Friday, 26 March 2010

Roots, fruits, and cosmic forces

Welcome to Tanquian, a beautiful family finca nestled in the rolling hills of Galicia's Lugo province, which has been my base for the last few weeks. Set in stunning scenery, with a back drop of the snow-covered Sierra de Orense mountains, there are orchards, vinyards, open fields for the horses to graze, some very prolific chickens, an oak forest, and enough fruit trees and bushes for the Tanquian residents to produce a range of delicious jams, chutneys and juices.

The climate and fertile land mean that fruit and vegetables grow here in abundance. Days are spent tending to the land and gardens around the finca, whilst in the evenings, everyone gathers around the big table in the farmhouse kitchen for delicious tapas dinners - salad and vegetables from the garden, local chorizo and cheeses, homemade bread, cakes and deserts, wine from their own grapes, and juices pressed from their own berries.

Life here runs according to permaculture principles, which means working in harmony with nature in a state of 'permanent agriculture'. There is a recognition that everything has an effect on the ecosystem as a whole, therefore every action that is taken - whether that be clearing leaves from the forest floor, cutting back some berry bushes, or diverting a stream for irrigation - should bring multiple benefits. Every effort is made to harness the natural energy that is present throughout, in order to be efficient.

Work is guided not only by seasons and the weather, but by the lunar calendar. According to astrological theory, as the moon and stars move through the zodiac signs, energy is re-distributed throughout the different 'elements' – earth, fire, water, wind, wood. (I know this is all sounding a bit new age, but bare with me for a moment...) Each element corresponds to different aspects of ecological life, so for example, the beginning of a lunar cycle might be good for doing any tasks related to the roots of the plants, whilst at the end of the moon, the energy might be better suited to tasks involving fruits, leaves, branches, and so on. All of this was alien to me, until one sunny spring morning, soon after I'd arrived at Tanquian. Emmely, my host on the finca, turned to me with conviction and said
“You know what... today is a good day for planting rasberries”.

Oh yeah? Why's that, then? Is it something to do with gravity?” I said

“No!” she said, “It's to do with the cosmic forces..."

Now I've always associated this zodiac stuff with the horoscopes in the back of trashy newspapers. But I trust Emmely far more than I trust Mystic Meg, and besides, I've tasted those rasberries; Whatever is going on with the cosmic forces, it's all going right!

So in accordance with the lunar calendar, as well as the rasberries, some days are dedicated entirely to planting garlic or onions (roots), others tending to sapplings and trees (branches), and others harvesting lettuce, kale or spinach (leaves). At the very least, it keeps things interesting.

The lunar calendar also dictates that on some days, the energy isn't really good for doing anything in the garden. The moon obviously likes the odd day off as well... So last week, when we had a nothing day, we made bread and bottled wine from the cask in the bodega; A very pleasant job, because of course, it´s necessary to test some...

Emmely's Super
Fácil bread

Nothing beats a morning baking, and what a satisfying and productive use of time for a day when the moon, or more likely the rain, has banned you from the garden! Emmely's method is very easy, and her home-grown, coarse-ground wheat produces wonderfully tasty wholemeal bread flour. The perfect way to re-align your cosmic forces...

Makes at least four loaves

2 kg wholemeal flour

a generous handful of lighlty-toasted sunflower seeds

1.6 ltr warm water

2 tsp yeast

half a tsp salt

In a large mixing bowl or sauce pan, mix all the ingredients using an electric hand whisk for a couple of minutes. It's a fairly wet mixture, so don't be surprised if it looks a bit sticky, although some flour behaves differently than others, so if you're really worries, add an extra handful of flour and mix again.

Cover and leave to rise in a warm place for an hour or so until it's roughly doubled in size. At Tanquean, Emmely leaves hers behind the free-standing wood oven, in the farmhouse kitchen. If you don't have a free-standing wood oven, or a farm house kitchen, then try the airing cupboard instead.

Shape into loaves, using bread tins if you have them, and leave to rise again for another 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 210 degrees C. Put the loaves in on a high shelf, and throw a splash of water into the bottom of the oven to create some moisture.

After fifteen minutes, turn the oven down to 180, and back for another hour or so. They're ready when you can poke a skewer in and it comes out clean. Serve when slightly cooled from the oven, with butter, homemade chutney, cheese, and wine from your own bodega!

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