30 settembre 2012

At the end of the big heat

At the end of the big heat we harvested a basket full of wild fennel flowerheads, and these have been drying in my room ever since, giving off a scent of sweet curry. What you do then is rub them between your fingers and thumb to detach the tiny flowers with their load of fragrant pollen from the stalks, and it's the resulting powder that we're after — a flavoursome spice that weight for weight is (allegedly) more expensive than gold. It smells of curry but tastes a bit like aniseed, a bit like fennel itself. Delicious sprinkled into an omelette or onto roasted tomatoes or a fried egg.

In other veg-patch news: We have now harvested all the winter squash (butternut, buttercup and a huge crop of self-seeded jack-be-littles) and the remains of most of the summer veg. A few tomatoes are hanging on so if we get any sunshine they may ripen, otherwise I guess we'll make green tomato jam again. That seems to be highly trendy at the moment as we saw it at several market stalls over the summer, though I didn't like it very much. Weird flavour. I spent this morning picking the last of the green beans and then pulling up the rows and rows of green and borlotti beans in ever more frantic haste as the Rotovator Man got closer and closer. The veg patch is now nicely dug over so it's time to plant up for winter. In fact a bit late, as usual.

I noticed out on my ride afterwards a lot of mushrooms in the woods which I'm pretty sure are edible, but didn't pick any because, well, I was on a horse... Plus, "pretty sure" isn't quite "dead cert". A few years ago I went on a mushroom course, which is technically a requirement now if you want to gather wild mushrooms — you have to attend a course in mushroom recognition and then apply for a patentino (licence). It's not a bad idea in that its aim is to avoid fatalities; but naturally I remember virtually nothing of what I learnt,  mainly  that most of the real nasties look practically identical to innocuous or edible ones, which is enough to put you off mushroom hunting for ever.

8 settembre 2012

I solved the mystery

I solved the mystery of where the rogue hen was holing up overnight by wriggling on my stomach underneath Mario's trailer in the haybarn and squinting between the big round bales. We'd found several eggs in the vicinity so I figured she must be in there somewhere. Sure enough, I could just make out a chicken-shape at the end of a narrow dark tunnel between two bales, too far away for me to reach. But not exactly fox-proof. Plus — all those eggs? Waste of time being broody, chicken, with no cockerel around.

Well I just left her there, but later John chased her out with a broom handle, and later still Alessio managed to retrieve the eggs by pulling them out one by one using an ingenious tool he made by banging two nails into the end of a long stick. Completely ridiculous idea, we scoffed, but he got them all out and only broke two. And the chicken  had been sitting on a stash of 18 eggs!

Most of them were off, but we had an omelette for supper. The chicken seems untraumatized and doesn't show any signs of trying to re-make her nest. At least not in the bales. We're still getting only one or two eggs a day from three hens, so who knows whether one of them is making a hoard somewhere else?