Archive for October, 2009


Four inches of rain have made the difference. Last weekend I could hardly bear to walk through the grove, now new shoots are appearing constantly, and those shoots which emerged earlier are powering. A burst of warmth now should see them racing skyward at one to two feet per day. Here are a couple of new fatties:


Now that I’m back in business, a few random thoughts on why I love this stuff.

Ever tried working with trees? They’re dangerous, as any timber-worker will affirm. Even a branch of a tree can kill. Trees are heavy, brittle, unpredictable.

Moso is a valuable timber, yet it is smooth, light and regular. One person can safely cut and remove towering culms of great width. And when I say great width:


Yeah, you can pat it.

Something else I love about moso. You can walk through a forest of trees, but you can’t walk through it easily. As moso develops on re-growth land that’s choked with all the usual weeds – wild tobacco, lantana, wild thorns etc – it gradually forms a clear, easily walked ground level that is shaded year round. In short, you get your land back. You can run, walk and, as I mentioned in an earlier post, race mountain bikes through moso. No tracks needed.


Moso loves hilly country, and it can stabilise hills and the folds between hills at a great rate. On the other hand, once you understand it, you can easily control where it grows by removing shoots or using physical barriers of all sorts. (My favourite barrier is a deep gravel track rolled very hard.) No need to worry about wet areas, it won’t go there.

Here’s the root-zone of one of my culms. You can see how it does its stabilising thing:


I no longer fertilise, and the only treatment my bamboo gets is some fresh blood and bone right on the new shoots to repel wildlife. So, taking into account that I walk to part-time work in town and to the shops, I must be the most “carbon neutral” person on the mid-coast of NSW.

Did I mention that moso is pretty?



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Moso survives drought. It’s been through some major dry spells in its nineteen years here. But drought at shooting time is gut-withering for the anxious cultivator. Finding and protecting thousands of new shoots is the highlight of the year, especially now that the grove is large and the shoots are no longer juveniles. Coming back from the grove covered in lantana scratches and shellback ticks is all part of the experience. It’s a spectacle, and it’s the main reason I started this blog.

That’s all on hold. See here:


The problem isn’t the exhausted, autumnal appearance of the grove as a whole. That’s normal, as the moso concentrates everything it’s got on sending up those shoots that can grow up to two foot a day. The problem is that there are only a few new shoots in this moist and favourable area, when there might be a hundred. The other problem is that water-stress causes these new culms to bend, as they fight to get moisture for their phenomenal growth thrust. That stoop-from-the middle is a bad look:


At this very late point, some storms have drifted in and rain is looking likely over the next couple of days. (Remember, we drank oolong to make that happen.) Is it enough rain? Is it too late to push up hundreds of new shoots lurking beneath that dry leaf-crust?

Last toss of the dice.

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Once you’ve peeled your shoots, there are a number of ways to proceed with cooking; the main thing is to leech out the cyanide-related components and the accompanying bitterness. With some shoots, multiple boilings in different changes of water are recommended. In the case of my moso shoots, which are prime for eating, I’m happy with just one process. The cooking medium I use is what I call a mild pickle-broth: to a big pot, add a tight fist of salt, a tight fist of dark brown sugar, and enough lime-juice or vinegar to add a slight acidity.


There is no need for a strong brine, or even the salt-levels recommended for pasta. (Most people add far too little salt when boiling pasta.) There should be plenty of liquid, probably more than I’ve used for the batch in the photo, because you are leeching as well as cooking.

I like to slice the shoots finely, bring the pressure right up in my cheapo Portuguese cooker, then turn it off.

Sieve and ditch the cooking liquid (essential!). Job done. Your slices are ready for freezing, adding to anything at all, or eating immediately with salt, pepper, butter, aioli etc.



I’ve reviewed an oolong of Guangdong (Dancong or Phoenix) and an oolong of Anxi (Tikuanyin). Both times it brought a little rain. Because we’re presently in need of a great deal of rain, it may be time to pull out a really good and representative oolong of Wuyi.

Wuyi oolongs are also called rock or cliff oolongs, a reference to the landscape of that part of Fujian province from which they come. (They’re also called fat-burners and slimming teas all over the internet, but stuff all that.) There are a number of famous types, all of which can vary in quality, fermentation, and roast profile. There are interesting fibs and legends surrounding their origins, and Da Hong Pao, or Big Red Robe, has more than its share. Here we see what are purported to be the few surviving original bushes of the Da Hong Pao type…


…except they’re probably not. Local monks may have branded the most inaccessible bushes as the real-ancient-thing, because the real real-ancient-thing was too accessible for souvenir hunters and tea thieves. Of course, that could be another interesting fib. It’s very confusing…it’s China!

Once a rare tribute tea for emperors and the like (not to mention influential comrades within the Workers’ Paradise), Da Hong Pao has been cloned successfully and become a widely available in many formats.  One of these evolutions is called Bei Dou, the North Star.

Around 1950, a certain Mr. Yao, obtained some original cuttings and began to create new varieties. After an interruption, for some reason called a Cultural Revolution, which destroyed his research, Mr. Yao was able to potter away in secret and finally resume his work in full. The result was a real Cultural Revolution: Bei Dou Yi Hao, or North Star Number One (reference being to first generation clone).


It’s such a satisfying oolong. It’s got the fullness, the mineral flavours, the toastiness of a great Wuyi: but there’s also a huge fruit component, and such an enveloping aroma. It’s not cheap…why would it be? I think I got mine from Teacuppa, a Malaysian site that has a reasonable stock of most Chinese teas but an outstanding selection of Wuyi oolong. Teaspring will also sell you a good specimen.

A caution: Wuyi oolong is one of the spammiest things on the net, mainly due to the fat-burning claims. Try a search and you’ll see. Teacuppa, Teaspring, and Jing Tea Shop (China) are reputable internet sources, and good for oolong. There are also a couple of good shops for Formosa oolong. Just be a little wary, especially if you see the words “slimming” or “fat-burning”.

Once you’ve wrapped your laughing-gear around a genuine Bei Dou or Bai Ji Guan, or any of the other pinnacle-teas of Wuyi, you won’t give a bugger about the fat-burning palaver.


Fat-burning, quotha!

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Not enough rain, not enough new shoots or growth on the ones that emerged in the last weeks.

Let’s talk about the harvesting and selection of shoots for eating. Here you see a bag of plump, rounded shoots from a fairly moist and shaded area under power-lines.


It’s important to select shoots that are still rounded. Once they get a bit taller and their sides straighten, it’s too late. Also, select shoots that are just emerged, not ones that have been dawdling because of drought. Lastly, prefer shaded areas: like asparagus or leeks, bamboo shoots like a bit of blanching.

My method for taking shoots is simple, if a little wasteful. I push horizontally with the sole of my boot, heel-against-base, which usually snaps them at the right level. Very quick.

If you’ve peeled a lot of my favourite veggie, artichokes, you’ll be ready to handle bamboo shoots. There’s no definite way, just remember to cut in a bit from the purple beading at the base, which tends to be a bit hard and chalky; and cut from the top anything leafy or hairy. The result should be a pretty substantial white lump shaped thus:


Done right, shoots are a great food from every standpoint. Because they can come from undisturbed forest in great quantities with little or no watering or fertilising, their crop and “green” value should be clear. Contrary to what some may think, moso shoots can also be a delicacy. Just remember that they need to be made ready for eating: they must not be eaten raw, and the initial cooking water must not be consumed. More on the final prep later.

Two things are certain in life. When you have your own farm, you will ending whining about the weather. And when you have you have your own blog, you will end up doing gratuitous YouTube links.

A famous aria from Saint-Saen’s Samson and Delilah has been sung by the best mezzos, most notably the sublime Marilyn Horne. Yet no rendition can match that of a certain English lady.

The video is creaky, she sings in English, and, if it’s the first time you’ve seen Dame Janet, you’ll wonder how someone who looks like a Pommie headmistress, or Margaret Thatcher’s brunette cousin, can inject the necessary passion and drama into the legendary piece.

When she’s finished, you too may gape at this joining of vocal and dramatic craft that remains, for me, unrivalled. Delilah/Baker becomes Eternal Woman.

Das Ewigweibliche

Zieht uns hinan.

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Who knows what’s actually bad luck? If my bamboo had come early, the new culms would now be exposed to the high gales that are whipping the region. A tall, tender pole that is mostly water doesn’t handle winds very well. It usually survives – unless it clashes against a tree-branch – but wind on new moso is a worry.

Sometimes new culms fall but survive and thereafter live a horizontal existence. (A similar thing happens if you give a five-year contract to a Rugby League winger.)


Nonetheless, we need more rain for growth, and the way to make that happen, as we now know, is to drink some oolong.


Notice the drab, yellow-green colour? This is a Tikuanyin, or TKY, the most famous oolong of the Anxi region. Quite unlike the previously mentioned Dancong oolong of Guangdong, its leaves are green and balled when dry, and expand greatly when brewed. A TKY (of this type) doesn’t mimic particular fruits and flowers, rather it has a non-specific flowery aroma and vegetal, green character on the palate. Devotees also talk of “sugar-cane” and “egginess” to describe desired qualities in a TKY. I’m not quite a devotee, but I must say that this Li Ping Tikuanyin works for me. It came from these guys, who are always  a hoot to deal with. When Seb and Jing send the wrong tea, they’ll invite you to keep it then offer to send the right one. If they get it wrong again, they’ll invite you to keep that tea also, then try again. And so on. They’re generous with advice and samples, and their great love is the tea of Anxi. As I write, they’re probably off an expedition to Anxi to search out some autumn greens and oolongs for the shop.


Check out these luscious spent leaves, and the ruddy bruisings from the partial ferment. Couldn’t you just go rolling around in all that?

Later I’ll sample an oolong which represents the third major mainland type… something high-end and quite grand.



Some time back I wrote about the War on Browserism. That war has begun. Here is a new culm I found in an inaccessible part of my property. Less than a couple of weeks old, it’s twelve feet high already, and has survived without protection because it was inaccessible to wallabies as well as to me. However, as I struggled back through dense lantana after taking the photo, I found a shoot that hadn’t been so lucky.



I’m feeling a certain righteous aggression as I prepare for The Surge. It would probably do me good to remember one of history’s nice, useful people: a man who came to prominence only through marriage, was initially hated and suspected because of his rank and race…and was sincerely mourned by much of the world on his untimely death. Can you guess? I’ll post soon.

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Rain means bamboo shoots, and a compulsory harvest of shoots from under the power-lines. A species that can grow from zero to eighty feet in a matter of weeks needs monitoring in this regard. I don’t like harvesting shoots, because every shoot means more moso in my expanding grove. Yet there’s an up-side. Fresh moso shoots handled correctly aren’t just edible: they are a vegetable delicacy like artichoke or asparagus, worthy of being eaten with a specially prepared Hollandaise sauce.


It’s odd that the apostle of Hollandaise, Julia Child, is being portrayed cinematically by renowned food-cop, Meryl Streep, who in the past objected to Julia’s promotion of such dangerous things as a sauce composed mainly of egg yolk and butter. La Streep also railed against Julia’s indifference to organics, and the threat to children posed by, y’know, chemicals and stuff.

Now if I were a cinema celeb, I’d let my kids eat any old apples, but keep them away from great directors like Woody Allen and Roman Polanski. So please, let’s discard any hippy pieties that may be associated with fresh, wild-grown moso shoots… and give them a good drenching in butter, mayonnaise or Hollandaise. Good recipes here:


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And a Brazilian song about the rain:

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