Posts Tagged ‘kitchen garden’

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The Revenge of the Mandarin Stinkbugs – or How I Learned to Love the Broom

July 18, 2012

I’m on all fours in the kitchen, scrubbing sugary orange blobs that have splashed from the stovetop to the floor and cursing the day I rescued my mother’s mandarin tree from a disease-ridden death.

Two bumper mandarin crops and many batches of marmalade later doesn’t quite make up for three years of pruning, regular feeding and watering, weed control and scrutinising for caterpillars. But I can’t go back now …  I’ve become the mandarin marmalade queen and there are expectations. I have orders to fill.

Home-made mandarin marmalade

Now, where’s my crumpet

I’ve come late to the world of gardening, and no-one warned me to look out for the scourge of the citrus grower:  stink bugs.

These nasty sap suckers appear in summer and you’ve soon got yourself a nice part-time job protecting young shoots. They are almost indestructible and will multiply overnight just when you think you’ve won the battle.

Whacking them into semi-consciousness seemed too brutal, so last year I squirted them individually with soapy water. Sure, it dazed them, but their revenge was a crazed kamikaze swoop towards my eyes before I ducked for cover. There’s a stylish Italian travel accessory company called ‘Mandarina Duck’ and I wonder if they’re named after a similar manoeuvre. Nah, probably not.

Nodding off on the bus a while ago following another session at the killing fields, a voice from behind whispers, “Excuse me, I thought you’d like to know there’s a bug on your head”. Panic can’t describe my reaction as I start swatting the pest, hoping it will move along without any fuss. The stink beetle, who’s enjoyed a free ride without a valid ticket flies off my head and releases such an acrid stench that I jump off the bus red faced – and well before my destination.

It got me thinking if you’re going to have something flapping on your head in a public place, it may as well be a bigger statement. Like a pigeon. In the 1995 film Forget Paris (directed by and starring Billy Crystal) Debra Winger makes contact with an unwelcome feathered friend:

This year I reverted to the broom ‘n’ bucket method, wielding my weapon of torture while wearing industrial strength goggles, gloves and a fetching hat. I’m atop a ladder while my aged mother waits below with a bucket of metho for the bugs. (It’s the least she can do for making me inhale the fumes of her home-made Italian mandarin liqueur in the early 1960s.)

Any good suggestions for disposing of the bugs are welcome. Apparently Clint Eastwood, in the film The Outlaw Josey Wales, has a habit of spitting tobacco juice on them, but I don’t know how effective it was. And I’m not willing to try it.

If you’re wondering what the Musgraveia Sulciventris looks like, here it is – quite the looker when young, somewhat uglier when mature.

the offending bug

For my delicious AmbraJAMbra, I used Stephanie Alexander’s Seville Orange marmalade recipe from her Cook’s Companion It can be adapted for all citrus fruits successfully.

Related post: Buddha’s Hand Citron-Lemon with a Twist

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The Secret Radicchio Society

June 4, 2012

I’m sitting at my mother’s dining table finishing my salad, thinking about life without these special green leaves.

Growing up in 1960s’ Sydney eating Italian food that my immigrant parents served, I’d hardly tasted the popular iceberg lettuce non-Italians ate. My father wasn’t a natural gardener, but one thing he did well was growing and harvesting bitter greens from the chicory family.

His specialty was a type of small-leafed, pale green radicchio grown in and around our hometown – Trieste – in northeastern Italy. These greens weren’t available at greengrocers, so most of our family friends from that Italian region grew it here in Australia: those who didn’t always had friends willing to donate some.

There’s not much you can do with this type of radicchio but eat it with vinaigrette. My father, however, chose to up the ante and sometimes added finely chopped, raw garlic. Being a non-Anglo preteen, I was anti-garlic and refused to buy into its alleged worm killing properties, so I discarded each tiny piece. If my father really suspected we had worms, he could have made life easier by trying a folk medicine remedy: a couple of garlic cloves in each shoe, to be absorbed through the skin. Slower, but kinder!

Realising I needed a creative way of eating the greens, dad added quartered hard-boiled eggs to the salad. I loved the way they dissolved into the vinaigrette, coating the leaves with a powdery yellow shine. Once all leaves were eaten, there was always a tussle for rights to sop up the liquid at the bottom of the bowl with crusty bread.

We stopped eating it for many years as different types of salad greens were available and Italian families no longer had the passion to grow it. Occasionally, in the 1970s, it would appear at barbeques and we’d swoop on it like seagulls, or we’d find it at family-run restaurants specialising in Venetian and northeastern Italian cuisine.

Growing radicchio from Trieste

The radicchio patch in all its glory

About eight years ago I had a craving for it and suggested to my mother I might try growing it in her backyard. I tracked down an online seed supplier who markets it in Australia as “Cicoria zuccherina di Trieste”. The term ‘zuccherina’ refers to its sweetness, but more accurately it has a pleasant bitter taste, especially if it’s eaten while still young and tender.

The radicchio patch – dedicated to my late father – has fed us continuously as it re-grows after each harvest. I sow it every two years after the leaves become a bit hard and hairy, and have my hands full protecting it from heavy rain and keeping two family cats from stretching out on it to bask in the sun. It needs watering every day – twice in dry summer weather – and my mother has become chief waterer.

Cicoria Zuccherina di Trieste con uova

The fruits of my labour

Greengrocers now sell many varieties of chicory, endive and radicchio such as the red Treviso and Verona, but don’t stock the type we eat, probably as it’s too delicate to withstand the handling and transport. In Trieste they are spoilt for choice, with up to four varieties sold daily at outdoor markets around the city.

It’s such a special part of the meals I have when I visit my mother twice per week; the table looks bare in the two months that the radicchio is in the early growing phase and too small to harvest. 

I think I need to become a fully-fledged market gardener and stagger my crops to enjoy it year-round.

 

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