Albert Einstein once wrote, “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” So when it comes to living peacefully alongside nature, working the land and making good use of everything around us – we realise that it is not enough to simply “know”, it is important that we understand as well.
It was during one of my first facetime calls with my sister, Jodine, when I was walking around our Quinta that she noticed an abundance of windfall oranges on the ground in the orange grove. I could hear the shock in her voice as she spotted them and her disbelief when I told her that we have a lot of windfalls and that are not used for anything. It gave us a bit of a guilt trip to think that we had been blessed with all this beautiful, delicious and healthy fruit and that it was just being left to rot on the ground. It also gave us a kickstart into being more proactive, deciding that during our morning walks we would take with us two buckets, one for collecting the good fruit, and one for gathering up that which was spoilt.
Without doubt, we will be the first to admit that we are one of the fools that Einstein wrote about but on the same line of thought, we are fools that are also keen to understand.
With our buckets of gathered oranges in hand we headed back up to the annexe and set about the process of juicing them. We love drinking fresh orange juice, and found our champion juicer made the grade with hardly any waste at all. It also came with a handy recipe book which I guess will be consulted when our veggie patch is up and running and we have other fruit and veg to hand.
One bucket of oranges yielded about a litre and a half of freshly squeezed orange juice. Not bad we thought. However, we noticed that after a while the juice started to separate and split, with water left at the bottom and bright orange juice at the top. Keen to satisfy our “thirst” (please do excuse the pun) for knowledge, we researched why this happens and if it is a good or bad thing.
When we juiced our fruit, our end product consisted of water (containing dissolved sugars, vitamins, and minerals) as well as pulp. The pulp is made up of little tiny sacs which contain the juice when the fruit is whole. When juicing the oranges, the majority of these are broken down with most of the juice flowing out. If the juice is not filtered, the little sacs are still present and as they are lighter, they float to the top.
There’s nothing wrong with the juice splitting, all that is needed is a little shake to mix it up and it’s back to normal again.
Companies who manufacture orange juice prefer that their juice does not split, so go to great lengths to blend it together, causing the sacs to become much smaller and as a result spread through the juice much easier.
We also wanted to know if oranges grow all year round in Portugal. Although orange trees are evergreen, they do not produce fruit continually throughout the year. Each tree produces one crop of fruit each year, with the fruiting cycle taking up to 10 months for some varieties. However, different varieties have different seasons, either early, mid or late. As this is our first year on the farm, we decided that the best way forward would be to watch and wait to find out exactly which category each of our trees fall into. With an abundance of fruit, our challenge for the moment is to find as many different ways as we can to utilise it. We have already started to create a little frozen storehouse of bottled juice to drink when the trees are bare and over the next few weeks we will be experimenting with cakes, biscuits, preserves and anything else we can think of.
A few weeks ago, when we first started our monumental task of cutting back the olive trees, we noticed lots of little galls or knots on the branches. It seemed that most of our trees had these to varying degrees and our mission to find out the best way to treat this came up with conflicting theories.
Not to be dis-heartened, we contacted our friendly horticulturalist (and curator at RHS Wisley) Matthew Pottage, for some guidance. He sent us a link to a source he trusted.
Olive knot is caused by a bacteria. The bacteria makes the tree produce the galls or knots which are basically a woody olive-derived tissue which the pathogen then lives in.
Some of our olive trees were more infected than others and we needed to know if it affected the olive harvest and what we could do to try and eradicate the problem.
The management of the olive knots involves three strategies – sanitation pruning, chemical protection against new infection and the chemical management of existing knots. Unfortunately, our research came after we had started in earnest to prune back the trees. Basically, we had been pruning them at the wrong time for managing the pathogen as it should be done in hot and dry weather when the bacteria is dormant. The pathogens activity is at its peak during rainy periods, and we have just had Storm Christoph pass through! The other thing that we should have done, and didn’t, was to continuously sterilise the pruning equipment.
Reverting back to the link, we discovered that we need a liquid copper based fungicide to spray on the trees. As we are in lockdown, and reluctant to travel un-necessarily, we spent the afternoon trying to find something that we can order online, frustrated that the only one we could find costs 18 Euros for the product and 21 Euros for the postage.
Given the quantity of the product that we will need to treat 80 olive trees, we decided that the only real option is to travel into Fundao to find an outlet locally. In the meantime, we will make sure that when pruning back the remaining trees, we implement a stringent disinfecting process of the equipment.
Although the trees don’t die off because of the bacteria, the disease can affect the fruit size and quality and can yield an off-flavour fruit, so we are keen to get this resolved and will make sure that we buy our fungicide the next time we need to go into Fundao.
In our quest to embrace and broaden our experience of all things – we have decided that we will try new foods starting with fruit and veg that are not familiar to us.
Walking around our Quinta, we have some large cacti that produce little prickly purple fruits. I recognised these from my trips to Morocco with the Dental Mavericks as being “Prickly Pears” so we decided we would harvest some of ours and look into how to prepare and eat them. Again, we headed to the internet and found quite a wealth of information. It would seem that they can be used to make jams, jellies, smoothies or just be peeled and eaten as a fruit. They are high in anti-oxidants, good for liver health, rich in vitamin C, Calcium, and Potassium, high in fibre and low in carbohydrates. And, with the added bonus of only 40 calories each we thought these were a fruit well worth sampling.
The fine little thorns covering the surface were a bit tricky to get off but once these had been removed, we cut off each end, put a small slit lengthways in the skin and peeled it back to reveal the beautiful purple fruit. The texture reminded us very much of a kiwi fruit although with a mild, sweet taste the texture was the only similarity. They are a bit fiddly to handle and don’t really part with their skins very easily but definitely something that we will try to do more with.
The other thing new to our taste buds was the Romanesco cauliflower. With its eye-catching appearance, we soon spotted this during our monthly trip to the shops to replenish our provisions and brought it home to try with our sausages and mash.
The shape of its little spirals were almost architectural and its unique taste did not disappoint. It has a surprisingly sweet taste, with a slight nutty flavour and unlike its cousin, the cauliflower keeps it’s firm and crunchy texture when cooked. Some salad recipes include it in its raw form with lemon juice and toasted pine nuts, and others pair it up with pasta, butter and crispy shallots.
Both foods received a big thumbs up from us and an equally big recommendation to anyone who hasn’t eaten this to try it for themselves.
Storm Cristoph and the rainy days have meant that we have been restricted to working mostly indoors and took advantage of this do our research. However, this being said, the Ecositana team have continued to make progress with the building work and the barn roof has now been completely removed along with the apex walls. It was great to see the the new roof tiles were finally delivered today. A few test tiles were fitted before the guys wrapped up for the weekend giving us a tiny insight into what is to come.
Although it meant climbing up a rickety old wooden ladder, we were able to access the new first floor of the barn conversion for the first time (our future bedroom). Unfortunately due to the heavy mist which had descended we were unable to exploit the potential of our views… to be revisited on a clearer day.
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… we look forward to hearing from you,
Gill and Mark