A paper bag was left on my porch and, inside was a bunch of odd carrots, tied with a yellow ribbon. The note from Christine Mounic, a keen kitchen gardener, said they were to make me giggle.
She had watched a garden program on how to grow carrots in a pot which said to use vegetable potting mix, make holes to put in each baby carrot seedling, then fill the hole with loose compost. Christine said, "Upon pulling the crop, I decided the soil was definitely still too hard for them yet, when dug, it seemed fairly loose. Anyway they have character and are my little aliens."
That evening it was like being a barber - clipping, shaving and scrubbing them. The first orange carrot, sliced finely and eaten raw, was the sweetest root I have tasted. The variety is called "Little Fingers" from Floriana.
The purple carrots came in a punnet from Bunnings. I cooked the first one which kept its purple colour and was nutritious. Christine grated hers onto toasted sourdough with hummus and a slice of roast beef.
Just before lockdown in August I went to Pialligo Market Grocer for Tilba Real Dairy milk from Jersey cows, Bungaree free-range eggs from Galong, a farm lettuce and a bunch of multi-coloured Pialligo carrots. Then I went into quarantine (lunch with a friend at a Deakin cafe, announced as a COVID site). The Pialligo essentials were a bright spot while awaiting a negative result.
With Canberra's spring sunshine and permission for five of us to meet, the picnic has been essential. At the top of the hill in my suburb, with views to the Brindabellas, inventive residents set up a table and chairs beside the reserve's benches, boulders and casuarina trees, with glassware, jugs, and plates on a tray. On my daily walk as a passerby, I wondered what food would be produced.
Meanwhile, pals and I ate fish, chips and salad beside yachts and among seagulls near Snapper on the Lake. I took an extra homegrown quartered lemon. A fortnight later we found a eucalypt woodland with Lake views for another lunch. To go with tea and coffee, one man made a fruity Irish tea cake. The recipe came from Adam Liaw. Although eaten year-round in Ireland, when baked for Halloween it is called Barmbrack (recipe follows). My friend didn't soak the dried fruits overnight in the fridge and didn't make the sugar syrup.
In 2020 Planet Protector Packaging won an Australasian Packaging Innovation and Design Award for its Woolpack. Some food delivery services use it for insulation. Made from wool felt, it is compostable, absorbs moisture, and can be used as mulch in your garden. Neighbours have given me a couple of strips to trial in the compost bins and on a short path to the crab apple tree.
If you would like a metre-long wool strip, plus "Banjo" pumpkin seeds from Tony Bray of Kambah (Kitchen Garden, August 4, 2020) tell me what edible you always take on a picnic, email: email@example.com
Adam Liaw's Irish tea cake
1 Irish breakfast tea bag (or other black tea)
1/2 cup sultanas
1/2 cup dried prunes, roughly chopped
1/2 cup dried apricots, roughly chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries
225g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
150g soft brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup caster sugar
1. Brew the tea in one and a half cups hot water and allow to cool.
2. Combine the dried fruits in a non-reactive bowl and pour over the cooled tea. Refrigerate overnight.
3. Heat oven to 170C.
4. Combine flour, baking powder, brown sugar and spices in a mixing bowl, crack in the egg and add the fruits without their liquid. Stir to combine, and add as much of the soaking liquid as necessary to create a pourable batter, reserving the remainder.
5. Transfer to a lined loaf tin and bake for 75 minutes. Test with a skewer and, if the skewer comes out wet, return to oven for another 15 minutes. When the cake is cooked, remove from the oven, allow to cool in the tin for 30 minutes, then place on a rack to cool to room temperature.
6. While the cake is cooking, combine the caster sugar with a quarter cup of the soaking liquid. If no soaking liquid remains, use a quarter cup of water.
7. Bring to a simmer in a small saucepan for just long enough to dissolve the sugar, then allow to cool. Brush the cooling cake with the sugar syrup.
8. When cooled to room temperature, wrap the cake in plastic wrap and allow to rest for at least two hours (preferably overnight). Slice, spread with butter, and serve with a cup of tea.