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This last ingredient was a bit of a problem as our homebrew box only contained some out of date larger yeast and a couple of packets of champagne yeast.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.”

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Holiday hurry!

I always seem to go away at just the time the garden is producing a glut that I need to keep on top of. The current one is plums and I have to leave tomorrow morning! I can’t freeze a load of plum cakes as I don’t have sufficient space, so I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I came across this recipe for frozen plum yoghurt and I am now a total convert. It’s the perfect recipe if you are in a whirling dervish state as you can halt at stage one or two with no ill effects on the final product.Image

Plum Iced Yoghurt: Roughly chop the flesh off 650g of plums and freeze on a tray (this is stage one and you can do the rest when you come back from holiday if you wish). Put the frozen plums in a food processor with 200g natural yoghurt, 200g vanilla sugar and a generous tablespoon of any fruity liqueur (it stops it from freezing so hard). Wizz and freeze. Yum!

 

Edible walks – a single step is the start of any change

A couple of years ago I was walking beside the River Orwell in Suffolk and among all the oaks and horse chestnuts we came across an elderly cherry plum tree, bows bent low with ripe fruit. We gorged ourselves and filled our pockets with cherry plums to take home. This single tree made the walk memorable for everybody and had me dreaming of creating “edible walks” all over the island of Mallorca.Image

One of my favourite folk tales is The Man Who Planted Trees (http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Man-Who-Planted-Trees/dp/1860461174/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1372007391&sr=8-1&keywords=The+man+who+planted+trees ) I’ve read it innumerable times as a bedtime story to the kids. It contains a simple altruism which appeals to something deep within me, but whereas the protagonist plants oaks and beech trees, in my head it is pears, dates, avocados (above: the result of some avocado stone planting in my garden) and loquats.

Last week I saw an article about Seattle’s edible forest. This has been planted in the middle of the city for any of its residents to eat from. It’s self-sustaining and offers a myriad of fruit trees, herbs, vegetables, nuts and berries.

Since being given Amerigo’s apple tree (see last post) which he grew from a pip, I’ve developed a “stick-it-in-a-pot-and-see” fetish. So far this has resulted in some spindly papaya seedlings from a Mercadona fruit (pictured below), a goodly number of avocado trees, a loquat (and I only planted two seeds in yoghurt pots, so next year I’ll plant more) and many mini-date palms – which so far have not been attacked by the dreaded red beetle.Image

As I have run out of space in my garden, many of my experiments are being surreptitiously planted on walks I take with the dog. Once each one has been dug in, it is given the contents of my water bottle and an earnest prayer that one day it will give fruit to a future family, making their day memorable in the way that the cherry plum tree did for us.

Amerigo’s tree – wishing for a small miracle

We met Amerigo 15 years ago under inauspicious circumstances. At four in the morning on the second night in our new home we awoke to the sound of a woman screaming hysterically whilst a harsh male voice yelled: “Abre! Abre!”

The screaming and yelling continued to shatter the silence as we ran outside to discover where the commotion was coming from. A feral desperation in the woman’s voice meant we waited only moments before calling the police. The cries continued from next door and my husband was half way up the front railings when a blue-rinsed lady erupted out of the house pursued by a gentleman with a perfectly-quaffed handlebar moustache. Although it was not exactly the damsel in distress we had anticipated, my husband tried to sooth the lady, promising to get her out.

“Don’t let her out! She’ll escape!” hollered the lady’s elderly ‘tormentor’ as a police car swung round the corner and we were brushed back into our home by the boys in blue.

Next morning we met the lady who lived in the apartment below Amerigo. “Does the man above you mistreat his wife?” we enquired.

She looked at us as if we were dangerously insane. “That man is a saint!” she announced before telling us Amerigo’s wife had suffered from dementia for more than a decade and he had lovingly nursed her throughout with never a murmur of discontent.

“Sometimes she won’t take her medicine and if I hear a commotion I go up and help him open her mouth so she swallows it and calms down. Last night I was very tired and must have slept through it.”

Deeply embarrassed at causing this stoical gentleman further trouble, we bought the best bottle of wine we could afford and went round to apologise. True to character, Amerigo was far nicer to us than we could possibly have hoped for.

“I’d rather have neighbours who would call the police if they hear a woman screaming than someone who’d roll over and go back to sleep,” he said, and a friendship was cemented.Image

Although Amerigo is in the middle apartment of a block of three, and so has no access to a garden, it does not diminish his love of plants, or his attempts to push horticultural boundaries. Over the years he has lent me several books on gardening and offered countless tips over the wall. Every time he throws open his shutters to the morning and walks onto his balcony to see the same view he has seen for more than 60 years, he breathes in deeply, smiles, and comments on what a paradise we live in and how lucky we are. In the cool of the evening you can sometimes hear him playing soulful Spanish guitar so exquisitely tortured it’s capable of making grown men weep.

Several years ago Amerigo was due to be taken into hospital. He called out urgently over the wall to come round as there was something he wanted to give me before the ambulance came to take him away.

“It’s an apple tree,” he said pointing to a couple of twigs in a pot, “I grew it from a pip. If anything happens to me I know my daughter will throw it away, will you plant it in your garden?”

Although I knew it must be possible to grow apple trees from apples, I had never known anyone actually do it. The patience involved, the dedication in the face of, no doubt, innumerable failures, transformed Amerigo’s spindly sapling into a gift of immeasurable worth.

I promised him I would take care of it and sadly waved him off in the ambulance, half expecting it to be our last meeting.

Three years on and Amerigo is almost 90. The tree is the first in the garden to get an extra compost ration and, although it is still very small, it’s thriving. He knows it’s doing well, but every time I water it I wish for a small miracle, a first apple that I can take to him and watch his neatly trimmed moustache lift, his eyes sparkle and a deep chuckle gurgle up from his chest.

Although he’s never had a garden, this Spanish gentleman has taught me more about growing all sorts of plants in the Mediterranean than anyone I’ve ever met; it would be fitting to be able to give him back this one tiny thing.

There’s a deep need within most people’s psyche that yearns to leave something worthwhile and lasting when they’re gone. What better than a tree that can feed those who come after us and, as Amerigo has shown, you don’t need to shell out loads of euros at a garden centre and live in a fancy house with a few spare acres.  Just a pot and an avocado stone, a date, a loquat or even an apple plus lashings of love and care, will allow you to do that.

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!