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 🙂
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 🙂

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

Requiem for a Kaiser

Just days after our “Ode to Summer” came the first of the autumn storms, and the Kaiser was down:

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Of the variety “Kaiser Wilhelm”, a chance discovery on an estate in Germany in 1864 and named after the German Kaiser Wilhelm 1, this was one of our three “Kaiser Wilhems” and one of the most prominent trees in our orchard.

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A prevailing feature in our orchard landscape whatever the season:

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He was also one of our high performance trees – 360 kg of apples in any given year was the norm, as was the case this year in what was to be his last harvest, and despite his age:

A variety known for its longevity, we estimate that our fallen Kaiser was heading for a hundred years old when the Beaufort 10, 11 and 12 gales on the evening of 23 September 2018 proved too much, and down he went:

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The changed view with the fallen Kaiser will take some getting used to and for now he lies in peace where he fell, letting himself be explored by young hands and feet clambering over his now fallen heights: the future running its young hands over his otherwise lofty leaves and lichens.

A part of the circle of life he will remain, as his wood goes on to house and feed the myriad of other little beings that lived alongside him in the orchard.

And yes, you can get very attached to a tree 🙂

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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

 

As Spring follows Winter

Last autumn I made a note of the following winter words of wisdom:

7 November 2017 

The sheep were eating fresh nettles all summer even though there was plenty of grass & other greenery available. The shepherd says: means its going to be a hard winter.

Other country folk are saying that there are more hazel catkins out than is usual for the autumn: means its going to be a hard winter.

I revisted this winter forecast as the calender moved into winter proper :

16 January 2018

Casting a look back at this post from the autumn when country lore was telling us that a hard winter was ahead: no sign of it yet but then we are only a few weeks into winter so far!

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The calender now moves into spring and so, how did it look, our winter?

 

 

 

Some (very) stormy gales, a week or so of sustained ice, day and night, but very little snow – not even enough for a snowman this year :

So no, the nettles and the catkins were not signs of a hard winter this time round.

And will hopefully not be the sign of a hard spring as this is the critical season in the orchard: the trees are awakening from their winter slumber as the warmth and the light make themselves felt. Buds and blossoms become more apparent and, once the blossoms open, the last thing we need is frost, not by day and not by night.

Frozen blossoms are dead blossoms and then the (non-)harvest is a dead loss!

This March has had many bright and sunny days so far and my German country almanac tells me:

Ist März schön und hell, kommt viel Obst auf alle Fäll’.

If March is sunny and bright, there will be plenty of fruit alright.

… If it is followed by a frost-free April!

 

 

 

The Winter Solstice and the Festival of Winter

What a fine finale to the Festival of Winter we enjoyed yesterday, 6th January, all in one bike ride back from the wintry orchard:

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   The winter solstice is upon us and with it the “Mittwinterfest”, or Yule – celebrating the rebirth of the sun as we (slowly) turn the corner towards the light half of the year again…

It is an ancient festival featuring countless legends, rituals and symbols, not to mention the many omens – each of the twelve days of Yule are said to predict the weather in the corresponding twelve months to come, for instance. In the Germanic and northern European tradition, the twelve days of Yule therefore had to be a time of peace, as well, and a time of no work so that there would be less work to be done in the new year. Spinning and weaving, in particular, were forbidden and all the flax had to be spun before the start of Yule. Only the Goddess Frig (Frigg, Freyja), the Germanic goddess of love, was allowed to weave together the threads of destiny for the coming year… No work involving a circular motion was permitted at this time either, because the wheel of time was at a standstill during Yule and so every other wheel had to remain motionless too…