Sunday 2 February 2014

Foodie Memories

Bathchaps - traditional West Country fare
Mentor Anne, we know, is exploring the possibilities of pig ownership as are we. She too has obtained a half carcass to practise the processing and food making part of this project on, the sausages, butchery and so on. But Anne is a West Country girl and her memories hark back to traditional foods she would eat as a youngster growing up so her most recent post on her blog, which I follow, talks of "Bathchaps", brined, rolled and boiled chunks of pig cheek meat (and lower jaw sometimes) which taste reminiscent of ham.

I have never met these before and apparently one of the last manufacturers of Bathchaps (working in Bridport) may be about to stop production. We may be able to correct this omission soon as Anne is trying to get some exported to her and will also be trying to make her own when she gets to the 'pig's head' stage. Till then we have been going down the brawn route, as you know.

Traditional Dublin Gur Cakes
Here, in contrast, it is a glut of eggs which is exercising our bakers and the Irish women in our circle have been looking at sweeter fare from their own childhood tradition, namely Gur Cakes. These traditionally Dublin confections involve pastry top and bottom but a filling made with stale bread moistened with 'tay' and treacle and mashed in with all manner of dried fruits. Another one I have not knowingly eaten but which looks like my all time favourite type of cake, the Eccles Cake.

First make your bread go stale!
Gur Cakes would have been a way of using up your stale left over bread. Round here, bread does not hang around long enough to go stale, especially when there is brawn to make into sandwiches, so Liz found herself having to deliberately 'save' some bread to then make it go stale! I look forward to trying out the Gur Cakes and maybe also a sliver of Bathchap to taste.

Meanwhile we chug on gently through our Irish Garden Bird Survey, which runs from December right through to the first week in March. We have not had any unusual surprises but have had regular counts of all the usual suspects - the 15-strong mob of chaffinches which tidy up the left chicken corn in the yard, the grey-bodied hooded crows which are the only type we get here and a single 'drive-through' by our raven ('Quoth'). We have regular goldcrests and tree creepers in our black spruce, normally around 7 blackbirds, 5 robins and a couple of fieldfares.

One poor little mite which will not be featuring in any more weeks of the survey is this wren, one of the 5 or so we see regularly nipping about in the ivy and the log stacks and walls around the yard. Unfortunately Rolo the cat caught this one last night and Liz only saw him bringing back the tiny brown shape by chance. She rescued him and told off the cat (much good will that do!) and we almost wrote him off, but in the warmth of my hand he seemed to come to a bit.

RIP An DreoilĂ­n, caught by the cat, Rolo
His little eyes opened and he seemed to be taking an interest in things, so we left him quietly in a warm, dry box to maybe recover through the night. Sadly, he never made it and his stiff, cold little form was there in the box this morning. Presumably shock or internal injuries caused by Rolo's attentions. Rolo was scolded and made to write out 100 times "I must not kill anything with feathers" on the blackboard before he was allowed to go home from school. Poor little wren.

Flatpack bee hive and protective outfits
On Saturday we drove through the sleety wet snow, back to our 'Two Marys' beyond Drumshanbo to buy some bee equipment, taking advantage of their January sale prices. We'd intended to only buy the hive in the sale which was going to be a flat pack which we would build but, to cut a long story short, we took shelter from the rain in the clothing store and got tempted to start trying on the caps, veils and over-trousers; our bee keeper "space-suits". Liz was sorted easily but this gear is made in India by small people and we struggled a bit to find sizes which worked with my long arms and (cough cough) broad shoulders. You do not want cuffs too tight or arms too short which might pull up while you are working, exposing the flesh of wrists and forearms to the bees' stinging bits.

We got there in the end and came home happy with our car load. Still no bees, yet. Too cold for them till June, but our names are now down in black and white on the waiting list for our Nucleus ('nuke') box. The other thing we are waiting for is any of the wax 'foundation' sheet used in the hive frames. These sheets are pre-moulded with an 'embossed' hexagon pattern to give the bees a clue where to start 'drawing out' the wax tubular brood cells and (later) honey comb. The manufacturers do not like making the foundation or shipping it about when the weather is too cold, as the sheets are very brittle. They wait till the weather warms up and the sheets become more pliable.

Last but not least, another year has come round to Feb 1st and the day we make our St Brigid's crosses from the local rushes. Far fewer rushes about now we are pleased to say, after all our hard work mowing, scything, strimmer-ing, sheep grazing, goose grazing, rabbit grazing and horse grazing but we found enough to do a cross a-piece to keep in with the tradition.

1 comment:

anne wilson said...

Bath Chaps were still around in the early 70's when I moved from Dorset, when I returned ten years later they were gone, this was the same time that the big supermarkets had moved in, maybe something to do with it!
My curing salt and saltpeter has now arrived so I'm all set to have a go at bacon,ham and Bathchaps as soon as the half pig arrives.