Saturday, October 18, 2014

Artichokes sotto olio and loquat chutney, via rambling anecdotes about shoelaces and spinning wheels

The other day, Tim bought himself a new pair of shoelaces. I was appalled. "You're paying money for these?" I asked, in my eminently reasonable fashion. "We could make our own shoelaces. I could make them out of nettles. In fact, I think we should learn how to make shoes. I'm sure we could cobble something together. Get it?! Cobble! Ha!" Tim, it turns out, has no interest in learning how to cobble. Apparently - it's hard to believe, I know – he has other things he'd rather do with his time. Like make cheese. The decadence of the West, I tells you.

Some fairy godperson gave me a giant sack full of alpaca fleece via freecycle recently. On the strength of this, I bought a preloved spinning wheel on and borrowed every book on spinning that the Yarra Plenty Library network possesses. The first one I opened featured a tutorial on how to make your own spinning wheel. I could have made my own spinning wheel! Instead I had sold my soul to and bought a second-hand one like the dirty consumerist I am. I'd been feeling so smug about how I was just 239 hours of textile-based labour away from my own home-spun hand-knitted alpaca-fleece undies and there was this book raising the DIY bar another notch in the direction of Tudor-era über-peasant unattainability.

So, today, I'm all set to make my first jar of preserved artichokes for the season when I remember that they require vinegar. I ignore the bottle of white wine vinegar bought by Tim, that Jezebel of mercantilism, and decide that I will use the home-grown liquid that we have been generously describing as "honey wine vinegar". This potion, which fills six wine bottles and has been sitting in our cupboard for almost a year, is the terrible consequence of an attempt at "wild fermenting" mead (wild fermentation being where, instead of adding a commercially produced yeast into the ferment, one leaves the must sitting around in the open air for a bit, allowing it to catch the local micro-organisms). But then I taste it, this "honey wine vinegar", which I haven't touched since December when we palmed some off onto our long-suffering relatives for Christmas, and I am reminded that it is truly horrible (sorry, relatives), and I decide that perhaps in the matter of wine yeasts it is preferable to surrender to the tyranny of the commercial yeast makers. While I'm in surrender-mode, I also decide to use the white wine vinegar for my artichoke project, but! I will recycle it. First I'll use it to marinate the artichokes, and then I'll drain the artichokes, and catch the vinegar, and use it to make loquat chutney.

A backyard artichoke.

A frontyard artichoke. 

Today's artichoke harvest.

The artichoke regimen is this: first I wash 'em, primarily to evict the earwigs; then I remove outer leaves and spiky tops; then I boil them submerged in a solution that's half vinegar, half water and 1 tablespoon salt per 1kg of artichokes, plus bay leaves, a couple of cloves, a chilli; this mixture has to boil for five minutes, and then I drain the acidified artichokes and leave them to cool. When they're cool, I'm going to immerse them in olive oil.

Artichokes, cooling after a brisk boil in vinegar solution.

Meanwhile, I'm plotting the demise of these loquats, picked from a dangling-over-someone's-backfence local loquat tree:

Loquats, could be riper, but the lack of household chutney was getting dire.

My loquat chutney recipe requires a kilo or so of loquats, deseeded, chucked in a pot with the leftover litre of vinegar and salt solution from my artichoke acetification process, plus 500g sugar, 500g chopped onion, a handful of sultanas, two teaspoons of ground mustard seeds, a knob of grated ginger, and a bit of chilli. This gets bubbled and reduced for an hour and a half, scooped into hot jars, and then water-bathed for ten minutes, resulting in ...

enough chutney to last until tamarillo chutney season.

And by now the artichokes have cooled, so they're plonked in one of my mum's giant ex-Nescafe instant coffee jars and submerged in olive oil (which I bought in a 15L cask last March, sufficiently long ago that I can pretend to forget that I didn't make it myself, with my own hand-forged olive press, using locally grown Lalorian olives).

 And that is the end of the story. I am ridiculous.


  1. Yummo. Twice. And I bet the house smelt enticing too.

  2. Thanks, Elephant's Child. The preserved artichokes are the best. I learnt the method from Pietro Demaio's Preserving the Italian Way and he insists that the artichokes should be under the oil for two months before eating. There is no way that they are going to last that long around here.

  3. Alexis, you are a treasure of self-made-ness. I struggle every day with the horrible truth that I cannot make my own zippers. Am working on developing my own kapok.

  4. I was just thinking about the incompatibility of zippers and being a Tudor peasant today, Kate. (I was trying to figure out what I would wear for beekeeping, in the absence of my fancy zipped-up beeproof jacket with masked hood. Something voluminous in the neck to knee smock department, I think, with some strategic lacing. Anyway. It's a fairly theoretical problem for now.)

    Meanwhile, Operation Kapok! Are you trying to grow the tree?

    1. I would love to grow the tree, but instead will have to settle for squishing/tearing up other fibrous matters, I think. Or buying kapok. As for zippers, never fear, I have an embarrassingly HUGE collection of aging/vintage/antique zippers, bought, gifted and found, and I am sure they go back as far as at least Henry V. Or even Richard III. You must come to me for your historically correct bee-keeping costume, especially because I think the best protection feom bee stings would be head to toe quilted kapoking ...

  5. Thanks dear Kate. I'll remember you when the time comes for hand-made pre-zipper-era bee-suiting x

  6. I loved the tale of the spinning wheel. My mum had one which I saw here use all of once. She had grand ideas of spinning and knitting things for us, but then my brother developed a wool allergy, so that rather put a spanner in the works for the spinning.
    Nettle shoelaces. Love it! Tim is clearly just a consumerist whore (in the nicest possible way of course).
    I cannot wait to likewise be bottling artichokes. Just waiting for mine to grow enough. In previous years I didn't know what to do with them all. Now I have a recipe they are barely cropping. It's a cruel world. I will be using some cider gone bad. It's nice enough vinegar, but not nice when you wanted cider.

  7. Cider gone bad sounds like an excellent substance for artichoke bottlage. Sorry to read about the spanner-in-spinning-works. I'm determined not to give up, but it's taking me a while to get the skills together.