Friday, January 24, 2014

The real thing.

For some time we have been thinking about keeping a pig again. We have an area of ground which has a heavy cover of bramble growing,  according to Permaculture law there are only two ways of getting rid of bramble, dig it out, well neither of us fancy that job, or get a pig.
Before embarking on any enterprise we like to make sure that we can do exactly what we wish to with the end product.
 Keeping a pig for meat means finding out the best way to feed it without being heavily reliant on pig nuts, feeding any animal exclusively on  concentrates results in 'soft' meat with little texture.
 So we have to plan well ahead of what we can grow well  and in quantity to supplement the feed.
 Root veg do well here and pigs like them, Jerusalem Artichokes also grow well, we have a bumper crop of them, but we know that pigs do not like them. Peas and beans go down well and most fruit.
The next thing to consider is where can we get the pig slaughtered, the local factory is a non starter for several reasons, the butcher in our local town charges far too much so it will mean traveling some distance for slaughtering. Butchering we will do ourselves, the main way of butchering here is to whisk everything through a band saw.
Then there is the processing, we will want to make bacon, ham, bathchaps and sausages.
We also have half a Gloucester Old Spot pig coming soon from a friend ,so we thought it was time to start the learning process for processing the carcass.
We thought that sausages would be a good place to start. We hanker over a decent sausage, we have tried most of the ones on sale, including the Organic ones from the Farmers Market but none of them taste as the good old sausage used to. Sausages are something that had gone from our menu.
A quick look on the internet gave us exactly what we wanted, a recipe for traditional pork sausages.
I am lucky enough to have a good Kenwood mixer so I ordered and received the mincing and sausage making attachment.
We ordered the meat, one kg of shoulder and one kg of belly, with strict instructions that the meat should be at least 20% fat. We were not let down. We chopped up all the meat, de-boning and de- skinning it, added finely choped herbs, sage and parsley,fresh from the garden,
plus 20% freshly made bread crumbs, salt, white pepper and allspice. The sausage skins we bought from a local butcher.
                                              The whole process could not have been simpler.
We tested a small sample before filling the skins in case we needed to add anymore seasoning, we did add a few more sage leaves, but the first run needed no further tweaking.
The sausages taste as we remember them. full of flavor, plus we know exactly what has gone into them.
We ended up with 7lb of sausages, six of which are now in the freezer. Cost per lb. 3.60 euros, and something that's worth eating.
The next thing to try is bacon, we would also like to try smoking some bacon. So more pork will be ordered and we will have a go. We should at least have some idea of what works before the half pig arrives, we can then make the decision as to getting our own pig or not.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Quacking like a duck.

Sunday dinner this week was a case of mistaken identity, having removed from the freezer what we thought was a chicken, after we had defrosted it,  turned out to be a duck, normally this would have been fine, duck is our favourite roast dinner, but not for seven days running.
Last week was not a 'normal ' week for us, having gone to the Christmas party at the local school on the Sunday we missed out on our normal Sunday roast, Thursday became our Sunday, roast on Sunday, well in this case Thursday, cold the next day and stir fry the third day, this brought us round to Sunday again, the real one, not a weekday one. Once again the meat was taken out to defrost, this week we were having chicken, wrong! The chicken turned out to be duck. We are now on day six of duck for dinner, you really can have too much of a good thing. We must try to do better with labelling things that go into the freezer.
Once again we find ourselves with a glut of eggs, it's too early to start setting eggs in the incubator, and we are still lacking room in the freezers for ice cream. Having sold a few doz. and made a sponge cake I decided it was time to make ├ęclairs. The plan was to make some for eating and some for the freezer.
Freshly baked cream Eclairs.
They turned out so well that none got frozen. Oh well, it's a good excuse to make more.
One of our local shop keepers is a keen hunter, he  kept us supplied with trout throughout the season last year.
Food for free.
Yesterday he presented us with two lovely cock Pheasants, he will only shoot game or catch and kill fish if he has someone who will eat his kills. We are only to pleased to receive such things. He refuses to take money, all he asks in exchange are the neck feathers from any birds that we might be slaughtering. He makes all his own fishing flies,  apparently neck feathers are best for this craft as they lay correctly in the water. We always feel that we are getting the best end of this deal, but as he said, he wouldn't do it just for sport, there has to be someone who will appreciate his generosity and skill. We certainly do. So many thanks Bernard.
The weather is still very mild but far too damp to be able to do anything to the garden. Soil is a very fragile thing and does not like being worked when wet. There's not even stuff to do in the tunnel. The garlic and onions are well up and the over wintering cauliflower is coming on. Last  year we did not plant broad beans in the tunnel neither have we planted them outside for over wintering, we found that it made little if any difference to the crop. Instead we have now planted the seeds into root trainers. When the plants are four inches high they will then get planted into their bed, if the weather is cold at this point the plants can safely be left in the trainers until more suitable weather arrives. As the roots will not have been disturbed the plants will not suffer any set backs.
A touch of spring.

                                                 A few Primroses are now in bloom
A shy Anemone bursting forth.
and one very brave Anemone has shown it's head,  a little early, but a welcome  splash  of colour.
We are at last coming to the end of our Marmalade making, we have one more batch to make after the one that is bubbling away and that will be it for another year.
 The house is perfumed with the smell of orange, lovely. I just hope we don't run out as we did last year.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A sense of community.

Every year following Christmas in our local hamlet
Party Time Again.
 there is a party, this is held in the local school and was for the old people of the area, this year it was extended to people who have moved in recently to our under populated area. It is nice to see new people moving into the area, especially if they have children. Several people have died in the last year so numbers are dwindling, I noted also just how many single people there were, of both sexes so it is nice to see everyone together have a good time.
The meal was very good,
The willing helpers.
served by three willing helpers, traditional Christmas fare, turkey, ham, stuffing, potatoes swede and carrots, and beautifully cooked cabbage, this had been mixed with leeks and then stirred into a white sauce, I could have easily eaten just a large plate of this and nothing else, I will certainly be trying it at home. All this was followed by trifle, one of my favourite deserts.
Newest member of our community.
We were then entertained by a one man band and our newest neighbour, who it turns out has a great voice. It was a very enjoyable get together.
We seen to have been very busy over the last couple of weeks, making more marmalade and with friends visiting and us visiting friends, one day out found us traveling to Co. Cavan to buy a  new breeding doe rabbit, we often look back at our years when we lived in the neighbouring County of Leitrim and had wondered if our memories about MUD were correct, they most certainly were, as soon as we arrived at this farm the memories came flooding back, mud and more mud. Yes, we do have mud here, but not the type that sticks to everything that it comes into contact with. The problem with the border counties is lack of top soil, maybe five inches of top soil if you're lucky, under this is daub, which is bolder clay so it holds the water for a week at a time, it does drain, as long as it doesn't rain, so it's not much use as a building material, but it is very good for growing trees in.
Hopefully this week will be a little quieter so we can catch up on things that we need to do, but so far this week has not started out that way, maybe we can start the week over tomorrow.
Home made Pizza
I have often wondered why Pizza is classed as junk food after all it's only bread dough with filling, even from a Pizza restaurant the fillings are normally what we would class as healthy food. From time to time I will get the urge to make Pizza, filled with tomatoes, tuna, anchovies, mushrooms and olives, topped with cheese, all brushed with a liberal helping of olive oil, all healthy foods, so why class it as junk, it certainly is not quick to make,  but to us well worth the effort.
After having struggled for over two years with our state owned internet provider, we decided to part company. We were promised a broadband connection of 3 megabytes but seldom achieved anything more than half a megabyte, not even considered broadband. Our new provider aims for up to 4 megabytes but the capacity of the wiring is only about 2.5, even this would be acceptable and so far we are suitably surprised so hopefully they will be as good as their word, our new service provider is also seven euros a month cheaper, as Tesco likes to say, 'Every Little Helps'. The chances of optic fibre at this distance from a large town is unlikely any time soon.
No dignity here.
Finally a picture of Tess who is now a year old, she still has not learnt how to present herself for a photo call in a dignified manner. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Big tides, Small waves.

Along with the UK, Ireland has been battered with tremendous winds and bucketfuls of rain, it has not been continuous rain, but very large deluges, coinciding with this were the spring tides which has caused flooding in many parts and huge waves. We decided to have a day out on Twelfth Night, and to head for the coast in the hope of seeing spectacular seas,
Grey, but calm.
                so we headed for the south Sligo coast, not a breaker in sight,
Just a small splash.
a calm sea although clearly there had been quite a stir up on the sea bed, masses of seaweed, sugar kelp, which unfortunately was far too long and heavy to bag up for compost at home. Had we gone to Mullachmore on the west coast we would have seen breakers of over ten meters as well as international surfers riding the waves. These surfers have arrived from far and wide to take advantage of the surf. If it happens again, we will know where to go.
Although we missed the spectacular surf we still blew the Christmas cobwebs away, spotting a  Rath which we had not found before,
A small rath.
this Rath appears smaller than most, possible a fortification for a single family or maybe just a fortified tower or place of refuge, as it was raining very heavily we didn't explore it, but if we can find it again it would be worth taking a closer look, many of these Raths date back to the iron age, Sligo is littered with archaeology  sites, many are not documented.
Unloved, and abandoned.
 We also found beautiful deserted thatched cottages, still managing to look romantic, despite being abandoned long ago.
                                          The rivers were spectacular,
                           normally  gently meandering along, they were in full spate, quite beautiful.
We arrived home to the most lovely sunset which changed from blues and greens
So much beauty.
                                                        to vivid red and magenta.
With all this wet weather nothing can be done in the garden, it is not good to work wet land as it destroys the soil structure, so we will just have to be patient. The rhubarb did get it's compost mulch, and is now up over two inches, if this mild weather continues we will be pulling some in February, the first harvest of the year.
Sunday dinner was the game bird which was harvested last week along with some La Bresse, this game bird  proved to be the best eating bird we have done, the breast meat was extremely well formed with good depth of muscle, he was so tender and the flavour was  superb, it tasted like chicken used to. After having done a roast meal and then cold on Monday there was still so much meat, this has been made into a chicken and mushroom pie, courtesy of Simon,
Good enough to eat.
 enough for the two of us for two days and then enough to make ten pasties, these will be frozen for use when we have another unplanned day out, far more interesting to have a picnic with pasties rather than sandwiches, plus being ready to go, we don't have to plan what we will take for an outdoor lunch. Not a bad result from just one bird.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Natural order of things.

New years Day has arrived, bringing with it continuous drizzle, it would have been nice to have had a drive to the coast but with grey sky's we decided to catch up on things we should have done last month, culling and processing the remaining table birds. It's nice to think of stock as a larder on legs, but there comes a time when you are feeding too many birds or rabbits that have reached their optimum weight, to keep feeding for no extra gain is false economy, of course it helps if you have plenty of space in your freezer, or in our case four freezers. Some re-organisation was called for, the next four days meals have been removed, I'm not sure what a couple of the bags contain as they have lost their labels, rabbit skins and heads have been buried, we had kept these on ice as I had plans for curing the skins, a job I never got round to. I will have to have a re-thing on this idea, if I did cure the skins what would I use them for? Even with the re-organisation we still only have room for four birds, they have weighed in at 2.5kg average oven ready weight.
Cornish game on the left, La Bresse on the right.
One of the birds was a Cornish Game bird, although a different shape, far more rounded, stubby with a broad chest, he also weighed 2.5kg. We have pullet from this breed so she will be crossed with Francois, a La Bresse cock.

Of all the birds that we keep the Muscovy is my favorite, they are a bird with real attitude. Things must be done in the correct way, this includes them going to bed at night.
Head girl, bossy boots.
First in the house is a chocolate girl, Bossy Boots, she is head duck, following her is her daughter, Jemima Puddle Duck, then comes Donald Duck, the drake, followed by Dilly Duck a lavender colour, bringing up the rear is Daffy Duck , if the correct sequence is not followed they all troop back out again until  natural order is resumed. This is fine from a ducks point of view, they love the rain, not so much fun for their human, standing in pouring rain, waiting for them to sort it all out again. 

The recent rain has caused flooding in many parts of the country, here the rivers are over flowing and the Turlough's are full.
Turloughs provide good summer grazing for cattle, sheep and horses, partly because of the annual deposition of lime-rich silt.  However, for many years, farmers have seen the winter flooding as a waste of potential and they have attempted to find some means of draining the turloughs so that they can be used all year round. This has usually been achieved by digging an artificial channel through the turlough, capable of carrying away any water entering the turlough from surface or groundwater – such channels have often been constructed as part of major arterial drainage schemes.
At least a third of the turloughs in Ireland have already been drained and more are being drained each year. This has very serious consequences from the point of view of the environmentalist , the unique flora and fauna of the turlough cannot survive in the absence of seasonal flooding. Even for the farmer, the benefits are not always as great as anticipated – the stopping of the annual limy silt deposit means that the soil may become impoverished and fertilizers must be used. Also, the poorly developed and delicate soil may not be able to withstand the presence of animals through the winter.
Turlough's are nearly exclusive to the Republic of Ireland, there are just three known winter lakes in Northern Ireland and one in South Wales.
Four Whooper Swans, the two on the left are juveniles.

Yesterday we visited friends and passed several Turloughs,
Swans everywhere.
one of which was white with Whooper Swans, two weeks ago we had spotted the first handful of  Whooper Swans, since then they have arrived in their hundreds from Iceland where they spend the summer months. In winter Ireland hosts over 20% of the European Whooper Swans,
And yet more swans.
on just one of these winter lakes yesterday we estimated there were around three hundred of these beautiful winter 
Lapwings Feasting.
                                                            There were also  large flocks of Lapwings.

Christmas was nice, good food, and some good company. Now it is time to get back to normal, whatever that means. No more rich food for another year,although we might make an exception for Sherry Trifle!
We are taking it easy with the cake.
All that remains is the Christmas Cake which hopefully will last us for a couple more weeks. It is a very rich cake, full of sugar, not from added sugar but it contains over four pounds of dried fruit, a small slice is all that is needed to fill you.

Hopefully this year I can spend time on craft work, Simon bought me a new singer Sewing machine for Christmas, my old one which I have had for thirty odd years was beginning to slip it's clutch, the new one seems to be an all singing and dancing machine, I am hoping to make Rag dolls again, I used to make these many years ago when we lived in Wales where I was a member of the Craft Workers Guild. The dolls used to sell very well, whether they still will remains to be seen in this day and age of of plastic throw away.
 For Simon I bought a set of wood crafting tools, plus a couple of books on wood carving, he has always had an interest in this, his father was a very good wood carver, so maybe it's in the genes. 
Hope you all had a good Christmas, and Happy New year to you all.