I wish I could report that today had been a day of ‘all things nice’;
however, alas, it wasn’t to be: whether because of the short, sharp, vicious showers which wracked West Wales; or because of the far-from-perfect end to the day – & as well as (with this all rain) the garden being overrun with the inevitable slugs & snails.
Jo’s day began at dawn, as ever; a quiet, concentrated walk with Nanuk was followed by a five-minute ‘blogtime’ breakfast before Tony reluctantly emerged from his supine slumber to join me in waking the ffarmyard to the daily routine. I peacefully attended to the milking whilst he scurried round the poultry, pigs, ponies & sheep, grumbling at the ferocity of each downpour. Because it seemed doomed to rain every time we ventured outside, we opted for a trip to the nearby coastal town of Cardigan – nominally in search of a set of new saucepans but in truth for a good dose of ‘comfort food’ from Ultracomida & all the delicious delicacies it has to offer. We just about made it – dashing through the unremitting rain for a late lunch at one of the freshly-scrubbed pine tables: & were duly rewarded for our pre-prandial pains, to enjoy a rib-stickingly comforting platter of saffron rice embellished with hearty cubes of thyme-infused pork & chunky chorizo sausage accompanied by a refreshing salad of pickles, plump tomato slices & crisp lettuce drizzled with richly aged, olive oil-infused balsamic vinegar dressing; complemented with a rustic dish filled with fresh slices of crusty mediterranean bread…….mmmmmmm. The silky aroma & tantalising taste of a leisurely bowl of strong, steaming, fresh coffee restored our otherwise fragile equilibrium (though we still can’t help but prefer our own mouthwateringly milky version!) thus after a cheery chat with our friend Jeanette from Carnau Farm – who runs an excellent food stall selling all things wholesome, local & delicious in Cardigan’s covered market – we scurried through the showers once again in search of a decent set of new saucepans to replace our old & faithful, but sadly battered-beyond-belief set. Our immediate focus was Cardigan’s superb Aga Shop: unlike most retailers of said culinary masterpieces, which tend to focus on the ‘exclusivity’ of owning one of these gargantuan gourmet giants – this delightful branch features true, salt-of-the-earth, ‘Mrs-Beeton-eat-yer-heart-out’ cooks, who are genuinely, passionately passionate about the traditonal cast-iron kitchen range & its’ multitudinous uses (for example our 1930’s tiny, cottage-style, oil-fired Rayburn boasts the humbly simple tasks of not only cooking delicious, unsurpassed meals time after time…..[you get the drift I’m sure] but also of providing ‘on tap’ piping-hot water [inside AND out] come rain, shine, snow or blow; & of affording the house an unfailing background warmth, however inhospitable the weather). An added bonus is that if we have a power cut – & we often do – we can still cook & make hot drinks; we still have hot water; & we’re still warm, as our little Rayburn is a gravity-fed, oil-fired version. The downside is that it’s fairly expensive to run; however you cannot have everything. Simply put, we would not – nay, could not – do without it; & as this has proved the ‘appliance of science & of downright sensible choice’ in the vast majority of farm & country houses throughout Wales for well over a century -well: you can imagine why therefore, Cardigan’s superb shop is always bustling with fellow culinary (ahem) afficianados.
Today was no exception – the shop sells so much more than just the widest range of – well, ranges, imaginable (& like so many ‘old town’ Welsh shops the innocuous frontage reveals a voyage of discovery of positively Tardis-like proportions: tempting tableaux of irresistable kitchenware are presented for eager customers in search of range-related cookware including traditional & cutting-edge pots, pans, kettles, earthenware, utensils, books & a whole host of other kitchen goodies – from the supremely practical to the downright bizarre – well; you name it, you can probably get it (or they’ll get it for you). So we started with a good, solid set of four quality stainless steel pans & a lidded saute pan; & added a Mason & Cash mixing bowl, plus all sorts of cleaning products; cheese wrap; & carbon reducer for our Rayburn’s wheezy old oil tank. They even had a ‘lazy susan’ – an old-fashioned drying rack on a pulley system – which is something I’ve always wanted but reluctantly could not afford. However, the ‘very nice lady’ in the Cookshop made me a generous offer I really couldn’t refuse – so Tony put it up over the Rayburn as soon as we got home! It looks great, & will prove very useful for drying herbs, mushrooms, flowers, clothes etc & for hanging a plethora of pots, pans & miscellany.
On the way home we stumbled across a wonderful new Delicatessen, Deli Delights, which has just opened opposite The Gallery in Cardigan. I was very impressed with the quality of the produce, the tasteful displays – AND the wide range of local produce on offer. I took the opportunity to top up my pantry’s diminishing stock of delicious New Quay honey; this comes from a seaside farm & meadery having around 500 hives divided into groups of 10-12, which are dotted throughout Ceredigion & North Pembrokeshire. The unspoilt countryside ensures the honey comes almost exclusively from the wild flowers growing in the hedgerows, valleys & clifftop areas. Owing to the prevailing weather, each hive’s yield is comparatively low – but its’ unsurpassed flavour means the honey is invariably in great demand. It’s traditionally cold-extracted which preserves the enzymes & proteins, adding to its’ health benefits. I tend to use it for making honey ice cream & also for dressing pork crackling, lightly brushing a drop of the unguent wild heather variety over the surface about ten minutes before the end of the cooking time, which adds a lovely smoky sweetness to the taste. Meanwhile Mandy – the helpful proprietor – found me some lovely rustic cotton oven gloves (mine are so full of holes they are in danger of burning me ere long) & a superb smoked garlic – big, brown, papery & wickedly pungent.
We hurried back to the Ffarm to crack on with evening chores, dashing between showers. However, we’d hardly put the first feed pail in the pen, before disaster struck….
I was just coming up from the Stableyard after bottle-feeding the kids, when I heard Tony’s urgent shout from the main shed. I rushed in to find him gently removing Asperula’s trapped leg from between the hinges of the gate – she must’ve jumped up & perhaps in a ‘scrap’ with one of the others, managed to slip & twist at the same time. I anxiously felt over the limb, but judging by the crepitus (grinding of bone), the leg was clearly broken. Milking abandoned for the evening, I hurried to summon the vet, who was mercifully prompt. Angus, Head of the Castle House practice, was in an exceptionally jovial mood despite being called out on a Friday evening (must be charging double time!); & the job of setting the fracture proved remarkably swift & uncomplicated, owing to a new type of bandage which literally turns itself into a plaster cast as it’s applied, hardening on contact with air – far better than the old, messy method. We tucked ‘Assie’ into a makeshift pen in the corner, & Angus had a general look around the herd, pronouncing them to be in excellent health & condition which is always a nice ‘tick in the box’. He headed off into the night with gifts of eggs, chops, sausages & some sloe gin, before we wearily resumed the chores. Finishing as late as we did, we succumbed to a simple supper of bread & cheese….but after such an excellent lunch, we didn’t need anything more. What a day – a voyage of honey discovery followed by a bit of drama to get the pulse racing…..sugar & spice, indeed.