August 6, 2012

Pickles & Boundaries

This week we gained an extra lamb delivered at the crack of dawn by her owner on the way to work. It will be a holiday retreat for three weeks and our five little bleaters don't quite know what to make of it, but soon adjust without fuss.

The six of them are making good progress on the lower pasture, tidying up all the corners and leaving only nettles in rough patches dotted throughout the field. The flat space by the vegetable patch is already fenced off in preparation of their next transit, but for now the lush growth in their first field is still ample for their needs.

With cucumbers growing faster than we can eat, it is time for a large batch of 'bread and butter pickles'. Peeled and thinly sliced cucumbers are mixed with some slithers of onion and green pepper, thoroughly doused in salt and left to stand for a few hours. They rapidly reduce to about two thirds of their volume as the liquids are drawn out by the salt.

Diluted vinegar, pickling spices and sugar are brought to a rolling boil in a large pan and simmered for five or ten minutes to allow all the flavours to mingle. After being well rinsed a few times, the cucumbers are added to the pot and the whole mixture is brought gently to just below boiling point.

Now they are ready to bottle – sterilised jars filled to the brim, sealed and turned head downwards to ensure a vacuum. The delicate slices look stunning in their turmeric coloured liquid and can be eaten immediately, but with patience can taste even better after a month of slow maturing.

Courgettes are also out in their dozens, so my first experiment is sweet courgette pickle - another one of Rowie's tips. I choose to omit corn flour and instead allow the mixture to bubble away for a few hours on the open fire. The result is tantalising and certainly not a far cry from Branstons Pickle – that dearly beloved home coming for many an English ex pat. But the call for patience is a must here as it is clear that time will allow the vinegar to take a back seat and encourage the other ingredients to join forces and sing out.

The big success story of the week has got to be our courgette crisps! Sliced and sundried for the day on a wire mesh rack, our evening fire was centred around a pot of hot oil. We found that leaving them to sit on newspaper for a few minutes once out of the oil allowed them to crisp up just right. With a sprinkling of salt and a dash of mayonnaise they are simply irresistible.

Our first chilli sauces and ketchups are also emerging, heralding the imminent roll call of tomatoes galore - a hundred and twenty plants will certainly keep us busy! It is mind boggling to think that these very bushes (now almost our height!) were once tiny seedlings cramming the makeshift window sills of our town flat just a few months ago.

The farm cooperative managing the fields behind our farm lost no time in nudging us into action to divide our plot off and enable them to prepare ground for their next round of crops. Once the data pertaining to original borders had been retrieved from an office in town – indecipherable to us mere mortals - measuring the field was almost immediately actioned. The result is largely as expected, yet it appears that our neighbour on the south side has inadvertently shifted his boundary across a little and an odd triangle cuts above our plot - an inconvenience mostly for the farming coop.

We are by now so wary of creating any extra bureaucracy that we will certainly avoid contesting the details of the deeds officially and hope to gently negotiate mutually beneficial tweaks in dialogue with all concerned.

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