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...

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 šŸ™‚
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 debrisā€¦
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 šŸ™‚ !
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 šŸ™‚
Ingredients for our favourite autumn focaccia bread.
Red onion, apple and wild thyme focaccia bread for the happy harvesters šŸ™‚

Plum Compote with Earl Grey Tea

What to do with all those fine blue plums, and yes, they really do have a bluey hue to them:

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Well, when in Rome …

The Germans love their compotes so, building up stocks for my pop-up shop at the autumn artisan market, compote it shall be, but with an English touch of course:

Plum CompoteĀ with Earl Grey Tea

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1 kg purple plums, halved and stoned

2-3 Tbsp. sugar

Tea leaves of your choice, in a tea bag, e.g. Earl Grey, or Green Tea with Orange, or Black Tea with Winter Spices

  1. Place your plums in a large saucepan, sprinkle with the sugar, place the lid on and leave to sit for several hours, ideally overnight but for at least 3 hours. The sugar draws the fruitā€™s own liquid out of it, eliminating the need to add any water for cooking, resulting in a far more intense flavour.
  1. Stir over a low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Place the tea bag in amongst the plums and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 20 minutes until the fruit is soft and falling apart but not completely mushy. Remove the tea bag, taking care not to puncture it otherwise your compote will be full of tea leaves.
  1. Place in sterilised jars, seal and store in a cool, dark place where the compote will keep for several months.

The tea harmonizes exceptionally well with the flavour of purple plums and you can useĀ the compote in a multitude of ways from breakfast through to dinner.

 

 

 

 

The King’s Candles

… or Verbascum, and sometimes mullein, as this genusĀ (Verbascum, of which there are some 350 species…) is known in English.

I do think, though, that the German Kƶnigskerze does for more justice to this plant which becomes truly regal when it flowers in July:

14_07_2013 Kƶnigskerzen

Favouring dry, sandy soils in the sun (and therefore often to be found flourishing on wasteland), the Kƶnigskerze is notĀ only regal, it has a tradition of healing datingĀ back to Hippocrates. The plant has distinct emollient, demulcent and astringent properties and, while Hippocrates reccommended it for the external treatment of wounds, the Kƶnigskerze went on to develop a tradition of treating coughs, colds and respiratory complaints.

The flowers have robust, fleshy petals making them difficult to dry and so one of the best and easiest ways of extracting their healing properties is to use them to make an infused honey in readiness for the onset of autumn and winter:

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1) You need to pick the flowers on a dry day, either in the morning or in the evening, not in the heat of the day, and only pick the blossoms fully open. You need to use the blossoms immediately (they will wilt and start to turn brown within hours otherwise) so make sure you have a sterilised jarĀ (I fill the jar with boiling water direct from the kettle and leave it to stand for at least 5 minutes before using)Ā and theĀ honey with you.

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2) Place your blossoms directly into your sterilised jar, enough to fill the jar, pour in the honey, seal and rotate the jar a good couple of times to make sure all of the blossoms are covered in a coating of honey.

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3) Leave to infuse at room temperature for aboutĀ 2 weeks. At the end of the infusing, strain the honey into a clean, sterilised jar for storage and/or immediate use either directly as a teaspoonful of honey medicine for ailing children, or to sweeten herbal teas.

Elderflowers and Strawberries

One of the mostĀ summeryĀ flavour combinations there is!

And one of the simplest ways to enjoy this combination throughoutĀ the summer months is to make yourself some Elderflower-Infused Honey

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now, while the elderflowers are in blossom –

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and drizzle it over your strawberries at will.

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Do it, you will be glad you did!

P.S. Works well with all summer berries šŸ™‚

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Forest Fire at Fifty

Black Forest GateauĀ x 5, candles x 50 = 1 BIG flame!

(Note fire engine bottom right šŸ™‚ )

Such were our festivities in Hermann the German‘s honour yesterday, most appropriately on the eve of the shortest dayĀ here in the northern hemisphere:

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