Sunday, 1 November 2015

Wandering Through Gardens of Time


If you could time travel to the early to mid-1800s, what kind of things would you expect to find growing in their produce gardens and what kind food would you expect to eat?
In the What’s Cooking segment, this is exactly what we’re doing; time travelling back to early colonists days in Australia and having a peek at what happened in those kitchens and kitchen gardens.
Let’s find out by listening to the podcast;
I'm talking with Jacqui Newling, Gastronomer from Sydney Living Museums.

Would you have guessed that an alligator pear is an avocado?
Or that eggplants, tomatoes, artichokes and other heritage vegies were grown on a regular basis?
Tomatoes were initially not commonly grown but staples such as beans, potatoes and cabbages were the staples in most kitchen gardens.
Pickling and preserving were high on the cook’s to do list when all the produce comes ripe at once.
Salt and vinegar were the main preserving ingredients back then and unlike today, sugar wasn't used at all, the reason being sugar was expensive.
Pickling was in 100% vinegar, but they also used spices to make condiments like Brinjal pickles and Picalilli.
Fermenting vegies such as cabbage was common practise as was storing root vegetables in sand and keeping them in a cool environment such as a cellar.
Wealthier households that could afford sugar were able to make sweet jams and cordials.
Back then of course there was no global trade so once the tomatoes had finished for the season, the early colonists cook wouldn’t be able to get them unless they had been preserved.
If you have any questions about early colonists kitchen gardens or have some information you’d like to share, why not email or write in to 2RRR P.O. Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675.


This weeks Vegetable Hero is Roselle plant or botanically-Hibiscus sabdariffa. Being a hibiscus it belongs to the Malvaceae family of plants that mostly originate in tropical Africa. 
Roselle plants some say comes from India but others say Roselle comes from West Africa.
Roselle plant was originally introduced in Malaysia more than three 1,000 years ago.
Did you know that in 1892, there were 2 factories producing roselle jam in Queensland, Australia, and exporting considerable quantities to Europe. This was a short-lived enterprise not going much past 1909.
Roselle grows in a wide variety of climates because it’s very adaptable, possibly weedy even. 
It grows well in dry climates right through to tropical climates. The only drawback is that the growing season is 5 months, so you need to start this weekend.
Why grow Roselle plants?
Well the Roselle plant looks nice with its green leaves that have red stems and red veins and the flowers are deep red hibiscus like; but the fleshy red calyx-the part underneath the flower is excellent in making jams, sauces, cordials, in fact it’s the main ingredient in a herbal tea called Red Zinger.
Roselle seed is a little hard to find unless you look in seed saver networks, organic growers, certainly you’ll find them at organic markets where there is a seed stand.
Nurseries will have seedlings in late spring early summer if they carry unusual plants.
Seeds remain viable for a good long time but soak the small hard triangular seeds in warm water to help speed up germination.
Don’t drown them, just a saucer of water overnight will do.
Roselles need a very warm soil to germinate, preferably over 25°C.
In tropical areas, they sow the Roselle seed in early spring.
In the Northern Territory the seed is sown during the early wet season as Roselle is a short day-length plant and needs 12–12 ½ hours of daylight to flower.
In NSW areas and more southern areas of Australia this would be as late as October early November outside.
Some years the soil might take even longer to warm up.
So gardeners in cooler areas need to start seed indoors using a small bottom-heat unit, or the top of the water heater.
Cover the seed with 12mm of fine soil or seed raising mix.
tip:Roselle plants begin to crop when they’re 3 months old.
I’ve read that 3-4 plants will give you enough fruit to make jam or tea, but I’m not sure how much jam and tea that might be, so you could trial it with just a couple of plants because they take a bit of room.
Too much for the veggie garden so go for the flower bed or flower pot.
Now it grows to 1 ½ metres so a big pot will be good.
There is more than one flush of seed pods, but the trick is to remove the first flush because the second is much bigger and better..
You’ll now the Roselle bud is ready when they easily come away from the bush, usually 3 weeks after the flowers have finished when the pod is 2-3 cms across.

Keep them well watered but it must drain away reasonably quickly because Roselle plants are prone to root rot
Roselle plants are weedy in the Northern Territory and Western Australia-but aren’t a problem anywhere else.
If you are going to go for growing this plant, here’s a tip: When the fruits are about the size of a walnut, about 20 days after flowering, you need to separate the seeds from the inflated and ripened outer fleshy casings or the calyces- or fleshy part.
Roselle fruits are best prepared for use by washing, then making an incision around the tough base of the calyx below the bracts to free and remove it with the seed capsule attached.
The calyces are then ready to be used in jams or teas or whatever.
They may even be chopped and added to fruit salads.
Use an apple corer-from kitchen shops.
By the way the young shoots and leaves can be eaten raw or cooked as a vegetable.
To make Roselle tea-
The dried red calyx is used for tea and it is an important ingredient in the commercial Red Zinger, Hibiscus and Fruit teas.

The tea is very similar in flavour to rose hips and high in vitamin C. To make it, strip off the red calyx (the fleshy cover surrounding the seed pod) and dry it in a solar drier or a slow oven until crisp.
Only two small pieces are needed per cup.

Try mixing it with dried lemongrass or lemon verbena and dried organic orange peel for a wonderful herb tea that is also good chilled.
Why is it good for you? 
Roselle hips contain a very good source of Vitamin C, and is rich in Calcium and Magnesium. vitamin A, and amino acids.
Also Roselle is rich in anthocyanins , essential minerals and vitamins. 

Roselle is very low in Cholesterol and Sodium, and is a good source of Vitamin A, Vitamins B1 and B2, Niacin, Iron and Potassium.
Anthocyanins are water-soluble flavonoid pigments, which are responsible for the red, blue and purple colours in many fruits and vegetables.



Continuing with the series on best fit gardening.
Today we’re looking focal points in the garden?
Good garden design has some sort of focal point; something to draw our gaze instead of just randomly looking at a scene but not focussing on anything in particular.
Perhaps a focal point like the fountain in this picture?

Focal points are some plant, whether it’s a tree or a shrub a water feature or a statue, that draws the eye and gives the garden some sense of design.
How do you know what to choose, especially these days when we have smaller gardens?
Let’s find out; I'm talking with garden designer Peter Nixon from

The small trees mentioned were Plumeria pudica-the evergreen Frangipani, Synadenium grantii rubra or red south African mild bush; Alberta magna-the Natal Flame Bush for cool temperate to warm temperate regions or don’t go past the double flowering Crabapple-Malus ionensis plena.
If you have any questions about growing small trees for focal points or have a suggestion why not write in or email me at


Happy Wanderer: Native Sarsparilla: Hardenbergia violacea cultivars.
Pea flowers are very attractive and gardeners certainly love their sweet peas.
What about other times of the year?
Yes there’s the pea flowers on your vegie plants like peas and beans but they’re all the same and not that showy.
What you need is something that has lots and lots of flowers all over the bush or climber, so spectacular that everyone who visits wants to grow one themselves.
Let’s find out about them and the many different cultivars by listening to the podcast.. I'm talking with Karen Smith, editor and Jeremy Critchley owner of

There’s also Hardenbergia violacea Flat White™ and Carpet Royale™ which are fast growing, heavy flowering, shallow rooted plants with long trailing stems forming a dense mat, and unlike most other varieties of Hardenbergia will not climb allowing them to be used in a variety of positions in the garden.

They have large glossy leaves and are available in two different flower colours, white and mauve.

Once established, they have low water and maintenance requirements.Hardenbergia violacea Flat White and Carpet Royale are fast growing, heavy flowering, shallow rooted plants with long trailing stems forming a dense mat, and unlike most other varieties of Hardenbergia will not climb allowing them to be used in a variety of positions in the garden.
They have large glossy leaves and are available in two different flower colours, white and mauve. Once established, they have low water and maintenance requirements.
A full sun to part shade position is preferred in a wide range of soil types including clay or sand however these cultivars will grow best in an enriched well drained acid soil on a raised bed with a pH of 5.5 to 6.0.
They only have a low frost tolerance when young and can get significant leaf damage but will become hardier with age.

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