That, in a word, describes the spiced honey ice cream I finally got around to freeze-churning, today: utterly delicious. The custard has had a couple of days to age, which has allowed the honey & spices to infuse more fully & it seems to have toned down the initially sugary nature of the mix. The flavour is subtle, sophisticated, with a hint of honey & cinnamon; although ironically, I still feel that substituting some of the sugar for slighly more honey – or a stronger, woodland type – is needed if I’m to bring out more than a note of nectar. For this batch I’d used a local wildflower honey, which is produced in the fields & valleys of Pembrokeshire from hawthorn, sycamore, dandelion, clover, bramble, willowherb & other wild flowers. Combined with goats’ milk, it should prove particularly beneficial to local hayfever sufferers (goats’ milk is proven to help ease conditions such as asthma & eczema – since I’ve been drinking it, my hayfever has almost completely disappeared; possibly this is owing to a homeopathic effect, with miscroscopic amounts of pollen from the herbage grazed by the goats being transferred into the milk). Regardless, this latest ice cream batch tastes wonderful; I was very impressed with the result – & so was Tony, who insisted on having a second helping (& loved the second, even more than the first!). I’ll probably make the next batch with heather honey from the local Prescelli Mountains, & add two extra spoonsful to the mix to add depth to the flavour. In discussion with Tony, if we find our belts get ever-tighter this year, he feels when we start the business we should concentrate on ice cream rather than cheese, as there is currently a gap in the market for the former product – so we should grasp the opportunity. I agree – but we do, at least, already have virtually all the equipment we need for cheesemaking; & goats’ cheese is more of a ‘safe bet’ – however I’d kick myself if we inadvertently missed such a significant marketing opportunity. Anyway I have a meeting at Antur Teifi, reference the possibility of some grant-aided funding, on Monday….I could certainly put it to excellent use!
Meanwhile the battle with the Planning Office continued today, with Tony having to order Yet More Maps from the (wonderfully prompt) Ordnance Survey team; in fact having placed his order online, they’d processed it within the hour (take heed, o ye snail-paced Planning Wallahs!). Tony then drew the newbuild onto the map; checked, rechecked, & checked again that all requisite ticks were safely in their boxes; & hot-footed it down to Carmarthen to yet again hand-courier the paperwork back to Planning Officer ‘W’. We insisted on delivering it into his very hand; & had it confirmed, there & then, that ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ELSE was missing – so hopefully the game of ‘Planning Ping-Pong’ we’ve been playing up until now, is finally over. Not that I’ll be holding my breath over it, mind you! And of course, now that there’s a postal strike (which could last for over a week), it may affect when letters are released to our neighbours for them to lodge objections – not that they would, I hope; as nobody will even be able to see it; & being constructed almost entirely of wood, apart from being carbon-neutral, should blend beautifully into the local landscape.
Incidentally Tony had unearthed a spare set of maps from the OS yesterday evening onto which he drew a plan of the building – but when I saw it I expressed dismay that we were apparently getting such a small shed for the amount we were paying – I didn’t feel we could fit all our goats in there, let alone anything else! Lucky I mentioned it; because he’d got the scale wrong – unfortunately this meant we couldn’t use the maps he’d found as the ‘bigger’ building slipped off the edge of the map – so that’s yet another £35 we’ve had to fork out (but better that, than the planners sending the whole back to us – yet again).
After a tasty lunch of stir-fried chicken, prawns & peas, scattered with an aromatic mixture of dried Tuscan herbs (thyme, sage, fennel, basil, garlic, rosemary, marjoram & oregano) & served with pouting little shells of conchiglie pasta, Tony went off to Carmarthen to deliver our application & I spent some time with Nanuk, teaching her the ‘down’ command. Generally speaking, she grasped it well but I’ve got to persuade her not to put her own ‘spin’ on it, as she either sticks her bum in the air or rolls onto her side; but she’s getting the general idea, at least.
I then sent my article for the Christmas issue of ‘Smallholder’ to Liz (the editor), & thankfully she liked it; so after a few tweaks of the title & creation of a suitable ‘stand-first’ (a brief line introducing the subject of the article) I sent it off by email with a big sigh of relief. However I did enjoy writing it, the process is cathartic & brings back so many memories.
As it was such a lovely (albeit chilly) day, I rolled up my sleeves & tackled the wilderness which was our veg patch with grim determination. Under the watchful eye of an industrious little wagtail, its’ joyous yellow colour contrasting with the rust-red of the roof of the Long Barn on which it searched the myriad nooks & crannies for insects, I managed to unearth some small sweetcorn cobettes; & selected some plump pods of stray broad beans but was wholly disappointed with the beetroots I’d planted as inevitably, slugs had finished even those off. Whilst I’d at least enjoyed some tasty sprigs of calabrese over the summer, my cauliflowers had been stripped bare & my cabbages looked like lace doilies – those that were left. Oh, for a hard winter to finish off some of these pesky pests!
I picked the last of the juicy yellow ‘sun baby’ tomatoes from the hothouse (I must grow those again next year, they’re wonderful) & finally plucked up the courage to pluck our biggest cucumber – a mature monster at over 16cms long & weighing in at almost 2 kgs! I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get in the hothouse door, if I left it any longer & I’m sure we’ll be eating cucumber for weeks, now. It’s of the marvellously-named ‘Burpless Tasty Green’ variety; however I prefer the others we also grew this year, the (?????s) which have a refreshing lemony flavour with crunchy outer skins & a mountwateringly juicy, tender inner flesh – akin to a watermelon in fact; just the thing for an al fresco meal under a hot sun (not that we’ve had any ‘salad days’ during this poor apology for a summer, alas). So this year has certainly provided our share of gardening triumphs & disasters: potatoes blighted; raspberries mildewed; cabbages sucked by slugs, cauliflowers munched by snails; peas & sweetcorn, carried away by mice. Conversely, there’s been a pleasing rash of tasty little tomatoes, super cucumbers, pleasing peppers, fantastic figs & great gooseberries – with a promising apple crop yet to be harvested. The fickle nature of – well, nature; has spilled over into the wild hedgerow with a wonderful blackberry crop but on the other hand a dearth of sloes, elderberries & hazlenuts; & whilst the Mountain Ash & hawthorn bushes are sporting magnificent cloaks of red-hued fruits, the big holly tree towards the top of the drive – last winter a blazing beacon of red fire in the rays of the setting sun, has coldly greeted autumn hunched against the chill sky, its dark green foliage bereft of berries.
We finished the chores as the stars came out, the magnificent bulk of the Frenni Mountains cast black with shadow against the pale gold & apricot hues of the last vestiges of the sunset, no other light visible than the death of the day’s sun & the soft glow of our galaxy’s outer edge. The scene was so breathtaking, it made one linger in spite of the bite of evening’s chill.
Supper was a simple but comforting affair; a warming bowl of plum tomato soup, flavoured with shreds of basil & shavings of parmesan & accompanied by warm, crusty bread; with chunks of robust Stilton, oak-smoked mature cheddar & delicate, lemony wedges of chevre to follow. Often the most basic of meals provide the most visceral pleasure. Follow this with a good book & a robust red wine in a hot, foaming bath; & you have the perfect end to a decent day.