August 15, 2012

Aliums & Winter Sauces

It is time to bring in the garlic and onions, tops drooping and bulging bulbs crying out to be pulled from the earth. With a whole wheelbarrow of onions (and then some) and the weather rather unpredictable these days, we lay them all out in a space in the poly tunnel and corners of the greenhouse to dry.

A batch of earlier garlic plaits together easily and now hangs in the kitchen - a promising start to preparations for the winter, which is beginning to feel rather too close for comfort.

The next crop in desperate need of some attention is the potatoes. During the heavy rains the soil became very water-logged in parts and has caused many of the potatoes to rot. We stripped off dying leaves as they emerged to avoid blight, but many simply sitting in too much moisture stood little chance of thriving. Some beyond help stink so badly that we leave them in the earth to rot down. Avoiding spiking the good ones with the fork is hard, not knowing exactly where they lie, but a fair two thirds of today's harvest is good enough for storing.

Even though the lower field is not yet fully grazed, we need to move the sheep on to help keep down the rest of the pasture land. Easier said than done!

We make a large gap in the fence and use extra wire fencing to temporarily close off the drive. Our first few attempts fail miserably as we spread ourselves across the field and try to gently encourage the lambs (we mustn't forget they're still lambs with precious little experience) to head for the opening. Each time it feels like we have them under our control, their frightened little eyes dart across the human chain to scan for the easiest gap and then they leap like goats and charge for all they're worth in the opposite direction to the opening.

At last one of the pack and the little holiday visitor notice the open part of the fence and sneak forwards before joyfully frolicking off into the new pasture. Even then, it takes a while for their presence to be missed by the others. Finally their contented bleating reaches the ears of the remaining four, and after what felt like hours of patient coaxing they bolt across into the lush new territory.

Courgette soup has proved to be the inspiration of the week, striking a new note after frying and roasting and stuffing and grating into fritters and salads. With lashings of butter and sour cream, even courgette sceptics found it to their liking.

Our biggest pot filled to the brim with roughly chopped tomatoes simmered away over the fire last night and is now ready to be prepared for bottling. It has emerged as the easiest system – the day’s pickings (depending on their destined dish) taking pride of place on our evening fire, giving the fire dual purpose and allowing the processing side of things to occur without too much disruption of daily rhythms. The brew can then sit overnight and be reheated next day when the space is clear for bottling.

The first time we tried this we learned a crucial lesson: our gorgeous plums simmering gently in our huge cast iron pot were not quite the texture we wanted by the midnight hour, so we left them overnight with the lid slightly off to avoid sweating, and cooked them further the next day before bottling them. Sadly, the cooling time-lapse caused the iron to leach into the jam, and it now has a rather predominant metallic after-taste. One could argue that extra iron is always healthy, but we are now diligently only using stainless steel for overnight cooling. 

Weekly Column 'A Taste of Earth' published @

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