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Kumquat Chia Seed Cake

Kumquat is more popular in China and Taiwan than where I live now in Australia. Hailing from Malaysia, I am not entirely unfamiliar with it because Malaysians see kumquat everywhere during Chinese New Year. Think of the kumquat tree as a Chinese Christmas tree.


Kumquat Chia Seed Cake At Stonehouse Farm
Kumquat Tree At Stonehouse Farm Amamoor

That is not always the case as mandarin oranges are also popular during Chinese New Year, but I think kumquat takes the prize when the Chinese really want to show-off during this auspicious festival. The very name gives away it’s much coveted festive role taken from Cantonese gām-gwāt 金橘, meaning golden orange.


So while my kumquat tree at Stonehouse Farm keeps producing extensively, I realize I need to get more acquainted with it to come up with healthy and delicious meals such as this kumquat chia seed cake.


I found the standard kumquat jam that is ever popular here in Australia the most popular way to consume it in Australia. The tartness of kumquat makes it challenging for most people on how to be more creative with it, especially with a fruit which has a rind that is sweeter than the flesh.







I candied a lot of my kumquat. There are ample recipes online on how to candy but personally I think the French do it best.

Making candied kumquat

Once you have candied kumquat and stored in a jar, you can use it multiple ways. Turning them into candied kumquat is also a great way to preserve them excess kumquat from our tree. In this post I show how I turned a traditional lemon cake recipe into a kumquat chia seed cake. I have used milk kefir, but you may use buttermilk or yoghurt. I encourage you to use kefir though because milk kefir will ferment the flour in the same manner sourdough starter does.

Kefir is made by putting kefir grains into milk and fermenting it. As I make all my cakes by grinding organic wheat grains and using freshly ground flour in my baking, I make sure they are always fermented either with sourdough starter or kefir so that all the nutrition in the grains are more easily absorbed by the body. If you would like to purchase kefir grains or sourdough starter, send me an email at

Kumquat Chia Seed Cake



155 gm milk kefir

100 gm coconut oil

1 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/3 cup honey

2 eggs

2 tbsp chia seeds

3 tbsp kumquat syrup (this is the excess liquid left behind after you glaze your kumquat. Don’t throw this away. Save it in a bottle, separate from the bottle with the candied kumquat)



Mix kefir with flour and leave aside. Beat coconut oil and honey and eggs one by one and then add the mixture of flour and kefir. Leave for at least four hours so the kefir will ferment the flour. Just before baking add 3 tbsp of the kumquat syrup and chia seeds and baking powder. Bake in the oven at 180 degrees for 45 minutes.

When finished baking, pour ¼ cup of kumquat syrup on top of the cake while it’s still warm and then decorate with the candied kumquat. If you are concerned about sugar intake, leave out the syrup and decorate only with the kumquat. The juice from the wet candied kumquat will penetrate the cake, although not as saturated as when you pour the syrup.


TIP: Regardless of the recipe you follow to make candied kumquat you will be left with an excess of kumquat syrup (the sugary water in which the kumquats have been heated). Don’t throw this away. Save the syrup and use it in multiple ways such as in this recipe. You can also use the syrup to make salad dressing


NOTE: Check out more photos at our Instagram 

Candied kumquats used in a kumquat aloe vera water kefir juice

Kumquat Kefir Ice cream





Vanilla Essence Is Over-rated

Vanilla essence is over-rated
Vanilla beans


It’s been several years since I diversified from using vanilla essence in my baking. In fact, it is so few and far between that I have not missed it in my pantry. Vanilla essence is over-rated.

This may come as a shock to many bakers who can’t do without vanilla essence. It is the number one flavoring for cakes, ice cream, chocolates and even found in barbecue sauce and creamy dip. Rumour has it that one of the ingredients in Coca Cola’s top secret recipe, is vanilla.

Vanilla essence is over-rated
Most of the commercial vanilla ice cream does not contain real vanilla


Using vanilla in sweetmeats became popular after Hugh Moran an apothecary to Queen Elizabeth 1 introduced it to her in the early 17th century. The Queen became obsessed with it. Later the French began using it in their ice cream.

The U.S. is one of the most ice cream-craving-nation today with 96% of Americans admitting they love to eat ice cream. A 2014 National Geographic article claims that vanilla flavored ice cream beat chocolate as the number one favourite ice cream flavor in the U.S. However, a survey done among Americans by YouGov in 2018 lists vanilla in second place, after chocolate.

So how did I stray so far from this iconic rule of thumb of using vanilla essence for sweetmeats?

Vanilla is expensive

Vanilla is the second most expensive spice after saffron. Organic and pure vanilla essence could set you back about USD13.17 for just 2 fl oz.

The cheaper brands are not worth buying. They taste synthetic and are sugary sweet instead of the creamy rich toffee taste of real vanilla.

The reason real vanilla is so expensive is the painstaking effort to obtain them. The vanilla bloom only stays open for 24 hours. Many vanilla farmers don’t want to take the risk of relying only on the bees to pollinate within this short window of an opportunity. So they hand pollinate each flower. 

vanilla flowers bloom only 24 hours
vanilla flowers

If the pollination is successful a 6-to-10-inch pod will develop. The seeds inside these pods are then soaked in alcohol to obtain the vanilla extract.

Many companies prefer not to wait and instead add a sweetener like corn syrup to stabilize the extract.  I don’t consider these brands “pure” or “natural” vanilla although they are allowed to market them as such because the U.S. FDA considers “pure” as meaning the extract is made entirely from vanilla beans and not any other source. Still, it is better than the synthetic version, if you cannot afford the real stuff.

The total worldwide production of vanilla extract is about 2000 metric tons which is only a very small fraction of the huge demand for it . Therefore the bulk of the supply on the market is synthetic vanilla, using a compound called vanillin which can be manufactured from petrochemical, or by-products from the wood pulp and paper industry or even from secretion from the anal glands of beavers 

So unless you want to pay the high price for authentic vanilla, you would have to settle for the synthetic vanilla which is invariably the only kind used in many of the commercial ice creams and sweetmeats on the market.


A flavor should bring out the strong features of the sweetmeat 

I find vanilla essence too compatible to sugar. In my cooking, I’m looking for contrasts not compatibility. Vanilla essence simply makes sugary treats more sweet.  




















Take vanilla ice cream. Here vanilla plays a different role. Usually, it is the subtle ingredient that enhances the feature ingredient, but in vanilla ice cream, it is the feature. As the feature, consider how all it does is enhance the sugar in the ice cream. It does not stand out like chocolate or mint or blueberry. In fact, its subtlety is precisely why it makes for an ideal flavoring.


My favorite alternative to vanilla essence

I have been using home-made orange liqueur to flavor my sweetmeats. It is so easy to make. Simply take 5 large oranges or 8 small ones and use a vegetable peeler to thinly slice the peels off the oranges. When doing this be mindful to peel only the outer layer so that the white pith does not come off with the peel. Then soak orange peels in 1 litre of vodka for a week. After one week dissolve about 600g of sugar in half a litre of boiling water. Add the sugary water to the vodka and orange peels. Let it sit for a further week. Then discard the peels and bottle the liqueur.

In order to extract the flavor of the orange, a high alcohol base is needed and hence the choice of vodka. However, I made my orange liqueur using my own home-made wine as the base for extraction instead of vodka.

Bottled home-made wine after fermenting for a year

I made my wine with nothing but fermented grape juice from grapes I bought from a vineyard in the Barossa Valley in South Australia. I collaborated with the owner of this vineyard to run a workshop called Making Wine The Natural Way.

As my wine had not been treated with sulphur or been heated, it is rich in probiotics. So when I used this as a base instead of vodka, I allowed the sugary water to cool down first before I poured it into the wine. In this way, I would not kill the good bacteria in my wine.


Only a slight adjustment and you have two different flavors

If I wanted a spicy orange liqueur, I would add cinnamon sticks and cardamom at the same time I add the orange peels. Keep the spices in the jar when you add the sugary water. After the second week of steeping, remove the peels and spices. Now you have a second alternative flavor to vanilla essence.


I used mandarins from my tree to make my liqueur


How I use my orange liqueur

Almost all cakes and patisseries will be fine with substituting orange liqueur for vanilla. You need to be a bit more careful with ice cream. Vanilla essence goes well with chocolate ice cream but orange liqueur might not.

When I make chocolate ice cream, I don’t use any substitute for vanilla. I just make it with chocolate, milk and a sweetener like sugar, honey, rice or maple syrup. If you are using honey, rice or maple syrup, these will flavor it as they each provide their own unique flavor. You will note the taste of honey is variable too depending on the flowers from which the bees have collected the pollen used to make that particular type of honey.


Orange liqueur is more versatile than vanilla essence

Orange liqueur can be used in salads instead of sugar or honey. It is much better in barbecue sauce than vanilla essence, especially when it is of the spicy version. If you would like to have some vanilla essence in your pantry rather than not at all, make it yourself at home so you can be assured it is authentic.



HFJ-0072r:.Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) and Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) in DreamWorks Pictures’ charming new film “The Hundred-Foot Journey”..Photo: François Duhamel.©DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved..


Why change a 200-year old trait?

I believe Hassan played by actor Manish Dayal in the movie The Hundred-Foot Journey explains this well in his banter with Madam Mallory played by Helen Mirren.

Madam Mallory: What is this flavor that is fighting against the chicken?

Hassan: I added some spices for flavour to the sauce and coriander for garnish and freshness.

Madame Mallory: But why change a recipe that is 200 years old?

Hassan: Because, Madam, maybe 200 years is long enough.


Indian Village Food In Sydney

During a recent trip to Sydney my husband took me to a surprise dinner at Indu restaurant that served Indian village food in Sydney.  Knowing I like fresh country food, he decided we should find out what Indian village food in Sydney is like. Sam Price, owner of Indu, had been a volunteer aid worker with a medical team in India. When his team went about providing free medical care, the grateful villagers they helped, would often invite them to their homes for traditional Indian meals.

Indian village food in Sydney

Indian Village Food In Sydney
Kevin and Shoba dining at Indu restaurant Sydney
Indian village food in Sydney
Lemon rice on lentil cracker

Sam was quoted to have said in an interview: “It just dawned on me that you can’t really experience this food anywhere else in the world and that Indian food is essentially colonialised…the butter chickens and naans in the world don’t exist in the villages cause in terms of preparation it’s almost impossible.


“What they do eat is healthier, its fresh, it makes use of local produce in a lot of the coastal areas we were working in. It’s the kind of food that people don’t experience in the Western world. They were quite healthy people, they were slim and lived for a long time.”

Indian village food in Sydney
fusion dosa


I can’t argue with that. I am a huge proponent of fresh food.


To my delight there were items on the menu such as string hopper, popular in Sri Lanka and certain Kerala style dishes which are just not served in restaurants. String hopper is traditional village food consisting of rice flour pressed into noodle form & then steamed. The only place I could ever get this even in Malaysia was from a street vendor who would carry them in a large silver vessel at the back of his motorcycle. His mother made them early in the morning so they were freshly made when he sold them. Yum! It is not commercially feasible for restaurants to make these and so they are only made at home.

Indian village food in Sydney
Indian beer – Kingfisher with a good view of Indu’s open kitchen in the background

Even dosa which I make at my house in Australia is not available in most of the Indian restaurants in Sydney because it is South Indian and these restaurants serve North Indian cuisine. I also feel it is because dosa needs to be eaten freshly cooked and cannot be kept which is why even in Malaysia, from where I come, it is offered only for breakfast and rarely even for dinner. So it is a treat to have Indian village food in Sydney.

Indian village food in Sydney

Indu has the the ambiance of a village too with huge ceramic pots containing spices lined up alongside the passage leading to the dining hall. Traditional brass bells hang down from the ceiling and it’s exciting to see traditional sauces and seasonings I like to call condiments lined up in front of the kitchen counter ready to be transported to the eagerly awaiting diners.

Part of the wonder of village/community food is the small servings of condiments that you normally don’t get in restaurants or have to pay dearly for and most of us don’t want to because they are just bite-size flavourings to enhance the meal. Most people feel it should be complimentary and restaurants probably feel they are too much trouble to make because they can’t charge for them.

On the other hand, many trendy restaurants are serving condiment-size portions of the main meal at exorbitant prices and as this article in the Guardian suggests it is where you find hipsters swanking around. I agree with the article in the Guardian. I don’t care what is trendy. I like my portions large.

When they brought out the Dosa to us at Indu, I was intrigued by this new twist in serving Dosa that took the shape of an Apam (another traditional Sri Lankan food not normally available in restaurants). Dosa is meant to be flat like a plate but Apam is shaped like a bowl. So I called this a Fusion Dosa. This Fusion Dosa came with eggplant pickle, pomegranate pearls, goat’s curd & coconut sambol all carefully arranged separately in the centre of it. Another dish that came out to us that had pomegranate was the Pomegranate & roasted pistachio raita. Another unique modification to the traditional cucumber raita. So it was Indian village food in Sydney but with some modification.

Indian village food in Sydney
Indu restaurant’s banquet dining table

I also had devilled pumpkin with ginger, jalapeño & coconut chutney, crispy eshallots & fresh coconut. Another item on the menu I thought interesting but didn’t try is coconut crusted fresh crab kofta with squid ink & cardamom aioli. Imagine making aioli with squid ink. Hmm….I don’t think so.

Indian village food in Sydney
devilled pumpkin and pomegranate and pistachio raita

What we did try was the cured salmon & prawns, chilli, coriander, tamarind & mint chutney served on a papdi base. I had never heard of papdi until I had it here at Indu. Papdi is like rice crackers. Another appetizer we tried was the lemon rice, crispy lentils, smashed peanuts, green chilli & fresh coconut.

I’ll give Indu a thumbs up for originality and novelty, but I’m afraid the portions were too small. Much like the trendy fine dining restaurants that attract the hipster crowd. I’m sorry, I like a good portion of my meals 🙂


Consume Organic Potatoes

Potatoes are the least controversial food right? Whether you’re vegetarian or non-veg, chances are you eat potatoes. And what’s not to like about potatoes? No matter what culture you come from potatoes are part of the diet. Stay safe by consuming only organic potatoes. In Australia, 1kg of conventional potatoes costs AUD$3.49 and organic costs AUD$4.89. Only a small difference and well worth the extra cost.

consume organic potatoes
Photo credit:

If your budget does not allow you to go completely organic and you have to choose which fruits and vegetables you can skip on being organic, potatoes should NOT be one of them. Here are the reasons why:

  • Potatoes are heavily bombarded with chemicals during the growing season, before harvest and even after harvest they are sprayed to stop them from sprouting so that they have a longer shelf life. A quote from Jeff Moyer, director at the Rodale Institute and former chair of the National Organic Standards Board:”I’ve talked with potato growers who say point-blank they would never eat the potatoes they sell. They have separate plots where they grow potatoes for themselves without all the chemicals.”
  • With some of these fruits and vegetables, a thorough wash with water and rubbing their skins and even after cooking would neutralize a lot of these chemicals but with potatoes washing and rubbing does not help. Some chemicals in them like maleic hydrazide, is absorbed into the potato. There’s at least one study that shows that the maleic hydrazide residues in potatoes after cooking don’t vary much with residues before cooking.
Consume organic potatoes
Photo credit:
  • the USDA discovered 81% of potatoes tested in 2006 contained pesticides even after being washed and peeled. The chemical that is found on 76% of all conventional potatoes is chlorpropham, a herbicide that is used to stop potatoes from sprouting. Not only is this chemical toxic to honey bees, but according to the Extension Toxicology Network, chronic exposure of laboratory animals to chlorpropham has caused “retarded growth, increased liver, kidney and spleen weights, congestion of the spleen and death.” 
  • Potatoes are a root vegetable so while they are in the soil they absorb much of the chemicals that penetrate and stay in the soil and having a thin layer of skin these chemicals are easily absorbed into the flesh unlike other fruits and vegetables where removing the skin helps reduce chemical consumption.

In my garden I have five 85 litre black, plastic pots lined up next to each other. In them I have planted potatoes. When I first planted them, I used certified seed potatoes because I wanted to ensure I have healthy potatoes and this practice also stops the spread of disease.

I do not fill these pots to the brim with soil. I put in just enough soil to cover the potatoes. Once they sprout and put out leaves I will add more soil. This process is called hilling. Potatoes need acidic soil to thrive and my horse manure provides enough of that.

throwing potato in the air


Do I get a good yield from my organic potatoes? Not enough to meet the yearly needs of my family, but I still grow them because:

  • It is fun to dig around in the soil looking for fully grown organic potatoes. 
  • Unlike my other plants I can’t see my produce growing. The high expectancy is as exciting as poking around in the soft soil not knowing what you could find
  • It reminds me that of all the produce I work with in my kitchen, potatoes are the most important produce I must ensure remains organic at all times. Among all the fruits and vegetables, they are among the worst affected by pesticide so that even after washing you can’t minimise the damage from pesticide.
  • They are no trouble to grow. I just harvest one pot after another as and when I am ready. Even if I go past the three-month period when they are ready to harvest, they still remain good in the soil. I have read articles that state that they will rot if they stay in the soil too long, but I have never found this happen to me and I have left them in their pots as long as up to eight months. 
consume organic potatoes
green potatoes should not be eaten



  • Organic potatoes in Australia are easily available in the supermarkets and whole food stores in Australia. They cost only a little more than conventional potatoes.
  • Don’t eat green potatoes and don’t eat their leaves. They are poisonous.
  • Potatoes contain more potassium than bananas.
  • Contrary to popular belief, potatoes are actually quite nutritious. It is the unhealthy preparation of potatoes for a meal that causes them to become less nutritious






Merry Christmas From The Farm

The time has come to officially announce that I have two websites and showcasing two of my greatest passions – writing books, short stories and articles and healthy cooking from farm fresh produce. From time to time when my two passions cross paths I will cross promote between the two websites. Like now when I want to shout out Merry Christmas from the farm to all who are following my two websites. Merry Christmas From The Farm takes you behind the scenes to two book authors’ lives – mine and Debra Sue Brice as we prepare for Christmas.

Let me take you on a journey on how country folk celebrate Christmas with my Merry Christmas From The Farm. In Malaysia country folk are called orang kampung. I believe wherever we are in the world, country folk and orang kampung share one common bond – a simple and uncomplicated life not dictated by time and we love our land, nature and animals.

I’m taking you on two trips. One to my farm in Australia and another to the farm of my fellow author and friend, Debra Sue Brice in the United States of America. One country is experiencing summer and the other winter but Christmas is the same for us because we live in a magical place called the countryside.

We grow our own food and make most of what we eat or we buy from local people.

My dogs are eating home-made pumpkin ice cream made from pumpkins grown on our land and raw honey from our neighbour and kefir.

Not a whole lot of big events take place in the country and so we have to make our own entertainment. Check out Debra and her mum Linda after church last Sunday trying to catch snowflakes falling from the sky in their mouth.

Merry Christmas From The Farm
Linda [left] and Debra
Yes. They’re having a white Christmas and we’re having a sunny one.

Merry Christmas From The Farm

We spend a lot of time with our animals and that inevitably boils down to talking a lot to them. It is not unusual to find my husband, Kevin stop what he is doing and ask, “You talkin’ to me?” and my comeback would be, “Nope. The dog.” or  “Nope, the horse.”

Merry Christmas From The Farm

And other times we might dress alike our animals

Merry Christmas From The Farm

I know I said we like to cook our own meals from produce in our garden, but did I mention we also make our own Christmas cards? Here is a card I received from Nerida last Sunday in church. This is a photo of a Crimson Honey Eater on a grevillea plant called Amy Lou. No, that’s really the official name for this plant. Country folk don’t name our plants, well, not all the time, although it is easy to believe we do that especially christening with double first names, right Debra Sue?

Merry Christmas from the farm
Home-made Christmas card from Nerida at church

What other people consider litter is gold to us. Cannot understand why these council workers in Malaysia would sweep up and carry away these leaves when they provide organic food for the plants, nesting and bedding material for wildlife and insects that contribute to composting these leaves and creating healthy soil.


Over in America Debra has sent me a photo with the caption ‘Delicious Manure’. Repulsive to others but delicious to us, I mean to the plants.


During this holiday season why not check out our books to read:

Child of Dust by Shoba Sadler

Icing by Debra Sue Brice

Book Promo video by Debra

Kevin and I wish you Merry Christmas with our rendition of Drummer Boy which Kevin calls Drummer girl because I am the drummer of the family



Pairing dishes in order to serve up a great meal is an art.

Most households would prepare main meals and side dishes, but rarely do people pay attention to condiments these days. They should.

In the past condiments meant strictly pickle or other preserved food to boost the flavours in a meal. It can either make a bland meal flavoursome or make an adequate meal extravagant.

These days, condiments have taken on a new meaning to incorporate sauces and in some places like Europe, even cheese.

It is usually distinguished from side dishes by being a lot less in portion as it is not the main dish but complements both the main and side dishes.

Indian Banana Leaf Meal


If you are in India or South East Asia, you can expect to be served a bountiful banana leaf meal as in the picture above. Notice how the meal is made a lot more elaborate by little portions of condiments. Even the arrangement of the food on the banana leaf is orderly. First you have the main meals in a row. Behind that are the side dishes and then the row furthest away from you at the edge of the leave, are the condiments.

Any guesses which are the side dishes and which the condiments? Mixed vegetables in ground coconut, vegetable stir fried with grated coconut, pumpkin and red beans in grated coconut gravy, these are all clear-cut side dishes.

Now banana chips is also a side dish but notice the smaller portion of yam chips? So the yam chips will become a condiment as the banana chips take precedent in the meal.

Quite obvious condiments here would be lime and mango pickles, tamarind and ginger chutney. I would add to that, the yoghurt spiced with ginger. As for the pineapple and okra, the same arrangement applies with the banana and yam chips. Being the larger portion, the okra would be the side dish and the pineapple the condiment.

Green Goddess Dressing
Green Goddess Dressing

It is interesting to explore the condiments of different cultures and right here in Australia, I paid a visit to Jean Sadler to observe how she made Green Goddess Dressing, a very popular condiment in the 1960s.


Green Goddess Dressing Among Popular Condiments 

Jean is what I would call a professional home chef. My personal opinion is that home chefs are more professional than celebrity chefs or chefs who own restaurants. The reason being the home chefs are not under pressure to cook for a multitude of people every day. So they have the time to be creative and explore their skills and craft to the fullest. Also home chefs tend to focus on healthy cooking as they are cooking for their own families whereas commercial cooking simply cannot compare.Jam in the larder

The other highlight of my visit is to take a peek into Jean’s  kitchen larder which  is overflowing with jam made from various fruits, mostly grown in her home garden. One particularly delicious jam she gave me to take home was kumquat and tequila made from kumquats grown in her garden. This inspired me to get my own kumquat tree.

Grapes In Jean Sadler's Garden
Grapes In Jean Sadler’s Garden

Jean is also an expert wine-maker who makes wine from grapes in her own little vineyard at the back of her house.

To kick-start her condiment she gave me and my mother-in-law Olwen a lovely history of Green Goddess dressing. She fondly recalls how you could readily buy it from the supermarket during that era as popular brands such Seven Seas (now bought over by Kraft Foods) were producing them.

The sumptuous Garden Court restaurant is in San Francisco’s Palace Hotel, where Green Goddess dressing was invented. / Photo by Larry D. Moore courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The sumptuous Garden Court restaurant is in San Francisco’s Palace Hotel, where Green Goddess dressing was invented. / Photo by Larry D. Moore courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The original Green Goddess dressing is the creation of chef Philip Roemer of the San Francisco’s Palace Hotel in 1923 to honor actor George Arliss, who stayed at the hotel while performing in William Archer’s hit play, “The Green Goddess”.

This hotel first opened in 1875 and was the largest hotel in the West for many years and one of the earliest to start the tradition of celebrity chefs. In 1903 the Palace hotel was devastated by an earthquake and fires but was restored and reopened in 1906 to a huge opening ceremony attended by the rich and famous.

Green Goddess dressing is still on Palace Hotel’s menu today with some changes from the original version, which is the addition of more herbs and the elimination of mayo and dairy. Another age-old item that has survived till today is crab salad and buttermilk biscuits that has been on its menu since 1909.

Another famous condiment, the thousand island sauce/dressing which everyone has heard of because it is still popular today is another condiment borne out of a hotel. It was created by George  Boldt, proprietor of Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York.

Green Goddess Dressing is so easy to make. Just watch the video below. This dressing is so versatile I use it as a dip, salad dressing and even as a pizza sauce topping.


Green Goddess Dressing With

kumquat in brandy and home-made wine
Jean and Olwen holding home-brewed wine and home-made kumquat in brandy in a jar from kumquats off Jean’s tree