A cocky cockerel

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.

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The first spring blossoms

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!

Self sufficiently Lynda: Fruit

 I’m as excited as a fashionista with a credit card and an empty wardrobe. The first fruit tree catalogue for the 2010 autumn/winter planting season has just landed on my desk. It’s from Sarah Frater’s Manawatu mail-order nursery The Edible Garden and it’s full of hard-to-find heritage fruit and nut trees.
Sarah’s catalogue always makes me sigh. It makes me sigh because simply reading the descriptions is enough to instantly make me want one of everything, from a dwarf ‘Kotare Honey’ peach to an ‘Umeboshi’ plum (just pick, dry, press and pickle the sour fruit in sea salt to cure hangovers).Until now, reading Sarah’s catalogue has made me sigh because I want one of everything, but have room for nothing. If my city garden was a cheap hotel, I’d have to install a flickering neon No Vacancy sign out the front.When I bought my 733sqm section it came with apples, apricots, avocados, bananas, elderberries, loquats, pears and plums. In the five years since, I’ve shoehorned in another 65 fruit trees: more apples, crabapples, feijoas, lemons, limes, mandarins, dwarf nectarines, olives, peaches, double-grafted pears, prunes and a quince.My city garden is full, but my new country garden is a comparatively blank 17-hectare canvas. Last winter we put in 95 fruit trees: 40 almonds, 20 apples, 20 pears, five ‘Jelly King’ crabapples, five ‘Damson’ plums and five ‘Griotella’ sour cherry trees. We’ve lost a few to the drought, and a few to the wind, and the dog dup up one of the cherries, but the rest are going great guns.
So when I read Sarah’s new catalogue this week, it made me sigh. It made me sigh because now that I can have one of everything, I don’t know where to start.
Perhaps a few vintage cider apples? ‘Kingston Black’ for astringency, ‘Sidero’ for aroma, ‘Bisquet’ for a bittersweet balance and ‘Sweet Alford’ for a sugary finish.
I want walnuts – ‘Wilson’s Wonder’, ‘Rex’ and ‘Meyric’ – and count me in for a grove of chestnuts and a ‘Merv De Bolwillier’ hazelnut.
I’ll take a ‘Black Pearl’ nectarine, a ‘Blackboy’ peach and a ‘Queenie’ black mulberry too. According to German folklore, the devil used mulberry roots to polish his boots, though I’ll be content to stain my fingers purple with its loganberry-like fruit every summer.

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

© Lynda Hallinan 2010

Self Sufficiently Lynda: Turnips

If you think moving house is stressful, try moving a vegetable garden. I’m doing it meal by meal. Every day I commute to the city for work. Every night, I whip back to my old garden, harvest dinner, and head home to Hunua to cook it.

If only I’d been a Boy Scout instead of a Brownie. I should have been prepared. I should have started my new vege patch months ago, because it’s slim pickings on the farm. We’ve got broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, cauliflower, celeriac and leeks. Or at least we will have in three months. The only things ready to harvest now are rosemary, pumpkins and Hungarian Hot Wax peppers. And, if that’s not bad enough, the chickens have gone off the lay.

Meanwhile, back in the city I’ve got ripe ‘Granny Smith’ apples, red cherry guavas, chickpeas, spring onions, ‘Canasta’ and ‘Cos’ lettuce, rocket, eight rows of heirloom beetroot, Tuscan kale, Desiree potatoes, kumara, quinces, half a bed of mint, Italian parsley, lemongrass, purple sage, onions, alien-like kohlrabi, cayenne chillies, an enormous crop of Jerusalem artichokes, silverbeet, native and red-stemmed spinach, colourful Swiss chard, six types of thyme, red cabbages, giant red mustard, ‘Fire Candle’ radishes and two rows of turnips.

I planted two types of turnips: ‘Purple Top White Globe’ (from Yates) and ‘Tokyo White Cross’ (from Kings Seeds). The purple ones are an astonishing shade of psychedelic lilac-pink, while the white variety is a marvellous miniature turnip that’s ready to harvest in as little as 30 days in summer, or 45 days in autumn. For the best flavour, pick baby turnips when they’re the size of ping pong balls, then simply wipe clean and steam. Serve whole with white sauce or glaze with orange juice and brown sugar and chuck them in with your roast.

The only problem with turnips is that they stink out your house when you cook them. They smell earthy, and not in a good way. More in a musty, leaky building sort of way. If you’re cooking them for guests, do it in advance and no one will be any the wiser.

Most people dismiss turnips as stock fodder, but I went to a dinner party last weekend where the hostess served turnip wedges poached in red wine with honey and red wine vinaigrette (the recipe’s in Mario Batali’s new book Molto Gusto). I was the only one who guessed what they were.

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