Monday, December 17, 2012

It's all berry nice...

It's berry season here! This means we need to get out to the berry patches daily to pick the ripe fruit. The intense flavour of the strawberries is far superiour to the store bought punnets. We've picked over 7kgs of strawberries so far. Most of it has gone into jars of delicious chunky conserve. Later this week I'll make coulis to go with the Christmas dessert.
When we came to the farm last year, we knew nothing about pruning fruit trees or vines. We thought we were doing the right thing when we cut all the raspberry and thornless blackberry canes down to the ground. Uh uh... Wrong! You're supposed to cut the previous year's canes and leave the new ones. Then the following season, the berries will form on last year's canes. A clever cycle. Because of our gung ho approach last year, we had no berries at all. We looked at the large area that was semi netted and even contemplated ripping all the canes out and doing something else with the space. But as we were busy with other chores around the farm, we sort of put the raspberry project aside. Then lo and behold..... this year we're getting berries! Lots of them! Frans has had to cut a path between the jungle-like canes so we can pick the stuff in the middle. I've made my first every raspberry conserve. That in iteself was a challenge. I didn't get the temperature up to the required 104 degrees and so it didn't set. So off came the lids and back into the pot went the runny mess. All the jars had to be sterilised again. What a pain. But we created a secondary product. Frans rinsed the jars out with water (lovely rain, no chemical nasties!) and created a big jug of raspberry water. It's delicious! So we kept a jar of the runny stuff so we could have flavoured water this summer.
Frans repaired the holes in the 'roof' of this raspberry patch and we then pinned bird netting around the bottom. No more birds. Lots more fruit! 
Yes, it's a jungle!
Lovely raspberries!
And then just when I think I'm under control with picking and processing the berries, I notice that the artichoke bush (is that what it's called?) is full of big globes that need picking. Now. So out with the recipe books and I start preparing these spiky green things. I have to say there's an awful lot of waste! 
Artichokes react very quickly with the air and go brown, a bit like an apple. So you need to pop them into a bowl with lemon juice as quickly as possible once you've cut them. I followed an Italian preserving recipe. I cut the chokes and let them sit in lemon infused water while on the stove I boiled up white wine vinegar, olive oil and lemon juice. I threw in a few bay leaves and a little salt. Then I scooped the flesh of the chokes from the water bath and boiled it for about 10 minutes in the preserving liquid. Then it all went into a big jar and into a dark cupboard for a few days. I'm looking forward to using it on home made pizzas, in dips and in salads this summer.  
The compost heap just grew a few inches taller! 
All that work! And I'm left with a 1.8 litre jar of home preserved artichokes. Is it worth the effort? Not sure. I'll let you know when we start enjoying them!
And speaking of preserving things in big jars....  I made a batch of Vin D'Orange this week. We bought some beautiful sweet oranges in Mildura a few weeks ago. I've been wanting to make this French style summer apertif for a while. You can drink it chilled, or on ice. You can also add it to a glass of mineral water or sparkling wine. It's very easy to make. 
You will need:
4 bottles of cheap white wine
(Aldi had clean skins last week for $2 a bottle. You can't beat that!)
2 and a half cups brandy
3 and a quarter cups sugar
5 oranges cut into quarters (or eighths if they're big)
1 lemon cut into quarters
2 cinnamon sticks
Pour wine, brandy and sugar into a large sterilised jar. Stir till all ingredients are dissolved and mixed together. Add the oranges and cinnamon sticks. Seal the jar tightly. Place in a cool dark place for 6 to 8 weeks. Decant the wine into smaller bottles. (I saved the original bottles as they had no labels. I hate cleaning labels off jars!)
So sometime in February, I'm looking forward to trying out our homemade Vin D'Orange. Cheers!
On the garlic front, we have pulled some and it is hanging up to dry. The rest will come up in the next week or two. Theoretically we have to pull it up on the longest day of the year. But everything takes a bit longer here so I may leave it in the ground for just a bit longer. So if you have placed a garlic order with me, be assured I am waiting for the best result before I send it out. 
I have to show you my biggest red onion! Over half a kg! Do you know the saying 'know your onions'? Well, I'm still learning. This is my first onion growing effort and it's not too bad.  
And as a little finale for this post, here's a little Christmas cheer. Sara was home for the weekend and she picked me some flowers which we popped into my 'new' red jug. (I love op shops!) The tall candle stick is from South Africa. It is made with bottle tops stacked on top of each other. Clever. And the little Christmas block of wood was made by Sara when she was about 6. 
Enjoy your crazy last week before Christmas. I'll be baking biscuits, probably ginger and biscotti to give as gifts. I'm trying to be as 'home made' as possible this year. If I can't grow it, cook it or make it, then it won't be given.
Till next time... stay safe.

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