“What most people don’t do is experience that epic abundance that summer can bring,” says Matt Purbrick, farmer and author from Grown and Gathered. With his wife, Lentil, he farms vegetables and fruit and produces meat, eggs and dairy on their six-acre lot.
The growth and production of their food is firmly focused on ecological farming, limiting waste, re-establishing a relationship with the seasons and embracing what it delivers. So when it comes to learning how to utilise summer bounty, Matt’s your guy.
“It’s all about salads and lighter foods,” says Matt. “All the leafy greens from spring continue through summer and for us that’s the biggest thing. It’s the most fun time to eat out of the garden.”
In early summer they see a multitude of zucchinis, sweet corn, cucumbers and green beans emerge, followed by tomatoes, capsicums and eggplants in February. Young potatoes also make an early arrival. Fresh herbs are also abundant, such as dill, basil and mint, which work well with the vegetables. After all, “What grows together goes together,” says Matt. Cherry season turns into stone fruit prime, and berries remain for most of the summer.
Stemming away from the usual suspects brings us to gooseberries. “We replace mangoes with gooseberries, eaten really ripe and fresh, they’re magical. We always try and find a local substitute for something we love,” says Matt. “Gooseberries thrive in Melbourne and you can grow them really easily. You’ll usually find them in nurseries or you can buy them at farmers markets”.
Another alternative to the classics is the tomatillo; small, round and green in appearance with “such a unique flavour”, says Matt. “They’re good for making salsa verde.” The ice plant works well in salads. “They’re like a little succulent that looks like it’s got frost bite and is sparkly,” says Matt. You can also lightly cook it like spinach.
Farmers markets are the best bet to find this produce. “Have a conversation, find out what’s coming up and what’s absolutely abundant right now. You can learn from the farmers and support them,” says Matt.
Although still far away, the pickling and preserving of the harvest in summer is worthwhile. “The best thing is to work hard at preserving so in winter you can relax,” says Matt. “Pickling and preserving is always fun to do and you definitely don’t need a farm or a garden to do it”.
When using top quality produce, the importance of maintaining the ingredients’ integrity is essential. “Try and put less things together, there’s always a tendency to make a vegetable dish and put all the vegetables together when you really just need some nice herbs, a nice fruit and leaves and you’ve got a beautiful salad,” says Matt.
Simplicity, just seasoning and olive oil, is the answer. “Try plain grilled zucchinis cooled down, with cheese. Just beautiful. We focus on bringing together the flavours that grow together. That’s the way you really celebrate food.”