Saturday 10 December 2011

Gormless in France

Until Christmas we were totally Gormless....
at last the cellier is almost complete...
The underfloor heating is connected up [and working] so the final wall area could be completed with a worktop and the fridges underneath.

This is what the sides looked like before the view was obscured.


the Tower of Gorm* is finished!
We brought with us the IKEA wooden shelving from our cellar in Leeds.

The basic frame with the new rails.
Rant Warning... Rant Warning
The German family we sold the house to didn't want anything left behind!
And we mean ANYTHING!!
They even wanted us to clear out the kitchen units... BEFORE completion!?!
Oh yes?... we thought not!! What if the sale hadn't completed?
But... apparently that's the way it is done in Germany... you move lock, stock, barrel, hinges, doors, light fittings and the kitchen sink! But we think Peter was glad we didn't remove the sink... he ended up camping in the house for nine months to work on and oversee the conversion... which was difficult. He was trying to leave a lot of the original features we had kept.... but bring the house up to modern insulating standards... very difficult to leave ornate architrave and cornices and insulate the walls they are on!

So, along with everything else we brought the IKEA shelving.
And a wardrobe and a tallboy.... because the charity shops didn't want them!
But we are very glad we did... everything that is 'reasonably' priced in France seems to be made of MDF with a paper 'skin' that is printed to look like wood.
We like real wood... something solid [massif], preferably, or a good, thick, wood veneer if not, over plywood, good chipboard or thick MDF. Something that doesn't date too much as well.
But the shelving was intended to come with us... [I just felt like having a rant there! Tim]
Our excuse... it is a dull, grey morning after a rainy windy night...

Shelves in place- a few bottles there to test the important bit!
We have turned the shelving, from wall units, into an island to fill the empty middle of a large room.... and have created room for more shelves as a result.... not too difficult when you have the uprights to use as a drill guide.
The new shelves are solid, not bars, as we are using the 7€50 pine planks from the brico. This will be very useful for the beer and the small jar shelves as things tended to tip into the gaps 'twixt the bars before [and often created a domino effect].

Some of the "more room" replaces the metal shelving that had to go to the tip before we left... it was so rusty, weak and flimsy that we'd started to store empty bottles on it to lighten the loading. Empties will now be stored in the grange in those boxes that moved our preserves, wine and beers.
We only brought back a few bottles of wine that had been purchased over here... didn't quite get the purchase/consumption level correct there... shoulda bin zero!

These are some of the home-made shelves... these are spaced for small bottles.

Then we can start emptying the boxes full of conserves, pickles and instant ice-cream mixes [just add creme fraiche or yoghurt before using the machine]. The latter came around by accident... jams that just wouldn't set... but now stuff gets bottled deliberately at the halfway stage.... after a disaster with a dead freezer and the new one that was delivered.... dead! Another reason we are so keen on older methods of preserving... and part of the reason for choosing France, where, apart from the USA, everywhere seems to sell the equipment and chemicals you need. But we haven't found a source for sausage skins or saltpetre yet... anyone?

All shelves in, filling up fast...
* The actual IKEA furniture was called Sten... but this has now been replaced by Gorm.... same stuff, but the wood is cheaper and thinner and the finish isn't quite as good. We've got both here.
And the "Rise of the Island of Sten" just doesn't have the same ring to it!!
More Gorm will most likely be purchased to store 'stuff' [Pauline's term for things Tim has in boxes] if we can brave a trip to IKEA in Tours.

Saturday 3 December 2011

Pumpkin weather

It's a miserable day today with rain and blustery winds - a perfect day for staying indoors and doing indoor things. While Tim is putting up lights in our cellier, I am converting half a Crown Prince pumpkin into preserve. This year we grew three types of pumpkin / winter squash:
  • Crown Prince - a variety originally from New Zealand and grown widely for its sweet, dense flesh. The name comes from the little warty ring like a crown around the flower end of the fruit. The skin is battleship grey and thin. The flesh is deep orange in colour and smells of apricots. Ours weigh in at up to four kilos and we got seven fruit from three plants, including two smaller ones. These keep in cool conditions until at least May of the following year. 
      Crown Prince - before the knife goes in
  • Butternut squash - two varieties of this, Harrier and Hunter, both grown for northern European conditions. Butternuts always produce a load of male flowers and take an age before any female flowers appear, but these varieties take off (sorry) a bit sooner than normal. We got a very good crop from both varieties - I've never seen either of them in France and Hunter actually came from the BBC's "Dig in" project. They look, taste and perform very much alike, producing a light-tan barrel-shaped or gourd-shaped squash that taste excellent and keep until at least March. We had to hand-pollinate to produce a decent crop - strip the petals off a male flower and dust the pollen into a female flower. Any kind of male squash flower will do for this, including courgette.
  • Red Kuri or Uchiki Kuri or Red Onion Squash - a Japanese name for the French potimarron. Graines Baumaux reckon that Red Kuri is a superior strain of potimarron, and sells seeds both of the Japanese and French strains. This is a very pretty, tasty squash, onion shaped, deep orange when ripe and comes in a nice range of sizes, from a few hundred grammes to a kilo and a half. It is truly prolific and  produces fruit much earlier than the other two. The flesh is less dense than butternut or Crown Prince, of a rich chestnut flavour. They don't keep as well as the other two, but still store well into the winter.
Red onion squash or potimarron

Here's the recipe for Pumpkin Preserve - thanks to Virginia Sandon for this!

To each 4lb / 1800g pumpkin you will require:
     4lb / 1800g sugar
     ½ lb / 225g butter (unsalted)
     juice and zest of 6 lemons

Remove seed and peel from pumpkin and cut into dice approximately ½ inch / 1cm square. I find it easiest to quarter a hard pumpkin like Crown Prince, remove the seeds, cut it into 1cm slices vertically, peel the slices then dice them. Steam the diced pumpkin for half an hour or until soft enough to penetrate easily with the tip of a sharp knife. If using soft moist pumpkin, place the cooked pumpkin in a muslin bag and drain overnight (not necessary with Crown Prince or butternut). Weigh the cooked pumpkin and measure the other ingredients accordingly.

Put everything in a preserving pan and bring gently to the boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Boil gently for 20 minutes or until thick, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. The result should be a fairly thick spread; some little pieces of pumpkin may be expected. Put into warmed jars and seal.

This half yielded 3lb of cooked pumpkin

The yield from exactly 3lb of cooked Crown Prince was six Le Parfait "Home Made" 385ml jars. These jars are on special offer at Intermarché at the moment at €9.90 for twelve - that's a genuine bargain!
Potted up and cooling - then on with the labels.