Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Country Life

I'm just about through the sack of bread flour I bought from our village co-op. By lucky chance, we took delivery of 10 tons of wheat yesterday from a neighboring farm for pheasant food. And the previous evening I finished reading the chapter on breadmaking in John Seymour's book I'm a Stranger Here Myself . The forces of nature were aligning to tell me to get on and grind my own damn wheat for bread.

Here's the wheat in its "berry" form, which I took straight from our storage bin. It's as we feed it to the pheasants and chickens -
Get off chicken! This bowl's mine

It's already been separated from the chaff, so it's ready to be ground into flour. I haven't got a special machine for that, but I do have a coffee grinder and I figure it's the same principle.

 I set it on the coarsest grind and pressed the button, just like the farm wives of yore did -

wheat berries before grinding (L) and after grinding (R)

It looks like flour to me. I stuck it in the breadmaker on a basic wholemeal programme (again, like the farm wives of yore) and -
Ta Daa!!

Bread! And a very tasty loaf too. Next time I might add a bit of vitamin C powder to help with the rise, and maybe a few seeds for texture, but all in all a success. The wheat is grown within 3 miles of here, and it gets delivered by the ton. I don't think I'll need to re-order any flour from the co-op this month.

This also works on dried corn (maize) and produces a nice fine cornmeal. I assume it also works on coffee beans.

I also bought some more sheep yesterday - 3 Polled Dorset ewes to double my small flock. Buying sheep is starting to feel natural now, where it used to feel like a part of a farming dream that was out of my reach (I mean hey - what did I know about farming?!?). I stood in a field of lambs and ewes with the farmer. He was leaning on his crook and his sheepdog lay down at heel, waiting for instruction.

What a marvellous invention the sheepdog. We stood by the gate and with one whistle the dog was gone, out, behind the sheep, and bringing them back to us for inspection. None of this walking out to look at your flock nonsense.

I tried to picture some of our dogs in this sheepdog role: Jazz and Pip would be clinging to my leg in mortal fear of the sheep. Podge would try an initiate a doggie play game with them. Nellie would ignore the sheep as being obviously inferior. Dakota would look at the flock as a culling mission. Nope, the sheep may be a reality but the sheepdog is still very theoretical. You need a larger flock than mine to give a sheepdog enough to do. Looks like I'll be fetching my own sheep then, at least for now.

I chose three ewes of short, stocky confirmation with a decent wool length for spinning. I left them with the farmer to be shorn and serviced by the ram. I will pick the girls up in a few months time, hopefully in lamb and ready to deliver in the autumn. This gives me another year without the need for feeding and looking after my own ram, and a chance to get the fencing on Milkweed farm finished in the next couple of weeks.

I'm off to the agricultural merchants this morning for the posts and wire to fence the field, and for some timber to build broody coops for all the chicks that are about to hatch. They can only live in a bucket under a light for so long. I'm also picking up another batch of day-old meat chickens this Saturday, which will be ready for the freezer towards the end of July. Underkeeper Pete and I are sharing the batch. He's having them til they're off heat as I'm already inundated with chicks. I'll finish them outside on grass. All of us will be needed to process them.

Speaking of eggs and chicks (and the preservation of) - I have started setting my own Larson trap and learning the art of trapping crows. Here's how it works in principle: Once you've trapped a crow/magpie in a trap baited with an egg, you can use this bird to lure others into the trap. Crows and magpies are territorial and dislike interlopers on their patch. They will defend their territory by challenging the interloper which we've secured in a little cage with a drop box either side (this is the Larson trap)-

There's a spring-loaded door which I hold down with a wooden perch. But the perch is split -
Dakota is working out how to get in the trap and get the bird for herself
When the challenger lands on the perch, his weight causes the split perch to giveway. The crow falls to the bottom, and the trap door snaps shut. We can then use that trapped bird to bait another cage. A live bird used this way is called a Judas bird, for obvious reasons. The Judas bird is always given food, water and shelter while in the trap (you can see one of the rabbit carcases from our other night's bunny harvest in with this bird).

If you don't catch your bird within a day of putting out your trap, move it to a different location even within a small area (like our garden). As a Judas bird, magpies will lure both crows and magpies in. A crow Judas bird will only lure other crows, as crows have a pretty fearsome rep, even among other corvids. A magpie will rarely confront a crow.

Trapping is a touchy subject. My trap is in the garden, and I'd put it on top of my sheep trailer under a tree where it would be noticed by other crows, but have a bit of shade too. Unfortunately it was visible from the road. Two walkers yesterday stopped and said how lovely my "pet" crow was. I should have said "Thanks" and been done with it. Stupidly I said "Oh it's not a pet. This is a crow trap." That got a frosty reception. No reply, they just gave me a sour look and walked on.

What can I do? At least they enjoyed their "country experience" visiting my little lambs grazing in their verdant paddock amongst the daffodils. That view of country life is more broadly palatable. In my head I see the too many times I've found crows pecking out the eyes of a still-living sheep that's gone down in a field and can't get back up, can't fight off its attacker. I don't like those images, but that happens in the country too.


Kate said...

That's a pretty impressive looking loaf, given that it's all whole wheat, and from a machine. My impression was that using all whole wheat made it difficult to get a good rise. But yours looks positively fluffy.

As for the city folks, ah, screw 'em. I admit I still don't like game hunting just for the thrill of killing. Killing an animal just to put a notch in one's belt is rather disgusting, imo. But I have every respect for those who are willing to kill what they eat, or kill to defend their crops and livestock. People who have a problem with that, even vegetarians, don't have a very good grip on the realities of food and farming.

Jennifer Montero said...

Kate - My breadmaker recipe calls for 4T of milk powder and 1+ tsp yeast, which gives it a spongy, chewy texture.

You can see in the picture that it collapsed in the middle, but it actually turned out better than I expected. A little vitamin C goes a long way to making even whole wheat bread light and fluffy.

We do what we do re. trapping and harvesting wild animals and I know not everyone shares my opinion about it, so I make a big effort not to force people to see it (keeping traps out of sight, covering deer carcases in the truck etc). But I can't change the realities of it.

Terry Scoville said...

That is cool to see your wheat go from berry to bread. Must be satisfying to say the least. Sounds like you are gathering your flock and making great gains. Bet you're glad that the volcano has slowed down.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Jen -- Love the wholemeal bread! I've been wondering what the difference is between the fancy-pants polenta we buy at the grocery store and the dirt-cheap corn meal we feed our chickens, and I've been planning a blind taste test for months. Results soon! (And thanks for the tip on vitamin C -- do you have any idea how that works?)

Living with livestock and their predators changes the way you look at the world around you. Nature really is red in tooth and claw, and if you're going to harness it for your own purposes (and we all do), you have to be ready to do battle. I like crows and I'm glad they're not my enemies but, if they were, I wouldn't hesitate.

Jennifer Montero said...

Terry - I was surprised at how basic the breadmaking supplies really are.

The volcano has quieted for now, though I hear there's more to come. I haven't noticed any ash here in SW England yet, but there have been a lot of rare bird sitings, probably pushed off course by the drifting ash. It's been a real pleasure for us to see them.

Jennifer Montero said...

Tamar - I'm sure a chef could tell you the differences between them, but the proof for me and my untrained palate is in the eating.

I made some cornbread with stuff I ground myself, leftover from feeding wild boar. We don't grow good corn in the UK so it was low-quality stuff, but in cornbread it was indiscernible from the bought maize, a bit different in texture from my haphazard grinding. I'm interested to see what you make of it in your taste tests with better corn.

Not exactly sure re. vit C but it falls under the category of dough conditioners which helps bind gluten together. The end result is a better rise and finer crumb. I'm not a fan of really dense, peasant loaves - too many childhood years eating Wonderbread maybe?

I like the crows too. At the moment they're outwitting me and I've yet to catch a single one!

Poppy Cottage said...


I sometimes envy your life so much, do you want to swap for a week, or maybe I should just ask to come and camp in your garden for a week or so.....

Tuss's sheep? Or a different flock? I could just stand and watch his for ages. Having a missing my old life blip at the moment!!

Bread looked scrummy. How's the crochet?

Paula said...

If they didn't like the real crow answer, I wonder how they would have reacted had you said, "Oh those aren't lambs- those are dinner in a few months!"

Your whole wheat bread looks great! Far better than what usually turns out here....

Jennifer Montero said...

Colette - Not Tuss's but a flock with the same genetics over in Somerset. I'm going to see if Tuss has any for sale too if I don't run out of money first. Crochet not good - am needing more guidance!

Paula - Very true. Some people don't like to know where their meat comes from. I don't understand it, but I respect their right to be that way.

The secret to homemade bread is a breadmaker, really. My oven made variety is hit or miss, and Mike eats a loaf every other day so it's less time consuming this way.

Poppy Cottage said...

We can set up another crochet get to gether. You can come and sit at my nearly finished kitchen's table!!!!

Anonymous said...

Some of us do have a good grip on reality, have lived rural lives, and still don't believe in or resort to these methods. These practices are a sad testament to how much we humans alter the environment drastically then penalize wild animals for behaving like wild animals. I've also taken care of injured corvids (crows, magpies, jays) and they are among the most intelligent and sensitive animals. They are keenly aware of captivity and fate, and are difficult to rehab as a result. Practices like these are abhorrent to me on so many levels, understanding the incredible nature of these birds. Cruel doesn't begin to describe it. We breed animals to be passive prey for our own purposes (such as shooting entertainment), then prey upon the predators who naturally are drawn to the animals we, ourselves, have made in this helpless way. It doesn't have to be the reality. There are other ways. Some of which include a bit more diligence in securing predator-proof enclosures. Others including changing our ways and giving up some of the practices we simply don't need.

Jennifer Montero said...

Anon - You are more than welcome to comment and share your opinions, other readers will be interested in different perspectives. If you do want to comment regularly and you feel strongly about your views, please can you put a name to your comments.

I will warn you that there will be posts about predator control (the pros and cons) and the harvesting of wild meat featured regularly on my blog. If you find it upsetting or you are strongly against these practises, you may not wish to keep reading this blog.