As you can imagine,
it was an early start for Yours Truly – up before 6am, despite having only gone to bed a couple of hours before. I immediately commenced cleaning the house & roused a reluctant Tony to do the outside chores at around 0830. However, he did not actually get out of bed until after 9am, which left precious little time to do all the things which needed to be done. Unsurprisingly he was exhausted following less than five hours’ sleep after his marathon journey from Baku to Heathrow, & then off on the road to return home to Wales. As we’d intended to delay milking until the camera crew arrived to give them some ‘farming’ shots, I’d asked Tony to mow the lawn as it was looking distinctly unkempt; & he stomped around in a sulk at the request as it’s the domestic task he least enjoys but a necessary one for him as our monster mower is too powerful for me to handle on parts of the garden & orchard, having actually pulled me over before now. By 10.10am I was getting quite concerned that I hadn’t heard the throaty roar of the mower’s meaty engine; so I went outside to determine the problem despite having not yet managed to make the custard for the fresh ice cream they wanted me to freeze-churn (& having unfortunately run out of time to make & mature it, the previous day). Imagine my horror, to find that His Lordship was still way behind with the chores? I enquired as to the problem; & he said the sheep had got out. So why hadn’t he called me to help? Well, by that point I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that they’d eaten the lawnmower, too! As it was by now, far too late to even attempt the garden (the crew was scheduled to arrive within twenty minutes) I grimly grabbed a broom & began sweeping for all I was worth in an attempt to tidy the place up (as by now the yard looked as if it hadn’t been swept for a week). Thankfully Boo telephoned to inform me that Patrick & his assistant (her B&B guests at Maes Y Derw the previous evening) had only just left, which gave me an extra fifteen minutes to whip up the required ice cream’s custard base, & for Tony to light the ready-laid fire.
Owing to the fact that they’d been driving round the country all week, Tony opted to meet them at the top of the drive & bring them & their kit down to the Ffarm in our own vehicle. The fire crackled cheerfully in the grate & the house was warm & inviting, despite the damp gloom of the foggy day – not ideal conditions for filming on the Ffarm, certainly. Over a cup of milky coffee, we discussed the programme. Basically we were filming for a new series by celebrity chef, James Martin: called ‘Feasts’, it looks at celebratory meals across the UK, the traditions behind them & the reasons for them. We were being showcased for our annual Hay Tea, an important neighbourhood ritual which takes place after the last bale of the Ffarm’s hay is stacked in the barn, our way of saying a grateful & hospitable ‘thank you’ to our neighbours for their help throughout the year. One of the series’ programmes is about pigs & their charcuterie; so James Martin was particularly interested in the home-produced pork we prepared & cooked as the ‘crowning glory’ of the meal – & also because of the special Hay Tea ice cream I’d whipped up specifically for the event.
We started by filming my preparation of the pork, & putting it into the lovely old Rayburn. I had to explain that cooking with a Rayburn is a little different (for a start you have to stoke it up for over an hour before putting the dish in the oven!); then it’s a case of carefully monitoring the temperature & not opening the stove covers or the doors too much. Whilst a Rayburn may require a little more sensitive handling than an average, modern oven it’s nevertheless a wonderful bit of culinary kit – & certainly ideal for cooking honey-roast pork. I’ve found that when I do my Saxon herb-crusted trout for example, I don’t need the modern ‘prop’ of covering the fish in foil, either; the cast-iron oven seals flavours, smells, juices, everything – inside. Delicious! I’d already ‘prepped’ the pork by scoring the skin with a sharp Stanley knife (a tip from Dewi James, our local butcher). Then, after sprinkling it with Welsh sea salt & cracked black pepper, (although I generally scald open the scores with boiling water beforehand) I scattered over a smattering of dried herbs I’d prepared: a mix of parsley, sage, rosemary, basil, dessicated tomato, fennel & (for an interesting flavour twist) lavender. Then into the oven it went; & we took the opportunity to venture outside as the wreathes of mist were lifting, to do a bit of filming with a few shots of the goats & a hint of sun trying to smile over the autumnal woodland of the valley. We popped back in after about an hour so that I could dress the crackling with rich, unctuous dark honey which is gathered by bees humming amongst the summer flowers of ling heather growing in the Prescelli mountains. Tony was filmed energetically throwing bales of our sweet-scented, organic hay around in the big galvanised barn whilst I carried on with my custard, working white, rippling folds of luscious double cream into the mixture before returning it to the cold room for further chilling.
Next, it was time for a shot removing the joint from the oven, & the first cut into it. I was slightly disappointed as it wasn’t perfectly cooked at that point, being a little pink & the crackling not quite the deep, golden hue it should be; however to be fair it was a sizeable joint (weighing in at over 3kg – all I can say is, the specialist butcher who deals with our pigs must have an enormous appetite – as that’s a bit on the generous side for a meal for two methinks…!). So we had to pop it back in the oven again whilst I was interviewed for a ‘talk over’ shot. Tony was also filmed doing the milking (& being a typical male he didn’t sweep the floor between each goat getting on the stand – plus I needed to interrogate him about the finer points of his milking routine, about which I am particularly particular…!). But at last they were ready for a few final shots; by which time the ice cream had freeze-churned, albeit the dasher in my little table-top machine decided to ‘give up the ghost’ when it was still a bit too soft, making it melt more rapidly. To be honest I hadn’t anticipated the final shot, which required the meat to be displayed on a serving platter in the dining room, with Tony cutting into it & sampling a slice. Fortunately it looked even more spectacular after that little extra cooking time, the crackling positively mouthwatering with its’ seductive, glistening honey glaze. To add a final touch of flair I placed a little bunch of fresh herbs representing those with which I’d dressed the pork, on the platter in front of the joint: it looked superb. And everyone thought it tasted every bit as good as it looked – with the ice cream slipping down a treat, too!
Unfortunately, because they weren’t scheduled to film any studio shots with James Martin until later the following week, they could not take any pork for him to try as it would not have been safe to refreeze the cooked meat. However they did take a pot of Hay Tea & a pot of Spiced Honey Light ice cream in a chilled freezer pack for him to sample, instead – let’s just hope it survived the journey to London & gets the thumbs-up: as to see goats’ milk ice cream approvingly sampled on TV by a celebrity chef would be a real pedigree endorsement! Still, I’ve never had any complaints…..
So all in all, a successful day I think; bags of camera, lighting & sound equipment were carefully packed away & Tony returned Patrick & his cheery young assistant to their vehicle as I contemplated putting the Ffarm to bed for the evening. The warmth of the fire, combined with a very busy previous 48 hours soon had us drifting peacefully off to sleep, ready for another typically hectic day tomorrow. All in all, it was an interesting experience which may even lead to more TV work in the future; a spot on ‘Market Kitchen’ was suggested, & there are ideas always coming up for James Martin to do something on local food. So who knows…..? The only downside of today is that being TV, the delicious smells wafting from the kitchen along with the mouthwatering taste of our milk-fed pork coated in crunchy herbed heather crackling & complemented by the pure, fresh flavour of the meltingly lovely ice cream, will only be a feast for your eyes when you see the broadcast programme – not the banquet of the senses it certainly was for us. Anyway – enjoy!