Christmas is a bit fraught for me. For years I’ve lived overseas, and it’s been easy to say that my Christmas tradition is to curl up on the sofa and watch videos and eat pizza. But here in Melbourne, where Christmas coincides with all the wonderful summer food, and where I’m constantly reminded of childhood summers at my Nanna’s house and all the Christmas preparations and special dishes we had there, it’s harder for me to just brush it off.
I wasn’t sure which way I was going to go this year, and even this morning I was tossing up whether to try for the pizza thing or get off my arse and go up to the market and buy something nice to eat this week. Not necessarily something Christmassy, but something seasonal and a little bit special.
In the end I went to the market, and I’m glad I did. The weather has cooled down from yesterday’s 40 degree scorcher, and it’s around 27C and overcast, threatening rain. I rode my bike up to Preston, got a quick breakfast and iced coffee at the Old Fire Station cafe, and then went to brave the market itself.
The first thing I saw as I came out the back door of my favourite Asian food store, Quoc Te, and entered the market proper was 99c/kg nectarines, then right next to them, $1.50/kg tomatoes. The moment I saw them my plans were set.
I bought 3kg of each of them, along with a small free range chicken, some eggs, some special butter (from Warrnambool dairy, violently yellow in colour), a small handful of shelled pistachios, some glace ginger, a bunch of sage, and a few other bits and pieces.
This afternoon I’ll be stewing and canning nectarines, using the hot water method in my Fowlers Vacola whatchamacallit. I’ll make some short crust pastry too, and stick it in the fridge, along with a log or two of refrigerator cookies like these.
The tomatoes, I’ll sort out into squishy and less-squishy (that’s the thing about buying $1.50 tomatoes and cramming them into a bike basket for the ride home — they don’t all survive). The squishy ones will become Nanna-style tomato sauce and the less squishy ones will get halved and put on a baking sheet to be oven-dried.
Yesterday I got together to talk shop with Kirsten and Serenity from Eaterprises, and they sent me home with a big bag of warrigal greens (an Australian native perennial that’s a good substitute for spinach, though you’re not meant to eat it raw because of its oxalic acid content). Those will make a nice quiche I think, which I can bake and have for dinner tonight with a tomato salad and some of the nice “pana di casa” I picked up at the Italian bakery. There are beautiful cherries for after.
Tomorrow, I’ll roast that little chook with some classic sage and onion stuffing (made from whatever bread’s left over), have some more tomato salad and maybe grill a zucchini or two from the garden. When that’s settled and I’m hungry again, I can bake some of the refrigerator cookies.
On Thursday the market re-opens, and I’ll be back, looking for more tomatoes to oven-dry and some capsicums to roast and bottle. Last year we made just 4 jars of roasted red peppers, but this year I’d like to try for twice that. It’s a bit of a chore to do alone, but if I can get some help it’ll go quickly. (Anyone want to come round and help in return for a jar of the results?)
As I write this, I’m starting to hear the first heavy splats of summer rain. It will be a cool Christmas, just like every Christmas I’ve spent in Melbourne in the last decade or so. Remember that one where it was 10C in the city and it snowed in the hills, putting out the bushfires? Remember last year with the hailstorm that killed half our vegie garden? Looks like this year will be a mild 22C without any drama. A great day to spend preserving and cooking for my own pleasure.