Beasties

Ah, Summer! At last it’s arrived – as I sit watching the rain battering against the windows.
The long, warm, evenings (after the rain has gone) spent sitting on the terrace can, however, be quite uncomfortable – and I’m not just talking about the high temperatures we get here. Mosquitoes. Mozzies/flying teeth/bichos – call them what you will, they can be a real nuisance. There are many insect repellents available, but I have yet to find one that doesn’t smell awful and, once applied, doesn’t leave a foul taste in your mouth (let’s face it, once you’ve applied it, you’re still going to end up with it on your fingers and, therefore, on everything that you eat). It is also the contents of such products that trouble me. Whilst I appreciate that insects are annoying and can leave nasty bites, I don’t think that poisoning them is the best option. They have many natural predators: bats, birds and geckos – to name but a few. Is it right that we are polluting their food? A couple of years ago I found a recipe for a ‘natural’ repellent on the internet that is both easy to make, and not as damaging to the environment as many products that you can buy.
What you’ll need:
12 cloves
100 ml alcohol (the kind you buy in the chemist – not gin!!)
200 ml baby oil
a plastic pot
a spray bottle (I keep & recycle such items)

What you need to do:
Place the cloves in the plastic pot, add the alcohol and cover. Shake/agitate the pot 2-3 times a day for a week, then remove and discard the cloves and put the alcohol solution in the spray bottle. Pour the baby oil into the bottle and shake.
I have been using this for quite some time with good results. It may not deter all the bug-life, but it has substantially reduced the amount of bites that I get. It also doesn’t smell or taste as foul as the shop-bought products.
Things to bear in mind:
It contains oil – Please take care when applying, especially on tiled floors.
It may not work for you.
Do not use if you think you may be allergic to any of the ingredients used.
I do still suffer the occasional bite. When I do, I apply some neat alcohol with a paper towel to the bite. Yes, it stings, but it stops the bite from itching and leaves less of a mark.
Do you have any home remedies? Let me know about them in the comments section.

This post was inspired by a Facebook status from a fellow expat, also living in Extremadura, who was suffering from mozzie bites. You can follow Tanya’s adventures on her new blog: Life in the Extreme – pop over & say “Hi” – tell her I sent you!

CSI: Extremadura

That’s Cherry Spatter Indicator, by the way, nothing to do with crime scenes; although you must admit, the photos would seem to indicate the latter. Cherry season is in full swing all over Spain and although I adore all varieties of this delicious fruit, I’m always going to ‘big-up’ anything that is local to this region – especially the Picota Cherry. I’ve already posted one or two recipes using these cherries – here’s another:
Cherry Jam
What you’ll definitely need:
A very large saucepan (if you have a preserving pan, better)
Scales
1.8 kg (4 lb) cherries – washed, halved and stoned (I was using Picotas)
juice of 3 lemons
1.4 kg (3 lb) sugar
knob of butter (optional)
What I recommend you’ll need: coveralls, latex gloves, eye protection.
What you’ll probably also need: bleach, white paint.

Most of the spatter takes place when the cherries are being stoned. If you want to reduce the amount of mess created, you can always use a cherry stoner or a sharp knife to half the fruit and remove the stones. I (naturally) cause the maximum amount of mess and chaos by halving the cherries and removing the stones with my thumb nail.
Put the cherries and lemon juice in the pan and simmer, very gently, for about 45 minutes – until the fruit is really soft. Stir from time to time to prevent the fruit sticking to the bottom of the pan. 45 minutes is ample time to wipe the walls with bleach and apply a first coat of paint.

When the fruit is really soft, remove from the heat and add the sugar, stirring until it is all dissolved. Add the knob of butter (if you want). Return the pan to the heat and bring to the boil. Boil rapidly for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently. 30 minutes? Time for a second coat of paint, if you ask me!

Test for a set* and, when setting point is reached, take the pan off the heat and remove any scum with a slotted spoon. Leave to stand for 15 minutes before potting and covering. 15 minutes should be plenty of time to get a final coat of paint on the wall – thus removing all evidence of CSI.
Yield: 2.3 kg (5 lb) – Cherries are low in pectin which means that this jam will only have a light set.


I have, so far, adapted this recipe to include either:
(1) 25 g (1 oz) grated root ginger added at the start – because ginger is good with everything, right?
or
(2)  2 bird-eye chilies, finely chopped (with seeds), at the start – tastes as good as it sounds
or
(3) 75 ml (5 tbsp) cherry brandy stirred in just before potting gives it a little extra bite.
Any other suggestions are, as always, gratefully received in the comments section.

* – How to test for a set: at the same time as you begin cooking the fruit, place three or four saucers in the freezing compartment of the fridge. When you have boiled the jam for the given time, remove the pan from the heat and place a teaspoonful of the jam on to one of the chilled saucers. Let it cool back in the fridge, then push it with your finger: if a crinkly skin has formed on the jam, then it has set. It if hasn’t, continue to boil for another 5 minutes, then do another test. – Thanks Delia!

Apricot Jam

We’ve had our apricot tree for about four years, now. It blossoms every year, but this is the first year that we’ve had enough fruit from it for me to make apricot jam:

What you’ll need:
a very large saucepan (if you have a preserving pan, better)
scales
a nutcracker
1.8 Kg (4 lb) fresh apricots – washed, halved and stoned
450 ml (3/4 pint) water
juice of 1 lemon
1.8 kg (4 lb) sugar
knob of butter (optional)

Crack a few of the apricot stones with a nutcracker (or a weight, or hammer). If you don’t want pieces of apricot shell flying all over the kitchen, I suggest you do as I do and wrap the nutcracker with a tea towel when doing this.
Take out the kernels and blanch in boiling water for one minute.

Place the apricots, water, lemon juice and kernels in a preserving pan and simmer for about 15 minutes until they are soft and the contents of the pan are well reduced.
Remove from the heat.
At this stage you can decide whether your jam will ‘have bits in’ or be smooth.
For a smooth jam, use a hand blender to remove all the lumps.

Add the sugar, stirring until dissolved, then add the knob of butter (if you want)
Return to the heat.
Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for about 15 minutes – or until a temperature of between 96°-104°C (205°-220°F) is reached – stirring frequently.

Test for a set* and, when setting point is reached, take the pan off the heat and remove any scum that may have accumulated on the surface with a slotted spoon.
Leave to stand for 15 minutes.
Pot and cover.
Yield: 3 Kg (6 1/2 lb) approx.

* – How to test for a set: at the same time as you begin cooking the fruit, place three or four saucers in the freezing compartment of the fridge. When you have boiled the jam for the given time, remove the pan from the heat and place a teaspoonful of the jam on to one of the chilled saucers. Let it cool back in the fridge, then push it with your finger: if a crinkly skin has formed on the jam, then it has set. It if hasn’t, continue to boil for another 5 minutes, then do another test. – Thanks Delia!

 

The Proverbial

“Hasta el 40 de mayo no te quites el sayo” is the saying here in Spain (until the 40th of may, don’t take your coat off) – it is the equivalent of the English “Ne’er cast a clout till May be out”. I find it reassuring that the Spanish are as obsessed with the weather (and complaining about it) as are the British. This proverb has been affirmed, yet again, this week as temperatures ‘plummeted’ from sun-filled daytime temperatures in excess of 30°C, at the beginning of the month, to windswept, rainy days where the thermometers barely registered 16°C. The fleeces & socks that had been put away for the summer months were hurriedly brought back through necessity – the shorts & flip-flops cast aside. The rain, however, was much needed. Not just to dampen down the sneeze-inducing pollen from the olive trees surrounding us, but to assist the growth of the young fruit and veg.
In between downpours, I took the camera for a wander around the garden:

The loquats are now ready – let the Jam-making season commence!

Text & photos © Sue Sharpe 2014

 

“Life is just a bowl of cherries”

I finally gave in this morning. I bought my first punnet (this season) of Picota Cherries from the fruteria in the village. They were still hellish expensive (nearly €3 a kilo), but I could no longer resist my favourite fruit. The only problem I have right now is this: Do I sit here & eat the lot? Or do I go & make something with them, so I can take photos & share a recipe?
Decisions……………
………………..Time passes……………………….
OK! You win! Here is a recipe that you may want to try:
Brandied Cherries
What you will need:
Medium-sized saucepan
Measuring Jar
Small (preserving) jar(s)
Needle (or small skewer)
Bowl(s)
Ingredients:
450g (1lb) cherries (washed)
225g (8oz) sugar
1 cinnamon stick
150ml (1/4 pint) brandy (approx)

Prick the cherries all over with a needle (or small skewer)
Make a light syrup by dissolving 100g (4oz) of the sugar in 300ml (1/2 pint) water
Add the cherries & cinnamon stick and poach gently for 4 to 5 minutes
Remove the pan from the heat and drain the cherries – reserving the syrup in a bowl – remove the cinnamon stick
Wait for the fruit to cool – then arrange in small jars
Return  the reserved syrup to the pan
Add the remaining sugar and dissolve it slowly
Bring to the boil and boil to 110°C (230°F), then allow to cool
Measure the syrup and add an equal quantity of brandy
Pour over the cherries
Seal the jar(s)
Serve as an accompaniment to any dessert – I, personally, like popping a couple on top of a cherry cheesecake.
Bonus Bi-product: Cherry brandy to accompany your dessert.
If you would like to improve your Spanish, you can get some more cherry recipes by clicking here.

Something in the Air…

We’ve been enjoying a few warmer, sunnier days this week but I’m not going to get too excited. The meteorologists may have declared that it is spring, but I’m more inclined to go with the astronomical reckoning and wait another ten days or so. For all that it’s lovely and warm in the afternoon sunshine, it’s still pretty darned cold at night; and should a cloud obscure the sunlight, or one finds oneself in a shady spot, it is definitely still winter. Nature, on the other hand, has its own agenda. The almond and mimosa blossoms have already come and gone, the processionary caterpillars are on the move (my arm has healed nicely, btw) and there are clear signs that spring is on its way – as I discovered when I took the camera for walk around our property the other day:


So maybe it’s spring, maybe it isn’t – one thing’s for sure, the seasons will roll around – like they always do……

rev·o·lu·tion  (rĕv′ə-lo̅o̅′shən) n.
1. a. Orbital motion about a point, especially as distinguished from axial rotation
b. A turning or rotational motion about an axis.
c. A single complete cycle of such orbital or axial motion.
2. The overthrow of one government and its replacement with another.
3. A sudden or momentous change in a situation: the revolution in computer technology.
4. Geology A time of major crustal deformation, when folds and faults are formed.

“But here’s some advice, boy. Don’t put your trust in revolutions. They always come around again. That’s why they’re called revolutions.”
― Terry PratchettNight Watch

La Señora de las Mermeladas

How I imagine the conversation went:
“You know the one I mean, the foreigner”
“Who? The German?”
“I don’t think she’s German”
“She must be – blue eyes, blonde hair – speaks Spanish with a weird accent”
“Always has that stupid grin on her face”
“Oh! Her! – I know the one you mean: La Señora de las Mermeladas

'Dr.Watson' - Well, it is a lemon tree

‘Dr.Watson’ – Well, it is a lemon tree

Long story short, I’m getting quite a reputation around the village and (for once) it’s the kind of reputation that I’m proud of. I quite often get stopped on my weekly shopping trip and questioned about the jams and marmalades that I make. The people who stop me want to know how I make them taste so different to the shop-bought ones.
The British associate the word marmalade with oranges (and other citrus fruits) although its origins are derived from the quince – membrillo in Spanish – (the same genus as apple & pear) whereas Mermelada is the Spanish word for jam – and for marmalade – there is no distinction between the two. There are many varieties of orange, so, not wishing to contravene any PDO (DO in Spain) I shall not be referring to my marmalades as any kind of ‘Seville’ Orange this-or-that. They shall be known as ‘The Smooth One’, ‘The Stringy One’ and ‘The Lumpy One’. Here is the recipe for The Smooth One (click on the names of the other ones to go to that page)

The Smooth One
Ingredients:
900g (2lb) oranges, washed
Juice of 2 lemons
2 litres (3.5 pints) Water
1.4kg (3lb) sugar

What You Will Need:
Preserving pan (or very large saucepan), wooden spoon, muslin cloth/jelly bag (or tea towel), upturned stool (or, in my case, a plant pot holder), spoons, jars, time and a little patience.

Method:
Cut the oranges into small chunks (about 2.5cm/1 inch) and put in the preserving pan with the lemon juice and 1.4 litres (2.5 pints) of the water.
Cover & simmer for about two hours – until the fruit is really soft.

Remove from the heat and pour the contents of the pan into the jelly bag (or whatever you have!) attached to an upturned stool (or plant pot holder).
Leave to drip into a large bowl for 15 minutes.
Return the pulp remaining in the bag to the pan with the remaining 600ml (1 pint) of water. Return the pan to the heat and simmer for a further 20 minutes.
Remove from the heat and pour into the jelly bag. Leave to drip for several (3-4) hours.

Add the sugar and stir until it has dissolved.
Boil rapidly for 15 minutes – take care, it may ‘spit’.
Test for a set (How to test for a set: at the same time as you begin cooking the fruit, place three or four saucers in the freezing compartment of the fridge. When you have boiled the jam for the given time, remove the pan from the heat and place a teaspoonful of the jam on to one of the chilled saucers. Let it cool back in the fridge, then push it with your finger: if a crinkly skin has formed on the jam, then it has set. It if hasn’t, continue to boil for another 5 minutes, then do another test. – Thanks Delia!)
When setting point is reached, take the pan off the heat and remove any scum with a slotted spoon.
Leave the mixture to stand for about 15 minutes.
Pot and seal.
This recipe works just as well using lemons, if you’d prefer, or a mixture of the two fruits. I also throw in a peeled, bruised chunk (2.5 oz/70g) of root ginger – just to give it a bit of a ‘kick’!
So that’s it! That’s how I make mine. Maybe the difference in taste is the lack of colourings and other added ingredients? I suppose I should give those ladies in the village a jar or two – just to make sure that they’re calling me Lady Marmalade for the right reason!

This recipe has been adapted from The Good Housekeeping Cookery Book.
Disclaimer: The content of this blog are the views and observations of the writer and may differ from those of the reader. The writer of this blog is not a travel writer and does not pretend to be one. If you find any of the content to be wrong or inaccurate please advise the writer by posting in the comment section, but remember to be nice! The writer takes no responsibility for your lack of sense of humour. The content of any external links used which may, at any time, change are not the responsibility of the writer of this blog.

All photos & text © Sue Sharpe 2014

 

 

Follow The Leader….

So, it’s finally stopped raining and with the sun breaking through at last, the temperatures are rising. Which can only mean one thing in many parts of Spain: Processionary caterpillars are on the move. I have been checking beneath our pine tree every morning for the past few days, but it was only this morning as I was returning from the composters that I noticed them. A few weeks ago I annihilated as many of their ‘tents’ as I could – they are more noticeable on cold, misty mornings and therefore easier to lop from the tree and burn – but there are always a few survivors.
After making sure that Alan was safe indoors, I set about the mass murder of these horrid beasties. Armed with welder’s gloves and wearing two long-sleeved jumpers, I scooped them onto a hand shovel and transferred them to the metal bucket where I had set a fire. Don’t get me wrong – I am a lover of nature – but these little ***ts are dangerous.

Even with a double layer covering my arms, I still managed to be on the receiving end of their venomous hairs – which they shoot out as a defense mechanism. A rub with surgical alcohol and an anti-histamine tablet should see the skin irritation reduce in a couple of days. Imagine if that were a child’s arm – or a dog’s paw? – worse for a dog as it will lick a skin irritation and transfer the venom to its mouth, throat and stomach – which can, in many cases, be fatal.

I’m certain that I didn’t get them all and will be restricting the dog’s access to that area of the garden until either (a) I am certain that they have all moved on to another area or (b) I’ve performed more ritual burnings. Keep an eye out for these caterpillars on your property and in parks where there are pine trees.

As the song says “Let the M*****F*****s burn!”

Get on your Bikes and Ride….

Me. Bicycles. Ditches. A pattern that has repeated itself throughout my entire life. Whether it was as a child riding to and from the riding stables on (supposedly) quiet country roads and being cannoned into a ditch by a passing Range Rover or as a young adult cycling to and from work, trying to avoid the busy main roads, only to be side-swiped by the tail end of a pantechnicon at a corner just outside Shalford.
The result was always the same: me, in a ditch.
These ditch-related-incidents never deterred me. My chosen form of transport served me well until, in my mid-twenties, I finally got around to learning to drive a car. Fast-forward thirty a few years and I’m back in the saddle – not quite as bike fit as I’d like to be – but for the short trip into the village, I’ll do.
The likelihood of me ending up in a ditch on the quiet roads here in rural Extremadura has lessened considerably. However, I did find myself in a ditch last August. It was bicycle related, only this time I was there by choice. I’ll explain…..
I think it’s likely that just about everyone has heard of the Tour de France but until moving to Spain, I was unaware of just how popular cycle racing was throughout the world, especially in Europe. As well as the Grand Tour (which comprises the Tour de FranceGiro d’Italia and La Vuelta de España.) there are a host of other sprint and distance races. The 2014 season has already started and will run until October.
Last August, La Vuelta passed though Extremadura. Stage (etapa) 6 teminated in Cáceres and stage 7 started in Almendralejo. Approximately 20km south of Almendralejo is the town of Villafranca de los Barros, a mere 20 minutes from our doorstep. Away from the crowds that gather at the start of these races, it seemed the ideal place to go and see some cycling action. Here’s what happened – with some tips for watching bike racing:
Arrive Early
Even though the racers would not pass through until nearly 1pm – we arrived just after 10am and found a roadside restaurant where we could park and enjoy a late breakfast while we were waiting.
Get to know your surroundings
As we had time to spare, we went for a wander around the immediate vicinity, to work out the best place from which to view the race. We also had a mooch around the railway line and an abandoned building close by.

Beware the Cavalcade
About an hour before the race, the cabalgada passes along the route. These are the sponsors of the race and support vehicles. Have you ever wondered how/why the spectators that line the route all have the same baseball caps and banners? The sponsors throw – yes, throw – all manner of promotional material as they pass through. We managed to bag a couple of baseball caps and a few bags of sweets (which hurt if they connect with your ankles!)

Once the cabalgada had passed the road was re-opened to traffic which, being the end of August, was predominantly tractors bringing in the grape harvest. We knew that we had about forty-five minutes before the race passed through, so we went into the town to reacquaint ourselves with where we had based ourselves when we were property hunting in the area.

Make yourself known to the stewards
When we returned to our ‘pitch’ the crowds were starting to gather. Thankfully we had taken the time to get to know the steward who was patrolling the length of road the we were on and he knew that I would be looking for a good viewpoint to take photos. Having had a chance to review the photos of the cabalgada, I decided that to be on the same level as the cyclists wouldn’t get me the shots that I was after. My fear of heights immediately cancelled out any chance of me climbing a tree, so I looked for an alternative – and found it – Yup, a ditch!
Blink & You’ll miss it!
Having got myself settled in my ditch, I didn’t have to wait too long before the police & stewards closed the road and the first motorcycle escorts came into view. Then – woosh! – in less than a minute the peloton had passed. All I saw was a blur as I hoped I’d made the correct settings on my camera.

In only a matter of minutes, the bikes and support vehicles had passed and the road reopened, once again, to the grape laden tractors; we returned home.
The Vuelta will not pass through Extremadura this year so I shall return to viewing the race from the comfort of my sofa – which is, at least, better than a ditch!
Two-for-the-price-of-one with the music this time – A double A-side from Queen – enjoy!