puglian vendemmia

Having relished our English Autumn, we had a lovely trip to Puglia in half term and it was wonderful to see Italy at a time when the olives are being gathered. There are bags of walnuts and almonds outside every village shop and the trattorie all feature wild mushroom dishes.

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Our holidays over the last few years have mainly been British seaside bucket and spade fests, partly because flights in school holidays are so expensive and also because we’ve loved finding hidden Welsh coves and Dorset crabbing spots. Discovering somewhere completely different, leaving our abundance of apples to explore Baroque towns and rural areas with olive nets laid in readiness under ancient trees was such a different treat.

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We stayed at Casa Cicerali, a beautifully restored stone farmhouse with a wonderful wooden decked pool overlooking olive and almond groves. In between Ostuni and Cisternino, two little hill-top towns that were great to explore and buy delicious provisions from, it was also a 20 minute drive to some lovely Adriatic beaches. It wasn’t hot, but being hardy English girls (and the Adriatic sea was distinctly warmer than the Welsh sea that we’re used to) Ruby and I swam in the sea and Ruby made trulli sandcastles.

casa cicerali

Casa Cicerali has been restored by an English family whose modernist white house somehow fits into this valley of vines and olives perfectly. Their girls go to school locally, they were so welcoming from offering to cook us supper for our first night (a baked pasta dish with Italian sausage, home-made bread and brownies – all delicious), lending us buckets and spades and leaving a large jar of their own almonds which we scoffed throughout the week. We could pick any fruit from their trees too (Quince and Persimmon during Autumn).

casa cicerali pool

It was great to have a local family give us ideas for exploring the area, and their recommended local village restaurant was amazing value. Wonderful and abundant antipasti left us hardly any room for the delicious wild boar and cardoncelli mushroom ragu with pasta. Thank goodness for the walk home to let it go down – through little country lanes that gave us great glimpses of the orti (patches of land where the villagers grow olives, almonds, fruit and maybe a few vegetables).

We shopped at the local market for food, coming home with squid, sausage,lentils and tomatoes to cook and eat on our lovely terrace.

nov 2015 179nov 2015 180Exploring the Baroque streets of Martina Franca, Ruby discovered a florists shop where all the flowers and bouquets were made from candy, chocolate and almonds. Then we got caught in a rain storm and drank far too many strong espressos and ate nutella pies while we sheltered in a bar.

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Now we’re home to English rain and copious apples and quince in place of prickly pear and persimmon. I’m loving the large bowl of almonds we brought home from Casa Cicerali on our kitchen table. They remind me of our great holiday every time we get out the nut crackers.

 

mellow fruitfulness & focaccia

Rampant storms seem to have taken over from all those misty mornings and mellow fruitfulness. Soon all the russet leaves will be on the ground, so before I forget what an utterly stunning Autumn it’s been, I thought I’d recap. And in true “hygge” style, savour the cosiness of wintry baking.

DSC_0718focaccia me

I can’t remember an Autumn when Keats’ words were more apt. This season of “mists and mellow fruitfulness”  has been exactly that: so many mornings eating breakfast while the sun attempts to break through the mist hanging low over the fields. The coppery, golden and amber hues have been more vivid than ever, stunning as a bright blue sky replaces the mist as a backdrop. And as for the mellow fruitfulness, many of the Quince have been made into membrillo and jars of jelly, Ruby and friends collected rose-hips for syrup and apples are in plentiful supply.

Quince253

The wood-burning stove is lit most days and it’s time for slow-cooked stews and baking. Quince and Apple cake from Sarah Raven’s fab ‘Garden Cookbook’ (one of my most-used cookbooks) is my new favourite cake, quince has been used in a Venison, Quince and Cider Stew today and the smell of baking bread draws me into the kitchen. More tempting than venturing outside this week.

I’m still loving using the sourdough starter (offspring of Priscilla Queen of the Refrigerator) kindly sent to me by Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, while Ruby and friends are ever niftier at cake-baking. I can let them get on with so much weighing and mixing, even chopping these days without chaos but it’s good to see that cleaning the bowl from chocolate cake is still the preferred baking activity. And although rapidly growing up, my daughter still has fingers that are the perfect size for those dimples in foccacia.

This is the focaccia recipe I generally use:

500g strong white bread flour

1 dessert spoon Maldon sea salt + extra for sprinkling

I x 7g sachet dried, fast-action yeast

2 tablespoons olive oil + extra for drizzling

3 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves chopped

 

Mix together the flour and dessert spoon of salt in a large bowl and add the yeast along with 350ml warm water and the 2 tablespoons of oil. Bring together into a dough and knead on a floured surface for 10 minutes until the dough loses its stickiness and becomes nicely pliable. Put it in an oiled bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and leave for an hour or so until doubled in size. Knock back the dough and leave to rise again for another hour then press into a lightly oiled rectangular baking tin. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to prove for 1/2 hour (close to the oven) while the oven heats to its highest setting.

Use your own fingertips (or borrow some from a child as I often do) to poke rows of dimples. Well, maybe not quite as orderly as rows if you’re anything like my daughter – or me. Drizzle liberally with olive oil (it will collect deliciously in those dimples) and sprinkle with sea salt and rosemary. You can vary your focaccia each time, maybe pressing halved cherry tomatoes into the dough or some olives.

making focaccia

Of course I haven’t just been gazing at leaves and baking lately – it seems as if our lives are ever busier, particularly with work and school. All the more reason to make focaccia!

autumn days and woodburner cooking

      

The view across the field from my shower on a crisp morning always lifts my spirits. There’s something very lovely about enjoying the hot water while glimpsing long frosty grass and the sun trying to burst through behind the yellowing leaves of the oak tree.

This weekend the sun was very successful in its bursting through and we were all keen to get outside as soon as possible to enjoy the blue sky and autumn sunshine. With the nights drawing in, I’ve been missing my dusk gardening and all the clearing/chopping back/mulching that gardeners are meant to be doing this month has been sadly neglected.

So although I’d taken a joint of pork (from our very tasty Berkshire pigs) from the freezer and marinated it in cider and garlic, it was a day to enjoy being outside rather than in the kitchen.

Having lit the woodburner first thing, I quickly brought the oven to full heat. We do this by filling old paper flour sacks with sawdust (there are always piles of it in Guy’s workshop from his carpentry work on the house). The packed sacks added to the woodburner make the temperature soar quickly so it’s ideal for the first 20/30 minutes of browning the joint, ensuring good crackling. I then covered the joint in foil, let the woodburner die down (to around 140C but it’s all a bit imprecise) and let the pork cook slowly all day while we attacked the garden. Anyone popping in for a cup of tea checked if the woodburner needed a log adding to keep it ticking along.

Mog and Tiger followed us outside, even Guinea enjoyed the sun in the field next to us.

We pruned, made bonfires and dug the weeds that have started to grow in the area that the pigs cleared this summer. The curved lawn that Ruby planted with grass seed in September is growing well.

The pigsty is currently stacked with surplus wood for the woodburner (our permanent woodshed is rammed full). I plan to plant fruit trees and wild flowers along the fence at the back and am working on beds of flowers and vegetables radiating out from Ruby’s curved lawn. As you can see there’s plenty to do.

Ruby helped with a few jobs too. She enjoyed harvesting more nigella seeds (I sneaked in a good spot of digging and mulching with compost while she was occupied), cleared the trampoline of leaves and carried bean sticks to a pile. Obviously there were bribes.

     

I have my eye on the leaf pile for mulching my bare soil. In the meantime, Ruby had other ideas. She declared it perfect for “leaf dancing”. Towards the end of the day, the smell of pork coming from the kitchen was tantalising. Ruby was more interested in making herself a leaf bed.

While Ruby was transported straight to the bath in an attempt to remove mud and leaves, I took the pork out to rest and stoked the woodburner up again with a sawdust packed wood sack. Saturday’s tea had been home-made pizza (also cooked in the oven of the woodburner) and I made far too much dough.

The surplus was left to prove very slowly overnight on our cool bedroom windowsill. I rolled this into little rolls which were baked on the woodburner until golden. We ate them hungrily filled with pork, apple sauce and stuffing. Although the apple sauce and stuffing seemed very English and all of the ingredients for our supper were very local (mainly from the garden) we liked to think that the slow-cooked, tender pork was a little like pulled-pork or Italian porchetta.

Perhaps it was the Tuscan style soup I made later in the evening (unable to resist making more use of the woodburner’s heat) with borlotti beans, lots of our cavolo nero from the garden and a pork bone for flavour, that gave me the Italian vibe. The temperature in our kitchen after the woodburner had been going all day was definitely mediterranean anyway.

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