Tuesday 31 December 2013

The End of the Year

Last of the cake
Our local lough, Lough Feigh, is full to bursting after recent rain and resounds to the beautiful noise of the 30 to 40 swans who spend their winter there. They are either Whooper or Bewick's Swans (I am not very good on the smaller swans and these two are very similar) and I have not been down to the lough with binoculars for a close look. We just enjoy the musical honking calls which come up on the wind to the lane as I walk the dogs along the top there, and to the front garden. We wonder whether our own geese feel some kind of 'Call of the Wild' yearnings as they hear them.

And so we come to the end of the year. Christmas left overs are starting to run out. The Christmas Day goose has reappeared in a number of guises since, sneaking back as cold meat, then a superb pie and most recently as small jars of 'rilette' (finely shredded meat mixed with apple, garlic and butter, a bit like a paté). The spiced cabbage has brightened up a few meals, served alongside a risotto and the pie. The cake will go a few more slices and the pud will supply a few more portions lubricated with the ice cream.

Chestnuts for the sprouts tonight.
I feel a bit of an urge to sum up the year but I promise to keep it short and sweet; just the one paragraph. In (very) short it's been a really good one for us. The small holding has moved on a-pace in the warm dry weather (the rain is only recent) and we have produced mountains of veg. I am particularly pleased with the onions and spuds and we have a freezer full of beans, peas and calabrese. We have produced a million eggs and plenty of chicken, goose, rabbit and lamb. We fenced the East Field, built the poly-tunnel and completed the pond. We made some new friends and consolidated existing ones. Liz got involved with the local knitting group and has got into knitting and has also expanded her cookery skills into a wealth of cakes and pies. Not everything went 100% to plan, of course. We lost the use of the 2CV. I killed one chain saw but inherited a perfectly good, and superior, replacement. We celebrated with a delicious Christmas. All in all a good 2013. Roll on 2014.

Our surprisingly good, well ripened
and now stored onions
One 'hin' however, will not be seeing 2014. She was one of our old original Sussex Ponte hens which have already given us a brilliant first year of egg laying but have lately gone off the boil. Yesterday this young lady managed to injure herself in a serious and debilitating way we believe, by pecking on sharp piece of wire or broken glass, both of which we have too much of in the soil not yet dug over and cleared. I am not going into any more detail in case you are eating your tea, but suffice to say that we had to cull this girl out and even as I type this, Liz is plucking her in the kitchen. She is going to be a tiny carcass despite being full grown. I doubt if she will be even one kilogram 'oven-ready', way smaller than the hulking Hubbard birds we have been processing most recently. She is a neat shape though, so she is 'petite' in the same way that Guinea Fowl and poussins make small carcasses, rather than scrawny or thin. It will be nice to roast a whole bird between 2 of us, rather than (as with Hubbard birds) having to dismember them first and make 4 separate meals out of them.

Ooops. Despite my care the tractor cuts up
ruts in the soft ground
Not tonight, though, Josephine! Tonight we are on the slow-roasted shoulder of lamb, in this case 'Dora', one of our ewe (they say 'yow' here) lambs.

Finally, I was in this morning to visit our lovely old neighbour, Una, who is still struggling with a finger injured on and infected by a rose thorn in her own garden. I nip round every couple of days to bring turf and logs in to the house from the sheds and today took her round some eggs, leeks, sprouts, parsnip and a beetroot as a mini food parcel. She sits me down in her beautifully old traditional Irish kitchen (range, painted wooden furniture) for 'tay' and home made scones and jam and today she was telling me all about the 'Wren Boys'

Naughty or Nice? Lego from Santa
The Wren Boys is an especially Irish tradition which my UK readers may not have heard of. We had heard of it here but have still not seen it in action and it is now fading fast and may soon pass into memory. It happens on St Stephen's Day (Boxing Day). In times past the 'Wren Boys' would capture a wren and then dress in motley clothing and hats and capes made of straw (like 'Mummers') and parade it round the village knocking on doors and persuading money and goodies out of house owners as a bribe not to harm the bird ("A penny or tuppence would do it no harm...." etc). They would sing special songs, make music and recite appropriate poems.
They would also call round the pubs and 'perform' for the clientele.

More recently no actual wren is used and it is more likely to be the kids going round rather as do Carol Singers in the UK, but at lunchtime in daylight, rather then in the evening. Our friend Charlotte of the mini-horses has done this as a teenager in a group and apparently done quite well out of it. Una tells us she can remember when great gangs of children would go, quite often driven round in cars by parents, but recently the kids have come to enjoy the pub-side of things less. They were, says Una, all quite sweet kiddies and sang and played their penny whistles and other instruments beautifully, but the local 'Herberts' in the pubs of particularly Balla-D, presumably 'with drink taken' would start heckling them and making rude and tasteless comments. The groups Una knows don't go there any more and, in fact, have now dwindled to a few pairs or singles of children being taken to pre-arranged 'friendly' houses to do their thing and get a €5 or so. What ever the story is, none came to see us, so we still have this only at 2nd hand.

Happy New Year! Bliain Nua Sásta Dhaiobh!


Anne Wilson said...

The swans are almost certainly Whooper swans, we are out of the winter range for the Bewick.

Matt Care said...

OK, thanks for that. The Sussex Ponte, incidentally, weighed in at only 0.975 kg oven ready, and proved to have a fully formed egg up 'the pipe' so I apologise to her for suggesting she might be non- productive. Oh and we have a mountain of those 18-egg trays for you when we meet again.