Entertaining is – undeniably – always a pleasure; regardless of the degree of behind-the-scenes scurrying owing to my own frantically-disorganised part. And when it turns out to be during the wonderful bonus of an unexpectedly balmy Spring day, even better.
“Hi Jim, it’s Jo. D’you fancy popping over for a bite of lunch with us, tomorrow? There’s someone – well, someones, actually – we’d really like you to meet…”
Jim was hesitant – understandably so. Not long ago he tragically lost the love of his life: his wonderful soul-mate; his unfailingly-effervescent wife; to terminal cancer: & has since eschewed the hurly-burly of a busy social life in favour of seeking solace in the company of a few close friends plus the beloved caprine & feline companions with whom he has since shared their poignantly-bereft smallholding.
It is truly, such a wonderful place; yet without Ann’s presence I somehow feel that regardless of the weather, the sun has left the sky….until Jim’s gently warm, welcoming smile invariably lights the life of anyone present with a benign, quiescent glow echoing Ann’s own vibrant, shadow-presence.
“Oh. I’m not sure….who else is going to be there, then?”
“Two lovely ladies, who are right up your street – Saanen ladies! They’ve joined the Milkforce & are looking forward to a ‘meet & bleat – & I’m obviously not doing it right!” I quipped.
“Saanens….? British Saanens, like my lovely, wonderful Wenna….?! Wow. What time should I come….no, how soon can I be there….?!”
I grinned. Jim’s passion for his goats, is infectious – but especially where such statuesque, silver-coated Saanens are concerned.
We originally met last year; when Jim called on us with a plea to find a suitably gentle companion for his tragically-ailing British Saanen, the lovely Lady Wenna; who had suffered poisoning from some unascertainable toxin. Although she’d somehow survived her close chum had immediately succumbed to the poison, & had apparently died within minutes of ingesting whatever-it-was, which so horrifically & abruptly killed her.
Sadly – as happens so frequently – the exact substance responsible for said deadly dose, has never been determined; just one of life’s perplexing mysteries, alas. But what is especially concerning is our friend’s relative seclusion, being situated so far ‘off the beaten track’ ;with only one immediate (but regrettably unneighbourly) neighbour, in the vicinity….
Meanwhile, Jim’s darling, ailing Wenna never recovered. She died a few months after her dear old friend; leaving poor, lonely Froggie (who never fitted comfortably into our robust herd environment, being a ‘bear of little brain’ & much bullied as a result), alone & pining. So we swiftly responded to Jim’s appeal for help & ensured she was joined by cheeky young wether male, Bran; who is now a big bruiser of a ‘boy’ & very handsomely charming, too.
The following feast-day dawned, warm & sunny; & I enjoyed leisurely preparing us a lovely meal whilst Tony sorted out the menagerie once we’d finished the morning milking.
A few hours later Jim bounced in with his typical effervescence; & we immediately escorted him to the Dairy Complex to meet our new girls. We’d initially christened them Hattie (short for ‘Hatrack’ as she was looking positively bony after giving birth to triplets & exuding all her energies into feeding her babies); & Marilyn (as this very pretty goat reminded us a bit of the archetypal ‘dumb blonde’, Marilyn Monroe).
For Jim, it was love at first sight: he found the girls utterly gorgeous; & helpfully suggested we rename Marilyn with a slightly kinder & more appropriately Celtic name – Melwyn; which means in Cornish – & incredibly close to the Welsh translation also – ‘honey-sweet’. Far more appropriate; so Melwyn it is, henceforth.
Being such a beautiful noon & blessed with such unseasonable warmth we decided to grasp the opportunity to eat our lunch, in the garden. After a bit of a panic over the starter – when I realised the hot, crusty wholegrain loaf I’d intended to bake as an accompaniment to some delicious game paté, wouldn’t fit in the oven along with all the other goodies – I had to endure a hasty rethink.
Thankfully I managed to scrabble together a delicious platter of antipasti, including delicate cornets of parma & serrano ham; slivers of chorizo & peppered salami; thin slices of smoked Bavarian cheese; various pickled & marinated vegetables; plump, garlic-stuffed green olives; & a Greek salad conmbining feta cheese, juicy cucumber chunks, sweet cherry tomato quarters, black & green pitted olives & a peppery combination of mixed baby herb & salad leaves, drizzled with an improvised balsamic vinegar & truffle oil dressing.
It proved the perfect starter for a long, leisurely lunch; & to be honest a wiser choice than the game paté which on reflection would have been a bit too heavy prior to a traditional roast dinner replete with all the trimmings.
Knowing Jim’s penchant for roast beef I’d consulted local butcher Dave the previous day; regarding choice of a suitable joint for the occasion. He indicated a plump, tender cut of nicely-matured Welsh Black beef, blanketed with a thin layer of creamy-white fat:
“Just the job”, he’d enthused. “With your Rayburn you won’t even need to crank up the heat too much; pop it in the oven as a slow roast, scatter in a few baby onions & baste some roasting potatoes in the melted fat….mmmm, delicious; my mouth’s watering at the prospect. Oh – what time’s lunch, by the way….?” The last comment added with a typically cheeky grin.
I’d coated the fat with a mustard & black pepper crust, to add a bit of extra spice to the gravy. The gorgeously-succulent beef sizzled gently in our capacious Rayburn pan; & by the time I’d removed the joint from the oven to rest, it was an absolutely perfectly-cooked, medium-rare: succulent & delicious.
The baby onions & potatoes were spot-on & even the Yorkshire puddings had gracefully risen like a prima ballerina dancing on pointes; with crisp, golden perfection. Side dishes of al dente fresh-cooked green beans, cruch-yielding broccoli & tiny, tasty baby carrots plus some hot-buttered, earthy new potatoes completed the montage; steeped with the rich, spicy gravy I’d improvised & washed down with an excellently heady, ruby-red Rioja.
Over our meal we excitedly discussed the farm’s bee project. To help us Jim had carefully unearthed a couple of books on the subject from his extensive library, for us to study; having oft kept bees himself, in the past.
One fascinating little hardbacked volume – dubbed “Bees for Beginners” sold for the princely sum of 2’6 & published by the magnificently-titled Eyre & Spottiswoode Ltd, His Majesty’s Printers, London contains some charming woodcuts along with incisive black-&-white photos plus a wonderful quote from the great Greek philosopher, Socrates:
“In every undertaking the beginning is the most important part”
– which in modern parlance translates to the ‘Six Ps’….
“Prior planning prevents Patheticaly Poor Performance”
– the very philosophy we espouse in every undertaking : whether smallholding, farming, crafting gelato, good business practise or – well – life; really.
And so, to dessert: & what could prove the perfect conclusion to a memorable meal blessed with such idyllic Spring sunshine…? The blackcurrant cheesecake looked decidedly promising; but perhaps a little too heavy after such a substantial main course.
“What about some ‘Lemon Grove’?” Tony hopefully inquired. I hesitated; this was our brand-new ‘prototype’ variety of summer Gelato; I still wasn’t sure that such a uniquely-challenging flavour was ready to be released from our chimaera’s box of gelato magick, without a little more careful perfection.
“Weeeell…..I’m not sure there’s enough in the freezer; & it has to be tempered, of course…..”
Still wholly hesitant I’m sure you can appreciate my reluctance to serve our honoured guest with what – after all – was so far only a prototype variety of our refreshing new gelato. To explain more succinctly I do so love a challenge; & all-too-often I’ve been told lemon makes a truly exquisite sorbet but that it literally “cannot be done” as an ice cream.
So I painstakingly researched my fruit & after much experimentation decided upon an organic Verna lemon as my ultimate citrus variety of choice. The Verna has a lovely thick, vibrant-yellow peel; the fruit itself brimming with sweet, zesty juice – both ingredients, exactly what I needed for such ice cream alchemy.
And finally, I’d created a lemon variety of gelato that I felt reasonably happy with; albeit that I’m so hyper-critical I am seldom satisfied until I’ve exhausted all possibilities. Oh yes; & for those who might wonder why I’ve hunted high & low for a specifially organic fruit, there’s a simple reason: tiny shards of the peel are swirled at a critical point during freeze-churning into the gelato, to give it an extra depth in terms of flavour & texture; with a truly magical result. And whilst using an organic lemon inevitably improves the flavour I can also be confident that the fruit itself hasn’t been chemically managed during its’ growth via potentially poisonous topical growth-inducing fertilisers & deadly insecticidal sprays; all the better for the consumer!
So a goodly scoop of Lemon Grove, served nestled in a sweet little natural meringue nest & elegantly decorated with a swwet sliver of candied peel, it was; & it transpired to be the ultimate curtain call for such a vibrant Spring luncheon – which would also prove the perfect conclusion to any elegant summer supper party, without a doubt.
After the meal I was able to put my feet up for a few minutes & enjoy a convival, nectared glass or two with our fine friend; until the goats began yelling for their own late-afternoon apéritif.
A glance at the evening hands on the stern clockface scurried us all into guilty action as Jim already had an hour’s gruelling drive across the undualting hills of the Preseli National Park before milking the gently-anxious Lady Freya; not to mention our own imminent marathon milking session here on our little Ffarm….
Hours later, after the sun had majestically descended in shades of golden glory over the purple silhouettes of the Preseli mountains we watched the gathering stars flicker into a million points of bejewelled fire, one-by-one, in the depths of the darkening sky. An early-awakened bat took advantage of the few fat moths for her own imprompu banquet as we gazed in awe at the sea of stars overhead, tracing the patterns of ancient constellations & ascertaining the exact position of our Lovespoon Star, high overhead in the night’s inky-black embrace.
A wonderful day concluded in companionable comfort; me, arms-up-to-elbows in hot, soapy dishwater; whilst Tony tackled the rapidly-growing mound of squeaky-clean bone china & ‘best’ silver cutlery.
“Wasn’t it lovely to spend the afternoon with Jim, & share the acquaintance of the new Milkforce ladies, with him?” I commented as Tony apparently attempted to vigorously eradicate the delicate, hand-painted pattern from the aged bone china serving dish he was drying with the apparently equally-aged dishcloth he wielded.
“What a gentleman!” Tony exclaimed in reply. “After all; even the ladies got that scrumptious gift of a sackful of fresh fodder beet – their favourite* !”
And I have to say, our afternoon shared with the engaging company of charming ‘Gentleman Jim’, was delightful pleasure indeed – whatever my mixed-up menu….!
*For our goats, a gift of fodder beet is the equivalet of offering them a bumper box of Belgian chocolates as a diversion for a wet Wednesday afternoon…..in other words, sheer Heaven!