Monday, August 24, 2009

Blackberry and apple jam

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As you know, we have been making our own bread from some time. For breakfast, we enjoy home-baked bread, toasted with a good helping of one of our home made jams. With the arrival of the first ripened blackberries we are busy picking them regularly from the hedgerows along the Camino de Santiago (St James' Path) near home at La Pasera.... we have started the jam making season.

The first batch of blackberry jam is already cooked and bottled up. Our jams are made using fruits and sugar, there are no additives or preservatives. To make the jams, we add sugar to the fruit in a ratio of 500g of sugar for every 1kg of fruit, 250g of apple per kg of blackberries was also added this time, in total we used 2.5 kg of fruit. Once the jam has been boiled and cooked we test it to ensure it sets before it is put in the jars. In previous years we have sealed them and used a bain marie to create a vacuum to help preserve the jam. A reduced amount of sugar in our jam recipes makes it healthier (if you do not end up eating more of it!) but requires extra care to preserve it.

Last year we discovered that in Spain many people use wax to seal and preserve the jam once in the jars. This year we are giving it a go for all the Jams, as last year we experimented with a few jars and it seemed to work very well. In addition to blackberry and apple jam, we will also make jam with a local small and very tasty peach, figs, plums, greengage, quince, raspberry and orange. Fig jam is an all time favourite followed by orange jam (that also goes extremely well in a chocolate and orange cake we sometimes bake). It is a big job to make all the jam but we think it is worth the effort, it is so much better that commercial jams often made with added preservatives, colourants and a greater proportion of sugar, besides they do not taste as good as our own....

La Pasera seen from the bottom field:

Friday, August 21, 2009

First steps

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Hello to everyone. I hope that you are enjoying the Summer and that the weather is good. Here at La pasera we continue having a hot Summer in spite of the regular and short lived rainy spells that help to reduce the amount of watering we need to do. We have just said goodbye to Laura my youngest niece, 20 months old, who came to visit us with her parents Cesar (my brother) and Dioni. Laura loved Wentworth and Gawber but the cats kept their distance as they found the baby was too boisterous for them. She is a very lively baby and was fascinated by the flowers, the insects and the animals that surround us. We had to keep her well away from the pond as she loves water as you can see from the short clip showing Laura´s taking her first steps on the beach and also running along Santa Marina beach in Ribadesella, 5 km from home.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Water for the wildlife

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Having lived with a garden pond for many years, it was always our aim to create one here at La Pasera. We bought pond liner before moving here in the knowledge that one day we would create a small watery haven for wildlife. The area has few natural fresh water areas but an abundance of amphibians including frogs, salamanders and toads. Whilst out walking you can often see tractor tyre tracks with numerous tadpoles fighting for survival. We have designed the pond to encourage amphibians, water beetles, dragonfly and damselfly, birds and other creatures that need a constant supply of fresh water. The short slide show illustrates the construction of the pond and shows various environments that allow access to the water - a pebble beach, rocks and pebble outcrops and grass verge. The pond is small but large enough to sustain water levels and balance. We have installed a small solar powered fountain to help maintain the oxygenation of the water and planted several types of water loving plants including a large bundle of oxygenating weed that I got from my Dad's pond. The fountain is gentle but helps to add sound and movement to the area. With the addition of a small bundle of Barley straw, we have soon seen the water become crystal clear and teaming with insect life including water beetles, water boatmen and water snail. Sadly there doesn't seem to be any evidence of developing tadpoles - maybe they have been eaten by the beetles? We have however, spotted several tiny baby toads in the bog garden that now adjoins the pond. The bird life frequently use the pebble beach to bathe and drink with the Jays being the most acrobatic - holding onto the grass bank with one foot/claw whilst dipping in and quickly out of the water. The pond area now needs planting up and allowing time to establish. We sited the pond in an area that enables the bog garden to thrive and which is the natural drainage area for water that will drain from the patio and higher garden. Wentworth and Gawber have now decided to use the pond as a daily source of drinking water preferring it to the flouride rich tap water that serves the village. Throughout the build of the pond Gawber has been with us at every stage, carefully examining every new stone, sniffing every new plant and deliberating just how far he can venture into this mirrored moving mass that has swimming beetles and insects that can walk on water.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Freshly picked vegetables

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I recently read a news item reporting on research that looked at whether or not there was any differences between organically and non-organically produced vegetables from a nutritional view point. That particular study showed that there are no nutritional differences, I personally question the results and would find it interesting to be able to read the research to make up my own mind regarding its validity.
Eveyone has a choice to make but for me, knowing that it has been produced organically, free from pesticides and other chemicals is reassuring, as the news item never reported on the long term effect on health of such chemicals. And as for the nutritional value, I know that our freshly produced organic fruit and vegetable always, without exception, tastes better than under-ripe and bland supermarket produce - Nutritionally different? Maybe not according to the study, but we know which type of vegetable we will always favour.
Summer continues to be busy with each morning having to pick a range of seasonal produce. At the moment we are gathering french beans, celery, carrots, salad crops, beetroot, leeks, peppers, tomatoes and raspberries.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Summertime and the living is easy...

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Today I would like to tell you some of the things I have done or seen while Ian has been in the UK. Not all has been work, in fact I must confess that I have done little work as the weather has been very nice and hot. I have been swimming in the sea at Torimbia beach several times. The beach shown in the pic is Torimbia as you approach it from the east, the nicest beach in Asturias. The photo does not do justice to it. I have been cycling to get there as it is a few miles away, a nice 90 minute run with a challenging up hill stretch. I have also been walking with a neighbour around the lanes leading to the coast. On less hot days I went cycling and one day I cycled along the road that runs parallel to the river Sella, very nice and not a difficult run. I extended this ride further than first anticipated and ended doing 40 miles before lunch. It was a treat to stop for a snack outside the pre-romanesque church of Saint Peter of Villanueva at the Parador of Cangas de Onis.

In the garden I have done a bit of work before it got too hot - improving and preparing the soil behind the front wall to create a herb garden. The garden is looking very good and in the photo of the garden you can appreciate the beauty of Ian´s design.
What has been very pleasant has been to sit and relax during the midday hours away from the sun relaxing with some music and a book. Wentworth and Gawber have also avoided the midday heat and several days they "fell asleep amongst the flowers for a couple of hours on a beautiful day" as the song goes. I hope you are also enjoying the Summer.