The Last Batch of Marmalade

We are almost at the end of winter now and the last of the citrus still on the trees are  the Seville oranges. We have been making marmalade steadily through the winter months – and eating it too. We have been only just keeping ahead of our consumption.

For the past few months, I have been working flat out everyday, hardly ever taking any time off to work in the garden and around the house. Only the bare necessities could be done. The garden was looking a bit neglected and there were some essential maintenance jobs that needed seeing to.

Now my big show is up and I have given my artists talk last Saturday, then run a wood fire weekend workshop on Sunday, Today is a day off. We allow ourselves to sleep in a bit, have a late breakfast, then it is into the garden to harvest the last of the  Seville oranges. I get a couple of baskets full, as well as a few lemons. We spend our ‘day off ‘ making marmalade.

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We make something of an effort to make nice marmalade. For us, that means using the orange juice as the only liquid. We take the time to cut away almost all of the white pith, using just the thin strip of coloured fruit skin, and that skin is sliced quite thin. Each of us has our own way of dealing with the process. I like it sliced very thin, as thin as possible, with as little white as possible.

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We squeeze out the fruit juice and pour it into a saucepan, all the pips are separated out to another smaller sauce pan and simmered with a minimum of water to extract the pectin. This is pushed through a small kitchen sieve and eventually back into the lager pan of juice and peel. The thinly sliced peel and juice is roughly weighed and about 40% of this weight is added as sugar, but we have experimented with as little as 35% sugar. I like it less sweet and a bit more bitey. I have heard of recipes that say 50% of sugar and even equal parts of sugar. I don’t think that I would like it that sweet.

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Janine has made a hand-thrown, glazed, pottery funnel to make the pouring of jams, jellies and marmalade easier.

As we only seem to eat marmalade on toast for breakfast through the winter, we will have enough now in stock to last us through the last of the cool weather and through into the next winter, when the citrus will come back on again.

 

 

Winter Weekend Workshop, Wood-fired Raku

We are smack in the middle of the winter weekend wood firing workshops. 5 down and 5 to go. We have to take the truck down into the bushy part of our land and collect a load of small dead dry branches for the next raku firing workshop. We get through a truck load in one day with 6 wood fired kilns going all day. Collecting all of our own fuel from our own land like this is just one more aspect of our attempt at self-reliance. It’s time consuming, but fit, active, healthy work, and it helps to keep the forest in good condition.

 

Amazingly, the chickens know the sound of the chainsaw and within minutes they appear, having covered the 100 metres across the block from the garden area where they spend most of their time, through the cherry orchard, the hazelnut grove, past the dam and the wood shed and they find us down the lane. The are motivated by food. They know that the chainsaw means termites, centipedes, under-bark beetles and cockroaches. We aren’t that happy to see them arrive here in this more remote part of our land. It means that they now know that this place exists and that they can roam here at other times. They learn their boundaries by following us. They don’t go where we don’t go. This place is the wild-wood for them and they will be very vulnerable to the fox if they come here alone.

 

We set about dragging the dead branches out of the forest. Once we have a good pile to get started with. Janine keeps on delivering more sticks and branches to me in the track. The closest place where I can reverse to truck to. I set up the saw horse and start to cut the branches into smaller sized pieces, suitable for use in the little Stefan Jakob style bin kilns. The chickens have no fear, they love to get in right under the saw to catch the falling bugs. I have to persuade them to look elsewhere in a rotten tree stump to excavate for termites. It works for a while but they are soon back in my wood pile, under my feet. They have decided that they love sugar ants and their larvae, that are falling out of some of the hollow rotten logs.

When we have loaded the truck, the chickens don’t want to leave this new exciting site that they hadn’t previously known about. We have to go back and entice them to follow us to safer ground, closer to the house. They wouldn’t last too long out in the bush.

We need to drive the truck up to the wood shed so that we can split the thicker section logs down to thin pieces suitable for the small fireboxes on these little kilns. As soon as the splitter engine starts up, they soon appear, ready to ‘help’ Janine with the wood splitting.

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I sharpen and service the chain saws, while Janine and her ‘helpers’ finish splitting the last of the wood.

The workshop is a success as they always are. Everyone getting a chance to fire their own work in their own kiln, usually working together in pairs or small groups.

 

 

The day ends with a little shower of rain, that sends us under cover for a few minutes, but it soon clears to a light sprinkle and we are all back out there cleaning up and washing the finished pots, raking the saw dust looking for lost pieces or little parts that have broken off.

At the end of the day, the truck is empty and there are just 6 pieces of wood left in the wheel barrow.

A good day.

Avocados and Oysters

What do Avocados and oysters have in common?

Answer; They are both best eaten raw with only a dressing of lemon juice and some freshly ground pepper.

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We have apparently reached peak avocado season now. We find a freshly fallen avocado each morning on the lawn. We decide that it is tine to do a big pick. We use the tall 2.4 metre step-ladder and the 4 metre long pruning shears, so that I can get to those pesky little critters right at the top of the tree. They have so far escaped picking, being so difficult to reach, right up there.

A little bit of circus work and we fill our basket with a dozen nicely sized fruits. That’ll keep us going for another week or so and save us from being killed by falling fruit.

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Cold frosty nights, a good time to make stock

I have been sitting with my show at Watters Gallery each Saturday to ‘meetngreet’ and answer questions, if any, from the visitors. I spend some time with a few couples. I tell them stories, recount a joke, offer some insights into the work and its back history. They laugh, we chat, I explain the work, give details of its making, describe the provenance and importance to the overall story, of some specific pieces. I give them a brochure, a colour catalogue and then, after 45 mins., they walk out happily. I look to Frank sitting in the corner. He smiles at me benevolently. “welcome to the life of the gallerist”!

We have had a longish dry spell and the nights are again frosty. Cold evenings are an ideal time to make some stock. I buy a few beef bones and a pigs trotter. We roast them in the wood stove while we cook dinner. Then I boil them down over night on a slow declining fire along with a big boiler of mixed winter vegetables. Some parsnip, carrots, celery, parsley and a hand-full of mixed herbs, bay leaves, chilli, a star anise and a few pepper corns. All the usual suspects. The whole lot is slowly simmered and in the morning each of the big pots is decanted. The marrow extracted from the bones, which are then discarded, the vegetables sieved from the stock and sent to the worm farm.

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Both boilers and added together and re-simmered  the next night with a bottle of red wine. This is reduced down to 600mls of thick, gelatinous stock.

This is wonderfully flavoursome stuff. I keep it in the freezer and bring it out when I need a stock cube. This stock is so high in natural gelatine, protein and fat that it doesn’t really freeze. It just sets into a very firm gel that I can slice straight from the freezer. A chunk can be added whenever needed in just a minute. I’m sure that it would keep for a very long time in this frozen state, but it never gets the chance!

What is really good about this stock, which makes it so different from any commercial product is thatches stock is free of salt. Most commercially available stocks are loaded with salt. It’s probably their main ingredient.

This is entirely home made, flavoursome, free of preservatives, insecticides and is almost healthy by comparison. It is also a much better use of my time than watching the idiot box.

 

Low Temp Wood Firing Workshop

We have just completed our 4th wood firing workshop for the season. We still have 4 or 5 to go before spring, the hot weather and possible fire bans arrive.

 

We hosted 11 potters in our workshop for a low temperature ‘raku style’ firing day. We have re-arranged the order of the kilns for this event, placing all the small ‘Stefan Jakob’ style ‘IKEA’ Garbage can kilns up on the stone wall. In this way the potter doesn’t have to bend down to stoke the firebox, but instead, can sit in a more relaxed fashion in a chair while stoking the kiln. This is much easier for some of us of advancing years.

 

The larger and heavier brick lined portable kilns have to stay firmly on the ground where we can wheel then out for firing and then back again under cover for storage.

We were blessed with a beautiful day with no wind and beautiful sunshine – almost hot. Such a great day for an out door workshop. The week preceding had been dreadful with strong, icy southerly winds blowing off the snow.

Everyone seems to be happy and some excellent results are achieved. We are now about half way through our firing workshops for this year. 4 down and 6 to go.

 

Have Wheel, Will Barrow

Now that the wheel barrow is back up and running again, and I have some time again. I get around to planting the new avocado tree.

We have an avocado tree. We have had it growing in the yard between the cherry orchard and the hazel nut grove. It’s been growing well for the past 40 years and usually has a good crop of avocados each winter. We pick about half a dozen or so each week. It has to be done at least a week in advance of when you want to eat them, as they take 7 to 10 days to finish ripening up after picking.

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The tree has grown quite large over the years, so we now need a step-ladder and  extendable, long-handled, pruning secateurs to reach up to the top to get at them. We get out there, Janine underneath where we think that the fruit will land. I get up close to it with the long secateurs. When fully extended, this gadget gets to fruit up to 6 metres high and is quite unwieldy to handle up above your head with arms outstretched. I cut the stem and Janine catches the fruit in a towel that she has stretched between her arms, like a fireman blanket. It works quite well – usually. Unless the avocado hits a branch on the way down and spins off at a tangent.

We have been eating avocados for the past couple of months now and there are still plenty up there in the upper branches. Because they don’t ripen until they are picked. It’s the best fruit tree that we have. We can decide when we want to eat the fruit at our convenience. We have had an unseen avocado last up in the dizzying heights of the upper branches for 5 months and suddenly dropping off in December.

I learnt a few years ago that avocados are self fertile. BUT, you get a better fruit set if there are other different varieties close at hand. Avocados come in two families. Type A and B. It is best if you have one of each. So I decided to buy another tree. We currently have a variety called ‘bacon’ which is the cool hardy one. Hence it has survived the snow fall and the deep frosts of the early years. However, now with global warming and reduced frosts here, it seems to be doing very well. I don’t know how long avocados live, but 40 years is a good effort for a fruit tree growing at the very edge of its range, and lets face it, they are a tropical fruit. So we have been very lucky as well as industrious.

When I went to buy the second tree, it soon became apparent that you can’t just go out and buy an avocado tree these days in Australia. The fruit is so damn popular (and expensive) that people are planting vast orchards of them and the growers are flat-out keeping up with the demand. Selling thousands at a time to commercial plantations. I had to put my name down with a few growers, then wait a year for the chance to pick up one of the left-overs from large orders.

One year on and we now have 5 more trees. Making a balance of early and late fruiters and a balance of 3 of each type A and type B varieties. This latest tree, that was delivery last week, has been harden off by the back door, next to the water tank. It is now ready to plant. This one is a small-sized tree, only expected to grow to 2.5 to 3 metres, and is a bit frost tender. Depending on how big it grows, I’m hoping to be able to keep it protected for the first few years.

It gets a big, wide hole excavated for it and this is then filled with a mixture of old rotted manure and compost into the soil. Avacados are rich feeders. It also gets a steel mesh tree guard up to 1 metre high to stop the kangaroos from eating it in the first few weeks. The kangaroos took the top clean out of another tree that I planted on its first night, before I got the tree guard in place. They love to try anything new.

Some of the earlier trees that I planted in the autumn are now just about to burst their new buds into spring growth. They seem like they are growing very well.

If all goes well. In the future we might expect an avocado season of over 6 months.

 

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I shrink-wrap the wire frame to protect the tender little thing for the next month, until the cold winds blow them selves out and spring starts proper.

Catch-up

I’ve been so busy with the final stages of writing, editing and printing the book. Not to mention the organisation and documenting of all the work in my exhibition. It’s been a busy 15 years and a very hectic last 4 or 5 months.

So now it’s catch-up time. Janine has been carrying the major part of the load of running the house and garden recently. I need to inflate the tyre on the old wheel barrow, that has gone flat. On inspection it looks more like a repair job. But on closer examination, I find that the tyre has completely perished and isn’t worth repairing. It looks like a new tyre and inner tube will be the answer. At the garage, these turn out to be almost as expensive as car tyres! I’m shocked. I decide that the answer is to buy a new Chinese solid rubber, non-inflatable, wheel. $32 sounds like a bargain, until I get it home and find that it is made for the new 25 mm dia. axles that are now standard. My barrow is 30 years old and has a 19mm axle. It doesn’t fit.

Minor hiccup. I just happen to have a length of 25 mm steel bar in the shed. I cut it to length, clean off the flaky rust and hey-presto! It slides through the tyre, but  it doesn’t fit in the mounting brackets on the wheel barrow. Much too big! I have to grind off the old rusty bolts and then hold the brackets in the vice while I heat them up to red-hot with the oxy-torch and re-forge them into shorter, but larger dia. shapes to suit the new axle. It all goes smoothly enough, but then I find that the larger axle/bracket combination needs longer bolts. I don’t have any that are the right length, so I make some out of Stainless steel Boker bar and stainless steel nuts that I have in the kiln factory for kiln repair work. I’ll be retiring very soon from major kiln work. So I won’t be needing this kind of stuff in stock anymore. The last problem is that the spacers that locate the wheel in the centre of the shaft, don’t fit on the new larger axle. No problem. I cut a couple of pieces of sq. RHS to size and we’re away.

What could have been a 15 minute job has taken 2 hours. But it is up and working again. Hopefully, for another 30 years!

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