Tuesday, 10 December 2013

One giant leap for self sufficient kind.

The last week and a half has marked somewhat of a milestone in life here at Chez Powell. The pigs went to slaughter and we’ve been processing pretty much every day since. Rather than try and cram all of this into one post I thought I’d break it down a little. This also means that I am now “committed” to writing a couple of posts in relatively (for me!) quick succession
Summer running
The last supper
Of course, if you want to eat pork, first of all you need to kill a pig. At least you do if you haven’t gone out to the supermarket to buy it. Before this you need to rear it and look after it. We’ve tried to keep our pigs as humanely as possible. They’ve been kept outdoors and their food was a mixture of bought from our local mill, which is organic and all locally sourced, and veg garden waste. Their pen surrounded an old lime tree to give them shade in the sun along with their pig ark for sleeping and rain/snow protection. I think that even if you don’t have the opportunity to rear your own pigs you should at the very least demand more humane standards from your supplier. A common complaint about pork reared this way is that it is too expensive for the “average” family to afford. In answer to this I say, don’t buy it then. Forgo it this week or month and get some as a treat. In western society we eat too much meat and perhaps if we ate less the welfare of our animals would improve.
Day one of our processing was slaughter. I felt it was important to go with them and I was there when the final deed was done. I felt that it was part of my responsibility to the animals to see it through to the end and make sure it was done properly. Which it was and was done very quickly.  Other than being somewhere a bit new I don’t think they pigs knew much about it. It’s an odd mixture of sad to see them go, a realisation that such a big animal is going to die to feed you but proud that a massive step has been taken in self sufficiency and the knowledge that we gave them the best care we could (certainly a lot higher standard than your average supermarket pig would have had). Once you have a dead pig that isn’t the end. You need to drain the blood and remove the hair and top layer of skin. This was done with blowtorch, scraping and washing as we went along. The guts were taken out, which we kept, and the pigs were sawn in two.

A census pig tried to test me once!
 The plan here is to use every bit of the pig for something, so, the end of day one was actually spent dealing with some of the bits that go off the fastest. This included; soaking the caul fat (a layer of fat around the stomach used for wrapping things like faggots in water, attempting to wash out the intestines and knocking up some spiced liver for tea. (No fava beans or Chianti though!)

Dracula's midnight snack

Number one of these is the blood. The last two to three hours of the day were spent making black puddings. Essentially what you do is mix the blood with sautéed onions, fat, cream, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and then pretty much whatever else you want as flavourings. We kept ours simple this year throwing in a few spices only. Then you fill some casings and simmer for a bit. 
Stuffing the pudding!
The most difficult part is filling the casings. After it took nearly two hours to make twelve and we lost three when they exploded in the water we decided to simplify things by cooking it up as a “cake”. This was then sliced up and put in the freezer in breakfast portions.  As the next day was going to be spent butchering four sides of pork and it was now nearly two in the morning the bed did call.


One happy customer

The biggest disappointment of the day were the intestines and stomachs which I just couldn’t clean out and they kept splitting. Spilling their contents all over the bath! However I read about the old cabbage trench that British farmer/smallholders used to use before the world went all squeamish about dealing with waste. They would dig a trench and everything would go into it. Urine, poo (human), chicken and rabbit inners etc etc. At the end of the year this would be covered in compost and the following spring the cabbage break would be planted on it. Inspired by this our inners started off the new compost heap with everything from this year’s heap that hasn’t broken down yet on top of them. This heap won’t go on the garden until Spring 2015 so plenty of time for it to break down and release all those nutrients into the compost.

Next post, Days 2and 3: Butchery and offal (Yum yum)

Friday, 8 November 2013

Lest We Forget

One of the things I was surprised to miss last year was Remembrance Sunday and November 11th. So this year I thought we would do a little something this weekend. It’s not a lot but we feel it’s important to teach Isaac about it and what it means. I know this year he won’t really get it, but just to let him know what it’s about and that it is part of his culture and history. All his great-grandparents played a wide range of roles in WW2, serving soldiers, military soup kitchens, land army and making Mosquitoes for the RAF. His granddad Powell was in the army serving in Northern Ireland and Cyprus. I also do some work for a charity, The ReOrg Trust.  who work with veterans from the British Armed Services. We’re looking forward to teaching him about it and I hope he continues the interest in military history I have. We seemingly mark the day in Britain with more ceremony than France, although I’m not sure if that is due to the region we’re in.

The Correze had a very strong resistance presence during WW2 and you can find small monuments all over the countryside with two or three names on, marking where resistance fighters were found and shot on the spot. Sadly, like all villages across Europe, even a small place like Viam has a memorial with far too many names on it from WW1. Our nearest town, Bugeat, has a plaque on the hotel de ville (mayor’s office) listing the names of Jews from the town who were deported to concentration camps and never returned. Just outside Limoges is also the town of Oradour-Sur-Glane. A small town where, on the way up to fight back against the D-Day action, a SS division walked in one morning and killed everyone. Men were marched in the woods and shot, women and children locked in the church which was set on fire, grenades were thrown in and shot if they tried to escape. Perhaps the memory of WW2 is still too raw in a different way to the experiences of Britain and the Allies.
To mark it this year I have tried to explain to Isaac why he has a day off school on Monday (Nov 11th) and we coloured in a poppy. I have made one from craft foam to wear at rugby on Sunday which he “helped” with. 

 The button in the middle belonged to Michelle’s nanny Nellie who worked in the docks and lived in Southampton during the war which was very heavily bombed. It was also an important part of Britain in the run up to D-Day so I’m sure she would have seen the build up. I think he understood a little. I explained that war is bad because lots of people die and that “once upon a time” there was a very big war where lots of people died but in the place where they did, lots of poppies grew afterwards. So, we wear the poppy to remember them and the people who died/die in other wars all around the world. When asked why do we wear the poppy he replied “...because people died and we stopped the soldiers and things” I think he gets the idea if not exactly what it’s all for. We’re going to play the last post on Sunday so he can hear it and, like his daddy, he’s got quite a good memory for music. Hopefully this will help as well.

Unfortunately people are still dying in wars all over the world. Whatever your political stance is on involvement or non involvement, (By this I mean our choices on when and where to “intervene”)  I think you should still remember the men, women, children and animals who die in them. My hope is that one day we (the human race) will look back and learn from our mistakes. It is only by reminding future generations of what it has cost us can we achieve this. In many ways war destroys lives including those who survive them. We will take Sunday and Monday this year as an opportunity to think about those who died for our freedom, those who continue to die for “other reasons” and those who survive.

Please check out the ReOrg Trust  http://www.thereorgtrust.org/ Contact them if you can help or if you/anyone you know could benefit from their unique service. They do fantastic work, here's their a bit from the website explaining, far better than I can, what they do.
The Re-Org Trust provides servicemen and veterans the opportunity to experience sustainable living. Unlock your military skills with “Fresh Air Therapy”. Our Mission is to provide assistance to both current and former Service Personnel who, for whatever reason, may be in need of “support through transition” helping them to re-adjust and resettle into the wider community. The Re-Org can address the issues surrounding homelessness, mental health, offending behaviour and drug/alcohol misuse whilst giving new skills and opportunities.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Bread. Bread. Bread. And one mention of beer!

Although we went off track a little this summer, we make all (well, nearly all, this is France after all and the boulangerie is only 5min down the road!) our own bread. This autumn sees the return of a favourite of ours, sourdough. This can be the ultimate in thrifty bakery as you only need to buy flour because the yeast comes from the air around you. This also means that everyone’s is slightly different as the mix of microbes in the air varies a great deal place to place, year to year, season to season, even room to room. The principle is exactly the same as shop bought yeast. They use the sugars in the ingredients (flour, sugar, honey etc depending on your recipe) as food and produce carbon dioxide as a waste product which, if you have gluten and have kneaded your dough properly, makes your bread rise. Being wild, the yeast in a sourdough isn’t as controlled as shop bought and produces a whole load of other chemicals as well. Mostly weak acids which account for the sour taste of the bread. Incidentally this is also how Belgian brewers make lambic beers. In Brussels, the Cantillon brewery simply open the windows to start the fermentation of their beer. The resulting beer is amazing, especially after they then age it in barrels with fruit.
So how do you make it? It’s very simple. We use the instructions laid out in the River Cottage Bread book (As with all River Cottage stuff I can’t recommend it enough). Get yourself something to keep it in. We got an earthenware jar from the local charity shop.
 Mix 150g flour (wholemeal is best as it contains more food for your new pets) with 250ml warm water, beat it and leave until it bubbles and starts to smell. This will take about a week, depending on conditions. After this put the same flour/water mix in again. This is now a daily/every other day task. Take half your mix and put in your bread recipe instead of yeast. Feed it again with the flour/water mix. Done!

Your bread will take longer to rise but this actually makes it easier to fit in to your daily routine as you can leave it nearly all day to do its thing. A simple method is to knock up a “sponge” the night before. Half your recipes flour, all the liquid and one or two ladles of your sourdough mix. In the morning before work/school etc add the rest of your flour the salt and the extras (fruit, nuts, fat seeds etc) Knead. Leave to rise. Knock back and rise again as many times as you have time for. (At work all day? Leave it somewhere slightly cooler and leave to rise until you get back.) Prove. Bake. Cool. Eat.
Your starter can be added to any recipe containing flour and liquid. We’ve put in pancake batter, scones, cake. Next time we have Yorkshire pudding/toad in the hole it’s going in that too. It’s better if you can leave it for a bit for the yeasts to ferment a bit. We make our pancake batter the night before for example. But if you don’t have time to do this it will still add to the flavour and make your chosen cake/scone/crumble taste better.

You can give a starter to a friend as a present. A couple of ladles of yours in a nice jar with some instructions would make a different pressie for someone.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

I'm a fungi really!

Today I found our first ceps (Penny Buns) of the season. A reason for great celebration. Not quite the 2Kg found by my friend Baptiste or the table full of chanterelles found by Fugue, but we’re happy with them as this marks the beginning of the mushroom scramble that takes over the region in mid-autumn. I therefore thought I’d blog about mushroom hunting.
Finding, cooking and eating wild mushrooms is one of life’s great pleasures however I feel it’s time for a DISCLAIMER. This is NOT a set of instructions on how to hunt for wild mushrooms. All the mushrooms mentioned here have “look-a-likes” with side effects ranging from a bad belly to death and a nasty one at that, as you first suffer from sickness and bad guts, recover then die a week later as your liver and kidneys shut down! If you want to go, get several books and book yourself onto a course. Don’t read this then go out picking, you have been warned.
We’ve been dining on parasol mushrooms for about a fortnight now. They are a great mushroom, easy to find (pasture and roadsides), fairly distinctive and taste good. We dried some last year and often add a couple to soups and stews. Fresh, good with butter and garlic, dipped in batter and fried or in a soup.

Three stages of the parasol. They are particularly good in their infancy (Bottom left)

Last year we got lucky finding several ceps and another edible bolete, Bay Bolete. The ceps are the most prized of all the wild mushrooms fetching a hefty price both dried (porcini) and fresh (If you’re lucky enough to have a market who stocks them.) You might fool the likes of you and I with a Bay Bolete but a grizzled old French paysan will not be tricked.  Superficially they look the same but there is much more contrast between stem and cap of a cep. That’s not to belittle the humble Bay Bolete which is just as tasty but when you know exactly where to find ceps and have been eating them for years you can afford to be picky!

The little basket is also this weeks top tip recovery!

I tried Hen of the Wood for the first time this year as well. A very impressive bracket style mushroom found on old oak trees and stumps. Texture like chicken as the name suggests but with a strong mushroomy flavour. We’ve also found shaggy and/or common inkcaps. However as the common one causes problems if you drink alcohol (including within the last 36hrs) and I can’t tell them apart I’ve not tried them! I also found morels but never got round to eating them as they were looking past their best, but at least I know where to find them next year.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

A Bountiful Week

This week has been a fruitful one here at Chez Powell. First up the veg patch which has seen a sudden boom in productivity. The weather here has not been good for the last fortnight. An awful lot of rain and not a lot else. However in the last two days the sun has come out and everything outside has gone nuts. As you can see below swedes and fennel have swollen up nicely and we hav a mountain of pumpkins and marrows to  ripen off.

In the polytunnel things have not fared as well. On Monday everything was looking good lots of red toms everywhere and twice as much again green. Unfortunately looked in on Wednesday and almost the whole crop was covered in blight and mildew. This prompted an emergency harvest and the first part of this week will have to spent chutney making. Fortunately I think we have enough marrow to do so!

Also, further to my earlier blog, this week has been a great week at the tip. I've picked up three pairs of shoes that need a bit of a clean and some dubbing, some big plates, a bowl and a berry picker.

Friday, 6 September 2013

The best things in life are free.

It’s been really busy here this summer. Lots of visitors, work and running the smallholding have meant that there’s been no time for blogging. Some new animals thrown into the mix as well adding goats and geese to the zoo! Both are very friendly and as of yet haven't lived up to their naughty reputations. The pigs on the other hand, 5 escape attempts mostly coinciding with either a full moon or  coming into season. However, they always come running when you shake a bucket of food at them! 
Finally got some time to sit down so I thought I wax lyrical about our freecyling efforts thus far. It also highlights the generosity of the people here but also the lunacy of what gets thrown away at the tip. We are aiming to do as much as we can in the house and garden this way. Obviously there are some things we can't really do this with but we try. What follows are some pics of things we’ve got for nothing this summer either from the tip or direct from others which I've labelled as gift. All the pallets are tip recue. I know I've done the pallet table before but hey ho and I might even write a whole one on pallets later.
Book case-Gift


Chair-Gift, Table-Pallet, Rug-Gift

Terracotta pots-Tip rescue

Goose bed-Pallets

Plastic pots-Tip rescue


Climbing frame-Added extra! Child-No idea where he came from!

Water butt.Old sink gift/tip rescue

Goats and fencing-Gift

Toy-Tip rescue, Child-?

Everything in pic-Tip rescue

Rug-Tip rescue!

Throw and cushions-Gift

Table-Tip rescue


Lamp shade-Tip rescue

Lampshade 2-Tip rescue

Jars, charcuterie hanger, earthenwear jar, tiles and kilner jars-All rescues/gifts

Hopefully now that autumn is here I'll have more time again to blog more often when I'm not cep hunting or pig processing.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

A Year en Correze

We’ve been here a year now so I thought it was time to take stock and look back at what we’ve learned, what’s good, bad and what we miss.
We’ve done a lot of digging. Six double dug beds, several fruit trees, raspberry beds, blackcurrant beds, blueberry bushes and the beds in the polytunnel. I’ve learned how to fell frees with a chainsaw. Helped to put in two log burners. I now actually feel confident to do this myself if required but have no ladder, which is a problem! Redone a toilet/washroom. Found cold induced burst pipes in the house. Found snakes (including vipers), newts, toads, lizards, a species of beetle as big as my hand, wild boar poo, goat poo and deer poo in the garden.  

Failed to tap a silver birch tree. Made stick men. Had several encounters with the locals which wouldn’t be out of place in one of the many move to France books. Learned how to put up fencing strong enough for pigs. Collected my own chrismas tree from the garden. Built half a kitchen out of pallets and wood found in the shed. Blown up a laptop. Written off a Land Rover Discovery. Worked in France. Set up a business in France. Done A LOT of French paperwork. Lived like a pauper and eaten like a king. Butchered a whole deer (Bit of still warm road kill, great find!) Bred and eaten my own meat-rabbits. Played rugby for the local first team.  Foraged for mushrooms and not died! I’m sure I’m missing somethings but hey ho, you get the idea.
So, anything we miss? Mostly it’s food and beer related although B&Q ranks up there as a real miss. DIY shops here are very hit and miss and often expensive. Beer is a big one. French beer is shit! There are a few OK ones and the small local breweries produce some nice ones but on the whole it is tasteless fizzy liquid only worth drinking if it’s either very hot or you’ve just stepped off the rugby pitch. I had some Stella the other day and it was like drinking a pint of Guinness in comparison!! Really missing real ale I’ve never heard of on tap from a good pub. Just some Hobgoblin or Old Speckled Hen would do. Thankfully the supermarkets stock a reasonable selection of Belgian beers and I make my own, so I’m surviving! We like French food and the steak here is some of the best I’ve ever had. We always ask for oats, marmite and golden syrup when friends and family come to stay. But, the big miss is Indian from a restaurant. I make all ours at home from scratch but nothing beats an Indian restaurant on a Friday night, stuffing yourself with more curry and cobra than you would ever normally try to eat and drink. Opening times here are also a great source of frustration. Everything shuts for two hours at lunchtime and all day on Monday and Sunday. Although we moved away from Britain to get away from the “everything now” culture it is frustrating when you can’t pop out at lunchtime to pick something up from the 8 a huit (Which is not open 8 till 8 as the name suggests but 8.30 till 7.30 with the aforementioned two hour lunch break!) As mentioned paperwork is also a huge pain in the backside with every government agency, bank and insurance company wanting to know everything about you except the size of your pants. But it’s quieter, the pace of life is slower, the food is better and the wine is fantastic. We’re working at our own pace. Winter is WINTER not some grey miserable affair. Summer is hot. We can swim in lifeguarded lakes without catching pneumonia. We are mortgage free despite owning an acre of land and a four bedroom house at 33. We can drive to the supermarket and not pass a single traffic light. Hear nothing but birds for long periods of time. Do “Pick Your Own” in our own garden. I haven’t seen some chavy nob with a Staffie outside Tescos trying to buy Fosters underage  for over a year. We will be making our own bacon and ham in the autumn. By the end of the month we should be milking our own goats and eating more home reared rabbit.

On balance life is much better here. Everyone we meet from Britain says it’s getting worse and that we made the right decision to move here. Lots of Brits doing the same thing in the Correze now, we just hope it doesn’t turn into another Dordogne. Vive la France! (I never thought I’d say that, ever! At least we beat them at the rugby)