Being a Bowerbird …

Here’s what you do when your town goes into a soft-lockdown and you have a list of home maintenance jobs that you really don’t want to do. Find an excuse to do something else …

I challenged myself to make a Bower Box using only treasures found in my garden, and not to buy anything specifically for the project, although I admit to one cheat, the wooden jewellery box which I had already purchased for another project. The idea came from a wooden gift box of gourmet goodies sent to me by my neighbours as a thank-you. I just couldn’t bear to throw it away. The blue paint came from a left over can in the garage and the lichen came from trees in the garden.

Inspiration came from one of my favourite books, Sibella Court’s “Bowerbird”.
(bowerbird –noun informalmainly Australian a person who collects miscellaneous objects – that’s me!)

I’ve never understood why it’s so hard to find a dead cicada on the ground when thousands of them hatch each year.  Surely they can’t all be eaten by birds? Anyway, after much scratching around over several cicada seasons, I’ve managed to find and identify five species.  Maybe this year will bring me a Greengrocer to complete the collection.  I’m almost looking forward to Cicada Season.  Maybe not?

The pigeon skull came from a brown cuckoo-dove which flew into a window and was thankfully killed instantly.  The rat perished after becoming stuck in a wall cavity.  Both were buried in my compost bin, where the worms and bugs went to work.  They didn’t quite finish the job, so I had to complete the gruesome task.

I wanted to include two nests in my display. One of the nests fell out of a tree on a windy day, the other is a fake.  Can you tell which one?

We will be under lockdown for another week, so I’m looking for another excuse NOT to clean my windows.

Burnt Citrus Syrup recipe …

Burnt Citrus Syrup Recipe
(this is a delayed gratification recipe!)

It’s citrus time again.  When friends and neighbours chase you down the street almost begging you to take their home grown lemons, limes, oranges, or kumquats.  The trouble is of course, that EVERYBODY has citrus at the same time!

So here’s something you can do with all that citrus …

You will need

  • a selection of sweet and sour citrus – orange, mandarin, kumquat, grapefruit, blood orange, lime etc – this is a great way to use up ugly, misshapen or blemished citrus.  The more variety the better, but not too much sweet fruit.
  • a selection of herbs and spices, for example – coriander seeds, rosemary, cinnamon sticks, black peppercorns, cloves (not too many), star anise (ditto).  Pick three or four of your favourites.
  • one or two large wide mouthed jars (eg Fowlers or Mason preserving jars)
  • optional – 1 tsp of Citric Acid for each jar – to help preserve the fruit
  • 1-2 litres of sugar syrup – see below
  • a selection of attractive glass bottles for the final product

Step 1 -Burn your Citrus 

  • wash the fruit, chop it into chunks and pile it on to some baking paper in a large roasting pan.  Sprinkle over the herbs and spices.
  • Slow roast it in the oven at 130C (260F) for four to five hours. It will look a bit like a baking disaster but never fear, it’s all good.

Step 2 – Preserve your citrus

While the citrus is in the oven get your sugar syrup ready and sterilise your jars – this can be left until the last 30 minutes of cooking time.

  • Sterilise your preserving jars with boiling water. Be scrupulous.
  • Make enough sugar syrup to fill the jars and cover the burnt citrus. There are plenty of recipes for sugar syrup on the internet. I used two parts sugar to one part water dissolved over low heat. If you use a strong sugar syrup, you can always add a little boiling water to the jar if you run a bit short of sugar syrup.  Warm the syrup when you are ready to fill the jars.

Step 3 – Bottle and wait …

  • Split the citrus pieces, spices and herbs roughly evenly into the sterilised jars.  Fill the jars to around two thirds.
  • If using, add  ½ tsp each of Citric Acid for each jar to help preserve the fruit.
  • Fill the jars with warm sugar syrup and seal.
  • Wait for at least one month. This is the hardest part.
  • Remove the citrus pieces (I throw them on my compost heap) and pour the syrup (which will have turned orange) through a strainer into a jug.  Then into sterilised glass bottles.

Note: this makes a very sweet, unctuous syrup which can be diluted. Prolong the life of the syrup by storing it in the fridge.  If you are scrupulous with sterilising, the syrup will last for several years – I am still using my 2018 vintage!

Uses: pour on ice-cream, make mocktails, or dilute with soda or tonic water.

Davidson’s Plum …

COVID-19 Update: For the past couple of months, we have all been busy Isolation Baking, trying out new recipes or re-visiting old ones.  As I was lucky enough to be offered several kilograms of Davidson’s Plums, I decided to revisit the recipe I posted in 2012, update it a bit and repost.  So here it is …

The summer after I moved to my new house I was excited to discover a mature Davidson’s Plum tree at the back of the property. I was excited for two reasons.  Firstly it seems that neither bats nor birds are attracted to the fruit, and secondly and very conveniently the fruit drops when ripe and all you have to do is pick it up. I placed some weed mat under the tree to stop the fallen fruit rolling away into the undergrowth, but I missed some and now have several small trees growing around the base.

Davidson’s Plum fruit and jam are becoming more readily available, and can be found in some gourmet and “bush tucker”stores if you don’t want to wait the 4-5 years for your tree to fruit.  I have a Davidsonia jerseyana – which is native to the sub-tropical rain forests of Northern New South Wales. The fruit of this tree is extremely tart and only the very brave would attempt to eat it raw.  If you can eat a lemon, you could probably cope with a Davidson’s Plum!  It also has 100 times the Vitamin C found in oranges.

It’s very low in pectin so if you want to make a nice thick jam you’ll need to add some.  Rather than add the commercial stuff, I experimented with green apples.  My recipe Davidson’s Plum Jam works quite well and the resulting jam has a tangy/sweet taste which goes particularly well with toasted macadamia and fruit bread from Bellingen’s Hearthfire Bakery 

Davidson’s Plum Jam Recipe …

Davidson’s Plum Jam Recipe

See my post on Davidson’s Plums

500 gm Davidson’s Plums
500 gm sugar
One large green apple
juice of half a lemon
½ a vanilla pod – split open
Packet of pectin on standby (eg: Jamsetta)

  • Wash the plums in a sieve to remove any dust or dirt.  Cut the plums in half and remove the two small seeds.  Then chop the plums into quarters. Wear gloves if you don’t want to end up with nasty purple fingernails.
  • Peel and core the apple and chop it finely, or grate it.
  • Put the plums, apple, lemon juice and sugar into a saucepan and add just enough water to stop the bottom layer from burning (approximately 50mls) – no more or it will take too long to reduce.
  • Bring the water to a simmer slowly, stirring all the time to ensure that the sugar is dissolved before the liquid starts boiling.
  • Add the vanilla pod.
  • Put a small saucer in the freezer to chill
  • Leave on a gentle simmer for 1-2 hours until the mixture has thickened and reduced.  Test the jam by dropping a teaspoonful on the frozen saucer – it should almost immediately thicken.
  • Sometimes, if the plums are not very ripe or particularly watery, the jam will not set, rather than use more sugar I will add some pectin.  Follow the instructions on the packet.
  • Allow to cool slightly and then spoon into sterilized jars.