Where to start? It’s been a while. Little did I think when we were in lockdown last March that we still would be this year. If fact I truly believe we will be next year too. But that’s too depressing a thought. I really really hope something changes and people say no more. I don’t hold out much hope for that either.
Since I haven’t updated this blog for ages, I better start with now. Unfortunately it looks like I’ll have no help this year again. I’ve had a few requests from Workaway and HelpX since last summer but none really suitable. Because of this I decided I needed to get on with it and start the endless round of maintenance again myself. So far I’ve painted the house with the help of a neighbour. Next all the sheds and then the fencing. As well as this start the growing season again. It’s been a really cold April which has set me back. It’s difficult to start stuff indoors because this old house has small windows and poor light.
But nature has decided despite the cold, she’s going full steam ahead and my duck has hatched a clutch of hen eggs. She had build her nest under the same rosemary bush as last year. I tried to move her inside last year and she was not impressed, abandoning the nest. So this year I left her. I switched her eggs for hen. I must admit I felt a bit mean but I was fairly certain few if any of hers would be fertile. George my Muscovy drake is ancient. I think 14…. and he’s not great on his legs but he does get a spring in his step at this time of year. His fertility was patchy last year and this year probably even patchier. Plus I’ve decided to phase out ducks. Of the two Appleyards I got last year, one flew off with her son and never returned. I was getting phone calls most days telling me my ducks were on the road/in such and such’s garden/field etc. I have one remaining and a female off spring (not sure if it’s hers or the one that flew off.)
So I substituted the eggs and pretty much two days over 3 weeks they began to hatch. Something I’ve noticed with ducks is when they go broody they don’t sit all day from the start. They sit only at night for the first few days. Hens don’t do this so I did wonder if it would affect the hen eggs but it didn’t apart from the extra two days. Of the 8 eggs, 7 were fertile and hatched. So far she’s a great mother.
Last year one of these ducks (I’m not sure if it was her because the one who flew off was identical) hatched one duckling and the other hatched two a few days later. The mother of the pair attacked and killed the single duckling and the duck was distraught. I returned from work to find her calling and calling. I had seen the other duck go for the duckling before I left and I was so sorry I hadn’t separated them. She kept this up all the following day and it was heartbreaking. If it was her I knew she’d be a good mother. Lots of people have told me since that they’ve never seen a duck hatch and mother chicks but they have the reverse. I knew it would work because years ago I had a hen and a duck who mothered a single chick. They were both broody at the same time and only a single chick hatched that they literally fought over. It was the best mothered chick ever!
I keep all the chicks and it doesn’t matter much whether they’re male or female. If they’re female they go on to produce eggs. I keep the males until they just start to crow (and before they start fighting) and then cull them for the pot. I haven’t bought a commercially produced chicken now for over a year. They’re totally different in that they are much leaner and tougher so are really only suitable for boiling. But they give the most amazing stock and the boiled carcass makes great pies, curries, stews etc. Plus the flavour of the meat is much more intense than even a well-produced organic bird that fattens in a couple of months. These take at least 6 months.
Little by little I’ve increased the food I produce here. It’s immensely satisfying and it really makes you appreciate how difficult it is to rear and feed an animal for the table. Even with economies of scale I’m continuously mystified how a grower can make money from a bird thats sold in a supermarket for €3. It means the “farmer” (and I use that term advisedly because I don’t consider intensive factory food production farming) is getting only cents per bird.
It’s the same with pork but that is a whole other blog post. I am working my way through the two Oxford Sandy Black pigs I reared last year but again with no family or friends visiting, I’m not using as much as normal so made the difficult decision not to rear any this. I named last year’s pair, “the little shits” thanks to their propensity for escaping. At least this year that will be one fewer phone call along the lines “your pigs are gone over the road”. Instead I’ve booked half a carcass from an organic farmer who I know rears hers to the same standard as mine.
Since I posted at the start a photo of a wild garlic focaccia I should probably give you the recipe. I’m lucky to live very close to Tintern Abbey (Wexford) with beautiful woodland walks. It was theoretically outside my 5km but that was just for exercise. Food shopping was deemed by our great masters “essential”. They didn’t mention foraging but I figured foraging is just as valid as supermarket shopping so I combined both especially as it’s wild garlic season.
Wild Garlic Pesto
A handful of wild garlic leaves and flowers washed and shaken dry. Put into a small blender/blitzer with a sprinkling of pine kernals or you can use walnuts. Add salt, pepper, grated parmesan and enough olive oil to give a sauce like consistency. I don’t ever measure quantities of anything in this because it’s best to taste as you go. Some wild garlic can be very strong so pick young leaves preferably. If you can’t make something without exact quantities, follow a basil pesto recipe but substitute wild garlic for basil.
I then added 3 good teaspoons to a focaccia dough made with 500g strong flour, 10g salt, 15g fresh yeast (in some warm milk with a pinch of sugar for an hour in advance to give it a boost). Alternatively use 7g dried yeast. Add a glug of olive oil and enough warm water to give a soft dough. Mix for 10 minutes on a low speed or knead by hand for 10 mins.
Prove in a warm place in a covered bowl for an hour or until doubled in size. Then flatten it out onto a baking tray. Decorate with the pesto and some leaves and flowers and sprinkle with coarse salt and a drizzle of olive oil and leave to stand while you heat up your oven to 220C. After 20 minutes place into hot oven with some water in base to create steam. I use the grill pan. It takes about 20 minutes but remove from tray to make sure base is baked and leave on oven shelf or another 5 minutes.
I also made wild garlic soup using some veg I had here (leaf celery in tunnel and some purple sprouting broccoli I had in freezer from last year, ) onion, a potato, wild garlic leaves and some of that fantastic stock from my culled cocks that I freeze in small quantities. Add a dollop of pesto, olive oil before serving to make it really sing. It was so refreshing and delicious that you just knew it was good for you – in a good way not in a penitential way.