There were more than 3850 visitors at Canberra City Farm (CCF) for Permafest 2018 last month and, on the community garden stall, a tray of mini pumpkins caught my eye. The grower and one of the stall organisers, Linda Ayliffe, told me they were Jack Be Little pumpkin squash. A fortnight ago I returned to the farm on Dairy Road in Fyshwick to meet Linda and her sister, Carole Ayliffe. We walked along vegetable-filled garden rows where paths were good underfoot with sawdust from a sawmill in Geelong Street topping used coffee hessian bags.
One large area had recently been planted with 20,000 garlic corms by the onsite market garden enterprise “Department of Broccoli”, named and run by ex-public servants. The current star attraction is the ‘salad bowl’, a mixed baby greens patch with several varieties of lettuces, rocket, corn salad, radish, mustard leaf, mizuma, parsley, beetroot and amaranth grown by a gardener from Narrabundah.
Linda Ayliffe joined CCF in 2014, encouraged by people running a permaculture course she was doing. The objectives of CCF aligned with her own views of nurturing soil to grow healthy plants and living more sustainably. Possum issues at her home in Hackett prompted her to rent land off a farmer in Pialligo where she grows essentials including leeks, garlic, broadbeans, radish and turnips.
CCF has 120 members and the organisation holds working bees and workshops and the gardening group has a dedicated core of about a dozen people, led by Keith Colls. For the permaculture festival the many preserves for sale were from joint effort by members of CCF’s value add group. Over the past couple of years, the 'Value Adders' have made hundreds of jars of jams, chutneys, pickles, relishes, vinegars, jellies and grape molasses from locally-sourced produce.
At Dairy Road from summer to autumn the most successful crops have been a wide range of heirloom tomatoes and peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, onions, beans, horseradish, rhubarb, globe artichokes, four varieties of potatoes - Dutch cream, pontiac, maranca and sebago. Then there are the pumpkins, Bohemian, Turks turban, Queensland Blue and Butternut.
Linda usually grows plants mainly from seed, places including Eden seeds, Diggers, Green Harvest, Rangeview Seeds, The Lost Seed, The Seed Collection and Boondie Seeds and the Jack Be Littles came from Four Seasons Seeds.
Usually Linda steams the mini pumpkins in the microwave to accompany a meat or fish dish. She says they are much firmer-fleshed than conventional pumpkins with a really nice sweet/nutty taste.
I bought nine of the Jack Be Littles to share with friends and in my kitchen one was cut in half, filled with crumbled pecan nuts and topped with slices of sundowner apple and microwaved for six minutes.
For Kitchen Garden, Linda and Carole got together at Carole’s kitchen in Lyons to follow a recipe that has been tantalising them for some time. It is candied pumpkins filled with custard presented in a 2010 interview on the Martha Stewart Show, the sophisticated dessert from pastry chef Chris Broberg of the Four Seasons Restaurant in Manhattan (see: marthastewart.com/344550/candied-jack-be-little-pumpkins). Broberg has to make 500 candied Jack Be Littles for service so uses a power drill to core them.
The Ayliffe sisters both cook and say they were inspired by their Aunty Mag who was the legendary country cook in the family in Port Pirie, South Australia. She was renowned for her apricot shortbread and pastries and kept chooks for the fresh eggs.
For Good Food, the Jack Be Littles were presented on the recycled pizza oven prep bench at Canberra City Farm. The Canberra Times' photographer and I were given a taste and both agreed it was scrumptious, spiced with nutmeg, fresh ginger, cloves, cinnamon, star anise and peppercorns. The sisters used organic blackstrap molasses in the pots de creme and golden granulated sugar in lieu of dark muscovado sugar which burnt. The recipe made six desserts.
Pea Party giveaway
Our Team Bean seed sowing, growing and harvesting of Yates stingless beans (Kitchen Garden November 28, 2017) was such a success, we are now offering Yates pea and lettuce seeds to sow now for the Kitchen Garden Pea Party.
Every kitchen gardener is welcome to request a packet from Yates’ range of Chinese snow, Sugarsnap climbing, snow peas climbing, telephone pole climbing and dwarf greenfeast peas or winter triumph iceberg lettuce. Just say where you will plant them and agree to email to me updates on progress and send your name and address to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.