Chestnut flour

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This is the time of year when the chestnuts are collected to make flour. Chestnut flour is very popular with cake makers, it has a naturally sweet nutty taste that is ideal. Most flour these days is made by industrial processes, but there are still a few people dotted around up in the valleys who make flour the old fashioned way.

Dotted around the hills and valleys of this part of the world a small structures called metatoThese are small barns with a floor separating top and bottom. The boards of the floor have gaps in them which are designed to be big enough to let heat up, but small enough to stop nuts from falling through.

The top part usually has a small door from which nuts can be loaded in. Once the floor is packed, a fire is lit in the lower floor and the heat and smoke rise up through the nuts, drying them out.

The smoke just comes out through the roof, there is no chimney. This one above belongs to La Grecchia, the agroturismo at the top of the valley. They have a hill farm where they produce several different types of goats chees, eggs, goat salami, fresh chestnuts and chestnut flour as well as mushrooms that they collect from the woods.

The fire is run for about thirty days and burns very slowly. This one is controlled by a stick in the door that controls the amount of air that can get in. Every now and then the door is opened and another chunk of wood is thrown in and the door closed again.

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Every few days all the nuts are taken out and and there position is changed, this means that the drying is even across the pile. Once they have dried out completely, they are shelled and then taken down to the communal miller and turned into flour.

 

October

With the slab down the walls can start going up.

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A retaining wall is built into the embankment to make sure not of it falls forward, and a drain is added to the bottom so any water that might accumulate can run off.

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The wall continues to come up to the height of the retaining wall, from here the foundations are laid that will run underneath the kitchen area.

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The first layer of reinforced cement goes in that supports the kitchen area of the house.

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The walls are built up around this layer to create a deep reinforced layer on which more block work will be laid. The walls around the rest of the house can now keep going up until the whole area is at one level. Then yet another reinforced ring will go in that goes around the whole house.

Food

We also picked the last of our food from the garden, the pumpkins had turned a nice orange and we fired up the woodstove and roasted them along with the fennel. We got three crops of fennel from each plant over the year and I cut them right down to the top of the root and covered them up to see if they come back to life in the spring.

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We also got a lovely crop of walnuts off the trees, although you have to get to them before the wild boar do. I was up late one night and I heard something moving around in the garden and went down to investigate. I started shinning my not very strong tourch around and could vaguely make out some moving shapes. I then realised that it was a group of wild boar, snuffling around under the walnut trees, eating the nuts. They didn’t seem to be very concerned about me and didn’t run off so I made my way back into the house, wild boar are quite a fearsome animal, very strong and heavily built and not something you want to mess with.

It also explained why we never found any edible nuts on the ground, boar have a very sensitive sense of smell and they can tell the difference between good and bad nuts without putting them in their mouths. After that I learned that picking nuts off the ground is a waste of time, if the boar haven’t eaten them then they were not worth trying. The ones we got all came off the lower branches, but next year we will have to get some ladders up there and pick a lot more.

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Casting the base

So with everything in place, the next day, nice and early, two massive cement mixers arrive.

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The cement is delivered through a pipe which allows control over where it goes, first, the shapes left on top of the foundation base are filled along with the cross beams.

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once the recesses are filled then what is left is a flat slab.

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Then yet more cement is poured over the whole lot, and this forms the reinforced flat slab on which the house will be constructed.

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And above is the finished slab.

House plans

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Thought it might be worth putting up some plans of the house so it is easier to make sense of what is being built. The house has two storeys and is set into the embankment that separates two of the fields. On the top floor is the kitchen, dining room and living room in one continuous space that you enter into from the front door. Beyond that is the main bedroom and en-suite bathroom.

Downstairs are another two bedrooms, another bathroom, and a utility room.

The whole house is being designed to be completely disabled friendly with:

  • large, roll in/out wet room showers
  • electrically height adjustable worktops and utilities in the kitchen
  • suitable electrical goods, such as side opening ovens, induction hobs etc.
  • correctly positioned white goods to enable access from a wheel chair
  • all areas with easy access to wheelchair
  • Geberit self cleaning toilets
  • easy gradient footpaths around the garden area and all level access from the car park to the inside of the house

The interior is laid out like this.

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Growing food

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Things are coming to an end with our little garden plot for this year, it was never going to be much more than an experiment as trying to maintain a vegetable patch from a distance of 1000 miles is tricky to say the least.

We are also desperately short of compost and mulch but despite all of that we have not had a bad year, although there have been some notable failures from which lessons have been learned.

The output has been quite impressive for such a small experiment, we have got prodigious amounts of tomatoes,

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with us being able to pick a bowl every day through the parts of the summer we were there, not bad from just three plants.

We also grew lots of lettuce

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And our fennel and aubergine did fantastically well. Some of the fennel we got two crops out of by cutting it above the root, it just magically regrows to give you another one.

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Altogether we grew three types of aubergine, with great success.

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We still have one big crop to pick which is our pumpkins, they are still green at the moment but should be turning orange pretty soon.

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It is a very satisfying feeling to be able to sit down to a meal where everything on your plate has come out of your own garden.

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We managed to keep everything growing by using irrigation timers and oscillating lawn sprayers that could reach right across the patch.

Our big failures were not down to our lack of green fingers but much more to do with the voracious appetites of the local wildlife. We planted a row of olive trees and installed an irrigation system to keep them watered through the dryest part of the year. They were doing really well, lots of new growth and covered in small olives, it was looking like we were going to get a bumper crop.

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Unfortunately I underestimated how much deer also like olives, on our last visit I was confronted by a sad sight, the deer dont just eat the olives, they break of the branches and chew on the bark of the trunk, killing the tree. They did the same with our pear trees, which had been covered in fruit, the trees were almost destroyed by the deer trampling on them and breaking off the branches. They also stripped all the figs although they did not at least damage the trees this time as the branches are quite bendy.

So next year we will have to start thinking about how we protect what we grow, the only realistic way of doing this is with electric fences, but this is going to involve putting in some serious fencing.

For now though we will start preparing for the growing season in 2017, we have already been preparing lots of compost and putting in irrigation pipes that will allow us to use so of the flat terracing below the house. we will also start to rearrange what we have. Moving some of the drought resistant herbs to higher up where the irrigation water has very low pressure and growing a long bed of the local herbs along the terrace next to the house where the light is not so good, but enough for the oregano, mint and thyme.

 

Floor slab

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With the low walls in place then the laying out of the beams and the bricks can take place which will eventually become the floor slab.

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Gravel is spread arond the outer edgae in order to flatten the area in preparation for the pour, this area will become the footpath that surrounds the house. Bricks run from one side of the house to the other to create the shape of the beams into which steel frames are put to cast reinforced concrete beams.

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Once all the beams are in place, the form work can go in to make the edge of the final slab onto which the house will be constructed.

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And below is the completed structure, ready for the concrete to be poured in.

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First pour

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Once the main excavation is complete then the foundations can be shaped out. The recesses are lined and the shapped steel work is put in that will eventually become the reinforced concrete of the foundations

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When all the steelwork is complete then the first cement truck arrives to do the first pour.

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And the first part of the foundations are completed.

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With the bottom part of the tee section in place then the uprights go in to from the rest of the foundations.

 

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Nocino

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Today I bottled my nocino, a walnut liqueur, it has been sitting in a big sealed jar for a while and it was time to filter it and get it finished.

This was made to a local recipe using walnuts off our own trees. Very nice way to finish off a meal, and here is the recipe for anyone who fancies having a go. Nocino is known as a digestive but also has the reputation of being a cure-all.

5 green whole walnuts, chopped into pieces (taken from the tree on 24th June [San Giovanni]).
15 juniper berries, fresh or dried
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves
some  lemon rind
Soak all in a closed bottle with 450 ml of drinking alcohol, or high proof vodka, for 1 month and then filter

Then make a syrup by simmering 450 ml of water with 450 gms of sugar. Add this to the above in the closed bottle and leave for 5 days with some stirring daily. After five days fine filter and bottle. Here it is sitting on the shelf next to the pickled walnuts I made at the same time.

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