Friday 29 November 2013

Pork, pork and MOAR POARK!

A good vet could get it back on its feet?
Thursday 28th saw us having yet another new experience, getting our pork cut up by the abattoir guys and bringing it home to sort through, make decisions on and pack away. I have been saying in these posts that we were doing a carcass for carcass swap with one of our lambs but we have re-crunched our various numbers since then and that would be massively unfair in our favour. Our lambs feed on "free" green Roscommon grass, where a pig has to be fed pricey, paid for ration and barley its whole life which, in this case was January right round to now.

Liz Soprano disposes of the body?
Farm gate prices for a whole pig carcass and a whole lamb can be tricky to compare because your 'carcass' might actually be somewhat processed into sausages or salted for bacon, but even so it was clear that a lamb is 'worth' only half what a pig would price at, so we settled with Carolyn that we'd just take a half carcass plus the 'odd bits' that we'll use but which Carolyn does not - the head for example, trotters and any kidneys we could get our hands on.

Growers "slap mark" (actually a tattoo)
So we arranged to meet at 3 pm at the meat factory where we'd be allowed into the big stainless steel walled cutting rooms to watch our carcasses being jointed up and to choose from options like boned or un-boned, chops or joints and so on. This was nothing like going into our little lamb-butcher in Castlerea with his old fashioned butcher's chopping block and one band saw. This was an industrial space with ten or so guys wearing white plastic aprons and chain-mail gloves, working away at steel tables, the carcasses rolling in hanging from overhead steel railway tracks, noisy circular saws you pull down from the ceiling to cut out the spines, band saws that zip through trotters in a trice and hydraulic rigs that brace themselves against the back of the meat and pull out shoulder blades with no need to cut.

Shoulder and neck joints
We were treated to a Master Class of butchery. Our guy worked away with effortless skill and dexterity. Ask him to 'tunnel bone' a leg and watch the flash of the blade and a blur of wrist twisting and wriggling as he delved down into either end of the joint freeing up the main bone before slipping it out of one end almost clean of meat. Ask him to bone out the ribs and you'd watch again as with a couple of knife strokes he was able to peel up the whole rack of ribs intact. We actually had one for our tea. In under the hour we had our meat in bags in our car and Carloyn's three half-pigs in bags in hers.

Home then to sort out what we'd got - the simplest way seemed to be to spread it out on our big table and reassemble the animal so that we could bag and label our bits, decide which bits to try salt-curing, work out what to do with the head and the cheek meat for brawn, separate out trotters, tails and other off-cut bits. We also decided, as I said, that supper was going to be a taster of this Gloucester Old Spot (Purebred, pedigree) meat, so Liz roasted the rack of ribs smeared with a little of our homemade spicy tomato 'jam', and very nice it was too, served with cous-cous, fried mushrooms and a tomato and feta salad. Very porky and succulent. Filling too - these were the full length chest ribs, 12 inches or so long, spine to sternum, not the short cut-up bits you normally buy.

Rack of whole ribs.
Today, with our meat safely stashed, we headed down to Carolyn to help her sort her batch, which was three times the size of our own job. Also Carolyn already does a lot more salt curing and making sausages, so she was pleased to have the extra manpower cutting away big sheets of skin from the loin/flank/belly slabs and cutting up big lumps for going in the sausage mincer. Liz got stuck into bagging and labeling and in 2 hours we were celebrating the last lump 'processed' and Carolyn was frying us a pork steak each as a reward - delicious folded into a heel (crust) of brown bread as a substantial sandwich.

Greek style pork?
Finally just for a laugh (forgive me). Liz and Diamond were amused by the way pig carcasses were sometimes displayed in the butchers shops on the island of Poros in Greece, so here is our 'homage' to Greek style pork, complete with shades and fag on. I don't know if it improves the flavour. We are not actually going to be able to smoke any of this meat but there is no reason why we might not construct a cold-smoker in the future if we do get into rearing these fascinating animals for ourselves.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Trailing Home (Tail Between her Legs)

There she comes, then, trailing home with her tail between her legs, poor old Clara Bow, 2 weeks overdue for her NCT re-test and her owner's wallet €280 lighter. We called by the garage today having heard nothing, to see if she was finished, to find that they had just finished putting her back together and cleaning her up before they phoned me. Not brilliant service this time but I do sympathise. They had taken her in to do some easy tweaks on the carburettor which weren't going to cost much and would be done by garage owner Keiran who'd taken over the task from son Aaron. They knew I wanted the car back for the 14th and knew not to spend too much on her.

2CV carburettor (pale grey, centre of picture)
In the event both K and A jazzed off to the USA to mechanic on a Kart race (in which their other son, Andy, was driving for Ireland) having first posted the carb off (without asking me) to a specialist in Dublin. At this point it all went a bit astray. The carb needed €280 worth of work and was no way going to be back for the 14th. Hey ho, I asked them to just re-assemble the car and I'd either drive or have it towed home, end of job, end of hobby, car officially booked off road on a SORN notice. Unbeknownst to me, the specialist guy had already fixed the carb.

I wasn't happy, but these are old, unfamiliar cars and the guys left on site were doing their honest best. They were very apologetic and offered to charge me only what the carb guy had charged them, no labour on their part and no VAT. It would have been unfair to hurt the Dublin guy so I bit the bullet and paid up thinking, philosophically, that at least it will be the final spend on the car. I drove home enjoying the feel of the repaired mixture and smiling a wry smile - I was probably driving a perfectly good car which might well breeze an NCT but, No, we have made our decision and this baby gets to sit in the car port, SORN'd and getting used only within the 'farm'. Maybe the law will change and the statutory age for 'classics' exempt from NCTs will hop forward from its current 1980 date; cars have to be 33 years old here to be exempt, mine is only a youngster at 27 years old.

Christmas Pud
But enough of 2CVs for the moment. We have progress on the sheep front at last! Sheep Mentor Kenny is almost fixed from his broken collar bone and is able to drive his enormous 4 x 4 if he takes it carefully. He texts me out of the blue to say he is coming to see if our lambs are ready. I round them up using food bait and he gets a chance to grab some thighs and press down on some spines checking for the chunky muscle blocks of Beltex sired lambs and the right amount of fat along the spine, covering the tops of the ribs. He pronounces himself happy; They are 'Finished' he declares and can go to slaughter. He will be OK doing the haulage, he assures us. Book them in.

Hollyhocks still in flower on 27th November
Our job now is to contact the small slaughterhouse -stroke-butcher who we use, Ignatius G in Castlerea. This proves easier said than done, as he is either engaged on the phone all afternoon, or he is so busy he has taken the thing off the hook. We are in town tomorrow, though, so we can drop in and make arrangements face to face. Kenny quickly threw another couple of complications my way, but that's Kenny. "See if you can get carcass weights," he asked "by breed and sex" This is just for his own interest, but it should be easy enough. We have, in the group of 5, 2 rams and 3 ewes. All are sired by his Beltex ram, but there are 3 breeds of 'Mum', one out of a Texel, 2 out of Suffolk Down ewes and 2 out of Galway ewes. I had to note down breed and sex against their ear tag numbers, so when I fed them tonight and their noses were safely in the trough, I was sneaking around tickling ears till I could see the ear tag codes and then looking under the tail of each for dangly bits. They all carried on eating but they were a bit fidgetty at all this weird invasion of their supper time! Kenny's other 'complication' was that he has a hospital appointment in Galway at 13:00 on the Monday, so we need to be in, sheep delivered nice and early.

And finally, Andy and the Kart race? Apparently they were doing OK and enjoying themselves but in the big final race "some Mexican guy" punted Andy up the back end on a corner and knocked him off the track. Andy's OK, but the kart was wrecked, so no trophies this year.

Sunday 24 November 2013

Stirring It Up

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people etc etc. Yes, a whole year has rolled around since I posted the post at

and we are back to "Stir Up Sunday" again. For my Irish readers this is a rather nice little British (and probably Protestant) Calendar Custom when it came time for the cooks of the parish to mix up their ingredients for Christmas Pud and Christmas Cake to give them time to 'meld' (for flavours to merge) and the Vicar would select the above 'collect' from the Book of Common Prayer which would remind the cooks. I have no idea how traditional this really is but it's a nice story and it happens in The Archers, so it MUST be true.

We do it in this house, anyway, and Liz was there today with a table covered in the different packets and tubs of suet, dried fruit, glace cherries, bowls of eggs, the bottle of brandy and the rest. We use an old family recipe which comes to us from Pud Lady and which I believe comes from our family's ancient and venerable, much thumbed and well used recipe book which we know as 'Flo' (It's Florence somebody or other). Pud Lady may correct me if I am wrong. Last year we almost had a two-fold disaster when firstly Pud Lady, relating the recipe over the phone, omitted bread crumbs and also, we were so short of eggs that we were anxiously waiting on one of the hens to lay that day's egg before we could proceed. Luckily the bread crumbs did not seem to matter and the hen laid her egg - the result was a delicious success after all. This year we have a glut of eggs and we have added the bread crumbs to our saved version of the recipe.

Goldie Rabbit gets two visitors.
In their own attempt to stir things up, the Irish Rugby team almost beat the All Blacks, being beaten by only 2 points just 4 minutes from the final whistle. It would have been the first win over the New Zealanders for a hundred years or so. We deny ourselves the permission to follow these matches lest we jinx the team as I used to do to England when ever I watched them but my absence today was not enough. I understand it was a gripping match.

4 trees as delivered.
For me, a very enjoyable job today and another milestone in the November sunshine, once the mist had been burned off. I receive through the mail via Anne and Simon, my fruit trees ordered from "Future Forests". These are my last four for the orchard, filling the final four slots in my 6 by 4 array, a 2nd "Braeburn" apple, a "Sunburst" dark dessert cherry, a crab apple named "Golden Hornet" and a black mulberry.

Each has a small story and a reason to be included. The Braeburn is a potential substitute for my existing tree which is suffering a bit from a canker like lesion which has nearly gone right round the main trunk from a side bud. The cherry is the closest we could get to the Black Wonder we grew in Kent. We'd heard about it from a Bob Flowerdew answer on Gardeners' Question Time and had to have it specially grafted by Brogdale, the famous Fruit Research Station (which was in our town) as a one-off order. The Sunburst looks quite dark in the catalogue picture (though not on the pictorial label) so we will have to wait and see whether we have a "dark dessert cherry" at all.

The Black Mulberry harks back to my University days when the college with which I was associated while doing my research, Wolfson College, Cambridge, had a huge black mulberry tree growing in front of the main doors which used to literally drip the black sweet juicy fruit all over the flagstones but which we students used to happily 'scrump' every time we walked past. The crab apple harks back to our family home in Hastings, where Pud Lady and my Brother, Tom, still live. There is a magnificent crab apple in the front garden which gave us boys no end of pleasure in the climbing and in the harvesting of the crabs for making crab apple jelly and wine.

Well, those four trees are now in place and the orchard, nicely grazed short by the geese, is complete. We hope for great things over the coming years as the trees establish and grow. We have a vision of looking down the rows between the blossom and of picking plenty of fruit as it comes ripe. This year the trees were all very young (the first trees were planted in August 2012) so we got some blossom this year but the only fruit which set was on a plum, which gave us 2 dozen lovely fruit. Next year, who knows? Apples, pears? Quince and greengage?  Plums and dessert or sour cherries? Damsons and Mulberries? Hazelnuts and crab apples? We'll have to wait and see.

Friday 22 November 2013

"Our" Pig

Regular readers will know that, so far, we have not got involved in pigs. Never say never; it is an idea that flickers away in the back of our minds and we have the perfect place to 'do' them should we decide to. It is the escapist skills of pigs and the fact that they do not graze our nice free grass, but need actually 'feeding' which have put us off so far. The perfect place is the area known as the 'secret garden' which is already well wooded and actually has fencing to sheep proof standards down either side.

Meanwhile, as we dilly dally over deciding to keep a couple of our own (or even pregnant female with piglets due) we have gone into an informal partnership with our friend Carolyn down the lane (she of the miniature horses) who had decided to rear 2 Gloucester Old Spot pigs this year as we decided to 'do' 5 store lambs. The plan was to simply swap carcass for carcass after slaughter so that they could have a pig and a lamb, and we'd have 2 lambs and a pig. We actually have 5 lambs, but 2 of these are already spoken for by hungry in-laws.

Carolyn has done pigs in previous years and, as well as the frozen joints, belly pork and so on, has started to explore into making sausages, salting some of the pig for bacon and even got a bit into the dry cured foods like chorizo sausage and 'Parma' style ham. We may well try out some of these processes and have started to pick Carolyn's brains on such specialist subjects as 'covers' (skins) for the sausages and 'starter cultures' for the Lactobacillus that goes into chorizo.

Excellent, then to receive from UK friend Mazy a book on this very subject as an early Christmas present. This came to us via our excellent local couriers, wrapped in its Amazon packet, so we had to contact Mazy and see whether it was a Christmas gift and should not therefore be opened till the 25th Dec. Mazy, though, had been clued in on the fact that these pigs are due to be slaughtered on Monday next (25th Nov), so told us to open it early. Thank you very much, Mazy, you are a present buying Genius!

Our own contributions to this meat fest, the lambs are easily 'ready' now and possibly even over-fat, but we have had a slight hiccup in the proceedings, in that sheep mentor (and plasterer), Kenny O'C fractured his collar bone 5 weeks ago and has been out of the picture in terms of sheep wrangling. In theory we need him to come and check the sheep and clear us for booking them in for their final journey, and this needs to be soon, because our slaughterhouse and butcher, Ignatius G gets very busy come early December with Christmas meat. In the absence of Kenny we may need to blag a local neighbour with access to a stock trailer who doesn't mind doing a bit of haulage for us or, failing that, keep the sheep through Christmas and 'finish' them in January. Watch this space.

Talking of button-holing the locals and persuading them to work for us, we got a nice result with the local hedges and verges trimming contractor on his big red tractor. Alerted to his presence in the lane by the dogs barking, I sprinted out and found him stopped chatting to John Deere Bob. Asked to do our hedges for a small fee, he agreed that "Sure, I'll give them a lick for you!" Not only did he top and face our privet hedge along the front of the house, he also trimmed the hedge of the East Field and, swapping attachments on his hydraulic arm, mowed the verges on both sides of the lane all along out frontage. It's very tidy we look now, out front, as well as being able to see cars coming as we nose out of the gate.

In terms of food, we are definitely going over to autumnal veg. We love that we change our vegs round the seasons rather than just going with Supermarket style, everything-all-round-the-year produce. Tonight I cut the penultimate Romanesco cauliflower head (all be it, very tiny!), pulled another red beet and cut a few more of our nice fat sprouts. We are currently in egg glut mode after spending spring and early summer scrounging around for eggs. One of our adult female geese is, amazingly, still in lay, giving us an egg every other day and this morning we had half a dozen goose eggs and over a dozen chicken eggs in the kitchen. Liz's response to an egg glut is usually to start baking, but today she has gone all adventurous with a chocolate mousse dessert, and a salmon kedgeree with hard-boiled goose eggs. Life's tough in austerity Ireland, but we'll manage!

Monday 18 November 2013

Spent Mushroom Compost

Feed the soil and it will feed you. The substrate in our poly tunnel managed its first season producing shallots, strawberries, some tomatoes and pumpkins but is not really in good heart. The ground there was the floor of an old hay barn, so well compacted by farm machinery, strewn with bits of old peat-turf, riddled with stinging nettle roots, tussock grasses and, it turned out, many an annual weed seed, especially chickweed. The soil, where it existed, seemed to be mainly the clay subsoil, the topsoil having been scraped away and into 'the bank' (of which more in other posts). The clay had been badly poached and puddled up making the ground into a quagmire that we hoped would dry out a bit once the tunnel cover was on.

Mushroom farm tunnel.
We decided to dig the whole floor over, recovering as many bigger bits of peat turf as we could, pulling out the weeds and stones, but then to leave it to sit, chopped over while it might drain a bit. We would not, for the moment, add any fertilizer or soil improver. We thought it would go one season like this while the soil structure recovered, helped by worms and crop plant roots. This is what happened. I cleared the area at the end of the tomato season and then let the chickens in to scrape and peck through the aftermath creating a nice seedless and critter-less crumb, which they are happy to do. They especially love the chance to dust-bathe in there on rainy days.

But now we need to get the soil ready for the next season so we will add some of our well rotted calf manure, but also some spent mushroom compost. Anne has tipped us off about a mushroom farm within half an hour's drive, up beyond the town of Boyle, which runs 8 dark poly-tunnels full of mushroom beds and which clears (they use the expression "bounces") the compost from one tunnel each Monday. The inoculated compost  (in this case 'chestnut mushrooms') goes into the shelving and onto the beds in these tunnels packed into bales looking like thick grow-bags with the tops cut away.

When the crop is grown, cut over several weeks and 'spent' (cropped out) the beds can be cleared by lifting these saggy damp bales out for commercial disposal but the farm encourages gardeners and other interested parties to come and collect as much as they like. Anne and Simon bring their van (and, in fact offered us the use of same) and can fit 30 such bales into the back. We took the Fiat and managed to squeeze 8 bales into that with the seats down. We wished we still had the 2CV and its trailer. We may well get a tow bar fitted to the Fiat. The spent compost is a lovely 'clean' product which, said Liz, smells beautifully of the woods in autumn. It is also covered in tiny button mushrooms-to-be which will apparently give us a crop for a while in our own poly-tunnel. Well it's home now and spread around the tunnel here. I could probably use a couple more bales, realistically, to give good cover.

The rest of that outing was also a very successful shopping expedition. I needed a new chain saw chain and a file to sharpen the existing one(s) so East Brothers near Boyle did the honours. We needed socks, jocks, Marmite and some jeans for Liz from Tesco in Carrick. We also needed paint for Anne's glass-painting hobby from Carrick. Scenic, too, with all the lovely sunshine and autumn colours around Lough Kee. Very pleasant.

Spreading the compost around in our own tunnel.
We were amused to learn some more story on our 'failed' Hallowe'en where, you will recall, no children turned up and we are left with a bowl of un-used sweeties. The main 'Mum', Mrs McG was laughing about the adventures with me, It seems that the McG tribe set out with good intention that night but poorly off for torches, one Mum with a small torch but the other just using the light on her mobile phone. They started off going west down the lane away from us meaning to call at some of the houses down there. They actually pre-agree these with some of the old boys who live alone in these old houses and in some cases actually give the sweeties to give back to the children!

Roast pork belly with apple, chestnut, sage and onion stuffing
Returning from this western leg of their mission one of the smaller boys had tripped over and fallen on his hand, grazing the 'heel' of his hand and getting gravel in it, and worse, his older brother had then stumbled over his prone form in the dark and fallen too. The Mums had picked up the kids and wiped away tears and cleaned grazes as best they could. They were then just about to set out our way when a big loose dog bounced up the land behind them. Apparently it did not attack or harry them, it just bounced enthusiastically, but the little ones aren't very good with dogs, so there were more tears, crying of "Mummy!" and also, by then, it had started to rain, so they aborted the trip and all went home to get clean, dry and safe. Mrs McG was 'horrified' to learn that we'd been there, all waiting in vain and even writing poems to cover our absence and she joked that they'd make sure to do us first next year.

Thursday 14 November 2013

Not with a Bang but a Whimper

Mademoiselle (left) and Clara Bow (right).
As I write this, the minute hand on my watch is chugging gently through 15:35 pm when I should have been anxiously handing my 2CV in to the NCT testing station in Carrick on Shannon for its 4th run up the testing lane 'sausage machine', its carburettor serviced and pouring a perfect mixture of petrol and air onto the spark plugs, its exhaust emissions compliant and the tester man fanning himself on my signed and stamped police form allowing my car to carry the registration it carries.

A 2CV camp at Preston, near Canterbury in 2010
Instead I am sitting typing this. The car languishes in the garage in Balla D, the carburettor sent off to a specialist despite my request that the garage do nothing if they could not guarantee to get my car back to me for today and the 2 guys at the garage (Father and Son) who are the only ones who seem to know anything about "these old cars" are in America playing at Kart Racing, mechanicking for the Ireland team in some international Karting race meeting.

J-M (left) and Em-J in Mademoiselle
This point, 2 tests and 2 re-tests down, plus a goodly amount of money spent on fixes I had already set in my mind as the end of the road for my 2CV-ownership hobby. It's been a great ride and an enjoyable period, over ten years as 'officially mine' and three years before that when it was registered to Liz (long story involving £2 sterling and 5 David Austin roses!). We have some great fun with the car as well as some misadventures, been to 2CV club camps all over the place including Kelso Castle and we've taken her to France a couple of times too. As I said though, always a hobby vehicle rather than a day to day 'proper' car and funded as such. It was always a cheap sustainable hobby when I was in Kent because I could call on my ace fixer, 2CV Llew who, for a small fee could always get it through MOTs, gearbox changes, body-part swaps and so on.

Ireland though, is a different kettle of fish. Nobody owns 2CVs here so there are no Llews to call upon. My local garage have done very well but the NCT is a much stricter test than the MOT and all parts have to be sourced from the UK. So we brought the car over with us intending to keep it running as long as we realistically could but now its time is up. When the carb comes back from the specialist, the garage will refit it to the car and I will drive it back here, park it up and officially take it off the road on a SORN notice. I am sad but resigned. A bit relieved too, if I'm honest and pleased that the stress of all this battling with garages and anxiously taking it for NCTs is over. A weight lifted.

So, as of about now, when the test would have finished, I am the owner of an NCT failure 2CV which may soon be perfectly repaired and able to sweep through an NCT (No! Don't go there! That way madness lies!) and, as it happens, half a 1961, 425 cc, 6 volt electrics 2CV known as Mademoiselle d'Armentieres which lives in Kent, so I can't get at that one either. I am not sure what the future holds. The rules around cars being 'vintage' or old enough to be exempt from NCT have currently frozen on "cars registered on or before 1980" (they are not rolling annually). I can drive it within the 'farm', of course and could even teach the nieces to drive on it, or I could put it up on good old 'Donedeal' and try to sell it. We'll see. Currently I am contemplating cracking open the Prosecco I bought on a "Win or Lose, have a Booze" basis and getting used to being someone who used to have a 2CV. I apologise for borrowing TS Eliot's much over-used final line for my header - his was a serious poem about the post 2nd WW world, not some classic car owning hobby. Look on the bright side. I nearly went down Auden's "Stop all the clocks... prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone" road.

Rest in Peace, 'Clara' for the moment. You were an excellent and respected friend. I will miss being able to drive you about.

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Free Range Guineas

The Guinea Fowl have now been with us a week and have settled down well to the routine, living in the Kitchen Garden and sleeping in the Tígín. I was confident that they would stick around if released to range with the rest of the poultry and would be home tonight to roost back in the Tíg'. It was another beautiful, blue skied warm, almost windless day so with my chores all done I opened their gate and their inner door and sat down with a coffee. I love these 'release' days what ever the species and new group, clutch or family. I am proud that we are able to do full free range on our birds and that they get good green grass underfoot and the sun on their backs. It is pure joy to watch them start to explore their new environment.

Henry and Min were as good as gold (those are the Goon Show names we have given them inspired by them looking to me like the old folks on the road sign walking hunched forward as they do, and being (by all accounts) rather dim). They quietly and calmly explored the yard, the chicken and goose houses, the cattle race and then out towards the Secret Garden and the big pond. They creep about rather tentatively muttering high pitched 'chat chat' clucks to each other. They met some Hubbards first and were confident and unperturbed. When a Hubbard 'roo' decided to square up to one of the Guineas, the Guinea squared up right back at him and he backed down in a hurry. I watched them for the first hour and then went about my business, calling back to check on them during the day.

The Guineas claim the centre of the scattered seed.
At one stage in the afternoon I went to throw my usual handful of wheat and oats onto the ground of the yard to give the chickens something to do their 'feeding frenzy' on and something amazing happened. The Guineas had not yet approached me at all, tending to back away nervously at my approach, but as all the chooks came running (as they do), the Guineas joined in the charge and raced towards me in the thick of things and then, even more surprisingly, claimed the centre ground of the scattered food, pecking it up furiously and shooing away any competition so that I had the two Guineas at the centre of a ring of confused chickens (even William) who were left to pick up the crumbs from the Guinea's banquet table! Go Henry and Min.

600 g parsnip.
With the first frosts now well under our belts we have been enjoying some root vegetables, notably parsnips and more recently some Jerusalem artichokes. Many of the parsnips are grown huge and fat. The one pictured weighs 600 g. They are, though, still delightfully tender and young tasting. Liz cooked a roast beef on Sunday with all the Yorkshire pud and onion-gravy that goes with and the roast parsnips that came with it were pure delight. Our only problem, with the parsnips being this big, they were roasted in chunks which looked very like the roast spuds in the bowl, so we were having to look carefully to make sure we got some of both.

The Jerusalem Artichokes have also done remarkably well. Their 8 foot tops looking like sunflower plants have now started to die back and go black with the frost but the soil is so loamy and crumbly that you can harvest the chokes just by pulling up the main stem. This bowl with its 2.1 kg of chokes comes from a single plant. These are, if my plans are to be believed, the old fashioned knobbly variety, though they look as smooth, swollen and clean as any I have seen. We have also grown a ridge of the modern 'Fuseau' variety which purport to be less knobbly. It is possible that I have cross labelled (though I doubt it) so it will be interesting to dig some of those and see what shape they are. Liz has been surfing the net for interesting artichoke recipes and I think we have something along those lines on the menu for tonight. I will let you know how we got on.

Finally, Joy of Joys, I found in the bottom of a drawer an old English tin of that elixir of boot cleaning potions, Kiwi "Dubbin". This stuff is brilliant for keeping work boots and hiking boots waterproof and the leather supple but try as I might, I have been unable to find it for sale in Ireland. I have been smearing my boots with goose grease which kinda works but is a bit messy and does not seem to stay put very long. Now, though, all is well with the world. The tin did not have much in, just enough for half a dozen 'goes' maybe, but for today my boots are clean, dry and with that lustre that neutral Dubbin lends to them. I am a happy 'stockman' clomping about after Henry and Min.

Saturday 9 November 2013

You Live and Learn

Oven ready Hubbard 'roo'. Apologies for
the imperfect plucking and torn skin. 
First up today, the weights on that Hubbard rooster, as promised. He was at 97 days old and had a live weight of 3.645 kg ( 8 lb and half an ounce ). In oven-ready form he weighed 2.470 kg ( 5 lb 7 oz ) so a fine big lad and one we would not normally roast intact for just the two of us, so Liz has jointed him up and we will get 4 meals out of him easily. We started that evening with a roast thigh and a 'fore-arm' a-piece which Liz deliberately cooked with just oil so that we could assess the full unadulterated Hubbard flavour. Meaty and delicious served with potato wedges, home made coleslaw and home made mayo, all washed down with a very nice Italian red wine, Montepulciano which we are getting currently from Lidl at just under €30 for 6 bottles. These Hubbards are declared a success and if we get a chance we may do them again. This is an 'if' just because we only ever got these through a bizarre sequence of events (you may recall) - our 'clocker' (broody hen) was rearing some very young ducklings having incubated the eggs for 28 days and we wanted something to slip under her when we took the ducklings back to their owner, Mentor Anne. Anne happened to be driving right up to the hatchery on the Northern Ireland border to collect some day old Hubbards for herself and a friend and offered to collect 8 for us on the run.

I said that when we decided to buy a pair of Guinea fowl we knew next to nothing about them - only what we'd read in books, been told by the seller and found out by a quick internet search. We have since had some fun picking the brains of Anne and Simon and the many many poultry experts and keepers on a couple of internet discussion forums, one of which I am one of the Moderators on. Well, now we know all sorts of facts, myths, legends and 'what I reckon' comments, probably more than you need and definitely in some cases a little 'embellished'.

They can be a devil to persuade to stay around and difficult to teach that new home is a their new home. They love to roost up high in trees and one lad suggested that they can predict the weather better than Met Éireann, choosing to roost out on nights where it will definitely not rain, but roosting in their coop when there is risk of rain. They free range like crazy - another member of the group said he'd often seen his out half a mile from home during the day but that they were always home by supper time. It is said that they might attack your chicken-roosters. They are allegedly as thick as a plank - more stupid than any other bird. Anne, who keeps quail and does not have a very high opinion of quail brain-power, says that Guinea Fowl "make quail look intellectual". Another lad says they are "far from stupid". The eggs are apparently nice but a very pointy shape, almost triangular (says Simon) and Anne commented that the shells are so tough that if you are trying to do the eggs and toast soldiers thing, you almost need a hacksaw to do the neat decapitation. Pick the bones, as they say, out of that little lot!

We have had to part company with our friend, miniature Falabella cross stallion Cody. He'd been in our sheep field since a month or two back because his alpha-male hormones had been driving him to escape the 'home field' and go in search of mares. This had led to an interesting hour one day for Carolyn when she'd had to go 'rescue' him from a field of three full sized mares who were playing 'hard to get' teasing him as he chased them in his randy way while they tried to kick his head in, playing rough. Carolyn, who is not much bigger than Liz, had to dive into this mêlée and pull Cody out for his own safety and get him to the gate without any of the mare kicks connecting, while Cody wanted to stay in there and work on his seduction technique.

Cody ended up in our field where he'd be OK with the sheep because he was such a chilled out lad that he was OK with anything and, indeed, that was the case. He became a boss-sheep and used to give the 5 sheep the run around occasionally but was only playing and never seemed to be trying to do them any damage. Happy days. He was going to be gelded by Aoife (Rhymes with Deefer) the Vet but the warm autumn had meant that the risk of fly/maggot infection in the gelding scar was too great and this has not yet happened. Then yesterday it seemed to turn nasty and a bit serious. I went out at 4-ish to find Cody beating up one of the ram lambs, Cody had the ram pinned down between his front 'knees' and seemed to be trying to bite chunks out of the ram's woolly flanks. I raced into the field and, yelling at Cody and smacking him on the nose, managed to separate the 'protagonists'. I got Cody into a head collar and tethered him to the fence. The sheep seemed to be OK, just a small reddish wound near one eye and chunks of wool hanging off, but they all piled into their supper and certainly looked OK by this morning.

We phoned Carolyn for advice and she decided that the lad had better be brought home, so Charlotte was dropped off to walk him home. He is now back home in the sand-school but where he can get to a lot of grass growing round the edges. His gelding operation is now timed for some point in the next 2 weeks and fairly soon after that our sheep will have gone for their last journey anyway, so he can safely come back into our field while his hormones calm down. Then he can be reunited with his two amigos, Bob and Romeo. Complicated this horse management, isn't it? Maybe we should stick to our highly intelligent Guinea Fowl?

Tuesday 5 November 2013

Guinea Fowl

Guinea Fowl
We have treated ourselves to a pair of Guinea Fowl as an Anniversary present to ourselves. We have never done these rather bizarre looking things before (though we have eaten the meat) so this is a new species for us. We saw this pair at the Balla-D livestock fair. I asked the price but didn't discuss it further at the time with Liz and only on talking in the car we discovered that we both thought they'd be a good idea. We managed to track down the guy's phone number via our friend Charlotte and nipped out to inspect them today, found them to be clean, free from parasites and sound looking birds and brought them home in the cat basket. They are now exploring the kitchen garden, separated from the rest of the stock by the fence and checking out their new quarters, a mini coop I created this morning from bits of caravan-bed and cut down shelf laths from the Utility Room.

What a handsome dude!
Guinea Fowl are an African bird originally from the family (or sub-family if you are American) 'Numinidae' (Order Galliformes) with the one species, the Helmeted Guinea Fowl (Numida Meleagris) having been domesticated many years ago and spread throughout Europe (and elsewhere). They are used for meat, though you can eat the eggs. We have eaten roast guinea fowl several times in a Creek-side restaurant in Faversham which used to be owned by a locally famous chef from the Dordogne. They tend to be a bit smaller than a full grown chicken, so we like that you can manage a whole half-bird on your plate.

What we know about these guys has mainly come from the internet over the last few days and by talking to the seller and his good lady. We are assured that these are a breed-able pair (i.e. not brother and sister) and actually they mate for life and the girl is a good layer who produced many eggs last year. They do sometimes go broody but I think we may end up using Broody Betty again. The chicks, called 'keets' are tiny and delicate and, being African natives, do not like damp or wet grass till they are quite feathered up, so we may also be needing a broody box. Apparently they are almost impossible to sex except for by their calls, so we don't know which one is which yet!

Bodge of the week!
So, there you are. Where they came from had all its runs completely bare of grass, so they were running on a mix of mud and stones. They seem to be delighted with the green-ness of the quarters here which is currently the kitchen garden with its grass paths, cleared raised beds, the 'Jam and Jerusalem' Hedge. some herbs and roses and the gravestones of the late Haggis and Coco in out Pet Cemetery. We have had them wing-clipped by the seller so that they stay put till they get used to us, the new house and these surroundings, but the plan is to have them completely free ranging along with the rest of the gang.

Tarka Dahl under construction
What to call them, then? We are currently enjoying the TV series "The Sopranos" as a boxed set having let it pass us completely by when it was first aired. Well, we find that Guinea is a derogatory term in America for Italian Americans, so we considered naming them Tony and Carmela for a while, after the two main characters in Sopranos. Or maybe Numi and Mel from the Latin name (above) but we'll probably leave it open for now and see what happens.

In other food news we have been exploring the Guardian newspaper's "Best 10 Curry Recipes". We had the one called 'Luxury Chick Peas' first and then yesterday a lentil based one called Tarka Dahl which we had with flat breads and home made mango chutney. Like the Madhur Jaffrey recipes, neither have so far turned out to be madly hot or challenging, just beautiful complex mixes of spices. I have also culled out my first Hubbard chicken (actually a rooster). More on that including weights, in the next post.