Friday 11 November 2011

Probably the Last Norfolk Kitchen Post.

But first, have a look at my freaky November tomatoes. I left one gro-bag in the mini greenhouse to keep the frame weighted down so it wouldn't blow away and, much to my surprise, the tomatoes started growing again during the mild October weather and are now ripening! How very odd.

Anyway, you've probably noticed my post rate has slowed dramatically recently. With the arrival of the Community Farm Pigs I've got much busier, sadly mostly with organising people and things rather than the pigs themselves though. I've also started volunteer work with the Citizen's Advice Bureau which is hugely rewarding but eats up my time too.

All this extra work has coincided with what is probably a natural decline in the blog anyway. I read somewhere that most blogs have about 2 years in them before you run out of new ways to keep saying the same thing! That sounds about right from my point of view and winter is always quiet on the Norfolk Kitchen front.

Hopefully I'll find something new to write about and start up a new blog as I enjoy the writing and photography and have thoroughly enjoyed meeting new people with similar interests both here and on Twitter.

So it's with a suddenly heavy heart that I say Goodbye and thanks to everyone who's commented and chatted with me along the way, I hope to re-connect soon.

Saturday 15 October 2011

So we're one chicken less ......

Sadly, one of our ex-batt chickens died last week. In the past she'd had a few episodes of feeling ill, standing around and looking miserable for a day or two before recovering and getting back to her usual self. But this time was different. I don't know what it was exactly that killed her but she had escaped from our front garden while free ranging and I found her a little way down the road surrounded by poisonous laurel berries. I can't be sure if she'd eaten some or if she had some other underlying condition.

But the upshot is that I'm left with 4 chickens spread across 2 coops so my plan is to buy one bigger plastic coop, to combat the horrible red mite problem in the ex-batts coop, and merge both flocks into one. I'm rather apprehensive as Crispy, the thoroughbred chicken, is something of a bruiser and jealously guards her position as alpha hen. The ex-ex-batt was the alpha in the other coop and if ever they saw each other there would be blood. Literally.

The remaining ex-batts seem a bit lost without their leader, egg production has slowed dramatically although this could be co-incidence with the colder weather and shorter days but I think they'll be happier once they're under the thumb again. And Crispy is already twirling her moustache in anticipation.

Friday 7 October 2011

A wizened husk can be a beautiful thing.

I have to admit I was relieved when the hot weather broke. There was something downright spooky about winter sun of that temperature, even the quality of the light wasn't right. I was resentful about digging the suncream out again (parents required to slather wriggly offspring in Factor 50 as thick as marj will know where I'm coming from) my hayfever kicked off again and the sloes were shriveled like raisins by the time we got around to picking them.

On the plus side though, it's been utterly fabulous for the walnut crop. Normally when they fall they're still wearing their fat, wet green jackets which stain the hands mercilessly and can be difficult to pick off. Then they need to be dried out in order to remove the bitter 'wet walnut' taste and to preserve them. This year though, they're falling in a remarkably dessicated state. The green covering is dry and brittle which means it rubs off easily and cleanly, even better, the nuts are sun dried to perfection. The few I broke open have just the right crisp texture and that funny membrane that divides the two halves of the nut (can't remember the correct name) snaps cleanly in two which is a sign they've dried correctly.

It's hugely labour saving, walnuts are normally a bit of a pain to dry out and we end up with sacks of them all round the house, spread out in front of the radiators to try and speed the process up. This time it's just taken an hour or so to rub the skins off and that's it. As a result we're being ruthlessly efficient, going out early in the morning after every windy night to fill another bag. Knowing the pigs will be eating the excess assauges my guilt twinges. I wonder how a diet of windfall apples and walnuts will affect the taste of our pork?

Tuesday 4 October 2011

When foraging and pig keeping collide.

I do apologise if this sounds like a smug-fest, it's not what I intend, but sometimes I'm amazed at how lucky I am.

This morning I packed Willow off to school with a bag full of home grown patty pan and crooked neck squash for the harvest festival (I think she would have preferred a packet of Jaffa cakes but there you go) then I stopped by the pigs to feed them and scritch their ears (they recognise me now and come galloping over, grunting excitedly when they see me) and finally, back at home, I fed our chickens and collected the warm eggs.

It all feels a very long way from my urban background and a concrete planter full of nasturtiums.

I'm also discovering that foraging goes hand in glove with pig keeping. We've still got a sack full of walnuts from last year so Adam has been dispatched to collect a new bag full (the nuts have begun to fall but there are more to come I think, fingers crossed for gales at the weekend) and the old ones will be used to supplement the hard pig food over the winter and hopefully save us a bit of money. In the mean time I'm now adding acorns and beech nuts to my foraging wish list.

They're also getting left over veg from the veg growing arm of Diss Community Farm, but in the manner of wayward toddlers, they're not massively keen on the Cavolo Nero and are holding out for fermenting apples instead. The Livestock project overall is running well, the feeding rota is going smoothly. It's working out that most of us have about 2 feeds during the week and are taking 2 weekends each over the next few months so the time commitment isn't too heavy, a very civilised way to keep pigs!

I've ordered my sausage making kit from Amazon so it's just a matter of waiting now - come on piggies, eat up!

Wednesday 21 September 2011

At last!

We have our pigs! It's taken 7 months but at last they're here. They haven't had far to come as they're staying on the small holding site where they were born but were transferred from their home with their Mum into the Diss Community Farm paddock.

Unfortunately they don't seem too keen on their new home, the squeals of protest they made at being picked up had to be heard to be believed. Then, within minutes of arriving, they calmly pushed their way through the squares in the stock fencing and strolled back to Mum! We played porcine hokey cokey all weekend and then decided to leave them where they were until we could order an electric fence. Fortunately it shouldn't be too long til they grow a bit bigger and won't be able to fit through the fence any more.

Willow and Xanthe are in their element, Xanthe in particular has no fear of the pigs but I don't think it'll last when they get big, ugly and slobbery. Their cuteness (the pigs, not the children) is the main weakness in our plan at the moment, I worry that they'll become too pet like and we'll have tears when sausage time rolls around. We've deliberately not named them and I'm banking on the big, ugly, slobbery factor to make the goodbyes a bit more bearable.

I've found myself leading the DCF Livestock project almost by accident, our illustrious leader is having a baby soon so pig wrangling with an advanced bump is not the best idea. I offered to help out over her maternity leave, not realising that I was the only volunteer. So here I am, zero pig husbandry experience, no diy skills, no van, no truck, no trailer, an electric fence kit propped by the back door which is too heavy for me to lift and an 8' pig ark on it's way with no clue how I'm going to get it to the pigs.

Fun and games ahead I think!

Thursday 15 September 2011

Runner Bean where is thy string?

Last year I grew quite a lot of runner beans, which would've been nice if they had been edible. They were shot through with the weird, remarkably tough, plasticy fibers. This year I made a conscious decision to remember that I hate runners and not grow them again .....

but .....

I went to visit the vegetable project part of Diss Community Farm where Gabbi the Grower waxed lyrical about the variety of runner beans she was growing. Her description of them when slow cooked in a spicy tomato sauce was beguiling. I think she was growing Enorma which I couldn't find but she also recommended Hunter. After my broad beans failed I found myself with a spare bed on the allotment so I planted some Hunter.

And, yes, this tale does end in the manner I think you're expecting. The Hunters are divine with an amazing and unexpected silky texture. I even enjoy the feel of them in my hand as I pick them. I think I'll stop there before I embarrass myself further with the gushing.

In other Diss Community Farm news, we are finally taking delivery of our pigs on Saturday. Many things have been happening on the livestock front so I'll save all the news for dedicated piggy post with pictures of our tasty new friends over the weekend.

Tuesday 6 September 2011


Nasturtiums have a special place in my affections. My food growing odyssey started with a packet of Nasturtium seeds in the back yard of a northern terraced house.

The house had an extension which occupied 80% of the original yard, leaving us with a tiny paved square bordered on all sides by walls at least 6 feet high. On sunny days we'd dash out with our plastic chairs to sit in the single shaft of sunlight which managed to peer over the walls for 15 mins at mid-day. At least the brevity of the sunbathing meant we didn't have long enough to be over powered by the stench of the bins stored out there.

In 1999 I watched Escape to River Cottage. Somehow or other, the disparity between Hugh's reality and my own didn't sink in. Instead, I eyed the small concrete planter built at the base of the wall by a previous tenant and thought I could get me a piece of the rural idyll. I planted Nasturtiums and wild rocket.

I can't say it was a roaring success. As I'd planted the only greenery for miles around, every single creature, winged and 4 footed was magnetically attracted to it. The Nasturtiums were rapidly covered in blackfly so I planted marigolds to attract the lacewings and therefore the ladybirds. Literally overnight half a dozen marigold plants were reduced to stalks by the monstrous turd-slugs, still the biggest slugs I've ever seen and big enough to make me fear for my limbs if I stayed still for too long out there. On the plus side, the neighbourhood cats seemed to appreciate the thoughtful toilet facilities I'd laid on for them. I really should have added cologne and a gilt dish for tips.

It didn't take much to distract me from the disastrous concrete planter. Life moved on and I moved out, the grow my own dream was neglected for almost a decade until I moved to Norfolk and acquired a small garden. When we got our first allotment last year, one of the first things I planted was the Nasturtiums. Just 'cos I can.

This year I've tried Nasturtium Seed Capers for the first time. I used Pam Corbain's recipe but the basic method is to soak the green (not yellowed or pinky) seed pods in brine for 24 hours then pack into a sterilised jar and cover with vinegar. Leave to mature for a few weeks before using. No idea what they taste like - I'll let you know when I find out!