Golden Poplars

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Autumn in the Eastern Free State is synonymous with poplar trees, which decorate the landscape with streaks of gold. Poplars, along with Blue Gums, Pine and Willows, are one of the few types of trees that thrive in the harsh Free State climate. Often planted in rows at farm entrances or in valleys along water courses, they put on the most magnificent display in the autumn with golden fingers reaching up to the blue sky. Most of the trees around Vastrap were planted by Quentin’s father, Bill and his grandfather, Tok. Bill is passionate about trees and has made it his life’s work to plant and nurture them through summer droughts and winter frost. At Vastrap we have the traditional line of poplars next to the house, a long line of blue gum trees alongside the road which passes the farm and a good number of willow trees in the valley. Thanks to Bill’s dedication and nurturing there are also some oak trees scattered around the farm, a rare sight on the Free State landscape, but equally beautiful in the autumn.

The days are still clear and warm but one can feel the chill of winter in the night air. The pace of work on the farm is slowing somewhat with the seasons, but there’s still lots to do with the harvesting of the sunflower and maize crops and preparing the lands to plant wheat. The veld is in good condition for winter grazing, but in the worst winter months the cattle will also eat the oats that has been planted for them (green feed) and the maize left over on the lands after the harvest (“maize rests”). In addition, hay has been baled to ensure there’s enough food for the animals until the first summer rains, which could come as late as November. That really does seem like a long time away, but no doubt we’ll be there in a flash.  Just a small thing called winter to get through first! Let’s wrap up warmly and enjoy it.

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Autumn is here!

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Autumn has definitely arrived in the Free State. The morning air is crisp and cool and the sky is turning winter-blue. The summer crop lands are changing hue as the maize and sunflowers start to dry out. On my drive into town this morning I was once again struck by the beauty all around us. Along the 17km dirt road there are photo opportunities aplenty. Unfortunately I only had my iPhone camera with me, but I think you’ll get the picture. From the cosmos lined road to the gold-tipped poplar trees and the clear vistas over the Maluti mountains into Lesotho. It really was a beautiful sight!

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Easter lemons

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The seasons are changing quickly. The temperature is dropping and the poplar trees are turning golden. We had some welcome rain this week – not as much as forecast, but at least it was something to replenish the soil. The air was fresh and distinctly autumnal on my drive into town this morning. A sure sign of Easter is the splash of colourful cosmos alongside the road. I’ve been getting the house ready for our visitors this weekend. We are going to have a very grown-up Easter with no kids in the house. Somehow Easter doesn’t feel the same without a Sunday morning egg hunt, but I’m sure we will be very happy reading, cooking, walking, chatting and just relaxing. If it’s chilly we might even light a fire and the lamb shanks are all ready for Sunday lunch. I am not making my own hot cross buns. Fully aware of my baking limitations I have decided not to subject my guests to the inevitable flop! Instead my mother has been sent a long shopping list of goodies to bring with for the weekend, including store-bought hot cross buns!

View towards the Vastrap valley from the road into town.

View towards the Vastrap valley from the road into town.

Cosmos starting to bloom.

Cosmos starting to bloom.

Pretty in pink.

Pretty in pink.

Poplar trees starting to turn.

Poplar trees starting to turn.

I have stocked the fridge with some fresh lemon syrup for the weekend. Our garden has the most amazing lemon tree, which was probably planted by Quentin’s mother. Thankfully it produces abundantly throughout the year as I use lemons all the time in cooking and in drinks. I planted a lime tree last year, but it hasn’t produced any fruit yet. At least it survived last winter so hopefully it is here to stay. Lemon syrup is a very summery drink, served with ice, water and some fresh mint. I am sharing the recipe with you now as a tribute to the wonderful summer just past.

Lemon Cordial (makes about 2 liters)

1-1.5 liters of water

1-1.5 kg sugar (adjust to taste)

About 500ml of fresh lemon juice (about 6-10 lemons depending on size)

2 tablespoons of lemon rind

2 tablespoons citric acid (enhances the lemon flavour)

2 tablespoons tartric acid (helps to preserve)

2 x 1 liter glass bottles (the Consol shop has a fantastic collection of glass jars and bottles)

Dissolve the sugar in the water and bring to the boil. Add citric and tartric acid and dissolve completely (these are not essential ingredients). Turn off the heat and allow syrup to cool. Sterilise glass bottles in the oven at 100 degrees Celsius. Add the lemon juice and rind to the syrup and stir. Pour into glass bottles and store in the fridge. Dilute with still or sparking water for a refreshing drink. Add mint and ice for an extra summery touch!

Lemon tree.

Our gorgeous lemon tree.

Gorgeous harvest.

Abundant harvest.

Preparing the lemons and rind.

Preparing the lemons and rind.

The finished product!

The finished product ready for the fridge!

Wishing you all a very happy and blessed Easter!