Saturday, 3 October 2015

Tender moment

"Just nipping down to the butcher to get a bit of meat."

"Get something tender, dear. A nice but of lamb, maybe?"

Millions of households, millions of Saturday mornings. It's the butcher, or it's the supermarket, but the story is the same; a bit of meat for lunch or supper.

We said goodbye to Fat Face the lamb, yesterday, off to the butcher's too...but from the opposite direction.

It's a difficult moment, even when you have been doing it for years. You know that the lamb has had a good life, probably better than millions of other animals, with care and affection and, in the case of Fat Face, a visit to the village to be blessed by the priest on St Anthony's day this February.

You know all of that. And yet it hurts to hand him over to the butcher.

And it should hurt. Because meat production is not some distant, automated, faceless process. The meat you bought this morning in the supermarket used to walk around enjoying the fresh grass and hay. We should treasure it, not just fry it. For those like me who do not want to be vegetarian, we should remember the animal before.

Keeping sheep makes you tender.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Mummified with Mummy

In republican Catalan, the queen bee is "la mare", the mother. And when mother is missing, everything in the hive goes wrong. There are not enough workers to defend the hive and the dreaded wax moth gets in.

But when mother is home, enter at your peril:

A bit stuck up
Here is what happened to a dragon fly that entered one of my hives; it was mummified in propolis. This is the sticky compound produced by bees from tree sap, buds and other places. The defender bees - these, just in case of any doubt are all female - surrounded and attacked the dragonfly, removed its tail and coated it in gluey, sticky, propolis. Not a nice way to die, but probably a warning to anything else that might want to get in there.

When mummy is at home even dragons are mummified.

Bottling it

I adapted a recipe from my favourite bottling book*, and bottled little Catalan pears in Priorat wine:

  • 4 tall jars
  • about 1.5kg pears
  • 1kg sugar
  • 500ml wine
  • 500ml water
  • Spices (I used cloves, cinnamon and juniper)
  • Juice of one lemon

A nice pear
Pour water and wine into a large pan. Add the sugar and stir while cold until as much of the sugar as possible has dissolved. Heat gently, stirring, to ensure that the sugar fully dissolves, then boil gently with the lid off for 15 minutes. You should have a rich syrup. Cool, for about 30 minutes.

Juice the lemon into a bowl. Peel each pear, cutting out stalk and core, and dip in the lemon juice.

Pack the pears into clean, sterile jars. Pour over the syrup and shoogle the jar about a bit to get rid of bubbles. The jar should be filled to 1cm of the rim. Place tops on jars but not screwed tight.

Place jars into pan filled with water to at least two thirds of the height of the jars. I put a dishcloth in the pan to prevent the jars from banging together. Boil with the lid on the pan for 40 minutes. Open the pan lid quickly and screw down the jar lids fully. Put back the lid and leave to stand overnight while the whole lot cools down.

Label and store in a dark cupboard until you can resist them no longer...

*Lasnet de Lanty, Henriette, and Michèle Parfonry. Confits, confitures et conserves. Sens pratique. Neuilly-sur-Seine: Dargaud, 1978.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Honey, I'm waxed

My plans for a hive-full of honey have been poleaxed by the wax moth, Achroia grisella. Against the advice of my mentor, Miguel the honey man, I had kept a hive without a queen. The results - a weakened hive unable to defend itself against the moth - are dramatic:

Moth invasion

Coo-coo cocoon

I took down the hive at the weekend, scattering the few bees left there to the four winds, and incinerated the whole lot as a precaution.

Burn 'em all

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Dropping Beauty

This is the Two-Tailed Pasha, Charaxes jasius, feeding on chicken droppings outside the Croft.

Pasha-nate about poultry products

Beautiful, isn't she? Despite the diet...

Thursday, 6 August 2015

And over to Skye...

Benbecula, the sheep who lived, has given birth. Our second lamb in two days. 

The new boy on the block is called Skye, and he's a strong wee chap:

Likes a drink, does Skye

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Thistle and Spike

Yesterday evening our oldest ewe gave birth to Spike. Born at only 3.5kg he is underweight.

Thistle's thirsty boy

Thistle is not the world's greatest ewe, and has never been very good at feeding her lambs. We have lost some as a consequence. 

So we all helped; we dried Spike off and then spent an hour trying to get him onto the teat - in vain. I milked Thistle to get some of the precious colostrum, and then fed it from a syringe into Spike's mouth. By midnight Spike was still not feeding, but he was looking a lot better. 

This morning he was still wandering around the place a bit aimlessly, but when his wanders took him near Thistle he suckled. He will probably be fine, but I will be checking him each hour to make sure.

Lambing - it's a nerve-wracking business.