Sunday, May 31, 2009

Break of Season!

Monday May 18th, I spent the day in the garden. It seemed appropriate as it was the day the moon was right for us to make our Bio Dynamic preparations. The weather had been lovely, warm and sunny. I took photos of our magnificent tree dahlia towering over Amita, who is over 6 foot. Its blooming usually heralds the first storms and we only get to appreciate the lovely petals scattered on the ground. For over a fortnight it had been spectacular.

As we began to stir, the clouds began to thicken. There was much discussion about how the 500 prep works better on damp soil and how it has been observed it often rains at just the right time. More garden magic at work! Enjoying the novelty of refreshing splats on our bare skin, it was a while before we sought shelter.

Over the next 3 days the rain increased until a big storm blew in, unusually, from the north and dumped over an inch of rain. The next morning we awoke to a cool, morning, the earth exhaling a huge welcoming sigh to mark the beginning of the rain, the plants glistening proud and upright, dust-free.There weren't any pink petals scattered on the ground, the dahlia had snapped off near the ground and fallen into the neighbours garden. Ugly broken stumps remained.

We will miss the dahlia flowers as much as we welcome the rain. We are heading towards the winter solstice, a good time to shed the old and embrace the new, knowing we are travelling back into the light. In the week since, the bromeliads have begun to flower and the spring bulbs have to poke their heads up, we have trimmed the tree dahlia, she'll be back - just like the sun!.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Green Ones and Other Stuff !

Okay, this is my take on pickling olives. . .

We have just opened the last of the olives from 2007. I don’t use vinegar at all but stop the process at the brining stage and store them like that. I can’t be bothered with floating eggs and other witchery but use a 10% solution of brine in boiled and cooled rainwater. I do the whole process in the jars in which I will store them so the chance of bruising is less. I usually get 1 kg jars, fill them to the brim and screw the lid down between rinsings. I have never kept my olives in the dark, that’s why they are always a little pale coloured.

When I come to use the olives I rinse them and discard any that are bruised or feel a little slimy. Often a raft of slime will develop beneath the oil ( it’s a bit like “Mother of vinegar” ) and that is rinsed away too. I then either put them in fresh brine or marinade them in olive oil with herbs and garlic, always only making a small jar at a time and storing them in the refrigerator.

I know that there are issues around the growth of bacteria in olives, but the oil on top is designed to keep out air which seems to prevent anything too nasty from happening. I haven’t killed anyone yet. The best thing to do is throw anything away that seems at all suspicious, smells odd or fizzes when you take the lid off. Throw these in the compost and every worm for miles will come visiting.

You need to separate green olives from black

The Green Ones…

Nerys floats eggs and I stir up messes…we make a good working team, I am always ready to do the dirty jobs!

Wood Ash Method

Commercial olives are processed really quickly using a 3% solution of caustic soda. They keep their lovely colours and crunch. The CWA Cookbook will show you how to do this if you are interested in playing with dangerous substances, then eating them. Wood ash also creates lye in a much more gentle form. Green olives can be processed by rinsing alone but they do take a lot longer than the black ones and we don’t all have water to waste (rinse your olives onto plants, they love it.)

Sieve your ash on a day with out wind to remove lumps then mix to a runny paste with water and mix in your olives. Wear gloves if you have sensitive hands. I don’t and stir it with bare hands to help remove ground-in garden grime. Stir very gently each day, don’t use a spoon or you will bruise the olives.

When they have changed from bright green to khaki, they are ready to rinse and brine. These olives don’t keep as long as the rinsed ones, so don’t leave them more than two months. They may still look good but turn to mush when you touch them… definitely NOT for eating!

Salt Curing

In the drier Mediterranean areas where water is scarce, olives are preserved by salting.
I first came across this method in a book about Sufi masters and just had to try it.

This is lazy man’s olive preserving. Simply mix your olives with an equal weight of cooking salt and place half fill an old pillow case or flour bag. Tie the opening shut and hang in the shade. The olives will gradually become tiny, wrinkled little prunes. You simply reconstitute them in warm water. They have a delicious smokey taste. Be warned, this process can take a few months so if you have wet winters after harvest, you need to hang them in doors so they don’t absorb moisture from the air. Put a container beneath them in case they drip.

I did a variation of this last year by storing my already soaked and rinsed olives in a 50% salt and lemon juice solution. They have become wrinkled and taste too salty to eat with out rinsing but have a delicious flavour.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Preserving Your Black Treasures

Ready for eating

I pickled eggplant today and put a recipe and photo on our other blog and today it's the turn of olives that are coming up to Kalbarri from Perth as I write.

My first childhood memory of olives was of a jar that lived for months in the refrigerator gradually growing a white scummy film over the top of the salty liquid inside it. The olives in the jar were a browny-green and filled with a rather unpleasantly slimy and to me, mysterious red vegetable matter. The jar and its contents were eventually thrown out and replaced at Christmas or whenever there seemed to be an occasion where a little sophistication was called for. Olive oil was also an enigma to me—the robust, earthy flavour seemingly at odds with rather bland British cooking.

A few years later I became friendly with an Italian restaurateur and his team of Spanish and Italian chefs and waiters. I also met Signor Bertolli who introduced me to Chianti--without which no meal of Spaghetti Bolognese is complete. These Mediterranean men undertook my education with enthusiasm—introducing me to all the wondrous varieties of prepared olives and to the subtleties of the oil from the dark, heavily perfumed and flavoured virgin oil to the light, golden oil that carries the memory of the warm sun.

Olives straight off the tree are hard and bitter. Curing is what removes the bitterness. Olives can be preserved green or black. A black olive is a ripe olive. Take care not to bruise the olives while collecting them or they will spoil.
There are many ways to preserve olives but the following are two that I have tried successfully.

Method One

Soaking the olives
1. Make two cuts in each olive running from top to bottom and equidistant or prick them with a fork---both work well and allow the water to penetrate the fruit and help to release the bitter juices.
2. Fill your containers (glass, plastic, earthenware or steel not aluminium as it will react) ¾ full with olives and fill to the top with water. Use something to ensure that the olives stay submerged, this can be a plate, a plastic bag containing water or anything else you may devise.
3. Cover the containers to exclude light and leave them in a very obvious place in the kitchen, as it’s important that the water be changed daily. If the weather is very hot you can add a little salt to the water after the first week to help to avoid bacterial spoilage.
4. The above procedure will need to be done for anything up to two weeks but after 8-10 days begin to test the olives by biting gently to test for bitterness and when it feels right then you can proceed to the next stage.

Brining the Olives
When you have determined that the olives are ready you will need to sterilise some large glass jars and prepare the brine.
1. About 1 cup (250g) of cooking salt to 8 cups (2 litres) of water is probably about right but the other way of determining the salinity is to half fill a bucket with water (or judge how much you will need) and place an egg in the water. Begin to add salt a cup at a time. Stirring to dissolve. When enough salt has been added the egg will pop to the top and float. Make sure that the salt is thoroughly dissolved before adding the drained and rinsed olives.
2. Three-quarter fill the jars with olives, pour in brine to 2cm above the olives and finish with 2cm olive oil to exclude air.
3. Cover with well fitting lids and put the jars in a cool dark place. The longer the olives stay in the brine (6 months or more) the better they will be but you can move to the next stage after 8 weeks if you like.

Final Stage
1. Rinse the olives well, put back into the jars filling them only ¾ full.
Make a mixture of ¼ cup coarse salt, 4 cups water and 4 cups of malt vinegar (you will obviously need to adjust these amounts depending on the quantity of olives you are preparing).
2. Add a few crushed cloves of garlic if liked and pour the liquid over the olives.
3. Finish by topping up with olive oil, fastening down with tight fitting lids and leaving in a cool dark place where they will keep for about 12 months but may be used when you can’t bear to wait any longer!

Method Two
This uses less water as the olives aren’t rinsed each day.
1. Make cuts in each olive running from top to bottom and equidistant or bruise them gently with a rolling pin or prick them with a fork---all work well and allow the water to penetrate the fruit and help to release the bitter juices.
2. Place fruit in a big glass jar and cover with three cups brine solution made of ½ cup of cooking salt to 4 cups of water.
3. Pour a light film of cooking oil over the surface of the brine. Cover with a close fitting lid. Store in cool dark place for 2- 3 months testing occasionally for bitterness and when it tastes right then you can proceed to the next stage. Rinse the olives well, put back into the jars filling them only ¾ full.
4. Make a less salty mixture of ¼ cup coarse salt, 4 cups water and 4 cups of malt vinegar (you will obviously need to adjust these amounts depending on the quantity of olives you are preparing).
5. Add a few crushed cloves of garlic if liked and pour the liquid over the olives.
6. Finish by topping up with olive oil, fastening down with tight fitting lids and leaving in a cool dark place where they will keep for about 12 months.
7. If they are too salty for your taste take just as many as you will eat in a couple of weeks, drain off the brine and fill the jar with cold water. Refrigerate for 24 hours. If after this time they are still too salty fill the bottles with hot water and refrigerate again for 24 hours.

Now for the Yummy bit
Once the saltiness is to your taste you can use a marinade to add extra flavour. The marinated olives are ready for use after a few days and are good for up to a month.

Lemon and Thyme Marinated Black Olives
Use a vegetable peeler to remove thin strips of just the yellow part or zest of the lemon peel. The flavour of this appetiser improves over a couple of days so don't be tempted to rush the marinating time.
Orange peel may be substituted for lemon peel if liked.

500g brine-cured black olives
4 pieces [each 1 x 4cm] lemon zest, cut into long thin strips
6x1cm sprigs fresh thyme
¼ tsp ground coriander seed
2 cloves garlic, bruised or thinly sliced, not crushed
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup extra light olive oil

In a container with a tight fitting lid combine the olives, lemon zest, thyme, garlic, pepper and olive oil. Cover tightly and shake container vigorously. Marinate in the refrigerator at least 2 days, stirring contents occasionally, before serving. Serve at room temperature.

The following photos are of green olives being soaked in wood ash water (lye) to leach out the bitterness. Nirala is very adventurous in her food preparation!

I haven't ever preserved green olives so I might leave it to her to add another entry on preservation of green olives.

Green olives in wood ash solution. On the right are the same olives after settling...the remnants of the sieved ash are in the strainer.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Green Gold in the Bank

In autumn, after the grapes come the olives. One weekend a year we join a group of vineyard workers and their friends in a secluded valley near the coast. Hidden amongst the vines is an orchard of 100 olive trees.

People begin to arrive in two’s and threes as the sun peeks over the hill. Long ribbons of hessian are laid under the trees, ladders set up for those who like to climb and picnic baskets collect on the ute that holds the olive bins.

Laughter and gossip soon begin to filter through the trees to the accompaniment of the plinging music of the olives as they strike the ladders. Picking olives is a little like milking a cow, each branch stripped from top to bottom. European men have a saying: ”A woman, a donkey and an olive tree, the more you beat them, the better they be.” I don’t subscribe to that myself, but some of the men do use plastic olive rakes with wide tines.

There is a delightful sense of community as groups form and reform as the hessian is lifted, the olives poured into crates and we move from tree to tree. The children help with the lower branches and chase the dogs up and down the rows. Morning tea brings us all together to sprawl on the grass and discuss the merits of this year’s crop.

The owner of the orchard receives a tithe of 10% of the oil produced and we earn oil on a pro rata basis for the hours worked and pay a few dollars for pressing and bottling.

It is a gentle activity, unchanged since olives were first eaten. There is a great sense of satisfaction in knowing that in one lovely morning we have picked enough olives for oil and pickling to last us the year and saved a crop that would have been otherwise left for the birds to eat.

Monday, May 11, 2009 it so difficult?

Walking on the river bank this evening, listening to the ocean beating on the reef and watching the sun's last molten rays blazing into the clouds I it so difficult?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Easy for You....

In a box in the loft I have an old blue exercise book of English essays I wrote when I was twelve. I keep it to remind me of the passion I felt when I wrote them and the excitement I felt at being praised for them by Anthony Horsefall, the most inspirational, good looking soccer playing English teacher a girl could wish for!

I have always known that writing was something I wanted and needed to do as part of my life’s journey but I wrote very little except journal entries whilst on holidays and essays for assignments. I felt that I never had anything to write about.

Last year, I was asked to contribute recipes and articles to a food website. Days later, Nerys suggested we collaborate on ‘Easy’. I spent the winter in a frenzy of cooking and writing, rediscovering the passion and excitement of that twelve year old. What I also discovered was a validation of my life experience so far. The writing flows easily, I suspect because its content is a reflection of a huge part of who I am.

Nerys’ amazing drive and enthusiasm that she brings to everything she does has again pushed me into new learning curves and given me more confidence in being able to achieve the impossible. She has provided much of the inspiration for my life long learning. With out her I would still be wondering what to write about instead of getting on with it and this book would never have been born.

This slim little tome is surprisingly heavy for its size. I am glad of that. There is something so satisfying in holding a hard copy and a pride in seeing your name on the cover. No time to be smug though, we now have the challenge of selling this one and getting on with the next!

Click on the pictures of the book in the sidebar or our potions to pesto website link for details on how to purchase the paper back or the E book. Anthony, if you are still around somewhere in Hertfordshire, your copy is gratis.