty delight from Fiona. It’s a spiraea of some sort. (Or if not, it’s something similar!)
43. And the lucky last? Dark burgundy aquilegias from the ‘Tower Double’ series. They look like multi-layered Victorian ladies’ bustles and seem to come true-ish from seed, as they’re popping up all through my paths. Gotta love a freebie!
(ps. Click on the photo above to enlarge it)

 

An update on my swan plant/sweet pea theory

To beat the wasps, I've been experimenting with a scent barrier: sweet pea vines around my swan plants.

To beat the wasps, I’ve been experimenting with a scent barrier: sweet pea vines around my swan plants.

In last weekend’s Sunday Star Times, I shared my (not particularly scientific) theory that sowing sweet peas around swan plants can work to deter wasps. Here’s the column:

Metamorphosis. It’s the longest word in my three-year-old son’s vocabulary, though it’s only a matter of time – thanks to a muster of monarchs – before he masters the pronunciation of prestidigitation.

Egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, butterfly: it’s an enchanting cycle of everyday magic, conjured up in your own backyard for the price of a swan plant. A cheap trick, but one no less satisfying however many summers you’ve seen it.

Wisdom, said Socrates, begins in wonder. Be curious, said Stephen Hawking. Watch out for wasps, I say to my kids, for nothing deflates childhood delight quite like the sight of German yellowjackets gorging barbarically on monarch butterfly caterpillars, mining their chubby carcasses for protein.

As an organic gardener, I’m loath to intervene in the natural order of things. But unlike those wildlife photographers who stand by, cameras rolling, as bewildered baby wildebeest are ripped to bits by lions, I also can’t bear to witness the carnage. So last spring, when I planted my swan plants – 16 milky-sapped clumps ofGomphocarpus physocarpus in a four-square-metre bed – I sowed scented sweet peas around the perimeter at the same time.

To be honest, I wasn’t thinking about wasps the first time I paired these two plants. I was simply trying to hide the plainness of the swan plants. For the first half of the season, before the butterflies descend, these boring green bushes are bereft of any notable beauty. Their itty-bitty white flowers are as elegant as phalaenopsis orchids, but they’re too damn small to add any real decorative appeal, which only leaves the puffy seed pods as a point of difference.

Some gardeners compare swan plant seed pods to balloons and cotton balls, but their common name comes from the flocculent, swan-like wings the ripe pods produce when they split open. Truth be told, I’ve always found swan plant seed pods rather more testicular in appearance. If only the English common name of bishop’s balls had caught on here.

To recap: ordinary foliage, insignificant flowers, pubic pods. And that’s even before you factor in how gruesome swan plants look once they’ve been chewed bare by very hungry caterpillars in late summer. So I figured, why not plant them behind a barrier of something pretty like sweet peas instead? I had a hunch that it might look nice, and it did, as by late summer my sweet pea vines sport scores green and gold chrysalises, like rows of greenstone pendants in a souvenir store.

(If you’ve ever wondered why monarch caterpillars spin their chrysalises under your house eaves, along villa weatherboards or indeed anywhere other than on the swan plants they were raised on, it’s because their manners preclude them from falling asleep on their friends’ dinner plates.)

But the real beauty of this experiment? The wasps now leave them well alone. Was the sumptuous scent of all those old-fashioned sweet pea petals simply overpowering, like the original Poison perfume, or had I inadvertently stumbled upon a completely non-scientific, but nonetheless surprisingly effective, natural wasp deterrent?

To test my theory, I phoned Dr Keith Hammett, QSM, BSc (Hons), PhD, president of the Royal New Zealand Insitute of Horticulture and the southern hemisphere’s preeminent sweet pea breeder. “Have you ever,” I quizzed him, “seen a wasp sitting on a sweet pea?”

There was silence at the other end of the line. I suspect he thought it was a trick question.

“No,” he said, adding, because he’s a smart marketer as well as a brilliant plant breeder, that now’s the perfect time to sow seeds of his lovely ‘Solstice’ series of winter-flowering sweet peas, which you can order direct from www.drkeithhammett.co.nz.

Update: My sweet pea vines finished flowering this week, and what did I find this morning? About half a dozen formerly chubby but now parasitised monarch caterpillars, their striped pyjamas hanging forlornly on the plants. Gawd, it’s such a depressing sight.

Raspberry (or blackberry) cordial

'Aspiring' raspberries.

‘Aspiring’ raspberries.

One of the pleasures of making your own cordials is that you know exactly what’s in them (no artificial flavours or sweeteners, for starters). You can also make them as sweet or as sour as you like, and dilute them to your liking with water or sparkling soda water (or champagne for special occasions).

My Mum, Marjorie, isn’t a hugely keen gardener but she sure has the knack with raspberries. She has a big wild bed of dual-cropping ‘Aspiring’ raspberries (as well as grapes and blueberries) in an old shadecloth-covered grow house. Mum freezes at least 10kg of berries each year, enough to supply us all with jam, raspberry shortcakes and this lovely cordial. You can also use this, undiluted, as a wonderful zingy berry sauce for ice cream sundaes or drizzled over a fresh fruit salad.

Ingredients: 500g raspberries, fresh or frozen; 500g sugar; 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Method: Place the berries, sugar and vinegar in a small pot with a couple of tablespoons of water. Heat gently, mashing until juicy, for 10 minutes, but don’t boil. (If you boil it, you’ll end up with jam.) Strain the liquid through
a sieve, pressing the pulp with a spoon to extract all the juice. Then mix the sieved pulp with 1 cup boiling water, bring to a simmer, and strain again. Discard pulp. (By doing this, you’ll end up with very little seedy waste) Return liquid to the pot; simmer for 2 minutes, then bottle. Keep in the fridge.

Summer preserving: Damson gin

Make your own Damson gin.

Make your own Damson gin.

Drunk plums: it just doesn’t get better than that!

It’s easy to steep the small, sour, purple fruit of ‘Damson’ plums (and other small stonefruit, such as cherries) in booze. Just wipe their skins clean, prick them once with a kebab stick, and pack into large glass preserving jars. For every litre jar of plums, add up to 1 cup sugar (just shake it into the jar to fill up the gaps between the plums). Then top up with cheap gin. Steep for at least three months, shaking every few days until all the sugar has dissolved.

After six months or so, strain and taste. If the liqueur isn’t smooth enough for your liking, add a little extra sugar syrup. Then devour the wrinkly plums: they’re wonderful served with a creamy rice pudding for a decadent dessert, or on your winter porridge, or drained, patted dry and dipped in melted chocolate for homemade truffles.

Damson gin is one of my favourite things to have in the pantry, not least because a bottle of plonk makes a fabulous (and almost universally appreciated) emergency gift when you need one for a dinner party, forgotten birthday or anniversary… and you can’t be bothered driving to the shops.