Mar 30 2012

The Dilemmas of Spring

Winter is behind us once more. Clocks have sprung forward, Summer Time has arrived, and light evenings are back at last. A fierce March sun blazes down on the valley. Unusually strong for the time of year, it warms our backs and coaxes tired old grass into growth. Newly ploughed fields glow like dark melting chocolate under a cloudless blue sky. Ecstatic birds fill the air with their rejoicing. A heron dives optimistically into the stream. The swans are back on the Creek.

The mill pond is a cacophony of quacking. Daffodils, yellow, orange, white, spread across the orchard. They seem to sing in harmony above the primrose carpet.

Camellias, planted just a few years ago, are suddenly overburdened with huge blooms, flowering for week’s, they defy wind and frost.  And yet, I am told from all sides, I must not celebrate any of this gloriousness because, despite recent downpours and heavy morning dew down here in the South West at least, this wonderful weather threatens future drought.

We’re lambing again too. This gentle weather is perfect for new life; nine strong babies so far in rapid succession. Yet all the while we are reminded not to rejoice at this either, our next infants may be infected with the “Schmallenberg” virus, a deadly threat lurking in the wings. Just one case so far in the South West but news bulletins keep us constantly in fear. Apparently the infection is carried across Europe by midges. There is absolutely nothing we can do to control the situation but cross fingers and pray. I must not enjoy the sun because it may not rain, my lambs may all be born deformed or dead, so says the media.

As I drive through narrow Devon lanes,  having just filled the empty tank of  my very ordinary car with an eye watering £83 worth of diesel, I am reminded that fuel cost has become so huge few of us can move about freely anymore. And if the threatened tanker driver’s strike comes to fruition none of us will be going anywhere at all. I am told I must not “share a bottle of wine with my partner” because we will surely become ill and die of cancer or heart disease. Old people with dementia, of which I will doubtless soon be one according to statistics, that is, if I live, are being starved by overworked hospital staff or locked up in wards “for their own safety”.  As the government are “damned if they do and damned if they don’t”, whichever way they try to tackle this national malaise, I begin to feel overwhelmed by an epidemic of despair and fear.  A “what if” culture seems to have us by the throat.

But, hey, it may rain very soon, as it always does just in time for the Easter holiday! Our lambs may all be born strong and healthy after all. The fuel strike may not happen.  I may live to nearly 103 like my father who still loves to discuss current affairs over a glass of sherry. This evening on the phone: “will this Granny Tax affect you? Who’s suffering from all this dementia? Should Cameron have had these people to supper….and how is the economy?” I may escape hospital like him. And maybe even die at home without ever suffering the downward spiral of Alzheimer’s.

So I tend the ewes with new lambs, feed the wethers and the yearlings, talk to the donkeys, dig the garden, celebrate my newly reconstructed old greenhouse, clear mud from the pond, collect eggs and clean out the chickens, walk over the hills with my dogs and my camera, ponder when to get more pigs, do the accounts, cook “kitchen suppers” for my friends even if they don’t donate to my chosen charity, and risk that second glass of wine. I feel inclined to rejoice regardless at what we have, rather than negate the beauty of the present by fretting about what may never happen in the future. Oh, and the pork was wonderful too; the pigs a great success. Richard Pollard our butcher, pollardQmeats@hotmail.co.uk , did an excellent job; delicious sausages, bacon and gammon, shoulders and legs neatly boned and rolled ready for stuffing, belly boned for slow roasting till crisp and cracklingy, loin chops cut thick to cook slowly under the grill till dark and golden. Pork as it used to taste. “Have you any left”? “When can we have some more”? I must get more pigs!

Fillet of Pork with Sausage Meat and Prunes

Friends for supper last week so I thought I would do something with the pork fillet but it looked a little small for four of us. Trawling idly through my mass of cookery books, Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall’s Meat Book came up trumps again, but, of course I didn’t have exactly the ingredients he suggested.  So, instead of the mincemeat and dried chestnuts that he suggests, I used my own dried prunes; last summer’s Dit’sum plums dried slowly overnight in the bottom oven of the Everhot then stored in an air tight jar. I split my little fillet nearly in half and filled the cavity with our sausage meat, salt, fresh ground black pepper and the pitted prunes. I tied the whole with string to make a big oblong, then wrapped it loosely in tin foil leaving the top exposed, poured lemon juice over it and  chilled it in the fridge while I went into the garden to dig the very last Pink Fir Apple potatoes and pick winter spinach. The pork went into a hot oven, 200C, for an hour until well done and golden. As the potatoes cooked I took the meat out of the oven, covered it and let it rest in a warm place on top of the cooker.  I made a sauce with chicken stock, a table spoon of redcurrant jelly, and a pinch of cinnamon. I slaked a desert spoon of cornflour into a little extra stock, stirred that into the sauce and brought it just to the boil, stirring all the time until it thickened. Finally I stirred in a couple of tablespoons of cream, tasted the sauce and added seasoning.   The washed and destalked spinach wilted quickly in its own water. The secret with spinach is no extra water  and the quickest possible cooking. I still needed to drain it thoroughly and press it down in the colander to really get it dry.  A quick stir over the heat with a knob of butter and it was ready too.   As I sliced the pork and served my friends it suddenly occurred to me that I had produced everything on the plate !  Not pudding though; I found Nigel Slater’s wonderful quick lemon curd ice cream recipe in his lovely book, Kitchen Diaries. Speedy to make, it is sharp and delicious after the rich unctuous pork.

Postscript:

Today we lost our beloved old sheepdog, Meg, loyal friend and wonderful working dog of 15 years. We miss her terribly but she had a long and happy doggy life, sweet girl.

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