Thursday, February 19, 2015

Stink City

I've been in Sydney with my darling sister and her youngker the last two weeks, having abandoned Tim in Lalorland where he's kept Harriet and Bea Cat in the comfortable lapitude to which they've become accustomed.

I moved from Sydney to Melbo eight years ago, in February 2007. At the time I'd been appalled that despite Melbourne's being 900km closer to the Antarctic, its temperature that Summer was regularly 12ºC hotter than Sydney's. "At least it's not humid," people would say as north-west winds sucked at their eyeballs, and I was all like "Bah! Of course it's not humid! You've been in life-endangering drought for the last ten years. There hasn't been a cloud over this city for eighteen months." (Finally Autumn kicked in and everything was lovely, and then – some years later, after the apocalyptic fires of 2009 – the drought broke and everything was even lovelier.) 

But hanging in Synny for two weeks in February, the subtropicalliest month of Sydney's calendar, has made clear to me how much I've come round to the whole Mediterranean climate thingo that Melb's got going on. Because sweat behind the knees, actual puddles gathering in the crook of my arm, really not my thing.

The rainy warm wet warm rainy not-too-warm rainy clime makes for lush green rampant life. And it also makes for rampant abundant glorious multiple-generations-in-one-season fruit fly. Which is perhaps why Sydney is not full of backyard fruit while Melbers is.

Having said that, every day on the walk to my nieceling's school, I've been helping myself to a small handful of these ladies:

The lilly-pillies of loveliness! They're a bit Granny-Smithesque in their sweetness/tartness combo, juicy and abundant and apparently fruit-fly free. 

The lilly-pillies are in the Syzygium genus, part of the Myrtaceae family that includes the eucalypts, feijoas, and other fluffy-flowered indigines of the once and former Gondwanaland:

Much fancied by bees.

And there are these, my old friends the bunyas:

The cockatoos have been systematically dismantling the bunya cones, dropping half nibbled nuts for the brush turkeys of Turramurra to tidy up, and dropping the odd un-nibbled nut for me to gather.

Last year's Festival of Eating My Bodyweight in Bunya Nuts got old well before we'd actually eaten our bodyweights in bunya nuts. We gave bunya nuts to beekeepers and bunya nuts to people in pubs and bunya nuts to colleagues, and still we had bunya nuts. This year I've amassed no more than 12 of these little fellows, which I think may be close to the perfect quantity for a person who already lacks not the carbohydrates.

Finally, on the bounties of Sydney's wild life, check out (if you can) these teeny native stingless bees (Tetragonula carbonaria) living in a terracotta drainage pipe not two metres from the entrance to my niece's school. They're fond of the humidity and warmth, obvs., and thrive up north while they won't survive in Melbers.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Victorious Almondo!

Long suffering followers of these annals may recall that last year, on the brink of their first ever major almondification, my two almond trees were devastated by a tribe of brigands. This time round, thanks to a combination of my mother's generosity and my own spendthriftery, I secured a set of A-grade fancy-pants bird-exclusion nets for trees, which have done time on various stone-fruits as various stone-fruits approach peak parrot-attractiveness. And therefore, despite a few days of this –

– we are verily with almonds! Yes indeedio, the unprecedented joy of an almond glut (not that almond + glut makes any kind of sense).

Prunus dulcis "Nonpareil". Barely visible fossilised ammonite for scale (my pleasure).

Only the nuts on the Nonpareil almond are ripe; its friend, the Carmel, is biding its time, which means that what you see in the basket above is a mere half of our first proper almond harvest (insh'allah). The Nonpareil gets the full force of the Western sun, whereas the Carmel catches a patch of afternoon shadow, and it's to this that I attribute the variation in ripening time, although I do note, having consulted the University of California's pamphlet on "Harvesting and Storing Your Home Orchard's Nut Crop" (essential reading, a tour de force), that "depending on variety, almonds are ready for harvest between early August [that would be early February to me] to late September [i.e., March]". So it may be that all Carmels will prove slower than all Nonpareils.

Never having had much to do with almond harvesting before (thanks, cockies), I'm relying fairly heavily on the good almond commentators at the U of California. They advise that harvest "should begin when 95% of the nuts have hulls that have split open to expose the in-shell almond inside", although they also say that you can proceed when only 75% have split, to save your almonds from North American equivalents to the cockatoo, though frankly I don't think that would work with the cockatoos round here.

After harvest, I'm supposed to remove the hulls while watching Barnaby Joyce on last night's recording of Q and A. Gosh he's a weirdo.

And then the nuts in their shells need additional drying to prevent mold. In the midst of this drying process, which I have trusted to my Fowlers' Vacola Dehydrator, I'm meant to unshell a nut periodically and check whether it's dry and brittle. Once they are - dry and brittle - they're good for 8 months at room temperature, and longer if frozen. So, tra la!, almonds!