Sunday, 27 October 2013

Twice cooked strawberry jam.

When I finally got round to doing something with the strawberries,  we'd picked a few more and eventually ended up with 1.8 kgs of de-stalked ready to use berries.  There was only 1 jar of regular  'with lumps'  version  on the shelf,   3 of the smooth version that John likes though,  and although we don't eat a lot of jam we also don't have such a glut every year.  So jam it was on Thursday morning.  But for some reason,  no matter how much it cooked it didn't reach setting point.  We are high up - 890 metres above sea level - boiling point is lower,  almost 3° lower than at sea level,  so recipes have to be adapted and after 10 years here I know all that.  An extra egg to keep cakes and yorkshire puddings from collapsing,  less fat,  less baking powder,  increased  liquids,  longer cooking time in the pressure cooker etc.  And there are lots of cooking at altitude web sites out there for help.  But none of that helped my jam!  Eventually I just gave up and bottled it hoping it would magically set overnight but on Friday morning when I tipped a jar sideways it was still soft.  Well, runny would be a better word.

So back to google for more help and ideas,  basically I needed more pectin or a pectin rich fruit to add.   And on the gransnet  forum (quite appropriate now I'm a gran)  I found the perfect answer.   We have  lots of quince trees around and always have quince in the freezer as they make a lovely crumble or pureed as an alternative to apple sauce.  Also in the fridge are pots of dulce de membrillo,  or quince jam,  which is delicious served with blue cheese.  And quince are extremely high in pectin. So I softened a tub of membrillo,  and added it to the jam.  Won't you need to soften the jam J asked, to get it out of the jars?  He didn't see quite how runny it was,  and no I didn't,   it just poured out.  Another 20 minutes of cooking and it finally stuck to the cold saucer.  Woo hoo!  Deep joy and all that.  There was a bit too much for the jars,  although 1 small jar less than I'd started with,  so we ate that on toast yesterday morning, hoping it wasn't too hard to spread.  But perfect. 

Really we ought to keep pectin for those runny jam days,  we could make it from any extra quince we have and I have a note of how to do just that. The quince have to be cooked and strained through a jelly bag,  then the liquid boiled  down by a half,  it doesn't keep fresh,  it has to be used in a week or frozen,  the strength of the pectin depends on the ripeness of the fruit,  there is a test using grain alcohol - ie vodka -  and I think it was 1lb quince + 2 cups water should give half cup of pectin,  but I'd need 3/4 cup per 4 cups of jam......I made 6 jars this week,  so lots of pectin needed....   at this point I was beginning to  think of the extra time, the extra gas,  and that  it might just be easier to buy some and keep in stock.

And maybe a jam thermometer?  Although I'm not sure about that with the altitude issue,  more research and reading I think.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The last grapes - maybe.

Possibly the last of the grapes done today,  the bunches that should be black still aren't and we're not sure why.  Some are changing colour but not to the shiny black that we are used to seeing,  more of a gone-off murky black colour.  Not looking good.  But it's only 1 vine and only produces about 5 litres of wine so it's not  such bad news.  Last Tuesdays 62 kilos pressed out yesterday and we got 55 litres from that,  today we've picked and mangled 35 kilos of pretty pink ones,  more dusky that pink,  should make a nice rosado and the sugar levels were higher than last weeks so probably higher alcohol content when finished.  Yum.

Had a quick tot up when we'd finished and washed everything and put it away.  Currently queueing up on the shelf are 26 litres of pear wine,  16 of strawberry,  17 of black fig,  20 of white fig,  with 115 of white (grape) wine fermenting and settling,  with a further possible 30 from today's rosado.  A respectable 224 litres,  half a litre a day plus enough for fiestas and holidays.  That may sound a lot, but it's less than a bottle for 2 of us,  not much to have with dinner and a glass or two in the evening. 

But because we don't have many black grapes -  or any this year - we can't make tinto,  however we do buy a very nice tempranillo from the bodega in Cádiar for 2 euros a litre,  it's local wine from the Contraviesa,  he also sells a nice white as well,  that's only 1.90,  but we have plenty of our own now.  So on those prices we've made quite a few euros worth this summer,   some things are well worth spending time and effort on,  especially if it's something that we use a lot of - such as wine - or can't buy easily - such as a wide variety of chillis, or kohlrabi,  or celeriac.  I wish sometimes that we had better soil so we could grow parsnips and swede,  but  we use squash or sweet potatoes instead which do grow well.

Señor seed starter extraordinario  has excelled himself again,  every lettuce, kohlrabi,  pak choi and coriander seed that he put to germinate in  damp kitchen paper has worked and they are now in seed trays and almost about to produce their second pair of leaves.  Maybe I'll get him working on the parsnips,  our seed pots are about 6 inches deep so possibly a parsnip for each.......might work if they are in compost rather than the ground.

It looks as if autumn might finally be arriving,  cloudier today and a bit of a breeze too - soon be time to get the leaf rake out and do the daily rake-up and compost run before they all blow away.  A quick trip round the strawberry beds this afternoon as rain, or drizzle at least, is due overnight and tomorrow and they'll only rot if not picked,  and surprise surprise,  1.4 kilos again.  Now what shall we do with them this week?  Ideas on a postcard please....or leave a comment.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Wonderful smells from the kitchen.

My personal chef is downstairs preparing a birthday dinner,  I'm not allowed to help so I'm sitting in the late afternoon sun enjoying a glass or two of El Gaitero cider,  according to some more ciderey people than me,  it is the champagne of ciders,  certainly when amazon sell it for £5.45 a bottle,  it isn't cheap local stuff.  There is a lovely small of prawns, fish stock, garlic and who knows what else wafting up from the kitchen,  steak is involved too, I know because I bought it on Wednesday when out shopping.

Back a few days to Tuesday,  we picked and crushed the last of the white grapes,  62 kilos after de-stalking them,  apparently grapes are 90% juice so that should squeeze out another 55 litres or so on Monday.  Then Tuesday we will pick the rosy blush grapes for a rosado.  The only  black grapes are still not black but last time we  didn't pick them till October 28th so a week or so to go yet.

Wednesday morning was a shopping and coffee with friends morning,  that meant plant stuff- picking, watering, checking on the weeds etc didn't get done till Thursday.  It's unusually hot for October,  18 or 19 overnight and around the high 20's during the day.  And since those 2 storms of  a month ago,  no rain either.  So although by now we usually only need to water veg weekly, at the moment we are doing it twice weekly.  The squash are still producing fruits,  more now than in the summer although they are not so big yet.  And so are the strawberries,  another kilo for the weekend!

Yesterday was more routine than anything,  house cleaning, washing and ironing- actually I didn't iron anything, but it's in the basket ready -  and we cleaned the pool too.  Although I  haven't been in since my last dip on the 4th,  I was very tempted this afternoon,  the water is shimmering, the floor is clean and the sun was so warm on my skin but I didn't do it.  Maybe tomorrow.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Really juicy white ones.

Those big juicy grapes that we "mangled" last week have spent a week fermenting and today went through the press.  Every morning we stir the buckets of brewing grapes as the grapes float to the surface and form a kind of crust,  on pressing day we don't stir but find it quicker to scoop off the grapes, pour the liquid - plus any grapes that we've missed -  through  the press until it's full, then squeeze.  When I say squeeze,  I don't mean that really,  there are wooden blocks that fit in the press and a handle with a ratchet that gives the necessary pressure to force out the juice.  Then add more grapes or liquid and squeeze again.  We can press out 6 buckets of fermented grapes at a go,  what is left is a very dry 4 inch thick lump which goes up to the compost.

The end result today is almost 70 litres of white wine - or potential wine.  It needs to finish fermenting,  settle,   be siphoned separating the wine from the sediment,  mature - possibly -

And then drink!

Tomorrow more juicy white ones,  and maybe juicy blush ones too.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Cracking on!

Autumn's almonds are still happening,  we have one tub left to shell,  and one jarful of shelled ones that need blanching  but we have nearly cracked it!   Sorry, not meant to be a pun,  but almonds....cracking.... I know, I'm sorry.

Strawberries too are still happening,  I froze a kilo last week,  can't keep making and eating strawberry crumble nice and rich though it is,  all that weight that we've lost this year will be creeping back on around the hips and waist if we're not careful.  ( 1 stone for him,  1.5 for me  :)  )  But yesterday there was another 600 grams,  so another google for hot strawberry pudding ideas came up with a variation of a sponge.  Strawberries, brown sugar  and lemon zest as a base,  a sponge topping with orange zest,  then baked in the oven.  I used 4 microwavable individual ramekin style pots,  much quicker and fuel efficient even though you don't get the nice brown crispy cake top.  But with cream poured over,  does it matter?

John's seed starting process is still working wonders,  on Tuesday he put lettuce,  pak choi and kohlrabi onto damp kitchen paper.  Every morning he sprays them with water and checks, not expecting to see anything just yet,  but today all the trays had germinated and put roots out into the paper.  Some seeds he's managed to lift off and lay onto sifted soil/compost,  some he had to cut the paper up so as not to damage the roots.  As they grow, so he will add compost around them until they are big enough to plant out.

The peas  that I put direct into the ground on the 3rd have appeared,    little clusters of leaves,  and they've been watered today.  The habas - broad beans - are also up.  The acequia has been running although it's not our week, this time of year is not so regulated and so we make use of it when we can.  We have extra hose pipes that I put  in the running water and catch it,  then it trickles onto the land nice and slowly.  The runner beans are running up the poles,  although not beaning as yet.

Tomorrow morning we start next weeks wine batch,  first of all we are going to press last weeks 12 buckets of very fizzy white grapes,  hoping for about 50 litres but they do surprise us sometimes so we have more barrels  ready than we  should need for the juice.  Then Tuesday we will be picking the rest of the really ripe white ones and crushing them.  Monday pressing and Tuesday picking the next batch seems to work well,  I didn't think we had a routine to our lives but I suppose when you look at your life,  there is always some sort of routine.  Be it up at sunrise and eat at sunset,  or picking and pressing grapes,  there's some sort of order.  

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Autumn almonds.

A few hours now since I came in to start  writing today..... about 5.30 I had a half hour break in my schedule,  in between almonds and dinner preparation,  but as I opened the door,  the phones did that funny switching off noise that they do when the power trips,  then on again,  then off,  we checked the main circuit breakers and there was no power outside either.  So I waited a bit,  sat in the sun,  read for a bit,  the electric came on and went off,  and again,  maybe, we said,  the feria in Ugijar have plugged in  and blown the fuses in the Alpujarras!   Not unknown,  huge power surges when it's a fiesta,  we've been staying with friends in Yator over fiesta when you can't get the kettle to boil because of the lights and music.

Anyway it all came back on, no music as yet drifting across from Ugijar but it will come soon,  we've seen the posters for the Saturday night bull fight and their  fiesta is around this weekend.  It's also Día Hispanidad on Saturday so everything will stop this weekend for fiesta.

So back to the almonds.  It's that time,  luckily for us we only have about 8 trees within easy picking reach, I say lucky as it's quite a dusty harvest.  Just like the olives, whack the tree with the pole but as the almonds and leaves are drying out it's a dusty job.  A friend of ours,  a Fernando not a Paco,  always has eye problems this time of year,  dust and grit probably.  But we can reach ours to pick by hand,  then get off the husks,  then shell,  then blanch, then leave to dry out before storing in jars for eating.  Some we use for tapas,  heavy based pan,  small amount of olive oil,  cook carefully till golden brown and sprinkle with either salt or ground cumin or dried garlic powder.  Delicious.  Some we grind for sauces, cakes or puddings.  Some chopped for adding to puddings or cakes.  But for sliced almonds,  well we leave that to the professionals and buy them.  How do you slice an almond??  Halves yes, but slices, no.

But not much wastage.  The husks we leave to dry out,  also the shells,  and during the year we wash out and flat pack the 1 litre milk and juice cartons.  Then this time of the year we stuff them full with the dried almond husks and shells,  and use them as fire starters/bricks in the wood burner.  The foil liner from the carton gets removed when the ash tray is emptied.  So far although we've spent a couple of hours every afternoon doing some part of the almond process,  we have only 3 large jars of ready to use almonds,  3 large tubs ready to shell but we have 19 cartons packed with burnable waste!

And finally a photo,  I'm still using a small ish camera of Johns,  but you know what it's like, when you've had a camera that you are happy with,  that you know how to use comfortably - well this one isn't ideal for me, but here is a picture of our pear tree in all it's Autumn glory.  For such a small tree it gave us a lot of pears this year.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Really ripe white ones.

Not a tongue twister although if the grapes that we've picked today do what they should, after a few glasses of vino it could be difficult to say!

The vine that produces our black grapes has loads of grapes,  it's heavily laden,  huge bunches with tiny tightly packed grapes but not yet black which is unusual.  They are changing colour and our neighbour - yes,  a Paco, - he has picked his black grapes, but there are loads of different types, different amounts of sun,  soil and water probably play a part too,  so we will wait a while for those.

Today was the first of the white grapes,  we have 12 brewing buckets, so first we filled those, took them up to our grape crusher and picked the grapes off the bunches.  That may not be essential but all those stalks take up room,  make it harder to burst the grapes as they go through the 'mangle',  did 2 buckets at a time,  mangled each batch twice.  Again, that may not be necessary but it seems that the first mangle bursts most of them and the second makes sure they are all burst and produces a lot of juice.  Those 12 buckets then only filled 6 once burst, although to the brim,  so back out with 6 empty ones,  same procedure as before,  but as the buckets were really full and they need room to ferment,  we evened out the amounts and now have all 12 starting to ferment down in the kitchen.

I took the bathroom scales outside to try and get some idea of weight picked - about 195 pounds which is about 88 kilos.  Hopefully slightly over 50% in juice so we are looking at potentially 40 to 50 litres of white wine.  Still to come,  the same again in white grapes followed by what we call the blush ones,  same size big fat grapes as today's, but a dark rosy colour.  Then all being well the big bunches with tiny grapes will have ripened enough to give us a red wine.

The strange thing about all these grapes is that - firstly we usually have started a week ago, and  secondly we normally have to be very wary of wasps - especially me cos I am allergic to them and swell up alarmingly if stung,  but today there were only a couple of wasps around the vines while we picked and only 2 that fell out of a bunch that John was picking.

For the next few days we'll just need to stir each brewing bucket every morning then Friday or Saturday we'll put them through the press -  the wine into 10 or 20 litre containers and the pulp to the compost.

And  then we start all over again....

And again....

But the sun is shining and the end result will be wonderful wine for the coming year.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Catchup time

Since Wednesday's swim,  time seems to have just disappeared and I've not been in again.  Thursday our neighbours had a problem with their fridge freezer,  it  had stopped working in the night and he came down to see if we could help out in any way.  Luckily our small chest freezer was empty  so we lent it to them,  we don't use it very often,  but it's useful for when Antonio goes hunting and brings some wild boar for us.  Although they only live a couple of hundred metres away by road,  closer across the terraces,  we don't see a lot of each other,  so had a catch up chat.  Then as I was digging up the horseradish for cleaning and freezing and replanting the small off shoots,  I took them up same cuttings.

Remember these?  I wrote a while back about some seeds we'd got amongst which were electric daisies.

Ours have grown really well,   each one has spread and is now covered with blooms,  but what a surprising taste!  Remember sherbet?  Sort of like that,  a bit numbing - one name for them is the toothache plant - really zingy in your mouth.  Not sure how many we'll eat but we've put some to dry and then to grind - maybe to sprinkle on salads or something,  although I think I read that you can also use it in a drink.  Anyway because we have so many flowers I took some of those up with the horseradish,  she was more cautious than him,  he ate a whole flower while she just nibbled the edges.  Certainly different was the verdict and so I've promised them some seeds next year.

The first planting of broad beans and peas are done,  stakes and string round the outside for support and  to discourage wandering cats.  More strawberries again too,  600 grams to add to the 400 of a few days ago,  another crumble made last night with second helpings for tomorrow.  Don't remember ever picking this amount this late in the year,  normally I think they fizzle out in September,  with a few ripening over Christmas time.  We do keep a gardening diary so there is probably some note in there as to last year's yield.

Yesterday afternoon we were wining - siphoning the most recent black and white fig brews,  then cleaning out the bottles for the soon to be picked grape harvest.  We currently have 80 litres on the shelves which is a good start to the year,  hopefully the grapes will produce much more.  Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

First swim

Not of the year obviously, but of  October.  I thought that by the time the pool was clean and hippo free,  it would be too cool to swim but as it happens its been really warm and both yesterday and today the temperature has been pushing 27 degrees - and that is at 5.30 in the afternoon - not the hottest part of the day at all.

Our slow starter chillies which spent a long time in John's intensive care unit, are now finally getting productive and so are the peppers.  We have a new variety called Golden Treasure,  I think they are a late pepper, but there is late .......and late!   The most productive chilli plants are those from last year, the 2nd year is good, the 3rd even better,  then they need replacing.  So we have chillies - lots of different types from mild that are great stuffed with cream cheese to very hot and approach with caution - and each year we need to make sure that there are suffient for drying, freezing and using fresh.

The autumn runner beans that went in a few days ago are making new leaves,  won't be long till they're up and running around their canes,  and first peas going in very soon.

Time now for a glass of the vino,  the sun is shining on the side 'sunset' terrace and it isn't too hot out there.