Apr 14 2007

Rubbish, Loss and Comforting Food

Eweslambs_topfield_2

Lambs are all born now. The playgroup, monitored by a rota of ovine mothers, has moved up the valley to a warm south facing field. Everyday dogs and I walk over the hill to count heads and watch the latest games.

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Today giant, gentle raindrops plop onto shiny young ransom leaves and softly soak the primrose faces. Daffodils waver in the breeze, a soft wind dances on my wet cheeks. The raindrops mix with the steady stream of sharp, salty tears trickling down my face. I have forgotten again and turn to make sure she is still keeping up, trudging behind her younger companions, as they race up the track with me to the top fields. The sharp reality returns; abruptly I remember, old Truffy is dead. I stand and stare unseeing at the empty wonder that is the yellowness of spring. My fat, gentle, beloved, fridge raider, foodaholic, dishwasher pre-washer, my dear, dear friend and companion of fourteen years, my old chocolate lab is gone.

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She left us as happily and peacefully as she lived. She even gobbled up her supper with gusto moments before a massive stroke shook her body leaving it limp. She looked quietly up at us and said goodbye. As I hugged her, she made me smile again through the tears. Funny old friend; eating was her favourite thing so we’ve planted a crabapple tree over her grave, and cowslips to aid her journey to eternity.

Min, the aging, delinquent Cairn, looks even smaller than usual, half drowned, shrunk even, in the recent torrent, her usual enthusiasm for once abashed. Despite being the smallest of the four dogs, very little usually dampens her spirit but today something’s wrong.  She sits quietly with Meg the sheep dog and Welly, the sometime lurcher-cross watching as we bury Truff and plant a tree for her. Mins’ companion of thirteen years has left. 

Inevitably my mind drifts back over those years. Truffle joined us as a tubby, little brown pup with a wrinkled brow in May 1993 some eighteen months after our lives had changed dramatically. In 1991 just as Thames Television lost its franchise to broadcast we had the opportunity to buy back some of the farmland that had originally belonged to our house. Our lives were turned dramatically upside down almost over night!

And so much water has flowed under the bridge since then. First we stared in wonder at the empty fields and farmyard. We scratched our heads; what should we do; big yard but not much land.  Gradually it began to unfold. First two old Jacob sheep moved in, then the pedigree Whiteface Dartmoors arrived followed by small Dexter cows, Christmas turkeys, laying chickens and table birds. Slowly we built our customer base, bought our delivery van and were in business. 

Min joined us next. I had no idea that so small a terrier would turn into the leader of the gang. To her enormous annoyance, Min spends too much time on a lead these days. She’s quite unable to give up on a scent, rabbit, rat, squirrel or badger, once sniffed. Her tail goes up in the air and, nose twitching; she’s off across hill and vale. Selective deafness prevails.

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I have lost count of hours I have spent crawling through woodland, brambles, gorse, and sea shore, in pursuit of her. I‘ve searched by the river for hours, pulled her unceremoniously by her tail from badgers‘ sets, watched as she struggled with a determination unequalled across a two acre field dragging her prey. Once she took two hours to carry a large, unfortunate rabbit form quarry to farmyard; she and her trophy being the same size. Nothing distracts her; she is the fastest and deadliest of the ratting team. Even now in her “twilight” years the warming sun puts a spring back in the old paw. At home she turns, Jekyll and Hyde like, into the sweetest, gentlest little dog, adored and adoring, and wonderful with children. But she, like us, is missing Truff.

As the sheep population exploded Paul declared he needed the skill and assistance of a trained sheep dog. He’d always been a fan of “One Man and His Dog” so I was not entirely surprised. Off he went to

Yorkshire

were he spent a week being trained by Meg and her skilled owner. They returned utterly inseparable with all the “coom’by, lass”, ‘way,‘way’, “that’ll do, that’ll dooo”.  When she finishes a task, she still races across the field and hurls herself, delightedly, into Paul’s arms. Occasionally she forgets completely her mission in life, looks with disdain at the sheep and skulks off leaving me to do what has now become a fine imitation of her duties….without so much as a bark. Exhausting.

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And then there’s Welly, the lurcher-collie puppy, daughter of Meg and Buck, the village beau. Thinking I was being responsible I carefully tied Meg up in the yard as I let out the chickens. Alas I discovered I could not run as fast as a healthy young lurcher and Meg had nine puppies. I found homes for them all but could not resist the small black and white puppy who spent her days burrowing into our

Wellington

boots. I kept the “welly puppy” and so we had four.

Now that lambing is finished, down in the farmyard it’s time for spring cleaning. Rubbish, rubbish, rubbish! One man’s rubbish is another mans treasure! Our farming predecessor was probably the most ingenious recycler of all time long before the word existed. Old gas cookers became garden fences; corrugated tin divided fields, roofed hen houses, supported banks and sheltered cattle. Greenhouses, collapsing on all sides, became chicken runs; cardboard boxes were transformed into a baby’s play pen. Nothing was wasted

Corugated_fencing_2 Muckspreader_2 

What treasures will we find this time hidden deep underground or lurking at the back of some dark shed? Once as I dug the vegetable garden I unearthed the body of a motorbike, rusty but complete! Jars, bottles, iron bars, old hand tools, shards of pottery have all emerged over the years. We have great collection of horse drawn farm implements too; a seed spreader, plough, harrow, cutter, rescued from corners of fields or buried in undergrowth.

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We too seem to have been recycling for ever. I think it’s a farming thing

Old sheds become chicken houses, bath tubs turn into hay racks and water buts, an old gun cupboard becomes a  nesting box, A rickety garden table is wired up to become a run for tiny chicks.. Fence posts are recycled in the fields or turned on their side and made into steps Old tractors are dismantled and rebuilt or used for spares. All timber is carefully stacked away to wait its turn again. Old muck spreader chassis’s take on a new life supporting a “new” trailer built from those bits and pieces. Old telegraph poles become gate posts; railway sleepers hold back the banks of the stream. Very little is wasted. I do draw the line, though, on aesthetic grounds, at carpet on the vegetable garden, labour saving though it may be! Or the old kitchen cookers, galvanised tin and all the other eccentric “building materials” we have had to remove over time! 

Hay_turner_2 Roller_2 

I wonder what I would have said all those years ago if I had known I would still be ordering skips in 2007!  Another skip arrives today and the rain returns. Did we really think this and this and even this would one day come in handy? Oh, thank goodness for recycling and freedom from junk!

When I’m feeling sad or very tired I find cooking strangely therapeutic. It sooths me in a strange way as I try to put together something delicious; a great displacement activity. It is sufficiently creative to hold my attention and gently lift my spirits as I see a meal emerge from my labour. That’s exactly what I needed now as I mourned old Truffy. So I was delighted to be suddenly asked by very special friends to cook dinner for their wedding anniversary. As the numbers kept rising at the last minute the challenge held my concentration!

Antipasta, Chicken Orvieto and Tarte au Pomme was the agreed menu.

I rushed out to buy the Antipasta, a simple and delicious mix of smoked meat and fish, salami, eggs with anchovies and lump fish roe, cherry tomatoes and avocado and various pickled fish. I arranged everything on two large plates one meat, one fish, each with a bowl of Aioli, strong garlic mayonnaise, and accompanied with warm home made rolls.

Next we had Orvieto Chicken.

Chicken_orvieto

I poached chicken breasts lightly in stock in the oven while I quickly blanched diced new potatoes. I sweated shallots, sliced fennel and whole cloves of garlic in olive oil till just soft, stirred in fresh rosemary and added the drained potatoes and pitted black olives. All this joined the chicken in its large tin. I returned it to a hot oven for 30 minutes, then I set it aside, covered with tin foil, until the evening. With the remaining stock I made a veloute’ sauce which would be handed round with the reheated chicken and green salad.

Finally I had fun making two large Tarte au Pommes. First I rolled out pastry, lined two fluted flan tins and baked them blind. While they cooled I made a double quantity of crème patisserie with 100 grams of butter, icing sugar and , ground almonds and two eggs. I spread it over the base of each flan case sprinkling each with a teaspoonful of dry semolina. Next, working fast, I cut red desert apples into thin slices and arranged them in circles on top of the crème patisserie, using lemon juice to stop them browning. Then another sprinkling, this time of caster sugar, and back into a hot oven just long enough to soften the apple. Finally I warmed some home made redcurrant jelly and carefully “painted” the flans to give a dark red, sticky glaze. I served the flans warm with double cream.

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We finished with a selection of local cheese, coffee and copious quantities of wine. A wonderfully uplifting and happy evening.  

Sally L M Vincent

www.rainingsideways.com

One response so far

One Response to “Rubbish, Loss and Comforting Food”

  1. Joanneon 15 Apr 2007 at 12:01 am

    I am sorry for the loss of your beloved friend. I have two dogs and two cats and they are my small, furry children – pets can really become a part of you, can’t they?

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