Mar 12 2017

March Mud and Fat Ladies


Dusk is creeping in a little later each afternoon now, stretching out the farming day minute by minute. It’s still just light till nearly six. Fat ladies race through the mud to the farmyard for tea as the light begins to fade. Poor girls, I cannot remember such a muddy March! Surface water runs down from the hills collecting in great puddles in the valley before seeping, oh so slowly, into an already tumultuous roaring stream.

Soon the first lambs will be born. Each year we wait with the same excitement and anxiety as we watch the ewes bag up with milk. How will it be this year? How many singles, how many twins? How much joy, how much sadness?

Each morning dogs and I trudge reluctantly up to the top fields to check the rest of the flock. We hang around waiting for the rain to stop, willing it to stay away long enough for us to get right round before it starts again. But, alas, we reach halfway and a momentary blue sky gives way to a steely grey canopy, the wind begins to roar and once again we are battered by a sideways curtain of stinging hailstones.

We feed the little wethers by the tiny, top barn in the field we call “Dainty”, named after that erstwhile naughty pony. We move on to count the yearling ewe lambs in “Five Acre” pausing to look across the valley at far off Dartmoor dancing in the distant mist. Finally we have a word with big Larry and the rather grumpy rams, on their own now in “Steep Field”, before we retrace our steps down to the valley, squelching our way back to the yard.

At last we are allowed to let our chickens out to peck happily in the rain again. After months of imprisonment, they are free once more to slide around in the mud too! The Avian Flu restrictions were finally relaxed here last week. Not all are so lucky as high risk areas remain in many parts of the country. But at present we are in the clear. Let’s hope it stays that way.

As we march into March snowdrops and crocus fade.

They are replaced by a carpet of primroses, by swathes of daffodils tumbling through the orchard, by the gentle nodding heads of hellebores. Huge camellias flowers are buffeted in the wind spreading their petals like confetti. Spring is exploding everywhere.

Evenings are still damp and cold though. Warming food is a must after a day outside in sleet and rain. Hearty bowls of homemade soup are welcome. But better still lamb shanks cooked very slowly all day in a very low oven make a comforting supper. To carrots and celeriac, shallots and garlic, chicken stock and red wine, I add a teaspoon or two of Harissa to give an extra spicy warmth. Delicious!
Big plates of pasta with prawns, tomatoes, olive oil and plenty of parmesan quickly warm us too when we’re in a hurry. And a fish pie with fennel and potato in a creamy Béchamel topped with breadcrumbs, lemon, butter and garlic is wonderful when I have enough time! Finally, of course, it is still cold enough for cauliflower cheese, a baked potato and Richard Pollard’s wonderful Dartmouth sausages: comforting food indeed!
And suddenly the weather changes; wind drops, rain stops and our first baby arrives!

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