Thursday, 30 September 2010

'Elf and Safety

So there we were at  10.45am  happily picking grapes in the sunshine,  rinsing the dust off them and  picking them from the bunches ready to go indoors and make a batch of wine, when Fernando came up from Yator on his dumper on his way to his cousin's land  to cut firewood.  Of course he stopped for a chat as he always does,  tasted the grapes, told me they were Moscatel and after a while he left. 

Well, almost.  He looked up at the mulberry tree that is outside our house, overhanging the driveway and said it's much too big, dense, overhanging a walnut, fig and several olives and ought to be pruned.   He pruned it about 6 years ago, we've done it since then but it grows so fast!   And it's not our tree!  It belongs to Carmen and family next door and  she loves the shade it provides in the summer.   But for the rest of the year, it just overhangs everywhere.

So it needed to be cut, he said he'd do it and we thought he meant another day but no.  Out came the chainsaw and axe and less than an hour later we were surrounded by logs and greenery. 
at least he stopped work to answer the phone!

Safe?  and he drives an ambulance for a living!
He left us then to do his firewood,  later on he stopped for a beer  on the way down to Yator and to show us his dog which he'd managed to run over with his dumper - luckily she only had a cut foot and a cut leg but was very unhappy ran off!!   I found her whimpering behind our house a couple of hours later,  John phoned Fernando to tell him where she was  and we put her outside by the mulberry branches with a drink to wait for him to collect her.  

This is Copo, - copo de nieve is a snowflake
It took until 5. 30 to get the logs stacked, the branches cut down and the leafy ends stacked so the leaves can drop off and be composted later.

We did eventually get our wine made as well  - but had a 5 hour delay! 

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Figgy pudding

We have so many figs growing here that it is hard to know what to do with them all.  So far we have made jam, umpteen litres of wine and dried them for the winter.  We use them chopped up small instead of buying raisins and sultanas - substitute black figs for raisins and white figs for sultanas.  They also go into muesli,  usually  to liven up shop-bought muesli   along with extra almonds - also lots of those around here.

One recipe I came across is for figgy pudding,  it makes a really good alternative to the traditional -usually shop bought - Xmas Pud.  Most of the recipes used fresh figs,  of course fresh figs aren't available at Xmas so this recipe is ideal. 

half cup butter
half cup lard
1 cup gran sugar
3 large egg yolks
1 cup milk
2 tablespns rum or brandy
1  apple, peeled cored and finely chopped -  I use dried apple or pear slices if no fresh
1 lb dried figs, finely chopped - black for a dark pud, white for a paler one
grated peel 1 orange and 1 lemon
1 cup chopped nuts - almonds are good especially as they are free around here
half teaspn cinnamon
1/4 teaspn cloves
1/4 teaspn ginger  -   I use mixed spice for these last 3 ingredients
1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs
2 tspns baking powder
3 large egg whites, whisked till stiff

Cream butter and lard.  Add sugar, egg yolks, milk, booze, fruit, nuts, spices and breadcrumbs and baking powder. Lastly fold in egg whites.

Put in greased bowl, cover with grease proof paper - tied on - and either steam for 4 hours at 160°  in a tray of water  or put into a pressure cooker for 20 mins steaming and 50-60mins at low pressure. Leave to reduce pressure at room temp and enjoy with custard or ice cream or cream or all of them!

I make a half size recipe,  put into a 1.5 litre  pyrex  bowl which fits beautifully into the pressure cooker.   That makes  6 good portions.


Saturday, 18 September 2010

September rain.

We've had our September rain - it started Thursday, rained very heavily in the night and there was thunder rumbling around the Sierras and the Contraviesa all the time too. 

Yesterday we just had showers,  we managed to get out for an early morning walk with Monty and Pip  in between breakfast time and the next  shower but that was it for most of the day.  It's watered the land nicely, dampened down the dust, cleared the air and cleaned the cars too!!.  Although today has been lovely and sunny, it's also been very humid.

Pip doesn't like the heavy rain or the thunder and hides under the bed during the day.  In the night, when the rain was very heavy, she came and curled up on the bed between us -  she must feel  safer there.

So there's no need to water the land tomorrow, our watering day, but we still need to fill the storage tanks for the next 2 weeks of vegetable watering.  

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Jam makers extraordinario!

Yes, we've been at it again, only today John was chief jam maker.  I went out after lunch picking  figs, almonds, lemons and peaches, and while I prepared the peaches for the freezer, made lemonade to drink and separated the husks from the almonds, John made black fig jam.

2 kilos of figs, halved and simmered.  Whizzed with the hand blender to get rid of the lumps - he doesn't like lumps in his jam - added 1 kilo of sugar and simmered till setting point.  We added a few spoonfuls of the lemon juice to take the edge off the sweetness and now have another 8 jars of jam.

Tomorrow?   Well,  probably not more jam as there's only so much shelf space!   But I'm sure something will be made....

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Cooking at altitude.

It's not something you necessarily think about when moving house,  but when your bread dough (sometimes) doesn't rise or your jam takes forever to reach setting point, that's when you start to look into the problems and hopefully find some answers!

We were given a pressure cooker for a wedding present,  now no longer holding pressure unfortunately, but very good as a large stockpot / pickle and jam maker. (We have a new one, a gift from the bank..!)   But the original handbook is still in use and at the very beginning it says "if you live higher than 600m above sea level, adjust your cooking time in the following way....low pressure changes to medium, medium becomes high and for high pressure, add 1 minute cooking time for every 300m above 600."   What I didn't know was that boiling point got  lower the higher you went.....

So today when I started the red grape jelly, I knew that it would take a while longer than the recipe said to reach setting point.  In all fairness the recipe didn't actually say how long, but I bet they didn't think it'd take 1.5 hours!!!!!   I was beginning to think we'd not have anything left to put in jars, but have 8 beautiful dark red jars of jelly cooling in the kitchen.

I started with 3 bunches of grapes that weighed in at 2.7 kgs  ..... cooked for 3 minutes at high pressure with minimal water,  mashed then strained and that produced 4 pints of grape juice.  Added 4 lbs sugar and lots of boiling and stirring later we have 8 jars of jelly to add to the produce shelves in the kitchen.

I did a google search some time ago and found a 'cooking at altitude' website, so if there's anyone else out there wondering why the bread doesn't rise when it's humid  or  you're living high up,  that's the place to look for answers.

And don't get me started on dumplings...... never had a problem until we came here, but it's all in the size  -  small is good -   and a longer cooking time.

Maybe I should start a special section on here!

Monday, 13 September 2010

Jam time

We went up to the orange grove this morning, John strimmed, I raked everything into heaps - hopefully to rot down and feed the land - and then picked figs for more wine.

There are lots of grape vines climbing through the orange trees, up into the fig trees too, and they are nearly ready for picking.  Most of the grapes are lovely and sweet, some of the larger bunches have some a little bit too sour still,  but we are going to pick some tomorrow and make grape jelly.  Apparently those under-ripe ones have more pectin in and so there's no need to add any.  And grapes with pips don't need pectin added as it's in the pips!   I want to do both black grape jelly and white grape jelly, don't suppose the taste is any different but the black grapes have such a rich colour.

grapes with the balsa in the background
Yesterday I made 4 jars of  peach jam, there's only so many you can eat fresh or with ice cream and although I'd love to freeze some for winter crumbles, we are running out of freezer space. If we have any space before the peaches all drop off the  trees, I'll get some sliced and frozen.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Impenetrable bramble bush...

For those regular readers, you know that we are asked by our neighbour Mariano if we'd like to work on his land, doing his olive harvest , rebuilding dry stone walls - balates - and such like in previous months.

the bramble forest at 8am....
and some blackberries in the sunshine...
and later at 12 o'clock.
This week we have made a start clearing areas up near the fuente,  lots of overgrown bramble patches,  there's an overgrown orange grove to strim and dig over, an olive  tree on it's own little terrace (about 3m x 5m) that needs tidying up and another area of an unknown size that's not been seen for many years. One end has a large,  black fig tree and it ends up near some huge rocks - in between there appears to be a cherry tree and far too many brambles and mint.  Yes, mint.  It is growing everywhere up there, as  tall as me and flowering too.  Smells lovely when it's strimmed!  Unfortunately the brambles are not fruiting much, but what there is we are picking as we work.  They're probably too old, certainly very long and straggly, climbing up high into the trees.

So, we'll continue next week......

Monday, 6 September 2010

Anniversaries and fiestas

Last Friday was a double anniversary for us,  7 years since we left England for a change of life/style and 33 years since we got married.   We have another anniversary tomorrow as that is the day we actually arrived here having spent 2 days in Chateauneuf-du-Pape and 2 days in Tarragona on the way down south.

We decided not to go out for our anniversary but to stay home and spend the money on extra special food.  Thursday we went  to the coast to buy shell fish;  crab, lobster, prawns and a fillet steak.  We added some salad, a loaf of ciabatta,  a  croissant assortment for breakfast and some tiny pastries for dessert.   We made - or rather John did - some fish soup using the shells and prawn heads as a base.  And so the meal got rather too big!

It actually took us 2 breakfasts, 2 elevenses, 2 lunches and a 3 course dinner before it was finished!

Then on Saturday night we went with Mariano up to El Golco to join in their  fiesta celebrations.   We met some of his cousins, drank a glass or two of local wine - when I say a glass, it was actually served in half pint tumblers - and finally got home at 2.30am.

El Golco is a tiny village, smaller than Y├ítor, not even a bar, but it has the usual bread and fish daily deliveries.  The church was originally a mosque until the area became Christian and dates back to the 15th century. 

Looking out from the church, you can see a tiny cemetery.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

End of summer break

Not for us obviously as we aren't going anywhere, but our neighbours have come to the end of their traditional fortnight's break from the hustle and bustle of Granada.  Miguel has strimmed and strimmed the land nearest to their house and it's all looking nice and tidy.  The children are as brown as berries - as is Marie-Carmen - and  peace and quiet has returned.

Miguel  had an extra weeks  holiday in July,  which he  enjoyed, but unfortunately it was for all the wrong reasons.  He works at a Renault dealership in Granada and sales are so slow, that the boss said to take extra time out.  So slow in fact, that they haven't sold a car in the past 2 months.  Part of the reason for buying the strimmer and getting the land clear is just in case things get worse,  they have land that is ready  for digging and planting up with vegetables.  The family are in the fortunate position of owning a house in Yator and this one here in Montenegro where there is also 2 hectares of land.  

So off they went with last minute instructions not to forget to pick everything as it'll go to waste otherwise.  I made a good start this morning,  28 lbs of figs  which are on their way to being wine, and this afternoon I found some early almonds ready for picking.  They are outside de-husked (the husks  go in the wood burner when dry)  and the almonds are drying off in the sun and will be shelled another day - the shells burn too - not much wastage around here!

It'll be a few weeks before they get back down for a weekend, but Miguel's  hoping to buy a chainsaw next and get the olives pruned for firewood,  he's turning from a city boy into a  campesino.

Just found this article about car sales here:

The increase in IVA/VAT has put the brake on car sales in Spain, with the numbers down in August on the same month last year by 23.8%. It is the worst August for case sales for 20 years, with numbers also pushed lower by the end of the Government’s scrappage scheme.

Read more:
So, no surprise that Miguel had  extra holidays....probably not the only person!