December is approaching. Long days and good growing weather means plenty to do in the garden. It’s the unrivalled month of celebration. Not only do we have the longest day of the year – a big deal in the cycle of seasons, but the first raspberries and first good local strawberries surrender their red fruit. It also marks the beginning of the cherry season, which kicks off barely six weeks of cherry-red-stained bliss. The spuds will be plentiful. All these lovely treats just add to the colour of the most exciting summer event on Puggle Farm: Christmas.
Christmas in Tasmania has its own rituals. While north of us, most people gorge on prawns, they’re not commercially available here. Instead, we tend to enjoy the local catch, the Southern rock lobster. It’s a good time of year to dive for them, but I’ve never been successful, so I source mine from my fishmonger rather than the seabed. This year, we’ll have them again. I’ll plunge them in a pot of sweetened, dill-scented water and they need little more than some lemon mayo and buttered bread to satisfy the hordes.
As it’s a little cooler here, most Christmases, we try to light a fire of some sort to add to the atmosphere. Last year, it was a wood-fired oven, to bake a leg of gammon [similar to ham, but from a pig that’s specifically produced for bacon] in hay. This year, I’ll fire up the barbie to grill some whiting and maybe roast some capsicum for a warm potato salad. Christmas isn’t Christmas without ham, so we’ll bung one in the oven with some cider and oranges. To cool down after cooking, I’ll throw together some refreshing grapefruit drinks and keep rumbling stomachs at bay with some spiced nuts. The festive feast should always end with something sweet and as part of the pre-Christmas preparation, I’ll find the time to make some tartlets using those new strawberries.
It’s a moment of rest before the hay has to come in, the surplus fruit preserved and the New Year starts once again. As the month comes to a close, it’s a busy time in the valley, but with such long days, I can usually get out the fishing rod, even after dinner, to attempt to hook a flathead or two.
Photography by Alan Benson.
As seen in Feast magazine, December 2011, Issue 4. For more recipes and articles, pick up a copy of this month's Feast magazine or check out our great subscriptions offers here.