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.

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 180ÂșC. 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.

The Eggstractor Homemade Autonomous Egg Collector

One of the problems with having chickens is what to do if you want to go on holiday.  Water and food are fairly easy to solve but collecting the eggs is more difficult.

Sarah designed the Eggstractor which is basically just a crate with a way of decelerating the eggs so that they don’t smash. We have been using this system for almost 3 years and it works perfectly. As far as I know it is not possible to buy one or even buy a similar product which would solve the same problem. 

Being able to see the chickens over the internet is a good idea. One time we were in a storm crossing the Bay of Biscay in a ferry and we were able to watch the chickens getting onto their perches. 

 

Making Pear Wine

We have a large winter pear tree. Every year the pears fall onto the floor. By mid December they are almost ripe. Some of them have started to rot and the Jay birds have started to peck at them.  Winter pears are strange because if you pick them off the tree earlier in the year and store them inside they don’t go ripe. They seem to prefer being outside or they need some frost before they ripen.  About 3 years ago I decided to try and use my pear  windfall. After a while surfing on internet I found that the Roman soldiers who were stationed in Britain had no access to grapes so they bought pear trees with them and made pear wine. Roman soldiers tended to drink a litre of wine each day so they must have needed a good source of wine.

My pear wine recipe is very simple and could be very useful in a dystopian  post technological age in latitudes where there is no grapes but it is still possible to get sugar.
I suppose the Romans’ pear wine must have been pear beer because they had no access to processed sugar so the alcohol by volume must have been about 5%. (maybe they used honey)

Ingredients:
 A treeload of ripe winter pears maybe 100kg
Some yeast. I used Young’s Dried Active Yeast.
Lots of sugar.
Boiling water.
Sodium Metabisulphate

Equipment:
200 litre plastic barrel
Plastic trugs
Knives

Method:
Cutting up pears

Pick the pears discarding pears which are totally rotten.
Wash the pears in cold water to get rid of old leaves and other debris.
Cut the pears up into chunks. Maybe 1.5cm chunks. Discard all the really nasty rotten bits but keep the over ripe areas. I did not discard the cores. 

Throw the cut up pears into Sodium Metabisulphate solution and let them get covered in the solution.

Three years ago I did not use any chemicals and everything was fine but last year the whole batch of 150 litres turned to vinegar. I don’t like using chemicals but as I am using semi-rotten fruit hopefully it will stop it turning to vinegar. I got the pears out of the metabisulphate trug with my hands and put they into an intermediate trug before throwing them into the plastic barrel. 

Metabisulphate bath for the cut up pears

Metabisulphate bath for the cut up pears

The next thing to do it to pour boiling water into the plastic barrel as fast as possible. We use every available kettle and put big pans on the wood stove.  The idea is that the heat of the boing water will kill any unwanted bacteria. I don’t know how hot we managed to get the must but it was too hot to put a hand in, maybe 60C. 

Heating up water

Heating up water on the wood stove

The next thing to do is to put in a lot of sugar. I put in 22kg. It can be disolved in the water in the pans but it seems to disolve OK in the actual plastic barrel.

I used a refractometer and the sugar reading says that this has an alcohol potential of 5%.

I want the wine to be about 13.5% so I use my Chapitalisation Calculator

This is what it tells me

“You have 150 litres of must
At the moment your must has a potential alcohol volume of 5 %
You would like your finished wine to be 13.5 % alcohol.

To do that you have to add 24.23 kilos of sugar to the must.
BTW: That is 53.42 pounds

If fermentation goes OK I will add about 20KG of sugar after a couple of weeks.

It is very difficult to be scientific about the amount of alcohol because the pears are in chunks not in solution. Supposedly they have a sugar content which would be about 5% alcohol. The last bit of sugar is added bit by bit.

The yeast and Pectolase is added the following day one the liquid has cooled down.

Maybe I had beginner’s  luck with my pear wine 3 years ago. It was wonderful. The pears shrivelled and the wine cleared on its own.  All I had to was siphon it off in April.

I served it chilled to 11C and it was really tasty.

 

 

 

 

How to cork a wine bottle using a hand corker.

This is my first ever instructional video explaining  How to cork a wine bottle.

bottle corker

The bottle corker

Why do we bottle  wine

Putting wine into a  bottle with a cork is an excellent way of keeping the wine until you want to drink it. When wine is stored it should only have a very small amount of oxygen available. Uncorking  a bottle of wine is a pleasant ritual which many prefer to using a screwtop bottle. The corks seen in the video are number 9 corks and are they are the most common. They should last 10 years with no problem.

When to bottle wine
The simple anwser is when no more gasses will be created which could cause the bottle to explode. Wine made from Grapes is picked in the Autumn. The initial very vigourous primary fermentation when most of the sugar is converted into alcohol, lasts about 10 days. The fertmentation then slows down and then many people say that the wine should be kept in a cool place for the  first winter.  The cold temperature seems to help the wine clear. The wine is just about drinkable by March of the following year and by May it should taste good. However, wine is not generally bottled until at least one year after it was first  picked because  sometimes  more subtle types of fermentation can occur such as maleoactic fermentation. This could create carbon dioxide which may cause the bottle to explode. Other types of wine such as champagne and fizzy wine can be bottled when fermentation is still active but they need high pressure bottles and a special cork. It is possible to stop a wine fermenting when it is still sweet by adding Potassium Sorbate which stop the yeast reproducing. However we never put chemicals of any kind into our wine.

 
Cork crusher

Where the cork is crushed.

The video below explains how we put cork into the bottles. For a very small producer like ourselves, a small floor mounted hand corker is enough for our needs. In reality we store a lot of our wine in recycled 5 litre plastic containers. However, a bottle of wine with a cork and a label is a pleasant object so we always bottle some to give away as gifts and to add a sense of occasion when sitting around the table etc. By the way the sphincter like crusher in the centre is called an iris. It dilates and reatracts a bit like the iris in an eye.