Friday, 18 December 2015

The Harvests are In

I have finished canning batches of pear and apple chutneys made from the abundance of fruit from our orchard - an entire cupboard full. I bottled some pears this time too, as I thought it would be a treat to have warmed pears in February.

I also made my first batch of goat's cheese. It tasted like a halloumi, and it was especially delicious fried and eaten with chutney. And it was so easy: add the cheese starter (in this case, shop-bought). Wait for curds to form -

Place curds in a cheesecloth and hang it to drain, separating the whey from the curds -

When the curds drained, add and bit of salt and put into cheese molds. Hey presto: Cheese!

Or so I thought. Turns out it was a case of beginners luck. After tasting my second batch, made using a home made cheese starter, I took that second batch straight outside and fed it to the chickens. Even the chickens pecked at it half-heartedly; I think they only ate it to be polite. The dogs happily ate the whey from both batches. Dogs are pretty catholic in their tastes.

While we were harvesting, portents in nature signalled a hard winter to come: the roe deer rut was very early, Kitty the horse grew an extra-thick winter coat, Just in case, we have filled the horse trailer with small bales of hay, and stacked a surplus of hard feed for all the animals in case we get snowed in -

Dai the goat went to Ice Camp (i.e. the freezer) and once his mother was tamed enough to be hand-milked, I have been collecting almost 4 litres of goat's milk a day. Thankfully it freezes well. There is a good and varied market for goat's milk, from people with eczema to dog breeders weaning puppies. I will use the bulk of it for rearing extra lambs and making cheese - or more chicken food if I can't get it right. Apparently a dairy must be scrupulously clean to make good cheese. "Scrupulously clean" is a lot to ask for in a house with eight dogs, a gamekeeper and a shepherdess living in it.

Almost all this year's meat chickens are processed, plucked and keeping Dai company in the meat freezer. We harvest them a few at a time as they get big enough, and that spreads out the tedious work of plucking too. None of the turkeys made the Christmas table this year, and will probably have a reprieve until Easter. Tina the turkey says we can have goose for Christmas dinner and like it.-

What Tina says goes around here. She's very bossy.

Christmas has followed quickly on the heels of harvest, and when harvest chores were finished, it was already time to cut a Christmas tree. I found a little one in the tree plantation, perfect for our cottage -

Pip and Molly came along this year; both are on rest with bad knees. Pip tore her other cruciate ligament a month ago and has had a second operation! They explore while I cut down the tree and carry it to the truck -

It looks lovely with a few lights and decorations on it -

Flanked by full dog beds, of course.

With another dog operation to pay for, we decided to limit our gift giving to each other. One present each. Mike bought me two pedigree Horned Dorset ewes, which are in lamb with FIVE lambs (so that's technically seven presents). I bought Mike a dozen ex-battery brown laying hens. Mike and Ian turned our old coal bunker into a proper chicken house with perches and ventilation -

It looks pretty good in the corner of our orchard. And, because it's plastic, it won't rot or allow red mites to breed. Nice work guys. do you get in to collect the eggs?

Another job for Underkeeper Ian

A trifling design fault to be worked out later. So I'm told.

We have three shoot days before Christmas, and pheasants to pluck most days. We're shooting tomorrow so I'm off to make casserole and cakes for thirty hard-working shoot staff. I'll have to ask Ian to collect the eggs for me.