Whatever you call it – Autumn, Hydref, Herbst, Foghar, or Fall – it’s here!

I tend to agree with the Irish Meteorologial Office and think that Autumn (fómhar) has started. They follow the old gaelic tradition that Autumn is comprised of August, September and October. In Welsh the month of July is named Gorffennaf which is literally the end (gorffen) of summer (haf) and I have lived in Britain long enough to know that November is winter. So, however we dress it up, after July, and before November, is Autumn in my book. This, without any shadow of doubt, is my favourite season, the one which surpasses all the others. Summer is too hot, Winter is too cold and Spring is too busy. Autumn has that perfect mix of an ideal climate and productive nature. This is the season when rural life blossoms. Each village and small town will have its local Show where produce and craft can be displayed. Then, following these, the area’s social life will start to resume after the lull of the summer.

These last weeks have started to feel truly autumnal. The temperatures have dropped, the colours have started to change in IMG_20180816_111531.jpgthe trees and the produce following summer is everywhere. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the hedgerows. Dues to the long hot spell in summer the berries have done much better than usual and we will need to start collecting blackberries (Mwyar Duon). The hedges are heavy with berries and they have started to ripen. If we leave it too late we will lose out to the birds who always know when the berries are ready and get up earlier in the morning than we do.

We will have the grandchildren around to help us making the collection and this year there will be a larger educational component. Because of the hot summer the berries have done well. This also means that the honeysuckle berries are also prolific. The children will need to be taught IMG_20180816_112839.jpghow to tell them apart . Although they are not greatly poisonous, and one would have to eat heroic quantities to come to harm, they are toxic and can cause gastrointestinal upset if eaten. It will be a good lesson to explain that although things may be superficially similar that doesn’t mean they are equally good, or bad.

The blackberries are a welcome free crop and I anticipate a much larger store of jam this year than before. Our other free crop this year came in the form of honey. Our bait-hive attracted awp-1534427766814..jpg swarm of bees and after a relatively short sojourn there we found they had produced a reasonable stock of honey. This honey, though slightly cloudy, is very pleasant in taste and was a very welcome present from our new visitors. It is the season when the shelves in the pantry start filling up, getting ready for the start of winter.

One task that starts again at this time of year is the chipping of the goat yard. During the spring and summer the goats find plenty of material to eat while out browsing in the meadow.  On wet days, that we see during autumn and winter they are not keen on venturing far from the yard and the comfort of their sheds. Unlike sheep, goats do not have lanolin in their wool, and thus are much less tolerant of rainy weather. During this time when I have edging work to do on the fields I cut down the overhanging branches IMG_20180816_125755.jpgand feed them to the goats.  They then strip off every leaf, especially quickly when it is their favourite trees (oak, ash, willow and beech). I then cut the branches into staves or firewood depending on shape and size. The remainder is put through the chipper to create useful animal bedding. The bedding, once it has been mixed with animal urine and faeces and rotted down for a period, is then gradually added to the compost pile. Nothing is wasted if it can be avoided.

One other useful product of this process is the protection of my mental health. You can take all your “stress balls” and relaxation strategies and through them out of the window. If you have something on your mind, something or someone bugging you, or a problem you can’t solve then get out the Earthquake Woodchipper and fire her up. You will now be engulfed in a wall of angry woodchipping noise; if you want to mutter, grumble or swear no-one will hear a word you say. The pleasure there is in throwing branches down the chipper, to hear them splinter into a myriad of chippings, is difficult to describe. You can’t imagine who, and what, I have put through that chipper in my imagination! We are lucky we are still free to think what we like and there are no thought crimes (yet) or I’d be writing this from the computer in the prison library.

Even without its benefits for mental health I’d have to recommend this chipper. Electric chippers and shredders are always too weak and you end up spending more like clearing them than using them. As they say, if it hasn’t got the ability to take your arm off its not strong enough ! You need a petrol engined model. This one uses the four-stroke Briggs and Stratton engine and meets the most vital criterion for petrol driven appliances – it starts on the first pull! It is noisy but you could wear ear-protectors if this was an issue for you. The European version comes with some safety attachments absent on the American model (It is dangerous to put your arm down the cutting chute – who would have guessed?). I guess that Americans are recognised as being able to think unlike we Europeans who need to be protected from such dangerous activities.(*)

As is so often the case in life, the problems of physical and mental health sometimes have their solutions in the world of work and activity. In our steady march towards a world of leisure we might well be marching in the wrong direction.


Sorry about the quality of this video, it hard to work with a camera balanced in the rim of your hat.


 

 

(*) I have worries about these safety modifications. I found that the raised bin in the shredder, and other attachments, made the machine harder to use. Also as you spent time trying to bypass the difficulties caused by these safety additions you started to place yourself in danger while operating the machine. I am not sure that these modifications increase operator safety and fear they may even impair it.

 

 

 

.

 

 

 

I should be better than this.

I have found myself with time at the keyboard that I did not expect to have and also have found myself embarrassingly self-aware. This self-awareness arose courtesy of the DPD delivery man and has been todays major surprise. I have discovered, to my chagrin and disappointment, that I am subject to petty anger and annoyance. I am sitting fuming just because a delivery didn’t arrive.

I had arranged that this would come today and after downloading the companies app onto my overcrowded phone I was given my “1 hour delivery slot“. I was duly impressed and thought “this is progress“. I organized my day so that I was not away in  the morning, I would not want to be delayed on my return home for the delivery man and organised a number of jobs for the afternoon.

Just as the end of the 1 hour delivery slot arrived, perhaps the 61st minute, the delivery slot was changed to an 8 hour window – all of the afternoon and evening! Now the plans I had to go into the wood and to the water tank were impossible as I had to wait in, I had to stand-down the neighbours who’d agreed to come to help, and I had to dart about trying to do the animals between visits to the front door to check the delivery man had not arrived.

By mid-evening my delivery had still not arrived and my app now informed me that they called but I was unavailable and will try tomorrow. I will be given another 1 hour delivery slot in the morning. Hopefully this one won’t expand into an 8 hour slot with no warning. I think I am going to try and have the parcel delivered to a shop in town as I could not stand another day like today.

I don’t know why this annoys me so. The parcel is important but hardly life or death. There is probably a good reason that the delivery failed; for all I know the delivery driver’s wife went into labour and he had to rush home. I will, almost certainly, get the parcel at some point, and it is pretty amazing that something manufactured in South Korea can find its way to the wilds of North Wales. But I still found myself angry and annoyed.

I dislike being lied to. Sometimes when people do it I can understand their motivation and make excuses for it. But I don’t like being lied to by an app on my phone ! If the thing was not going to arrive I’d prefer to have known not been left with unrealistic anticipation. I suppose I also dislike feeling that my life and tasks are held to be so worthless that someone can say “just sit about for a full working day, our driver is an important man and will get to you when he can“. I feel my time is as valuable as his. I dislike phoning help-lines and listening to people telling me they are “so sorry” and that I am a “valued customer“. I feel that rather than pay people to sit at a phone and give apologies they should employ staff to get the logistics right.

But that is me back at my petty anger again. I suppose it’s the materialistic bit of me showing through. I am like a huffy child puffing and demanding “my stuff”. The more I think of it the parcel can wait, it will make little difference if it doesn’t arrive until the weekend. It is not a pacemaker – I will survive. Perhaps if I wait I will learn to defer my gratification, perhaps I’ll be less demanding. Deep breath in and relax. That’s better. Thanks DPD that is a lesson learnt.

 

 

Eureka – Problem solved !

Eureka – Problem solved !

At the risk of sounding big headed I would like to announce that I have solved one of the major problems facing humanity today:  What to do with the Jerusalem Artichoke ?‘  As everyone will know this is a cunning and devious vegetable which starts its nefarious plans by the very choice of its name. This ugly tuber has no special link to Jerusalem nor the Holy land. This is simply a trick to fool you into believing that it has saintly properties : it does not. The term ‘Jerusalem’ probably arose from the Italian name for the plant – “girasole” – the Italian name for the Sunflower. And herein lies the truth, the “Jerusalem Artichoke”, this dreadful plant, is no form of artichoke at all, it is a form of sunflower masquerading under the name Artichoke to suggest to the unwary gardener that it is pleasantly edible. However, early in its history people discovered that while is can be eaten there is a question as to whether it should be eaten.

The carbohydrate in the Jerusalem Artichoke is stored as inulin. Decent, pleasant root vegetables such as the potato or parsnip store their carbohydrate as starch. This is why we like to eat them; the starch is easily digestible and this is the reason that I, and millions of others, am overweight as the starch in these root vegetables are an easy way to get far too many calories into your diet in a single sitting. Inulin, on the other hand, can’t be digested by us so it is left to the bacteria in our large intestines to do the job. These bacteria do this with gusto, creating a lot of gases in the process  which gives rise to flatulence and bloating.  In 1821 it was written in Godard’s Herbal that Jerusalem Artichokes “which way soever they be dressed and eaten, they stir and cause a filthy loathsome stinking wind within the body, thereby causing the belly to be pained and tormented, and are a meat more fit for swine than men”.  So we were warned many years ago !

But in addition to the tricks with its name there is another way that this loathsome plant continues to trick gardeners into growing it. Though it tubers are unsightly its flowers are rather pretty  and, most importantly, no matter how poor a gardener you are, no matter how much you mistreat and neglect this plant, it will still happily grow and thrive. Dig a hole, drop them in, cover and then just forget about them, they will grow. Months later you will have large impressive plants with pleasant flowers for no effort whatsoever. If we just left it at this there would be no problem. But, unfortunately, people feel tempted to pull up the roots, reveal the tubers and think “how will I cook this ?”. The answer was it doesn’t matter, whether you fry, roast or boil, the result is a disappointing mush that doesn’t even repay the modicum of effort that you put in. That is until now !

I have discovered a way of usinDSC_3081g the Jerusalem Artichoke that is better than leaving it in the ground or tossing it directly  into the compost heap. Firstly scrub the tubers to take of the soil that covers them. This will reveal the tubers in all their horror. They look like something from the “Day of the Triffids”, this is the way they are meant to look.

Next take a potato peeler and slice the tuber into thin slivers. Place these on a dehydrator tray and sprinkle salt DSC_3084over them. It is important not to omit this step. If one does one will be rewarded for your labour by something that tastes a bit like paper. (If you follow this step then, after all your work, you will have something that tastes a bit like salty paper). Next dehydrate the slivers overnight.

Once the Jerusalem Artichike has dehydrated you will have a subsitute for crisps ( or potato chips as they are called across the pond). It is not a great substitute but they have a couple of advantages. Firstly they are low fat and low carb which is helpful to some on diets like myself and secondly they are not that great tasting which helps with the tendency to overindulge that is so easy with real crisps.

A possible final advantage might occur if one has guests. Sometimes my more cultured guests turn their noses up when I put out the Cheesy Wotsits or Monster Munch  as nibbles. These would look sufficiently homemade and rustic as to appeal to them (and there will be more wotsits left for me). As I said, I don’t want to be big headed but I suppose it won’t be long until that call comes from Sweden with the information about the Nobel Prize.

 

 

 

Misgendering

Misgendering

Our work in preparing the sheep has continued and through the last week we have been fleshing out the skins and salting them. In the last day or sowe have even started to put some of the skins into the tanning solution. At our present rate of progress we anticipate continuing with this work for another fortnight or so.  However, earlier last week something captured my attention and made me pay more attention to the poultry.

Emrys, one of our cockerels, a White Sussex, was looking depressed and dejected. It also looked as if he had been fighting and not always winning. I then noticed that I had mis-gendered one of the “girls” that I had added to his harem after the last batch hatched. One of the girls had grown rapidly and was now as big as Emrys. He had started to crow in the morning, and on further inspection was clearly not a girl but another cockerel.  None of our cockerels, at the moment, will tolerate other males around them and they fight viciously. Emrys and the new boy had started and it was only a matter of time until serious damage, or death, would result. We decided therefore that the new boy had to go and planned that he would be our supper that night (and lunch for a few days after as soup).

I find that the safest and fasted way to DSC_2695dispatch poultry is using a killing cone. This is made by using an old traffic cone, pared at the top at bottom and screwed to a large tree. This holds the bird firmly but not unpleasantly and allows you to use the machete, or axe, in a way that there is no chance of missing or just maiming the bird. From arrival at the cone to the completion of the deed takes about 10 seconds, it does not seem unduly disturbing for the bird, and death is instantaneous. This also allows you to leave the bird for a short period after dispatch, with a bucket below, to catch the blood which flows in a controlled fashion.

The next stage is to prepare your bird. I find that plucking the bird is best done as quickly as possible, it is an easier job when the bird is still warm. If you can not do the plucking immediately then it is best to wait for DSC_2696 (2)quite a while. Birds pluck easier when they are either still warm or are completely cold – a half warm bird can be difficult to pluck.  Although there are ways to aid plucking by putting the bird in boiling water for a short spell, or by buying plucking  machines, it is not a difficult job and most people can pluck a DSC_2697chicken within 15 to 20 minutes (The same, unfortunately, can not be said for ducks.)

Pluck by grabbing small amounts of feathers between your index finger and thumb and pull sharply. I find pulling ‘against the grain’  – from bottom to top – works best. Don’t be tempted to take too large clumps as you will risk tearing the skin and will also find you tire more quickly and the job ends up taking the same length of time. After you have plucked the chicken use a cleaver to remove the feet and scissors to remove the remains of the wings.

DSC_2701Remember, as always, don’t waste anything, even the feet are edible. I find that the chicken feet recipes often call for a lot of work, and often spices that I don’t carry all the time (star anise, for example). However, my two assistants are not bothered by all that culinary pfaff and prefer their chicken feet raw. Also the feathers should have been collected as these have their uses while I will describe in a future post. Now onto the next stage.

After plucking we have to dress the bird. DSC_2703This can be a messy and smelly task but it is not a difficult one. Firstly it is important to cut around the bird’s anus. This will allow is to pull the intestines out without them bursting or leaking which is something we obviously want to avoid. Having done this, make a cut from this cut up to the birds breastbone this will allow you to put your hand in DSC_2704 (2)and remove the innards. Having got the intestines out it is important to put your hand back in and up as far as you can manage to pull out the heart and windpipe. Once these are removed you have largely dressed your bird ready for the oven. Remember to wash the heart, gizzards and liver for use later on. These can be used as the giblets for making gravy, or the liver is an excellent base for pate, and the meat from the gizzards, once fried, is excellent in a salad (salade gésiers).

About three quarters of an hour after startingDSC_2706 the task the bird is ready and can be used in any of your favourite recipes. This one, however, was going to be very simply treated and roasted in the range. Before going in, it was laid on top of a bed of onions and  root vegetables  (parsnip & carrot) and seasoned with tarragon and garlic. It was cooked for the usual time and the juices reserved for making gravy and the cooked vegetables were used as a side dish. Once roasted it was ready to eat.

Be prepared, chickens you rear and prepare yourself will not be like the conveyor belt chickens you have come to expect. It will, in the first place, be smaller – a free range chicken which as been active and enjoyed its life will never be as large as its factory counterpart. All the exercise it has enjoyed also means the meat will be firmer DSC_2707 (2)and less tender. These two signs should let you know that you have done better by the bird and you let it have a better, more natural life. The biggest difference, however, will be in the taste – it will taste of chicken. It will not be the bland white meat devoid of interest but instead it will be full of  flavour and this will more than make up for any lack of size.

 

Gwin Dail Derw

Gwin Dail Derw

I noticed that we were missing a trick on

Oak leaf wine
Gwin Dial Derw

our small holding. Along the boundaries of our main fields, and in our woodland, we had majestic oak trees which gave heavy crops of acorns. I have tried some of the recipes for using acorns, and I’ll write on this at a later date, but noticed while I was collecting them that there was another potential crop – oak leaves.

After a bit of research I discovered that wine made from oak leaves was a local specialty in Wales and had a long tradition. I noted also that it was said to be fairly potent and also palatable. Therefore in autumn of last year we took a crop of oak leaves and this afternoon we bottled our first eight bottles of oak leaf wine or Gwin Dail Derw.

The recipe was fairly straightforward.  We collected two bucketfuls of oak leaves directly from the tree. These had turned brown but had not yet fallen to ground. We covered the leaves in boiling water and left them for 5 days just stirring occasionally. At the end of this time we strained the dark liquid through a muslin and brought it to the boil. We then added a grated piece of ginger (about1 cubic inch), 400 grams of chopped sultanas, and 2 kg of sugar. We simmered the mixture for a period then added general purpose wine making yeast and left it for three weeks in the demijohns to ferment. We racked it once but it cleared without any assistance.

At the end of fermentation the change in the specific gravity suggest that our wine has about 12.7% alcohol. It certainly tastes as if it does. At this early stage if presents as a clear amber liquid with a warm, spicy taste; an excellent winter wine. It is very palatable at the moment but the advice is to let it rest for a further six months to a year and we will try to do this to allow its flavours to develop.

In summary oak leaf wine has been considered to be a success. Unfortunately our experiments at making acorns palatable have been less fortunate, a set of failures I will describe at a later time.

 

Foodbanks; sign of failure and of hope.

Foodbanks; sign of failure and of hope.

 

 

Today’s daily prompt, about the egg, got me thinking about food and the basics of life. In particular, it made me think about the furore over foodbanks in Britain. These charitable concerns were set up, initially, by church groups such as the Trussell Trust, in order to help the poor and hungry in our society and to allow its members to do the most important thing that we can do as people – to look after our fellows.

It is a shame, therefore,  that foodbanks have become the current political football. Rarely are they mentioned but to complain about there presence – “There should be no need for charity in a rich country like ours” – is the common refrain. The existence of foodbanks is used in many political debates as a stick to beat the opponent as a symbol of their failings. However, I would contest that it is heart-warming to see the growth of charity and people trying to help their brothers. Voluntary, local organizations such as this are better than centralised government agencies.

Man is a social animal, it is in his nature to help his fellows. Left to his own devices he is cooperative and adventurous and works in groups to increase the wellbeing of his group. An integral part of this is charity. 150 years ago there was boom in self-help and mutual aid organisations (mutual societies, friendly societies, insurance schemes, religious and trade groups) and over three quarters of working men had some form of health and unemployment insurance. These growth of these schemes was seriously hampered by the development of the current welfare state which rapidly became the monopoly provider (with all the consequent problems that monopoly providers have).

I would guess that we would all agree that we want to help those less fortunate than ourselves for whatever cause and it was this desire which promoted the developments of those schemes. Unfortunately, there has been the development of very negative views on the left and on the right of the poorer in our society. On the right there are concerns that they might be indolent or reckless and need some punitive element to their assistance to try and correct what they see as bad behaviour. On the left the poorer are seen as incompetent, unable to organize and requiring central planning to take over. The left also tend to view us all as egocentric and greedy who would not look after our neighbours were we not compelled to by act of law and threat of punishment.

Both of these views have damaged societies abilities to develop better local schemes. The welfare state has created a gap between donor and recipient, which is poor for both parties – donors can not easily influence how their assistance is used and recipients become increasingly seen as “the other”, something outside of society – apart and lesser. (However, as an aside, I have to say I am grateful of this gap when it allows me not to feel too close to the decision to use my tax payments to kill some Yemeni child.)

Welfare states may not make people lazy, there is really no evidence for this, but they do often cause dependency, and apathy, and often can have perverse incentives which reduce the ability of individuals to return to work and sometimes damage family structures. Welfare states, by their national basis, are often the reasons for people’s dislike of free movement – incomers are seen as jumping into a scheme they and their families had not established (thus felt to be receiving benefits without entitlement) rather than being viewed as possible new partners with whom to work and grow (all studies find immigration strengthens economic growth).

As we now use the term “poverty” to define a group a specific distance from the mean wealth of the population we will always have people in poverty – unless there was no deviation whatsoever in incomes (an unlikely scenario) there will always be the relatively poor and we will always need and want to aid them. All the great religions and philosophies have seen this as a cardinal act of humanity (“If anyone with earthly possessions sees his brother in need, but withholds his compassion from him, how can the love of God abide in him?” in the Bible and the Koran’s recognition that there is a “” to our wealth”) Those, often religious groups, who wish to do this through foodbanks should be applauded for their actions. We should not give all power and planning for assistance away, the less charity there is in a society the less human, less cooperative and less kind our society becomes.


Via : Daily Prompt – Egg