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- September Brewing
In the last two weeks, we have made four rounds of plum jam, plum preserves, grape mushti (grape juice with a kick), grape pekmez (molasses), fig jam, dried hundreds of figs, and today a batch of thana (cornelian cherries) raki. Never a dull moment on the homestead. The grape pekmez made for a very sticky situation. We've made it from mulberries over the last few years but never tried to make it out of grapes. IT WAS THICK! We picked the ripest grapes, smushed, strained and slowly simmered down to a thick honey texture. I enjoyed the flavor. Art enjoys the mulberry pekmez a bit more. We only made about six small jars but a worthy experiment. And taking full advantage of our grapes we made some mushti. We picked nice juicy grapes and smashed into a small barrel. We let it rest for two days and then strain into a pitcher. It was taste sweet like grape juice but has a bit of a kick. We've gone a bit plum crazy here this year. It started with 5 kg of plums. Then another 5 kg and another 5. After three rounds of jam we preserved another 3 kg of plums. And just this afternoon I picked up another 6 kg. I called not my jam. I'll update next month on the jar count of plum related items we have stored for the winter. Side note, we have several plum trees that aren't quite mature, so hopefully next year most of the plums come from within the walls of our garden. And the figs! It was delicious season for our figs. And Art tried several different versions of drying with just the sun vs a new dehydrator or a combo of both. The fresh figs sliced in half placed in the dehydrator took about 18 hours, dried evenly, but I enjoyed the texture of the whole fig for two days in the dehydrator. It's a soft chewy instead of a taffy tough chew. After drying, we bag and freeze for another 24 hours. This helps prevent any pests that may have burrowed there way in from living. We place the dried figs in jars with a bay leaf and store in our pantry, which is filling up really fast. We do share a fair amount with my sister-in-law here. And the jam was a success. We've tried a few variations of fig jams, with lemon juice, without. And this year we choose without lemon. It's yummy! We walked through the orchard to inspect the pomegranates. Art picked one and it's sweet although pretty small. I would say we are weeks away from a bountiful season of juicing coming our way. In between all the brewing and canning we took advantage of the cooler temperatures to enjoy the lake. The Bar Restorant Syri i Sheganit is about a ten minute bike ride and the views never get old even with the addition of a few quacky ducks. It adds to the ambience of one with nature. The garden is still producing peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, watermelons, cucumbers, beans, and pumpkins. The cabbage, leeks and brussel sprouts are progressing along. Cooler temperatures are in the forecast plus a bit of rain. Our trees that are pick ready: apples, figs, plum, kimchee, and a few olives. Next up the pomegranates, quinces, persimmons, orange, and lemon. Vine to wine season in the next few weeks. Cheers!
- A tasty month...
August always comes in with a variety of colors and changes throughout the homestead. Our fig trees are on a daily full five gallon bucket harvest mode. We are attempting several versions of drying our figs to keep up with the vast bounty. It takes two days with our little dehydrator and about three days to sun dry. The garden is still producing peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, tomatoes, okra and beans. We've picked a few apples and we even harvested a second round of mountain tea and lavender. Pumpkins and watermelons are still ripening. We even popped our first round of popcorn from the corn this year. We have a few stalks that need to ripen but the rest are drying. Art and I collected the thana (cornelius cherries) for raki. They will ferment for about 45 days or so before we can distill. The pomegranates have doubled in size during the last month. The orchard looks more like trees and less like bushes. We have about forty trees with fruit this year. Next year we should see that number to be around a few hundred. The walnut, olive, plums, persimmon, quince, dates, orange and lemon trees are still ripening. Our daily walk around the garden includes taste testing the various grapes ripening throughout the vineyard. We have the luxury of living close to many beautiful sites like the Albanian Alps, the beautiful Lake Shkoder, but we also live near the border of Montenegro. We enjoy the view of Montenegro mountains from our front porch. Montenegro is a small country with less than half the population of Albania. They have several coastline towns and villages along the Adriatic Sea. We've visited a few places over the years like Kotor, Port of Montenegro, Ulcinj, and Budva. Last week we stopped by the Port of Montenegro to visit family and we were treated to a view of Montenegro via sea. We spent the day cruising the coastline and checking out the beautiful villages, old churches, forts, and castles that still remain. Day trips from our homestead add variety and the options are endlessly dreamy. I love living where I can experience new food, culture, languages, ancient villages, and still sleep in my own bed. Has Albania been added to your must visit bucket list?
- Exploring to beat the heat
July was crunchy hot. So we turned on the irrigation to water the trees and the garden and headed north a few times this month. First up was Theth. The valley of Theth sits high in the southern end of the Malesi e Madhe region of Albania. We've been near Theth a few times but finally crossed over and snaked our way down to the Theth valley. The road is new so the pavement was great but it's a bit narrow. So why here, you may ask? It has family owned guesthouses, rivers, waterfalls, blue eye spring, and many mountain trails. A popular hike is from Theth to Valbona or vice versus. It's a long day hike connecting the two small valleys with amazing views. We've not completed the trek but it's not off the list. If you go to youtube and type in Theth or Valbona there are hundreds of videos of hikers making this trek. We visited the blue eye but overall agreed it was a bit to crowded. Cross at the top before the switchbacks on the way down between Boge and Theth. And this last week we made two trips north to Vermosh and Lepushe. The drive there is MAGICAL. It never gets old. The trip is about an hour and half. When you climb up from our valley you pass through the village of Rapshe and stop a scenic lookout. It over looks a canyon with a beautiful a river snaking between the Albanian Alps. You literally drive down parallel with the river as you wind your way through stunning small villages. If you come through in early spring or late fall the waterfalls are countless. Including one we've admired from the road and finally stopped to get a closer look. We've nicknamed the spring fed waterfall the Crying Giant. In Vermosh the hike of choice was summiting Mount Jeshnic, a grazing valley high in the Albanian Alps. A steep hike with incredible views and lots of shade to rest and take it all in. His family stayed at the Peraj Guesthouse. It's family run and they served farm to table AMAZING meals. It has four little cabins, areas for camping, RVs, and even a few rooms in the guesthouse. We met several travelers from Germany and Netherlands. All who were very impressed by Albania. And a few days later we made the drive back up to Lepushe. Art, our nephew and four of our nephew's friends hiked to summit Mount Vajush. We completed this hike two years ago and I decided to sit this one out. I stayed back at the guesthouse Bujtina Lepushe. I worked on my fourth book in the Ember in Time series and enjoyed the beautiful views and cooler weather. Art and my nephew captured some incredible footage of their hike. Back here at the homestead. We are sauced out! After a week of picking, chopping, cooking and canning we have 47 jars of sauce. We made several varieties but my favorite was heavy on the garlic and basil. We are still picking tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, a second round of mountain tea, yellow pod beans, watermelons and even picked a pumpkin (10.7 kg) yesterday. We pulled the last of the bush beans and will be picking the chick peas later this week. We have figs, grapes, and thana (cornelius cherries) are ripening daily. And yesterday we picked the last of the pears. And the apples, sugar plums, pomegranates, oranges, lemons, quince and persimmons are still progressing nicely. The orchard had a second round of growth in the last month. We have three different varieties: davedishe, hicanzar, and wonderful. And the hicanzar (a Turkish variety) are pretty full with new fruits. Compared to the other two varieties that peaked with less than five fruits. And Art and I did a mini excursion at the beginning of the month to the south of France and Barcelona, Spain. We enjoyed exploring Nice, Monaco, Cannes, Marseille, and Barcelona. And Barcelona has topped my list of my favorite European city. It was extremely easy to get around, cost was reasonable for food, hotels, and it has something for everyone. The sea, beautiful parks, amazing architecture, vibrant live music, beaches, and the food all so good! Highly recommend second to our little corner of the world. A few shots of our walks around. Hello August...we hope you are cool.
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About Kim Malaj Author/Wine Taster/Blogger When I moved to my husband's tenth generation land and homestead in Albania, I had a vague idea of what I was getting into but the journey has been more enlightening and life changing in the most unexpected ways. From a corporate jet set life to working and running a small vineyard and homestead outside of the US in the mountain valley town Bajze, Albania. I have found peace, home and life outside of a 9-5. We enjoy every aspect of living outside of the US and want to share our a simple life of culture and wine. I first started writing our journey in a notebook stored in the bedside table to capture the activities of our homestead because each day is an adventure. After a short trip back to the US to visit family and friends, I found that trying to catch them up on the day to day life living abroad in beautiful Albania was nearly impossible. Homestead Albania has become an outlet for us to document our epic journey and allows others to tag along. Author of Who Is Maggie, the Ember in Time Series and The Old Untold.