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.