I have had varying success making wine over the years, dandelion was lovely, beetroot tasted like beetroot, but not in a good way. We made wine with shop bought grape juice in Abu Dhabi, with was nice enough, so after I’d made a couple of years supply of marmalade in Jan 16, and still being very enthusiastic about having my own orange grove, I needed to find something else to do to preserve the thousands of oranges on those trees.
I found a recipe on the Jack Keller wine blog, a very valuable source for wine making, which uses the zest of 12 oranges (with dire warnings to remove all pith) and the juice of 24, plus sugar, water, yeast and yeast nutrient, to make 5 litres. I made a double batch ( 10 Ltrs) but didn’t have any yeast nutrient ( have since learned how to make my own). It took about 2 hours to zest and juice those oranges. I put them in my primary fermentation bucket, added my ingredients, stirred like a madwoman, Fermented for a week, racked into a demijohn with airlock for a month, racked again after another month, taste tested at each stage…. and it was vile at every stage!
It tasted like a very strong whisky with an aftertaste of……orange peel! I guess I must have let a bit of pith remain on the zest after all. In any event, I decided to bottle one demijohn full in April 16 and let the other ferment a bit more, finally bottling it in Jan 17. The flavour has improved slightly over time, I get a bottle out now and again when we have guests just to guage their reaction, some friends have found it to be disgusting, while others have quite liked it. I find it goes well with elderflower cordial and soda water as a spritzer. In December 18 we opened the last bottle and it was still horrible.
However, undeterred, we made another 10 litres in March last year, and opened the first bottle last night, it was surprisingly nice! A fruity, dry white wine with just a hint of orange. Unfortunately, I don’t know why this batch turned out better than the last, so just hope I can replicate it this year. The Valencias are nice and ripe now (I’d used navel oranges previously), so fingers crossed🤞🤞
Wow, how time flies, almost 2 years since the last update in which I promised to blog every month🙄.
The farm is doing very well, last year we dedicated a lot of time to planting, growing, improving the land. We’ve been converting the vegetable garden to no-dig, and it’s working well. Our biggest successes last year were definitely the pumpkins, squashes and melons, they were prolific. We had 3 crops of watermelons from the same plants, some weighing as much as 7kgs! Tons of Petite Gris de Rennes canteloupe, which tasted like honey or brown sugar, delicious and definitely worth growing if you can find the seeds. The rabbits loved them too, so we had to over them with plastic olive crates as they ripened. We grew about 10 different varieties of pumpkin and squash, including spaghetti squash and oil seed pumpkins. We were inundated with courgettes and cucumbers and grew a lovely yellow tomato called lemon tree, which was good eaten both fresh and cooked.
We planted more trees, lemon, lime, grapefruit and avocado. Had our first (small) crop of apricots and nectarines – had a much bigger crop of apricots already this year – and the June berries produced abundantly for the first time. The apples and pears have improved every year since we’ve been here, we harvested at least 60 kg from one pear tree last year, and that was after thinning out the crop in June, and feeding loads to the pigs as we were picking. We canned a lot of pears, made pear butter and pear wine – which was actually delicious.
The grape harvest was ok, we made 60 litres of wine, but unfortunately, like all the wine produced in our village, it has an after-taste of cheese and onion crisps 😖
The figs were great again, and I dried many kilos, froze a few kilos and made about 30 jars of fig chutney. That fig chutney has become legendary around here, and I’ve given loads away, and even had chutney making sessions with friends!
Maisy had her calf in October 17, a bull we called Bo, for various reasons we still didn’t get round to milking her. Bo grew into a strapping beef steer, and is now in the freezer. Maisy is due to calf again any day now, and she will be milked!
We still have Georgia and Hazel, and they are producing 1.5 litres a day, which is enough for us. I make feta, mozzarella, halloumi, chevre and paneer. Gave up on the cheddar as it was too sharp.
We’ve been unlucky with our sheep this year, one ewe died (We think pregnancy toxaemia) in the New Year, she was pregnant with twin lambs; one of our first time mum’s wouldn’t feed her lamb, so we bottle-fed her, she’s now fine. Another first-timer had a lamb that died after 3 or 4 days, during a cold snap, either the mum wasn’t feeding enough, or not keeping the lamb warm, so very sad.
Pippa, the spotty pig, had a litter of 12 piglets in September, unfortunately one was ill and had to be dispatched, and the next day Pippa crushed one of her piglets and sat on another, breaking both its legs! That piglet was struggling to survive, as it couldn’t get to it’s mum to feed, so after a few days of bottle feeding her, we decided to bring her into the house. We called her Skippy, as she could only hop around, rather than walk. An X-ray confirmed that she had 2 broken femurs and the vet said she was unlikely to walk again. Skippy lived in the house with us for a couple of months (which was interesting) and then when she was 2 months old, we built her a house in the garden, where she lived, and ran around, until she was 6 months old. There came a time, as we knew it would, when she would get too heavy to be able to get around easily, and when that time came, we dispatched her humanely, through floods of tears, and into the freezer she went!
In September we acquired another sow, Louise, a British Berkshire. She came to us for our boar to ‘service’ her, and decided to stay with us 😁. She had 16 piglets on 30th December, not a great birth, as piglet no. 3 was stuck inside her. Our daughter, Holly, being the less squimish, and having the smallest hands, went in at the business end and pulled that piglet out! Piglet 15 was still-born and piglet 16, the runt, was nowhere to be found next morning, either it wandered outside the run and Louise was too exhausted to stop it, or she ate it, knowing it was unlikely to survive. Anyway, Louise was just the best mother, never getting upset when they constantly tried to feed from her, exceptionally gentle when she laid down near them, and all 14 survived. We still have 2 of her daughter’s.
We did little to the house last year, but we did build a log cabin for guests. This year we plan to finish the house, and are having a new roof put on the main part of the house at the end of this month
We have approximately 15 fig trees of various types, white, black, yellow, bright green ( even when fully ripe) and one that has green and yellow stripes. This year they have been prolific. I’ve processed over 30 kgs so far, mostly drying them halved or whole. I’ve made fig and orange jam, which is so-so (and definitely not as good as the cherry or apricot jams I’ve made this year, or the marmalade). I made figs in balsamic vinegar (lovely) and took that a step further by making figs in homemade blackberry vinegar (heavenly) and then came across this recipe from A Mother in France blog site. Not only is this the best fig chutney ever, it’s about as close to Branston Pickle as you could get!
For any Brits living overseas who crave Branston but can’t find it this is the recipe to try – and believe me, I’ve tried every Branston copy cat recipe on the internet, none have come close.
This has got to be the hottest year since we first started coming to Portugal in 2012. It’s been in the mid 30’s for several weeks, and 40 degrees for the past few days. We’ve had very little rain over the winter, the wells didn’t fill up at all (we have 2 that are overflowing by end of December usually), and I’ve been watering the vegetable beds since January! Fortunately we have a natural spring that never runs dry. The forest fires have started in earnest, 12 in our county today already, and a huge fire near Coimbra last night in which 25 people died and another 20 were injured, very sad. I’m hearing the fire-fighter planes going over us constantly this weekend 😢
On a brighter note, our female pig came into season within a couple of weeks of being here (I’m assuming for the first time as she’d been in with the boar for several months before coming to us) and after lots of piggy activity, she was pregnant. Gave birth to seven gorgeous piglets on 1st April and all survived. She’s a really good mum and fell in love with her babies the minute she had them. However, it was so hot when they were born that we had to stop free-ranging them and bring them in under cover, as they became sunburned on their very first day! We still have 2 of the boys, which we’ll raise for meat, the rest have gone to new homes. We gave one to a neighbour who has been incredibly generous to us since we arrived here, 2 were bartered for 2 truck loads of manure (black gold and costs a fortune here) and 2 were bartered for 2 days work (which will be tiling the kitchen floor).
Lucky, our boar turned out to be not-so-Lucky, and we dispatched him on a (rare) miserable day at the beginning of May, with the help of our friends Brett and Sandra. We didn’t weigh the carcass, but at a guess I’d say he weighed 200kgs dead weight. We shared the spoils with B & S, and when they do their boar, we’ll help in return for half the meat.
Keeping the ‘anti-money’ theme going, we have 2 milking goats on permanent loan from Brett and Sandra (ours wasn’t pregnant, despite my wishful thinking in my previous post). They have too many goats in milk at the moment, and as we have none, they have very kindly made this offer. Our 2 loan goats, Georgia and Hazel, are giving us just over a litre of milk between them from once a day milking, but we really need to start milking twice a day as they are uncomfortably full in the mornings. So far I’ve made feta cheese, yogurt and ice-cream, and have restarted my milk kefir culture.
And the reason we didn’t have any of our own milk was because we stopped milking Cindy, our lactating ewe (first lamb born on our Quinta, as mentioned in the previous post) as we’d bought a cow! Maisy, a seven year old Dexter who’s calf was being weaned (by virtue of Maisy coming to our Quinta) so that Maisy would be in full milk production. With an anticipated 5 -10 litres of fresh cow’s milk everyday, we’d give Cindy a rest. However, Maisy was having none of it. Any attempt to get near those, extremely full, udders was met with a full-on, aim to maim, kick! And for such a small cow she can really kick high – backwards, forwards, side-ways, any-ways. She hadn’t been milked in years, if ever, by humans, and she wasn’t about to start now! We tried the age-old trick of tying a rope around her belly, and whilst that stopped her kicking (traps a nerve apparently that prevents kicking until they get used to being milked), she wouldn’t let-down at all. Maybe moving house, losing a calf, new people, just stressed her out too much, because outside of the milking shed, she’s lovely, and getting friendlier by the day.
The good news is, Maisy is very obviously pregnant again, and must have been so when she came to us ( unless she’s sneaking out at night to party with the cows across the lane😳), so we’ll give her another go when she’s delivered, letting the calf drink first so that she lets down, and then Tom and I diving in, she’ll never know the difference…..
It’s been over a year since I last updated this blog, where does the time go? So much has happened in that time so I’ll attempt a recap before posting individual items or recipes – and a resolution to update the blog at least once per month.
So I moved here full time last November, after commuting between Portugal and Abu Dhabi for almost a year, which was exhausting, and got stuck in to improving the land and continuing the renovations. We went from living in one room, without running water or electricity, when I arrived, to having a full solar electricity system set up in December and plumbing to (what would become) the kitchen and bathroom in January. By February we had the bones of a house, even if the kitchen floor was still mud!
We lime mortared and lime-washed the kitchen walls, laid a kitchen floor and installed a granite kitchen in the summer – in 40 degree heat, just in time to host our daughter’s wedding in September. Built a bathroom, although that’s still a long way from being finished, however, the house is now cosy and comfortable so we can make improvements as time and money allow.
The land is improving in leaps and bounds as it hadn’t been ploughed now for 2 years and we’ve had our animals grazing and fertilising it. The difference in 2 years is just amazing. We’ve rotated the sheep and goats around the land and we bought 4 pigs in March to root out the brambles and add more manure, more on those later. The olives, figs and oranges have been great this year, and the land is 80% grass now – it was 80% weeds/wild flowers 2 years ago.
We are currently digging berms and swales on the driest hills to plant an orchard/food forest and a woodland.
The vegetable garden got off to a bad start early in the year, it was cold and rained continuously until Mid May and the seedlings I’d started off in trays/pots barely grew. I planted everything out end of May and it became intensely hot very quickly. I planted pumpkins, melons, butternut squash and spaghetti squash. Got one musk melon, one watermelon and one spaghetti squash – it was just too hot for them to be pollinated. However, the aubergines, tomatoes, peppers and chillies did exceptionally well. We’d made a hugelkulture bed the previous Autumn and planted it up with in May. It was the bed that we watered least but it produced the most. We were still picking peppers and aubergines in November! And of course, we were inundated with courgettes.
We planted tobacco, and it did really well, easy to germinate and grow, and more or less left to get on with it with minimal care – and then Tom gave up smoking in September juse as it was ripening, so now we have no need for it 😏 I’ll use it as a mulch/insecticide instead!
We gave the goats away in 2015 as they were a nightmare to keep. They ate everything in the vegetable garden, destroyed trees and were impossible to contain. The last straw was when they got into our neighbours farm and ate his newly planted fruit trees! However they went to a good home and they are doing very well. Our ewe gave birth to twin lambs but only one of them survived and now is a fully grown ewe expecting her first lamb(s) in February. We had another lamb born in February, who is also now a fully grown ram who we’ll keep for breeding. We got 2 goats from a friend,who are lovely and well behaved ( in comparison to the first lot), and we are hoping that the female is one pregnant.
Our Muscovy ducks have been prolific breeders this year, we had 40 ducklings survive from 4 hatches. We’ve given some to friends and neighbours, dispatched some with about 20 more destined for the freezer, and one of the females is already sitting again! We have a breeding pair of geese, who we hope will start breeding soon! We’ve grown from 6 hens and a cockerel last year, to 9 hens, a new cockerel and 10 chicks now.
We bought 4 pigs in March, they were tiny, although 3 months old when we got them. I thought they were Kune Kune pigs, but now I think they were micropigs gone wrong. We slaughtered them at 6 months and the biggest was only 30kgs, compared to 100 kgs for our Gloucestershire old spots in the uk. On the plus side, we were able to put a whole pig in the freezer and then in the oven for a hog roast for the wedding. We now have 2 ‘proper’ pigs, the Portuguese Bisaro breed, which look remarkably like Gloucestershire Old Spots!
We made our own wine, jeropiga and aguadente (local firewater) and lots of different liqueurs, foraged and preserved….getting closer to our goal of being (almost) self-sufficient.
The builders have finished the first stage of the renovations, and that part of the house looks fabulous. The roof is made of locally sourced round pole beams covered with pine planks ( all treated with an Eco-friendly preservative). 5 cm thick cork insulation, waterproof membrane ( neither Eco or local unfortunately, but necessary) and finished with local terracotta tiles.
The inside of the house looks dark in this photo, but it’s just a bad photo- it’s light and sunny and look at the lovely ceiling!
The lintels for the window openings came from our land and the windows are reclaimed, stripped and varnished. We are now looking for matching doors, French windows for the living room and bedroom, stable type doors for the kitchen ( which will probably have to be made new).
Tom is pointing the inside walls with a lime mortar this week and then we’ll start on the floors. We’re very fortunate that the house is built on granite bedrock, so no rising damp. I’d like an earthen floor in the bedroom, but they take too long to lay, dry and oil, so we’ll probably go with wood. The kitchen will be laid with flagstones possibly onto a tamped earth floor – we haven’t quite reached agreement on that yet but we have agreed – no concrete!
We then need to ‘fit’ the kitchen and bathroom, and get all this done by end of September as all of our furniture is currently outside!