There is a delightful chill in the air. Our longest, hottest summer is drawing to an end and autumn is, I hope, finally here – if a little late. We moved to this house just a few months ago and, until this weekend, did almost nothing to the garden; we’ve been busy, and it’s been too damn hot. But at last we had no birthday parties or young children’s engagements and it was cool enough to potter. We grubbed out the dead shrubs that greeted us when we moved in; we dug out couch grass from the overgrown beds; we forked compost through the veggie patch and under the roses; and we picked zucchini and olives and the last of the figs.
Each of my three daughters had asked for their own garden bed, and so we also marked those areas out. I had put it off, ostensibly because of the heat, but really out of fear. You see, when I was a child I had a small garden bed. I planted gladioli (shudder) and, to my parents’ horror, a lemon scented gum tree. They had said I could plant whatever I wanted – but they certainly didn’t expect me to choose a tree which would grow 30 metres tall! And grow it did; after a few years of being munched down by caterpillars, it suddenly took off. On wet days, our yard was filled with the sweet fresh scent; that particular fragrance is still one of my favourite things.
A couple of years ago, I went back to visit that house. The new owners very graciously invited me in, gave me a cup of tea, and chatted all things house. The gum was gone, and I mentioned it. They told me they had removed it only recently, as it was starting to die. However, it had lasted a good thirty years and was truly enormous by the time the end came, and I felt very proud.
But with that in mind, I was reluctant to give my kids autonomy over any part of my garden. (Yes, it’s mine.) I didn’t want it overshadowed by another gum (we already have two) or, worse, an oak. So I asked my kids what they had in mind. My seven-year-old yelled ‘herbs!’ ‘What?’ I asked, a little taken aback. ‘You know,’ she said, sighing like I’m an idiot, ‘more parsley – we don’t have nearly enough – lots of different types of thyme, sage, marjoram, and whatever else I like…’ I reflected that whenever I look out of the window she’s munching on something green; more parsley would certainly be on her wish list. Relieved, I nodded and turned to the four-year-old. ‘What about you?’ I asked, ‘What would you want in your garden?’ ‘Poppies!’ she said, ‘and maybe some other flowers.’ And the nine-year-old? ‘Veggies, nothing else. Particularly carrots.’
Clearly my kids are weird; what other children want to plant a thyme garden and carrots? But I’m not complaining: no gladioli, no eucalyptus trees, no oaks – we can do that! And so we did: we (they) planted carrots, fennel, poppies, johnny-jump-ups, thyme (three types), marjoram, sage, dill, and salad greens. And some comfrey and wormwood for the chooks.
After all that industry, we needed a treat. We had a bowl heaped with the last of the figs. Some were green, and needed to be poached; but the ripe ones I turned into smoothies.
My kids are not overly fond of figs; they find the texture alarming. It’s too sensual for them. But like Lola, they can’t resist a pink drink! So I whizzed figs with bananas and almond meal, and a drizzle of honey to make it even sweeter and hey presto! pink drink. You can make it with any type of milk, or even yoghurt. If you use yoghurt, either reduce the ice, or be prepared to eat it with a spoon: it’s very thick as it is – almost like a thick shake, only without the sugar or pig fat. Figs not pigs, that’s what I say. Mmm-mmm.
Fig and Almond Smoothie (GF, DF, SF, V*)
- 4 fat black figs
Clean the figs and trim the stalks. Break up the banana. Throw the lot into your super-duper blender and whizz until you have a lovely smoothie. Share.
*Yeah, yeah, yeah: it’s gluten free, dairy free, sugar free, and vegetarian. You could omit the honey and make it vegan, if you want; throw in a pitted date for extra vegan sweetness.
(Backyard: figs. St Kilda: honey. Victoria: almonds. From afar: bananas, rice milk.)