Having a lot of home grown produce at this time of the year, I’m making sauces and chutney, freezing up curries and stewed fruit. I’ve delved into my recipe books for Indian and Italian new ideas and into recipes from my Mum, Win, for old favourites, like her PWMU cook book version of tomato chutney. I have a freezer to stash stewed apricots, rhubarb and tomatoes. Zucchinis, pumpkin and aubergines are going into curry sauces (and ratatouille to eat tonight, see : http://cookingmelbourne.com). Fresh herbs have gone into making infused oils over the summer. The cucumbers were going to be pickled but seen to have all been eaten (by us humans, not the wallaby)!
The busy autumn harvest called to mind the days before we had a freezer and autumn was a time for making chutneys and sauces, jams and pickles and many bottles of preserved fruit in Fowlers jars. I grew up on an orchard at Red Hill on the Mornington Peninsular, so we had strawberries (jam) and cherries (bottled) to store up before Christmas, apples, pears, plums, peaches and apricots to harvest in autumn. The apples were stored in our cool store (great place to hide on hot summer days!) and sold at Melbourne markets or shipped overseas (waxed, wrapped in tissue, packed in fresh wooden boxes).
The Fowlers system for bottling fruit
This is still around after 100 years, https://fowlersvacola.com.au/getting-started/preserving although home freezers have often replaced it (I do need a bigger freezer). There was a big stainless steel electric boiler for sterilising the Fowlers glass jars and their lids and for cooking the bottled fruit. The rubber bands for the lids were boiled up in a saucepan on the stove then put in a groove round the tops of the jars. The still-warm jars were packed with fresh sliced fruit in artistic patterns (kids could help, but nor allowed to eat too much of fruit), just the right amount of water and sugar added, the lids put on and clamped with metal clips, then the bottles placed in the boiler, filled with cold water, brought up to temperature and cooked for up to 2hrs. When cooled, the jars were stored and the fruit used all winter. My favourites were apricots, peaches and cherries. The pears were a bit bland and the plums too sour and full of pips!
The dozens of filled Fowler jars could be stored in our old dairy. This was a half underground brick and stone building, about 2m x 3m, at the back of the cow shed. It had very thick walls, high small windows and stone benches along each side. You stepped down into cool, semidarkness by 3-4 stone steps. It was always cool in there in the heat of summer and freezing in winter. The separator, to take cream off the milk, and the churn, to make butter, were operated here too. Once there were milk churns and big copper pans to be used to make cheese.
Sketch of old dairy cool room
In the 1950s we acquired a round-shouldered, cream coloured Kelvinator refrigerator, so butter, cream and milk were stored there in the kitchen rather than 100m down the hill in the dairy. Modern living had arrived and we could make ice cream (not a patch on the Peter’s Neapolitan ice cream with three coloured stipes!). We bought soft soapy Kraft cheese in silver wrapper instead of making cheese. Mum still made butter though, pale soft very creamy butter, like nothing you buy now. We had chooks for eggs and a cow for milk. Can I still remember how to milk a cow?
There was produce from the big vege garden in autumn too; heaps of tomatoes, zucchini, greens and potatoes. I actually liked Brussel sprouts and broad beans then: the fresh greens are so much nicer than the tough greens, lacking in taste, for shops in Melbourne. Here in the country I can get farmers market veges and they are often very good, though with some variation in quality. I’m planning my winter vege garden now, to go in the wicking beds once the tomatoes and zucchini have finished. Will planting Brussel sprouts lead to divorce? Husband suggests that it is a possibility if I cultivate Australia’s most hated vegetable! Maybe just grow some cabbage, broad beans, beetroot, carrots, leeks, parsnips, etc, etc. I can see the wicking beds overflowing again!