The deliciously sweet tang of vitamin ‘C’

After the early peaches have peaked, it is time for the maxed-out berry season. This week we will pick a couple of kilos of youngberries from our canes each day, some times its 3 kgs in a pick. Janine has developed several recipes for using these deliciously tangy, sweet acidy berries, but there are so many that come into season so quickly, we can’t eat them all fresh from the canes. The best way to cope with the peak is to preserve them in vacuum jars. We use them later to make fruit jelly desert, or a jar of the preserved pulp is used in a berry baked sponge desert in the winter.

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Yesterday we picked just over 3 kgs. The panty is already well stocked, she made red berry juice by heating the berries in a big pan. No added water, just simmered in their own juice, sieved through a kitchen mouli, to remove the seeds, then bottled while still hot. It’ll keep for a year in the pantry.

Another favourite at this time is to use the berry juice to make a fruit/suger syrup for use in icecream. Berry ice cream is a very nice desert. Janine makes this very simply by mixing some berry juice sryup in with a packet of pure cream, then whipping it and freezing it. The mixture needs to be taken out of the freezer twice a day and re-whisked the next day to make it more fluffy. That’s it, cream suger and berries. Couldn’t be more basic, simple and deliciously fruity and tangy, totally natural and no added chemicals. Maybe the sugar and the dairy fat content of this recipe should carry a warning not to over-do it! A very small bowl of this after a nice meal in summer is pretty special.

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Peak Peach

We have reached peak early-peach season now. We are picking more than we can eat for breakfast and desert each day. When we get to this point of the harvest, it’s time to start preserving the excess for later in the year.

We still use the very old-fashioned vacuum preserving jars that we bought 2nd hand in the 1970’s. They are easy to use and keep the food well-preserved for a very long time without any extra energy being applied to keep them. Once heated and sealed, we store them in the pantry for the winter months when there is no fresh fruit from the orchards.

To store them most efficiently, we should segment them to get more into the jar, but preserving them whole retains the stone and the lovely marzipan flavour that comes with that. Marzipan flavour from peach stones and almonds is actually a very weak kind of cyanide. How can anything so poisonous be so delicious? Clearly there isn’t very much of it in there.

Janine poaches them for a few minutes before placing them in the jars and sealing them, followed by a slow-rolling simmer. Hey presto.

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The ‘Vacola’ company hand book  tells us that to get the first quality result necessary to win a prize at the local agricultural show or to take out a first at the CWA meeting. The fruit should never quite be brought to the boil, but kept at 99oC for an hour or so to sterilize it, but not overheat it and cause possible shrinkage  of the beautiful geometric packing order of the fruit!!!

Country women must have had a lot of spare time on their hands?

Peak Cherry Season

In this last week of spring, we are in peak cherry season here. We made the effort to cover the trees with netting a few weeks ago, so now we are reaping the benefits. If we don’t cover the fruit trees as the crops come into season and ripens, then the birds will take it all. We have learnt that we need to get the nets over the trees before the fruit colours – about a month in advance. We move the nets from tree to tree as the season progresses. Now, this week, there are simply too many cherries for the two of us to eat fresh at this time.

We eat as many as we can straight from the trees each day, but at this time of year we can’t keep up. If this is the worst problem that I have to cope with in my life, I have nothing to complain about.

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These last few days we have been stoning the excess of cherries and cooking them to preserve them. We have tried a couple of different recipes. For the first batch we de-pipped them and then brought them to a low simmer and added a spoonful of honey, a dash of white wine and a little squeeze of lemon juice. By blanching like this we can preserve them by either freezing them or keep them in the fridge for some days. We also tried blanching them in a small amount of cheap supermarket moscato wine. It is sweet and slightly acidic and does much the same job. much of a muchness.

We sit and work together at this time-consuming but very rewarding job. If you don’t put the effort in, you can’t claim the reward. Although it isn’t at the fore-front of our thinking at all times, we are cognisant of this very important attitude to life in general every day as  we plan our days work. We work with our hands, but also with our minds engaged in this self-reliant, mundane, seasonal work, quite simply because we have a long-term philosophy. We will continue to enjoy this beautiful after-dinner desert treat several times over the coming months.

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Hard work is it’s own reward. The real hard work was put in 40 years ago, when we dug the dams and installed the irregation lines, then  fenced the orchards.
It was only then that we could plant the cherry trees. Now we can enjoy the litteral fruits of our labours.

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  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.

Red Risotto

We decide to make a vegetable risotto for dinner. There’s plenty in the garden to choose from, but i decide to go with a mostly red theme tonight.

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We have beetroots a plenty, as well as red rice, red capsicum, red chillis, red cabbage as well as red tomatoes, both dried and fresh.

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I de-glaze with red wine. We have some fish stock from the night before so it’s all go.

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To deepen the flavour profile, I add a slice of frozen marrow bone stock and a slice of frozen basil in olive oil.

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The dish is finished with the addition of fresh herbs and fresh picked broccoli from the garden.

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It’s a quick and easy meal on a cold night and very warming. We are forecast to get our first frost tonight.

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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