Project Log. Read what's happening.

Little Tunny

We are having a tuna family member for dinner. Wild caught, the fisherman just brought it. He has got a leopard pattern on his back, he is shining silver. His flesh is dark red, like beef steak. I marinate him in soy sauce and tangerine jam with some drops of sesame oil. Then I fry him in a pan. He is meaty. Together with some rice noodles and marinated chard it tastes wonderful. 

What is this fish? His name is Little Tunny (Kubrita).  According to fish4tomorrow you have to be more cautious with eating Little Tunny then with Skipjack Tuna. Who caught the fish? Under which conditions?

So many things to consider when you start to think about how the fish got to your plate. 

Back to the field.

The sun is shining. I wake up 1min before my alarm rings, 6:14. After spending the morning on the field, digging the ground and fighting with the grass roots I am hungry and tired. My body is still not used to the routine. Still it is undoubtedly the best time of the day. The streets are empty. The earth is moist. The sun is warming the back of my calves through my black pants. 

Almost all tomato seeds that I have brought with me from my time in Canada have opened up. The second cross of leaves is coming up. I can almost watch them grow. 

World Music Jam

Organised by Tandem Malta. A project by IOM to empower migrant youth and encourage the dialogue and interaction of youth coming from different backgrounds. 

It was the first event of its type and it was simply beautiful. Muscians from Venezuela, Turkey, Algeria and Colombia and Malta were playing together sharing their songs and creating new music at the same time. 

 

Homemade greek yogurt

After milking the sheep I come home with a bucket full of warm, unpasteurized sheep milk. What a dream. 

A greek friend has researched the traditional, greek method of making yogurt for me. Part of the warm milk is kept in a warm place, preferably 30°C for the next 24h. After three days I will have cultivated my own yogurt bacteria for making sheep milk yogurt.  So smooth!

The rest of the milk will be turned into fresh gbejniet (Maltese cheeselets). The leftover whey is added to some braised turnips for lunch. 

 

Can you milk sheep?

6:50 a.m. My neigbour Zeppu is about to leave the garage with a pot in his hands. I jump out of the car. Yesterday, he offered me to show me how to milk sheep. Shortly after we are standing in his garage in the section where his four sheep and goats are fed and milked. The presence of a stranger, me, is making them anxious. Zeppu gives the floor a sweep, puts feed into the container on 4 different places and shouts for the goats and sheep. They are tied to a rope and start eating. Zeppu grabs a crate and places it a the back of the biggest sheep. He explains: „You have to grab the teats of the sheep just like the women who is putting icing on the cake.“ In my head I think: “I do know how to use a piping bag. It can’t be that hard.”  I sit down. So, thumb and indicating finger are letting milk in and then squeezing. The rest of the fingers press to let the milk out. Nothing comes out. The sheep is patient. After some more or less successful trials the sheep got fed up with a stranger touching her body. I hear a low fart and the sheep starts to shit. I got the message, my practice time is up. When I watch Zeppu milk the sheep it looks so smooth and natural. I got to keep practicing. 

Fruit trees

Figs, pomegranate, apricots, pear. Joe is experimenting with grafting wild, bitter almond stems with different fruit tree branches. Like this, they become more resitant to the harsh weather conditions. 

Some of them are full of little green leaves already. Today I discovered the first flower. The ones that haven’t developed any leaves yet are home to the snail clans.

7:00 a.m at the field

The streets are empty. The leaves of the plants shimmer with dew. Fog is above the fields. The sun is standing already quite high. It has to be earlier eventually.

Got to dig the ground. Do weeding. Hunt down the snails.

Sourdough bread

I wonder how Maltese bread tasted like some decades ago…

Where did they use to get the wheat from? Are you aware of what wheat they are using now?

The wheat for the flour of Maltese bakeries is mostly from Canada and Ukraine. 

Even though I love the white bread from our village bakery I prefer to bake my own these days. Experiments with very un-Maltese grains and flours like wheat and rye, different sour dough cultures and stages. Sour dough – believe it or not it is my first pet. 

Bok Choy and mother nature

Doris is the owner of Pomona, a little vegetable store in Ghajnsielem. In some way she is related to a friend of mine. Her answer to that is: “Here we are all friends and family in some way.“ She shows us her locally grown bok choy. She, the bok choy plant, is huge and has already developed flowers. Her passion for growing plants is filling the air around us. We get a spontaneous lecture on local onions and drying and using camomile. 

The hedgehoc family that has moved to her field last year also gets their fair share of delicious vegetables that are grown organically on her fields. Please note, she has no water supply on her fields. Mother nature does the job well.  

What is the field to me?

Space. Air. 

Hideaway. Exposure. 

Freedom. Challenge.

Physical work. Thinking process. 

My subject that I am studying.

Asparagus season has started!

Lucija, opens the door to the garage. Her voice is strong. The artistic woodworks that her husband does in winter are hanging in the garage. One of them is a wodden mosaic of the map of the European Union. In a box with water she is keeping the green asparagus that she brought from the field some hours ago. Ready to go on asparagus diet the next two months?!

Website thoughts. The presentation.

Talking to locals the field is my entry ticket and piece of identification to start a conversation

Talking to experts who are already involved in this area I see the field in a global context. It is a stage, a meeting place that can help to spread awareness and knowledge on environmental issues and local food culture. 

Talking about it to everyone else I describe it as a place of community where food and nature can be celebrated. 

So how do I present the project online? So that people can imagine and feel what’s going on here.

Summary: 1st month

Field work has started. Cleaning, preparing the soil, planting seedlings, sowing seeds.

First test run of the wood oven was a success! The event included life guitar music and singing, some spontaneous percussion and a diverse group of friends who enjoyed to be in the fields.  

Collection and brainstorming on material ideas for furniture. Tables out of vines are set up. 

On-going collection of traditional cooking methods and traditional agriculture. Connection to local farmers. 

„Import is part of Maltese history“.

A discussion with my friend and chef Josef, who is very knowledgable about Maltese culinary history, makes me think about my concept of strictly using Maltese products from a new perspective. Interesting arguments are:

 “Malta has never been self-sufficient.”

“An increasing demand in local products will increase the price. It will become a privilege to eat local food. Less whealthy people will have to buy cheaper products that come from abroad.” 

Drying meat, making ham.

I have been experimenting with airdried ham in the past months in Germany. The first result was good. Our cellar has great conditions: Good air circulation and not too humid. 

In Gozo it seems to be more difficult to find a good place for hanging it. However, the first try turns out good.  

Toto, our trusted Sicilian butcher in Victoria is currently making pancetta and salame. It is divine. Got to follow his advice for the next try.  

27.02. Seeding tomatoes

The guy at the agricoop knows me as the girl that buys 6 of each. Today it is: 

  • 6 tomato, 6 turnip, 6 lettuce plants
  • Bay leaf seedling, curry plant
  • Rosemary, thyme, majoran, sage, peppermint
  • Onions

Today I am seeding tomatoes. The seeds come from Germany, Canada and Greece. Looking up the moon cycle online and searching for the best day to sow is quite confusing. So I figured, today is a beautiful day. The moon is in it’s first quarter, let’s plant. 

How I took it for granted that water simply comes from the tap.

Alfred is sitting on a bench in front of the church of Santa Lucija. His voice is a bit broken and he is coughing badly because of his hay fever. He is very keen to show me around and knows exactly what he wants to show and tell me. 

Our first destination is the cave „Ghar Ilma“ that gave the hill its name. The cave is man-made and not open to the public yet. Water is collected in the cave that runs down from the spring. There are two troths were the British used to put chlorine that would slowly drip into the water to make it safe to drink. Small, underground canals transport the water further down the hill to Santa Lucija. An underground tunnel system together with the aquaduct used to transport water to the citadel. On the way there are differnt points where the population was able to get water from. Nowadays many of these places are used by farmers to get water for their fields.

Alfred describes the hiking route to me. He gets very excited when I understand something wrong and starts to draw sketches on the limestone. We get back into his old volvo and drive down, into Santa Lucija. After passing the village square, next to a big farmhouse he lifts up the grills that are immersed in the road. There are a few steps leading down and we disappear from the street. The tunnel is leaking and there is some water on the floor. That’s the problem in making it accessible to tourists. On both sides there are the little canals that transport the water further. Joe later tells me that they used to play in the tunnels. Nowadays, many of them are flooded and first need to be restored. Alfred points out a few more places where you can go underground. In the middle of the village square there is a huge water reservoir where farmers use a pump to take out water until today. 

It is spring.

The fruit trees are starting to sprout, even the grafted ones. 

 It is time to plant. 

  • Cover the little bean plants to protect them from the wind.
  • Plant basil in rows not in a bunch.
  • Sow beets, radishes, carrots.
  • Transfer chinese cabbage, swiss chard and brussels sprouts from my little nursery. 

Vines, vines, vines

  • 1st table is in the ground underneath the olive tree.
  • Plans to turn old bed frames into tables.
  • Old window as another table.
  • Wooden logs as seating.
  • Full day of using vines for tables, baskets etc. 
  • Got to find a good solution for a big table with chairs where it is comfortable to sit for people of all ages.
  • Tonkotsu Ramen for dinner.

You got to sit on the floor

Tobi and me are completely exhausted after leaving the field. The vines have been transformed into tables. No other material was used. We will place them in the shade of the olive trees.

You will be eating from a table of vines while looking on a field of vines.

It is best to sit on the bare ground. What shall we built for people who don’t feel comfortable sitting that low?

My first field worker

My friend Tobi has sponteaneously decided to come over from Germany to help me on the field for a week. This week’s schedule:

  1. Clear the paths of the field from vines.
  2. Dry the thick vine branches for furniture making and fire wood.
  3. Make baskets out of the thin vines
  4. Clear up the area around the olive trees.
  5. No seeding yet. It is full moon.
  6. Set up a composte area
  7. Build tables out of vines
  8. Inaugurate the stone oven

Maltese pie dough

5 a.m. I enter the shop. George is fully awake, running up and down getting everything set up for me downstairs. He has divided 1kg of the dough for me to practice. 

The dough is very elastic.  Roll, Stretch, Roll, Turn. In between olive oil and margerine. It works, somehow. Yet, I am still miles away from rolling and swinging the pastry as elgantly as George. 

Returning home at 7:30a.m. I make another batch myself. George calls me: „Don’t use any butter! You will do work for nothing!“ I give in, this time I will make the pastry with margerine but then I simply have to try it out with butter. 

Cuckoo!

Close to starvation after a morning hike to Victoria I make the discovery of the day: Cuckoo’s Nest. It is a 1-man show. The owner, George is waking up daily (except for Sunday) at 4a.m. to make his pastry dough and freshly bake all kinds of Maltese savoury pastries. One anchovy ftira later, it is all set: Tomorrow morning I got to be there at 5a.m. He will show me his way of preparing the pastry. 

Broad Beans

It is the perfect pea growing time. For broad bean planting the perfect time has already passed but it is still fine. Three tall broad beans plants have been hiding under the weeds. Having left some beans on the field last year they have reproduced without any human intervention. Isn’t that beautiful? They are flowering already. The first harvest on the field will be sooner than expected.

My car-free day

These tiny elevations are the ones that kill you. Well, and the drivers on Victorias main road. Apart from that cycling in Gozo is simply beautiful. When you feel that the green landscape is smoothly passing by you, it is going slightly downhill and you are on a road without potholes (thank you EU), then it is simply amazing. But the burn in your quads and the pain in your bump are obviously part of the experience. Got to cycle more often!

Bajtar tal-weraq

Yesterday, Joe and I cleared the field from weeds. While I was still figuring out where to get local vegetable seeds from, Joe had already brought a selection of seedlings for me. Among them is a very special tomato plant. It is being put in the earth earlier than other types. A cactus leaf protects it from wind and hail that usually comes from north-west. 

How does the field feel?

It is big. It is long. It is full of weeds and a lot of vines grow there. Olive trees are growing at its far end. While I am checking out the place trying to see how it feels, Joe my mentor and owner of the field comes with a weeder. Two and a half hours later the field looks completely different. Tiny fruit trees are growing in the area that has been covered by tall, green grass and stinging nettles. A small rosemary plant that is growing by the path has to be saved from the blades of the weeding machine.  

Tiles and Marble.

I need to meet Joe, the building Joe, who was born to built houses of limestone with beautiful arches and thick walls. I love the patterns of old Maltese tiles. I would like to use them as plates. Marble trimmings that are left from building houses are available in abundance. The marble comes from Malta, Italy and Egypt. Joe and me spend an afternoon discussing and creating working tops, plates and tables. 

Field. Wanted.

For now, the project concept is set and the ideas for events are overflowing. But where am I going to set it up? I need a field. 

You can call it coincidence, luck or fate. I got a field  after three days of my arrival in Gozo. A friend of mine is borrowing it to me. He doesn’t have time to use it himself but is full of passion and knowledge about the vines, fruit trees and plants that are and will be growing on the field. Not only did I find a location for the project. I found a mentor for the field set-up. 

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