July 2, 2012

Cherries & Walnuts

Cherry season is in full swing. All the lower branches of our prized tree are pretty much stripped now, but still Saskia and her friends manage to spend hours hanging in the branches, stuffing themselves to their hearts’ content.

We have our large pot over the fire, filled to the brim. The cherries release a lot of liquid and rapidly reduce in volume. Once cooled, we sieve out the stones, saving them to dry for later inspiration. We shift some of the mixture into another pot to cook down further for fruit leather, adding a packet of agar agar gelatine, mixed with fruit pectin and arrowroot. The resulting thick sauce is then spread thinly onto a baking sheet to dry in the attic.

The rest in the large pot, with a load of sugar, simmers away for jam.  

This whole process is made so much easier by the fact that we now finally have running water plumbed in for the sink upstairs, the bathroom sink, and bath and shower downstairs. Following a thorough investigation with a neighbour plumber, planning the best location for the pipes to be fitted, Flo and Patrick took it on as their very first plumbing job (and their very last they swear!). After a few frustrating trips to Poland for the parts and a couple of false starts, the system is now running brilliantly.

Green walnuts have been soaking in salt brine for over ten days now. The brine rapidly darkened even after the first day - a rich dark brown that stains anything in sight. After changing the brine, I heat up the first batch of liquid and experiment with dyeing a pair of shorts, simmering them for about half an hour before rinsing clear.

The dye has taken well, but is patchy in parts; probably due to the fact that I didn’t ‘scour’ the fabric first (give it a thorough soapy wash and a long soak). There appear to be many approaches to dyeing with walnuts – some separate the hulls and husks, using either or both, but most say a mordant is not needed as walnut juice is naturally colourfast and light resistant. The experiments continue…

Every night now, with the weather being warm and mostly dry, fireflies bring magic to the garden, drifting around like airborne plankton, occasionally drifting indoors, illuminating the stairwell and dark corners of unlit rooms. Their eerie presence draws our attention immediately, bringing everything to a momentary standstill, enthralled, but never quite close enough to identify the source of light as a very common-looking little bug.

Wild strawberries continue to crop up everywhere. We laid a small batch out in the attic to dry and they have done so well, albeit with a gritty exterior characteristic of the slightly rougher skin of the wild fruit.

This week also saw the completion of my application for German citizenship - I now have the luxury of being both German and British, which will substantially ease our bureaucratic floundering - as well as the long-awaited signing of the contract that will officially hand over the ownership of this farm.

It has felt entirely natural to be here, gradually building things up at our own pace on a handshake agreement with the previous owners. Yet sharing food and champagne in celebration of this step in the right direction felt substantially different for all four of us. We talked a lot about things they’d started, ideas in incubation, aspects they added to or took away. They are ready to let it go, but are also particularly happy to see it in our hands, heading in a direction that they can fully identify with.

Weekly column 'A Taste of Earth' published @ www.porkandgin.com

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