Friday, 29 August 2014

Caiguas grow in Asturias and they taste lovely.

The Caigua plants growing in the hotel vegetable garden
Although we give preference to growing local varieties and local crops we also like to try new varieties and new crops to help increase the range of home grown fruit and vegetables that we provide for our guests. Any new crop or variety  we plant has to be evauated to see how it grows under our specific conditions and to see if the fruit or vegetable has good eating qualities.

Fruits ready for picking
With this in mind we tried growing caiguas this year, from some seed which I brought back from Nepal where it is grown and greatly appreciated. This vegetable has many different names including achojcha, slipper gourd, stuffing cucumber, korilla, olochoto and kichipoktho  but the most common name is caigua which comes from South America where it is grown the most.

Fruits ready for eating raw, juicing or cooking.
From the information I could find I knew it was a vigorous creeping vine which likes a lot of warmth and water and needs between 90 and 100 days before it starts fruiting.

The young growth full of tendrils
The plant is certainly very vigorous but this last week, two months after we planted it in our vegetable patch, it is starting to produce an abundance of fruit. The fruit are lovely to eat raw but also absolutely delicious sautéed tasting something like a cross between a pepper and a cucumber. There are also many recipes from South America for stuffed caiguas which we have yet to try. And apart from tasting good according to all the literature caiguas are a miracle health food helping to regulate cholesterol levels and they even have anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects. 

The plant has both male and female flowers these are the clusters of male flowers

The female flowers are born singularly or in pairs in the leaf axle
The plant is hardy and disease free and unlike other cucurbits we grow such as cucumbers or courgettes the caigua doesn’t suffer from mildews.  This is where I see the interest in this crop for our vegetable plot; to start producing lots of fruit in late summer when our courgettes are starting to suffer and produce less.

It’s the first year we try the caiguas but we will definitely try them again next year and what is sure caiguas grow in Asturias and the guests love them.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Magnificent in their glory, trees on the farm.

False Acacia trees on the farm in winter
It was a stormy summer’s day and the farm was in her best clothes, magnificent giants guiding the way. I suddenly looked up and saw these beautiful specimens paving the way.
It made me think about the farm, Asturias and how local people have cared for these trees which in return reward them with their ware.

Walnut tree outside the dinig room window
Take the noble walnut tree, not only a delicious fruit in the autumn, but in years past the timber was used for fine furniture. We have the most magnificent tree outside the dining room window. One of the local pastries here is Casadiellas, filled with walnuts and anis.

Walnuts from our farm

Ash trees providing shade for stone stables in the mountain
The Ash trees grow quickly and abundantly, spreading their branches offering shade from the midday sun for the animals and then in the autumn coppiced for extra winter fodder. If you travel in the Pico’s you will see the stone stables surrounded by the ash trees.

Hazelnuts from the farm
Around the hedges are found the Hazel trees with many stems, these in the past were trained to produce fences. The nuts are collected in September, if the boars and badgers don’t get there first... Many a beautiful basket here is made from the hazelnut tree.

Traditional cart made from hazel twigs
As traditions go there is a local Hazelnut fiesta in Infiesto the first weekend of October, then in Arriondas there is the Chestnut fiesta in November.

Catkins on the chesnut trees
We have many chestnut trees on the farm; I was amazed by the beautiful catkins’ on the male trees.
The village people here talk about the famine during the civil war and chestnuts were boiled and eaten as a meal. In some areas, La Molina, you can see the remains of stone like igloos Quires’ made for storing chestnuts in the winter.

Thorns on the Acacia
It is strange to think that nearly all the trees had their uses, even the intrusive Acacia was originally grown for its timber to make the fences around the farm, not one of the friendliest trees with its huge thorns, and if it wasn’t for the animals who trim the young shoots it would take over the farm. I believe this was originally brought in by the people who emigrated to South America and returned to Asturias.

Laurel leaves and flowers
For culinary purposes we have the Laurel tree, the leaves used in many stocks and sauces, the animals will eat a mouthful, and then move on. On Palm Sunday local people take a sprig of laurel to church to be blessed by the priest; this is then given to the godparents, who in return nowadays buy a special cake for the godson or daughter.

Lime tree and fruits
There is a large Lime Tree at one end of the farm, the people here used to collect the flowers to make an infusion; it was supposed to help you relax. We have many cherry trees with sweet and sour cherries, the sour ones called guinda are used here for a liquor, made with anis. A very popular drink in Asturias.

Sweet cherries waiting to be eaten; mmmm!
Blog entry written by Joe

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Growing for Flavour



So we have an excellent group of chefs at the hotel but what do we do in the vegetable garden to maximise the flavour of what we grow and serve?

The varieties we plant
Probably the most important factor which influences in the flavour of the crop we grow is the variety we choose to plant. You must have come a cross a rock hard tomato in a supermarket which tastes like cardboard. This is because originally these varieties of tomato were bred to travel long distances and sit in the supermarket shelves for weeks. When the plant breeders produced these long shelf life varieties they had no consideration of flavour, but after the introduction of these tasteless tomatoes the overall sales of tomatoes actually started to decrease. That’s when plant breeders started to select for flavour and now there is a wide range of modern and heirloom varieties available which taste good.

The very tasty tomato Suncherry Premium grwoing in our greenhouse
At the hotel we plant the tomato variety Suncherry Premium in our greenhouse which I must say has outstanding flavour, not only is it sweet but it has an excellent sugar acid ratio. The fruits are slightly larger than a cherry tomato and the plants are easy to grow. If you’re after flavour I really would recommend giving it a try. Another tomato variety we sometimes grow is Sun Gold its claimed to be the sweetest tomato there is (and probably is) but lacks a little bit of acid and so flavour isn’t quite as good as Suncherry Premium.

Top tasting fruit varieties
Strawberries are another example of a fruit where breeding for shelf life came in detriment to flavour. How many times have you come across giant firm red strawberries which look great but are such a disappointment to eat? Well there is now an excellent variety called Albion available especially recommended for organic growers it’s easy to grow and tastes sublime. We managed to get hold of some plants a few years ago and since then we have replaced all our strawberry beds with this tastier variety and boy do you notice the difference.

We are also trialing some new blackberry varieties and again flavour is one of the major attributes we are looking for.

The flavour of leafy crops and root crops are also greatly influenced by the variety you grow. Little gem and Batavia lettuce are the best flavoured lettuce, Mona Lisa is an excellent tasting potato, the list of tasty varieties goes on…

The superb flavoursome potato we grow; Mona Lisa

If you’re interested in flavour before buying your seeds or plants try and find out a bit about the eating qualities of the different varieties, internet is an amazing source of information.


The length of time and conditions between harvest and cooking
However good a fruit or vegetable tastes when freshly picked from the plant once picked, its flavour will start to decrease. This is because once picked the sugars the fruit contains will slowly start to turn to tasteless starch and many of the other flavour components will start to break down into simpler less flavourful molecules.

Freshly picked vegetables to be prepared staright away.

Here at the hotel we normally harvest in the early afternoon and the cooks start preparing the food a couple of hours later. So our fresh organic food as well being healthy for you tastes incredible good.

The amount of sunlight they receive whilst growing
The more sunlight a plant receives the more sugars it can make and potentially have more flavour. There is not much we can do about the amount of sun we get but in general for flavourful food its best to have your vegetable garden in full sun and avoid shady areas.

Our vegetable garden in full sun 

The amount of water and type of fertiliser the plants receive whist growing
The amount of water and the availability of certain salts (or more correctly cations such as sodium, potassium and magnesium) influence on flavour. Plants grown with an excess of water tend to have larger more watery fruits with less flavour where as plants grown with more “salts” tend to have smaller fruits, lower yields but more flavour. When I worked with tomatoes many years ago in the south of Spain there was a time when Marks and Spencers actually asked the growers to irrigate their crops with a mixture of sea water to help increase the flavour of the fruit


Strawberries cope well with dry conditions and it makes them taste even better

Care needs to be taken as you can easily kill or weaken a crop if you use too little water or too much fertiliser, particularly if you have a clayey soil. But a practical tip for increased flavour is mulch with leaf mould as it is high in potassium and has none of the detrimental effect an inorganic potassium fertiliser might have. So start saving all you leaf falls this autumn.

Finally careful control on watering can improve flavour; don’t over water but at the same time make sure you water enough to maintain a healthy plant as a weak unhealthy plant will never taste as good as a healthy plant.

So as you can see the chefs play a huge role in the preparing the flavour of the food, but so does the gardener!

Our salad buffet; grown and cooked for flavour!

Happy eating.

Friday, 18 July 2014

A time to enjoy our creative nature; Collagraph Printmaking.


One of the courses run at the hotel is on Collagraph Printmaking. This Art Work Shop is run by Lidia and this blog entry is written by her about one of the recent courses;

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When our guest Sandy sent me an email to book an art workshop, I had a mixture of feelings. 

First, I was very enthusiastic, as I always feel when it comes to sharing artistic techniques, and painting with others. I love that explosion of creativity, those "unspoken" conversations that take place, with our hands, our imagination. Then, I felt I had to compromise between the spontaneity I like to work with and the structured process of a lesson on a printmaking technique. 

Eventually I got carried away with my initial enthusiasm and started organizing the workshop full of energy; and the 3 hours workshop with Sandy was more than inspiring! it was full of patience, love for all beings and the Asturian land, and full of wonder. 

Do you know the "white paper" fear we all have somehow when we start to paint something, to create something?; 

and how about the fear, at least my fear, to attend an art class full of rules, with a teacher telling you what to do, what is a good result and a bad result?

Well, my most sincere intention in my workshops, is to change that!, to share some
"Magic" with

Collagraph Printmaking.
And that magic happened! and you will discover how..



..A challenge! Sandy was thinking a lot before the workshop, she had some clear ideas on what she wanted to do, and came with a challenge: let's recreate this photo! and I thought, wow!! this will be difficult!.

Collagraph Printmaking technique consists in gluing different materials, organic, recycled materials with different textures into a cardboard model. Materials and shapes will be revealed in a different way, they will absorb the ink and retain it differently, leaving a darker or clearer colour print.  

So with some observation on results everyone can make an idea about what is going to happen, how the print is going to emerge; but for the first time, it is quite a difficult task. 

Usually, we start printing some already made designs, and try creating a simple and purely experimental model. But this time it was different, we had a picture, so we had an expectation on the result,..a real challenge! A cow in the mountain! :)


In a 3 hours workshop, Sandy had time to carefully and slowly design her model with some help, but you know a "teacher" cannot say everything from the beginning, so some little mistakes and big realizations happened, moments to learn and discover the magic of this technique that is like a mirror, like a specular image. The result is always a joyful and creative surprise!

Magic happened! we used a few old pieces of cardboard, some oregano, a piece of old sandpaper (first time I've ever thought of using it!), glue and coffee.  

We created the 5 layers that the landscape of the photograph had, and added volume to the cow with an extra one!..



And after prinking 2 old designs of my own, to get familiar with the printing process, Sandy ended up with 3 beautiful and different versions of her cow in "El Sueve"! (the mountain range that rests behind the hotel)

More information on this Art Workshop can be found here

Monday, 14 July 2014

Recognition as an environmentally-friendly accommodations


English. (En español debajo)

Hotel Posada del Valle in Asturias proudly announces it has been accepted as a Gold level GreenLeader into the TripAdvisor®GreenLeaders™ program, which helps travelers plan greener trips by identifying environmentally-friendly accommodations.

TripAdvisor GreenLeaders have met a set of environmental standards developed for TripAdvisor by a leading environmental consulting firm, with input from expert partners. The more green practices a hotel has in place, the higher its GreenLeader level, which is shown on the property's listing on the TripAdvisor site.

Travelers can now search for accommodations that have a GreenLeaders status on the TripAdvisor site, and view a detailed list of environmentally-friendly practices that they can expect at each location.
 
“TripAdvisor GreenLeaders are leading the hospitality industry in making efforts to improve their environmental footprint," said Jenny Rushmore, director of responsible travel at TripAdvisor. "We greatly applaud these accommodations and are pleased to share their eco-friendly practices with our online audience of more than 260 million travelers who visit
the site each month."

The TripAdvisor GreenLeaders program was developed in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ENERGY STAR® program, the U.S. Green Building Council, and the United Nations Environment Programme.
For more information, please visit www.tripadvisor.com/GreenLeaders

The Gold level GreenLeader award will join our certificate of excellence awarded by trip advisor for this year

Español 

El Hotel Posada del Valle en Asturias, se enorgullece de anunciar que ha sido elegido como "Gold level Green Leader" - "Líder Verde nivel de oro" por el programa de TripAdvisor®GreenLeaders™ , el cual ayuda a viajeros y turistas a planear sus viajes verdes y sostenibles, identificando alojamientos respetuosos con el medioambiente

Los alojamientos elegidos por TripAdvisor GreenLeaders ("Líderes verdes") cumplen con una serie de estándares medioambientales desarrollados por una consultoría ambiental líder para TripAdvisor, en colaboración con agentes externos independientes. De esta forma, el establecimiento es posicionado en un ranking de excelencia, con un nivel GreenLeader más alto, cuantas más buenas prácticas ambientales se estén implementando. Eta información está accesible para los usuarios y viajeros que pueden consultar el listado en la web de tripAdvisor.

Los viajeros pueden ahora buscar alojamientos con el certificado GreenLeaders en la web de TripAdvisor, así como consultar una lista detallada de sus prácticas medioambientales específicas.

"Los Green Leaders de TripAdvisor son pioneros en liderar la industria del alojamiento sostenible, haciendo un gran esfuerzo en mejorar y reducir su huella ecológica" cita Jenny Rushmore, director de turismo responsable en TripAdvisor. "Aplaudimos enormemente el esfuerzo de estos alojamientos y estamos encantados de compartir sus prácticas ecológicas

con nuestro público, de más de 260 millones de viajeros que visitan nuestra página web cada mes."

El programa GreenLeaders de TripAdvisor ha sido desarrollado en colaboración con el programa de la Agencia de Protección Medioambiental "ENERGY STAR®" y el Consejo de Edificación Sostenible de los EEUU, y con el Programa Medioambiental de Naciones Unidas. Para más información, visite  www.tripadvisor.com/GreenLeaders

Saturday, 28 June 2014

A short story about Karst Limestone Landscapes

The Hotel built on a limestone outcrop
Lime stone is the rock that predominates in Asturias and The Picos de Europa are a geological unit composed almost purely of limestone and are the largest single mass of mountain limestone in Europe. The hotel is actually built on a limestone outcrop and this limestone becomes very noticeable in the upper part of our farm; but have you thought about what limestone actually is?

Limestone in the Picos de Europa
Limestone is a sedimentary rock composed from skeletal fragments of marine organisms (calcium carbonate minerals) such as coral or foraminifera shells. Yes that’s right; this means that the rock underneath the hotel and the soil on the hotel farm was made from shells of animals that once lived at the bottom of the ocean. A billion year history through the movement of tectonic plates brought these rocks high above the ocean, where we stand today.

Limestone rocks in the top part of the hotel farm

Limestone rocks in the Picos 
However the story of this mother rock doesn't stop here, it's the relationship of limestone with water that leads to these so called "karst landscapes", water eroding limestone over thousands to millions of years. The landscape at the top of the farm is very similar to the one in many parts Picos the Europa. Almost all of the rock in the Picos is limestone, and glacial action has contributed to create an impressive area of alpine karst. 

Flutes or pencil karst in The Picos
The mysterious stories of karst affect not only the rock that you can see, it also happens underneath the dark soil where we can't see. Above sink holes, flutes, runnels, vertical shafts, clints and grikes are some of the most visible features on the surface of the terrain.  Beneath the surface, complex underground drainage systems (such as karst aquifers) and extensive caves and cavern systems form a mysterious underground world.

Blow holes in the limestone at the coast near LLanes
Limestone eroded by the sea
As for all the inhabitants of this landscape, farmers in karst areas must take into account the lack of surface water. The soils may be fertile enough, and rainfall may be adequate, but rainwater quickly moves through the crevices into the ground, sometimes leaving the pastures parched brown between rains. 

Parched landscape near Vega Ario in the Picos
A delicate and precise management of the land makes this unique place a living museum. Here the most outstanding geological sculptures are married with a sustainable farming system that brings to life a cultural conservation of nature.

Geological sculptures in the hotel farm
This blog entry is based on text for a farm poster written by Sebastian Burch co founder and worker at Gaia y Sofia

Saturday, 31 May 2014

New Cookery workshops


We have been running cookery workshops at the hotel for over 5 years, and with the experience we have gained plus the feedback from participants we are now going to be offering three different one day workshops;
  • Asturian cuisine
  • Farm to fork
  • Posada del Valle's Food Specials

All the courses are informal and hands on, and each course will be led by a different chef from the hotel. There are three special chefs at Hotel Posada del Valle, each one with a different interest and experience in cooking

Andrés preparing "tortas"
Asturian cuisine; Chef Andrés Caso. 
Andres is from Cangas de Onis and comes from a family of farmers who also used to make the local blue Gamonedo cheese. He studied cooking in Asturias and has been working in the hotel for 5 years. In this food experience Andrés will take you on a tour of a local food market (or around some local shops if there is no market that day) and explain a little about the Asturian food culture. 

The sunday food market at Cangas de Onis
Then you will be cooking such typical dishes as Fabada Asturiana (bean stew,) tortas (maize pancakes) and a tortilla de patata (Spanish omelet.) You will then have time to sit down and enjoy all you have cooked with a glass of local cider.


Samantha examining some of the farm produce
Farm to fork; Chef Samantha Burch 
Samantha was born in Alicante but has lived in Asturias for the last 18 years. She is an excellent self taught chef specializing in vegetarian food. Her particular interest is in vegetarian and vegan food and the creative use of local and home grown produce. In this work shop you will have a guided visit of the hotel vegetable garden, help pick some of the produce and then subsequently use it in different imaginative ways. 

Participants with their freshly picked produce

Imaginative recipes making the most of the home grown produce
The particular recipes will depend on the time of year and what’s growing on the farm and of course there will be time to sit down and enjoy the food you have prepared with a drink.

Joann in the kitchen talking about food
Posada del Valle's Food SpecialsChef JoAnn Burch 
JoAnn studied cooking and worked as a chef in many different countries before starting the restaurant at the hotel. Due to her experience, talent and work the restaurant has gained the fame it is now renowned for. She has also trained other chefs who have come to work and learn about the local and organic food we produce at the hotel. 


Joann demonstrating how to make a roulade
In this workshop you will learn how to prepare some of the most popular dishes served at Hotel Posada del Valle as well as some different techniques which can be used to create a variety of recipes. At the end of the morning there will be the chance to sample the food you have prepared with a glass of wine.

Fun time learning
Join us on one of these courses and discover "what is behind the scenes" when cooking local, organic and wholesome meals at Hotel Posada del Valle. We have a special marked date for each experience; if you are interested in other dates please contact us. For all courses there will be a minimum of two participants and a maximum of six. 

Beneath is a resume of these three cookery workshops with prices and dates and on our web you will find information about the other courses we are offering.




Asturian cuisine; Chef Andres Caso. 
Enjoy learning about Asturian local food.

Program of activities
09.30 -11.30 guided visit to local market or shops
11.30 – 14.30 preparing local dishes; fabada, Spanish omelet, maize pancakes
14.30 – 15.30 enjoying the food you’ve prepared.

Price 45,00 Euros / person Fixed date 30th of August; for other dates please consult us


Farm to fork; Chef Samantha Burch 
Learn about home grown vegetables and how to use them in imaginative cooking
Program of activities
09.30 – 11.00 guided tour of the hotel vegetable garden and harvesting of ingredients for cooking
11.00 – 14.00 preparing a variety of vegetarian dishes from the freshly harvested produce
14.00 – 15.30 enjoying the food you’ve prepared

Price 40,00 Euros / person Fixed date 21st of September; for other dates please consult us


Posada del Valle's Food SpecialsChef Joann Burch 
Learn how to prepare some of the most popular dishes served at Hotel Posada del Valle
Program of Activities
10.30 – 14.00 Preparing a variety of dishes and learning different cooking techniques 
14.00 – 15.30 enjoying the food you’ve prepared

Price 40,00 Euros / person Fixed date 27th of September; for other dates please consult us



Welcome

Hotel Posada del Valle is a small hotel in Asturias Northern Spain surrounded by its own organic farm and where we are passionate about organic farming, food, and sustainable livelihoods. In this Blog those of us who live and work at Hotel Posada del Valle open a door to share with all of you who are interested in what we are doing.