Alternative sunshines

"Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us, even in the leafless winter."  Mary Oliver

. . .

This morning’s walk through The Patch demands a little determination. As our part of the planet leans away from the sun, my feet are as leaden as the sky. Gone are the days of dancing with butterflies and dragonflies, of singing along with a hundred birds, of being teased and tanned by Tasmania’s summer sun. Instead a chill breeze blows, showers threaten, the track is muddy. And things are going to stay that way till spring. As if to reinforce this, a lone raven lets out a loud, forlorn yawn.

But if I feel gloomy about the real thing forsaking me, there’s some comfort in alternative forms of sunshine. On this grey morning, my eye is drawn to a stand of sunshine wattle, glowing like a lantern in the gloom. The botanical name of this humble native plant is Acacia terminalis, although it once bore the species name discolor. That earlier Latin name means “wattle of a different colour”, and it is certainly paler and less conspicuous than our more famous golden wattles. It’s also a great deal smaller than most, and is lucky to reach three metres in our bush. And it expresses its individuality by blossoming months before others of its genus.

Today its profuse, pale blooms stand out against the tree’s dark foliage, in defiance of winter. My mood lightens just being among them. So is it just coincidence that the distilled essence of this plant is alleged to have mood-lifting properties when used in aromatherapy? One company even extols its ability to promote optimism in those who have had a difficulty or are stuck in the past. I’m sceptical about that. But as winter deepens, if I find myself in need of a shot of optimism, I’ll know where to find it for free.

There are other forms of distilled sunshine up in The Patch. Our walk usually leads us past a few patches of blackberry. With winter here, the fruit is long gone. But we brighten up at the recollection of summer visits here to pick berries with our grandchildren. Of course we know that blackberry (Rubus fruticosus) is a scourge; officially a weed of national significance in Australia. Apart from being horribly prickly, it chokes up great swathes of bush; infests river banks; takes over otherwise productive land; and provides food and shelter for pest animals. On top of all that, it can grow very rapidly (50–80 mm a day), spreads easily, and is extremely difficult to eradicate.

But it’s a scourge with a sensational taste, surely one of the reasons some land owners are half-hearted about eradicating them. On this wintry morning I happily reminded that back in February we froze some of the berries for later use. What better way to stave off the winter blues than cooking and eating some of this summer sunshine? My only dilemma is whether to turn it into jam, or bake a blackberry and apple cobbler.  

Back in the warm house, I fetch the berries from the freezer. While they’re thawing, I check the pantry and find we still have plenty of summer jam left. Decision made, I get cooking, and in a little more than an hour, a delicious looking cobbler is cooling on a trivet. If we can wait that long, we’ll be eating it tonight beside that other wonderful form of alternative sunshine, our wood fire. If you’d like to enjoy your own bit of internal sunshine, here’s our recipe.

. . .


Blackberry and apple cobbler recipe

•  Preparation time: 35 minutes
•  Cooking time: 30 minutes
•  Makes: 1 large cobbler, 7-9 servings.

Ingredients

Berry mixture:

•  3 cups blackberries, rinsed clean
•  1 cup tart apple, peeled and cut into small pieces
•  1 cup tart apple, peeled and cut into small pieces

•  1/2 cup white sugar*
•  1 teaspoon lemon zest

•  1 Tbsp lemon juice
•  1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
•  1 1/2 Tbsp cornflour

Cobbler topping:

•  3 Tbsp sugar
•  
3 Tbsp sugar
•  1 cup plain flour
•  1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
•  1/4 teaspoon salt
•  4 Tbsp butter
•  1/4 cup milk
•  1 egg, lightly beaten

*Add less if your fruit is very ripe, or you prefer your cobbler less sweet.

Method

Put the blackberries, apple, sugar, lemon zest and juice, cinnamon and cornflour in a 20cm X 20cm baking dish. Stir to combine everything and make sure that the berries are all evenly coated with the sugar. Leave for 30 minutes or so till the berries ooze juice.

Preheat your oven to 175°C (350°F). Whisk together the flour, 3 tablespoons of the sugar, the baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Cut the butter into the flour mixture using fingers or a fork until it looks like coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center and stir in the milk and beaten egg. Mix together until the dough is just moistened.

Scoop up the dough in a large spoon, and drop spoonfuls roughly evenly over the berries in the baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes at 175°C, or until the berry mixture is bubbly and the topping is lightly browned.

Serve with natural yoghurt (or cream or ice-cream, if preferred).


Peter Grant lives in the foothills of kunanyi with his wife. He worked with the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service for 24 years as manager of interpretation and education. His passion for the natural world led him to write Habitat Garden (ABC Books) and found the Wildcare Tasmania Nature Writing Prize. More of his writing can be seen at naturescribe.com

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