Monday, we took Joan and her friends to the abattoir. So meekly did they all climb into the trailer, I’m sure they thought they were setting off on a caravanning holiday. A ten minute drive... the country route... no main roads and we were there. Still no squeals. No hanging about, no stress. No tears. Twenty-four hours later we’re discussing ‘heads, shoulders, knees and toes’ with the butcher. Then Wenesday, I finally got to play with my shiny new mincer....
There’s an incredible stillness outside today. Sitting on my favourite bench, looking across the garden, there’s not a whisper of movement. I'm studying an etching, in which even the quivering willow has been abridged to a sketch of finely inked outlines. Splashes of colour hang suspended against a blue sky; autumn has hoisted her bunting aloft.
A bee startles me, his industry almost incongruous in this serenity. He dodges from one flower to the next, enjoying the memory of summer; a souvenir sunflower, big and bold, dahlias and chrysanthemums, clinging to the sun's warmth, rich reds fading to russet, purple bleached to pink, a thousand pointed petals.
If a bee can interrupt my reverie, even more so the chickens, who have sought me out. Sylvie, so named after a ballerina, looks more like a pantomime dame as she launches into the air to peck at dried poppy heads. The clumsy thud of her landing is applauded by the rattle of tiny castanets as the seeds shake from their pods.
With overnight frost forecast there's a guillotine hanging over the dahlias so I'm off to quick step round the garden myself to gather a final few blooms.
Negligent? Nay, surprisingly easy in a large garden. But today I discovered she was savouring the mild autumn from underneath a lilac bush. Underneath her fluffed up body were a dozen warm eggs.
She had the radience of any expectant mum. From my studio window I could just catch flashes of amber through the leaves, as the sun burnished her feathers.
Hmm, what do I do now, leave her be and chance the perils of the night?
My birthday today was well timed.
Gifts included one mincing sausage attachment for my Kenwood.
Two pork cook books.
Three piggy cards...
Chorizo recipes make gripping bedtime reading... honestly
Booked pig a date at the abattoir.
Bonfire night. For a pig, (unaware that it might be the next sausage at the next bonfire party), that means one thing... leftovers! Viva called round this morning with ‘turnip a la rhubarb avec du pain'. It’s not every day Joan gets served from Le Creuset!
Despite having survived many nights camping wild, this morning Jennie and her eggs had disappeared. I'm feeling horribly guilty that I didn't intervene and provide her with shelter sooner. A couple of bedraggled feathers are all the loose change the fox left behind...
If you have ever attempted to make sourdough bread you will understand my disproportionate excitement at having baked this beautiful loaf.
Even golden dome, crisp exterior, nicely aerated interior, moist without being soggy.... and dangerously moreish toasted with jam for breakfast.
My first attempt at sourdough a few months back was met with bright-eyed, greedy appreciation, and devoured with smacking lips... by Joan the pig!
With hindsight, I had been a little impatient and approximate in my approach. Slapdash and sourdough do not make good bed-fellows.
So when I spotted the opportunity to join a sourdough workshop, run by Chris Brennan from the fabulous Pump Street Bakery, I’d booked my place before you could say ‘knead’. Chris is a self-taught baker who has spent years perfecting his craft. Who else would take their sourdough starter on holiday with them? I say workshop, but it was more like a cross between a chemistry lesson and an episode of ‘Supernanny’. Just substitute ‘sourdough starter’ for ‘wilful toddler’.
For many of the anxious faces present, it was a chance to find out where our parenting skills had gone wrong. By the end of the session we had each fostered a small pot of ‘starter’ and ten pages of instructions.
Just a tip... if you’re planning to make sourdough bread, do book a week off work so you can stick rigidly to the timetable. (....fortunate for those of us work at home).
Initial twenty-four hour feedings at room temperature can easily be accommodated, but then throw in 6 hours here and a ‘fold after 50 mins’ there and you can soon find a whole weekend’s activities having to be rearranged.
By page five I was running round the house with my greenhouse thermometer looking for a nook that was 28 degrees. Boiler room? on top of the fridge? heated towel rail? No.
Airing cupboard? Perfect.
Smug, I then realised I didn’t have a ‘bannetone’ to prove the loaf in.
A basket would have to do; there’s one on the front of my bicycle, or the one the cat sleeps in.... keep looking!
Finally, with my loaf balanced on top of a pile of clean linen in the airing cupboard,
there was just time to scrub the glass panel in my oven door.... after all there’s nothing like actually watching your loaf cross the finishing line!
So, what’s the big deal about sourdough?
Come round for breakfast and you’ll see, but just give me plenty of warning!
Or pick up a loaf at your Farmer’s market and happily pay the price tag in the knowledge that as well as flour and water it might contain blood, sweat and tears!