Thursday, March 12, 2015

I Won! I Won!

I came to live on this farm, all green. We inherited a mesh-covered tunnel rich with vegetables, a cow and her calf and four chickens. This change, this choice required my change. I researched and studied, sowed and reaped, learned and failed, harvested and built compost. Instead of contributing to our income, I minimised our expenditure. The more I grew, the more we grew, the less we spent.

Three years later and our success in self-sufficiency shows at supper. Each night as we sit holding hands, grateful for the blessing before us, we wonder at the home raised goodness before us.

A walk in the tunnel and our failure in self-sufficiency shows on the leaves. I abdicated as general in the war against invaders as the heat waves of summer combined with faulty pumps and leaking lines defeated us in our daily skirmishes. My ignorance in organic matters mocks in small pickings.

I recognise my need for guidance. Today such an advisor arrived in the form of a book. A prize. A weapon. No, a tactical manual. A manual of things green written for green people. Like me.

Green is the colour of hope, new beginnings, life.

As this season of summer cools into autumn, I am thankful, hopeful and even excited for the new seasons of promise yet to come. A surprise, a prize has given me hope, stirred my imagination and encouraged me to discard the white flag of surrender and march forward boldly with muddy boots, sandy hands and my pockets full of seeds.

Thank you Livingseeds for the awesome prize. I promise to use it well.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Mexican Black and Blue

I have a blue wooden treasure box. It is filled with little packets of promises. Guy and Lianne gave them to me when they left for the UK. Last summer I took a particularly promising packet of promises and planted them near the pine tree. I watered and waited and watched. Some of them were empty promises, but a few came to life and pushed their way towards the light, stretching tall to the sun. I waited all summer and as the days cooled to autumn they faded and dried and died. I gathered their heavy black heads and placed them in a basket near my front door. A basket of promises.

What to do with Black Aztec maize? I had no idea. A little research filled my culinary imaginations with images of blue corn tortillas and Mexican food. Winter visited, and spring came calling. Then, when summer had come to stay for a while, on a Wednesday afternoon, an unexpected gift of tomatillos from my friend reminded me of the silent basket of promises that greeted every guest who entered through my front door. It was time.

Black Aztec Corn
On Thursday morning I shucked the black pearls into a bowl while teaching a Maths lesson. One kilogram of them were boiled and soaked overnight with one tablespoon of lime in a pot of water.

Add 1 T slaked lime in 1 c water, pour into pot of corn, cover with water. Bring to the boil for 5 minutes and soak overnight. 
On Thursday afternoon, during an art lesson, I turned two kilograms of tomatillos into dizzyingly delicious salsa verde. It was my first time tasting the unusual fruit. I am smitten.

Tomatillos are not a kind of green tomato. They are in the gooseberry family. Thank you Stacey.
Boil the tomatillos with 2 jalapeƱo chilis until tender. Drain and blend with seasoning, coriander leaves garlic and onion. Simmer the sauce in a little oil for ten minutes. The recipe is from the blog Patti's Kitchen Table
On Friday morning, while a Maths test was underway, I rubbed off the corn skins under running water, then ground the wet Black Aztec Maize kernels into a masa. The soft mound of masa, a grey-blue with flecks of black, looked like granite. The promise of a good dinner and the hope of success resulted in a phone call. Fun food is for sharing.

Rub the soaked kernels in your hands under running water
Grind or use a food processor to form a pliable dough or masa
Knead the masa for 10 min until it is smooth
All day on Friday pots of spicy mince and Spanish Black Beans simmered on the hob while I scurried between the schoolroom and the stove. The beans came from another packet of promises that produced prolifically last summer. Poetically, they were the perfect partner for the promised repast.

Like the corn, these Spanish Black Beans dried in the summer sun and then we collected them for our winter pantry

Simmer cooked beans with onion, green pepper, celery, garlic, cumin, coriander, chilli, origanum and tomato
On Friday evening our friends arrived and the men set to work pressing out blue tortillas between sheets of plastic using a pie plate. They turned a purply grey as they browned on the skillet. We ladies sipped tequila and enjoyed the summer evening with grey thunderclouds and purple Maluti Mountains in the distance.

Cook the tortillas for a few minutes on each side on a heavy, flat skillet
They really do look blue
We ate outside, on the verandah after dark, our table dimly lit by a row of solar light jars. I am glad it was dark so no-one could see the salsa running down my chin as I relished my magnificent Mexican meal.

Coriander leaves, red tomato salsa, chopped chilis, salsa verde, cooked chicken tossed in salsa verde on an appropriately South American tablecloth
Blue corn tortillas filled with chicken / spicy pastured beef mince / Mexican beans and topped with salsa, coriander leaves, rather runny home made yoghurt and grated mild farm cheese.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Summer Evening Stroll in the Tunnel

Strains of Michael Buble waft out into the sultry Summer night. A belated birthday meal is sizzling and bubbling in the kitchen, green peppercorn sauce over our own grass fed rump steak at my request. I sit on the wooden floor, sorting sandy potatoes into small piles for keeping and sharing. The mondial potatoes that I grew from a shop bought bag produced a disappointing harvest this year. Ladybug imposters gobbled their leaves faster than I could squash them and so the tubers stayed small. These, my early potatoes will provide us with just a few meals, including the potato chips tonight. I have my hopes set on the organic Varna seed potatoes planted later in Spring. Maybe they will perform better. Tonight, against all my grain, I sprayed them with an organic pesticide in the hopes of defeating the voracious red beetles before they defoliate our winter potato stores as well.

They are looking relatively healthy. Come and stroll through my veggie garden with  me...

The Country Gentleman sweetcorn has grown up tall and dignified as a gentleman should, so tall that the stalks are pushing up against the top of the tunnel. Maize pollinates via the wind. I hope their position in the plastic section of our tunnel doesn't prevent them from giving us full cobs of summer sweetness.

There is a green tunnel of maize and runner beans that my little nephew ran up and down when he visited from Cape Town. Every time I pick the rough skinned beans I remember his delight as he scampered in and out of green light and shadow, willing me to spray him with the hosepipe.

The tomatoes are happier than last week. They drunkenly cling to their stakes as their heavy fruits threaten to topple them over. Each morning I pick the fruit just as the colour is turning. I am jealous of my tomato harvest and refuse to share the ripe fruit with the resident field mouse and birds, so I set them in baskets to ripen on the kitchen counter.

The Kuroda carrots are the most disciplined of all out plantings this season. They stand to attention, proudly parading their promise of Autumn delights. Not so the rebellious Yellowstone carrots which, although vigorous, appear haphazardly in their allocated bed. Our spring planting of Purple Dragon carrots continue to mature randomly and so provide us with a continual supply of the pretty purple skinned orange vegetables.

Heirloom lettuce is gaily going to seed. I hope for many tiny babies that I can transplant at my leisure. Germinating the seed in trays has proved disastrous. From packet and packets of old heirloom lettuces, I have only successfully managed to grow three pink tinged Regina Di Maggio lettuces.

The Drumhead Savoy cabbages are just beginning to form round heads. They are rather moth eaten. Every day I mean to cover them with netting. Maybe tomorrow I will remember.

The pile of Waltham butternuts is growing inside the house. This is our first year growing them. Previously pumpkins took precedence. I am not sure how well these squashes keep. I will do my best to enable these beauties to reach their full culinary potential.

Winter meals of hearty dry Spanish Black beans are peeping through the leaves, biding their time until they are fully dry and ready for podding.

Bath-sponges-to-be hang seductively from their vine. Many many loofah seeds were planted before this one plant took root and trailed up the stake.

A stroll through our tunnel at sunset brings closure to my day, and hope for the harvest to come. Tomorrow morning, just after sunrise, I will return and greet my new day with the birds, our enthusiastically vociferous rooster and loving Lucy Lamb while my men young and old snore in good company with Winifred and Sausage, our two late-rising Piggies.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Elastic Mom Bounces Back

I sat in the dry dirt, hidden amongst tomato plants straggling up their spindly stakes and there I methodically snipped yellow leaves, collected fallen green promises and our long awaited, nurtured from seed since July, first of the season, worm pierced beauties and wept with dry eyes at the devastation. My despairing thoughts drifted over fig trees not blossoming and Job's woe and visions melodramatically burned down the tunnel, sold the animals, sent the boy to school and walked away.

"Though the fig tree does not blossom, yet will I praise the Lord"

I feebly sang a rote-remembered hymn as I gathered up stray cuttings and moped indoors. 

That was yesterday. 

Today, while contemplating the green folds of Purple Calabash tomatoes, the untouched by worm parts, and the unripe marbles of fallen Sweetie tomatoes my tenacious thoughts drifted over movies loved long ago and treasured jars relished a few years back. 

Green tomatoes with nasty bits cut away, sliced up, dipped in beaten egg and then in cornflour, salt and pepper were scrumptious fried in an olive oil and butter.

Nigel Slater, yet again, deserves all the credit for what happened next. Hope wafted through the house on the tangy spicy scent as his memorable Mixed Tomato Chutney simmered cheerfully in the kitchen. 

Tomorrow, we will eat my rather greener version slathered over our very own nine-month mature cheddar on warm buttermilk bread. I know it will be sublime, the sweet tart relish compliments sharp strong cheese perfectly. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Delicious Dulce de Leche

 Faithful Esse warms our home all winter long. She is insatiably hungry and needs to be fed daily. She is wonderfully versatile and if we employ her to her full potential, she is perfect for preparing dishes that require long simmering or slow roasting.

Surplus milk plus warm hearted Esse were the catalysts that sparked the idea for a new Rosewood Country Kitchen product... Dulce de Leche.

The recipe is simple: Litres and litres of creamy jersey milk, heaps of sugar, vanilla pods, a couple of pinches of this and that ... and hours and hours of bubbling and stirring until we have our first batch of jars filled with dreamy caramelised milk.

Perfect for topping cakes, filling swiss rolls, topping cupcakes, topping desserts and ice-cream and, best of all, decadently eating off a teaspoon.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

USE IT - DON'T LOSE IT: Vin d'Orange

I kept some oranges aside from the lovely gift of oranges that I used for marmalade, for further experimentation. I wanted to see how many interesting things I could do with the seville oranges. I used a few of them in a delicious autumn soup of mixed root vegetables, pumpkin and chorizo, and then I found a promising recipe in the book Salt Sugar Smoke, Colette's Vin d'Orange.

Weigh out 500g oranges. 

Chop them roughly.

Place them in a large, sterilised jar. Pour over a bottle of white wine. Stand the jar in a cool dark place for 2 weeks.

Strain the liquid, add sugar to taste and 1/3 cup of brandy. Pour into a pretty glass bottle and see how long you can keep it before you taste it.

If you are anything like me, you will drink it before you have a chance to photograph it. It is that delicious.

A Late Winter Morning

It's early Sunday morning. Kariba, my red-brown Rhodesian Ridgeback stirs in her bed. The moment she sees me open my eyes she begins to whine quietly, asking to go outside.
"Do you want to go outside? I ask her.
Immediately she sits up smartly in her bed and wags her tail, her eyes never leaving mine. I throw back the puffy bedcovers and swing my sock-clad feet onto the wooden floor, trying not to creak the old floorboards as I put on my slippers and dressing gown and head towards the kitchen. Tag, the fat Jack Russel joins us. Kariba and Tag politely sit while I unlock the back door. The instant it is open a crack, our two male Ridgebacks barge into the kitchen, pushing and shoving Kariba back inside. I open the door wide and call them all outside so that, in their exuberance, they don't wake Grant. It is quite common for him to receive slobbery kisses from three of our four dogs while he is still trying to sleep. The click-clacking of their toenails on the floor is enough to disturb any pleasant dreams.

The sun has just risen and there is no frost on the bleached lawn. It is cool, but warm enough for me to wander outside, enjoying the dogs' romping in the morning light. I walk into the chicken yard and up the slope, towards the henhouse. On my way I startle our two piglets who are stealing the remains of the grain thrown down for the chickens last night. They run towards me, grunting and squealing, expecting me to give them breakfast, but I see that they still haven't finished their dinner last night. We had mixed it with water instead of the usual whey, as I hadn't made any cheese yesterday. The piglets would rather snout around and root up the grass that I am coaxing to grow in the chicken yard, than eat their leftover dinner.

There is a lot of jostling and clucking coming from the white henhouse as the chickens crowd around the wire gate waiting to be let out for the day. Arrietty and Homily do not budge from their nests as the rest of the flock pour out into the morning. Arrietty, a pretty young hen dotted in shades of white, black and orange, is sitting on six eggs. They should hatch any day now. She warns me with a throaty high pitched warble as I reach my hand under her, but doesn't peck me. There are no signs of cracks on the warm pink-brown eggs, nor do I hear any tiny peeps from beneath her feathers. I leave brown and black speckled Homily alone. The last time I looked she was sitting in the nesting box, all broody with nothing beneath her. A little later on, when I am collecting the morning's eggs, I will check whether she has laid any. If not I will give her all the eggs for the next three days. I was hoping for eggs for breakfast this morning, but yesterday we only found one. There is some chervil growing in a pot on our kitchen windowsill and I have a craving for a cheesy chervil omelette.  Oh well, it will have to be muesli instead.

I turn the lever for the chicken's water trough and make my way out the henhouse yard, past the piglets in the large chicken yard, out the gate and into the vegetable tunnel. The piglets look up with brown, sandy snouts and then turn their backs, ignoring me, and continue digging up the grass. There is not much growing in the tunnel besides cabbages. Most of the beds are resting, covered in a dry grass mulch, waiting for the frosty winter to pass. I turn the round red tap next to the spindly leeks at the top of the tunnel and water gushes into the chicken trough. I have closed the chickens into their smaller henhouse yard to encourage the hens to think about laying their eggs in the henhouse. There is enough uneaten grain in there to keep them busy. I stand at the fence that separates the henhouse yard from the veggie tunnel, watching the social interaction between the chickens. The two young charcoal coloured roosters crow again and again and stretch their proud wings. I notice that when I throw some cabbage leaves over the fence, they do not dare join the fray in fear of the old patriarch, Mr Montgomery. Our sole winter chick, a still peeping grey hen-chick scuttles after her little grey mother, Mary Thompson. Old Mrs Montgomery and Peg, with her gammy leg, have faded combs and I am sure that they have stopped laying for good. They leave that job to the young hens. We have fifteen chickens now.

I pull up two baby turnips on my way out the tunnel and once back in the big chicken yard, I call the piglets over. They rush towards me and are each rewarded with a turnip. Back in the henhouse yard, I turn the valve again to shut off the water to the chicken trough that has been overflowing and running down the slope while I was watching the flock. There is a sudden spray of water hitting plastic as the irrigation line along the back of the tunnel fills and sprays up onto the plastic and drips back down on the slow-growing leeks. It has been too long since I made leek pie. By now fat leeks should have been replaced with broad beans in that bed. We were slow in planting them last summer and they did not have a chance to strengthen before the icy weather came.

The disgruntled chickens stand at the gate as I leave them shut in the smaller yard. The piglets, seeing me back in their space, run behind me, nibbling at my furry slippered heels. It is very cute, but a slight anxiety grips me as I walk quickly away from them, and one piglet  runs faster, keeping up with my heels. They haven't bitten yet, but I believe that pigs can bite. I distract them by running water into an empty container and slip out the gate and back inside. Kariba follows me in and settles back into her bed, and so do I. Grant is just waking and greets me with a sleepy hello.