500 Year Vision

Take pleasure from walking lightly on this Earth

A glut of apples, or a blessing?

October25

This month I bought a steam sterilising bath and have been experimenting with bottling both apple sauce and juice. The apple sauce is, for Brits, solely the preserve of Pork (ha) – we’d use a small dollop of it with our Sunday lunch in the same way that you’d use mustard. Not so our American visitors – it’s something it’s eaten with relish (ha ha) at many opportunities – just on it’s own, with oatmeal (porridge) or used as a cooking ingredient. We now have enough to see us through a nuclear winter, as my husband puts it. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

One simple recipe I personally love is to melt a bar of (good quality) chocolate into apple sauce.  I absolutely love this as a quick dessert if we’ve been working hard and need some extra calories.

Apple juice!  As ever, I’ve been looking for a way of preserving juice without using additional chemicals.  I’m prepared to live with juice which isn’t the mellow yellow colour of shop bought organic stuff.  To keep it green, you have to process it in an oxygen free environment (unfortunately we don’t have a lab), or add quantities of ascorbic acid or lemon juice – fine if you’re making glasses of, rather than gallons.  So, the juice is delicious, if a little brown. I’m not selling it – so if you don’t want to drink it because of the colour, that’s fine with me.

We have been gathering the apples, washing them, then mashing them with a huge bat – a bit like an oversized baseball bat with a flat bottom (as our American workawayer Reba demonstrates) . We use a metal bucket for this bit as the mashing is somewhat fierce. Every apple is squashed up quite effectively using only muscle power. The mash is then loaded into the press (an old fruit press/sausage stuffer which came with the house) which now lives on the back porch. A piece of sturdy nylon hose (never worn) is used to line the press which makes it easy to take the apple out and rearrange it for a second and third pressing.  We catch the juice that comes out of the top and leaky bottom of the press and then sterilise and bottle it.

Bottling apple juice is a sensitive subject & the method developed by trial and error has caused many broken bottles.  The apple juice is heated to 80 degrees c, and the washed beer bottles are heated in the steam steriliser up to 90. The caps must be doused in boiling water. You need to kill any yeast which could potentially turn bottles of apple juice into little bombs (the fermentation will cause great pressure as the juice is very sweet, causing the bottles to eventually explode).  Once the juice is poured into the bottles, we cap them using a crown capper (a special clamp which fixes on the lids of beer bottles). Up until now I have been returning them to the steamer for up to 5 minutes at this point – however this is a sensitive operation and I have lost several bottles  – I think because if there is too much of an increase of temperature, the bottle will pop, leaving you with glass, juice and time wasted.

With my next pressing, I plan to go without the 5 minutes in the steamer as the juice and equipment should be fine with the temperatures used above.  Currently, we have enough apple juice for us to use a litre and a half every week till next season.

The cider we set fermenting earlier in the summer has now all been racked off into 5 litre bottles which are down in the cellar to mature. It will be interesting to see what is more popular with our visitors, home made cider or non alcoholic apple juice.  Adding to these the apple we have dried in recent weeks, we really have made the most of the extraordinary crop of apples we’ve had this year.

The miracle that is Air Yeast!

October15

One of the brilliant things about hosting volunteers here is how much they teach us.  Over the summer, Rosie returned. She’s been doing all sorts of interesting things since she was here last year – including working in a free shop in Nottingham, taking over an allotment and teaching Forest Schools – where they take little ones into the woods and teach them skills as well as just how to play outside. Rosie know someone who is running an art project called Exponential Growth. This project encourages people to use a yeast culture that they grow, care for and share.

We were sent a starter culture from Loughborough in the UK which languished in the fridge for a bit while we searched for some rye flour to feed it. Luckily it was adopted by Joshua when he arrived at Nový Mlýn. Joshua has been travelling through Israel and Palestine as well as the further flung outposts of Eastern Europe and acted as our master baker while he was with us.  Bread was hand made on a daily basis.

We were concerned that our pet yeast may not survive without Joshua to care for it, but we’ve discovered that we can make a daily loaf of delicious sourdough bread in the bread machine. If course, it doesn’t quite have the character of the range of loaves produced by Joshua, however it does have the advantage of at least being bread, made at home on demand and much nicer than store- bought loaves.

We keep the pet yeast in a ceramic jug with a knitted cotton cloth over the top and feed it at least every 12 hours, each time adding matching quantities of water and flour – so the end mix is 1/3 starter, 1/3 water 1/3 flour. It doesn’t seem to matter very much which flour we use as the yeast breaks it down into a smooth bubbly batter.  Once the jug is full of a frothy mix, we stir it before tipping most of it into the bread machine – (4 tea cups full, if you’re counting), then add two tea cups of other flour, a good glug of extra virgin olive oil and a flat teaspoon of salt.  We then set the bread machine so the loaf will be ready for us first thing in the morning (so often it has an extra 6-8 hours to sit and ruminate further).

We all miss Joshua very much, especially Bunbury, but he lives on with us in yeast form.

Sustainable Foodie Culture

August11

A few different people have commented recently about how central food seems to be to our existence at Nový Mlýn. The kitchen is the heart of the house (even though the kitchen is currently in the lounge, with no drainage or running water). As the dishes are put away after one meal, it’s about time to start preparing for the next.
We eat, on average, 3 or more times a day – the usual times plus elevensies or afternoon tea if someone decides to bake a cake, make cookies or flapjack. After some hard physical labour, food tastes particularly nice, and we deserve the extra calories! If people weren’t working hard, then they would risk gaining weight staying here.
This summer we’ve started making our own pasta, basic cheese and bread (with the help of a fantastically useful bread maker). We also incorporate wild food into every meal – nettle & lambs quarters have replaced spinach, ground elder is a tasty bulky herb and chickweed appears in all our salads. We also have Burdock root (a Japanese vegetable), wild sorrel and watercress around and about. Of course, we’ve been picking the raspberries and bilberries from the forest… and adding these to honey to make a syrup. The terrible weather in recent days has also meant that we have fantastic mushrooms right now.
This is also our first year of growing vegetables at Nový Mlýn – a crop of potatoes (complete with a colony of Colorado Potato Beetles), a forest of courgette plants – though only two actual courgettes so far, many tomato plants, peas, carrots, parsnips, rocket, essential coriander (the green seeds are lovely in salads) – however it is the edible wild greens that we’ve had the most success with – I plant peas, and lambs quarters appear…
We also now have 8 hens, who each lay on average six days out of seven. When we have more than 4 guests with us (frequently over the summer) we have to top these up with bought eggs, unfortunately, so we should maybe plan on having more hens here next year.
Finally, 2010 has been the year that we’ve started to experiment with cider making! The valley is full of apple trees, after all. Our first batch from windfalls is busily bubbling away. The neighbour didn’t seem very optimistic about our prospects, but Czechs don’t have a Cider culture – they drink either apple juice or distil it into hard alcohol. You can only buy (very expensive) cider in specialist pubs here. We eagerly anticipate the results of our experimentation.

87 solutions to be found…

July23

Anyone who is renovating a large house using little more than elbow grease and some judiciously applied paint , as opposed to a Grand Designs budget… will know that for every repair made, another problem is unearthed.

Currently, my main worries are the reed bed which has bowed under the weight of it’s contents, so needs to be emptied, moved out and restructured, as well as the holes in the upstairs ceiling caused by beam which have crumbled (hence hinting at the possibility that similar damage has occurred elsewhere).

We had a very long, very cold winter – six months under snow – keeping the house warm was a major undertaking, and a problem with the mortgage means that we may not get the central heating system installed this year.

So, for balance, it’s important to take stock of the positives.

  • The winter was tough but we survived it
  • We have had amazing people visit us over the past 12 months, allowing us to travel without moving & meet kindred spirits from around the world
  • Far more has been done than I could manage alone – wood cut, willow planted, the hen house built, furniture restored, the garden started, rubble cleared, walls painted, mosaics designed, dragons sculpted
  • The house is clean and tidy most of the time (the housekeeping alone at Nový Mlýn would be a full time job for one person)
  • We have eaten many delicious meals with our ever shifting house-sharers
  • Mushrooms from the forest! enough said really
  • The woods around the house are filled with bilberries – and we have bilberry picking tools we found in the house.
  • Ariela found an amazing strawberry patch just down the road
  • We went on holiday!  For the last 7 years we have only gone to the Czech Republic from the UK or vice versa, so a holiday is a big deal for us. We went to the seaside for a week! And we weren’t burgled because Jaakko looked after everything for us.
  • We have hens
  • The garden is full of delicious greens we didn’t even plant – we just had to learn which weeds are the tasty ones
  • We are living a sustainable lifestyle and sharing our experience with other people

I will keep my mind open for the 87 solutions we are seeking.

Nový Mlýn Garden Salad

June12

This year, with the help of Joann and our other workawayers, we have the beginnings of a vegetable garden.  I planted salad ingredients such as sorrel, wild rocket and spinach, and as they began to grow discovered that we had wild sorrel in the garden already,  as well as the peculiarly named leafy green Lambs Quarters which are very, very similar to baby leaf spinach in flavour and appeared everywhere in early June, just as nettle season ended. We also have abundant chickweed – which has popped up in any place where the ground has been cleared for planting, and of course, stinging nettles which we used as our spring green up until the time they started to flower, and the ground elder, which is still producing some young leaves we can use.

My acid test of any gathered food is my husband… if he is prepared to eat it then it’s fine. He would absolutely not consume something just because it was good for him.

We have many, many pea plants this year… partly because I threw onto the vegetable patch a bag of dried peas that I had soaked for sprouting.  It’s ridiculous not to soak dried pulses for a day or two before you use them, and the nutritional content of a seed which is in the process of germinating is  infinitely better than those long dead relatives you get in cans. However,  the young leaves on garden peas, are tastier again than the sprouts, so I’m glad I had too many and had to scatter them around the place.

Chickweed is an interesting plant – it is sold as a health supplement to people who want to lose weight – and not because of it being such a tiny green plant. I’ve not read anything in the New Scientist about it, which is a shame, because my personal experience is that it does seem to help you feel full after a meal. My friend Sara says this could be because it’s so nutritious that your body isn’t looking for more vitamins and minerals – non-nutritious food starves our bodies of essentials and causes our appetites to remain unsatisfied. It would seem perverse to dry chickweed out and put it into tablets, though, when it’s so abundant and tasty thrown into a salad. Ironically, if you search for chickweed on google you get  ‘how to kill chickweed’ – this terrible, invasive, nutritious & tasty salad ingredient…

And chive flowers!  What a discovery.  They are delicious.  After you pick the whole flower head, just nip the stalk away and you will have a handful of delicate, little, blue, crunchy, chive flavoured bells to decorate your salad.

So, on to the recipe:

  • 100 stems of flowering chickweed
  • 100 stems of lambsquarters
  • 50 sorrel leaves
  • 10 chive flower heads
  • dressing of your choice – half balsamic vinegar, half olive oil & a dollop of mustard, for example.

Mix and serve.

South Bohemian Stuffing Loaf

May15

When I tell people in the Czech Republic that we don’t use stinging nettles as a vegetable in the UK – I’m met with incomprehension – “don’t nettles grow in Britain” was one response.  When cooked correctly it’s almost indistinguishable from spinach in appearance, with a nice flavour, a natural organic – those stings protect it from most bugs, so pesticides are unnecessary, and zero food miles if there is any patch of unused ground close to home!  However, most people in the UK  have in mind an image of the deodorant eschewing as typical consumers of nettles. The nettle marketing board has a way yet to go.

You use the top couple of inches of the plant as a vegetable, so when you’re weeding next time, put this part of the plant aside for dinner, rather than on the compost heap.

Of course, you need to wear protective gloves while picking,  and wash them thoroughly as they grow close to the ground.  The best method for cooking I’ve found so far is to put them in a covered pan on a high heat in as much water as sticks to the leaves after washing. Within about 5 minutes (heating from cold)  they will have wilted down – take them off the heat as soon as they look like cooked spinach – you don’t want to destroy nutrients by cooking longer.  Use them in place of spinach in any recipe.

Sekanice is a local Easter recipe here which, according to my students, requires between 30-50% nettles. In my version of the recipe I substitute smoked tofu for bacon and soya for boiled pork – much to the chagrin of my Czech students. I have tested the recipe on non-hippie meat lovers, it didn’t last long despite the perceived weirdness of the ingredients.  Traditionally Sekanice is made for the Easter weekend. You can eat it hot, straight from the oven, and then cold, cut into slices over the next few days.

Sekanice uses nettles as the green because in the old days before we had vegetables flown in from Kenya, it was the first vegetable to come up after the snow.  The word Sekanice means sort of “Cut thing” – because you can harvest baby nettles using a scythe, and then you can cut the Sekanice into slices when it comes out of the oven.

Vegetarian Sekanice (pronounced Set can it say)

  • 8 eggs
  • 1 block of smoked tofu, chopped into small squares
  • 1 pack of soya chunks – soaked for an hour in vegetable stock, then fried in a generous amount of  butter or olive oil
  • sage
  • a handful of chopped chives
  • 3 bread rolls torn into chunks
  • 2-3 large handfuls of stinging nettles

Method

Prepare the soya – once it holds the same amount of fat and salt as boiled pork, it loses it’s holier than thou taste.

Heat the oven to 200 degrees c. & grease a large ceramic  baking dish (if you use oil to grease with, it’s really easy by the way).

Separate the egg yolks from the whites and mix the yolks with the bread chunks.  Whip the egg whites into a frenzy (in Czech, they say whip it into snow – when the egg whites are fluffy and form peaks).

Chop the tofu, bread & chives. Combine all the ingredients apart from the egg whites, mixing well. You will need to add quite a lot of salt and pepper as tofu and soya are not salted when you purchase them, like pork and bacon are.  Finally, fold in the egg whites and turn the mixture into the baking dish. Cook for 40 minutes or until the top has gone a nice baked brown.

Bohemian Flapjack

April28

We try to avoid buying junk food at Nový Mlýn, and instead encourage our visitors to bake when they have the urge to eat something sweet.  This is a super-easy flapjack* recipe for those with absolutely no baking skill or experience – or if you want to make something really, really quickly. We use honey in preference to sugar because of food miles, and oil is easier than butter, as you don’t have to melt it first.

Ingredients

  • Honey (a couple of hundred grams ish or  2 cups)
  • Olive oil (a couple of hundred mls ish  or 2 cups)
  • Rolled oats (up to 500 grams or 5-6 cups)
  • A hand full of  dried fruit, nuts, orange or lemon peel, chopped – what ever you have in the kitchen.  If you choose just two,  it’ll have a clearer flavour.

(or – equal parts honey and oil, with equal parts dry to wet ingredients)

Method

Heat the oven to 200 degrees c. and oil a metal baking sheet.

Combine the olive oil and honey in a large saucepan and warm over a medium heat. When it comes to the boil, turn off the heat and add the two or three types of flavouring ingredients – I normally stick to two so that it’s ingredient A and ingredient B flapjack – Almond and Lemon flapjack, or Walnut and Ginger flapjack etc … three flavourings becomes too much of a mouthful to say, if nothing else. Once these are mixed together, add as many rolled oats as you can – ie completely coated by the honey & oil.

Turn the mixture into the baking sheet and pack it down with the back of a wooden spoon. It needs to be an inch or 3 or 4 cms thick. Once it’s packed down, you can use a spatula to cut it into portions, then pack it down again. This’ll make getting it out much easier.

Bake in a pre-heated oven at a medium heat  for 20 minutes, or until it’s a nice golden brown. Let it cool before eating.

* Traditional Flapjack is something like American Granola bars.

Eating the weeds

April16

Over the last few weeks since Joann left the house has seemed very quiet.  We’ve been outnumbered by the animals. Jaakko has been concentrating on building the hen house, and I have been moving rubble out of the garden by the wheel barrow load. I’m really happy that reinforcements arrived yesterday in the form of American Chris and Hollander Michiel – it’s great to have the house busy again and hear interesting stories of other lives.

Slowly things are becoming green, but as yet there are no leaves on the trees. Some of the seeds that we planted inside have germinated – the broccoli, onions, wild rocket and sorrel have made an appearance, but none of the others… it’s possible that they didn’t react well to the cats climbing in the boxes. Today we’ve transplanted broccoli, and companion planted Nasturtiums with it (another edible plant). Michial has built a sturdy frame to protect the puny seedlings, and we’ve experimented with a few different techniques of plant protection using the cuttings from the apple trees and old net curtains. Read the rest of this entry »

The big spring melt…

March25

… is under way. This is the longest winter I have ever experienced, and now, at the end of March, we still have snow on the ground. It first fell in mid October – so that’s a fair few months of sub zero temperatures. It rained the other day – wetness falling from the air is a completely new experience for our 5 month old puppy – who we seem to have inadvertently snow toilet trained.

Last week Joann and I went on an expedition to collect willow switches with which to plant a living willow fence at the bottom of our land. It became a bit of a mission when we had to clamber through soft snow of more than a foot deep… carrying our bundles of sticks with our lively pup either pulling on the rope tying the willow together, or wrapping me up very effectively with her lead. But – it was a rare day of winter sunshine and it was beautiful to be outside nonetheless. The area we were gathering from is now completely flooded with melt water. Read the rest of this entry »

What will we be?

February11

Our experience of living at Nový Mlýn so far has made us realise that it is essential for the house to have visitors. It’s way to big for two people, and we are happy to share our good fortune. We are only going to be able to invite multiple volunteer visitors if we can find a way of covering costs, and we need to begin to think about how the house can be income generating in the future. Initially we thought that we would eventually have some kind of hotel or guest house. When I think of a hotel – I think of strangers visiting and not interacting with the house or the community, and who really feels ‘at home’ in a hotel?

When we have volunteer visitors, Nový Mlýn feels very much like a fairly tightly organised house-share. Everyone contributes to the running of the household in terms of cooking meals & clearing away afterwards , as well as other household chores (we have discovered that this works best with a timetable).  One great thing about the workaway visitors is that they make themselves at home… anyone can have a look in the fridge for something interesting, bake a cake or make a round of tea –  when we have paying visitors, I don’t want to lose this feeling of house-share rather than service, though how to make it work?

Well, how about it being available as a short term house-share for long term travellers?  People can rent a bed for a night (including simple breakfast), with full board available for a slightly higher fee. We can build up to the vision of a sustainable country house hoštel in time, now that we’ve realised that we’d probably never want to run Nový Mlýn as a hotel.

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