Splitting oaks, fragrant quince and golden rainbows

A month of contrasts starting off on the 1st with a public holiday 'el Dia de Todos los Santos' (all Saints Day). We have fewer visitors, shorter days and fast cooling nights. Adjusting from working the intense heat to feeling the chill, visually an eye full, dramatic charcoal grey skies, looming cloud and piercing shafts of sunlight.

wild mushrooms

The overnight temperatures have dropped and there is enough moisture in the ground for the shoots to rise, the olives to fatten and for the wild mushrooms to grow. On the north facing woody slopes you may be lucky to find boletus and chanterelles.

cork oak quercus suber

This young cork oak (quercus suber) is a protected species. In controlled areas of Andalucia such as in the Parque Natural de Alcomocales, the cork bark is harvested in nine year cycles during the summer months by highly skilled cutters. It is processed in local factories and is used to make anything from bottle stoppers to insulation to micro-thin pressed cork cloth.

This contorted tree stands on the far side of the valley, where the wind has twisted and reshaped trees, many looking like wild dancers.

Of recent years they call it the second summer, for a week or so the weather steps back in time, the skies clear and the temperature rises.

prickly pear (opuntia ficus-indica)

The prickly pears (opuntia ficus-indica) fruit from late summer. We harvest them with a long pole and bucket held under to catch them as they drop. They are covered in tiny spines which have to be removed using a spine proof glove and a paring knife. They can be eaten fresh but we mainly use the pulp to make a delicate pink syrup and jelly. The young spring pads (nopales) can also be cooked and are popular in Mexican cuisine.

wild quince

The wild quinces are now fruiting, with soft velvety jackets, uncooked, the fruit is the colour and as dry as bone. They are not easy to gather, the bushes are tall and usually grow in the deep ditches, and without a decent trunk to climb we need a long pole and cutter to collect the fruit.

membrillo quince paste

Back in the kitchens the quince (one of nature’s treasures that, with a little tweak from man can be transformed) is cooked, softened and sweetened. It makes a beautiful fragrant paste which goes exceptionally well with local cheese and grilled meats. We jar the paste infused with lemon and rosemary which helps it to keep well.

artisan turron

November is also a time to make Turrón, the traditional sweetmeat for Christmas in Andalucía. There are many different varieties all using almonds. There are two basic types, one soft and usually smooth known as Jijona or turrón blando, and the other hard like nougat, known as Alicante or turrón duro. We make an extrafino organic chocolate turrón blando suprema and a honey classic turrón in the Jijona style. To wear this label the turrón must contain at least 60% almonds.

It’s also a time for ground clearing and pruning after the almond harvest, and with fewer visitors we try to get some of these bigger jobs done before its time to do the olives.

rainbow

This spectacular November rainbow stretched out in a complete arc from one side of the valley to the other, the ground even shone like gold!