Sunday 6 April 2014

Pig-Slapping your Pastry

Pat a cake Pat a cake, Baker's Man
Bake me a (pork pie) as quick as you can
Pat it and prick it and mark it with ZT210
and into the oven for Heaven knows when!

The slapper head and the impression it makes. 

For those not in the know, your legal, signed up, Ministry-verified pig keeper in this country will generally need to own a piece of kit called a pig-slapper. This is a 2 foot long metal tube with a handle at one end and a plate at the other to which fit 'characters' as individual numbers and letters, set like the print in a printing machine. Each character is (in our case) 30 mm tall and made up of short needles which are used to 'tattoo' your pig herd number into the rump and shoulders of your pigs just before slaughter, so that you can identify your half carcasses as they emerge from the slaughterhouse into the meat plant.

Pig-slapped Pork Pie.
You can see from the first pic that our code is ZT210 so those are the characters I had to get hold of and 'set' into the head, but naturally, they are in there 'backwards' and potentially upside down, so I was looking around for something in which to 'slap' my impression to check that it would read correctly on the pig. Liz was making a pork pie and this generally leads to spare pastry being rolled out into 'pattie' and baked alongside the pie, but to be broken up for the chickens as a treat outside the back door. This led on to us deciding to 'slap' the actual pie crust (gently) - the tattoo plate was clean enough and anyway, the whole lot was to be baked.

Barely visible, slap mark in the golden, egg glazed suet crust.
So there you have it - my slapper works. Unfortunately the code pretty much disappeared in the baking but anyway, it would be fraud (gasp!). The pork in that pie was from Carolyn's Gloucester Old Spots, not from our herd at all. Ours do not exist yet; have not even been born yet!. Actually I am quietly amazed and appalled at this legal requirement to 'slap mark' pigs prior to sending them to slaughter. You keep them as happy as possible for 5 months, loving them and looking after their welfare needs. They come to trust you (hopefully) and think you are a good egg, then just as you are about to send them on their final journey you get this 2 foot long bar with numbers made out of needles at the business end, dip the needles in ink and then smack your pigs hard once on either shoulder (and either rump if you like) to basically tattoo them. It must hurt and surprise them, surely, but you have to do it so you can identify your half carcasses coming out the other end of the meat plant. How can that be 'welfare'? Some say that you do not need to slap them if your slaughterhouse is not insisting but others would argue that unless you slap, the butcher might sneakily substitute your carefully bred and fed pigs for cheaper, mass produced ones.

Blue gets comfy on some tissue boxes on the table.
In the pond department we not only have an 'honest' newt population which we have seen regularly and which arrived by itself, but also two 'scoops' of imported frog spawn. The breeding season had come and gone here and we had been passed over by all the local frogs so we had sent word out. Charlotte was checking her local ditch, well filled with spawn on all previous years, and K-Dub had promised us a bucket from his father's Dublin pond. K-Dub drives a big old yellow works van previously owned by the company I used to work for and sold off at the end of its economic working life. It's very 'tired' at this stage but K-Dub flies about in it OK.

Another good year for the gift daffs from Steak Lady
I was a bit concerned that the spawn, evolved for millions of years to grow and develop in still water and quiet ponds might not survive the rattle and hum of a 2 hour box-van drive across Ireland but late on Friday we received a text message reading a bit like one of those WW2 code messages to the French Resistance "Your spawn is at your gate". Indeed it was, and we hurried down to gather it up and gloop it into the pond where it seemed to be perfectly OK and even hatching, so that we have mini Dublin tadpoles swimming happily away from the landing site. Then Charlotte came through suggesting that if we wanted more, there was some in 'her ditch', so we have nipped down with the bucket and dipped it into the watercress. The Roscommon babies joined the 'Dubs'. It would be interesting to DNA test the emerging young froglets to see who 'won'.

My last New Year's resolution can now be ticked off. I resolved to finish this winter with my log store full. Yesterday in the good, calm sunny weather I dropped the last two weakling, half-dead spruce trees which needed thinning out from our woods, and logged them up. The logs have gone in on top of Bob's hawthorn to refill my log store. Proper job! All the 'sneddings' (twigs and small branches) need dragging out to our bonfire heap in the East Field, but for now we have piled them up. Next time I have access to Bob's tractor, we will get a rope round each pile and drag them out there.

The warm weather and sunshine, tadpoles and newts had us sitting out by the pond and, in Liz's case, thirsty for just something like a lager shandy. Now, we never have lager in the house (in fact we never have anything except the weekly ration of red wine unless it's a special occasion like Christmas or Paddy's night) but rather bizarrely we have in the freezer left over from a guest visit last Summer (no names no pack drill!) some frozen, pretend cocktails. These are totally artificial, like grown up slush-puppy "alchopops", one claiming to be Pina Colada, the other a Berry Daiquiri, but the ingredients lists do not list any known ingredients of either official cocktail (rum, lime, coconut, pineapple etc). What the Hell? They were cold and wet so even though they tasted to us of nothing in particular, we sipped them sitting on our pond side seats.

The blue sky had us suddenly determined that what we needed in this garden was a flowering cherry tree. We have now acquired one of these, going cheap at present (€12.99) at the local supermarket and it has gone in where we can admire it from the kitchen  window and the yard but also from the "Darby and Joan" chairs next to the pond.

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