Margaret's bountiful vegetable harvests, still lifes of suggestively-sized zucchini and huge, red-skinned potatoes, were carefully arranged on her gleaming kitchen sink at each inspection. They spoke of generosity and simplicity. None of the vegetables Margaret chose to grow were exotic, but what she did grow was wonderful. The promise of a 'large vegetable garden, big enough to supply a family of four' pretty much sold me on what was a far smaller block than we'd daydreamed of, but it was established and well-tended, things that, in the end, mattered more.
By the end of September we were technically settled. The wettest winter/spring for a good 20 years meant that the only gardening we could really attend to was the weeds - oy, the weeds - which, quite often, were waist-high. We worked diligently, got the right equipment, and rested our weary limbs whenever we could, flopped on the couch at the ridiculously early hour of 6pm watching Gardening Australia and Annabel Langbein's Free-Range Cook.
We finally got on top of things on Christmas Eve.
Then the rains came.
And they kept coming.
It's been The Summer That Wasn't.
Likewise, my summer vegetable patch wasn't, even though I corralled the wayward seed packets into some sort of order and thought, a lot, about what we should have been planting. Instead, we were kept inside, building fires to warm ourselves, or running out in gumboots to save the studio and garage from flooding.
And so, I've been watching the bounty of other gardeners efforts as they unfold this season with a keen, dreamy eye. Last week, a familiar, rambling plant was stretching itself brazenly across one of the compost heaps. I actually did a little dance right there, in front of the dog, for never have I been happier to see zucchini.
At the market last week, we talked zucchini fritters, and my friend reminded me of the Annabel Langbein ones I drooled about on one of those flopped-on-the-couch Saturday nights. They were excellent late last year - we made them often - and they were excellent again this weekend. The quantity of grated zucchini below is large for good reason; the zucchini melds with the batter, lightens the whole. Rather than eating a few vegetables suspended in a lot of batter, you get the sense of eating a lot of vegetable in a little batter, and that, as you've probably worked out by now, makes me a happy girl. And just in case you're thinking, hmm, corn stirred through this batter might be good, stop yourself right now. The kernels sink to the bottom and are far too chewy here - even if your corn is as beautiful as Mariana's.
Annabel Langbein's fritter batter
This batter is beautifully light because of the soda water, but it's also forgiving. Having only one egg, I chucked in a couple of tablespoons of buttermilk last night and by god, it worked. They were even lighter. On the telly, Langbein said the key to their success was squeezing as much liquid as possible from a large mound of grated zucchini. Squeeze with all your might. Make a face if need be; you want to get it really quite dry. Feeds 4 with other salads and such.
1 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder (make yer own)
1/2 - 1 tsp of salt
1/2 cup cold soda water (open a fresh bottle if you can)
Sift the dry ingredients into a roomy bowl. Whisk the eggs and soda water together, then pour into the dry ingredients and mix well.
To make zucchini fritters:
Grate 4 medium zucchinis into the centre of a clean, dry teatowel. Roll tightly and squeeze as much liquid as you can from them over the sink. Don't wuss out - really go for it. Mix into the above batter, adding lots of chopped mint and half a block or so of roughly crumbled feta.
Fry in a generous slick of peanut/rice bran oil in a hot pan, adjusting the heat as required. Flip when golden, cook the other side and drain on paper towels (or, better still, brown paper bags). Good with lemon and sour cream or plain yoghurt.
Cauliflower, mustard seeds and some well-chopped sundried toms in winter would be great.
Grated pumpkin when the zucchinis run out...you get the picture. Play.