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March 2008

March 2008


Introduction | Val Plumwood |Book News | New Awards | Schedule for 2008 | The March Garden - March projects - More Than You Probably Want to Know About Pumpkins, plus recipes | A Few More Recipes
Grandma's Apple Cake
Garlic Echidna Potatoes
Carrot and ginger cups

Wombats are noisy eaters. Somehow a black tailed wallaby can munch of a whole giant apple without a single slurp (some of the cooking apples ripe at the moment weigh more than 500gm each). But a wombat can’t eat anything without crunching, even the soft overripe pears.
 The wallabies hold the fruit in their paws. They’re messy eaters- the juice dribbles down their fur. And they look very very happy. This season has been paradise for wallabies, far more fruit than they can eat. 
Wallabies are gourmets- they only eat grass if there’s nothing more interesting around. And at the moment they have a choice of seven varieties of apple and two varieties of pears. There are also lemons, which they only eat if they’re bored with grass or very hungry, mandarins (ditto) a few late navel oranges which I’ve never seen a wallaby even taste, and various nuts which they’re not interested in at all.
There were eight wallabies around the apple trees below the house when I went on my walk this morning. They gazed up at me as though to say ‘Go away. We are having breakfast and do not want to be disturbed.
I haven’t seen at least two of the wallabies before. Somehow the neighbour wallabies have discovered that there’s a fruit feast going on, and have come to join in. Swamp wallabies are mostly solitary. But they don’t mind sharing when the fruit is…well, let’s say so much that I don’t even want to think about it.
Wombats usually eat grass, or tussocks. But the wombats here got used to eating fruit when the drought was bad, and they’ve passed on the habit to the few wombats who have been born since. You can always tell which fruit has been eaten by which animal. The wallaby eaten fruit has neat nibbles taken out of it. The wombat chewed fruit is a mess. (So are the wombats afterwards).
But they all look healthy- not a sign of mange this year, thank goodness. And fat. And their droppings are green and chunky, so the added fruit doesn’t seem to be bad for their digestions. And as the chooks can’t eat any more fruit ...and now most of our friends seem to have got sick of apples with their third sackful last month- I’m glad there is a seriously large marsupial population doing something to help get rid of it all.

Val Plumwood
I had just finished writing this newsletter when a friend rang to say that our friend Val had been found dead.
Those familiar with my books and talks may remember my mentioning Val, a friend for nearly four decades, as a companion in walks with kangaroos, fellow wombat negotiator and bush watcher. To the rest of the world Val Plumwood was famous from tertiary institutions in Berkeley California to Finland, Oxford, Czechoslovakia and Wales for her writings as an eco-feminist and deep ecologist philosopher.
   Many of the concepts that we now take for granted, like animal rights, are relatively new. And they were pioneered by people like Val.
  Val lived- and mostly worked - alone. She was not an easy friend - easy to love, easy to admire, but often not easy to be with.
I have never known anyone to understand the bush as Val did. Few people now live in the bush proper- only in remnant bushland much modified by humans. Even fewer know it with the eye of a philosopher, zoologist, botanist and lover.
Now when I hear a strange bird in the night, or an unfamiliar frog call, there is no one to ring up and say ‘Val, I just heard a bark from 20 metres up a casuarina tree’. (I did make that call, about 35 years ago, I think. Val said it was a sooty owl, and the next night I saw it.)
Val still bore the deep scars of a crocodile attack in nearly three decades ago.  (She pleaded for the life of the crocodile to be spared). There is no way to measure what Val contributed to the world. I suspect her legacy will live on for decades. Perhaps, in some faint way, as long as we are human.

Book News
A Rose for the Anzac Boys comes out at the beginning of April. I’m terrified for it- it was the hardest book to write of all I’ve ever attempted. It’s always hard waiting to see if it’s been worth it.
Have just sent the final pages of The Camel that Crossed Australia off to the printer. It won’t be out till August. It’s the story of one stroppy camel’s view of the Burke and Wills’ expedition. The camel had a low opinion of humans- and an even lower one of horses. But I grew very fond of Bell Sing, otherwise known as ‘He Who Spits Stronger Than the Storm.’
What else...the Diary of a Wombat board books are back in stock. The first printing sold out straight away but they should be back in the shops now, or in the next few weeks anyhow. Bruce Whatley and I are working on the next book. At the moment it’s called Emily’s Monster Christmas. Emily is an emu, and appeared in Shaggy Gully Times.  Shaggy Gully’s idea of Christmas is…different.
We also have two books planned for next year…having fun with them. But will talk more about them some other time. 

New Awards
One new short listing- the Adelaide Festival Literary Award for MacBeth and Son. I’m still short listed for two other awards, the Essex Literary Award (UK) for Slave Girl, which is the UK title of the book published in  Australia as They Came in Viking Ships, and Rover in the US and Canada, (I won’t attempt to give the titles in other language editions) and the Hans Christian Anderson Award (international) for contributions to children’s literature which I don’t think have been announced yet…or if they have I haven’t won them.(To be honest, don’t expect to win any of the three I’m short listed for- but am very very grateful to have been short listed).

March Garden
March is the time to DO things in the garden. It’s still warm- and plants really do put on a last minute spurt on Autumn. But the fierce heat of the sun has gone...not that we had much of it this year, thank goodness, only about six real stinkers of days. I could get very used to weather like we’ve had this year…
Projects for March
.Watch out for weeds- they’re seeding about now. : worried that your favourite plants may turn into weeds ? go to www.weeds.org.au to find out what plants may become pests in your area
. Plant! Many areas have good water supplies for the first time in years- or at least some chance of wet stuff falling from the sky. If there is rain forecast- plant.

More Than You Probably want to Know About Pumpkins
'Dinner's in the oven,' yelled my mother, diving out the back door, down the steps and past the cockatoo, out to a meeting and leaving me to see the younger kids didn't feed their lamb chops to the dog. 'Yours is the one without the pumpkin.'
  Mine was always the one without the pumpkin. I hated pumpkin.  Pumpkin looked like something the dog brought up. It was wet.  It was slimy. It tasted of nothing in particular - except faintly of pumpkin, which was worse.
  I hated pumpkin all through my childhood.  Then I moved to a house near the uni with three friends. And life changed.
  I discovered sex. I discovered Jane Austen. And I discovered pumpkin.
  The pumpkin discovery was accidental. The aunt of the next door neighbour of the mother of one of my house mates (I think that's how it went) was a gardener. And as every avid gardener knows, in autumn you have too many pumpkins (and tomatoes and zucchini - but they're another story.)  So she gave them away.
  She gave one to the dentist and three to the doctor and one to the milkman and finally, all other avenues glutted with pumpkin, she gave one to her niece to give to her neighbour to give to us.
  And we were stuck with it.
  None of us knew much about cooking. None of us really wanted to. (Sex and Jane Austen and other academic and extra curricular pursuits were much more fun.)  Nor did we have any spare cash to buy interesting ingredients.
  But there was the pumpkin.  And we were broke.  And economy said 'Eat it.'
  So we did.  We had it boiled, which tasted just like the mashed pumpkin my mother served, i.e. disgusting. We had it baked, which would have been interesting if we could have afforded roast lamb to go with it, but we couldn't, and it didn't taste all that crash hot with boiled soya beans which were our staple (and gaseous) protein at the time.
  There was leftover mashed pumpkin in the fridge and left over baked pumpkin in the oven... and somehow in a burst of culinary creativity I made what I referred to as 'pumpkin bread' - really a very basic cake with pumpkin added.
  And it was beautiful.
  That was the end of the pumpkin and the start of two years (till I finished my degree and finally left uni) of making pumpkin bread.  I would probably still be making it if I hadn't married my first husband, who hated pumpkin bread - but that's another story too and one I won't go into.
Pumpkin was the great colonial standby: you added it to everything simply because it was so easy to grow, easy to keep and easy to cook. (Once you hatchetted the blessed things open - pumpkins were a sturdy breed in those days.) Even if nothing else grew - the cockies in the corn, the wallabies in the  orchard, the drought destroying the lettuce - you'd still have pumpkins. Pumpkin flour was used in bread to partially replace wheat flour - and most of us know all about pumpkin scones.
  In colonial days all you had to do to grow your pumpkins was to find a creek flat, wait for a spring flood, then plant the seeds in the silt. Off you went shearing - and came back in autumn to pick your pumpkin crop.
  Pumpkins were also added to cakes, scones etc in response to the harsh climate. (An English friend employed for the first time as a shearer's cook in Queensland realised that her scones turned into bricks ten minutes out of the oven - in the harsh dry heat all the moisture just evaporated...and my son played cricket once with a 'fresh' scone he was served in the outback. Pumpkin scones at least stay moist and edible a little longer.)
  In the days before refrigeration and air conditioning, adding pumpkin to cakes, scones and bread meant they kept moist longer - and in the days before comfortable dentures this was probably a blessing also.
  Pumpkin is quintessentially Australian (and occupies a similar cultural space in New Zealand also - apologies across the Tasman. One of the best bits of pumpkin I ever ate was in Christchurch... as good as Grandma's, which is saying something.).  Pumpkin may have originated in the Americas but all they do is turn it into pies and feed it to cattle and make grinning goblins of them, while we turn pumpkin into... well, almost anything.
  (I am being a bit harsh here - the Confederate Army planted pumpkins in the Shenandoah Valley to feed their troops  (see the Confederate Pumpkin later in this). And I'm sure they didn't just make pies with it. But we Anzacs have been loyaler (is there such a word?) to our pumpkins.  Pumpkin is still an essential part of our cuisine. Just look at any supermarket, corner grocery store, and there'll be cut up chunks of pumpkin.  What cafeteria would be without it? (It's about the only thing worth eating in most airline cafeterias- I declined the roast meat and frozen corn niblets and carrots and just ask for a plateful of pumpkin instead.
When can you pick your pumpkin?
  A pumpkin is big enough to eat when you're hungry enough to eat it. There's no such thing as a 'green' pumpkin - a pumpkin is edible as soon as it starts to swell away from its flower - or even when it's attached to the flower for that matter.
  On the other hand, young pumpkins don't taste of much. The older they are the sweeter they are - and many fast maturing pumpkins never do get very sweet, especially when grown south of the Queensland border where they won't get as much heat and sun.
  (The best way to eat a tiny pumpkin is with white or cheese sauce to give it flavour.  See 'Recipes'.)
  Pumpkin skins also get harder with age. Most fast maturers don't keep well although some do keep very well.  If you want a pumpkin that is both as sweet as it'll ever get, and will keep as well as it's ever going to pick one when it's 'ripe'.
  Pumpkins are 'ripe' for storing when the stalk is dry next to the fruit or breaks off.   Sometimes the pumpkin stalk withers so much it disappears and the pumpkin is left to exist without it.  Sometimes it doesn't look particularly withered - just sort of swollen and dryish.  If you're in doubt, look at the way the younger pumpkins are attached.
  It's best to cut a pumpkin off the vine as soon as the stem dries out, so that a hard knob of stem is left.  This can be left there to make it easier to carry - in fact never carry a pumpkin by its stem, as it may drop off and the pumpkin will smash.  Pumpkins with stems store better as they protect the end from moisture condensation and that bit isn't as tough as the other parts of the skin and disease and pests find it easier to get a toe hold there.
  And of course - pick before the frosts.  I know this is easy to say. - how often I have I picked our 'last' tomatoes and pumpkins only to find the expected frost didn't appear for another month?
  Frosts freeze the pumpkin, and the pumpkin starts to rot - just as it would if you stuck it in the freezer then took it out.
Curing pumpkins
  If you leave a picked pumpkin in the sun for a few weeks the skin will get harder.  You can't beat a hot tin roof. The heat 'cures' the pumpkins by slightly baking them - the skins harden and any fungi spores are killed. If you don't have a dunny or a garden shed - the classic places to cure a pumpkin - place them on concrete or paving for a few weeks instead, turning every day.  Take them in when it rains though and before frosts.
  Try not to bruise them.  I know they look tough but a bad knock can mean the pumpkin will decay much earlier.
  Make sure you always store your pumpkins ON THEIR SIDES.  Otherwise moisture will condense on the top or bottom, and the pumpkin will start rotting. Store in a cool place, with good air circulation ... and no bits of rotten pumpkin from last year to spread disease.  If necessary wipe the larder with vinegar before storing the next crop.
  Then enjoy a good eight months of pumpkin eating.
  If a pumpkin starts to go off you can eat the rest of it CAREFULLY. Cut off all bad bits: and make sure none taint a pumpkin soup or pumpkin pie.  It's very easy to touch a pumpkin pie with fingers tainted with rotten pumpkin - and your guests may well get terrible diarrhoea afterwards. All pumpkin from a suspect source needs to be well cooked and well stored and kept free of contamination.
Halloween pumpkins
  Actually these are an American invention (naturally enough come to think of it, as pumpkins are native to the Americas.)
  The original Halloween lanterns were made of turnips in Scotland and north country England. The turnips were hollowed out (much like pumpkins are today) with faces carved into them and a candle stuck in the centre.  They were carried through the streets on sticks or nailed onto posts.
  In those days they weren't supposed to frighten people - they were meant to scare away the ghoulies and ghosties that walked abroad on Halloween If you carried a frightening flickering face you'd be safe.
  (And you probably were. I haven't heard of anyone who carried a turnip lantern and who has ever been carried off by a ghoulie or ghosti.e)
  Turnip lanterns were Americanised, like so much else, and became pumpkin lanterns, Jack O'Lanterns. Halloween lanterns. You can make them with any pumpkin, but great big orange cattle pumpkins like Big Max are traditional - and with their soft skin are much easier to carve than say a Queensland Blue.
  If you want to carve a Halloween pumpkin, cut off the top then mark out the face with pencil or skewer before you start to cut.  You may think you don't need to do this, but you do. Pumpkin carving is much harder than it looks, and you WON'T cut straight unless you have a guide.
  Hollow out the seeds and fibrous bits inside before you cut the face.  Then cut the face shallowly before you cut deep into the pumpkin.
  Now hollow out a small hole in the pumpkin to put your candle - don't make it too big just a little one that you gradually enlarge if necessary.  It's a lot easier to make a hole bigger than to make it smaller.  (You can pack the candle with bits of pumpkin but it never really works well.)
  Pumpkin lanterns can have the top on or off - you get a different effect each time.  If it's windy put the lid on, if you want more light keep it off. I think it looks ghostlier with it on...and the candle gets enough air through the 'face.'
  Now light the candle and the face will flicker beautifully.  A well-made Jack O'Lantern can be quite eerie and a row of them - or a house lit with them - or one on a fence post at night - well, try it and see.  The effect is much more powerful than you'd imagine.
  A definite word of warning here:  PUMPKIN LANTERNS CAN BE EXTREMELY DANGEROUS. Do not let children use them unsupervised and don't let the lantern burn unsupervised either.
  A friend's house burnt down a few years ago because the candle in a Jack O'Lantern burnt through the pumpkin then through the wooden floor.  They'd thought the candle had been extinguished, but the wick must have been still glowing and came to life in the sheltered pumpkin..... and an hour later..... flames......
  Pumpkin lanterns can also cause bushfires outdoors and Halloween is dangerously close sometimes to bushfire season.  I'd keep my Jack O'Lanterns for cold winters days, outdoors, surrounded by green damp grass.
  By the way - a watermelon makes a great Jack O' Lantern and is much easier to carve.  But then this isn't about watermelons.
Pumpkin and Chilli Necklaces
  Scrape out your pumpkin seeds, wash them well and leave them overnight in water if they are a bit sinewy - this will make all the gunk easier to wash off.
  Now wash well, and leave out to dry in the sunlight for two or three days.
  Take a stout sharp needle, thread it and poke it through the pumpkin seeds.  After every three or four seeds thread on a chilli.  When you've strung up about a metre or so, tie a knot in the end and hang them up till the chillies are dry too.
  Wear as a necklace, an eccentric tiara or ankle bracelet and if you are ever peckish you know there's a snack easily at hand.
  Note:  Slightly immature pumpkin seeds are softer than very ripe ones. Mature Queensland Blue seeds for example may break the needle.  And don't touch your eyes, mouth or nose till you've washed your hands after threading chillies or they'll sting for hours.
Pumpkin Strings for the Birds
  Thread pumpkin seeds as above.  Hang the long threads from branches for the birds.  It will take them a few weeks to work out how to perch on them which is fun to watch as they wriggle and dangle and peck.
How to peel a pumpkin
  If you doubt your wrist power, don't bother - cook it with the skin on, then take it off later - or eat it.  Some skins are delicious and good roughage (others are sharp, tough and horrible).
Otherwise bung the pumpkin in a very hot oven for a few minutes to soften the skin, cool and peel.
  The best way to cut a pumpkin like a Queensland Blue or Jarrahdale is to stick it on the bench, stick a knife in the centre - like stabbing an enemy - then press downwards rather than cut, so the knife slides though one of the grooves in the pumpkin.
  It is more complicated to write about it than do it.
Pumpkin 'Ovens'
  In colonial days a stew was often put in a hollowed out pumpkin if you lacked a pot then put beside the fire to cook slowly or buried in hot ashes.  You can also use this method in the oven.  The pumpkin 'reseals' itself and the effect is a bit like a pressure cooker, or a very well sealed casserole.  The result is extremely good, as none of the flavour can escape.
  Cut the top off your pumpkin - large for a family, small for individual serves.  Fill with your favourite casserole - or even stock for a good soup. Replace the lid exactly as it was before; cook SLOWLY, eat hot.
Pumpkin Soup
  Mash two cups cooked pumpkin into four cups chicken stock, or vegetable stock enriched with tomato purée. I like to add an onion and six cloves of garlic sautéed in a little butter too.
  Blend the whole lot.  Add cream if you feel like it and perhaps a sprinkle of nutmeg, cinnamon, parsley or even finely grated orange zest.
Baked Choko and Pumpkin
  This is an old Michael Boddy recipe - a weird combination but it works.
  Layer thin slices of alternating pumpkin and choko in an oven dish, dot with butter or just make sure the pan is well oiled.  Bake slowly for two hours. Incredibly sweet and good.
Pumpkin Curry
Pumpkin is both sweet and meat in a curry - and good.
1 teaspoonful: cumin, coriander, turmeric, garam masala, chilli to taste (I use two chopped red chillies for a medium hot curry).
2 cups peeled chopped tomatoes or 1 can tomatoes
2 cups chopped pumpkin - choose a firm finely grained one
2 onions, chopped
12 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
  Cook the onions and garlic slowly in the oil till soft, add the spices and stir well for a few minutes.  Don't let them burn.  Add the other ingredients and  simmer till the pumpkin is cooked.
  For the best flavour leave the curry in the fridge overnight and reheat the next day.
Spiced Veg
Cut pumpkin and sweet potato(yellow and white) into small cubes. Place in an oiled baking tray. Sprinkle on the mixture. about 1 tsp does 3 or so cups of veg.
Bake at 200C for about three quarters of an hour or till veg are light brown and the kitchen smells almost unbearably delicious. Stir a few times while cooking. Eat hot.
Spice Mix
2 tsp coriander seed- powdered or whole
2 tsp cumin- powdered
half tsp fenugreek-powdered
3 tsp turmeric- powdered
half tsp cardamom- whole seed
1 tsp dried garlic
1 tsp mustard seed
1 dried small red chilli, crumbled to bits
  Blend roughly- not too fine- or just press with the back of a desert spoon till they crumble a bit. store in a sealed jar. don't use for 48 hours so the flavours can blend.

Basic Pumpkin Fruit Cake Mix
1 cup mashed pumpkin
125 gm butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
500gm sultanas, or mixed fruit(I prefer just sultanas)
2 cups self raising flour
  Line a large tin with two layers of baking paper.
  Cream butter and sugar; add eggs one by one; then pumpkin, vanilla, fruit, then the flour.
  The mixture should be quite moist, but if is seems too dry(Which it may be if the pumpkin is dryish) then add a little milk or water.
  Pour the mix into the tin; bake at 200C for one hour or till it's brown on top and a skewer comes out clean.
  This cake is rich, moist, and very very good.
Pumpkin rock cakes
  Place spoonfuls of the mix on a greased baking tray. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Half a cup of mixed peel or 2 tb grated lemon or orange zest are  good additions.
Pumpkin Muffins
  Bake in patty cases, or a muffin tray. Again, a little orange or lemon zest are good additions.

Pumpkin and Turmeric Risotto
half cup Basmati rice
3 teaspoons turmeric
1 Spanish /red onion, very finely chopped
1 cup pumpkin, peeled and cubed(tiny cubes)
5 tb ghee or margarine
juice half a lemon
2 cups chicken stock or water
salt if necessary; black pepper
  Melt butter in pan on VERY low heat; add onion and rice; stir till onion is soft(Add more ghee/margarine if necessary); add turmeric; stir for another three minutes; add other ingredients; simmer till rice is soft; add more stock/water if necessary. Add salt(if desperately needed only) and pepper when you take off the heat.
This is excellent.

A Few Other Recipes
Grandma's Apple Cake
180 gm butter
2/3 cup caster sugar
3 eggs
3/4 cup plain flour
3/4 cup SR flour
 About 6- 10 apples
nutmeg, cinnamon, mixed spice

Turn oven on to 150C.

Cream butter and sugar well, add eggs one by one, beating between each addition till perfectly absorbed and smooth. Fold in flour.
 Line a largish cake tin (or even casserole dish) with baking paper. Pour in mixture.
Peel apples one by one and slice them- don't slice them all together as the apple will brown before you're finished. Push the slices into the apple cake, thin part downwards i.e. each bit goes in vertically. Cram in as many slices as you can- the top of the cake should be almost wall to wall apple tips. Dust with nutmeg, cinnamon or mixed spice, or a little of all three.
 Bake for 1 hour. eat hot or cold. The cake lasts for about three days in a sealed container- sometimes longer. (The apple grows fungus before the cake grows stale).
This is very, very good.

Garlic Echidna Potatoes
These are simply, totally, divine. You will never want to eat
another potato chip if you can have these.
6 garlic cloves, peeled and  sliced long ways into 406 slivers
5 large or ten small potatoes
2 tb olive oil

Peel spuds or leave unpeeled as you prefer.
Cut large ones into quarters.
Boil till they are ALMOST soft.
Drain and dry with a tea towel.
Poke the slivers of garlic into the spuds.
Place in a bowl with the oil. Roll them over till well coated.
Put the oven on as high as it will go. Leave for 10 minutes
Place spuds on a tray. bake till just golden brown and very very crisp.
Eat at once, plain or with rock salt. Also good cold the next day.

Carrots Cups
250 gm grated raw carrot
250gm ricotta cheese
1-2 tb chopped parsley or coriander
1/4 tsp grated raw ginger root (Can be left out if preferred)
1-2 tb olive oil
1 egg
2 tb  sliced almonds (can be left out if preferred)
If you leave out the ginger root you may prefer to add just the
tiniest touch of curry paste.

Place in small oven dishes or coffee cups.
Bake 40 minutes at 180C.
Serve hot or leave till cold and tip from their dishes and serve
cold, with green veg sautéed in olive oil, lemon juice and garlic, or
steamed or boiled green veg (Broccoli, spinach, cabbage, silver beet,
et al)served with a salad dressing of 3 tb  olive oil, 1 tb lemon
juice, 1/8 tsp French mustard, 1/8 tb salt, 2 chopped cloves garlic.