The mad cow

On Sunday, we acquired some highland cattle: a cow, a heifer (young cow), and a calf. Highland cattle are famous for having huge shaggy hides and enormous horns.

The heifer decided that she wasn’t very interested in living with us, and wandered through our fences. Effortlessly.

Then she went through the fence into the property of our neighbours, Martin and Gail. So we rang them, in a fairly embarrassed way, and they said they’d have her sorted out in a jiffy.

But it was not to be. She went through a couple of their fences, and then into the property of another neighbour, Mark. He joined the hunt too, and she went through a couple of his fences for good measure.

After quite some time, Mark (with a little help from me) got her into his stockyards, where she ran around like a cartoon bull.

We don’t have any interest in having such a beast on our property, so we’ve arranged to have her cubed and minced. So we’ll be eating much more beef for the foreseeable future. We’ll have a go at tanning the hide, and making drinking cups from the horns.

The other cow, whom we have named Heather after the previous owner, is very much more placid, and has eaten from my hands. She will be an asset to the property.

Christmas cometh

On Sunday, we had a trial for some of the dishes we’re serving at our Medieval Christmas in July fundraiser for the not-for-profit Goulburn Club. The tasting panel was our wwoofers Alice, Sean and Pat, our guest Sarah, our friend Jane and her friend Ilyas. We tried our Scots Chicken Pot (a tasty chicken soupy-stew in the second course) as well as a Fish and Berry Pie and a traditional boiled christmas pudding. We also did a walnut tart and some dates stuffed with marzipan, but they were always going to work.

The fish and berry pie tasted good, though the berries turned the fish a grey-purple colour which was not so appealing. Should be fine by candlelight. We cut out heraldic dolphins in pastry on the top of the pies, which looked great. We had some issues with side-splatter in the casserole dishes — Jane suggested some vents cut in the pastry, which we’ll do next time.

Our cloth pudding technology is not all that good, so we were experimenting a bit. My grandmothers probably knew how to do these, but the art has been lost. We made two puddings, with different bag and tie arrangements. One was a failure, and other got a pass mark. Our conclusion is that we need to flour the pudding cloth on both sides, and to tie the bag more tightly though not super-tightly. We may go for one more prototype before the big event (which is 11 July) though that may not be a good proposition for my waistline.

Nobody knows what a medieval festive pudding would have been like. The early documented puddings were haggis-like things made with whatever they could get, even porpoise on special occasions.

Pottages were boiled concoctions, usually made with dried starchy peas, with ground-up vegetables and bits of meat. In the 1400s they made “standing” (dried) pottages including dried fruit to preserve them. These could be taken on long trips and military campaigns, and rehydrated somehow before use. I have found no written evidence of this, but I would not be surprised to find that these were carried around in linen or hempen bags, and boiled in the bags in the same pots used for boiling salted pork.

I expect that the longest-keeping puddings would be those that had honey or sugar to help preserve them, and just the more solid animal fats like suet. In military campaigns, I expect that boiled puddings would have been an expensive and rare relief from salted pork and hard biscuit. Our recipe includes lots of dried fruit, some carrot and apple, and beer. And it’s quite yummy. Sarah flamed our pudding with brandy, which provides a wonderful ceremony for the pudding, so we’ll do that at the feast too.

If anyone’s interested, the final menu for Medieval Christmas in July is:

Mulled wine
Venyson cofyns (individual venison pies)
Roast pork
Appelmoy (apple sauce with ground almonds)
Rosted onions and betes  (roast onions and beets)
Carrots with verjuice (verjuice is a piquant sauce from unripe grapes)
Walnut tarte (a quiche)
Salat (medieval salad with fresh herbs and dried figs)
Burrebread (shortbread)
Swetemeats (fruit and nut delicacies)

Scots chicken pot (a chicken stew with raisins)
Mushrooms with cheese
Fish and berry pie
An Elizabethan christmas pudding with custard
Berry foole (berries and whipped cream with meringue pieces)
Comfits (candied fennel and coriander seeds)

Delight and disappointment

On Saturday morning, Kruiser and Viggo the alpacas arrived. That’s the breeder’s names for them. Both are boys, and their duties will include protecting sheep from foxes. Truth to tell, they are really there to add a little extra interest to the farm. They will have a special role for our Purple Event in January; more on that later.

Also on Saturday, we got our first call from WIRES for a rescue mission.  We headed down the Federal Highway then the Tarago Road, and found a young kangaroo caught in a fence.  It had probably been there a few hours.  It was a bit little to jump this fence, and got its feet caught between the top two wires, one barbed.  Its momentum had then thrown it over the fence, crushing its feet between the wires.

We cut it out of the fence, and it was shivering in shock and biting our towel in pain.  We took it home for the night and left its covered box in in the wwoofers’ laundry.

In the morning, we carried the box to the muscovy yard, and tried to coax it out of the box.  It seemed in better shape, but couldn’t put any weight on its legs.

So we took the joey to the vet, who advised that at least one leg was badly broken, and that these animals are very prone to muscle breakdown.  So they euthenased the poor little blighter.  A sad conclusion but, as the WIRES co-ordinator said, a better end than hanging upside-down on a fence for a couple of days.

The fingers of winter

Allison and I were both in Canberra last Friday, when the *maximum* temperature for the day was 4.1 degrees Celsius. Tuggeranong, just a little further south, only got to 2.9 degrees. A most miserable day.

Meanwhile, in Goulburn they were basking in much warmer temperatures at 9.1 degrees. Actually we’ve had some sunny mornings recently in Goulburn, and a couple of days reaching 15 degrees, which is quite pleasant if there’s no wind.

For the coming week, the Bureau is forecasting tops of 12-13 in Canberra, and just 11 in Goulburn. So it’s not always better on the farm.

We’re a week from the winter solstice, and the days are short. This morning there was thick ice on the windscreen — multiple light showers overnight adding up to a thick coating.

As we passed Lake George this morning, it went from clear with golden light, into thick fog the rest of the way into Canberra. Heavy fog makes for a tiring trip into Canberra, as you have to watch carefully for cars looming up through the mist.

On the farm, many small projects are progressing, as the weather allows. We’re ramping up for our Medieval Christmas in July event, which we’re running for the Goulburn Club.

A cracker of a weekend

What a weekend.  Allison’s family, and various friends, took over the guest house, and the wwoofers moved in with us.

The highlight was a bonfire, burning up some big stumps.  We had crackers too, which somebody obtained from the ACT where they may still be purchased.

In the ACT, fireworks are legal and popular.  On our side of the border, using fireworks is punishable by a $27,500 fine.

We were not the only farm in our area setting off fireworks — I heard them from at least two other directions.

It’s an interesting discussion point.  Obviously, children playing with fireworks has led to many serious injuries over the years.  But with reasonable precautions and adults setting them off, fireworks are quite safe, and that was the widespread experience in the ACT this year.

As far as I can tell, the main pressure to criminalise fireworks comes from the animal welfare lobby.  Many animals get scared and run away from their owners.

What is the Nanny State’s justification for getting involved?  You want to prevent injuries?  OK, ban cars too, and fast food.  (Perhaps we shouldn’t give the regulators ideas…)

If we have to have regulation, make it light.  By all means nominate a Cracker Night weekend, preferably with a fallback weekend if it’s raining.  Pet owners can keep their animals indoors those nights.

Beyond that, the government is welcome to educate people on the dangers, but not to exaggerate them.  I’d rather they put their energies into making the hospitals and schools work.

(confessed criminal)

The prodigal wwoofer is back

We are delighted to have Pat back.  Pat (with Nicky) was our first wwoofer, and stayed with us for four months.

After us, he went to a fabulous wwoof host at Mallacoota with their own jetskis and helicopter, then headed to Melbourne, along the spectacular Great Ocean Road to Adelaide, off to Kangaroo Island, through Coober Pedy to Uluru, then up to Darwin via Kakadu.  Then across to Cairns and back down the coast to us.

This route is a popular one with backpackers, a pretty good cross-section of Australia in a reasonable time.  Pat’s sorry that he hasn’t been to Western Australia or Tasmania, also well regarded by the backpacker community.  The prospect of driving across the Nullarbor to Perth in Pat’s little car horrifies me.

Pat’s favourite place was the Litchfield National Park near Darwin, famous for its waterfalls.

Anyway, we’re delighted to have Pat back.  Some of our wwoofers have become good friends, and some have even become family.

It’s June now, and we’re theoretically closed to wwoofers.  We still have Sean and Alice from South Korea here, and I guess we will still have them as long as they want to cook Korean masterpieces on Wednesday nights.  Between Sean and Alice and Pat we have a number of craft projects underway, and hopefully we’ll post some photos soon.

With Pat back, we did return to our old habit of playing the ‘500’ card game after dinner.  It was like old days, with Pat winning an Open Misère just when he looked like going out backwards.