Oct 14 2006

October 2006

Floating in a mist of time……


This year really is a season of “mist and mellow fruitfulness”. Early morning mist shrouds the valley, spider’s webs glint in the sharp early morning light. The whole landscape has an ethereal, floaty- ness. Trees and shrubs seem to drift, disembodied down the hills. The dove cot has no earthly anchor.


autumn mist

I walk slowly up to the yard with Welly, Meg and Min and wonder if old Truffy will make it all the way today. Sometimes she does, sometimes she doesn’t. I let her choose these days. Occasionally she still manages a walk across the hills but I trail her on a long piece of bailer twine; she is easily disorientated, wandering off and sitting patiently at the wrong gate gazing in the wrong direction. Dear old dog, deaf and a bit wobbly too, she’s still so happy and just as greedy as ever


Min_takes_a_drink Min_out

                    In & Out   


The morning mist suddenly clears as I clean the stables and chat to the donkeys. The sun burns through revealing the world and reconnecting land and sky. Another day of warm autumn sun and showers begins. The grass is growing again at last, “spring” grass full of sugar. For months the fields have been sad and brown and we’ve fretted about grazing. We’ve wondered just how soon we would have to start using up the winter feed to supplement the sheep’s diet.

But October brought with it rain and we cheered to see the wet veil blowing sideways through the valley once more. We stood in the farmyard looking to the heavens and letting the welcome water soak our upturned faces. Everything seemed refreshed; chickens pecked through puddles, sheep shook the dust from their shorn bodies, donkeys let the water soak into their oil free coats. Even old Humphrey came out for a short swim, with a little help.

Humphrey Fly_copy

       Humphrey & Fly

And then the sun returned; beautiful golden autumn days, unseasonably warm taking us gently towards winter. The final crops are harvested, preserved and stored for the cold empty months ahead. Apples must be sacked up, leaves raked away, tender plants housed safely before that first unexpected frost. And all the while the blue sky and sunshine seem to say “no, not yet you’ve still some time”


I sit at my desk gazing out of my window at the huge monkey puzzle tree framed in blue sky and my mind begins to drift away. Harvest now, harvest then, the years roll round and round. Everything changes and nothing changes. My mind is full of images of the Holbein exhibition I visited this week at Tate Britain; of 16th Century faces that I seemed to meet again on the train home.

As I re-read yet again Thomas Tusser’s “A hundreth good points of husbandrie,” I realised that while Holbien was doing his exquisite drawings for his portraits of King Henry’s Court, while he ducked and weaved, recorded all those around him and kept his head, Tusser was giving his good counsel to all and sundry, working through the seasons much as we do in the countryside today.  City life is quite unrecognisable but country life still has many parallels. Man still hasn’t yet changed the rhythm of the seasons though global warming is an ugly threat.

In September Tusser urges us to

Geue winter corne leaue, for to haue full his lust:

 sowe wheate as though mayst, but sowe rye in the dust.”


As I look across the valley, I see Richard’s great tractor, traversing the chocolate soil and sowing winter corn on the hill. He is mobbed by a great cloud of seagulls shrieking harshly overhead.


Tusser tells me the “sede being sowne” I must “waterforow thy ground : that the rain that cometh may runne away round. The ditches kept skowered, the hedge clad with thorne: doth well to drain water, and saveth thy corne.”

Well, I can’t argue with that either as so oftenI have watched the water flow down the hills into stream, river and sea taking all before it.

Then furth with thy slinges, and thine arowes & bowes:

till ridges be grene, kepe the corne from the crowes

Good boye abrode, by the day starre appeare:

Shall skare good man crow, that he dares not come near”

How Welly and I hate our neighbour’s automatic bird scarer!! The shots ring out every twenty minutes ricocheting around the valley, echoing an ear ripping crack as the sound waves bounce off the hills all around. And all because those crows are eating his 21st Century winter corn!

In October Tusser urges us to gather fruit from the tree when the “mone in the wane….. “ The riper the better for grasse and for thee”. We must gather the fire wood for the winter ahead, feed up our “swine,” and make quite sure we “have done sowing wheate before halowmas eue”; not much change there either, good counsel indeed. It’s true you see, it’s all the same but more so….toujours le meme chose and so on. In this world of uncertainty and terrifying headlines it feels increasingly important to hold on to a sense of connectedness with the natural world and an awareness of our tiny place in history. Very unfashionable, I know!!

Which of course brings me to food, what else! Comfort eating as autumn closes round us and food for thought……Pigs, what is it about pigs? I dare not keep them, they’re so charming. I feel sure I’d have to give up eating bacon. Surely not, I eat my lambs, don’t I, chickens too!  Ducks are a dilemma though. I digress.


Back to pigs and curing bacon. I become fussier and fussier about the bacon I buy. What is that awful, white, fishy smelling, sticky goo that emerges from each rasher as it fries, rendering the lot soggy and welded to the pan? Why doesn’t it turn crisp and fill the air with that irresistible coffee mixed smell of breakfast as I struggle back, cold and hungry from the yard?


I have just bought half a pig from Graham. Our lambs are cut up in his splendid “state of the art” butchery now. Together with Tony’s butchery skill, all mod cons and the necessary E.E.C Cutting license it’s a very satisfactory arrangement and their pork is wonderful too.

So the pork belly will go into a dry cure: salt, bay leaves, crushed peppercorns, juniper berries and soft brown sugar. I will rub the mixture into the meat and place it in a plastic tray; wood will do to but on no account will I use metal. I will cover it with a tea towel and leave it in the fridge overnight. The next day I will pour off the liquid that has leached out of the meat and, if necessary, rub in a little more salt mixture. I will repeat this for three or four days. The longer I leave it the more salty but the more stable it will become. Finally I will take it out of the cure, rinse it well and pat it dry. I will wrap it in muslin or maybe greaseproof paper and make room in my fridge for it to hang from a shelf. It will keep for a month like this. Mild weather makes me feel the fridge is the safest option.

I would like to have it smoked but my local smoke house is now too large a concern to take tiny pieces of home cured affairs, so I’ll enjoy it “green”. Maybe one day I’ll tackle home smoking….

Delicious meals start to fill my head; petit sale with Savoy cabbage and mashed potatoes. Soak the bacon to remove the salt, rinse and bring gently to the boil, simmer for about forty minutes. Chop a Savoy cabbage, blanche in boiling water and drain well. Drain the cooked bacon and keep warm. Keep the liquor for future soup. Melt a piece of butter in a thick pan, add a tablespoon of the bacon liquor and re-heat the cabbage. Serve hot boiled bacon with cabbage and mashed potatoes.

Or how about an Anglicised Tartiflette? Fry some bacon till just beginning to crisp, add a couple of chopped onions and a left over, boiled potato or three. When the onion begins to caramelise tip the lot into and oven proof dish and pour over a little cream. No, this is not a light, slimming dish! Top with cheese, traditionally it should be Tomme de Savoie, but use up whatever you have. Bake until the cheese melts and bubbles. Delicious!

For a really quick supper just fry bacon cubes, shallot and cooked, sliced potatoes and, maybe, some mushrooms together and top with a fried egg. So simple and so nice!

But whatever you do, just remember as the winter month’s approach, to take a tip from Pieter Breuegel, the Elder’s Peasant Dancer and wear your spoon in your hat, so you may always be absolutely sure of a good meal wherever you go …….


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