Thursday, 18 August 2016


An amazing thing happened today. It has probably happened here many times in the last five years but I have never witnessed it. The difference of five minutes forwards or backwards and I would not have witnessed it at all.

It was a hot, humid day. In anticipation of the forecast rain storm due to arrive tonight, I headed out to the cut flower patch to collect a bunch of sweet peas and calendula for the kitchen, and cut some helichrysum (also known as straw flowers or everlasting flowers) to dry, fully expecting to wake up tomorrow to a battered patch and forlorn flowers. As usual, on arrival at the plot, I got distracted, and a five minute task became a 30 minute potter. Everything changed in that time. The temperature dropped. The sky darkened. The wind picked up. You could feel the storm in the air. My trug full of flowers, I left the plot. Like losing the plot but without the anger issues.

Part way across the field I realised I had company. A lot of company. I was standing in a bee superhighway. Bees to my left, my right, below me, above me, and if I didn't get out of the way soon there was going to be a collision. I crouched down. A steady stream of my honey bees, some flying high, some flying low, some zipping along at high speed, others taking a more waivering path, but all flying very definitely along the same route, from the same direction in the neighbouring field, to the same destination in our field, namely the apiary. It was as though a bell had rung, calling all workers home, urgently, no shilly-shallying along the way, do not pass Go, do not collect any pollen on the way. Even ducked down I was at risk of getting a face full of bees, so I lay on my back, watching them fly over me, hundreds of them. They knew a storm was coming and bees hate rain. I could see the full pollen bags on some, predominately a whitish colour. Perhaps my girls had found themselves a patch of late summer heather and had been working it en masse in the afternoon sunshine, all available foragers called up, all leave cancelled.

Gradually the numbers died down. The stream became a trickle. Bucking the trend a lone bee headed back in the other direction. What was she thinking? Sent out to find missing workers? Determined to hit her daily foraging target whatever the weather? Did she make it home?

David returned from feeding the pigs to see me lying in the middle of the field, and assumed I had fallen over, as though that is a regular occurrence, as if I am prone to random tumbles. I explained the reason for my position, so he joined me and together we watched the last of the field workers head home as the first rain drops began to fall.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Ancestral Head Cheese

The head was in the freezer for 10 months, each half wedged down the side. When you're in search of the solace only a bowl of ice cream can provide, you do not want to see a rigor mortis smile or frozen eye-lashes on closed eyes that will never open. Alongside the head was a bag of trotters. They're not there any more. They are in the fridge. They are neither head nor trotters any more. They are brawn. In North America it is called head cheese. Why would anyone do that? Call it head cheese I mean, not make brawn.

Before I go any further it is only fair to warn you that if you scroll down you are at risk of encountering gruesome pictures of grizzly detail of the transformation of raw pig head to tasty brawn. These are pictures that at the very least will make you curl up your upper lip and say "yeurgh", and at worse have you waking in a cold sweat from nightmares of being chased by a fleshless disembodied pig head. Just saying.

Step one. Remove your defrosted pig head from the fridge. At this point I offered David an out. There's no shame in admitting this is a step too far in nose to tail eating. But no, he would see this through.

Step two. Cut off the ears and clean out the wax. Ha ha ha ha! And yes, he did, and yes, the ears were waxy. I found the hole where ear met head disturbingly intriguing, insisting on pointing it out several times. The ears have subsequently been roasted and eaten as a crispy snack by Teri. The dog. She loves the pigs. We don't think she knew it was a pig ear. 


Step three. Soak your pig head in brine for 24 hours, after shaving it to remove hairs. Ha ha ha ha! It gets funnier and funnier. There was no way David was going to work up a nice foam and give the pig a shave. And besides, you can't shave off an eye lash. Can you? I gave him my tweezers. He didn't pluck for long before announcing we would not be using the skin in the brawn. I wasn't prepared to be the plucker so who was I to argue.


Step four. Boil your brined pig head with herbs and spices for 4 hours. Phew, we could now hide the head under greenery and vegetables. Uh oh, we're gonna need a bigger pot! Push the trotter under the water. Up pops the trotter. Push the trotter under the water. Trotter bobs back up. Push the trotter under the water. Hi there, me again! 


Step five. Pick the meat off the head. No, no, no, no .... it's still smiling at me. Though the smile is now so much more gruesome than it was before it was boiled. I waivered at step 5. "But I thought it would be nice to do it together", said David. Keep the magic alive, pick over a boiled pig head together. I conceded. He did the head. I did the trotters. Keep the magic alive, compromise. I screwed up my face a lot. I winced when the canine popped out the jaw bone. I peered across the table and said "is that the brain or the eyeball?". Curiosity started to over come squeamishness. A pig's teeth are fascinating, a rugged mountain range of toothy crags, perfect for grinding stones and chewing on wooden pig ark panels. 


Step six. Mix the meat with herbs and spoonfuls of the gelatinous stock and pack into a press. At last, the fruits of our labours began to look like real food instead of a terrible farming accident. Our family heirloom butcher's press, which had spent five years gathering dust and general detritus in the corner of our utility room, was now shiny and clean, ready for its moment of brawn glory, having lain unused since David's grandfather's butchers shop in Portsmouth closed its doors.



Step seven. Two days later, realise you forgot to line the press with cling-film, cross your fingers, hold your breath, ease the brawn out of the press. Hey presto, a thing of beauty, a feast, a labour of love, a meaty delight, a brawn David's grandfather would have been proud to have made.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Someone else's horse

I can't deny that summer has been conspicuously absent since the great heatwave of 19 July. And I have to confess that writing, be it book, blog or just about anything else, has been difficult of late. Sometimes the words just won't come. But today summer came back and a little bit of my mojo came with it.

The internet is a joy and a devil. The joy is knowledge at your finger tips (we call the laptop "the big answer box" for a very good reason and it's a vital tool when you live with and love someone for whom every other sentence is a question). The joy is a window on the world of far away friends. The joy is meeting new like-minded friends whose paths you might not otherwise have crossed. The devil is the myriad dark ways in which people are led astray. For me, the devil takes the form of brilliant blogs, inspiring smallholders, boundless creativity, people doing more, doing it better, being who I think I might want to be. Viewed through the lens of this skewed insight into the lives of others, the grass is always greener on the other side, not just more green but more lush, more nutritious, more grassy, more more. I know that way madness lies. I know that I perpetuate this madness with every digitally remastered Tweet and every filtered Instagram photo that I post. Yet it still halts my pen, causes my fingers to pause then refrain from typing. A wiser person than I (or is it "than me", I agonise over grammar for fear of causing upset and disdain), a person who happens to be one of those new like-minded social media made flesh friends, once said:

It’s not possible to do everything, it isn’t even easy to try to do most (things).
But always, doing something is better than doing nothing.
Trying is better than not trying.

He said this to another wiser person whose blog about "scrunched up insides" struck a chord, resonated, put into words the niggling feeling bugging me as another day passed without a word written. So .... *deep breath* .... inspired by Jen, I am getting back on my own particular horse. Who knows where that nag will take me!

Today I went for a wander. This was no aimless wander. This wander had a purpose. The purpose was to remind myself that the grass is green on my side too. In this dark and twisty world I have much to be thankful for and today I say to no one in particular "thank you".