We Wish you a Cherry Christmas (Cherry Paste)

…we wish you a cherry Christmas and a happy new year!

From as far back as my autocherrygraphical memory extends, this luscious red stone fruit has always been a feature of our adventful Christmas.

Growing up in the fruit-salad bowl of Australia, we really were spoilt for sweet, pitted choice. All summer, loaded sky high into Dad’s iron-aged wagon, apricots, peaches, nectarines (apples, pears and oranges…also available on tree) arrived daily to our farm – to supplement the regular cattle fodder during the drought period – as local growers rid themselves of the not-good-enough-for-the-cannery waste. However, despite our plethora of choice, nothing charmed our fructose senses more than that single, out of growing zone, delivery of roadside cherries that mum would collect from the “Cherries – One Day Only” stand on her way home from the weekly grocery run.

Like a swaddled babe in arms, Mum would furtively carry the burgeoning box through the glass doors and place it in the core of the kitchen table. Before she had time to say “some need to make it to the Christmas dessert table” my brothers and I had loaded handfuls of the red, bauble like fruit into our salivating gobs in an effort to find out who would be the annual most-cherries-in-the-mouth winner. During shopping unpacking intervals (when mum was buried shelf deep in the kitchen larder) our cre-eative competitive games would reach new heights: the great mouth catching challenge. Whilst many a cherry laid down it’s life in pursuit of aerial victory, no food was wasted during these experiments…and the red roofed tattoos (probably still present today) serve to remind residents of those infamous crops that selflessly laid down their lives to serve our edacious tummies.

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This year, breaking from the roadside pick-up tradition, we took our festive-fruit appetites to the pit of Young to attend the National Cherry Festival. Shortly after arriving in this modest but bustling country town, we piled onto a bus and headed west to a family owned orchard for our much awaited hand-picking opportunity. Thirty seven minutes and five kilograms of cherries later and K1 and K2 were ready to give the cold shoulder to the blistering hot sun and retreat to the shearing shed for a lavish serve of the farm made cherry pie and icecream.

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As for the largess of spoils…well let’s just say there was plenty of Cherry Paste for our friends and relatives to enjoy with their next bout of cheese platter merriment.

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Cherry paste served on Wal’sana Matilda Bread with a wedge of local-ish Brie.

Cherry Paste (makes…plenty to share with those cherryished loved ones)

2 kg cherries (pits included)

½ c water

200 g apple skins (collected from the fruit of last weeks apple crumble then frozen)

white sugar (approximately 1.5 kg)

Muslin cloth

Ceramic plate

Jars

Stem the cherries (pit them now if you prefer – I leave them in to take advantage of the additional pectin) then throw them into a large, heavy based pot with the water. Add the apple skins wrapped in a muslin cloth.

On a low heat, bring the fruit to the boil and simmer for 30 – 45 mins or until the fruit is soft. In the meantime, place a small ceramic plate into the freezer. This will be used to test whether the paste is set during cooking. Squeeze the apples skins in the muslin cloth to release the last of the pectin liquid into the fruit (discard the apple skins into the compost caddey). Pour the fruit into a bowl and leave till cool enough to handle. Remove the pits. Weigh the quantity of fruit (sans pits). Return the fruit to the pot. Add an equal mass of sugar.

Slowly bring the cherry paste mix to the boil ensuring that the sugar is dissolved before reaching boiling point. Simmer vigorously for 15 minutes removing any accumulating froth with a slotted spoon. Test whether the paste is set by dropping ¼ tsp of the mix onto the cold plate. It should wrinkle when pushed with your finger. If not set, continue to boil for another 5 minutes and test again.

Spoon the paste into sterilised jars (see below). Dollop a generous spoonful onto some fruit and nut bread and serve to your guests on Christmas day or wrap and gift to your cherryished friends.

Sterilising jars: I have been making preserves for years now and after trying many cumbersome methods of jar sterilisation, I have settled on the following (that…to the best of my knowledge…has not botulised any recipient yet): wash jars and lids in hot soapy water ensuring that a bottle brush is used to clean the inside. Dip jars and lids into a sink of hot water (to wash off soap suds) and then drain upside down on a tea towel. Place jars and lids (open side facing up) onto trays and leave to dry completely in an oven set at 100 – 120 degrees celcius.

Eggshellent Festive Glitter

Glitterbug!…Do the Glitterbug!

Wake me up it’s time to Go Ho Ho…there’s a festive craft to shell out at K2’s playgroup!

Our lounge suite was the family’s pride and joy. So prized was this idle piece of furniture that one month after it’s nativity, my folks decided our stable, hay-coloured woolen carpet needed a make over in order to match the divan saviour.

The Christmas following our Gainesborough addition saw glitter mania hit my Catholic Primary School. Not a single card or Secret Santa gift was left unaffected. One afternoon, after a particularly profitable day in the card collecting stakes, I decided to unleash my excitement by ripping open each of the sparkling riches whilst seated in the venerated throne. Six long school holiday weeks later and despite my vigilant daily lounge disinglitterfection, our family’s Sunday Best still twinkled with Yuletide radiance.

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This year, in addition to the eggshellent Christmas-esque – Eeyores’ Balloon Tree… to remember it’s all about spending time with those special people in our lives – craft at K2’s Playgroup, I have also enlightened family and friends: each receiving a touch of biodegradable, compostable shimmer in their gifts.

So for anyone feeling like they’re treading on eggshells about the use of the traditional micro-plastic version of this festive trimming (and who hasn’t already used up all their eggshells in the compost heap, garden or as shell grit for the chooks)…well… what have you got to lose?

Oh…and as for that expensive couch or carpet…just the single vacuum jobbie is all you need to take that sparkle out of the debacle!

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Eggshellent Festive Glitter (makes two cups of glitter)

2 cups eggshells

2 cups water

3 tbs vinegar

10 drops of food dye (bog standard supermarket variety) or ½ tsp of cake decorating quality food dye (my first preference for festive colours) or 1 tsp of spice (turmeric and paprika make a very earthy yellow and red respectively)

Because eggshells are a garden and chook staple in our home, we are always loading them onto baking trays and throwing them in the bottom of the oven whenever it is in use for cooking. To avoid the less attractive browned eggwhite in your glitter mix, it is best to rinse the egg shells in water before cooking. The oven cooking and temperature times are quite forgiving but as a general guide, 30 minutes at 160 – 180oC should suffice.

 

Grind the eggshells into fine particles using a mortar and pestle. Place the eggshells, water, vinegar and food dye into a saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain and rinse with cold water. Turn out onto a baking tray and dry in the oven at 100oC for 45 – 60 minutes or until a they no longer stick to a metal spoon (after being pressed into the mixture). I usually make several batches (different colours) in one go so I can put them all in the oven at the same time.

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Clockwise from top left: paprika, red (cake decorating quality), turmeric, blue, purple, green (cake decorating quality), red.

When the glitter reaches room temperature, load it into glass jars or bottles and unleash the shimmer on your friends and family at Christmas time…or reboot the glittercraze among the parenting community by selling them off at Festive Fundraising Stalls!

Gone nutty: Go Ho Ho Granola

Retail carol-therapy spending you round the bend?

Need a consumable Christmas gift to see your merry ho-ho-hoard of family and friends gratefully humbled this festive season?

Then granola no further…

I first jumped on the rustic golden-grained band wagon (or ute… if you’re a true blue Aussie) after dashing through an Oxford winter snow storm to get to my Saturday morning volunteer shift at the local farmers market. Considering I had just overdosed on balmy biking antics to slide-ride my way to the venue on time, I was in serious need of a morning reboot to get my head back in stall set up and money collecting order.

Hitherto, I had been breaking my fast with a rather trite, straight-plastic-jacketed value pack of “muesli” which Scott described as “oats dressed as a dried-fruit-and-nut labeling scam”. So when Roz, the effervescent, eclectic cafe queen dished up a steaming bowl of multigrain porridge peppered with granola, I was more than happy to step out side of my conventional morning-munch comfort zone. Let’s just say it was a breakfast changing experience.

After being treated to a SESI (Sustainable Ethical Supplies Initiative) variety in the UK and then a locally grown, Hutterite clan-made version in Canada, we were scraping the bottom of the oat silo to find an equivalent brand at home. So when the David Gillespie craze swept my flower child Playgroup, I succumbed to the Sweet Poison ways and the whole family went nutty.

Packed full of health tick, gutsome goodies (including that freshly collected honey), Go Ho Ho Granola is a great addition to the morning Gut-up-and-Go ritual. It has also proven a popular Christmas gift for our covey of rougebust – more youthful with each passing year – retired friends and as a money spinner at the recent Festive Fundraising Stall at K1’s school.

Just one word of caution…unless you want to see Santa stuck in the chimney, it’s best to keep the Christmas Night portion to minimalist standards: a couple of tablespoons atop a bowl of cereal should suffice for that jolly… “Go Ho Ho”!

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Multigrain, Gut-up-and-Go porridge topped with psyllium, home made (cream on top) yoghurt and Go Ho Ho Granola.

Go Ho Ho Granola (makes a Santa’s shed load)

4 c coconut flakes

4 c rolled barley (oats or a mix of grains…mealers choice)

6 c raw mixed nuts, coarsely chopped

1 c mixed seeds (flax/linseed, sunflower seeds, pepitas)

2 c oat or wheat bran

4 tsp grnd cinnamon

2 tsp grnd ginger

2 tsp salt

½ c honey

1 c olive or coconut oil

2 c puffed grains (buckwheat, quinoa, rice etc.)

In a small, heavy based saucepan, heat on low the honey and oil until close to simmering. The two will not mix well together but don’t let this drive you stir crazy. Meanwhile, in a large bowl mix thoroughly the coconut flakes, barley, nuts, seeds, bran, spices, and salt. Pour over the oil and honey and quickly mix the dry and wet ingredients together using a large wooden spoon.

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Divide the mixture between two large baking trays and roast in the oven at 150oC for atleast 1 ½ hours, stirring and switching positions in the oven at half time. When the mix is a golden colour, remove from the oven and cool completely ensuring that you stir the mixture regularly to avoid any large clumps forming. When the mixture reaches room temperature, stir through the puffed grains and package into 250g bags (if your selling or gifting) or into a large airtight container.

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Packaged Go Ho Ho Granola

Store in a cool dark place in your kitchen larder and spoon out a couple of tablespoons each morning atop your favourite brekky cereal so you can get a good ol’ Go Ho Ho start to your day.

What’s all the buzz about?

If bees disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live” – Albert Einstein (controversially)

Last Tuesday saw K2’s Playschool class swarming about an extraordinary, yet rather unremarkable insect…

I became a fervent bee watcher in the spring of 1994. In keeping with tradition, the bloomin’ season always began with a flurry of refurbishments on our weatherboard rental property – let out to seasonal farm hands. As mum engrossed herself in superhuman, paint-tin-balancing feats atop a 10 ft ladder, my two youngest brothers (Tommy and Jimmy) and I busied ourselves with a good ol’ fashioned fix of hide and seek.

When it came to clandestine game play, Tommy was the absolute master. So the moment he started sniveling about a stinging toe, Jimmy and I knew to lay low. It was only when Tommy dropped to the ground convulsing that we felt it wise to alert adult authorities.

Upon returning home, after a rather extensive kiss-of-epipen-life infusion at the hospital, mum was as humming-mad as a queen bee evicted from the hive. Apparently – despite my vehement arguments to the contrary – “keeping an eye on my brother” and “manning the fort” did not include painting vertical, duckling-yellow stripes on Jimmy’s legs (arms, back…well all over really) or creating a roof top watch tower.

Twenty five years later and Tommy continues to evade death as a diplomat in biopolitical hellholes, Jimmy has a PhD in Colourbond Chemistry and I continue to keep a close eye on my buzzing backyard friends.

Whilst the jury is still out on the accuracy of Einsteins supposed statement, you won’t bee finding me resting on my flowerbed laurels whilst the scientific world awaits an anaphylactic verdict. So when a local apiarist came to K2’s playschool last week, my gardencentric antennae piqued at the opportunity to find out how our CBD could still the CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder).

One hour and a Sunday afternoon trip to hivequarters later, and I was keen as mustard-blossoms to get the startup lowdown:

  • Pollinise the patch: firstly, for anyone else keen on bee’n…have you got the space and the place suitable for keeping bee’s? Although bee’s have a wide foraging field (up to 10 km for some honey bees), for your busy friends to be happy in your backyard home, you’ll need to provide three key things: water, food (in the form of chemical free pollen and nectar) and a warm place to live.
  • Nectar-up the neighbours: “Good fences make good neighbours”…bees missed that memo, so to keep good relations with your next door kin it’s best to let them know of your worker bee plans. You will also need to review bee keeping laws set down by your local council…oh..and get permission from your lovely land lord (if applicable).
  • Send out a scout: knowledge is power, so best to school yourself up in good bee keeping hygiene and procedures before you take a dive for a hive. Best practice would involve completing a training course at your nearest technical college and/or touching base with your local bee keeping association.
  • Drone out the noise: you’re gonna need a fair bit of time and vigilance to be a good apiarist, so I’m gonna be broodally honest here. If you have a hectic life, like to travel a lot (and are therefore away for long periods in the year) or you find yourself getting distracted by the honey-coloured bling of new projects before finishing your previous ones, then don’t get a hive. Support your top quality, local honey suppliers instead. Whilst Varroa mite (not yet present down under) get’s a lot of air time, it’s actually foul brood that causes most of the damage domestically. Spread by invading bee colony’s stealing honey from infected hives, this disease is an apiarists nightmare and can easily spread to larger scale honey suppliers and hence affect the long term sustainability of the industry.

As for me…well…before I show up to the next Bee Keeping Association meeting, it’s back to the garden planning board. Adding to my already very extensive list of busy-brood activities for the summer holidays, will be some ground dwelling water features, flowerdise pockets and homes for the marginalised sub groups: native and solitary bees.

Oh…and that freshly collected honey pot…

well that’s a get-up-and-go, Christmas snow brainer: Go Ho Ho Granola!