Saturday, 29 October 2011

La granada

or as it's more commonly known, the pomegranate.  The fruit is included in Granada city's coat of arms and  one of the gates to the Alhambra is called the Gate of the Pomegranates.  It appears all over the city in one form or another, laid into paving using tiny stones, on the tops of the posts at the side of the road.....

October is the time when ours start to split, usually after the rains have come.  I read that the rains cause them to swell just that bit more and then they burst open, a lovely dark ruby red inside.  Messy to de-pip  (if that's the right word)  no matter how careful you are some of the juices spray everywhere  so I now do them into a bowl of water.  The papery layer that the juice sacks are covered with then float to the surface and are easily scooped off.  You don't want that layer to go in with the juice as it's very bitter tasting.

There were 16 ripe pomegranates on the tree  this morning so I thought I'd better pick them before the birds got  to them.  What seemed like ages afterwards I finally had a large bowlful of juicy red arils (thanks wikipedia - not seeds at all)

They went into the liquidiser, then I strained the resulting juices off into a pan,  1.6 litres of deep red juice. 

For a change this time we thought we'd make grenadine which is a syrup of pomegranate juice.  You need to add an equal amount of sugar to the juice, bring it to the boil, simmer for about 10 minutes till it's syrupy, cool and bottle.  End result today, 3 bottles of grenadine. 

on the left, yesterdays marrow waiting to be cooked
Next stop,  online recipes to see what else to use it for.  Primarily it's for drinks, be they alcoholic or not.  This site has it listed as an ingredient for 583 drink recipes!   Also lovely mixed with lemonade, tonic or sparkling water as a refreshing summer drink  and  then I found it recommended as a glaze for pork, duck and chicken,  poured over icecream, and as a pancake syrup amongst other things.

Something for everyone!

Friday, 28 October 2011

Roasting chestnuts

We had a kilo and a half of chestnuts yesterday which we roasted in a *holey* pan - not over an open fire.  We were given the pan soon after moving here but don't use it very often as the chestnuts don't grow this low - they are all up around Mecina and Yegen.  Probably lots of other places too but that's the nearest they come to us.

It took ages to cut the cross in them all, I'd read somewhere recently that it's easier to open them after roasting if the cross goes across the top of the chestnut then as it roasts, the cross opens up and you have something to pull on.  And that worked well.  But the nuts need opening when they're still quite hot as the inside layer  seemed to come off much easier when more hot than cool.  Didn't matter for the ones we ate as we peeled but I wanted to freeze some them for chestnut stuffing to have with the Christmas turkey.

Monty and Pip sat as close to the kitchen table as they could get to catch anything we dropped, don't what they made of all the painful oohs and aahs as our fingers got hotter and hotter the more we peeled.  We ate quite a lot I thought, but still had 800 grams left over for the freezer.  And all the shells are in a bag ready to go into the woodburner when we light it.

Locally there is a celebration of the chestnut,  any excuse for a fiesta!   It's the 15th year they've celebrated!     Jornada de la Castaña   'The Day of the Chestnut'  is on tomorrow,  Halloween celebration tomorrow night and  the 4th Jornada de la Seta   'Day of the Mushroom'   is on Sunday.  This is the programme of events that are happening up until Christmas in both Mecina and Yegen. 

Half an hour later....

Just had a quick break as Fernando stopped on his way past,  he has left us 6 large aubergines and a marrow, or at least I think it's a marrow.  I always assumed marrows were green like a large courgette and he called it a calabaza - calabazín is a courgette, this is the big version.  But it's orange not green, the last one we were given by Paco was a green one, again a calabaza, and some we roasted with the Sunday joint, the rest I added to the soup pot.  So I'll put some round the roast on Sunday and maybe make soup again....  I wonder if it freezes then I could add it to stews and curries when needed.

**re:  the holey pan.  Looks like a frying pan but with holes in the base and with quite a long handle.  Probably easy to make out of an old pan,  ours came from the local market and I think was about 75 cents.

Update...the calabaza weighs  2.5 kgs,   it's about a foot long and more of a pale golden honey colour than orange.   Maybe it's just  a ripened version of the one we had before?

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Better than we thought.

We were prepared for the worst  but  - so far at least, we've only had overnight rain.  Quite hard rain in the night I think as it woke me up, but it stopped early this morning.  This afternoon has been quite sunny and although there were huge clouds to the north and south of us we managed a nice long walk before the clouds gathered again.  Looking out now, we are completely covered and it's looking oh so gloomy.

One of my favourite walks is along the section of GR7 heading towards El Golco,  it's wooded and green to start with then opens up into a more rocky path with rosemary covered slopes either side.  Problem is that the green end gets very overgrown, probably due to the spring here in Montenegro overflowing and encouraging the growth.  Not so much undergrowth as overgrowth too.  In the summer it's almost impassable  unless you're in trousers which I'm not then - too hot - and I don't like bramble scratched legs.  And in the winter especially after rain,  it can be too wet from the branches and overhanging leaves.  Normally the path is kept clear by the medio ambiente guys who come and strim it.  Not this year  though - no idea why but possibly budget cuts.

However, yesterday morning 2 guys came down the track from Yegen, not medio ambiente and not driving a Junta de Andalucia vehicle either, they stopped at the Yegen, Montenegro, El Golco  junction of paths and as we walked past they were getting the strimmer up and running and we could hear it all morning.  We've just been to take a look and go for a walk and the path has been cleared as far as Cortijo Miguel which is a ruin about half way along, pretty much where the lush green stops and the rosemary bushes take over.

This is near where the over flow from the spring runs across the path.
With the sun shining through the overhanging trees it looks like a green leafy tunnel.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

At last, it's rained!

At last we've had some autumn rains ranging from - on Thursday afternoon - an all-out thunder and lightning 'event' as the weather forecasters seem to call these things nowadays,  to a grey drizzley day yesterday and then over lunchtime today the rain came again, and the wind blew loads of leaves, remaining almonds and dead bunches of grapes down.

We raked up the leaves and put them in the compost, Monty and Pip tried to eat all the dried grapes before I got to them  for the compost,  we collected the almonds that we'd not been able to reach when we harvested - much easier picking them up off the ground - and then checked the forecast to see what else is coming our way.

It looks like it might be time to batten down the hatches at least for tomorrow and maybe later in the week as well as there is more on the way.  But it's the first rain that we can remember since the start of June and that was such a small shower that it was over and done with without really wetting anything.

John was passing the Ayuntamiento in Mecina Bombaron last week and stopped in to ask about the permissions for having bonfires.  They usually run from the start of November till the end of April - depending on the weather conditions.  This year they said the medio ambiente won't come to do the permits till after it's rained,  which  day of the week do they come?  when it's rained.

So now it has rained, but we don't know if it's enough for the  permits to be issued.  Next time we're passing by we'll take last years permit and leave it there to be re-issued and collected later.   It'll be olive pruning time soon and we want to burn the trimmings.  They take a long time to rot down in the compost even after going through the shredder and being layered with other fruit and veg waste, so alternate years we burn and add the ash instead.

Of course, along with rain comes a drop in temperature.  So off with the summer bed cover - a cotton throwover, and on with the heavier cosy bedding.  The rugs have come out of their bags and are down on the floors - the tiled floors suddenly get cold and once that happens they won't warm up till next year.  The wood burners are laid ready for lighting,  scones and jam for elevenses  yesterday and a rice pudding in the slow cooker for tonight.

And next weekend the clocks change - autumn is here!

Friday, 21 October 2011

Winners and losers.

Some plants are always winners and some have  big  'hit or miss' years.  We've made a list of this years planted vegetables and fruits called "foolproof, very insecty, not worth the hassle and just enough to eat".

Under foolproof comes strawberries, every type of bean, peas, kohlrabi, chillis, aubergines, sugarbeets, garlic, cucumbers and lettuce.

Under the insect heading comes cabbages, brussels and kale.

Not worth it (cheap to buy for the amount we need) cauliflowers, sweet potatoes, onions, sweetcorn, courgettes, celeriac, parsnip, swede, leeks, peanuts, radish.

Grow enough just to eat as an extra - carrots, tomatoes and potatoes.

A bit of a mixed up list as things like courgettes should grow well and some years they do, but we don't eat that many and when they don't do well like this year, it's something we think is easier to buy when needed rather than digging and planting then getting a glut that we don't want.

Onions are a strange one, they always grow but never swell very much - I use them more for salads and pickling.  Bought a sack last week - 30cents a kilo.  Is it worth buying the plants and then looking after them for the  6 months they are in the ground? 

Tomatoes we have always grown lots of, this year no-ones have done well and although we have lots dried, they are cheap to buy in season (3 kilos for 1 euro) and large tins of tomato triturada (sort of pulped) work out even cheaper per kilo than that.

Potatoes need loads of space as we seem to eat lots over a year and I'm not sure we could ever be self-sufficient but if they sprout in the kitchen, then we plant them and eat them as tiny ones with mint and butter - so we grow them as an extra.

This years carrot crop was amazing, we grew round carrots, and for using in salads and as a baby veg they were lovely.  But now they've all gone so we're back to buying them.

Cauliflowers took a lot of space for many months, some bolted and some didn't stay white but sort of tasted ok, especially under cheese sauce when you couldn't see the colour.  Worth it? Probably not,  but worth trying. 

The biggest disappointment as always are the cabbage family.  Love sprouts, red cabbage and green cabbage,  no problem growing them but those pesky butterflies and caterpillars drive me mad!  This years kale is growing very well and tastes wonderful - but needs so much cleaning before cooking as the little grey flies are tucked up tight in the curly edges.......but we'll persevere.   We always plant them in different places - this year they are spread over 3 different areas in the hope the butterflies won't find some.  One year we'll win!

But the gold star of the crop has to go to the strawberries  and the bean family.  Never let us down,  no insect damage, the beans bend with the wind, the birds eat other fruit and leave the strawberries to us, just give them plenty of water and sun and pick and eat.  Wonderful.  I wish all fruits and vegetables were so easy.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Planting by the moon

Not by moonlight, but by the cycle of the moon!   What seems like many years ago, but was probably our first spring here, Manolo came round one day asking if it was creciente  - what crescent?  de la luna   he said as if that made it any more obvious.  But what he was referring to was an age old custom of doing things by the cycle of the moon, when it's rising you plant things that grow up - leafy, herby types of plants - and when it's a waning moon you plant root vegetables.   There's more to it than that, but basically that seems to be how it works.

I was reminded of this a couple of weeks ago when I saw a link to this website about planting according to the different moon phases and  I read it meaning to try something and see if it grew any quicker than expected.  I sent the link on to a friend and then forgot all about it....when I next saw her she said thanks for the moon guide, the coriander and parsley both appeared after 2 days!  Really quick, especially for parsley which  is apparently very slow to germinate and I find almost impossible to grow! 

I've had a look for this week and it seems I have a bit of a break from planting as the moon is in it's last quarter and we can concentrate on digging, weeding and composting.    Apart from today that is as I have a day off  'cos it's my birthday.

Opened my cards and a present over breakfast, went out for a coffee and then spent some money on myself,  then later we had lunch and  drinks with  friends.  Another lovely sunny day, clear blue skies and not a sign of autumn yet.  Long may it last. 

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Colourful quince.

Another day, another batch of quince to deal with.  But not chutney today although I started off the same:   peel it,  core it, and chop it.  It wouldn't all fit in the pressure cooker so some was simmered in a pan and look at the difference in colour! 

Ready for roast pork...

 I think the longer it's cooked the deeper the colour and the pressure cooker is a very intense way of cooking.  Much less water, much quicker and a different colour altogether.  So it was all cooked, drained, pureed, then some was frozen for serving as 'apple sauce' with roast pork while the rest was put back in the pan, an equal amount of sugar added and it was then simmered until thick, then cooled, poured into containers and is now in the fridge.

and ready for some good strong cheese.

 This is traditionally served with cheese at the end of a meal although it's very nice on hot, buttery toast too.  And possibly on scones instead of jam? Worth trying I think!

PS: Just  look at the colour of this sky!  Finished with the quince at 3pm, came upstairs to find it was still 26.7° in the shade so had a couple of  hours by the pool reading and topping up my tan just in case autumn should come soon.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Todays offering...

I've finally got round to doing something with the quince that I picked last Tuesday, luckily they last for a few weeks after picking.  I make some sort of chutney every year with some of them and a few years ago - 2009 to be precise - I found a recipe that included lots of Indian spices such as cardamom seeds, coriander seeds, turmeric...  Unfortunately my filing system/recipe file has totally let me down and I can't find any trace of the original recipe.  So off to google I went, put in the fruit, spices etc that I think went in the chutney and up popped a recipe from Turkey.  It didn't look familiar, don't think it's the same one, but that's what I've made today although with a bit of tweaking of the ingredients.

The end result but only using half the quince.
It's a 2 stage recipe, day 1 you peel, core and chop 2.5 kilos of quince and put in a bowl then cover with 700g of brown sugar.   I used soft brown but not dark.  Cover with cling film - or a shower cap - and leave overnight.

Day 2, put the sugary quince into a large pan - I used the pressure cooker - and add these spices..... Dry roast 1 teaspoon cumin seeds and 2 teaspoons coriander seeds and grind.  Add to fruit along with 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds, 1 teaspoon turmeric powder, 2 or 3 teaspoons grated ginger, 1 teaspoon ground cloves, 8 cloves garlic finely chopped,  2 spanish onions finely chopped, 2 teaspoons salt, and chilli. 

(chilli is to taste, the recipe said 1 teaspoon of cayenne but I added 1 fresh chilli absolutely no chilli taste at all, added 1 more, and 1 more, 4 in total but I wanted a fruity chutney with some kick.)

To all the fruity spicy mix add 500ml of white wine vinegar and pressure cook for 10 minutes on high,  reduce pressure with cold water, mash fruit down using potato masher,  add remaining 300ml of vinegar and simmer till thick.  Don't know how long it would take to reach that consistency if cooked without a pressure cooker, this took 40 minutes in total.

Put into sterilized jars until - well, most chutneys you have to keep till they improve.  We ate the left overs tonight as there was just a bit too much for 11 jars and it was wonderful. 

PS:  the caterpillars are back...on the biggest, best red cabbage that we have - or had!

Monday, 10 October 2011

Cabbages and caterpillars.

What is it with caterpillars and cabbages?  I know they have to eat but why our veg?  The seeds germinate well, the small plants get transplanted and continue happily in their new place,  I make cages out of netting and still the butterflies manage to get in.  They seem quite happy to eat both red and green cabbage, brussel sprout plants, kale but - luckily for us - not cauliflowers (yet!)  The netting has quite small holes, sold either as pea or bird net, but I have seen a butterfly in the cabbage cage and then as I watched, it folded it's wings and went out through the net.  It was the middle of the morning,  I was stone cold sober,   I wasn't imagining it.

So how to stop them?  I check all the vegetables every morning and sometimes again late afternoon, pick off any caterpillars I find and put them in a bucket of water  (they don't swim very well),  but yesterday when I went to water the vegetables and the olive trees I found that the caterpillars had moved on to the kohlrabi and swede leaves!  Some days I find one or two leaves of a plant completely stripped back to the framework of the leaf but no caterpillar around.  Maybe something else is getting in the cage and eating them but there's no way a bird can get in. 

It's very frustrating and annoying - lots of our time and effort goes into the preparation of the land, digging, weeding, watering, just to fatten up a family of cabbage white butterflies and caterpillars.  And that's not even thinking about the aphids which get onto the plants as well.  Sort of a grey fly thing, tiny and very difficult to get rid of.  Maybe something to do with the caterpillars as we always seem to get both,  not one or the other.  But they don't strip a plant bare and can be washed off the leaves eventually.  Took 5 washes to get the kale clean on Sunday but it can be done. 

I know you can live in harmony with nature and that wasps, ants and ladybirds etc all do their bit to eat as many insects as possible.  There's no way we want to resort to sprays as we like to know what's going on our plates so all we can do is plant far more than we need and hope the caterpillars appetite doesn't grow when they see the extra veg that we have planted. 

One of the plants that nothing touches are the strawberries.  I made 2 new beds yesterday and planted out 40 small plants from runners.  They've been rooting in yoghurt pots and have grown out the bottom of the pots now, so I cut them away from the mother plant and transplanted them.  There are still another 37 in pots.........and lots more that have 'run' and rooted themselves in between the parent plants.  I'm going to leave them all for the time being, and next summer see how well this years 2 year olds fruit.  If they don't do well, then they'll come out this time next year and I'll use that space for something else.  Not desperately short of space so no need to get rid of them just yet.  The original mother plant is now 4 summers old and still producing fruit and babies.  This years plants are still giving us about half a kilo a week, enough to have with cornflakes for breakfast.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

It's wine time again

Out first thing this morning with lots of buckets to collect as many grapes as we could for this year's wine making.  The grapes started off well this year but for some reason many of them have shrivelled up.  Not just ours, our neighbours too and the many Paco's here also have less grapes.  So we've picked everything within reach and although not as much as last year, it all helps.

We bought a fruit press a few years ago for squeezing the grapes which up till now we've chopped in the food processor.  But that's not designed for kilo after kilo of grapes and also it takes longer as we have to pick the grapes off  the bunches.  So this year we invested in a 'crusher'  - looks a bit like a wheelbarrow top with a handle - it bursts the grapes ready for squeezing or fermenting then squeezing, depending whether you want red or white wine.  It's very similar to this one.....

Picked 18 buckets of grapes altogether......

While on the hunt for grapes, I noticed the quinces were dropping onto the ground, it's only a small tree, but has provided 24 fruit for another day's work.  Probably make chutney as we still have some frozen from last year for pies/crumbles and I have a good recipe for a spicy chutney, a good alternative for when the mango chutney runs out.