Tuesday, 21 March 2017

That's another Fine Mess....

Bacon and Cabbage - your only man for Paddy's Night. This
was actually bacon and mash with curly kale. 
Friends of the blog will probably know of my love of that favourite Irish traditional fare 'bacon and cabbage', compulsory on 'Paddy's Day' and Birthdays. How many, though, will know that this leads by a small margin, in close 2nd place, "corned beef". My brothers, Mark and Tom, and probably my Mum have all just read that and collapsed in a shocked heap! Corned Beef? Surely not.

Proper  corned beef (aka salt beef). A rolled slab of brisket
brined by us earlier gets some of the salt soaked out in clean
water over night. 
Brits from my generation and older will know of corned beef as a rather dubious, purple/brown, very fibrous "meat" which came in tins from Fray Bentos and was down there with such picnic delicacies as Spam and those oval tins of (?) Plumrose ham which came with a small metal key with which to unwind the strip of metal to open the tin. Fear not. I am not singing the praises of that aul' Uruguayan tackle here. No. In Ireland "corned beef" is what we Brits would call 'salt beef'.

Head for your local 'proper' butcher and acquire a decent sized slab of beef brisket. Drop this into your home-made recipe sweet cure (salt, sugar and spices) for however many days it says in the book (probably about 3). Lift out of brine, rinse off excess cure, pat dry, roll and tie. Freeze till required. The day before you need it, remove from freezer and allow to thaw out submerged in clean water over night. Cook as per recipe but if you are going to eat it cold as sliced meat, make sure you let it cool down still in its water. Tender, melt-in-the-mouth perfection.

The 45-odd tractors muster outside Liz's work ready for the off. 
With Paddy's Day done and all these lovely foods consumed, we had a bit of fun getting involved in a Tractor Run organised by the village 'Foróige' group. For my Brit chums, 'Foróige' is a nation-wide organisation of youth clubs mainly in rural areas. Technically the "National Youth Council of Ireland" it would be as well know as Young Farmers or the WI in Britain. Tractor Runs are a brilliant social event which everyone enjoys as much as I used to love a good 2CV convoy. Just heavier, noisier and full of hugely more expensive vehicles - these big new(ish) 4WD tractors can easily set you back €70k and be €40k as ten-year-old 2nd-hand trade-ins. One of my fellow-photographers looked at the line-up and commented wryly "...and they say there's no money in farming?"

Our local Foróige recently re-formed after a year 'out' and were determined to make the "We're Back" statement. They decided to do it as a charity fund-raiser for Arthritis Ireland and did a marvellous job of setting it up though never sure how many tractors they would get on the day. They had to liaise with the police, agree the route, organise the venue, make all the signage and buy in professional signs for the village cross-roads, do all the publicity and get themselves a set of the bright orange 'AI' tee-shirts. On the day, they had to register everybody and feed them any necessary refreshments and get them lined up ready for the off at around 1pm. Impressive effort, especially as some are quite young (11s and 12s).

First day of spring? Whatever.
I am delighted to say, it was all a huge success. They got 45 tractors on the day. The place was heaving. It's not a very wide road there but they got all the vehicles mustered and dozens of people came out to see the 'show'. Some tractors were driven by the youngsters themselves (you can get a licence at 16 or 17 here) but yet more were driven by 'Dad' with a bevvy of small children up in the 'cubby' seats up in the cab.

That's more spring-like. Our young
flowering cherry. 
Modern industry regs mean your tractor has to have good lights AND orange flashing lights on the roof. That makes for an exciting and impressive convoy, especially when they are all roaring along noisily at about 30 mph. When you saw them out you could tell they were all enjoying it immensely, everybody grinning, waving and thumbs up-ing, beeping horns in greeting whenever anyone waved back. Excellent noisy fun and fair play to Foróige boss Caroline and all her team. I took lots of pics but as most of them included children I would not, obviously, be allowed to use them on the Internet. I have sent them in to the Village committee and they will pass them to Foróige who can them use them as they see fit and are allowed with all the legal permissions pertaining. Some may appear on the village website soon. (LisaculInfo.ie).

Huge potential for mess. Old broken up
The 'mess' in my title refers to our inevitably sticky and sordid attempts to extract any usable honey and beeswax from the dead hive. The honey was always going to be a problem as this was late in the season and therefore mainly ivy honey which sets hard in the comb. It still has enormous capacity to make everything sticky because there is always some parts of any comb which are blossom or 'run' honey.

Empty comb awaits 'washing'.
The wax is potentially even messier mainly because the wax melts at a bit above room temperature (62ºC) but if you clean the equipment with hot water and then it cools, everything but everything gets covered with a thin film of re-set wax. This includes your sink plumbing, sewer waste etc. You are better off cleaning it with cold water so that the gritty bits of wax stay solid.

Beeswax looking still very dark after only one wash.
The wax comes out of your hive a filthy dark brown - tens of thousands of bees have been walking all over it just back from outdoor sorties plus there is all the normal hive debris - dead bees and bits of bee, dead eggs and larvae, old pollen and unwelcome visitors like earwigs, slugs and centipedes. Outdoor dirt. To get it back to that pale sandy yellow we all expect you have to melt it with a similar volume of hot water, stir it about and hope that the grot is happy to fall out of the wax and dissolve (or at least suspend) in the water. Then you let it all cool down, the debris sinks and stays in the water while the wax floats to the top and sets like a sheet of ice on a pond. You lift off the wax disc, throw away the dirty water and repeat the melt process for around 4 'cycles', ending up with a nice clean disc of pristine yellow beeswax. It says here.

Just a supermarket 'cheapie' but this hellebore is doing well
for us a few years later. 
That's enough for this post. A pic of the clean wax in the next post. Spring Equinox today even though we were woken by a massive hail storm at about 0600 and then woke up to light snow falling at around half 7. First day of spring? Maybe not. The forecast has minus 4ºC tonight. Stay warm.

No comments: