Sumer Is Icumen In

beltane_dawn2018

Finally, after what has been pretty much universally acknowledged as a thoroughly miserable winter followed by an atrocious spring 2018, a glorious Beltane sunrise appears to have heralded-in a spot of decent weather.

And no sooner has the sun popped-out but the entire place has taken on a rather tropical look; with hedges, lawns, paddocks and the wood beside us all suddenly exploding into life. It’s amazing how nature tends to pick up the slack and get itself back on track when it needs to; however, one suspects that this gorgeously warm spell will also result in more than few aching backs and corresponding long soaks in Epsom salt-laden baths.

And so, in the space of no more than a few days, we move from packing the pigs with additional bedding straw to refilling their wallows several times a day and offering cooling hose-downs on a regular basis. As always though, the Tamworths are taking it all in their stride and seem to be entirely happy with the Mediterranean conditions that we’re all currently being treated to. They really are remarkable creatures.

veggies_05may18

Not so remarkable is our ability to cope with a little hard graft. Now that the rain has stopped and the paddock has dried-out, we’ve been going like the clappers to make up for time hitherto lost to foul weather.

This has involved a rapid re-digging of our vegetable plots before planting several hundred onions & garlic sets, a similar amount of potatoes, beans, peas and other sundry legumes, which will hopefully get us back on track as far as our veggie growing’s concerned.

The raised beds are now in their third season and, with last autumn’s application of several tons of well-rotted cow dung, the soil within them is now really rather spectacular. Here’s hoping that we’re in for a bumper harvest as compensation for such a stinker of a start to our year!

And finally for now, and ostensibly as a post-script to the previous posting, you’ll no doubt be delighted to learn that work on the polytunnel goes on a pace. Through heartless press-ganging of unsuspecting houseguests into the thankless task of digging post-holes in ground heaving with granite lumps of various sizes, we’re finally at a stage where the (extremely well-anchored) frame can start to go up.

At this rate we’ll have it fully functional just as I start to draw my pension.

Surely some mistake? No rain!?

pigs_23apr17

What we’re seeing here is sunshine on ginger pigs. I mention this, as here on Dartmoor it rather feels like we haven’t seen the sun in several years – not least the pigs, who really only experienced this sensation for the first time earlier in the week.

Given that the poor little blighters have had to endure some truly grim conditions since they landed at Greedy Pig HQ, it’s a minor miracle that they’re even here to tell to tale, let alone piling on the weight and generally thriving. Nevertheless, thriving they are, which is testament to the hardiness of the Tamworth breed and the main reason why it’s unlikely we’ll be moving on to other flavours of pig… we’re confirmed ginger addicts.

So, several weeks later than intended, we’re finally at a point where we can turn over the veg-beds and get ready for planting-out. The paddock mower has put in it’s first appearance of the year and next week we’ll be welcoming long-time chums Pammy & Jonny for a weekend in the country, having first extorted promises from them of assistance in finally putting up the polytunnel. Exciting times!

Still waiting for spring to arrive…

pigs_07apr18

OK, the snow is (hopefully) a thing of the past; however, we’re still in the middle of a rainy season of near-biblical proportions and it’s starting to become a little tiresome now.

March saw Devonshire gaining the dubious distinction of being the wettest place in Britain, with double the average monthly rainfall for the time of year depositing itself on the county (the majority seemingly landing right here) and sadly it doesn’t look like the foul weather is letting-up as we move into April.

Despite our concerns during the coldest spells the weaners have sailed through the whole thing with flying colours, braving the snow with complete abandon and facing-up to the following deluge like real troopers. Likewise, the rescue hens seem to be entirely happy to wander about in the rain, clucking, scratching and grubbing for worms like it was the middle of summer – this, despite the fact that nearly all of them are missing a fair few feathers and looking more than a little bedraggled.

On the laying front we’re currently inundated, with an average of seven or eight eggs a day appearing in nesting boxes. Last week saw a haul of ten eggs in a single day, which means that not only are our new arrivals in full swing but the pensioners (whom we had presumed to be beyond their laying days) are back in production too, so we’re currently knocking out cakes, lemon curd and other sundry egg-based fancies like there’s no tomorrow. Also, anyone foolish enough to come near the house leaves with the gift of egg… whether they like it or not.

eggs_06apr18

Sadly, this joyful fecundity does not extend to the entire household. With the weather having set itself firmly against us we’re now several weeks late in getting onions, garlic and potatoes into veg-beds, whilst we’ve had to hold back on the usual ritual of filling every windowsill in the house with trays of sundry seedlings, simply because the soil is still so cold and boggy.

To make matters worse, the chitting potatoes that have been stored in the workshop have clearly succumbed to the unseasonal winter blast and well over half have gone rotten, so we’re going to have to start again, assuming stocks are still to be had. The hedgerows have yet to really burst into any semblance of spring colour and the ramsoms on the drive (much sought-after for fresh pesto, bear garlic lasagne and other drool-inducing loveliness) are only just getting to a point where they can be harvested – almost a month behind last year’s crop.

All in all it has been a long and unpleasant winter, with spring showing very little sign of picking up the slack just yet. One can only hope that at some point soon the Dartmoor weather gods will decide to show their benevolence and redress the meteorological balance with a spell of sunshine and blue skies.

In fact, I’m off to build a wicker man to speed the process along…

Just when you think it’s all plain sailing…

snow_18mar18

Things all went a little bit bonkers at the weekend, with at least six inches of snow arriving from nowhere and dumping itself onto the paddock. As always, the timing of this one was entirely terrible – primarily as the pigs are still only nine week old tiny-tots and therefore far from being fully geared-up for adverse weather conditions.

Additionally, this unscheduled winter wonderland arrived at precisely the same time we took delivery of another half-dozen rescue hens, all of whom are now of the firm opinion that they’ve gone directly from the frying pan to the fire.

Proof, yet again, that the Dartmoor weather gods are fickle gods.

So, the poultry which we were hoping to segregate evenly across the capacious Chickenopolis estate for a few days have instead spent the last 48 hours on lock-down in the chicken run, so one can only imagine that it has been like a feathery version of ‘Bad Girls’ in there. Luckily though, there are no obviously major casualties about the place, despite there being a fair haul of feathers strewn about the place right now.

Going back to the piglets, they’re basically living in an igloo at the bottom of the garden but nevertheless, and despite some really major misgivings about how well they would hold-up to such inclement weather, when last checked they were all merrily buried in three-foot-deep barley straw at the centre of what turns out to be a surprisingly warm & cosy ark. At breakfast feed time this morning I was more than a little tempted to crawl-in and grab forty winks myself!

In conclusion then, Monday morning is finally here and the amber weather warning is a thing of the past, the icicles outside my office window are slowly starting to thaw and the sun is shining once again. Obviously, the next thing we can look forward to is the inevitable tsunami of mud that this alpine adventure will leave us to deal with… although, on balance, when compared to the recent snow & ice I know which I’d rather be dealing with.

We’re back in business!

batch2_15mar18

Last Sunday saw the day starting with the trusty charabanger taking to the mean streets of Devonshire on a mission to scoop-up another batch of weaners.

Predictably, what began as a sunny, blue-skied day quickly deteriorated into the misty, rain-filled ghastliness which has become the norm this winter; however, regardless of the foul weather, by mid-morning we were officially back in the pig business!

As you can see, the lure of the ginger pig was too strong to resist and so, after months of debating whether to go for Mangalitsas, Oxford Sandy & Blacks, Large Blacks or Gloucester Old Spots, we finally opted for a repeat performance of our first batch at Yarner Lodge,  with three rather tiny, rather gorgeous Tamworth piglets tumbling out of the back of the trailer and into the paddock.

As you can see from the photo above, the girls are still a little ‘stand-offish’ and this hasn’t been helped by the atrocious weather that we’ve been enduring this week – the seemingly constant rain and icy blasts of wind have rather restricted our new arrivals to barracks. Nonetheless, they’re happy enough – eating plenty, drinking plenty, crapping plenty and, when the weather allows, already getting down to the important work of ploughing-up everything in their way.

The ark is rammed to the rafters with bedding straw, so hopefully our latest arrivals will be happy to hunker-down and sleep through the cold snap that is forecast to arrive over the weekend. Once we’ve got through that one, we have our fingers crossed that this rather unpleasantly soggy winter will finally clear off and make way for some form of half-decent springtime. Roll on Easter and spud-planting!

Hang on. With you shortly…

pigpen_feb18

So the idea was to have fresh stock in the paddock by now, with yet more ginger pigs scheduled to arrive via the trusty charabanger over this past weekend. However, it seems that there has been a bit of a mix-up with dates, meaning that our weaners are still only about six weeks old and so, apart from the fact that they could do with staying with mum for a while longer whilst they really get to grips with the concept of becoming fully independent, it’s highly likely that the poor little mites would struggle to survive the current ‘Beast from the East’ weather which we’re experiencing. At this stage, the received wisdom is to keep piglets housed in around twenty-eight degrees of heat. Given that today, with wind-chill, the Met Office tells us it’s supposed to get down to around minus five, now doesn’t seem to be the best time to be welcoming the patter of tiny feet. Introducing the new batch to outdoor living is probably best left until slightly less refrigerated times.

The revised arrival date is 11th March, by which time it’ll hopefully be looking a little more Spring-like around here. This also gives us a little more time to charge the fence batteries, disinfect the feeders & scrub the pig ark and so, whilst we’re keen to get cracking (or is that crackling?), things are probably working out for the best.

Nor any drop to drink… for a bit

drought

Most of the time, knowing that the water flowing from our taps comes straight off the moors is a rather splendid thing. Unsullied by chemical intervention (although passed through UV filtration before reaching us) we’re treated daily to beautifully sweet, heather-tinged water which has come to us through many layers of Dartmoor peat and granite before landing in the glass (kettle, washing machine, shower or loo, for that matter).

Sometimes though, this rustic idyll isn’t quite all it’s cracked-up to be – and that was the case last night when, upon attempting to fill the kettle for a mid-evening brew, our hitherto aqueous cupboard was found to be somewhat bare.

At this point, being plumbed into the mains and having an innocent victim trapped in a South West Water call centre to shout at seemed a far, far better state of affairs than our bespoke off-grid solutions, of which we’d previously been quite smugly proud. Suddenly, from nowhere, life had all become very Stig of the Dump, with visions of long trips to far-flung moorland springs, weighed-down by a miscellany of buckets, bottles, jugs & vases suddenly coming into sharp relief. Cue typhoid, dysentery and cholera rife across the lands, pitched battles with neighbouring clans over water rights, fighting-off wild dogs, pigs & chickens turned feral and vicious by thirst – all of these imagined horrors kicked-in about ten seconds after the last feeble gurgle issued from the kitchen tap.

And so began a seemingly endless evening of hankering for large glasses of water (not normally our nocturnal tincture of choice), insatiable longing to rinse out socks & handkerchiefs for no apparent reason, and a near-hysterical need to pointlessly flush toilets at random. Torture!

Fast forward to a fitful night’s sleep spent dreaming of Saharan sand dunes, lunar landscapes and weekend camping trips to Patagonia. In the middle of all this somnambulant mania though, when the hours were at their wee-est and smallest, the household was suddenly awoken by ominous demonic rumblings from above, later identified as the header tank in the attic gurgling into life as the cold water feed suddenly turned itself back on. We were saved!

As I type, we still have no clue as to what the hell happened last night and why the moorland water gods temporarily forsook us; however, I can confirm that we’re still very much in the running water business right now and so have spent the morning dashing around the house, flushing toilets, running showers, putting in loads of laundry and guzzling glasses of H20 with gay abandon. The plumber is due to call at some point, to offer a clean bill of health to our pipes & drains; however, in the meantime you’ll find me down at the bottom of the garden, building a shrine to Juturna.

Jams “R” Us

jam_ahoy

After a frantic few days of preparation, last Sunday saw us heading off for our first ever market, with the Greedy Pig’s Pantry logo emblazoned upon a whole host of jams, curds, pickles, tinctures & liqueurs.

Given that neither of us has any great experience in flogging home-made wares to unsuspecting punters at country house Christmas fairs, the first hour or so was a little nervy, with the two of us constantly rearranging the serried assemblage of conserves and generally dithering about the place looking awkward. After a while the penny finally dropped that we were acting more than a little ‘Edward & Tubbs Tattsyrup‘ and so we opted for a tag-team approach for the rest of the day. This strategy was clearly the way forward as we then went on to sell a huge amount of produce, clearing over 90% of the stock we took with us (and therefore 90% of the stock we have to sell – full stop).

Apart from gathering-in piles of filthy lucre, the thing that struck me as most heartening was the response which we managed to elicit from the folks visiting our little stand. In almost every case we received entirely positive noises – concerning the brand itself, the logo and label artwork, about the choice of jars & bottles we’d opted for and, last but not least, the quality of the jams, pickles & tinctures we were trying-out on willing guinea pigs throughout the day. As far as maiden voyages go this one was pretty much the perfect event – and a surprisingly pleasant way to spend a chilly December Sunday.

Certainly, the whole experience has had a profound impact upon our general attitudes toward selling Greedy Pig’s Pantry products via the market stall, and so the new year will undoubtedly find us scouring local papers for signs of artisan food fairs, farmers markets, spring fayres and the like.

Turns out we’re more competent retailers than we’d anticipated. We even managed to get the card machine to work!

Chorizo is the way forward

charcuterie01

OK, so the six weeks we had to wait before finding out whether we’d managed to create an even vaguely palatable bit of charcuterie were pretty tiresome; however, the old adage about good things coming to those who wait clearly still rings true, as it seems that we have ended up creating some fairly spectacular chorizo from our Tamworth pork.

This whole charcuting business is becoming rather addictive and so, despite the fact that we now have more chorizo in the larder than one might reasonably shake a good-sized stick at, the basic components of (a rather more hefty) batch two are currently sitting in the fridge, whilst the office is strewn with recipe books as we ponder precisely which route we take next with our continental sausage making adventures.

At the same time, there’s a substantial amount of research going on into the mysterious and arcane world of smoking (the culinary sort – not just the common or garden ‘having a wheeze on a Woodbine’ variety) and so, gentle reader, expect to be regaled with further reports of our forays in to the artisanal world of smoky wursts, salamis and bacon in the very near future. Whether you like it or not.

Fame at last!

yarner_review

A while since our last posting, primarily as things have been a quiet on the piggy front since batch 1 found themselves being relocated to the freezer; however, that’s not to say that we’ve been entirely idle when it comes to launching the Greedy Pig’s Pantry brand and getting a real, live, proper company structure up-and-running. How very grown-up of us!

Along with all the tiresome Companies House/HMRC paperwork that we’ve been wading through, we’ve also been experimenting with further additions to our pickles & preserves repertoire, with Diane cooking-up a storm in anticipation of our first experience of selling to the general public at a Christmas fair in early December. The house has been filled with tummy-rumbling wafts of gently simmering fruits, vinegars and spices in recent days, as the first batch of Greedy Pig’s Pantry Yuletide Apple Pickle is cooked, bottled and stored away to mature in time for the big day. We’ll be following this with a range of jams and curds, and we’re also currently noodling the idea of adding hand-made seasonal sweets (choccy-coated cinder toffee, marzipan bonbons, cinnamon dusted shortbreads and so forth) to the existing bill-of-fayre.

Whilst we rather nervously prepare ourselves for this first sortie into the mysterious world of artisanal retail, things are looking dazzlingly bright as far as our existing outlets are concerned (or, more accurately, outlet – in the singular) with our friends at Yarner House having recently fed our Greedy Pig’s Pantry Sumptuous Strawberry Preserve to a roving reporter from that esteemed organ The Daily Torygraph – presumably with positive results, as we managed a mention in despatches, as you can see by clicking on the image above or the link [here].

sumptuous

Tiny acorns and all that; however, we’re pretty bowled-over with the concept of getting our nascent foodie venture mentioned in the national press, so let’s hope that it’s the first of many positive plaudits. Exciting times here on Dartmoor and there’s plenty more to come!