You could say I was an early adopter in the garden-to-table stakes. My enthusiasm as a toddler for transforming my parents' budding garden was unrivalled (not that any of my creations were in any way edible). I would proudly arrive at the kitchen door with yet another "special pie" or "chocolate cake for Mummy", created with tiny flower buds and the occasional herb or vegetable leaf, combined with various amounts and saturations of soil. Recipes were in the making.
I can only imagine my mother's dismay at seeing her would-be posies for the house – hydrangeas, roses, anemones et al, dismembered in the hands of this bedraggled, muddy child, into an ugly brown gloop. Yet she never showed it, graciously taking my offerings and finding the means to proclaim some, not obviously visible, virtue.
The seeds of freedom were set, and by 14 I had my own organic vege plot, and was competing with my dad to see who could grow the biggest and best veges. I won the onion competition with nothing more than compost and horse poo, and on the strength of my win (a red onion that weighed well over a kilo), my father went out and bought a compost bin. Big win.
By the time I was 16, I was ready to eschew all the trappings of the capitalist western world. I left school and went to live with my boyfriend and another zealous anti-establishment friend up in the remote Whanganui River. We lived on the old marae at Ranana, built a one-acre vegetable garden and helped out in the community, cutting scrub, working on the local farms, clearing up old cemeteries and painting old marae.
We cooked over an open fire as we didn't have anything else – no electricity, no wood range and, for some months, no running water. Each day I would bake huge loaves of bread in the hot embers of a camp oven – the recipe came from the Tassajara bread book and is one I still use today. I learnt to preserve over the fire, transforming summer harvests of peaches, tomatoes, cucumbers, pears and apples into a line-up of smoky bottled preserves to see us through the winter.
To this day, the idea of living resourcefully holds sway – more, perhaps than ever. Right now, a parade of harvests is making its way through my kitchen – nectarines for breakfast preserves, apples for sauce, pears for chutney, tomatoes for relish and passata, and apricots for jam. This year my daughter Rose and her friend Michelle are the ones who are filling the larder with their delicious preserves. The torch has been passed from one generation to another.
This week's recipes are some of my favourite autumnal preserves. Even if you don't have a garden you can make the most of the harvests while they're cheap at the farmers markets and prepare for another cold winter ahead.
Kickstarter Chilli Paste
Ready in 30 mins
Makes about 1 cup
8 fresh or frozen long red chillies, coarsely chopped
8 cloves garlic, peeled
½ cup coarsely chopped fresh ginger
¼ cup neutral oil
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons or limes
½ cup water
2 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp soy sauce
½ tsp salt
ground black pepper, to taste
Puree chillies, garlic, ginger and oil to a paste in a food processor or mortar and pestle. Heat a heavy-based frypan or pot over medium heat. Add chilli paste and lemon or lime zest and cook, stirring now and then, until it starts to smell aromatic (about 5 minutes).
Add water and sugar and cook until it starts to stick and become pasty in texture and the oil has risen to the top (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat and stir through soy sauce, salt and pepper. Allow to cool. If not using at once, store in a jar in the fridge for up to 2 months.
Annabel says: With its heady mix of chillies, garlic and ginger, this spicy brew will transform any stew, sauce or stir-fry. It can be made with fresh or frozen chillies, but some chillies are hotter than others, so taste a little first and adjust the quantities to suit. The rule of thumb is usually: the smaller, the hotter.
Pear and Tamarind Chutney
Ready in 40 mins
Makes 2 jars
8 ripe pears, cored and finely diced
1 cup tamarind puree
1 cup soft brown sugar
2 Tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
4 tsp mustard seeds
½ tsp salt
Heat pears, tamarind puree, sugar, ginger, mustard seeds and salt in a pot. Simmer gently, stirring frequently to prevent sticking, until the sauce is thick and the pears are tender (about 30 minutes). Bottle while hot into sterilised jars and seal with sterilised screw-top lids.
Annabel says: With a jar of this chutney at hand you don't just get a spicy partner for cheese or a platter. For a fast track to the most fabulous curry, mix a few big spoonfuls with some coconut cream, chicken stock and a couple of chillies, pour it over browned chicken or duck and bake until tender and cooked through.
Ready in2 hours + standing
Makes about 5½ cups
2 kg ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 large onions, chopped
1 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp curry powder
1 Tbsp mustard powder
1 tsp chilli flakes (optional)
1 cup white wine or malt vinegar
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp cornflour
1 Tbsp cold water
Place tomatoes and onions in a non-corrosive stainless-steel or plastic container and sprinkle with salt. Leave to stand for at least 4 hours and up to 12 hours. Strain off and discard the liquid produced. Place drained tomatoes and onions in a large preserving pan with curry powder, mustard powder, chilli powder, if using, and vinegar. Bring to a boil and boil about 15 minutes. Stir in sugar until dissolved, then continue to boil gently for another 1 hour 15 minutes.
Mix cornflour to a paste with cold water. Stir into the boiling sauce until very slightly thickened (about 2 minutes). Remove from heat, pour into sterilised jars or bottles and seal with lids. Tomato Relish will last for months in sealed bottles or jars.
Annabel says: This relish is such an old-fashioned recipe but it's a favourite that I'd hate to be without. There's nothing quite like it with a cracker and a slice of tasty cheese.