August 27, 2012

Hens & Galician Spice

The long awaited chickens have at last come to roost in our ramshackle hen house – seven ladies and a gentleman of the Italian variety (they are simple referred to as 'Italiener' - an old land race bred for both eggs and meat [being rather larger than average]). They should begin laying in the early part of autumn and are almost ready to be released into the orchard, now into their third day of confinement.

There they will meet the sheep, moved once again with as much hassle and frustration as before! Yet they are so contented amongst the fruit trees and tall grasses that it was certainly worth the afternoon of chasing them along the stream, twice across to the neighbours and finally through the narrow gate into the orchard. The most prized trees are protected with wire fencing staked around each trunk.

Whilst the girls gather elderberries, I tackle the mound of tomatoes. This week's mission is Letscho – in its simplest form, a tomato sauce with peppers and onions, very popular in this part of the world. It is often associated with Hungary, yet each country has its own take on it. The variations tend to be with regard to seasonal availability. So this batch takes in our glut of Galician peppers.

A very popular dish in Galicia is fried, whole peppers, but not just any old peppers. These are small, green and deceptively mild. The catch is that every now and then you will come across a spicy one, and then it is really spicy! So your plate arrives in front of you and you are none the wiser until you taste!

We took some seeds with us last year, propagated them in our town flat and planted them out into the poly tunnel. Now we are inundated with them! I sat for an hour or so, de-seeding and chopping them for the Letscho, before I realised that my fingers were slowly burning. Using gloves at this point was pointless and it became clear that the majority of this next generation are really hot!! The burning continued for two days, almost unbearable the first evening, as if fire was burning inside my fingers, emanating outwards and sensitising my skin to the slightest contact.

This last fortnight has seen a massive growth and ripening of everything we have planted, as well as the gifts already present on the land. The apples are almost ready, raspberries are at their prime, rosehips are getting close and in the tunnel, tomatoes continue to fill our basket every couple of days, along with courgettes, a few okra and beautifully radiant aubergine.

French beans - lightly fried in a lidded pan with butter and garlic - accompany almost every meal. Most of the rest are blanched for freezing. One batch sits in a large, ceramic crock covered by a salt brine. They are slowly fermenting with the help of a dash of whey and will be preserved in this way (stored in a cool place) for many months ahead. This process of lacto-fermentation is something we are keen to explore further with a wide range of our produce once our kitchen and processing space are finally finished.

The yard and the tool shed are now being prepared for a fresh crew of willing helpers arriving today. A new fireplace is laid to complete the oval landscaping surrounding the walnut tree – a space for growing kitchen herbs and enough room around the fire to accommodate sociable numbers. The tool shed is slowly being cleared of its' only half interesting junk, no longer waiting for the previous owner to finally take his things. After so many semi-lazy sunny days that drew us to the nearby lakes after a morning's work, the stronger breezes of pending autumn are now visiting more often and we are finding a new source of strength to dent the long list of things to do for the winter.

Weekly column 'A Taste of Earth' published @

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