Christine Mounic's courtyards are a colourful combination of the edible and ornamental. A pot painted bright yellow with green spots containing a Meyer lemon tree with its green foliage and glowing yellow fruit welcomes people to her front gate just beyond the carport.
A path to the front door divides two small courtyard areas, one with a table for outdoor eating surrounded by pots of every hue holding spring bulbs and flowers. The other section has troughs attached to the wall, on benches and the paving, filled with radishes, lettuce, carrot, beetroot, broccoli, bok choy, pak choy and sugar peas. It is the perfect example of what can be grown for the kitchen in a restricted area.
No sooner had we met (I was just a stranger, out walking) than she was picking crunchy sugar snap peas fro the vines for us both to eat on the spot. When I remarked on the lemon tree, Christine showed me her pantry filled with jars of recently homemade marmalade and generously gave me a jar. Perfect texture and scrumptious - explanations about the recipe follow at the foot of this column.
Christine has eclectic taste both indoors and out. On an unsuccessful mission many years ago to find a largish red outdoor pot she spray painted a plastic pot instead. Easy, cheap and can be repainted any time using "squirt spray paint from Bunnings". Owning her little garden in Woden for the past 20 years encouraged Christine to grow edibles for the satisfaction of picking fresh green and red edibles in the hope they make it into the kitchen before she eats them. She has learnt how and what to grow via many questions to people at nurseries where she buys seedlings, particularly from Bunnings, and from friends and the internet. Her preferred potting mix is Scotts Premium Osmocote and she has easy access to sheep manure. A compost system is being set up.
Christine's father worked for the Department of Trade and the family had two postings in the Philippines and in Trinidad, both for three years. Christine returned to Canberra when she was eight and stayed until she finished a BA in administration at the University of Canberra. She was always encouraged to travel and went back-packing in Europe and lived in London for nine years.
In springtime Christine and her partner cook stir fries and lighter tomato based pasta dishes. She enjoys cooking and experimenting with recipes. Their barbecue starts getting used and the food is accompanied by salads from the garden. With some encouragement, Christine joins her partner canoeing on the Lake or walking around it but her main hobbies are gardening and reading.
Birds are a part of her life and Christine has filled her north-facing lower courtyard, which opens onto open land, with Australian native plants both in pots and in the ground. Grevilleas are in flower most of the year and that attracts the birds and bees. Nine pink and grey galahs were enjoying the area on my visit. Her striped and spotted joyful pots filled with pansies and other ornamentals are also bird attracting.
So to the marmalade. The website Love & Olive Oil has a recipe for old-fashioned Meyer lemon marmalade which the author, Lindsay, includes among her culinary adventures in April 2020. If you go to her site, there are free printable labels to pop on your finished conserve.
The recipe is comprehensive and very long with 16 dot points in the preparation and making. The recipe does not include pectin (a plus in my opinion). The prepared fruit is put in muslin and soaked overnight before cooking. Lindsay says it produces a "vibrant, citrine-hued marmalade with perfect balance of sweet and tart".
Christine used that recipe for the instructions but she also looked at numerous recipes to figure out that the fruit to sugar ratio was basically 1kg of citrus fruit to 2kg of sugar and 2 litres of water. She made a double quantity and tossed in four oranges from the fruit bowl that tasted bitter. One of the recipes included brandy so she put in about half a cup of brandy - all that was left in the bottle.
Currently Christine is making blood orange and campari marmalade to a much simpler recipe from goodfood.com.au. You can almost hear the gentle bubbling across the valley while the Rosella parrots, even brighter than the pots, call from a "dead tree structure" in the lower garden that life is good.