Friday, October 17, 2014

Beans - from plant to plate

Beans are big here in Asturias, not in a huge way but in usage in all kinds of cookery. One of the traditional dishes is Fabada which is white beans with chorizo, black pudding and fat. Really not our cup of tea but very popular amongst the tourists and served in most restaurants. Being vegetarian, beans provide us with much needed protein and a stock that can be used all year round.

We sow our own bean seeds (dried from the previous year) in April indoors. These are then transplanted into soil when they germinate and put outside to grow on. We are fortunate in so much that we do not have frost and by April there is an ambient outdoor temperature throughout the night and day.

The young plants are put in the ground around the end of May. They are initially supported by an 'A' frame structure we construct out of locally sourced hazel. As they grow we may add additional support by introducing twiggy pea sticks.

Apart from ensuring that the plants wind their way through the support, they need very little attention apart from looking out for black fly which can be a problem if not caught early. We treat the black fly with soapy water with an additional spray of diluted alcohol if necessary: this usually works well.

The beans are eaten fresh as in green runner beans and dwarf kidney beans and what we don't use we leave on the plant to dry. When the outer casing is parchment-like we harvest, shell and leave to dry in the sun for a week or so. The dry beans are then frozen for 24 hours to kill any bugs and then re-dried before storing.

Our favourite dishes include home-made beans on toast, mixed vegetable and bean cassoulet, white bean and black olive pate, in salads and, bean and chestnut casserole. How do you eat yours?

The discarded bean plants are composted to provide much needed nutrients for the soil.

The insects are busy doing their work in the garden and helping, in their own unique way, the cycle of life, death and regeneration. More creatures from the garden can be found here:  Smaller tales .

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Autumn foraging: Chestnuts and Walnuts

We may have mentioned this before but walnuts and chestnuts are abundant around here. There are many fully grown trees on country lanes, on field boundaries and in cultivated plots. This year is a particularly good year for foraging as the trees are heavy with fruit.

The good news for amateur foragers like us is that very few people collect these crops, preferring instead to purchase from commercial sellers on the markets: convenience I suppose. When out walking or cycling at this time of year we will take a small bag with us and collect what we find along the way. It is surprising how quickly you can build up a welcome stock of sweet chestnuts and fresh walnuts.

So far this year we have collected about 25 kg of walnuts which we will continue to add to over the next couple of weeks as the emerging autumnal winds shake the fruit out of their splitting green outer casing. We will dry them in the warmth of the autumn sun and store them in a cool, dry room to be consumed throughout the coming months. Similarly with chestnuts, although these can be slightly more hazardous to collect due to the vicious spikes that protect them.

Over the years we have come to know the trees which produce the most succulent nuts and fruit and we will make sure our walks include them. Occasionally you will see the evidence of other foragers who have beaten us to it but they are few and far between. We have a mature walnut tree in our garden which is not in the best of conditions but with some TLC, this year it has quite a few fruits on it which will will harvest soon.

We mostly eat walnuts as they are or baked in apple and walnut sponge cakes. I take my Mum a bag full and she will use them in a wonderful coffee and walnut cake recipe. The chestnuts will either be roasted slowly on top of the log fire on a cool autumn evening or peeled, boiled and added to a chestnut and winter vegetable casserole...delicious.

You may remember that earlier in the year we pickled green walnuts. These are now ready for eating and can be enjoyed with cheese, salads, veggie burgers and so on....

Monday, October 06, 2014

If you go down to the beach today....


You're in for a big surprise... Well at least on the beach at Cuevas del Mar here in Asturias. This beach is about 5km from La Pasera and we occasionally walk to it from our house along the cliffs and through villages and country lanes. The area is peppered with caves (hence the name), many of which are shouting out to be explored.

The beach hit the local news this year as the severe spring storms devastated the sand, taking most of it out to sea and leaving very little apart from pebbles. This small beach is popular during summer as it's a quiet bay is ideal and safe for swimming. The locals campaigned for sand to be brought in as they were concerned that having no sand would affect the holiday trade. It is estimated that it could take up to 5 years for the sand to return naturally.

Earlier in Summer

The beach also has an interesting history with several pebble lined caves, steps and barbeque which was once a beach bar several decades ago according to locals (in the photograph with the climber). Climbers also use the cliffs on the beach for fine-tuning their skills.

The lack of sand hasn't deterred someone from making best use of their time on the beach, we don't know who built all these but we admire their patience and creativity. All rather splendid and needless to say Luis + Pebbles = Happy. I have to say his effort was rather good but don't take my word for it, judge for yourself. 

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Dragonflies and damselflies in the garden

Throughout summer and early autumn here at La Pasera we are witness to the finely tuned aerobatic skills of dragonflies and damselflies are they navigate the garden, ponds and plants. Each year they lay their newly fertilised eggs on pond plants or directly into the water where they develop into nymphs.

Most damselflies complete their life cycle in one year: egg, nymph, damselfly where as dragonflies can take up to 5 years depending on the climate, conditions and species. There are over 100 species in Europe and over 5000 worldwide.

As they emerge from the water in their nymph stage, they cling to nearby grasses and twigs, they dry out and break out of their distinctive nymph skins, spread their wings and take flight. 

Damselflies are weaker fliers and always lay their wings to the sides of their body when resting whereas the dragonfly keeps its wings open. The dragonflies tend to be much more inquisitive, often flying very near to you, hovering just in front of you and taking evasive action if you move. They also try this with the cats who are frequently tormented by the buzzing of their wings and close proximity.   

Here are a few photographs of visiting dragonflies and damselflies taken over the past few years...

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Preserving, pickling and storing

The effort and hard work that goes into growing our own food is worth it on so many levels. We can be confident that no harmful chemicals, including pesticides and fungicides, were used, we know that the work we put into maintaining good quality soil will reap benefits in relation to plant disease and infestation resistance and, that the final produce is full of micro-nutrients and bursting with flavour.

Typically, we often have a glut of produce at certain times of the year. Whether it be a beetroot, courgettes, soft fruit or root crops, we can always find a way of preserving this valuable resource for use later in the year.

Our main methods of preservation are  pickling, making jams and chutneys, dehydrating, freezing, vacuum storage, air-drying, bain marie and cool storage.

This year we have pickled chili peppers and green walnuts. We will pickle figs and beetroot later in the season.

Our freezer contents include diced root vegetables, soft fruit not yet made into jams, beaten eggs, cooked aubergine, tomatoes, blanched vegetables, various vegetable soups, sliced peppers, various herbs and peas.

We have dehydrated pears, piesco (wild peach), apple, beetroot and figs. These are then vacuum packed and used as energy foods for when we are out walking or trekking.

Chutney and pickle features high on our menus as it is a really useful way of using fresh vegetables. So far we have made Piccalilli, Pear Chutney and Tango Pickle.

Jams either made or to make are piesco, raspberry, fig, orange and mixed fruit. We will also be making membrillo (quince jelly) from fruit given to us by Luis' sister.

We are increasing the number of vegetables we preserve using a bain marie method and so far we have had success with leeks, green beans and peppers. We would love to try more so any suggestions please drop us a line in the comments.

Air-drying includes herbs, nuts, beans and chili.

Our cool storage includes potatoes, squash, marrow, apples and onions. We find that is there is a efficient, dry circulation of air, these crops will last form many months into spring and beyond next year.

We are lucky in so much that we have plenty of storage space and we are able to grow vegetables and some salad crops all year round which reduces the need to preserve foods, never-the-less it is great to be able to scan our storage shelves for ingredients and enjoy the fruits of our labour throughout the year.

Those of you who are involved in your own food production will know only too well the amount of time and effort it takes, many hours spent not only in the vegetable garden but also in the kitchen preparing and processing, but it really is worth it and you can taste the difference when freshness is preserved. A few years ago we wrote about experiences for living a simpler life and how we prepare our own food etc. It has proved to be one of the most viewed and read pieces on our blog with over 800 views. If you want to read it you can find it here:  Downsizing: less is more

What do you preserve, pickle or store? Any tips?