Saturday, 17 September 2011

And Yet More Food Preservation!


Tomatoes and apples aplenty.

DSCF0281 tinyThe dried tomatoes of previous years were very successful so the first batch for this year has been prepared.  All the seeds and soft centres were saved and sieved leaving me with a lovely refreshing drink of tomato juice to enjoy as the tomatoes dried.




Then came the apples.  This turned out to be a very long job but hopefully it will all feel worth it when the cider is brewed.

DSCF0282 tinyThe apples have also struggled in the drought.  They are much smaller this year and have ripened more sporadically than in previous years.  An awful lot were brought down by the storm and suffered a lot of bruising but I still managed to pick around 10 UK gallons or so.  I gave them a quick rinse and then cut them into small enough pieces to go through the shredder on my food processor.  What you can’t see in the picture is the pebble-dashing of the kitchen with bits of grated apple flung out while putting yet more chunks of apple into the grater feed tube.  Next year I will be doing this outside.

I then pressed the grated apple and finally transferred it to a large covered container to start a natural ferment.  I will be tasting and sweetening if necessary this weekend when I’ll move it to demijohns to finish fermenting.  The raw juice tasted good so fingers crossed for the cider.

The Storm



September started with a bang or to be more precise one of the violent thunderstorms that are frequent in the summer, but being very localised I rarely get. This one was however localised overhead!

It started with the sky turning yellow and then an ominous dark cloud rolling overhead. There were a few drops of light rain and then the wind began to pick up a bit. In less than a minute it as blowing a gale and the hail was flying through the air almost horizontally. Al was outside in this trying to find the cats that hadn’t made it back inside. Thankfully at the height of the storm, when I could barely see him through the hail even though he was only 25 feet away, he moved into the lee of the house – I was panicking that he had been blown over or hit by the items that were being swept across the front of the house in the wind.

A couple of minutes later and it was all over, Al was OK, all be it soaking wet but we were missing one cat, Hazel. Al eventually located her at the bottom of a deep ditch meowing pitifully, (something she is very good at). We attempted a rescue but the ditch was really overgrown and deep. Finally Al made it into the ditch and I tried to rake away some of the brambles and other weeds that were covering her, only to find that she had decided to make her way along the ditch, through the drainage pipe under the field access and up the easy way into the field, in fact the exact route we’d been trying to make her use but she had ignored while we were calling! She was extremely wet and covered in leaves but I think Al as even wetter.

DSCF0264 tiny_thumbI don’t know how people manage to photograph or film things like storms when they are happening, I was far to worried about all my animals and my son so the photos are of the aftermath taken about half an hour after the storm had passed and I was happy everyone was OK.

DSCF0265 tiny_thumbThe first one is attempting to show the layer of hail lying on the ground, while the second shows the size of some of the hailstones. We were quite lucky, in the Bordeaux region the hailstones were the size of golf balls.


DSCF0266 tiny_thumbLooking down the drive all I could see were a few branches down and the remains of one of my patio chairs that had been thrown through the air.




DSCF0268 tiny_thumbAt the back of the house I found this little heap that had been washed down the gutter,





DSCF0272 tiny_thumbIt’s always difficult to photograph the sky and give a true representation of the amazing lighting you get with storms like that but here’s my attempt.

As both Al and I were soaked to the skin and it was getting dark we gave up on outside for the day and decided to leave any further damage inspection until the following day. That was a good choice as the power went out and stayed out until very late.


DSCF0274 tinyA new day dawned, power was restored and we ventured out.  The wind had blown over everything on the patio sending all the lighter items flying towards the pump house and the alpacas.

DSCF0276 tinyThe plastic table and chairs on the lawn were as they say scattered to the wind.  A couple of chairs had their legs broken off as they blew around and the side of the table was broken but it really did need replacing next year so all in all we got away really lightly.


DSCF0279 tinyDown by the pond another part of the large poplar was toppled, so having just got that area cleared of fallen wood I’m now back to square one.  Work there though will have to wait until I get the big tractor back (it’s out on loan at the moment), as the branches are too heavy to safely use the small tractor.

During the previous evening’s power cut I had ventured out to check on a neighbour.  I’d heard a lot of noise emanating from the farm above me and wondered if they had suffered any damage.  Thankfully they hadn’t and it was just the people collecting the meat chickens, a job that’s always done at night when the chickens are roosting.

DSCF0278 tinyI had a bit of a shock as I drove down the drive though, the telephone line was down and an emergency stop was called for.  As ever it didn’t come down in a place where it could be moved aside, it’s on a corner so it crosses the drive twice.  On the plus side though, the ‘phone and Internet still work and there is just enough room to get past both points.  The question now is just how long will it take to get fixed – I reported it straight away and I can’t claim to be a priority case but 2 weeks have passed and I think it’s time to complain.

So Much to Write About


So much has happened already this month that I will probably forget most of it if I wait until the end of the month before posting so I think it’s time to start posting more than once a month again.

August 2011



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Most of August was taken up by food processing although I did squeeze a trip to the prune museum at Grange sur Lot with my children.  Those that were interested in the museum had already visited previously, (I’ve been round quite a few times as I find it charming), so this trip we limited ourselves to the gift shop.  They do the most wonderful prune sweets although you do have to be careful as to just how many you eat!


The museum is situated on the river Lot and above is a view of the river from the landing stage along the river.


DSCF0254 tinyMy pear trees are not old enough to be producing much fruit yet, so it as nice to be given a box full of ripe pears which I decided to bottle in a wine syrup.  I’m really looking forward to tasting these.



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While a lot of the vegetables plants grown this year either didn’t make it into the garden or shrivelled within an hour or so of being planted a few things did survive.  The pepper plans were a gift from a friend and were planted in the polytunnel where once the watering system was up and running they did really well.

I learnt from last year and only planted a couple or courgette and patty pan plants and have also made an effort to pick every other day if not every day.  Even so I’m getting at least one patty pan and one round courgette each day.

The green beans took over 6 weeks to germinate but once they started they have provided a large handful of beans every day.  These again are the purple variety but as I've blanched them ready for the freezer they’ve turned green.

And last but not least, in the basket is the first of the okra which this year I’ve decided to grow in the polytunnel.  I grew it outside last year and the plants ended up about 30cm high.  In the tunnel they are (at the beginning of September) nearly as tall as me, around 5ft or 155cm.


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A quick resume of some of the preserving, mainly using the nectarines.  Starting from the right, is some nectarine jam.  Then it’s some fruit chutney using up whatever fruit I had to hand, then it’s the pears in wine.  The last row is a nectarine chutney, based on a mango chutney substituting nectarines for mangos and prunes for dates. It has a bit of a bite due to the chilli and is a nice change from the usual fruit chutney.  The large jar on the left is some dried nectarines which I’ll hopefully remember to use in a fruit compote over winter.

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This is one of my recycle/re-use projects.  While I try to grow a lot of my own food, I still buy some and when it is in net bags I save the bags.  The large ones I use to store my harvested onions or to store bulbs.  The smaller ones I build up into a ball forming a scrubbing pad which I use outside to clean the alpaca and chicken water containers.  They last about a year before they breakdown in the sunlight but it does give them a second use before hitting landfill.


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Once the nectarines finished the peaches kicked in.  For some reason they started to fall off the tree before they fully ripened.  At least it was before the hornets started eating them.  They also suffered from the drought but I managed to get a tray full that ripened enough to be eaten fresh.  The rest I peeled and poached with some vanilla sugar and I now have some lovely stewed peaches to brighten up the winter.

I used a couple of portions of the stewed peaches to make some peach ice-cream – very rich and very tasty.  I going to try and remember, and those who know me know just how bad my memory is these days – I say it’s because of the amount I have to remember, my children say it’s just my age – to make peach sorbet.

As an aside, in the background is my vanilla sugar; a cheap and easy way to impart real vanilla into sweet dishes which my mother used.  No infusing or chopping up and removing the seeds etc., I just pack an airtight jar with sugar and a vanilla pod in the centre.  Shake it whenever you open the cupboard and when you make something that calls for both sugar and vanilla it’s there.  The pods can be re-used many times until they no longer smell of vanilla.  I keep 2 pots on the go so one is infusing while I’m using the other.


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And even more from the garden!  Peaches, quince, ‘green’ beans, tomatoes, peppers, okra, cape gooseberries, hazelnuts, almonds, dried haricots, patty pan squash and courgette plus my feet on the chair taking the photo Smile