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I know, a drought is not what anyone would think of in relation to Ireland.  Having had the longest, wettest Winter anyone can remember, we had about a week of Spring, then straight to Summer.

Not just any old Summer though.

The temperatures have been crazy.  Many days here in Tipperary have been over 30 degrees Celsius. It was lovely to have that beautiful sunshine, and to be able to just pull on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt.

Weeks into it and things are looking very serious.

There is a ‘hose’ ban in place for the entire country until at least the end of July.

We are so very glad we stuck with the plan and maintained our own well.

We, thankfully, have sufficient water.

You’d be astonished at how much water hens and ducks drink.  Pigs need water to drink but also to wallow.  Pigs roll in wet mud to protect themselves from the sun – pig sunscreen!

Our 1,000 litre rain barrel is almost empty, but we have 2 smaller ones on standby.

We’ve watched our neighbours hauling 10+ tonnes of water for their cattle every day!  They are pumping water from a stream/spring to supplement their mains supply.  Can you imagine the effort involved in that?  Can you imagine the extra costs they are incurring?

The grass isn’t growing, and is in fact parched.

Our soft fruits harvest is way down on previous years.  Last year I harvested 6 lbs of raspberries in one day.  This year I’ve only managed to get 2 lbs over the past week!

In conversations recently with city folk, there does seem to be a complete disconnect to just how critical water is to our food supply.  Plants and animals need both sunshine and water to survive.

I am no economist, but I would suggest that fruit and vegetables, in fact all food is going to increase in price, and is going to be in short supply – both for animals and for humans.

Worrying times ahead.

Breakfast

The most important meal of the day.

Certainly one I enjoy, I would rather be late for an appointment than skip breakfast!

Now that we are doing bnb, breakfast has become even more important.  The guests’ breakfast that is.  Ours on the mornings we have guests staying may never happen!

I was listening to Georgina Campbell who runs the annual Irish Breakfast Awards on radio some months back, where she was asked ‘how can you go wrong with breakfast?’.  I loved her answer!  ‘Let’s start with the orange juice’!  And how right is she?  Another guest on that radio programme who I think was a chef at a hotel, pointed out that you can give guests the best dinner in the world, but if they stay overnight and have an awful breakfast… that is going to be their abiding memory.  Again how right?

Here at Oldfarm, I am generally the breakfast cook.  Not everyone wants a ‘cooked’ breakfast, but we always offer freshly squeezed juice, homemade granola and homemade yoghurt.  Then if a guest wants there is the ‘cooked’ option

I never start cooking breakfast until the guests come down stairs.  Is there anything worse in the world than breakfasts that have been kept ‘warm’ somewhere!!!  Yuck!

This is what an Oldfarm breakfast consist of …. take all, some or none!

 

Freshly squeezed orange juice

Homemade granola with homemade yoghurt

Fruit and Yoghurt

seasonal homegrown fruit – fresh or stewed

Poached Egg

Eggs – any which way – from our own hens

Banana Pancakes

Banana Pancakes

Sausages and/or bacon (subject to availability) from our own pigs

Potato Cakes

homemade jams and marmalades, and maybe some of our own honey

Homemade Breads

Selection of homemade organic breads

Tea and/or coffee – real tea (with leaves) and real coffee (French press or Keurig)

Our guests enjoy their breakfasts…. well so they tell us!

When are you coming to stay?  We promise a damn fine breakfast!

Heaven help us!

Yes, a rant is coming up.

We have our own well.  We paid dearly to have the water diviner come and identify the best spot to dig the well.  We paid for the people to come drill many many feet down and connect the pumping system.  We installed the water filtration system.  We have lived happily with our lovely fresh water for 12 years.

Bath time

Then the filtration system packed up.  It seems that most things these days only have a life span of 10 years!  Lots of ‘stuff’ has needed replacing this year.

I digress.

Back to the water system….

Did you know there is a grant of 75% available to install/upgrade water filtration systems?

We did not know this, but discovered this gem of information when talking to one company.  Happy days.

We downloaded the relevant application form for Tipperary, and started going through the various processes.  Tedious but not onerous.

  • get water tested…. tick
  • complete application form ….. tick
  • get quotes from 3 different companies ….. tick
  • get water tested again after fitting of new system …..

We were told that there can be a 6 week delay in getting approval, but if you hand deliver your application it can be processed quicker.

So yesterday morning Alfie drove to Nenagh, handed over the documentation.  Person on counter said that we should get immediate approval, but she’d have colleague call us to confirm.

And here it is folks…..

The colleague called and said we don’t qualify for the grant.

Why?

We are too close to the road, and should connect up to mains water!

Now here’s the thing…. our neighbours are often on ‘boil’ notices for their water.  When this happens where do they go for their water????

They come here for our well water, and are most welcome to.  We have an outside tap and they help themselves.

So now the County Council wants us to use mains water?  And, by the way, the cost (to us) would be treble what a water filtration system will cost us.

As I say heaven help us!  We are willing to look after and maintain our own water system.

And then today it is announced that the government is giving Irish Water millions to upgrade/repair/clean the Irish  water supply system which is in a disgraceful state.

There is so much more that could be said …

but for now rant over.

Growing pigs outdoors in Ireland, ain’t easy.  However, having said that we have been growing pigs outdoors for almost 15 years, so I guess we know a thing or two about it.

Our land is not ideally suited to it – heavy, clay soil – but you do the best you can.

In reality nowhere in Ireland is perfect for growing pigs outdoors.  There are areas of southern England where they have chalk soil that is good.

We have managed to keep our pigs outdoors all year round ever since we started to keep them.  You’ve heard it before – pigs are smart.  If it is too wet, too cold, snowing – they will stay indoors in a bed of straw.

Outdoor raised pigs produce a completely different meat to that of those raised in ‘factory’, or indoors.  Outdoor raised pigs obviously will have greater muscle tone.  While outdoors they are rooting about picking up various trace elements that occur naturally in the ground.

 

We’ve heard many say that there is no ‘standard’ for free-range pork.  Well there is.  Alfie is on the Bord Bia Technical Committee for Pig Meat, and it was Alfie that devised the standard.

Freerange Farmed:  a type of animal husbandry where pigs have free access to fields/woodland with defined boundaries for all or most of their natural life.  They receive their nutritional needs from prepared natural feed or from pasture or forage depending on the season.

We were the first pork producers to achieve ‘free-range status’.  However, and here is the rub…..it means nothing!  Yes, that is true.

The reason it means nothing is that most small producers use small abattoirs and small butchers, and none of these are registered with Bord Bia.  Only the big abattoirs and butchers are registered.  It is not cost effective for the small guys to pay the annual fees to be on the list of registered slaughter houses with Bord Bia.  Similarly, it is not feasible for small producers to take a couple of animals to one of the large processors.

As a consumer you have to ask yourself “what is important to you”?

Do you want to eat meat that has led a natural and healthy life outdoors, being fed organic feed?

Do you want to eat meat that has lead a natural and healthy life outdoors, being fed commercial pig meal which contains GMO soy and maize?

Do you want to eat meat that has been confined to a concrete building all its life, being fed commercial pig meal with  again GMO soy and maize, and I won’t mention antibiotic use?

The decision is yours.

You have the power to change how meat is reared in this country.

Will you vote with your fork?

 

Chocolate Cake

It has been a while since I shared a recipe.  Sorry!

However, this recipe is definitely worth the wait.  It is not mine.  It is a recipe of Trish Deseine’s that was published (I think) in the Irish Times last summer.

I made it numerous times for guests over the course of Summer 2017.  They all asked me to share the recipe, and it is only now I am getting the chance to do so.   Apologies to all!

Trish has very kindly given me permission to share it on here for you all to enjoy.

Chocolate Cake

Ingredients:

  • 170 g butter (at room temperature)
  • 120 g caster sugar
  • 150 g dark brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 210 g flour
  • 120 g cocoa powder
  • 2 teasp baking powder
  • 170 g buttermilk
  • 1 teasp Fleur de Sel

Method:

Preheat oven to 180 deg C.  Grease and line 22 cm sandwich tin.

Beat butter and sugars until mixture becomes foamy.

Add eggs one at a time, beating and scraping down sides as you go.  Add vanilla essence.

Sieve half flour and cocoa into bowl and mix in with spatula.

Add buttermilk and mix again, before adding remaining flour and cocoa and flour de sel.

Pour batter into tine and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.  Test with skewer.

Leave to cool for 5 minutes before tipping out.

Serve with cream and berries.

Note:  This cake also freezes well, if you are planning ahead!

You are all probably fed up of hearing about the ups and downs that have been part of life here at Oldfarm.  And sorry for that.

Life keeps throwing stuff at us, and we have to re-assess and re-imagine.  Does this happen to you?

In my previous life I was a secretary, PA, self-employed (so wore many hats), sold houses, ran a shop, Business Advisor, mentor, trainer, and now I don’t know what I’d call myself!

As you know we changed the ‘business model’ last year, and just grew pigs to order.  That worked reasonably well in that we had 10 happy customers at the end of the year, who were enjoying delicious free-range pork and ham.  Unfortunately, when we sat down and did the sums, it really was not a good financial outcome.

Piglets/Bonhams

A very very small return for a lot of work.

We decided to give it another year.  We thought if we upped the number of pigs/customers we might have a better result.

Sows were pregnant.

Customers were lined up – double the number from 2017.

All was looking good.

Then, disaster struck.  One sow ‘self-aborted’…. yes, pigs can do this.  It can be caused by stress, or they just don’t like being pregnant… anything at all can bring it on.  We suspect that she just didn’t like that we had gone away overnight and a neighbour had fed her!

Second older sow continued with her pregnancy, and gave birth to 4 piglets.  We needed over 20, and had been hoping each sow would at least have 8 each.

Back to doing the sums, and facing the reality that buying in that many bonhams was just not viable.

Another decision had to be made, and we have made it.  After over 12 years of being in the free-range pork business, we are cutting back.

We will continue to keep pigs.  There is no way we could go back to eating ‘shop’ pork and bacon.  Just no way.

We will run our pig-rearing courses where we will continue to share the knowledge we have gained – sometimes the hard way – over the years.  However, now we will just be growing pigs for ourselves and family.

Thank you to all who have supported us.  Thank you to all our loyal customers over the years.

It has not been an easy decision to reach, but we are comfortable with it.

 

Eating More Fish

Little did we know when we moved to the Midlands that it would be so difficult to get fresh fish.  Ireland is an island after all, so you’d expect to be able to get fresh fish anywhere, right?  Even here in North Tipperary it is only an hour to the coast.

Well you can’t.  Local supermarkets stock a very limited amount of fish, and I’m sorry to say of dubious origin.  They may have some salmon and a little bit of white fish.  We have had van salesmen call selling ‘fresh’ fish…. however, it is all frozen ‘square-shaped’ fish, drenched in some god awful sauce.  Not buying that.

For the past 15 years we’ve just got into the habit of buying fresh fish on every trip to Galway.  We invested in a plug in fridge for the car.  This is not an ideal situation, we buy lots of fish, then come home and freeze it, but at least we know it was fresh (and where it was from) when it went into the freezer.

THEN…. along came #eatmorefish, the brain-child of Gannet Fishmongers in Galway.

Since late last year we can now order fish weekly, and it is delivered to the Organic Store in Birr for us to collect each week.  We order by mid-day Wednesday, and it is delivered (by post – this fascinates me!) to the shop for us to collect on Thursday afternoon.

Of course, the first week we ordered we went completely overboard on the amount we bought.

We’ve now got the hang of it, so order 2 or 3 meals per week … on average about €20 spend per week.  The system has encouraged to try different types of fish that are available, and, of course, try out new recipes!  In recent weeks we’ve had clams, mackerel, and red mullet.  We are looking forward to trying lots more.

Mackerel with salsa

This is why the statistic from Thursday night’s What Are You Eating programme that on average Irish people spend 84 c per week on fish, just shocked me!

Do you buy fish?  What would your weekly spend be?