And so the successes lead to greater ambitions, greater disasters and greater successes. Our neighbouring farmers’ patience was tried by escaping goats, pigs and cows. At least I got to meet my neighbours, even though in their justifiably, irate state relations weren’t improved.
Being the completely naïve and ignorant country person that I was, however much reading I did and however many short courses I went on, I only saw the problems after they had happened. The need to administer worming medicine to the goats, the challenge of castration, the importance of fencing, housing and corals, the struggle to brand (and yes I did once wrestle a calf to the ground), the difficulty of getting a pig to the slaughter house (those intelligent and affectionate animals will not follow you on slaughter day) etc. etc.
The only farming that I did start sensibly was bee-keeping. I helped out a fellow bee-keeper for a month or two before getting my first hive. And then started with only two hives. Even so, when I felt that I was half competent, the swarming I engendered and attacks that I suffered were quite something. It didn’t help that the local bees were Apis mellifera scutellata or African Killer Bees as the Americans, in their histrionic way, know of them.
Nevertheless by the time I left our lovely farm, I had 35 cattle, 40 goats, 40 bee hives, serial pigs, serial broiler chickens, the odd couple of sheep (too thick for my taste), 6 old and not so old layers and a vegetable garden that could meet about 75% of our vegetable needs. What I did learn, and quickly, was, that if Armageddon comes while I am still alive, and I have to rely on my skills to feed myself and my family, we would all starve and pretty quickly.
Asparagus with beurre fondue
It took a while for our asparagus patch to take off, but when it did………..
There is no such thing as a glut of asparagus, there is only a feast of asparagus. My favourite way of eating those delicious stalks is probably the simplest way.
Pick and cook them as if it was one operation. You cut the stalks with a small serrated knife on or just below the ground. If you have cut them young enough there shouldn’t be too much of a woody base. Bring them into the kitchen and snap off what woody base there is, if any. Throw your grass into a capacious pan of boiling, salted water.
While they are boiling, take a tablespoon of their water and put it into a small pan. Whisk cold, unsalted butter into the water piece by piece. This is an emulsified sauce, not the classical English greasy condiment of unseasoned drawn butter.
As one piece of the butter is whisked into the water add another. Then season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Pour over the cooked, drained asparagus. You can tell when asparagus is cooked by pressing at the base of the stalk. If it is easily squashable, it is done. No al dente, half cooked asparagus please.
At least 12 good spears per portion and 50 gms of butter
Tagliatelle with saffron milk caps, parsley and garlic
Like a many farms in our area, there were a number of pines trees planted about the place, some as decorative and some as a plantation. I don’t know when they were planted or when the rootstock came out, but, with the rootstock came out spores of European wild mushrooms. We had boletus, both birch and slippery jacks, though unfortunately, I never found ceps. We also had a very productive patch of saffron milk caps. A most delicious mushroom as its taxonomic name would indicate – lactarius deliciosus. Like many mushrooms, great with all eggy things.
To make the pasta, mix 300 gms strong (or bread) flour with 3 large eggs and a teaspoonful of salt. Mix until you have a stiff dough; if necessary add another egg yolk or entire egg, but you don’t want a wet dough that will be hard to roll out.
Wrap the dough and let it rest in the fridge for an hour or so (or a day). Assuming you have a pasta machine, roll out the dough to the penultimate setting (this does depend on what machine you have, but too fine a pasta sheet might well make soggy eating). Hang it on a drying rack or leave lying on a floured surface until dry enough to cut.
Wipe your mushrooms – about 400gms – and slice thickly. Sautee the mushrooms in butter quite gently as they are not usually very watery. Season with salt and pepper and, when cooked, remove from heat and throw in a generous amount of coarsely chopped parsley and finely chopped garlic, about 2 tablespoonfuls. Then add another tablespoon of butter
Cut into tagliatelle strips and blanch briefly in plenty of boiling salted water. Drain, but not too well. A certain amount of the cooking liquid helps lubricate and enrich your sauce. Mix the pasta with the mushrooms and serve. Add grated parmesan to each plate and pout ore parmesan on the table (with a grater of course).
Parsley. Generally, you either have curly (English) or flat (continental). It has been recherché amongst some to praise the virtues of the old fashioned English variety. The chauvinist in me wants to agree, but unfortunately the flat variety is not only much tastier but also a million times easier to grow.