Information about work, life and play in Regional Australia

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Australian Regional Food - Looking Back 2: The Home Garden

The home garden that used to be common in both city and country has been in sad decline, especially in city areas where density living and small block sizes make gardening more difficult. The gardening folk memories that we used to absorb from our parents have also declined.

While common in city and country, the home garden was especially important in regional areas simply because alternative supplies of fruit and vegetables were then not so readily available and could be expensive.

The CWA (Country Women's Association) cookery book puts it this way

"Home is not a Home without a garden. Plant one, and it will repay you.

Every wise housewife knows the value of the kitchen garden. It is a money saver, and a pleasure at all times. Nearly all vegetables are of easy culture. All soup vegetables should be grown at home. It is a great comfort to slip out and cut your own home requirements in your own back yard."

A reasonable size home garden could be quite a complex operation. Herbs - lavender, thyme, marjoram, mint, sage, parsley and rosemary were usually grown near the back door so that they could be easily picked for domestic purposes.

Further out were the vegetables grown in cycles depending on the growing season. Standard vegetables included onions, carrots, potatoes, peas and beans, sweet corn, pumpkins, lettuce, sometimes garlic although its use was then less common, cabbages, cauliflower, tomatoes, lettuce, silver beet, beetroot, parsnips and turnips. The compost heap could normally be found near the vegetable garden.

The garden nearly always included vines and fruit trees, with the mix varying depending on the climate. In the case of our home garden - a cool climate garden - there was the ubiquitous grape vine, three apricot trees, a rather superb plum tree, a fig tree, gooseberries, red and black currants, strawberries and raspberries.

Many gardens also contained a chook yard providing fresh eggs and the sometimes fowl for dinner. The manure from the yard was collected and used to fertilise the beds.

Then there were the flowers grown both for decoration and to supply cut flowers to the house.

The importance of the home garden, limitations in other supplies from outside the district, meant that the seasons were important.

As children we knew every fruit tree in the immediate area, knew when they were coming into fruit. No problem in getting children to eat fruit. Somehow fruit that we picked ourselves was just that much more satisfying.

The fruiting season for fruit and vegetables flowed into the bottling ritual. The bottles were sterilised, the fruit cooked, the tomato relish made, the jams created, providing a steady stream of produce for the rest of the year.

The exact mix of meals depended on what was available. Soups, stews and casseroles were common because these made best use of available produce. I still love the taste of fresh field mushrooms, of rich casserole sauce.

The standard meal was two courses, three for bigger meals. The main dish consisted of a meat dish presented in different ways usually with two to three vegetables. This was followed by a desert often of bottled fruit, sometimes with fresh cream. In some cases soup preceded the main meal.

There was great variety in home made soups. Some soups like chicken, often made from the remains of a bird previously killed, were relatively light, as were the broths served to invalids. Some soups were major meals in their own right served with crusty bread.

From a kid's perspective, one of the greatest things about the home garden was the way it provided trees to climb, places to hide, spots to dig in or to build camp fires.

We were expert in fires, how to start them in the best way, how to build fireplaces. Potatoes cooked in the ashes were eaten, charcoal and all, with butter with the melting butter running down fingers. Nostalgia!

No comments: