Monday, March 23, 2015

Autumn Festival

In almost every festival post I say something about how the festivals have their own independent energy and our autumn one on Saturday had completely its own feel. Whether we invite all and sundry or don’t send out any invitations and rely on friends remembering the date and getting in touch, those who are meant to be there come, sometimes creating a gathering of 40 or more, other times less than 20. This time three families of friends from Cape Town who are regular festival attendees couldn’t come for various reasons and so it was a small group of our local friend-family, with the gang of six girls who’ve grown up together through many years of festivals, in charge of the sand sculptures.

The theme for autumn is earth and harvest. When the kids were little it was all about making sand-castles decorated with shells and harvest things. We don’t have the rich colours of the Northern hemisphere autumn, the landscape is still dry and bleached after a long hot summer, but there are seed heads and dry grasses, restios and the fruits of the vegetable garden to remind us of the season. Now the children are older the castles have shifted to elaborate sand sculptures laboured over for hours, perfect sand balls, and stick and fabric light towers flanking the entrance to the circle.

I usually assemble a basket of things harvested from the farm as a symbolic thank you for the abundance of the garden. This year’s held almonds, tomatoes, a pomegranate, carrot and red onion. Last year’s autumn festival jar of strawberry jam was still sitting in the centre of the circle when I was tidying up, its contents reduced to a third of their volume, but still a healthy colour, not that anyone volunteered to taste it! And an enduring reminder of festivals past is the little almond tree, that grew from one of the almonds left there one long ago autumn festival and has managed to survive against all odds in the hot mini-desert of the sand-pit without any irrigation.

The harvest offerings the next morning, the little almond tree behind.

Our festival yesterday will be remembered for another thing. Earth Hour may be due next Saturday 28th, when we plan to switch off lights between 8.30pm and 9.30pm, but yesterday we had an Eskom enforced Earth Day, the whole day without electricity (due to a fault being repaired), which meant a complete shake around of any plans I’d made for baking quiche, biscuits, roast tomato soup and so on. It also meant that we had no water pressure, so dishes kept piling up on the chopping table while we hoped against hope that the power would come on before friends arrived, so we could do the washing up. It didn’t, so we reverted to the old method of boiling a pan of rainwater, and rinsing in the trickle of water that manages to come through the tap without the pressure pump.

And it turned out it didn’t matter. With most of the guests the kids’ friends, and the only adults our family and a couple of friends who might as well be family, it didn’t matter that things were less than perfect. It didn’t matter that we couldn’t get to the computer to write our blessings and retrieve the St Francis’ prayers, or that I never did make quiche. The bread was baked in my SIL’s gas oven, was burnt and very crusty on the bottom and slightly paler than usual on top, but it tasted good. I jigged the tomato soup recipe to a stove top version, only to remember that I usually liquidise it, which would er... need electricity... and luckily located the mouli-legumes than I use for guava puree, which did the job.

Olaf the Sandman feeling very relaxed!

 So it turned out to be a very relaxed and laid back festival, doing what we could and not fretting about the rest. The girls had learned one of the St Francis prayers as a sung version a couple of years ago and so opened our circle celebration with it. We all took turns to say our thanks and blessings straight from the heart and off the cuff, sent golden healing energy to a family friend who is fighting cancer, read the vision prayer together, and then the older girls played a few songs on the treble and tenor recorders, which always sound so evocative and medieval listened to under a starry sky with the chirruping of frogs as the backing vocals.

Willow loved her first festival, having a giant game of hide and seek among the bushes and restios

We walked back to the house under bright stars to flickering candlelight and slight chaos as we tried to find plates and cutlery in the semi-darkness. More and more tea lights were lit until the room had a gorgeous glow and there was just enough food to feed us all. After 8pm when our eyes were used to the warm glow, the electricity came back on again, so that we could dismiss the lurking worry about our full freezers, leave off the overhead lights and switch on just a few side lamps and carry on with the mellow evening. And luckily my SIL had made double quantities of choccie pudding so that everyone was able to have seconds.

More Autumn festivals through the years:
In 2013 it was just us and the same gang of kids, just two years younger.
In 2010 we had some fantastic straw angels and celebrated Earth Hour for real.
In 2009 more straw angels, some great pumpkins and a gorgeous sand mandala.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Harvest and a Recipe for Tomato Soup

It’s our autumn festival tomorrow – the time when we celebrate harvest, the earth and all the good things that come from it. Most years our harvest is a dim memory by now – the strawberries long gone, almonds harvested a month ago and the veggie garden almost bare, struggling to keep going at this end of the summer and thirstily waiting for the winter rains to bring it back to life.

Not this year. This year we are groaning under a super abundance of tomatoes. I’ve been making Jane-Anne’s roast onion and tomato soup in large batches until my freezer is full of it. I’ve been peeling and dicing tomatoes for the freezer. I took a box full to the last Camphill market and sold most of them. I’ve been picking whole baskets every single morning and giving them away to friends. Our staff have been taking home as much as they can carry. And still there are more.

It's messy and overgrown with grass but those falling down tomatoes are tasty!

I think we might have planted just a few too many tomato plants for our needs! But it is wonderful to have lovely rich tasty tomatoes to squander guilt-free in large quantities on soups and sauces. If I were a diligent farmer’s wife I would have been canning them and already have enough for a year’s supply. But I don’t have those proper canning jars and all the online canning gurus insist on new lids and proper seals, so I’m hesitant about trying it with recycled jam jars. So instead I freeze chopped tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato soup until there is no more room, and then think of who else I can give tomatoes to!

One thing is for sure, we’ll be eating tomato soup at our festival tomorrow, plus salad from the garden and maybe a spinach and feta quiche. So the feta isn’t from the garden but the spinach is. And we need to use up all our frozen guava puree from last year’s harvest to make room in the freezer for this year’s guavas, which will be ripening from the end of next month onwards, so it will be guava fool for pudding.

Edited to add: I didn’t get round to posting this on Friday, so it’s a day after the festival, which I’ll post about separately. Friends from Camphill came over on Friday evening and we filled four big buckets of tomatoes for them to take back and share around the village. And still there are more tomatoes begging to be picked!

Tomato Soup Recipe
A roast tomato and onion soup is a fantastic way of getting plenty of oomph out of ripe tomatoes (see link above for Jane-Anne's fabulous version). I was going to make a huge batch for our festival yesterday, but Eskom decreed otherwise, so I had to come up with a stove-top adaptation. It worked and had plenty of flavour, even though it was slightly subtler, and didn’t need the addition of stock to let it down at all. This is it in a rough version. Feel free to change quantities.

6 medium onions peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
20 or so ripe tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste.

Cut onions into quarters and then eighths.
In a large pan heat the butter and olive oil, add the onions and sugar and cook, stirring occasionally until they are softening and starting to caramelise.
Do let them catch on the bottom towards the end to get that caramelly depth.
Add the vinegar and stir.
Add in the tomatoes with  a seasoning of salt and pepper, stir well.
Cover the pot and leave to cook at a medium/low heat until everything is tender, 45 minutes to an hour).
If you don’t have electricity, process through a mouli-legumes, otherwise a liquidiser will do!
Check the seasoning and consistency. If it’s too thick let the puree down with some vegetable or chicken stock - mine was just right as is, but it depends on the juiciness of the tomatoes and length of time cooking.