work and play

The lovely sunshine on Saturday afternoon lured us all outside for the rest of the weekend. It may have been duller and a tad chilly today, but the Spring weather yesterday had already got us enthusiastic about gardening, trampolining and lighting the bonfire. There was a fallen tree that had to be climbed before it’s logged up for the woodburner as well as paths to be made. All of course punctuated by plenty of food and drink beside the woodburning stove.

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We were keen to add some structure (this sounds a bit formal for clearing a few beds for flowers and vegetables radiating out from a curved lawn, making steps from bits of stone we’d saved and creating paths) to the area cleared by the pigs last year before I’m desperate to plant out lots of seedlings. Luckily, we had some good help:

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The grass seed planted by Guy and Ruby last September has grown really well, although Mr Mole has made lots of appearances. And the areas I cleared ready for planting were so easy thanks to the piggies who had thoroughly rooted out all the tough weeds – I just needed to dig out the recent, surface weeds and take them to the compost heap. While Ruby was happy and very useful (for a short time anyway!) with a bowl of soapy water.

It was great to sit outside for a tea break yesterday. Today, we needed regular warm-ups though and the woodburner beckoned. As did bacon popcorn with coffee/apple juice for brunch.

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I know, bacon and popcorn aren’t often seen in the same bowl. But I was inspired by soulemama to try it, even using home-rendered lard to cook with, and honestly, it’s a yummy treat. Apt that we were enjoying our piggy produce in between working on the area they’d cleared and fertilised for us?

It’s been so lovely having a whole weekend to play and work together at home. The Spring sunshine has also got me looking forward to the Easter holiday – 5 year olds are so much fun and the half term holiday went so quickly; roll on the next time when I have more than a weekend to enjoy playing with my daughter. We have a weekend away planned during the school holiday in Devon at Mazzard farm:

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The converted barns at Mazzard farm are surrounded by acres of orchards and woodland, I can’t wait to explore the surrounding countryside and the nearby beaches at Budleigh Salterton and Sidmouth. And I think there are some great artisan food producers nearby too. Even more time to play together, with no distractions!

harira and italian bean soup

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Slowly simmering soups on the woodburner has become a regular evening pastime in our house lately. Harira and Italian bean soup, my two latest concoctions are very rustic, hearty affairs – the sort of soups that verge on a stew, can make a satisfying meal and change each time I make them. It all depends what leftovers I have in the fridge, what veggies the pigeons and pheasants have left me in the garden and what sort of mood I’m in for extra spice or more robust herbs.

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With cold, grey days and lots of germs and flu bugs still lingering (some brought home from school for half term) both soups have felt comforting and warming. Packed with veggies and pulses, and making use of leftover meat bones, they feel both frugal and healthy too. I hadn’t realised quite how nutritious both soups might be until I read Alex’s great piece on her Cold Comfort Soup in Dale cottage diaries however. Apparently, slow cooking of bones in stocks and soups helps release lots of health-giving minerals. Alex’s chicken soup looks wonderful too.

My harira, a Moroccan style soup with lots of lentils made an extra meal out of a cheap but excellent cut of lamb which had already provided us with two tasty stews. I’d visited Liz Knight of Forage Fine Foods at her lovely, remote hillside cottage on the borders of Herefordshire and Wales and enjoyed the simple but delicious stew she made with lamb that had grazed the wild, herb covered pastures around her home. Inspired by the flavour of the meat and by Liz’s homemade rose el hanout (made with dried rose petals) which was wonderful scattered on the lamb, I couldn’t resist buying some lamb from her local shop to take home.

Wanting to do justice to this very free-roaming lamb, we enjoyed lots of it in a simple stew with root veg (which provided 2 family meals) then added the bone and some leftovers to a Harira cooked slowly on the woodburner that evening. The Harira recipe is adapted from a recipe in Casa Moro by Samuel and Samantha Clark, one of my favourite cookery books. The flatbread recipes in here go wonderfully with this soup too. As I was vegetarian for years, I used to make variations of this with veggie stock (obviously without the lamb) and with a few more lentils and it was very tasty. But this is the version I made this week:

Harira

2.75 litres cold water

Leftover lamb/bones (I had neck of lamb leftovers)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 red chilli, de-seeded and chopped

a pinch of dried chilli flakes

1/2 teaspoon each of ground cinnamon, turmeric and ginger, cumin and coriander (vary according to personal preference)

1 large bunch fresh coriander, stalks and leaves separated, washed and chopped

100g green or brown lentils

120g red lentils

1 400g tin of tomatoes

200g chard/spinach/kale/cavolo nero (depending what available/in season)

a squeeze of lemon

sea salt and black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, cook the onions slowly for 5 mins, then add garlic and spices and the coriander stalks, cook for another couple of minutes. Add the water and lamb, bring to simmer and cook slowly for 1/2 hour (if the lamb is raw, cook for another 1/2 hour). Add the lentils and simmer for another 1/2 hour. Add the tomatoes, cook for another 10 minutes then add the chopped chard and simmer for another 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, coriander leaves and lemon juice and continue to cook for another 10 minutes until the pulses are soft. Remove lamb bone, flaking off any meat into the soup, check seasoning and serve.

In between making the Harira and Italian Bean soup, I read some really interesting, thought provoking pieces about our consumption of meat. After the (surely not too surprising) recent discoveries of what some of the mass-produced processed meat products on sale actually contain, there are some really good points being made.

In her great post on ‘Meat Choices’ on her blog, Sally Prosser says:

” The industrialisation of farming in agriculture and animals (including the failed promises and potential catastrophe of GM crops) and the pervasive spread of increasingly processed foods in the hands of fewer and more powerful corporations and retailers is one of the most sinister threats of our age. So what can we do?”

In my opinion, one of the things that we can do, is go back to using well-reared meat sparingly, something that to pre-war generations was a way of life. Cheap cuts of well-reared meat can be easily (and deliciously) padded out with pulses to make so many tasty, healthy and frugal meals. And I agree with Trine Hahnemann’s ideas in The Nordic Diet about eating wild or free-range meat a couple of times a week then eating several fish and veggie meals. Surely this is good for our health as well as our environment?

Alex Stevenson in her Notes on a Scandal piece on her blog, says:

“To me, and many other smallholders, food is the key reason for taking up such a lifestyle, to know what we are eating, what’s in it and how it is produced. This is an aspect of food consumption which as a society, we are getting further and further away from.”

Similarly, I know that I’m lucky to live in a rural area where it’s easy to buy good meat – and to have raised our own rare breed pigs last year. I feel fortunate to have the space to enjoy growing veggies too. And I know that our society has complex problems to resolve associated with food production, to which there aren’t easy answers.

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Making soup may not be the answer to all our meat issues, but slow cooking a handful of beans or pulses with vegetables and good stock is a satisfying activity for a cold February evening! I had a ham bone in the freezer from a home-cured joint I cooked last time my family came to visit. This is the Italian peasant style soup I made from it. It makes enough for several suppers.

Italian Bean Soup

450g dried borlotti beans (you could use 2 tins of cannellini or borlotti beans instead) soaked overnight, then boiled for 15 mins and washed

7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

5 garlic cloves

2 onions, finely chopped

2 carrots, finely chopped

1 leek, chopped

2 sticks celery, finely chopped

1/2 tin tomatoes

1 ham bone (if you don’t have a ham bone, I’ve made a veggie version with leftover parnesan rinds added for extra savoury flavour)

1.5 litres water

300g cabbage leaves (cavolo nero is perfect, but I used January King cabbage this time)

1 sprig rosemary and a few sprigs of thyme

slices of bread to serve, ideally sourdough or ciabatta style

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Heat 3 tablespoons oil, chop two of garlic cloves and cook with onions and leeks slowly for 5 minutes, without colouring. Add the remaining vegetables, sweat for a few minutes then add the ham bone, beans and water. Cover, bring to boil and simmer for about 1 hour until beans are tender. Remove the ham bone and puree some of the soup with a handheld blender. I like some texture, so remove half the beans/veg and puree what’s left in the pan – but you can liquidise more if you want a thick soup. Add beans/veg back to liquidised soup along with cabbage and simmer gently 10 minutes until cabbage tender.

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While the cabbage is cooking, pour remaining oil into a small saucepan and heat it gently with the rosemary, thyme and 2 of the remaining garlic cloves (brusised but unpeeled). After about 10 minutes, strain the now flavoured oil into the soup and heat it through for a few minutes, stirring and season with salt and pepper to taste. Toast bread and rub with remaining garlic clove, placing in the bottom of soup bowl before ladling over the soup – it will soak up all the lovely flavours. Great with parmesan too.

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The soup will keep well for a few days in the fridge, in fact its flavour improves the day after it’s made.

And sorry, we ate all the harira before I remembered that I hadn’t taken any pics!

calendula, chorizo, tea on the beach and plans for 2013

Inspired by Flora’s Posts and MyCustardPie, I decided to look back over the last year. Looking at Joy Larkcom’s The Organic Salad Garden, I couldn’t resist making a few plans for 2013 too.

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It’s lovely on a grey day when the ground is too muddy to tackle, to look back at the pictures of summer abundance in the garden. Images of gigantic lovage, rampaging calendula (thank goodness you can eat the petals in salads and decorate cakes with them), and other flowers, salad, herbs and veggies growing in crazy chaos make me feel better about the neglected tomatoes and pathetic potato harvest.

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I blame Dorset for the neglected tomatoes. We went on holiday just when they needed me. And had a great time, cooking tea on the beach, using our home-made smoker to hot-smoke delicious mackerel, loving the playground entirely made from rope at West Bay. The brunch at the wonderful Hive Beach Cafe and baked goodies from Town Mill Bakery in Lyme Regis were fab too.

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The Three Little Pigs were great fun to have in the garden, did a brilliant job of clearing a thistle-strewn area. They were well-fed, grew slowly in plenty of space and well looked after. And now they’re feeding us very well. Once the temperature dropped, I loved making salami and chorizo and the air dried ham is still slowly drying (I hope! Better wait until I unwrap it before I start planning how to use my ‘proscuito’) while our sausages and bacon are proving to be the new jam when it comes to thanking friends for favours.

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I’ve loved seeing Ruby become more interested in cooking. Even if she is messier than her Mum (quite some feat), who often needs a spot of dusk gardening or a squirt of magic spray to recover afterwards. Decorating with violets, making wild garlic pesto, and gathering elderflowers then making them into elderflower cordial with her has all been great fun.

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As usual there’s been plenty of preserving in the kitchen too, with more exotic bottled and jarred goodies inspired by Diana Henry’s Salt Sugar Smoke.

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It all makes me very excited about attempting the following during 2013:

planting more fruit trees soon, while they’re still dormant. apples, pears, damson and greengage are planned and I’d like a morello cherry growing in the shady spot behind Guy’s workshop. Mark Diacono’s great book a taste of the unexpected, which inspires you to think again about the edible delights it’s possible to grow in a British garden has got me enthusiastic about a mulberry tree too.

camping – just the fairweather sort for me. As soon as we have sunny weather in the Spring and Summer I’d like to have a few weekends where we head off to the sort of basic but beautiful campsites where you can have campfires, paddle and cook sausages outdoors for breakfast. Ruby has her sleeping bag ready. Having read Daniel Start’s Wild Swimming, I particularly fancy a campsite near Ross on Wye that allows campfires, is by a great paddling river. There happens to be a good pub very handy too. And there’s the place by the River Windrush in Oxfordshire where you can catch crayfish and swim below a ruined abbey. Will report on these during the year hopefully…

very inspired by Joy Larkcom (I had her The Organic Salad Garden book for Christmas) to be more creative about my planting. I love her defence of planting vegetables in the front garden:

“…what was more beautiful than the “‘Purple Giant” mustard, feathery fennel, deeply curled red “Lollo” lettuce or the glossy, serrated leaves of mizuna greens? What could be more productive and vibrant-looking than a small patch of pak choi, dill or golden purslane? Vegetable plots, I was convinced, can feed the soul as well as the body.”

I’m already a fan of red orache for its striking looks in the garden – it adds height and structure to planting as well as supplying salad leaves – but I like the idea of the purple-hued giant spinach ‘Magentaspreen’ reaching theatrical heights for a salad crop too. And leaving a few clumps of chicory to run to seed in their second season, seeing them grow over 6ft high with flushes of sky-blue (edible) flowers sounds great too. Different coloured beetroot, more types of hardy Chinese mustards, more edible flowers and stepover apples are on my wish-list.

taking Ruby to the Natural History Museum would be great fun – for all of us, I think.

re-visiting the Leyn peninsular in Wales would be great. Friends very generously let us use their beach chalet (very basic but in a quite remote, absolutely stunning spot) last year. Steps lead down to a wonderful horse-shoe bay, rock-pools entice Ruby (and me!), the bay is famous for its crab and nearby ‘Whistling Sands’ beach has brilliant caves and yet more rock-pools.

I do fancy keeping bees, chickens and am very tempted to have a few lambs.

cook more Scandinavian recipes and lots from ‘Jerusalem’ by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. using plenty of home-grown and Cotswold ingredients of course!

but most importantly, I also really want to try not to fit too much in. I know I’m often guilty of trying to add a few too many things to my to-do lists. Always a tad optimistic about how much time I have, I always think I have time to cram in more than is realistic (realistic if I’m not going to have a totally chaotic home anyway). And I do think it’s important that we all have time to sit, relax and not do very much at all – it’s just sometimes tricky to fit in isn’t it? This is my 2013 way of making myself do this:

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Will let you know how it goes.

air dried ham and wild greens

As I rinsed off the ham that I’d been salting ready for air-drying, I caught sight of the still vivid green chard leaves in the garden. Reminds me that there are some mixed Italian leaves that I grew for salad that may be a bit large and on the bitter side now for salad, but could be great wilted with chard and mixed with parmesan and ricotta for a ravioli filling.

A lot of my favourite recipes stem from the ‘Cucina Povera’ tradition and what with the salami hanging over my head as I go to collect logs for the woodburner from the covered porch, I’m starting to feel quite like an Italian peasant.

Then a glance at the tub of ricotta reminds me how excited I was this summer when a Waitrose opened 15 minutes away. Well, it used to be a long drive to get to any supermarket. Now I can buy parmesan and ricotta without losing a couple of hours of precious time. Okay, I feel a fraud.

I also feel very lucky that these days we’re able to dip into the ‘Cucina Povera’ traditions of so many cultures. This way of rustling up tasty, nutritious meals from whatever modest offerings nature offers has resulted in so many of my favourite dishes. From Ligurian pasta fillings to Indian curries (from whatever our garden offers), Moroccan tajines, Asian noodles and Spanish rice dishes.

What with the greens and the prosciutto style air-dried ham I’m attempting it’s the Ligurian recipes I’m thinking of at the moment.  One of my favourite areas of Italy, Liguria is a rugged strip of land wedged between mountains and sea. Partly because the terrain makes large-scale farming difficult, Ligurians are incredibly resourceful at making the most of the local vegetation. There are few flat plains for growing grain or rearing livestock and the fertile valley bottoms tend to be used for the cultivation of flowers that give the Riviera dei Fiori its name. So the Ligurians have become adept at growing delicious food in their ortos (small areas of land, often just outside their villages) and supplementing it with wild food.

This preoccupation is part of the “di magro” cooking tradition, a way of rustling up tasty, nutritious results from whatever modest offerings nature offers and it evolved during times of poverty. Of course, with a lot more sunny weather to help their ortos along than us British gardeners are used to, nature’s offerings are hardly meagre. Try nutritious home-grown and wild greens in a Torta Verde, as a filling for Pansotti con Preboggion (“big belly” pasta) or mixed with ricotta for ravioli di magro, and you’d have to agree it’s a good thing that the “di magro” tradition has persisted in more prosperous times.

My garden may not exactly be a sun-drenched orto, in fact it looks pretty bare at the moment. Yet the number of family meals that it provides still amazes me. I’m starting to get excited thinking about next year’s planting already and wondering what will go with the air-dried ham that should be ready in 6 months or so. I’ve protected my globe artichokes with fleece and mulch this year, hoping they’ll make it through. And young broad beans should go well with my chorizo and prosciutto style ham, I must plant lots.

With all this Italian inspiration, couldn’t resist browsing Franchi seeds. Their broad bean seeds come with a reminder of Pasta con fave and have me dreaming of broad bean pasta with plenty of parmesan, parsley, maybe mint and slivers of my ham. These borlotti pods look so beautiful too don’t they.

This is how I’ve attempted to cure the ham so far, will keep you posted. All my meat curing so far has mainly been based on Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s The River Cottage Cookbook, internet research and advice from Alex at Flora’s Posts.

Air-dried Ham (Proscuitto style – I hope!)

Preparing the ham – I used one leg of very free-range (they rooted around a big area of our garden) Berkshire pig. Luckily our nearest butcher, in Mickleton, was able to tunnel bone the leg. This means you can put salt easily inside the ham (reducing the risk of it going rotten) without having the hassle of sewing it up. Apparently tunnel-boning is a very skilled task, worth asking your butcher to do if you’re planning air-drying.

Salting – I took a large plastic storage container with a lid, then found another smaller plastic container that fitted inside standing on a block. We drilled holes in the smaller container for drainage then poured salt in a 2cm thick layer at the bottom of it. Having rubbed salt inside the ham, I placed it on the bed of salt and covered in more salt, so it was covered all over by about 2cm. A piece of wood went on top of the salt, then a weight. We put the lid on the larger container and left it in an unheated, cool room for the liquid to drain. Ours salted for about a month. basically you need to allow no fewer than 3 days per kilo and no more than 4 – 4 is safer but may result in a salty ham. I’m assuming the salty ham will be used sparingly for salty flavour anyway.

Hanging the ham – I washed off the salt, wiped it all over with a piece of muslin dipped in cider vinegar, then wrapped tightly in a double layer of muslin. It now has to hang in a cool, well-ventilated place for four to six months. Wind is good, but it must be protected from rain and hungry wild animals. Remembering the footprints in our garden last time we had snow, I’m very aware that once we go to bed, a wide variety of creatures appear to party around our house. So we made a protective cage, with a wooden lid but wire sides that will hopefully let the wind in but keep everything else out.

Will let you know in the Spring when I unwrap if I have a lovely prosciutto or a rotten mess. Fingers crossed.

 

photo of wild greens ravioli at the top is by Foto Archivio Agenzia in Liguria.

 

making chorizo and salami

My friend Katie turned up this morning with her sausage making machine. A huge relief after spending yesterday evening attempting to squeeze minced pork flavoured with red wine, garlic and fennel seeds into hog casing using only a chopped off water bottle.

We still have plenty of meat from our Berkshire pigs in the freezer and now the temperature’s dropped I was keen to make chorizo and salami to air-dry outside. Optimistic as usual I thought it may be possible to squeeze the mixture for a few salami into hog casing with a bit of improvisation. After lots of trial and errors last night and a very tired daughter insisting, “Mummeeee, I want to make sausage NOW” I gave up.

How lovely and decadent it seemed to have a couple of child-free daytime hours to concentrate on making chorizo and salami with a good friend and her sausage maker. We even had the woodburner going, coffee pot steaming on it while we worked.

Having come across Leon:Naturally Fast Food Book 2 (full of wonderful family recipes) in a charity shop recently, I tried out their recipe for Salami. The recipe specifies that once you’ve filled your hog casing with meat, you need to wipe it with vinegar and then with the whitened skin of an existing salami. I had visions of taking my slippery salami into a deli and when it got to my turn in the queue, asking for a quick rub of their salami mould. Thankfully I decided against this and splashed out on a small salami. Now it’s got very vinegary skin, has been rubbed on a lot of hog casing and I’m wondering if it will still be okay to cook with.

Before you start the recipe below, make sure you have handy: sausage maker ready to go, scissors, butchers string (cut into handy lengths ready) a large baking tray to put each salami on as you go. Once you’re dealing with slippery hog casing and have greasy hands, rummaging through the cupboards isn’t ideal.

Leon Strategy Salami

Ox-runners, soaked overnight

2 teaspoons fennel seeds

1 clove of garlic

1.5kg pork shoulder (I actually used mix of shoulder and other cuts)

500g back fat (We have lots from our pigs in the freezer but it’s worth asking a butcher for this as it’s often wasted)

2 teaspoons peppercorns

salt (2% of the weight of combined meat and fat)

400ml red wine (I used a fruity, full-bodied Sicilian)

a ready-made salami (this will help the right sort of mould develop)

Soak ox-runners overnight in large bowl of cold water. Put each end up to the tap and rinse through with cold water.

Dry roast fennel in a pan. Peel the garlic and crush finely. Coarsely mince the pork and chop pork fat into little squares. Put all ingredients except wine in a bowl amd mix thoroughly. Make sure you weigh salt carefully. Too much and it will be too salty, too little and the salami may go rotten. Add wine to bowl gradually and mix it into the meat until it’s all absorbed.

Fill your sausage filler, stick two fingers into the end of ox runner and dip it under the water. Now slide whole runner on to the end of your sausage filler (I found some of the runners trickier than others, being very wet helps and if they tore, we just ended up with a few short salami which should be handy).

Squeeze out a little of the mix to make sure there is no air in the runner. Fold over the runner and tie it with a single knot, then flip over loose end and tie it again. Fill runner carefully, making it as tight and air-free as possible without the runner tearing. When you have a sausage at a length you like (20cm -30cm plus I did a few shorter ones, thinking they’ll be good Christmas presents with homemade preserves etc), tie it off again with a single knot, then flip it over and tie a double knot. Leave enough loose string to hang the salami. Continue until you are out of the mix.

Rub the skins with a cloth soaked in vinegar then rub on the whitened skin of an existing salami to the skin of your salami to transfer some mould. Hang the salamis in a cool airy place (I’m going to hang them under a high covered porch where we have a handy log store).

Wait between 4 and 12 weeks, depending on the climate and how hard you like your salami.

I also minced some pork meat and back fat to make chorizo. Taking Alex’s advice at florasposts I bought the chorizo kit from weschenfelder as even it seems a good way of buying the hogs casing (which I used for the salami too) preserving salts, seasonings and starter culture (to encourage growth of the right sort of mould) in manageable quantities. The Original River Cottage Cookbook has some great chorizo suggestions too. Mine are going to hang to dry alongside the salami and should take similar time – although if you want cooking chorizo you can use a lot earlier. So I may try one after a couple of weeks but wait until Christmas to try ‘raw’.

In the meantime there was some of the salami mixture leftover which will make great meatballs with pasta and tomato sauce. And I have a good portion of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s great mexican tupperware chorizo (minced pork flavoured with paprika, garlic, red wine, chilli, salt)  from “River Cottage Everyday” in the fridge if I need a chorizo fix.

These all seem great ways to me of making good, well-reared meat go a long way, adding flavour to so many meals. Equally relevant whether it’s with pork from your own pigs or meat bought from a farmer or butcher.

 

 

autumn days and woodburner cooking

      

The view across the field from my shower on a crisp morning always lifts my spirits. There’s something very lovely about enjoying the hot water while glimpsing long frosty grass and the sun trying to burst through behind the yellowing leaves of the oak tree.

This weekend the sun was very successful in its bursting through and we were all keen to get outside as soon as possible to enjoy the blue sky and autumn sunshine. With the nights drawing in, I’ve been missing my dusk gardening and all the clearing/chopping back/mulching that gardeners are meant to be doing this month has been sadly neglected.

So although I’d taken a joint of pork (from our very tasty Berkshire pigs) from the freezer and marinated it in cider and garlic, it was a day to enjoy being outside rather than in the kitchen.

Having lit the woodburner first thing, I quickly brought the oven to full heat. We do this by filling old paper flour sacks with sawdust (there are always piles of it in Guy’s workshop from his carpentry work on the house). The packed sacks added to the woodburner make the temperature soar quickly so it’s ideal for the first 20/30 minutes of browning the joint, ensuring good crackling. I then covered the joint in foil, let the woodburner die down (to around 140C but it’s all a bit imprecise) and let the pork cook slowly all day while we attacked the garden. Anyone popping in for a cup of tea checked if the woodburner needed a log adding to keep it ticking along.

Mog and Tiger followed us outside, even Guinea enjoyed the sun in the field next to us.

We pruned, made bonfires and dug the weeds that have started to grow in the area that the pigs cleared this summer. The curved lawn that Ruby planted with grass seed in September is growing well.

The pigsty is currently stacked with surplus wood for the woodburner (our permanent woodshed is rammed full). I plan to plant fruit trees and wild flowers along the fence at the back and am working on beds of flowers and vegetables radiating out from Ruby’s curved lawn. As you can see there’s plenty to do.

Ruby helped with a few jobs too. She enjoyed harvesting more nigella seeds (I sneaked in a good spot of digging and mulching with compost while she was occupied), cleared the trampoline of leaves and carried bean sticks to a pile. Obviously there were bribes.

     

I have my eye on the leaf pile for mulching my bare soil. In the meantime, Ruby had other ideas. She declared it perfect for “leaf dancing”. Towards the end of the day, the smell of pork coming from the kitchen was tantalising. Ruby was more interested in making herself a leaf bed.

While Ruby was transported straight to the bath in an attempt to remove mud and leaves, I took the pork out to rest and stoked the woodburner up again with a sawdust packed wood sack. Saturday’s tea had been home-made pizza (also cooked in the oven of the woodburner) and I made far too much dough.

The surplus was left to prove very slowly overnight on our cool bedroom windowsill. I rolled this into little rolls which were baked on the woodburner until golden. We ate them hungrily filled with pork, apple sauce and stuffing. Although the apple sauce and stuffing seemed very English and all of the ingredients for our supper were very local (mainly from the garden) we liked to think that the slow-cooked, tender pork was a little like pulled-pork or Italian porchetta.

Perhaps it was the Tuscan style soup I made later in the evening (unable to resist making more use of the woodburner’s heat) with borlotti beans, lots of our cavolo nero from the garden and a pork bone for flavour, that gave me the Italian vibe. The temperature in our kitchen after the woodburner had been going all day was definitely mediterranean anyway.

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