Saturday, August 28, 2010

My not so secret, secret addiction. (updated)

My name is Monika and I am a Rayburn-a-holic.

It started when we were in the process of talking ourselves into buying a permanent home in rural France as opposed to a fixer-upper to use in our summer holidays, in amongst all the mental bargaining and deal making we had decided on wood fired heating incorporating a stove and a means of meeting our hot water requirements.  The perfect solution was a Rayburn (ours is a no.3 built in 1953), with an integral back boiler, multi fuel so coal as well as wood, and a kitchen classic from the 1950s, right in keeping with a stone rustic farmhouse from the 1850s.

We bought the carcass of a Rayburn from ebay for 99p.  I still remember clearly the guy's face when we turned up with the Land Rover and trailer and he asked us how we thought we were going to lift three quarters of a tonne of cast iron onto a trailer and we replied that we were going to dismantle the Rayburn first!

The Rayburn we bought had excellent enamelling however it was pretty rotten on the sides and back, but the back boiler was in good order and it had all of its door handles, hinges, plate rack and stove tops.

So started the restoration.

We had the good fortune to be living about 50 miles from the home of Aga and Rayburn (a Rayburn being the solid fuel incarnation of the more well known Aga), so finding replacement firebricks was a doddle, then the rotten sides and back were replaced by shiny stainless steel, the gaps filled with Rockwool, a few screws and some fire cement and my beautiful stove was reborn.

This is the point at which some photos are called for but the battery is on charge again.

My beautiful Rayburn now runs two bedroom radiators, provides our winter hot water, kitchen heating and I do the majority of my cooking in it.

So why am I telling you all this? -  because I was going to light it today to get started on my beetroot pickles and marrow jams, and then went and got all distracted tidying up my greenhouse instead - it was a bit Day of the Triffids in there.

 Having cut back all the tomatoes, weeded and harvested those lovely little cherry tomatoes ready for cooking I then came back inside and tackled all those housework things that Brendan had been blind to whilst I was away, hence the stairs got swept, dusting got done, floors got mopped and bathroom had a proper clean round.

If this wet weather that I have bought back from the UK persists I may light the Rayburn tomorrow and start pickling then.

So - updated - Saturday afternoon while I was busy hacking away in the greeenhouse it started to persist it down, coupled with Brendan declaring all the plums being ripe, I decided to light the Rayburn and get on with the first lot of autumn harvests - feels a little odd to be doing this in August but hey ho - funny old weather.

We picked a row of beetroots and set them to boiling for the pickled beetroots.  I always scrub mine very clean before boiling because I preserve the water afterwards to make Barszcz for Christmas.  This beetroot soup is a good old fashioned Polish addition to our menu.

To preserve the juice, once I had claimed all the beets out of the water, I simply poured it into a freezer bag held upright in a measuring jug and put it in the freezer, then I can remove the jug and just have a solid block of purple-y beetroot stock ready for use.

 With 7 jars of beetroots pickled, I also managed to bottle up 9 jars of plum and elderberry jam, delicious.

This is only the second year that our plum tree has fruited, they are small dark purple plums but so juicy and tasty.  I have no idea what variety they are as the tree was already here in the garden when we arrived, and even our neighbour does not know what sort it is - although he has told me on several occasions that the tree won't fruit.

It overlooks the chicken pound and as they get ripe and fall the chickens fight over them.  They wolf them down to the point that they end up with discoloured poops everywhere - today all the poops are a virulent shade of red due to them eating beetroot peelings and drinking the last of the beetroot water, then scoffing elderberries and plum skins.

We also had a go at pickling some of our quail eggs - but in red wine vinegar to stain them pink - no I don't know why it just seemed a good idea at the time.

And of course in the background you can see some plum syrup heavily doused with vodka ready for autumnal cocktails!

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