Thursday, 29 December 2011


It's Yuletide. The humans are feasting, and so are the wild boar, Sus scrofa. Their particular feast is the fallen fruit (in English they are "strawberries", in Catalan "cherries") of Arbutus unedo. This beautiful tree flowers and fruits at the same time, around Yule:

Arbutus unedo, the Strawberry Tree

We have passed the Winter Solstice by a week, but the festivals go on. Here in Catalunya my favourite is the one that links me to my Northern roots - the Yule log, known here as Caga Tío. A strong log is placed next to the fire, wrapped in a blanket, fed food scraps each evening (which, of course, it consumes in the night) and cared for. On the evening of 24th December the kids run around the house singing a special song. When they return they hit the log with sticks...and it, er, shits sweeties and wee presents. 

Scatological and celebratory all at once, turning the year with food, fertility and warmth.

Crofter's Christmas Pudding

It's Yule, so here is my Christmas pudding recipe. I know. It's late for Christmas 2011, but the idea is to make it for next year so that it has time to mature.

It starts with the most complicated part - the suet. In Scotland (infamous for its high-fat diet) you can buy shredded suet over the counter. Here you can't. So I start by buying three lambs' kidneys with their surrounding fat, and then pulling the fat (pure suet) out from the membranes, nerves and blood vessels around the kidney. (I fried and flambéed the kidneys for supper - delicious.) This fat is lamb suet - finer than the beef suet we buy in Scotland.

Then take one large bowl and throw in:

1500grams (yes, 1.5 kg) of dried fruit. I used Malaga raisins, Spanish figs, dried apricots and dates from Morocco.
1 apple, grated
Rind of 1 orange and 1 lemon, and the juice of the lemon
50g almonds, blanched, skinned and chopped up
50g-100g of candied fruits - I used pineapple, mango and papaya - chopped finely
300ml of dark beer
half a glass of whisky (no, I didn't use the Laphroaig; too good, for cooking.)

Stir and leave to stand for a couple of hours in a warm place, so that the fruit absorbs the alcohol...

Stir, for luck

Then mix:
Suet from 3 lamb kidneys, chopped up
120g wholemeal flour
0.5 teaspoon of baking powder
220g of white breadcrumbs
450g of sugar
Half a nutmeg, grated
6 cloves
Half a teaspoon of cinnamon (I grated mine from the bark)
Four eggs (Maran eggs, of course)

Stir all this lot together for as long as your arms will take it. You get a wish.

Now spoon into well-buttered bowls, and cover with a double layer of greaseproof paper and a folded tea towel. The string is always the fiddly bit, especially if you have had the cook's privilege of a glass of whisky as you go...

Now boil for eight (yes, 8) hours. Tricky to keep the pan topped up, but if you don't you'll get a congealed mass of carbonised pudding and broken glass in the bottom of your favourite pan...

Once cooked, this pudding will store well. Take off the greaseproof paper you used for cooking. Pierce all over with a skewer, and pour over your favourite whisky. Cover with fresh greaseproof paper and tie tightly down. Every 2-3 months, add more whisky. By next Christmas this pudding will be, er, mature. Cook for a couple of hours (really, to heat it through) and then serve, flaming. Cannae beat it.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

A bun in the oven?

Thistle is pregnant again.

Due, if I calculate correctly, in February (she has been pregnant for a while).

And here is the happy father, Phoenix:

But what about your other females, matey? Get a move on, or we'll have no Spring lamb...

Sheepskin - solved

Geisha, one of our ewes, is being hit by a mysterious skin condition. It's a kind of eczema that affects her forehead and eyelids.

Geisha, looking a wee bit glum

 She is losing condition, getting a bit rough-looking, but nothing I am treating her with seems to help.

Pep the Vet, and Ramon Bach the veterinarian at ANCRI, the association for Ripollesa sheep, suggest that this is Sheep Scab, caused by a mite called Psoroptes ovis (on which there is a great deal written - I found this article useful.) Treatment, started by Pep, is with ivermectin injected under the skin. I will do the second dose of the treatment in a few days. When the sheep are clipped in the Spring we will wash them with a chemical that should help kill the mites, but they are persistent and I expect that we will have to work hard to eliminate them.

Psoroptes is an insect from the Astigmata order.  "Sheep Scab" is, indeed, a stigma for sheep and shepherd.

Poor Geisha. I'll try to help her get over it.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Merveilleux Oeufs

Ils sont arrivées!

The first Maran eggs have arrived, six months after their mothers hatched from the eggs of the same chocolate brown colour. The eggs almost glow with the rich deep colour of the shell.
Chocolate Eggs
To celebrate, our friend Pete helped me build a nesting box for the chicken shed.

Pete with his nest-egg

Friday, 2 December 2011

It's Gitanes time again!

Yoooo hooo!

It's time to start practising our footwork for the Gitanes dances. 

Dancers, with Crofter's son on the left...
Weeks of hard work, ending in a wonderful Sunday-morning show (19th Feb 2012) in which 20% of the population of the village dance in the main square. Pure brilliant.

Here's the link:

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Olives, live

It's the olive harvest here on the Croft.

Alive for olives
Here's this year's harvest. Pathetic, isn't it?

I have a lot to learn about olives. A hundred years ago the Croft had around 200 olive trees, and fed a nearby mill. The few that remain are untended, bushy sticks. But generous - the olives have a wonderful warm, oily feel when you pick them - soft and easily crushed down to the rock-hard pip inside.