These past two days have been so full of many different tasks, that I’ll have to make a list to describe them. So here it goes:
1. We dug holes for trees. I think the holes are for two pear trees that the Black’s neighbor has gifted them, as he is dying and wanted them to have something to remember him by. Very sweet, and I love the idea of trees in memory of someone. The holes were a bit difficult to dig because the ground became very hard and packed a foot or so down.
2. We picked deadly nightshade out of the garden and orchard areas. We also pruned any new Acacia tree growths and fed them to the sheep. Acacia trees have these giant thorns on them so thick leather gloves were a must. The larger growths we used a small this saw to cut down. Apparently sheep LOVE acacia leaves. Who knows how they avoid the thorns when chewing! Ouch.
3. We wound up the drip feeders in the garden which is more difficult than it sounds because they cannot kink at all, or they’ll form holes and do way more than drip water.
4. Remember my questions about acorns? Gosh it seems like forever ago, but I wanted to know if we could eat acorns. A said they were too bitter, and Josh said that you can boil them and it takes away some of the bitterness. Well, maybe we don’t eat acorns, but sheep LOVE THEM. Sheep are little piggies apparently. Acorns, acacia, I’m seeing a trend here. Things that start with A. Moving on, there were TONS of acorns on top of the barn roof, so Phelan popped up there with a rake and brushed them off onto a blanket. We then funneled them into crates to feed the sheep throughout the next month, and then raked up all the wet mushy ones and put them in the compost.
5. We made a wood pile. And a beauuuuutiful wood pile it was! You line up the logs along a wall, with them a few inches away from and perpendicular to the wall. There should be two rock pieces to keep them from rolling. Make a bottom layer with the ends closest to you lined up neatly/same distance. Then you lay three pieces on the ends perpendicular to the first layer, and make sure the ends of these pieces tilt toward the outside of the pile, so any top pieces roll inwards, and not outwards. These sort of ‘bookends’ keep the pile stable as you build upwards. You add these pieces every other layer. A skill you wouldn’t think existed, but it’s really important to make the entire pile stable so you can just keep building upwards without worry about it collapsing.
6. We weeded more deadly nightshade and some other obnoxious weeds from the first garden.
7. We ate really delicious risotto with porcini mushrooms, hard-boiled eggs, and a side dish of raw fennel, dressed with some light tasting oil and vinegar. It was so delicious!
That was yesterday. Now for today’s list. It was raining quite heavily this morning so our tasks were inside:
8. We woke up and cleared the apartment’s kitchen so we would have more room to work in. Fran built a roaring fire.
9. Suzie brought down two large baskets of quinces. Quinces are a sort of cross between a pear and an apple, and they smell wonderful and sweet. For those of you in DC/Georgetown/Bethesda, Dolcezza gelateria offers quince gelato. You should try it, it’s really good :). You don’t really eat quinces raw, they’re too tough. So you cook them into things like gelato, or in our case, jam. Now, when making jams, you need to know how much pectin the fruit you are using has. Green apples produce a lot of pectin when cooked down, so they are a good natural thing to add to other lower pectin fruits, when making jam. Or, you could buy pectin packets, and they will tell you on the box how much you need for certain fruits. Quinces are similar to green apples in that they have enough pectin naturally, so you don’t need to add any to make jam. I’m just saying pectin and assuming everyone knows its role, but if you don’t, pectin is the gel bit that forms when you boil fruit and sugar (and a bit of water) down – it thickens the mixture and solidifies when it cools. So we chopped up the quince into medium sized chunks and cooked it in a pressure cooker with a cup of water until it softened. Then we weighed it and put it with half its weight in sugar, and a bit of water, into a large pot and cooked it down. It became this beautiful caramel color and there were still chunks of quince as we spooned it into jars. So pretty. There are pictures :). I should also note that the jars have to be sterilized, which you do by boiling a pot of water and submerging the jars in the boiled water for 10 minutes. Then you let them dry and, HEY, you have sterilized jars.
10. I made two loaves of wheat bread and two loaves of white bread. They have this amazing yeast (that we might have in the US but I’ve just never seen it before!) that is essentially wet yeast and sort of feels and looks like clay. You buy it in little foil wrappers and mix it with warm water and a bit of sugar before adding it to your flour. NOT HOT WATER, because that will kill the live yeast. The dry ingredients for the wheat bread were equal parts whole wheat flour and white Type 00 flour, and a pinch of salt. Mixed with the wet ingredients in a, sigh, kitchen-aid stand mixer with the dough hook until they were a nice consistency, not too dry, not too wet. Add water or flour if it is one way or the other. We let it rise, covered, for half an hour (sort of ended up being more like an hour, you want the dough to more than double in size) sort of shaped it back into a loaf (for the loaf pan) or round (for the larger pan) and put it in the appropriate pan and let it sit for one more hour to rise. It was baked in a 200 degree oven for half an hour (or in the fire, as one of them was). Fran and I sliced up some a little bit later and had it with some butter smeared on top. Butter. I still can’t believe I have access to butter here, I’ve missed it so much. The bread is light and fluffy and delicious, if I do say so myself.
11. We juiced pomegranates to make pomegranate jam. Fran and Basil (The Black’s son) picked pomegranates from the trees here, and then we began a great adventure to determine the best and easiest way to juice them. If you haven’t eaten a pomegranate before, or seen one cut open, check it out. And think of how you would juice it. Because it’s very impossible. I was once challenged to eat a pomegranate, and sheesh, what a challenge it was. So we using giant spoons to scoop out the pom guts and dump the little seeds into bowls, for juicing later. Basil is convinced that we need to try this press machine that Phelan gave Suzie for her birthday this year. So we got several bowls of pom guts together and Basil tried to press it using this machine. Needless to say it didn’t work. The seeds, or ‘pips’ as they call them, are too much for the press to squish them properly. Then it was sort of a panic moment – what do we do to press all of these pips and get the juice out of them? Last year they had used a little juicer, like you would use to juice an orange or lemon. I sort of thought we could use a potato ricer, but everyone looked at me with a ‘what the hell is a potato ricer’ face, and then asked ‘what is a potato ricer?’. That surprised me because they’re EVERYWHERE in Italy, but oh well. So we tried it because after I described it Basil determined they had something similar to make mozzarella. It worked OK but was very slow and we had BOWLS UPON BOWLS of pom guts. So Fran and I ended up using the juicers until Suzie came to the rescue and decided we would cook the guts (with the pith removed because it’s so bitter) in the pressure cooker so the juice would just fall away from the seeds. Our test trial worked, but by the time it was all done, the day was over. And we still have a fridge with three bowls of pom guts and one of pom juice to use to make into jam tomorrow. What an adventure!
12. I’m tired. Tonight we cooked sausages on the fire using forks. Yeah. Picture that. Wild times.
13. So I’m going to bed and here are the pictures, first is a slideshow and then will be the gallery: