Cead Mile Failte !

A 'hundred thousand welcomes' to friends of all things Irish, organic, and environmentally friendly. I hope you enjoy my anecdotes and little vignettes. I appreciate comments. If you like it, why not become a follower? Click on Archive and then scroll down to the very bottom for the beginning of our story. Or see: http://Ioncehadafarminireland.blogspot.com/

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ringing in the New Year

New Year’s Eve in Germany normally is a noisy affair since people set off fireworks everywhere. That was not the case in Ireland, neither on the farm nor in our village. Fireworks were and still are illegal in Ireland unless you have a license- e.g. for a public, official display.Living in the countryside, the most light we would see on a clear night were the stars—unless cloud coverage left us in the dark. City lights never offer such a spectacular view above your head.
After a long day of work around the yard and tending to the animals, a farmer wants an early night. Days have the tendency to be of a similar structure and work schedule because of the critters you take care of. Being early birds and having two small children, our night life suffered. The only sound on New Year’s Eve that I heard while lying awake and thinking of what life in Germany would be like was the ringing of the bells of the Killaloe Cathedral. Our trusted housekeeper had earned the privilege of ringing in the New Year. For her it was the highlight of the season. Mac, already asleep, would be disturbed by the sound of the bells and mumble something like: ”Can’t they keep it down a bit? I want to sleep.”
Happy New Year, everyone, noisy or otherwise…

Monday, December 20, 2010

Plucking the Xmas Dinner

In previous postings I told you about the parent pair of geese we acquired in our first year to provide us with Christmas roasts for years to come. The first was slaughtered for St. Martin's day, a tradition in Germany. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, word spread in the village and at the farmer's market in the parochial hall, that we had geese for sale - if only 4. Though not a traditional Irish Christmas dish, there were more people interested in getting these rare birds than we could provide.
What you need: a goose, buckets of scorching but not boiling water to dip the goose in head down and some stamina, ie not too delicate a nose. I had practiced before in Germany on our annual birds. But to do 4 was a a challenge. Each takes at least 90 minutes to pluck.
So my trusted helper and housekeeper put the kettle on to bring the water to a high temperature, on an AGA that can take an hour, while Mac and I chose and caught the poor first victim straight from the goose hut. Lifting the roof of the hut carefully, Father Goose became extremely aggressive, hissing and nipping at Mac's hands and jeans-clad legs. Their nips hurt! You have to grab the goose by its neck which pretty much renders it defenseless. On the yard, near the compost heap on the wall, we had a timber block for splitting kindling. Mac carried the goose over there speaking in soothing tones to it and caressing it with his second hand. He then put it on the block, I held its neck and Mac grabbed the axe. I didn't really dare to watch but necessity made me blink and double check that my arm was outstretched far away enough out of the danger zone.With one swift swing, the goose was in goose heaven. In contrast to chickens, you can't really wring their necks.They are too strong . But they don't flutter headless around the yard either. You have to let the blood drip out of the animal before you can proceed to plucking. Dip it into the hot water and the plucking can begin. We had a big double basin originating from a youth hostel so that my helper and I could stand comfortably over a basin and bucket with a goose each. Goose feathers are stubborn. Harder to pluck than chickens'. They were everywhere.Worst are the pin feathers. And geese do smell. Raised on a diet of pure grass, it's funny how much their intestines stink.After about an hour, your hands, legs, and feet have gone properly cold and numb, the feathers are done. At this stage, the chicken in me opted out due to a hypersensitive nose, and volunteered to put the kettle on for a tea brake. Pauline didn't mind. She finished the job cutting up the animals and pulling out the entrails, a very messy and malodorous job. Then she washed them many times with cold water and neatly presented them on a plate. Grateful, I had the tea and refreshments ready. Most times we had to remove little hairs that stubbornly stuck to the skin with tweezers without tearing the skin. After a while, Mac had the idea to use a little flame torch like restaurants use for making Creme Brule now, and just singe them off. Again, be careful not to burn or singe the skin. I think our reward was about 30 Irish Pounds per animal($70 today)of which I had to pay Pauline 10 for her work. Every year I toyed with the idea that we could collect the eiderdown and feathers to fill pillow cases. Somehow we never got round to it. The idea of washing these mountains of feathers was too much to undertake.Today I prefer to buy a goose, if I can find them organically grown. Thank goodness, my plucking days are over.
I was asked for a recipe: Stuffed with a mixture of bread, apples and onions, the bird requires slow roasting at 180C/375 F under continuous basting with water, its own juices, and occasional turning.2-3 hours as I recall. Delicious accompaniments are potatoes and red cabbage and apple sauce. Go for a lean bird; geese can be fatty.Ours never were because they were grass-fed, free-range--the sporty, muscular type.
Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

At the end of year one

Our first year was drawing to a close. Autumn storms that shook the buildings and the new slates that had been put on the piggery. "That'll put everything to the test" our handyman would say. We had found this gem, Martin, over the summer to give Mac a hand in doing up outbuildings and repairs in general. Farmer Mac had decided to go bigger next year and buy more sheep and cattle. Surprise, surprise he loved what he did, had gotten the hang of it and was ready to take our attempts at self-sufficiency to a higher level.
I had started teaching at the University of Limerick with the beginning of the Michaelmas term in September. Between baking, wine making, weeding, pickling, teaching, and driving kids to school I was occupied. No rest for the wicked-as they say.
Our first Christmas from home was going to be different. Real firs for Christmas trees were hard to come by. I usually made my own decorations over the mantelpiece, down the banister and various wheel size wreaths. For that I used evergreens like ilex, spruce or,twigs of an evergreen hedge plus ivy. What I missed most were German Christmas markets. But we would have the traditional goose for Christmas: one of our own.
Being German we would celebrate Christmas eve instead of having Santa Claus come and bring the gifts in the early morning of dawn on Christmas day. So much more civilized I always find. At least the parents can sleep in. The new year surprised us with lots of snow. Like Ireland is seeing now.