Friday, March 21, 2014

Decadent Dad's Charming Charcuterie

 Decadent Dad has ventured into the realm of charcuterie and all things smoked and cured in the meat realm. This is the next intriguing step on our journey in  self sufficiency. His bacon (above) and pancetta (below) are so beyond delicious.

His latest experimenting is with sausages. Yesterday he made a paprika and fennel pork sausage. It was amusing to see my men learning to use the sausage machine.

After watching Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Pig in a Day, he mastered authentic sausage tying first time. Sometimes I find the ease with which he does whatever he puts his hand to astounding and sometimes irritating. I would have had to follow slow motion instructions on You Tube at least ten times to get this right. 

The sausages turned out beautifully.

We cooked a few fresh sausages for supper to test them. spanish style bangers and mash... the sausages were so tasty, really good for a first try, and perfectly complemented by my green tomato ketchup sauce. 

The remaining sausages are in the cold smoker, slowly turning from spicy fresh sausages into cured and smoked chorizo. They will hang in there for a few days and then mature for at least 20 days. For someone who never liked sausage much, it makes a difference knowing that the finest ingredients went into them and that there are no artificial preservatives. 

I can't wait to try them. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Strawberry Popcorn

Everybody's intrigued by this beautifully ornamental, delicious strawberry popcorn. It is an heirloom corn. We planted more than 40 plants in our veggie tunnel as early as I could after the frost ended on Spring so that they wouldn't cross-pollinate with the maize on the farm. The plants were planted in a block rather than in rows to aid wind, pollination.The seeds germinated well, sending their grass-like leaves up in promise of a good harvest. As they matured they were attacked by aphids, but a host of ladybug larvae were soon feasting on the miniature invaders. We have had a heap of rain lately so I picked the cobs before the plants were fully dry to prevent them from going mouldy.

I dried the miniature cobs on a sunny windowsill. 

When the kernels are dry enough, they shuck easily off the cob. One cob gives about 1/3 cup of red jewel kernels.

The secret to perfect popping corn is the kernels being dry enough. If, like me, you are impatient, your popcorn will only pop open in tiny cracks.

 On the other hand, if you wait a little longer while they dry...

you will be rewarded with fluffy bowls of tiny popcorn. 


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Slow Living in February


February has been a month of bringing my heart home, here on the farm. After last month, I have needed to draw in and find my rhythm again. It has taken almost the whole month to settle back into comforting routines, and find our way with my diligent son's schooling. The chockablock full days have flown as we've studied new subjects, added to our menagerie, and dealt with the unabating harvest from garden tunnel and the farm. I have fallen into bed every night only to be woken at sunrise by our pup, calling me to let her out. Join me, along with Slow Living Essentials as I appreciate the blessings that came our way in February. 

What a thrill to sit down to breakfast made from scratch where everything, or almost everything, was homemade or home grown.  

Tomatoes grown in the garden, eggs freshly collected, bread baked using our buttermilk and the most delicious bacon cured by the talented Decadent Dad. 

Just picked ripe figs and Jersey yoghurt on Decadent Dad's fluffy flapjacks, drizzled with his runny honey and almonds.

Organic oats (bought not grown here) dolloped with our Jersey yoghurt, then sprinkled with walnuts from the old trees on the other farm, the few gooseberries that I beat the birds to, and grapes from the verandah then drizzled with fig syrup.

Lunches and suppers have been pretty much the same... fragrant lamb and pumpkin bredie (a slow simmered spicy stew) served on mashed potatoes with green beans and carrots, all raised and grown here... home baked bread with our farmhouse cheddar cheese and dilly pickles... heirloom beetroot, cumin feta and sweet cured bacon salad alongside sweetcorn cobs dripping with farm butter. 

I never dreamed that this would be my life, nor did we plan it to be this way, yet we sit down daily to gourmet meals purely because of the incredible abundance of fresh, seasonal bounty. And when we give thanks for our food, we sincerely mean it.

I made Jamie Oliver's tomato ketchup using different colour tomatoes from the tunnel. It is delicious, but tastes all wrong because I substituted white pepper for black, and it is a lot stronger in flavour than it should be. The yellow tomatoes made a pale green ketchup, and the black cherry tomatoes made a brown ketchup. Had I known of the impending tomato death, I would probably have rather frozen the tomatoes whole. 
Pickling, drying, freezing and preserving is the order of most of our days at this time of year:

seeds collected and dried: dill, coriander, celery, tomato, bean, leek, walnut
herbs dried in bunches: thyme, oregano, sage, dill
figs: green preserve, syrup, dried and jam
beans: dill pickles, and frozen
apples: apple cider vinegar 
green peppers: marinated peppers
cucumbers: dill pickles
tomatoes: ketchup, sauce, dried, frozen
sweet corn: frozen
beetroot: pickles
And of course, we continue to make cheese daily. 

Decadent Dad also managed to collect his annual honey harvest with minimal stings in the process. His smoker  ran out of puff just as he opened a rather aggressive hive which proved  fairly challenging for him. He came away with a year's worth of honey for both us and the other farm household. 

I regularly use vinegar instead of rinse aid in the dishwasher and it works just as well.


It's harvest time in the tunnel. We are pulling out potatoes as we need them, gem squash (all these from two plants, and last year we picked a total of about six squash), purple carrots, green peppers, mild chillies, courgettes, lovely sausage-shaped orlando aubergines, and we picked most of our strawberry popcorn crop which is drying along the windowsill in the sun room. 

I have also started sowing winter crops such as brassicas, leeks and onions into seed beds and beds that empty up as we harvest their current crops. 

I was hoping to do a big clear out and tackle decluttering after we returned from Cape Town, but facilitating my son's education has demanded the majority of my waking hours. We did resurrect my husband's ancient drawing board and some of my engineering drawing instruments, from more than 20 years ago, for our son to use for his engineering drawing studies. That saved us many hundreds of rands.
Instead of tossing out some too-sour-for-the-market cream cheese, I turned it into pastry along with butter and flour.

I picked up on the sock I am knitting after I inadvertently pulled out one of the needles and dropped heaps of stitches more than a year ago. The yarn is very fine and the needles thin and I must confess that I am enduring rather than enjoying this project. I have always wanted to knit socks, however, not being the most co-ordinated person around, I am finding it pretty fiddly. I persevere because I like to keep my hands busy on long car trips, and in the evenings as the weather cools. I wonder if I will finish the pair before the end of winter. 

In search of harvest recipes I have spent many moments trawling through my recipe books, and rediscovered the delights of our Reader's Digest South African Cookbook. This beautifully illustrated, 400 page encyclopaedic tome thoroughly covers almost every possible locally available ingredient and presents all the classic, tried and true recipes for South African cooking from Malay bredies and African putu to Afrikaans vetkoek and British shortbread. It has been sitting on my shelf for years, handed down from my mom-in-law, but only now am I really appreciating this bountiful book.

Our farm art group met at our house this week. Inspired by the sunflowers in the fields, they painted their own van Goghs. The diversity in style and  choice of colour was delightful. 

This week a tractor arrived to plough the field next to our home. I am super excited, as this means oats for winter grazing.

In February we were blessed with the birth of a little bull calf, Rumble. 
At sunrise one morning I woke to find Joy in the garden and already in labour (see first pic in this post). I watched her for hours as her labour progressed and then almost missed the delivery which happened very fast. What a privilege to sit beside them in the long grass as the calf wobbled onto his feet and then persevered, with many rests in between, until he found her milk. Over the next few weeks he has grown stronger and now frisks around his momma in the field.

Decadent Dad treated me to a romantic picnic on the hillside above our home on the 14th... my Facebook status the next morning...
"When he was up past midnight the night before, chasing thieves in the dark; and drove three hundred kilometres in the heat that day; and was going to wake somewhere in the wee hours to bake an order of croissants; and had eyes drooping with exhaustion; he thought of me. 

When storm clouds were gathering; and I had snapped at him the day before; and complained about the wrong shoes; and pitied our boy watching a movie eating pizza alone; he silently walked me up the hill at sunset.

He laid out a blanket and we sat. He poured me wine. He spread selected delicacies. He kissed undeserving me. He smiled.

We feasted. We watched the cows grazing below. We saw the grasses waving, silhouetted in the breeze. We heard the frogs. We heard the distant rumble of thunder. My heart stilled, and filled."

This is a beautiful time of year, with balmy days and evenings, and I am enjoying farm living. If only I was able to spend more time outdoors.