Monday, November 17, 2008

Grey, Damp and Chilly

It's autumn. It's seriously autumn. The occasionally sunny day, but mostly grey, the air heavy with moisture, and nothing above 10° Celsius.

The strawberries are already under cover:

That's a double layer of fleece. Should see them through till spring.

Next door to the strawbs, the Florence fennel is going gangbusters:

Late-summer into autumn is the only time to grow Florence fennel around here. Spring-planted, it bolts as soon as the summer heat arrives.

Up on the second terrace, next year's garlic supply has not only been planted, it's already up:

The shortest day of the year - December 21st in these parts - is traditionally the garlic-planting date. I start earlier in order to give them a head start before the serious cold hits. I bought White Italian seed garlic from the local Agricolo or agricultural supplies store.

And, from experience, I selected and planted only the fattest, healthiest cloves. Growing garlic really is a case of harvesting what you sow. Plant skinny, shrivelled cloves and that's what you'll harvest.

Next door to the garlic, for the heck of it, I've established a test-planting of Savoy cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli:

It's a test because I didn't bother trying to grow anything - apart from garlic - over last autumn and winter. The fact is, the garden is south-facing and sees no sun at all after early October because the sun, low in the sky, never gets above the medieval wall that forms our back fence. Such is the price of a medieval back fence.

In the same experimental vein, I've planted an early variety of broad beans:

They will cope with the low temperatures, whether they'll cope with the lack of sun is a different matter. Thus far, fair enough. And, yes, I need to weed.

The English Spinach, next door to the broad beans, are equally in need of a weed:

Meanwhile, on the top terrace, L'Artista's penchant for black figs has been addressed:

I established this baby from cuttings taken from a friend's black fig tree earlier this year. I've also planted it in what amounts to a bottomless box - the roots contained on four sides by large tiles buried on their edge. The theory goes that containing a fig's roots produces a more compact tree and superior fruit production. We shall see.

It, along with its mates, spent its first couple of months on the terrace in pots of barely moist potting mix, out of the hot sun, partly enclosed in a plastic shopping bag to create a sympathetic, slighty humid growing environment.

Eventually, with root structures developed, the plastic bags came off and the babies were left to develop:

The one on the left is the one I've planted. Of the other two, one is for a friend's garden and the third is a spare.

Roll on the black figs.

And roll on spring!

Olive Stuff

Which isn't to say Stuffed Olives. But you can.

This is our token Tuscan olive tree:

It's had a curious history with us. Two autumns ago, our first year here, it fruited. If not bountifully. L'Artista managed to pickle a single small jar of olives.

Last autumn, zero. Zilch. Zip. I investigated. There is, apparently, a syndrome that causes olive trees only to fruit every two years. I still don't understand it. Why should today be different?

Be that as it may, this year, after some deft pruning and other appropriate care, it coughed up a surprising number of the little beggars:

And here, for your edification, is L'Artista's quick and handy guide to pickling olives.

First, use a sharp knife to slice into each olive, creating just enough of a slit to allow the brine solution to penetrate:

Next, tip the prepared olives into a container large enough to hold all the olives and the brine solution:

That's them in the container with coarse salt, the beginnings of the brine solution. The brine solution is 1/2 cup of coarse salt to 10 cups of water allowing sufficient water to cover completely the olives.

Cover the container.

Next day, drain the brine solution, replace it with fresh solution and cover the container. To save having to measure out the water each time, mark the water level on the container and fill it to that level. Repeat the draining, replacing and covering process every day until the olives have lost their bitterness.

As a rule of thumb, black olives take around 10 days, green olives around 12. Towards those deadlines, try the taste test on an olive. If there's still too much bitterness, give it another day, draining and replacing the brine solution. Or another few days. Until they're right for you.

When you're satisfied, sterilise your storage jars by submerging them in boiling water for 5 minutes.

Drain the olives and transfer them to the sterilised jars.

To preserve the olives, prepare a brine of 1 cup of coarse salt to 10 cups of water. Bring the solution to the boil, then cool. Add the cooled solution to the jars to cover completely the olives:

Then, to protect the olives from any air, add 1cm of olive oil:

Until you're looking at this:

Screw the lids tightly onto the jars and store them until you feel the urge for some home-pickled olives.

When the time comes, drain the oil and brine solution from a jar, fill the jar with cool water and place in the refrigerator for 24 hours before eating.

Maybe even drizzled with good quality EVOO and some fresh herbs.