Pure Butchery or a Winter’s Tale

In winter I do my food growing in the barn, with nothing growing in the garden and only pruning in the orchard. I’m making bacon, salami and prosciutto (Italian style ham) with parts of our homekilled pigs. Though not this year as we had no pigs. After a hectic start we soon had bacon brining in a barrel and hams dry-curing in the spare fridge. Home-cured bacon is a simple and fun way to make or grow more of what you eat. Our chef son adds coffee to the cure, which is basically sugar and spice.

Prosciutto is another matter. Several weeks salting, then each ham takes months to age and air-dry. The meat is hung in a cool dry airy place (the barn). Examined for unwelcome mould (anything that isn’t white and powdery) any appearing is wiped off with vinegar-soaked cloths. Like the guru at River Cottage I rub them with acidophilous powder (the probiotic in yogurt) before they’re hung. This creates a slightly acid environment, helping proper ageing. At Christmas we discover if this care has produced the expensive delight we anticipate.

Salami gives quicker results. Four weeks after stuffing the skins, the beer sticks are already delicious. Full size ones take a little longer. They are less simple than hams though, soon after we hung them suspicious moulds appeared. Vinegar removed them for a while, but they returned. Then we spotted that Hugh F-W doesn’t cover salami. He is less afraid of flies and infection, but we realised that winter temperatures (keeping our garden from growing) also keep flies away. Uncovered they dried faster with no bad moulds. We’ve tried the “plain” beersticks, delicious, next the various flavours of pure pork ones…

When to plant broad beans

When should you plant broad beans? In winter few insects pollinate the flowers, yet we hope for early beans. Too early or late and the crop is small. Dates are different in different places.

John & Jenny are sure that later planting is the best approach, giving bigger, more certain crops. But I love broad beans (Barbara doesn’t, as a child she was given leathery old beans, see below for a secret weapon for permission to plant lots 🙂 so I risked some early planting, so long ago that despite frost in May they have flowers already… now to see if they’ll set… of course I plan to have my cake and eat it too, I’ve two thirds of a packet to plant later as well!

Other over-wintering veges have similar issues. Cabbages put in too late won’t be ready till late spring. Beetroot too soon will be past their best before the winter shortage. Timing is crucial, but up Pyes Pa Rd we know the difference a few Kms makes (or rather a few tens of meters higher above sea level). In spring, we watch the blossom spread slowly up the road. So experiment to gauge what works at your place, and talk to others to work out the best strategy. None of us have it right, but we can help each other by sharing experiences, as well as seedings (last month meeting, as well as veges, Mark & Esme offered us young peach trees 🙂

The secret to convert non-broad-bean-lovers? Just cook them and zap them up into a sort of hummus with lemon, oil and herbs. Broad bean dip is really delicious 🙂

Chocolate Chantilly

The simplest (just two ingredients), most sophisticated (think Michelin Starred Restaurants), dessert possible, Chocolate Chantilly is a contradiction in terms.

This ‘chantilly’ is like a soft, glossy, smooth chocolate mousse. It’s called a ‘chantilly’ though no cream is used, and the flavour can be changed according to the liquid added, or by adding flavourings. I have used orange juice and coffee but other liquids/flavours that go with dark chocolate should work just as well.

It is the simplest and most sophisticated chocolate dessert imaginable, just chocolate and water (or some other aqueous liquid).

Being a foam the flavour is enhanced and magnified, so for me Whittaker’s Dark Ghana is too sweet, and needs to be cut, or better perhaps I need to find a source of better quality chocolate. Why do Kiwis like their sweets so sickly sweet?

The ratio of water to chocolate may vary with different chocolates, liquids, or even the weather, but the mix can always be rescued by reheating (see below) and the ratio adjusted.

Ingredients (serves two or three)

  • 100g dark (bittersweet) chocolate, with a minimum 50 percent cocoa chopped
  • 33 to 100g water (or other liquid, fruit juice, coffee…)
  • decoration e.g. whipped cream, passion fruit seeds, violet flower…

Instructions

Combine the chocolate and liquid in a bowl place in a saucepan water bath, have another bowl with ice and water handy.

Heat and stir until the chocolate has melted and mixes with the liquid (it will be glossy and smooth like a ganash made with water instead of cream).

The video is cut in several places but gives an idea of when the whipping is ‘done’.

Put in the ice water bath and whisk after a couple of minutes, often quite quickly, the chocolate will start to firm up like whipped-cream. Keep whisking until fairly stiff peaks form.

If grains form reheat and start again, if it is too thin add chocolate, if too firm add liquid.

Storing Pumpkins (and other produce)

When talking about storing produce. We face several enemies, and they need different tactics:

Temperature: too hot and ripening will turn to rot, yet if we live high enough frost can also be a problem. A garage or shed, that does not get too much sun on a hot day is good. My granddad used his roofspace, but in the Bay that probably gets too hot even in winter. Remember airflow is needed, so don’t use unventilated plastic.

Fungi and mildew: damp brings these on, so keep things dry, but keeping the produce from touching helps slow the spread. Traditionally straw was used to separate and keep dry, though some swear by newspaper.

Possums, rats and mice: These pests love pumpkin, and absolutely adore apples. Yet, since still air encourages rot, keeping them out may conflict with the need for airflow. So hanging a sack from rafters is good, and mesh or netting cages also stop pests but allow air.

One of our group suggested washing pumpkins in water with a little Janola (1.5tsp/bucket) to kill spores that may cause problems (the stalk of pumpkins is especially vulnerable to such attacks).

Asking around more widely about storing potatoes, somebody suggested a variant of the British “clamp” or earth covered pile, ideal for lazy gardeners like me. Leave the potatoes in the ground till you need them, but cover the soil with straw and tarpaulin or old roofing sheets. The straw keeps the soil cool, the tarpaulin or whatever keeps it dry, and until they are cooked potatoes are indigestible to four-legged pests. As a bonus the ground will be in perfect shape for some manure and a spring planting.

Teaching my grandmothers how to peel eggs

There are lots of ‘old wives tales’ about how to peel eggs. Preparing a boiled egg seems like one of those tasks that is so simple anyone can do it. Yet there are a couple of complications.

The easiest to resolve is how long to boil, less than about 5 minutes (depending on egg size) and the yolk is too soft, more than about 8 minutes and the yolk gets an unsightly black coating (sulphur from the white reacts with iron from the yolk to give ferrous sulphite). 1 NB. Americans see colour differently and the coating is called ‘green’ there — I have no idea if this is related to Green Eggs and Ham.

The most complex is how to peel. Getting the shell off the egg sounds easy, yet the membrane seems to stick to both shell and egg, resulting over the years in hundreds of mangled and so manky-looking eggs. My grandmothers’ methods of making this easier involved shocking the eggs in icy water once they are boiled, and for one of them also by putting the cold egg direct into vigorously boiling water at the start (a double shock). This shocking system works (a bit). It seems t work best if the eggs are peeled under the cold water as soon as possible after shocking them — but it is by no means always successful (cue dozens more manky hard boiled disasters).

Enter molecular gastronomy. Or at least the science of cooking. On a website that I failed to bookmark, and so can no longer find, while looking for something completely different, I found a discussion of how to cook eggs to be easy to peel. This involves making the membrane less ‘sticky’. The answer (after appropriate scientific theory and experiment) 2 Theirs not mine. is to knock a dint in the round end of the egg before putting it in the water to cook. This allows water to reach and moisten the membrane.

The dint is made by hitting the egg (surprisingly hard, it took me several goes each harder than the previous attempt at first) on a hard rounded surface — the top of a rolling pin or the back of a spoon (held firmly onto the edge of the bench). The dint on the right in the photo is too vigorous and risks tearing the membrane, the one on the left is as slight as will work, but risks being invisible! 3 Both eggs worked fine.

After adding this to my grandmothers’ shocking approach I have yet to suffer a peeling fail!

Notes   [ + ]

1. NB. Americans see colour differently and the coating is called ‘green’ there — I have no idea if this is related to Green Eggs and Ham.
2. Theirs not mine.
3. Both eggs worked fine.

Strange fruits and varied veges

TV chefs and food columnists use veges I can’t find in the shops. Shops can only sell what growers grow. And growers grow what they are sure will sell…

Growing your own gives you a choice. As well as tried and true varieties, most vege plots or home orchards have a few fruits that are strangers to the supermarket, and veges more varied than the shop stocks.

There are several benefits to growing these “unusual” crops:

Cost: when you find fresh figs they’re expensive, I envy the people with flourishing fig trees, hopefully ours will start to crop next year…

Taste: our Bramley apple tree is also small, but we got a couple of apple pies from this old cooking variety. Their taste (with plenty of sugar, as they’re “tart”) is richer and deeper than pies made with Granny Smiths.

More productive: Esme mentioned a long necked courgette that produced big crops. I wonder if she’s saved some seed?

Being trendy: Cavolo Nero, a sort of bluish Italian kale was food columns a couple of years ago, as tasting better than ordinary kale. Barbara didn’t like kale, but loves these tasty fresh leaves steamed and salted then drizzled with olive oil or butter.

Looking good: Artichokes could fit any of the categories above, expensive, delicious (if you like them, not everyone does), perennially trendy, but often grown for the impressive giant grey-green thistle leaves.

All the examples I’ve mentioned are easy to grow, and flourish round here. What strange fruits or varied veges would you add to the list? We are now planting some Radicchio (Italian chicory) seedlings that Jenny gave us, I wonder how you eat Radicchio?

Troll Cream

If you make mayonnaise or other yolk-based sauces you will always have a pot (or more) of egg whites languishing in the fridge. Yet egg whites are a fascinating and fun ingredient.

More than meringues

Of course they can make meringues and meringues are versatile accompaniments to many desert dishes. Yet a few basic properties of egg whites make them much more versatile.

When whipped they form quite stable foams. The more they are whipped the more stable (since the air bubbles get smaller). The more water is added (within reason) 1 Reason here being defined as: if you get greedy eventually you reach a limit case and the whole thing collapses. the greater the volume of the foam.

Sugar (by increasing the viscosity of the water) helps stabilise the foam.

When heated the proteins in egg white coagulate, firming the foam.

Troll Cream

This Scandinavian dessert uses some of these properties. It is dead simple, just whip egg white, add fruit juice or syrup and whip some more. Add sugar as needed for taste (and to stabilise) et voilà, Troll Cream!

Enter the Vauquelin

Martin Lersch, Norewegian molecular gastronome, uses the last of these characteristics to produce a variant of the Scandinavian ‘Troll Cream” that is like a cross between a Kiwi pavlova and a mousse. He names it in honour of French chemist Louis Nicolas Vauquelin.

Just make a Troll Cream, spoon the mix onto greaseproof paper and heat in a microwave for about 8-10 seconds. The timing is crucial as can be seen from the photo above. In our microwave the Vauquelin on the left had 10 seconds and is nicely done while the one on the right had 20 and has collapsed.

I used Blackcurrant syrup for the fruit, but the taste is (of course) only as good as the fruit, next time I will try something more sophisticated.

Baked Vauquelin

Vauquelin can naturally be baked (like meringues) but if the temperature is too high they will lose their colour as the sugar caramelises. One needs a temperature only a little above 100⁰C to dry them without caramelising the sugar. This is hardly worth the effort.

 

Notes   [ + ]

1. Reason here being defined as: if you get greedy eventually you reach a limit case and the whole thing collapses.

65⁰ for the perfect egg?

Can you cook a perfect egg?

Can you cook an egg? It is harder than one thinks to cook a (near) perfect egg. The film Julie and Julia that we are currently enjoying makes the point firmly, to learn cookery one starts at the beginning, cooking eggs.

This eggs / 65⁰ eggs

For some reason, although we have had the sous vide circulator for a while now, and use it frequently when cooking meat, I have not before tried the famous 65⁰ egg. It should probably be called the ‘This Egg’, or «Œufs This» since this temperature is the result of work by French molecular gastronome Hervé This.

So for today’s experiment I am making myself a couple of 65⁰ eggs. The sous vide is the ideal way to do this, avoiding the terrible error of 64⁰ eggs.

During lunch at a local bistro, I notice a 65-degree-Celsius egg on the menu, served on a fricassée de girolles. As the plate is set down, This says: “That’s not a 65-degree egg. It’s a 64-degree egg.” The yolk is soft, and the egg white, while completely opaque, is so delicately jelled and fragile that it breaks apart slightly when it is plated. “Eh, oui,” the chef sighs; he is having des ennuis regulating the heat of his stove.  (Quoted from Discovery)

According to This’ research at 65⁰ one gets soft creamy yet set whites and a soft not quite runny yolk, pretty much how I like my eggs. For Barbara I may have to do some 67⁰ eggs, but today is about me 🙂

As the featured image shows, my 65⁰ egg is as described, the whites are opaque (though only just) and are indeed creamy, and as promised a ‘revelation’. The yolks, however, are almost set, and so for me less than exciting.

The quest for my ‘perfect egg’ continues…

This only cooks his eggs a short while, that might be the answer, but the Chef Steps egg calculator suggests that the perfect egg for me with a pretty firm white and yet pretty runny yolk would use 75⁰ for 15 mins or, after 12 mins ice and reheat… I may try that next week.

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PS, these This Eggs were topped with a lemmony mustard mayonnaise, but does anyone know a quick easy foolproof way to make hollandaise?

Unsustainable Backyards

When it all comes together it’s a dream. Lettuce and basil, artichokes and snow peas, beetroot and figs… well not together in the one dish in each case, but you get the picture: good fresh food that tastes way better than tired shop bought produce. When things work well that’s what it is like, weeds controlled by a thick mat of straw, watering with a hose when the rain refuses to arrive on schedule, rabbits restrained by a chicken wire fence, and possums down the offal pit after a quick humane death in the Timm’s trap.

That’s when things work well… most years though, they don’t. In spring and early summer 2011-12 we were putting the finishing touches to my book on God as mother in the Bible and Christian worship, in 2012-13 we were teaching in Sri Lanka, in 2013-14 it was lectures in the Philippines, in 2014-15 we went to the UK for mum’s funeral, in 2017-18 it was alternating storms and drought… (I can’t remember my excuse for 2016-17, sorry!) Every year something crops up, and my crops either bolt, die of thirst, or get eaten by predators. My backyard is unsustainable, unless I am there in those crucial weeks to sustain it.

Of course there is another sense in which backyards can be unsustainable. The garden centres have shelves full of specialist weedkillers, guaranteed (or at least claimed) to kill only undesirable plants and let your veges/flowers/lawn flourish – but many of which operate “systemically” and kill the bees we need to pollinate the cherries we grow for the possums to steal. More shelves of chemical fertilisers, that promote big healthy veges, but seep away into the streams and also promote invasive algal and plant growth that starves fish and crustaceans of the oxygen they need.

Both kinds of unsustainable need tackling… now, what in my diary for next spring?

Town and country growing

Living in town is like living on another planet! Fruit and vege growing faces different pests and problems. In town the main pests are insects, and poor soil quality is the commonest problem.

Our main pests have four-legs, not six. Rabbits devour seedlings like locusts in Egypt, they also strip the bark from young trees. Possums not only decimate bush (compare the lush forest filled with birdsong at Otanewainuku, with bush where the possums are less well controlled), overnight they can strip our fruit trees of a not-yet ripe crop. And, when sheep, cattle or pigs (yours or your neighbours) get into the garden…

Our friends Jenny and Perry live on a hundred acres in Oropi. They have Red Devon cattle, some sheep from an Ag Research breeding program (our new ram comes from their flock, like our last one who produced ‘too many’ twins), and some cute cross-breed pigs. They are farmers from way back, and well-used to country living. They are diversifying into a variety of animals to feed themselves now. They are also starting a beautiful vege patch. The raised beds are arranged in concentric circles bordered by macrocarpa sleepers milled from trees at their previous place. The day we visited things were less orderly than they’d planned – the piglets got into the vege garden! They have also lost hundreds of seedling natives they planted as a shelter belt. Rabbits have decimated them, they have been bad this year despite everyone’s efforts to control them.

The pests are different in the country, and we deal with them differently, instead of sprays and powders, we use good fences, possum traps and guns… For a hobby I read and animate Beatrix Potter stories, but I never thought I’d become Mr. MacGregor!