The start of a new month and we’re wondering how the summer managed to pass so quickly! This week Jeroen has been working on replacing a friend’s roof, and here at the farm we’ve been caught up in a frenzy of harvesting and preserving our bounty.
Left to right, top to bottom:
1) Yellow cherry tomatoes growing wild in the compost heap. I got the original seed from a salad at a party years ago, and we’ve never deliberately planted them since!
2) Courgette and pumpkin plants taking advantage of the nutrients and damp exiting the bottom of the animal shed.
3) An unexpected drop in egg production this week, wish we knew why.
4) Onion tops drying in the sun. They’re great for winter soups and casseroles, and this way we can get two products per crop instead of one. Our onions are stored in crates instead of being braided.
5) Praying mantis monitoring the dehydration process!
6) It’s not all work! Playing a Finish skittles type game.
7) Goats enjoying the extra bounty that all this harvesting is creating.
8) Monster beet
9) And the rabbits making short work of it!
10) All this harvesting is clearing great swathes of the veg garden, although they won’t be empty for long. This patch contained onions and beet.
11) Boaz at work
12) Keeping on top of the weeds in the beans.
Not ideal weather for replacing a roof, far too hot! Sadly parts of it were in pretty poor condition and it was starting to leak. Many of the beams have been reused, which keeps material costs down but requires many more manhours.
Festa, festa still this week, with the three day event at Malhada do Rei.
As I write, we’re sitting in the smoke of the first fire we’ve experienced locally this year. It’s not close enough to be of concern to us personally, but is a stark reminder of how a dangerous a stray spark can be at this time of year.
We’ve had whole new group of volunteers with us this week but my phone has broken so I’m short of photos. You’ll have to take my word that we’ve been busy!
Here at Casalinho nothing is wasted, and I really mean nothing. But if I can squeeze in an extra step between kitchen, animal shed and compost, you can bet I will! Fruit scrap vinegar is a fabulous way of doing exactly that. Make a secondary, tasty product from something which many households would simply throw away. How could that possibly not be a fantastic plan?!
What you need to do is to collect all those scraps of fruit up. If you’re making jam or bottling fruit you’ll probably end up with a whole pile of cores and peels. If you’re not someone who prepares whole piles of fruit in one go, you can still make fruit scrap vinegar from your apple cores, for instance, but you’ll need to store them in your freezer until you have a sufficiently large collection to make it worthwhile.
So place your fruit scraps in a bucket or jar, and cover the whole lot with a sugar solution. I’ve made big batches of scrap vinegar in buckets and smaller batches in large jars. Both have worked equally well. As with much of my cooking I prepare a sugar solution by just sloshing a load of sugar in, but around 200g sugar per litre of water is probably about right. Your fruit should all be covered.
Now, cover your container with a cloth (tie it on if you don’t want it to slip off and nasties to slip in) and leave it somewhere where you won’t kick it over. After a while it will start to ferment, and you might even be able to hear it bubble. Stir it every day or so, particularly important near the beginning. The speed of fermentation will be determined by temperature, the size of the pieces, and by the amount of sugar available to feed it. You’ll need to wait until it dies down to move onto the next stage, which is probably a couple of weeks.
Next, strain all the fruit scraps from the liquid. There’s those that tell me I should skip the chicken stage in their disposal and chuck fermented fruit scraps directly on the compost heap, but I’ve not yet had drunk chickens so I’ll carry on. The liquid should then be strained again through a close weave cloth in order to leave it as clear as possible.
At this stage your liquid will be mildly alcoholic. You need it to acidify, so place it in another clean jar or bucket with a loose cover and just leave it to do so. This will take a minimum of two weeks but you could leave it for months if you desired. Don’t stir it this, and a jelly like mass will form on the top which is the ‘mother’. Taste it regularly, and when it tastes like the strength of vinegar you enjoy then you know it’s time to use.
Simply strain your vinegar through a cloth again into your receptacle, and it’s ready to use. The mother won’t do you any harm so you can leave it in place until you’re ready to serve, or you can save it in a jar along with a little of the vinegar to keep it wet then transfer it to your next batch of vinegar in the making in order to give it a kick start. Don’t store your vinegar long term in anything with a metal lid, as the metal can be eaten away by the acid. Cork is good, or plastic if you must. Recycled jam jar lids are just fine providing as the coating on the underside isn’t damaged.
If you wish to preserve your vinegar long term you can hot water bath or pressure can it (no metal lids, remember) but I’ve personally never bothered. It’s easy to make small quantities often, and it keeps well.
You can use fruit scrap vinegar to make delicious salad dressings and in numerous other ways that you’d use tasty vinegar in the kitchen, but it’s not advisable to use it for preserving where the acidity is the sole means of preserving as the acidity level might not be high enough. You’ll find that different fruits provide subtly different coloured vinegars which can be really quite pretty and would make lovely homemade gifts in a pretty corked bottle.
With thanks to Rural Revolution, where I originally learnt about fruit scrap vinegars.
But as summer moves on we need to be realistic and start thinking about the future. The four coldest months of winter are traditionally quite harsh here in the mountains, so this year we are making a real drive to improve facilities, making it a more comfortable place for long term volunteers and permanent residents to be.
One of our main projects is renovating the adega, or downstairs storage room, into a comfortable living space. We are in talks with local people who will help to put in a floor and fix the rocket stove, and this space will also house an indoor kitchen.
Another ongoing project is to finish off the office. We are in the process of improving the renewable energy system, which will work more efficiently, giving us more battery power in a more user friendly way. Windows and doors are also a priority.
The third project, hugely ambitious, is to start rebuilding another house at the start of September. This would be dependent on whether or not we can complete the first two projects.
This week we have spent a lot of time discussing these issues, and we think we have come up with the start of a workable plan on how to get things done. These projects all require money and so in the coming weeks we will be looking into possible fundraising ideas. This would be a great time for new investors to get involved. The lovely Abby will be joining us in September, and with her wealth of experience in fundraising, we expect to be able to go at least a little way to achieving these goals.
We are now looking for two or three hardy people who don’t mind a bit of mud and rain to spend all or part of the winter here. So if you think you or one of your mates is up for it, please get in touch as soon as you can.