October 19th, 2005

I can’t seem to remember what I did two days ago, a sure sign of being busy. In the evenings I’ve been trying hard to work on food processing. Many, many pounds of fresh tomatoes go on the dehydrator in order to emerge as crispy little frisbees. Dehydrating allows us to store something like 8 huge beefsteak tomatoes in a gallon ziploc bag. We’re using the new dehydrator and expansion set that I found on eBay. The seller was right–this thing sucks the water out like an Arizona summer. In less than a day a tomato is reduced to dry slices. This is chestnut time, too. Last night I was up until 11pm shelling out about 3 pounds of nuts. Admittedly this was rather too much to try at once, but I have improved drastically at the job. For anyone who hasn’t experienced a chestnut, I’ll describe. The nut on the tree is encased in an outer husk that nature modelled after an angry porcupine. Usually the nuts drop out of the split husk, and are picked up daily off the ground. If not, a hammer or a well-booted heel is used to mash off the husk. It is not possible to handle the husk in any way without the spines going right through fingers. Gloves don’t help, the spines are like hypodermic needles. The shiny, lustrous nut now needs to be stored cold and at high humidity. To process further, the shell and pellicle must be removed. Each nut must be slit up the side. This requires a lot of concentration, since the nut can slip with poor consequences for fingers. A special chestnut knife exists that I will be purchasing soon! In the meantime a medium-large pot of water is brought to boil. All the slit nuts are dropped in to boil for 10 minutes. About a pound and a half is all that can be done at one time. After the boiling, a slotted spoon is used to retrieve each nut, one at a time. While piping hot, each nut is torn open with a dish towel buffering fingers from the heat. The shell is peeled/torn off. Next the pellicle needs to come off. As long as the nut is still hot and moist, a few well-aimed flicks of a knifepoint will do this. The pellicle’s reluctance to come off is why each nut has to stay in the hot water until the moment of peeling–let them dry or cool down and fuggeddaboutit. With any luck, a nut can be done every minute or so. Three hours of mostly uninterrupted work yields a full medium-large bowl of chestnuts. I want to learn to make the best approximation I can of marron glaces (candied chestnuts), which are an expensive European delicacy. It takes  My first batch was a partial success. Some of the pieces turned out so that I understand the translucent, melt-in-your-mouth chestnut sugar bomb they should be. But I’m a long way from consistently turning out perfectly candied whole nuts. I am also going to make sweet chestnut puree. This is the first year the trees have had any significant yield and it’s really great to be trying these recipes at last, after five years of waiting!

October 6, 2005

During spare moments today I tried to research two produce items–the African Horned Cucumber and the Fatali pepper. I learned that they originate in southern and central Africa, respectively, and that both have turned out to be other than I thought at first. The cucumbers, I just realized today, are those things I have seen off and on in the exotic section of the grocery store for years. They are also called Kiwano, although that is the designation given them after farmers in New Zealand began raising them in the 1900’s. The Fatali peppers are very striking. I have one mature plant from one remaining seed–this plant didn’t want to exist on our farm, but persistence paid off. I have many ripening peppers and will of course be stocking up on the seeds for next year. I knew they were hot, but I let my mind slip on just how hot. Last night I tried to remove the seed from one, and was rewarded by hours of burning skin from all the different places I had managed to spread the oil.  At least this time I kept it out of my eyes, I hate it when that happens. These peppers are habanero-like, but with a strong citrus overtone. I have the goal of turning the entire batch into a small amount of custom hot sauce for a good friend of mine that appreciates such things.

October 1, 2005

Today marked the first nut party of the fall season. The quince and almond tart was baked this morning, and ohhhh it tasted good. Then again, any recipe that uses an entire pound of butter can’t taste too bad.  I bought some nice cheeses–Scottish Arran Truckle, Lemon Stilton, Irish Sharp Cheddar and Cambozola. Those little slices of imported heaven….if you ever want to try something wonderful, go pay the $8 for the wedge of lemon Stilton. I’ve never tasted anything like it, it doesn’t even taste like cheese. It has lemon rind in it and the impression is of lemony crumble melting in my mouth. Highly recommended!!  This nut party was odd. Good friends from work came, we harvested 2 trees. It was windy and that helped take a lot of the misery out of the job. We shelled some nuts but then we mostly went on a pick-a-thon. People went home with big baskets of huge heriloom tomatoes, okra, cucumbers, peppers and cut flowers. I am going to have to make salsa tomorrow, there are gallons of tomatoes staring at me.