Sunday 27 February 2011

Sour Dough Bread Making Course at Mair's Bakehouse

Yesterday I attended a bread making course run by our good friend R. of Mair's Bakehouse (
 R. has the most wonderful wood-fired bread oven in which he bakes the most delicious organic bread much of which is sour-dough.
I and 5 others met in the bakery at 9.30am to learn about making sour dough. It is a curious method of making bread without yeast. Instead of using yeast, a 'leaven' of fermented wheat & water is used. It produces a loaf of bread that is highly digestible and which keeps well.
We spent the first part of the morning mixing up our doughs and then they were left to prove in plastic boxes for a couple of hours. When the dough had proved sufficiently we were shown how to knead & shape the dough correctly using only one hand using the fingers and ball of the thumb. R. can knead two lumps of dough, one in each hand with a speed and dexterity that is very impressive. We were all a little less dextrous! The dough was then put into special baskets to prove again.

The best part of the day was at about 4.30pm when we put our loaves to bake in the oven. The oven is beautiful; it is 7' deep and a 'peel' is used to put the bread into the oven which had been fired up the day before and we were using the residual heat from the baking session done that night. The heat coming from the oven as one put ones loaves in was intense. The bread was cooked in about 25-30 minutes.
The smell when we took out our loaves again using the peel, was mouth-watering.
The racks of freshly baked loaves were a very satisfying sight at the end of an extremely interesting day.

The organic flours we were using were of two types.
 The wholemeal flour came from the lovely recently renovated 17th century water-mill at Llanrhystud, near Aberystwyth, Felin Ganol ( & the white flour came from Maud Foster Mill in Lincolnshire.

Wednesday 23 February 2011

A dairy farmer somewhere........

A dairy farmer somewhere in your neighborhood tonight is milking and feeding cows to provide food for the nation while you are watching television. In the minute it takes you to read this, farmers all over the world are using their "free time", and ALWAYS investing their own money, for your world's food supply. Re-post if you are a farmer, love a farmer or appreciate our farmers.

Younger Son had this posted on his Facebook page and I felt it just says it all!

Tuesday 22 February 2011

First daffodils, New Zealand Earthquake, 'Seven Basic Plots' by Christopher Booker

I saw the first daffodils in flower yesterday when I went down to the village. The first of the daffodils here on the farm should be open by the end of the week I think. This is going to be a much earlier spring than last year, everything seems to be well forward. The snowdrops are in a greater profusion than last spring and we did not have daffies out for St. David's Day which we certainly will this year. In the gardens there are several primroses in flower already and the seemingly lifeless twigs of various shrubs are showing signs of buds and tiny green leaf tips are apearing.

After the horrific news from New Zealand this morning of a big eathquake again hitting Christchurch we are very concerned for family members and friends out there. One elderly relative lives only a couple of miles from the cathedral which has collapsed and we are just waiting to hear any news of that part of the city.

The Farmer & I are off to our county town today, for the first time in months. The Farmer has to pay a visit to the DEFRA offices to deal with yet more of the paperwork mountain that we have to ascend , never reaching the top! I will take the opportunity to visit a bookshop (even it is only one of the awful chain-store ones!). Amazon is great but every now & then it is nice to handle books and look through them before purchasing.
I am reading a fascinating tome at the moment, 'The Seven Basic Plots' by Christopher Booker. It is an analysis of why there seems to be only a small number of basic plots that are found throughout the world. These seven plots can be found in ancient myths & legends, fairy tales, plays, novels, soap operas & movies.
The recurring themes are the essence of storytelling and therefore applicable to all cultures and lives. The themes are The Quest, Rags to Riches, Overcoming the Monster, Voyage & Return, Comedy, Tragedy  and lastly Rebirth. It is a long read but so interesting. I recommend it hugely

Saturday 12 February 2011

Misty Morning, Birdlife Around the Farm

At the beginning of the week the Farmer & I had the chance of a day away from the farm thanks to a dental appointment in Lampeter and so we wended our way up the coast to Aberaeron before heading inland to Lampeter. The pretty painted house of Aberaeron were being battered by strong winds and standing at the sea wall beyond the relative calm of the harbour, was extremely blowy and the sea was raging and roaring in a very satisfactory manner.
In complete contrast, today has dawned with clear blue skies, a heavy mist in the valley which promises a fine day and birds singing merrily.
As I walked the dogs to the far side of the farm we rose above the mist and were treated to the beautiful sight of skeleton outlines of some of our great oak trees silhouetted like black lace against the pearlescence of the swirling mists.
In an oak tree a couple of days ago I heard, then saw three lesser spotted woodpeckers with their vivid scarlet flashes,squabbling over territory, or wives, in an early display of spring madness. We rarely see woodpeckers, though we hear them yammering away quite often in the summer. There is too much activity around the yard and the house & cottage for many of the birds to come close, though we are fortunate to have a large oak tree near the house which is inhabited by tree-creepers, nuthatches, thrushes, robins, blackbirds & blue-tits. The hedges around the garden are always full of argumentative hedge-sparrows and blue-tits.
Yesterday the first skein of Canada geese that we've seen this year flew over the yard making their beautiful haunting call. A second skein then appeared and joined the first so there were about a dozen birds or so. They then swirled around our two nearest ponds for a while before heading off up the valley.

After the miserable rain of yesterday it is lovely to have a dry sunny morning and I am now off to tidy up the farmshop as it has been rather neglected over the winter months.

Thursday 10 February 2011

Marmalade Making

Over the last couple of days the kitchen has been a source of great olfactory pleasure as the Farmer has been making marmalade. He makes it each year as then he can have it the way he likes it which is with huge chunks of peel. I rarely eat it and prefer it very fine, so I'm quite happy that he should take it upon himself to be marmalade-maker- in-chief.

The shelves of jams, chutneys, and other preserves in my larder have become somewhat depleted lately and as the Farmer has set the ball rolling with the marmalade sessions I can see I shall have to do my bit and make some more jam. It will mean delving to the bottom of the deep freeze for the bags of plums, & currants that I know are lurking there.
The work in the cottage is finally finished, at last. These jobs always take so much longer than anticipated and then the clearing up seems to take twice as long as the main work itself! And some small but vital item will be found to be forgotten or mislaid and then everything is turned upside down again only to find that the said item, a loo brush or the box of clothes pegs, sitting innocently in its proper place anyway.

There are distinct signs of spring ..I found a lone primrose in flower the other day and the snowdrops are appearing everywhere. The daffodils are shooting up a rate of knots and my wonderful witchhazel is in full flower. The birds are practising, already singing in in the early mornings preparing for the great expolosion of the Dawn Chorus in  few weeks time.

Saturday 5 February 2011

First Snowdrops, The Winds Do Blow, Spring Cleaning

A vile wet,windy morning with lowering grey skies but spirits are lifted by finding the first snowdrops bravely showing their sweet nodding heads in the undergrowth along the drive.

The winds these past couple of days have been fearsome though we are fortunate not to have had any damage other than branches blown off trees and the odd unexplained crashing noises at night which can't have been anything serious as we have not found anything broken or fallen off a roof. The only thing I have found that indicates just how strong some of the gusts have been is a very heavy stone plant pot with a well established conifer in it toppled over outside the cottage. However, we are not having as much serious blowing as other parts of the country. If we weren't just so busy at the moment I would love to go over to the coast to watch the sea crashing and roaring.

Today I hope to get the work on the cottage bathroom finished. I have done most of the painting and I now have to clean the rest of the place out. The dust from pulling the ceiling down is everywhere and I am going to wash all the china etc., clean windows, vacuum furniture, wash floors and then put a fresh coat of linseed oil on them and then leave the whole place to settle down to its new spring cleanliness before our next guests arrive at the end of the week. So, I am now off to be Mrs Mop!

Tuesday 1 February 2011

1st February - Ice Moon, Imbolc, St Brigit's Day, Death of a Dairy Cow

Yesterday was bitterly cold with a very hard frost, today it is warm & damp, but the sun is shining; a good start to February.
One of the old names for the month of February was Snow or Ice Moon; are we going to be having more cold weather with sparkling frosty mornings?
The 1st February is Bride's Day or Imbolc in the ancient Celtic calendar and this then with the arrival of Christianity became St. Brigit's Day though the celebration was later moved to 2nd February, Candlemas Day dedicated to the Virgin Mary which was marked by candlelit processions.
A Scottish proverb; 
'If Candlemas is bright and clear,
there'll be two winters in the year.'

Imbolc may refer to the first milk of the year as the ewes give birth to their lambs.

An Irish blessing;
May you be under Brigit's mantle!'

Brigit's Day was traditionally a time of purification and house cleaning!  Also the time to burn any Christmas greenery that lingers.

February has also been known as the Wolf month or Faoilleach in Gaelic and 'a marbh mhios' the dead month. Despite the it being cold & dreary the signs of spring are are beginning to appear.
Our neighbour has his first lambs and snowdrops are showing their silvery shoots through the grass in the orchard.

Yesterday the Farmer had the sad & unpleasant business of having to despatch one of our oldest cows. She was one of our first pedigree Ayrshires, born in 1996 and had reached a good age for hard-working dairy cow. She had been getting weaker by the day and had been badly bullied by the rest the rest of the herd, as is the natural order of things. The Farmer & Elder Son had done what they could for her over the past week or so but a decision had to be made. Because she was a 'downer' we were not able to send her to market which would have been a real cruelty anyway, nor could she be loaded onto a lorry to go to the abattoir. So a quick end was brought about with a rifle and we paid to have her taken away in the knacker lorry to be incinerated up near Liverpool. A wasteful end to a useful life. The whole carcase is incinerated which is such a waste . Why can't the skin be removed for tanning and the meat go into dog food as it always used to be? I'm sure the politicians and the scientists have come up with good reasons why not, but it still seems the most terrible waste.

On a more cheerful note the work on the cottage bathroom is almost completed and it is looking really good, I'm very pleased with it.