Missives From Margs: Setting Up My Veggie Garden

I’ve always wanted to have my own veggie garden but I never seem to have had the time to do it properly. I remember putting one in on our property at Pakenham when the children were young, probably 20 years ago now. I didn’t have time to look after it properly and it became overgrown after one season. I recall harvesting a few snow peas and beans from it but it was a only half hearted attempt. My next effort was at our property at Nar Nar Goon. As you do in Melbourne, I planted some cherry tomatoes in a large pot on Cup Day. A couple of months later some lovely fruit appeared, but as they turned red they mysteriously disappeared! I soon found the culprit: our Doberman, Gemma, took a liking to them when they turned red and plucked them off for a snack!

Settling in Margaret River, and with a bit more time on my hands, I decided it was time to get more serious about vegetable growing. Our new house had a raised garden bed along the back of the house, about 9m x 1m in size, and facing north east. Perfect location for a small veggie plot. There was nothing really growing in it when we moved in so when we had the retic installed the landscaper added an extra station and underground pipework to the future veggie bed.

Before I could use it I needed to clean it up and prepare it. The original garden bed had the dreaded black plastic weedmat under it and up the house wall to provide some waterproofing to the wall. I had to dig all that up and remove it, then apply a waterproof coating to the wall. I then added some compost, fresh garden soil and plenty of sheep manure, which is plentiful down here. After digging all that goodness into the soil I was ready to plant! Oh, and of course, I needed to add some mesh fencing because Sidney thoroughly enjoyed helping me set up the garden and thought it was a great place to dig and play.

The Dreaded Black Plastic
Preparing the bed – removing the black plastic and waterproofing the wall
Sidney helping prepare the soil
The finished garden bed

All that remained was to set up the drip irrigation system on the retic. A few meters of dripper hose, some valves and fittings and it was ready to go. As we were heading into cooler autumn/winter weather I didn’t bother setting up any automatic watering and was content to manually turn on the drippers when required.

Drip lines set up and a few winter plantings in place

So my vegetable garden adventures were about to start. I’ll tell you all about my successes and failures in the next couple of posts.

Missives From Margs – Winter

I’m sitting at home, self isolating because of the global Covid-19 pandemic, so I thought I’d reflect on our first winter in Margaret River.

During our 4 years of travel, we hadn’t really experienced much winter weather. So it was with some trepidation that we prepared for our first proper winter in our new home. We hadn’t really spent much time in Margaret River in colder weather, as we were mostly here in Summer and Autumn before heading north, so we didnt really know what to expect. We had done some house sits in June, which we found cool but pleasant, but we were keen to see what a full Margaret River winter would like. We’d been warned by locals that it was going to be cold and unpleasant, which I guess explains why so many of them head to north to the Kimberly or Bali in winter.

Well, to summarise it in three words…Wet, Temperate and Short.

Winters in Margs are wet. Very wet! When it rains here, it pours. Margaret River gets an annual total rainfall of 1050mm, which is a bit more than Melbourne and a bit less than Sydney. But here in Margs, we get most of our rain in winter, 80% of it in fact. In Sydney and Melbourne the rain falls pretty steadily all year round, varying only slightly month to month. Here, from May to August we average nearly 160mm rain per month! In the old scale, that’s a couple of inches of rain a week. So we experience plenty of heavy rain, specially at night. But we also have some very pleasant sunny days.

Temperatures in winter are pretty mild. We are close to the coast, and the Capes area is surrounded on 3 sides by sea: Southern Ocean to the south, Indian Ocean to the west and Geographe Bay to the north. This tempers the cold southerly winds. Daytime temps rarely drop below 15C. It’s certainly cold enough to warrant good heating and we made very good use of our wood heater every night, but heading outside for a walk was never really a problem as long as it wasn’t pouring rain. In fact, we often walked in sunny conditions.

Because our rainfall is heavily skewed to winter, so we get most of it over and done with in a few months. This has some great advantages, because it means much of the rest of the year is dry. June, July and August are very wet, but by September the rains are easing and by November its warm and dry again. Our summers are really dry. Last summer , for example, only 18mm of rain fell in December, 6mm in January and 14mm in February.

There are some real advantages with this weather pattern. It means we only have to hibernate for a short time, and even then we can still get out and about. We enjoy fantastic dry summers and rarely have to change plans for outdoor activites because of rain. But perhaps the best advantage is wet winters and dry summers are perfect weather for growing summer crops, like wine grapes! The rain over winter helps the vines recover from the effort of producing big, fat juicy grapes over summer. The warm spring with moderate but reliable rain helps the vines to flourish and produce buds. Then the dry, but not too hot, summer ripens the grapes to perfection. The perfect climate for making great wines!

We managed to continue with most of our outdoor activites throughout winter. Bushwalks and beach walks were only called off if it was raining heavily or very windy. We still visited our usual cafes and often enjoyed sitting outside in the sun. At night we always had the wood heater roaring, but rarely during the day. After years of strugging through Melbourne’s long and dreary winters it was such a joy to be able to experience the cold season in a much more friendly way.

Life around the region continues pretty much as normal, but with fewer vistors. There are still festivals and events, and plenty of Perth locals still come down to visit. The wineries are all busy releasing their new wines and the cafes and restaurants are still busy. The hardy bacpackers hang around to earn money in the vine pruning season and surfers still head south to catch the big winter swells. It’s certainly quieter than summer, but just about everything remains open for business.

Winter rains force the Margaret River to spill out into the Indian Ocean
Big winter swells are not for the faint hearted!
Warm nights by the fire
Hot sourdough from the oven
Bonfire at the Beer Farm

So ,even though it gets cold and wet at times, we found winter much more bearable than Melbourne. I guess its all relative. Perth locals think its far too wet and cold down here in winter, but then perhaps they are spolit by Perth’s hot and sunny summers!

Missives From Margs – Entertaining our Visitors from over East

It’s been a while since I’ve had time to update my blog, but now Covid-19 self isolation is in full swing I’m sure I’ll have plenty of time to catch up and update everyone on how our new life in Margaret River is going.

The last few months have been our busiest since settling in here in February 2019. My work started getting much busier last November as two of my projects at the Margaret River Dairy swung into action and kept me busy right up to Christmas. In mid January, Manassen asked me get involved with a new project in Perth so I have been driving up and back nearly every week since February. It’s been pretty tiring but good to still have some work.

Christmas heralded the start of a run of visitors that continued until the end of February. We were very lucky to have all our family visit, as well as my brother and good friends Cheryl and Steve. These visitors kept us very busy over summer and it we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves showing them around the beautiful Margaret River region.It also made us realise that you need way more than a week to really see the region and explore the best it has to offer.

Our first visitors were our daughter Nic and her husband Trent, who come over to spend Christmas with us. It was lovely to share Christmas dinner with them and we all enjoyed some beautiful local food together. The highlight was some beautiful Exmouth Prawns in Garlic Butter sauce, sourced from our local fishmonger.

We enjoyed perfect weather during their visit and managed some beach time, plenty of coffees and picnics, glorious WA sunsets, a visit to the Chocolate Factory and the Margaret River Distillery and a few wineries. We even managed a short hike along the Cape To Cape Track and introduced Nic to a couple of local Dugites! After a busy week it was time to return them to Perth and await our next visitor.

 

Alex arrived a few days later and we continued to enjoy great weather as we relaxed and visited our favourite spots. Alex had visited us back in June so we could take him to a few new places. More hot sunny days meant we could get him down to Contos Beach and Hamelin Bay as well as Yallingup for a surf. We also ttok the opportunity to visit another of the local caves, this time Jewell Cave which was beautifully preserved and quite spectacular. More prawns and local wines were also devoured, as well as a visit to the Miller Ice Cream factory in Cowaramup. Alex even enjoyed chasing some marron in the Margaret River, a bit out of the strictly controlled marron season, so the idea of a $5,000 fine stopped him bringing one home!

Next up was my brother John, who lives in the Hunter Valley in NSW. He managed to get a chance to take a short break from his accomodation business and was keen to see what all the fuss was about Margaret River wines. Of course, we visited a few wineries so he could sample the local product and a few of the local eateries. Vasse Felix, Voyager, Redgate, Clariault Streiker and Cullens were all visited and wines tasted, as well as Cheeky Monkey Brewery and the divine Gabriell’s Chocolates for some delicious ice cream. A delicious Espresso Martini at Sea Garden while we enjoyed a WA sunset was essential too. We saw Canal Rocks on a perfect sunny day, hiked to the top of Willyabrup Cliffs on a very windy day, and swam at Contos and Gnarabup. We even made a visit to Instagram-famous Indijup Natural Spa, a natural rock formation near Idjup Beach that allows the ocean waves to spill perpendicularly into a beautiful little rock pool.

Our daughter Michelle and Deb’s Mum were our next visitors and it was nice to have plenty of time with them. Deb’s mum is not as mobile as she once was so Michelle kindly offered to fly to Sydney and escort her over here. We decided to book a few days in and AirBnb in Perth as soon as they arrived so we could show them our favourite places in town. We found a small flat in Mosman Park, close to Cottesloe Beach and it was perfect for our short stay. The weather was perfect, if a bit hot, and we all enjoyed outings to Kings Park, Cottesloe Beach and Fremantle. The staff at Kings Park were very helpful and organised a wheelchair for Deb’s Mum so we could take her for an extended stroll around the gardens. Michelle enjoyed a couple of swims at Nth Cottesloe Beach and we also discovered a great new cafe/bakery at Cottsloe that made the best cinnamon scrolls!

When we returned to Margaret River we spent our time lazily showing them around. Boranup Forest, Surfers Point, Yallingup, Canal Rocks were all visited and enjoyed. Their visit also coincided with peak tomato season so Michelle and Nanny were enlisted to help out with “tomato day”, passata making! Michelle also enjoyed some wine tastings and a few swims at Gnarabup. Nanny loves her ice cream so a visit to Gabrielle’s was essential and she also loved the gardens at Voyager Estate.

 After a fabulous two and a half weeks we sadly took Shelly and Nanny back to Perth for their return trips home. After a short break we hosted out final visitors, Steve and Cheryl from Melbourne. Steve works as a FIFO in the Pilbara so decided to take his work break in Perth and Cheryl flew over to join him. They had a busy schedule, but were able to come down to Margaret River for a night to catch up. We managed to fiti n a visit to Vasse Felix Winery and the Margaret River Distillery before enjoying a BBQ dinner at home. It was great to see some of our Melbourne friends again after so long away.

It was a very busy period, but we loved having so many people over to show them our new home and share some of this beautiful regions attractions with. we look forward to many more visitors in the months and years to come.

Over coming weeks, while self isolating, I hope to bring you more updates from Margaret River and share some of our experiences in our new home with you.

Missives From Margs – Our Garden 12 months on

I’m amazed at how much our garden has developed in the last 12 months. The beautiful, consistent winter rains followed by plenty of sunny days has really helped our garden along.

When we bought the house in 2015, the garden was basic, but in fair condition, specially for a rental. Here are a couple of photos from that time.

The backyard was pretty bare, there were a few agapanthus in the built up garden behind the house and a mix of natives and agapanthus in the front gardens.

By the time we were ready to move in, and our last tennants had moved out in October 2018, it was looking a little the worse for wear. Unless you can find gardeners as tennants, rental gardens are usually left to look after themselves and that is exactly how it was. Run down and neglected.

We always wanted to have a beautiful native garden, so we took the opportunity before we moved in to have it professionally landscaped. Sure, that is going to cost some more, but we really wanted it done straight away so we could enjoy it. We chose a local landscaper, Backyard Creations, and set him to work on a major makeover. Steve designed our gardens and helped us plan what plants we would plant, and his local knowledge was very helpful. We wanted mostly natives and we wanted a garden that we could leave for extended periods while we travelled. So “easy care” was a key feature we needed. We included a hardstand area for the caravan and new access gate, and the whole garden and lawn is irrigated, or as they say over here “we have retic”. The work was done last October/November while we were away house sitting in Albany.

We were thrilled with the results. Steve planted over 140 new plants. One of the advantages of using a landscaper is that they can get bigger plants cheaper than we can buy retail. And Steve offered a three month guarantee, replacing any plant that died in that time. Every plant was planted with dripper irrigation to each one, all controlled by a master controller. The lawn areas were also set up with spray watering so our lawn can be automatically watered twice a week, as per local water regulations.

As our garden has grown over the last 12 months, we have been watching it take shape as the plants grow and spread. The flowering this spring has been spectacular , impressive for a garden that is less than 12 months old.

Here are a few photos showing the changes in the last 12 months. The white lines across the lawn is where the irrigation system was run. Molly used to use these as little paths when she inspected the boundaries every morning.

Deb wanted a few roses to remind us of the beautiful roses we grew in Victoria. We chose Just Joey standards, and they have produced dozens of blooms in both late Summer/Autumn and Spring. Our favourite rose with a gorgeous perfume.

We planted three birch trees in front of the bedroom window to give us some late afternoon shade in summer. They are slow growing compared to the natives, but are progressing well.

All the agapanthus were dug up and transplanted down the side to cover a messy dirt bank next to the footpath. They are flowering beautifully this year.

I love having the retic on the lawns. Once our dry summers hit, its great to turn the system back on again and keep the green grass until Autumn. There is a cost of course, automated watering systems tend to use a lot more water than hand watering, but its a price we are prepared to pay to have a lovely cool garden to relax in over summer. I have been giving it a fair bit of attention this spring, getting the weeds out and providing nutrition to the grass and soil, which are mostly sand over clay. I’m hoping to keep it looking like this over summer!

Finally, here is some of the colour we have been enjoying from our natives so far this spring.

Missives From Margs – WA Car Registration

Following on from the saga of getting our drivers licences changed over to WA, https://bobdebmol.wordpress.com/2019/05/16/missives-from-margs-national-licencing/ , it is now time to get the car registration transfered. Once again I brace myself to take on the process of dealing with the WA Department of Transport beauracracy.

The first step is to get the vehicle inspected. Now coming from NSW originally, where annual “roadworthy” inspections are required, I understand that this is a process that is stacked in the mechanics favour. They hold your cars future in their hands, and the “mechanic shopping” that we used to engage in as teenagers with our first cars, is a thing of the past now as all inspections, even failed ones, are recorded. Thankfully, I only need to get one inspection here. I had a crack in a rear light, so I replaced the lens ready for the inspection. My two front tyres were getting low on tread, so I thought I’d give it a go, and if they failed I’d just get them replaced at the tyre place next door to the mechanics.

Almost as expected, the car failed its inspection due to the tyres, so I got a quote from Tyrepower and ordered the tyres. No problem said the mechanic, just book your car in for a re-inspection when the tyres are done. The only catch is, the first inspection cost $136 and a reinspection costs $100! Yes, another $100 to check that the two tyres have been replaced! The mechanic was at pains to point out that this was not their idea, but the DoT who write the rules and regulate the fees. What can you do but accept the fees and just carry on, its only money I guess.

So, with two new tyres fitted I froint back up for the re-inspection and duly passed. Now for the feared step, taking the paperwork to the Shire Offices to get the transfer completed. A quick look at the DoT requirements and it seems I have to prove the car is mine before they will transfer the rego. Fearing the worst, and armed with my original purchase receipt from Mazda, Nar Nar Goon, I front up to the offices. I breathed a sigh of relief when they only asked for my previous regsitration renewal form from Vic roads, which I luckily had, and I was able to complete the transaction. Well, apart from the little matter of the $971 Licence Fee (over here they call car registration a licence). Admittedly, $30 of that is for the new licence plates, but I can see now why some people reckon WA is an expensive state to live in. My annual rego renewal in Vic was only $569 , but here in WA its $941!

So, we are now very much West Australians. Our new licence plates even start with the letters AU to indicate the “Augusta Margaret River Shire”. I could have purchased special “Margaret River” plates for only an extra $400, but I decided I’d already spent enough! Two inspections, two new tyres and the licence fee have already cost me over $2,000! I just have the van registration to transfer now, so I’ll have to go through the same process again in a few months time. I’m already dreading having to get it out and negotiating the mechanics driveway……..

Missives From Margs – The Farmers Market From The Other Side

It was 6:30am and pitch black outside. I had just arrived at the Farmers Market to set up my stall, and despite having a map to guide me, it was too dark to find my allocated spot. The early birds were there, headlamps ablaze, scurrying about erecting their gazebos and preparing their produce. I found Kat, the Market Coordinator, and together we identified my stall area and I was able to start this new adventure.

Rewind a few days: Nicci and Bryce run the Margaret River Cracker Company and we met through a mutual friend. They always have a stall at the weekly Farmers Market so I came to know them by my frequent visits. They hate missing the market as their regular customers expect them to be there, but occasionally they have other committments and can’t attend. So last week they approached me to see if I was willing to help them out by setting up and running their stall for them. How could I say no? I attend every market that I can, and love the atmosphere. I go early and meet the stall holders as I buy our weekly meat, fruit and vegetables from superb locally grown produce. The chance to actually be a part of the market, even for one day was exciting, so I enthusiastically agreed.

I had arrived early, wanting to make sure I had plenty of time to set up before the market officially opens at 8:00am. I knew that local shoppers started arriving at 7:30am so gave myself an hour to get organised. Nicci admited to me that even though they are the physically closest stall holder to the markets (they live just round the corner from us, less than a kilometer from the Market!) they often don’t arrive until 7:15am! I decided I needed much more time than that. Setting the Gazebo up was straightforward until I had to lift and lock to roof section. Luckily Neil, the honeyman, was close by and he happily helped me with that tricky assembly. After setting up the tables, I then had to carefully lay out the very light packets of crackers on the tables and arrange the tasting bowls and signs. Presentation is not usually my best skill, but, guided by some internet photos I saved from their website, I reckon I did an admirable job and was happy with the finished product. I’m sure the hot coffees delivered right to the stall by the Yahava Coffee van helped!

Pretty happy with how the stall looked

It was now 7:15, fully light and a hive of activity. The empty row I had set up in was almost full. Beside me Uralba Eco Farm were displaying beautiful fresh produce, olives and preserves, and on the other side The Berry Farm had a truck full of the first of the seasons Avocados, all bright green and delicious looking. The stallholders were rushing around buying produce from each other before the shoppers arrived, and grabbing a last minute breakfast snack from the Community Fundraising Stall, where a different community group runs a breakfast bar every week.

The Margaret River Cracker Company (https://www.margaretrivercrackers.com.au/) was started by Nicci and Bryce three years ago and makes beautiful crackers to go with local wines, cheeses, dips, relishes and vegetables. They bake all their produce from home, and have chosen flavours that reflect the local areas best produce, from organic garlic, herbs and onions to cheese and truffles. They have even developed a fantastic range of gluten free products, blending their own flour mix to make sure they retain their crackers trademark fresh crunch. They sell their product at the weekly Farmers Market, and also in many of the local gourmet shops and wineries, and even the Margaret River IGA. They also have a growing business selling to gourmet shops in Perth. Its a great business and they have done a terrific job with smart, modern packaging and eye catching graphics. And, of course, the products are very, very good.

For the next hour it was mostly locals doing their weekly fresh vegetable shop so business was a little quiet, but as soon as the tourists arrived, I was busy. We’ve been amazed at how many tourists still visit here in winter. Many Perth locals fill up the local accomodation for a gourmet weekend away, and the Farmers Market, which won Delicious Magazine’s 2018 “Best Farmers Market in Australia” Award, is a major destination. And the number of Asian tourists is huge, being so close to Singapore and Malaysia. They are very keen to taste local fresh produce and often buy packaged goods to take home. Although the crowds ebbed and flowed, it was steady all morning and plenty of people tasted and bought crackers. I loved that I was set up between two popular local cheese makers, Cambray and Heidi, so many visitors arrived at the stall with cheeses in hand, wanting recommendations for a matching cracker!

I enjoyed interacting with the visitors, and met so many people from around Australia and WA, as well as overseas. Grey Nomads, Hipsters, Hippies, Farmers and kids, everyone was out enjoying the dry morning and the market vibe. My stall was close to the busker too, so I had some good background vocals to chill too. The crackers were a real hit, Nicci and Bryce have done an amazing job with their flavour combinations and tastes. Nothing you buy in a supermarket will compare: the flavours and aromas jump out at you as you taste. There was a real sense of comerarderie amongst the stall holders too, some friendly rivalry and genuine interest in how everyones morning was going. They even “stall sit” for you if you need to duck away for a break or to buy some more food or coffee!

The view from my stall

All morning I had been tracking a big thunderstorm that was threatening to interupt our day. It appeared that it had bypassed us completely until, with only 15 minutes of market time to go, it hit and dumped heavy rain on us. The visitors scattered, my crackers were blown over and pack ups commenced in earnest. Luckily I got all the produce packed away safely without getting wet, but the tables and gazebo were drenched by the time I was finished. As was I! So I headed home to unload the car and hang everthing out to dry in the garage.

I had a fabulous day and really appreciated the opportunity to take part in one of Margaret River’s iconic attractions. Not only was it fun interacting with all the shoppers, I really enjoyed getting to know more of the local stall holders. I’m really hoping I can help Nicci and Bryce out again!

Missives from Margs – Olive Curing

Have you ever tasted an olive straight from the tree? You’ll only ever do it once! They are so bitter that they are inedible, impossible to leave it in your mouth for any time at all. The bitterness will hang around too, reminding you to never do it again! Before Olives can be eaten, they have to be processed to remove the bitterness, which is caused by a phenolic compound called Oleuropein. The Romans worked out that by soaking the olives in water and changing the water daily, the bitterness was eventually removed, but the process took many months. The process could be sped up a little by using a saltwater brine instead, but it was still slow. They then tried soaking the olives in lye, yes, good old caustic soda, and the debittering happened in hours. (I can’t imagine what possesed them to soak bitter olives in caustic soda, but hey it worked!) Commercial olive processors still use that method today, but for home curing, its better to steer clear of such aggressive chemicals.

Talking to a neighbour who has her own olive tree and cures olives every year, piqued my interest in the process. A chat with my preferred olive supplier at the Farmers Market, Ronnie from Jersey Farm ( Jersey Farm Olives ), revealed that after they have completed their own harvest, I was welcome to come over and pick some of the remaining olives from their trees. Now mechanical olive harvesting is a pretty agricultural process. A machine grabs each tree and shakes it violently, causing the olives to drop off where they are caught in large batwing umbrellas attached to the machine. From here they are loaded into tubs to be taken away for processing.  Here is a video of a harvester in action. Olive Harvesting video  Commercial operators spray their olive trees with a release agent a few days before harvest to help all the olives separate from the tree during harvest, but as Jersey Farm is organic, they refuse to do this. As a result, there are plenty of olives left on the trees for us to pick.

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Jersey Farm Olive Grove

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Olives left on the tree after mechanical harvesting

So we headed up to Jersey Farm, 30 minutes from Margaret River to try our hand at olive harvesting. Picking them was pretty simple, but painstakingly slow. Olives don’t grow in neat clusers like grapes, they are all single olives attached individally to the tree. Each one has to be pulled off one at a time. “Professional” pickers lay a tarp under the tree and use plastic rakes to pull the olives off, but we just hand picked into buckets. The fruit we picked was Minerva, a smaller variety, so it was slow going. We stuck at it for over an hour, and ended up with 8kg of fruit. It was a very pleasant afternoon though, warm and sunny, and we were accompanied by the wild emus that had wandered into the grove from the nearby bush for a feed of olives!

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Deb getting into the swing of picking

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The local emus allowed us to share their olive feast

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The stepladder helped us to reach more olives

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Our harvest, 8kg freshly picked olives

Deciding how to cure them was my task when we arrived home. An internet search revealed an infinite number of different ways to traditionally cure them, and talking to locals revealed a whole lot more methods. I decided on three different methods for my first attempts:

  1. Water Curing: The olives were placed in a bucket of cold water and left to soak. Every day, the water is drained off and replaced with fresh water. As the olives cure, the water gets a purple tinge and starts to smell of olives. I need to do this for as long as it takes to remove the bitterness before I can then store them in brine.
  2. Brine Curing: This is a traditional Italian method where the olives are washed, then placed in a jar with a 10% brine solution. The jar is topped up with olive oil as an air seal, and then left to up to 12 months.
  3. Dry Brining: This method is used by Jersey Farm to produce small jars of delicious table olives really suited as a cooking ingredient. The olives are placed in a pillowcase with 2:1 ratio of olives to dry salt. The pillowcase is hung over a bucket, and as the olives cure, moisture with the bitter flavours drips off. The olives need to be mixed up with the salt every couple of days. After the bitterness is removed they are washed and can then be stored in jars with olive oil.

It’s been 6 weeks now since I started the curing and I’m finally starting to see some results. The dry brine cured olives are just about ready now, the bitterness is almost completely gone. They have shrivelled and wrinkled a lot too. Next step will be to rinse them then store them in jars with olive oil. The jar of brined olives is also getting close. They are very salty, but the bitternes has almost disappeared. Next step will be to wash them, then store them with brine or olive oil, and some flavours like garlic, herbs or chilli. The slowest cure is the plain water. These olives are still quite bitter, but better then when they were picked! They’ll need a few more weeks of rinsing yet. I’ll gradually introduce a brine solution and reduce the frequency of rinsing until all the bitterness is gone.

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Dry brined olives sitting in salt in a pillowcase

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Dry brined olives getting wrinkley as they dry out

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Water curing – as the bitterness is released into the water, the colour also leaches out

I’ll bring you an update when all the curing is finished and let you know how they turned out. Another old fashioned skill being learned, and hopefully some tasty results after all the labour!

Missives From Margs – Sourdough

Who doesn’t love a freshly baked loaf of sourdough bread? Straight from the oven, hack off a chunk and add some real butter and maybe honey or Vegemite? Delicious! We are lucky here to have a wood fired bakery just down the road where we can pop in after 3pm and grab a hot loaf straight out of the jarrah fired oven. In fact, there is a group of bakers here in the SW, who all use the same oven designed by the Swiss-German baker/owner of Yallingup Wood Fired Bread, and bake beautiful sourdough bread. (Yallingup Wood Fired Bakery, Margaret River Wood Fired Bread, Bread and Butter in Bunbury, and in Fremantle, Bread in Common). Here is a video from Yallingup Woodfired Bakery

I had never really been interested in baking my own bread. Apart from using a Bread Maker, I’ve only ever baked a couple of loaves from scratch. It seemed to me a lot of work for something that I could buy from the supermarket. But having tasted real sourdough bread, and now having time to experiment (you need plenty of time, a sourdough loaf takes over two days to make!), I decided to learn the art myself. And what better place to start then at Cree and Tim’s One Table Farm two day Sourdough Workshop.  One Table Farm Cooking School  Over two wonderful days, I learnt all the secrets of sourdough breadmaking from Tim, who has been making sourdough for over 30 years. And it’s not only bread that gets the sourdough treatment, I also learnt to make sourdough crumpets, hotcakes, pizza bases, crackers and the best of all, Sourdough Doughnuts! Here are some photos from the Workshop.

The beauty of Sourdough, in my mind, is that it doesn’t use any manufactured yeast. The bacteria and yeasts that slowly ferment the mix and give the bread that beautiful rich aroma and flavour, are all natural. The starter culture for all sourdough is just a mix of flour and water, carefully cultured to encourage the growth of the natural yeasts and bacteria that live in the flour. When combined with beautiful organic, stoneground flour from Eden Valley Biodynamic Flour mill near Dumbleyung here in the SW, the resulting bread is rich in flavour and deliciously moist in side that crunchy crust.  The long, slow fermentation creates that rich flavour. And there are health benefits too. Sourdough is made without any added sugar, and the fermentation process releases important nutrients.  It also creates useful probiotics that assist gut health. The slow ferment  breaks down the wheat gluten too, and although not fully gluten free, is better tolerated by those with gluten intolerances.

Since attending the workshop, I’ve been baking a loaf every week. And we have also enjoyed sourdough hotcakes and pizzas. So far, all my loaves have turned out OK. One of the joys of sourdough baking is that the process is always a little bit different. It’s a natural process and sometimes, nature just varies a little and the results are not always identical, week to week. Differences in flour, temperature, humidity etc can all create slight variations in the finished loaf. But, the aroma in the house when I’m baking is always so good, and the loaves so delicious!

And sitting by the oven watching the magic happen is a great way to relax on a cold autumn day!

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Evolution – watching the loaf “pop” in the oven

Missives from Margs – National Licencing?

There is one task I passionately hate when moving interstate: having to transfer our Drivers Licence and car rego. I hate public service beauracracy. And the beauracrats in each state seem to want to make licencing as difficult as possible, when in fact it shoudn’t even be necessary. Surely, in the 21st century,  we can have a National Licence system in Australia?

So it was with some trepidation that we headed off the the local Shire Offices recently to organise to swap our licences to Western Australia. At least here in WA, the larger local shires are agents for the Department of Transport so we didnt have to travel miles to find an office to put our application in.

Prewarned, we took all our original birth certificates and marriage certificates so we could prove who we were. Now, you would think that having a Victorian Photo ID Licence, one that is accepted universally across the country as proof of identity, that it would be acceptable to the beauracrats here in WA. Well, no. We had to provide all the ususal multiple ID documents to keep them happy. These were supported by Medicare cards and Credit cards. So far so good.

Then came the requirement where we had to provide documentary evidence that we lived in WA.  Should be easy I thought and produced a recent utilities bill with the home address on it.

Miss Shire Beauracrat – ” I’m afraid thats not acceptable as the mail delivery address is your PO Box, not the house address”

Me – “well yes. That would be because, as you very well know, there is no postal service in most of Margaret River, so everyone has a PO Box. We cant get mail delivered to our address!”

MSB – “Sorry, we need evidence of your actual address”

Increasingly Frustrated Me – “Well how abour our rates notice? You are part of the Shire, so surely that is acceptable?”

MSB – “Well no actually. That only proves you are paying rates, not that you live here in WA!”

IFM  – ” Your’e joking?” OK, how about an email from the Electoral Office confirming our address”

MSB – “I’ll have to check that one”

Patiently wait 5 minutes

MSB – “No, not acceptable as that’s an email”

IFM – “Well, here (showing phone screen) is the internet page from the Electoral Office confirming our enrollment and address?”

MSB – “No, still not good enough. I need an approved letter with your address on it”

Completely Pissed Off Me, thinking I’m actually in a real Monty Python sketch – “BUT AS I TOLD YOU BEFORE, WE ONLY USE OUR PO BOX BECAUSE YOU DON’T DELIVER MAIL HERE!!!!!! I DON’T GET MAIL DELIVERED TO AN ADDRESS THAT DOESN’T GET MAIL SERVICE”

MSB – “How about you go the the bank and get a letter from them confirming your address?”

So off we toddled to the bank, and returned some time later with a letter from the bank showing our address. MSB was ecstatic, almost gloating! I didn’t have the heart to tell her that a bank letter is far from the validated evidence she thinks it is. The last address our bank used was one from a friend in Warragul in Victoria who sent our bank mail on to us. We never, ever lived there, in fact had never even seen the house!

So, having resolved that issue it was on to the next challenge. This one almost sent me insane. We were required to fill in details on a form about the very first licence we held. They needed the date we received it and number of the first drivers licence we ever held! That was over 45 years ago in NSW! Who keeps that information on file?? Seeing my incredulous look, and perhaps an inkling of Shire Office Rage about to erupt, MSB decided to be helpful and, using a national database, looked it up for us. She found our licence number, but no date, so she suggested we guess a date!  Really!! So, I wondered, why is that info even needed if it’s already on a database and we can make up the date!!! I decided to keep that wondering to myself lest it lead to another terse exchange with the now happy MSB.

After handing over our Vic licence, we were finally allowed to get our photo taken and complete the transaction. MSB proudly advised that our new licence would not expire until the same date as our old Victorian licence, and there was no fee to be paid. Whoopty Do! Finally, some interstate cooperation!

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The end result of all that beauacratic pain

I now have to steel myself for the potentially even more complicated task of transferring our car and van registrations over! I need a few more Margaret River Cabernets before tackling that one!

Missives From Margs – Winemaking 101

We are standing in the middle of the vineyard, first thing in the morning on Easter Saturday, and it’s bitterly cold. It could have been worse. Yesterday we were pummeled with 28mm rain and a howling south westerly gale that bought snow to Bluff Knoll, very rare in April here in WA.  This morning, thank goodness, the rain passed through overnight and although it was cold, the sun was starting to shine around the last of the black clouds. We were out at Cape Grace vineyard in Wilyabrup, picking the last of their Cabernet Sauvignon grapes for the 2019 vintage, destined for the 2019 Storyteller Red.

Our morning started early as we rummaged through our little used winter wardrobe trying to find beannies and coats before heading off to Cape Grace. There, we met up with our fellow pickers, about 15 altogether, and headed off to the Cabernet Sauvignon rows where Dylan, Cape Grace’s winemaker showed us how to use the secateurs to remove the bunches of bright purple ripe cabernet grapes from the vines. Most of us sneaked a taste and were surprised at how sweet the grapes were. As we worked our way down the row, we chatted quietly and slowly warmed up as the sun strengthened. Picking grapes is not really that difficult (I guess that’s why so much of Australia’s hand picked grape harvest is done by backpackers!), nor physically demanding. You do have a reach a bit into the vines to locate all the bunches, but then its just a matter of cut, catch  and drop them into a nearby bucket. Bucket boys have the heavier job of lifting the full buckets into the trailer and off again in the winery. So its actually quite a pleasant job, out in the morning sunshine and fresh air. Many of the bunches are very easy to grab, but some are twisted around the vines and can be more challenging to pick without loosing precious grapes onto the ground. The going rate per bucket this year is $3, so even good pickers have to work fast to earn their money. We labour away for an hour or so, kept entertained by Dylan and Rob, the vineyard owner, who teach us about the finer points of growing and picking wine grapes as we work.

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The pickers assemble at the winery

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The buckets are ready!

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Busy pickers harvesting the grapes

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The sun starts to warm us up

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Deb showing how its done!

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Our first bin of rich, plump Cabernet Sauvignon grapes

As we neared the end of the rows we encountered significant bird damage to the grapes. Tiny Silvereyes (Zosterops lateralis) sometimes take a fancy to the vines, specially in years when the local marri trees do not flower as well as usual, and they peck a hole in nearly every grape in a bunch. This causes the grape to quickly rot, and we could smell the vinegarey odour rising from these spoilt bunches. We tried to recover some of the untouched grapes, but there were too many, so we left these bunches to rot on the vines. Most vineyards place nets over the vines to prevent the birds getting to the grapes, but that has its downside too. Silvereyes can squeeze into the tiniest of gaps, and if they get under the nets, can then spend all day eating to their hearts content, doing even more damage. Rob’s preference was to let them have a few sacrificial grapes and hope that they left the majority of the row alone, which seems to have worked.

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Grapes damaged by Silvereyes, a neat peck mark in every grape

While the bucket boys collected the grapes and transferred them to the winery, we were taken around the vineyard and given lots of information about soils, grape varieties and the intricacies of grafting, where, for example, Chardonnay is grafted onto old Shiraz vines.  This speeds the process up of getting grapes by about three years, rather than planting new vines. Pruning is one of the most important procedures undertaken every year and decisions made about how to best prune can have a significant impact on the next years crop. As can the quality of the pruners, who are usually experienced locals who slave away in cold and rain in July, whilst earning very good money for their efforts.

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Dylan Arvidson, Cape Grace Winemaker

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Dylan explaing how “cane cut” wines are made. The canes (branches) of the vine are cut so it dies off and the fruit shrivel and sweeten

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Cane Cut Chenin Blanc nearly ready to make their sweet Desert Wine

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Robert Karri-Davies, Vineyard Owner

After our lesson on vineyard management, we headed back to the cellar door for morning tea, hot cross buns and hot coffee which Deb was almost ready to kill for! Then is was off into the winery to start preparing our grapes for their transition into wine. The first step was to pass the bunches through a destemmer to remove the stems which can give the wine a bitter, overly tannic flavour. The destemmer is not used for all grape types, and at Cape Grace is not required for any of their machine picked grapes, where they use a “selective” picker that destems as it picks. But our hand picked bunches required destemming so we had to laboriously feed them into the tiny destemmer, a bunch at a time. The destemmer we used was really designed for home winemakers and regularly overloaded if we fed too many bunches in at a time, so it was slow work. But what came out of the destemmer was partially crushed grapes with most of the green stems removed. These landed in 1 tonne tub and it didn’t take long before we had raw cabernet sauvignon grape juice filling the bottom of the tub. Dylan collected a sdample for us to try and it was delicious! Deep ruby red, very cloudy and so, so sweet with beautiful fresh berry cabernet flavours!

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Our grapes, ready for processing

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Deb doing some heavy lifting

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Destemming the grapes

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Everyone gets a turn….

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Destemmed grapes in the bin, the juice already getting squeezed out

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Pure, sweet, delicious cabernet juice

In total, we had picked 630kg of grapes, an excellent yield apparantly from the two rows we picked. This almost filled the large tub. This was now put aside to ferment. After innoculation with yeasts, the tub would be plunged 4 times a day for the next two weeks. Plunging requires the mass of skins that float to the top as the grapes ferment, to be pushed or plunged down to the bottom of the tub, mixing and wetting all the grapes and skins. A hard job that winemakers dislike, but it’s essential to get the best flavour and colour from the grapes. The mix will then be passed through the old basket press, where the grapes are cruched and the juice collected. The skins are pressed and repressed to get as much flavour and colour out of them. The juice extracted from the press will then be transferred to oak barrels for fermentation in wood before bottling. Our wine won’t be bottled until mid 2020, so we will have to be patient before we can tase the fruits of our labour!

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Fermenting Cabernet Franc grapes

So after all this work and education, it was time for lunch, so we walked back to the Cellar door where a beautiful BBQ lunch awaited us. Sausage and onions on bread, fresh local cheese and, of course, some lovely Cape Grace wines to sample. Rob had even pulled a couple of 2004 reds from the cellar for us to try and these were the highlight for me. Aged Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, both exceptional wines and a really good reason to try to keep those reds in the cellar for a few years before drinking them. A very relaxing time sitting under the trees soaking up the sun. After lunch and wine sampling, we reluctantly headed home with a renewed respect for the work our winemakers do in order to allow us put that bottle of liquid joy on the table.

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Well earned lunch

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Bubbles anyone?

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