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23 Mar 2010 - 5:56 PM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2013 - 9:31 AM

Clear skies mean cool nights. I stepped outside last night to water where the lemon tree used to be and as usual was amazed by the stars. The lemon tree has long since been picked to death by the possums, and I only thought to net it when it had two leaves left. It died, though I still do my manly duty and water it each evening.

It’s a great excuse to potter about outside at the end of every evening. Overhead there’s usually a band of cream in the night sky; the milky way in all its glory. People in rural Australia, more so than in many other countries, get a joyous view of the stars. Unimpeded by city lights, or humidity, or the particulates that abound in the higher atmosphere in the northern hemisphere, the stars shimmer brightly. A full moon in Tasmania sheds enough light to walk around the property; no torch needed, none taken.

The cool nights mean the need to sort firewood has become more urgent. A neighbour gives us more than a tonne that will be perfect in the cooker. I’ve had the chainsaw serviced so I can cut up more dead wood from the property, though much is black wattle and burns a bit too hot and fast to use all the time. And now I have a wall of shame, where I write the names of all the firewood people who didn’t call back, or didn’t show up when they promised. When I ask around, being unreliable comes with the territory when you deliver firewood. Someone closer, richer, more likely to accept green or wet timber will get a delivery first. A newbie like me has to wait in turn.

My Rayburn cooker has sat idle since before Christmas. I’ve been eating salads and tomatoes and lots of fresh produce from the garden, lighter meals that don’t need slow cooking. But now I’m excited to fire it up again. It’s designed to stay alight, not be lit each mealtime, so when it’s going, it will be hot until spring.

I was thinking about the cooker when I was planning some of the meals I make. It’s useful for making bread – the rising and the baking. It’s good for keeping yoghurt warm enough to thicken. And it’ll be useful for butter when the nights get too chilly for the way I’m making it now.

I’ve been playing around with butter. At its heart, it’s just whipped cream that is over-whipped until it splits. But there are more complex ways to make it, too. I cultured some cream using a little homemade yoghurt and whipped it to produce a lightly soured, clean tasting butter that puts any commercial stuff to shame. I spoke to a local who told me to clot my cream, as they once did on the side of their cooker when she was a lass. The cream is scalded like this before whipping it and then pressing out the buttermilk. I clotted some cream yesterday, and ended up pouring the runny half of it over my porridge. The other half I whipped, though next time I will scoop off the crust first, a splendid caramel flavoured layer that makes the butter grainy, but tastes like the essence of cream.