Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Christmas and The Three Kings

In our lead up to Christmas we tied up a few loose ends to get the house in order for the festive season. We racked off our demijohns of wine into bottles we had saved for the purpose. The wine that had only sugar added and relied on the wild yeast already on the grapes for fermentation was a paler colour. The wine that had purchased yeast and sugar added was darker. We finished them both dry, to maximise alcohol content and hopefully minimise possibility of contamination. They should be around 12%, although we didn't take a final reading of the specific gravity so cannot be sure. We had a few little tasters during the racking off process - they are a bit rough round the edges but not bad. Now we need to forget about them for about a year whilst they mature!

The darker batch made with the purchased yeast did not require any finings to be added - it cleared and settled all by itself. The paler wine made with the naturally occurring yeast is a bit more lively and needed isinglass. We have put the bottles in a box and put a tea towel over the bottles just in case! We'll have to work on a nice colourful label to decorate the bottles but there's plenty of time for that.

The olives we started to cure in water have now been bottled up into a brine and vinegar mix. They are more or less ready to eat. The texture is much better than the first batch we prepared. I think the first batch were too ripe so there was no 'bite' to the fruits. I think the trick is to pick and preserve under ripe olives if they are intended for the table.

Just before Christmas, we went on a new walk above the High Alpujarran village of Capileira. The walk follows the Poqueira valley and ends at a settlement called La Cebadilla. This is a hamlet, which includes a church, that was built last century for the hydroelectric construction workers to live in. The houses are now all deserted.
Our view up the Poqueira valley to La Cebadilla. Mulacen,top right,
 is the highest peak in mainland Spain.

The hydroelectricity produced used to provide for just the people in the Poquiera Valley, but now it feeds into the national network. Water off the mountain is dammed at the top and this is released to provide electricity, particularly when there is a surge in demand.  Off the top of my head, it seems a bit like 'Electric Mountain' in Snowdonia, although the water used in the Sierra Nevada is from a dam where water is delivered from above  whereas in Snowdonia it is pumped up. Also, many of the operations in 'Electric Mountain' occur underground whereas at La Cebadilla it occurs above ground.

When we had reached the village, we crossed the Poquiera river and walked back along the other side of the valley. There were many deserted cortijos on this side and several eras - ancient circular areas cobbled with flat local stone, formerly used to thresh grain. The terrain is quite rugged and mountainous, and the eras stand out because there are not very many other areas that wide and that flat!
An era adjacent to a deserted cortijo.
We stopped for a while to watch some wild ibex.

Finally, the path dropped down to a bridge where we crossed the river before rising steeply, back to the village where we had started. 
I would like to walk down to this bridge one day next Spring when it is warm enough to bathe.
This Christmas Eve we spent all afternoon and early evening in Malaga. Our reason for doing this is that our eldest son came to spend Christmas with us. As he was working on Christmas Eve, by the time he had finished his shift, all the planes for Malaga had left the North West of England. So, he had to fly to Madrid and then get a high-speed train (AVE) from Madrid to Malaga station.
We reached Malaga and parked up in the early afternoon. The museums and sights all closed early on Christmas Eve so we had a little walking tour of the old town and a bit of a recce so that next time we go back we can get our bearings easily. There was a good festive atmosphere in the city and we found a lovely (and very lively) bar in a sidestreet where we ordered ensalada Malaguena (cod, potatoes, onions, oranges), salmonetas (baby red mullet) and migas (fried breadcrumbs) with a fried egg. We walked off our substantial meal by climbing the path up the side of the Alcazaba and on to the castle - both closed - but we were able to enjoy the views of the harbour and immediate city as we walked up through the gardens. On our return to the City centre, we also managed to get a peek inside the Cathedral as mass was about to begin.

Sunset was at about 6.15 and Christmas lights came on at 7pm. They were extremely extravagant.

We had skipped dessert at our meal, intending to have coffee and pastry somewhere else but the pastry shops were just like the kind of shops you see in many European cities. Tiring of the dipping into the lifestyle we have since left behind, we were pleased to head back home with our son, who had arrived safely and on time, much impressed by the AVE experience.
We will be going back to Malaga in the future to visit the castle, Alcazaba, Picasso museum etc. on a day when they are open. 
At dusk in Malaga.
Much to the caganer's delight, it was a full moon this Christmas
We had a lovely Christmas Day, opening our gifts and eating roast dinner on the terrace. We did put our Christmas jumpers on but it was too hot to leave them on for very long! 
Whilst our son was staying with us, we had an afternoon out in Velez de Benaudalla, a town just outside our valley and situated in the Costa Tropical region rather than the Alpujarras. The town has an Arabic garden, the Jardin Nazari. Built on a hillside on terraces, the water flows along each level and when it reaches the end, cascades down to the next level. The Moors do not fail to disappoint when it comes to water! At the lower level of the garden, there are cave-like grottoes with stalactites and stalagmites in them. The Moors liked to combine five elements in their gardens: aesthetic, psychological, scientific-botanic, nutrition and spiritual. It certainly did feel like a fully-rounded garden and I would like to consider these five elements when working on our own land. 



As a snack on our afternoon jaunt, we had a flask of tea and shared a roscon de Reyes. This is a circular brioche-style bread that is traditionally eaten on 6th January, the day of the Three Kings, when the Spanish give their presents. However, as our son had to return to the UK before new year, we bought a frozen one so we could try it together. Very nice! We were sorry to see our visitor go but we look forward to more family times at various points in 2016.
We are now back into our various projects. January is to be pruning month. We haven't pruned our olive trees since we bought our place and some of them need hard pruning . They are too tall for us to have any chance of reaching the fruit and some of the growth is quite old.  Pruning should encourage the tree to send out vigorous shoots from the bottom and if the plan comes to fruition (no pun intended) they should eventually produce fruits that we can reach. I think we will be focussing on the trees in one area of the land this year, so as not to jeopardise the whole of next year's harvest, as I don't think the pruned tree will produce fruit the following year.  
It has been windy for the last 5 days or so and quite a few more olives (that we couldn't reach when we harvested originally) have dropped to the ground. We picked up a few respectable sacks full and went to the mill again, firstly to collect the oil from the 116 Kgs we had already taken there and secondly to deposit these further olives for processing. By the time we had picked up every last olive we could find and got to the mill it was dark and we were tipping the olives down the chute for weighing in 'floodlight' - another 56 Kilos were registered! We were given 20 litres of oil, the quantity we had been expecting, in return for the 116 Kgs we had previously taken. So, I presume we will be given 10 litres when we return with our slip of paper to collect the second batch of oil. One thing is for sure: we can afford to prune hard as we have enough oil for the next two years! Since going to the mill two days ago, we notice that even more olives have dropped - but you have to draw a line somewhere! Maybe we will leave these for the birds to enjoy.
So with few daylight hours and lots of plans we are very busy bees indeed. Some members of our family know the best place to be........
And the days may be short but we have been rewarded with some beautiful sunsets.... 
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Wishing all  of you who read about our adventures a very happy and healthy 2016!

1 comment:

  1. Enjoying your tales and looking forward to seeing what you get up to this year. A very happy New Year to you both from Dave and i