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?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Walking in Asturias: Torre del Friero


The Picos National Park covers a wide geographical area within the Spanish regions of Asturias, Cantabria and Castilla-Leon. The park in itself is divided into three areas or massifs: the Western Massif also Known as Cornion is the closest to La Pasera and where the lakes are. The other two massifs are: The Urrieles that occupies the largest and central part of the national park and the tallest peaks within it: The Andara in the East is the smallest of the three massifs.

September is a very good time to go walk in Asturias as the weather is still hot, the light quality is fantastic and there is plenty of wildlife that can be appreciated along the way. When you walk at an altitude of 1500 m or above, you very frequently come across groups of deer, chamois, the alpine lizard and numerous raptors; on this occasion we failed to spot the lammergeier or bearded vulture that has recently been reintroduced in the Central Massif.

This walk up to the peak Torre del Friero (2445 m high) is in the Central Massif and was organised by a local walking group Grupo de Montaña Peña Santa as part of an annual event where the group chooses one of the massifs and tries to climb in smaller groups as many peaks over 2000 m high as possible in a day.

To start this walk, we drove into the Baldeon Valley in the region of Castilla Leon through the Beyos
Gorge that runs along the river Sella before we passed the Ponton mountain pass that enabled us to drop into the Baldeon Valley, a popular walking area and for many, the beginning of one of the most famous walks in the whole National Park, the walk on the Cares Gorge also known as the Divine Gorge; its beauty certainly justifies the "divine" adjective.

Our guide for the day, Sergio, is a great guy and someone who knows the mountains very well. This knowledge is an essential part to maintain personal safety when doing this type of walk as there are parts where a bit of scrambling is necessary. Sergio manages a blog were he publishes blogs and images of his outdoor activities. The blog itself is a great source of information for potential future walks. You can check his site Castacangas

Under Sergio's confident guidance, we decided to extend this walk to incorporate some beautiful pasture lands with great views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. What surprised me is the abundance of alpine flowers blossoming this late in the season.

Photo by Castacangas

Photo by Castacangas

Photo by Castacangas

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A weekend photowalk around the village -1

We walk most days, either to the coast via many of the coastal and farming tracks that lead to the cliffs or further afield through neighbouring villages and pastures. Which ever way we go we always wander our way through the village paths and caminos. It is easy to forget how attractive our little village can be. Here are a few photographs of the countryside around our village, we'll feature more in subsequent posts so bookmark or subscribe now.

View towards El Sueve

Cows grazing next to La Pasera


Rio Guadamia

Our coastline

La Pasera

Setting sun

Village houses

Caminos and footpaths

Development opportunity?

Resting Buzzard

Take flight
A welcome storm to end the week

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Foraging for the wild peach


We always look forward to September in Asturias. The weather is warm, not too hot, gentle winds, not too strong, and misty dew-fresh mornings. The walnuts trees are laden with fruit, the hazelnuts begin to shed their fruit, the brambles offer up an abundance of blackberries and the wild Asturian peach (Piesco) is ready for harvesting.

The wild peach is small, the skin is slightly tougher than commercial peaches and the sweetness is not guaranteed however the intense peach flavour more than makes up for any other shortfalls. The peaches grow on small trees on the edges of fields and tracks around Asturias and most of them fruit well but are rarely harvested by locals these days as it is easier to go to the local supermarket and buy bigger and standardised fruit. We prefer, where possible, the wild and superior tasting Asturian Peach.

This year we have gathered enough to make a large batch of peach jam and enough to dehydrate for snacks. The flavour is intensified in both processes and is has just enough tang to get the taste buds tingling. The jam is made using our standard recipe of half the amount of sugar to that of fruit. It really is delicious on toast or as a sweet relish with cheese.

The dried peaches will be vacuum packed and will accompany us on walks into the mountains. They are packed with energy and will boost flagging stamina as we explore Asturias and the Picos de Europa in all its glory.

Friday, September 05, 2014

In search of sciurus vulgaris... the red squirrel

On several occasions we have seen a red squirrel in the garden here at La Pasera but they are very shy, quick and eager to climb high to avoid the cats Wentworth and Gawber who wouldn't think twice about trying to capture one. This picture is from a rare chance I got to photograph one in the garden after Gawber had chased it up a tree.

Luis had business in Gijon recently and I was aware from previous visits that there were a small colony of red squirrels in and around the park of  Parque de Isabel La Católica  : a perfect opportunity to try and get close up and personal. The park has a large lake and several aviaries. The lake is inhabited by various wild birds, geese, ducks and swans. Peacocks and peahens roam freely and put on great displays even when resting.

The park has a large number of very mature deciduous and coniferous trees, a range of fruiting bushes and fungi thereby making it the perfect habitat for red squirrels. Camera in hand I soon spotted a young squirrel, probably this years kitten, bounding across the path and onto the grass into the bushes quickly followed by a larger deep red adult which ran up the nearest large conifer.

I stood quietly in the shade of a walnut tree and watched as several squirrels appeared and disappeared, checking me out and assessing the threat level.

I spotted a young adult squirrel leaping from branch to branch making its way towards the water's edge. It was unfazed by a nearby gull and spent 30 seconds or more drinking from the lake before taking off again into the trees.

At eye level, an adult squirrel beginning to eat a walnut, probably dug up from last season's hoard as the shell was covered in a fine dusting of earth.  I decided to make my way towards it at a slow pace whilst taking photos. Typically I had the wrong lens on but with stealth I managed to change lens' mid-way and get closer step by step.

Throughout my advance the squirrel devoured its nut but kept a close eye on me. I knew that at some stage it would retreat.

I took one last step closer, it shreaked and ran up the tree out of sight and out of reach.

I was happy with my photographs and with watching the squirrels as the traversed their territory, happy for me to join them for a short while but equally happy when I left them in peace.

The squirrel that comes into our garden has long ear tufts whilst the ones in the park had none. I wonder why that is, seasonal, gender, age, regional...?