Hops In A Hurry

All the stars aligned last weekend and suddenly the hop harvest was underway. The flowers are not supposed to be ready for another ten days, but the weather gods smiled and the hops ripened fast.

Fortunately, it was Easter and those of us with other jobs were free. The plans I had for a quiet holiday were shelved. The hops had to be picked fast, so the call went out — HELP!

And, luckily for us, people responded.  

A Trial Crop

Hops are an interesting crop — and an experimental one for our farm. You see, according to some experts, hops shouldn’t thrive this far south in New Zealand. It’s too cold; too windy; too far down at the bottom of the world. But the experts hadn’t seen the vine Cousin Matt had been quietly nurturing in a sheltered corner of his garden down the road. We knew that one hop plant would grow, but could they grow on a larger scale? We decided to find out.

Hop frames in a tree lined paddock.

It didn’t take long to identify the perfect hop-growing-spot on our farm. We call it the “Tree Surrounded Paddock.” Sheltered from the wind in every direction, flat as a pancake, beautiful soil… a southern paradise for hops we felt. And, two years down the track, the hops seem to agree.

Little boy measuring a hole in the snow.

Hops seedlings may start out small, but in just a few months they shoot up four metres or more. Everyone in the family helped to build the frames needed to support such tall plants.

Tall Hop Plants

Hops need plenty of water and fertilizer, so we put in a small automatic watering system. Last year the timer worked perfectly. This year it didn’t. But, with the drought sucking every drop of moisture out of the farm for months, the hops had to get by on short rations, just like the rest of us. They got watered each week, but not on the ideal daily basis

Interestingly, the hops don’t seem to have worried too much. I mean, just look at all the flowers!

Hop plants on the sorting table.

Harvesting Hops

To harvest the flowers we cut the vines at the top and bottom and carted the whole plant to the picking room aka my brother-in-law’s carport.

On a large hop farm with a huge volume of flowers, this is all mechanised but we must pick and sort every flower by hand. Again friends and family and even the brewers rallied round and we got the whole crop done in two days. It’s not hard work, but it can be tedious. Fortunately, there was lots of good conversation, music and huge home-cooked meals to keep us all going.

Hop flower split to show yellow resin inside.
Inside a ripe hop flower. The yellow is not pollen, but the resin which provides the distinctive hop flavour.

Hops are used for making beer. The flowers contain a yellow resin which is used to flavour the beer. Different varieties offer different tastes and a brewer will blend them to get a distinctive flavour in the beer. Normally the flowers would be dried and made into pellets, to be stored and used when needed. But this year our hops are heading straight to Queenstown’s Altitude Brewing, who plan to make a special green-hop brew. Time is of the essence: the flowers must arrive fresh. There is a very short window of opportunity when making this sort of beer.

In New Zealand, and indeed worldwide, there is a burgeoning interest in craft beer. Homebrewing is on the rise and microbreweries are springing up in all sorts of interesting places.

Now, people are interested in beer as a drink to savour and appreciate. I think it’s all part of the slow living, back to our roots movement that’s happening all over the world.

Beer bottles with sun between them.

We aim to support our local micro-breweries by providing them with naturally produced, locally grown hops. Minimal food miles and maximum goodness. Sounds perfect to me.

Cheers!

More Hop and Beer Stories To Enjoy On The Blog

Altitude Brewing: The Great Adventure

Town and Country: Team Building At Its Best

Precious Pears

There are only 10 minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat. Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Harvest season is upon us here on the farm.

While my farming men are busy bringing in the grain, my own focus is on the bounty given to me by nature and the foresight of our pioneer ancestors.

This week the pears are ready to pick and preserve.

Bounty from the past.

When pioneering families settled their farms here in Garston 120 years ago, the land was devoid of trees. Grass, tussock and rocks were the main features of the narrow, river valley they would come to call home. Mountains lining both sides of the valley kept it freezing in winter and scorching in summer. Food was scarce and largely home-grown. The top priority was establishing a large vegetable garden beside a small, rough farmhouse. And next on the list was always planting the orchard.

For many years orchards, both small and large, were lovingly tended up and down the valley, but with the advent of sealed roads, speedy cars and modern supermarkets, the orchards have become overgrown and neglected in modern times. All the same, the sturdiest trees persist and each autumn they dot the valley with fragrant fruit for us to pick and be thankful for.

Harvest in the present.

So it is, that this week I’m harvesting the pears. It’s not as easy as you might think.

Sometimes the season is poor and there is scarcely a fruit to be seen, but this year there’s an abundance of pears on every tree. There are also birds, who can savour the best fruit on the highest branches which are impossible for me to reach. Not content with their share, however, they like to invade my territory on the branches below as well. They don’t eat the whole fruit: oh no! They would rather sample, leave a small hole, and move on to try the pear next door as well.

And then, we have the wind. Autumn can be a windy season around here, and this year is no exception. Many of the pears end up on the ground before they are ripe. These windfalls are often the ones I collect. They are easy to reach, and being still quite firm, have not taken any harm from their fall. However, danger lurks below. There’s a wasp nest somewhere around the orchard and the wasps begin feasting long before I arrive. They go for the half-rotten fruit, preferably already holed by the birds. So I tread very carefully under the trees, and restrict my haul to the unripe pears, preferably well away from the busy wasps.

The windfall pears are poles apart from Emerson’s perfect 10 minutes, and unfortunately, they are most unlikely to reach that happy state. For years, no matter how carefully I stored them or what ripening tricks I tried, many pears ended up going bad before they’re ripe enough to eat.

But I’m ever hopeful and this year I’m trying a new trick. I read some helpful pear hints in “This NZ Life” and they shed some light on my past pear problems.

Apparently, pears ripen from the inside out, so that even if a pear feels rock hard on the outside it may well be ripening on the inside.  So the best thing to do is to chill the pears as soon as you pick them, then bring out a few to finish ripening as you need them.

Pears and bananas in a paper bag to ripen
Apparently bananas and apples emit ethylene which will help to ripen, or at least soften the fruit.

Pears are a-cooking for the future.

Fortunately, if these new ripening ideas still don’t work, cooking will save the day. Poaching the pears in a sweet and delicious liquid will add flavour and soften the unripe fruit. I don’t have the time, skills (or quite frankly the inclination) to spend hours this week preserving multiple jars of fruit. I’ve tried it before and failed miserably every time.  So now I pick a little every day, and while the evening meal is cooking it’s often joined by a pot of pears bubbling gently on the stove. To preserve them, I’ll simply portion the cold pears into containers with the syrup and freeze.

Soft pears are cooked in a matter of minutes. I don’t trust these to the cooktop: they go into the microwave, with a little maple syrup, a knob of butter, cinnamon, vanilla essence and lemon juice for just a few minutes. They form their own delicious juice and taste exquisite. I’ve just finished cooking up the latest batch that did manage to ripen successfully.  I can’t wait to serve them up for dessert tonight.

But most pears will not be so ripe, so here’s how I’ll treat the main crop of windfall pears.

Pears poaching in a pot.
Pears in their sweet poaching liquid.

Simple Sweet’n’Spicy Poached Pears

8-12 firm pears            4-5 tbsp brown sugar or coconut sugar                

1-2 tsp ground cinnamon            1 lemon

Water                                                     Raisins or sultanas (optional)

What to do:

    1. Cut the pears into quarters, discarding core and stem. There is no need to peel.
    1. Put them into a deep saucepan on the stove (cooktop).
    1. Finely grate the lemon rind.
    1. Juice the lemon. (Use a lemon juicer to get as much as possible.)
    1. Add these to the pot.
    1. Sprinkle sugar and cinnamon into the pot and add water until the pears are almost covered.
    1. Cover and bring to the boil.
    1. Simmer gently until the pears are soft but not falling apart. This could take 20 – 30 minutes, or even longer depending on the size of the pieces and the temperature of the cooking liquid. Slow is best.
  1. Once cooked, add a handful of raisins or sultanas if desired. Leave everything to cool in the pot. The pears will increase in sweetness and the dried fruit will plump up and add more flavour.

To serve:

I love these pears with maple-walnut ice cream. The walnut flavour goes so well with pears, but really any ice cream would be nice. Sometimes I add an extra topping of chopped, toasted walnuts. Cover the pears and ice cream with spoonfuls of the hot cooking syrup.

To download this recipe as a PDF click the link below.

Simple Sweet’n’Spicy Poached Pears PDF

There’s something deeply satisfying about eating food you’ve gathered and cooked yourself. It hearkens back to our hunter-gatherer roots perhaps? Or maybe nostalgically to what we think of as a simpler time.

Your Turn To Talk

Are you a forager who enjoys finding food in the wild?

Or are you, like me, lucky enough to have an orchard nearby, or random trees growing in the backyard? 

Maybe you have hints or recipes to share.

Let’s start a fruitful conversation in the comments.

Harvesting Stories Abound On The Blog

Mushrooms Galore.

Walnut Trees On The Farm

The Old Apple Tree

Hops In A Hurry

Gathering In The Grain

Mushrooms Galore

Field mushrooms in basket

Hooray! It’s Mushroom Season Again

2018 is a bumper year for mushrooms on the farm. Every morning for a fortnight or more there have been fairy circles in every paddock.

It doesn’t happen every year. Last year — and the two before that — mushrooms were a scarce commodity in Garston. The weather was too cold … too dry … too something else.

But not this year. A hot, dry January followed by cool mornings and rain in February equals perfect mushroom conditions.

There’s no telling where they’ll spring up. The ground gives no hint. In the evening the paddock looks as it always does; nothing but green grass as far as the eye can see.  Next morning it’s dotted with white caps.

Field mushrooms are not like the fungi you buy in the supermarket. Those have been raised on mushroom farms, packaged and cooled. They are firm and last for days in the fridge.

These mushrooms are far too delicate for that. We pick them fresh, the same morning they appear. By evening they’ll be drying out. Tomorrow will be too late.

Storing Field Mushrooms

There’s no point in trying to keep these mushrooms in the fridge for long. A day or two is the most you can hope for.

Our forebears dried them, but I like to cook the mushrooms in butter and wine then freeze them in cute little pottles. Then it’s easy to slip their tasty goodness into winter soups and casseroles.

In the Kitchen

But the best way to eat mushrooms is straight from the paddock.  We love mushroom omelettes and mushroom sauce with a juicy steak. Yum!

But my favourite meal is mushroom risotto.

And over the years I’ve managed to perfect a slightly unconventional method for cooking a crowd-pleasing risotto.

I don’t claim to be a chef but honestly, I can’t follow a recipe to save my life. I’m far more likely to check out the basics and tweak the rest depending on the ingredients I have on hand.

And just to complicate matters, “deconstructed” is my go-to style.

When you’re raising four children, each of whom dislikes a different commonly-used ingredient, the only thing to do is give lots of choices.

Between them, my kids hated onions, cooked tomatoes, pineapples and mushrooms. As a result, I tend to cook things separately and let people help themselves to whatever they like best.

So here’s the risotto I made today, with mushrooms and love.

PLEASE NOTE: Some wild mushrooms are very poisonous. You should never pick or eat mushrooms unless you have positively identified them as edible.

2 bowls of mushroom risotto
Not-quite-traditional mushroom risotto – a deconstructed way to give everyone the flavours they prefer.

Lyn’s Not-Quite-Traditional Mushroom Risotto

1 cup uncooked arborio rice 

2-3 cups chopped mushrooms

2-3 cups chicken stock           

 ½ – 1 cup white wine

2 onions, finely chopped 

1-2 tsp crushed garlic

1-2 courgettes, chopped 

4 rashers bacon, chopped

Garlic salt to taste Pepper to taste

2-3 tbsp olive oil + butter

1-2 handfuls of grated parmesan or tasty cheddar cheese. The parmesan has more bite; the tasty adds to the creamy texture.

The 3 Secrets To Creating A Great Risotto

  • Use the correct rice: Arborio is the best.  
  • Add the liquid hot, and in small amounts, allowing the rice to absorb each cupful before adding the next.
  • Taste and use your own judgement as to the exact amount of liquid needed. The heat of the cooking surface and the exact amount of rice you used will determine how long to cook and how much liquid is needed. This particular batch took 25 minutes to cook.

What to do:

Step #1: Prepare your onions.

Melt the oil and butter in a large, deep pan. Add the onions and garlic and cook gently until they are soft and tender.

Step #2: While that’s cooking, chop mushrooms, measure rice and heat the first ½ cup of stock and wine combined.

Stir the rice into the cooked onion until each grain is coated in oil/butter and is well heated through.

Add the hot stock and stir gently. Cover and simmer.

Step #3: Begin to fry the mushrooms quickly in a separate pan.                        

 Field mushrooms can leak far more water than supermarket ones, so it is difficult to prevent them from stewing. I tip out the liquid periodically. Set aside in a separate bowl when cooked.

Step #4: While the rice is simmering and the mushrooms frying, heat the second half cup of water+wine. Chop the bacon and courgette.

Continue to add half cups of hot liquid until the rice tastes cooked to you. Don’t let it dry out: risotto is quite a creamy dish. The rice should be soft but not gluggy. Add pepper and salt to taste.

Step #5: When the rice is nearly ready, fry the chopped courgette and bacon in the same pan you used for the mushrooms.

Reheat the mushrooms if necessary.

At the last minute, stir grated cheese through the rice.

To serve:

Ladle spoonfuls of rice into 3 or 4 bowls. Top with the courgette and bacon mixture and, of course, the mushrooms.

Enjoy!

To download a PDF of this recipe, click the link below.

Lyn’s Not-Quite_Traditional Mushroom Risotto

Do you have a favourite mushroom recipe to share? Or maybe an experience of picking mushrooms in the country. 

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

More From Autumn Harvest On The Farm

The Old Apple Tree

Precious Pears

Hops in a Hurry

Gathering In The Grain

More Farm Recipes On The Blog

10 Tips For Success With A Bread Maker

How To Make Perfect Cheese Scones

Choco-Banana Ice Dream  (how to make a healthy ice-cream in minutes.)

Picking Up What?

“What are you doing next?” said my husband.

“Why?” I asked, somewhat warily. I’ve been caught out by this question before. You never know what a farmer might suggest.

“It’s time you had some fresh air,” he replied firmly. “Come and help me shovel the cowpats.”

So I put down my pen and went to help him pick up poop.

It’s not as bad as it sounds.

You see, last week we sold our 15 cows and calves. They had to go — we’re so dry that there wasn’t enough grass to feed them any more.

I was sad to see them leave. After all, the cows were the main source of beautiful free fertilizer for my tunnel house gardens.

So, really, I was delighted to go pick up poop.

And it really isn’t as bad as it sounds. Now there’s a lovely pile of weathered fertilizer conveniently located near the tunnel house door.

It doesn’t smell. It’s well past that stage. My plants will be pleased.

So am I.

Miaow

“I don’t want another cat.”

I said it, and I meant it.

Our beautiful old boy had died after 21 years and he couldn’t be replaced.

Then along came Miaow, a cat like no other.

We found her one cold winter’s night, sneaking into the pantry to snack on the farm dogs’ biscuits. She’d been “sizing up the joint” for days before hunger drove her in.

She was perilously shy. One whiff of human scent and she fled.

But slowly, cautiously, back she came.  Food, warmth, a place to sleep eventually enticed her to stay.

Over the years we’ve come to an arrangement, she and I.

I feed her every biscuits in the morning and cat food each night. Once in a blue moon she will graciously allow a pat. I can tell she’d love more, but she just can’t bring herself to accept them.

From Wild Cat to Farm Cat

Miaow patrols the territory she’s claimed as hers. There’s no sign of a mouse in the pantry during winter, when she curls up on the box of stored farm papers she’s appropriated as her bed.

The hayshed is home over the summer months. Hidden in the hay, she keeps a close eye on the ducks nesting between the bales. She may be the bane of sparrows and mice, but I’ve never seen her pounce on a duckling. Early on, the ducks and Miaow declared a truce. Muscovies are big: the drakes easily outweigh and outnumber one little cat. Discretion is the better part of valour in Miaow’s pragmatic eyes when it comes to ducks and farm dogs.

Feed Me Now!

There’s no ignoring Miaow when she wants breakfast or tea.  A piercing call leaves me in no doubt that food is required. And not just any food: oh no, a nice cheap can of Chef or Whiskers would never do.  It’s got to be Fancy Feast, please, or maybe the expensive Dine Desire. It’s not worth my while to feed her anything else; the sounds of her displeasure can go on for hours.

All in all Miaow’s got me  wrapped around her little claw.  She is possibly the world’s most unrewarding cat. And yet, I’m pleased that she trusts us enough to stay.

I wouldn’t be without her.

Miaow.

“Give Me Today My Daily Walk”

When I say “I go for a walk every morning,” I’m positive the picture that pops into your mind, is not the reality that is my daily walk.

This is the best way to begin my day. Body and brain, heart and mind — all are refreshed and kick-started into action. It’s the fitness routine that I simply can’t do without

Such a beautiful route

Every day is different as I start walking up the grassy paddock that constitutes my backyard. In December the light will already be well advanced, but now that it’s nearer February, the 6 a.m. daylight is pale. Sunrise over the mountains is still more than an hour away. The dawn chorus is over by now, but the ducklings in their pen by the pond can be heard cheeping long before I see them. They know I’m bringing food and fresh water. The older ducks waddle up, ever-hopeful, but they’re always disappointed. Terry will feed them this evening.

Past the duck pond and into the second paddock. This one is steeper, leading up to the hills which form the rugged boundary of our farm.  Once upon a time, I toiled up this hill, but now I speed up to get my heart-rate going. This familiar walk is no longer the challenge it once was.  At the top, I’m relieved to see water cascading out of the water tank.  The overflow means that all is well with the farm water supply.

Up I go

Climbing through the wire fence, there are many possible routes to take,  but my favourite at the moment is scrambling up the creek. This is the lovely spring that feeds our house and much of the farm. Sometimes it’s a torrent that I wouldn’t go near, but today it’s a trickle. We are so close to drought — but so far this little spring has not let us down.

Where the creek meets the water race I pause to gaze at the panorama spread out before me. It’s a familiar, ever-changing, spectacular view of the valley I call home.

The water race is filled in now —  a winding path that takes me across the mountainside. But it was designed to be a deep ditch, full of rushing water, for use at the goldmine in the next-door Nokomai Valley. There’s no hint of this today.  Now the path is filled with tussock and rocks. The cows and sheep have their own tracks meandering along, showing the easiest route to take through the dips and hollows of the seven little streams and marshes that cross the race.

Heading home

The homeward walk is all downhill. It gives me time to reflect on the day to come and give thanks for the wonder that is my daily walk.

Do you have a favourite walk or an unmissable start to your day?  Do, please,  make a comment about it.  

I’d love to hear about your routine.

A Few More Farm Stories On TOML

Making Hay While The Sun Shines

Gathering In The Grain

Oh! Those Gum Trees On The Farm

Is This Your First Visit To TOML?

Discover the Who, What and Why of Time of my Life