Slices of country heaven
The Nimmatabel garden of Anne Charles. Photo: Elaine Lawson
On Saturday, the Nimmitabel and District Garden Club is opening three country gardens to visitors, including one renowned for fruit and vegetables.
The day starts with morning tea at John and Sally-Anne Cottle's property, Shirley. The garden has been re-interpreted by Victorian designer Paul Bangay with parterres and paddock plantings and has sweeping views across the Monaro landscape.
Morning tea will be served, and also offered at historic Bobundara, the home of renowned garden writer and photographer, and Edna Walling expert, Trisha Dixon Burkitt. Peter and Chella Gray, from Shades of Gray, will exhibit their wire, tin and steel sculptures and garden art.
Produce and ratatouille from the garden of Anne Charles, Nimmatabel. Photo: Elaine Lawson
A lunch box will be served at Rockybah, the property of Anne and Howard Charles, who run Merino sheep and Murray Grey cattle. The lunch box will include a chicken salad roll, cheese and biscuits and a home-made slice. One keen local gardener is taking the theme of the day - apples - and making an old-fashioned apple slice with lemon icing. Wine and cider will be provided.
Local Nimmitabel gardeners say Rockybah has the Monaro's best vegetable garden and Anne Charles was the most successful exhibitor in the fruit and vegetable section of the Nimmitabel show in February.
The 30-year-old, well-designed garden was established by Howard and Anne, who both grew up on the Monaro. Ten years of drought have been followed by heavy rain during the past three months that has proved a challenge.
Vegetable beds are prepared by digging them over and adding gypsum, potash, blood and bone and home-made compost. Mulch used in the vegetable garden is lucerne hay, grown by Howard. Water is drawn from a reliable bore. Anne says autumn is the prime time for fruit and vegetables in her kitchen garden. The fruit trees are heavily laden with apples, crabapples and quinces. Being harvested this month are tomatoes, zucchini, onions, squash, cucumbers, garlic, peas, beans, lettuce, sweetcorn, English spinach, silverbeet, capsicums, eggplant, broccoli, carrots, potatoes and rhubarb. Their best tomato is the Stupise, a Russian variety that is smallish, sweet and early maturing - perfect for cold climates. Baskets of the produce are regularly shared with friends.
At this time of year, Anne makes chutneys, jellies and jams, bottles tomatoes, pickles quinces and freezes anything which otherwise might be wasted. She has been a successful caterer for local events, and for many years sold jams, chutneys and puddings at local venues and in Canberra and Sydney. A family favourite autumn dish is ratatouille made with whatever is cropping in the vegetable garden on the day.
For dessert, she shares an apple pie, made with a shortcrust pastry adapted from a Stephanie Alexander recipe.
Saute all the vegetables in best quality oil. Simmer gently in a covered pan on the stove until tender. Season to taste. Eat either hot or cold. Serve with home-grown potatoes and homemade lamb sausages.
180g unsalted butter
3 tbsp caster sugar
Blitz all of the pastry ingredients in a food processor until it makes a ball. Refrigerate for one hour. Roll out to fit 23-centimetre round pie plates.
7 large cooking apples
grated rind of 1 lemon
3 tbsp sugar
½ cup water
Peel and quarter the apples and cut again into eighths lengthwise. Place in a saucepan with the sugar, water and lemon rind. Cook, covered, until almost tender and while the apple slices are still keeping their shape. Remove from the heat. Spread the base of the pastry with two tablespoons of home-made apricot jam. Add the cooled and drained apple over the jam base. Cover with the remaining pastry and brush with an egg wash. Slit the top decoratively, sprinkle it with caster sugar and cook at 180C for 25 minutes or until golden brown.
The Nimmitabel Gala Garden Day is on Saturday 9.30am-4.30pm, $30, including morning tea and lunch; bookings Sue, 6454 6210, or Marie, 6454 6248.
Susan Parsons is a Canberra Food and Wine columnist.