The quick and the dead

Images from this morning’s walk with Mouse.

The quick is the mangoes; a lavish crop of ‘commons’ in all the local trees, making a bid for immortality by fruiting well in harsh conditions. Also quick are the very early blossoms on the poincianas (aka Flamboyant Tree or Delonix regis), which normally flower for Christmas. All around the area, the trees are wearing enormous pompoms of brilliant scarlet flowers, almost as if they were waiting for an international convention of cheerleaders.

The dead is mostly everything else. Even the indestructible bougainvilleas have lost their green leaves, and the hot pink, purple and orange flowers are bursting forth on bare stems. Blossoms are falling everywhere, and any grass that isn’t irrigated is either brown and crispy, or already history.

On the upside, a little rain is forecast for the weekend. A couple of hours, not enough to restore the land, but it’ll make the fire danger just a little less. And a little more rain next week.

It had better be quick or there’ll be more dead.

Queensland Christmas bounty

We’re ready for Christmas, but went out this morning to get fresh milk, taking the scooter because we knew the place would be heaving with last minute shoppers.

On the way, we spotted an enterprising young man with a trailer full of boxes of enormous ripe mangoes. At $10 a box, it was too good to miss. We bought our milk, and then filled the rest of the scooter storage space with mangoes. For our $10 we got 12 huge fruit and 9 limes, thrown in for nothing in the festive spirit.

Christmas centrepieceWe picked out some that were green, to ripen slowly, some that were half ripe, and a few that were fully ripe, for sweet and sticky feasting over the next few days. I shall cut some up and freeze them in chunks for smoothies, purée others for desserts, but I suspect the vast majority of this seasonal bounty will be paired with sliced fresh banana and yoghurt for my breakfast. Meanwhile, it makes a pretty tropical Christmas centrepiece for my dining table, don’t you think? A change from holly wreaths and everything dusted with ‘snow’…

Scale shotLook at the size of these babies. That tape measure is opened out to 30cm/12 inches. The mango at bottom left is nearly 6 inches long, the one above it is even larger.

And there’s more fruity goodness on the way. The Dowager has a large stem of sugar bananas ripening in her garden at the first Chiconia, from the tree I planted two years ago. We’ll be getting half of them, as she can’t possibly eat a whole stem herself. My lemon tree is bearing despite its small size, and we should get a few from that. The mandarin tree that produced so enthusiastically earlier this year is at it again, with dozens of small green marble-sized fruit. Our two old mango trees at the back of the yard are bearing despite being distinctly scruffy and infested with green ants. There are at least 8 small fruit ripening, so if the birds, possums and fruit bats will stay off them, we may have home grown mangoes too.

Monsoon frontAnd last but not least, rain is on its way. There’s a large monsoon front slowly working its way south. At the beginning of the week, Cairns in the far north got a drenching,  it’s Townsville’s turn today, and by Friday or Saturday, we should see some of it here, which will be lovely. The grass will green up, the bare patches in the lawn will fill in and all the finger wide cracks all over the back yard will close up. Of course, it means we’ll actually have to mow the grass, but hey, that’s the price you pay.

I’m signing off for the next few days to spend time with family. I wish you all a happy and peaceful festive season, however you celebrate it.

Mangoes in winter

Mango and tomato season is almost upon us here in tropical north Queensland.

In Australia, canning/bottling is becoming increasingly rare except among the self-sufficiently minded and those who have a natural antipathy to long supply chains for our fresh foods. I’ve had a fairly clunky hot water bath canner for some years now, but it’s very primitive and I’m always a little uncertain about the results. No botulism yet, but there’s always a first time.

My new toy. Envisage rows of glistening preserves in green, orange and red...

My new toy. Envisage rows of glistening preserves
in green, orange and red…

So this year, I’ve bitten the bullet and ordered a large pressure canner from the US. You can’t get them here. You have to use a regular pressure cooker, which doesn’t give you the same control over temperature, or as much information about what pressures to use for what. And it arrived yesterday; it was sitting on our brand new doorstep under our brand new awning when I got home. Isn’t it beautiful? Tonight, I’m going to open the box and read all 78 pages of the handbook. And then, with great reluctance, I’ll have to put it away, because it’s using up a good third of our dining table. The next job will be finding it a home in our micro-kitchen…

In the next few weeks, mangoes and tomatoes will be in great abundance and very cheap. Bowen mangoes, the best in the world in my opinion, are grown a couple of hours up the highway, together with tomatoes and all kinds of other fresh fruit and vegetables. So I’ll be going up there to get a couple of boxes of each, and then the canning can begin. Mangoes with our breakfast cereal in winter… Tomato sauce at the pop of a lid, instead of having to be made from scratch. Jams, jellies, sauces, seasonal vegetables, brandied cherries and peaches. You get the picture. It will mean I have to also organise storage space for all the preserves, which is another story again.

Excuse me. I’m off to gloat over my pressure canner again.