September 4, 2012

Food Realities

Our visitors come just in time, and harvesting begins in earnest. Tomatoes and elderberries every other day, plums and raspberries twice this week - the big pot simmers every night over the fire and rests under a large sieve to steam off overnight. The following morning is dominated by clearing the space, reheating the brew, sterilising jars and packing them full before lining them all head down in a corner of our cluttered little kitchen.

I've learnt the hard way not to bottle sauce in cheap clip top jars. Two thirds of my prized Letscho went into these, and the seals just weren't good enough.

Jars have become a big theme. After using all of our saved pickle jars we fill milk bottles and undersized random jar specimens whilst scouting for an abundant and affordable source.

The local shops retail an average sized pickle jar close to one euro a piece. Department stores vary little in price and the quality is often markedly lower. Wholesale - from miles away - works out about two thirds of a euro once tax and delivery have been calculated. And then, in the nearby supermarket, a jar of pickles costs 59 cents!!

The fact that a full jar of food costs less than an empty one, is truly mind-boggling. Consider the picking, the sorting, the preparing, the bottling and the labelling, let alone the marketing and actual selling. Can the real cost of the product be even remotely covered at such a price?

With a full pot of tomatoes ready to bottle, we do buy a case of pickles (simply to fulfil the need with as little expense as possible). Needless to say we're becoming rather tired of gherkins, but at least they've not been wasted (and neither have our tomatoes!)

Word is slowly getting round that jars are needed by those English folk at the old Halle hof in the middle of the village, and donations have begun trickling in.

The hens took a few days to venture out without coaxing, but are now very much at home in the orchard. At night they trundle back into their den of their own accord and all huddle on the highest perch squeezed in a corner seemingly oblivious to the fact that spacious nesting boxes have been lovingly created below to accommodate them all. We can only hope that when nesting instincts really set in they will go for the more practical egg laying corners!

The plums are really coming into their own now, and the simplest and most effective technique for jam has emerged as the do-as-little-as-possible technique – shove them all in a pot, washed but whole with a splash of water and cook vigorously till they fall away from their stones. Strain into another pan, and the stuff that comes through the sieve is a lush, creamy red syrup leaving flaky skin and stones in the sieve for the compost. Then add sugar to taste and cook for a while longer to thicken it up. Bottle and enjoy!

It has been a joy to have so much energy around - some people we’d never met before, (being friends of old friends), and others from way back when in a completely different context. Amidst reconnecting and getting to know one another, it is the land, the peace, the company, the work and the sheer abundance that fire us all up with inspiration and motivation. Work and life fuse into a collective enjoyment centred around the appreciation of food.

Everything we cook from the fresh produce tastes absolutely delicious. It is almost impossible to assess our lifestyle in terms of monetary value, when our needs can be met to such an extent by top quality, life giving nourishment.

So now at the height of the season the most important task besides transforming the goods into lasting food, is to collect, dry and save seeds to enable the whole cycle to begin once again next year. 

Weekly column 'A Taste of Earth' published @

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