Spring is the season to feel in the pink and to picnic. To celebrate the Spring solstice, Eva de Kool organised a cherry blossom viewing at Nara Peace Park with her husband Marthijn de Kool. It was a windy day but the group of friends, gardeners and beekeepers gathered in a tree-sheltered spot and I popped by to see them.
As well as Japanese-style food, there was a plant swap with Mark O'Connor sharing Persian/Tahitian limes that were literally falling off his tree and young gooseberry, jostaberry, loganberry, quince, fig, feijoa and red plum trees and shrubs.
Eva de Kool brought tiny divisions of red shiso (perilla frutescens var. crispa) said to have been introduced to Japan in the eighth to ninth century. She said this Asian perennial with tiny red leaves is sold in a small punnet as a "micro green" at Wiffens at Fyshwick Markets to grow as a kitchen herb. She explained that red shiso is often used for colouring umeboshi (sour pickled plum) and pinkish ginger pickles eaten at sushi shops is traditionally made with red shiso for colouring and preserving qualities and it adds colour and texture to sashimi.
Perilla can become weedy so my little plant is contained in a trough and, within this month, the new leaves are growing large and ruffled. I have just done a tasting - pleasant and fruity for larger leaves, mint-like for the tiny leaves.
At the picnic there was another particular treat, new to me. Yvonne de Wit had brought a bottle of homemade grenadine from the fruit of her pomegranate tree. Canberra born and primary schooled, de Wit moved with her parents to Brisbane for tertiary education and back to Canberra for work. The family always had a vegetable patch as her parents both came from farming backgrounds in Europe. In Canberra they grew apples, plums, pears, nectarines and grapes as well as rhubarb and strawberries, while in Brisbane it was the tropical fruit.
She has lived in Kambah since 2012 and she is growing red and black currants, a Brown Turkey fig, Champion quince, Nagami and Calamondin cumquats, Damson plum, Nottingham medlar, Meyer lemon, Manzanillo olive, rhubarb, strawberries and boysenberries. Her blueberry has been growing in a pot since 2012 and she empties coffee grounds onto the soil. It crops from December to autumn, and although the berries are smaller than those purchased commercially, they are rather more tasty. It produces about 2kg of fruit in a season.
de Wit has also experimented with an Inca berry (Physalis Peruviana) which was doing nicely until it succumbed this winter. Her goal with the fruit trees is to experiment with types that she had not grown up with in her childhood. She enjoys cooking and also trying out new recipes, especially if they include homegrown ingredients.
In 2015 de Wit planted a "Mollar de Elche" pomegranate purchased at Rodney's Nursery in Pialligo. This Spanish variety is fast growing with large fruit and dark red arils (the seed-casings which are the parts we eat) and soft seeds. Last year it produced about 20 fruit from March to May. Some were shared as gifts and enjoyed in savoury salads but the remainder made 350ml of grenadine to a recipe from Stephanie Alexander in The Cook's Companion (2004) (recipe follows).
de Wit said she had been saving the grenadine for a special occasion and deemed the pink picnic to meet that criteria. Mixed with sparkling water it is a refreshing non-alcoholic drink.
Pomegranate syrup - the real grenadine
3 large pomegranates
2 cups castor sugar
Extract kernels from pomegranates. You need about two cups of kernels. Put kernels and sugar into a non-reactive saucepan, then crush roughly (Alexander uses the plunger that comes with her juice extractor). Cover and leave at room temperature for 24 hours.
Next day, bring saucepan to a boil over moderate heat, stirring, then reduce heat and simmer for two minutes. Pass kernels and syrup through an electric juice extractor. (Alternatively, strain into a basin through a sieve lined with a doubled, dampened piece of muslin, then gather up muslin and squeeze to extract maximum juice. Return strained syrup to rinsed-out saucepan and bring it to a boil. Immediately pour syrup onto a sterilised bottle and seal. Allow to cool, then refrigerate. The syrup will keep indefinitely and can be used as a cordial or to accent cocktails.