After a quiet start to the year, February has come in with some very cold weather, which suits us, as it is time now to kill our house Iberian pigs, and to spend two careful days of butchering and marinading. Transforming these wonderful creatures into chorizo, salchichón, black puddings, air dried fillets and jamón.
Jeannie is assisted this year not only by our sons, Jago and Charlie , but by friends from Ireland Fingal Ferguson of the Gubbeen Smokehouse in West Cork, who has years of expertise in the matter of charcuterie, Ted Berners of Wildside Catering, based at Ballymaloe House, (he will be stirring the pots for the first day's lunch break when everyone who is helping sits down together for the first matanza feast), Cullen Allen of Cully and Sully, Cork, and Darren Allen who looks after Ballymaloe Farm matters.
Also here to help, is cousin Jamie Thewes, taking a break from Errol Park wedding venue in Perthshire, and lending a strong arm is Murdo Anderson, of Greenfield marquees, Edinburgh. From the Basque Country Alcuin Arkotxa MacKenzie usefully slips from Spanish to English, and from Los Marines we have Eduardo, Chocoleo, and Carlos all weighing in with their expertise. As you wills note, butchering seems to be a mainly male activity this year!
We still hope for rain to come. The autumn and winter have been extremely dry: so much so that we were unable to sow and plant winter vegetables in September, which means we had to forgo the joys of cabbage and cauliflower and broccoli.
We have some garlic and leaks, struggling pak choi, some endives and lettuces, and robust Swiss chard lingering on from last summer, but the few broad beans which were doing reasonably well were attacked by the sheep when a passing walker left a gate open. This is one of the hazards of having a walking trail passing through your land. Not everyone is responsible or thoughtful.
If we are lucky enough to get a wet late winter or early spring, then we will be able to sow beans and peas and root vegetables with confidence; and as the warmer weather comes in, these will be followed by peppers, aubergines tomatoes and courgettes. What I love is having a row of cottage flowers for adding colour to the house in the summer months. Great bunches of zinnias, cosmos or dahlias lift the spirit once the roses are wilting in the heat. However, without the wet spring we shall be done for. Our water table must be topped up before we can allow ourselves the luxury of irrigating.