Thursday 31 December 2015

Those Are For The Visitors!

 In Irish families in all the best stories, there was a strong-willed 'Mammy' who could quell you with just a look and who famously keep in the house, a room (the 'Front Parlour' or 'Best Room') which was only ever used for High days and Holy days plus visits from important people like the Priest. This house had one of course - the now 'Living Room' with the open fire and the fine fire-place which we now use quite a bit but which several locals who have come visiting have commented that they had been in the house many times but were never allowed in that room.

The Christmas cake is proving to be a moist and delicious
triumph. That recipe will definitely get used next year
Mammy would also keep a box or tin of good biscuits and tell all the children 'Hands Off!' because these biscuits were "for the visitors". Liz and her cohort can remember this vividly and have fond memories of the brands of biscuits involved, anything posh or with real chocolate; not the 'USA assortment' or buttered Marriettas Liz would normally get . Liz amused herself this year by buying such a box and showing it to me with the strict instruction that I must not open them or take any because "They are for visitors!" before immediately realising what she'd done and said and exclaiming "Arggggh! I am turning into my Mother!" Well, the box stayed intact till well into the gap between Christmas and New Year when we did finally receive some visitors and is now open and therefore 'fair game'.

The vac-packer about to do its stuff
We do a lot of freezing here, of veg-garden and fruit excesses, or portioned up poultry and of portions of left overs. Friends have recommended we treat ourselves to a vacuum packer to reduce the space taken up by these freezings but also to extend the life more. Santa needed no more prompting and a machine duly turned up on the 25th, so Liz has a new toy in the kitchen. 'Santa' was also advised to buy, at the same time, plenty of spare rolls of the bags as the supplier in question is famous for having these things in on a 'when its gone its gone' basis so if he didn't get bags then it might be many moons before his helpers could get more supplies. Santa knows good advice when he hears it.

Vacuum packed turkey wings
We have been trying this out on the turkey remains having decided that we could not really eat a whole 17 lb bird cold before it started to spoil, so we stripped the carcass ('Mammy' has asked for that for her famed soup-making  after the deep oil fryer Sparks used on her bird cooked the bones to a dark scorched-ness which gave her 'black soup' much to her horror) and divided it up between eat cold, freeze and 'New Year's Eve' curry. As an added bonus the vac-pak bags have a 'rough side' which, once sucked clean of air will easily take the nib of a 'Sharpie' pen, so we can easily 'label' them without need for a label. You can also use the vac-packed stuff for a bit of 'Sous-Vide' cookery if that appeals.

A lovely tote-bag. 
Our only other story this week as we run into New Year's (I cannot be bothered telling you about the latest named storm) is that some friends down the road have managed to disprove two tru-isms concerning the Irish property market. One is that "nothing is moving after the crash" and the other is that "nobody buys houses at Christmas". Our friends have been bounced by a rapid sale and a moving out date of 5th January, so efficient that they do not actually have a place they can move into yet and, after Christmas they are nowhere near packed in house, garden, yard, outbuildings or sheds. No pressure! We have volunteered our services and space, of course but we foresee a rather busy New Year. Tonight those friends have had to head for Dublin for a NY-Eve wedding (Ye Gods!) and we have other friends round for an epic curry meal and we generally try to stay up till midnight to First Foot the house. What ever you are up to as we finish off 2015 and look forward to 2016, I hope you will all enjoy a happy, prosperous and well housed New Year.

Sunday 27 December 2015

"The Most Gorgeous Moist Meat Imaginable"

Our own 6kg ham 'glazed' (more like 'pasted') with a mix of
mustard powder and brown sugar. 
Well, we have all done and dusted our own Christmasses and Facebook has been a blizzard of pictures of our friends and relatives table spreads, food, children, toys, Santa pictures and all that jazz. It has been lovely to see  and I do not think I would add anything by a load of similar pics from here but I would like to just sneak in a couple of bits from our own, small holder, angle. For just the pair of us we probably went way too mad on quantities, certainly of meat, but for our first year we suddenly had our own turkey available and our own ham joint.

A 17 lb turkey at this end of the table, a 14 lb ham at the other.
We had done pigs in 2014 but had only salt-cured the bellies for bacon rashers so this year it was a bit of an adventure when we decided to brine a whole ham and to dry-cure and air-dry a whole leg for "Parma" ham. The ham joint was brined in a solution of just table salt, sugar and spices, rather than the "curing salt" used by some of the commercial boys. Curing salt includes sodium nitrite and potassium nitrite as well as the nitrates.

The Christmas tree lights up the Living Room window .
It is the nitrites which give supermarket hams their bright, artificial pink colour (as well as the fact that the brine is injected deep into the muscle blocks so that the meat can be so full of water that the cooked joint still weighs 20% more than the freshly slaughtered version!). Nitrites have also, I believe, been linked to carcinogen (nitrosamine) chemistry. We decided to leave out the nitrites and go for a pale, more pork-like joint and we were very pleased with the result. We will definitely do it this way again.

Pies and Quiches made of left overs. 
As to the HUGE turkey (17 lbs), we knew when we killed this one it would be way too big for the two of us but we are nothing if not GOOD at left overs. Not for us this widely bandied around statistic that "we" waste on average 30% of our bought food by letting it go out of code or scraping our "eyes bigger than bellies" portions into the compost bucket after the meal. Our plates contain, if you are lucky, a few bones picked so clean that they could appear as dried, sun-bleached skeletons in a cowboy film and any over-production tends to come back and back and back again as cold meat, stews, risottos, curries, pies, quiches, rice or cous-cous salads, or portions frozen for future use.

A pink gin and a new "Irish Larder" apron. The tools of
a genius chef?
Having spent much of my working life as a Stock Control Manager, I am probably OCD on stock rotation, so very little goes out of code. We knew that this bad-boy would have a few slices of breast carved off him for the day and some leg meat but that he would then enjoy a long and happy career in the left overs dept.

Regular readers will also know that this turkey was a 'bronze' old fashion 'heritage' variety. We only acquired our first turkeys (Tom and Barbara) this Spring and when these birds started cranking out eggs we decided to hatch a few (and gave some to friends for hatching) and see how we got on. They were a revelation - the growth rates blew us away and if you have read the recent posts you'll know that we were killing them at only 5-6 months old at 6+ kg for the hen and 8+ kg for the 'stags', oven ready weight. Way too big for a two-some on the 25th but Liz just fancied cooking a whole bird for the table, so we did.

A heated clothes airer. A GENIUS present for
two hard-pressed Roscommon smallholders who
have not seen a washing-line drying day for
months! Thank you, Santa; you know who
 you are (!)
Bro-in-Law 'Sparks' had cooked one of ours on the 11th and reported back favourably on the taste and the succulence. He cooked his in his fancy new deep-bath American fast-fryer, in 50 minutes or there abouts and told us that the succulence was not grease/fat from the fryer, but genuine meat juices flowing out of the meat as it relaxed. That fact  everyone knows about poultry is that you test for done-ness by stabbing it and making sure the juice runs clear but I had not seen in all my growing up with mass-produced (intensively reared) turkeys any great quantities of this juice.

Turkey Jelly.
Commercial birds these days are all white-feathered, double muscled highly bred birds. The 'stags' (males) are so big that they cannot mate with the hens, so all 'sex' is by artificial insemination. Apparently that well known entity, the 'public' preferred the white birds because there was no dark, unsightly 'stubble' from the plucking and the farmers love the double-muscled format for the huge weight gain +/- growth promoting chemicals - those 26 lb birds you see advertised.

Christmas Eve full moon.
We carved our birdy on our posh carving board with its stippled 'hedgehog' central area which grips the meat and its various channels which take the juices and guide them into quite a big well. We were amazed to see, after lunch, that this well was full of juices. These juices set into a jelly like the one you used to get under the 'dripping'. Liz (who has spent a bit of time in France) tells me that this 'gellée' would be highly prized in France and would be dolloped on top of your hot buttered toast and paté at breakfast time. So that was our breakfast on St Stephen's Day (Boxing Day) and very nice it was too.

The chooks have now chosen a new
place to stash eggs - out in the car port
twixt wall, pallets, bike and 2CV.
Meanwhile, I know that our friends in Kent, Miles and Paul had bought and grown the same variety of turkeys as we did and after their Christmas dinner they reported the turkey as being "The Most Gorgeous Moist Meat Imaginable", so there is back-up proof if ever you needed it.

We should also confess to a small amount of smugness that a lot of the other ingredients of the table were from our own 'farm', all be it a couple were last year's. Only the sprouts failed us this year - it was a bad year here for the brassica family. Our carrots were there and parsnips, our onion in the gravy, our red cabbage (from 2014) in the spiced cabbage, our parsley in the sauce, our spuds as the roasties, our eggs in the 'real custard' Liz made for the pud. Even the pud was home made (last year - we made too many!) though not from our ingredients.

I will leave you, hopefully as well fed as we were, with this pic of the tree, which is suffering a bit from abuse by the new cat, Soldier. I guess the cats are entitled to 'enjoy' Christmas as much as we are.

Thursday 24 December 2015

Of Christmas Jumpers and the Like

Standing among my Irish sheep, sporting a Scotch Lamb
Christmas Jumper
(Rambling, Shaggy-dog story alert!) Way back a couple of months ago I was browsing around in Facebook and came across a rather eye-catching short video taken from one of these new camera-drone helicopters. It showed a hundred or two sheep being driven out of a barn and along a public highland road by 7 sheep-dogs and a couple of people on quad bikes or running behind the group till the sheep were then diverted left into a field. It was beautifully edited and ran to the exciting theme music of  "Mission Impossible".

I was quite taken with it and I was obviously not alone, thousands and then tens of thousands of people shared it and tagged it around the internet, 'liking' it (as you do on FB) and making amazed and delighted comments about how well the dogs worked and how much they enjoyed watching. In my case I wanted to know more and to see if there were any other such videos, so I looked into it and found that it was actually the work of a family farm in Highland Sutherland run by one Joyce C.

Santa's little helper?
Joyce runs a farm of a gazillion sheep up there and has recently won the Scottish "Sheep Farmer of the Year" award. She turned out to be a lovely, friendly person more than happy to share her life and work with all us "wannabes" on FB and I have had some lovely 'chats' with her, all be it in the limited way that you do on FB. She is also given to  a very Scottich sheep-farmer line in jargon and we (the fans) have some fun with her, persuading her to explain some of these terms - gimmers for example, or "driving the lambs out of the fanks after speaning".

On the left the pot formerly known as "our biggest pot". This
was never going to accommodate our 6 kg ham. 
In the run up to Christmas she was involved, via 'Quality Meat Scotland' (QMS) in promoting a Christmas Jumper sold in aid of a charity of which I must confess I had never heard. RSABI (Royal Scottish Agric' Benevolent Inst') looks after old folk down on their luck, who have made their living on the land (crofting, forestry, farming and so on). How could I resist? I ordered one and promised to send photo's in to RSABI, QMS and Joyce herself if these might be of any use to them.

Merry Christmas, Mum.
Meanwhile in my own run up to Christmas, after a bit of a fight in which we completely failed to get some flowers delivered by a Swindon florist down to Mum (Pud Lady) who is spending Christmas with my brother (no names for this florist and no packdrill) we would like to big up the Flower Factory of Farringdon Road (Swindon) where lone ranger 'Rachel' saved our lives by being able to do the order exactly as asked. Because Mum is a keen gardener and plantswoman we always ask for something a bit unusual in the species line to be included and because she does not do the girly pinks, we ask for hot colours (red, orange, yellow). I phoned this order in to Rachel at around 2 pm on the day after the failure (ie the 22nd of Dec - she would have been well justified in saying she was snowed under) and they managed to get this lovely arrangement out to my brother's place by half past 3! An angel, surely!

Doing a happy dance while wandering about on loose planks.
And a fine 'landmark' achieved out at the Sligo house rebuild for Christmas Eve-Eve. The boss out there has been working like a demon over the last couple of weeks. The walls of the extension have gone up to roof height and now been bonded in to the old walls. I helped last week to make the 'ring beam' around the tops of walls. The top stack of the old chimney has been pulled down using the digger to land with a loud rumbling roar in what will be #1 daughter's bedroom.

The start of a roof!
I spent a morning clearing up all that mess and masonry while the boss put up stud-walling to divide the space into future rooms and then, after I'd gone, whizzed round the place installing joists and the wall plates so that yesterday we could leave the 'wet trades' (cement, concrete) behind and start on the roof. This was exciting enough for me, who had never done one, but for the boss, a carpenter by trade, this was very Heaven. "Wood!" he shouted joyfully, "Hammers, nails, chisels and saws!" Number 1 daughter joined us for that day, back from college, so we got on like a train - with people to hold ends of rafters while they were hefted and nailed into place at the other end, and all the lengths pre-cut before we started hefting, we could get each straight simple section (15 pairs of rafters in each, or there abouts) in about an hour each.

Builders' pie. The bricklaying trowel serves as delicate cake slice!
There though, we had to leave it for the day as the boss had a job to do in Dublin. The task of joining these 'L' shaped ends together at the elbow is much more complicated as it involves 'valley' boards and ever shorter 'creeper' rafters plus there is currently nowhere to walk while you join the bits. I have been off doing our own Christmas prep today but I think boss and daughter were out there today, so they may have got into this job.

That just about wraps it up for us pre-Christmas. I wish all my readers the very best of Festive Seasons and a lovely time with you and yours.

Monday 21 December 2015

Winter Waffle (A Sense of Solstice)

I quite like this shot of myself and 3 dogs, which Lizzie took in
the monochrome mode on her phone. 
The 21st December, the Winter Solstice is probably now my absolute favourite single day in the calendar. This is probably because in this life 'over here' we spend so much time out of doors and the weather, the day length and the dark evenings matter more - when I was in Kent I'd be up at just gone 04:00 but then work all day inside a huge chilled warehouse with air-con offices and it didn't matter a hoot what the weather was doing outside. You would only meet it when running from covered reception area to your car across the car-park top storey.

I am on Christmas cake duties this
year. Here the cake gets its marzipan.
Now the 21st is the day on which the days stop getting shorter and start to get longer, the evenings brighter and the Springtime 'officially' closer. It is a definite turn-around in fortunes when all manner of aspects of life stop getting 'worse' and start to improve. Lately I have made it the day by which I make sure all the killing, the livestock harvest is done so that mentally I can now think of the current members of the menagerie as our 'fighting weight' from which we will start to build again for the new season. There are one or two more animals to finish, including our June-born lamb Dylan but we will get well through this season before we look at him. I can do the 22nd, 23rd, 24th and 25th, and so on, on a rising, creative trajectory; we are cooking meals, creating food and preparing for Christmas, making things rather than ending lives and 'destroying' or finishing things. Just me being sentimental perhaps.

The  final turkey 'harvest' gets it in the neck. 
This re-start has, this year, added extra facets. This year we got into turkeys which are probably the epitome of harvesting at the Solstice. I killed our last poult this morning and we had her plucked and 'dressed' in time for Vendor Anna to collect her at lunchtime. This one was unusual in that Anna only wanted a 'crown' (the breasts, sternum and underlying ribs) so we have a rather unusual looking breastless carcass in the freezer which we may try to roast spine-uppermost on a bed of spuds, parsnips etc at some stage. Luckily we are both partial to the red meat.

Spatchcocked young Silver Brahma rooster. 
Those roosters I described in the last post turn out to be a breed called "Silver Brahma". One of them was more than a year old and seemed very tough so he went for stock, but one of the young ones got spatchcocked and roasted last night and, despite his 'scrawny' looks, turned out to be a revelation in terms of being meaty enough to feed 2 of us with left overs and having a flavour up there alongside the Hubbard meat birds we do each summer.

Liz coming to of a morning armed with Kindle,
 cat, onesie and the red flame of a fire in the
From my own point of view (I can only speak for myself here) I am also including the unexpectedly solid closure I got from the Theo funeral - my Theo era ended pre Solstice and I am now able to start the post-Theo synchronised with this turning point in the year. Down at the Sligo house-build we have also pretty much done with demolition, so the post-Sostice jobs are mainly going to be building and creating. We do actually have a chimney to pull down -  it was central to the old roof ridge but the new roof will sit back a couple of feet and be a tiny bit higher, so we need to create a new stack on that new line.

15 bales of straw for JD's cattle. 
We have been getting into this buildering with the new block-walls at the back of the house and, most recently, what is known as a 'ring beam'. I had not heard of this, but it is a continuously poured beam of concrete reinforced with steel bars (rebar) running all around the tops of your walls at roof height. You create wooden shuttering up from the outside and inside of the walls and heft buckets of wet concrete up ladders to pour into the channel you created. Loads of fun. Tiring, too!

A tree in the nick of time.
It has, though, been an unusually 'close to the wire' Christmas. It is the 21st today and we have a long list of things not yet done or only just done what with delays related to Liz now working, Liz heading for Silverwood land to child-mind while the adults headed for the UK, and the funeral. Things like buying the tree and decorating it, we like to do as a couple, so it was not as if I could have nipped off, bagged our tree and presented it to Liz on her return 'ta-daaaa!' So it was not till Sunday that we bought the thing and tonight we put it up. This was almost too close - Supervalue where we buy the tree had started with hundreds back in early December but by now they only had 4 left. We were lucky to find a decent one among them. Today, too, I have been marzipanning the cake and Liz has been doing Domestic Goddess. We have nipped out with the trailer for 15 bales of straw for some nearby cattle - they have the 'all is safely gathered in' feeling too. We may, between us all, actually be ready on the 25th to enjoy the day. I hope you are too. Now, where's that ruby port?

Saturday 19 December 2015

An Honour and a Privilege.

Welcome home meal - steak and chips.
This post finds us all back at home, safely gathered in after the 'away' events of last week, mainly Theo's funeral. My English readers may not know what a big thing is an Irish funeral. In 55 years in the UK I think I can recall going to around 3 and only one of those a burial, so it is a bit of a culture shock to move here and find that the norm is to go to as many as you can get to or feel duty-bound to attend. The Death Notices are a big part of local Radio Stations and there are some very amusing books and TV documentaries describing the etiquette and goings on at these events, the viewing of the open coffin, the procession through the funeral parlour shaking hands with all the family who are seated round the outside of the room and so on.

Make mine 'blue', please.
Coming at it from a British point of view, I imagined that none of this applied to me and I'd still just go to the 'vital' ones - I could not see what all the fuss was about and wondered why they were so key in Irish culture. Well, that was then, as they say and now that I have been to Theo's I am happy to admit that it was one of the most profound, moving, humbling and raw things I have ever done. It was an honour and a privilege to be part of it and to help out.

Baking-size spuds now coming out of the poly-tunnel. 
If I had imagined I would be allowed to just sit in the 'audience' as a rather begrudging low-level guest, I was in for a surprise. I am FAMILY and also one of the "big strong lads" who seem to catch the eye of professional funeral director's men when they are looking for someone to heft the coffin. I was well and truly included, and found myself honoured to be part of this, helping Theo on his final journey on earth. I walked behind the slow moving hearse from Funeral Parlour to church, helped carry and trolley the coffin into the church and up the aisle, had a prayer to read out during the service, then helped move the coffin back out of the church to the hearse. I joined the cortege driving Liz's mum's car to the graveyard, then helped carry the coffin to the grave, resting it on the metal bars while the Priest said the prayers and finally helped lower the coffin down on the straps, all four of us subconsciously synchronising to give Theo a slow descent and a soft landing. They were all new experiences for me. I am so, so grateful to the family for including me. It was a chance to do one last thing for my friend and Father in Law.

The poly tunnel is now pumping out some
lovely big spuds
The graveyard was drizzly and chilly, so I was delighted to do the final Irish bit - everybody adjourned to the local pub for pre-arranged soup and sandwiches. Obviously no photo's for all this bit but I was delighted to even supply the picture which the family stood on the coffin while it was on view and in church - I had taken a nice one of Theo a good decade ago, pre-digital days - the one at the top of the previous post. The family asked me to tidy it up, re-photograph it without the glare and email it to Mrs Silverwood so that she could print and frame a nice copy of it for use on the day. Now all this is over and we are both back here hoping that that is it for running around pre-Christmas. It has been quite a roller-coaster ride.

Three for the chop? Yes there are three birds here. 
Meanwhile back at the ranch, I seem to have acquired a reputation that is not necessarily that welcome, that of being a bloke who doesn't mind killing chickens. There are, around here a few smallholders who love to keep chickens and breed them but do not have the heart to cull out the unwanted spare roosters. The word seems to have gone round - that bloke will do them for you! Thanks. Yes I can do them and I do a good, clean, quick, stress-free, painless, respectful job on them but I don't actually ENJOY it or court the business. I do it as a favour for friends. If we then get usable chicken carcasses by plucking and 'dressing' the dead ones, then I suppose that is an added bonus. Today, then, I took delivery of 3 roosters to 'process' but they were not of a meaty breed, so a scrawnier threesome I have never seen. They were killing out at about 1.2 kg (oven ready) and we probably should have just killed them and bagged them for the wheelie bin but we don't like to see them go to waste and like to give them the respect of using them even if it is only in stock.

8 kilograms of oven ready turkey stag.
At the other end of the scale, was the turkey cock-bird we reclaimed from Sue and Rob who had reared it from one of our eggs (a child of Tom and Barbara). We had inadvertently booked out more birds that we actually had and looked like going hungry ourselves on the 25th. This lad arrived today and easily weighed more than the three roosters together. He has come out as 8.0 kg (17.6 lbs) oven ready which might be a bit generous for our two-person meal on the 25th but hey, there are always the cold left overs, curry, rissoles, turkey-burgers, risotto, soup and on and on.

Mid December and the hens are mainly off the boil but we do
still get a few eggs each day.
And so into Christmas. I may post once more before the day, but however that works out I wish all my readers a superb Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year. Keep it Small-Holder, Keep it Outdoor Reared and Free Range. Keep it safe from the fox. Look after yourselves.

Wednesday 16 December 2015

R.I.P. Theo

Theo at a family wedding a while ago. 
I start this post with the saddest of news, the passing away of Liz's Father, Theo C who has been a feature of this blog for as long as it has been up here. We knew him as 'Mr SL', being the husband of Liz's Mum, Steak Lady. Regular readers will know that he had not been well for a while now and that some of Liz's missions down to Silverwood land had been to look after him as he was in and out of short stays in hospital.

Enjoying the sunshine outside here with Liz this summer.
He passed away peacefully in that hospital yesterday afternoon surrounded by all the family. He had been very much part of the bedside chat as the clan gathered and had just had his lunch. He was 88. We will all miss him - he was the best of men. Certainly to me he was the best Father in Law I can imagine wishing for and he always had a lot of time for me; generous, loving, welcoming and kind. I laugh now at my worries when 'courting' (does anyone still use that word?) Liz and knew I was going to have to meet her Father, impress him and ask his permission for Liz's hand, with me being a 'foreigner' and him known to be a passionate expert on all things Irish History; me coming to take away his kith and kin to another country. The 'perfidious Albion'? He was, instead, the best of hospitality, immediately bringing me into the family circle like that old 'cliché', "gaining a son, not losing a daughter" and his "Father of the Bride" speech was a mix of history and olde Irish (Brehon) Law around how auspicious it was to be wedding in November (the Feast of Samhain) and the old dowry set-up for the family women, that I will never forget. Love you Theo and I will miss you a lot. RIP my Friend.

Pink's ewe lamb. 
But what of things more local? Most exciting, I think, are events over at Sue and Rob's (they of the piglet-wrangling) rain soaked establishment. The ewe 'Pink', who you might recall I sheared this year as my first sheep owned by "someone else" and was true wife of the ram we borrowed to service our own ewes (the late Rambo) surprised Rob two evenings ago by popping out two tiny lambs.

Pink with both lambs.
It was lashing rain (as is normally the case) and Rob was doing his evening rounds when he heard bleating which was way too young to be the adolescent ram-lamb still hanging around with Mum. Investigating that far corner of the field , he found Pink there surrounded by afterbirth and with two lambs, on their feet, suckling away like good 'uns. That rainy cold night with the snow still melting in the field, was no place for these tiny newcomers, so the family have been rounded up and penned in a dry barn on good hay. This not without difficulty, apparently because the lambs, carried by Rob did not make the usual protest noises which bring the ewe anxiously following you across the field. They were quiet, so Mum looked like staying in the field where she could smell the afterbirth and presumably 'knew there were lambs here somewhere'. They had to park the lambs in the car-boot temporarily while they manhandled Pink over to a happy re-union. All sorted now, though. One lamb is a ewe, the other a tiny ram.

Soldier just fits in the wooden fruit bowl. 
I nearly caused Liz to choke on her coffee by announcing this birth in a text message saying that they had been born to "Rambo's wife"; which she took to mean one of OUR ewes. No Lizzie - ours are not due till Valentine's Day. That same evening Sue also got a message that the boar and sow combination I helped load for their trip to new owners in Sligo (Rodney the boar, Cassandra the sow) have now also recorded a happy event, ten tiny plump, spotty little piglets, all thriving and suckling from Mumma's 'milk bar' to a band playing.

Potato cakes with a difference - these left overs were mixed
'spud' and 'yam' mashed. 
I nipped over to S+R's place to see the new lambs and managed to coincide with the task of docking tails and attempted castration of the little ram. I had not seen this done before so I am always keen to see and try it and hopefully learn. Sheep-folk commonly use a special pliers which stretch out tiny rubber rings while you slip the tail (or scrotum) through the opening and then allow the band to pull back tight cutting off the blood supply to the body-part 'downstream'. The tail or 'tackle' then shrivels up and drops off allegedly painlessly if you do it within the first 3 days of birth.

With the spud haulms cleared and tomato plants pulled up
the chickens are let in the poly tunnel for a clear up. It is the
driest place in the garden currently so dust baths are the order
of the day. 
We had no problem with the tails but hit problems with the ram's 'bits'. The tiny testes (sorry if you're having your tea) do not stay helpfully down in the 'sac' while you apply the band, the lamb can draw them right back up tight to his pubic bones. You try to hold them while you manipulate the pliers but then you are sure you feel them slip back out of the 'noose' and you are left banding a fold of empty scrotum. Both Sue and I had a number of attempts but ultimately failed. They may try again over the next day(s) to see if it gets easier, but my sheep 'bible' (Tim Tyne's "The Sheep Book for Smallholders") says (p106) "The elastrator can be used to castrate male lambs but you should ask yourself whether this is really necessary. Most people do not bother nowadays as the modern taste is for smaller cuts of meat - ram lambs will be slaughtered long before they become a nuisance. Entire (i.e. not castrated) lambs will produce a better confirmation carcass with more muscling and less fat". I may see how Sue gets on and then decide what to do with mine on the strength of that.

Love's young dream? Guinea cock-bird 'Apollo' is so firmly
bonded with our remaining turkey-hen that we worry about
killing the girl. 
Our other main task lately is killing the turkeys, 2 down, one of our own and a bought-in extra to go. Here we hit another 'welfare' issue. 'Left-over' Guinea cock-bird Apollo seems to have fallen deeply in love with the remaining turkey hen who is about 3 times his size. These turkeys were always going to be Christmas dinner, not 'keepers' but if I despatch this hen I will be left with a broken hearted Guinea fowl - exactly what we planned to NOT have when we got the two new Guineas hoping one of them would be male and would pair off  with widow-bird 'Min'. The answer might be to kill Apollo too but he's going to fun to catch - Guineas are way smarter than turkeys when it comes to evading me. Ah well, more on this after this weekend. I will let you know how it panned out.

Finally a funny human story. With Carolyn (of the mini-horses) currently car-less due to a dead alternator I have been doing 'taxi' off and on and this morning I was on school-run taking C and Henry (3) along to the local pre-school. Henry is normally madly in love with the young teacher and no trouble for Mum to get through the door but today he had what she describes as "a little wobble", didn't want to go in and announced that "This is the worst day of my LIFE!" Oh to be 3 again, when the worst thing that ever happened to you was having to go to school.

Friday 11 December 2015

Dustin, Done and Dusted.

Dustin emerges from the American
deep-bath fryer. 
To a man (and woman), Irish 'kids' now grown up and our age, remember from their TV watching youth a classic character from kids' TV, Dustin the Turkey. Dustin was a glove puppet but not like any soppy, mamby-pamby puppet they had ever seen before. He spoke with a strong Dublin city accent and was given to (what must have been) deliciously irreverent and disreputable behaviour, playing up and 'messing' (misbehaving and bantering) in the studio and being outrageously rude to studio guests (well, within the limits of a National TV broadcast). He is now part of Ireland's 'classic TV' culture and is lately enjoying a new lease of life in pantomimes and so on.

Dustin carved up nicely.
This all explains why Sparks, the brother-in-law, decided to name "his" turkey Dustin, the one he collected from us on Wednesday, that we killed, plucked and dressed in my previous post. The plan was to cook this bird for a gang of Dublin builder mates tonight, all of whom would be well familiar with the TV Dustin and his antics. Sparks was also going to print one of our pictures of the bird in life, to put in a wee frame with a black ribbon, as if this was his wake. Sparks is a bit of a foodie and fancy chef, so he has bought this year (ordered from America) one of the latest 'things', a cylindrical deep-bath, outdoor, turkey fryer which looks a bit like the tea urn and cooks a 17 lb bird in about 45 minutes. The bird would also be brined for 24 hours, though I doubt it would need it.

Dustin's Dad (and Mum) out in the sunshine
Well, that is all done and dusted now, the fryer has done its thing and the suntanned bird has been carved up and by now, eaten. Sparks has put a few pics of this up on Facebook in which it looks splendid and I am quite proud of it. Sparks reported that Dustin tasted "Absolutely amazing, sooooo juicy, he was a credit to you". Thanks for those kind words Sparks.

Turkey #2 will have no such fancy fryer finish. He is Dustin's younger brother, at 5 months old (Dustin was 6 mths) and killed out at fresh weight 8.1 kg, oven ready at 6.2 kg (14 lbs). Liz was off to Silverwood land this afternoon, down to 'babysit' the children over the weekend while Mr and Mrs S nip over to the UK to sort out some family business. Turkey #2 went with her smuggled in 2 plastic bags and a towel in Liz's suitcase - she didn't think the staff and users of the Irish national rail service would appreciate a carcass hung by its feet from the baggage racks. I am not sure whether this bird will be roasted by Mrs S or by Steak Lady but I do expect that both the whole family will eat together on the 25th, so everyone will get to taste it.

No turkey for us yet but we did enjoy this excellent salt beef,
only the last remnant here, bought as fresh brisket, brined by
us and then rolled, tied and boiled. Yum.
Meanwhile, we recover from our Desmond Deluge. The water level is dropping in all our lakes and rivers though the mass of water now working its way down the Shannon is causing all manner of flooding and damage now and for days yet - it is a long river! Up here on our hill top all the puddles are gone and we are enjoying some calm, sunnier days.

The laid stone walls visible here and, top right, the start of some
upper walls made from 9 inch cavity blocks. 
Out at the Sligo house, more milestones in the buildering at which I am helping. The bottoms of the new walls, with their beautiful and impressive stonework on the outside are complete and a professional bricklayer has been down today to 'top off' the walls to roof height in 9" cavity blocks. It is all beginning to look a bit like a house!