The Last of the Summers’ Tomatoes

We have reached the point where the tomatoes have lost most of their leaves. There are still loads of fruit on the vines. But the vines are looking pretty much dead. We pick all the remaining fruit for the last batch of concentrated tomato passata sauce. We have over twenty jars of the stuff from this years harvest, safely stored away in the pantry cupboard.

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We pull out all the vines and compost them and remove the stakes. We pull out all the weeds. The beds are then ready for a load of compost and a new planting.

There are a basket of capsicums and chillies to harvest as well. I decide to roast them and pickle them to preserve them. They are sweated, peeled, de-seeded and then dressed with oil and vinegar. They will keep for a few weeks in the fridge treated like this.

We have only just finished the last batch of capsicums that I preserved in this way a week or so ago.

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This is all standard autumn fare.

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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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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From Garden to Glass jars, Preserving our Excess

Our international guest and pottery/environmental living intern, Ms Kang from Korea, is about to leave us. We spend our time in the pottery, garden and kitchen. We put in a big day from early morning through till late night, a 14 hour day. There is a lot to get done at this time of year.

We have glazed our pots and packed the kiln previously, so while we wait for the sun to get up in the sky so that we can start the firing. I get up on the roof and wash the solar panels. We live on a dirt road which is quite dusty in dry weather. We recently had a good rain storm and collected 75mm. (3″) of rain, but then we had 150mm. (6″) of wind and dust, This means that I need to wash the PV panels so that we achieve maximum efficiency. At this time of year, the shadow from the trees doesn’t pass off the last of the panels until 10.00am.

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By 10.00am the sun is up in the sky and we are generating good energy, it’s a good time to switch on the electric kiln. I wait until the PV panels are generating enough power before I start the firing. I like to start about 10-ish and finish by 5-ish, thus making the most of the sun. The kiln is very powerful and can easily fire straight through to Stoneware 1300oC in 5 hours if needed. Once the kiln gets to 1000oC, I start reduction with 2 small pilot burners running at 5 kpa. I can’t set the pressure any lower than this and expect it to be reliable. This takes the kiln through to 1300 in reduction using just 300 grams of gas. I’m still experimenting with this kiln.

If we want to fire longer, or on cloudy days when there isn’t enough direct sunlight, we have the Tesla battery to fill the gap. We can, if needed, fire the kiln and charge the car as well on the same day. On a good sunny day, we can charge both car and Kiln, fill the battery and still sell a little to the grid. On the off days when we don’t fire or drive the car, we sell everything to the grid. We sell our excess at 20 cents per kW/hr. occasionally when it is cloudy for a few days we buy back power from the grid. We chose a 100% green power contract and pay the premium price of 35 cents per kW/hr for the privilege. However, we are connected to the grid by a net meter, so we only have to pay for power if our imports exceeds our exports in any given month. It never does.

Once the kiln is on, It fires itself in semi-automatic mode. I only need to check it occasionally. Then its back into the garden to continue the harvest of more tomatoes, chilis, capsicums and aubergines. We are at peak tomatoes now, as we dealt with the last of the late-season plums last week. They are all safely vacuumed sealed in their jars, in the pantry, waiting for later in the year.

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While I harvest the tomatoes et al, in the vegetable garden, the ladies, Ms’s King & Kang collect hazel nuts and quinces from the orchard. We are all soon very busy in the kitchen, by the time the heat of the day sets in. All the tomatoes need to be washed and sorted. Even though we have set fruit fly traps all around our garden and orchards, we still get some fruit fly stings in the very ripe tomatoes in this late summer season of hot and damp weather. All the tomatoes are cut open, checked for fly strike and then sorted into two separate pans. A big boiler for the good fruit and a small sauce pan for the fly struck fruit. The spoilt tomatoes are all boiled to kill the grubs and then fed to the chickens, with the remaining skins and detritus composted or fed to the worms.

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While I’m cooking, Ms Kang is shelling the days pick of hazelnuts. This batch of tomato passata will be cooked with pepper corns, bay leaves and a bottle of good red wine. It looks great and tastes delightfully sweet and sharp, sort of tangy, with just a little bite and lingering heat from a few chilli peppers in the mix.

The quinces are washed, peeled sliced and then boiled with a little sugar, 300g in the big boiler + a couple of litres of water to cover them. I add a stick of cinnamon, a few cloves and two star anise. After they have softened. I transfer them to baking trays, pouring the sweet boiling liqueur over them and add a little bit of Canadian maple syrup into the mix I give them 45 mins at 180 and this reduces the liquer to a sticky gel and turns the fruit to a lovely red colour. I choose to cook them with a minimum of sugar. If I added more sugar, they would turn a deeper/richer shade of claret red. I love that colour, but don’t like the saturated sweetness.

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We preserve everything in our antique ‘Fowlers’ Preserving jars. We bought this old boiler and a few boxes of glass jars, 2nd hand at a garage sale over 40 years ago and they are still giving good service. We have only had to replace the rubber rings.

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It still surprises me that a basket full of quince fruit can fill the sink when being washed, then fill 2 baking dishes in the cooking and finally be reduced to just 3 jars of concentrated sunlight, colour and flavour after a days work. Two baskets of tomatoes fills two boilers, then makes only 4 jars of passata once it has been reduced on the stove for an few hour.

Such is the business of summer.

The Simple Pleasures of Our Mundane Life

As we approach the end of the summer season, we are busy both in the pottery making, but also in the garden and orchards harvesting and preserving. The late summer season brings loads of fruit and vegetables to deal with.

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Ms King and Ms Kang in the garden considering the sunflowers. We grow sunflowers in a series of staggered plantings all through the summer to feed to the chickens. They get one sunflower head each day to supplement their-free range foraging.

We have made several batches of tomato passatta this summer. This equates to about 2 to 3 jars per week added to the pantry. A basket full of tomatoes, with a few added capsicums and chillies, fills a medium-sized boiler. I add a big handful of sweet basil, few couple of sage leaves and a sprig of lemon thyme. Whatever is on hand, sometimes I add a couple of bay leaves instead, but not this time. Sometimes a dash of red wine.

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This concentrated tomato concoction is boiled and reduced until it is all softened and a bit mushy. After cooling, I pass it all through the kitchen moulii to remove the skins and seeds, and then bring the resulting liquid to a soft simmer for another hour to reduce the volume and concentrate the flavour.

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I start the day with a full boiler of tomatoes fresh from the garden and end the night with just 2 half-litre jars of concentrated sauce. By filling the glass jars straight from the oven where they have been pre-heated and capping with their lids that have been simmered for a few minutes, the hot sauce is vacuum sealed as it cools. This will keep all year if needed. Precious little for a days part-time work. Very precious!

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While I’m finishing this latest batch of passatta, Janine has been preserving plums. We are at peak late-seasons plums. She makes a leek pie for dinner. She makes her special easy pastry recipe that she learnt from a visiting Spanish artist-in-residence here, using wine and olive oil with the flour. She improvises with the wine cold bottle straight from the fridge as a roller and pours us both a glass while she is at it.

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We have a lot of leeks coming on just now. We have learnt to eat what we grow and eat it as it matures. Our life here is not so much what do you fancy tonight, but more a case of this is what we will have tonight because its ripe.

These are the simple pleasures of our mundane life.

 

Seasonal Vegetable Pasta

We are now harvesting the late yellow peaches and although the early youngberries are long gone now and just a memory for another year, the thornless blackberries are in full swing and they integrate very pleasingly with the constant supply of blueberries. All the early season blueberries have finished, but the crop seamlessly flows into the mid season varieties and we still have un-ripe late-season berries slowly colouring up in the bushes. Either it’s a very good season for the blueberries, or after 10 years, the bushes are hitting their stride.

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Breakfast is just the freshest and most delicious meal of the day. Mouthwateringly vitamin C tangy, crunchy, succulent and sweet. Each mouthful bursting with sunlight and vitamins. All the ingredients picked fresh every day, straight from the garden. They couldn’t be fresher or more vibrant. Such a refreshingly interesting way to wake up the taste buds and kick-start the day. We are now vegetarian this month, as the fish truck that comes up from the South Coast 2 days a week, is now on summer break for the whole month. We won’t be seeing him again until February. But as there is so much coming in from the garden each day, we haven’t noticed any lack in our diet.

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Last night we picked tomatoes, capsicums, chillis, Zucchinis and fully formed scarlet runner beans. These are too coarse to eat whole now, so I peeled them and we added the fresh beans to the vegetable marsala mix. Starting off with my Xmas present of lemon myrtle infused olive oil, onion and garlic, then sweating down the vegetables in the juice of the tomatoes, aided by a little dash of white wine. To keep the lemony theme going I add a little sprig of lemon thyme, some basil leaves and two quarters of diced, preserved lemon rind. This is simmered down to a delicate crunchy softness.

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I served this super-fresh garden passata-like sauce over soba noodles. I love watching soba noodles cook. They take one minute to soften, then as they loosen up, they start to roll in the boiling water, for about 2 minutes, and then as they swell and expand, they slowly stop rolling and tumbling, about one minute, and they are ready. To keep the fresh lemony zangy flavour profile going, I served the meal topped with a very tiny sprinkling of Japanese Sansho pepper. 

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This stuff is exceptional. It has a delicate lemony fragrance and initial taste. The taste is so good and so complex that I want to taste more, zingy, zesty, bright, savoury citrus-like flavour. It is so more-ish, but when you have that little bit more, it starts to make your tongue go numb. So I restrain my self adding just the very smallest amount. We buy this pepper in the markets in Japan each visit, freshly ground each day and then vacuum sealed in a foil sachet. We buy it on our last day before flying out and take it straight to the freezer compartment of out fridge. Here it keeps its freshness and full flavour for a year, or until we run out. last trip I bought several packets, some as gifts, but mostly because I’m greedy.

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Now it just so happens that I have the perfect pot to serve the right amount of sansho pepper in. This tiny little dish was once an ancient, broken Chinese Bowl. The only part left in tact was the foot rim. The remnants of the bowl body was ground away down to just the undamaged foot itself. Measuring about 30mm across and 25 mm inside and just 6 mm deep. It is ideal for presenting just the smallest amount of sansho pepper. A perfect re-imagining, reworking and re-use of a remnant of a gorgeous ancient Chinese bowl. Perfect!

 

Vegetable Pasta

In this very hot weather, we don’t feel like eating much. Extreme heat kills apatite, but while we are wilting, the garden is flourishing. Yesterday, in the afternoon, we got a terrific storm and for 15 minutes, we got 15mm of rain. It came down hard and fast. All the gutters over flowed as the rain couldn’t get into the down pipes past the mesh sieves quickly enough. The fierce flow of water washes gum tree leaves off the roof and into the gutters and these end up blocking the sieve. If it rains steadily, the water can get through, but not as fast as this today. I clean the gutters regularly, but it takes too much time the sweep all the roofs, so we put up with the leaves in the gutter sieves. It works most of the time. Anyway all our tanks are full, so we need not worry about this small loss of water.

Now that it is a bit cooler, momentarily, We feel like eating something nice for dinner. I decide to make a vegetable pasta. We have lots of things coming along in the garden besides fruit. Today we have a load of capsicums and tomatoes, so pasta sounds good.

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I brown an onion in olive oil and then add in a small knob of garlic, roughly chopped. What an amazing smell this is. It smells good enough to eat just by itself. next the 4 different types of green peppers. We have round bell capsicums, long thin yellow banana capsicums and two different long tapered green ones. I also finely slice a couple of huge green 7-year beans. They look a bit rough, being coarse and a bit hairy looking, but taste delicious. We eat them whole, raw or cooked, like French beans when they are young, slice them like this when they are full-sized and leave a lot on the vine to dry for use in bean stews over winter. They are a perennial bean, re-shooting from the root in the spring. I can’t say that they last 7 years or not. I think not. But at least half of them seem to come back to life each year. We move the bean tresses every few years anyway to spread the nitrogen-fixing capacity of the beans around the garden. SO I end up replanting a few each year. They grow from seed as an annual crop just like any other bean.

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As all this simmers down into a sauce, I add in some chopped preserved lemons that I made just a couple of months ago, and then de-glaze with a large swig of good red wine. right at the end i throw in the other half of the garlic, so that it remains a firm and retains some pleasant crunch.

I garnish this simple passata sauce with some sage leaves fried in butter. These just take a couple of minutes. We use Australian grown but Japanese style soba noodles. These just need a few minutes to soften in boiling water. I don’t use salt in the water, nor do I cook with salt either. As a result Janine and I both retain our youthful low blood pressure.

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Served with a sprinkle of parmesan and a glass of chilled white wine. it tastes delicious. and it was nearly all from our garden just hours earlier.

I bought in the pasta, olive oil and the parmesan cheese. The rest is all our own work.

Best wishes from the Post Modern Peasants