Friday 28 November 2014

Busby Berkeley Dust Bathing?

New trees await planting.
The new trees arrived safe and sound on Thursday 27th via the excellent courier, DPD Ireland. Courier-ing and post in general here in Ireland are definitely one job the Irish do better than anything I've ever had in the UK. Post is almost always next day without fail within Ireland. DPD send you a text to say your goods are due today, then follow up with a call 20 minutes out to check you are at the house and finally, in our case, I have persuaded the regular drivers to call at 5 minutes out so that I can go down and stand in the lane to flag them down and make sure they find the place. They are without exception (in my experience anyway, of DPD and other companies) helpful, friendly and, more importantly, careful with the goods, so that I receive my trees in their 'roll' of cardboard and straw, undamaged. I am very happy with both the courier and, in this case, with the tree nursery / supplier,

The instructions are to crack open the parcel as soon as you get it (mainly to avoid condensation damage to any evergreens), then to damp the roots but store (roots) back in the bag so that the wind does not get to them. This gives us a chance to examine the trees and they look, as usual, healthy and robust. My 'Camelot' apple was a one year old 'maiden whip', but the other 2 apples and the limes were 2 year old 'feather' (i.e. with side branches). They had good root systems with a good spread of fibrous roots still intact.

Apple trees protected from the geese.
They are all now planted. The apples I managed to squeak in to the orchard by putting them hard up against the fence which was 5 m from my 'first row'. My first plan had been to dot them along the front lawn but this would have involved creating sheep proof guards around them. Sheep are terrors for not only browsing off all the soft new tissue but also for trying to scratch their itches by rubbing their considerable bulk against your fences and posts. Your sheep guards around trees need to be made of serious wood and posts, which is not cheap. My orchard plan meant only 'goose-proof' protection, so I put some old rabbit-hutch wire into use as half-cylinders, tall enough to out-manouvre those long goosey necks. Today, at least, it worked and the trees are free from goose 'tooth' marks.

The kitchen is still in whirlwind mode at present with Liz doing a bit of Christmas cookery and some 'Autumn tidy up' cooking. The pudding mixture, Liz decided to split across 3 smaller bowls - we made an enormous pud last year but it was rather too big to use up AND it tied up the big, useful mixing bowl for all the weeks that it sat in there. This year, then, we invested in 4 smaller bowls and we are now serially steaming them in the slow cooker. The ones not needed for the festive season will keep; puds seem to keep for ever!.

Green Tomato Chutney
I got my instruction today to 'bring in the tomatoes', i.e. to clear the remaining stragglers from the poly-tunnel which were either green or part ripe but not likely to progress any further in the chill, misty days of November, so it is time to make green tomato chutney. This is one of our favourite chutneys and one which I will happy smear on every cheese sandwich I make, no matter what the time of year and weather. So, I cleared the ground and collected almost 5 kg into my bucket and all the plants into a barrow.

Busy kitchen. Bits for paté get chopped and fried prior
to being 'whizzed'. 
The chickens spotted that I was in there and that there was some dry dusty soil on this site after all! They'd been walking on the damp, November grass and wondering whether they'd ever see dust again. When I went back in to collect the barrow, I was amused and impressed by the sight of ALL our grown up chooks dust-bathing, like a bizarre Busby Berkeley synchronised swim interpretation. All chickens lie down on your left side and kick up the dust. Now change to the right side etc. The young Buffs were not there but possibly found the dust-fest later. They do love a good dust bathe these chickens and it does their feathers and old skin good.

View from the front door at 3:30 pm on Tuesday - the mist
comes up and the sun sinks down.
With Christmas looming the Hubbard chicken "gribbly bits" were rescued from the freezer for conversion into paté - hearts, gizzards and livers. These get fried off with cooking brandy and garlic before being 'whizzed' up. The late Diamond always preferred it if you sieved this several times to produce the finest velvety textures as per Nigel Slater's recipes but I must admit I prefer a 'coarse' paté with BITS in it. Now that we are Diamond-less, Liz has allowed that we do not need to sieve it (she sounds relieved at not having too, because it is a real faff!) so I am looking forward to some "Coarse Hubbard Paté" on the menu.

Tuesday 25 November 2014

European Lime and Cider Apples

3.93 kg of red cabbage.
With Liz back from her latest 'errand of mercy' down to the Silverwoods, the kitchen is once more its periodic whirlwind of activity. The Christmas Pud stir-up, postponed from the proper day (Sunday 23rd) went ahead with the usual lavish spread of ingredients packets all over the dining table and of course we both got to do a stir and make our wishes. I was instructed to bring in from the garden my finest red cabbage which we had been saving for the making of the Christmas 'spicy red cabbage' recipe. This had grown and grown and even took me by surprise by being 3.93 kg and as big as my head! Liz was suddenly scrabbling around all the fruit bowls and fridges for enough apple to go with it and raiding the onion 'ropes' in the car port for enough onions.

I love the sight of red cabbage shredded up.
The mix is now gently brewing in the huge slow cooker and in our big gumbo pot and will give us frozen portions nearly through to next Christmas. That is just from the one cabbage. While I was out there, I also lifted some more spuds (Sarpo Mira) and a few carrots. These crops seem to store best left in the ground, as long as you do not have too much of a slug problem. I found a few small clutches of slug eggs but nothing to worry about and the spuds are coming up nice and clean; it is just a cold wet job in the drizzle and I am happy that I can walk on the paths between the ridges to dig and also that we have a nice warm house to retreat to for a coffee.

The 2015 pigs are not even born yet, but a little old lady
we know of in Leeds jumped at the chance to name them!
Our pleasure, Olive!
The 'errand of mercy' was Liz staying at the parents' new place over the weekend keeping an eye on Steak Lady and Mr SL (the latter not long back out of hospital) but also able to nip round to the Silverwoods' and dog-sit their three Westies while the family de-camped to a hotel in Bray for a baton twirling competition (mentioned in an earlier post). This also gave Steak Lady a chance to abandon Mr SL for tasks like a 2 hour shed-clear-out, or any shopping, knowing he was well looked after, and chatted to by, Liz. Mr SL is thriving by all accounts and is up and about, shaved and out of his PJs looking much more like his old self than a patient. He has always been a very dapper chap and happiest in his suit. He was hating the unshaven, just got out of bed look.

A first rack of lamb and a good dollop of
home made crap apple and rosemary jelly
Exciting news this week when I got a text from our main tree supplier, to say that 'our' trees were now out of the ground and ready for 'shipping'. I had seen on Facebook that they had had a fire at their premises but were hoping to get back to business as usual and they obviously have. These trees will be some European Limes (Tilia cordata x) which we are mainly buying for the bees. These limes flower in June which is a bit of a hungry-gap between the main flush of spring flowers (dandelions, horse chestnut, fruit blossom, blackthorn, hawthorn and the like) and the full flourish of proper summer flowers, the bramble and so on. A friend in the Cotswolds tells us that they are much loved by the bees and that a tree in summer can 'hum like a hive'. The writers in our bee keeper Federation mag (An Beachaire) also recommend them, so we are giving them a try. The rest of the trees are our first dip into cider apple growing and possibly cider making. We have bought traditional old Irish varieties (we love the names - Dabinette, Camelot and Dunkerton Late Sweet). We read that Irish cider is normally made with a 50/50 mix of the actual cider apples and what ever dessert apples were to hand. . These should arrive here either tomorrow or Thursday, so watch this space on that one.

Mk 3 sheep shelter (now with sides!)
Our old sheep man, Kenny, laughed when I first erected a shelter for the sheep back in 2012 when we had them in the orchard. These were tough Mayo sheep, he insisted, used to being out in all weathers on scruffy mountainsides. But they seemed to like it and use it, hiding in there when the nights were frosty or one of our mighty Atlantic squalls came driving through; this even though the shelter was a rudimentary affair with just four posts and a roof, with a 'back' made by tying an opened out builder's bulk-bag to the sheep-fence. I have done a shelter ever since, moving the old corrugated sheeting, the builder's bag and door-frame timbers around to which ever field the sheep were in. This week I got hold of Sparks's brutal diamond-cut angle grinder and cut out some bits for the sides. We are positively palatial and the sheep which should also be coming soon will be well protected. Mayo sheep they might be but 2 of them at least will be in the family way and will get, even if they don't need, a higher standard of pampering. The third sheep is too young to be got in lamb yet, but she can also enjoy the shelter while she watches and learns from her 'aunts'.

Friday 21 November 2014

A Taste of Success

More weird beers from SuperValu. The
wheat beer on the right was seriously
gassy and 'lager-like'. I am hoping for
better from the 'red' beer on the left.
We are doing the 'separation' thing again here. Liz took off to Silverwoods' on Wednesday to deliver the lamb meat to the troops down there as well as some goodly batches of the pork. She just made a flying visit of it that time, though, because today she was off again, this time to mind the Silverwoods' dogs and the parents (who also now live 'down' there) over the weekend. The Silverwoods are all de-camping to a hotel in Bray (South Dublin) over the weekend to be part of the All Ireland baton twirling competitions. The youngest (R) and the 2nd eldest (J-M) get involved in these and the whole family goes along but it is a bit of a mad-cap affair which goes on and on, with a gazillion clubs, groups and schools taking to the stage one after another to do their stuff and be judged while the 'fans' and any group members who aren't in that particular class whoop and holler like One Direction fans trying to maintain the myth that it's all dead exciting. Those not involved (Em-J, M, and 'Daddy' (Mr S)) or allowed time off from spectating duties will presumably adjourn to the hotel's other facilities (pool, gym, spa and (maybe) bar) to while away the long hours of baton twirling action.

The competition website.
I have been following with interest the progress of friend and pig-mentor, Alfie O, through the stages of the 'Taste of Success' competition run in collaboration between supermarket chain Lidl (Ireland) and National television station RTÉ. This involved various celebrity chefs around the regions but is trying to find a good new line in Irish food for Lidl to stock on the shelves of their 140-odd branches. Our man, Alfie, gave it a serious punt with his pork-burgers which he makes using neck fillets from his own traditional breed, high welfare, outdoor reared, organic and non-GMO pigs. He got selected to enter the round for the Munster province (SW 'quarter' of Ireland) and then shortlisted into the final 4 from Munster to go through to the next round where the four provinces met and the entry whittled down to 2 products from each.

The Old Farm business website
I have to admit that, coming from a super-marketing background and knowing what kind of volumes they deal with, I was a bit uneasy from the outset. There are very few producers in Ireland of such pork and, as far as I know, no commercial ones, just little small-holders like us with our 2 pigs for home consumption (and we don't even do the organic / non-GMO thing). The idea of being able to launch a food based on just the neck fillets on a super market scale worried me but Alfie is no fool and he would have known this. When the main chef/mentor (Paul Flynn) made just that comment as the pork burgers were dished up in the first all-Ireland round and the entrant missed the cut, Alfie was philosophical and very proud to have got as far as he had. He'd met a lot of nice people along the way (especially the organisers and 'crew', he said), tasted some excellent products and had a lot of fun plus, I expect, created a lot of really useful publicity. There are now a load more people in Ireland who know where to go if they want the best pork this small island can offer.

The O's family blog and recipe book!
The low volume and huge demand thing is just the modern super-marketing culture and effect in a microcosm. The small guy with his trad breeds and the trad breeds themselves have all but been sidelined by the big guys who only want cheap-as-chips 'commercial' pork based on the Landrace and white breeds, grown indoors, never sees the daylight, hospital-like pristine, hermetically sealed conditions. Our Tamworths, rootling in the 'dirt', grubbing up worms and dock and ground-elder roots, munching manky wind-fall apples and chatting to the dogs through the fence have no part in this. And they presumably never will while the Lidls of this world have a stranglehold on the market and the average punter has no idea what pork should taste like. Ah well. Their loss. It is reassuring that the likes of Alfie keep fighting the good fight and getting his pork and its story out there, even on national television where the country's cooks might just see the footage and be curious enough to hunt down some 'proper' flavoursome, succulent pig meat. Well done Alfie and Mrs O.

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Smallholder Buys Shop Eggs! Shock!

The shame of it! Shop bought eggs. 
Yes, all the girls seem to be in moult or sulking through the short length days and misty mornings and we are currently down to one or zero eggs from the 9 hens (plus guinea fowl) each day. We are just about supplying John Deere Bob with his half dozen but today, when Liz needed 5 for an extra gloopy chocolate fudge cake for some visitors we had to submit to the inevitable and buy half a dozen like 'normal' people do, in an actual shop. We have not bought eggs since our first batch of Sussex Ponte hens came into lay yonks ago.

The solid clean chap formerly known as skanky emaciated
stray with bits missing, Pirate the cat.  
We are not alone it seems. Anne, I know is also a bit quiet at the moment and friend Dawn was telling me this week that she had also had to buy half a dozen for the first time in years. Ah well. Don't get too excited, though, Lidl. You do not have a new income stream. Your free range eggs were OK but not a patch on our own for freshness or for the rich full yellow colour of the yolks. We will be going back to ours as soon as the girls decide that spring is round the corner.

Sorting the lamb meat out. Roughly 104 kg from the 4 lambs
Monday 17th saw us down at lamb butcher, Ignatius G (Victualler) of Castlerea Main Street, to collect our lambs and watch them being butchered up. They have been hanging in his cold store 'relaxing' for 7 days. We love Ig-G; he is an absolute joy to do business with. A well padded (but huge and strong) traditional looking butcher with a happy, smiley face, he is definitely a 'front of house' type bloke, bantering with the customers in his butcher's apron. His No.2, Joe, is maybe a bit quieter and seems to have his days for the banter but sometimes seems to prefer the quiet of the back room and his vicious-looking band saw.

Bagged for the freezer
That day was an out-front day and we had a great laugh with the two of them as they prepared our order to Liz's specification; we needed one of the lambs split between Mrs Silverwood and Steak Lady but also some parts of the order done as a million chops, while others needed to be in racks of ribs, some big joints but some half-leg or half shoulder. The guys don't mind, you can have it as simple or as complicated as you like. They have even bagged each individual portion for us before now, as they went along, printing labels on the 'till/weigher' for us describing the cuts (lamb chops, gigot chops, half shoulder etc). We get the distinct impression that they appreciate anyone who knows about meat and respects their work and their business.

Local grown!
While we are on meat, we have been delighted to find that sometimes now we can do a Sunday roast or a main meal and see that everything on the plate has come from this holding. On Sunday we had the first leg joint from the pigs and spotted that the meat, potatoes, sprouts, turnip and even the apple sauce was from here. Our apple harvest was a bit of a flop but the few we got we guarded jealously. Liz made the (single) Bramley and one of the James Grieves into apple sauce back in September, freezing it to be kept for the occasion of our first pork Sunday roast. Our only 'oops' of that meal was that Liz, without thinking, 'nicked' one of the rabbits' cheap carrots; we have carrots in the ground but I'd not brought any in that day. All delicious and succulent, laced with that added pride of having grown it ourselves.

Leg roast. Excellent.
We are very pleased, in particular, with the flavour of the Tamworth pigs and this leg cut was even a bit less fatty than the shoulder. Liz was able to make very good crackling with the skin still on the joint; for the shoulder she had stripped the skin off and blasted that separately.

We have sneaked through our little hiatus of freezer space. Sparks was down today to collect his lamb, he took away a bit of pork too and tomorrow Liz is off down to the Silverwoods' with theirs and Steak Lady's plus the pork for those 'customers'. By that time we should be able to freeze the 'overflow' which we have put into the 'fridge' parts of those fridge-freezers for safe keeping and we will not have needed to buy either the 5th freezer or to borrow the generously offered freezer space at Dawn's. A narrow squeak but we got away with it. Next year, as I said, we will be sure to de-synchronise the lamb and pork harvests a bit better.

Finally just a quick update on the stray cat, Pirate. You can see from my top picture that he is now quite a solid (OK fat!) chap but his body is now beautifully cleaned up and cleared of all the scar tissue, scabby stuff between the fur and places where he had been gnawing on itchy skin. Also nicks and cuts inflicted by, we presume, barbed wire, brambles or dogs and cats chasing him off. Only his face is still a bit 'mashed', his nose always seems to be a bit red and scuffed, or dried up and scabby and his eye(s) are generally a bit weepy looking. He is a very affectionate young boy and loves to be picked up and fussed (though not carried about, curiously, he gets very fidgety if he thinks you are "taking him somewhere"). He has pretty much taken over the Utility Room and owns it to the exclusion of our other cat Blue. He has the freezers in there pushing out heat and a radiator. He has an old cat bed lined with one of my old fleecy jackets and he is brought regular food - at least a tin a day plus the odd sliver of ice cream when I go out there to help myself. We see him come out to pee or poo somewhere in the yard before nipping back 'indoors'. He seems as happy as Larry and is definitely improved in health out of all recognition from the poor emaciated, cut about, battered and bruised little mite who first showed up driven to steal our cats' food by hunger, bravely coming in through the open kitchen window braving the wrath of our dogs, cats and, for all he knew, us. Fallen on his feet, has Pirate.

Friday 14 November 2014

A Good Job Jobbed

New 'telegraph' pole slotted in between
the existing cables.
We were impressed this week by another example of the local engineers getting stuck in and completing a job in double quick time. Yesterday lunchtime saw us visited by two guys in hi-viz jackets with a clip board asking if it was OK to locate a pole they needed to replace. I call these 'telegraph poles' (old habits die hard) though I guess they've not held telegraph cables for ages; they are probably just 'electricity poles' now as they carry the mains wires. We were pleased to be able to steer them in the direction of the pole we knew to have been condemned (see also my July 11th post on )

and also to steer them towards accessing it via the big open 5 acre field to our west, rather than having to mash their big digger all across our garden, poly tunnel, pond and orchard fencing. I was delighted when they saw how much easier it would be from the west. "Sound!" they said. I also asked them for the old pole and they were more than happy to leave it. "We certainly don't want it" they said. So off they trundled in their van and I guessed we'd not see them again that day, they'd just be surveyors or the foremen, maybe. I relaxed and went off for a 30 minute kip in the chair.

Christmas cake mix under construction. We now have
the food mixer!
I woke to make a coffee and could hear the noise of a tracked digger out in the likely field. "Coo!" I said to Liz, "We have a digger - they must be going to do the pole" (Like a school boy I still get excited about watching 'diggers' and, in this case, I wanted to see the corkscrew auger, with which they dig the hole, in action). I rushed outside and could straightway see that the new pole was already erected and the digger 'noise' was the sound of the machine being driven back out of the field and loaded onto the low loader, job done. They'd done the whole thing in 30 minutes while I snoozed. Fair play to them. A neat job they have made of it too. Now we await the notice from the ESB of a disconnection "for maintenance work" which will be them rigging the cables across from the old pole to the new.

More cake making.
I am not sure why I wanted the old pole; maybe it is the magpie in me. It's a big impressive baulk of timber which we might be able to use for some kind of garden feature or raised bed or maybe fence posts. It has me reminded of the huge wooden spars which went into the rebuild of the Sailing Barge Cambria (the bow sprit is 38 feet long, the topmast a good 43, and the mizzen mast (45') and the mizzen boom are up there too). Assuming they can drop it somewhere sensible in our 'garden' it will probably sit there untouched for ages while the weeds grow up around it. You are not advised to log them up and burn them because they were soaked and treated in some pretty obnoxious creosote-y mixtures back in the day so that they'd last 50 years or so, and the smell and smoke in your house is not that clever, apparently.

The puddles are joining up!
We have been heavily rained upon over the last couple of nights, with torrential rain in the wee small hours, so we are Puddle-Central at present. I am not complaining - I am not trying to align myself with the poor souls who have had real flooding, inundated houses and flooded out cars. We are on top of a rise here, so we just get inconvenient puddles and some days when it is good to stay off the land; you'd smear the grass to brown mush, poach up the tilled soil and wreck the drainage. I am pleased that we do not currently have sheep or pigs. We retreat indoors; hence all the cake making and, today, a mountain of ironing beaten into submission.

'Philae' comet lander descending (mock up pic from
the internet)
We have also been gripped and enthralled by the stuff coming in on the news, the internet, Twitter, Facebook and the European Space Agency website about the Rosetta / Philae landing onto comet 67P. We both love all this stuff and we are in awe of the technology. The comet is so far away (500 million km, I think) and moving so fast, that the precision and the maths involved by the 'flight dynamics' team has been likened to trying to hit a bullet fired from one gun with another bullet fired from a 2nd gun.

More puddles. Sunny today though
so they are draining fast.
The 'flight' was launched ten years ago (I only vaguely remember hearing of it) but they got their man, getting the orbiter (Rosetta) into position back in August this year close by the comet and then 'firing' the lander (Philae) down to the surface this week. It is 'sort of' going OK but the lander apparently bounced twice on impact (the first 'bounce' was actually a 1 km hop taking 1 hour 50 minutes as the comet is only 4 km long and does not have much gravity) and is now a km off 'target' and may be in the shade of a low cliff. This is not much use for the solar arrays which need to 'see' the sun. Ah well, we are impressed anyway by the amount they have achieved and we would say that was another 'good job jobbed'.

Home made dog treats. Some of the 2013 pig bits get roasted
and broken up. These are tails (the dogs have already had
the tips!) 
Meanwhile we are still frantically trying to clear some space in the freezer(s) ready to take our lamb meat which we collect from the butcher on Monday. We have, though, the offer of some space from a knitting chum of Liz, so we do not think we will have to buy the 5th freezer. Phew.

Wednesday 12 November 2014

A Busy Kitchen

Dry-cured pork bellies air-dry in the
coolest room.
I can't remember when I have seen the kitchen so busy. Maybe on a run up to Christmas or a busy guest-arrival. The lovely Lizzie is in there full time at present working her fingers to the proverbial bone; beat that sugar into the butter 'till your wrists are twanging with the pain of RSI aches', then add an egg, some flour and beat some more...and so on. (Yes we did used to have a food mixer for that and will buy another, but the old one got thrown away when the slow-speed died and not replaced because, at that time "we didn't make cakes". Ha!).

Dry cured Tamworth bacon
The kitchen here is only 8 feet square, so a bit of a small space for all this activity, and some bits get evicted temporarily; the cake-mixing above is parked on the unlit range, but you'll get the picture. Our biggest (gumbo) pot sits on the hob, lid-raisingly full of lamb 'offal' bits being boiled up for the haggis. A lung is in there, plus a hearts and the lamb trimmings.

With the sheep now gone, the geese get the run of the
1.5 acre "East Field".
In the oven, an oval dish has the suet from around the lamb kidneys (we always ask for them back "with their jackets on") being rendered very gently down just to enable it to be separated from the inevitable membranes and fibrous bits. This lovely hard suet makes excellent pastry-crust. The three 2.5 kg bags of sausage meat are being divided up into more sensible portion sizes for freezing. We actually eat very few 'sausages' per se, though we do love a sausage pie. Liz adds the flavouring (apple, leek or what ever) to the sausage-meat prior to making the pie, we store the sausage meat 'au naturel' and we declined the butcher's generous offer of sausage 'covers' (skins) for free.

Bacon butties!
Our home made dry-cure bacon (the bellies) has now had its time in the salt, been rinsed and is drying in the air in its muslin bags. One of these is now dried, so has come back into the kitchen to have the rind skimmed off (makes it easier to cut into rashers!) and the skin is in the oven being slow-baked into dog treats. Only 'slow-baked' because of the slow suet render that's in there already.  The bigger chunks of meat (boned legs) are still in the salt. They get 7 days in salt for each inch of thickness.

The goose carcass, from which we only ate the legs on day 1, sits waiting to be stripped of meat. The meat will re-appear as cold-roast with tonight's risotto. Risotto is another firm favourite which comes in two 'versions' in this house. When I do it, it is the main course and is choc-a-block with different ingredients - the meat and usually some bacon, the onion, garlic and chilli of course, scallions, carrot, red and green pepper, any other root-stuff cut into tiny dice (turnip, parsnip etc), celery or lovage or spinach-beet leaves and stems, chard and so on. When Liz cooks it is is a far simpler beast, being (almost) just the onion, garlic and scallions with the rice and served as 'the carbs' alongside the meat or other veg. It's great both ways.

The dogs all white and fluffy from their shower.
Left to right. Towser, Poppy and Deefer. 
Finally, there's the Christmas cake in bowls and tubs, half assembled. Liz is off to town this morning to do one of her 'tutoring sessions' (History - the Hanoverians today, I think) and will return via 'Supervalu' with a new food mixer.

The kitchen is no place for the faint-hearted at present; hence I am out here writing about it rather than getting under the cook's feet, but while she is out I am let in to do a few 'sous-chef' jobs and will possibly even wash up. I'd be outside given half a chance but it is raining again and wet slippy puddles are not conducive to safe chain-saw wielding so I'm a bit pinned down. Not complaining, though; I am a chief beneficiary of all this kitchen based hard work. Another cup of 'tay', Liz?

Monday 10 November 2014

The 'Ramones' Final Gig

George Junior with his swollen neck. 
The "poorly goose" of my last post (George Junior) did not make it, but passed away quietly in standard goose sleeping position (beak under wing) in a box of hay and tucked under a blanket. We found him on the 2nd morning, so just 48 hours from first spotting that he might have a problem. Frustratingly, we have no idea what went wrong or what killed him. He had that swollen neck or crop but that seemed to be mainly full of air - when I gently massaged it at the bottom end the bulge moved up into his neck like playing with a part-inflated balloon.

Oven ready version - 2.2 kg
Finding him dead yesterday morning I hung him up head-down in the shed to relax into an easier 'shape' to pluck him and over the next couple of hours quite a lot of clear liquid (water?) drained down out of his mouth, so that by the time I plucked him the swelling was gone. The crop and gut cut open told us nothing - just some part digested food as you'd expect, small wads of 'chewed' grass, some grain. No obvious blocked places or torsion, but all of that could have relaxed away due to the head-down hanging. Ah well, some you win..... We decided to eat only the carcass (2.2 kg) and to bin the 'offal' we'd normally keep (gizzard, liver and heart). He was only a young lad so he is not really filled out enough to look like a proper oven-ready goose and does not have the usual thick layers of sub-cutaneous fat. The other 5 geese seem fine to us, behaving and eating normally. We remain completely in the dark as to what 'took' this fellow. Unusually, my on-line support (the poultry discussion groups) were also disappointingly silent on the subject.

What no sheep?
The open gate pictured, and the empty field tell the tale of this year's store lamb quartet having gone on their final journey, off with a one-way ticket for their appointment with Ignatius G (Victualler) in Castlerea Main Street. I did all the 'shock horror' pictures last year and the year before of hanging carcasses and of Liz dealing with the 'crop', so I will spare you that this year. These 4 were named 'The Ramones' after the punk-band by a friend (a pun on the fact that they were all, allegedly, going to be male (Ram lambs)) though in fact one was a ewe. The real Ramones (the band) had a song called "I don't want to be buried in the Pet Cemetery". Don't worry, you guys, that is no part of the plan.

The trailer is left open while the
chooks pick it clean of spilled food
They were easily the simplest and most trouble free batch we have had. Nobody escaped, nobody got their head stuck in the fence, they were all dead easy to bucket-train and then, in the 'practise runs' and today for real, they obediently followed me from field to cattle race and thence into the trailer. We had them loaded, literally, from field to ramp-shut in under 3 minutes. Yes, of course it feels like a betrayal as reward for their good behaviour but it does confirm that they are not scared or distressed at all by the loading and transportation. Trusting to the end, poor lambs, which in our case is when we encourage them out of the trailer and into one of the clean, straw-strewn holding pens at Ignatius's lairage while we chat to the happy butcher-man about his recent holiday in Canada and the birth of his newest Grand-daughter, Blaithín* (also in Canada).

Christmas Cake ingredients get an overnight soak
in apple juice
These lambs were two Texel x Suffolk Down and two Texel x 'mule' (the mule being a cross between a mountainy sheep and a lowland sheep). They may also well be our farewell to doing business with sheep-man Kenny, as we are moving now into in-lamb ewes and keeping sheep year round, rather than just buying Kenny's store lambs in Summer to 'finish' them in November or December. We've done it the 'Kenny' way for three years and 12 lambs and he deserves our thanks. It has been a good grounding in what was to be a new species for us. We feel ready now to get involved in all that shearing, foot trimming and dosing for liver fluke that 'proper' shepherds have to do.

Follow the yellow brick road to the spot marked 'X'
All around this sheep-work we have continued the sneaky 'drift' of the young Buff Orps' new house, down the cattle race and into the yard. We move the house a couple of feet each day and the chickens seem to be untroubled by the fact that their house each evening is in a slightly different place. We are both reminded of my mother's (Pud Lady's) wartime anecdote. Living at the start of the Blitz in Bromley-by-Bow on the River Thames, she and her 'big sister' were evacuated as children several times down to Somerset. Every time the Blitz eased and they could come 'home' they had actually moved house because their previous house had been bombed out in the intervening period. By the time we boys came along, Pud Lady had a framed map of the evacuation village on the Living Room wall as a momento, but amusingly the framing job had been done by 'cropping' a bigger map to remove the huge first S and last ET of the county name, so I grew up thinking Mum had been evacuated to a place called 'OMERS', The framed map is still there in the Hastings house.

Blue looks balefully at the metal duck
Finally, as cats do, Blue has adopted a new favourite sleeping place, on top of our Living Room dresser. This, of course, involves evicting any inconvenient "junk" he finds there (trophies, plaster kingfishers, a posh 'Moet' insulated sleeve for your champagne and egg boxes - this after riffling through the stack of open 'nested' boxes like a professional card-sharp). In this picture he has cleared himself a good space but doesn't look too happy about the metal duck ornament eye-ing him up from stage right.

*Another good Irish name for the British readers, Blaithín is pronounced 'Bloh-heen', the 'Bloh' having a short vowel like in the word 'Blo(ck)'. It translates as 'Little Flower'.... ahhhh!

Friday 7 November 2014

Poorly Goose

Dublin Bay rose in flower in November,
well soaked with the rain
These are surprisingly mild, unseasonably warm, days. Our bees are still active even early in the morning except for on one frosty morning this week, presumably working the ivy and we have plenty of 'summer colour' left in the garden, roses like the Dublin Bay pictured, purple verbena, a lupin and even a Spiraea (pink shrub) pushing out new flowers. The rain is rather frustrating our gardening efforts but nobody around here is daring to complain because we and they remember far worse Octobers and Novembers. Say nothing and act natural!

Dried 'Borlotti' and 'Gaucho' beans. Not a particularly
clean sample, a few with surface mould to sort out. 
The young Buff Orpingtons finally out grew their tiny 'rabbit hutch' so I have resurrected the former Marans house from the temporary keet run and parked that next to their familiar home, shutting down the rabbit run to deny them access. Completely un-phased, they quickly adopted this bigger house with its bigger pop-hole so, the next day. I 'disappeared' the old house. I am now sneakily moving the house a few feet each day, creeping it down the cattle race and into the yard, where it will end up cosily against the outer wall with its pop hole nice and close to the proper, grown up chicken house. We would like them to start using that one day, but we are happy enough that they use the Marans house. It is fox proof anyway.

Our first Tamworth pork chops - delicious
We woke up to a sick goose, George Junior. He looked all 'moopy' and did not want to join the other 5 in their roamings round the orchard; he just stood on one spot or sat down. He looked to have a badly swollen base-of-neck, crop or 'top-of chest', like he was growing a dewlap. With all these poultry types, there is a limited amount you can do in such circumstances and it is never really worth calling the vet for a bird 'worth' only €10 or so. Birds work to such fast and high energy systems, heart rate, respiration, body temperature etc that when things go wrong they go wrong fast and the birds seem to go from perfectly healthy to dead with little in between. Most poultry keepers just cull the sick ones out. I fully expected to have to do this to GJ or to find him dead on the grass by lunchtime.

New 'Bible', my recommended sheep
reading 'homework'
We were away today, on a rare sunny morning, helping Vendor Anna's partner to subdue a badly overgrown hedge, but when we got back we were delighted to see the goose raise his head - he'd been asleep in the sunshine but was still with us. I was easily able to catch him and then we could get a good feel of his 'swelling'. I was expecting the hard, grain-sack nobbliness of an impacted crop but no, his swelling all seemed to be the feathers fluffed up and then just soft, squidgy flesh, maybe 'trapped wind' or some goose equivalent of foamy-bloat. When I massaged him he showed no distress or pain, just eyes me with his calm blue eyes, curiously. I have no idea. I have, as usual, put it out to the poultry discussion websites and the Facebook group to see if anyone has come across this before. Meanwhile George Junior has received our standard treatment of a gloop of cod liver oil and isolation out of the weather. He can see and hear all his mates but he can't get to them and, more importantly, they can not bully him.

Ram lamb at the end of the rainbow. 
That hedge cutting was all a bit mad. Vendor Anna lives about 45 minutes from here, the other side of Carrick and her house, on top of a rise has a superb view of the Shannon River. Or it would have if this hedge had not rather got away from them with its tall ash, blackthorn, dog rose, hazel and some kind of large leaved lime. It is actually a double-hedge, running either side of a bank, with a big ditch on the lane-ward side. Our job was to get it back to "about head height" but that meant chain-saw work as some of the trunks were 3 inches plus thick. There are also telephone cables running along the lane, so we had to be sure and drop any 'trees' inwards, uphill, onto the soggy lawn.

Macaroni cheese.
You are not really meant to use a chainsaw up at head height (it is supposed to be used cutting downwards from waist height, using the weight of the saw to make your cut) but I risked it. I didn't manage to injure myself but I did get very tired, and 2 hours in I needed a sit down - I was also very relieved that the saw had also gone blunt by then, so we could, with clear conscience, call it a day and we all retreated indoors to a superb lasagna and apple crumble cooked by Anna. The glass of wine went down well, too - Liz was driving today. We did well, with Paul and I cutting and Liz dragging the cut bits clear of the hedge and secateuring the smaller stuff, we got all the way along the 100 feet or so of the 'inside' hedge. The outside hedge will not be such a problem, being mainly thinner, 'loppers-sized' whippy stuff. Paul can play with that till we all come back and, more importantly try to clear the new "hedge" of bits laid along the lawn. He will have shreddings and kindling for years out of that. I logged up some of the trunks for him, too, before the saw finally ran out of sharp. Two tired but well fed gardeners made their way home to rescue the poor goose, walk the dogs and retreat indoors to light the range before the next band of rain came through.

Monday 3 November 2014

"Gribbly Bits"

Chinese belly pork (Johnny Diamond)
Gribbly Bits. That is our in-family jokey name for any non-standard bits of the pig, cheap cuts, offal, ears, tails, trotters and trimmings. That all started with a chum of ours named Andy while we were on a 2CV convoy across Northern France, off to show off our 1961 reg, fully restored car at La Chapelle d'Armentieres. There is almost certainly a post on this if you go back far enough


Andy had brought along his Hungarian then-fiancée who's spoken English, I should add, was probably better than ours. We'd stopped in a restaurant along the way and she (who went under the superb name of Zsa zsa) is one of those people who take huge amounts of time choosing off a menu; to the point where waiters give up and promise to come back later having 'given you a bit more time to choose'. Liz and I have no such problems and had spotted and quickly ordered a chicken gizzard salad. This is a firm favourite here but would definitely be in most peoples' list of 'gribbly bits'. We had a good laugh 'teaching' Zsa zsa that 'gribbly bits' was a genuine English expression and was widely accepted by French waiters as 'les pièces gribloises'. No, don't worry, we weren't being mean, we were kidding enough that she was definitely unsure and we let her off the hook before she could embarrass herself!

Trick or Treaters. Liz has bobbed down to
kiddy-height to offer the sweets so we can only see the
top of her head., 
You can use every part of the pig, so they say, except its squeal. We have been playing around with some of the gribbly bits. You'll know I made the 'head cheese' (brawn) a week or so back, and the dogs got the ears roasted. We have the hearts and livers, of course. We did not get the tails or trotters back this time but that was because we have trotters still in the freezer from last year, when we bought half a carcass of Gloucester Old Spots cross. Liz had boiled up the trotters, following a recipe in our Phil Vickery and Simon Boddy book ('Pork') but had not followed up with the oven-roast/glaze half. The trotters had been portioned up and frozen. Well, now all inspired by our own pigs, Liz completed the job and  rescued them from the 'archive'; glooping them up well with a whizzed up mix of mango chutney (ours), tomato purée, cider vinegar, red chilli, garlic and olive oil and then roasting, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes in a hot oven.

Under this 'abuse' the trotters pretty much fall apart and flex into impossible shapes as the tendons contract, so it is compulsory to pick them up in your sticky fingers and get all Medieval on their glutinous, sticky, sweet, delicious gribbliness. If you, the reader, are finding this a bit too gribbly, then remember that this is just the skin, tiny muscles and cartilege of the lower calf, wrist or heel joint and the feet, cooked to melt-in-the-mouth tenderness. The actual bones and the hoof 'toe-nails' are left for the delighted dogs to deal with. The mango chutney glaze is definitely a success; we will be claiming our trotters back from now on. We have some more half-done in the freezer to be going on with. No pics of the finished product, I'm afraid, not for any reason. I just didn't take any.

We've also been exploring some Chinese style recipes for the pork bellies. Here, Liz followed a recipe from our other excellent pork book, Johnny Mountain's "Cooking with a Passion for Pig", which involves, like the trotters, 2 cooking stages, a 6 hour gentle boil in stock, followed by a fry-then-roast. We make one adaptation from the Mountain recipe, in that we use a family favourite stock known as "Blackspring's Nan's pork hock stock". Blackspring was the pen name of one of Liz's internet buddies, and his Chinese Nan used to do the hocks this way; the stock was the perfect choice for the belly-boil. It's on

...should you want to follow that one up, but it's basically a goodly mix of ginger, chili bean sauce, brown sugar, dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, star anise and spring onions plus, if you fancy, rice wine and 5-spice powder. After the boil you cool the meat, ideally overnight (you will have spotted that this dish can therefore be pretty much pre-prepared the day before), then carefully cut into portion 'blocks', which if you're as posh as Mr Diamond you can present rather nattily on a bed of rice etc (as per the photo at the top of this post). Very yummy and more-ish. Neither of us stopped at just the one 'portion block'.

Nice meaty bellies wait for their curing mix.
Other than that, in the pork dept, Liz has started some dry-curing, bellies for bacon rashers and a couple of boned-out leg joints to have a go at air dried hams. We are looking to rig up a cold smoker too, so at least one of these may get smoked. There are some exciting recipes for this kind of thing in both books and there is a thriving group on Facebook called "Sausage Debauchery" where dozens of curers all around the world are creating ham, salami and no end of types of cured sausages. We will be in good company, but I won't go into any detail here; Liz is covering all that on her blog.

By tonight, then, we were feeling a bit like we might have had enough forms of pork for the moment, so we re-visited the old faithful supply of Hubbard chicken parts which is still going strong in the freezer. Just breast meat (skin on), roasted nice and simply and served with broad beans and cous-cous. Guaranteed no "pièces gribloises".