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Here’s a picture of my grove which shows how it dips neatly under the power lines.  (This is the only neatness I have ever achieved, so please gush.)

You can shape and control a number of ways. My way is simply to harvest and eat new shoots. After shooting time, there’s no control needed. But one must be prompt at shooting time.

Here is a picture of the area under the lines, taken inside the grove.

All new shoots have been removed for some years now, within a strip extending some metres outside the power lines. Juvenile culms, which were never tall enough to reach anywhere near the lines, have been left in place. This gives the grove stability and keeps down unwanted species. The electricity people don’t like this, because, like most people, they are convinced that bamboo culms continue to grow after their first seven weeks of existence. It’s a hard thing to grasp: that a shoot a few inches tall will tower up to eighty feet within weeks, while a culm from a previous season will never grow by a fraction of an inch – ever!

Note how the grove in the top picture has a burnished-yellow appearance. That’s because we are now in bamboo autumn, which is spring, when moso puts all its energy into new shoots and withdraws it from everywhere else. Here on the hot western edge you can see the yellowing near one of this year’s first shoots.

Because this season is so good, the leaf-loss and discolouring are not as extreme as in past years. A few metres into the grove, the bamboo still looks quite fresh.

There’s still plenty of shade under the canopy in the centre.

***

Bamboo shoots are supposed to have health benefits because, among other things, they contain woody substances called lignins which are lacking in the diet of modern humans. Really, I wouldn’t know. But one great quality of shoots is their gentle but powerful effect upon the bowels. I don’t normally have problems in this regard, but when I eat moso shoots I definitely don’t have problems.

A couple of dozen more shoots were harvested yesterday. Rather than freeze these, I decided to make a traditional English pickle, substituting bamboo for cauliflower.

I’ve tried to ferment bamboo shoots to make a kind of Asian pickle, but the results were foul. I used a kimchee-style treatement, but what works for cabbage doesn’t work for moso shoots.

For classical English piccalilli, it’s normal to soak the vegetables raw in a strong brine before cooking them a little with the floury pickling sauce. Obviously, moso bamboo shoots must always be blanched before anything else is done with them, so I briefly pressure-cooked them in unsalted water with some bamboo charcoal before placing them in brine with the raw onions. Also, because bamboo is very absorptive, whether as charcoal or shoots, I used a lighter brine.

Apart from that, procedure was as usual. The brine is ditched and replaced with vinegar, to the level of the shoots in the pot. A paste of flour, turmeric and mustard is added, as well as sugar and some ginger. The whole is cooked gently for half an hour, till a saucey consistency is achieved, with no floury taste.

And it’s delicious!

EARLY SHOOTS. LET’S EAT.

Normally, when these beauties are at their peak…

…there are no bamboo shoots.

This year, however, there has been abundant rain all through winter and into spring. The spring equinox, only days away, should bring a mad upthrust of large shoots, but some have already made an appearance.

These are not the rare, inconspicuous winter shoots which are delicious, and whose generative purpose I do not know, since they do not turn into culms. No, for over a week, I’ve been able to harvest spring shoots from under the power lines. I’ve never had conditions this good, and climate seems to be favouring moso more each year. Since 2007, there’s been a shift to more dominant ocean winds and generally higher humidity, even in the classically dry late winter, and even through the El Niño of ’09.

This likely boom season is exciting, and I’m going to blog it. Let’s roll with some easy Thai-style bamboo shoots with chick peas. Here are the ingredients, firstly before peeling of the shoots…

…and after peeling.

In earlier posts I’ve explained that moso shoots need to be boiled up first and the cooking broth discarded. Quality can vary: my usually superb shoots are fine with just the one treatment in water with some salt, vinegar and dark sugar added. Then they can be frozen or added to a pot of just about anything.

After long soaking, the chick peas are pressure cooked till tender. Just to show off,  I add some bamboo charcoal, of which I have plenty. It’s a great water improver, and serves a similar purpose to bi-carb in the cooking of chick peas.

I’ve been experimenting with crushed charcoal, but it’s a lot better and neater to just add a whole piece of charcoaled moso. (I’ll blog about charcoal soon.)

So, some Thai curry paste is fried hard in oil, vegetable stock is added, the pot hisses like a banshee. Next, the cooked chick peas and blanched, sliced moso shoots are added. Some interesting dark sugar is tossed in, and maybe some interesting citrus leaves. (My lemonade tree’s tender young leaves are good for this.) Near the end of cooking, coconut milk is mixed in.

Serve with rice…cooked with a few slivers of bamboo charcoal, of course!

AUDEN’S DELIBERATE MUSIC

No, I don’t wish to contribute much more to the tonnage of comment on the works of W. H. Auden. I just want to add this feather.

Here’s a poem Auden wrote, I have no idea why. It’s from The Sea and The Mirror, and takes up themes from Shakespeare’s the Tempest…but I don’t care.


Warm are the still and lucky miles,
White shores of longing stretch away,
A light of recognition fills
The whole great day, and bright
The tiny world of lovers’ arms.

Silence invades the breathing wood
Where drowsy limbs a treasure keep,
Now greenly falls the learned shade
Across the sleeping brows
And stirs their secret to a smile.

Restored! Returned! The lost are borne
On seas of shipwreck home at last:
See! In a fire of praising burns
The dry dumb past, and we
Our life-day long shall part no more.

***

Read the above, and you presume you’ve been reading rhymed verse. But look hard. No rhymes!

Huh?

Then look harder again. Or hear harder.

The first stressed word of the third line in each stanza rhymes with the last of the fourth.

The first and third lines end in consonant rhyme: it’s delicate, but perceptible.

Even more devilish is the way the second line rhymes fully with the front half of the fourth. (In tricky Auden fashion, there’s no caesura in “Across the sleeping brows”, but the ear still picks up the rhyme because of the quantity of the rhyming syllable, sleep-, and the weakness of the surrounding syllables.)

As if that’s not enough, check out the quasi-rhymes of the middle of the first lines and the ends of the third lines. And the fainter consonant rhymes at the end of each caesura in the first line of each stanza: still-miles, invades-wood, returned-borne. Subtle but audible – and he meant to do it.

All very deliberate…and all quite wonderful. And there’s more deliberate music, beyond those half-buried rhymes and assonances. There are metrical intricacies, too, and much attention to syllabic quantity. Note the slight bump in the metre at the penultimate line, with an alliteration right on the bump.

So clever. So pretty. Why does nobody talk about these things?

MOSO BAMBOO: THE FUTURE

We’re getting there.

After twenty years, starting from three little pots of Aussie seedlings from the world-wide flowering of  the late eighties…

What was a stand, became a grove. Now it’s got the feel of a true forest, even at shooting time, when the foliage yellows and thins for “bamboo autumn”. This is the glamour of moso.

That’s the glamour, which is about to increase dramatically as the canopy thickens toward Christmas, and all grows darker and stiller.

But there’s also the utility, and agricultural potential. Millions of eastern NSW hilly acres are suited to moso. There aren’t many ideal biomes for the species across the world, but this is one. The shoots and timber yielded in this region are superlative. Moso here has been held back by lack of understanding, the shock of the new and so forth. It’s also been held back by what I’d call “presumptuous expertise”: certainly, nearly every suggestion I’ve received for growing moso in my locale is wrong, and fatally so.

But the potential is huge, and I’m starting to realise that an important new industry won’t be brought forward by me, a none-too-young eccentric lacking in practical and manual skills.

In the last year I’ve realised that I’m going to have to let go to send it forward. My hope is that it will end up in the hands of true experts and hungry entrepreneurs, and if they happen to be Chinese, that’s likely to be a good thing in this case. We have to take moso out of the realm of “hippiness” and send this marvellous species mainstream. Look at the last week of growth of these pioneers growing in view of my front deck:

It’s a performer!

The mid-coast of NSW was once the centre of a massive timber industry, with red cedar as its precious showpiece. I say, let’s forget the fairy dust…

…and do it again!

MOSO, WHEN IT GROWS…

Here’s the photo of my eastern “picket” from October 21. (See post.)

Here’s the same picket eleven days later, from a different vantage point, (because it’s hard to fit in a photo from the first vantage point).

In case CO2 ever comes back in fashion, please be assured that this insane carbon gobbling will level out a bit in a couple of weeks. After the culms bend at the top and form branchlets, they will never increase their height by so much as a hair’s breadth.

Most of the animal hazards are now past. There’s still the chance of an acrobatic possum finding it’s way along a stray tree branch to eat out the briefly luscious top of a new culm.

Nonetheless, if there is no wind above 50k an hour for the next couple of weeks, I’ll get to keep most of my 2010 vintage…

But there’s sometimes a big wind, and some of those massive columns of water will likely snap. The trick is to just enjoy this wild feast of growth every October…

And with God be the rest!

THE MOSO PICKET.

Moso bamboo does not advance outwards in a haphazard way. It advances some metres into areas it likes, sending up pioneer culms in the first year to form a kind of picket. Here’s the eastern picket of my grove.

The grove as a whole doesn’t move out like this. Rather, it has a “ragged edge” because moso is a gourmet. If it doesn’t like an area of ground it won’t risk a picket, just a few straggly poles. For example, where the grass is short or the ground is bare, it won’t form a confident picket. Even long  grass on a hot slope is not interesting to moso. Lots of lantana and very young wattles is a good mix, though if the lantana is a bit bare from frost, even that is enough for this temperamental gourmet to refuse an advance into new ground.

One frustration of growing moso is the belief by neighbours that it will somehow invade their properties. If only! Another frustration is the insistence by visiting experts that things should be done a certain way, when, quite clearly, the way doesn’t work. People who are far more competent and knowledgable than me will insist on planting moso “out”, ie. in full sun and on rich flats. Instead, it needs to be started on a cool south slope, protected, but not overwhelmed, by lantana and maybe the branch of a big wattle. Even after twenty years, a grove needs good cover and drainage to advance.

This year, on the south-west edge, it moved into a well overgrown patch of red soil. The growth of one new pole in that area was amazing. The yard-a-day which is achieved by some healthy culms in the last days of their growth was achieved as an average by this one culm. It’s already branching after less than two weeks! (No photo. It’s just too thorny and tick-ridden in that patch of ground!)

Anyway, the ‘boo is lush this year, the wallabies know it and have been feasting on any shoots that I neglect to protect. Can’t you just taste the chlorophyll?

Last year I started this blog to trace the progress of a moso grove over its growing season. There was a lot of uncertainty, due to El Niño and a droughty start to the shooting season.

This year, it’s simpler. The ground is saturated, fat shoots are thrusting up wildly. The grove is yellowing and sheddding leaves for “bamboo autumn”, which is spring for all else, but the effect is much less pronounced this year. The upside is that a heavier canopy will give more protection from the winds which, if exceeding fifty an hour, can damage the tall new poles until they branch. The downside is the lack of heat. It’s a cool october.

Right now, I’m protecting the luscious shoots from wallabies, horses, bandicoots, brush turkeys, possums etc.

And an obligatory harvest from under the power lines means I’ve been flat out processing and freezing shoots for human consumption.

The low light and abundance of moisture has made for a delicious harvest.

Just served with my fave South Oz oil,  black pepper and pink Murray River salt flakes…

I entreat the gods to make me all mouth and tummy.