Sunday, July 20, 2008

Dry this, dry that

I've always been impressed that you can take stuff like fresh vegetables and even meat that have a strong tendency to rot, and leave them out in the sun, and instead of going bad, they turn into a form that lasts indefinitely, more or less.

So now that we have a surplus of tomatoes and goya, I hurried down to the DIY store to get some drying equipment. I hummed and hahed about getting one of the bamboo trays with the convertible-roof style net, but they look like an invitation to little flies and ants since they don't seal so well. Instead I got one of the tightly zippered kinds that I've seen fishermen using for drying small fish.

The plan is to have dried tomatoes to keep in olive oil with basil, which I also grow, and goya tea which is hellish bitter, but very refreshing if you can actually swallow it. Having once got used to eating and drinking goya, I spend a large part of the year looking forward to the season. I also enjoy the pungent stink of the vine itself.

The wooden balcony gets so hot now, you can't stay in one place with bare feet, so it's a good temperature for drying things. You just have to hop about when you set up the drying net. After two days, the goya is already done, and the tomatoes are coming along nicely. The net keeps even little flies off completely. Since the net has to be taken inside at night in case it rains, which is a bit of hassle, it would seem to pay to do rather more at one go. Something to plan for next time. Today I bought two more tomato plants to ensure a larger surplus towards the end of the summer.

The weather forecast at the moment is 'sunny forever'. This is good for growing and drying tomatoes (I always think of the little suns as mini-tomatoes, and my family no longer even look up when I say "Mini-tomatoes all week".) It's a bit of a concern about the other plants that actually like a sip of water from time to time because there isn't any left, at least not in the rainwater tank. I feel guilty using the hose.

Oh, and I succeeded in growing a big orange American sugar pumpkin. In fact, one section of the garden is positively littered with the things. I hope they taste as good as they look*.

* They taste lousy - watery and thin. I won't be growing them again, although the fruit made an attractive decoration that added a very American Colonial flavour to our house.


Damian said...

Please do keep us updated with the outcome of your drying. As I think I've mentioned, we are aiming at exactly the same thing.

What ever happened to the monsoon this year? We don't have a shortage of water, but nor did we get a constant deluge. Is your water shortage unusual?

Orange pumpkin: well done, very fancy. Care to give us a wide angle garden photo? Sounds like you have a lot going on.

Rod said...

Will do. So far the goya has been a success, turning dry in just two days. The resulting tea is extremely bitter, but refreshing.

The tomatoes are nearly done, but I'm not confident that I know when to stop. I tried one of the little ones this morning and it was raisin-sweet (more or less). A couple of the bigger ones were a tad mouldy so I binned them. They probably should have been quartered and given a whole day in the sun on the first day. I think I'll give them all another day, and then put them in olive oil.

We had a very monsoon-like monsoon this year, with rain 3-4 days a week for over a month. It saved me a lot of watering. Then from the day it was declared over about 3 weeks ago, there hasn't been a drop of rain. My rain butt is empty and I'm forced to hose. TV forecasters note the similarities in weather this year with a huge drought that struck some 13 years ago, when Biwako all but dried up, and rice had to be imported from Thailand. I didn't care much at the time, because I wasn't growing anything, but I hope it's not like that again.

Damian said...

You need a bigger butt.

A drought would be unpleasant, but perhaps a good realities-of-farming learning experience now rather than when you have a much larger more imperative set of crops in the ground.

Although one needn't really experience a drought to know what the effects are.

Did you crush your own oil?

Rod said...

The only sensible measures against drought that I can see for the moment are building moisture retaining soils, and storing water in all sorts of places.

We haven't had any olives yet to press. The trees did flower so we might get some in the autumn. I have vaguely thought about getting the oil out of them, but haven't investigated what's involved.

stew said...

Thanks for more great info. Its something I'll dabble with no doubt sometime in the future. Its good to know that such a simple setup works. Thanks for sharing your experiences with the worm bin too. You might have saved us a tidy sum there.

The rainy season this year has been the sunny with concentrated downpour type. The other type is mainly overcast with regular drizzle. One is ying (in) and the other yang (yo). I can't remember which is which.

Rod said...

Courgettes (zuchini) are another thing I want to try drying, but mine have all been rotting from the flowers. I may have got this licked now with more water and fertilizer, and if so, I'll no doubt have a surplus because they're prolific. I rather suspect that dried courgettes in olive oil will be a special treat.

Damian said...

Grilled then dried zucchini in olive oil also stores well, or so I have heard.

Sorry that your zucchini is rotting. Do you want to hear about ours? ok. They are the king of the hatake, grow like crazy and produce perfect zucchinis that if not picked when they look right will balloon to be 2kg in weight, 35cm long and 10cm across within a few days. Even in that advanced state the seeds are reasonably small and soft, the skin is ok and they fry well enough, giving more of a squash flavour than zucchini.

We have found that they produce an excellent meal for two or more if left to grow past shop-popular size to about 20cm x 10cm. We slice and grill with salt, pepper and oil, yakiniku style. One of the best vegetables meats I've had.

Yesterday we had tempura zucchini flower, however they do move to rotting status very quickly.

I am obsessed with my zucchini plants.

Ours have received plenty of water and no fertiliser besides some rice husks and lime in April along with the human poo compost.

So far the zucchini yield has not been very high compared to the kyuri (35 so far from one vine). Our most advanced zucchini has only produced 6, but many oversized and one obscene monster that took a few days to eat.

If you have a little ball of mince meat you can make many more hamburgers than expected by adding a big handful of grated zucchini, although more crumb and egg is then required.

With oil, zucchini and nasu on your side you can reduce meat need by a huge percentage.

Rod said...

I'm glad to hear of your zucchini joy. I think our problem is the lack of water. We bought some good big ones from local shops before the rainy season ended. The missus makes a tasty dish of tomatoes, green peppers, and zucchini cooked in a frying pan with a little pork, and cheese sprinkled on top. It goes well with bread. Other available veg goes well too, but the zucchini is good for its bulk.

See if you can save your zucchini seeds for next year. The Cannonball watermelon seeds I kept from last year are doing well, which gives me a bit of a kick.

David said...

Rod, I can't wait to meet you. This blog is fantastic! Good work!

Rod said...

Thanks David.

This Blogger network thang is pretty neat, eh?

Damian said...

Any wisdom regarding sun drying of nasu?

Damian said...

I have been using A4 sized plastic mesh "in-trays" from the 100 yen shop to dry zucchini in my car. At 30 degrees in full sunlight a car gets very hot interior and the result was excellent.

I tried to build an outdoors solar dehydrator and did a pretty bad job of it due to the fact that it need to be easy to take apart each night and bring inside. This resulted in structurally weak build. It was then that I realised my car was a giant solar dehydrator. So I lined the dash and flattened front seats with 8 in-trays.

The last two weeks have seen a return to constant rain and overcast days with a day time temperature range of 17-25C. Great for outdoors work. Bad for automotive solar dehydrators. The last bath of zucchini went mouldy along with my first attempt at nasu (which I rubbed first with salt, thus extracting an amazing amount of liquid).

I have also made 27 jars of dill pickled cucumber. That will supply us with 1 a week for 6 months. More than I have ever eaten in my life. Oh dear. Gambatte.

Rod said...

The only thing we dehydrate in our car is ourselves, but it's a good idea. We still have constant bloody sunshine and no rain, so now there's no produce to dry. I'm looking forward to the growing season ending so I can get started on my shed project.

Dill pickles are rather an equivocal joy I find. My American friend's parents bought a vast jar of them when they came last month (my, how they chuckled over the little jars sold here). I had some potato salad that was about 30% dill pickle, and though it was a novel and not unpleasant dining experience, it's not one I'm in any hurry to repeat.

Damian said...

f you drive often it can be a hassle, although the 'in-trays' stack very nicely in a compact manner for easy temporary relocation to the house or garage, should you have one.

My car often goes un-driven for 4 days running so it suits me well.

I like dill pickle a lot, but I am not sure I'll enjoy burping its aroma every other day for 6 months running. Very good source of vitamin C in winter though. Utterly terrible in omelettes I should imagine.