Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Michaelmas

Well, here we are on Michaelmas Day - we have no goose to cook and I haven't made my Corn Dolly.

Our apples, such as they are, have been harvested and are ready for making into cider, probably a job for this weekend if the rain keeps on coming. It's been a poor year for our apple trees and we really only have a crop from one eater and one cooker. Still, there's enough to make one batch of cider and we still have some cider left from last year... and we have to remember that the pigs had more than their fair share of windfalls which in turn meant that Jilly ate a lot too, not to be outdone.


I did research Corn Dollys and found helpful tips at the Guild of Strawcraftsmen . You can, apparently, buy the materials you need. But, although modern day corn is too short for proper Corn Dolly making,  I wanted to use what we picked ourselves. You musn't laugh at my first attempt.
I made a Countryman's Favour which was the easist thing I found and my only advice is Read The Instructions. I should have dampened my straw first. The result is a little 'sticky-outy' and rough and ready looking but it's my first and therefore has pride of place in the kitchen. It needs a bow and it will get one this evening. I'm also going to dampen and use up the rest of my corn and dress my favours with ribbon for Christmas decorations.

We have no debts to settle, nor rents to pay so all that is left for us to do this wet and miserable autumn evening is to feast on home grown pork with lashings of home made cider then settle down by the fire, choose which garlic to plant and play with polytunnel layout plans.

Monday, 27 September 2010

The Polytunnel Cometh

We've been planning to get a polytunnel all year and this is where it will go. The Jasmine along the fence has been moved and the fencing taken down so we can have a path from the tunnel to the greenhouse.

We had pretty much decided what we wanted but we wanted to see one before we committed. We waited for the Harrogate Flower Show where  we knew the company we were looking at would have a stand.
Being canny Yorkshirefolk we reckoned that there would be 'special offers' at a Show, and we weren't wrong. Being ultra-canny Yorkshirefolk, we also found out that if we went after 2pm on the last day we could get in for half-price. Sorted.

We were very impressed and committed to one. We have opted to have it built by the supplier for a few reasons. First and foremost, I'm not too clever on my pins at the moment and would be no help at all so Steve would be reliant on volunteers to help out. Secondly, these things aren't cheap and we want to be sure it's constructed properly. If anything goes wrong during or because of the construction, it won't be our fault. There is or course a third reason in that it will all be over and done with in one day.

Because of the way the tunnel is built, we have no real prep to do before it's installed. We won't be digging up the turf or preparing beds until it's done, although we may take up the turf around the outline of the tunnel. The thinking is to protect the beds from being trampled on during construction and the site will be firm. It also means that Steve can dig the beds even if it's raining.

We are still planning our internal layout and have researched this quite a bit. There's a very good piece on this and other helpful polytunnel articles over at Grown Stuff

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Pig Weight Tapes

Or...Weighing Pigs the Easy Way

In our post
 we mentioned a weight tape that we had been unable to source.
We have found one at
and thought we should share it with you.
The tape costs GBP 8.19
It has a metric tape on one side and
the other side gives you an approximate weight in kg.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Making Sausages

Some people get sausages made for them by the butcher who processes their pig. We wanted to make our own and with this in mind we treated ourselves to a mincer from Weschenfelder where we also sourced our casings. This was after I had hunted high and low for one of the two mincers I am convinced are here somewhere; one belonged to my mum, the other to my Nana. I recall using one to make Liver Pate for my dad when I was a teenager. I think Steve was rather relieved that I couldn't find them as he likes new kitchen gadgets.
We chose to have a manual one, rather than an electric model, primarily because we had seen what a mess the Hairy Bikers got into! To be fair, we also read other opinions and knew we'd have more control and less waste with the manual version.

We got Natural Hog Casings for our first attempts as they are larger than sheep casings. They look and smell disgusting and, typically, Jilly was much more interested in them than the pork and sat by the counter guarding them. You can imagine how much they must whiff if she could smell them whilst they were soaking in water.

As with our bacon, much research went into ingredients and recipes. We finally adapted one of Hugh F-W's basic recipes. Again, we didn't want to add much in the way of 'extra' seasonings, we wanted to taste our pork but we were also aware that too high a meat content would not be good.
The ratios we used were:
750g meat : 25g breadcrumbs
1.6kg lean meat : 1kg fatty meat (belly)
We added salt & pepper to our own taste, making small patties and frying them off as we went along.

Stuffing the sausages was an experience not to be missed. The mincer from Weschenfelder comes with some very good tips and advice but fails to mention the side effects of dubious jokes and much giggling that starts with placing the casings on the nozzle and continues way past the odd shaped sausages that you first end up with.
Nevertheless, we were finally the proud producers of our own sausages and here are a few of them to prove it. Not perfect, but delicious.
I'm also happy to report that the initial whiffiness of the casings disappears and you cannot taste them.

Maybe next time we shall experiment with different flavourings but, personally, I like my sausages to taste of pork. If I want other flavours I can add condiments.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Curing Bacon

Our pigs weren't technically bacon pigs, they were porkers, but we decided to have a go at bacon anyway and we chose to dry cure some belly to make streaky bacon. For back bacon you need to use the loin.
You can buy ready made cures for this but, being our first time and our first pigs, we wanted as much control over it all as we could have.
There are many 'recipes' for cures  and we adapted ours from The Accidental Smallholder . You'll see that it includes Saltpetre as optional. We researched this and decided that since the bacon was only for us and since the only 'real' benefit appears to be pink bacon we wouldn't use it. We didn't really want to use it unless we had to. And we left out the pepper.

So our cure was salt and sugar in the ration of 10:1.

We rubbed a handful of cure into each piece of belly and put them in a fridge in a plastic container. Each day for 5 days we poured off the liquid, rubbed in more cure and returned the pieces to the box in a different order. We kept to 5 days as this appeared to be the minimum time advised in most sources, the idea being that if the results weren't to our taste we could add a day each time we do this until we reached our own preferred time.
After 5 days we soaked them in water for 2 hours then popped them into fresh water to soak for another hour. Advice on soaking differs and with hindsight, because our pieces were relatively small they could maybe have done with a little longer soaking. Then they were dried and wrapped in muslin ready for drying.

The bacon hung in our garage and I found it a bit eerie.
On the one hand they looked like hot water bottles, on the other hand they looked like aliens in chrysalises waiting to emerge one dark, windy night and wreak havoc in the village.
It hung for 2 days - again opinion is divided, but most seem to say from 2 days.

Our bacon is salty.
And I'm happy to report that this is normal - or so they say.
The quick solution is to blanch it for 45-60 seconds then drain and dry before frying. This works well and we are delighted with the taste.

A tip we picked up 'after the fact' was to put the bacon joint into the freezer to firm up a little before slicing it. We didn't so we have 'thin and thick' in out freezer.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Some Like It Hot

We always grow a lot of Chilli Peppers.We use them a lot so it's handy to have a store of them and they have no airmiles. As with many things, we started growing them without really comprehending that they are 'difficult to grow' and we've been lucky. We treat them in much the same way as we treat our tomato plants and keep them in the greenhouse. This year we tried some new ones.


First up is "Early Jalapeno" which we chose because it says on the packet -  "This is a very early strain - most jalapenos grow too slowly for the UK climate." 
It also says on the packet "A small sausage-shaped green pepper" - we let ours turn red. We were also perturbed by the markings on the skin as the peppers grew until we went back to the packet to find they have the "distinctive jalapeno corky markings".  You live and learn.
The harvest was quite good. Our first pickings were eaten fresh, stuffed with cream cheese and roasted. There are many variations on this theme such as stuffing, dipping in batter and deep frying to make 'poppers', or wrapping the stuffed peppers in bacon before roasting.

Then we have "Gelbe Kirschen". It is an early yellow cherry chilli pepper and it does just what it says on the packet. The plant is a little round bush that becomes covered in little round, yellow chillis. It looks very ornamental. The packet does say cherry-sized but I wouldn't say any of ours were as big as a cherry.
The packet also says "blisteringly hot"....
I watched on in amusement as Steve popped one in his mouth. I can only say that it came out much faster than it went in and he went a delightful shade of pink, deepening to a lovely red.
They passed the taste test.
Each and every plant produced a formidable crop and I wish I had taken a photo before I plundered them. We shall be growing this one again.

The others in the photo are from seeds left over from previous years and were a hopeful sowing. We had a bunch of red, yellow and orange from these. There are still green ones waiting to be picked in the greenhouse and they will be harvested over the next couple of days because the weather is turning now.

I freeze our peppers on trays then pop them in bags. One advantage of this is that they are much easier to handle for slicing/chopping when they are frozen or just beginning to thaw. You don't get the juices on your hands and the seeds are easier to keep track of.

Our chilli seeds came from The Real Seed Catalogue.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Life goes on...

Our Sickly Chick died this weekend. She was a 'bit off' on Friday, staying close to her own house. She was eating and drinking but went to bed early. She spent the evening sat just inside her door watching the world go by. The next morning she was gone. Sad.

She'd taken ill in June and we had separated her from the others as soon as we realised she was not well. She recovered enough to spend the summer tootling round the whole place.
 When she was not sat with the pigs she would come and bask on the doorstep. She 'helped' in the veg garden and made her own dust bath beside the greenhouse. I enjoyed her company

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

How to Weigh a Pig

Well, the best way is to measure them. Unless, of course you have some large scales or one of those mysterious weight tapes*

Being first time pig rearers we were possibly a little obsessed with how much our pigs weighed and we found two methods which we used in tandem. At first we were measuring them every week or so, but that petered out and I'm sure next time we shall only do it once a month.
Our butcher said we'd get a feel for when they were ready once we had seen the results from our first two. He says he assesses them by the broadness of their backs.

Both methods involve measuring the pigs.
First, the girth around what some books call their shoulders. That's just behind their front legs, close up to their 'armpits'. Then you measure the length from between the ears to the root of the tail.

Method 1
Length x Girth - then divide the result by 12 for lean pigs, 11 for medium and 10 for fat pigs.

Method 2
Girth x Girth x Length - then divide the result by 400

Both give results in Imperial Pounds.

We read somewhere that the carcass weight is roughly 66.6% of the live weight (The Pig Site says 72%) and we assume that this includes the head, although none of the sources we found says this. So, a Porker at 160lb should give you 107 - 115lb of pork.

It's not an exact science but these methods will give you an approximation of weight. Books advise you to take pigs to slaughter at a certain age or weight and as beginners you want to get it right. Our slaughterman/butcher said first-timers usually get it a bit wrong, you'll get to know your pigs, he said, if you think you can balance a tea tray on their backs then it's time to go.

Our pigs were 26 weeks old when we took them and probably a bit over the 160lb mark and we are satisfied with the results. The butcher said they had cut well and the fat ratio was pretty good, he has seen home reared rare breed pigs with chops that are nearly all fat. Ours, he said, were "pretty good for first-timers". A remark like that from a Yorkshireman is praise indeed.



*Mysterious Weight Tapes - apparently, and according to an article in Country Smallholding, you can get a tape measure that you use to take the Girth measurement and it will give you a weight reading. We have not been able to find one of these on the Internet and we have had no answer to an email we sent to the author of the article. If anyone knows where to find one of these, please let us know.

** Please see update here

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

All-Year-Round-Jam

I recently read a magazine article that said it was a bit late in the year to still be jam-making. I disagree completely and only have to say "Hedgerow Jam".
However, the article reminded me of a recipe I have for jam made from nuts and dried fruits. In these modern days of freezers, most of us can turn to our frozen fruits to make a batch of jam in the depths of winter but this recipe sprang from a desire for jam when there were no frozen fruits to be had.
It really is remarkably simple.

All-Year-Round-Jam

1lb Prunes
1lb Raisins
1lb Demerara Sugar
4oz Almonds, blanched & chopped
1 Pint Water

Pour the water over the prunes, raisins and chopped almonds and leave to soak overnight.
Strain the juice, keeping it to one side.
Remove stones from Prunes and chop with the raisins.
Put everything back into the strained juice and heat gently.
Add the sugar and stir until it is dissolved then bring to the boil.
Boil rapidly, stirring occasionally, for about 20 mins or until it reaches setting point.
Pot & seal.


Now, as you can see, this contains prunes and I have to remind you that they are mildly laxative so remember this when you're spreading this an inch thick on your toast!
I haven't made it for a while, having had such an abundance of fresh fruit in recent years but as I remember it was a concentrated plummy jam - lovely. Actually, having been reminded of it I think I shall make some this year and keep my frozen fruits for desserts.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Of Tags and Trailers, and Final Trips

We used Ritchey Tamperproof Brass Tags for our pigs. We bought them from a local stockist and were able to buy small numbers. They look a bit evil and the applicator is like a giant staple gun. Having heard our weaners squeal when they were ID tagged before we brought them  home, seeing these instruments of torture only added to our trepidation of tagging our porkers.
What did we know?
We fed them, adding some tasty morsels to keep them occupied and in went Steve armed with, of all things...a dustbin lid. (In case they turn and snap, he said)
He bent down, took an ear, placed the applicator, then looked up at me and said "That's it???" Not a murmur from the pig, not a flinch, nothing. The tag went in as smooth as a knife into butter. The second pig gave a deep grunt but other than that the whole event was, well, uneventful. We had to sit down and have a drink we were just so amazed at how easy it all was.

On this second pic you can see the hole where the plastic ID tag came out of this pig's ear which goes some way to explaining why folk generally don't tag until the last minute. Luckily her tag was lost at quite a late age and did not damage her ear.

The night before their final journey we backed the trailer up and put an old piece of carpet onto the ramp. We had already filled the trailer with straw and we threw in some apples which we had cut up so they would have to look for them. We enticed them in with bananas. In they went and we closed the doors. Once again, it all seemed too simple. We waited a while hearing them give the straw a good turning over. There were many satisfactory grunts so we left them, sneaking back down later before we went to bed, just to check, like you do.

Early the next morning we were off.
We had to back our trailer to unload on a slope. The pigs did not want to leave the trailer and we think that the slope of the ramp onto another slope had a lot to do with it. It took a while, but finally the coaxing and the sound of a food bucket being rattled overcame the dislike of the ramp and out they came. They were very grumpy, we think because they were still on a slope. Once they had followed the bucket onto the flat, they were fine and walked with us quite happily to the pen where we were happy to leave them in the hands of the guys who had been so patient and helpful.
I asked if all pigs were so 'difficult' when it came to unloading and with a wink one of the guys said "It's just that they know their mummy doesn't want them any more."
Then it was up to the butchers shop that also belongs to the abattoir to see to the business end of it all.

We were pleased. We had a good experience. Our pigs had a happy life and a good ending.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Bank Holiday Weekend

We never go anywhere on a Bank Holiday weekend for the simple reason that everyone else does. Everywhere is just so busy. Our weekend was also busy.

It was time for our Bay Tree to have a trim and so, as my lavender came down from drying, up went some Bay. The lavender went straight into a pillow case and was hand rolled to get all the heads off. I'll use them to make lavender sachets. The stalks are by the fire for firelighting and the pillowcase is hanging in the downstairs loo as a temporary air freshener.
I also threw some Bay branches into the kitchen cupboards. This is an old house and the cupboards have a tendency to mustiness that Bay is supposed to counter.

Our cucumber have done really well this year and, once again, the plants outside have outshone those in the greenhouse in terms of crop. We shall continue to grow some indoors though because they come much sooner. I made Cucumber Pickle for the first time and it is so amazingly simple that I shall make sure we have plenty to pickle next year. It is also yummy.

Cucumber Pickle

1½lb Cucumber finely diced
½lb Onion finely sliced
1 Green Pepper deseeded and finely diced
¾oz Salt
½ pint Vinegar
½ Tsp Tumeric
1 level Tsp Mustard Seed
½ Tsp Mace
½ Tsp Celery Seed
5oz Sugar

Put all the vegetables in a bowl and mix in the Salt.
Leave for 2-3 hours.
Drain, rinse with cold water and drain again.
Put all pickle ingredients into a pan with the sugar and vinegar.
Bring to boil, stiring to help sugar dissolve and boil for 2 mins.
Add drained vegetables and bring back to boil, stirring all the time.

Put into jars and seal.



Steve had come home from a walk with some cherry plums and I used these along with our own plums to make Spiced Pickled Plums. We picked elderberries from our own hedge and started some Elderberry Wine.

Meanwhile, Steve has started to utilise the pallets that we have. As we are replanning our layout, our compost heaps will have to be moved so he has made a start on that.

He has also built a new woodstore up near the house. No picture of that because it is surrounded by clutter at the moment!