Drowning in Plums

Sooooo….I have discovered the motherlode of plum trees in Erfurt, not far from where I work. Like a whole grove of plum and apple trees, with nobody paying attention to them! My son and I picked a bucket full of plums last weekend. They are what Germans call Zwetschge, a variety of plum that is deep purple, slim, and long-ish. We got a total of three kilos!  After the initial frenzy of ALL THOSE PLUMS wore off, I kinda scratched my head and asked myself what the hell was I gonna do with all those plums?

So I made Pflaumenmus, what should be translated as plum jam, but it is more of a plum puree. Three kilos fortunately fit into my six quart dutch oven, which proved itself once again as an excellent investment! I filled four large jars with the stuff. I don’t even like Pflaumenmus, so I’m gonna learn how to like it These next couple of months. Or maybe use them to fill jelly donuts?

So far I have baked three batches of plum coffee cakes, with streusel so they would keep better in the freezer. I’ve been giving them away like mad and I don’t think I’ll be picking any more plums this season!

 

Cherry, Cherry Cherries!

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This year is turning out to be a good year for fruits. It’s not so hot, not so dry, and the rains have come at the right time. And because of the hot spring/cool summer we are having in Germany this year, the sweet cherry and sour cherry varieties arrived almost at the same time, instead of the sour varieties coming in this July. This may differ from region to region, so I cannot speak for the whole country.

So I have a bucket full of cherries. The darker ones are sour cherries from the backyard, while the lighter ones are from the tree I spoke of last year. I believe the tree is a Royal Ann cherry, but I am not sure what kind of cherry is the one from our backyard. It is not really sour, it’s more tart-sweetish, and quite juicy.

I’ve made three jars of jam, and one wonderful cherry chutney so far. I hope to make cherry cupcakes today, and maybe freeze the rest, if I am not able to harvest any more this weekend.

What amazes me is the difference of the cherries from the backyard tree from this year and last year. It was pruned this spring, and the cherries are huge and juicy! I wish I could learn more about tree pruning, but I guess that is for when I have more time.

 

 

Bee Blues

The Garden has been discussing keeping bees, and I have expressed interest in becoming one of the garden’s beekeepers. One of our affiliated organizations, The Fuchsfarm, held an Open Day at their garden and let guests watch while they harvested the honey and filled them up in jars.

It was so interesting to find out how equipment and time-intensive beekeeping is, especially in the summer. Keeping bees are really like keeping pets!

bee1

So first, the beekeeper takes the honeycomb out of the wooden hive and sprays the bees away with a smoker. The cells are waxed shut by the bees when they are full, so, they won’t spill. They are then put in a bigger box, then taken inside.

With a small fine-toothed rake, pry off the wax covers on the cells on an easel that is propped over a tray.

bee2The combs are put into a steel drum, which has a crank that turns the frame that holds the wooden honeycombs. The centrifugal force flings the honey to the sides of the drum and drips down to the funneled bottom of the drum. The bottom of the drum has a tap, which is then flipped open and the honey trickles into a sieve-topped pail which catches the last bits of wax that is still in the honey.

bee3The pail itself has a tap at the bottom, and the honey is filled into glass jars that are sold on-site.

But of course, bee keeping is not without its risks. As I was taking off my protective gear in the shed, an unseen bee stung the palm of my hand! As they took out the stinger, I was given a homeompathic pellet to minimize the swelling, then another pressed a cold onion half-globe onto the swollen area.

A bit later I rubbed crushed Spitzwegerich on the area. It still smarts, but it feels much better now. I am still thinking if I should get into beekeeping, since I may not have the time to invest in it. But I would still like to try!

Field Trip

As a kid growing up in Manila, class trips in the fourth grade usually meant a visit to a factory of some sort. Living in the South, that meant that a visit to the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Laguna. You were always given a bottle of refreshing Coke at the end of the visit to quench your thirst. Gotta start them young!

I got that very distinct feeling after visiting the Oettinger brewery in Gotha. What, with the summer weather and the beer at the end. Basically a grown-up version of visiting the Coca-Cola bottling plant. Oettinger, based in Munich, is the largest brewery corportation in Germany. With five breweries spread across Germany, it makes sure that transportation costs are kept to a minimum and that beer could be transported to stores within the next three hours. It doesn’t mean that it’s distribution stops there. It is also one, if not the only,  German beer you will be able to buy in a provincial airport while waiting for your Cessna that will take you to a remote island in the Philippines.

Now, there is something that you have to understand about Oettinger. Because it is able to keep its overhead and bottling costs low, it is very cheap. Being the preferred cheap beer of alkies (PBR?) it has a horrible, if undeserved, reputation. There’s a joke that an Oettinger truck met an accident on the highway, and nobody stopped to loot the beer.

tanksIt’s interesting to see food and fermentation on a massive scale. I’m reading Michael Pollan’s Cooked at the moment, and all I could think of was tiny bacteria that was responsible for brewing 2,500 hectoliters per tank. And there were about 26 (?) of them.

They also export “Made in Germany!” beer to Africa and China. Where Oettinger has a somewhat better reputation (?). Being a journalist I had to ask some very uncomfortable questions.

Me: “Do you change the formula of the beer for the foreign market?”

Braumeister: “No.”

Me: “Why is Oettinger so cheap?”

Braumeister: “We try to keep transportation costs to a minimum, that is why we have five breweries in Germany.”

Me: “Then why does Oettinger the but of jokes?”

Braumeister: (Pause. Silence.) “We were recently featured in Galileo where we were voted as the best beer in Germany. I guess the cheapness of the beer basically…”

I see what you did there Mr. Braumeister. Well played!

He must have hated me after that. I must confess that i tend to be a tactless, nosy busybody, in case no one has noticed it yet!

beerI guess the best part of the field trip was that I got to take home two cans of beer from the reject bin. I mean really slight indentations in the can that you can barely notice. They have got scanning software that recognizes imperfections in the cans and they are immediately sorted out of the bottling line. The yellow ones are for the Chinese market, the white ones for Africa. Since I don’t drink beer, it’s nice to have some in stock for guests.

The only thing that was missing was a roadside stall stop for buko pie.

 

Zweigniederlassung der Oettinger Brauerei GmbH
Leinastraße 61-63
D-99867 Gotha

Suki

What does the word suki mean? For a person who runs a household, everything.

Suki is a Filipino word, which in German, translates to Stammkunde, or a regular customer of a particular shop.

Gaumenfreude in Erfurt is a pop-up shop that sells their own mustard mixes, jams, condiments, and sauces. They also sell preserves from the region, things like Sauerkraut and pickles made the old fashioned way–without any vinegar used to preserve them!

I always buy their Bärlauch Senf or mustard. Bärlauch, a wild relative of leeks, is a German obsession in the spring. They collect them when they can find them in woods and parks everywhere. Of course they were going to pair it up with mustard, Germany’s favorite condiment.  I love this particular mustard so much I use it on everything! Dips, sauces, and as a seasoning for stewed meat.

Gaumenfreude’s stall can usually be found at the Erfurt farmer’s market on Saturdays or whenever there is a festival in the Erfurt-Weimar area. The man at the shop recognizes me already, and always gives me something to nibble on as a thank you. Last time we saw each other, he wanted to give me a cherry. But since I love me some pickles, I asked for one. 😀 The perks of a suki.

Cherry season

Sweet, sweet cherries have arrived!

There are two cherry trees in the city that I forage cherries from. One is right next to my son’s kindergarten. I’ve been patiently been watching the cherries turn red, and here they are!  So I took three lunchboxes with me last week, and turned my three-year old son into a criminal by trespassing into someone’s unguarded property to pick some cherries together.

Cherries are normally a pain to turn into jam, since you have to pit them all to work with them.  These cherries were so sweet that it took two packets of citric acid and a dash of extra pectin to get them to jelly.

So basically, the best thing to do with this kind cherries is…to eat them! Though because these are organic cherries, they are bound to have a maggot or two in them every so often. Not for the squeamish, but I don’t mind the extra protein 🙂

I am eagerly awaiting the end of July, during the sour cherry season. They are better suited for jam-making. What I’m  not looking forward to are days of darkened fingernails and stained aprons. Oh well, the product is worth it anyway.

Strawberry Jam

 

 

 

 

Now that jam season has descended upon us, my weekends are devoted to foraging for fruits and turning them into jam. The glass jars I’ve been assiduously saving the whole year are now all almost all filled with jam.

So how do you make jam? In Germany it’s quite easy, since stores stock up on jam sugar, or sugar already mixed with pectin, a jelling agent that can be extracted from the seeds of fruits like apples and pears. I’ve seriously considered extracting my own pectin from apples, then I decided the last minute that it means I’m certifiably nuts.

So, there are three different kinds of jam sugars in Germany; 1:1, 2:1, and 3:1. That means that 1 part fruit to the whole bag of sugar, two parts fruit to the bag of sugar, and three parts fruit or juice to one part sugar. I always use 3:1 for making jelly, like elderberry jelly. 

For strawberry jam, I always take 1:1, since they always give me the best results.

So take a kilo of strawberries. You can safely add about 100 grams more, since these berries will diminish considerably from here. Take a medium-sized to big stock pot, and proceed to remove the green tops, slice away brown portions, and quarter the strawberries then put them in the pot. Slicing away the brown or moldy portions of the strawberries improves the shelf life considerably.

Then I dump the whole bag of sugar into the pot. If I want to make chunky strawberry jam, I let the fruit steep in the sugar at least half an hour, stirring it every so often with a wooden spoon. If I’m making confiture, I puree it with a hand mixer. Meanwhile, I take some clean from the dishwasher pop-up, screw-top jars, leave them in the sink,  and douse the whole lot with boiling water. You can then use a pair of tongs to drain them of water and leave them on the sink. I do not pat dry.

The slurry is put on the stove over medium high heat, stirring all the time until it comes to a rolling boil. Be careful, since this sugar mixture likes to splatter. This is the time it thickens to a jam, and continue to stir for three to five minutes. Then you can do the plate test.

Jam test

I take a plate from the cupboard in my left hand and drop a droplet of jam from the wooden spoon on the plate, then tip the plate towards me. I’ve labeled the tests 1-6, so you could see the development of jam setting. Once the jam hardly moves after tipping, you are ready to can.

You don’t need to use a jam funnel, but it is very helpful when you have made chunky jam. I fill the still-warm glass to the brim, and use oven mitts to help me screw the tops on the jars, then tip them over in the sink so I don’t have a catastrophe on my counter. Let them stay upside-down until they cool. Once you turn them right-side up again, you will (hopefully) notice that the pop-up lid is depressed. Congratulations! You have created an air-tight seal! Jam for the whole year! They are a brilliant red, but the colors do tend to fade over time. Your jam is still good, don’t worry, even if it’s from 2011.

So, hopefully the rains start to subside, so I can begin cherry season!