vinegar pete…

Way back last autumn the lovely OH helped out with some apple juice pressing.  The event was in aid of raising funds for our local library and all the apples were sourced from local orchards.  He brought home a 5 gallon fermentation bucket of juice and stuck it in the piggery.  Over time, the juice fermented, the sugars turned to alcohol and then to acetic acid.  This cold pressed, unfiltered, unpasteurised vinegar also contains the ‘mother’, a collection of beneficial bacteria, enzymes and proteins – it’s meant to be very beneficial healthwise.  The lovely OH tried some, hasn’t pegged it, so we’re good to go.

We use a lot of this vinegar, not just as the base liquor for pickles but also, for making flavoured fruit vinegars.  At the moment I’m picking a couple of kilos of raspberries several times a week, so this decant was most timely.

I’ll leave the fruit to steep for around 5 days before straining through muslin, adding sugar and briefly boiling.  Once the liquid has cooled I’ll bottle it.  It’s a really simple process, much easier than making jam or chutney. We add a good heft of fruit to our vinegars so they are much better than commercial versions.  The ratios I use are 600ml vinegar to 1 kilo raspberry, then 450g sugar to every 600ml of strained liquid.

Elsewhere on the holding, the berries are ripening on the elder  and we’re running out of elderberry vinegar – our replacement for balsamic.  So that’s next on the list.

Perhaps I’ll also make a blackberry version – it’s always good to try something new!

 

 

 

 

 

a bit of the exotic…

Jam is so easy to make and we grow so much fruit that it is no surprise that we haven’t bought any for quite a number of years.  Though, over time, we have learnt which crops we want to devote effort to making a preserve from.

Strawberry – yes; Raspberry – yes, Gooseberry – no.  However top of the list maybe, just maybe, is Apricot.  This year, back in spring, we had all the indication of a good crop….

unfortunately, we have taken a hit from ‘brown rot’, a fungal disease caused by the pathogens, Monilinia laxa and Monilinia fructigena.

Our apricot tree is undercover so I suspect the spores were carried to the flowers by wind.  The first notable sign of the infection has been on the mature fruits.  Even so, as we are making jam we just cut out any dodgy bits.

We planted the apricot is at the back of the Dutch barn to give it maximum heat.  As the barn borders the old orchard, there will always be a bit of a risk from brown rot because we have a number of ancient top fruit standards, including plums.  I don’t clear fallen fruit as avidly from the old orchard as I do from the new plantings – perhaps I need to revisit this as we don’t seem to be visited anymore by the badgers.  They used to hoover up a lot of windfalls.

The peaches, however are completely untouched!

 

 

 

I say! tomato…

Title – just for ‘mid brother come blog critic’.

Once in a while I stumble across a fruit or vegetable variety we have grown and think … ‘this is the one’.The’Cuore di Bue’ tomato we are growing in the polytunnel this year is superb, and less temperamental than ‘Marmande’, which has been my ‘beefsteak’ tomato of choice to date.  Well no more.

This delicious ox heart tomato is a weighty fruit with dense flesh and not too many seeds,

which makes it ideal for slicing, in salads or … for making tomato sauce.   So that is what I did in the afternoon whilst the rain bucketed down outside.

Europe has a heatwave – we have torrential rain.

Still, the inclement weather gave me the opportunity to make up a big batch of sauce which we can use on pizza or pasta.  I’m always pleased when I find a recipe that uses considerable quantities of produce; this one called for 5lbs of tomatoes; 3 medium onions; 8 cloves of garlic and a variety of herbs – all of which I could source from our kitchen garden.  Big tick.

Using up 8 cloves of garlic was handy.  Our considerable garlic crop was lifted a few weeks ago and we’ve been drying the heads in trays undercover in the dutch barn.  As I was helping out on our smallholder association stall at a local agricultural show, we cleaned the largest bulbs and I took along a basketful.

I managed to sell quite a number but then diminished our profit by purchasing a vintage, blacksmith forged, garden line winder from my fellow smallholder who had brought along a selection of old tools.

Somehow I don’t think I’ll be making my fortune from selling our produce.

Reading this week: The Thoughtful Gardener by Jinny Blom.

 

 

 

 

 

in a pickle…

Yes, I’m still at it, preserving any and all gluts from the holding.  No fruit, vegetable or herb is safe from the possibility of appearing in a pickle, preserve, or being put into the dehydrator.

This week, I’ve turned my attention to the courgette, which is a vegetable plant that can easily swamp one with its bounty.  I always have too many plants because I cannot resist having a range of courgette shapes, (cylinders and spheres), and colours, (different greens, yellow, striped…).

I’ve found that the secret to keeping a courgette avalanche at bay is to pick the vegetables when they are relatively small.  Of course, this is the plan, but things, invariably, don’t turn out that way.  This week, when I’d exhausted swopping the vegetables for other provisions with my neighbours, I made ‘bread and butter’ refridgerator pickles with sliced courgettes instead of cucumbers, (recipe used, here).

500g of courgette with pickling liquor fills about 3-4 pound jars, so making these can substantially diminish a courgette oversupply.  The pickles are ready to eat after a couple of days and can keep for a few months in the fridge.  Ours are all consumed well before then. They are delicious with bread and cheese and are a good substitute for gherkin with a burger.  I’m in no doubt that I’ll be making another batch soon.

In the tunnel, the tomatoes are starting to ripen.  I picked a bowl of the large ‘Cuore di Bue’ fruit.

Time to start making tomato sauce!

 

a plum job…

A recent stroll into the orchard has revealed that the plums have started to ripen. Some have already tumbled to the floor.

Now, I love to eat one or two plums, but we have far too many for this ad hoc consumption.  Time to bring out the dehydrator.

One of the first plums to ripen in our orchard is the variety ‘Sanctus Hubertus’.  This is a relatively modern variety, introduced in 1966, and is a ‘Mater Dolorosa’/’Rivers Early Prolific’ cross.  It’s an early ripening variety, and has the RHS AGM award, which is always a good sign. The fruit is medium sized, oval in shape and a dark blue/black colour with a lovely bloom.  It’s sweet enough, when ripe, to be eaten as fresh, so is often classified as a dual purpose plum.

More relevant to the task in hand, it is a ‘freestone’ style of plum, which means that the stone comes away cleanly from the flesh, perfect for splitting the fruit in two for drying.

Drying fruit takes very little effort.  We picked a basket of the plums on a sunny day, gave them a quick wash and dry and then halved each one before arranging, cut side up, on the trays.

For one shelf we inverted the halved plum to see if this made any difference to the end result.  We kept with the suggested drying temperature of 135 degrees celsius on the Excalibur dehydrator and set the timer for 6 hours.  I’ll check on progress later today.

Meanwhile I’ve been looking out potential recipes.  The BBC Good Food website has an enticing list.     I’m particularly taken with the autumnal list of desserts, such as spiced rice pudding with prune and Marsala compote, (The Hairy Bikers), or perhaps Barmbrack parfait with whisky prunes, (Donal Skehan), or maybe poached quince and winter fruit in spiced wine, (Raymond Blanc)….

Happy days!

Reading this week: The Otters’ Tale by Simon Cooper.

 

 

small batch beauty…

The polytunnel is a jungle.  It’s a good thing that I’m rather fond of the dense vegetation.

A significant contributor to the tangle is the nasturtium.  The plants have loved the heat of the tunnel.

Given that they have done so well I decided to go a little bit ‘artisan’ on our preserves and try pickling nasturtium seeds.  Apparently they can be used as a substitute for capers.

I had a leisurely rummage and managed to find enough green seeds for a small jar.  I had picked 87g; the little jar I had would probably be able to hold 100g.  There are a number of recipes on the web – all pretty much the same.  They all recommended soaking the seeds in a salt solution for at least 24 hours.  It seems the seeds are a bit too peppery without the brine bath.Once drained of the brine, rinsed and dried off, I packed the green nuggets into the sterilised jar, leaving about 1cm from the start of the neck.  Then I poured over white wine vinegar and added 2 small bay leaves and a few black peppercorns. So simple.  These little caper substitutes should be ready in a few weeks.

Reading this week: Wonderland A Year of Britain’s Wildlife Day by Day

 

Summertime and the living is ….. a bit frenetic

I’m delving into the classics now.  Over the last weekend, the weather had turned lovely again and we had a wave of guests.  There were a lot of mouths to feed and a desire from us to showcase GYO. When it comes to desserts it’s easy; one’s thoughts turn to summer puddings and fruit fools.

This is when soft fruit comes into its own, red and black currants; raspberries and gooseberries.  Delia provided the summer pudding fruit ratios, (though I found the 7 slices not enough to line my bowl), Nigel Slater, the gooseberry fool recipe, (no pictures of the puddings, sadly, as I was too busy).

Of course, this was the point at which I realised that there is a bit of a gap in our red berry category.  Yes, we’re good on redcurrants, plenty there, however our strawberries had finished by the first week of July and our autumn raspberries have just started to set fruit.  We’ve not grown summer fruiting raspberries for a number of years, as I always found them to be a bit disappointing.  Sadly, we didn’t have any cherries as we hadn’t got round to netting.  The birds have feasted well.

I had to nip to the shop for raspberries.

To avoid this in future summers, I’ve been investigating late season strawberries, fruit that will crop into late July and perhaps even August.  Some of the newer varieties seem to fit the bill.  I’ve plumped on Florence from East Malling, (always good to see that this emminent research station is still producing the goods), so I’ll place an order for 50 runners this autumn.

I did an amble along the field boundaries; the shelter belt is bulking up nicely and the brambles in the hedgerow are full of insects.

It definitely pays to be a bit lax towards the edges of the garden.