Nice and simple: Smokers come in all shapes and sizes.
Nice and simple: Smokers come in all shapes and sizes.

Pruning takes lots of time for many gardeners in winter if they have a selection of fruit trees. Much pruning relates to last year’s growth so the twigs that are removed are often quite thin.

On the other hand, there may be broken branches or branches that have just grown too tall. These can be used after cutting to transform meat into  a smoked delicacy. When a research scientist recently travelled from the Central Coast to acquire 50  kilograms of small apple tree logs, and a smaller quantity of pear and quince offcuts, we realised that not only mountain grown apples had some unique qualities but also the wood from the trees.

Europeans and North Americans have refined their timber selections for smoking meat. Apple, cherry, pear, plum, and almond woods are all noted for providing a sweet, fruity flavour to most meats. Apple wood is a fine option as it results in a light, fruity, sweet smoke flavour.  It is excellent to use for beef, pork, chicken and fish. It is sought after for the smoking of pork and poultry meats.

Flavourful: Smoked sausages.
Flavourful: Smoked sausages.

The European and North American selections extend to oak, birch, beech and hickory. They produce a stronger flavoured product. Oak and beech are medium and American hickory is rated as one of the strongest. You need to avoid woods that produce high volumes of tars because you will end up with blockages, so avoid using any of the evergreen trees, such as members of the pinus family.

I spent four years working in Papua New Guinea and while there I worked  in major export industries, including coffee and cocoa being grown in the Highlands and mining in Bougainville.  I saw how many village families would use the traditional hut chimneys to smoke fish and other meats. Wood heat is a natural steriliser that has been used by villagers for millennia to preserve foods.

To achieve good results you would be wise to invest in a wood smoker unit, as the wood used for smoking is primarily to smoke and flavour, not to cook. You are after a slow cooking operation, so whatever type of unit you are using, you will not have the meat directly over high heat. If using a charcoal or wood smoker without a separate smoker unit, push the hot coals to one side and place the meat on the opposite side. Remember to add extra  wood (and charcoal) to keep the smoking about  95 degrees to 110 degrees.  Wet woodchips can be used to help with   lowering the temperature.

Big appeal: Fish such as trout are popular for smoking.
Big appeal: Fish such as trout are popular for smoking.

Wood smoking produces the most flavoursome meats. Charcoal units which have some wood mixed in will burn with less intensity and are considered to be easier to use. We have a small concrete-lined charcoal burner, which we brought back from Papua New Guinea. It is a slow alternative but it can give us a good, small quantity for a family dinner.

You will need only  one to two kilograms of wood for each smoking in a mini household smoker. Of course, you have to  choose between small logs, chunks or woodchips. Woodchips will burn more quickly than logs but are easier to source. Freshly cut wood contains around 50 per cent moisture; the wood will dry gradually over several months and the moisture content will fall to around 25 per cent. Some smokers prefer to wet their woodchips first, as the extra moisture can help the meat to not dry out.

When wet woodchips are burned there will be a hissing as the water vapour boils and escapes. It is not adding to the amount of smoke and, of course, the moisture levels will drop very rapidly in the fireplace.

Modern, well designed equipment will make smoking much easier. However, there is certainly an art to smoking meat and you have the opportunity next month to join a master class at Poachers Pantry.

Watch the professionals

Poachers Pantry has a fine reputation as a smoked meats supplier in our Canberra region. It is just along the next road from our orchard,   north of Hall village.  It is a commercial operation with a big smokehouse. To satisfy its supply needs and meet commercial smoking food requirements,  it uses beech chips from Germany.  It uses about four tonnes of beech woodchip  per a year so it needs a guaranteed supply. 

Poachers Pantry Smoked Meat Master Classes will be held on Saturdays in August, 10.30-noon, and presented  by Susan Bruce. Poachers Pantry, 4 kilometres on left, along Nanima Road.  Tour the smoked meats factory and  see how meats are smoked in a mini-household smoker. The tour also includes a tasting of two smoked meat dishes matched to their Wily Trout Wines. Select wood packs will be available. Booking is essential  Phone: 6230 2487

This week in the garden:

  • Finish planting out strawberry runners and trim off dead leaves from strawberry plants.
  • Complete planting of long keeping onion seedlings. Plant out silverbeet and spinach seedlings into a sheltered, full sun garden bed.
  • Consider planting red or black currant or gooseberry bushes  for early summer crops. They can do well in the heavy soils of Canberra.
  • There is still time to prepare a deep garden bed for planting out rhubarb, asparagus crowns or globe artichokes.
  • Begin selecting varieties of seeds for the summer vegetables, so that you are not delayed by supply problems when you want to plant.
  • Keep adding raked up leaves and grass removed from garden beds to your compost. Seek out a supply of local cow or horse manure to mix in.

Owen Pidgeon runs the Loriendale Organic Orchard near Hall.