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

A Summer of Superlatives

That’s what we got this year in answer to our springtime ponderings:

April warm, Mai k√ľhl, Juni nass, f√ľllt dem Bauer Scheuer und Fass

April warm, May cool, June wet, fills the farmer’s barn and barrel.

https://anediblelandscape.wordpress.com/2018/04/30/blossoms-bees-barns-barrels/

April was warm and frost free, May was not particularly cool and June was certainly not wet, neither was July, or August, or September… it was just hot, very hot, and very dry, for very long…

Yet the fruit harvest in Franconia’s orchards is a recordbreaker this year (and about three weeks ahead of “normal” ripening times).

But what does that actually mean in these times of far removed mass plastic food production? Who can picture what a “record harvest” might look like?

Let’s have a go.

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Here in Bavaria’s main plum growing area it means : 400 tonnes more plums than usual.

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Here in our district the fruit presses have stopped taking apple deliveries because they are overloaded…

Narrowing it down to facts and figures based on our 2 hectare traditional (i.e. non-plantation) orchard:

8kg redcurrants, 10 kg sour cherries, 10kg nectarines, 11kg mirabelle plums, 26kg blackberries, 57 kg cherry plums, 70 kg grapes, 85 kg Switzen plums…

All of which is in fact the upper end of normal,

and then we get to the apples:

3200 kg to date with about another 1000 kg still to come off the trees. The previous record over a period of six years was 1500 kg.

Still to come are the pears and the quinces, both looking like weighing in at the upper end of normal too.

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So its the apples that have done it: more or less three times their previous record harvest!

We invested in our own stand alone fruit press this year – and not a minute too soon!

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18_08_2018 sacks filling up 18_08_18

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18_08_ waiting for the apple express

Hand-picked, processed and pasteurised by ourselves:

that takes us right back to the origins of where food – and drink – come from!

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Quince Inspiration

It is that wonderfully fragrant time of year again ūüôā

Its always a bittersweet task, rounding up my favourite quince recipes for the quince harvest, but the quinces do make a wonderful conclusion to the orchard year!

My firm favourite first up (click on the links for the recipes):

Candied Quince with Ginger

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This is a famous recipe this one is, featuring as it does¬†in The Edible City, a kind of urban kindred spirit to this blog, written by London’s foremost forager, John Rensten, and published this last September by Pan Macmillan.

And what a classy publication this is (and not just because John features my Candied Quince with Ginger!). Beautifully illustrated by Gwen Burns, it features foraged food fit for a feast from a man whose “green vision” I can totally relate to:

Once turned on, your ‘green vision’ will be impossible to turn off: otherwise neglected street trees will suddenly bear fruit, patches of previously irrelevant land will become focal points and the city will reveal a network of free, edible treats, coming and going throughout the year.”

9780752266138the-edible-city

 My other firm favourites during the quince season include:

 Quince and Honey Sorbet

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Quince Chutney

Quince Confectionery

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and of course

Quince Liqueur

Happy quince season everyone!

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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 Compote 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 fruit’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 use the compote in a multitude of ways from breakfast through to dinner.

 

 

 

 

The King’s Candles

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

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

14_07_2013 Königskerzen

Favouring dry, sandy soils in the sun (and therefore often to be found flourishing on wasteland), the Königskerze is not only regal, it has a tradition of healing dating back to Hippocrates. The plant has distinct emollient, demulcent and astringent properties and, while Hippocrates reccommended it for the external treatment of wounds, the Königskerze 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 jar (I fill the jar with boiling water direct from the kettle and leave it to stand for at least 5 minutes before using) and the 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 about 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 most summery flavour combinations there is!

And one of the simplest ways to enjoy this combination throughout 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 ūüôā

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Cherry Plum Blossom Sugar

Last year was Cherry Plum Blossom Syrup,

 

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this year it’s Cherry Plum Blossom Sugar:

  • pick your blossoms (no leaves) directly into a jar half full of sugar. Try to choose an overcast but warm day to do this otherwise you will have little black bugs wanting to be part of your plum blossom sugar – they do crawl out of the jar again on their own after a while if you do happen on a sunny day but they tend to not be there when it is overcast.
  • fill your jar – generously – with blossoms, put the lid on and leave for 24 hours – in a warm place ideally.
  • then spread your fragrant, sugary blossoms out on a flat surface to dry for about 12 hours (not longer otherwise you will start to lose the fragrance).
  • sieve the sugary blossoms through¬†a sieve or colander fine enough to catch the green receptacles from the blossoms, letting the now dried petals through with the sugar. It is best to use a pestle or similar to crush the sugar lumps as you go along.
  • store your fragrant cherry plum blossom in an airtight jar and use for fragrant sprinkles¬†(cakes, desserts) and flavourings (milkshakes, smoothies, ice cream, yoghurts)‚Ķ

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Earth Mother in the Winter Kitchen

I admit it, preserves and preserving bring out the Earth Mother in me and I have been known to disappear¬†into the cellar on occasion just to sneak a peak at my rows of jars glistening in gorgous colours…

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But I am not a hoarder and so I do use them up. With snowmen and winter pruning being all that is going on in the orchard at present, all that mellow fruitfulness preserved during the preserving season is keeping us supplied with ready-made (almost) meals through the winter:

Full-Bodied, Fruity Red Cabbage

with

Spicy Plum Chutney

 Plum Sauce with copyright

+ red cabbage 

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= a winner in our house from the autumn through to the spring.

The chutney has all the flavours you need for a a really fruity, flavourful dish of red cabbage (whether for a festive table or  for weekday suppers to accompany some full-bodied sausages):

  1. Thinly slice your red cabbage, chuck it in a saucepan together with a jar of Spicy Plum Chutney, give it all a good mix and simmer slowly over a low heat (not too hot otherwise the chutney will catch and burn on the bottom of the pan) Рthe liquid from the cabbage, together with the chutney, provides enough cooking liquid Рdo not add water as it simply makes the end result insipid.
  2. Simmer, covered, for about an hour, then remove then lid and increase the heat a little to then boil the liquid down (you’ll be surprised how much water there is in red cabbage!) About another half an hour of cooking and you will have a pan of¬†glistening, fruity¬†¬†red cabbage.

This recipe also works well with

Quince Chutney

which also makes a fine

Fruity Winter Beetroot Salad:

Chutney 

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+ beetroot (steamed or roasted)

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is all you need.

Spicy Plum Chutney and/or Quince Chutney dressing

(dilute with a dash of olive oil and/or red wine, fruity vinegar or similar according to taste)

on a winter salad of leaves, nuts and citrus

 

Comprising almost 50% onion and garlic,

my Quince Chutney also makes a great addition to meatballs and vegetable fritters

and I have used it in sauces and risottos  as a replacement for sautéed onions.

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And last but not least, spreading either

Spicy Plum or Quince Chutney over a flammkuchen base

before adding the rest of the toppings is a really good idea – believe me!

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