Bearing fruit


This is the result; but first, some back story.

We began work in this garden four years ago. It seems like ago, although it has passed by quickly, but it is not all that much time when you think in terms of trees. With trees, time stretches out before you in decades because the steps that trees take are big long steps that span years. Kaya, on the other hand, takes little steps, so that from one week to the next he is quite a different little fellow.

When we first got here, we had to plant a tree a week. This is because we used a dry, sawdust toilet. Now, most things that I do are driven by necessity, not ideology. We use solar electricity because there is no other kind where we are, for example, not because we are great green giants. But one thing that I do get sort of driven about is water. And although I am not evangelical about it, I disagree with the notion of using water to transport human waste. Overall, although it is stinky stuff and can be full of ick, I can’t see why we don’t face up better to our own excrement and the disposal thereof. To this end, when it came to our toilet, I put my foot down and said no to the septic tank.

This left us with the problem of what to do with our buckets of waste. (They were not as stinky as they might sound, as we used sawdust to bury any deposits, but full is full.)  Our answer to this weekly dilemma was to dig extra deep holes when we planted trees and simply empty the buckets into them. A layer of dirt and a tree later, we could consider our toilet flushed.

Over the past four years, as you can easily calculate, we have planted a number of trees. They seemed to like the arrangement just fine.

(Things slowed down a bit last year when we got a separation toilet. If you are interested in knowing more, I will let Google do the talking.)

We have not had a huge amount of fruit from these trees, as anyone who has planted little saplings will know. The first year, I dutifully plucked all the flowers off of the trees. The next year, they bloomed like crazy and I rubbed my hands greedily. Then all the flowers fell off on their own and we had harvest like this: one sweet red cherry, one jujube, two apples. That is when I learned that plants really won’t be convinced to do anything they don’t want to do. If you want them to do something, you have to make them want to. And a young fruit tree is interested enough in thriving that it will not set more fruit than it is ready to, or at least the ones in our garden won’t!

So when Ali asked me if I had taken a look at the apricot tree down at the Old Water Tank terrace lately, I skipped down the hill and was delighted to be greeted by the tree pictured above. Kaya and I went down to pick them (he was in charge of sampling) and were rewarded with a nice heavy bucket of fruit:


I picked some of them before they were, strictly speaking, very ripe, but I didn’t want the bugs to get into them, and my mother had mentioned that she would like the apricot jam to be not too sweet. I have made jam with half of them, and it is tart, so she ought to like it. With the rest I think I may try my hand a fruit leather. These are tasty apricots, but not crunchy, which is how I prefer to eat them. We have a crunchy apricot bearing tree at the top of the garden, by the road, but those fruits are still green.

My first overabundance of fruit. A sweet predicament!

Marmalade, the second time round.

It is the height of orange season here in Antalya, that time of year when they are really cheap and at the same time unfailingly tasty. And alongside all of the big fat eating oranges and the more diminutive juice oranges, the bitter jam oranges have emerged. These trees are the unfussy rootstock for all of the grafted citrus trees around here, but thankfully some of them are grown for their fruits. They really don’t taste very nice, but they do make awfully good jam. Although we have bitter orange trees in our garden, they are not fruiting yet, so when I saw some in the market one Thursday, then, I immediately bought a kilo.
I say one Thursday because although this is about making a batch of marmalade, it is not the first one I’ve made this season. My first attempt came to a very bad end due to overcooking. Not only did the bottom burn, but it also solidified into a single un-budge-able mass in the pot (subsequent soaking and boiling coaxed the unappetizing mass out). Still, I learned a thing or two. I mean, isn’t that what mistakes are for?
Last Thursday, I got another kilo of oranges, determined to try again.
I cut and juiced them

hollowed them out

and sliced. I don’t like the peel super thick, so I kept the slices pretty thin. Then I soaked them in 2.5 l water along with the orange juice for about a day:

The next day, I put the peels, water and juice into the biggest pot I have and cooked the peels for about two hours, until they were nice and soft. DON’T do what I did the first time and let them boil too hard, or you will lose too much of the liquid — you want to lose about a third, that’s it.
When I say the pot is big, this is what I mean:

I learned the hard way that sugary things can get pretty volcanic when the going gets hot. To get jam up to the setting point, you’ve got to let it boil hard, and the last thing you want is boilovers. Oh, how many of those have I pried off the stove top…
After the peel had cooked, I added 2 kilos of sugar (I know). The sugar needs to melt properly, then the hard boiling begins.
It takes about 30 minutes of vigorous bubbling until the jam reaches the setting point. Using the time honored saucer chilled in the freezer methos, I tested a drop of jam to see if it wrinkled when pushed. It took a lot of tests, but we got there.
The result, this time at least:

Another thing that I did not do this time around was use the seeds of the oranges. Often, marmalade recipes include putting the orange seeds into a square of cheesecloth and cooking them along with the orange peels. Pam Corbin, in the River Cottage Preserves Handbook, claimed that the pith of the orange has plenty of pectin in it to set the jam. And wouldn’t you know it, she’s right!
Her recipe is available here as well as in the book, which I wholeheartedly recommend to jam lovers.

Non-electric appliances that I love #3

Tea and toast
On a chilly morning or a cloudy afternoon, there is nothing more pleasing than tea and toast. In the absence of electric kettles and toasters, this pair does the job very nicely. Growing up, I remember having a copper kettle in the kitchen for much of my early childhood in the US. When we moved overseas, electric kettles supplanted it, but I remembered the cheerful whistle of our old kettle, and was delighted to receive this kettle as a birthday present from my mother.
On the right, your eyes do not deceive you if what you see is a simple heat diffuser for the stove. It doubles very nicely as a toaster, though. I love toast, so I was excited to learn, from Adi Pieper’s book, “the Easy Guide to Solar Electric (part 1)”, that in spite of not being able to plug in a toaster, I’d still be able to have my toasty slices. I can feel my eyes glaze over and my mind becoming impermeable when I read about electricity, so I can’t claim to fully understand our solar power system, but I do well with rules of thumb (heating and cooling are largely out of reach) and useful tactics.
In addition, I am experiencing a slight strawberry jam obsession. We ran out of last year’s jams (peach and quince) a few weeks ago, right as strawberries started showing up at the vegetable markets. I made a batch of freezer jam that turned out pretty well, but I had a recipe that I’d been curious to try. A while back, before my mom moved to NY, a friend came to visit from Paris and brought us an extraordinary bottle of jam. It was seedless raspberry jam, if you can believe it, and it had been made by a woman named Christine Ferber. I soon learned that she is a famous jam maker, and that her cookbook, “Mes Confitures”, was available on English. Naturally, I got a copy, and strawberry jam would be my first foray into her methods.
It was, to me, an unusual recipe that required not only that the berries be macerated overnight in sugar, but also that, once brought to a simmer the following day, they be macerated again overnight. Then the syrup was to be strained and cooked further, and the strawberries added for a final cooking. It was then, she promised, that the berries would “become translucent”. Surely not, I thought. But as I peered into the pot of boiling syrup, with strawberries bobbing to the surface, I caught a glimpse of a translucent berry. I fished one out with a spoon and admired it. The berries had been transformed into glistening jewels. And the jam is just wonderful on toast.