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Maçãs e peras galore

Maçãs e peras galore

There are a couple of reasons why we have been rather slow at updating the blog recently. The first has to do with my iMac; it seemed to have died. We stared at the blank black screen that refused to show any sign of life and then, as there seemed to be a strange noise coming from behind, we both peered over the top… poof! It blew itself up. We have only just got round to choosing a (non iMac) replacement today.

The other reason (I’m struggling with the different apps on Richard’s computer now) is that we have both been busy turning Casa Azul into Fábrica Azul – a factory for a whole range of fruity goodness. For some reason the apple and pear harvest has been amazing this year, not just in our garden, but everywhere we go. Branches are breaking and bending under the weight of large, ripe fruit, many falling to the ground to create a colourful, fermenting carpet.

Our apples have been grated and given to grateful hens, chopped into cubes for crumbles and of course enjoyed with the local cheese for dessert. They have also been peeled, cored and sliced and then frozen. We have this great gadget that does the peeling, coring and slicing in one go so we go though the kilos very quickly.

Next up was the drying. To say that the weather is perfect for drying would be an understatement, it’s been hot and windy for weeks. So experimenting with an old clothes horse, apples have been dried in spirals, reminding me of the hanging incense in Hong Kong.

Not content with all of this Richard loaded up the truck with empty barrels and we drove around the country lanes collecting loads of apples from a range of different trees for Operation Cider. Out came the juicer and all the paraphernalia for making one of his top tipples. As he has been making beer as well it would not be an exaggeration to say the house smells of a brewery. (In fact the fermenting bucket behind me looks like something is trying to escape from it).

The pears have had a different treatment. Most have been bottled, my all favourite way for preserving fruit. There’s nothing nicer in the winter than to open a jar of summer sunniness which has been flavoured with vanilla, or perhaps star anise and cinnamon, cloves or cardomoms. Mmm indeed.

The bottling process has been quite a learning curve, there’s a huge difference in approach between the US and UK but I think I’ve perfected the technique this year. We have also had pears cooked in a red wine syrup, a dessert so tasty it should be more difficult to make.

Apart from the tree fruit the tomatoes have, until recently, been defiantly putting on some sort of show. Luckily I have grown a fair number of plants because the high temperatures have put an end to any decent crop from each one, and the range of varieties grown has also meant we have had enough for salads as well as roasting a whole load too. You can never have too many roast tomatoes. The special roma ones have then been through the mouli to make passata. Aah indeed. Luckily we have two freezers.

And just as I was feeling we were getting on top of everything, tidying all the gadgets and whatnots away, Richard has just announced that the figs are ready. Looks like the factory isn’t closing down just yet…

Tomatoes, tomatoes part 2

Tomatoes, tomatoes part 2

Well, I took the plunge yesterday and made some bottled / canned tomatoes. Actually, it wasn’t that difficult it was just that there were so many different stages and it was the first time. I wanted to fill the bottles with whole, peeled tomatoes and have these in a sauce, not unlike a tins of toms that you buy. So that meant skinning a load of toms of course and making the sauce. Plus all the bottles had to be sterilised not to mention getting the food mill out – the kitchen looked a real mess.

In fact buying the glass jars was the first challenge. We’ve only been able to get 750ml sized ones, and these are a touch too big, half litre would’ve been better. And the spare rubber rings (which apparently should be changed every time) don’t seem to be for sale… one of the reasons for bottling was to be able to reuse all the jars again so I do hope we can find the rings somewhere.

Back to the bottling: eventually all the whole toms had been peeled and ready for the jars, but I realised that I hadn’t got enough for the sauce. Next time I’ll have a load of sauce all ready made in advance, and then that just needs to be heated and poured in. So one jar was filled with tom sauce, one half and half sauce and water, and the third only water (which is apparently normal to use).

The huge pan I had ready for the bottling, my jam-making pan, turned out not to be quite big enough. The jars, once filled, need to be closed and completely submerged in water. There was perhaps only 2 cm of water above the jars so that had to be regularly filled up. Then the water needs to brought to a simmer and maintained at 88C for 40 minutes. 40 minutes of checking the water level and checking the temperature… it was great though to see the steam coming out of the jars which hopefully meant they were going to be sealed ok.

This morning, the jars having been left to cool in the water, I gingerly took them out. Looked ok. And then the seal test – the clips were undone and hurrah! it wasn’t possible to open the lids so sealed tight. Job done. I’ll have another go now if I can find some spare rubber rings, I’m rather reluctant to buy more jars if they can’t be used again. It’s good to have another way of preserving up our sleeves though, much cheaper to put up more pantry shelves than buy another freezer!

Tomatoes, tomatoes

Tomatoes, tomatoes

One of the projects set for the summer was to grow as many tomatoes as possible and have them preserved, in one form or another, so that we have them all year round. So the veg patch is certainly bursting with toms – small round ones, yellow ones, stripy ones, long ones… and thanks to the polytunnel we started eating fresh ones much earlier than last year. We’re hoping to extend the fresh season so we can eat those later in the year as well. So far so good.

However, it’s been the preserving side that has been more challenging. Sun-drying tomatoes is easy and the results delicious but you do need the sun, and finding two or three hot days in a row this summer has proven difficult. Imagine that! In Portugal, in August and still a problem! The last attempt had to be thrown away as they had gone mouldy; very disappointing.

Meanwhile I spent ages and ages trying to find a food mill or passata machine here and eventually ordered a mill through Amazon. Once I worked out how to use it we now have tubs and tubs of pasta sauce and soup filling up the freezer.

Perhaps the most successful has been the oven roasted toms, they are divine.  These go on pizzas or make a lovely salsa when blitzed with a blender (alas, this is now on the blink); they are also put into bags or tubs and put in the freezer…

And earlier in the ‘summer’ loads were thrown whole in plastic bags and then bunged into the freezer, these will be fine for soups or stews or made into sauce later on. But our new chest freezer is now full… So now yet another system is to be tested today – canning. We have a large pot for boiling, some Luminarc glass jars and a proper thermometer. The idea is that we can put the jars on the pantry shelf rather than putting anything in the freezer, fingers crossed.

And look – a whole post without me mentioning the fact that it’s raining (again)!