Picking and Cooking Sweetcorn

A corncob

Success with growing Sweetcorn
2020 has been a very good year for sweetcorn. It is now mid September and we have been eating fresh sweetcorn regularly since the start of July and we should be eating fresh sweetcorn until at least mid October.

How to grow sweetcorn.
It is now possible to buy super sweet varieties of Sweetcorn seeds at any seed shop. I plant my seeds in a big flower pot or just any container which has soil at least 10cm deep. I put the seeds about 1cm down and about 5 centimeters apart.  I plant them out when the little plants are  about 12 cm high. Sweetcorn does not like the cold so it is best if the average temperature is over 14C when they are planted out. I doubt if they would survive a frost.

This year I made extra effort to fertilize them well using only organic fertilizer. Under each plant I have put a 3 double hand fulls of cow manure and one double handful of chicken manure. I prepared the ground using a small fork. Once they started growing well I put a thick mulch of leaves to suppress the weeds. Sweetcorn grows best in a group of plants rather than a line  so I have planted rectangular groups of about 20 plants.

To be able to harvest sweetcorn over a long periods of time I grow 3 or 4 patches. When one clump of sweetcorn gets well established I plant some more seeds. This year, eating sweetcorn every couple of days for months on end has been heavenly.

When to pick sweetcorn.
Each sweetcorn plant grows 2 or 3 corncobs.  People say that you should  open up a corncob and push your thumbnail into into a kernel. If you see a milky liquid it means they are ready. What happens if they are not ready? You have just ruined a corncob. The best indicator of being ready is when the beards go brown. Each corncob has a lot of strands coming out of the end they eventually turn brown. When almost all of the beard is brown they are ready.

How to cook sweetcorn.
The big problem with sweetcorn is that the fibrous kernels get stuck in your teeth. This problem gets worse as you get older because as you get older there are more gaps in between your teeth. This year we seem to have solved this problem. Either after cooking or before we cut the corncobs into bite sized pieces. The incisors at the front of your mouth cut the kernels of  the corncob without getting stuck in your teeth.

To cook sweetcorn put it in cold water, bring to the boil, simmer for between 10 and 15 minutes. Leave in a water for 5 minutes. We are at 1300 metres high here so water boils at 95C, your cooking time might be less. 

How to store sweetcorn.
If you don’t manage to eat all your sweetcorn fresh then you can leave it to go dry. Just pick the corncobs, take off the outer coverings and put them in a dry airy place. The best way to use dried corn kernels is to make sweetcorn fritters or maize fritters. There are loads of recipes on internet. The other way to store them is by canning/bottling them and the result is the same as canned sweetcorn that you buy in the supermarket. You will need a pressure cooker to get the temperature very high because sweetcorn does not have much natural acid. There are lots of instructional videos on internet.

Sweetcorn cut into pieces

Here is a video of one of our sweetcorn patches.

Soap Making

The aim of this blogpost is to chart, document and record my attempts at soap making.

There are hundreds of videos online but I found Everyday Elly’s ones (for sourdough and soap) particularly helpful for general information about soapmaking, and how to calculate quantities, store and cure soap, etc. Here is a link to her YouTube channel: Elly’s Everyday.

Soap made from pure olive oil is called Jabón de Castilla or Castile Soap. Years ago, when we lived in the Sacromonte area of Granada, Consuelo our neighbour would sit in the street outside her house stirring a large vat of leftover oil mixed with caustic soda. Any oil would do she told me and it would make a pure soap that you could use on your skin or clothes. 

The second time, I made soap I used the proportions suggested in Elly’s Everyday for Castile Soap:

600g olive oil
109g water
79g caustic soda

The important thing is to add the LYE to the water and wear safety goggles, mask and gloves while making the soap. 

The total weight of the soap made was 788g and this was enough for 7.8 bars of soap made in the silicone moulds.

The percentages for each ingredient are:
76.14% olive oil
13.83% water
10.03% caustic soda

I have calculated that each mould holds 105g so the quantities for one bar would be:
80g olive oil
14.5g water
10.5g caustic soda

The quantities for 4 bars would be:
320g olive oil
58g water
42g caustic soda

The first time I made soap with this method, I placed boards below and on top of the mould and wrapped it all up in a large towel. This supposedly helps the saponification process and ensures that the bars saponify evenly.

I took the bars out of the moulds on the morning of the third day after I had made it. They were all OK except for one so in the future, I will remove them from their moulds after 3 days. 

 

Baking Bread in a Wood Oven

Pizza Oven Being Lit

We have another page about making cakes in a wood-fired oven here.

Here is a description of how I make bread in a bread oven.

The Heat:

Cooking in a wood fired oven is complicated because unlike an electric or gas oven, you can’t set an exact temperature which will remain constant.The temperature is more like a curve on a graph. The main idea of a wood oven is that the initial fire will cause the walls of the oven to heat up and that heat will be given back into the oven over a period of time. It is also possible to keep a small fire going at the back of the oven to maintain the temperature over a long period of time. This technique would be used for example for a pizza restaurant who have to serve pizzas over several hours. In our case, we just heat the oven up at the start and let it cool down slowly.

If possible, it is best to use the heat for as many things as possible. For example, the oven can be heated up to 450C to make some pizzas at 2pm. At 3.30pm the temperature is just right to make cakes, bread, or roast some butternut squashes for later use. Later on, we can roast some almonds, then use the heat to sterilize some glass jars for tomatoes and when the temperature gets down to 50C, we can even use it to dry some figs overnight. The oven can also be used for smoking fish. It is always best to try to make the best use of the energy that we have used. 

We use a thermometer which came with the oven which has a metal probe and a dial (as you can see in the photo above). It is probably not that accurate because it only measures the temperature at one place in the oven but after a few uses, the thermometer will give you a good, rough indication of the temperature. If you want to know the correct temperature in any part of the oven so that you could follow a recipe, it is best to use a hand-held digital thermometer.

There is an air cut off in the chimney and the door of the oven. Generally speaking, we leave the air vents open in the burning phase and close off the air for cooking. 

There is no substitute for trial and error when using a wood oven. You learn how much wood to use and more or less how the temperature curve will behave by getting a feel for it over time.

Making Bread:

Bread made in a bread oven

Obviously the most important ingredient is the flour. In our case, we buy ready mixed bread flour from Lidl supermarket which has all the necessary ingredients such as dried yeast and nutrients already added. This flour is actually intended for use in bread makers. I mix the dough in a Kenwood mixer with a dough hook for 4 minutes. I have it wetter than they recommend in the instructions on the packet. If you want to knead the dough by hand, then you would have to have a drier mixture. 

I let it rise in the mixer bowl until it has risen quite a lot (1 hour). I then put it in tins and let it rise again for another hour. Make sure you put some oil in the tins to stop it sticking. I always cut up an onion and add it to the dough and I also add some nuts such as walnuts or almonds. It doesn’t make it taste oniony but it seems to make it go stale slower.

Cook for about 45 minutes at 180ºC. People say that homemade bread is heavy but the secret is letting it rise enough. If it does not rise, you have either got bad flour with not enough gluten or bad yeast. In a wood-fired bread oven, all these time periods change every single time. If you don’t have any bread tins, roll the dough into balls (the size of a squash ball), put them on a flat baking tray and put them in the oven when they are the size of a cricket ball. It’s not a problem if they stick together as they will pull apart after cooking. When you take the bread out of the oven, knock it out of the tins or it will go soggy. If you can’t easily shake the bread out of the tin, it probably is not ready yet. After taking the bread out of the tin, leave it on a rack with air circulating around until it cools. If there is too much for one day, cut it into slices and put it in the freezer.

We have another page about making cakes in a wood fired oven here.

Butternut Squash Bhajis

We grow a lot of butternut squashes. As long as they are undamaged, they usually store well in crates so that we can use them throughout the year. One of my favourite ways to cook them is to cut them into 1/4 or 1/6 lengthways and roast them in the oven with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and possibly some spices. When we are at the farm, however, it is not always feasible to light the bread oven and so I have been looking for stovetop recipes and experimenting with different recipes and ways of cooking them. I though that a potato rosti might work but without the starch that potatoes have, it was too difficult to flip. And so my quest began for more recipes. This recipe is based on one for onion bhajis.

 

BUTTERNUT SQUASH BHAJIS

butternut bhajis


INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups coarsely grated butternut squash
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons self-raising flour
  • sunflower oil
  • 1/3 cup water

METHOD

  1. Whisk the egg in a bowl and add the flour, water, spices and salt.
  2. Stir in the butternut squash.
  3. Heat some sunflower oil in a frying pan.
  4. Form quenelles using two dessertspoons.
  5. Gently put into the oil.
  6. Cover the pan and fry for 3 minutes on each side on a medium flame.
  7. Remove the lid and continue to fry, turning every two minutes until they are golden and crispy and cooked all the way through.