Friday, 3 January 2014

Tough Aul' Birds

I promised to report back on the 'Duxelle' (mushroom and ham based) stuffing Liz created to use up some of our mushroom glut, using the Darina Allen (Ballymaloe Cookery School) recipe, and I am happy to report that it was delicious. Full of flavour, too, was the roast chicken it accompanied, being the tiny carcass of the Sussex Ponte bird we culled just before New Year because she had injured her self 'beyond repair', possibly the rather bedraggledy girl we knew as 'Baldy' last summer. I can not be as complimentary as this about the texture of this bird - we were both really surprised at the toughness of the meat. She had received a fairly standard roast having been spatch-cocked and looked 'normal' but as soon as we started to attack it we were switching to sharp steak knives to cut meat from bone. The meat thus cut was very good and perfectly edible but it was a struggle to bite through the skin and we ended up ripping our half (each) to pieces with our hands and teeth, Medieval Banquet style.

Of course we quickly worked out that these Sussex Pontes, our old originals obtained at point of lay (20 weeks old) in May 2012, are 2 years old, easily the oldest chicken we have ever eaten. Standard commercial birds are pushed to killing weights in just a couple of months, commercial free range and organic birds more like 80-100 days and our own Hubbards were being eaten at between 100 and 140 days. This is why, of course, there are recipes around like 'Coq au Vin' designed to slowly cook a sinewy old bird to edible tenderness. We will know for next time and not try to fast-roast our 'geriatrics'; Heaven knows what the Marans birds will be like - they are more like 6 years old! Ah well, Baldy was left with plenty of meat on her bones when we'd finished our Medieval gnawing (and we were perfectly well fed on the meat we had eaten and the good range of veg accompanying her and the Duxelle stuffing) so she went into the stock pot and got the hours of gentle simmer she'd really needed.

Meanwhile our inner 'tough aul' birds' have been called on over the last couple of days as a result of the weather. Last night another 'orange warning' wind storm came through and blew a hole in my theory that the outbuildings are safe enough as long as the wind is from the south. We heard the mild clang in the dark of a sheet of corrugated iron going air-borne and the dogs woke up and started fretting. In the dark at half six or so, I ventured out with dogs to check on things (the dogs only because dogs fretting in the night can mean that someone has an upset bowel and if they can't get out you will end up cleaning up 'accidents' indoors). Our way up the cattle race was blocked by a long sheet of corrugated iron and a quick scan with the torch showed me that the chickens had lost a roof panel. I think it had simply shaken loose on its nails and slid down like an avalanche to land in the yard; the wooden frame of the roof there is quite badly rotted and probably long overdue replacement. In the dark, though, with the wind blowing a hooley and the rain coming down, there was not a lot I could do - the chickens were all OK not being directly below the new hole. I went back to bed to sweat out the wind noises and pray that no more panels went for a fly about.

That was our job, then, for the morning, trying to shore up and replace rotted roof timbers, then slide the sheeting back up its 'slot' and fasten it down with new screws and waterproof washers. Luckily the wind had abated a lot and the rain was now in bands between which you could nip out and scramble reasonably safely on roof ladders. It remains to be seen whether our repair will hold, the forecast has several more wind systems coming through. Mercifully, we only lost a roof panel and that not damaged. The internet and news are full of homes flooded, power lines down, rivers bursting their banks and coast roads impassable. Our sympathies to anyone who is really struggling through all this. We also take our hats off to the earlier Irish resident 'tough aul' birds' who survived all this kind of weather and mud without the benefit of modern outdoor clothing, power tools, light aluminium ladders and Posidrive screws.

Christmas is all over. The tree has been stripped of its finery and now languishes on the pile of 'sneddings' awaiting its fate on the range fire. The tinsel, baubles, pine cones and fairy lights are back in their crates in the Utility Room till next time. The cards are in the recycling. The Christmas Cake is all gone, the huge pud is cut up into sensible one-meal portions and frozen. Liz had blitzed through the house sweeping up the shed pine needles, pieces of dog-chewed decorations and rescuing the (thankfully plastic these days) silver baubles which we'd displayed artistically in a big bowl on the coffee table. Blue the cat had invented a good game of scooping them out of the bowl with a front paw and watching them roll onto the floor, whence they ended up under the sofa, the settee and the tree. Thank you, Blue, we have retrieved them all now.

No comments: