The equinox has passed and the harvest season is surely on. Already I am surprised by it’s abundance. Across the weekend an amazing array of produce has arrived in my kitchen. It began on Friday night with beautiful bunch of basil harvested from a friend’s garden, glass of wine in hand. The local Saturday market delivered a dozen of the freshest eggs available, a $2 punnet of gorgeous cherry tomatoes, a bag of crisp Orange Pippin apples and velvety black kale. If I wasn’t sufficiently satisfied by this bounty, another friend arrived today bearing rhubarb, an unusual spinach variety from Otway Herbs, Roma tomatoes, passionfruit and a couple of kilos of green tomatoes with which I intend to make chutney. My kitchen bench is a field of produce.
This year, as the season has turned, I have for the first time come to a better understanding of my own changes. My approach to cooking also shifts with the season. In Spring and Summer I look outwards, seeking the exotic. My cooking becomes expansive. More ingredients, more dishes, more effort. Come the Autumn, however, and my view becomes more local and seasonal. Less ingredients, slower cooking, greater focus on a single theme. This is is when I regret the fact that I am a terrible gardener and hover between jealousy and admiration of the basic productive capacity of others. I would love to have produce to barter but I lack the skill of growing it. I do have something to trade though, and that is my love of working with the produce at hand.
Apollo Bay is a surprising hub of foodies and cooks and I have no more knowledge and skill than most of them. What I do have is a certain childlike delight in home-cooking. I experience a giddy pleasure at being presented with an ingredient and having to do something with it. And so this is what I offer: bring me your excess, the stuff you don’t use but are loathe to waste. In return I will give you something I have made. Maybe it will be from the produce you have given me, maybe it will be something else. Give me your tamarillos, I may give you some quince jam. Let me trade my love of cooking for your skills in growing.
On my stove top right now is a pot of soup featuring that kale and a juicy smoked ham hock. We had it for dinner with handfuls of shredded basil and grated Parmesan. I sat at the table with the man I love and ate soup and drank wine and talked and laughed. We’ve been so busy lately, moments like this are a rare oasis and those first pots of autumn soup always blissful. Later we will move on to a bowl of rhubarb stewed in spices and vanilla essence. The equinox has passed and as we move toward the solstice let us glory in its bounty.
Spice – stewed rhubarb
- approximately 12 stems of rhubarb, trimmed, washed and cut into 2inch pieces
- 3 apples, peeled, cored and cut into a large dice
- 1/2 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
- 2-3 tablespoons of water
- 1/3 cup of brown sugar (feel free to adjust to taste)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/4 of a teaspoon of ground allspice
- 6 cardamon pods
Combine ingredients in a heavy based saucepan and stir over medium heat until the sugar his dissolved. Cover, and allow to cook over gentle heat until fruit has softened, about 10 minutes, stirring regularly.