Growing old disgracefully?

So I’ve been trying to write this blog for the past fortnight and feeling guilty that I haven’t seemed to have time to put down all the thoughts I’ve been having about it. There have been a combination of things getting in my way (as it were) To start with there was the small matter of the smallholding duties of getting 29 chickens in the freezer. Christine (a friend I first met at the Callington market who, incidentally, makes the best lip-balm I have ever come across, http://www.cornishcreams.com from all natural stuff including Cornish beeswax as well as lots of other lovely skincare goodies without the nasty chemicals ) says I must not go into details about the demise of the chickens in my blog

However, I am still going to post this photo as I find it so interesting to see the wide variety in livers when all these birds were raised together, free-ranging with poultry corn ad-lib. Needless to say this is the sort of job that is not done in five minutes and comes on top of the usual slate work and general household chores.

Then there was the fact that I had set myself a deadline for completing the first major edit of my new novel ‘The Angel Bug’ as I had promised to send it to Tim Smit of the Eden Project, Cornwall to read and to get his ok for me to use him as a character (as the only real person in the whole novel) So all the time I could access to sit before the computer was devoted to that.

So, back to writing this blog. You see, we had a talk at WI, entitled ‘Growing Old Disgracefully’ and it was amusing as intended, but as I got to think about it I felt it had rather strayed from the aim, turning more into a ‘grumpy old woman’ diatribe (like the TV programmes of the same name) And talking of growing old and of the WI – you hear people say weird things like ‘Oh I might join the WI when I retire’ or ‘Oh I’m not old enough for the WI’. I actually joined when I was 15 and apart from the time I was at college and then lived in a city for five years (no WIs were allowed in the cities then) have been a member ever since. (there, that’s that grump out of my system)

Anyway I got to thinking what I would call ‘growing old disgracefully’… or perhaps not disgracefully but certainly not growing old as expected. Along with many others I love the list of ‘disgraceful’ things Jenny Joseph says she will do in her poem Warning – ‘When I am old I shall wear Purple, With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.’ If you don’t know this poem it is worth looking up, however, some of the things she warns that she might do seem old-fashioned for today.

A good friend of mine went to her first belly dance lesson at the age of sixty … as I already do that I started wondering what I can take up when I get to that age. One of the most enjoyable afternoons I had recently was when sons 2 and 4 took me rock climbing. This is only the second time I have done this (first time in my forties with the WI!) but I got a real buzz from it.

This train of thought led onto the ‘bucket list’ that has become popular, a wish list of things to do or see before you die (or reach a certain age). So I’ve started compiling mine, not necessarily ‘disgraceful’ things, more adventurous, exciting or unusual things to try, see, experience. What would be on your list?

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One day….

Just over two weeks ago I performed a first – the first time I trimmed our goats’ hooves. Usually this is a job for the husband but he was away and the job needed doing. With my father on hand to advise (he has had plenty of experience at this task but at 85 finds goat wrestling a little difficult) we set to.

Luring the six nannies (or does as they seem to call these Boer goats) out of their field and into a pair of connected goat houses was easier than I had expected, even if it did present a funny picture as I ran ahead rattling a small white bucket, quarter full of sugar-beet pellets and calling, ‘come on then’ followed by galloping goats, ears all a-flapping, until I dived in through one door, ducked through the connecting door between the houses and led them right through (to where I had placed a trough of cut-up veg to stop them in their tracks) then I slipped out through the other pen gate and round to close the connecting door between the houses. I was exhausted but we had only just started!

One by one we brought the goats out to the stand. Now these goats are smaller than the ones we were used to and I took a small wooden stool to sit on so that I didn’t have to kneel on the damp concrete. With my legs stuck out under the goat I tipped a goat foot up and started working, paring away the outer hoof and then the inner, carefully so as not to go too far. When it came to Peggy, the oldest and heaviest, she decided to fold up her legs and sit her whole weight on my legs! And as for the youngest, Nougat, no way was she going to be led anywhere… I had to pick her up and carry her out! Not only did this process take me nearly three hours start to finish but the hard wooden stool left my rear-end bruised for days!!

Today, prior to their sharing their field with the Billy (or buck as they call the male Boer goats) we did the whole process again, but with the husband doing the honours trimming the hooves and me just doing the herding, catching and fussing (to keep them peaceful) while he worked. Six females and one male goat done in a hour and a half!

Just as well because (after a good hot shower to de-goatify myself) I had an appointment to take a selection of new slate based products to a shop in a local market town, to see if they wished to stock these items. This is a shop that specialises in things grown or made in Cornwall so I had made some of my usual designs (salt and pepper pinch-pots, tea-light stand, heart-shaped coasters and hang-ups) but used reclaimed Delabole slate to base them on. Delabole, for those of you outside Cornwall, is a famous slate quarry on the north Cornish coast producing a beautiful soft-grey slate (colour not hardness). However, as it ages and the weather affects it, as lichens grow on it and the sun bleaches, it mutates to the most delicate shades of colours, with browns and gold from traces of iron pyrites, shiny sparkles of mica and silica and the original soft grey all intermingled. Of course to find this you have to scrape and rub off all the grime, and not every reclaimed slate responds the same, but it is well worth it when you find the pretty ones.

This evening I finished off and packaged up thirty Cornish slate fridge magnets that I have been making on and off over the weekend, then chaired a WI committee meeting, ‘cooked’ twenty slate cheeseboards and olive-oil conditioned them and wrote this blog….

 

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Making Jam and writing this blog at the same time!

I am making Jam! Right now… while the bowl of fruit and sugar bubbles safely in the microwave I am using the eight minutes, until it is ready for a stir and to reset microwave time and power to simmer, to start this blog.

Jam making is one of my ‘other passions’, it takes hold of me when I find beautiful free or cheap fruit and I have a bit of time. I have my regular jams to make, the blackcurrant which is the staple jam on our table is made from fruit harvested from our garden and frozen, so this is often made as required, five jars at a time (this being the maximum quantity I can make in the microwave in the largest Pyrex bowl I have). I cannot resist making apricot jam when in France in the summer and boxes are being sold cheap in the markets and supermarkets, we eat apricots, make desserts out of apricots and then make jam from the rest – enough to take back to use at home for the rest of the year, each spoonful crammed full of the flavour of summer.

Right now, hang on… ok stirred and set to simmer for another 8mins…right now, I am making Bullace jam. This year the small semi-wild trees in our orchard hedge that bear these slightly smaller, slightly sharper, damson like fruit have been heavy with their glossy bloomed and black fruit, so I mused that I might try making some jam with them, perhaps just one batch of 5 jars as I haven’t made jam with these before and as I adapt my WI preserves book recipes (WI recipes are the best!) to make them suitable for the microwave as I go, I usually do a smaller sample first, however, M immediately went out and picked a box full – about 7lbs (yes I still work in imperial when cooking) which was enough for 15 jars!

So, problem… not enough sugar, in fact not enough even for the first batch (I was only musing remember) and it is Saturday afternoon. So, I hear you think, just go and buy some. Well, I always buy my sugar from my village post office and stores and that is closed on a Saturday afternoon – it’s part of my effort to support this shop in the hope that it will stay viable, so I don’t want to buy it elsewhere and elsewhere would also mean a drive into the nearest town, when I would prefer not to take a car journey for just one thing, part of an effort for the environment.

So the fruit goes into the cold room until Sunday morning, when I can pick up the sugar at the shop and take it into church with me (opposite the shop) and bring back after the service.

Ok…I’ve just put a small spoonful on a plate in the fridge to see if its ready to set and poured boiling water into recycled jam jars and put them in the microwave to boil away happily for a few minutes.

Already… the jars are done, I’ve put the jam back in the microwave to bring it to the boil again, the test shows a decent set…bullace are high in pectin and so I was on to a winner there.

 

Continued 2 days later…. it didn’t take 2 days to make… just 2 days to get back to my blog!

Fifteen jars of gorgeous looking jam now stand on the shelf in the cold room, alongside this year’s apricot. Yum!

 

My Microwave Recipe: makes about 5lb of jam.

2 ¼ lbs damsons or bullace – washed, stalks removed

3 tablespoons of water   (this is the main ingredient difference in using a microwave)

3lb sugar.

Butter – walnut sized piece (it really makes a difference to the finished product)

1, Place bullace and water in large* Pyrex or similarly heat proof microwave safe bowl, covered, 10 mins high power to soften fruit. (*large enough to hold at least twice the amount of fruit you are putting in it)

2, Stir and squash fruit to help release the stones, further 6 – 8 mins until stones come free of the flesh.

3, Using a slotted  spoon lift out as many of the stones as possible and drop into large-hole colander to squash off as much of fruit and skin as possible to return to the fruit pulp – discard the stones ( a few stones remaining in the pulp do not matter and adds to the home made feel of the jam)

4, Re-heat for about 3 mins to bring back up to simmer.

5, Add sugar and stir in well, add butter and make sure it melts.

6, Lid off, bring up to the boil again in MW – about 8 – 10 mins.

7, Stir well and put back into MW to simmer for 8 mins

8, Stir well, and put back into MW to simmer for 8 mins and check for set (place a teaspoon of jam mix on a cold plate – pop back in fridge – will show a set if the jam skin forms wrinkles and feels thick when finger is pushed though it when cool)

9, Into well washed jars pour about 1 cm (half an inch) of boiling water, place in microwave on full power for 3 – 4 mins until the water boils in the jars. Take care and tip them out well and stand to evaporate the last bit of water while you re-heat the jam mix

10, If a set is demonstrated by your test – return jam mix to microwave and heat until bubble appear then remove from microwave and ladle into hot jars. (if no set then simmer for another 3 mins and retest, continue until a set is demonstrated)

11, Cover with clear jam-covers as per instructions with the packet, and label.

12, Enjoy!

 

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