Dusk Masthead

Sustainable Life: Eat, Grow, Autumn

Mia Swainson

Ripe figs, luscious leafy greens and still more zucchinis…

It must be autumn in the kitchen garden. A great season for growing. The scorching heat of a midsummer’s day has passed, leaving just a lovely warm soil and mild days – perfect growing weather. Tender, crisp leafy plants love autumn.

In the kitchen, it’s time to put the last of summer’s garden gifts into a compote, a cake and a pickle.

RHUBARB AND LEMON COMPOTE

Once you’ve got rhubarb established in your garden, you’ll have it forever. It’s a herb that grows long red or green stems and large, dark green leaves from crowns in the soil. Looking for a new rhubarb plant? Ask a friend with a healthy plant to split their crown in late winter and pop your crown into rich, moist soil. Voila – rhubarb and deliciousness for life.

Canberra’s cold climate means that rhubarb dies back in winter. So, rather than waste the stems, each autumn I take a big harvest and preserve the rhubarb for winter eating. This year I’ve made a rhubarb and lemon compote.

Take about 500g of rhubarb stalks and chop them into 2.5cm lengths, then put them into a medium sized cooking pot. Add the juice and peel of one large lemon (or two small lemons), 2 bay leaves, 5 cloves and a cup of brown sugar. Bring to the boil and simmer for about five minutes, until the rhubarb is tender. Remove the cloves, then bottle in sterilised jars or freeze in batches. Best eaten with thick yoghurt, cream or ice cream. A delicious treat, perfect for cold, autumn evenings.

FIG AND ALMOND UPSIDE DOWN CAKE

Ok, so figs might just be my favourite fruit. Just the right amount of sweet, packed full of flavour and interesting texture. We net our fig tree to protect it from birds and…our children. To keep the fig tree small enough to net it gets a good, hard prune, every year. We take at least a third of the branch lengths.

End of season figs are sweet and squishy. Perfect for baking (or jam). Here’s a cake recipe for a special occasion. I’ve used figs, but you could also use peaches, plums or other autumn fruit.

Firstly, combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. You’ll need: ½ cup of wholemeal flour, ½ cup white flour, ½ cup almond meal, 1 tsp baking powder and 1 cup of white sugar.

Then combine the wet ingredients. Whisk together three eggs, ½ cup yoghurt, ½ cup canola oil and ½ tsp vanilla essence.

Gently combine the wet and dry ingredients.

Now for the upside-down part of the cake. Line a 20cm round tin with baking paper and grease the bottom with butter. Thinly slice three large figs and arrange the slices elegantly on top of the greased baking tin. Sprinkle with a tablespoon of caster sugar.

Gently pour the cake mixture on top of the figs. Bake in a moderate oven (160 – 180 degrees) for about 40 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean. Turn the cake upside down and serve with Greek yoghurt or cream.

PUMPKIN AND BARLEY SALAD

So versatile in cooking and easy to grow, the perfect vegetable fruit. Put seeds into a rich compost in early November and watch your pumpkin take over the garden, patio or shed. Our first pumpkins aren’t usually ready until early March as they love to soak up summer’s sun. Pumpkins are ready for harvest when the stem changes colour and goes hard. Pull it off the vine and pop it upside down in the sun for a day or two to harden the skin for storage.

I’m loving roast pumpkin in salads right now. Here are my autumn favourite, a pumpkin and barley salad with plenty of fresh, crisp greens from the garden.

Firstly, cook the barley. Take ¾ cup of barley and simmer it on the stove top in 2 cups of water and a teaspoon of stock powder. This may take 35 – 45 minutes and when it’s finished the water and stock will have been fully absorbed.

Then, the pumpkin. Dice about 1.5kg into 2cm cubes and pop it onto a grill tray. Mix through a generous glug of olive oil, a grated clove of garlic, salt and pepper. Grill on high for 15 – 20 minutes, until the tops are just a bit burnt. Let it sit for a further 5 minutes while all of the pumpkin cooks through.

Now for the dressing. Mix together ½ cup of olive oil, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar and season to taste.

Finally, put the salad together. Lay six cups of mixed leaves from the garden on a plate (baby spinach and rocket work well), gently place the grilled pumpkin and barley on top. Crumble about 100g of smooth feta cheese over the salad. Drizzle the dressing and gently fold the salad ingredients.

Yum! There will be enough pumpkin and barley salad to share between a few families at a BBQ or brunch.

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Mia Swainson

Mia Swainson is passionate about creating a more sustainable world and believes that everyone can make a difference. Trained as an environmental engineer, Mia has worked in sustainable development with the Australian Government and community sector for more than 15 years. Mia’s work has taken her around the world to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and back to Canberra. She currently tends her kitchen garden, cares for three young boys and is growing her executive coaching consultancy (miaswainson.com.au/wp).

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