Thursday, February 20, 2014

A week of planning.

With the weather still not amenable to gardening we have time for planning what we will be growing this year and where things will be going. As we will be getting pigs later in the year far more roots have to be grown.
Our new seed order arrived this week, always exciting, and the seed box has been sorted out into seeding months.  Quite a few seeds can be started now in trays and modules, but the real seeding will start in March. I just hope the weather warms up  a little and the land dries up so we can  get growing.
The poultry also has to be sorted out, young pullets from last years hatch have to be moved to their appropriate  cocks. Many people have started hatching already, we will wait for warmer weather, we don't like to keep chicks inside for too long, I can see no point in having birds hatching this early.
We do however have kittens from one of the rabbits. We had bought rabbits from a friend a few weeks ago, plus  cages and runs. Unfortunately the runs were not mink proof and we lost a doe and two kittens to this horrible predator, it had however been unable to get the two 'bucks' which were in another run. We had a slight doubt as to whether these two rabbits were in fact bucks, their behaviour just seemed off. But we checked with our friends and were assured that yes, they definitely were. Well we were right, the white one is a doe and has today produced kittens to prove it, the buck was hastily removed into separate quarters. So all's well, we now have two does, unrelated to our New Zealand white buck.
Cider cured ham, yum! Can't wait to try it.
Since the decision to have pigs has been made I have looked at lots of books on curing, some of them are full of complicated seldom used recipes, some are very basic. What I wanted was a practical guide to wet and dry curing, smoking , and boning out the meat.
An excellent book.
 River Cottage Handbook 13 covers all this and more, even how to build a smoker from scrap materials. I can't wait to try the Cider Cured Ham or the Guanciale which is yet another use for the pigs cheek.
A new chest freezer has been ordered and will be here next Tuesday, so we will be ready for the half pig when it arrives.
With the kitchen still an on-going project not much baking is being done, bread has to be made three times weekly, but cakes are a  bit thin on the ground.
Glad we don't count calories!
I did however make a Lardy cake, which is a west country sweet fruit bread with lard. Another one of those childhood delights. Most definitely frowned upon in this day and age,  animal fat and sugar!. I'm afraid we find all these warning rather meaningless considering all the mass produced junk that is sold in supermarkets as food. Moderation in all things and you can't go far wrong.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Bacon Success.

Today was day six of curing the belly of pork in the hope of producing bacon as we knew it. It worked! For the past six days the meat has been rubbed, the first four with the curing mix, the last two days just rubbing the meat to make sure the cure was well into the meat. It was then removed from it's wooden draining rack and placed in a large bowl of cold water for two hours, the water was then changed and the bacon soaked for a further hour. I then dried it thoroughly.
Impatient to try it, I thinly sliced six pieces, fried with fresh mushroom and eggs it was lunch fit for a king. We knew from the smell as it was cooking that we had real bacon, a smell that is so hard to get from commercially produced bacon, no shrinkage, no white gunge, it was a taste from long ago. Not too salty, with the right amount of sweetness.
I am now looking forward to making air dried ham and more bacon, from what I have read, both of these require dry curing. We will be using wet curing for baking or boiling ham, bath chaps and gammon steaks. Unfortunately after wet curing the meat either has to be used fairly quickly or stored in a freezer, but we have already resigned ourselves to the fact of needing another freezer.
We are hoping that we will be having our own pigs in June, if they clear the bramble patch they will have done a good job and earned their keep, as well as providing us with food.
Of all  farmed animals, pigs have to be the most worth while, they clear land, they produce a cold manure that can be used almost immediately, they are not fussy eaters, they provide you with pork, ham bacon and sausages and lard.
Today we popped over to the friends that will be supplying us with our half pig, we had promised them some Jerusalem Artichokes for planting, we took some spare ones, just to see if their pigs would eat them, a friend in Spain had tried her pigs with them and the pigs refused them.
Well it appears that Irish pigs are the same as Spanish pigs, the roots were dropped into their trough, the pigs looked and then removed them, showing no interest at all. We will have to have a rethink on roots for our pigs.
The general consensus among people that we know that keep pigs is the price per lb works out to 1.50 , that includes everything, from buying the piglets, feeding them and slaughtering costs. That's cheaper than producing a chicken.
One completed unit.
The re-vamping of the kitchen is coming on slowly but surely, we hope to have it finished before the weather changes to garden mode.
Felix, master of all he surveys.
The younger cats love playing on the ladder, Felix, the younger boy is convinced there is something he has not yet seen at the top of the ladder, Sparky is not so sure about it and prefers to stay on the ground.
 The seeds are ordered as is the crop cover, as soon as the land dries out enough we will be out there,
Getting there slowly.
but while we wait we can continue with indoor work.
Last week we had to go to Roscommon, we had a bit of a look around at all the flooding, rivers and stream are no longer, they are large lakes, as was a football ground.
                     The only thing that will be played there is water polo.
It was a lovely sunny day, and the horses in a field alongside the pitch clearly had spring in mind.
They were enjoying the feel of warmth on their backs,  not only were they having their own horse race, every so often they would roll on their backs, kicking their legs in the air. they were beautiful to watch.      

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Hints of Spring

There are hints of spring around, the crocus are blooming, the daffodil bulbs are showing their buds, a few primroses are out in bloom, the birds are singing,
            and the catkins on the hazel trees are blooming.
Nature as art.
Spring is trying very hard to put in an appearance despite the storms which are still wrecking havoc in both Ireland the UK and some parts of Spain. More storms are forecast for the coming week. Although we are in view of the river Suck we are about forty feet above it, it has burst it's banks but poses no danger to us.
Not being able to do anything in the garden is getting very frustrating, we have broad beans waiting to be planted out but with the wind and at times pelting rain I fear they would suffer. Somewhere we have crop cover, the envionet fleece, but where it got put  is anyone's guess. A search of the barns and the shed failed to uncover it. I hate buying new when we know that somewhere we have an item but I fear that if we wait for discovery it will be too late to put it to good use, so new it will have to be. Those beans have to go out and it is also time to get cabbage and other things started.
 Our seeds have now been sorted,  new seeds ordered, we will not let the weather defeat us. We have the tunnel, a cold frame and the sunroom in which to raise seeds, most of the veg beds are raised beds, so with the help of fleece we will make progress.
Yet more compost.
We have stocked up with more mushroom compost, another thirty odd bags, that with our own compost, donkey manure and the seaweed should see us through this year. It always amazes me just how much compost we use in a year, we can never have enough.
The first wall unit completed.
While the bad weather continues it has given us a chance to re-do the kitchen, I should say, for Simon to re-do it, all the units are being painted, although we liked the dark blue we want to put our own stamp on the cottage, it is taking time, there is a lot of paintwork, and it has to be done when there are no helping paws.
Simon hard at work.
 It's hard to believe that we have been here two and a half years. Time flies when your having fun.
We are also having our first attempt at curing bacon. We had ordered a slab of pork belly from Deidre, our Organic butcher which was waiting for us on Saturday. Surprisingly it was cheaper from her than the price of pork belly from a conventional butcher. I had ordered the curing salt and salt petre on line, I had failed to find what I wanted here.
First remove the ribs.
The meat first had to have the ribs removed, they will get cooked as barbecue spare ribs,
Curing mix has to be rubbed into all the crevices, all the meat must be covered.
the curing salt was mixed with the salt petre, and then thoroughly rubbed  into the meat, the meat was then placed on a wooden rack in an airtight storage box, to allow for drainage. Our instructions are, as given by an experienced ham and bacon curer, to drain off any fluid daily, re-rubbing  curing salt into the meat for six days, we then have to soak the bacon for a couple of hours, then dry it completely, it should then be ready to hang in a cool dry place until we need to take slices off for eating.
 This is the traditional way of curing in Spain and other European countries so we hope it works for us. We should know in a week or so if we have made an edible product, we do hope so as we both miss bacon, it's just about impossible to get good bacon now, from pig to bacon in thirty six hours just does not seem right, neither does injecting chemicals and water into meat, and then calling it bacon. Maybe we can do better, it remains to be seen.     

Monday, February 3, 2014

Food glorious food.

As my birthday was approaching I decided it was time to make carrot cake again,
A carrot with pretensions.
we had planted more carrots than usual last year especially to make this old favorite of ours.
Carrot cake with a zing.
I decided to give a bit of zing to the cake by adding a few Cardamom seeds to the mix and to use a little Cointreau in the cream topping, it was lovely, I don't normally fiddle with recipes, especially if it is one of Cranks, probably the best recipe book that we use, but as it was for my birthday I wanted something a little different. As it happened it was good that I had made a cake as we had two lots of visitors that day so had something to feed to them. The first visitors were not aware of it being my birthday, as I get older I do try to forget about such things, in fact I had to ask Simon how old I was, and then wished I hadn't.
Our second lot of visitors were a wonderful surprise. It was our friend who has had the strokes,  his partner, plus son. When we had seen them only six days beforehand,  Pat was still in his wheelchair. t The car drew up, and with a little help out came Pat, walking, OK with the help of crutches, but he is walking again, it was wonderful to see him up and on his feet. He was from the start determined that these strokes would not defeat him, and despite all the health problems they had remembered my birthday, bringing with them a lovely bottle of wine and a card. So many thanks guys, and well done Pat, you will be digging the garden again before you know it.
The weather does seem to be chilly now despite the rain and gale force winds, just the right weather for a hot bowl of steaming soup.
Freshly made soup, ideal for a winters day.
One of my favorite soups is cream of mushroom, so simple  and only takes fifteen minutes to make, served with fresh home made bread, a lovely warming lunch for cold damp weather.
I rather feel as though I go into semi hibernation in this type of weather, Simon had been asking me for over a week where I wanted to go for my birthday meal, I kept putting of any decision in case we had any frosts to contend with, however we have been more or less free of them so on Saturday I made up my mind, our usual place 'The Purple Onion' in Tarmonbarry, although it is a fifty minute drive, the food is always worthwhile, locally produced and
                                  they now have a good selection of Artisan beers.
 The Slow cooked belly of Gloucester Old Spot pork is worth the drive. We had a beautiful meal and it was worth pulling myself away from the fireside.
We have a lot of small birds around now, and at least three Robins, all keeping to their own territories, it's lovely to see such an assortment of wild life, but we can well do without the mink.
We had suffered one attack last year, this year we have lost three rabbits to them. We were appalled to see one of these horrible creatures along side the pond, outside our back door. Tess quickly gave chase but failed to catch it, we are being even more vigilant now, so far they have never gone into a hen run when the electric fence is on, but I would not trust that it wont happen. We have set a trap, and although it has been triggered the mink has evaded it. Living so close to the river I think we have been lucky so far, but the river is twice it's normal size at the moment. Maybe it will stop raining soon.
            On our trip to the coast yesterday we saw two flocks of Barnacle geese,
                                    one with over fifty birds in it and a smaller one.
On reading up on them it appears that they are on the Amber list in Ireland with only ten known sites. We feel privileged to have seen them.
I can do it as well.
Our two younger cats are now growing up fast, Felix loves to copy whatever Sparky does and was very frustrated at being unable to jump on top of the airing cupboard, at last he has made it and now can join Sparky in playing King of the Castle.
Bracket fungi.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Beautiful County Sligo.

                               Not too many words today, after all 'A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words'.
                                                              We need no excuse to visit Co. Sligo.
In our opinion it is the most beautiful and varied county in the Republic of Ireland .
Our trip today was to meet a fellow chicken fancier. He had contacted me via one of the poultry sites I follow, wanting a La Bresse cockerel and a trio of Buff Orpingtons.
 As he was coming from Derry we offered to meet him at more or less the half way point between his place and ours, which is Sligo. We duly met up and spend a pleasant half an hour talking chickens, goats, pigs and growing veg. It's always nice talking to like minded people, and we are sure our birds, which we hatched in the incubator and watched grow up have gone to a good home.

 Knowing that the tides are once again on the spring and Ireland is under an orange code weather warning we hoped to catch some of the big breakers that we had missed last month.
 The seas were spectacular, we were not disappointed. We also manage to get more seaweed, plenty of  sugar kelp had been washed up, but it looked as though it had been milled,  it was mingled with the bladder wrack which is far lighter than the sugar kelp that we found last time.
Snow trapped in the ravines.
We also got some nice shots of some of the mountains of Sligo, the Dartry mountains, the most famous being Ben Bulben.
The weather was kind to us, little wind, quite warm and sunny. The next front is supposed to hit us in the next day or so.
The tide just staring to come in.
It came in with speed.
Fantastic power.
Waves breaking ,the spray about 50 feet high