Garston – A Place To Call Home

Overlooking the playground on the Green.

I’ve lived on a farm in Garston for 35+ years so that almost makes me a local. But my husband is truly Garston born and bred. His family were one of the first to settle in the valley when it was opened up to farmers in the 1860’s and the McNamees have been here ever since.

So for our family, the ties to Garston run very deep, and we’d find it pretty difficult to leave.

But what is it that makes this quiet country village so hard to beat?

Cycle Trail with distant mountains, looking north towards Garston.
The “Around the Mountains” cycle trail, heading North to Garston.

The View

Let’s begin with Garston’s location.

The village is set in the narrow Upper Mataura River Valley, and mountains range on either side, as far as the eye can see. Their beauty is different from the craggy splendour of Queenstown’s Remarkables range. Ours are “working” mountains; home to animals — farmed and wild —  rare bugs, mountain plants and above all, the golden tussocks which colour the landscape.

Above the village, hidden terraces slope in layers up to the foot of the mountains, and this is where our house can be found. When I step out of the back door for my daily walk there is not a soul to be seen. It’s just me, the birds and the sheep.

What a way to begin — or end —  a day.

A Tough Start

When Europeans first arrived they farmed the Upper Mataura Valley as one giant sheep station. But later on the area was divided into 200-acre sections and these were balloted out to small farmers and settlers.

And that’s where the modern history in Garston begins. Our family came from the lean pickings of the gold claims in the Skippers Valley to try their luck at farming. Others made money killing rabbits — a lucrative enough trade in those days to enable them to save enough to buy into a farm. Some came from family farms further north or south.

Life was pretty tough in those early days. The valley had very few trees back then and firewood was in short supply. The winters were brutal. There’s a famous tale of one long ago winter when the deep snow lasted for so long that the settlers had to use their carefully-hoarded fence posts for firewood just to survive.

Money was scarce too. The kids walked to school from farms dotted around the countryside whether they had shoes or not. My father-in-law used to say:

“We never minded stepping in a cow pat on the way to school —  at least it warmed our feet up.”

I still don’t know if he was joking or not.

Gold

There’s gold in them thar hills. Or at least there used to be.

Shortly after the settlers arrived gold was discovered in creeks and cracks all around, and life got busy as the gold miners flooded in. They came from all over the world to try their luck, set up camp for a while and livened up the area.

Eventually, the gold became too difficult to find, and the miners drifted away to try their luck elsewhere. They left reminders of their stay, with a little cluster of Chinese miners’ graves in the cemetery, and the great water races which they dug high in the mountains to supply water for the great sluice guns in the Nokomai Valley just beyond Garston.

Loving Reminders

Stone picnic table and seat in Garston.
The memorial picnic area north of the Garston Green.

John Newman

It’s easy to guess that Garston is proud of its history. One of the first things that stands out when you stop is the information booth, which was updated after much collaboration by local historians. And when you start to look around you’ll find caring memorials all over the Garston Green.

North of the shops is the picnic area dedicated to John Newman, a former owner of the Garston Hotel, who planted so many of the trees between Athol and Arrowtown. Take a stroll towards the tree-covered hillside nearby and you’ll find a gorgeous little walk called Newman’s Way which takes you up over the knoll to Garston School.

Newman's Way sign and path at Garston.
One of three entrances to Newman’s Way.

The Vital Rail Link

Further down the Green, you’ll find tributes to the time when the trains ran in Garston because when the railway opened in 1878 it was a huge boon to the area.

In those days before sealed roads, fast cars and huge articulated trucks, trains were the best and fastest way to travel the long distance between the “big smoke” of Invercargill in the South and Kingston — the gateway to Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown — in the North.

Farmers transported stock in and out of the valley by rail right up until the early 1970s.

Close up of a man guiding sheep onto a railway wagon.
Loading sheep onto the train at the Nokomai Siding, 1968.   Photo courtesy of Pam and Peter Naylor.

Even when trucks took over the job, the famous Kingston Flyer steam train ran through Garston as a tourist attraction until 1979, when floods damaged the railway tracks so badly that the whole line closed.


Garston doesn’t forget, though. On the Green, you’ll find tracks, trucks and a display of antique jiggers. There, too, is a loving memorial to Russell Glendinning, a towering figure in local railway lore.

The Russell Glendinning Memorial Seat.
Russell Glendinning was a hugely popular, expert train driver. He drove the Kingston Flyer on her last-ever trip through Garston.

Peter Rabbit’s Village

Peter Rabbit’s House has been a special secret in Garston for a long time now. It’s a bit of a  mystery; who did put out that little clothesline and Peter Rabbit sign next to the rabbit hole? Whoever it was, I hope they know how their whimsy brought smiles, and that gradually other, secret “rabbit paraphernalia” appeared.

Tiny clothesline and outhouse in Peter Rabbit's Garston village.
Some of the original pieces in Peter’s village.

Eventually, someone added a diary, and visitors started leaving Peter little notes.

The House expanded in 2017 when the Garston School children decided that Peter needed company, and made a whole replica gold-mining era village.

No one will tell you whereabouts Peter Rabbit’s Village is in Garston. To this day it’s still a delightful surprise to discover for yourself.

The River

Winding through the valley, the Mataura River is world renowned for its trout. People come from all over the globe to try their luck in the cool, clear waters during the fly-fishing season. Some eat their catch or mount it to sit proudly on a wall.

But others are simply there for the love of the fish and the sport. Those intrepid fishermen are found in the tricky “catch and release” sections of the river. Some of the fish there are huge — and wily — having been caught and released more than once over the years.

My favourite river memories are set in the 1990’s. Baking summer days, at the stony beach under the old railway bridge where all the local mums and kids gathered to cool off.

The children floated down the river on giant old inner-tubes from their dads’ tractors, jumped off the rocks and ate enormous afternoon teas. The bravest of them hung over the rail of the towering bridge above.

“Watch me! Watch me!” they’d yell and then leap down into the deepest pool below.

Stretch Your Legs In Garston…

Nowadays Garston is moving on and looking outwards.

Travellers stream through on their way to the glories of Milford Sound or Queenstown and many of them stop at the Garston Green for a welcome break.

Kids race to recover from their long journeys on the playground. Adults discover the delights of  The Coffee Bomb, Craft Keepers and The Hunny Shop.

…Or Stay A While

But some opt for more than a quick stop.

Fishermen, bikers, hikers and those who just want a slice of rural peace and quiet, can all find a bed at the Garston Hotel or at one of the lovely B&Bs dotted around the district.

There’s no denying that living in the country has its challenges. Farmers tend to work the daylight hours: short in winter, long in summer. And of course, in the spring lambing and autumn harvest seasons, work can continue well after dark.

And almost every trip requires a car: we’re simply too far from everywhere to walk.

But despite that, Garston is a special place to be. Friendships run deep and beauty surrounds us every time we step out the door.

I am lucky to call this little slice of New Zealand home.

Frontage of the Garston Information Booth at the Garston Green.

B&Bs in Garston:

The Red Shed

Southern Venues High Country Farmstay

The Naylor House

Menlove Homestay

Castle Hill Lodge

Anakawa

Meadowbank

P.S.

Eventually, I plan to have many more profiles of the enterprising people who live and work in Garston, Athol, Kingston and beyond.

If you (or someone you know) would like to feature on Time of my Life I’d love to hear from you.

Please contact me through the contact form below or message me through Time of my Life’s Facebook page.

If you live further afield in the South and feel your story would be a good fit for Time of my Life, I’m happy to help. Contact me to arrange a time to connect.

In Defence Of Vanilla

Dried Vanilla Beans on a plate.

Vanilla Doesn’t Deserve Its Bland Image

Last week I listened to a podcast.

It had nothing to do with vanilla — in fact, it was about a blogger who changed her rather bland writing into a vivid and personable style, thus attracting more readers.

But afterwards, the host commented that the writer’s former style was a bit vanilla.”

And I thought:

“Whoa! How did vanilla get such a bad rap?

Why do we describe things that are bland or boring as “vanilla’?

Because let me tell you, I’ve been finding out about vanilla lately and there’s NOTHING bland and boring about the world’s second-most expensive spice.

Difficult To Grow

For a start, it is an amazingly tricky crop to grow. It originally came from Mexico, where in the wild it will grow from seed. But that is a hit-and-miss affair so farmers grow the vine from a cutting.

Vanilla comes from the orchid family and has a difficult-to-pollinate flower that, it turns out, is pollinated in the wild by hummingbirds and the Mexican Melipona bee. Actually, even this fact is more of a theory. To be honest no one seems to know for sure exactly what insect pollinates the plant. To add to that, each flower only lives for one day and is fertile for just 8-12 hours of that time. So, whatever insect does the job, it has to be really on the ball.

But in other vanilla-farming countries — spread through tropical parts of Asia, Africa and the Pacific — the only way to pollinate is by hand.

Fortunately, the flowers are hermaphrodites (male and female)  so each flower can fertilize itself. Unfortunately, there’s a delicate membrane between the anther (male, pollen-producing part) and stigma (female, germinating part).

So you have to insert a small, sharp stick into the flower, lift the membrane, then rub the anther and stigma together without damaging any of the delicate flower parts. It’s a very labour intensive process.

So Much Time And Work

Nine months later the long, thin pods are fully grown and the tips begin to turn yellow. This is the sign they are ready for harvesting. Farmers now have to move fast. Once picked, the crop will deteriorate and go mouldy very quickly.

The freshly harvested green pods have nothing of the flavour and aroma we associate with vanilla. That comes a whole year later after the pods have been “killed”, sweated, dried and conditioned.

Most farmers don’t have the resources to process their own crop, so they sell to middlemen who supply the raw vanilla to big processing factories.

Farming Can Be Dangerous

Madagascar is the world’s leading producer of vanilla. It’s a big business there and that brings some dangerous problems.

All of a sudden it seems that the world can’t get enough of the stuff and that demand, coupled with short supply caused by cyclone damage to the crops, is causing some real headaches.

Theft is a major issue.

Vanilla thieves can strike in the middle of the night and decimate a farmer’s entire yearly income. So the farmers of Madagascar have taken to patrolling their ripening crops for up to 3 months of the year in a bid to protect them. It’s a dangerous job and people have been killed in the process.

Expensive Environmental Problem

But even worse, in my opinion, is the environmental damage that’s occurring as more of Madagascar’s precious and irreplaceable rainforest is cleared to make way for more vanilla farms.

It’s hard to blame the farmers. People have to feed their families, but where does it end? This is only one in a long line of lucrative crops that have motivated people to decimate the world’s vital landscapes.

We are all paying the price for that.

Vanilla Closer To Home 

In New Zealand, we are lucky enough to have access to sustainably grown vanilla sourced much closer to home. In fact, several South Pacific countries are now growing the precious plant. These are lead by Tonga, which started growing the crop in 2001 after a devastating cyclone wiped out many local businesses and infrastructure.

Heilala Vanilla began as a partnership between a kiwi family who wanted to help Tonga get back on its feet and a local farming family in Utungake. They produced their first, small harvest in 2005. Now they are not only providing employment and stability in Tonga but they are also mentoring groups in Samoa, Fiji and the Cook Islands to do the same.

After all this, you might be wondering how we actually use vanilla. Why is it worth going to all this trouble for?  

Some Uses

Vanilla is primarily used in cooking as a flavouring. The Aztecs used it in conjunction with cacao to produce a rich, chocolaty drink, and this was how it was first used when it came to Europe and England.

Many recipes, both sweet and savoury,  call for vanilla. In some it’s the hero — have you ever tried real vanilla ice cream? In other dishes, it complements and enhances all the other flavours, so that without it the meal falls a little flat.

My Recipes has some interesting dishes on their website.

It’s also an essential ingredient in some perfumes, cola drinks, and lends its aroma to candles, cigars, liqueurs… Turns out the world has many uses for the precious vanilla pod (or bean as it’s sometimes known.)

Vanilla and ice cream served with raspberries.

Not All Vanilla Is The Real Deal

Now I bet you’ve had vanilla ice cream many times in your life. You know, those favourite Kiwi brands like TipTop, Deep South, Pams … they all have it.

“Plain ice cream” we called it when I was a kid, and we ate it with hot puddings or fruit desserts.

Oh-oh. It turns out that “plain ice cream” is an excellent description for those —  and other cheap ice cream brands — because there is not actually a skerrick of real vanilla to be found in any of them.

In fact, I’m willing to bet that any cheap vanilla product you buy contains imitation vanilla, which is made synthetically and comes a far distant second in flavour and aroma in comparison to the real thing.

Real Vanilla Is Expensive

If you want real vanilla, be prepared to pay for it. Premium ice cream brands — yes, the ones I checked use actual vanilla beans.

Vanilla Essence — if it’s cheap, it’s imitation. Look for the words “real vanilla”, “seeds” and “alcohol” on the label if you want to buy genuine vanilla.

Vanilla paste is another alternative and I’ve noticed that many of my healthier baking recipes call for that. Some recipes use actual vanilla beans and seeds. Now that I know so much more, I might even try that too.

For now, I’ll stick to the essence though. It still costs me a small fortune each time I buy a new bottle, but after discovering just some of the amazing story behind vanilla, it’s a price I’m willing to pay.

P.S. — There’s No Vanilla Farming In Garston

After learning so much about the trials, tribulations and joys of vanilla farming, I’m slightly relieved that our grain crops and are somewhat easier, and certainly less dangerous to grow.

Our hops are less labour-intensive to harvest and process, and I still have time to gather the wild foods that grow around our farm.

Thanks to all the hard-working farmers who feed the world.

Sources for this article include:

factsanddetails.com

Fighting the Vanilla Thieves

Wikipedia

And the podcast comment that triggered this post came from one of my favourite podcasters Darren Rowse over at ProBlogger

 

10 Tips For Success When Using Your Bread Maker

Bread maker machines are advertised as easy to use — and they are, once you get to know them. But your first results can be disappointingly deflating. Small, dense and under-cooked loaves are often a problem for new machine owners. You can, of course, go with a bread mix, which has all the ingredients in one bag. Just add yeast and water and you’re ready to go.

But if you’d rather start from scratch, here are ten tips to make sure your loaves are the best every single time.

Flour

Use high grade flour

In some countries, you can buy “bread flour” which has an even higher gluten content (12-14%) but New Zealand’s high grade usually works well enough.

You’ll have noticed many different types of flour on the supermarket shelves, and each is best-suited to a particular use. In New Zealand, high-grade flour is the best for bread making because it has the higher gluten content (11%) needed for elasticity in the dough. Standard flour has a lower gluten content and bread simply won’t rise as well if you use it.

Warm The Flour

It’s a good idea to make sure the flour is at least room temperature before it goes into the bread maker. My flour lives in the pantry, so in winter I make sure I bring it inside for a while before I need to get started. I often pop the bag down by the fire if I need it to warm up in a hurry.

Measure The Flour Correctly

Bread maker recipes will give you two ways to measure: cups and weight. Using a set of scales will give you a consistently accurate amount of flour each time. The amount of flour in a cupful can vary quite considerably, depending on whether you heap it or not. Some people pour the flour into the cup, others scoop it out of the flour bin. Each method will result in a slightly different amount of flour in the cup.

Be Generous Measuring Other Ingredients

The standard ingredients for an ordinary loaf of bread are flour, sugar, salt, oil, milk powder and yeast. I find that the amounts stated in the recipe in my bread maker book are a bit small. The amounts I use for a loaf made from 450g (1lb) of high-grade flour are:

  • 1 ½ tbsp olive or rice bran oil
  • 1 ½ tbsp milk powder (1 ½ tbsp of liquid milk works too)
  • 2 tbsp sugar (white sugar or coconut sugar both work well)
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • Yeast (see below)

Tbsp = tablespoon (15 ml in NZ)        Tsp = teaspoon (5 ml)

Your machine is probably not made in New Zealand, and the measurements given in its recipe book may be using Australian or US tablespoons, which are actually a different size to NZ ones. An Aussie tablespoon, for example, is 20 ml whereas a NZ one is only 15 ml.

To be on the safe side, I use the largest tablespoon in my set which is actually NZ1½ tbsp.

Warm Water Is Important

Use water that is warm to the touch but not hot. Water that is too hot will kill the yeast, but cold water will take too long to activate it, and your bread is less likely to rise properly.

Yeast

Use a Yeast With Added Improvers

In New Zealand, you need to add flour improvers to your mix, because of the comparatively low protein/gluten content in our flour (even high grade.) The easiest way to do this is to use a yeast with improvers already added.

I use Edmonds Surebake Yeast — look for the jars with red tops in the baking aisle — but I have seen at least one other brand which also offered a yeast+improver option.

3 tsp is a good amount to add.

Breadmaker recipes vary as to the amount of yeast to use. Some will break it down into a yeast measurement and an improver measurement.

I’ve experimented with amounts over the years, and have found that 3 tsp of Surebake Yeast has given a well-risen loaf every time.

Check the date on the yeast jar.

If you’ve done everything else correctly and the bread still doesn’t rise properly, check the date on the yeast jar. If it’s a long way past the “best before” date then stale yeast could be the problem.

Add the ingredients in the order listed for your bread maker.

Your bread maker machine recipe book will have a list of ingredients and the order you should put them into the bread pan. Some start with the water, and add the flour and yeast last. Others list the yeast first. It’s probably best to add them in the order recommended for your machine.

Check the crust setting

Not all bread maker machines have a crust setting. If yours does, experiment with the setting that works best for you. On my machine, dark is the best option to use.

Yum — Fresh Bread

Bowl of soup with a slice of bread fresh from the bread maker.
Soup and fresh, homemade bread is such a treat, especially in winter. I often put a big pot of homemade soup on the slow-burning wood burner and let it cook all night. Next morning I pop bread ingredients into the bread maker and hey presto! By lunchtime, we have a delicious meal ready to eat.

I’ve made many mistakes with my bread over the years, but if a loaf doesn’t rise properly then it’s usually because I haven’t followed my own tips.

Farm Recipes on Time of my Life

Food is such a part of farming culture. The first thing you’re likely to hear when you walk into our house is “have a cuppa.” 

Apart from fresh bread, I’ve got some go-to recipes for keeping my farmer and guests well fed. Cheese scones are another perfect accompaniment to soup, or a quick snack to whip up when your farmer suddenly turns up with guests in tow.

Winter Memories: Feeding Out On The Farm

Highland cattle eating hay

Highland cattle eating hay
Our pet highland cattle love their hay. Photo courtesy of Jenny McNamee.

Winter is an interesting season on the farm. It gets cold down here in the South. Not frigid like Siberia, or Alaska of course, but chilly by New Zealand standards. The grass doesn’t grow much in winter and feeding out takes up a big part of the farmer’s day. Of course, it wasn’t always as easy as it is today.

These days Terry can handle the feeding out by himself. The tractor. a feed-out machine and our new, automated grain bin are all he needs to be a one-man-band. But it hasn’t always been that way.

The Bales Were Smaller Back Then

When I first came to the farm, feeding out was a two-person job. Instead of the mammoth-sized round bales of today, we used to make the hay in rectangular bales tied with twine. These were small enough for one person to lift by hand.

We kept the hay dry in big barns which were dotted around the farm. There was an art to stacking it — the bales had to be interlocked so that the whole stack felt solid and wasn’t in danger of falling apart while you climbed on it.

Small hay bales stacked in a hay barn
Small hay bales in a hay barn. Photo courtesy of Pam and Peter Naylor.

Loading The Hay

Every day we would drive the red Land Rover truck up to a hay barn and load the hay onto its flat deck. Once again, we had to carefully interlock the bales as we stacked them — often higher than the cab. It was quite easy to lose your footing and fall off the back as the truck bounced along. Having a heap of bales tumble on top of you made the fall much worse.

I learned that the hard way one day when the hay, two kids and I all came off the deck. Fortunately, it happened in slow motion and no one was hurt. I was much more careful with my hay-stacking-technique after that.

 

Farm truck stacked with small bales, surrounded by sheep.
Farm truck stacked with small bales, surrounded by sheep waiting anxiously for feeding out to begin. Photo courtesy of Pam and Peter Naylor.

Feeding Out 

Once the bales were loaded, we would set off to feed a mob of sheep. One of us drove, while the other balanced precariously on top of the hay bales ready to feed the sheep. The job wasn’t too difficult.

First, you cut the string of the hindmost bale with a sharp pocket knife then tossed wads of hay out to the milling sheep below. Usually, it easily separated into sections and wasn’t hard to throw down.

As soon as the first bale was gone, you cut the strings of the second one, stuck the open knife in the bale behind so it didn’t get lost, and started throwing hay again.

There was an art to it of course:

  1. Cut the strings just after the knot and hold the knotted ends in your left hand.
  2. Feed out with your right hand.
  3. When all the bales are gone, knot the strings together in a tidy loop as you nonchalantly balance on the empty deck, while the truck heads for the gate.

Freezing Fingers and Toes

Once out of the paddock, we jumped off the deck and shut the gate with freezing fingers. It was a relief to hop into the warm cab while the truck returned to the shed to pick up the next load.

It was difficult to find the best gloves for the job. Certainly, thick, sturdy ones were no good. I couldn’t handle the knife if the gloves were too thick. However, woollen gloves quickly wore out, and I went through several pairs each winter. Even the holey ones were better than nothing, but they did get soaked when you fed out in the rain.  

Oh yes, this wasn’t a fine-weather job. Just like the postman, we were out in all weather. It didn’t matter if it was raining, snowing or just a hard frost, the sheep had to be fed.

Close up of sheep eating lucerne bale.
Ewes eating some lucerne (a nutritious alternative to grass hay.) Photo Lyn McNamee

Adding In The Grain

In July we added grain to the feeding out routine.

The grain bin was a huge, heavy affair, with two compartments. The grain poured into it through a tricky-to-start augur in the grain silo. Fortunately, it held enough barley or oats to feed several mobs of sheep before having to be refilled, so you only had to do that once a day.

One person could manage on his own, but it was a precarious and dangerous task. It was much safer to feed the grain with two people on the job.

The Driver…

Terry usually drove the truck, slowly towing the bin around the paddock at exactly the right speed. He had to be especially careful only to drive on firm ground. Parts of the paddocks got very wet over winter, and it paid to know which bits were safe to drive on, and which parts would get you bogged.

And She Who Ran Behind

My job was to open the slot at the bottom of the bin so that the grain fell onto the ground. I would pull a handle sticking out from the bottom end of the bin, and the whole slot would open. Then I either trotted behind the truck and bin or leapt up onto the towbar and rode until it was time to close things down.

This was easier said than done. Sheep love grain even more than hay, and they mobbed the bin well before we even started feeding it out. I had to carefully check the flow of grain too. There had to be consistent flow so that each sheep got the right amount to eat.

That depended on how fast the truck was moving and how far I had managed to open the slot. Sometimes the grain was sticky and I had to climb on top of the bin (while it was still moving) and poke it down the hole.

The Hardest Part Came Last

When enough grain had been fed, it was time to shut off the flow. The opening was easy enough because I just grabbed the hooked handle and let the truck’s momentum pull it open. However, closing the slot was more difficult.

The truck couldn’t stop when the bin was open because the grain would pile out. So I had to run behind on the slippery ground, bend down low and push the stiff handle back in. I usually carried a heavy spanner with me because it was much easier to give the lever a hearty whack and close it that way.

I Get To Drive…

Sometimes I was allocated the driving role. This was tricky too. The sheep mobbed front of the truck too and were in grave danger of being run over. I wasn’t allowed to drive too fast, but too slow was just as bad. If I misjudged the speed the farmer would yell!

Then there was the problem of knowing exactly where in the paddock it was safe to drive the truck. Sometimes the ground looked firm enough, but in reality, a bog lay underneath just waiting for me to fall into its trap.

Trailer wheel stuck in the mud,.
Oh dear! Photo Lyn McNamee

…But Not For Long

Etched forever in my mind, is the day I got the bin stuck not once, not twice, but three times in the same paddock, right outside my brother-in-law’s house. Terry had to pull the truck and bin out each time with the tractor, much to the delight of my audience of three little boys. I learned a few unrepeatable words that day, and exactly where the wet spots were in that particular paddock.

Red Land Rover, hay bale and grain bin.
Our red Land Rover, complete with hay and grain bin, one snowy winter’s day. Photo courtesy of Trevor Baker.

Big Round Bales

Eventually, modern times caught up with us on the farm. We bought a new baler which made big round bales (actually cylindrical in shape.) However we didn’t buy a feed-out machine for another two years, so to feed out we had to unwind the bales by hand.

Loading the round bales was much quicker — the tractor did all the work. But feeding out the hay required a whole new technique.

The bale fitted exactly onto the Land Rover’s deck, which left a toe-hold in each corner for me. I clambered round and round, peeling off swathes of hay, clinging spider-like to the ever-decreasing bale. It’s a wonder I didn’t fall off every single day, but my balance must have improved because I stayed on most of the time.

Moving With The Times

Feeding out changed forever when we bought a brand-new feed-out machine. Now one farmer could handle the whole job alone.

Feeding out was tougher 35 years ago, but for a new-to-the-job farmer’s wife, it was a lot of fun too. I was sad, in a way, to see my role go, but there’s no denying that the whole process is much easier now.

Highland Cattle image is courtesy of Jenny McNamee, of Postcard Puzzles.

How To Make Perfect Cheese Scones

Cheese scones on a plate

Making a Savoury Cheese Scone

My daughters believe that I’ve always been able to make perfect cheese scones. When visitors arrive unexpectedly, or the family congregates, it’s no trouble to whip up a batch of scones and bring them out golden hot.

But, in reality, my road to the perfect cheese scone has been a long one. It started back in 1980 after a “bake off” with my boyfriend. At the time scones were the one thing I actually knew how to make. So when Neill showed me his scone recipe — which was very different from the one I used —  I was somewhat scathing about it. I distinctly recall saying “that’ll never work.”

Naturally he challenged me to a scone baking contest. He cooked every day. I could barely boil an egg. In hindsight, I don’t know what I was thinking. Of course he won the contest, hands down. His scones were light, moist and HUGE. Mine were tiny and tasteless. Oh no! I buried the remnants of my pride and wrote down his recipe.

Since then, I’ve made countless batches of scones. And I’ve given out that same recipe to many, including my daughters. For some reason the results never seem to work out quite as well for anyone else. Last month, I finally realised why…

I don’t actually use that recipe to make my cheese scones.

Over the years I’ve slowly changed it to fit my somewhat haphazard cooking style. It’s similar, but with important differences. Oops!

So here — with apologies to Steph, Debbie and Jenny for not realising the truth earlier — is the ACTUAL recipe that I now use for making light and delicious, perfect cheese scones.

scones, cooked, in the oven

Lyn’s Perfect Cheese Scones

2 heaped cups of plain flour         

4 heaped tsp baking powder

2 cups tasty cheddar cheese (shredded)    

1 egg

1 dessert spoon sugar

50g butter (melted)                        

Approximately 1 cup milk*               

pinch salt

*You may need a little more milk than this, depending on how much you’ve heaped the cups of flour.

What to do:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C.  I use fan bake.
  2. Combine flour, baking powder, salt and cheese into a large bowl.
  3. Make a well in the dry ingredients. (A well is like a hollow or depression.)
  4. Mix egg and sugar in a cup and pour into the well. Don’t mix it in yet.
  5. Melt the butter and add it to the well. Still don’t mix.
  6. Pour 1 cup of milk into the well. Now you get to mix.
  7. Use a spurtle (see Tip No. 1) to combine the ingredients so they form quite a sticky dough (see Tip No. 3). Add more milk if necessary. 
  8. Turn out onto a floured surface and gently squeeze the mixture  with both hands to further combine. (See Tip No. 4)
  9. Press, roll and pat with your hands until you’ve formed a long, fat rectangle.Raw scone dough
  10. Cut in half lengthways, and then cut each half into 6 pieces. Place the 12 scones onto a metal baking sheet, slightly separated. They shouldn’t stick to the tray.

Bake at 200°C for 13-15 minutes. Makes 12

Notes:

Perfect cheese scones are best served warm, with your favourite toppings. I like lashings of butter. Others prefer to add jam; my Farmer always tops his with honey. Some of the family love to add slices of tomato and ham, and —  if you’re in New Zealand — you can always add some Vegemite. (A special savoury topping, loved by New Zealanders and Australians.)

These scones will keep for a day in an airtight container, or can be frozen up to 3 months. You can refresh them in the microwave, wrapped in a dry paper towel.

Five Tips to Make You a Scone Expert

4 essentials for making scones: cheese, heaped cup of flour, an egg and a spurtle.

# Tip 1 — Use a spurtle to mix your scones.

A scone mixture shouldn’t be stirred. Instead you pull a spurtle through the mixture, almost as if you’re cutting it. As you cut, turn it over to mix. Stop mixing as soon as the dough comes together.

If you don’t have a spurtle, a blunt knife is the next best option.

# Tip 2 — Be generous with your measurements.                              

Scones respond well to generosity. My cupfuls look like mini flour mountains.

# Tip 3 — The dough should be somewhat sticky and moist.  

It should still be dough-like, but dry dough equals dry scones. It’s better to make it slightly too wet than too dry. You can always add more flour to the board when you tip the mixture out, to counteract any excess stickiness.

# Tip 4 — Don’t over-mix the dough.

As soon as it comes together, turn it out onto a floured surface. Squeeze and pat it with your hands until it forms into a long, fat sausage. The less you have to handle it the better. Having said that, over-mixing is not a catastrophic mistake. The scones will still taste great but might not be quite as light.

# Tip 5 — Practice makes perfect.

The more you make these, the better they—and you— will get.

Thanks are due

To Jessica, from A Taste For Living   who taught me a lot about recipe writing while we edited this together.

Collaborating in real-time on Google Docs was an experience we both had fun with.
Cheers, Jess.

Autumn or Fall

Yellow leaves frame a boat marina at Lake Te Anau.

A Breathtaking Season By Any Name

Autumn: It conjures colours in my mind. Deep reds, brilliant oranges and bright yellow; vivid hillsides or fiery avenues; these are the scenes that await in the South Island during March, April and May. Time to bring out the camera or the paint brushes. How to capture so much splendour?

Fall — the American name —  brings a later time to mind. Leaves gently floating, one following the other. Or a windy night, followed by a red-gold and brown crunchy carpet — all the leaves downed at once. This is playtime: children shouting, laughing, scuffing through the leaves and building great heaps to leap into and to toss in the air.

Autumn Down Under

In the Southern Hemisphere everything seems topsy-turvey to those from northern parts. When we have winter — you have summer; we’re in daylight — you’re in night. Ideally, Our houses face north, if they can,  because southerly weather in New Zealand comes from Antarctica and it’s COLD.

You might think that being such a small country our climate would be the same throughout, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Living here in Garston we are closer to the South Pole than to the equator, and the weather is quite different to that of New Zealand’s northerly provinces. So are the seasons.

New Zealand native trees are mostly evergreen so their colour comes from beautiful flowers and berries. But our English pioneers missed the trees of home and planted many, many deciduous trees, especially in the South Island where they’ve flourished.

A Stunning Season

So autumn is a beautiful season down here. The awareness that cold weather is on its way causes the deciduous trees to withdraw the green chlorophyll from the leaves back into the branches and trunk where it will wait out the winter, ready to be used come spring. Now it’s time for other pigments in the leaves to shine, and what a glorious show they make.

My Class Loves Painting in Autumn

I’m not a great artist myself, but I love teaching art to my class of 5 – 7 year olds at Garston School.  We love the autumn colours around our school. Last week we learned one way of showing reflections with autumn colours.

Here are 3 of my favourites:

Another post in the series Autumn Harvest on the Farm.