Making the Most of Winter

It’s another blowy, blustering cool day, with a wind that is bringing down a few branches. Luckily, it was quite still yesterday evening, so we decided to burn off our pile of garden, orchard and vineyard prunings. We manage to assemble quite a pile of these prunings during the autumn pruning period. We pile them up to dry out for a couple of months and then burn off the pile at the end of winter, just before the spring fire bans come into force. In the past we have waited for a cool damp night after rain, but it just hasn’t rained at all for months, so the pile just sat there. 
Last night was forecast to be damp with the possibility of a slight shower. That was good enough, After dinner we went down to the burn pile site, next to the Pantryfield garden and lit it up. It was a very slow quiet burn that took 3 hours to get through all the sticks, twigs and branches. By 11 pm it was just a pile of white ash and a few glowing embers. It’s a good feeling to get the fire hazard out of the way before summer, otherwise it would have to sit there for another 8 months. Fortunately it started to rain ever so gently later in the night, just half a mm. in the rain gauge this morning, but enough to settle it all down.


 Today a fierce, gusty wind has settled in, so we are back inside, after doing all our jobs, collecting fire wood and stacking it inside ready for tonights fires, watering the small seedlings and cleaning up. Now the sun is fully up, we drove the car down to the high amperage charging station down by the kiln factory. The kiln shed has 3 phase power installed, so we placed the fast charger down there, as there is no electricity in the car port. The kiln shed roof also has 6kW of solar panels on its roof, so direct access to the solar power for charging the car and firing the kiln.
As we’re inside, we decide to deal with kitchen duties. We held our second marmalade making workshop at the weekend, so there are numerous small jars of marmalade to be washed and dried , then labeled and stored away in the pantry. We made 3 batches, each slightly different, but all of them centred on Seville oranges, of which we have a beautiful crop this year. Hard to fathom, as we are currently in a drought. But we have been watering the citrus grove regularly.


Each large boiler, makes between 7 to 10 jars of marmalade, depending on the size of the jars. Our very good friends Toni and Chris turned up and the afternoon eventually wound it’s way into evening and dinner.


The other job on the kitchen list is to make a stock out of the bones left over from a duck that we have in the fridge. I start by browning some onion in olive oil, then garlic and water. Our organic garden garlic is getting close to the end now as the winter peters-out. What we have left is stored, hung up, outside on the back verandah in long plaits. This is starting to sprout now, but it still gives us the good garlic flavour. The new crop of garlic is filling out in the garden, but is still 3 months away from maturity.



I add water, the bones, a lemon, chillies, the very last of our late season tomatoes that we picked 6 weeks ago when they were still a bit green, as the bushes had been burnt off by the frost, and some pepper. After simmering for an hour, I pass it thorough a sieve to separate the bones and mirepoix from the stock. I add a bottle of ‘fume’ wine and return the clear stock to the stove to reduce. It happens in among all the other jobs, slowly and steadily, filling the kitchen with a warm, delicious fragrance that is so welcoming on a cold windy day.
 Domestic jobs can be really engaging and fulfilling sometimes. This is one of those times.You’ll notice that I don’t write too much about cleaning the grease trap!
Our enigmatic friend Annabelle Sloujé sent me this image that she saw somewhere, after I wrote about making a beef bone stock last week.
Best wishes from Steve who is making the most of winter – while it lasts.

A sudden cold spell

We have just emerged from a sudden cold spell. We were glad to find a few jobs to do inside for a while until the cold winds blew themselves out. Our good friend Annabelle Sloujé lives a little bit farther south of here and a lot higher up, she had a low of -9oC, I’m glad we live here in Camelot where it doesn’t get so cold. My friends in Korea report a range of -35 to + 38oC. They probably think that I’m a wimp for talking about a winters day of -1 oC. They possibly think that -1 is quite warm, in comparison.

However cold or hot it is, we found things to do out of the wind. I shelled nuts and Janine made a cake from the last of last years hazelnuts that she milled into flour. It’s one of those recipes with reduced flour and usually almond meal. The Lovely down loaded it from the internet, but as we didin’t have any almonds left to shell, she used all hazelnut meal instead. All recipes are just a guide. Living where we do, we have learnt to compromise and use what we have rather than drive for an hour to get something specific. We save all our jobs and shopping list for that weekly trip.

Glazed with melted 85% dark chocolate and a few chunks of chopped crystallised ginger. It was just right for cold weather and didn’t last too long.

For my part, I made a beef marrow bone and vegetable stock over a couple of nights, using the free heat from the wood fired kitchen stove after we cooked dinner.

I make stock like this a few times each year, especially during the colder months when the stove is always on. I have come accustomed to always having our own personal, giant, frozen stock cube in the freezer. We don’t own a dedicated freezer, so we only freeze what can’t be preserved by other means like vacuum sealing ‘Vacola’ jars. The special conditions required for safe preserving in vacuum jars is that the food must be boiled in the jar to seal it, so that counts out pesto. Also, it is best if the food is naturally acidic like fruits and vegetables like tomatoes. Meat can be preserved this way, but it is recommended that the vacuum sealing be done twice to make sure that it is perfectly safe. A bit of a bother.

After the cold spell blew itself out, we have had a few glorious cloudless sunny days with no wind. I took the opportunity to move my chair out into the sun and get a little vitamin D and finish decorating my last few pots doing scraffitto, carving into the surface with a sharp tool. This will show the pooling character of my local granite blue celadon style glaze when fired in the reduced solar fired electric kiln.

Winter Citrus and Candied Peel

The citrus crop is now coming into its own. We are harvesting ripe citrus every few days for our breakfast entre.

Because we have so much fruit, I decide to try and preserve some of the citrus in something other than just marmalade or frozen lemon juice ice cubes.
I decide to try and make some citrus candied peel.
I have a couple of different approaches. First I try amd make some finely sliced candied peel.
I peel the bright orange peel from the fruit with a standard veggie peeler. I separate it from the pith off the fruit and then slice it finely with a knife.
I’m using grapefruit, lemonade and tangello peel. Why? Because that is the fruit that we shared for breakfast.
I boil the peel in water for a few minutes, then change the water and repeat to reduce the bitterness.
I change the water about 3 times, then let it simmer gently for quite a few minutes to soften the peel.
I drain of the water and weigh the fruit. Add the same amount of sugar as the weight of the damp fruit.
Then return the water to the sauce pan with the fruit and sugar and simmer for 30 mins.
Once they are softened, I drain off the water and put them on a mesh tray to dry.
After drying in the wood stove oven that is cooling down overnight with the oven door open, dip them in melted dark chocolate and store in the fridge.
Delicious! They are crisp, crunchy, sweet and citrus sour.
The next night, I try repeating the process using whole slices of navel oranges.
These whole slices are boiled in the same way and then candied as above.
These are very nice after drying and dipped in 80% dark chocolate.
They are particularly nice! They don’t last long.
I’ll have to make another batch using 10 oranges next time, so that they can last a few days.
Winter does have it’s advantages.

Winter Marmalade Workshop – Everthing Good Takes Time

Winter brings on the lemons and not just on Monday or Friday!

All the citrus a coming on and although it is very early in the season, we have a load of fruit to get through.

Our citrus grove is now 7 years old and the trees are starting to produce more fruit than we can eat. We could manage it if it were spread out over 12 months, but it’s all coming on in a bit of a rush now. Even though we are in a drought, we did have a surprising down-pour of rain last week that gave us 27mm. Just at the right time to swell out these citrus crops nicely.
The mandarin and cumquat are not really fully ripe yet, but the Seville oranges are almost there, there are just a few ripe fruit on the North facing side of the tree. Everything else is booming. Lemons, lemonades, tangelos, limes, navels and grapefruits. All these are just ripe enough for making marmalade now.
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Janine decided to offer a marmalade making workshop to help us use up this fruit productively. All we ask people to do is turn up with their glass jars, so that they can take home their produce, and something to contribute to a shared lunch. We offer to provide everything else. The fruit, sharp knives, cutting boards, sugar, big copper boilers and a couple of citrus juicers.
Janine spread the word through the local ‘greens’ and the ‘Seed Savers’  + the organic gardeners and the Picton art group. It just so happens that all these contact points are almost exactly the same people! Gentle, creative, thoughtful sensitive caring people have the same interests it seems.
Fortunately for us the Wollondilly Art Group had their monthly meeting postponed a week so that it clashed with our marmalade making workshop. I say fortunately, because we had 8 people and if we had had any more it would have been a bit tight in our little kitchen.
We started by walking down to the citrus grove and picking the fruit. Each person filling one of our wicker baskets with a different fruit.
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We spend the morning peeling, slicing and dicing. Everyone brings along their own individual approach to dissecting the citrus fruit quite finely, some more finely than others. Janine and I have different approaches and we each demonstrate our own way. We also have two vastly different cooking methods and we prepare  batches by both methods.
I get the job of peeling the grapefruits, Seville oranges and eureka lemons, as they have a thick white pith. I have no trouble in being told to ‘pith-off’!
I’m told that the white pith isn’t needed in marmalade. So off it goes, the thin curly ‘peels’ can then be sliced very finely.  To very thinly slice the peel takes a lot longer. But I like it that way,  I don’t mind the time, I’ve set the day aside for this, it’s a pleasant activity and I know that I’ll enjoy the reward. Everything good takes time!
The remaining whole peeled fruit are cut in half and juiced, as we only use the juice, the peel and sugar. We don’t use water, nor do we soak the fruit over night. Just our very own ‘quick and dirty’ whole fruit method.
Once the fruit is on the stove, we settle down for a shared lunch and a chat while our handiwork simmers and fills the kitchen with that devine smell. One by one, as each boiler begins to ’gel’, we fill the glass jars as they come straight from the oven where they are sterilised for 10 minutes at 120oC and cap them off with simmered lids.
Everybody got to take home 2 or 3 jars of different marmalade blends. We made 4 different batches altogether.  I think that everyone enjoyed the day. I notice that no one was in a hurry to leave.
We are left with a dozen jars of different blends for our own pantry. It takes all day, but it’s a really pleasant day, well spent. Everything good takes time.
My car has just sent an email to my phone to up-date me on the progress of our driving. We have had our Hyundai Ionic ‘plug-in’ electric hybrid car for 5 months now. We have driven 5,000 kms so far and nearly all of that has been done on our own solar power. We have driven the 5,000 kms on just $70 worth of petrol. We have filled the petrol tank twice with $50 worth of fuel, but we still are only a third of the way through the 2nd tank full.
The first image that I have downloaded here shows that for the time period of one month, and the mileage that we covered over that time, the car should have generated 26grams of CO2 per kilometre. In actual fact we generated only 2 grams! It seems that the Hyundai software aggregates all the information from all the cars of the same make and model in Australia and rates the usage accordingly.
On this basis, we were rated 1st for the month February
This second image shows that our average litres per kilometre. was 845 km/L. Apparently the expected amount for this car should be closer to 20.
For this month our fuel consumption was 0.64 litres to travel 545 km. The expected fuel consumption should have been much higher, closer to 26 litres. So we are achieving 50 times better than the average.
I’m very pleased with this information, as this is just what I hoped to achieve when I bought this plug-in hybrid car. We have demonstrated that we can drive almost totally on sunshine. However, when we need to go on longer trips, there is no ‘range anxiety’, as we can use the small, fuel-efficient, petrol engine to go up to 1,100 km when both the battery and fuel tank are full.
It’s no accident that we can do this. We have spent all our lives working towards this situation. Making our own livelihood from our own small business, growing our own food, collecting our own water supply, dealing with our own sewage, making our own electricity and storing our excess solar power in our battery, all these choices leading up to this point, so that we can simply plug in our electric car and drive on sunshine.
Everything good takes time.
Best wishes
Steve
Dr. Steve Harrison PhD. MA (Hons)
hotnsticky@ozemail.com.au
blog; tonightmyfingerssmellofgarlic.com
Potter, kiln surgeon, clay doctor, wood butcher and Post Modern Peasant.

Back Home and Busy

I’m back home again from my month of researching in Korea now and I’m suddenly very busy.

Not just catching up on the past emails and book orders, but immediate things like the fact that the big gum tree on the corner of our street that was hit by lighting just before I went away, has needed to be lopped and made safe. The fire brigade came and put out the fire, but didn’t fix the mess, as it’s not their job. The tree was badly damaged, burnt, split and shattered. It’s not our tree either.

While I was away, Janine had been ‘at’ the council to make the tree safe, as it is out on the foot path and is not on our property. We can’t legally touch their trees. There are rules! We could get fined.
So now the tree loppers are here and have pruned the tree back to a stubby trunk. They leave all the loppings at the base of the tree, so that we can collect it for fire wood. If we hadn’t asked, they would have shredded it all down to wood chips in their huge shredder. So the current, pressing job, is to collect the wood. I have a load of other things on my list, but priorities change day to day as we respond to each situation.
As soon as the tree loppers go we are out there. I know from bitter experience that some particular neighbours will take it from under our noises if we don’t act quickly.
A few years ago,property I helped our direct next-door neighbour to chop up a tree that had fallen on his property down by the back lane. I couldn’t take it all away at the time, but cut it all up into small slabs, so that I could handle it and clear access to his drive way. Before I could get back to it, a distant neighbour stole it all. I’ve learnt my lesson. Act quickly!
This time I get it all up onto my truck with the assistance of my very good friend Len, who just happens to call in to visit. No such thing as a free lunch Len.
I also go to the barn and install my hydraulic crane onto the truck. I use this to lift the largest blocks up onto the truck. They must weight more than hundred kilos each, when they are freshly cut and full of water-based kinos and sap. The longest pieces will be used to fire the wood kiln, the shorter pieces will be used in the hose in the kitchen stove.
Over the hotter months, we collect all our garden prunings and pile them up, saving them up for a time like this that is cool, and damp after a good fall of rain. We had just over 25mm of rain the other day. The weather is just right for us to do a hazard reduction burn. We wait until the evening, for the temperature to fall and the humidity to rise. It only takes 20 mins for it all to reduce to ashes and a few embers. However the core of the ember pile keeps on glowing through the evening and into night. We make regular trip to the pile to check on it. Hosing water all around the site to make the ground very damp.
We have two piles to burn. One pile at each end of our 7 acre block of land. One each night, After the fire dies down and all the hard work is done we share a beer!
I get to drink my home-made, home-brew beer from a porcelain cup that was given to me by my Korean friend Hae Jin.
We are still able to pick ripe tomatoes now in June. Only just a bowl full each week now, but they are still lingering on. I’m so amazed. This is the latest that we have been able to continuously pick tomatoes. We haven’t had a frost yet. Such a strange time. We have lived here on this piece of land for over 40 years. In the 1970s we had severe frosts in May that burnt off every plant that was tender. Now we are now in June and it’s still warmish. 5 oC over-night at this time. No-where near a frost. Global warming. What global warming? Or as the Guardian Newspaper has started stating it. Climate crisis! What Climate Crisis?
Wake up everyone! Choose to only buy green power. Put solar panels on your roof if you can. Insulate your ceiling instead of turning on the air con. Wear a jumper in cooler weather. Choose energy efficient appliances when they need replacing. Many small things make a difference.
The lead article in today’s Guardian Newspaper; 12/6/19
“Australia is missing an opportunity to easily meet its emissions targets through energy efficiency measures, new research has found.Australia could cut greenhouse gas emissions halfway to its Paris agreement target, and save $7.7bna year in bills, by adopting existing global standards on household and business appliances such as hot-water heaters. The report, from the Energy Efficiency Council, found that adopting the measures used in Germany would save the average Australian household $790 a year on power bills and create 70,000 extra full-time equivalent jobs.”
One of the jobs on my very long list of jobs now that I’m back, is to make a batch of porcelain clay from my Australian materials. I have all the materials ready to go and I use the ancient one arm dough mixer that I bought 2nd hand 40 years ago. This dry-mix method is only appropriate if you have all the materials prepared in a pre-powdered state. I blend them all thoroughly for some time and then add in some suitable acidic water from the old galvanised water tank, that collects its water off the pottery roof. This water is enhanced by the addition of rotted gum tree leaves from the gutters. This composted, highly acidic material lowers the pH of the water quite a lot. This flora and fauna creates a thriving micro biome. It all helps the clay that I’m making become a little bit more plastic and slightly better to work with. And it’s free and totally natural.
When I use a blend of wet-mixed slip added to dry-mixed clay like this, I get the advantage of speed, without sacrificing too much in the way of plasticity. I am due to lay this ‘quick and dirty’ sericite blended porcelain body down to ‘age’ for a while, to get it to ‘sour’. All clays, no-matter how they are made and from what, will benefit from a relaxed period of ageing in a damp, dark, cool place for what ever time you can spare. I have a few packs of very old, hand made, single stone, porcelain that I have been mollycoddling for over a decade. What started out as wet sand, is now a quite plastic throwing body. If only you could buy time! Or make it.
I have built a new pug mill table out of my spare off-cuts of gal RHS and stainless steel sheeting from the kiln factory. I have designed it so that the pug can be extruded out over the end of the table onto the extended table, I can then fold it away again after the pugging. I set it up with a diagonal retractable brass brace that hooks into place to hold the extension horizontal when needed.
It’s a beautiful thing.
It’s hard working, reliable, rough, but acceptable. A bit like me!
Another thing that I have done since my return, is to take my crippled lap top to bits and install a new 1Tb solid state drive into the old hard drive space. It starts to work again like a new one. It’s 6 years old and by any ordinary reckoning should be pretty much dead by now. This new digital ‘heart transplant’ should give it new lease of life. It certainly seems to have.
It’s not too technically difficult, even I can manage it! But it does take me about 4 hours. Most of this time was spent in duplicating all the old hard drive data onto the new drive.
Everything that is worth doing takes time, or so it seems.
It’s not just ageing clay that takes time!
I started pickling olives before I went away. Soaking them in water, changing it every day, rinsing and changing once or twice a day for two weeks. I also cut a couple of slits into each olive, to speed up the de-bittering, by allowing the water to penetrate into the flesh easier.
Olives have a very bitter taste when harvested. This bitterness needs to be rinsed out over a couple of weeks. I taste them every few days to check how they are going. It reduces slowly, but they never seem to get past a certain level of bitterness. The next step is to start adding salt to the water to make a brine. I add 1 cup of salt to 10 cups of water. This is just enough to cover the olives, with a dinner plate on top to press them down. I change the brine everyday as well, just as with the first two weeks of water. They get salty now and still a bit bitter.
As I was going to be away for a month. I added a couple of cups of vinegar to the brine on the last change before leaving. I don’t want them to ‘go off’ while I’m away.
When I returned, one of the first things I did was to go back to rinsing the olives each night in plain water. This change of concentration draws out more of the remaining bitterness due to osmosis, from acidic/salty to clear water. It works nicely. I change the water each day for a few more days and when they taste about right, I pickle them in a brine of;
 1/2 cup salt
 1/2 cup sugar
 2 cups vinegar
 6 cups water
I heat the glass jars in the oven and simmer the lids. I make up the brine and add slices of lemon, garlic, fresh herbs from the garden, bay leaves, chillies and pepper corns and let it cool down to just warm, then pack everything into the jars and pour over the warm spiced brine. They taste all right sweet, salty, bitter, spicy, and fresh and slightly lemony, with a chewy texture.
      
Best wishes
Steve

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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