Tuesday 25 February 2014

Trench Digging On The Smallholding.

" Problems, problems, problems.  Don't give me your problems."

Classic Neo Progressive rock fans will recognize those Marillion lyrics from "He Knows You Know."  If I remember right it's from that brilliant album: "Script For A Jesters Tear."

Any road.  We have been digging out for a new concrete base and we hit an old flag drain.  It's one of those stone tippler drains and it was squeezed to the last in the Haggard (where the cattle and the feeding lives during Winter) and blocked with clay.  I think the drains must have been dug by one of my ancestors.  I recently found out that my great great grandfather was farming this farm in 1830.  So the drain was either dug by my great great grandfather, my great grandfather or my grandfather.  All dug by hand with shovel and pick.  Wonder what they would think of our Smalley digger?

Number one son dug the trench (with the digger) in less than an hour and we placed some black 4 inch corrugated pipe in the trench.  The black corrugated pipe is much better than the yellow plastic pipes of the last 20 years or so.  I believe the Romans use to use brushwood for drainage.  It's rather humbling to work with drains that your ancestors dug with a pick and shovel for nothing.  They stood their test of time and sometimes we find an old broken smokers clay pipe in the drains.

Today's modern tractors, track machines  and silage bales squeeze the old stone drains to the last and then  we end up with blocked drains and lots of soft rush and buttercup.  I reckon we have nearly paid for our Smalley digger with the work she's done in the last few months.  She's nearly 40 years old and her Lister engine runs off a thimble full of diesel, not quite, but you know what I mean.  My ancestors horses that carried the flags would have run off Oats and Mangels in the winter.  Not forgetting the Furze (Gorse) and Hay.  They didn't rely on oil did they?  Have you any drainage plans for your smallholding this year?

I would love to dig a small fishing lake and stock it with Coarse fish like: Perch, Tench, Crucian Carp and may be a few trout.  Then I could make a few pegs to fish on and spend my mornings and evenings fishing.  What about you?

Sunday 23 February 2014

Smallholding Whisky Cake.

Continuing with my smallholding alcohol cakes.  We found a recipe for Whisky cake yesterday.  It's worth keeping an horrible bottle of sherry, wine, beer or whisky just for cooking or making cakes with.  Some body bought me a bottle of Irish whisky for Christmas and me not like.  So it might be worth you having a look in your cupboard and clear out some old bottles of grog and make some cakey wake.

Here's what you do:

Get yourself 85 ml of whisky or 3 floz if you still work in Imperial.
170g of chopped walnuts, 85 g currants, 85g of raisins, 4 ounce of plain flour, 1 tsp of baking powder, 1/4 tsp of salt, 40z of butter, 80z of cater sugar, 3 eggs, 1 tsp of grated nutmeg, 1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon.

Put your raisin, walnuts and currants into a bowl.  Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of flour over them.  Then mix it all up and put to one side.  Sift the remaining flour, salt and baking powder.

Cream the sugar and butter until they are light and fluffy and beat in your eggs.  A wooden spoon will do if you haven't got an electric mixer.  Then mix the cinnamon, whisky and nutmeg. Fold in the flour and butter mix.

Beat the egg whites until stiff.  Then fold your walnut mixture and egg whites together into the flour mix.  Place in a greased tin and bake in the centre of the oven for about an hour in a moderate (325F/Gas 3) oven.  We just bang some coal and wood in range and leave it to cook.  Test it with a metal skewer.  If it comes out clean, it's ready.  Leave to cool in the tin.

Next time we will have a go at cooking pork chops in cider.  Enjoy your cake.

Thursday 20 February 2014

Smallholding Brown Ale Cake With A Tin Of Dog.

We had another go at baking cake yesterday.  This time we made the Porter cake with Newcastle Brown Ale.  They often ask for a bottle (or tin) of dog in Newcastle.  Apparently it's a Geordie euphenism for:

"I'm going to walk the dog."


"I'm going to see a man about a dog."

In other words. They are saying:

" I'm going to the pub."

Thanks to great Irish supermarkets like: Dunnes stores.  You can buy Vimto (Manchester made cordial) and tins of Newcastle Brown Ale.  I like Guinness and Murphy's but I really missed English Ale. Tesco sell Theakston's Old Peculiar and that's another great tipple.  What favourite food or drink do you ex pats miss from Blighty?

Any road.  We made the same cake but substituted the stout for Newcastle Brown Ale.  Guess what?  It was a great success.  So folks make your cake with what ever beer you have got.  Now I have got a use for all that horrible home brewed bitter we made last year.  You can't make good bitter with the cheap beer kits.  Not that they were that cheap.  At least our Mead and Jeddah Gin was a success.  Anybody know how to make any REALLY GOOD real ale?

Enjoy your cake!

Monday 17 February 2014

Smallholding Porter Cake.

 You don't have to have a smallholding to make this cake.  But we live on a smallholding (less than 20 acres) and I decided to call it such.  Porter cake is made with Guinness or Murphy's.  I prefer Murphy's because it's a Cork drink.  I suppose you could make it with any kind of stout.  Gosh I miss English Real Ale.  CAMRA is the most successful pressure group in the UK.  Apparently hops were never grown in Ireland.  So they imported malted barley for the Guinness.   I don't mind an odd pint of Murphy's or Guinness but I also like a really good English bitter like Newcastle Brown.  A northern pint with a frothy head.

So how do you make it Dave?  Right!  Get yourself  250ml of Murphys or Guinness, 1kg of mixed dried fruit, 1 cup of butter, 1 cup of brown sugar or 250g if you have been metricized - ouch!  Four cups (half a Kg) of plain flour, 3 medium eggs, 1 tsp of mixed spice, half tsp of baking soda and some rind (grated) from a lemon or orange if you prefer?

Melt butter and sugar into your Muphy's in a saucepan.  Then add the fruit and simmer for about ten minutes.  Leave it to go cold add your sieved flour, lemon rind, spices and baking soda.  Next.  Beat your 3 eggs and mix it in with a spoon (preferably wood) and pour it into a greased cake tin  (we used a loaf tin)(25 cm/ 9 inch) and then bake it in your Stanley, Aga, Rayburn, Oven for about one and three quarter hours.  The best way to see if it's cooked properly is to push a metal skewer into the centre of your cakey wake (I sound like Wurzel Gummidge) and if it comes out clean, it's cooked!    Enjoy!
"More tea Vicar? "  You might as well.  You ate all the bloody cake!"

I think it will keep for at least a week if you place it in a tin.  No chance of that at our house.  Even my cattle like cake and bananas!  Our cat even eats curry!  I reckon the cake would be great after a few hours digging on ye olde vegetable plot.  Nice today for a change.  Have you ever thought of getting an allotment or smallholding?  Anybody got any good biscuit recipes?

Friday 14 February 2014

A Very Wet Vegetable Plot And Our Vintage Tractor Shows Off Her New Coat.

Brr..  It's been another wet week on our smallholding here in Southern Ireland.  The gales and relentless rain gods have put up their classic English cricket signs:

"Rain Stopped Play."

Number one son cranked the digger up and shoveled me a big pile of last years fym over the fence into the vegetable plot.  This saved me having to take wheelbarrows and tractor transport boxes around to the plot.  We have to fence it to stop the cattle having a disco on the vegetables.  Any road.  I can't spread the fym about until it finally decides to dry up and normal vegetable garden service can resume.  All you can do is read your gardening books, seed catalogues and plan what you are going to (attempt) grow this year.

FYM piled by digger from our boreen (cow lane) to the vegetable plot.
Apparently Brian Boru (  "Bo means cow and Ru means tax) is a direct relation to her majesty the queen.  Brian Boru introduced a cow tax.  People paid taxes according to how many cattle they owned.  I bet the dairy farmers wouldn't have liked him.  We had power cuts yesterday and a lot of dairy farmers could not milk their cattle.  If only they still had their diesel powered Lister milking machines?  I had to get buckets of water from old baths and a stream to give our cattle water.  Drinking trough feeders are no good when the electric pump doesn't work in the well.  We are far too reliant on electricity, aren't we?

The Fordson Super Dexta tractor restoration is almost complete.  We replaced and stripped the old mudguards ourselves.  But we did pay for the nose cone to be professionally restored along with some sandblasting and the final spray finish.  Some jobs you can do your self and some you leave to the professionals.  The tractor was my fiftieth birthday present.  She's exactly the same age too - born in 1963.  I don't know if she was built in Dagenham or Cork.   I think it was Cork.  Any way.  She's beautiful and she's an heir loom to be passed down for future generations.
Number one son aboard our 1963 Fordson Super Dexta.  All she needs is her front grills to be attached.  Isn't she beautiful?  Do you have any smallholding machinery that you wouldn't part with?  Are you restoring any tractors?  Will it ever stop raining?  Are you starting to get webbed feet?  Roll on Spring time.

Saturday 8 February 2014

Humboldt Penguins Are Depressed With The Rain. (You Couldn't Make It Up.)

It said in the Guardian yesterday.  The Humboldt Penguins at Scarborough zoo are suffering from S.A.D.  So they are giving them antidepressants to cheer them up.  The powers that be reckon they are missing their native South America - Peru.  Isn't that where the Potatoes come from?  

I haven't bought my seed potatoes yet, have you?  Normally we grow Orla.  They originate from Scotland and aren't prone to blight like a lot of the Irish seed potatoes do.  I am going to cut down on my seed potatoes this year because my parents are no longer around to celebrate our vegetable harvest.  I think we could all do with some antidepressant drugs after this terrible wet and windy winter.  It's the wettest weather since records began. That's official.  

Any road.

I seem to be having a fascination with Paris at the moment.  I think it's since I saw that great film: Midnight In Paris.  Have you ever been to Paris?  Is it expensive?  I would love to visit it and sit in the cafe's that the famous writers frequented.  I found this wonderful track the other day by Pendragon musician Peter Gee.  It's called Paris.  Enjoy.  

Thursday 6 February 2014

Book Shopping In Cork ("When The Horse Was King.")

 We went to Cork city on Monday for a bit of retail therapy: book shopping!  Carol from 'Believe You Me' blog.  Mentioned Cider With Rosie, the other day.  I am sorry to say I have never read it before.  Any road we went up the back road to Cork.  The one that misses out all the towns from Bantry to Cork.  We noticed lots of flooding, a very angry river or two and quite a few fallen trees.  If only these rivers had waterwheels.  Who knows what electricity they would generate?

Any road.  We duly parked up in one of those concrete multi storey carparks that look like they have all been designed for Fiat 127 owners.  Then we went to McDonalds because it's unbelievably cheap and quick.  And then it was on to Argos for some shopping.  Why can't supermarkets be like Argos or a builders merchants?  You just give them your order and they get it for you.

We walked passed Cork Opera House and had a look who was playing there.  My old music pal: Suzanne Vega is playing there this month.  I last saw her at Glastonbury in 1989.  Wouldn't mind seeing her again.  But it would involve buying 4 tickets and a hotel for the night.  There's no public transport (thought I hadn't talked about public transport for a blog or two) back to Bantry after 8 O'clock.  I am tempted though.  Haven't seen a band since August.  Roger Waters to be precise.  There's a lot to be said for living in a big town or city isn't there?

We found a delightful book shop called 'Vibes and Scribes' a few blocks (why I have gone American?) away.  The staff are really helpful and I bought thirty five Euros of books and a cloth bag for a Euro.  What books did you get Dave?  Cider With Rosie: Laurie Lee, You Are Awful But I Like You: Travels Through Unloved Britain - Tim Moore (will blog about it soon) and 2 Charles Bukowski books and a book about pigs.  The book shop man gave us a card with tokens on it. You get a token for every fiver you spend.  When you have got ten tokens.   They give you a fiver off your next book - brilliant!

Picture of my new cloth bag for carrying books in.

I started reading Cider With Rosie the other day.  It's absolutely beautiful.  It's like drinking a pint of real northern English ale, listening to a harp or being moved by a film with the saddest ending.  Sheer poetry.  Oh to go back to those Edwardian days before cars and the horse was still king.  What's your favourite book with a rural theme?

Sunday 2 February 2014

Plastic Astro Turf For The Smallholding?

I ordered some plastic grass samples over Christmas online.  The post man brought them in a large envelope and I exclaimed:

"Oh that will be my grass!"

He went away none the wiser.  Scratching his head.

No I haven't started importing 'waccy bacca' to make us all :

"Cool down and chill man".

I ordered the samples because I am thinking of making the back garden all weather with little maintenance.  It's been a cottage garden for the last 10 years.  But due to depression (my excuse sometimes), being next to silage fields, the awful winter and me adding barrows of good old farm yard manure.  The place looks like the Munsters garden.  Well we do live in the Province of Munster!

The 'plastic grass' company have give the samples dome lovely names like: 'Killarney' grass.  That's 9.99 a metre and it's the one with the dark green short grass.  Next up is the 'Wicklow' grass.  That's 19.50 a metre.  The third and most realistic sample is called Four Provinces grass.  That's Euro 29.99 a metre  It's 40 mm high and it looks and feels just like grass.  What do you think?

The area will be dug off and thrown into our dumper.  The herbaceous 'cottage garden' plants will be rescued and thrown into the veg plot.  That's still looking very sorry for itself.  Poor veg plot.

Once the area is cleared you spread stone and sand and give it a good tamping with the old whacker plate.  My brother's got one me thinks?  Then it's cover it with a landscape fabric like Mypex and then you roll out your chosen Astro-Turf.  Think you just have to glue the seams together and brush sand into the plastic grass bristles.

I think the plastic grass would be great for anybody who owns an holiday home and they don't want to have to mow the lawn (jungle) every time they visit.  Also you don't need a lawnmower or need to buy any petrol or dispose of grass cuttings.  It would also be suitable for anybody who have football mad kids.  They can play all year round on your lawn without treading it back into your lounge.  It's comes with a ten year guarantee.

Wonder if they make recycled plastic Astro-Turf?  What could be more organic than a plastic lawn, "Eh?" Told you I was a contradictory smallholder!

Two Charity Shop Vases Full Of Feverfew.

"The 18th Century Aspirin Plant." I have this plant growing in my veg garden at the moment.  It is supposed to be brilliant for al...