October

Author: Stephanie Alexander
Photography: Armelle Habib

Spring has sprung in Stephanie Alexander's garden: the foxgloves have self-seeded among the roses, the crabapples are covered with fat pink buds and the baby turnips are emerging, just asking to be harvested.

Every bit of my Mt Fuji cherry tree is so beautiful, from its bark marked like silk taffeta to its froth of blossom. In Japan, I was told, people hold picnics to admire the cherry blossom. I'm certainly admiring mine, but it's a solitary pleasure, because the tree grows right beside my washing line and not too far from my compost bin.

Only a few months after I harvested enough fruit for a batch of marmalade, the generous cumquat tree is again full of bees and blossoms. The crabapples are covered with fat pink buds and the towering foxgloves have self-seeded among the roses. A new rose, called Mary Rose, is yet to show me what she looks like, but the ever-generous wallflowers are a great standby, and the bees love them. The wallflowers come in a range of colours, obligingly fill empty spaces and never seem to mind if the gardener needs to cut them hard. I have purple-pink ones in the front garden and the less-common yellow ones are filling the back garden until the hydrangeas come back to life.

In the vegetable garden, everything has put on a spring spurt. The baby turnips are popping from the ground - their little white-curved tops are visible and just asking to be pulled. And they will be.

I'll cook them with a tiny bit of water, butter and a sprinkle of sugar. Broccoli, chard and carrots are all on the menu too. Leeks and broad beans will be quite soon. The strawberries have put out new leaves. It's still difficult to keep the fruit from the dirt when we have a heavy shower.

Shamefully, I admit I hadn't noticed that the last of my own garlic from this season was sprouting. I hurriedly planted it even though it's nearly two months late. The earlier planting is growing strongly and I'm interested to see if this late planting develops proper bulbs. All is not lost if it only produces green shoots: these can be snipped and added to dishes that need just brief cooking, but they're very strong, so the cook needs to be cautious.

In the hothouse the seeds of the special tomatoes are germinating, but it's still far too cold to set them out. The watering of these babies will be entrusted to my gardener when I go on holiday later this month to a house on the cusp of Provence and Languedoc. My fellow holiday-makers will include Maggie and Colin Beer, and Annie Smithers, so there'll be quite a bit of market shopping and cooking done. There may even be friendly competition for the stove. At such moments I'm sometimes happy to retire gracefully, eat a few olives, have an early glass of wine and look forward to being delighted.

I've had no spare time for brush-up French classes, so I'm amusing myself reading French detective stories. Georges Simenon has Inspector Maigret stuffing his pipe in various cafés, riding on the back platform of buses, and paying for items in francs. Those were the days.

I recently visited Collingwood's new Saint Crispin restaurant. I had a delicious entrée of poached egg and mushroom showered with Tasmanian truffle - my first tasting of this truffle. It was glorious and had the slightly damp texture and musky smell that I have waited so long to experience with Australian truffles. Its scent starts to disappear from the moment of harvest, so this one must have arrived in the kitchen very promptly.

I was asked to write a foreword to Phillippa Grogan's new book, Phillippa's Home Baking (available April 2014). It was a pleasure to do so. Phillippa opened her store in 1994 and it has become a Melbourne institution with her range of breads distributed throughout Victoria.

She introduced Melbourne food-lovers to a new sort of pastry shop: no towering multilayered edifices of mousse and fussy decoration, just delicious baked goods that relied on the finest ingredients. Relishes, marmalades and jams that our grandmothers probably didn't make but would have liked to.

This book almost smells buttery. As I turned the pages I became entranced with recipe after recipe calling for plump fruit, the best dark chocolate, cultured butter, lemons, toasted nuts and spices. I've marked out the pumpkin and spinach tart to make very soon, and I'm going out to buy egg rings to make crumpets today.

The recipe collection ranges widely, and includes a special section for Christmas and Easter baking. My eldest daughter has nostalgic memories of the stollen my mother used to make at Christmas. I've tried to make it, but my version (based on a scribbled recipe card in my mother's handwriting) was very dry. Phillippa's book includes a stollen recipe and judging by the photograph it looks moist and delicious. I'll be giving it a go.





More info

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



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