Wednesday, June 21, 2017

6/21 -- Life on a Farm

We headed to the countryside today to meet a farm family and experience some of their responsibilities for the day.

Our big bus had to cross this very narrow bridge:
he had less than a foot of clearance on our side.
The farm complex. The things that look like white and tan
garage doors are reed curtains on an open air patio where we ate.
Mama pig and her piglets
We met the parents and one son/girlfriend pair along with two grandsons and three neighbors. We started off with introductions, and then it was time to work.

The first chore was making bread. They used a sourdough starter and enough water and flour (one they harvested) to make 15 loaves, which lasts the extended family a week. It was initially kneaded on a low table set between chairs so that mama could press down with her upper body instead of just her arms. Once it started looking like bread dough, they shifted to a simple two-person wooden machine where one person sits and folds the bread and the other lifts a lever over the dough and presses down. It takes 10-20 minutes of that action before the bread is ready for shaping. Several of us helped with the mechanical kneaded, and working in pairs with the lever proved quite effective. Then we shaping the dough, but it was tough to get it smooth with only one crease. The bread is cooked in an old-style wood fired stove with almond shells thrown in for flavor (they raise almonds too).

Frederika explaining the kneading machine.
Jim raised the bar high and pumped it really fast. I have a video
that I have to try to upload.
I tried my hand at it too.
Then it was time to shape the loaves. People
here must have been shorter when this format
was devised.

Next, it was time to make ricotta and farm cheese. Two hours before we arrived, milk and rennet was added to a big barrel along with hot water. The resulting liquid was removed and discarded, leaving the curd. More hot water was added and a rounded implement was used to break it up. Then the water is removed again to another container and strained to catch any curd. The curd that remains is put into slotted containers filled to overflowing and the excess liquid is pressed out by hand through all the little slots in the container. When it is pretty dry, it is inverted, removed from the plastic and replaced upside down in the container for drying. In a week it is cheese. They also can add flavorings like basil leaves in layers to add interest to the cheese. The whey in the other container is left alone to become ricotta.
Removing excess liquid.
Stirring up the curds and whey after adding boiling water.
Pressing out the excess liquid to make cheese
The inverted cheese. The markings on the mold are from the
drainage slots in the plastic container.

Meanwhile, others were in the garden picking lettuce, tomatoes, celery, and cucumbers. The rest of us were setting the table for 27 diners. The bread was split and drizzed with olive oil and basil, and the grill had been set up outside and finally it was time to eat. We had the salad, bread, and ricotta we made along with homegrown olives and grilling chicken and sausages, washed down with red or white wines. Dessert was a choice of homegrown fruits like peaches, plums, and itty bitty pears.

Our last duty was to try milking a cow, and I am happy to report that I was competent (especially as a dairy state native, who had never milked a cow before).

Back in Ragusa, it was time to pack for our next city, Catania.

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