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 🙂

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 🙂
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 debris…
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 🙂 !
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 🙂
Ingredients for our favourite autumn focaccia bread.
Red onion, apple and wild thyme focaccia bread for the happy harvesters 🙂

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.

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 masher…
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 80°C, 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.

Pear Mustard

Blessed with many a pocket full of pears in the orchard this year I have been refining my recipe for Pear Mustard and am now very happy with the results 🙂

Here comes the recipe: Makes about 3 kg finished mustard, which keeps for months on end and just gets better and better in the process!

Ingredients

Pears 1 kg

Mustard seeds 550 g

Apple juice 1150 ml

Fresh Ginger 3cm piece, peeled and finely diced

Salt 4 tsp (I use my homemade celery-apple-onion salt)

Honey 4tsp

Method

Grind 550 g of the mustard seeds to a fine powder using a coffee grinder or pestle and mortar. Place the ground mustard in a large glass or ceramic bowl, jug or similar, together with 650 ml of the apple juice and the remaining 150 g of whole mustard seeds. Mix together well, cover and leave to stand overnight.

Core the pears, place in a pan with 500 ml of the apple juice and diced fresh ginger . Bring to the boil until pears become soft. Remove from heat, leave to cool and then puree with / in a blender.

Combine the soaked mustard seeds, pureed pears, salt and honey, mixing together well. Blend again briefly if you prefer an even smoother mustard – I prefer a degree of wholegrain though.

Fill into sterilised jars and seal. Kept in a cool, dark place like a cellar the mustard will keep for many, many months and just gets better with age.

Perfect for salad dressings, marinades and sauces all winter long!

Midsummer in the Orchard

 

Sour cherries, many, many sour cherries…,

stoned on site and bottled by evening:

# Red Wine Syrup for Preserving

# Cherry Liqueur

# Country Tart with Cherries

# Creme Fraiche Waffles with Red Wine Cherries

# Superstreuselkuchen

Red Wine Preserving Syrup

Quince, coffee and cardamom

One of many ways of getting through the winter: cake!

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Our firm winter favourite: Winter Fruit and Spice Cake knows many variations and never fails to please the punters when it comes to “Kaffee und Kuchen” on a winter weekend. Currently trending here when it comes to coffee and cake is this year’s Quince, Cardamom and Coffee version.

Use the recipe in the link with quince puree and substitute instant coffee powder for cinnamon (or use both if you prefer).

Lass es Euch schmecken! ( = Enjoy!)

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Dandelion Sugar and Meadow Herb Salt

Even in the depths of winter I find ingredients for whizzing up salts of my own creation, and come the magical month of May it becomes a must: Mother Nature has just so much on offer from meadow to hedgerow:

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Dandelion Sugar:

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What you do:

Pick your dandelions on a dry day and leave them for an hour or so

a) for the bugs to crawl off and out and

b) so that the flowers close up again and become tassel-shapped for you to then cut of the petals just above the green bits (that way you leave out the fluffy bits where the seeds start).

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Place your petals in a food processor or blender.

Add the same quantity of fine sugar as you have petals (50% sugar, 50% petals). Whizz everything up together until you have a fine, even mix. Spread your sugar mixture out thinly on a large baking tray or similar and either leave to dry in the sun or in the oven at 50°C, with a wooden spoon holding the oven door ajar, for 2-3 hours.

Once the sugar is completely dry, whizz it again in the food processor to break up any lumps and store in airtight glass jars.

Use for summery things… like Summer Butter Biscuits with Dandelion Glace Icing 🙂

Meadow Herb Salt

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Using:

Ribwort plantain in May

Ribwort Plantain

Yarrow in May

Yarrow

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Ground Ivy

What you do:

Gather your herbs on a dry day: leaves only.

Add the same quantity of relatively fine pure (no additives!) salt* as you have of the herbs (50% salt, 50% herbs). Whizz everything up together until you have a fine, even mix. Spread your salt mixture out thinly on a large baking tray or similar and either leave to dry in the sun or in the oven at 50°C, with a wooden spoon holding the oven door ajar, for 2-3 hours.

Once the salt is completely dry, whizz it again in the food processor to break up any dried lumps and store in airtight glass jars. And yes: this salt really does have nuances of hay and herbs and meadows on warm summer days 🙂

Use for summery things… like savoury cheese scones with labneh (or cream cheese), meadow herbs salt and fresh meadow herbs – here Garlic Mustard aka Jack by the Hedge:

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Sugar and salt act as preservatives in the same way: both bind with water molecules, increasing osmotic pressue which subequently draws water out of bacteria, thus inhibiting growth. And so helping us to preserve just some of the ephemeral magic of May!

Easter Tastes & Traditions

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Superstreuselkuchen

IN ANCIENT AGRICULTURAL SOCIETIES, EGGS PROVIDED A VITAL SOURCE OF NUTRITION. BY MID-MARCH, FOOD STORES FROM THE PREVIOUS YEAR WOULD HAVE BEEN RUNNING LOW. THE FIRST EGGS OF THE YEAR, LAID BY DOMESTICATED FOWL OR FORAGED FROM THE NESTS OF WILD BIRDS, ADDED MUCH-NEEDED NUTRIENTS TO PEOPLES’ DIET.  …”” read more

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Hedgerow Hues & Meadow Motifs

How to colour your own Easter eggs using natural colourants and motifs: read on

Easter Wells

One of the most charming Easter traditions here in Franconia: decorating the wells and fountains with brighly coloured Easter Eggs … read more