Sep 30 2005

Filling the Larder Sept 2005


As we reach the Equinox once more the autumn sun drops from our heavens into the southern hemisphere. It joins us later and later each day creeping up over the hill and, leaving earlier and earlier, soon slides away again like a huge red barley sugar. The golden autumn light seems to wraps itself around the whole valley easing us towards winter. As the days get shorter the light becomes hard and sharp. Mimicking shadows, long, crisp, exaggerating, fall across the grass. The days are still warm but there is a chill in the misty morning air as we set off for the yard before breakfast.

Cobwebs_1 Donkems Chickens

Donkeys loiter in their shed hoping for a little something extra, eyeing the remains of last years hay with distaste. Days begin to shrink as we watch the clock at dusk. We hurry to reach the chickens before the foxes and the badgers. Dimpsey is their favourite time to dine



This years’ lambs are big and fat now and away from their mothers. Bullocks are waiting in the wings to be butchered and sold as beef boxes. I felt sad to see the great dignified beasts leave on their last journey and had to remind myself that theirs could have been a far less happy lot had they not been here. Richard will butcher them at Gara Barton, and Lesley and I will pack and label and make up individual boxes for our customers. After nurturing the beautiful beasts through their short life it is of huge importance to me that the butchery and presentation is of the highest quality and does them justice.  So I am thrilled to be working with Richard and Lesley.


Soon lambs will follow them and the cycle will start all over again. Junior is building up his strength in a lush neighbouring field for the high spot of his year. He is a fine Whiteface pedigree ram and we are very relieved that his good scrapy score will spare him from the compulsory cull next year, when he will still be in his prime. Young Scruff, now an almost respectable ram, has proved himself a useful and calming summer companion. Having nursed him from near death when he was so small I begged for his reprieve and am so glad his life has found a purpose!

Blackberries_3 Sloes_1 Quince_4

Everywhere I look there is a burgeoning, bursting, harvest. Sloes weigh down the hedge rows, blackberries snatch at me as I climb over styles and untie gates between fields. The runner beans need picking and freezing, potatoes need digging and storing, tomatoes fill the greenhouse, courgettes turn into marrows if I turn my back, and tomatillos daintily fill the polytunnel. What shall I do with all those tomatillos?


This is the season to fill the larder and the deep freeze. I have turned the goose into confit , chicken livers into pate and plumbs and cucumbers into pickles. Chutneys will follow. This year some of those beans will join the last green tomatoes and windfall apples into the chutney. Jinks’ recipe with fresh ginger sounds delicious. Maybe I can add tomatillos to it! I’ll make piccalilli again too and crush some crab apples to make old fashioned verjuice. The cider apples will be collected in sacks beneath the trees. When all are gathered we will take them to the local press. Well, I may give a sack or two to Richards’ pigs.



Last week I spent a day in the “Tudor Kitchen” at the Weald and Downland Museum in Sussex. We salted and smoked,
pickled and preserved all manner of things in the ways of the Tudors.
The room was dark and smoky, lit only by candles. The windows were
without glass giving us some relief from the heavy smoke billowing from
the open grate. Coppiced logs some three feet long lay across dog irons
feeding the fire. Oak burns slowly we were told, giving the long
lasting background heat but the smoke is acrid. Beech and ash give the
main heat while a quick burst of flame is provided by the coppiced
birch. Fat iron pots on little legs surrounded
the fire, their contents bubbling away; a pigs head destined for brawn,
apples on their way to becoming apple leather, vegetables for pickling.
Often one pot would contain several different dishes each wrapped in
its own cloth. Embers were pulled under the pots or pushed away to control the heat.  Herrings,
salted and strung up above the fire, smoked to make early “kippers” and
pork and beef were preserved in various spices, salts, “ale gars” and


How similar it all seemed to our methods today but how quickly these skills are being lost and forgotten in Britain. Pigs’ heads are hard to
come by, but if you are lucky enough to find one and are not too
squeamish to deal with it, the results are wonderful. With some
refinements on Tudor methods they can be transformed into Brawn,
Fromage de Tete or Galantine de Porc and make a delicious addition to a
cold lunch. Bath
chaps are equally rare
and very few people bother to salt a leg or belly of pork for Jambon de
Paris or Petit Sale any more. Fortunately in
France the tradition continues. How could there be Cassoulet or Garbure without Confit of Duck, Goose, Pork? What would all we tourists do without our Confit de Canard et Frites? 


But do people in Britain have larders any more? 



Salting Meat


The meat and fish are preserved in a dry cure of flavoured salt and saltpetre. Saltpetre is sodium nitrite and in these health conscious days regarded as unsuitable for human consumption. Its dubious origins and old stories of its early collection certainly make one wonder! However it is a good preservative and turns the meat pink. If you are not using it refrigerate the meat during curing. Sea salt is considered the best for curing and preserving but rock salt is quite acceptable. Modern fine table salt contains chemicals to stop lumps forming so is therefore not suitable for curing.


 For 3kg of meat, I suggest belly of pork to start with, mix 500 gms of sea salt with 15 gms sugar, 1 teaspoon of crushed peppercorns, 15 gms juniper berries, 2 dry bay leaves, a sprig of thyme, 2 crushed cloves. Herbs and spices can of course be varied according to taste.


Rub some of the salt mixture well into the pork skin then, turning it over, rub more into the meat making sure no part is missed. Put a handful of salt into an earthenware or plastic bowl or bucket and place the meat on top. Pour over the remaining salt covering it completely.


Cover with a piece of close fitting, boiled wood or a scrupulously clean plate and a heavy weight. Leave in a cool, dark place for four days and up to several weeks if you have used saltpetre. Do check in regularly in these modern days of central heating and double glazing. The longer you leave it the more moisture will be drawn from the meat gradually turning the salt to brine. At first the salt draws the liquid from the meat then the procedure reverses and the salt solution begins to penetrate the meat.


Rinse the meat well before cooking, soaking for a couple of hours. Bring it up to the boil, drain and then simmer gently with herbs etc for about forty minutes for a piece of pork belly, longer for a larger cut. Serve hot with traditional choucroute or crisp savoy cabbage or press it under a heavy weight, slice finely and eat cold with all those pickles, chutneys and preserves.



Chicken Liver Pate


Clean and finely slice the chicken livers discarding sinews. Chop shallot and crush a clove of garlic. Melt a knob of butter in a heavy pan with a splash of olive oil. This will stop the butter burning. Soften the shallot, don’t let it colour, add the garlic and livers and turn quickly in the hot pan for two or three minutes. The livers should be sealed but still pink. Add a good pinch of fresh dried herbs, not the packet that has been sitting on the shelf for years and turned to grey dust! Stir again and flame with brandy or stir in a little red wine. Take off the heat and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Whiz everything up briefly in a food processor and scrape with a spatula into a small terrine. Melt plenty of butter in a clean pan and, strictly speaking clarify it, once melted, through muslin. Pour it over the pate making sure there is enough to make a perfect seal. Refrigerate. Leave for at least three days to mature. It will keep for several weeks. Once the seal is broken eat within a couple of days. Serve it with crisp plain biscuits or toast and a glass of red wine. 


Fruit Leathers


Peel about 2kg of apples, pears or quince etc. Save peel and pips and tie in muslin cloth. Put everything in a heavy pan with 300ml water and cook till soft.. When soft remove the bag of peel etc, weigh the cooked fruit, place in a rinsed pan with an equal amount of sugar. Boil again stirring all the time till stiff and almost sticking to the pan. It will bubble and spit so cover your hand with a cloth. Pour a very thin layer onto a baking tray, which you have lined with greaseproof paper, and leave to dry. The airing cupboard is a good place for this! Turn regularly. After several weeks a crystal crust will appear on the surface and it is said to keep for up to two years! But you can cut into squares, sprinkle with sugar and eat it all after about 12 hours, it’s so delicious. Or, if you’re more restrained, store it in a plastic box covered in granulated sugar. That way you have wonderful flavoured sugar as well.


Colours of autumn


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One Response to “Filling the Larder Sept 2005”

  1. A+Ron 04 Oct 2005 at 11:10 pm

    Love the flowers Sal !!!!! They look familar !!!!!

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