Fruit and Veggies

We are gearing up – mentally at least – for our 10th harvest in the orchard this year!

And what a journey of discovery this last decade as hobby fruit farmers has been.

The learning curve has been steep (we did start from practically zero…) and the enrichment immense. Our orchard has been a constant for us in a decade of ever broadening horizons, during which we have had the privilege of accompanying our son on the richly rewarding journey from tiny tot to a lanky teenager who now requires an i m m e n s e amount of persuasion before he gets involved in any harvesting acitivities with his parents :).

We also live in far greater harmony with the rhythms of the natural year now than we did ten years ago. This brings reassurance, and resilience. We hope.

For our decade in the orchard has taken us down many further paths previously untrodden, one of them being Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). What that is: https://communitysupportedagriculture.org.uk/what-is-a-csa/. I have been very involved in the running and organisation of our local CSA for six years now and here I have learnt volumes about veggies:

And where the veggies have taken me is down the road to fermented foods. As an Anglo-Saxon, fermented food was not something that I had ever had positive associations with, even during my (first) twenty years in Germany, having mostly managed to steer clear of sauerkraut.

Well, that has all changed. Largely the fault of our CSA farmer who supplies us with his very own homemade traditional sauerkraut during the winter months, I have this year discovered the art of fermenting for myself, and it goes way, way beyond just sauerkraut! The book that opened up this Aladdin’s cave of fine fermented flavours is in German, but there is a US-based website which does a pretty good job for those wanting to venture into fermenting: https://fermenterskitchen.com/. They inspired me with Fermented Honey Garlic: https://fermenterskitchen.com/fermented-honey-garlic/.

Why?

Flavour – I (and the family) find many vegetables actually taste even better fermented than cooked or raw (radishes, for example). The flavours are far less harsh than pickles preserved in vinegar.

Health benefits – fermented food is all about digestive health and none of the nutrients are lost in the process (unlike cooking).

Storage – fermented food keeps in jars in cool, dark cellars for months, and just gets tastier in the process.

Energy resources – fermented food requires no energy whatsoever, neither for the preparation nor the storage.

For me it is all about self-reliance, in the broadest sense of the word.

Background: Onions with peppercorns, and the small jar in the front is fermented ginger.

And yes… you can ferment fruit too…

This year’s batch of Preserved Lemons https://anediblelandscape.wordpress.com/2015/01/30/oranges-and-lemons/ I preserved using the same fermenting process I use for vegetables, with great success, and a whole lot less salt.

I have my eye on recipes for fermenting plums, too, and I think quinces ought to produce a fine result!

And so we come full circle, from Fruit to Veggies back to Fruit…:)

Floral “waterfalls” for the phoneless

The solace of nature getting on with what nature does! The spring blossoms are heralding the start of the orchard year:

And an orchard in the spring is the perfect place to become a phoneless fool ๐Ÿ™‚

Advent, Advent

Advent, Advent, ein Lichtlein brennt…

Advent, Advent, a little light burns…

It loses a lot in translation but “Advent, Advent, ein Lichtlein brennt…” heralds the start of the Advent season here in Germany. A special time of winter cosiness, reflection and family traditions, all of which are built into our Advent candle display, this year like every year:

Four candles celebrating each season of the year gone by, family touches, memories and reflections on life’s constants:

Advent, Advent, ein Lichtlein brennt...

Quince Sambal

This is my new discovery for this quince season and, to date. my only recipe using raw quinces in the end product!

It comes from my previous life on the southern African continent, more specifically from the four years I spent living and working in Cape Town. There I was fortunate to be able to explore the (extensive) culinary heritage of the Cape as part of my professional life:

Strictly speaking a sambal is a spicy Indonesian sauce or relish, with a strong chilli focus. In the legacy of the Cape Malay tradition, a sambal tends to be more of a marinated salad or relish, also with a strong leaning towards chillies.

This Quince Sambal is ideal for making ahead and/or keeping in the fridge for a good few days, so its worth making a big batch for the week! Traditional recipes call for salting the grated quince and then discarding the resulting liquid. That liquid is wonderful quince juice, however, and so my recipe uses the quince juice as part of the dressing.

Quince Sambal, the recipe

These quantities will make about 250ml of sambal, so multiply the quantities accordingly if you want to make more – which I strongly recommend ๐Ÿ™‚

1 quince

1 small onion, finely chopped

2ml crushed garlic

1 small red or green chilli (or red or green pepper), finely chopped

30 ml sugar

10 ml salt (ideally celery salt)

Peel and core the quince, then grate coarsely.

Place in a bowl and sprinkle with the sugar and the salt. Mix these through thoroughly. Leave to stand overnight so that the salt and sugar are able to draw out plenty of the quince juice.

Retaining the quince juice, now mix in the remaining ingredients, adjusting the proportions to taste. Leaving the sambal to stand now for a few hours – or overnight again – greatly enhances the flavour.

Traditionally served to accompany a curry, quince sambal also goes very well with smoked fish dishes, or as a stand alone salad – drizzled with the salad oil of your choice if you prefer.

More inspiration for the quince season:

Our wood-fired oven

It is no luxury eye-level wood-fired oven, the oven we have built in the orchard. It is a repurposed, get down on your knees wood-fired oven. Here’s the story of how we built it, starting in the summer of 2020.

The starting point was the leftover walling from what was previously a BBQ, now having reached the end of its BBQ days. First step: build the oven floor, resting on a bed of sand.
The brickie precision-placing the bricks in the sand.
The laid bricks were then covered with a layer of clay, mixed together with a small proportion of sand. The clay was “mined” from a deep hole dug by Mini Kraut in his hole-digging days :).
The front end bricks were then cemented in place with high temperature mortar.
The finished floor space measures 68 cm in width and 40 cm in depth. This was then September 2020, and that is as far as we got before the winter, which the floor spent covered with a provisional roof.
Work continued in the spring of 2021, with the new inner wall for the oven space being pieced together in April 2021.
The wall was then cemented together, with heat resistant mortar, using the same cement-in-a-bag squirt technique we use for making gingerbread houses ๐Ÿ™‚
End of April and the five special bricks making up the front wall are in place. The special bricks were made at the brickmaking museum in Lippe, the ancestral homeland of Herman the German, and brought back by us specially for use in our oven in Franconia.
The merry month of May saw us dragging bags of sand to the oven site, sand which happened to be stored on site, fortunately.
1st of May, the oven space is filled with sand to create the domed oven roof.
The completed sand mould, with fired clay chimney pipe in place.
Mid-May 2021: wet newspaper is laid over the sand dome in preparation for applying the first layer of heat resistant mortar for the oven roof.
The cement roof was then left to dry for two weeks (covered with a provisional roof).
End of May 2021 and the now dry cement layer is ready for the insulation layer.
Our remaining self-mined clay reserves ….
were freed of leaves and debrisโ€ฆ
and left to soak in specially ordered rain water for about a week prior to the start of work on the oven roof insulation.
The softened up clay was then mixed with straw,
and then combined with a portion of sand in a bucket,
before being applied to the oven roof.
Careful attention was paid to leaving a clear space around the chimney, ensuring that no straw-clay insulation material came into contact with the chimney.
During all of this time the oven remains filled with sand, supporting the cement roof until completion.
The freshly-applied straw-clay insulation layer then received a smoothing over with splashes of water and wet hands…
making sure that the chimney remained clear of any insulation material.
Protected by the provisional roof, the now insulated oven roof was left to dry for a week.
A week later, now the beginning of June 2021, the insulation layer is somewhat dryer, but not dried through, on account of the oven cavity still being filled with sand.
The buffer space around the chimney is filled with heat resistant mortar, making sure that the mortar is applied firmly to the chimney walls to provide support for the weight of the chimney within the oven roof.
The first moment of truth: to facilitate the drying out of the oven roof, the sand is now removed from the oven cavity.
All the sand is out and the oven roof is still intact ๐Ÿ™‚ !
The inside of the oven space following the removal of the sand.
The sand-free oven is now left to continue to drying out for two weeks.
Mid-June 2021 and the oven roof is now well and truly dry.
The next moment of truth approaches:the oven is to be fired up for the first time, to gently heat the roof before applying the next layer…
While the oven was warming up,
we mixed up our last reserves of clay together with sand and heat resistant mortar to form the final layer of the roof.
This mix was then applied to the warm oven roof, the warming being intended to reduce cracking during drying.
The cracks appeared anway, though,
and it took several rounds of wet-hand smearing
to produce something resembling a closed finish.
The beginning of July 2021 and, after a week of drying, some of the cracks were back, but at a level we can live with…
Blackened with use by September …
we decided to get ready for the damp of winter by adding a very final layer of very thin plaster (“borrowed” from another project) to the oven roof.
This was then left to dry for about a month, due to the fact that apples had to be picked in the mean time!
Golden October and the oven was back in business with its plastered roof.
Cracks in the plaster, too, but they have stayed constant and we can live with them too. After bouncing off the walls between soggy and burnt we now have the temperature thing trimmed to brown and crispy ๐Ÿ™‚
Ingredients for our favourite autumn focaccia bread.
Red onion, apple and wild thyme focaccia bread for the happy harvesters ๐Ÿ™‚

The Summer Solstice is Elderflowers…

…and Elderflower-infused honey is a highlight, made this year in my outdoor kitchen

Leaving the honey and blossoms to stand in the sun for a couple of hours speeds up the infusing process.

Change: our only constant

Twenty years in Germany.

I have never lived in any one place for so long.

Life, death, love, loss, employment, unemployment. Marriage, motherhood and middle age.

I feel I have lived my entire adult life in these twenty years. And yet there were thirty-five fulfilled years of constant change before that.

These twenty years have been a bonus for they began with an armed hijack at the end of March 2001, two days before I left Cape Town. A survived hijack that catapaulted me into the last twenty years.

A new language, changed perspectives, deeper understandings. Old skills in new fields. New skills in unfamiliar surroundings. Abandoned comfort zones and newfound truths. Blessings and challenges. All constant reminders: the only constant is change.

Good news, again

https://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2021/03/07/new-nasa-satellite-data-prove-carbon-dioxide-is-still-greening-the-earth/

https://www.cfact.org/2021/03/23/ten-climate-fear-stories-that-failed

Celebrating the Constants

The first Sunday in Advent is upon us and we celebrate the constants in life:

A candle for each season each week between now and Christmas

Each candle sitting on a slice of apple wood from the fallen Kaiser, the circle of life.

Fruitful symbols of nature’s bounty.

Our Three Wise Ones (Question Everything, Think for Yourself, Trust in Yourself)

And the little folk who survived the Great Cupboard Disaster.

Enjoy the symbolism: Happy Advent!

Where does apple juice come from?

Type that question into your search engine of choice and you will come up with an unappetising mix of results featuring mechanical harvesting, industrial-scale stainless steel processes, enzymes, apple concentrate from China, more enzymes… nanometer-scale filtering…

… and an end result very low on appeal.

There is another way.

And now that the autumn evenings are closing in and the last of the fruit presses are shutting down for another year, I have time for the keyboard again by way of a change from apple picking.

All of our apples are picked by hand. Each and every apple passes through our fingers, into the basket, and then into the sacks.

The apples on the ground are the windfalls waiting for the sheep to come and enjoy them.

Nine to ten sacks (about 300 kg in total) make up one press run with our home press. Once we have a batch – or at the height of the season, two batches (about 20 sacks) picked, its off to the apple press.

In the garage.

Where our all-in-one stand alone home press processes some 3 tonnes of apples for us in any good “apple year”. The apple years tend to be alternating but it is Father Frost who has the ultimate say in around April of every year- a single night of frost when the trees are in blossom can wipe out the whole year’s harvest.

Assuming this has not been the case, though, its back to the home press in the garage:

The apples go into the masherโ€ฆ
And come out mashed.
The mashed apple is layered in nets
to create a “tower”. The hydraulic jack then comes into play, exerting up to 16 tonnes of pressure to squeeze the juice out of the mash.
The juice then runs from the stainless steel basin into the pipe which feeds it into
the stainless steel tanks in the cellar, 2 x 200l plus 1 x 50l as the back-up tank. The juice is pasteurised in the tanks using an immersion heater.

Pressing one batch of up to 300 kg apples takes about 4 1/2 hours.

Each sack of apples produces about 20l of juice, depending on apple variety and what stage of the harvest we are at. The apples get juicier as they ripen further into the season.

The pasteurised juice is then bagged and boxed, with a smaller contingent being bottled.

Further facts for fans:

An insulated 200l tank takes about 5 hours to reach 80ยฐC, at which point the apple juice is then filled into bags (Bag-in-Box) or bottles. It takes about 1 hour to empty the tank into bags / bottles.

At the end of the season we fill the tanks with the last of the press runs, pasteurise the juice and it then stays in the tanks, preserved via the floating lid and oil technique: a floating lid is placed on top of the pasteurised juice. Food grade vaseline oil is then poured around the lid to ensure that the pasteurised juice has no air contact at all. The juice stays fresh for months and is drawn off from the tanks via a silicon tube “tap” at the base of the tank.

The pomace – that’s the mash left over after the juice has been pressed out of it – is placed in these barrels which are then collected by the local forestry commission. They use it for winter feed for the deer in the forests, and also as “bait” for their deer culling activities. Doesn’t sound as appealing but facts are facts.

Our apple harvest starts around the middle of August and lasts through to around mid-October.

By the end of the season in a good apple year we will have pressed around 3 tonnes of apples, producing some 1600l of juice (and around 1400 kg of pomace for the foresters).

Word of mouth sales account for just a small proportion of our harvest which keeps us in apple juice for about a year.