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

 

 

Marmalade Recipe: The Stringy One

If I’ve done this correctly, there is a strong possibility that you have arrived on this page by following a link from the “La Señora de las Mermeladas” post. If not, you may be slightly confused and wonder what I’m going on about – but you probably came here for a recipe, so here it is:

The Stringy One
Ingredients:
900g (2lb) oranges, washed
Juice of 2 lemons
2.6 litres (4.5 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:
Peel the oranges (avoiding the pith) until you have 100g (4oz) of rind.
Cut the rind into thin strips
Cut the rest of 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.
Put the shredded rind in another pan with 600ml (1pint) of the water, cover and simmer gently until the rind is soft.
Drain the rind (discarding the water) and add them to the fruit in the preserving pan.

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’!

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

Marmalade Recipe: The Lumpy One


The Lumpy One

Ingredients:
1.4kg (3lb) oranges, washed
Juice of 2 lemons
3.4 litres (6 pints) Water
2.7kg (6lb) sugar

What You Will Need:
Preserving pan (or very large saucepan), wooden spoon, muslin cloth/jelly bag (or tea towel), spoons, jars, time and a little patience.

Method:
Halve the oranges and squeeze out the juice & the pips.
Tie the pips, and any membrane, in muslin.
Slice the orange peel and put it in the preserving pan with the fruit juices, water and muslin bag.
Simmer gently for about 2 hours until the peel is soft and the liquid is reduced by half.
Remove the muslin bag.
Add the sugar and heat gently, stirring until it has dissolved.
Bring to the boil and boil the mixture rapidly for about 15 minutes.
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, remove from the heat and remove any scum. Leave to stand for 15 minutes, then stir gently to distribute the peel. Pot and cover. This recipe works just as well using lemons, if you’d prefer, or a mixture of the two fruits. You could also put a peeled, bruised chunk (2.5 oz/70g) of root ginger in the muslin bag – just to give it a bit of a ‘kick’!
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!


Don’t Fear The Reaper….

reap  (rēp)
v. reapedreap·ingreaps
v.tr.
1. To cut (grain or pulse) for harvest with a scythe, sickle, or reaper.
2. To harvest (a crop).
3. To harvest a crop from: reaping a field.
4. To obtain as a result of effort: She reaped large profits from her unique invention.
v.intr.
1. To cut or harvest grain or pulse.
2. To obtain a return or reward.

reaper (ˈriːpə)
n
1. (Agriculture) a person who reaps or a machine for reaping
2. (European Myth & Legend) the grim reaper death

Harvesting our one olive tree is a piece of cake compared to the work involved for those who have their own olive grove (olivar) as Phil explained in his recent post about La Cosecha. Although our one tree would only produce about enough olive oil to fry an egg, it does provide plenty for us to eat. The process of getting this, at first, inedible fruit (try one fresh from the tree, it’s disgusting) from tree to table is not a quick procedure, but at least it isn’t complicated.
The first task – best done sitting in the sun on a winter’s day – is to split the skin of the olives. Doing this allows the water to penetrate the fruit, thereby drawing out the bitterness. This can be done in various ways. In the past I have been known to take a hammer to them, but now I prefer to take my time and score an ‘X’ on the base of the fruit before dropping it into an empty 5 litre water bottle. When the bottle is two-thirds full with fruit, fill with fresh water (not tap) – we are fortunate enough to have our own well for this. The water needs to be changed every day for about a fortnight, until all of the bitterness has been removed from the fruit.
When the fruit has had all of its bitterness removed it is time to either (a) flavour and use or (b) preserve for future consumption. I have three flavourings that I like to use but there are endless combinations that you could try. For olives that are to be eaten within the year I have three recipes that work well:
1. Rosemary, Lemon & Thyme – I pick the herbs fresh from our herb garden and distribute the leaves between the jars in which the olives will be stored. Fill the jars with olives. Zest & juice one lemon for every jar and add. Prepare a brine mixture of 1 cup salt to ten cups water, brought to the boil and allowed to cool. Add the cooled brine and seal the jars.
2. Oregano, Red Pepper & Garlic – I was first shown how to prepare the olives in this way by my neighbour and it remains my favourite. Place the olives in a large bowl – I use my washing-up bowl – chop the red peppers into small, thin strips and mix with the olives. Finely chop 8-10 garlic cloves and add to the mix. Crush 6 garlic cloves in a pestle & mortar, or garlic press, and add to the mix. The more traditional method now requires salt to be added – a lot of salt –  but I find, like with so many of the traditional recipes, that too much is put in to the mix for my taste so, instead, I jar the olives and top up with brine.
3. Chili – I prepare this in the same way as the oregano, red pepper & garlic but I put 6-8 dried chilies in the bottom of each jar before I add the mix.

For long-term storage I make a stronger brine – 3 cups salt to 10 cups water – place the olives in jars or (glass) bottles and fill with brine, ensuring that all of the fruit is submerged. Top up the bottles with up to one centimeter of olive oil to stop the air getting to the fruit, seal the lids and store in a cool, dark place. I have found that these will keep indefinitely although when you are ready to use them, I would advise soaking them in water for a few hours (maybe days), changing the water frequently to remove the excess salt.

Our one olive tree is plenty, in my opinion. Many people have a dream of having their own olive grove. A fellow blogger in Croatia has even stared to plant her own olive grove to be able to produce her own oil – I wish you well, Sarah-Jane, but the thought of harvesting that many trees scares me to death……

Autumn Almanac

Back in May of this year I posted a photo blog showing how high the level of the lake was after the winter rains. A couple of weeks ago, I went out and retraced my route from that day. The levels had fallen considerably and I was able to walk along the water’s edge using most of the footpath that had been underwater earlier in the year, only having to scramble over one or two piles of rocks where the path is still submerged.

Here are a selection of photos from (roughly) the same places – showing the difference in the levels of the water between April and in December:

I wonder what weather we will have this winter?

Bootleg Baileys – A Recipe

This is as close to a Christmas post as you’re going to get from me, so enjoy!
Many years ago (I was going to say ‘a few’ – then realised how long it had actually been!) four friends sat in a pub just south of Midhurst, waiting for the weekly quiz to start. A piece of paper was passed from one of the group to another – in much the same way as notes used to be passed around the classroom.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Shhh!” my friend replied, “I stole his mother’s recipe for Bootleg Baileys,” giving a nod in the direction of her husband, “He wouldn’t be happy if he knew I’d passed it on, you know how the monster-in law likes to boast about her ‘secret recipe’ at Christmas parties!”
“Oh! OK – thanks, I won’t let on.”
I think sufficient time has now passed for me to share it with you:
What you will need:
A mixing bowl
A whisk or blender
An empty 1 litre bottle
A funnel
A teaspoon

 

Ingredients:
2 teaspoons instant coffee
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
A few drops of boiling water
1 tin sweet condensed milk
2 large eggs
A few drops of vanilla essence
500ml double or whipping cream
1 – 2 wine glasses Irish whisky

Dissolve the cocoa and coffee in the mixing bowl with a few drops of boiling water (not too much – we don’t want to be accused of watering down our drinks, do we?). Empty the tin of condensed milk into the bowl along with the vanilla essence. Break the two eggs into the mixing bowl and beat the mixture until all the ingredients are combined. Add the whisky and cream to the mixing bowl and beat the mixture until it is smooth & creamy. Pour the mixture into the bottle. Store in the fridge. I am told that it will keep for up to two months, if kept refrigerated, but I have never had any that has lasted more than a couple of days -¡Salud!


Obviously, you can tinker with this recipe to suit your own tastes. Here are a few ideas that I have tried:
• Leave the whisky out for a non-alcoholic version.
• Reduce the amount of whisky if you want to get anything done for the rest of the day don’t   like your drinks too strong.
• Replace the whisky with Tia Maria for a very sweet version.
• Replace the whisky with another spirit/liqueur – I particularly like using Liqor de Bellota – a local liqueur made with acorns.
• Leave out the cocoa and/or coffee if you don’t like them (I have a friend who    hates chocolate!)
• Pop it in a plastic container and shove it in the freezer – Baileys ice cream!
• I once made some chocolate ‘cups’ and filled them with the ‘Baileys’ – A nice touch at a dinner party.
As dulce de leche is readily available here in Spain – I am going to try making some with a tin of it in place of condensed milk – I’ll let you know how it turns out.
The original piece of paper is still around – it can be seen in the ‘ingredients’ photo – for those who care.
This post was originally going to be titled “Milk & Alcohol” because that is, essentially, what Baileys is made from; and if you need more of a ‘feel good factor’ from it, I prescribe this: