Friday, October 31, 2014

Gubbeen, the story of a working farm and its foods.

Loud hooting on the drive late yesterday afternoon, just before dusk; and it reminds us how life has changed over thirty years. A box of books has arrived thanks to Amazon. It actually comes right up to the kitchen door, imagine that; in rural Andalusia, a part of the country where citizens who live in the middle of the countryside are ignored as far as the postal service is concerned. The internet is miraculous!

Another miracle is the Gubbeen book (3 copies; one for us and 2 for friends), Giana Ferguson's story of family life on the raw edge of the Mizen Peninsula in South West Ireland. Well it's perhaps not so raw as Beara with its rocks rising to the sky, but it's still a place of winter gales and driving rain, and it's where the land has been worked and tamed over the centuries to create pasture from bog.

Reading through the book fills me with admiration. I'm a lover of Gubbeen Cheese, and I love these stories of the hard work, and the commitment to a project (or four!) and of how life has evolved at Gubbeen. I'm instantly pulled back to the place, to the warm and cluttered kitchen, the farmyard, the humungous pig which lay in state last time we were there; and the then newly growing charcuterie business which Fingal, Giana's son had started to build up. He showed us proudly around his new home, where, above his bed a small round window framed the distant view of the Fastnet Rock  like a vignette.

When we were there, Clovisse had just started out on her  project of a garden producing herbs, saladings and vegetables, grown in harmony with flowers, to attract bees for pollinating or flying predators to take care of the pests .

Having just written our own Buenvino Cookbook, which came out in April, I can appreciate the effort which has gone into the lovely Gubbeen book. Lord knows how Giana found the time to do it; at least here, where we live from tourism, rather than from food production (although these things do go on here on a small scale), we have downtime in the winter. It's a time for regeneration (the writing of  a book maybe), and time to touch up the paintwork and give the place a fresh look.


Yesterday morning I was up early to the small poly tunnel where we grow our winter salads and herbs, determined to give the new lettuces a gentle spray before the sun came over and raised the greenhouse temperature to something fierce; even though the door is open.

There was a gallumping sound of pigs' hooves galloping across our attempt at a citrus grove ( we are almost too high for citrus, with hard frosts on  winter nights).

The pigs had wormed their way under the fence separating their  cork oak enclosure from the struggling orange trees, and now one of the pigs had come to investigate, grabbing the rather shredded polythene of the greenhouse between his teeth and tugging hard. I turned the hose to the 'hard squirt' position and gave him one in the snout. Happily he drank and dribbled and then returned to the attack.

The pigs are used to an early morning bucket of grain, and of course they get any leftover greens, surplus quinces and pears, figs, cabbage stalks and so on, to supplement their diet of cork oak acorns. So I made off sharp to the shed and filled the bucket before there could be any more damage done to my precious plastic.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A year of Rush....Rush.....Rush! Now bucolic autumn is here, with fewer guests and time for blogging.

I'm horrified to see that I have not blogged for almost exactly a year, which must make our having a blog something almost entirely useless as far as publicity goes.

 It's good to be back with some time on my hands - enough time to sit and write a little once or twice a week - and it's strange to look at the images of last years' mushroom crop, when we are going through the same thing once more.

The weather pattern may have changed a little from 2013, with our relatively cool summer; but after September downpours and temperatures dropping, we  once again have a scorching October.

It's been almost 30ÂșC once or twice this week, and although our pool has theoretically been "closed" since September ( we put the sun beds away), and we have had the fires lit, and put the eiderdowns back on the beds (all that three weeks ago, with torrents falling out of the sky, and thunder blasting our telephone to phone), we now have this second burst of gentle summer-like weather; guests swimming in the pool, evening drinks on the terrace until it gets too dark.

The quince trees are heavily laden this year with the branches straining and snapping with the weight of the fruit, so we went down and picked crates and crates of lemon yellow fruit and Jeannie has been making jars of quince jelly,  bowls of carne de membrillo and we have been baking the fruit in sugar syrup and making compotes and 'quince snow'.

We were out mushrooming with Melanie Denny from La Casa Noble in Aracena yesterday, and in a moment of excitement when we were gathering some Caesar's Mushrooms I must have put down my blackthorn stick with the burr handle, and walked on without it.  I see from the link that I could buy a new one, but it's not as beautiful as the old one with the real sharp thorns on it.

I have since walked up and down through the cork forest several times and have not been able to spot my stick. Maddening as it is not just a trusty clambering companion, but a thing of beauty and almost 100 years old.

Mushrooming is a wonderful occupation; almost like meditation. You wander slowly up and down the forested hill, and you observe nature. The bracken has turned to yellow and rust. The new autumn grass is bright green, and the coloured leaves are dropping. The splash and gurgle of the stream tells you that the aquifer is replenishing itself; the rain has washed away the plague of late summer flies, and through the crystalline silence of the forest you can hear the sudden sharp pecking of a woodpecker. Now and then the thud of a chestnut falling, or an acorn dropping from the cork trees reminds you that the pigs have to be out to wander in the woods; but not until the chestnuts have been harvested and taken to the cooperative.

The sheep have started lambing, so we have fenced them into the fallow orchard, where they have plenty of new autumn grass, and windfall apples and pears. We miss the tinkle and clank of their bells as they pass by below the house, crossing the steep forrested slope to get to a warmer hilltop resting place at night, when the temperatures cool down.