Guests sitting at breakfast were thrilled to see our local fox strolling across the Clump field this morning, taking the air, so to speak. On my return from town this afternoon I took the opportunity to drive around the field where silage was mown, gathered, chopped and removed in a matter of hours rather than days. It was also an opportunity to identify where dead trees and branches need to be cut, removed and chopped into firewood for winter heating fuel. I sat for a few minutes watching a buzzard take off and soar overhead. I’m sure it was on the lookout for a possible meal. Small mammals such as rabbits, weasels and value the cover given to them by the long grass.

The young oaks and beech trees we have planted in recent years have benefited from the heavy rains of the past two years. The house itself is comfortable in the landscape. In one direction, the hill rises from behind the garden wall up to the townland of Ballinareddra; whilst in the other, the land slopes down the shore of to Lough Derravaragh.

The work goes on!

The work goes on! Hedge trimming

Hay-making in my father-in-law’s time was a much slower process. Hay was cut by a horse drawn mower. The cut grass was then turned once or twice, to allow the hay to dry, the hay being put up into small haycocks on the field. This was usually done using manual labour provided by the farm workers themselves. It was thirsty work! Flasks of tea and jam sandwiches would be taken out the field. Mugs were not always returned to the basket, but would be put down when they were empty. Warwick has made a collection of bits of pottery shards he has found as the land has been ploughed and tilled.

Eventually, the haycocks were pulled up onto the hay bogey, taken to the haggard and built into a hayrick. The hayrick was an interesting construction, being supported on upright stones and wooden struts.

Unfortunately the stones,in the haggard here, were moved by a bulldozer in 1979, during the building of the calf shed, before I could save them. Man and machines could wait for no woman least of all me.

Making savoury pin-wheels

Ingredients

Basic White Bread

1kg Bread Flour

1 mg dried Yeast

Salt

Water

Savoury pin-wheels, bread rolls, tomato and olive breads

Savoury pinwheels

Savoury pin wheels

As a child, there was always room at the kitchen table for me. Space cleared, presented with the scraps of pastry, I was told to get on with making my pie! The results were probably inedible, but were always presented to parents, grand-parents or indeed anyone who was visiting. They always went along with the game, pretending to eat the offerings. In reality the scraps of grey pastry probably ended up feeding the birds or hens!

Aunt Cis, (Cecily) was a larger than life character, dart player and keeper of the village W.I. canning machine during WW2. After being disgorged by the rural ‘midland red’ bus at the end of the very long cottage garden, told to ”come in quickly”, welcomed with huge hugs whilst being told I was getting very tall, just like my mother. My grandmother’s basket would be ceremonially emptied of eggs, home made jams, always a quarter of tea*, soft fruit from my grandfather’s garden and always a bunch of roses or sweet-peas.

We were told of the importance of keeping the kitchen free from draughts, so that the bread would not ‘fall’. Clearing a space at the end of the table she would cut a piece from the enormous mound of dough on the table. So hands washed, clean tea-towel tied round my waist and go to it! Knead until the dough was elastic and as smooth as a baby’s bum; until I could see the small bubbles of air trapped under the surface of the dough. Divide the dough one third and two thirds.  Shaped into balls, flatten slightly and damp the bottom of the small ball, press onto the top of the larger round. Push the handle of a wooden spoon into the middle of the dough. Make slits round the edge of the top round. Allow to rise. The slits opened up during cooking to make a decoration on the top of the cottage loaf. When ‘proved’, brush the bread with milk and put straight into hot oven. 400°F. Now wait. This wait was interminable. Meanwhile, bowls and equipment used were washed, tables scrubbed and floor swept.

High anticipation as the range door was opened and the delicious smell of baking bread emanated from the dark interior. Knock the bottom of the loaf and listen if it sounds ‘Hollow’ it is ‘done’. Put onto a cooling wire and allow loaf to cool.  Nothing tastes better than the ‘heel’ of a freshly baked loaf, with butter and fresh strawberry jam.

Strawberries are ready for jam

Strawberries ready for jam

Strawberries ready for jam

As it is sometimes difficult to get a good set of strawberry jam, we cheat a little and use ‘Jam’ sugar which contains additional pectin, a natural setting agent.  We also make it in small quantities in order to achieve a good colour and good flavour.

Recipe

1 kg. Ripe strawberries

1 kg. Preserving sugar

Method 

  1. Wash, hull and slice strawberries
  2. Warm sugar in oven at a low heat 100°C for 10-15 minutes
  3. Warm clean jam jars in oven at the same time. On a baking sheet covered with several layers of newspaper.
  4. Have jam jar lids, pyrex jug and funnel ready in large bowl covered with boiling water to sterilise them.
  5. Heat strawberries in stainless steel heavy based saucepan
  6. Add warmed sugar and stir in away from heat until sugar granules are dissolved.
  7. When dissolved bring to a rolling boil for 4 mins.
  8. Remove from heat.
  9. Skim any scum from top of jam. *
  10. Pour off boiling water from lids, jug and funnel.
  11. Fill jars to ‘shoulder’ of jar.
  12. Top with sterilised lids.
  13. Allow to cool.
  14. Label .

*This can be a ‘cook’s’ bonus nibble when cooled.

Strawberries for jam
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