Cider: the answer to a pending pear glut

My best pear tree produces a prodigious amount of fruit, but every year there are only a few days separating perfect pears from ones that are completely rotten from the inside outwards. I have never discovered what it is that causes this sudden transformation, but I didn’t want to take the risk that they would all be wasted by the time I returned from a fortnight’s holiday. I needed to make something that used many kilos of pears but wouldn’t require freezer space.Image

This is my first attempt at “Perry” or Pear Cider, so it’s possible that my next blog may be about what to do with 15 litres of cider vinegar, and the perils of stray yeasts!

I downloaded the recipe from cider-making.co.uk which told me I would “need the usual homebrew equipment such as a fermenter (the plastic barrel we make beer and wine in), airlock, syphon etc. and a good cider yeast.”

This last ingredient was a bit of a problem as our homebrew box only contained some out of date larger yeast and a couple of packets of champagne yeast. My husband, aka “the vintner”, was certain champagne yeast would be fine, but we rang the excellent homebrew shop in Santa Maria on the off chance they stocked cider yeast. They didn’t, but, with a bit of prompting, they confirmed that wine yeast should work. The other ingredients of campden tablets, yeast nutrient and pectolase we already had from making pomegranate and grape wines.

After an hour or so of pear washing, quartering, and putting them through the kitchen juicer, we measured the start gravity with the hydrometer and discovered it was perfect. This was lucky as I’d forgotten to buy sugar and the shops were no longer open.

We put in the crushed campden tablets and left it overnight before adding the yeast solution, nutrient and pectolase this afternoon. It’s now “glurping” away in the downstairs bathroom and in a few weeks we should be able to rack it off and bottle it … that’s the theory anyway, although we have had a few spectacular homebrew failures in the past.

If the remaining pears are still healthy when we return they can be peeled, chopped and frozen for use in cakes and crumbles, or made into pear mincemeat and bottled. This is a real treat, full of flavour but without the heaviness of traditional mincemeat. See the recipe on allrecipes.co.uk it works brilliantly … and I’ve just noticed it contains 225ml of cider vinegar!

The recipe we used for the Pear Cider was:

“20kg of pears (juiced or crushed and pressed to produce about 10 litres of juice.

Adjust with water to get a start gravity of 1045 – 1060 (check with your hydrometer)

Add 3 crushed campden tablets.

5-10 grams of diammonium phosphate (yeast nutrient)

Pectalase (a sachet is usually for 25 litres so adjust accordingly)

Cider yeast (a sachet is usually for 25 litres so adjust accordingly)

“Leave to ferment for a few weeks. Final gravity is often a bit higher than for apple cider due to unfermentable sugars present in pears so expect something like 1010. Rack off and discard most bottom sediment, bottle with priming sugar (a heaped teaspoon per 500ml bottle). Leave bottles for 3 days, then transfer to a cool place for clearing.”

Praying for clement weather …

After all the wind we have endured my tomato plants are looking far less bountiful than they usually do at this time of year. Only the cherry tomatoes are making a valiant effort to thrive against the elements. However, I’m not anywhere near “glut stage” yet, but in the hope that things will suddenly improve I thought I’d post my three favourite cherry tomato recipes for using up all the extra bowlfuls I’m willing to arrive.Image

Cherry tomato and couscous salad

300g couscous, 300ml boiling vegetable stock, several handfuls of cherry tomatoes, 2 avocados peeled and cut into chunks tossed in the juice of half a lemon, 100g stoned black olives, a handful of chopped nuts, 150g chopped feta cheese, ground black pepper.

Mix the couscous and stock and leave to cool. Gently mix in the rest of the ingredients and enjoy.

Cherry tomato and cinnamon jam

I don’t have much of a sweet tooth but of all the jams I make for the family this is my personal favourite. Take 400g of cherry tomatoes, 200g sugar, 2 sticks of cinnamon.

Wash and dry the tomatoes before halving them. Put them in a saucepan with the sugar and cinnamon. Stir and leave to ooze together for 30 minutes. Gently bring the mixture to the boil. Cook for 10 minutes. Remove the tomatoes with a slotted spoon. Boil the syrup hard for 5 minutes until it has thickened. Put the tomatoes back in and cook gently until it is thick. Pour into warmed jars and seal.

Cherry tomato and chilli chutney

500g cherry tomatoes, 1 red onion diced, half tsp salt, 1 clove of garlic crushed, 1 red chilli chopped, half a cup of sugar, half a cup of red wine vinegar, black pepper.

Gently fry the onion, salt and garlic. Add the tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, chilli and pepper. Bring to the boil. Cook until the mixture looks jammy. Put into warmed clean jars and seal.

Once sealed both the jam and chutney are quite happy in your store cupboard for a year.

After wind, plants need some love

After all the wind the island has experienced during the past ten days, I noticed many of our plants and trees had leaves that looked dead around the edges. Although we’ve enjoyed some refreshing rain, large shrubs and trees become dehydrated far quicker by wind than by drought, and unhappy leaves are a sure sign they’ve been affected.Image

So, in spite of the rain, most of my garden (apart from the vines) has been treated to a little extra water plus a good dose of copper spray on their leaves (including the vines).

Copper spray acts as a general fungicide so plants that are susceptible to black spot or mildew will benefit from regular use. Citrus trees and avocados, in particular, seem to become glossier almost over-night following treatment. When you visit your local garden centre you may see tell-tale bluish-brown dollops on plant leaves. This reveals that they’ve been given their strengthening medicine recently.

If there are late heavy rains, after vines and trees have already produced dense leaves,  the risk of mildew is increased. This problem ruined all our grapes a couple of years ago. After this experience we discovered that a thorough copper spraying could have saved both leaves and fruit before the problem became acute. It’s also useful on pear and apple trees if you see any evidence of fire blight disease. This is when the tips of leaves and shoots blacken and droop into crook shapes. Remove and burn any black parts and then spray the whole tree with copper spray, reapplying in a fortnight if the tree is still looking poorly.

Although copper spray is certified for use by organic gardeners, if you wish to go even further down the green road some gardeners claim that liquid seaweed achieves much the same results. This is said to work by boosting beneficial fungi which then counteract any bad ones.

Courgettes and the dreaded wood louse …

Courgettes do well in Mallorca and I often end up berating myself for producing too many as they don’t freeze or store well, and by their final demise the family can be in open revolt about finding another one gracing the dinner table. In this situation it’s a godsend that the hens will happily feast on the excess so I can convince myself they’re not being wasted. To be honest, the hens are invaluable at soothing my conscience about “throwing away” all left-overs.Image

Back to the courgettes though, this year although the plants are very healthy, so are the wood lice. In fact every female wood louse within a kilometre radius appears to have told her friends that there’s a courgette patch close by ready for them to dump their collective off-spring in. As every big yellow bloom pokes its head out of the leaves, it’s instantly filled with tiny woodlice which start devouring the courgette as soon as it’s as long as a toothpick. I object to harvesting half-eaten vegetables so I’ve taken to picking them when I see the first signs of wiggling in the shrivelled flower, but the infestation still seems to be getting worse.

It goes against all the ideas of “knowing what’s in your food” to annihilate them with some devastating toxic mix of chemicals, so I consulted the internet for a remedy that allows me to feel “greenish” whilst still murdering them in their thousands.

The first information to pop up is that I should love my louse as, not only are they related to crabs and lobsters, but they act like earthworms in the garden by breaking down soil and compost. After that comes a post entitled: “How to look after a pet wood louse”. I am beginning to feel that my genocidal instincts are embarrassingly out of place.

But … there really are far too many of them for all of us to live in harmony, however useful they may be on the compost heap.

Finally, a post on how to kill! The wisdom seems to be to put in a drip watering system so that the ground is never damp, as they really like soggy soil. However, as a quick fix, put out boiled potatoes, orange shells and over-ripe strawberries on a damp newspaper. This banquet should lure the babies away from your courgettes, or other fruit and veg, during the night. In the morning roll up the heaving mass of squidgy news print and throw the whole thing in the hen house for them to breakfast upon, or on the compost heap if you’re feeling philanthropic.

I hope it works!

Pesto Paradise

Finally it’s warm enough for basil seeds to germinate outside. With the first glimpse of their little green heads, every spare pot in the house has been filled with compost and pressed into action – to say we love pesto could be an understatement.

For me, the smell of basil brings a smile, it’s an aroma that conjures up everything that’s relaxed about summer.Image

Anyway, to get down to the business of growing it: in my book, the classic large-leafed basil is the only way to go, however, if you have a passion for a more aniseed flavour buy the slightly crinkly-leaved variety. One seed packet can easily provide sufficient for pesto and salad usage throughout the summer, plus 20-30 packets of frozen pesto stacked in the freezer so that pesto-addicts need never go without.

Fill your pots with compost and sprinkle the seeds over the surface before covering with a thin layer of compost and gently firming down. Keep the compost moist, but not drenched, until you see a haze of green shoots. When the plants have produced their first crop of large leaves, pinch out the top shoot to encourage them to expand sideways and stop them from going into their seed-producing stage too quickly. As with lettuce, the trick is to keep harvesting the leaves as you need them, letting the plant rest and produce some more while you harvest off other pots.

I thought this was what everybody did until a friend of mine asked to take some basil home with him at the end of a barbecue.

“Sure,” I said, beginning to turn to go into the house for a bowl. Before my jaw even had time to hit the floor, he had snapped off four or five plants – he was a chef, not a gardener! Guillotined basil doesn’t live, but had the plants just had their leaves removed they would have continued to produce for one or two months more. While I may not talk to my plants – at least not when anyone’s within earshot – I do advocate being kind to them, it keeps them alive!

Try to remember to water your plants a couple of hours before you intend to pick leaves, then they are nice and plump, bursting with flavour and at their best for eating.

Personally I don’t like too much oil in my food which is why I always freeze pesto rather than keep it in oil in jars. Small bags take up very little space and make an easy instant meal with a bit of pasta and salad. If you are unfreezing your home-produced pesto in the microwave, do watch it carefully as it unfreezes very quickly and isn’t nearly as good if it’s “cooked”.

To make one bag (enough for about 400g of pasta)  I put a clove of garlic, small handful of pine nuts (or since they’ve become so expensive, almonds), and some ground black pepper in a small food processor. Top this with basil leaves until they’re at the top of the container without being pressed down. Place 3 or 4 chunky slices of parmesan on top of the leaves and drizzle with a little olive oil. If the mixture is too rough add some more olive oil until it is the consistency you like. Either use it immediately, or scoop it into a small freezing bag and keep for later. For variation, pop in a few dried tomatoes to the mix, it makes the flavour even “warmer”.

Mint with pasta – great until basil comes along

Mint with pasta - great until basil comes along

It’s still a little too early for mounds of lush green basil and my store of frozen bags of last year’s pesto is now very thin. However, mint is in abundance and can make a wonderfully refreshing pasta sauce in the interim. Boil about 350g of pasta according to packet instructions. Take a large handful of fresh mint sprigs, strip the leaves into a food processor, add 3 or 4 good lumps of parmesan, a tub of creme fraiche and a good grind of black pepper. Wizz it all together and then add a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water to loosen the mix. Add either a couple of handfuls of peas, or some asparagus to the pasta a couple of minutes before the end of cooking time, or add some cherry tomatoes directly to the sauce. When the pasta and veg are cooked, stir in the mint sauce and eat!

All herbs are perfect for the mini-gardener who only has space for a few pots on a terrace, and good herb pots make a greater impact on your cooking than anything else. Try to keep herbs together that like the same conditions, for example put mint, parsley and chives in one pot and keep it in an area of partial shade, while putting oregano, thyme, marjoram and basil in areas with plenty of sunshine.