Monday, 26 May 2014

Making kumquat marmalade

Many years ago..(in fact the amount of years qualifies for a 'Once upon a time.." beginning), my mother gave me a kumquat tree in a pot (for my 21st birthday). This little tree was lovingly tended and repotted as needed for a few years but never bore fruit. When we moved to another state I couldn't take the tree with me so I left it at my in-laws house. My father-in-law (Henceforth known as Dad) planted it out in his yard and the little tree grew like a weed. It began to bear fruit in the second year in the ground and Dad dutifully picked the fruit and either gave it away or gave it to us when we were visiting as he didn't like the taste of them.

So for years I have been collecting about 15kg of Kumquats once a year and making marmalade. We are not huge jam eaters in my house, so the little pots of distilled sunlight mostly became gifts and sale items on my market stalls.

I thought I would share my simple recipe with you;

Beautiful little orbs

My first step is to wash and chop the fruit; I take as many seeds as I see out as I go, but alway miss a few.

Chopped and deseeded
 Next I weigh the fruit and add two litres of water to every two kilos of fruit. I use a stainless steel boiler to make my jam as it has high sides and a heavy bottom.

Weighing the chopped fruit.
 The fruit and water mixture is boiled for about 20 minutes, or until the fruit is soft. At this stage I scoop any seeds out as they rise to the top of the water.

Fruit in the boiler with water.

The fruit all cooked and smelling lovely.
 When the fruit is cooked I gradually stir in one kilo of sugar to every kilo of fruit (weighed before cooking). You have to be careful to dissolve the sugar fully at this stage, so lots of stirring is required.

Jam boiling away, 

The jam needs to simmer away for a while to get it to set. The time required varies, but you can check for set by periodically dripping some jam onto a cold saucer and looking for gelling. When the jam is ready to set the drip will not run when the plate is tilted and it gets crinkles on the top when poked at.

The jam should be bottled into sterilised jars (I wash the jars then 'cook' them in the oven for 15 minutes) while it is still hot. Use jars with metal lids and put the lids on straight away to encourage a good seal.

Lots of little jars of sunlight, ready to be stored, sold or given away.

This year I also made some Kumquat liqueur by popping the chopped fruit into bottles of vodka. These bottles will be squirreled away until 2016 when they will be shared with reverence at a Yule party (or similar).

Some Kumquat liqueur aging slowly. 
This marmalade is a little runny (which would improve if I added a lemon to the mix) but has a wonderful sweet/tart taste that goes well with toast, on roasting pork or chicken and can be used as a topping for cakes and slices.

Local insects and animals - the brown quail

You can only see her head in this photo; we had to hold her securely as she really wanted to get away from the camera.

Yesterday we had a visitor in an old chook pen which has been empty for some time. My daughter heard a commotion, went to check the pens and found a little bird. The little quail was fluttering about trying to escape from the pen so my daughter caught her and bought her up to the house to be checked over (we weren't sure how long she was in the pen for). Thankfully she was Ok, but the encounter reminded me to check the empty pens regularly.

The brown quail is an unassuming bird at first glance; dull brownish plumage and a tendency to freeze when they hear anything make them hard to spot, but up close they reveal brilliant maroon eyes and soft satiny feathers. Their tiny little feet and legs remind me of chickens, but much more delicate.

They have an omnivorous diet of seeds, green shoots and insects, much like a miniature chook really. Brown quail live in social groups called coveys, breeding between December and January in tiny nests on the ground. Both sexes take turns incubating the eggs and the young leave the nest as soon as they hatch. The babies look like tiny brownish cotton balls with match stick legs, huddled under their mother or father for protection and warmth.

The babies are so beautiful.

The marking of brown quail are apparently very diverse.

I am glad we have a population of these delightful little birds in our backyard and I will be sure to provide plenty of low stubble and insect habitat for them to use.

Friday, 16 May 2014

From fleece to tote bag and all stops in between - part three

Time to dye my skeins of wool....

I love using natural dyes, they give such varied results and each pot is unique.
However, for making my tote bags I need large amounts of the same colours so I use commercial acid dyes.

Using acid dyes is so easy and  the results are beautiful.
Here's how I do it (I'm sure there are easier ways).

Here is my washed and set skein. No dye.

First the skein gets another wash (there is a lot of washing in spinning)

Then I gather the ingredients I need for dying; vinegar, the dye and a big fork for fishing the skeins out of boiling dye.

A damp but clean skein of wool

The dye is mixed with water in a stainless steel pot and bought to the boil. I added a good dash of vinegar to the mix too.

The wool is added to the pot, which is still on the stove being heated to a low simmer. Smelling strongly of  vinegar and wet wool now.

When I judge the wool is dark enough...I fill the sink with clean, hot water and rinse the skein. Then I rinse again, and again until the water is clear.

The finished skein, dyed black (even though it doesn't look it)

A close up 

A finished skein.

Next I begin to knit a bag...........see you then.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Happy Samhain to all.

Well, maybe happy isn't the word......

At the end of April we hold Samhain in the Southern hemisphere (some people know it as Halloween).
It's the time to celebrate the coming of Winter, with it's cozy fires, hearty soups, specialty breads and family togetherness as we all gather close to fend off the cold. The other side of the coin is that at this time we lose the old, the sick and the ones too young to survive the harsh season (usually roosters, chooks, ducks and sometimes a dog or horse, but humans too). Traditionally we would slaughter our excess stock (not people) now so we don't have to feed them through the winter.

This Sabbat is all about honouring our dead.....the ones who die so we can live; both the stock we slaughter for food and the old or sick who let go so there is more to go around. We say thank you to those who have made the sacrifice before us and realise that one day it will be our turn to make the decision to let go or hang on for one more turn of the wheel.

In past years we have gathered at a local cemetery to carve jack-o-lanterns (punkies) and put flowers and candles on the graves, before holding a dumb supper (completely silent) and laying out some food for the shades who come to visit. This year, as we are all getting older, we held Samhain in our circle with a huge comforting bonfire and we invited shades to join us through the gate in the West. It's nice to visit with our departed loved ones (my Nanna is a real entertainment) and to feel that sense of connection to them once more.

This was our western altar. It wasn't really on its side, it just came out that way. The punkie on the altar was grown in our sacred garden we saved the seed to grow more for next year. 

Another shot of the western altar.

Our expert bonfire builder has been at it again. That fire sure warmed our old bones.

The western altar before we raised the veil and invited the shades to join our feast.

One of our happy little punkies

Nothing beats a warm fire on a cold night.

Our sacred garden in the background, waiting for spring and more planting.