She, the dog, was useless on Friday. Utterly useless. By 4.30, the air had warmed up and the sun was beating on our backs. The park was practically empty, ours to wander, blissfully, without interruption. She panted in the heat, tongue lolling, seeking the shade of every, single, tree. I know how she feels. We are not alone in our dread of the impending Australian summer. It’s going to be a long hot one.
Saturday morning: armed with bags of soil, he filled the long wooden troughs, ‘rubbish’ rescued under cover of dark, each one stencilled, enigmatically, with the number 920. These wooden, movable garden beds are perfect for renters, keen to learn but lacking permanent roots; allowing us to discover just how much sun each plant can take. They’ll get precious little water, these babies. They’ll need to be tough. This garden is a jumble of pots, empty olive oil tins and found objects; a travelling garden of familiar, favourite bits. A little chaotic, but perfect for practice. Gardening, practical, getting-your-hands-and-knees-dirty gardening, teaches you things that books and even the odd interstate phone call to a gardener-father, cannot.
I watched on, sorting through packets of seeds ordered, on a whim, months ago. Crookneck squash, Bull’s Blood beetroot, French Breakfast radishes, silverbeet “Vulcan Red”. More rocket, so successful has it been. Basil, two kinds, and another pot of borage, though I’ve no idea what one does with the stuff. He lugged earth; I got my fingernails dirty. We were toasting thick slices of Challah and brewing a pot of ginger-spiked tea in less than an hour.
Clouds rolled in at noon, bringing heavy, delicious drops of rain that fell, briefly, satisfyingly, on the newly planted. As it passed, trailing fresher, cleaner air, the windows and doors were flung wide open. The temperature drop is immediate and reviving. Right now, before it’s hot enough to stagger the uninitiated and stupefy even the well-versed; before January’s bushfires hang, threateningly, in the air, hot days are something special. It’s like standing, toes tightly gripped, on the edge of summer. One hand grasping the last of the asparagus, in disbelief that spring – amazingly – has been and gone, the other reaching, longingly, toward the bounty of the months and, with some luck, our garden ahead.
Dessert is often an afterthought around here. The main event holds more interest to my way of thinking. But with hot days and nights snaking in, earlier than expected, and a gift in the shape of an ice cream churn to master (she’s a good sort, my mum), I’ve been thinking about the last course a lot more of late. Not something cloyingly sweet – too hot for that. Lemons, the very last of them, for a cool ending to Friday night and, as it turned out, Saturday night too.
Lemon Yoghurt Ice – for 4
My notes read, ‘Three to four lemons. All you’ll need.’ The tree in the front garden had exactly four fruit left worth eating. What are the chances? You’ll need both a food processor and an ice cream churn for this, but more people seem to have these pieces of hardware than I used to think. You can make it with all yoghurt too – 1 cup of vanilla swapped for the pure cream would lower the fat content considerably. Or so I like to think.
3-4 lemons, unwaxed and organic if possible
2/3 cup of caster sugar
1 cup of pure (single) cream
1 cup of thick, tangy natural yoghurt
Zest the lemons and whiz together for 1 minute with the sugar in a food processor. Squeeze the lemons, strain (you’ll need 6 tablespoons of juice) and add to the sugar and zest and whiz again – the sugar should start to dissolve.
Add the cream and yoghurt and pulse, quickly, 3-4 times, just to combine. Chill for 30 minutes before freezing, according to the manufacturers instructions, in an ice cream churn. Best eaten on the day it’s made, but for the next couple of days it will be good too – just make sure that you place the container in the fridge for 20-30 minutes before you serve to soften, just a little.