Friday 30 January 2015

Digging the Marley Hill allotment

We spent Sunday at Dad's small allotment in Marley Hill. The aim was to get as much digging done as possible in preparation for spring planting. Reasonable progress was made.

More cheese making

We are not getting much milk at the moment from Pinkie and as she goes further through her pregnancy, the amount will continue to reduce. However, we have some milk to use up recently so we have made more soft cheese. This one turned out very soft so I'll probably use it in a flan.

Using up game - squirrels and rabbits

Last year we swapped preserves for a sackful of squirrels and rabbits. This game arrived on our doorstep frozen ready frozen and largely unprepared. It went straight into our chest freezer.

We are trying to use up the big stock of food that we have in the freezers and create some space. The game took up quite a bit of space. Our plan therefore was to make some game pies. The first part of the process was to prepare the squirrels and rabbits.

It turned out that the rabbits had already been gutted, making the job of preparing them easier. The squirrels needed to have their innards removed however. All the pelts were retained. They went into a bag in the freezer and at some point in the future I'm going to have a go at using them.

The game was put in a pan, brought to the boil and then simmered for half an hour.

Once it had cooled, the meat was stripped from the bone.

The liquid in which the game was simmered was kept in the pan. The bones were then returned to it. More water and onions were added and the bones were simmered for a couple of hours to make stock.

Both meat and stock would find their way into the game pies. More about the next stages in forthcoming posts.

Sausage sandwich

The butcher who slaughtered our last pig made some of the meat into sausages.  They are superb. We had some of them for dinner a couple of evenings ago. I suspect his recipe is secret but he added some ingredients that made top quality meat into the best bangers we've had in quite some time.

Thursday 29 January 2015

Roast venison

In a further attempt to use up our stocks of food, we got this leg of venison out of the freezer last week and marinated it in our own home made wine for a day. The venison was part of a swap last year. We paid for it with a couple of joints of Tamworth pork. The venison was then roasted. We had it for main course when a couple of friends came over for dinner last week.

There was far too much meat for one meal. Venison sandwiches were on the menu for a couple of days afterwards but that only used a small amount of meat. I stripped it from the bone which was then used to make stock.

The stock is pink because we put into it the red wine in which the venison was marinated. Nothing wasted. Some of the venison has now found its way into 4 game pies made yesterday (more about that later) though we still have some of the meat to use up.

Our first duck egg of the year

Much to my surprise this morning, I found an egg in the duck run. We haven't had any duck eggs laid since early November and I wasn't expecting any until March. Once of the ducks has started laying early though we wait to see if it is a one off or not. My suspicion is that it was laid by one of the ducks we hatched in the summer. She is making an early start to earning her keep.

Battle of the Bulge

This is Pinkie, our Golden Guernsey milking goat. She was mated on Boxing Day. We are reasonably certain she is pregnant as she did not come into heat earlier this month, three weeks after the mating. This photo was taken a couple of days ago. Her abdomen has started to swell. At this point we don't know if this is down to her getting fat (she is producing far less milk but still eats well) or to her pregnancy. We are still on the learning curve but the abdomen is certainly expanding. We haven't measured it but we do put a coat on her at night and there is clearly more abdomen to get the straps around. If all goes well, the birth will be late May.

Wine tasting

We have started sampling the wine we bottled last year. Two bottles of red have been consumed. The first was elderberry. This had a slightly sweet edge to it. The other was elderberry and runner bean. This seems an odd combination but it also produced the best wine of the two. The runner beans made it smoother and drier by eliminating the sweet edge to it. We've also used some of the runner bean wine to marinate a leg of venison and to add to the filling for game pie. But more about that later.

Quail scotch eggs and beetroot salad

We had a couple of friends over for dinner recently so we gave them quail scotch eggs and beetroot salad for starters. The eggs were laid in the early autumn so we weren't sure if they were still usable until we had boiled them. As it turned out, they were all fine. Sausage meat again came from our Tamworth pig. The beetroot came from a recent swap with one of the neighbouring allotment holders. He was going to throw them out as they had not grown sufficiently but we offered to take them. They were the size of golf balls and quite usable. We've still got loads to use up.

In fact, we've got loads of food generally to use up. It is something of an embarrassment of food riches, especially meat which, for large parts of the year is normally strictly rationed by us to make it last. At the moment, we have been using a large amount of game but on the allotment we still have 4 cockerels and 5 drakes to use up. And in the freezer, we have lamb, pork and more game to consume. But more about all this later.

Apple pie and ice cream

We are still using up apples from last year so we used a stash of them in an enormous apple pie. Such a dish cannot be eaten alone so we used our new ice cream maker again. This time we made a fruit ice cream. Having kept all the fruit we use to make our fruit liqueurs, we now had a use for all those gin-pickled raspberries. In ice cream they are lovely. We also made a bit more vanilla. We rationed ourselves so as not to pig out on the whole lot in one day. It took us four days of self-control to get through it all.

Thursday 22 January 2015

Duck and vegetable soup

The drake we pot roasted recently gave us some great leftovers to use to make soup. The liquid in which it was cooked was effectively the stock. It also contained the vegetables with which the bird was cooked. Meat from the carcass was added, along with some additional vegetables. It was simmered for half an hour, giving us enough for main meals for two days.

Tuesday 20 January 2015


We are experiencing a bit of snow at the moment. Not lots, just about 2cm though it is cold enough for it to lie rather than melt. The ducks are quite happy with it but the chickens are not so impressed.

4 of our hens roost in a tree overnight and as they emerged from the branches yesterday morning, they looked in disbelief at the white landscape around them. We have not had any significant quantity of snow for 2 years so for most of our poultry, this is a new experience. The hens sat on the goat paddock fence for some time before they decided to get down to feed. Strange new world for them!

A look back at our self-sufficient year - 2014

In 2014 we got even closer to our goal of becoming totally self-sufficient. This short video is a quick run through of the year in pictures.

Friday 16 January 2015

Speed dating for goats

In terms of the plans for our goats, the end of this week has been both eagerly anticipated and regarded with nervousness. Pinkie, our Golden Guernsey goat was mated on Boxing Day. If the mating had not been successful, she would have been back in heat yesterday and today. I'm pleased to say that there were no such signs - no regular bleating, tail wagging and interest in the other goats.

Geraldine had come into heat on the same 3 week cycle. She was in heat on Boxing Day but we had not arranged a billy for her at that point. With that problem solved last week, we simply had to wait for her to come back into heat. Yesterday morning, she was showing all the symptoms. She normally tries to head butt her way through the fence when she sees Pinkie close by. Pinkie was separated from Geraldine and Georgina (our 3rd goat) about a week after getting her as Geraldine was so aggressive towards her. Yesterday, she was being very friendly towards Pinkie, putting her head through a hole in the fence to sniff Pinkie. Again, another sign Geraldine was in heat.

So we took her to a farm in Stanley, Co Durham, last night. There she was introduced to 3 billies and she eventually opted for one called Zach, a Toggenburg. It was all a bit like speed dating for goats!

So, assuming all goes well, Geraldine will give birth in mid June. Pinkie will be due in late May.

Wednesday 14 January 2015

Making ice cream

Our Christmas present to each other was an ice cream making machine. We have now used it for the first time. It allowed us to use some of our goats milk and cream and some of our eggs. We made vanilla ice cream. Very pleased with the results. There will be lots of ice cream making videos over the coming months.

How to make a bacon and goat cheese flan - the video

This was filmed on December but shows you how we made a flan using our goat cheese, cream and milk and some of our Tamworth bacon. This is definitely a recipe we will repeat in  the future.

Goat rides for hens

I was rather amused by this incident on Sunday. One of our hens, called Reliant, has a habit of jumping on my shoulder when I am refilling the poultry feeders. In that way she can jump the queue. On Sunday, much to the surprise of Pinkie, one of our goats, Reliant opted to jump on her back, rather than David's shoulder.

Pot roast duck

We are gradually reducing our number of drakes and cockerels. They are surplus to requirement and through the winter they are simply food eating machines. So on Sunday we slaughtered a khaki campbell drake and pot roasted it.

We cooked it in a stock made of water, a glass of red wine, a stock cube, carrots and mushrooms. Two hours of simmering later and we had a meal ready for eating.

When I plucked the drake, I kept most of the feathers. They will be used later in the year, along with feathers saved from other birds we have slaughtered or received as game, to make a quilt. Meanwhile, we have 5 more drakes and 3 cockerels to consume.

Tuesday 13 January 2015

Quail house repairs

The quail house roof was damaged in the recent gales. I did a temporary patch job to cover the hole but that was not going to last long, especially as the gales were continuing. So yesterday we set about doing a permanent repair. First, I had to put all 14 quails into the hutches. They are ground dwelling and don't fly much but they can panic and suddenly fly upwards.

The broken roofing panel was then replaced. We added an extended ridge along the top side of the quail house. This will allow us to extend it later this year.

And the final repair job.

Sunday 11 January 2015

Double Yolker

The supersized egg laid a couple of days ago turned out to be a double yolker. We used it last night along with 5 duck eggs. These latter eggs were laid two months ago and needed to be used up or else we risked their going bad (as indeed a 6th had done). So it was omelette for dinner last night.

Saturday 10 January 2015

Butternut squash and marrow soup

We had one butternut squash that needed to be used up. It was going a bit soft and was not likely to last much longer. I was certainly not going to let it go to waste. Soup was the best option for using it up. I still have a large number of marrows to use as well. So here is my recipe for butternut squash and marrow soup. You can vary the vegetable that are added to it. I used what needed to be used or what was in surplus.

Peel the marrow and butternut squash and remove seeds. This waste can be fed to the poultry. Chop and add to the pan. Chop a couple of onions, some sprout leaves and some Jerusalem artichokes (we have a vast quantity) and add to the pan. Add a stock cube and a heaped teaspoon of curry powder. Add sufficient water just to cover the vegetables and then bring to the boil, then leave to simmer until all the contents are cooked.

Add milk (we used our goats milk) equivalent to the amount of water added to boil the vegetables and reheat. Blend and serve.

We made sufficient to last for 2 evening meals. A hot filling meal for these cold, long nights.

Friday 9 January 2015

Turning waste into eggs and milk

I was chatting today to one of the other allotment holders who was busy digging up his beetroot crop. He was going to throw them onto the compost heap as they had not grown well. I asked if I could have them for the poultry instead. He was quite happy for me to have them. I found some had beetroots about the size of golf balls so I separated these out and took them home. I'll use them in a recipe I want to try. The leaves and small beetroots were given to the hens and ducks though Pinkie our milking goat joined in the feast as well. Between them, they will turn this waste into useful protein in the form of eggs and milk.

More repairs to the quail house

After last night's gale, I arrived on the allotment this morning to find more damage to the roof of the quailhouse. It was not too extensive  - another part of one of the roof panels had been blown off into the goat paddock. I've done another temporary patch up job. Fortunately the quails were fine - and none had escaped!

This weekend we will replace the roof panel and also extend the quail house itself.

The first supersized egg of 2015

I opened one of the henhouses this afternoon and found these eggs. I think the supersized one was laid by our blue haze. She must have felt it when she popped that one out!

Thursday 8 January 2015

More privet for the goats

Someone had cut the privet hedge around the bowling green in Marley Hill, the next village up from ours, but left the trimmings on the ground. I had planned to cut the hedge myself but, having been freed of that job, I was at least able to recover the trimmings over the weekend for the goats. It is one of the few greens left to them at this time of year.

Winter greens (and reds)

I had not been to Dad's small allotment in Marley Hill for a few weeks but recently I paid it a visit to check it out. The cabbages are doing well. This is useful as it means we will continue to have a supply of greens over the winter. We have some red cabbage as well. I make pickle some of it in coming weeks. Watch this space.

Storm damage to quail house

This is one of the corners of the quail house roof. As you can see there is a bit of a hole in it, caused by recent gales. It is unlikely the quails could fly through the hole though I did cover it over with a plastic sack and duck tape. Tonight we are suffering from another strong gale and my fear is that the wind could rip the whole roof panel off. So, I have put the quail into their hutches which are in the quail house. The hutches are usually kept open so that the quail can come and go. Not tonight. The hutches are closed up with the 14 birds inside them.

Tuesday 6 January 2015

Marrow and apple pie

Marrow easily picks up the flavour of other foods cooked with it. We still have lots of them to use up from last year so on Sunday we made an apple and marrow pie. Admittedly we added in a few not-so-self-sufficient raisins and a cinnamon stick. Very nice!

Roast duck

In March one of our drakes was injured in a fox attack. We had to put it out of its misery. It wasn't going to be wasted. I plucked and gutted the bird and then froze it. We had him roasted for dinner on Sunday.

Egg laying

We had expected the number of eggs from our hens to drop to one or two a day. However, some of the chicks that we hatched in the late spring are maturing and it seems have started laying. We were expecting them to go into production in March. In the above photo, the white eggs were laid by the white leghorns we bought in July. The green egg however is from one of the young cream legbars. She started laying last month.

We think this brown egg was laid by one of the wellsummers which hatched at the end of June. Inconveniently, it was laid under the shed. I had to use a long cane to extract it from its resting place.

Bangers and mash

We still have sausages from our last pig to use up so on Saturday we had bangers and mash for dinner. The sausages were actually made by the abattoir but are excellent quality. We do however want to learn how to make sausages ourselves and will be trying various recipes over the coming months. I'll be making the first in a few days' time - more about that later this month as it is linked to a big project we are carrying out this year. Again, more about the project later.