This has been a magnificent autumn for fruit-bearing trees.
Olive and fig trees planted on public land, and only watered from the clouds, have huge crops. At the National Arboretum, the maidenhair tree (ginkgo biloba) leaves are butter yellow and black tupelo (nyssa sylvatica) leaves are bright scarlet. There is a bonus - the Japanese flowering dogwood (cornus kousa) has produced a crop of pink to red fruit with edible pulp. The first plantings in the Japanese dogwood forest were in September 2009 and this year each individual fruit is larger and brighter than ever.
Friends of the Arboretum's Harvest Group led by Colette Mackay has picked a huge 300 kilograms of figs and buckets of dogwood fruit to make preserves to sell on their Harvest Stall from 10am to 2pm on Saturday, May 8 - just in time for Mother's Day. Funds raised support the Arboretum, which had 24,000 visitors over Easter.
Twenty pickers and cooks have made figs in syrup, spicy fig chutney, fig and ginger jam, fig marmalade, fig paste, fig glaze, fig onion relish, preserved figs, dried figs and fig jam. From crops in the Discovery Kitchen Garden next to the Village Centre, Ange McNeilly and her team have made hot and spicy tomato relish, eggplant chutney, pickled green beans in olive oil and chilli.
There will also be unusual dogwood fruit glaze first made by Cordon Bleu-trained Larraine Nicholls in 2018. She says it contains fruit, sugar, water and lemon and is ideal with pork, duck and lamb and, this season, tastes like mangoes and apricots.
Vicki Woolley, a friend of the arboretum but also well known for her artists' books and fine bindings, has used her eye for texture and colour in our photo of the dogwood fruits.
Readers climbed down from fruit picking to delve into the bottom shelves and out came the gem irons. Among dozens of responses was Wendy Limbrick of Monash who picked up a gem iron at the Salvo shop in Tuggeranong "a place that is a goldmine for cake tins". Gem scones were a regular morning tea during her country childhood because they were less bother to make than scones for unexpected visitors.
The parents of Gai Stansfield of Wanniassa married in 1939 and moved into their home in Bougainville Street, Manuka where she grew up and gem scones were made in a fuel stove.
Shelley Atkins of Yarralumla sent a photo of her mother's gem iron - she remembers coming home from school in the late 1950s to a few gem scones remaining from ladies' afternoon tea. Readers have asked if gem scones are an Aussie icon.
Lyn Mills of Kambah has two sets, cast iron from 1935 and lighter weight aluminium ones which speed up the cooking process. She uses a Presbyterian Women's Missionary Union of Victoria Cookbook (1972) and recommends eating gem scones straight out of the oven.
Judith Erskine of Belconnen is about to heat up her gem irons and Lynette Mobbs of Torrens says hers belonged to her grandmother. Lorraine of Royalla sent a photo of her mother's impressively black and heavy cast iron gem pan and the original recipe, with no method or baking instructions, discovered among her father's things after he passed away. My gem iron has been loaned to a reader who was keen to make gem scones.
All the gem scones need is a splodge of something figgy from the harvest.
Mother's Day giveaway
If you have a mother figure in your life or if you nurture and feed someone, we have treats for you.
Yates has given us packs of Early Long Pod broad bean seeds, packets of Thrive soluble flower and fruit food and, my favourite, 2.5kg bags of organic Dynamic Lifter which feeds worms, assists drainage and contains chicken manure, seaweed, blood and bone and fishmeal - my office currently has that unmistakable odour.
At Traiana in Tuscany, the festival of broad beans and cheese, pecorino, of course, is held in the fourth week of April and at Mioglia in Liguria, the festival of broad beans and salami takes place at the beginning of May. In Canberra, we need to sow broad bean seeds now. They feed the soil, the stomach and the soul because the lovely large seeds germinate easily.
To win: tell me what greens you eat because of your matriarch's influence, where you would grow broad beans and how you would serve them. Email your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org.