From Side-stoking in Stoke to Wwoof-ing in Wales

Before we leave Stoke-on-Trent, we have to go to a local English restaurant and try the local fare. I have been told – and I don’t know if this is an urban myth or not – but the most popular dish in Britain is Chicken Tikka Marsala with mushy peas!

I haven’t even seen it on any menu, but I live in hope. We do try the local Indian and have a very nice meal. Shame about the mushy peas though!

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From Stoke we make the drive across country to Wales, which isn’t very far, half an hour and we are over the border. I read somewhere that there is no place in the UK that is more than 75 miles from the sea. That doesn’t seem very far, about 120 km. That is about as far as we live inland from the south coast beaches. We’ve been known to go to the beach for the day with Geordie when he was young. The difference is that we don’t have British traffic and narrow lanes.

The drive is uneventful and we are soon with our friends Annie and David. Annie is the daughter of Sally and John Seymour. The seymours were at the forefront of the post war self sufficiency movement in Britain. We met Sally Seymour when she called in to see us at our home here in the late seventies. She had our names from a common friend who she had known in the UK.

We didn’t know who she was, but welcomed her into our house as a guest. Only in conversation over the next day or so did it become apparent to us who she was and that we already owned a couple of her books, as we have always had an interest in Self-reliance. That is why we moved here, way out in the sticks, where we could afford a derelict ruin with acres to make our projected lifes ideals come to fruition.

Sally came and visited us a few times over the next decade and even stayed and worked in the pottery with Janine for a few months while I was away studying in Japan in the 80’s. Apart from all the hard physical work of pioneering self-sufficiency in Britain with her husband John Seymour, she also raised 4 children. Their life is a very inspiring story and can be read in a series of books, 3 of which we own.

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Sally is also an accomplished potter. She learnt from her mother who was largely self-taught, as I understand it. Sally did al the illustrations for their books.

There is a new edition of ‘Fat of the Land’

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These books are available from Carningli Press; <http://carninglipress.co.uk/index.php&gt;

Sally had a stroke a few years ago and now lives with her Daughter Annie and Annie’s her husband David on part of the original farm that Sally and John bought back in the 60’s.

Annie and David are continuing on with the family tradition of self-sufficiency. Annie makes pots and David makes furniture. Together they work a few acres with extensive vegetable gardens and fruit trees.

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We help Annie pick black currents. A very labour intensive job, as they are very tiny and are suck to the bush very tight. Each tiny little individual berry has to be individually pinched and picked off the cane. after picking, the currents are spread out in trays on the kitchen table and carefully sorted to remove any extraneous material that might have found its way into the bowls. Some of the currents are washed and frozen, others boiled for deserts and puddings and some are dried for storage.

We work in the sunshine in the garden while David goes about making the days batch of  a dozen sourdough loaves. The drought is all mixed by hand in small batches. The drought is left to ‘prove’ and rise in plastic bags to keep it humid and draught free, and from developing a hard, dry top which will prevent it from rising well.

David’s small organic bread-making business is just one of many small income streams that they survive on. All the bread is sold locally to people within just a few miles of their home. Mostly people come and collect directly, but David does make a few deliveries to a some customers a bit farther away, when he goes out to do other jobs.

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It’s a pleasure and an honour to be able to take part – in just a very brief way – in this wholesome and creative life experiment. it’s also great to be able to catch up with old friends like this, spending time doing the most menial of jobs while catching up on news and gossip.

We  have a day ‘out’ to visit a local archaeological site. An archaeologist has been working around here for the past 30 years, every summer, he brings his students from the University to do a dig locally. He has been looking for the site(s) where the Stone Henge capping stones came from 5,000 years ago. It is well-known that the capping lintels came from Wales and more specifically from the Preseli mountains around here near the Carningli peak.

This year he has finally found the exact site. They have unearthed a finished lintel stone ready for transport. It is all set up on wedges ready to have the wooden rollers inserted underneath. It is sitting on a flat stone-flagged path which leads directly down to the river at the bottom of the slope. Apparently, mineral analysis has proven that this is the exact same stone as is found on-site at Stone Henge. The rest of the excavation on site has been re-filled, but they left the stone uncovered.

To my mind, this answers two questions, where they came from and how they were moved. It’s pretty obvious to me that if they built a flat, paved, stone path down to the river, then they were floated away on a raft from here. Presumably to be shifted to a larger boat down near the coast and then sailed around to Wiltshire.

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Later we visit the standing stone ‘Dolman’ burial chamber. This grade stone triptych and capping stone would have originally been buried under a hill of soil.

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On the way home we call in to visit the local Community Hall, where archaeologists have excavated one of the oldest and best preserved roman era pottery kilns in Wales. it was covered by the stage in the hall for many years, now it’s all cleaned up and preserved behind glass. Back in the day, it seems that it was just too much work to pull it down, so they built the stage over it.

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Fond regards from Old South Wales.

Another One Smites the Dust

If we are going to be saddled with extended drought into the future, we are ethically bound to respond in a creative and positive way. We try to avoid being a drain on anybody, any thing or any institution, including government. This is all part of our commitment to a philosophy of living an independent life. Possibly something akin to true philosophical anarchism. It’s not a matter of bringing down any government, but rather a case of being so independent that government atrophying due to lack of need.

So the drought continues and we have ordered 2 new water tanks. The first has already arrived and been installed on the smaller front section of the Old Railway Station roof a few weeks ago. The new, and slightly larger tank arrived today and we installed it on the back and slightly larger section of roof. With 4,500 and now 7,500 litres of added storage, the Old Railway Station building is now adding to our overall commitment to self-reliance in drinking water. Another one smites the dust.

The Old Station is not a very big building. In fact its tiny, but every bit of roof space is now important in the endeavour to catch drinking water when it rains, which isn’t very often these days. Funnily, it starts to shower as the delivery truck arrives, so Janine and I install in the rain. Tragically, it clears up just as we finish, but we are ever hopeful that it will continue over night and for the next few days.

The previous new tank is now half full from the occasional showers that we have managed to now capture. Every bit counts if we are to continue watering our garden plants with drinking water, while we wait for that big storm that must come someday and fill the dams again.

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The new, larger grey tank is down the back on the right, under the bottle brush tree.

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We bake vegetables fresh from the garden for dinner, finished with a bechamel sauce. It’s delicious and uses so little water to prepare.

Chillies

Even though we are just two weeks away from winter, we are still managing to harvest a small bowl of little ripe tomatoes every few days. There are loads of chillies too. The chickens are still laying an egg each, almost every day, so we decide to have tomatoes and eggs on toast – with some chilli.

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Tomatoes with chilli simmered in a little olive oil has to be the best accompaniment for fried eggs. It’s so aromatic and tangy. It has to be one of my favourite winter breakfasts, and the pan juices are just crying out to be mopped up with some nice bread.

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Chilli seems to make so many dishes sing. We grow a range of chillies and capsicums each spring, but they are quite slow to grow for us and don’t decide to fully ripen the whole crop until autumn. I decide to look them up in my favourite plant book, “The Oxford Book Of Food Plants”. We were given our copy as a gift from the late John Meredith in The seventies and it has been an invaluable guide to information on the origins of food plants. I google this book and find that it is still available 2nd hand;

Oxford Book of Food Plants by S. G. Harrison (1970, Hardcover)

Pre-owned: lowest price

 $5.04
+ $2.99 Shipping
  • Get it by Tue, May 22 – Wed, May 30 from South East, United Kingdom
  • Good condition

With an authoritative name like S. Harrison, it would have to be a good read!

Pages 128/129 are all about peppers and chillies, including black pepper.

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Capsicums or sweet peppers (Capsicum Annum) are described as an annual plant grown from seed and originated in tropical America. This spices includes all the larger fruited kinds and are often picked while still green. These ‘peppers’ vary greatly in their pungency. In General, the larger the variety, the milder the flavour. In some parts of Europe, these fruits are called ‘Paprika’, while in Spain they are called ‘pimento’. The fruits  can be very high in vitamin ‘C’. Although often quite round in shape like the ‘bell’ pepper, they can be long and pointed. I don’t know what they are called in Korea, but there were huge quantities in the street markets, sold by the sack full. I believe that they were the hot variety of the annum family. They were quite large, long, tapered and pointed, and ripened to a very dark mahogany red colour.

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On the other hand, ‘Red pepper’ or ‘Chilli’ (Capsicum Frutescens) is a perennial plant or can be in the tropics, but the frost kills it here. It has less vitamin ‘C’ than capsicums. Pungency is described as being variable, but in general, it is much greater than in the capsicums. There are two main forms. The short spiky variety where the fruit often stick upwards. Sometimes called ‘birds eye’. These a smaller and smooth skinned.

The other main variety is longer and narrow with undulating skin and the fruit hang down. S Harrison in The Oxford Book Of Food Plants describes the longer gravitationally influenced variety as ‘red peppers’ while the short spiky gravitationally resistant variety he calls ‘chillies’. We grow them both and call them both chillies – long or short.

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I like the flavour of chillies , but I’m not any kind of masochist, just hot is hot enough. once I break out in a sweat, that’s hot enough. Two of our small hot chillies is about my comfort level in a meal.

Last night we had steamed capsicums stuffed with both red and green chillies, along with brown rice and some other condiments! Keeping it all the family!

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Mid Autumn and the Chilis are Ripe

Up until last week we seemed to be in a perpetual summer. The temperatures were holding up in the mid 30’s and everything is so, so, dry. We haven’t had any meaningful rain storms since the March before last, that’s 13 months ago. so now we are using our drinking water from our rain water tanks to water the garden.

This extended ‘Indian summer’ has brought on the chilli crops. We now have many more chilis than we can eat, so we are starting to give them away to neighbours and friends,  and hang them up to dry for use later in the year.

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One row of plants is quite enough for us. They seem to bear quite heavily, all culminating now in autumn. We’ve been picking them steadily all summer, from when they were quite green and only just big enough. Now they are fully ripe and have developed their full heat. We have grown 3 varieties this year.

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Small smooth round Thai chilli, crinkly hot cayenne, and mildly heated paprika  capsicums.

Mustard Pickles

Mustard Pickles are an odd thing. You need cucumbers from the heat of summer, and cauliflowers from the dead of winter to be flowering and bearing at the same time. I have no idea how this might have originated in history. I can only imagine that it is a modern invention. Sometime since global transport was invented, so that food stuffs could be hauled from warm to cold climates and vice versa.

I can’t make this kind of pickle to the traditional recipe. I choose to only make from what I can grow, so this is the time that we have our first early cauliflowers coming on. We have had our first plantings of cauliflower roasted, stir-fried, steamed, gratin’d, and as cauliflower soup, but still they come. So it’s time to pickle the last of the first plantings. When I think of cauliflower, I think of that thick, yellow, acidic/astringent/sweet/salty mustard pickle.

Cucumbers are listed as an essential engredient, But the cucumbers have all shrivelled and died in the hot and dry summer, weeks ago. So I do what I always do on these occations and I do what I can, with what I have. I have the last of the zucchinis, yellow, green and black. They will replace the cucumbers. I have capsicums, long and bell, both green and red, some sweet and some hot peppers, yellow, lime-green and red. Chilli  and onions, the last of the tomatoes, round red, pear shaped yellow and not quite ripe green. Plus some small carrots and a small celery plant. The last few items are not usually included in mustard pickles, but this is what I have. So this is what I will use. I decide to leave out the beetroots. I have lots of them, but I want the pickle to turn out yellow-ish, not red! This is not the usual blend, but its my own home grown autumnal blend. Zucchinis will work fine instead of the cucumbers.

Pickling has been used since the most ancient of times to preserve food from the summer harvest bounty, well into the winter and salting was always the preferred mode. If you add 2.5 % of the weight of the veggies as salt and massage it through the mix, the vegetables will sweat out their juices and then pickle themselves in their own brine over night, while at the same time setting up a natural ferment of lactic acid that consumes the sugars and stops any bacteria from growing in the acidic, low pH environment over the next few days.

Modern mustard pickles however, use a mix of salt, sugar and vinegar to preserve the vegetable mix. I wash and then chop up all the vegetables into small bite sized chunks, place them all in a 5 litre pot and add a good handful of salt. The mix is left to sweat out its juices overnight.

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After sitting in its own brine over-night, I pour off all the salty liquor and rinse a couple of times. When rinsing, I fill the pan with water, just to cover the vegetables, I pour off the water into a measuring jug and measure the amount water needed to fill the gaps between the veggies. This tells me that the 3 litres of chopped vegetables in the pan leaves 1.12 litres of gaps that need to be filled with the pickling liquid. So that is how i know how much pickling mix to make, as I’m not using a recipe with exact volumes of vegetables. I’m just making something by the seat of my pants and improvising. It doesn’t matter, it always tastes good, and I don’t want to make up too much or too little to cover the vegetables. Having rinsed all the salt off the vegetables,

I prepare a pickling mix of ;

1/2 cup of flour

2 teaspoons of mustard powder

1 table-spoon of Tumeric

2 teaspoons of black mustard seeds

2 teaspoons of white mustard seeds

1 teaspoon of curry powder

1/2 teaspoon of home-made dried cayenne pepper flakes

1/4 teaspoon of home-grown and dried hot chilli granules/flakes.

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I add Just enough cider vinegar to make a thin paste, that when heated, thickens, while being constantly stirred. Add a spoonful of salt and another of sugar to taste. This is then poured over the vegetables and the whole lot brought to the boil and simmered for just a few minutes to complete the thickening of the sauce and vegetable mix.

Pre-heat glass jars in the oven and simmer the lids. Spoon the thickened mix into the hot jars and seal with sterilised lids while still hot. Perfect! Don’t worry if the liquid seems a little bit thin. It will thicken when it cools.

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Serve as a condiment with a well aged cheddar style cheese or with cold meats. My own particular favourite cheese is 32 months aged, ‘Epicure’ Cheddar style cheese from New Zealand. Bitey and flavour-some. An excellent combination!

Sterilised in this way, these pickles will last all year, till the next cauliflower glut. If you don’t eat them all first!

 

Boiling and boiler-making

The first batch of new little wood fired dual/fuel kilns takes shape in my workshop. I could say ‘rolls off the assembly line’, but I’d be telling a lie. My kiln shed is only just big enough for 8 of these little gems at one time and there is definitely no assembly line, just a kind of organised chaos as all the parts get made individually and then assembled. I have 9 kilns ordered this time round. I can’t fit them all in comfortably, or even uncomfortably, so I decide to split the work into two parts. The 6 large and then 3 small units.

I spend an extraordinary amount of time making all the fiddly parts that go into handles and locating lugs etc. I spend 3 days on these parts, even with a bit of help from my lovely Swiss intern Catherine assisting. There are 100 lugs to be manufactured for just one small part of the first 6 kilns. Each part needs to be filed on all 4 sides and also have the corners filed down and rounded for safety, then a safely edge folded over to make it extra safe. In all there are about 1,000 individual actions that need to be performed on these tiny bits, just make one small part that no-one even realises is there.
That is until it is not there!
After three days of this monotony, I need a day in the garden!
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While all this industry is going on, there is still gardening to be done to continue the flow of food from the garden in 3 months time. The equinox is the time to plant garlic, as well as leeks, brocoli, cabbage and Kale. Cauliflowers and Brussel sprouts were already planted in January. Today I am planting radish seeds to make sure of a continuous supply of salad next month. The lettuce seeds are already up and thriving.
The 2nd planting of corn is all over and we are onto the 3rd crop now. The few small 2nd cobs on the old corn plants are rather small, but I pick them and dry them in the sunny kitchen window to dry them out. when they are fully dried, I’ll mill them up into polenta for winter comfort food.
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Today, I also harvested half of the coriander crop, as it is at peak leaf just now. This is the seed from the summer planting, which was the seed from the spring planting etc. I decided to make a coriander based green chilli paste.
Recipe;
A bucket of fresh picked coriander leaves
A hand full of green onions
4 long green chillis (hot)
The juice of one each, lemon and lime
Some salt to taste, I keep this to the minimum, but without it the full flavour profile insn’t realised.
Salt is evil stuff, it hardens your arteries and causes hypertension. It is added in far too greater quantities than is really needed to every processed convenience food. We all get way too much of it without even realising it! It’s up there with sugar as a harmfull ingrediant, simply because we eat too much of it.
We don’t buy any junk food, and hardly ever buy much processed foods, but it is still very wise to limit the intake of salt. As a result we don’t have high blood pressure. I think that the two are related.
Still, a tiny pinch of salt goes really well with just a few particular foods like; tomatoes, eggs, curries, pickles and this coriander paste.
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I manage to fill 2 plastic tubs with the concoction. It’s tangy, spicy, hot and very aromatic. 3/4 of it goes into the freezer in this way, so that it will keep for the rest of the year, as needed. The rest goes into the fridge for immediate use.
Items like pesto and coriander paste are not cooked, so can’t be sterilised with heat to preserve them. We don’t own a freezer, so we have to limit what we choose to freeze. This raw paste, pesto, bone marrow stock concentrate and a couple of meals, cooked in excess at the time to be frozen for emergency meals.
The last of the summer beetroot crop needs to be dealt with before it bolts, so I give them a fast roiling simmer for a few minutes to boil them and soften them a little and then drained and straight into hot bottles from the oven with preserving vinegar. i.e. cider vinegar with a spoon full of sugar plus a 1/2 of salt and brought to the boil with a few spices like, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, pepper corns, bay leaves, chillis and mustard seeds. Such a mix is variable and is different with every batch, as it takes my fancy. Pour the mix over the sliced beets and cap straight away while almost too hot to touch. They vacuum seal as they cool.
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Best wishes from Steve the industrious, well-preserved, boiler and boiler-maker.

The Equinox and Preserving Autumn in Jars

The Autumn equinox has just passed and the vegetable garden is doing well despite the prolonged dry spell. We have now had a little rain, but the dams are still very low or empty.

There are still some summer crops lingering on even though the night-time temperatures are falling, some of the days can still be quite hot. We pulled out a lot of spent summer plants and made room for the winter season plants.

We have already harvested the first cauliflowers and broccoli. We still have some late lingering tomatoes and the last planting of corn to go. But the capsicums, aubergines and chilis are thriving. I managed to get some late zucchini seeds in after Xmas and they have been producing modest numbers of fruit, so ratatouille and all its variations is still on the menu. There is even enough for me to make a couple of batches of passata pasta sauce.

   

 

 

I use some of the last remaining brown onions from our Xmas harvest and a few small knobs of our garlic, lightly browned in good olive oil. The smell fills the house. It’s one of life’s simple pleasures. Hot olive oil with onion and garlic frying. I simmer all the roughly chopped veggies down with a bottle of red wine to make a chunky style pasta sauce. Once its been reduced well and thickened up some what. It is ladled into our 40-year-old, glass Vacola jars and lidded and clipped down to be simmered for 40 mins to be sterilised and vacuum sealed. In this way, it will keep for a year at least, if not longer, if required.

The spring clips are removed the next day after the jars have cooled over night. We test the seal to make sure that they are all perfectly vacuum sealed. Then they are transferred to the pantry cupboard.

Autumn is also the time for preserving quinces. The quince crop is very small this year due to the drought, but there are a few fruit to pick. This is only because Janine was out in the garden early and netted and bagged the fruit to prevent the birds from getting them. The birds have been very aggressive this years, as I assume that the drought has driven them to hunger. We have more wallabies coming into the orchard too, looking to find extra tucker during the dry. Not to mention the influx of fruit bats or flying foxes, that have migrated up from the colony in Picton recently, possibly also driven by hunger?

The quinces are washed to remove the ‘fluff’ coating then peeled, cored and sliced. I baked them in a light sugar syrup with some cloves, cinnamon and star anise, and after baking, they turn an inviting ruby/russet colour.  We have some immediately for desert and then again for breakfast the next day. Totally yummy! The remainder are vacuum sealed in ‘Vacola’ jars for use later in the year.

 

 

We have harvested the last two late season almond trees and spend the evening de-husking and shelling the small late crop. We have 14 almond trees in our nuttery. We have many different varieties, from very round and almost spherical, to very long and thin. Some are hard shell and others paper shell. Some are slightly salty tasting, while others are somewhat bitter, I suspect that this bitterness is from the naturally occurring cyanide that is found in all the almond/peach related stone fruits. What ever it is it doesn’t seem to be doing us any harm over the past 40+ years of eating them.

 

Warm autumn wishes from Steve the nutter.