Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Mary, Mary, quite contrary

I've been blog visiting. And most unusually I have been contrary in most of my comments. Not in a bad mood, but I seem to have disagreed or disapproved (how smug am I?) of all kinds of writings that I more usually cuddle up to quite comfortably. So I have chuntered, set challenges, and generally been a fairly insignificant pain. Now it's your turn to tell me I am a vicious, carnivorous butcher and will be reincarnated as a slug. Or perhaps an intensively farmed pig. Sorry. On best behaviour tomorrow.

Butchering the sausages

I am cursing. I forgot to take a photo of the carcase hanging from the ceiling on the hook in the freezer room-cum-garden shed. I have no evidence of the first stage of home butchery, so you'll just have to take my word for it that I ferried whole sides of pig, tails and trotters intact, back from the abattoir. The pork cuts and sausages were weighed, a year's supply frozen and the surplus distributed to friends who will be back in a week or so for their gammon and bacon, currently curing at the Cornish Farmhouse Bacon Company. The friends were fed and watered, indulged in blackberry fool, and sped home in the dark with cars full of porky promise.
Today is sausage making day and first task is stripping off the poorly epilated skin, discarding the line of nipples and the remaining coarse black bristles. It reminds me of scenes in Silence of the Lambs.
With the pork cut into manageable chunks it takes its first turn through the mincer with a shake of fine oatmeal, salt, pepper and small slugs of water. Each batch has its own flavourings: plain; thyme, marjoram and chives for the herby variety; apple and Calvados; sage and onion. The second run through the mincer sees 60lbs of sausages come churning out through the sausage nozzle, wrapped in natural casings in metre lengths. The dogs are remarkably well behaved considering the presence of so much meat. I squeeze and twist the lengths into links and there you are. Bagged up, labelled and stuffed in the freezer, that lot should last 'til the end of next summer. Sorted.

Monday, 27 August 2007


Everything feels out of sync this year, but perhaps it is not the case. Last year I was dealing with the plums and getting mock nicotine stained five finger-piglets in early September, so I am only a week out.
Even the new fruit trees planted this February are bearing a few fruit; damsons, morello cherries and medlars have displayed a few teasing examples of future hoped for gluts. The wonderful purplish red plums that I cannot identify are as gloriously roundly buttocky as a ripe coco de mer and entirely delicious. There are bowls of blackberries sitting in the scullery waiting to be made into a fool. There are lists of agreed sausage ingredients so that the relevant herbs and other makings can be gathered in time for the mid-week sausage-making game. I have hunted down the luscious tomato and chilli chutney recipe as the tomatoes are starting to ripen en masse. I have pulled up mega swede before the worms create holes to slide through and ruin its flesh.
The last of the hay is now being baled and late evenings spent hauling them off the trailer adds to the dust and grime sweatiness of a long day harvesting; every crease itches with it - the inside of your elbows, behind your knees, where chin meets neck. The baler is throwing bizarre pillow sized little hay packages every now and then, perfect for guinea pig owners, jauntily knotted with pink twine, the only thing missing is the writing on the side.
The onions now sway in plaited lengths from the cartshed beams, there is an enormous amount of weeding to be done in the veg beds, but all in all, it's time to start planning the autumn round.

Friday, 24 August 2007


Having fun should come with a health warning. Yesterday I had a lot of fun, and today I am suffering , and it has absolutely nothing to do with alcohol.
Summer has finally and belatedly arrived, and so an impromptu party for friends and neighbours was conjured out of thin air, the vegetable patch and the local butchers (no time to thaw adequate heaps of home grown carnivory). There was a whirlwind of hay turning, mowing and topping. There wasn't time to get the lawnmower out, so the tractor and its mega mower danced across the garden too and we just ignored the tractor tyre tracks it left. Bowls of edibles were produced, and then a borrowed clay pigeon trap was set up.
It is many years since I've used a shotgun, but as the afternoon shadows started to lengthen, I took my first shot since arriving on the farm. The explosion in my ear was literally deafening. My ears rung and shut down for a few daze making moments. When my head steadied I ran off to fetch the ear defenders, and then settled the gun back into my shoulder. With the decibels more under control my body had the capacity to consider the recoil as I thundered out half a dozen or more pathetic attempts to catch the birdy, but the wind caught them each time and I didn't have my eye in to anticipate as needed.
As folks arrived we drifted into the garden and ate our fill, talking until it was too dark to see each other.
This morning I have a bruised right tit and armpit and my shoulder is stiff with surprise. I can't wait to have another go.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

The end of the line

Today, the Berkshire boars have reached the end of the line. After eight months chewing up the grass, roots and goodness of Devonian soil, they have been taken to the abattoir. At the weekend the ubiquitous Ifor Williams trailer was manoeuvred into place, the ramp opened (and held firmly in situ by a goodly chunk of metal bar), and for three days they have been fed inside the trailer so that their loading would be entirely stress free, for humans and pigs alike.
No matter how many times you do this, intimations of mortality haunt your dreams the night before and sleep is inevitably broken and unsatisfying. No matter how scrupulous the planning and preparation, you worry about an unhappy loading, with one or more pigs careening off into pastures unknown at the last moment in Tamworth Two fashion. I am far more relaxed when taking lambs to slaughter; they may wriggle but they are eminently handleable. By the time they are mature, pigs are not easily persuadable or coerced and you simply cannot catch an errant pig.
But it all went off without a hitch and the paddock is now empty, bereft of grass and moon-cratered. I will wander through it to pick up any ancient rubbish that they might have unearthed; bits of old baler twine, small tractor parts, gate catches and heaven knows what else. The pig ark ramp needs replacing; they used it in their games and have chewed great holes through the ply to more easily poke their snouts into previously untouched territory.
Come spring the grass will once more cover the ground, and a new lot of weaners will take their turn to rummage and explore.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Ancient friendship

I have just been reliving my childhood. The best bits, the giggly bits, the frozen chocolate mousse round the mush bits. My oldest friend (not as in aged, but as in I've known her longer than any other friend) came to the farm for the first time and spent the weekend here. It was grey and it rained, but we chirped and chirruped and chortled and chatted and totally reverted to the girls we once were. The old nick names and fish-lips face contortions were greedily adopted and enjoyed again and luckily this time I refrained from wetting my pants under the duress of hysterical laughter plus full bladder combo.
There is nothing quite like a large chunk of shared history, a time when we felt that we were more important to each other than our parents were (or at least we felt that to be the case much of the time, with parents being the voice who should be obeyed/disobeyed according to whim and circumstance). Because I see my friend only every couple of years and speak infrequently, I can forget in between how deep the feelings go and how key our friendship was through childhood and the teenage years. Our lives might be in huge contrast now, but for me, the most significant thing remains: that after a little while together the shorthand of years of knowledge kicks in and we don't have to explain or embellish. Ordinarily I laugh a lot but I don't think I have giggled quite so joyously and freely and in such an unencumbered fashion for a long time - I gurgled like a child and that is something I loved then and treasure now.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Déjà Vu

Making kebabs is a bum wiggling, shoulder wriggling affair. Threading marinaded lamb onto dangerously spiky wooden skewers alternated with yellow courgette chunks, squares of red pepper and just-dug-from-the- garden onion pieces in anticipation of guests, calls for some Nightboat to Cairo et al on the hi fi, turned up loud to accompany the dervish whirlings and matador swoops in the kitchen. Holiday mood pervades and the hoovering gets done, a surprise cake is delivered and another is given. It's raining and another field of cut hay is perishing, but it's not, after all, the end of the world.
The dogs are poked outside to give the house and them an airing. Deeper than usual barks means someone different is approaching, but after an extended delay following the squeaking of the top gate hinges, it is, after all, the postman. But he is in a bit of a flap and the dogs have picked up on it.
He has seen the newly posted notice about the listed building consent for the barns and his heart stopped. When he has caught his breath and the dogs are quiet, he reveals that he thought for a terrible déjà vu moment that foot and mouth had returned to the farm.
Madness plays on.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Weaning lambs

Tonight will be a noisy night. Bleating will carry over the barns and penetrate through dreams. Several times I will be half out of the bed in Pavlovian response before I remember that today the lambs were weaned and their calls are unlikely to be due to being caught in fencing, fox attack or rustling. The ewes have been put into a field with a minimum amount of grazing to dry up their milk, and their lambs are on rich pasture in the orchard to fatten. They will share the orchard with the geese whose diet is also grass, and I must remember each morning to shut the goose hut door once the birds are out, or the lambs will bounce up the ramp and bash around inside the hut, causing damage with their sharp little feet and growing girths.
A decade ago, new to sheep, I was devastated to come home to find two unknown but happy Jack Russells, one still a pup, blood dripping from their jaws, yapping in hysterical excitement in the garden. I shut them up in the porch and went into the field to find three ewes down, their cheeks torn out, their tails ripped, their lambs unharmed. The vet came and humanely destroyed the ewes. I said to him, naively, that their lambs hadn't yet been weaned. "They have now" was his blunt but right response.

Friday, 10 August 2007

A thoughtful blog

The Thinker and Dick Madeley have simultaneously nominated me for a Thoughtful Blogger Award. That's really lovely. Thank you. I have added the award to the small heap of gongs collecting snugly but not smugly at the bottom of this blog.
I wasn't that much of a prizewinner in my youthful days. I do remember getting a cartoon version of the Old Testament for doing something or other at Hebrew classes. I still have it. I read it many, many times and kept it by my bed. Not because I was a religious child; on the contrary I told my parents that I didn't believe in God at a very early age and reasoned effectively that it was therefore inappropriate for me to continue attending said award-bestowing Hebrew classes on a Sunday morning. What kept me intrigued was that the book was a forerunner of graphic fiction, and I was of an age to relish every carefully drawn detail of the burning bush, Jacob's ladder and Lot's wife turned into a pillar of salt. The women were Modesty Blaise in modest robes and the men an early form of Superman with six-packs, broad shoulders and oddly, hips wrapped tightly in long skirt-type affairs.
I also received a prize when I left secondary school; I have no recollection what it was for. What I DO remember was that typically of me, I fell up the stairs to the stage and sprawled at the feet of the embarrassed celebrity giving out the goodies. I don't remember who he was either.
So I must now hand out five more gongs, but as allowed by the rules, I will be giving out a different gong - a Creative Blogger award - for creative bloggers who stand out from the crowd. To avoid an incestuous and virtuous circle of award giving I will hunt out some fresh blood and nominate below as they come to light.
  1. The Veg Box Diaries, because they share a love for Cavolo Nero and have an elegant blog categorised by luscious food type.
  2. Tunnocks Teacakes Forever...for a fab title. And I think a greed theme is developing here
  3. Aphra Behn, notably for her lentils
  4. Nourishing Obscurity, not for the grub but for the maniacal outpourings of wondrous daft stuff that is a veritable waterfall
  5. more to follow....
Post Script:
And at the end of the weekend, I now find, courtesy of the fascinating Eurodog blogger, that I have also been handed an Inspirational Blogger award. I will take my time to suss out the ongoing nominations to encourage me to actively hunt down voices that are new to me. I will be updating this post as and when I do.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

First memory

I don't naturally veer towards believing in fate. I wear my seatbelt because I believe it keeps me a little safer. I know that I have control over much of what happens to me. I see that others also have an impact on me. I do not think there is a mapped out destiny for individuals. But considering I was brought up in a London suburb my first memory although not startling, was not perhaps what might be expected, and I can't help but wonder if it set some unconscious seed that has brought me to my particular here and now.
I was still at pre-toddler stage. I was taken about in a large perambulator, second hand I think, and of a size that suggests a nanny in control, but there was no nanny. My Father would take me out in the pram, wrapped up like a pudding, round faced, cosy against the elements. He pushed the pram to the end of the street and turned away from the centre of things and up the hill to the few acres of green belt that sat surprisingly just a few streets away.
The transition from concrete, pavements and brick was abrupt. Behind the run of rectangular gardens was farmland. I never saw a farmhouse or a farmer. I don't know if there ever was anything other than grass, and in my teenage years when I was bolder in exploring, there were no longer signs of farming and no fences. But my first memory is of a short journey, of being taken up the hill to see the cows. Black and white cows. Cows that lifted their head over the wire fence, curious and unafraid of a proud man with a young child in a pram, picking her up from underneath the blankets to show off her red cheeked beam to the animal audience.
I can recall the scene so clearly. Nothing in my childhood or that of my parents would have suggested farming as a way of life; it was an urban existence with urban ambitions and interests. And yet, those cows snuck in early and made, surely, some important impression.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Pink bits

All over the country there will be people with pink bits, red bits, raw bits and sore bits. Lulled and depressed by a damp, grey summer, the warnings about skin cancer and protection from the sun have drifted into oblivion and the Ambre Solaire has long ago been relegated to the back shelves at the chemists where athletes foot powders, support bandages and personal aids with product logos from times past normally sit and sulk.
April sun brought weeks of shorts wearing, brown knees and freckled cheeks, but the sad return to winter pastiness means vulnerability, and consequently after two days working outside with inadequate supplies of sun block, I have pink bits. My décolletage is neither nut brown nor creamy white. I clash with Barbie. I am starting to itch. In a few days I will peel. The look gets less and less attractive as time passes. Just like the chemist's also rans, I too am heading for a sulk.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Making the best of it

Pragmatism ruled this weekend. Unable to get the hay dry enough to bale, the help of farmer friends with large bale capability was enlisted and succulent haylage was baled and wrapped. The field was rolled up and tidied away for another year.
Returning the favour, I had my first experience of covering a silage clamp, and with a party of folks tugged old tyres out of heaps for weighing down the plastic sheeting. Not much was said about the foot and mouth outbreak - everyone was too fearful of the consequences of the return of the 2001 devastation.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

The results are in...

...and we have more species than I can count. Well I could count them but fingers and toes would be needed from several participants and I am sitting here with just dogs for company and they won't keep still. The Devon Biodiversity Records Centre survey records have been compiled and there are more Latin names and geological terminology being bandied about than have passed before my eyes to date, although perhaps I was asleep at that point in geography lessons. The words are sonorous and serious and have a grandeur that moves you beyond the soil conditions and bring vividly to mind the layers leading to the earth's core and a sense of prehistory. Carboniferous, Namurian, Crackington Formation, Pleistocene. All of it under my feet.
Three sites across the farm were surveyed, with two of them including the Culm qualifying for consideration as County Wildlife Sites. The Culm and its surrounding wood host 80 species including twelve Ancient Woodland Indicator species: Hard-fern, Remote Sedge, Wood-sedge, Creeping Soft-grass, Bluebell, Holly, Yellow Pimpernel, Three-nerved Sandwort, Wood Sorrel, Primrose, Red Currant and Field-rose. With my natural interest in the edible, the discovery of the wild red currant was a thrill - I had no idea they occurred in woodland, and daftly
visualised the fruit bushes as garden centre specials, cultivated within an inch of their glossy plant lives. The chance of tasting a currant before the dormice get their nibblers round them is small. I might put up a notice asking them to leave me a sample.