The working mum’s friend

Janet Hughes worked in Antarctica in 1985, doing research on materials conservation for preservation of historic sites. She was born in Sydney but studied in Canberra and, after meeting last week’s Kitchen Gardener, Rupert Summerson, here the couple were married in the Arctic as far north as a plane would take them, in Resolute Bay.

In their home garden in Barton, Hughes takes an experimental approach to ornamental and edible plants. A pair of cumquat or calamondin trees, reaching to the roofline of the house, delight Hughes with their bounteous crop and the heady perfume of the flowers. She has just radically pruned the five-year-old trees as they grow over a narrow path where a bicycle is wheeled and they create an arch of fruit.

Hughes has used the leaves in place of kaffir lime leaves in dishes and her latest culinary adventure is tartufi with glace cumquats in the centre. During our visit, she was making cumquat crumble, an idea that came from a burned batch when she made a failed attempt at her mother’s recipe for cumquat marmalade. A friend asked how she had caramelised the round fruit – Hughes forgot to stir the marmalade vigorously enough. The trick with the crumble is to use only a thin layer of cumquats, cooked with sugar, as they have such a strong flavour. The crumble is made by rubbing together 50 grams of butter and 250 grams of flour and half a cup of sugar to form a breadcrumb-like texture. Add crushed pistachio nuts.

Crumble, Hughes says, is the working mother’s friend and she uses their quinces in crumble but also in tagines. She makes a quince curd, which is an amazing pale pink and quince gelato which is fairly smooth and easily made without an ice-cream maker.

A background in chemistry makes Hughes particularly aware of the importance of nutrition, especially when the working parent must make food that is palatable and produced quickly.

The couple’s children like different kinds of food and two are keen on gardening. She has found that the young will eat greens and fresh vegetables more readily if they have been picked from the family’s own garden. For winter in the family’s vegetable garden there is self-sown rocket, varieties of lettuce, radicchio and silver beet purchased as seedlings from the garden stall at Kingston Bus Depot Markets. Aquadulce broad bean seeds, from Bellchambers Produce in Fyshwick, have been sown this month.

Mizuna, Asian greens, broccoli and snow peas are being raised from seedlings purchased at Pialligo Plant Farm. Hughes has made cylinders from plastic mesh which stand up and are held in place by a green Velcro tape that winds onto itself. These protect the young snow peas and, in summer, tomatoes from wind and from being eaten by possums.

On a trip to China in winter, Hughes and Summerson visited many gardens, some discovered through books on the plants of China written by Dr Peter Valder of Sydney. In Suzhou, there is a garden called ”Master of the Nets” and Hughes says she could well be called ”Mistress of the Nets” as she tries to protect a pair of young pistachio trees from currawongs. The male and female trees have attractive flowers and sculptural leaves. Also planted in the garden are a persimmon and a young pomegranate tree.

In 2009, a feijoa hedge was planted to surround the front garden. The 33 plants produced 20 kilograms of fruit this year but, again, the currawongs are a problem as they eat the flowers.

Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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