Tuesday 29 September 2015

Sitting on the front door step.....

Sitting by the front door, spinning. I often wonder about the people who have lived in the house over the years, especially those of long ago, and wonder what they would make of our rescue of it from a ruin. I don't feel that anywhere else in the house, just on the front door step. 

I put the remnants of the last fleece I was spinning on the compost pile because there were only a few handfuls of fleece left to spin, and they were being difficult and unhelpful as I tried to create a yarn from it, so out it went. And this is the next fleece I am spinning. It has its mucky bits, probably from under the parts that were on the lower half of the animal. Some people sort out the best of the fibres from the not so good, but I don't, I spin everything.

This fleece was stored in a dustbin bag, but even so it has stayed full of puff and fluffiness. I have noticed when fleece is washed that it seems to flatten during the drying process, so I prefer to wash the wool after it has been spun. I also like the feeling of being close to the sheep that the fleece used to be protecting from the elements, and I also like the soft smell of the sheep still lingering upon it. 

And the magic of seeing a twist of yard coming out of the fibres of the fleece. No matter how much I spin, it still fills me with awe,,,,

The Dye Project:

The production line of producing dye to colour the spun wool seems to have come to a halt, mostly because over the weekend I went through a bad patch of feeling overwhelmed by the work we are looking towards doing in the future.  Must have been the full moon which brought that on, because once the eclipse of Monday morning was done I felt a lot better!

As for the dye.....

I am still processing the sloes I picked last week. I had a look in the pot just now, and wow, the aroma of sweetness that came out of the now fermenting sloes was gorgeous, and well worth sniffing at every so often for the rest of the day. They are not supposed to be fermenting, but I don't suppose it will make any difference to the dye. The colour is beautiful.....deep purple to  a raspberry red when it is watered down slightly. 

In the kitchen......

I continue to dehydrate the riper tomatoes, thinking that that is the quickest way to get them into storage. A lot of the tomatoes are rotting now, but I have been cooking them up for the pigs. The chickens were getting them, but we have decided that if the chickens are 'free range' chickens then they need to go out and about to find their food, and not stop hanging about in the courtyard waiting to be fed, or getting the bedding in the cow barn all mucked up, or harass us when we try to do jobs outside.  They also get bored, especially the cockerels, who then start harassing the hens or squabbling amongst themselves. And  they leave poo everywhere for us to step into. They are fed morning and evening. The rest of the time they are out and about. 

But they are not allowed in the veg plot. I have just planted six rows of broad beans, two rows of winter lettuce, and several rows of garlic. They will surely find them, of that I have no doubt! So I have barricaded the entrance to the veg plot in the hopes that they will not go in there.

The last batch of meat I cooked up, which was chevre (goat) produced two meals for us, plus five jars of meat, plus lots of bits and pieces for the dogs, plus bones for them as well. 
The jars in the photo are much fuller of meat than what they look..... I think the canning process must pressurize the meat down to what looks like half the contents in the jars! 
So in total, I now have meat meals for eleven days, which is a good start.

And a raid in the freezer produced this large chunk of belly of pork, so that is going to be made into bacon. I have just made a quiche with some of the last lot of bacon I made, and it tasted really nice. After my first disappointment with making DIY bacon, I am now really pleased at what can be produced. 

And the next meat to be canned: two legs of pork. 

They have been slow cooked with seasonings, and now are being roasted, so another roast dinner for us, then into the canning jars the meat will go. 

It does feel like a production line of food processing at the moment, but I am getting used to the work it involves. I know I have said this before, but it does give a secure feeling knowing that no matter what happens we shall not go hungry. 

Off to get the pork legs out of the oven, and carry on with getting lunch done.
It is a bit of a trek to do this though, because I am banned from using the hallway in the centre of the house because work is being done on them today. So it is out of the door of the half barn, turn right, walk across the courtyard to the tall barn, turn right, walk through that barn (chasing any chickens out who might be thinking of getting into the cow pens), then the middle barn, turn right into the back kitchen. To get to the front kitchen takes a bit longer because I have to retrace my steps back to the half barn, walk through that, turn left. 
I counted 150 steps each way, which is not good if you have forgotten something you need which is in the kitchen other to where you are. 
Not to worry, in a few days the tiles will go down, and the space will be finished, apart from being painted. 

I can smell the meat cooking, so best go and rescue it.

Bye for now,


Saturday 26 September 2015

The lit candle, grubby yarn, and a happy cow.....

I like to get up early, between 5.30 am to 6.30 am.
I love the quiet of the morning, when the day is waiting to wake up and I am too.
To nudge me into wakefulness I go straight into the sitting room, light a candle, say a few words to the Universe, such as 'Please help me get the best out of this day', or some such depending on the mood of the moment.

The little candle alcove is between the door and the bookcase, and in front of it sits my spinning wheel. So to continue to help ease myself into the day I sit and spin for 10 minutes, or perhaps longer if I have a mind not to want to tackle the day any time soon.
I am working on what is supposed to be a white fleece. It is really mucky and short haired, so I have to concentrate really hard to keep the yarn flowing evenly off the fleece. If my mind wanders then the yarn keeps breaking, making this fleece good training for concentration.
I didn't do anything with the dye pot today. Needed some more canning lids as had the meat I cooked yesterday to get into the canner. Went to my local supermarket and they didn't have any, just a big gap where they should have been. I have the sense of an era passing. That this supermarket chain does not want to give shelf space to DIY food processing equipment. Times are changing even down here in the south west lands of France. But at least the SuperU supermarket down the road still stocks canning equipment, for the moment. I think I must source these lids online, and buy in quite a stock of them because canning can't be done without them as they seal the jars down tight.
Righty ho, .... and the veg plot jungle:

..... and buried in amongst this lot of green madness should be a row of bush beans.....

..... and there were! They are in the small bowl, the other beans are from the climbing beans.
And what better activity to do on a lovely sunny day, but sit and shell those climbing beans.
Not a huge harvest, but better than none. They will be put into canning jars later on.
Lester prepping a small patch of the veg plot with his 'falling apart' rotovator. Normally we would do a retreat from the veg plot once the harvests are in, leaving the space to go its own way over the winter. But this year I thought we should have a go at growing winter veg, and be 'all year round' veg plot gardeners, rather than 'fair weather' gardeners.

First 'proper' cabbage we have grown since we got here (7 years). Normally they either have succumbed to lack of water, or have been eaten into oblivion by caterpillars or slugs, or have gone past their best and rotted. But not this one!
And .... "Bonny, would you like to share a leaf of the cabbage with me?"
" Lissie, perhaps you would to share a leaf with me?"

"Oh yezzzz pleaseeeee"

Another priceless moment.
Time to end the day now,
Bye for now,

Friday 25 September 2015

The geese, the dogs, the sloes.....

The geese on a mission to get into the veg garden. Last year they did the same, and their feet made a horrid mess of everything they trod on, weeds or veg, didn't matter which. It's their feet. Huge paddles they are. Great for getting along in the water, or running away when they have been caught doing mischief, but not so good when delicacy of foot is needed. And here they were again, intent on doing a raid.

The 'gate', which is only a plank of wood, had been removed because Lester was going to and fro with the wheelbarrow. Moving the spoilt straw from out front to the middle veg plot where it will rot down and act as manure, helped by the two adult Tamworth pigs when they are let out into that paddock, that is what he was doing. But that will be after we have picked the pumpkins which self seeded themselves and which are joyously producing more of themselves. Another surprise harvest!

Anyway, I was cooking lunch, and saw the geese rabble making a real good effort to get into the veg patch before anyone saw them. 'Nooooooo! Get out!' I yelled through the open window, in a most unladylike fashion. 

Well they stopped and thought about it, but decided that I was too far away to be a bother to them. With one mind, they turned and sped as fast as they could go into the veg plot. Lester was called for. Lester responded with speed. Boss man had arrived. It's surprising how fast those geese can move when they want to get out of trouble.

The Dye Project.

The pale yellow dye from the fig leaves has been sieved and put into one of Lester's wine containers, which I have 'borrowed'. A splash of vinegar went into the dye as well, which is supposed to stop the liquid from getting mouldy. I was going to pick some sloes to see if they would change the colour of the dye, but decided against it. I can fiddle about with colours later.

A surprise find in the freezer....

So I didn't have to pick any after all, because I had a bag in the freezer, left over from a hedgerow forage last year. Not sure what I thought I was going to make with them, definitely not sloe gin, perhaps jam, ........

But the colour.....wow!

...this is without them being squashed, but already the water has a lovely tinge of purple. This is looking good for giving a strong, but quiet, colour. 

Couldn't resist a forage for some more sloes....so out into the back field I went...walking along the hedge line on the right of the photo....

......passing the brambles, who have given such a good harvest of blackberries this year, but will have to be cut back to the fence this winter otherwise they will pull the fence down.

Now at the blackthorns shrubs /trees, and yes, a few sloes were still on the branches.

Picked a bowl, and they are now added to the ones in the pot. The colour of the dye is now a gorgeous deep purple. 

Maz, our guard dog, who is a softie, but looks scary.

... and her sister Blue, who does not look as scary....but....

......put the two together, and you have the Rottweiller girls. 
They are a pleasure to have,
are good friends to us, 
and would watch our backs should things get difficult.

And this is Bools, our springer spaniel. If things got difficult all he would do is bounce about like a kangaroo and bark himself silly. 
He is also a good friend,
but would not watch our backs, bless him.

As for the day, 
....canned five more jars of potatoes, so have fourteen in the larder. Would have had fifteen but we opened one for lunch because I was in slow mode, but we needed to taste the potatoes to see if they were alright anyway, and they were. 
I put some of the tomatoes outside in the sun to ripen up, then sliced and into the dehydrator overnight to dry out. Had a nibble. Very tasty. Anyone know what they would taste like if I soaked them in olive oil? 
Also dehydrated some kale for winter storage.

Actually managed to bake a couple of loaves. We so miss DIY bread, because it actually has a taste.
Lester managed to get a few more wheel barrows of stones into the ditch where the chicken hut is going to go, but really, for most of the day, we were companions to each other, enjoying the late summer sunshine together as we pottered about around the smallholding, 
which was priceless. 
We also found the bush beans, which were hidden beneath a forest of weeds. Two buckets we picked, and there is still another row to do. So this is another surprise harvest.

Ah well, time for bed. 
So  bye for now,


Wednesday 23 September 2015

A box of spuds, then sleep, blessed sleep.......

This is  a box of spuds (potatoes), kindly donated by a local farmer as extra to his needs. Each year he gives us his leftovers, and each year they are cooked up and given to the pigs. Well not this year they aren't. 
We didn't grow potatoes this year and are feeling the lack of not having any to store in jars. We could buy in potatoes from the supermarket, but the best ones are expensive. The grotty ones are cheaper but would not can very well. 

So,  Lester peeled some of the spuds while I carried on working on the surprise harvest of tomatoes we have had. Ripe ones today, cut up and cooked, to be canned when cooled down.

Potatoes peeled, into jars. 
Some canning recommendations say that it is best to boil the potatoes for ten minutes before canning them, but my experience says that the potatoes don't taste as good and also tend to break up during canning. So I put the potatoes into the jars uncooked, filling the jars with warm water debubling along the way, then 35 minutes at 10lbs pressure in my All American canner.

Ten jars now done.
 Ten meals waiting to be eaten. 
Fast food, this is what these jars mean to us.
No time for cooking? Open a jar, give it a quick sniff to see that the contents have not gone 'off', then potatoes sliced, into frypan with spoonful of DIY lard, sliced onion and other veg added, sprinkling of seasoning over all (Garam Masala is my favourite at the moment), cook up some eggs in another pan, or open a jar of canned meat (which I heat for twenty minutes just to be safe), 
and hey presto! DIY Fast Food!!! 

Lots more potatoes to do though. We have two boxes to prep and can. So whispering to you that perhaps I might be giving some to the pigs after all.

And the shelves in the back kitchen starting to fill up:
Top shelf left: jams, then canned meat. Top right: canned fruit.
Second shelf left: chutneys, canned potatoes, then canned green tomatoes, canned tomato soup thingy, then far left the dehydrated food which is waiting to be taken into the front kitchen. 
The lower two shelves are carrying bits and pieces of stuff at the moment, which will have to found a home because I anticipate all of these shelves will be filled, which will get us through next year and beyond if we are frugal and things happen which are beyond our control. 

The Chicken Hut Project:

Lester has got all the brambles cleared away and burnt. 
The chicken hut is going to be just in front of that tree. 
A long way to go, but little by little.....
He now has to fill some of the ditch with rubble to make a base for the hut. 
No shortage of rubble here....the builders have left plenty of that laying around.

This is the house side of the ditch. 
We think the chickens should do well once we have got this done, and at least we shall be able to control their 'laying of the eggs' habit. At the moment the rascals are laying out and about and we are getting fed up with buying eggs from the supermarket.

The Spinning Project: Making dyes.

Well my pot of shredded fig leaves produced a very pale yellow colour, so I put the leaves through my food processor to shred them even finer, which worked. The colour is now a darker shade of yellow, similar to the colour of pee. I am not sure that I like that colour, although it will dry lighter but will still carry the pee colour. I am late with collecting berries, but I might just about be able to pick some sloes from the blackthorn hedge in the back field, and I thought I would crush these and add them to the pot. Next year I shall definitely harvest the purple berries of the elder trees we have here, and shall look around for other possible dyes to make.

I think I shall halve the amount of dye in the pot, saving the light yellow colour,
then add any sloes I can find to the rest of the pot. At least that way I can get two colours of dye to play with. Oh, and then there is the onion skin dye. I have tried that already and it made a golden light brown colour when I added to some of my spun wool. 

Of course I could buy in dye, but I don't want to do that, not at the moment anyway.

The Pig Project:

Our two adult Tamworths are now bickering quite happily with each other, rather like a married couple who have been together a long time. No more friendly chatterings through the fence, it is now full on dominance from Max, the boar, with Mum Sow arguing back that she is the more dominant one. Hopefully we shall have piglets next year, all of whom will go into the freezer or be traded.

The Cow and Dairy Project:

The calf is now out on the side field for the day with the sheep, leaving Lissie, her mum, and Bonny, her aunt, to graze in the back field. We should be having complaints from both, but so far today it has been quiet. The calf is a month old and feeding on grass, but still needs access to a good quantity of milk, this she gets after Lester has milked Lissie morning and evening. I should be able to start making soft cheese soon, but not hard cheese for a while yet. We still need to sort out the cheese keeping facilities, with the under stairs cupboard now not on the agenda after a friend mentioned that the humidity required to keep cheese long term will not do well with the electric box which is also in that area. The rat holes which appeared in the cupboard have now been concreted over, but we don't want to have power cuts because of damp electric cables! 

So, that's it for now. I need to go out and help Lester with the rocks, then on to canning, canning, and more canning. 

We feel a bit fresher today. As in the manner of all homesteader / small holders our days are not divided into 'Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, with weekends off and several weeks of paid holidays per year'. No. We don't have this type of lifestyle at all because every day something needs to be done, so eventually the days start to roll seamlessly by, filled with work on the land, the animals, maintenance, and projects, all of which are outside. Indoors is just as busy. 

Eventually, though, the mind and body say 'enough', which is what happened yesterday afternoon to both me and Lester. Straight after lunch we did a crash, like trees toppling over, that is what it felt like, and into bed we went. Apart from evening chores, that was our state of being for the rest of the day.  But today we are back in the saddle, which is a good thing because a smallholding does not run itself. I just wish we could be more generous to ourselves when we do crash into hours of sleep. The vague sense of guilt does tend to sit in the background of our minds. 

The sun is shining today. 
Life is good.
Some say that this is about when the asteroid hits Earth, or something....
We don't pay much attention to such fear mongering,
life is very fragile anyway, 
so best to concentrate on the positive, let negative thoughts go,
and continue to try and do our best for this day. 

At my end, just before I pass over,  I would like to look back at my life and think
'I got good value out of the years of my life'.


Tuesday 22 September 2015

Projects: tomatoes, meat, wool, etc......

Project 'Get Those Tomatoes Sorted out'

I have made a start on the surprise harvest of tomatoes we have had..... five jars of prepped green tomatoes en route to the canner.

Twenty minutes at 5lb pressure, and all done.

However, I don't seem to have made a dent on the amount of tomatoes waiting to be done,

Project 'Prepping The Spun Wool'

Now I have the facilities, (a nice big sink) I can get on with washing the skeins of spun wool that I have hanging here and there all round my home. Being aware that winter is on its way I am on the move now with getting the wool prepped for weaving, (if I get the loom ordered) or for knitting / crocheting with.

One soak in hand hot water with a splash of laundry soap added.....

One soak in hand hot water for the rinse.

...then out on the line to dry. I don't use weights on the wool to straighten the fibres, I just give the skeins a hard pull to straighten them out then let the weight of the water dripping out of them do the rest. The fibres still have a pronounced twist, but this is DIY wool and the irregularity of the twist is what gives it an 'artisan look'. 

And ongoing to the Wool Project is the need to make some DIY dye so I can give variety to the dark brown and cream colours that our wool has. 
Now I love this bread bin. I have had it for some years now and is getting quite chipped and battered. 
In the UK it was used to store bread. When we first came to France it was then used to store vegetables because it was too big to go on the gas rings of the mini cooker of the caravan. 
Then it was used for cheese making, then for making chips because the enamel has started to chip (I had graduated to a bigger stove by then and the caravans were long gone)
but we don't have pan fried chips anymore so it is not much used. 


..... fill it with fig leaves (shredded), put water in to cover the leaves, pot on to stove,
cook contents for an hour, or until I remember to switch the pot off, which was two and a half hours later, and leave overnight. Strain. And then investigate what colour I have fetched up with. At the moments it looks a dirty brown colour! It will be interesting to see the actual dye colour I have ended up with. I think this is a good use for the bread bin.

The Meat Project:

This is ongoing from yesterday.....
this is the meat which was in the huge pot, still chilled from its stay in the freezer....

..... and now minced.
Next stage.....canning, but might take a handful of mince for lunch. 

Lester spent the day working on the Chicken Hut Project, 
and I did a little bit of clearing out of the veg garden, but not a lot because it got too hot to work.
It is starting to get chilly in the early morning, but by mid morning the sun comes out and the temperatures zoom up making uncomfortable to work outside. Living close to the mountains but parallel to the Mediterranean gives us this see saw range of temperatures. Not to worry, it is as it is, ...

But I need to get on with the day,

so bye for now.

Vera x

Monday 21 September 2015

A surprise bucketful......

Didn't expect to get this harvest.....knew that we had beetroot, did not realise that we had all these tomatoes, all of them hidden from view until we started pulling up the tomato plants to make way for winter veg.

Now the weather has cooled down and I am getting more sorted out in the house after this long year of house renovations I gave into the urge yesterday to visit the veg garden. I knew things were growing in it, mostly weeds, but I could see the odd leaf here and there rising up from amongst the wild growth suggesting that perhaps I might get a harvest of something or other.

So....... started excavating amongst the weeds, and found half a row of beetroot, then several onions (not sure what happened to the rest of those onions but they were not to be found), and then I arrived at the tomato jungle. I did not expect too much from the tomato plants, they were never tied up so had romped over the ground in the manner of all tomato plants left to go their own way so I assumed they had rotted. Some had, but most hadn't.

What am I going to do with them?  Slice and dehydrate the firm red ones, cook the red squashy ones and add them to meat I am canning, and the green ones will be canned. No chutney, no time to make it. The beetroot is to be cooked, then either sliced and dehydrated or added to jars of spiced vinegar.

I have started on the long haul of getting the meat from out of the freezers and into jars, so we can fill the freezers with meat again. On the stove....one huge pot of meat (labelled as 'for casserole and stews' on the freezer bags), one big pot of meat which had a leg of mutton in it.

Slow cooked the pots for longer that was needed because we went out for lunch, which seems a daft thing to do when we have so much food here, but when I am food prepping I don't seem to be able to either think of, or produce, reasonable food to eat. My mind can't concentrate on cooking for prepping and cooking for eating at the same time. Lester knows this, so took us out to lunch. Nothing special, just a two course meal at the local eatery, but at least I didn't have to cook it, was better than I could have produced in my current state of mind in regards to food cooking, and it filled us up.

The large pot of mutton......the lower half of the leg I shredded, put them into jars (two) added some left over tomato soup for liquid, and into the canner. Seventy five minutes later, and they were done. Two more meals added to the larder.

The huge pot.....got the meat off the bones, some of which were donated to the three dogs glued to my side as I worked, one of the bigger bones (which still had some meat stuck to it) I gave to the chickens. They have been banned from going into the cow pens because they rake up the wet straw from beneath the dry straw so I thought they might enjoy arguing over a bone. They did.

- the 'good' meat I put on one side, and the bits and pieces went into the dog food pot for tomorrow. I gave some of that to the chickens as well, which they much appreciated.

Was going to make a couple of meatloaves, but had put the tray of meat into the freezer to cool down ready for mincing but forgot about it so it has had to be defrosted over night.....

.... then minced, then put into canning jars. The meatloaves would have to be frozen for storage and I didn't want to freeze the meat again.

The shelves in my larder are starting to be filled again. It does give us a secure feeling to know that we have food on those shelves. Gives us a sense of being in control of what we eat.

And oh how I love the big sink we have just installed in the back kitchen. I did not want a double sink in the front kitchen because I knew that there would always be washing up, either done or waiting to be done, piled up in it. But the back kitchen, wow! Just love that sink. And I know it is only a sink, but for over seven years my washing up facilities until a couple of months ago were: a bucket, a little sink in the caravans, a bowl of water outside in the tent, then a broken sink in the house which could not be emptied because it got blocked forever by an apricot stone, then I used the sink on a vanity unit meant for bathroom use only so leaked water everywhere. The new sinks, especially this one, they have made my life so much easier.....

Meanwhile, we are still waiting the arrival of Bonny's calf. The chickens are still waiting for their new chicken hut to be made, our Tamworth sow is now with our Tamworth boar so hopefully there will be piglets eventually (the sow put on a lot of weight this year and although has been on a diet she does not seem to have lost much fat. If she does not slim down she will not be able to make piglets with Max.), the sheep are well apart from one of the young males who died out in the field the other day, the geese are still the same, and I think we are all glad to be out of the very long hot summer.

Bye for now,

Vera x