December

Author: Stephanie Alexander
Photography: Armelle Habib

The beans are planted, the peach trees are laden with fruit and the hydrangeas are abuzz with bees in Stephanie Alexander's garden.

As you read this you'll be contemplating your Christmas plans. Will it be hot or cold? Seafood or poultry? Indoors or out? In all cases, anticipation is part of the fun.

Magazine deadlines have a way of distorting time, so I'm anticipating, with fingers crossed, what will come to pass.

My tomatoes will be flowering and some early fruit will have formed. This year I've restricted myself to three varieties. I saved seed from my two favourites in early autumn: the massive, brilliantly textured fruit originally from Lina Siciliano at Rose Creek Estate and the oval oxhearts derived from a tomato I tasted once at Tony Tan's house. My third choice is brandywine, and I bought the seedlings at a farmers' market. So far the brandywine has masses of leaves but no flowers.

My prized doughnut peach tree has about 20 fruit this year, and I intend to bag each of them individually; last year I think just eight peaches finally ripened, but they were exceptional in flavour and juiciness. The nectarine and small yellow peach trees have such a lot of fruit that individual bagging is simply not feasible. Instead, my gardener has constructed a fruit cage of netting on poly pipe that drops over the trees without getting tangled in the fruit, and I had extra trellising built in yet another attempt at foiling the possums. Time will tell.

I've planted a bamboo teepee with my favourite yellow pole beans - which climb two metres and crop very heavily - and yellow and green bush beans at the edges of the beds. The basil is coming along well, and I have lots of floppy, frilly salad leaves. My favourite tender oakleaf lettuce is self-seeding everywhere, including in cracks in the brick edging, so there's always a salad ready to gather.

In another month I'll dig up my garlic and enjoy some of it damp and juicy before carefully hanging the rest to dry completely. And for once I may remember to gather some early almonds while the shells are still green and the nut within is juicy and crisp. Serve them with cheese as a treat, or soak them in hot water and press through a sieve to make almond milk for an almond gazpacho or a proper blancmange.

It's that time of the year when it's difficult to keep up with the growth. Turn your back and three zucchini grow to marrow size. Never mind - the recipe in The Cook's Companion for slow-cooked zucchini is an ideal way of preparing them.

The beautiful papery poppies have finished dancing in the late spring sunshine, and as the days warm I'm nearly ready to put my toe in the pool. At one end of the pool area the white hydrangeas are massive balls of blossom buzzing with bees. Above them, on the back fence, are the pale yellow open-faced flowers of the Mermaid rose. Last year all the buds were eaten by the possums; I'm so pleased to see that some have fought back. Maybe the possums have come in contact with Mermaid's terrible thorns.

Followers of mine on Facebook or Instagram and subscribers to my newsletter will have noticed many food-on-plate shots over the past few months, and even some action shots of cooks and cameras hard at work. The time has come to reveal my secret.

My book The Cook's Companion has been taken into the homes of 500,000 Australians, and if the comments I receive from people on the tram are even half true, the book is used on a regular basis by many food-lovers. But as all cooks and gardeners know, there's always change and progress, and we all benefit from experience and new discoveries. I wanted to re-examine my text once again (the last time I did this was in 2002), but this time I wanted to jump into the brave new world of digital technology. The result is that The Cook's Companion app is now available for download from the Apple App Store and Google Play.

I've re-examined every line, recooked dish after dish, and filmed how-to videos, yet retained all the features that have made the book special. I hope you like it. Now that it's finished it's time for a holiday and then to plan my own Christmas feast.

Have a merry Christmas.





More info

Visit stephaniealexander.com.au and kitchengardenfoundation.org.au



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