With a somewhat cavalier approach, just four hours before lockdown was first announced on August 12, we had lunch at the National Arboretum cafe then browsed the kitchen garden display in a double circuit. Every vegetable was displaying perfect health and nature's best foliage patterns. It was a tribute to the volunteering work of a group led by Ange McNeilly.
There was a froth of fennel fronds, almost black and scarlet curly and Tuscan kale, snow peas, Brussels sprouts, Sicilian purple cauliflower, purple broccoli (flowers are being left for the bees), French sorrel and salad beet both for their leaves, chives and garlic chives, strawberry plants, herbs, green stems and red stalks of silver beet, calendula for its edible petals, parsley curly and Italian, and borage.
Our two favourites were the Fibonacci edible spiral atop the Broccoli "Romanesco" and the bride's posy of green, pink and white ornamental kale. During lockdown the plants will be watered by the staff on duty awaiting your next visit.
To turn the afternoon into a food and wine experience, we headed down to the cork oak forest planted in 1915 and admired the corky bark so appropriate for kitchen flooring and, once, the seal for our bottles of wine. If you have any corks from bottles of bubbles, if you gouge a hole in the blunt end, they make great eye protectors atop bamboo garden stakes.
Luis Teran is a resident of Bruce but he owns a farm among the vineyards opposite Lake George. With all the rain during June and July, almost twice the amount for those months compared to 2020, he feels he should change the name of the farm from Hacienda Lago Seco (dry lake farm in his native Ecuadorian) to wet farm. At the start of August he had about 14 ducks happily enjoying new ponds on both sides of the gate.
Luis says he wishes he knew more about the wild plants existing at the farm, the only one he can identify is wild Australian mint. The kangaroos and the rabbits do not seem to eat it. However this year there are lots of rabbits and they were eating the bark from the fig trees until he placed mesh around them.
His garlic crop, sometimes sold in Canberra, was about 25cm high when cockatoos cut two dozen plants to ground level and ate a couple of centimetres from the stems. The garlic bulbs and leaves have not been touched.
Meanwhile, in Griffith John Carew of Queanbeyan saw a lemon tree where the large crop had a number of lemons completely peeled and left on the branches. He wonders could the marauders be mice, rats, possums or bats. Do any readers know? (email firstname.lastname@example.org)
In the kitchen
The Canberran uncle of Tokyo Olympian Spencer Turrin sent me a photograph of the young rower. Spencer was a member of the gold-medal winning men's coxless four. The photo was taken by Spencer's Mum and he is holding the medal, wearing the most wonderful green and gold Olympic t-shirt and, for the International Year of Fruit and Vegetables, is holding a bowl of lemons, his favourite fruit.
We all need Vitamin C at the moment. A mate in Yarralumla makes a lemon cake for morning tea when a French conversation group visits her home. I have tasted it, delicious. Here is the recipe, found online, which she adapted as follows.
Meyer lemon olive cake
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup Meyer lemon juice*
1 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1. Oil a 22cm springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Set oven to 175C.
2. Whip eggs and sugar together on high speed until fluffy and very pale, almost white (about five minutes).
3. Turn speed to low and stream in the oil, lemon juice and zest, and vanilla (my friend mixes these all together in a large measuring cup with a spout and pours them in).
4. Whisk flour and dry ingredients together and fold these in by hand. The mixture will be very fluffy and foamy.
5. Pour into prepared springform pan and bake at 175C for 45 minutes. The top will become quite brown, as will the edges.
6. Allow to cool 30 minutes in the pan, then unhook springform clasp and remove cake from pan, cool completely on a rack.
Note: Cake keeps at room temperature, covered, for up to seven days without suffering loss of texture or quality.
*My friend used Eureka lemons as they were to hand. Meyer lemons have sweeter juice.