Last night something died in the cornfield.
In the night a dreadful sound woke me and I came fully awake standing barefoot out in the middle of our little home field. The sounds of dogs were everywhere. Two huge herons erupted noisily from the tall tree above me, startling us with irritated calls. They tucked their feet in behind and wooshed their great wings in lazy movements. Leaving me to fend for myself. Gone into the blackness of the night. Then screams of something unimaginable. A horror movie thrashing. Then silence.
The night was listening. The crickets went still. There was a strange pause. The prairie is like the open sea at night. Sounds drift across from far away. We could hear movement coming through the drying corn canes. The smallest of rattles. The rustles. The sigh of the birds wings already far away. I imagined I heard breath. Paws touching the dry soil so softly. Eyes dipped and lifting. Watching. The snap of a tail. Fall of matted fur. Crunch of bone. Maybe even drool slipping to the ground with the tiniest of plops.
Then the howling started again from one side, and then answering barks from the other. It was a cacophony. A fabric of sound. I was standing in a 6 acre boxing ring, walls of corn on every side, waiting for the bell as the invisible fighters warmed up.
It was dark with a little moon. But my eyes were useless, the night was all sound. To the South I knew that I could hear the howling and yipping of coyotes, impossible to know how many because they disguise their pack size with many different calls. But definitely that chilling coyote song. But to the North I realised I was hearing the barking of a pack of wild domestic dogs. Very different sounds. A pack of different sized dogs too by the barks and yaps. I had forgotton my torch. Again. I was barefoot. Again. Wearing a little pink nightie, out in the moonlight, in between two very different but very hungry packs of wild dogs.
I don’t hold a grudge against the coyotes though. They are truly wild and amazingly adaptable. They are so quiet. Stealthful. They walk up on their toes. Generally they eat rabbits, and mice and even fruit and insects. They dig birthing chambers, love their babies and hunt with some intelligence. They eat what they hunt. If they saw a lamb wandering on the river bank of course they would kill it and eat it. It is our job to make sure that our stock is secure. If a coyote gets one of my animals that is my fault. But mostly they are passing through tracking the deer who live in the corn as well. Every time I have had trouble on the farm with ducks or chickens being killed I can trace the crime directly to stray or roaming local dogs. Domestic wild animals are more of a threat to me than truly wild coyotes. This has been my experience anyway. So I was not that worried about the coyotes, it was the dogs that worried me. Dogs chase and maul, coyotes hunt,kill and eat. There is a difference.
Tontons ears had developed two axis and were whirring independently of each other. He kept leaping in circles, his hackles up, his head up, terrified, on guard, as fierce as you can look with your tail tucked between your own back legs, darting to and fro. My only indication as to where these animals were – was coming from the direction of his ears. And the frantic movement of his ears and all the noise told me that there were dogs either side of us. Maybe every side. And they were howling and barking at each other and moving fast.
Then we heard the sounds of determined running. The noise escalated, coming straight for us out of the North corner. Something had got through the fences and was inside. Tonton and I both turned, poised, with no weapons to meet this threat. We were both on our toes, staring intently into the night. Out of that dark, running at full speed came…
Mia… a frightened little sheep. TonTon big hunter killer that he is, yelped from the fright of her sudden panting appearance and dived for cover between my ankles! I screeched a little girlie squeal and leapt sideways. Mia put on her scornful look and the packs went silent again.
Well then I just got annoyed. That was quite enough. TonTon, Mia and I stalked over to the South side and shouted through the fence into the corn at the coyotes who shouted back for about 10 seconds. I used up the foul mouthed NZ fisherman language that lurks in all us NZ beach girls raised by boatbuilders, and just told those coyotes to bugger off in no uncertain terms. It was a long and painful unrepeatable rant. The language was so dreadful that they were shocked into silence. Anyway coyotes hate the human voice. Especially when called mongrels. They hate to be called mongrels. They were silenced.
Then I found a really big stick, left Mia in her field with her startled mother, and went through the gates to the North side. I shouted and banged on the bins and sides of the barn and TonTon and I ran up and down the fence line screeching into that cornfield like a blonde banshee and her crazed spirit guide. Screaming and hissing and barking. An inhuman squall. After a short while the dogs stopped their barking, probably in horror and slunk back deep into the cornfield.
It was quiet at last. For a time I sat on the big rock in the little home paddock, in the moonlight and waited. The nightbird began their hesitant calls again. My dirty feet rested in the dewy grass. My elbows on my knees and my chin in my hands. We enjoyed the cool night air. We waited but there were no more dogs howling or barking that night. I watched the cows and sheep return to their grazing, their backs smoothly highlighted by the lights of the night. The chickens rustled a bit and settled back in their house. The herons glided without a sound back to their tree. A cat appeared with the smallest of miao hullos and sprawled in the grass. Mia stood on one side of me and TonTon lay on the other and we breathed together.
Later, I washed my feet in a bucket of rain water and crawled back into bed. TonTon settled back by the french doors. I thought to myself that next time I was going to get out the fireworks. Sky rockets should do it. And I had to remember my torch. Flash lights are good. And so I went to sleep.
When I worked in Italy, years ago, we rented an enormous house on the Amalfi Coast, very close to Amalfi, right on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Mediterannian. It had six terraces, with heavy marble tables on each one and a pool right on the edge of the cliff. I was working for a film family and managed their lives, their houses, their children, families, their travel and the book. It was a short term job that flows through my memory like a river. I had just quit my job as a full time classroom teacher and was weary right to my bones. When I lived in Italy, I crossed the metaphorical river and began to live IN my life instead of battling to pay for another one. This job developed into being a directors PA but at this point I spent more time walking the hills and beaches with the children and doing homework on the terraces, strolling through the markets and eating, than I did poring over scripts. I wriggled into this interlude in that glorious sparkling late summer Italian sunshine.
In this big house I had an Italian Housekeeper who came in daily and put me and the house to rights. She was a very sexy, very energetic Italian beauty. She spoke no English and I spoke no Italian. I tried to speak Italian with a NZ accent because she absolutely refused to have anything to do with the English language. Her scorn was gorgeous. Every morning she would call to me loudly as she entered the house. My name was pronounced the Italian way Chicheelia (Cecilia), and rolled around on her laughing tongue with ease. She was either laughing or in a fury. At the beginning I was terrified of her.
She held the keys to the linen cupboard which I coveted, the linen not the keys. I love fresh white linen. She would dole monogrammed sheets out to me like treasures with stern looks. Slowly we found out about each others families and children. We discovered that we both loved the sea, blank sheets of paper, (which we both scribbled all over trying to communicate) wine and food and sparkles. She always wore the most startling jewellery. And I remember one particularly entertaining morning when she told me why she had left her husband. He had been a very naughty boy indeed! All this with no words.
I tried to use my English-Italian dictionary and she would swat at it with scorn. Soon we would be shouting with laughter, swapping stories in mime! In desperation she tried to teach me enough Italian to get by and would smile like a Mama when I got the sounds right. She made me write my grocery lists in Italian and would send me off into the piazza with a big bag to practise.
She was appalled at my bangers and mash cooking mentality, though in my defense the sausages were amazing there. They had tiny deli/butchers hidden in teensy wee corners of the piazza with mouth-watering sausages, in great circular links. I held my hands apart to show him how much I wanted – (‘this much, grazie‘). The butcher was a great big Italian fellow who taught me the words to order my favorites, and laughed with me (I think) when I mimicked him. After a few weeks he decided what I was to have anyway,(adjusting my grocery list with big strokes of his pencil, actually I suspected he was writing wicked notes to my housekeeper but she never let on). I would buy today’s fresh vegetables. (I learnt to point after the owner gently smacked my hand out of her way. She put the fruit into the bag, not me!) Then I would buy half a loaf of bread (This was real bread, it went stale in a day.) Found great wedges of pungent cheese, quickly drank my macchiato standing up at the cafe counter (earning a swift nod of approval from cafe staff and an upgrade to locals prices) and back up the hill to begin to cook. One of us would shop in the market twice a day. It was our larder. Food was not stored, you shopped for today.
Once the housekeeper had decided that she liked me (I was so relieved)she proceeded to teach me about real Italian food. She taught me about all the cured meats, how to store cheeses, simple pasta sauces. The taste explosion of pesto. On a few precious Saturdays when I was not working, she and her sister would come over with bags full of food, I would open a bottle of wine, they would rummage about in the garden for herbs then teach me to cook real Italian food.
I have been making my favorite dish from these days ever since. I did not even know its name. Our language was so visual. I just called it Aubergine and Tomat. However using the magic labyrinth of the Blog World I have found it. Parmigiana di melanzane or aubergine parmesiana. (In the US an aubergine is an egg-plant.) I discovered this site when nosing through the favorite blog reads of The Dinner Files (which is kind of like rummaging through a persons book shelves trying to find out what they are like by what they like to read. A dubious exercise at best. ) These people are the professionals at food writing and will make it much easier for you to make this simple dish. And you know how I love simple.
This one is so close to the favorite dish of my Italian Housekeeper. And yes that is a wheel of my own parmesan cheese (above).. though it only came out for the shot.. it is 6 months away from being eaten yet so back into the storeroom it goes! My Italian housekeeper would think I was quite mad making my own.
Every Christmas Our John studies the seed catalogues, makes lists, loses the lists, makes more lists, studies more catalogues then finally orders piles of tomato seeds. He orders all kinds of other seeds as well but the tomato for him is the Major Crop. This is the mans plant. A man’s munch. In late February when the weather outside has been sub-zero for weeks and our lives have become frigid sepia, he snuggles his seeds into tiny pots and the trays sit by the fire to germinate. Then into the garden window. I call him crazy starting so early and he says you’ll see. His aim is to eat one of his own tomatoes on the Fourth of July. This is The Matriarchs aim too so there is always a not so light-hearted rivalry each year.
As the winter grinds along the plants out-grow the window, like snails they exchange their little pots for bigger pots and begin to creep across the floors of the house chasing the sun from the skylights. Woe betide any plant that dares to become leggy. During the very early days of spring when the temps rise slightly every damn plant is carted outside for some sunning and then hauled back into the house every evening when the temps drop again.
He turns piles of compost. Then won’t share it. Carefully creating the huge perfect tomato beds. Tomatoes are hungry plants evidently.
Once the plants are in the ground, with a clay tile placed around each one, staked and with cages in the wings, they are watered and heaped with more well-rotted delicious smelling compost to keep down the weeds. If a frost threatens he is out there covering his wee babies with blankies. I raise my eyebrows and he says you’ll see.
Then we wait. We do not buy out of season tomatoes. So this really is a terrible wait. We are getting desperate for a tomato. He waters and waits. Then waters some more and waits some more. And yes every year by the Fourth of July he seems able to coax one or two tomatoes to red juicy deliciousness. Usually Prairie Fire. They are tiny plants that come and go very fast and fruit early. We sit in the sun and eat them like apples. It is joy. And yes I do see.
So the tomatoes begin to trickle in, then they roll in like a leap tide, then there is a flood and soon the harvest reaches cataclysmic proportions that I am so grateful for in the winter but not so much today. The verandah has baskets of them in various stages of ripeness waiting their turn in the kitchen. My larder and freezer are groaning under the weight of tomatoes put down, put up and sent sideways, I am nagging for more shelves in the basement, our friends are carting away bags of them, I am trolling the internet for recipes. ( Here are this weeks favorites.)
tomato conserva If you have a day at home, go for it, the results are fantastic. I am making jars of this .. it is divine.
tomato pie A new one for us but tasty and quick.
Insalata: slices of ripe warm freshly picked tomato, slices of good mozarella cheese and ripped basil. Arrange on a plate. Drizzle a little really good olive oil on top. EAT! I ate this every day in Italy with locally made cheese. Just pure simple love on a plate.
Any tomatoes that are not perfect – well the cows and chooks have them thrown over their fences every day like edible missiles.
At dinner time we quite decadently cut hug-sized slices of our favourite variety of the day for our plates. We only choose the really meaty center slice and we are so spoilt we throw the rest into the chook bucket. Our chins run with the juice. It is a feast.
So while we are in full swing I will introduce you to the Our Johns Four Favourites of 2012. These seeds were purchased online from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.
Purple Cherokee has been by far the best producer this year. Medium size fruit. Sweet and juicy, peels easily. Good sized plants. This is already on the list for next year. Top for yield.
Yellow Mortgage Lifter. Johns current favorite to eat with his dinner. It fruits mid season. Medium sized. Certainly the best tastiest yellow tomato he has grown.
Brandy Wine. Our Johns old favorite. My favorite for sauce. This tomato is a huge fruit from an enormous plant. You have to drop in boiling water before peeling though. Tough skinned. Ripens mid season. Average producers but good heavy fleshy fruit.
My favorite. This is the one I pan fry in butter every morning and eat with basil for my breakfast. It is a large tomato, good yield and ripens mid season. Holds its shape in salads. The one in the shot is a little unripe, when good and ripe the flesh is a lovely dark red. I use this one in the insalata.
Talking of mozarella and tomatoes reminds me of a recipe given to me by a lovely Italian woman when I was on the Amalfi coast. I will write it up for you tomorrow. I do not know its name but it is quite divine.
See you then
First the BAD NEWS. While fooling about with my newly extended lens yesterday I managed to scratch the lens. I just cannot believe I did that. A strong line was curved across every image I took yesterday. I cannot clean the mark away. Senior Son has put his thinking cap on but from now until I can find a replacement I will shoot knowing that I will be cropping about a third out of every image. The good news is that I did not actually cry.
And now more bad news. Daisy (my Ayrshire heifer) is NOT pregnant. My pursuit of making my own cheese from my own milk has hit a bump in the road. But all is not lost. The good news is that on Monday we will start a series of injections to bring her into heat. If all goes well she will calve in May. Which is a lovely month with lots of spring grass and not too hot. So fingers firmly crossed again.
Don’t you be giving me that look Miss Daisy! You are in the dog box madam.
Now where is my third crisis? Bad luck comes in threes you know (Another superstition!) But really such small problems I am having …
No you are all wrong. This is a butter mold. I found it in a little antique shop last night. It is a bit wonky but quite a find for me. I cannot make one of these. So next time I make butter I can squish the whey out with this thingy and it will be a nice shape too. Now all we need is a cow who gives creamy milk instead of dirty looks! I am so lucky to be able to get my fresh milk from the lady down the road until Daisy begins to feed the farm.
And the other good news is that this is the last of the bee shots until I take a really fantastic one. Their expressions never change!! What about a smile!? Maybe one of them scratched my lens in protest at having it pushed into their faces once too often. Poor girls.
AS well as taking a little honey from my bees, it is time to think about doing everything I can to ensure their survival through our brutal winters. My rule is two full supers of honey per hive by winter. Two hives are looking quite short so I have begun to supplement feed them already. I know it is early but they need a little help until the late summer flowers start to bloom.
The weak hive will never get up to par before winter. You will remember that we checked it for mites and disease on Tuesday. All clean. It will be combined with the Blog hive. The Blog Hive is roaring ahead very quickly increasing its numbers and storing away its honey. It is a calm strong hive that will be grateful for the extra hands I hope. We will use the newspaper method for the merger. Kind of ironic actually. Newspapers and mergers!
The weak hive appears queenless. They have gathered some honey which is good.
I could find no larvae in the hive at all. Weirdly I cannot see any queen cells either. Also it appears that the hive has more drones than usual. Which happens in the absence of a queen bee. The queen in the Blog Hive will have something to say about them I am sure.
OK, I talked to the weak hive telling them that it might be scary at first but I was sure they would make friends at their new condo and if they got bored waiting they could read the newspaper before they started eating it. Then I moved their super (the super is the box full of bees) closer to the Blog Hive. Then I took the TOP super off the Blog Hive, laid a sheet of newspaper over the top of the BOTTOM Blog super and its nosy bees. (They got the comic strips). I made a tiny slit in the paper with a knife. I positioned the Weak Hive super on top of the newspaper, then another sheet of newspaper on top of that, another slit and the second Blog Hive super returned to the top.
In two weeks I will go back and take a look. By then bees should have nibbled through the paper. Thereby slowly getting acquainted with the each other. Hopefully the new bees will be absorbed into their hive. The queen will have them smacked around the head a bit for being such bad housekeepers and then set them to work. The drones will be sent out to sit on rocks and sulk. Here it is all closed up again. I hope I have not started a war.
You can see the newspaper above and below the Weak hive.
No that is not a shot of my brain! Though my brain often feels a little green and soppy!!
Last night the new macro extension tubes for my old Nikon were delivered. Such excitement. I am a little girl with this stuff. I lined them up, (there are three) put them on and off the camera. Lined them up again and waited until morning. This morning I screwed the biggest looking one in between the lens and the body just like it said and went hunting!
Found a fly! Though I have to admit that it is not hard to find a fly. And the shot is kind of ordinary. Some of it is in focus. Just not the bit I expected. I have to think about depth of field a little more.
Then I saw the Tuberosa just coming out – rich in heady perfume. How to photograph a scent. Those beautiful crisp white waxy petals will be great! I took some time to set up the tri pod, (hate that thing, have to get a monopod), struggled with the focus, which was wandering in and out – and then not doing anything at all! What was going on? Were the connections awry? My settings wrong? Not enough light? Huffed and puffed and carried on, my language deteriorated, my knickers got in a knot. Then the camera stopped focussing at all, everything stopped! Damn new fangled things. This thing has wrecked my camera! Now I can’t get it off! It won’t come off!. And the camera is dead! This new tube thingy has upset the balance! It has killed my camera! How did I let Senior Son talk me into buying this damn thing!! … pause … Oh. The battery is dead. Oh, well then, that would explain it. Quick glance around. No-one saw. Only Thing 2, who has seen this kind of thing before.
Stand by. I am going out again. The light is brightening. The tomatoes are going to be neglected today. And I will see you tomorrow. I am off to shoot bees!
I love these things!
Sustainable sounds so similar to subsistence. (Please excuse the alliteration) Subsistence is hand to mouth, then the hand is empty. Sustainable involves the land and using your hands to feed your mouth while enriching the land to grow some more. Sustainable growing is by nature more upwardly mobile. Subsistence is hard to get above. Both involve a lot of hard work.
Sustainable should be fresh, healthy and thoughtful. Sustainable is creating a mobile cycle of fresh food and living in this one space. It is healthier because of its insulation and self-perpetuating systems. I struggle here because I do not like the word Sustainable. It does not describe what our personal goals are. There is more than an element of subsistence in sustainable. How do I describe it to you? What is the word?
Our goal is to grow almost everything we need right here where we live. All the food for ourselves and our animals. Raise a bit of cash to pay the taxes, the little electricity we need and the odd pair of high heels (and a new nightie, I tore mine this morning climbing through a fence.) This is self-sufficient isn’t it? We are cutting down the number of goods and services we bring onto the property. Thereby limiting the amount that gets taken off as waste. And forcing the re-use and extended use of what we already have. Most importantly we want to: Improve our lands. With the help of the cows and sheep, develop richer and more fertile soil. We want our families and friends to be welcome, relaxed and well fed with clean food. They can trust and rely on our food and our home. Until we get so old – that we die. Then the next generation will take up the heady mantle and do with it what they will. Isn’t that what it is all about really? What do we call that? Do we need to call it anything?
The word sustainable has become a marketing tool. It is a word we are being trained to recognise as describing safe, land friendly, green, organically grown food. It is a label that should help us choose the right goods to buy. It is a label we are being taught to recognise. But like the words healthy and green, that we encounter on a huge number of incredibly unhealthy supermarket items, it is becoming abused. These labels have become nebulous. We can no longer trust labels. Sometimes labels reflect political objectives.
Poor old Organic growing has become fraught with rules and regulations. If you see Certified Organic, buy it because it has become very difficult and expensive to gain this certification. It is ridiculously strict. Government intervention is leaving sticky fingers all over it. Lobbies and Big Business have ensured that Certified Organic is really really hard work. Monsanto is thought to be trying to eradicate Organic seeds. I still feel like I can trust Certified Organic as a product to consume. The growers who do not want the paperwork and endless inspections and directives from a nefarious government body, label themselves Organic, Organically Grown or plain Sustainable. Fair enough. I like these growers too. Myself I am leaning towards Self-Sufficient or Old Fashioned. Or just plain Bugger Off.
Old fashioned food. Old fashioned ways of producing it. All these old-fashioned systems result in a sustainable organically managed lifestyle. And I am my own boss. And Daisy is my closest neighbour. Who hates fences too. Is Old Fashioned the word I am looking for?
Old Fashioned-Refreshed. What do you think? In the twenties and thirties this was an old fashioned, diverse, sustainable (minus the word)working family farm. Everything was handcranked, dragged by a horse or using leverage, or pullies or was run by an old tractor. Wire and string was always saved. Old nails were straightened and stored. A couple more horses were still in the barn for emergencies. The attic was full of centuries of interesting stuff. Later the old car would rust into the weeds out the back, next to the old wagon, but only after it had been driven for years until it was plain old. Then all the reusable parts were ripped out and stored for ‘just in case’. A tiny windmill raised the water. The used water from the washing up was emptied onto the precious flower beds. There was a little electricity and a little gas for the car which left the garage on a very rare occasion.
I can work that hard.
So. Old fashioned aye? Well, then my next step is wean myself off frequent supermarket visits. Presently I go to a supermarket (forty minute drive) once every two weeks or so. (In my little VW that runs on recycled cooking oil.. what a hippie!!) It is easy not to shop often in the summer. I have fresh veges, fresh milk and a freezer full of meat. So I am going to change my supermarket visits to – once a month. My next shopping day is Friday. I think the trick is to have a really good list and to remember to take it shopping with you! I do not have a big kitchen or big pantry or reliable storage in the basement (it floods) so I am going to have to be clever. We will see how clever I have been when winter comes and all the gardens freeze!
This means that when we crush the grapes it will have to be by hand… I mean FEET!!
I woke up this morning to find that my internet connection was down. I was practically hyerventilating within seconds. Am I one of the addicted ones? Grimly I turned everything off. I reluctantly backed away from the keyboard and went for a longer walk than usual. Something is happening to the air out there.. clouds are building, maybe rain?. That would be great. Then I did some house work (Not too much, it is hard to get excited about housework.) Put bread in to rise. Sorted tomatoes for todays Summer Sauce. Hung the first load of washing out (I like hanging it out, it is the getting it IN that has always been my problem). Moved Mama and her Flerd to a new field. Then decided to check one of my hives for those wretched varroa mites. Fingers crossed as I have not had any yet.
The best way to pre-empt infestation by the mites is like everything in the organic world of growing, OBSERVATION, Prevention and Note Taking. Now, I cannot go and look into the eyes of every bee on my morning walk the way I do with stock. Though bees eyes are quite startling. But I can make notes about any unusual behaviour. I have not seen any deformed bees, neither have we had heavy unexplained deaths. No bad smells in there. But my notes tell me that this hive is not thriving. Maybe the mites are there. I think like most parasites there will always be a presence we just need to make sure the balance does not tip in their favour.
I slide a white sheet under the grill in the base (to catch the mites when they fall so I can count them) dust the bees with powdered sugar and wait a bit. I do not need to dust each frame as I am only looking for mites not treating for them, so I just pour the sugar along the tops of the frames then brush and knock it among the bees. Thereby limiting the disruption. The bees are noisy and agitated around their hives this morning which is another sign that a storm may be coming. Mama and her babies are quiet.
Now my internet is back on. I had such a long wait that I have even sliced some more tomatoes for the dehydrater. I will dry them then pack them into jars and rehydrate them with olive oil and garlic and basil. Then store in the refrigerator. I dislike the dehydrater because it is noisy and uses electricity (which we try not to depend on) but I LOVE Sun Dried Tomatoes. We cannot sun dry them here as there is too much humidity. So the next best thing is to pop them into the noisy energy guzzling horrid little plastic machine.
Now we are waiting for the bees to clean up the hive and each other thereby dislodging some mites. Oh I forgot to tell you, the Custard Squares I made for Sunday’s dinner were great. The pastry was a bit dull due to the heat probably. The flakiest bestest pastry is made in the winter when the kitchen is cold. I will link you to a lovely French site that I found, her Egg Custard recipe of so simple and very tasty. I made this custard with freshest milk and freshly gathered eggs. I use a little less sugar than she does. Next time I will use honey and see what happens.
We had the custard with lavender jelly that I made in the spring and home-made unsweetened yoghurt. And that was just the dessert! OK. It has been a few hours and still no sign at all of mites on the white card. So I have given that hive a tentative ‘all clear’ until next time. Though I will leave the white card in for 24 hours anyway.
I had better go and get the laundry off the line. It is starting to rain. YAY!
Earlier today I wrote a totally different post for you. But it was being difficult. It did not reflect how I feel today. So I took the camera to the barn. The day shifts out of gear in the barn. Stepping out of the high summer heat. The clamour quietens. It has five big doors and they are all wide open yet it still retains this nebulous dusky air. The barn has secrets. Enough words.
Where I was born and where I learnt to cook, in New Zealand, when we preserve our produce we call it Bottling and we “Put them Down.’ Here (US) we say “Put them up’ and call it Canning but both are in a glass jar with a sealed lid. Does this have something to do with being in different hemispheres. (Up/Down?) So, here (US), when I say, I am putting down some tomatoes today, I get a very funny look!! Was that a complicated thought?
Before we start the Summer Sauce. One of my Dear Readers left a quote for me in a comment last night and I would love to share it with you.
‘Cookery is not chemistry. It is an art. It requires instinct and taste rather than exact measurements’ Marcel Boulestin.
I LOVE THAT! I looked him up. This fellow was great. He had the whole Clark Gable moustache thing happening. He tried and failed at all kinds of things before he moved to the UK and discovered food and the restaurant business. And excelled. More importantly he wrote his way through each career change. He never gave up. I love his story. Great quote. Thank you.
The concept of summer sauce was developed through my much acclaimed laziness when it comes to cooking and if I cannot memorise a recipe I seldom use it again. I love to be IN the garden. So this recipe that really is not a recipe starts in your garden or farmers market.
Step 1. Take a very large basket and proceed to walk about the vegetables and pick whatever is ready. I will pick lots of tomatoes, a few zuchinni (courgette) , egg-plant (aubergine), couple of leaves of swiss chard (silverbeet), a fennel bulb and sometimes potatoes and always onions and garlic. Whatever you have in the garden that takes your fancy with the majority of your basket holding tomatoes.
Step 2. Pick whatever herb you love the most. I pick handfuls of basil, thyme and rosemary. A little celeriac. Sometimes dill.
Step 3. If you like it spicy. Pick a chilli or two. Our John has a little Thai Chilli that I pick, deseed and pop in. Sometimes a jalapeno. Sometimes a capsicum (sweet pepper).
Step 4. BIG POT. Wash Core and chop the tomatoes. You can peel the tomatoes if you want to. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. I usually peel the tough skins off the really big ones and just chop and chuck the rest in. Roughly chop up the rest of your vegetables. Onions and garlic and into the pot. A little salt. Boil, Bubble, Toil and Trouble, etc, until soft and well cooked.
Step 5. BLEND and seal into your beautiful shiny jars. Sometimes I blend it all, especially if I have been lazy enough NOT to peel the tomatoes. Sometimes I blend half and return to the pot. Sometimes I don’t blend at all. Just be very careful blending a hot tomato mixture, just little bits at a time. Don’t burn yourself. I like it a little chunky so I only pulse once or twice.
Step 6. The sealed jars go into a hot water bath and boil for about 30 minutes OR the safer option: into plastic containers and freeze. (I have people collecting their cottage cheese containers for me all winter and I use these). I bottle some and freeze some.
When you open a Jar of this during the winter, the scents of summer will float into the kitchen with you. This is why I call it Summer Sauce. It brings the summer into the winter kitchen!.
If the scent is sour or the jar lid hisses on opening. Or you are in any way suspicious of the contents. Throw away. Botulism is real. It goes without saying that you will sterilise everything when you are canning/bottling. We don’t want any nasties.
I will be making a pot full of this every day until I cannot bear it anymore. And the delightful thing is that every batch smells and tastes slightly different because my ingredients and herbs change their intensity and availability every day. Date each jar or container. It is fun to know when you gathered the sauce ingredients.
Our John had the audacity to suggest that my gardening shoes might be past their best. What is he thinking.( Splutter, splutter.) I have only just got them comfy!! Plenty of wear left in these babies!
I am cooking dinner for some friends this evening. I am going to make custard squares for dessert. Or try to. If they work I will share them with you tomorrow. So while you are at the market, pick up a dozen fresh eggs as well. We will be making custard!