Friday 29 September 2017

Multiple Pork Products

Apple shredder designed and built by woodwork
genius, K-Dub. Photo by Carolyn. 
In the last post, I described a hand-made cider apple shredding device but had no photo with which to 'paint a thousand words'. Here to put that right is the said weapon. The drum is spinning at a fair rate here so the exposed screw heads are a blur and the wooden rolling pin used to hold the more uncooperative apples down on it is also moving. I hope you can work it out.

A car load of carcasses.
We also left the 'late' pigs down at the butcher's cooling and 'setting', hanging in his cold store. This post will show that we have been very busy ever since and not stopped with the pork products thing, till now.

AB looking the part with his ADL "Cooking
up a Storm" apron and a tea-towel over his
AB and I collected the meat on Thursday morning while Liz stayed home to prepare the work surfaces, for which read Dining Table and chopping boards, and to get ready the pile of plastic bags and the labelling 'Sharpie'. We use an excellent You Tube self-videoing butcher from Warwickshire for our 'how to' information. Scott Rea of the @ScottReaProject is worth a look see if you are contemplating doing any butchery or making of pork products like 'brawn' (a.k.a. 'head-cheese' ).

This is very early stages, Whipping
out the "caul fat" which lines the
abdomen and is superb for suet crusts.
Amusingly at one stage Liz was in the kitchen watching the Scott Rea on brawn while I was ensconced in the Dining Room watching the 'whole pig' one. Scott would be proud of us! 

Coo. Mind your fingers there cutting out that sheet of ribs. 
So AB and I set to with the cutting with me letting him have a go on a 'monkey see, monkey do' basis. He was quickly whipping out tenderloin fillets and sheet ribs like a pro, sawing through the spine to separate out racks of chops and generally enjoying breaking those halves down into 'primal' cuts and then freeze-able portions (quarter shoulders etc). 

Slicing up some bellies.
Finished joints were landing on the table only to be rapidly bagged and labelled for the freezer. Occasionally we called Liz in to choose cuts (chops separate or in racks? shoulder in 4 quarters? ribs in sheets or separated? etc) It was a real team effort. It took around 30 to 45 minutes per half which reassured me that we were right to not spend the €50 per pig on having them cut up at the shop. We are also able to cut the chops nice and thick (basically one chop per spinal vertebra and rib), which the shop lads, with their band saws, do not do. They zip through the 'rack' every couple of cm and the saw goes diagonally through several ribs, so you get more, thinner chops but lots of sharp, diamond-shape bones in them.

First fruits. Liz sorted out some small
 cutlets of the new pork to go with our
lunch of left over pie and eggs. Delicious!
By lunchtime we were done on 'our' three halves, though Liz had another full afternoon and some of the next day onwardly processing the other bits. There was liver to make into paté. She was also doing a 'rillette' ('pulled' pork preserved in soft pig fat, lovely to spread on bread!) and, with those 2 split heads, 4 lovely big tubs of brawn. AB and I had a chance for a breather before heading down to a friend's house to deliver their half carcass and to butcher it up for them at their place.

Clockwise from top left. First of 4 tubs of brawn, rillette,
paté and more paté. The green in the brawn is fresh parsley.
The late afternoon saw me mixing up 2 strengths of flavoured brine. These recipes are from the Strawbridge books and are flavoured with a lovely 'Christmassy' mix of cloves, garlic, onion, star anise, bay, mustard seed, chilli flakes, allspice and peppercorns. The big whole ham gets 3 days in the less salty/sugary brew before being frozen till December. The belly pork rectangles for bacon rashers get the stronger brew but only for 24 hours.

The fridge in the Utility Room is rather
over-full, at least in the short term! Here
the two 'Parma' legs stand in dry salt mix
and the other buckets hold cuts in brine(s).
We are also having another go at the dry-cure and air dried "Parma" style hams. 2 whole legs again with one planning to be ready in August 2018 and the other for Christmas 2018. These are rather risky investments - each leg is about €60 gone up the Swannee River if you don't get the salt cure right and the flies and maggots get a hold, but this is our 3rd year at this and we are quietly confident that our salt, sugar and spices (not to mention 16 days in the fridge!) will win the day.

Out in the 'honesty box' we are struggling to keep up with
demand for eggs. The girls are on a 'Go Slow'.
The Utility Room fridge is feeling a bit over stuffed just now. The whole legs are long, so they go in standing on end and we have to take out the shelves.

If you are pinned down by the rain, you can
always break up some pallets for kindling.
The bucket for the bellies just about slides in beside the dry-cure bucket and the big-ham brine container perches rather precariously on top of that. It is only for the 24 hours, though, then the bellies are done and on day 3 the big ham is also cured, so then the legs get some space. They get patted down with more dry salt mix each day and the brine which is drawn out of the meat by the salt is drained off, lest the water dissolve and dilute the dry cure. It's all good fun and technical stuff and, even better, it works!

Meanwhile, Stumpy the hen reaches Day 21 of her 2nd go at doing 'broody' today and, right on time, she has a hatch. I have seen at least 1 baby chick peeping out from under her skirts. Following the new system of naming chicks after your current Help-X volunteers (as in Manu1, Manu2 etc) we guess these guys should become AB1, AB2 and so on. Wish them luck.

Tuesday 26 September 2017

As Easy as AB, See?

Venison on the menu.
The cupboard is bare! The sales of eggs from the 'Honesty Box' have just this week started to motor and when I looked in this morning there was not an egg to be seen. Instead, of course, a good handful of coins in the Tupperware box. We were sold out. I have had to re-stock with the reserves indoors. It is a good feeling but I might have to go have a word with the girls to see if we can up the production a wee bit. The hens, of course. The poor ducks are already going at 100%, putting the chooks to shame. 3 eggs from 3 ducks EVERY DAY.

Augustin gets an archery 'taster' session. His hand is on his
first ever bull's eye. 
Welcome aboard the Blog, though, our new Help-X lad. Augustin, 18 from the Eastern suburbs of Paris, joined us on Friday 22nd. A lovely bloke - big and strong (handy around here!) he is also very happy and relaxed, always ready with a witticism, very easy to get along with and very appreciative of our food and hospitality. No farming experience but very willing to try anything and already ticking off the new skills. He is settling in well. He is enjoying trying to improve his English (with added Irish expressions)  and Liz is enjoying being able to use her French again.

Taster session at the archery.
For the purposes of this blog, Augustin is actually "AB". It's a bit complicated. I had just about got the hang of nailing the correct pronunciation (too many options on all 3 syllables! Ow/Awww/Agg followed by Gus or Goose (or one in between) and then tan/tin/teen. I kept 'landing' the feminine versions (tin/teen).

Our man tried to put me out of my misery by suggesting "Call me Gus" but we can't use Gus at the moment - a TV series we are glued to in boxed set (Breaking Bad) has the worst bad guy named Gus. So we've gone with 'AB' (Augustin's initials) and he is delighted. Our other options from his long list of childhood nick-names are 'Doctor' (for his regular clever witticisms "like a Professor") or 'Ancien' (the old guy, after his love of wearing old fashion hats (flat caps, berets) and having a beard. Anyway, AB it is.

AB winds some pressure onto the cider press
while K-Dub holds it all down.
AB, then, was straight into things even though his first days were weekend. Archery coach, Con, had put out a call for volunteers to come and dismantle the club's big marquee / party tent. It was a bit windy to be messing with canvas but AB and I are 'substantial' lads and did not think we'd get blown away. Con was very grateful for our efforts and invited AB to come and have a taster session at the archery the next day (Sunday), where he was already due to start the latest Beginners' course. It all went well and AB even signed up for the next few Sundays. 

Home made cider press. 
The Monday saw us at the cider making. K-Dub announced that the cider press was now ready and we should bring all the apples over, so we raced round the orchard picking all we could see. When we got to K-Dub's place we also found that he had built a home made shredder - a wooden hopper with a plastic pipe slotted in at the bottom into which had been part-screwed, dozens of screws and into the end of which slotted a handle to turn this 'drum'.

I take a turn at the winding. We later graduated
to fitting a steel tube to the handle to give us
more leverage. It worked well. 
The apples fall to the bottom of the hopper where the exposed screw-heads rip them to bits. The shredded apple then goes in a 'pillowcase' assembled in minutes by Carolyn (she of the mini-horses) from a tea towel and some muslin-like fabric and gets pressed by the mighty press. K-Dub was well impressed by his own welding, with the new welder.

AB turns pig farmer as we train the pigs
to climb, fearlessly, into the trailer. 
The top of the press is a 12 mm thick chunk of sheet steel but the winding action was able to slightly bow this; a considerable pressure exerted on the apple pulp but nothing broke. Long story short, we extracted 3 and a half litres of juice from our (not many) apples but K-Dub tells me today that they have since sourced more apples and extracted another 7 litres. The juice is with Carolyn for the next stage. She knows a bit about brewing! Hopes are high for some delicious scrumpy.

All loaded. 
Our other main activity with the Help-X assistance has been that the pigs have 'come ready' and needed taking on their final journey today (Tuesday). AB helped me over the Sunday/Monday to train them to the trailer. Even though he has no experience of farming, he happily joined me among them, in the pen, with the pigs snuffling around this 'new' person, sniffing his legs and boots, nudging him out of the way. He stayed relaxed and calm (as instructed) so that Empress and Pride quickly climbed the ramp and we were sure we'd have a problem free 'loading day'.

Sunrise through the trees
I am happy to say that that worst-of-all small-holdering days is now done. We all managed to get up early, the pigs loaded as if they couldn't wait to get at their breakfasts (thin portion sizes today - they need to go to the butcher "fasted") , we had problem free haulage and drop off. Obviously we all hate to have to do this and we wish we didn't but that is a discussion for elsewhere. The pigs are, presumably by now, 'late' and the carcasses get 48 hours to cool and 'set'. We collect them on Thursday and AB can then see the next stage in the process. He likes his pork, we are told. It will have been an interesting experience for him. And he has not yet run away screaming!

Friday 22 September 2017

Fettling the Trailer and failing to grow Tomatoes

A time to relax, kick the wellies off, grab a coffee
and a good book and be invaded by various cats.
A genuinely short post this time as we are definitely 'between' bursts of excitement. We are recovering from some, bimbling along on others and waiting and preparing for the next batch.

Proper cheese mould with follower "piston"
In the 'bimbling' section would be a tech improvement in the cheese making, in that we have acquired a couple of proper plastic cheese moulds. They do nothing for the flavour (they don't need to - it is gorgeous!) but they give us professional looking cylinders of cheese without the strange indents in the ends which you get if you use (clean) plastic flower pots.

Firmly in the 'preparing' section is the arrival of our new Help-X student, our second bite at this cherry after (readers will recall) Pedro and Manu who came for 2 weeks in August. This one is Augustin, a lad from Paris, who is 18. I collected him from his bus in Castlerea at 4 pm and he's now in, established, had a good look round, met the pigs and sheep and all the rest. More on how this all goes when we've had a chance to get to know him.

The trailer gets shored up with rather dodgy
skirting boards made from pallet laths.
And while I'm on 'meeting the pigs', that is my other 'prep' story. The pigs go off on their final journey on Tuesday so I was worried at the bad timing for our French guest in case he might be a bit squeamish around animals being killed for food.

Always very late. These yellow kniphofia
just coming into flower in our yard for the
No problem, apparently. Although he has no farming experience what so ever, he loves his pork, knows where it comes from and is very practical around the high welfare, outdoor reared, old-breed stuff. He has no worries with helping to trailer-train the victims or coming with us to betray them into the slaughterman's lairage pens.

Good weather for puddle-ducks.
Friends of the Blog will know that we make the job of loading the pigs on The Morning a whole lot easier by feeding them all their meals in the trailer for the 2 days prior, so that on the day they trot up the ramp obediently expecting the normal breakfast and barely notice when you quietly close the door behind them. That's the theory anyway. Wish us luck.

However, at 6 years old the trailer is starting to look the worse for wear. The lower sides are of fairly thin marine ply and have started to rot out at the bottoms, so that daylight was starting to be visible down there. I was worried that one good bulldozer move by a pig snout and the whole would flap open like a big cat-flap leaving the pigs a 2 foot tall gap through which they could skip out onto the tarmac.

A bit of a pig-flavoured pattern forming in the beer purchases
this week? It wasn't deliberate. 
The answer, of course, is to rip all this wood out and replace with new but short term, I think (famous last words?) I can get away with adding skirting boards to those walls made from decent pallet laths. That stopped the daylight, so I think the pigs will not even know to try the bulldoze thing. I am hoping to be able to breathe a sigh of relief as we un-ship the pigs at the correct destination in a few days time.

Pathetic, weedy, diseased tomatoes with no
ripe fruit even by mid September. 
In the 'past tense' bit is just the dismal failure (again!) to grow tomatoes out of doors here. We are declaring it a truth universally believed. This year we did all the right things - started with plug plants, grew them up a south facing wall, fed and watered them. We still have poor, pathetic, diseased looking straggly things with hardly any fruit and no ripe fruit yet despite it being the Autumn Equinox. We have never yet produced a tomato outdoors in time for the salad season. Ah well. Plenty other crops to grow.

Wednesday 20 September 2017

Flying the Flag(s)

Deefer at 11
Happy Birthday, then Deefer, this blog's eponymous dog. She made it to 11 along with her sister, Ellie-Bezz back home in Kent. Sadly, her brother (Archie) did not make it and had to be put down back in February (bone cancer) but we send our condolences as well as our good wishes to Deef's Mother, Mollie who is still with us. Another year, perhaps, everybody?

The very last of the 2016 pork bits get cleared out of the freezer for
use as raw ribs (Doggie Birthday Cake) and then a Medieval meat
feast for us coated in peanut sauce. Finger licking good.
That was Sunday 17th but ask anyone here what that date was all about and they will swoop on by Deef's celebration without so much as a sideways glance, and land firmly on one answer, "The All Ireland". This the GAA Irish-rules football final played at 'National' stadium Croke Park (you Brits think 'Wembley'), this year between Mayo and Dublin again for, I think, the 3rd year running.

This 'Dub' always puts out a good display, all be it the "wrong"
One of the first cultural things a Brit notices on moving here is the huge keenness for flying flags; be it the National tri-colour, or more commonly your sports team colours or county colours. Perhaps a quick 'Heath Warning' here for those who don't know me and need telling that I was born without the 'sport' genes in my DNA - I was always rubbish at football and had no interest in it despite working all by life with hundreds of soccer-mad warehouse-men forever teasing each other over the triumphs and crashes of Chelsea, The 'Ammers, Man-U, Liverpool and Spurs. I have brought this appalling ignorance with me and am only very slowly learning how to chat 'knowledgeably' about "The Rossies", Mayo and the Dubs. If I have gone wrong here, please do feel free to comment.

If you don't have a flag pole then a wheel
barrow be-decked with red and green shirts
and watering cans will do. This guy even
managed a turf-stack topped with a Rossies
So a month or so back we were driving through a sea of 'primrose' and blue as our team, Roscommon (Go the Rossies!) battled their way through the Provincial stages of the competition to end up Champions of Connaught. I think this is a league type competition where everyone plays everyone else within Connaught (Rossies, Mayo, Galway, Sligo etc), so 'we' may have beaten Mayo back then, but maybe not; it might have been a 'play off' thing.

Someone hung a Mayo shirt on the new
Memorial stone. One of the Guards named
here was a former Mayo GAA star.
Either way, I felt quite cheated when I learned that winning Connaught did not automatically get us a place in the All Ireland semis. Each Province enters 2 teams, with a 'back door' route for one of the teams so suddenly Mayo were back in it and, because the final 8 is a random draw, we were picked against them and they knocked us out. I know. Unreasonable!

Bobtail brings her 4 new babies off the nest.
Ah well, all the yellow and blue Rossie flags came down and most of the local support switched to Mayo being the nearest county to us still 'in it' (green and red). The die-hard 'Dubs' of course would not be seen dead with green and red flags outside their houses and created some impressive showings of the dark and pale blue colours of the Capital. Pubs tend to try to stay neutral, so will often fly both flags AND an Irish Tri-Colour just for the look of it. Many people also fly those little side-roof-gutter flags on their cars. It all makes for a lovely, happy, party atmosphere and very pretty countryside.

Onion harvest. Small bulbs but very pretty.
Ah well. The day came and went and history will record that Dublin won again, this time by just one point in the last seconds of a very tense exciting match, breaking all the local hearts again. Maybe next year, lads. Liz (a Dub, obviously) just sent me a very restrained, jokey text saying "Tanks Be". A few days on I see most of the flags are down now, though that Dub with all the flags at the far end of Lough Glynn village still has his out in celebration. The trophy they are all chasing is called the Sam Maguire Cup, or "Sam" for short. I am always amused by the Dub's adopted slogan, "Dubs for Sam, Mayo for sandwiches!" But enough of the All Ireland. Enough, I say!

Bullace plums and sloes
So, what have we been up to when not glued to the telly watching sport (Yeah, right!). One nice task was to tour the local hedgerows picking nature's bounty - black berries, sloes and just down the lane from here a couple of trees of the small wild blue-black plums we are fairly sure are known as 'bullace'. They are ripe, soft and sweet like greengages. They are not, as someone suggested, 'damsons'. We KNOW damsons and we have a tree in or orchard and these are not they.

She made a very dark sticky puddle! Bullace 'cheese'. 
The sloes have not yet had the necessary first frost but we have picked them anyway and they will get a night or two in our freezer before being converted into sloe gin. The bullace plums got a whole new treatment - being used for 'cheese' and also for 'leather'. I'd heard of the former but not the latter. 'Cheese' in this sense is a clear, very firm, super-concentrated jelly. It is intensely flavoured and you cut the set slab into small rectangles which then get sliced at the table to have with your cheese-board. Nom nometty nom!

Our James Grieves apples and blackberries from local hedges
The 'leather' is a fun confection mainly for the kids. You smear smaller amounts of the hot (cheese) jelly onto grease-proof paper as thin as (you guessed it) leather. When the smear is set you peel the paper off the back and cut the thin jelly into strips so that the kids (or adults of course) can eat them like liquorice shoe-laces. The blackberries and apples became a rather lovely tart. It's all very 'mellow fruitfulness' round here at the moment.

A very sleepy bumble bee on Sedum spectabile
I think that'll do us for this one. Good Luck now.
Mum looks a bit weary about the eyes. 4 kids under a week old.

Friday 15 September 2017

The Best Cheese Ever?

Nicest cheese so far, by a long way. 
Here pictured is, we are sure, 'our' nicest cheese ever. All Liz's work, this one and a first try at a new recipe. Both of us had been plugging away last season at the soft cheeses and Feta style semi-soft ones using the very generous gifts of 9 litre batches of goat's milk coming from Sue and Rob. These are all a case of gentle warmth, waiting for curds, slicing curds into dice, lifting with a slotted spoon and straining in a colander with or without gentle pressing to help drive out the whey. This followed by a short wait, and no real 'maturing' time.

More 'Gubbeen' style cheese at the salt-cure stage. 
This year Liz went with a recipe from the Gubbeen book (Gubbeen (The story of a working farm and its foods) by Giana Ferguson, pub Kyle 2014, ISBN 978 0 85783 240 5 page 98+) which added an extra stage. This was "scalding" - reheating the separated cheese/whey to 39ºC and then breaking up the curds into tiny pieces (the size of unburst pop-corn) with your hands, followed by quickly scooping them out and into the final mould, where they will quickly set into one lump; your embryonic round of cheese.

An impressive hail storm turned us white
on Wednesday.
This 'lump' is drained some more, then cured with sprinkled salt all round (including turning to get at top and bottom) and washed now and then with saline while it matures for 10 days and develops a rind. To be honest, we could hardly wait. It looked so promising but today was the day. Patience was key. Well, dear reader, we are delighted. It is, as I said, the best ever - I'm saying "our best ever" though I wasn't involved at all, because it way 'out-cheeses' anything I have done.

It is a firm cheese with a definite rind. The flavour has the lovely delicate level of acidity and salty savouriness that it needs without overpowering the gentle goat-milk tang. It is dry-crumbly without a hint of the 'sweat' or greasiness you'd get in plastic-wrapped, shop Cheddar. We are delighted and Liz is re-living those Greek Island lunches where cheese just like this (She and Diane called them "Not-Feta") came with tomatoes, basil, olive oil and other sun-soaked accompaniments.

Roll up! Roll up! Git yer iggs frum 'appy
'ens 'ere. Fresh laid!
Meanwhile, while we are on 'produce' we are having our first venture into selling eggs at the farm gate via an 'honesty box'. We have no idea how this will go. Various friends and contacts have had some good success with the method.

The 'Manus', hatched when we had the Help-X lads here are
5 weeks old and will soon be leaving Mum. 
Our main contact (no names etc) reports only one problem when a neighbouring farm had some Herberts camping in one of the fields who took to roaming around on mopeds and stopped one day for an egg fight up and down the road. Our friends were out that day and came home to an empty box, no money, obviously, and eggs smashed all over the tarmac. Ah well. We put ours out yesterday and we know it has been spotted and the word will have gone round. Maybe the weekend will see a few first customers

The wine gets racked off and 'stabilized' (= killed)
The batch of 5 gallons of red wine completed its first ferment and comes due for racking off, 'killing' with stabilizer and fining. These are all words which would have tripped off the tongue back in the 70s. My brothers and I had 30 gallons of different wines on the go back then and all that terminology was 2nd nature. Now, I must confess, this is a bit of a rusty re-visit and  the 'fining' etc is just a case of following the instruction sheet from the kit-box and adding, at the right time, the contents of sachet D, E and F. Ah well. It'll surely taste OK.

At least 2 babies for Bobtail. Bottom left. 
Our current 'first' broody hen comes up to the crucial day, #21. This is 'Bobtail', a Buff Orpington with all her tail and bum feathers long since pulled out. "No better than she should be" (as they say here) she used to have a perfectly good tail, but she seems to love the attentions of the Rooster rather too much (!) Never mind, she went broody and thus gets a few weeks break from Gandalf's amorous attentions.

Bits of Cider Press in the paint shop.
We love that you can play a trick on a broody hen on due-day to see whether she has hatched. If you drop some food under her chin inside the nest she will either quietly peck away and eat it, or she will start that low-pitched bass-y clucking hens use to tell babies they have found food for them. If the latter, then if you stand a while and watch, any hatched, dried off and mobile chicks will surely start to appear from under her 'skirts' to see what Mum is talking about. I did this at lunchtime today with Bobtail and was pleased to see at least 3 youngsters emerge. Her colleague, 'Stumpy' 3 boxes along is not due for another 2 weeks. She is sitting on 7 eggs at the moment. More on this when we have progress. I'm off to see if I can blag some more of that cheese.....