With September`s foot well and truly in the door, I can discern discrete signs of the Summer`s strong hold loosing it`s firm grip, bringing ever so slightly cooler evenings, a long awaited relief as the result.
Many seasonal jobs await us this time of the year. One, particularly enjoyable, is the harvesting of the carob pod and preparation of it`s precious syrup and flour. Produce too good to be ignored, and should you be unaware of the nutritional benefits of this humble little pod, then perhaps it`s time to get to know it better, here. Especially interesting for those looking to boost their immune system, raise calcium levels, lower cholesterol, aid digestion, and potentially lose weight. This largely overlooked produce, sits with pride of place on my shelf, begrudgingly shared with others.
Late August, early September, when the pods are at their best, ripest stage, they are found strewn, carpet like, around the base of the tree. I love to just sit beneath the tree, where the earthy, ambrosial, sweet scent, fills my nostrils, forging a similar anticipation a child may hold for a bag of sweeties or an icecream.
Gathering them as they have fallen is the easiest way to harvest, but the more ardent can tap them from the trees with a long cane. They fall easily, and if you`re prepared with your netting laid below the tree, then the task is made simpler.
Traditionally, the syrup is made on an open fire cooking area, such as an indoor fireplace or alternatively, outdoors, in a specially adapted cooking area (παρασιά). Wood, being the source of fuel. Although the syrup can be made on the oven hotplate successfully, I think the process is made special outdoors on the wood fire, not to mention the woody smoke enhancing the flavour of the syrup.
Once the harvest is in, select the fattest, cleanest carobs, discarding any with worm holes or nibbles from rodents. You`ll need a pair of pliers and a large saucepan. I am fortunate in that I own a true Cretan iron cooking pot (τσικάλι η τσουκάλι), which I use for this procedure.
To obtain a reasonable quantity of syrup, you should collect at least 8 to 10 kilos of pods. Wash the carobs under running water. Using the pliers, break the pods into chunks. This aids the release of the syrup. Put into the saucepan and cover with water, leaving a good 10 cms excess over the pods. Place on the heat and bring to the boil. Leave to boil for at least 20 to 30 minutes and remove from the heat. Leave to stand overnight. Strain the pods from the water, using a fine netting to catch the grainy remnants. If you wish to make carob flour (χαρουπάλευρο), lay out the broken pods to dry in the sun, covered of course with netting. I`ll cover the process for this on another page.
Once you have your strained carob water, place on to the heat and begin boiling. The heat should not be too fierce, but just enough to keep it bubbling gently. When foam begins to develop on the surface, it`s a sign that you`re nearing the end of the procedure. Remove the foam with a slotted spoon as it develops, but keep the syrup on the heat. Check the consistency periodically by dripping a tiny amount onto a cold plate, allowing it to cool. It won`t set, but should have the consistency of runny honey.
The procedure can take up to 2 to 3 hours for the liquid to reduce sufficiently to get to this stage. Remove from the heat, allow to cool and bottle up into sterilized bottles.