Autumn Draws to a Close and the Cooler Weather Arrives

As autumn draws to a close we have been in and out, travelling to the National Folk Festival, listening to some very good music. Then, recently I was speaking at the National Ceramics Triennial Conference, where I delivered a paper on sustainability. In between, as always, we were in the pottery making and firing our pots, both before, in between and after these events. Making pots and growing food are the two constants in our life.

 

We were also in the garden planting more veggies for the cool weather. The tomatoes are still hanging on with just a few tiny fruits ripening every few days, so that we can have salad sandwiches for lunch with our lettuce from the garden. The garlic that I planted in March is up and doing well. I planted 5 small beds of about 50 cloves each. A smaller crop this year. I was busy and didn’t find the time to get more in. I have planted another 100 cloves today. Maybe a bit too late to do well, but this is real life.

  

Tonight we will have baked vegetables, yesterday it was minestrone, with everything from the garden. Our gardening efforts feed us well.

I planted a couple of new avocados a few days ago. One more type A and another type B for our collection. We now have 6 different varieties. When these trees mature in a few years time, we will have a much longer cropping season and bigger harvests. The chickens love to get involved in any event that involves fresh dirt. They hop in and excavate the hole a little more, but then hop out and start to fill it in again. The don’t get it! but they have fun doing it and their eggs have super, deep, rich, yellow yokes.

 

The latest young avocado tree freshly planted with its with mesh guard to keep the kangaroos from eating the top out. As they most surely will, with any new tree that we plant in the orchard. They can’t resist having a taste of what ever is new. You can see the original 40 year old avocado tree behind the this new one. and the bare branches of the leafless cherry tree to the right.

The peaches are loosing their leaves, the cherries have finished and are barren, the apples and pears are turning yellow in preparation for the fall.

 

In the evenings it is cold enough now to start to light the fire every night. We sit by the fire and shell our dried beans. We shell them and then dry them out fully in the oven after we have finished cooking dinner. This extra heat ensures that they are fully dry and won’t go mouldy in the jars in the pantry. It also kills any little bugs and critters that may have bored their way in to the shells hoping to hatch out and consume the lot over winter. They are ideal for minestrone.  We will make many lovely wholesome meals out of them over the winter.

Improvised Cannoli

I have relatives coming to stay and I really like them. We don’t see them often enough. So to celebrate their stay with us. I try and make an effort. Something different for change!

My niece is of Italian heritage and so I choose to make my bastardised version of Cannoli de Sicillianna.
It sounds impressive, but I don’t have any of the ingredients.
The recipe that I use comes from a book about opera by Antonio Carluccio. It is all about foods that are suitable accompaniment for opera.
I remember seeing Rick Stein on the idiot box doing a special on food and opera. I didn’t get it. I thought that he was stretching a long bow.
Anyway, I saw this book by Carluccio in a 2nd hand book shop, maybe 20 years ago and bought it.
It has a recipe for cannoli (P76), but I can’t bring myself to follow it. Apart from the need the make the tubes from scratch and deep fry them in lard!
I don’t even have any of the ingredients except the ricotta.
The recipe calls for ;
500g. ricotta,
100g. super fine sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla sugar
2 tbsp. orange flower water
50g. candied orange peel
50g. candied lemon peel
50g. candied citron
50g. glace cherries
50g. candied angelica
80g.bittersweet dark chocolate
and icing sugar
I can buy ricotta at the local shop, only a 10 km trip, but have to drive the 50km into town and back to buy the glace cherries at the supermarket.
All the other ingredients look pretty exotic.
You get used to living in the country and making do, so I improvise.
I am only making one dozen of these little cakes, so I halve the quantities.
I’m not into deep frying in lard, so instead I make some little tartlet bases and blind bake them for 15 mins.
I use the few dried fruits that I have in the big stoneware jar in the kitchen for making our muesli. Then instead of orange flower water, I decide to use finely grated lemon and lime zest, plus the juice of half the lime. Janine has some vanilla paste in her cooking cupboard. Instead of all the exotic candied fruits, I use my dried fruits muesli mix and instead of bittersweet dark chocolate I substitute half a dozen tiny ‘Aldi’ dark chocolate easter eggs finely sliced. After all, it is Easter.
 
It actually works out really well. They look rough but they taste delicious.
Funnily, they didn’t turn out like the picture in the book!

Two Flans and Marzipan, from Two Music Fans

Janine and I have just enjoyed our first house concert of the year.

We spent an afternoon with Lindsay Martin and Victoria Vigenser – again!
We had them here with us in our home last year and they were terrific, such beautiful music. Lindsay is an amazing fiddler.
They work together so well.
A wonderful afternoon well spent.
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We are starting to eat into our summer preserves. We have been enjoying sliced peaches, plums and pears recently.
We have just started to open our jars of preserved whole peaches. These were bottled in December and vacuum sealed into ‘Fowlers’ jars.
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Having been heated in a light syrup to seal the vacuum in the jars, then stored for 4 months in the pantry. These whole peaches are just starting to develop that wonderful marzipan flavour that they get from the stones.
We have also been cooking a few cakes to keep the colder weather at bay on dull days. Janine used our pears to make a flan.
She recalled reading the recipe in a book from many, many years ago. We had to go looking, but we found the book eventually, just where we though that it ought to be. I skimmed past it initially, as the cover wasn’t like I remembered it.
Larger-than-life home cook, turned TV presenter, Ian Parmenter used to present a 5 minute cooking program as a fill-in on the ABC TV, possibly in the 80’s or 90’s? Called Consuming Passions Consuming Passionsand he later wrote a book called ‘Sheer Bottled Bliss’.
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Janine remembered his recipe for pear and almond up-side-down tart. It was very nice as I remembered it and just as nice this time round. Page 143, if you are interested.
IMG_4772it’s quite rich!
I tried my hand at prune and almond flan that I saw Rick Stein make on the Idiot Box one evening when he was in the Dordogne region of France. It look easy and I thought that I’d have a go at it. What could go wrong? Ididn’t have all the ingredients, but what the hell, give it a go.
Soak a couple of cups of your prunes in brandy. I didn’t have enough brandy, so I used half Cointreau. I think that It might even be an improvement!
Mix one of your beaten free-range eggs with the drained brandy. Then add in a cup of almond meal and half a cup of sugar. More or less.
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Blind bake a short pastry base for 20 mins at 180 oC. then pour in the filling over the prunes and continue to bake for another 45 mins or more as required
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I liked it so much, I made another one.
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A Hand Made Efficient Home

As the days get shorter and the evenings cooler, we are lighting the wood fired kitchen stove most nights now. This old stove, that I have lovingly maintained and repaired for the past 40 or so years, cooks our food, heats our hot water, through its bronze firebox boiler, which is connected to our kitchen hot water system. It also heats the kitchen and us while we work, cook and eat.

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In the hottest couple of months of summer, we cook on the gas stove and rely on the solar hot water panels to heat the hot water. We have had to cover the solar panels with wire mesh, as we had a pine cone drop onto one of them shattering the tempered glass.

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It may seem strange that we have our solar panels on the ground. I have a good reason. We have a full copper hot water system, with a copper hotter tank, a bronze boiler in the stove and copper solar panels, all connected in series, so that either or both heat sources can heat the tank depending on the weather and time of year. I used all silver soldered copper piping to connect the system, so there isn’t a separate heat exchanger needed in the system to eliminate electrolysis. A full copper system has no electrolysis issues. Eliminating the heat exchanger makes the system much more efficient. I designed the system so that the solar panels are on the ground, so that the hot water will rise up into the tank by natural thermo-siphon. No pump is need in the system to circulate the hot water to the tank. (as is necessary when the panels are on the roof.) This is another added efficiency and saving on energy. By designing systems like this and others in our hand-made home, we have managed to reduce our energy usage in our home to 1.7 kW/hrs per day for the house alone. If we add in charging the electric car and firing the electric kiln from the solar system, then our total usage rises up to 5.7 kW/hrs per day.

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When we add in our kiln and car, Janine and I still use only half of what a ‘normal’ single occupant household uses. Or just one-third of a ‘normal’ 2 person household. We are quite pleased with this outcome.

Summer Wine

We are harvesting the last of the grape harvest. It’s been a long vintage this year, stretching over 8 weeks. We have been making dark grape juice out of most of the vintage. However, with these last few baskets full of rich dark red sugary deliciousness, we decide to make ‘Summer Wine’. We first came across this wonderful stuff in France, then Germany, followed by Switzerland and finally in northern Italy. As the season developed and the grapes ripened. We had to have the experience introduced to us by our hosts in Germany at that time. We stopped the car on the side of the road to buy vegetables and fruit from a farmers road-side stall. Our friend asked if we had tried ‘Niue Wine’ or ‘summer wine’? We hadn’t, so we did and it was a bit of a revelation.

We have been making our version of concentrated red grape juice for a few decades and always look forward to it. We manage to bottle 20 or so litres each year for us throughout the year. We pasteurise it so that it will keep and not ferment. Then sealed in sterilised glass bottles. It works well. But this was an eye opener.

We don’t make wine from our red grapes, because it is too much work for the reward. Good quality wine is cheap in Australia, why bother, but good organic red grape juice is extremely expensive. So thesis where we put our effort. What we experienced in Europe that autumn was just like our red grape juice, but very slightly fermented, possibly for just a few days. The outcome was a sweet grape juice with all the fruit flavour, but also enhanced with a little sourness and tingley, cabin dioxide induced spritzig. I might hazard a guess that it was fermented to about 2% or so of alcohol. It was a  light,  really refreshing and satisfying draft.

We have since  started to make a small batch of summer wine each year. It has to be drunk within a few days of the fermentation starting, while it still has plenty of sugars left in solution. We asked about the roadside wines that we saw and were told that it will only be available for a few days from each stall. Once the barrel is emptied, then that’s it. find the next farmer’s stall.

They might possibly use the wild natural yeast bloom on the grape skins, but this can be very variable. Because we don’t know what we art doing, and don’t have parents and grandparents on hand with generations of local knowledge about such home based, home-grown, organic production. We decide to pastures the juice as usual and then add a known wine makers yeast to get a more-or-less predictable and reliable outcome.

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We wash and de-stem the grapes to make the juicing process easier. Either way it is a lot of work. This is just the way that we have got used to doing it over the years. After sterilizing by briefly simmering the juice, we let it cool over night and then add the yeast. , somewhere between 16 and 24 degrees C. We let it sit for a day to allow the ferment to get going and then bottle it. We start to drink it from the 2nd day. After the third day, or when we feel it has reached a good point in the sugar/acid balance, we bottle it and keep it in the fridge to stall any further fermentation. it keeps for a week like this. and then it all gone. If you try this at home, don’t screw the caps on. LEAVE THEM LOOSE.

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Peasant Food

I have been doing a bit of reading lately about the life of peasants. Mostly in the recent past as you would be hard pressed to find a peasant these days. I call myself a Post Modern Peasant and have a keen interest in living a sustainable life style in this modern and very complex first-world situation.

I am rather interested in the self-reliant nature of the life of peasants. Some of the books that i have read are by Philip Olyer. His best in my opinion is ‘The Generous Earth’. recounting his life among the French peasants in the Dordogne Valley, early last century.

 

His second book on the subject wasn’t very good, or at least not as good as the first. It struck me that it was all the rejected anecdotes that were edited out of the first volume.

I’m not saying that I didn’t enjoy it, just that the first volume was so much better. I learnt quite a few things about the way the French peasants of that time prepared and preserved food.

 

Pig Earth on the other hand has a lot less about the growing, preparation and preserving food, but still a reasonable read with some gritty insights into the harsh reality of their lives.

By far the better of these two is Patience Grey’s Auto-biography ‘Honey from the Weed” the story of her life of living with her stone-carving, sculptor-husband in and around the Mediterranean in Spain, Italy and Greece.

They have no money and learn to live with the locals, like the locals, in small, isolated hamlets, way off the beaten track, up in the mountains, close to the marble quarries. Living so close to the local peasantry and quarry workers, in particular to their wives and grandmothers, gains her particular insight into the intimacies of their daily existence.

The writing is a touch clumsy in places and isn’t particularly sequential, more of a series of vignettes strung together under particular headings like cooking with pulses. Here are  several recipes all involving dried beans of varying origins, sizes and form, from fresh to dried. This section is followed by a long passage on farting!

I was moved, pun intended, to cook up a meal of our own dried beans from last summer. We grow a lot more beans than we can ever eat fresh off the bush from the garden. We let them all go to seed and dry on the bush or trellis. This years crop are starting to dry off now and will soon be ready to harvest.

This being the case, I thought about the last couple of jars of dried beans in our pantry cupboard from last year. I used half of them and soaked them over night, changing the water every few hours, or when ever I was passing and thought about it. I boiled them for an hour. The time it takes to boil dried beans varies with their age. One year old beans like these take about and hour. fresh picked and dried beans only take 20 to 30 mins.

After 15 mins I changed the water again. Patience Grey recommends boiling with a pinch of salt or bicarbonate of soda for the first 1/4 hour. This then requires the change of water, she also suggests boiling the beans with bi-carb helps loosen the outer skins, such that they can be rubbed off. This she says that this reduces the ‘fartyness’ of the resulting meal.

Our son is a Chef and has worked in some very high-end restaurants with ‘Chef’s Hat’ awards. He also told me this, that when cooking chick peas for example, pre-boil them until you can rub the outer skins off between two tea towels. then replenish with fresh water and finish the cooking. This is worth the effort, because it results in happier customers the next day, or later in the week!

I don’t have customers, so left out the bi-carb and the de-skinning. While the beans are boiling. I make an aromatic oil frying a finely diced onion and some fresh herbs and bay leaves in olive oil, finishing with a few smashed garlic cloves. I add in a small amount of diced, dried, smoked, nitrite-free bacon.

I avoid using ‘ordinary’ bacon where possible as the sodium nitrite that is commonly used is a known carcinogen. I can only find one brand of nitrite free bacon on sale anywhere around here. I’m not recommending this product. I don’t do that. It is just the only one I can find here locally.

Adding a little bit of bacon, speck or porcetta, like this adds heaps of flavour. I don’t use very much. You don’t need to. One slice is enough, it’s only for flavour. Once this is cooked off, I add a couple of spoons of my home-made marrow bone reduced stock to fill out the flavour profile and create a creamy smooth texture. I add the beans in and a cup or two of my home-made tomato sugo concentrated sauce.

The last step is to add a dash of local gold medal winning merlot red wine and let it simmer for a few minutes to meld.

Enjoy.

 

Preserved Capsicums

Even though the summer has long passed now, we can still pick the best part of a ratatouille to fill the garden harvest basket.

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We have plenty of capsicums just now, so its time to preserve a few as a roasted capsicum salsa. They need to be roasted over an open flame and then left to sweat in a bag for 15 mins. This releases the skins where the bitterness is. The resulting strips of sweet flesh are then de-seeded and coated with an olive oil and vinegar dressing.

Pretty yum.

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