Monthly Archives: November 2015

Why have my hands turned purple?

Well, we’ve wrapped presents for the bran tub on Saturday, sorted out the Santa presents, put up more decorations, eaten sweets, fed the animals and chased a duck in the half-light to get it back in the barn. Turned out to be a wild duck attracted by the duck noise, and duck food, of our resident group.

I had a go at photographing the poultry, but as you can see, they have a sixth sense for spoiling a photo – almost like the auto-focus alerts them. Then it’s head down, turn round or do something else unsuitable.  I gave up after these shots. That’s why I’ll never be a top wildlife photographer. That and the lack of lions in the Screveton area.


I now have enough red cabbage in the oven to feed a large group of visitors, and by good fortune I also have a large group of visitors booked in for tomorrow. They are planting trees and having lunch. There will also be sausages on the menu (including vegetarian and gluten free options), baked potatoes and those posh little carrots I can never remember the name of.

The words “red cabbage” will have alerted you to the answer to the title question I suppose. It was simple, but I am, as ever, short of inspiration for titles.

The Woodland Trust sent us copies of their report with pictures of the Quercus group in it, which will cause some excitement on Wednesday when we hand them out. They would have caused some excitement today but the postman delivered them to the wrong address and we didn’t get them until after they had left. There were only 60 houses in the village at the end of the 19th century and I’m willing to bet there aren’t many more now. What are the chances of a wrongly delivered letter?

Apart from speculating on that all that is left to do is clear up and do some last minute shopping for tomorrow.


Storm Clodagh comes to call

So Storm Clodagh came and, according to the news, will continue today.

Yesterday it showed as an hour of high winds and a a twenty minute belt of rain, so no great problem, even though I did get caught in the middle of the rain without a coat. Today it looks like it may miss us completely.

However, it did manage to pop the rails on the polytunnel again. They are a mixed blessing – simpler and easier than digging a trench and burying the edges of the plastic, and giving us the ability to adjust the tension on the plastic (which we did a couple of times in the first year) – but they have popped off a few times and left the plastic flapping.

There has been some damage in other areas of the country, but I used to live in the Cambridgeshire Fens, which is quite a windy place and I remember high winds that made telegraph poles bend. We just used to nail stuff down firmly and nobody, as far as I’m aware, felt the need to name the weather.

I’ve just been looking up how they name storms, particularly as I wasn’t sure that 70 mph was really a high wind by world standards. It was more complicated than I had thought – with six different bodies classifying and naming weather systems depending on where they originate. However, they do classify winds a lot slower than 70 mph.

The record for the highest wind speed on land (235 mph during Typhoon Paka on Guam in 1997) can’t be confirmed because it was so fast it broke the anemometer. Personally I think that breaking the anemometer was good enough as confirmation.

I also learnt that storm names, like American sport shirt numbers, can be retired.

That’s something I’ll bear in mind next time I’m caught by the rain in a supermarket car park.



Quiet day in the country

Friday, and I started the day by sitting in the office waiting for someone who didn’t turn up. Yes. I kept myself busy, but I really should have been out with the Men in Sheds. I finally abandoned the wait and went to see what was happening.

Well, as you can see, they were repairing a compressor and welding some feet to hold partitions up – it seems we need partitions in a serious workshop because they keep noise levels down. We also repaired a Workmate, a lawnmower and a bench saw. And we still had time to change the fuse in the extension lead that keeps blowing fuses. I say we, but that might be slightly over-rating my contribution.



After lunch we had someone coming to order a turkey and Father Christmas came to visit. Or, to be more accurate, two of the volunteers for next Saturday came to call (one of whom is going to play Santa). That just leaves me with labelling some bottles, having a quick sweep round and dropping off some apple juice on the way home.



From this picture you can see why they thought we could do with a friendlier Santa.

Julia has been attending a conference in Nottingham, in furtherance of our arts project. We’re not revealing details yet, because we aren’t sure what we’re doing. (That’s possibly a trifle unkind, but not entirely inaccurate.) She reports that the trip in was beset by hordes of grim-faced bargain hunters, reminding us of one of our favourite films.

Me, I’m sitting on a farm in a building made out of straw bales and I’m three miles from the nearest shop. If I stop typing the loudest thing in the room is the gentle hum of the heating pump.

It’s belly pork and roast vegetables tonight, a meal which involves cutting up some veg, throwing some oil and meat on top and bunging it in the oven. Might use herbs, will probably sprinkle some ground cumin, might do some gravy. An easy meal to finish an easy day.






Mince Pie masterclass

It was Bread Group today, and with fifteen people plus instructors it was a bit of a crush in the kitchen. Who’d have thought it a couple of years ago? In those days we had to persuade friends and drag farm staff in to make numbers up.

The day that stands out most in my memory was the day the farmer persuaded one of his friends to send two daughters along. They seemed a little over-dressed when they arrived, but when I saw they were wearing acrylic nails (or what looked like acrylic nails) my heart sank.

I spent the whole session counting their nails as their hands emerged from mixing and kneading. They ended the day with ten each, and I relaxed.

Today, however, was a different sort of session – experienced bakers and keen beginners, with not a false nail in sight.

Not only was it a session for the serious, but we were using a top-secret mince pie pastry from a shadowy German-trained specialist. These are, to use a Nottingham analogy, the Brough Superior of mince pies and they will be available at our Winterfest event on 5th December – I may have mentioned it once or twice before.

In general the day went as you would expect from shutting a large group of bakers into a poorly-ventilated room with four ovens and the fumes that rose from various home-made mincemeats. If you get one of the pies made from one of  “those” recipes you might want to consider not driving for a while. The level of joviality was high and there was much actual jollity in the room (though I managed to fight it off when I felt it creeping up on me). All in all, it was the first day of Christmas spirit I’ve experienced this year and a very enjoyable day. They even gave me a mince pie even though I was just there to take photos.

There was a slight edge to the atmosphere, based on the fact that if you put down your bun tin for too long someone might purloin it (I speak from bitter experience of a session long ago – the scars are still with me), but this didn’t stop the production of large number of high quality mince pies, which are now shrink-wrapped and frozen in expectation of the big day.

I think it’s appropriate here, though I’m not one to get all touchy-feely about things, to say thanks to the Bread Group for their support, as some of them will be coming to help us out on the 5th. They always come to help with Open Farm Sunday too, and are very much the driving force when we need volunteers for event.

Apart from that there’s nothing….oh, you’d like the recipe?

Many people would, but sadly only the select few members of the Bread group are privy to that information.

Maybe next year…






Half past two already!

I’ve just been told it’s 2.30pm. Doesn’t time fly when you’re enjoying yourself?

We’ve pressed apples for cider and juice, collected eggs and made Christmas decorations.

We’ve also had Christmas doughnuts, sent out invitations to the Christmas Buffet Lunch and had a parcel with the posters for Shake up your Wake up.


That’s another cue for “Is it that time already?” The years seem to roll round so fast and it only seems like five minutes ago we did our first Breakfast Round the World school visit.

All that and it’s only 6 days until the open day, 10 days till the Winterfest and 30 days until Christmas. At that point it’s only 30 days until Breakfast week and it all starts again…

It’s 3pm now – time to load photos and get on with Twitter.

Somehow it just doesn’t seem like work.



Cookery Book – 0ld style!

Countryman’s Cooking

by W. M. W. Fowler Excellent Press Ludlow 2006 Hardback  157 pp

ISBN-13: 978-1900318297 

£16.95 but there are plenty available for £00.01 plus £2.80 P&P

It’s a cookery book, not a recipe book, as Fowler is keen to tell us several times. It’s also a book for men, and men of a distinctly unreconstructed sort. For killing, hanging, preparing and cooking this book has no equal. If you are looking for fancy stuff like recipes you aren’t going to find them here. You’re not going to find much in the way of pastry here either because he has his own way of providing pie crust. I won’t tell you how he does it because it’s one of the highlights of the book, even though other reviews seem happy to spoil the punchline.

There is a short section on vegetables at the end, sharing the final 14 pages with batter, shellfish and eggs. That’s about the right proportion according to my thoughts.

Originally published in 1965, it’s definitely the product of a different age, as his women are treated like cooks and he assumes you have a firearm handy if you ever wanted to shoot your own sheep. Originally the book didn’t sell well and it was only when Ludlow based publisher David Burnett bought a copy of the book for 50p in an Oxfam shop that things took off. He tried the recipes out, found they were popular and decided to reprint the book. An initial print run of 1,000 sold out in a morning and he eventually shifted 10,000 – well over his estimate of 600 in three years.

I was a little disappointed at the lack of cat recipe – he makes mention of eating the Camp Commandant’s cat with a black market onion whilst he was held as a prisoner of war but there are no further details. This mirrors my other experience of cat in wartime, muttered rumblings from my mother about never buying a rabbit in the war unless it still had the skin on. The two animals, it seems, are identical when skinned.

I confess I haven’t tried the recipes yet, but you don’t have to, it’s well worth reading for the entertainment, or as a social history of  an English gentleman, without getting involved in giblets and gizzards.

Treat yourself. It cost me £2.81 from Amazon, what else provides such value?


West Town farm needs support

I’ve just been blundering round the internet trying to avoid work and I found this article, which struck home. At Quercus we’re in a similar situation, having a spot of landlord trouble now and again, so I sympathise with Mr Bragg, the farmer in question.

However, having been a poultry farmer, antiques dealer, and gardener before becoming the maid of all work here, I have more chances to adapt. When you are the third generation of your family to farm the land, and when you’ve built up a much larger project than we have, it must be quite a shock to see it all threatened due to one decision of the landlord.

I’m not saying that the new landlord (if there is one) will threaten the work, just that it’s a possibility. If the fund-raising efforts are successful it’s possible that that the future of the farm, and its work, will be secured.

That’s really why I’m writing this, because the more people who know about the funding appeal, the better. It’s also good practice for me, because one day in the next couple of years, I am going to have to launch an appeal for Quercus Community (not asking yet – just planting the seed…)

Look here for more details.


Busy Monday

Monday morning and it’s sausages once more (sounds vaguely like a song from the 60’s doesn’t it?). Fortunately they are all done now, as there are only so many cold, slippery sausages you can handle without thinking wistfully of sitting down in front of a fire and a TV.

It’s been gradually getting colder over the last couple of weeks, and we have had frost on the car windscreen for the last couple of mornings. To me that means winter has arrived, even though it isn’t official until 21st December.

The nasturtiums definitely think winter is here. Within the space of a weekend the bright flowers and large salad leaves (as I like to think of them) have become a soggy mess of green. There are slim pickings for a forager now.

The group has been out doing sheep this afternoon – checking health and ram activity. We’ve not had a great deal of success with rams this year. The new one seems to be working well but one of the older ones dropped dead with a suspected heart attack (insert appropriate comment (or inappropriate comment if you prefer) about him dying whilst doing something he enjoyed) and another has injured his leg.  They really are a most inept bunch of Casanovas.

For the rest of they day they have been making Christmas decorations.

It seems the big day is only a month away. This is not welcome news.

Before then we have a big open day on 1st December, with 20 or 30 people wanting lunch (you can guess the state of the planning from the wide range of possibilities). We also have to organise the Winterfest event on 5th December (though it’s just about done) and we have to plan for the Christmas lunch on the farm. It’s going to be smaller scale than previous years, as it spread to a two day event last year, which seems a bit much.

After that I just need to get presents and food for 25th and all is well.


Vaccum Packing

We had a good day on Friday – vacuum packing sausages, chipolatas and partridges.

Results were mixed. The full-sized sausages did well, but the chipolatas (which are really cocktail sausages – a much shorter sort of sausage) did not do so well). We had to pile them up a bit, and the vacuum squashed them down too much, losing the appearance of sausages in the process. We restored this by releasing the vacuum and decided just to seal the chipolatas without removing the air.

The partridges were somewhere in between – they looked good when done, but during the process there’s definitely a worrying moment when they start to get smaller and  look like they might collapse.

Now, hands…

Much as I’d like to see what happens when you vacuum-pack a hand, the machine just isn’t built for it. On the other hand it should be able to cope with wallets and mobile phones.

Yes, I have managed to age without maturing!

Pictures to follow.

Latest news (Monday morning) – pictures added (starting to get used to the new system) and we’ve run out of bags so experiments at vacuum sealing non-traditional items are postponed. ;-(



A Printer’s Tale

I just called up my label template, changed the packing date and set the printer going to print 170 labels for Lincolnshire Sausages. It managed 80 before something went wrong and started missing bits off, managing only 21 good labels from the next 64. I tried giving it a rest and starting again, but after another four pages the problem came back.

We have 550 trays arriving tomorrow, 275 kg of sausages and a vacuum packing machine, complete with Amazon box, is sitting at my feet as I type (we have limited storage space so tend to shove things under the desk).

It’s going to be the first time I’ve packed sausages onto trays and the first time I’ve used a vacuum packer – we normally use plastic bags and sellotape. I’m a little concerned that we are increasing our use of plastic by doing this, but I’m also keen to find a way of making a better-looking pack, and to see if I can vacuum pack my hand. Doing my hand isn’t strictly necessary, but I’ve always been an advocate of finding my fun where I can. I have a feeling we won’t be able to seal the bag with my arm sticking out but I’ll see how it goes.

Meanwhile, I’ve been looking through photographs. I need some illustrations for the updated Wild Food page (the updates will be taking place soon rather than immediately so don’t rush off to check) but I’m having trouble finding any that are good enough.

With digital photography and cheap storage devices I have become very lazy and kept hundreds of dull, faulty, blurred and duplicated images. It’s a job in itself just to go through and sort them out, and it’s one I don’t feel like doing. There is always something better to do than sort out photo files.

Even worse, it’s very tempting to fire off a dozen frames and assume one will be good enough. When film and developing was expensive I was much more careful about focus, composition, light and interest. These days the camera does a lot of it for you, though it still can’t make a dull shot look interesting.

I’m using a couple of shots out of context here just because I liked them when I looked through.