Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Tree Toppling Time

Today was the day the three poplars by the house came down. Sunday night had been quite windy causing a lot of damage a little to the north of me. I’d had a really bad nights sleep listening to the wind and wondering what direction it was and if any of the trees was likely to come down. I was really very pleased when the tree surgeons telephoned on Monday morning to say that weather permitting they would be here first thing Tuesday.

I got up early to await them and then realised that I hadn’t taken a before photograph. Outside was really foggy but it was last chance so here it is.

The three poplars can be seen and it’s also just possible to see another of the branches has started to fall in the poplar to the rear of the house, it’s hanging out to the right of the tree. The oak in the foreground and the ash tree behind and to the right of the oak were also to have the branches that overhung the telephone line trimmed.

Tree number one comes down; this one was in reach of my bedroom should it have come down in the gales.

Tree number two; this was the tallest of the three but was in danger of knocking down the new fence posts.


And it thankfully fell about 6 inches short of the post line.

Those two trees were relatively simple, Kevin and Steve the two tree surgeons spent a bit of time getting the mouth cut just how they wanted and the two fell exactly where they were meant to. Even if they had been a bit out there was plenty of space for them to land.

Then it was tree number three. This tree at the back is the rotten one that dropped a branch a while back. It also has a distinct lean towards the house. Kevin and Steve had decided to put a wire on the tree and using my tractor put on enough tension to persuade the tree to drop ninety degrees to it’s lean.

Kevin very gingerly climbed the tree: he had to be very careful as this the branches were just breaking off in places. Eventually he found a place for the sling to attach the wire where it sounded less hollow than the surrounding bits. The lower branches were then cut off to stop the weight of them from swinging the tree round or even catching the corner of the house when the tree dropped.

Sadly I couldn’t get into a suitable safe position that wasn’t facing directly into the setting sun to photograph this one coming down but it dropped in the perfect position.

This photograph show another of the problems, once the mouth was cut out it was this rotten bit that was holding up the tree and it could have gone anywhere had they not been so thorough with the preparatory work.

One of the things to come out of the tree was this beautiful bracket fungus, I know there was a larger one on the tree but it may be beneath the trunk. I now have a rather large clean up job to do. The trunk has been cut into about 2 meter lengths that I should be able to tow with the tractor and the rest can be cut and moved by hand. I expect I’ll be cutting and burning for a month or so but I was surprised how quickly I was able to clear some of it already.

So final picture taken this evening of a rather naked looking but unthreatened house.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Pork Processing – Belly Pork

Above are my pork purchases; the ham and two belly pieces. I also bought from the local farming supply shop the salt, the cotton sack and the 30 litre bucket ready for my few days of pork processing.

I was very pleased with the two belly pieces, as they were both quite meaty. The one on the left was earmarked for the rillettes while the one on the right for green cure bacon. The piece on the right also had the ribs too. Since neither piece was longer than 50 cm, I would guess that the right was the front half of a belly while the left the back half.

First of all, I cut out the ribs from the piece for bacon and then cut it into pieces that would be convenient for me to use. I then packed the pieces into a bowl and covered with a brine solution for 24 hours. The bowl was places out the back where it is very cool and the pieces held under the brine using a weighted plate.

Once the 24 hours was up, I dried the bacon pieces and wrapped then in pieces of the cotton sack, which is like cheesecloth and hung them up to dry for a day or so. They will only stay fresh for a week or so in the refrigerator so they will be transferred to the freezer although I might invest in a slicer and slice them before freezing.

The second piece of belly I skinned and then cut into thin strips. In the picture, the bacon pieces are at the bottom left: at the top left is a bowl containing the pork ribs and the skin from the belly. In the wok at the top right is the skin from the ham (processing in another post) and any fat I trimmed off ready for rendering.

I packed the slices of belly into a casserole along with lots of ground black pepper, some garlic and herbs. More pork fat is then added – since I make this quite often I had the fat drained off from a previous batch that’s already flavoured too. I then place a piece of the skin I remove over the top of the meat to protect it from drying out before the fat has liquefied.

The casserole is then placed in a very slow oven to let the fat flow and the meat is p
oached in the fat until it is falling apart. About 24 hours in my case as the wood range runs cool on plum wood.

Once the meat is cooked it’s placed in a sieve and the fat drained off. As I said above, I save the fat for next time, separating it from any meat juices that can be used as a base for gravy or stock.

The meat is then shredded; I have used a food processor for this but I prefer the more labour intensive method of using 2 forks, I just prefer the rougher texture. Before I’ve cubed the meat as suggested in a couple of recipes I have but I did find the shredding a lot easier this time after thinly slicing the meat first.

A final check on the seasoning and then the meat is packed firmly into jars. The top of the rillettes is then covered with a layer of melted pure pork fat. This is why I save the skin and fat I trim off; I render my own pure fat. Again the fat I was using was the fat I rendered for the last batch I made. This years is currently in the slow oven as I write. A word of caution though, remember that liquid fat is slippery especially when trying to hold a glass jar. The one in the picture was pretty near full when I tried to put it down onto the work-surface; it slipped and tipped over and it’s taken about half a day to try and clear up the mess!

This time I also heat processed the jars; not necessary if you are going to eat it over the next week or so but I make larger quantities and want it to last. I cooked the pots for 15 mins at 15 lbs pressure, which I hope will be sufficient.

While the meat was cooking I turned the ribs into Chinese style ribs. The recipe is just so simple.

Chinese spare ribs
2lb spare ribs
6 tbsp soy sauce
6 tbsp sugar
2 tsp ground ginger
1 onion peeled and quartered
3 tbsp wine.

Put all ingredients in a pan with 1 1/2 pints of water, bring to the boil, simmer for 45 minutes, turning the meat occasionally. Turn up the heat and boil for 20 mins (uncovered) to reduce the sauce, it will become thick and sticky!!!! Serve.

You can freeze them like this once they have cooled.

That’s it for the pork bellies, I was thinking about other ways to use up the fat I get from the rendering as re-using the flavoured fat means I use very little of the fresh fat and my mind wandered to soap making. I also have large quantities of wood ash with the wood-burning cooker so that will be another project to think about. Who knows maybe I can come up with a recipe to use the squeak too.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Snowy’s Operation

Thank you all again for your concern over Snowy and sorry for the delay in this post, life took over for a bit again.

Five o’clock (Friday) came and I was at the vets as arranged; Snowy was brought out in the arms of the vet. She was still not fully awake from the anaesthetic, but she was awake enough to meow and growl all the way home though.

There is a saying in the UK, “the lights are on but there is no-one at home”, which described Snowy perfectly. Her eyes were fully dilated but she had no real idea of what was she was doing. She did think she needed the litter tray but once she got in it she did her customary turn a rounds, slightly lost her balance and basically gave up and fell into a sort of sleep. Thankfully apart from some mud on the rim where I'd moved it with my boot, it was clean.

She also wanted to walk round the house but her back legs were not really holding her. She’d come up to an object and attempt to go round or over it and just collapse, quite often on her back with her paws in the air unable to figure out how to get up.

I had been due to go out that evening but had cancelled; I’m so glad I did. There was no way I would have been happy leaving her even if she was caged. She spent from 5 to gone 11 pm either being held on my lap until she fell back into a sleep or with me following round after her if she decided she just had to go for a walk. I had to be there, ether to pick her up or to stop her trying to jump up onto chairs and more importantly to stop her falling down all the steps in my house. It may be essentially a bungalow but nearly every room is on a different level and some of the steps are deep.

Come 11 pm I needed to sleep so I put her back into the pet carrier, much to her disgust, and placed her next to me on the bed. She was not happy to be caged again but did fall back to sleep.

I was awakened by her at about 5 am when I heard her grooming herself so I got her out for another drink etc. She was still very unsteady on her back legs so after about an hour, we both went back to bed for another couple of hours.

By the morning I was happy to leave her in the house for an hour and a half while I went out and now, Sunday morning, she’s more or less back to normal although she does know how to play the ‘I’m hurt, I need more milk’ look really well and has really relished the extra attention she has been getting.

I was really pleased that the vet didn’t have to take off as much of her ear as I feared and I was also surprised that she wasn’t given an antibiotic injection either. Instead I was instructed to bathe the wound three times a day with iodine but to bring her back immediately if I felt there was an infection. I’m quite pleased about that really, partially because it reduces the cost but mainly because it should mean that if she does need an antibiotic shot the chances of resistant bugs should be lower and she’s also quite happy for me to dab the iodine onto the ear.

She goes back to the vet in a fortnight to have the stitches out but she’s now sitting on my lap purring as I type this, back to normal, and as a bonus, I can touch her ear without her protesting, something I couldn’t do when it had the growth on it.