August 2010


We sleep on top of the bedclothes because it’s too hot. In the coolest part of the night, pre-dawn, it’s 25°C. The day quickly heats up. By 2pm it is often over 40° (104°F) in the shade; add 5° to this in the sun.  It is unwise to work in the afternoon, even in the shade. The temperature doesn’t drop below 35° until an hour before sunset, so our working day in August is fairly short.

All our fruit is exposed to the full sun, so it’s hotter than we are when we pick it – tomatoes, melons, sweet peppers, pears, cucumber, all hot.

With our steady supply of tomatoes, peppers and cucumber Janet makes gazpacho (a Spanish soup) and has to add ice cubes in the blender – a bit different from simmering a soup!

We love melon, and have the wonderful privilege of eating it chilled and very fresh, floral aromatic and sooo refreshing in hot dry evenings. They are just coming into their own and we will soon be eating half a melon a day! We have four varieties so we hope to avoid getting bored of them. Janet makes great fruit smoothies so melon juice will probably appear in those for a while.

The first larger-scale crop came from our pear trees. After finding a promising recipe for preserving pears on the internet, I picked twenty “Seckel” and carefully peeled them. Some had a worm in, so I saved what was good and picked a dozen more, peeled and recovered what I could then weighed them – only three pounds and the recipe specified four, no less. So I did twenty more, keeping the peeled pears in brine so they wouldn’t oxidise. It was now lunchtime, and it had taken two hours just to prepare the pears! Cut a long story short, at 9pm (!) I had three 1lb jars of Belgian pears – delicious, but taking a whole day . . . ? !

The next day I started much earlier, with thirty Bartlett pears. They were tastier but less intact, and I needed thirty more. Again, it was after lunch before I could start cooking them. This time I produced four jars of delicious conserve, and under half of our pears used.

Butternut squashes are supposed to be harvested in September but ours looked ready. I tried one, roasted; it was delicious! Janet gathered the ripe ones – thirty of them weighing 22Kg, which are now in the adega (wine cellar), with more to come. If we eat one roasted every week we’ll eat the last ones next May!

A fair proportion of the figs were ready to pick and we spent most of a morning climbing up and down a ladder, gathering twelve kilos.

Janet arranged them to sun-dry on a trestle table made from one of the former metal doors of the house. There are several pleasures in this job, apart from the satisfaction of having lots of “stored sunshine” for the winter. One is munching the live green figs straight from the tree – yummy! The second is known only to fig-pickers.

A few figs, when absolutely ripe, exude a drop of honey-like sap from their base. This evaporates to a glassy droplet of natural mildly fig-like caramel which tastes gorgeous. This droplet dries off in under one day, so it can’t be saved – it has to be savoured when it is found. This slows my harvesting down but I work in a blissed-out leisurely manner in the hot sun. Three days later many more figs were ripe so we harvested another thirteen kilos. There are probably twenty kilos more to ripen and pick, so another day is set aside for them.

Many bunches of grapes look ripe to me, which may mean it’s a vindima (grape harvest) soon. This is one of the highlights of the year. Our tractor mechanic, Sr Antonio, asked us if we would help him with his harvest – he has over four acres of productive vines to do. There will be lots of other folk helping too, working all one weekend. It will be interesting to work in a gang and to learn how the locals do it.

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There are some pleasures in life which require one to endure hardship in order to appreciate them. They are earned. Two of these pleasures follow having to mow tinder-dry grass in the blazing hot sun. The tractor changes colour to light brown. I get covered in dust which sticks to the sweat soaking my skin, my t-shirt and the top of my shorts; even my hair becomes a dense straw-like thatch. I return from the forty-degree heat to the apartment feeling dirty and scratchy, looking much like a man made from dust, overheated and absolutely parched. Then come the pleasures!

Dusty tractor

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After extracting my feet from the dusty farm boots, I empty a whole tray of ice cubes into a half-litre glass and stir in quarter of a litre of apple juice. When it’s chilled, top up with cold water and drink it all. Then do it again, topping up the ice! And again – the pleasure is astounding, when your body is too hot and has lost so much moisture.

Next, the cool shower – I just peel off my rammy clothes and stand under a torrent of tepid water. Then turn it off, shampoo my thatched hair and use shower gel scrub all over. Turn the water on and drench myself, watching all that dirt go swirling down the plughole as I cool down and get clean. Then it’s clean clothes and lunch time – chilled fresh tomato and cucumber soup! These pleasures are called Refreshment and on a hot dusty farm, Refreshment is where it’s at! We eat lunch where we spend most of our free time, under the shade of the new veranda. We’ve hardly been inside the new house yet because it is breezy outdoors.

JJ the JCB man came and removed all the piles of rubble from our building work, leaving just three tons of granite boulders for me to use in building walls next year. Not cheap, but what an improvement it has made to the environment beside the veranda. The Alumínios (aluminium doors and windows) business have now installed all our windows and shutters, made in cream-lacquered aluminium to complement the granite and pointing of the house.

They have enclosed our conservatory with a triple sliding door at one end and all windows can slide to keep it cool in summer yet warm in winter.

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July has seen the departure of the swallows from our study, and a doubling of the number of bee-eaters in the flock which live near the apartment. The flock is now nearly thirty strong, and each morning we are awoken by their lovely calls which sound like muted referee’s whistles.

We have had to learn how to deal with fresh food gluts, as the veg garden is now in full production. Throughout July, Janet harvested over a pound of tomatoes a day and three cucumbers a week. Now (first week of August) she gets half that, but she continues to bring in far more courgettes than we can eat. The sweet peppers are steadily giving us the balance of ingredients we need to have garden-fresh gazpacho (chilled raw veg soup) for lunch most days, and she sun-dries the surplus tomatoes which shrink to a tenth of their original size.

I’ve used our steady supply of aubergines to make Greek moussaka every week, and the surplus became an Indian pickle. Now that the accumulated heat is cooking most plants on the ground, our supplies are smaller. Only the melons, the onions and butternut squash are still going strong. My automatic irrigation is working well, providing the veg with moisture morning and night, but we have to supplement that with a good watering by hand.

It was not easy to obtain butternut squash seedlings, so when we found them we bought ten, not realizing that each plant may give four fruits and ours look set to do just that. So, what can we do with the likely glut? We’ve thought of roasting them, making soup from them, maybe there’s a dessert pie, perhaps chicken in mushroom sauce with mashed butternut topping. We are open to suggestions / recipes / ways to preserve them . . .