Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Taste Test: Meiwa Kumquat

I once read "a kumquat is ready to eat whenever you can bear to partake of it". They are rather sour little nuggets so you need to use them accordingly as you would other sour Citrus. With this in mind i would probably avoid eating them fresh off the tree as they will definitely make your mouth pucker. Here is my post on Kumquats in general that i previously wrote. At home i have the following Kumquats planted in ground: Meiwa, Nagami, Indiomandarinquat & a Variagated Calamondin. The only trees that have fruited so far are the Meiwa & the Calamondin. The Meiwa seems very prolific and within a few months of coming home from the garden centre this young tree is fruiting abundantly. So with its recent round of fruit harvested, i thought i would do a Meiwa Kumquat taste test.


Eaten fresh off the tree the skin is fairly sweet on the outside. However, when combined with the tart interior flesh the experience goes sour very quickly and usually results in a spitting out. Meiwa is apparently the sweetest of all Kumquats so bear this in mind before attempting a Nagami or Mandarinquat off the tree. The flavour i would describe as Mandarin like and if made into a syrup or used in a dressing is very pleasant so don't let its initial sourness put you off.

After trying fresh i decided to make my own kumquat syrup to add into some sparkling water. To do this i muddled about 6-8 kumquats in glass with some caster sugar or simple syrup until combined. Strain out the skins & seeds, then pour the syrup 
in a glass with some sparkling water & ice for a beautiful refreshing Kumquat Lemonade

I have also used some in a salads or salsas as part of a dressing which works really well as the acid component in a dish. You can also add in sliced kumquats to salads. Their intense flavor makes kumquat a good pairing for bitter or peppery greens, such as rocket. Slice into thin rounds with a sharp knife. Remove the seeds, then layer the slices on top of the salad to show off the color.

Make kumquat marmalade. Kumquat marmalade is much sweeter and less bitter than regular marmalade. The recipe is similar to most marmalades or jams. Since the kumquat seeds contain pectin, you can boil them along with the fruit to thicken your preserves. Keep the seeds in a cheesecloth bag while boiling, so they don't end up in your jar.

Make kumquat-infused vodka. Wash plenty of kumquats and cut them in half — at least 10 fruits per cup (250mL) of vodka. Cover with vodka and let sit in a cool, dark place, shaking once a day. It should pick up a faint taste after a couple days, a strong taste after a week or two, and infuse for about a month. Once infused you can add some sugar syrup got taste to make your own Kumquatcello. Here's my recipe for Limoncello.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Whiskey Sours : A Classic Citrus Recipe.

Whiskey Sours, they ain't fancy, but that's a big part of its appeal. Because at the end of a long day you don't always feel like challenging your palate, or even thinking very much. You just want a nice, tasty beverage thats easy to drink and helps you dissolve all the stress of the world away and start relaxing. Time for a Whiskey Sour - the comfortable T-shirt of drinks.

The true sour is a study in simplicity - Whiskey, Sugar, Citrus. Lemon is most common for the latter, but juice with any kind of noticeable acidity will work well (i prefer Lime juice). Traditional sours usually call for an egg white, an ingredient that adds a light, frothy, textural element to the cocktail.
If you want to jazz it up a bit, you can play around with the variety of Whiskey. I have made a couple of Whiskey Sours with Laphroaig, a heavily peated single malt from Islay which was pretty sublime. 

Whiskey Sour

60ml Whiskey
45ml Simple Syrup (1:1 ratio sugar:water)
30ml Lemon juice
1 Egg White

1. Combine ingredients in a shaker and dry shake until well combined, at least 10 seconds.
2. Add ice to your shaker and shake again as normal.
3. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Fig Season is here!

Well the long awaited Fig season has arrived! It's a bit a of wild scene out there once the fruit start getting ripe and real battle between Man and Bird. For about 2 months leading up to ripening the local birds in the know will pop by to tentatively peck the Figs to check how far away they are from being, as we say around here - "Jam". "Jam" is what we refer to when you get a Fig at its peak, juicy ripeness. There is nothing worse than a dry, seedy Fig picked before its prime. But left too long to hang, you risk coming back to a Fig ravaged by the Birds.
Since ancient times Figs have been cultivated by man. They were one of the first plants that was cultivated by humans and are well known throughout the world. Fossilised Figs dating to about 9400BC were found in an early Neolithic village in the Jordan Valley, 13 km north of Jericho.

The unusual fruit grows on a deciduous subtropical tree. Although we think of them as a Mediterranean tree, they are actually native to Western Asia. There are several types of fig available in NZ but worldwide, there are thousands of cultivars that have been developed as human migration brought the fig to many places outside its natural range. Figs have grown successfully in home orchards & backyards since early European settlers first brought them to New Zealand. Figs are deciduous and grow to become very large trees - making them fairly difficult for most suburban gardens where regular pruning & maintenance will be needed.
With an age-old reputation as a sustaining and nourishing food, figs are friendly to the digestive system in either fresh or dried form. This is because they contain an enzyme called ficin that helps the digestive process by soothing your gut. They are also mildly laxative. Dried figs are a rich source of fibre, iron, potassium and calcium, making them a useful food for people with high blood pressure. Weight for weight, a fig contains more fibre than most other fruits or vegetables, so they're great for your bowels and your cholesterol levels. They're also high in polyphenol antioxidants, which can make them a valuable food for cancer prevention. Figs are odd trees - they don't produce flowers - the blossom is inside the fruit, and it's these blossoms with their little seeds that produce the crunchy texture. 

There are two fruiting types of varieties with Figs. One has two crops of figs produced each year the other just one. The first or breba crop develops in the spring on last year's shoot growth (Jan-Feb). The main fig crop (April-May) develops on the current year's shoot growth and ripens in the late summer or autumn. The main crop is generally superior in quantity and quality, but some cultivars can produce good breba crops. Fruit will need picking daily to ensure top quality and to minimise spoilage and bird attacks. The fruit don't age well once picked and will need to be eaten within a few days of picking.

To produce high quality fruit, fig trees will need maintenance and care after planting. By nature the root systems are very inquisitive so be conscious of the proximity of plumbing and services if planting them in the ground. Once planted, trees should produce fruit in 2 years. Then once settled in, they are a seemingly unstoppable tree. They will reach good harvest volumes in 5-7 years. Trees should go on producing for years to come. Some plantings in California are 100 years old and still producing excellent volumes of fruit.
They need a sheltered, north facing position which catches the sun all day. Put them in shade and will they use all their energy finding sun and none producing fruit. They should be planted on flat or gently sloping ground so they are easy to pick and tend.
They prefer soil to be free draining and will not cope with being waterlogged.
Whilst the trees are relatively drought resistant, fruit will not ripen to its prime if the trees aren't watered. If your area dries out, it is advisable to invest in an irrigation system which will supply water during the growing season. This will ensure your fruit is juicy and grows to optimum size.
The main pest you will find with your Fig will be Birds. You will need some protection from birds who will damage the fruit on the trees. Unless if like me you like to share with them & enjoy watching all the Waxeyes & Tui's & other birds enjoying them also. For us, our tree is so old & large there is enough for everyone:)  Figs aren't as prone to disease as some other fruit crops making them a good candidate for organic growers.


The fig tree is fast growing and requires pruning to keep it at a manageable height. Pruning also helps to limit shading the fruit, which will delay ripening. I have heard of people trimming off the leaves to help ripen the fruit quicker. Although the tree does start dropping leaves about mid March to help this process. I have seen an orchard which espaliered the trees, set up like a vineyard with wires strung between posts. This would be costlier to set up but would help ensure the fruit was always at an accessible height, making picking less labour intensive in the long run.


Fig Paste

Figs, skins removed & pureed.

Equal amount of Jam Sugar.

​or 2 cups Caster Sugar & 4¼ TBS Powdered Pectin.

1. Combine the Fig puree & Sugar in a large saucepan & place over a medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves.
2. Turn up heat & bring to boil. Stirring regularly boil for 4 mins.
3. At this point you can pour into jars as Jam or dry out into Fig Paste.
2. Grease the base & sides of 6 ramekins & divide the paste evenly among the ramekins. 
3. Place in fan-forced oven with only the fan working in a very low oven (90°C) for several hours to dry out.You could use a traditional method for drying the paste in the sunshine or in an airing cupboard
3. Remove from the ramekins & wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Backyard Lavender Farm continued.....


As you may have read here, in August we planted out a large portion of our back lawn with Lavender. Such a great decision and this summer we have really reaped the rewards of our odourous endeavour. It has been beautiful wading through the long stems of flowers with wafts of lavender pervading through the summer air. The greatest part of the Lavender Farm has to be all the Bees we have been attracting into the garden. They seem to be really enjoying the flowers and the backyard is literally abuzz with life. Not only is their presence lovely for us to enjoy but whilst here they will hopefully nip around all the surrounding fruit trees to assist with pollination of the flowers helping in fruit set of the trees.

In the centre of the Lavender we have installed a terrecotta water Bird Bath which has also seen a lot of action from the local birdlife. We have at times had up to 10 birds on a one time all jostling for a dip on a hot day. Even the bees (and wasps unfortunately) have been sitting at the water's edge for a drink after buzzing amongst the Lavender. Good times.

Throughout the summer we have been intermittently harvesting bunches of flower stems and have saved the buds for use in various ways. My wife, Jennifer, has been experimenting with making her own soaps with Lavender buds, Shea butter, Essential oils and various other concoctions.
In the future i am hoping to look into distilling our Lavender into our own essential oil which would be amazing. I could either buy a still which are about $500 like these which seems a large investment or else i may ask around at a few Lavender farms around Auckland to see if i could process a batch though one of them.
This leads me on to our latest expansion. So we purchased another 35 Grosso plants from our supplier "Pocket Mouse" on trademe and have extended out the other third of the previous lawn to make the whole back lawn now all rows of Lavender. This time i laid the black weed mat down first and pinned it down into place. Next i measured out with string, straight lines and placed out the Lavenders to match the existing plants' layout. I then cut holes in the mat and planted the little Lavs in mounds with a porous potting mix to help with drainage. Now they are in, they look really good and by next year they shouldn't be too far behind the others. I just now need to source some more wood chips to mulch over the top of the mat and around the plants to match the other side. This also helps to stop weeds popping through and aids water retention during summer.
Anyway i hope this could inspire some of you to make your own waste of space of a lawn into a productive, re-energised and more organic, natural space.


Wednesday, 22 February 2017

International Margarita Day

Happy International Margarita Day! Margaritas have to be my favourite cocktail. So much so that i have 9 Lime Trees planted in anticipation of unlimited fresh Limes always on hand. And at $30- a kilo i'm going to be rich! Haha! 

Here's my list of Limes planted in the garden.......
6x Tahitian
2x Australian Fingerlime
2x Key Lime
1x Kusaie

2x Kaffir

International Margarita Day is officially observed annually on February 22nd. This is perfect for us in Auckland, NZ as Limes are just maturing into ripeness. Margys, as they are known in our household (or "Troygaritas"), are the most common tequila-based cocktail. It is a cocktail that consists of Tequila, Triple sec and fresh Lime juice. A key ingredient is the freshly squeezed lime juice. The most common Lime to use is the Tahitian (Persian) Lime. However, margaritas in Mexico are generally made with Mexican limes (Key limes). These are small, thin-skinned limes and have more tart flavour compared to Tahitian Limes. Margaritas can be made with Lemons, they have a much softer taste. But i recommend to keep it authentic and use fresh Lime juice only. To juice my Limes i use a Lime Juicer like so:

Manual juicing is often messy but this is as efficient as a machine juicer without making a mess. You simply slice the lime, face the flesh towards the holes, hold it over the measure, and give it a good squeeze. The mechanics of it make is simple to get enough pressure to juice a lime without having to go all Hulk on it. Then you just give it a quick rinse & dry off. It’s easy to use and easy to clean.

So here's a couple of my go-to recipes for a Margy. You can keep it Classic or funk it up with my Mescal Margarita or get really fruity and go for a Oaxacan Gold Pineapple Margy the choice is up to you! 

Classic Margarita.

70ml Tequila.
40ml Cointreau.
30ml Fresh Lime juice.
Agave Syrup or Caster Sugar (to taste).

1. Rub the rim of glass with a Lime Wedge then dip the rim into a shallow plate of Salt.
2. Shake all ingredients with Ice.
3. Carefully pour into the glass with some Ice.
4. Garnish with a Lime wedge.

For the Classic i like to use a nice Anejo Tequila such as Patron or Herradura for a oaky aged smooth flavour or you can use Silver Tequila for a bright, clear flavour.

Mescal Margarita.

 70ml Mescal.
40ml Grand Marnier.
40ml Fresh Lime Juice.
10ml Agave Syrup.
Maldon Salt.
Lime Wedges.
*For a less smokey drink 35ml Tequila/ 35ml Mescal.
**You can Cointreau instead of Grand Marnier if you wish.
***For the rim you can make a blend of crushed Dried Chilies with the Salt.

1. Rub the rim of glass with a Lime Wedge then dip the rim into a shallow plate of Salt.
2. In a cocktail shaker add the Mescal, Grand Marnier, Lime Juice & Agave Syrup. Add a handful of Ice & Shake.
3. Carefully pour into the glass with some Ice.
4. Garnish with a Lime wedge.

Oaxacan Gold Margarita.

30ml Oaxacan Mezcal
15ml fresh Lime juice
75ml Grilled Pineapple-Vanilla Puree.

6 to 10  ice cubes.
Chilli Salt.
Roasted Pineapple-Vanilla Puree

1 Large ripe Pineapple, peeled & cut crosswise into 2cm thick pieces.

½ cup Sugar

½ teaspoon Vanilla Extract.

Roasted Pineapple-Vanilla Puree

1. Grill Pineapple until it is softened & caramelized. Cool.
2. In a blender, combine the grilled Pineapple with the Sugar, Vanilla & enough Water to bring the quantity of the total puree to 5 cups (about 2 cups water). Cover & pulse until the pineapple is roughly chopped, then blend on high until smooth & foamy.  Strain into a storage container, cool & refrigerate until you're ready to use, up to 3 days.

3. Rub the rim of a glass with a Lime Wedge then dip the rim into a shallow plate of Chilli Salt.
4. In a cocktail shaker, combine the Mezcal, Lime juice, Grilled Pineapple-Vanilla Puree & Ice. Shake until frothy & cold. 
5. Pour into the prepared glass with Ice.

For more Margarita recipes check out my book called 'Viva La Mexico' its available for free download as an e-book at www.blurb.com/ebooks/379548-viva-la-mexico

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Late Summer in the City.

If you ask any Aucklander, this Summer has been pretty awful with all the rain we've been having. The gardener in me however, has been pretty thankful it hasn't been such a scorching Summer like some of the past few years. Previously we've suffered a many casualties during February & March due to the searing sun and dry, parched soil. This week especially we had a welcome thorough drenching to a very dry garden. The Garden has responded quickly with lots of new growth sprouting out, fresh blooms of flowers and Fruits swelling with engouged deliciousness. I find rainwater especially, makes the plants take off in a way that watering with the hose never achieves.

The most exciting examples of this has been one of my Australian Finger Lime has finally started to flower. I have been very intrigued by the prospect of its fruit with it's "Lime Caviar" inside. It has been in the ground now for roughly 2 years now so hopefully we will get some of its fruits to try soon!

Tahitian Limes are getting very close to harvest time aka "Margarita Season". Looking back on last year it was March that they were fully ripe, though i could probably pick some very soon i'd say.

My Meiwa Kumquat is fruiting prolifically even though it is only a recent acquisition & is still in its pot. It has an alarming amount of Kumquats on it that i'm worried it might snap a branch. I am thinking of making some Marmalade with them, probably the smallest batch ever made i'd say:)




Monday, 23 January 2017

My Darling Clementine.

Of late, my wife Jennifer & I have been working our way through the recipes in my Jersusalem cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi. In one of the recipes it calls for Clementines specifically and i could see why as they have a very distinct flavour and texture. So i decided i just had to get one to add to my burgeoning collection and popped down to the plant store. When i got there i was faced with a slight dilemma of whether to choose the new, healthy, dark green leaved sapling, or an much older, slightly worse for wear orphan that nobody wanted for much the same price. I decided on the more mature tree in the hope with a little Tender Loving Care he will be healthy in no time and sooner productive. As you can see he has very pale, yellow leaves most probably indicative of lack of Nitrogen and possibly Magnesium so i repotted him up with a good dose of complete Citrus fertiliser and some diluted Epsom Salts. Fingers crossed! It is labelled as Corsica No. 2, a new improved selection of a 'Fina' Clementine. It originated in the 1960's as a selection of Moroccan Clementines made at the Station de Recherches Agrumicoles, San Guiliano, Corsica. It ripens in NZ around June-July. It has good sized, sweet juicy fruit with very few seeds and a tangy flavour. Peels easily and cleanly. Generally crops well.


A Clementine (Citrus × clementina) is a hybrid between a mandarin orange and a sweet orange so named in 1902. Clementine and mandarin oranges are members of the citrus family just like traditional Oranges, but they each taste slightly different. The Clementine is not always easy to distinguish from varieties of Mandarins but through sampling you can clearly taste a difference.  Clementine oranges look like tiny versions of regular oranges, and they have a tart, tangy and rich sweet flavour.  The exterior is a deep orange colour with a smooth, glossy appearance. Clementines can be separated into 7 to 14 segments. They tend to be easy to peel. Clementines are a type of citrus called zipper-peel, which means the skin comes off very easily. They are almost always seedless when grown commercially (without cross-pollination). Their oils, like other citrus fruits, contain mostly limonene as well as myrcene, linalool, α-pinene and many complex aromatics.

Clementines are a highly important North African variety originated as an accidental hybrid in a planting of mandarin seedlings, presumably of the common or Mediterranean mandarin, made by Father Clement Rodier (after whom the fruit was named) in the garden of an orphanage at Misserghin, a small village near Oran, Algeria. It is assumed that the seed parent was the Mediterranean mandarin and the pollen parent a willow-leafed ornamental variety of C. aurantium known as Granito. However, there are claims it originated in China much earlier; one source describes it as nearly identical to the Canton mandarin widely grown in the Guangxi and Guangdong provinces in China.

This variety was introduced into California commercial agriculture in 1914, though it was grown at the Citrus Research Center (now part of the University of California, Riverside) as early as 1909. Clementines lose their desirable seedless characteristic when they are cross-pollinated with other fruit. To prevent this, in 2006 growers such as Paramount Citrus in California threatened to sue local beekeepers to keep bees away from their crops.

For further reading here is an interesting article about Clementines for any hardcore Citrus Nerds by the University of California at Riverside (Citrus Variety Collection).

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Pungas & Fernery.

I have always loved the look of NZ native tree ferns. It is a plant that always reminds me of home here in New Zealand and its native bush. They give the bush here a Primordial sort of vibe of a time before humans roamed the earth. Tree ferns are colloquially known in New Zealand as “Pungas”. This appears to be an English corruption of “Ponga”, a Maori name specific to Cyathea dealbata (silver fern). The unfolding fronds of the tree fern are represented in the Koru, now pretty much a symbol of our country & its Maori heritage. Punga trunks are commonly seen for sale but are not actually Ponga but Wheki (Dicksonia squarrosa). These are often used to make fencing or for garden retaining walls and often have a reasonable chance of coming back to life. 
When we first planted out our garden, we have one area of the yard that is heavily shaded from our Fig Tree and the neighbouring property's fence. We decided that this would be an area perfect for our "Fernery". We had a vision of eventually having a "Punga Forest" of sorts that would remind us of the great stands of Punga & native Ferns that we see out on our hikes in the NZ bush.
Most (but not all) ferns are shade lovers so in general you need to avoid planting in a windy spot and in full sunlit areas. Pungas (aka Tree Ferns) are very much in this category and one thing i have learned during my Fernery experience is that Pungas either need to be planted in the shade or at the very least under the protecting shadow of a larger pioneer tree. The other important thing to keep in mind if that they love moist soil and loath drying out in Summer. To avoid them drying out, apply lots of mulch over the root system to conserve soil moisture in summer. The idea is to try to simulate the bush conditions in which tree ferns grow best, giving them moist soil and high humidity.

There are two main groups of tree ferns in New Zealand: Cyathea and Dicksonia. They are easily distinguished since Cyathea is scaly and Dicksonia is hairy. The most frequently seen species of tree fern in New Zealand are Cyathea dealbata (silver fern), C. medullaris (Mamaku or black tree fern), C. smithii (katote), and Dicksonia squarrosa (wheki).

In terms of NZ native tree ferns there are about 9 varieties, they fall into 2 distinct species -

1. Dicksoniaceae (Dicksonia for short) are distinctive due to long woody trunks and crown of fronds on the top. The two common varieties are:
Dicksonia Squarrosa (
Dicksonia squarrosa is common throughout New Zealand, except in the coldest of habitats. It is particularly abundant around streams and other wet areas. Trunks of Dicksonia squarrosa often arise in close proximity, and the dead orange-brown fronds often give it a scruffy appearance. However, unlike D. fibrosa, D. squarrosa does not retain a skirt of dead fronds. The frond stalks of D. squarrosa are bristly-hairy, dark-brown, and comparatively long. Dicksonia squarrosa has buds on its trunk, and it can resprout if the main crown in damaged. Most “punga” trunks for sale are D. squarrosa. 

Dicksonia Fibrosa (

D. fibrosa is a slow-growing plant which has a very thick, soft and fibrous rusty brown trunk. It holds on to its dead leaves producing a distinctive pale brown skirt, distinguishing it from the related Dicksonia squarrosa. D. fibrosa can reach a height of 6 metres (20 ft).

2. Cyatheaceae (Cyathea for short) - different from the Dicksonia due to long hairs on the trunks. The two common varieties are:
Medullaris (Mamaku or Black Tree Fern)
The mamaku is one of the world's largest tree ferns, sometimes reaching over 18 metres and with individual fronds up to 6 metres, making a huge feathery umbrella. Mamaku like lots of light and are not found in dense bush, but rather on the moist fringes of forests, river banks or in light gaps such as old slip sites or road cuttings.

Dealbata (Silver Fern or Ponga)
The silver tree fern is easily distinguished from the mamaku, by having a distinctive silvery white underside to its fronds. It does not grow as tall, rarely exceeding 8-9 m and with upright fronds, like a shuttlecock, up to about 3.5 m. Unlike mamaku, these ferns prefer some light shade and also grows in drier spots. If grown in an open situation its fronds can become ragged and untidy and neither species will do well, or look attractive in very windy sites.

Smithii (K
It produces masses of very soft and delicate looking fronds which spread horizontally from the crown and reach 2 – 2.5m in length. The fronds rather than uncurling in the manner of most tree ferns, in which the main frond stalk unrolls almost to its full length before the "frondlets" (pinnae) unroll, the fronds tend to expand all at once up the length of the frond. The trunk is covered in chestnut coloured scales, and while it can reach up to 8m in height it is fairly slow growing. The old fronds hang down to form a skirt around the trunk, which helps protect it from pests and maintain some humidity.

Cunninghamii (Gully Tree Fern)
C. cunninghamii is an uncommon and slow-growing tree fern. It grows in damp forest, often emerging from stream gullies and riverbanks. The erect trunk may be 20 m tall and is usually 6-15 cm in diameter, occasionally as much as 20 cm. Fronds are tri- to tetrapinnate and 3 m or more in length. The branches are slender, black brown, warty and scaled. To do well in cultivation, C. cunninghamii needs a lot of moisture & shade. Rich humus is a good growing medium. Plants should be protected from the wind.

There are seven Cyathea species native to New Zealand. Five are endemic to New Zealand, with Cyathea cunninghamii also occurring in Australia and C. medullaris being recognised from several Pacific Islands. Two of the New Zealand species are confined to the subtropical Kermadec Islands: C. kermadecensis and C. milnei.