Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Pigs 'Ere Blog Part 14: Pig in a bap anyone?

Cometh the hour, cometh the pig. Actually cometh Esmeralda as she seemed to have acquired a name by the time it came to start cooking her.  So how did it all go? All of us concerned were extremely pleased to have got this far and very satisfied that we had managed to feed so many people with our own produce. It's a good feeling. A few more photographs than usual to show how it went.

At the end of my lost post, we'd left Esmeralda all cwytched up ready for the big day. And the day came sunny and bright - and early as we had to start firing up at 8.30 am for a 4 pm feast.
The cavity was stuffed with local apples, of which there is an abundance at this time of year. Appropriately enough, one of these varieties would have been a local one called 'Pigs Snout' because, guess what?, it's shaped like a pig's snout.
Then the skin was lightly oiled and rubbed with rock salt.
About three hours in and the skin is just starting to go brown.
No, this isn't our roaster-meister, Adrian, praying that we get it right: he's decanting the collected pork fat into smaller vessels. Ready to be taken away by home bakers who swear by its efficacy in making good pastry. Not healthy but good.
Done to a turn. At around 3.30 pm, after some 7 hours cooking, she was ready. Now that's what I call a hog roast - which is a good thing because that's what we had set out to do.
Let the carving begin! OK, not silver service but the boys did good. And only three digits were lost in the process. Bring on the finger rolls.
Lots of lovely meat and crackling for a seemingly endless supply of baps -and apple sauce - and stuffing.
And did it taste good? Oh yes. A unanimous verdict from all who had one or two or three helpings. Or, in Ali's case, fifteen.
At the end of it all, the carcass was picked clean. About 90 satisfied customers left replete and may of us went off with plates of cooked pork for recycling into sandwiches, curries etc.
Another satisfied customer for the trimmings I put out on our bird table. It's not often we get a visit from a buzzard and the sight of this one was a nice ending to a perfect day.

Not the Scottish Referendum!

I was going to do a long, but very erudite piece, on the Scottish Referendum taking place tomorrow, but got bored. I thought I'd show some butterflies instead. Have you ever looked at a butterfly? No, I mean, REALLY LOOKED at a butterfly? Try it and relax.
Hummingbird Hawk Moth (not a butterfly!)
Map Butterfly (on my knee)
Red Admiral
A rather tatty Silver Washed Fritillary
Speckled Wood

Monday, 15 September 2014

Pigs 'Ere Blog Part 13: Getting ready for the hog roast

The late lamented comedian Tommy Cooper would have said "Pig. Hog Roast. Hog Roast. Pig. Just like that". But, dear Tommy, it wasn't "just like that", it was just like this - or at least the preparations were.
Followers of my porcine saga will remember that the pig we selected for the hog roast had an estimated carcass weight of approximately 60 kg, based on an exacting procedure using a measuring tape and a fool-proof calculation. How wrong could we be! In the event we were about 30 kg out and she came in at just over 90 kg. At this stage, wiser heads would have started singing "there'll be trouble ahead".............
Preparing the lady for the hog roast was relatively straightforward: straightforward but complicated and involved. And we couldn't have done it without the expertise of Ferret from Lamerton. As it involved the rather undignified placement of a long stainless steel rod, I'll pass over the details of what we did. Two hours later...................
She was fully secured to the spit rod and the entire assembly was fitted into the roaster. 
Or rather, not fitted. Remember the carcass weight? Yep, too big and it wouldn't fit.
So out it came and pieces taken off each end in an attempt to make it slightly shorter.
Success! A near perfect fit.
Carcass and roaster were taken to the site of the hog roast about five miles away and reassembled without any further problems.
And here they are wrapped up securely for the night before the Big Hog Roast the following day.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

A seriously weird crime

Every now and again something appeals to the mucky schoolboy who still lingers deep (well, perhaps not that deep) within me. Here is one such that I'm filing in the 'would you believe it?' box. At first I thought it was a figment of Frank Zappa's imagination, but it turns out to be true. There actually was a man in Illinois who robbed female students under gunpoint, tied them up and then administered enemas to them. The 'enema bandit', as he became known, seems to have got away with it for a number of years before he was arrested in 1975  and sentenced to six terms of 6 to 12 years for his strange crime. (He protested vehemently against his sentence as he thought he'd had a bum rap). Thankfully, none of his victims were hurt: probably the butt of many jokes but not hurt. I like to think that the ladies were very magnanimous and turned the other cheek in forgiving their assailant, leaving the distressing events behind them. Michael Kenyon was his name and he is immortalised in Zappa's song 'Illinois Enema Bandit'. I give a You-Tube clip below and it's worth listening to, if only for the introduction. It gets a bit 'Zappary' after a while but it begins well.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Pigs 'Ere Blog Part 12: And then there were seven.

A day of ambivalent feelings. A day that I was, and wasn't, looking forward to. The day when the first of our pigs went off to the abattoir. And I think a day that exceeded my expectations for the calm way in which the lady concerned was dispatched.

Although our group never formalised the criteria our chosen abattoir had to meet, at the top of all of our minds was ensuring the highest standards of care for our animals. I don't think there would be any dissent from this list:
*  We wanted the lady to be well treated both during unloading and in her pen prior to slaughter
We wanted her to be slaughtered with care, quickly and humanely
*  We wanted the abattoir to handle her carcass throughout the process to ensure the best quality meat
*  We wanted an abattoir that is friendly to smallholders such as ourselves, easy to deal with, reliable and, above all else, professional and competent.

In the event we chose a small, family run business about 10 miles from us - the Tideford Abattoir - and I cannot praise their approach highly enough. I can't think of any reason why they should not handle the rest of our pigs.

Here's a photographic record of the way it all went. Perhaps a little detail is warranted for those unfamiliar with the process?

Our pig was destined to be the subject of a hog roast and that posed a certain constraint. Our (borrowed) equipment has a weight limit of around 65 kg dead weight which equates to about 90 kg live weight. We don't have a pig weighing scales so DC came up with a method which will give a good approximation of weight and this was one based on two measurements, as per the diagram. On this basis, the pig was chosen and she spent the night in a trailer together with a friend for company.
The next morning the friend was returned to the rest of their mates, who betrayed absolutely no sign of anything out of the ordinary happening - apart from some bleary eyed people wandering around much earlier than usual.
Was she relaxed when we got to the abattoir? Oh yes, so much so that we had to wake her up to get her off-loaded.
Gently does it. Out she comes at her own unhurried pace.
If she could read, this is the point when she would have realised that things were getting serious. Cue piggy gulp? She's listed as 'Crawley' and the red line under her name indicates that she's passed the veterinary inspection and she's fit to go.
From the holding/inspection pen, she was slowly and calmly taken into the stunning pen. As far as I could tell, she was completely relaxed and responding with curiosity to her environment - having a good old sniff around. The law states that, with few exemptions, all animals must be stunned before ‘sticking’ is carried out. An electrical current is passed through the animal’s brain via a large pair of tongs, causing temporary loss of consciousness so the animal doesn't feel pain. All this happened in seconds. A brief flurry of activity and it was over - in almost complete silence.
She was lifted onto a hoist and then glided through swing doors into the next stage, where she was 'stuck' (the blood vessels in the neck severed) to be bled out. There were barely any tonic/clonic movements throughout indicating that the stunning had been completely effective. In my estimation, stunning and 'sticking' took less than 5 minutes to complete.
Once bled out, the carcass is scalded and dehaired.  This was achieved by putting it in a large tank of  water at around 64°C for about six minutes to loosen the hair in the follicles.
Once out of the scalder, the dehairing was completed quite easily with some specially-bladed scarpers leaving the smooth skin. And this was a far as we could observe as the carcass was now moved into the next area where the preparation and trimming too place. This was an area only accessible for those with the appropriate clean clothing, head cover, overshoes etc.
It was a full moon last night and a good time to reflect on the day. All in all, I believe we had done as well for her as we could in the way she was raised and slaughtered. The next time we'll see her is when we pick her up at the weekend prior to the hog roast on Sunday. Can't wait to see whether our care produces something tasty.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Ruminations from Romania: Part 7: Ridges, valleys, fields and hamlets.

Our last full day and our final walk. And it was a great one to end with. Just over 10 miles through the countryside, which, being Sunday, was very quiet with very, very few people working in the fields. We again started from our base (and it has been a delight being able to walk straight from the door without driving anywhere) and took a circular route which included some fantastic panoramas from the ridge walking we did. The weather was kind to us even though there were persistent rumbles of thunder all the way around. I'll be gathering my general thoughts on walking in Romania in a final post but, to be getting on with, here are the usual....

1.  A competition for you: can you spot the woodpecker? It just wouldn't keep still long enough for a good shot. Was this the little blighter that kept me awake last night drilling into our chalet? 
2.  What I like about this shot is that it incorporates the major elements of the small farms we passed through all the time - the house on the left, then the privy, then the barn, followed by the well. All clustered around the central space for the animals.
3.  Two suggestions for this collection of stooks. It could be the place where fledgling stookers practice their craft and what we see is them getting better as they progress. Or, perhaps, we've stumbled on the mythical 'stooks graveyard' where old stooks go to die and be resorbed into the soil from whence they sprang.
4.  We came across another wooden church which was similar in overall design to the one we saw yesterday but somewhat smaller. For those of us who like this sort of detail, it was interesting to note that the shingles were all V-grooved whereas yesterday's overlapped. In either case, the work and skill involved are impressive.
5.  A screen shot of what is probably the single photograph from the 950 I've taken so far that I'm most pleased with - a swallowtail butterfly. Believe me, the detail on the original is much clearer. And, as luck would have it, this was the very last shot I could take before the camera battery ran out (Note to self: what a pillock).

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Ruminations from Romania: Part 6: Market and Countryside.

An uncomplicated Saturday which comprised of a visit to the local weekly market in Bratca, followed by a longer than anticipated walk (7 hot miles) back through the fields and lanes to the B & B for a very late picnic-style lunch. The latter was rather more substantial than the term picnic might imply as there was a wedding happening at the same time and we were served some of the same food. 

Here's the usual random selection of images to give you just a hint of what we've seen.
1.  The market at Bratca. One photograph does not do it justice as it sold everything from piglets to pyjamas to powdered milk to peppers to plastic mallets. And some rather delicious fried bread pancake type things called placintas. The best came with chocolate spread.
2. More envy. This time it's trailer envy. I want one of these. Just imagine the kudos I'd get at the tip in Launceston.
3.  A typical landscape for this part of the world. What I like about it is that it's a working and productive landscape with lots going on. A Bruegel painting of a landscape. And what's more, everything that was grown was available in the market. Food miles? They just aren't applicable.
4.  A fairly typical wooden farm house with it's well in close proximity.
5.  A delightful wooden church we passed by. Most were destroyed during the Communist era but this one survived due to some subterfuge by the locals. The tower was taken down and hidden and the main body of the building was disguised as a barn. It has a beautiful shingle roof and precision wall joints. It is still in use and has strong family connections with our B & B hosts.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Ruminations from Romania: Part 5: It's picnic time.

Weather a little overcast today with a few drops of rain every now and again. What better day to choose for a picnic? We were taken into a gorge by our hosts and there we messed around in the woods and by or in the river until they called us over for the barbecue they had prepared. After that, we wandered back along a track to a nearby village (4 miles-ish), where we were picked up and driven back to the B & B.  And after that we lounged around until dinner came our way. Here are a few photos  to mark the day.

1.  Here's what happens if you fall in the river. Not recommended. And I did have a licence from the State Police to show those legs.
2.  Gabi, Christina and Ella doing some serious barbecuing.
3.  Have I shown you this shot of our shower? Low on privacy but high on getting back to nature.
4.  Rush hour in Bratca. Note the stork's nest on the telegraph pole in front of the church.
5.  A screen grab off my camera of a map butterfly. An usual butterfly to see and this one landed on my knee and stayed there for a few minutes.
6.  Another screen grab and another butterfly - this one is a silver washed fritillary. Not particularly rare but very attractive nonetheless.