Friday 2 January 2015

Salt Cured and Air Dried

You will recall that we have been trying our hands at salt-cured and air-dried Tamworth pork meat, aiming for a 'pancetta' or 'prosciutto' type product which we could slice as thinly as possible and eat with, for example, melon as a starter or have in sandwiches or as a cold meat 'antipasti' style. For our pilot try we simply borrowed a couple of the 4 inch thick leg cuts and made a curing mixture to a recipe from a Newspaper website (Dan Leopard in the Telegraph, I seem to recall).,

New Year's Eve starter. Our own cure meat
with some (shop) melon.
The meat got salted for 4 weeks (a week per inch of thickness) and seemed to be firm and 'sweet' enough to us, so it then got 4 weeks hanging in a muslin bag in the spare room. With the radiator turned off and the loft hatch open, that's our coolest and driest room. We just had to spirit it all away and warm the room up for Airy Fox's visit in the middle, praying that it would not all go mouldy in the Tígín (which is much damper) in the mean time. It was potentially going to hang and dry for several months but the instructions say that you are aiming for 'firm' rather than rock hard.

The makings of another superb cake.
We gave it a feel on New Year's Eve and declared it firm enough, did the taste-test, quickly acquired a melon (putting the old, rusty 'Man from Del Monte' skills back to use!)  and put it on the menu as a starter before our Hogmanay-ish meal of home made haggis, our neeps, tatties and a rather fancy clementine and almond, choc-covered cake for pud. The pork was of good texture and taste, though maybe a wee bit salty, so that the "with melon" worked well. The sweet, juiciness of the melon met the salt and seemed to come to a happy compromise.

Polly (l) and Lily (r) on the front lawn.
Meanwhile, in the sheep department, four days on we are delighted with the new girls. They are already very tame and friendly; we are used to Kenny's much less frequently handled 'babies' who have taken at least 2 weeks before they will approach you and another 2 weeks before they would be 'baa'-ing for their supper and running up to you and your feed bucket. One of the last lot never did get as far as allowing me to stroke his head.

These ladies are 3 (Lily) and 5 (Polly) years old and have for all that time been almost pets round at Mayo-Liz's holding, so are well used to human contact, food coming from buckets and the idea of following people between fields and into pastures new. On the first day of being here, I went for a wander round the East Field to check the fences and the sheep came straight over to me and then followed me round as if I was taking the dogs for a walk - almost walking to heel. On my night 'patrols' with the dogs (on leads, obviously), when we wander past their gate, I hear the low 'almost grunt' of a tentative 'Baa'; one of the girls is trying it on to see if food might be available at 10 pm (!)

Fine looking, sturdy ewes. Lily (l) and Polly (r).
Today, then, I felt brave enough to 'shepherd' them from East Field to the front lawn, fenced off in 2014 to be a sheep field and save me the mowing. We do this by blocking the 'bad' exits a bit half-heartedly with terrace chairs, wheelie bins and a roll of sheep wire tied to a down pipe with a turn of baler twine - any self respecting sheep trying to do a runner would have no problems bursting out, but we trust these girls to stay calm, stay focused on me and go the right way from field to field, and so far they have.

That cake. The 'icing' is melted chocolate, butter and honey.
A bit of clementine 'zest' gets sprinkled on. This is Ottolenghi's
recipe, says Liz. 
After a few times we don't even bother with the blockages and the sheep dither about a bit and look longingly at the yard or the front drive, but at the rattle of a feed bucket and a whistle they turn back to the shepherd and follow diligently. The front drive, I should add hastily, does not imply the lane and freedom of the village - the gate at the end is always closed! As hastily, I need to re-assure you that these bucket feeds are of 'tit-bit' size. We must not over feed these lasses, we don't want any over-size lambs or fatty 'exits' for them to pass through. Time enough for lashing them the extra rations when the ewes are feeding milk to any successful babies or those babies are weaning and growing. The professionals feed them up just pre-tupping so that they go to the tup in good and rising condition (this is called 'flushing') but then only feed to ensure healthy placenta and then lamb development and ewe health.

I guess that's it for the 'Season'. Tomorrow the decorations all come down, the fancy booze gets stacked away and the house returns briefly to 'dull' normality. Of course we quickly get acclimatized to this and start to feel the excitement of the coming Spring. 'Dull' does not last very long. I am already looking at how much weeding and cultivation I need to do, buying seeds and plants and getting the garden going again.

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