Thursday, 4 April 2013

cabined, cribbed, confined

The weather forecasters have been promising us warmer weather by the weekend, so I was sceptical yesterday when the Systems Administrator warned me that today, Thursday, it was forecast to snow.  Today is 4th April.  The tax year ends tomorrow and the vernal equinox was two weeks ago.  How can it snow?  It snowed.

I went to Tesco, since the Systems Administrator had volunteered me to do this evening's supper. On that basis we are having part of a half pig that has been in the freezer for rather a long time. We bought it from a friend who was living with a farmer at the time, who had gone into small scale pig production.  Our pig was from the first batch, and he had not realised how far in advance he would need to book the abattoir, so the pig went on fattening for a fortnight longer than it was intended to.  The half pig was consequently heavier and more expensive than anticipated, the excess weight unfortunately being almost entirely fat.  It arrived jointed in unlabelled plastic bags, so that matching cuts to any of the recipes in our books was hit and miss, especially once the bags iced up.  The Systems Administrator became bored of the pig, and started buying pork even though we still had several nameless pieces in the freezer.  One of my missions for 2013 is to eat or throw away as uneatable everything in the freezer.  I am sure the half pig is not poisonous, but it may be that the fat has oxidized and it is not very nice.  I have promised the SA that if supper is disgusting I will go and get us a Chinese takeaway instead.

On the basis of experience I should say that buying half of any animal larger than a rabbit for your deep freeze was not a good idea for two people.  I know it is a lovely idea to have seen the corner of the field where the animal lived, and feel a personal connection with the farmer who sold it to you, but they sell very nice, locally produced pork in the farm shop, in manageable quantities and identifiable cuts.

The farm shop also sells locally produced flour.  A 1.5 kilo bag of organic stoneground strong wholemeal flour milled in Chelmsford will set you back £2.15.  The same quantity of non-organic stoneground strong wholemeal costs £1.39 in Tesco, and they are currently doing a 3 for 2 on baking ingredients, so you could bring that down to 93 pence per bag if you bake regularly.  Do you want to support a local shop selling local food, or shop organically, so much that you want to pay over twice as much?

I got a small bag of rye flour in Tesco, to make a sourdough starter.  I've a feeling I've read that rye starters are relatively easy to manage.  You mix some flour and some warm water, and keep the mixture warm, and carry on adding flour and water each day for another three days.  On day 5 you should have a usable starter, powered entirely by the natural yeasts on the flour.  No organic grapes, no potato peelings.  That is what Andrew Whitley says, and he adds that if your starter develops a layer of greyish liquid on top, don't worry about it but just stir it in.  He is very strict that the initial water should be at 40 degrees C, and the starter kept at 30 degrees, but I just used warm water, and the starter will be at whatever temperature it is on top of the Aga.  If after five days nothing seems to have happened there is further advice on page 181.  It all sounds potentially fraught, though not as bad as Jane Grigson's advice on salting your own beef (if green scum appears on the surface of the beef just wipe it off.  I haven't tried that one yet).

Then I took all the ingredients out of the store cupboard, which was in a muddle.  I take a fairly relaxed attitude to expiry dates for dry goods, but I was afraid that semolina that was best before November 2011 had probably gone off, and I didn't think the SA should be eating peanut butter that theoretically expired three years ago.  I don't understand why we have three jars of Frank Cooper's Oxford Marmalade, each one almost untouched.  I wonder if the SA buys a new one each year for Cheltenham week, and then doesn't eat marmalade for the rest of the year.  I know I have a recipe somewhere for cake that includes marmalade as an ingredient, so might make one sometime for the staff room at work.

I knocked the eyes off some potatoes that the SA had rejected because they were sprouting, and boiled them in their skins for the chickens.  They really like cooked potato.  They are pretty keen on cooked pasta as well, so the odd remains of three bags of conchiglie and macaroni could go the same way.

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