Matt Wilkinson
19 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
Jacqui Melville

I have to admit it: summer is my favourite season. I thought maybe it was autumn for a while, and even winter, but upon reflection it has to be summer, doesn’t it?

Warm days, long nights… summer is three months of outdoor eating and the beach. Enjoying the open air and being near water. I hate sand, but summer makes you all nostalgic for the feeling of sand on your bare feet, all in between your toes. Memories of being at the beach as a kid with all the extended family, getting sunburnt and drinking home-made cordial on ice. There is a warmth to the air that carries the smell of barbecues, of meat fat dripping onto embers, of coconut suntan lotion, and the smell of the tomato vine. That smell always reminds me of my Granddad Tom, the man who first taught me about seasonality and gave me my love of gardening.

We change our habits in summer. We stop hibernating and get outside. We see friends for afternoon drinks, and there is nothing finer than a crisp cold beer, or a gin and tonic, or even a Pimm’s, after a day in the garden. Even the English are happy in summer.

We cook over coals, and eat messy foods with our hands – I’m thinking of peeling prawns with your hands, or biting into a juicy stonefruit or a ripe tomato… and of course, that epitome of both summer fruit and juicy mess, the mango! There’s nothing like getting stuck into a gorgeous ripe mango cheek and having the juice running down your chin. Summer is just messy. It’s juicy berries and cherries just waiting to stain your mouth, and your hands, and your clothes.

And in the garden, it’s so delightful to pick things off the stalk or the vine, all warmed by the sun, and eat them raw, right there and then. Everything is standing proud, buoyed up with all that sunshine, and a little bit of water. My favourite is to pick a cob of corn straight off the stalk, peel back the skin and just bite into it. It is just delicious as a raw vegetable, and unbelievably sweet.

Summer to me is all about food that is easy and fresh – ‘throw together’ kind of stuff. The abundance of everything makes it easy to create simple and good-for-you ‘fast food’. The garden is like a big ‘pick and mix’ when it comes to getting inspired for dinner. Grate and lightly salt a zucchini for an instant salad base. Throw some tomatoes on a plate with torn basil and some mozzarella. Add seasoning, olive oil and a splash of nice sherry vinegar, and you’re done. Pick your corn and throw it straight on the barbecue. Having casual meals with your mates is easier to do in summer because we are spoilt for choice. There is double the amount of fresh seasonal produce available in summer than there is in autumn, for example.

Historically, the summer solstice – the longest day of the year – has been celebrated as a holy day since pagan times, and is called ‘midsummer’ in many cultures across Europe and beyond. Many countries still mark the occasion with bonfires to light the night and symbolically keep the evil spirits away, and also to mark the fertility of the season and ask for a successful harvest. Not a bad reason for a bonfire, really.

The garden in summer is an everyday affair for me. I either get out there early, just as the sun is rising, or in the early evening, making sure I give everything a good soaking, and seeing that nothing is getting scorched by the sun. You need to keep an eye on things and do a bit of maintenance, like tying up all your tomatoes, to give the plants the best chance. Things shoot up so quickly with all the sunlight that you really want to keep a close eye, especially on your salad leaves, which are likely to bolt to seed given a chance, and become quite bitter. To combat this, drape a piece of shade cloth over them to protect them from the fierce midday sun.

Every year I try to grow pumpkins in summer too. Don’t ask me why, as I never seem to get any. The vines disappear over the fence and the neighbours get all the bounty. Every time! Oh, well. It’s nice to share.

It’s also a lovely time for flowers in the garden. The butterflies and bees are flitting around; the roses are blooming, and the sunflowers sway in the breeze. It is one of the simplest and most rewarding ways to get your kids into the garden with you, and get them excited about what they can plant and grow. Put in some sunflower seeds, and watch them stretch up into the sky. The kids will be so delighted to know that something so big came from the tiny seed they planted themselves.

Summer here in Australia is also synonymous with Christmas, and holidays, and cricket. Now, I’ve been in Australia for a while, and I can safely say that I am only English when it comes to the cricket. My summer can be made or lost depending on how the English cricket team performs, especially when they are playing Australia!

However, I still find it weird to have Christmas on a day that is 30–40ºC. Having flip-flops on just doesn’t feel like Christmas to me. (I even get my chicken legs out!) Seasonality is even an issue when it comes to the Christmas tree – being in Australia, having a tree is out of context, out of season, and missing the snow. Maybe we need to create a winter festival in July to get our fill of snowy trees and roast turkey.

But when it comes to Christmas in the Aussie summer, it is time to celebrate with seafood. Have a feast of prawns (shrimp) and lobsters instead of turkey. Throw a whole snapper on the grill instead. It is the time to steer clear of oysters though, as they are out of season. They are spawning, and definitely not in their prime for eating – but still we want them, don’t we, because it’s Christmas!

Instead, maybe indulge in cherry season. It’s so short, I end up on security duty, watching out my window and keeping an eye on our cherry tree day by day, just wanting to beat the birds to the fruit. I always joke that cherries go out of season by the time you open your presents! But they are such a delight, so if you can get some at your farmers’ market then please do. They are summer in a bowl.

Early summer

Early summer is the time to find those shorts that have been hidden away in a drawer or the cupboard, scrub the barbecue ready for use, make sure your watering system in the garden is working properly, and ensure you have a good supply of cold beverages in the house… ideally beer!

It’s time to plant those sunflower seeds that give the kids so much joy, and stake the tomatoes and anything else that will need taming through the next few months. Early summer is a vast array of green and flowers. I love it, but it’s still that in-between season – not quite too hot yet, but getting there.

Mid summer

The waiting is over. At last it is here, what we have been waiting for all year – vast amounts of luscious produce to gorge upon. I have again a tomato in my hand, eating it, savouring that taste of summer. It’s been a long wait for the taste of a real tomato since the end of their season last year; I have watched them grow in my garden, and they are now here for me to relish.

With the tomatoes come the cucumbers, zucchini, corn, eggplants – not to forget the stonefruits, melons and berries. Oh, the berries! So much to eat, so much to love. They don’t even need cooking. Don’t spoil the flavour, just simply enjoy most produce raw. This is the excitement of what seasonal eating gives. Forgive me if I sound a little crazed – it’s simply just excitement at the thought of such great food!

Late summer

The abundance of summer fruit and vegetables is well with us. The barbecue is getting a flogging, and my tan is, well… I’m a little red! I’m actually starting to complain about the heat, but I guess that is my Englishness. The earth is warm, the night-time air ablaze with the smell of backyard barbecuing, and in certain spots in the garden I can see where I have neglected to water enough or shade certain plants.

My cucumbers this year are doing brilliantly; I promised myself to plant more this season, as we eat them all so quickly, and it has worked. This said, my attention is drawn to what I should be planting for autumn and the future coming winter. Seedlings are sown for the brassica family, root vegetables are being planned to go into beds. It’s a special but careful time in the garden.

Other uses for prawn vinaigrette

–Delicious through any sort of pasta.

–Stir through sauteed scallops or cauliflower.

–Amazing on a jacket potato.

–Serve with simple poached or pan-fried fish.

–Drizzle over vegetable fritters, such as corn, cauliflower or zucchini.

Other uses for avocado dressing

–Use to dress a smoked trout and potato salad.

–Terrific dressing for your tacos or burritos.

–Stir through cold prawns or crabmeat.

–Drizzle over a spinach and poached egg salad.

–Mix through cold chicken and serve in a sandwich.

Other uses for fig anchoiade

–Simply serve as a dip.

–Serve with any poached, grilled or fried fish.

–Toss through chickpeas and roasted root vegetables.

–Wonderful with sliced cold roasted meats, such as beef or pork.

–Lovely with seared calf's liver or any game meats.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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