Richard and Jean Groves are a kitchen garden team, she growing the edibles and he cooking them. Three years ago the couple down-sized within the suburb of Cook. The family had lived on the west side of Cook for 45 years, overlooking farmland and the Brindabellas, particularly Mt Coree. Initially they raised kids, dogs and a scruffy lawn for them to play on but Jean soon itched to grow things as her English family had done when she was growing up.
A vegie garden was followed by a Satsuma plum and Meyer lemon tree, gifts from family friends, then a fig tree and sundry apricot trees which produced bumper crops but had to be defended from birds at blossom time and harvest. The result was pots of jams and chutneys and bottled fruit for dessert for the family through winter.
The move to a townhouse meant leaving rich, loamy soil from years of digging in kitchen scraps and manure and learning the game anew with a small paved courtyard and narrow perimeter garden. The courtyard, surrounded by brick walls got too hot in summer to grow vegetables so Jean decided to extend beyond the back fence onto body corporate land that gets lots of wind and passing traffic.
After a trip to Southwest China where crops are grown down the steepest of mountainsides, Jean realised she could grow on the slope. She had a terraced garden constructed and brought in good soil. Current winter crops thriving there are broad beans and snap peas and sprouting broccoli, a tender, tasty cousin of regular broccoli. In summer, zucchini and tomatoes take over, their position alternated annually between upper and lower beds. Scarlet runner beans are grown along the back fence and pumpkins ramble among native shrubs.
In the courtyard, a cumquat and miniature lime tree in pots are bearing heavily. Two small raised beds are planted with winter vegetables including silver beet, kale, tatsoi and Spring onions.
In the kitchen, Richard has bottled peaches from Araluen and made tomato relish from green and ripe fruit. The recipe came from his mother, Olive, and includes onions, Keen's mustard powder, curry powder, sugar and vinegar.
Although the cooking is shared between the Groves, Jean says Richard makes the more exotic dishes, especially for visitors. The couple are frequent travellers and they sometimes attend cooking classes and marketing sessions on those jaunts, including a visit to Penang where they cooked Nonja recipes.
Some years ago Richard participated in a series of Chinese cooking classes, run privately but in a group. Some of those recipes he repeats often including odd flavoured chicken, with star anise and Szechwan pepper eaten cold and served on a bed of Chinese cabbage and sweet and sour pork spare ribs made with sweet black vinegar and homemade plum sauce.
A favourite source of vegetarian/pulses dishes is the best-selling Bean Book by Rose Elliot (a Fontana Original copy, classic new edition by Harper Collins). Richard regularly cooks the brown lentils with spinach and curried chickpeas with homegrown coriander. Rosemary Hemphill's Herbs & Spices also has a top spot on the kitchen bench.
The Groves had a family friend who lived in Kew, Melbourne, and had a cumquat tree in her garden. They always enjoyed her marmalade made from that tree and Richard shares that recipe and also his recipe for lime chutney/pickles. Jean says slices of the limes also go very well in a gin and tonic.
Fishie's Cumquat Marmalade
cumquats, water and sugar
Wipe fruit carefully and cut into quarters and, if too large, cut again. Remove pips as you go and retain. Place the cumquats in a bowl with enough water to barely cover same and let them stand overnight. In the morning, before putting the fruit on to boil, measure it out into cups and for every cup of fruit and water, add a cup of sugar when the fruit is boiled soft. Boil briskly for about 30 minutes when the fruit should be ready to bottle.
Boil the retained pips with a little water and add this 'pectin' water after the sugar is added to the pan - check for setting point in the usual way of a teaspoon of marmalade on a saucer and when cool run a finger over it.
Put sugar in a baking dish and warm to 150C before adding to the pan (it comes to the boil more rapidly). Turn off the oven and warm the sterilised jars. Allow marmalade to cool a little before putting into the jars or else the fruit comes to the top.
Fresh Lime Chutney
6 cups water
4 red chillies
2 cups white sugar
1 tbsp crushed garlic (Richard uses home grown)
1 tbsp finely grated ginger
half cup sultanas
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp ground mustard seed (black), optional
Slice limes finely. Put into a non-metal bowl and add cold water. Leave to soak overnight. Next day, boil limes until tender (timing depends on ripeness). Add chillies, sugar, garlic, ginger, sultanas, salt and mustard. Boil uncovered for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally at first then frequently as mixture thickens. Bottle into clean, hot jars and cover when cold. If jars have metal lids, lime lids with a double thickness of plastic wrap.
Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer.