Teresa Zarlenga moved into her home in Red Hill in 1995. We shared a back fence framed by fruit trees and over which we had conversations for a year, until I moved. Teresa was a couturier making clothes from a studio, formerly a bed-sit.
Even though Teresa has lived in Australia since she was four, her Italian roots came out in the design of her garden, developed after extensions to the house. She has laid 860 pavers around her fruit trees and in the vegetable garden created last year.
In December the garden was open to visitors, well promoted on ABC radio, and $2500 was raised for an outback charity. I was among those who marvelled at the produce, the creativity of the outdoor Chrysler Room with its chandelier. There is another chandelier in the garage, both roadside pick-ups - she is always prepared with roof rack and ropes in the boot of her car.
There is also a water feature of fibreglass tanks and an antique taps which keeps the water circulating for the health of fish and water lilies.
The views to Black Mountain from the opera room are framed by a 50-metre long grape vine. The variety is Concord, known in Italy as "uva fragola" (strawberry grape). In 2017, Teresa harvested 90 kilograms of grapes and made 70 bottles of Villa Zarlenga Rose. A wine press and glass demijohns were used to produce the wine.
There are now 28 fruit trees in the garden including five feijoas, Angelina and Satsuma plums, mulberry, quince and original apple tree, plumcot, persimmon and loquat. The fig tree is laden with fruit. There are 12 citrus trees, among them oranges, lemons, cumquats, lime, tangelo, grapefruit and mandarin. Teresa used some of the citrus fruit by removing the zest using a potato peeler, then adding sugar to sweeten and soften the zest and using a dehydrator to make citrus chips.
Teresa is an excellent cook. One of her specialities is feijoa cake, made to her own recipe, and our photographer and I each enjoyed a slice. I stayed on to chat over tea and feijoa sorbet from a steel cone-shaped dessert bowl. Then there was a special homemade treat, Ostie di Agnone, which originated in the Molise region of Italy. Two wafers enclose a filling of almonds, walnuts, dark chocolate, cocoa powder, honey and cinnamon and the wafers were imprinted with an original iron hand crafted in 1954 by Teresa's father, Paolo Zarlenga.
The kitchen garden is very productive with tomatoes ready to eat off the vine from mid-January.
Teresa makes a tomato salad using ripe juicy fruit, crusty Italian white bread cubed, chopped garlic, salt, torn basil leaves and good quality olive oil. The herbs and vegetables - food from the garden - is grown without use of synthetic chemicals, pesticides or artificial fertilisers.
The best harvest this year has been beans followed by a plentiful supply of zucchini and squash.
Teresa has shared her own recipe for a moreish zucchini salad (which follows). You can use large zucchini by cutting them in half lengthways and removing the seeds, then chopping the fruit. The salad ingredients can also be placed in a blender to make a cool or warm zucchini soup.
Then there is the chook yard. The three chickens are Isa Browns, two years old, and called Veronica, Vanessa and Valerie - given Playboy centrefold names from the 1970s. They lay three eggs a day. Teresa is trying to install a certain panache and culture for the three redheads so she has added art installations to the chook yard. A shrub I gave her in 1996, Kerria japonica, native thrives beside the chook pen. With bright yellow pom-pom flowers on arching stems in springtime it is a graceful, suckering shrub which won an Award of Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.
fresh mint, remove from the stalk
red wine vinegar
good quality olive oil
Note: Homegrown beans, topped and tailed and cut in half, and squash, cut into cubes, can be added to the recipe if desired and the dressing used on the vegetables individually. The salad can keep for a few days as the flavours become more intense.
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