Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Pig Tales

Trying to squish into a dog bed in my sitting room

This day last week all hell broke loose. I had three pigs booked in to my local abattoir. I had arranged everything to run smoothly (so I thought). The trailer had been put in the field so they would get used to it. They were to be fed in it every day for a few days so they would not get stressed when the time came to load them up. Stressed pigs like all animals produce bad quality meat.

The first day the trailer was reversed in, I decided to walk up the ramp shaking a bucket to see what would happen. I was almost knocked over as the three of them scattered up the ramp. Job done. If I wanted them to load that fast they would have avoided it like the plague. Having said that, these pigs were bred here; they were used to people, machinery, noise, activity. So maybe it wasn't surprising. 

Well anyway, I went out that Monday morning, called them as usual. The three muskateers were already waiting as was their daddy, Laertes the boar. No sign of their mother, Lady Lavinia. I fed them and called the sow. I saw her come trundling into the field. She had a few mouthfuls and then allowed Laertes to bully her and take the rest. I watched her turn and waddle off. She was due on Wednesday, two days later. Something made me grab a bale of straw and follow her. When you are with animals all day long every day you develop an instinct. She went over to the hedge not towards her house. I walked slowly over, I could hear squeaking. She had given birth to two piglets in a nest she had made in the field. The day before it had rained incessantly and the grass walls she had built were sodden. The two little mites had managed to scramble over the edge and were tumbling around in the cold, confused and crying. I picked them up to move them over to their house thinking she would follow me. She did not. I stuffed a load of fresh straw into the house and put them in the middle so they would be warm and went back to the sow. I was all in a tiz, should I leave them in the house alone or move them back to her in the nest. I decided to move them back to the nest and I backed away.

She walked over to her nest and lay down. I left her alone as one started to suckle. A while later my son went out to check and came back to say she was over the other side of the field (luckily he wasn't working that day). I thought nothing of it as having been in labour myself knew it was easier to keep moving. He insisted she was rejecting her babies. From that on we were in and out as she moved between the house and her nest dropping piglets and moving on. Finally he came in distraught. She must have stood on a piglet and had almost dislocated it's tail at the base and it was hanging on by skin. The sharpest scissors in the house was a lethal little nail scissors which had to be used to remove the rest of the tail.

At this stage we decided to take the piglets in and keep them warm to give her space, get her head sorted and finish delivering. And we got loads and loads and loads of bloody advice. Do this. Do that. We were told lock her in the house with the piglets and she will calm down. We did this and hovered with baited breath thinking no squeals were good news. Then we heard monumental screaming. We ran out. She had bust out of the house leaving the piglets behind. The one who had had her tail dislocated had obviously been stood on and now had a deep slash across her shoulder. Cue a mad dash to the vet for stitching. That piece of advice cost me €60!

She delivered 12 in total. I was beside her as number 10 delivered. She did nothing. I had to grab the piglet and pull the amniotic fluid from her airways and rub her with grass to get her breathing, I even did the Call the Midwife thing of turning her upside down and gave her a tap on the back. Thank God for James Herriot, Countryfile and all the other programmes I have watched over the years.

Finally after trying to get her to sniff her babies and having her almost take my hand off we resigned ourselves to the fact that she had very firmly rejected them. Previous to this I had caught her trying to bite some of them in the nest and had to dive in and grab them. A big angry sow with big yellow teeth snapping at you is not for the faint hearted!

We got an old chest of drawers, cut the legs off it and stuffed it with straw. I dashed over to a my feed suppliers who rang their rep and asked what colostrum most resembled pig. At this point I realised I was on my own. Reps, feed suppliers, vets, farmers know NOTHING about pigs. Pigs are disposable. If you lose one you throw it in the skip and move on. They are cheap to produce, cheap to raise and they provide you the consumer with very, very cheap protein.

I bought sheep colostrum. I mixed up organic cows' milk with goats' milk and cream as none of the other mammals milk comes close in fat content to a sow's. I then realised to keep this up I would be broke. Organic cows' milk retails at 99 cent a litre, goats' at €2.75 a litre, I don't even know what cream is......

I just could not justify this financially so I went and asked a neighbouring dairy farmer could I buy milk from him. I am buying 9 litres a day, so buying it direct made way more sense.

I then had one little mite go down with scour. I had fed them all at lunch time and when I went in to check less than two hours later I saw her asleep and all the others trampling on her as they looked for food. I took her out and put her in a polystyrene box on a hot water bottle. She released a load of watery yellow diarrhoea on me and was frothing at the mouth. I cleaned her up and started syringing water with salt and sugar every 30 minutes drop by drop. This saved her. We dashed into the vet again and got antibiotic powder and did the crazy calculations for dosage by body weight. She was 754g. I gave up and got a teaspoon and picked up the powder on the tip of the spoon, diluted it and syringed it into her.

She recovered, is demanding food but is not able to get onto her feet. I asked the vet. I asked family members who are vets. None of them knew anything. I got told widely varying explanations and resorted to Google. Apparently pigs are very susceptible to dehydration and it can affect them very quickly. I think she was just starting to dehydrate and her electrolyte balance was off so she possibly had a seisure. Whatever happened has affected her balance.

In another discussion with my vet he told me to expect 6-8 to survive. To date and fingers crossed I have 12.

In all the chaos I managed to find out bits and pieces of information about hand raising pigs. The most important is to get colostrum into them. There wasn't a chance of getting it from the sow as she was not in the mood to even let me rub her head. She is normally a really friendly, placid sow so something happened that day. The other thing is to get the piglets out onto soil as quickly as possible. I was amazed when I carried them out, barely a day old when they actually started to nudge and eat the soil. This prevents iron and B12 deficiency. Also at that tender age they already tried their best to get out of their bed to pee. They are now trained to go on newspaper and have several favourite spots. If only it was as easy to train a puppy!

The little mite with scour

Pig transporter out to the veg patch

A big tree pot for shelter in veg patch

Looking for a feed

Passed out in the sun
Basking in a ray of sunlight

More anon. For pictures follow @foodborn on Twitter. Also MMG on Vine  and on Instagram as foodbornofficial. 

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Blackcurrant Recipe Ideas - Dealing with a Glut

Chocolate and blackcurrant torte
Coping with a summer glut? I hear people complaining that they have loads of fruit or vegetables and don't know how they will use them. When you look up ideas for fruit recipes, most involve baking. I saw on Twitter the other day that a bakery in Dublin, Firehouse will barter baked goods for fruit. I thought this was a great idea. However if you have a freezer it's a bit easier to deal with.

This year has been a brilliant year for fruit. So much so that I have to look for another freezer. Most berries will freeze really well and can be picked straight off the bush into bags. I never bother to wash fruit unless the branches have been trailing on the ground. When berries are frozen they are much easier to top and tail as often a good rub will get the bits off.

I used give away my blackcurrants but not any more. I discovered that they are absolutely amazing cooked in porridge. In the middle of winter a handful into the pot gives a lovely acidic kick. They are also full of vitamin C and have 6 times the antioxidants of blueberries. When I gave them away and then ran out at some point after Christmas I was reduced to buying blueberries. They are so bland in comparison.

You can also cook them down to make puree. This can then be frozen in small quantities for using as a natural food colouring. I don't add any sugar so you do need to freeze it. All it takes is a good heavy bottomed pan and a bit of patience until the berries cook down. Then push it through a sieve.


I add either fresh or frozen berries to the porridge as it's cooking. For the picture above I also added some of the puree to give the colour. Serve with some honey and either milk or yoghurt.

To make this blackcurrant cake. I used 200g butter, sugar and flour and 3 large eggs (or 4 supermarket size large). My hen/duck eggs would fall into an XL category. Add 2 tablespoons of blackcurrant puree. If you want a stronger colour you will need to reduce the amount of egg and increase the flour or the mix will be too wet. Bake at 170C fan for about 30 minutes

To make the buttercream use a tablespoon of puree and add a big knob of softened butter and icing sugar and milk until you get the right consistency. It's much easier to start with the wet ingredients and add dry rather than vice versa.

The frozen puree can also be used to make ice cream, sweetened to serve as a coulis or as an addition to a sauce for game later in the year.

Frozen blackcurrants can also be used to make creme de cassis or cordial when there is a dearth of fresh fruit that is not imported from the other side of the globe.

For the chocolate and blackcurrant torte recipe pictured above.

175g butter
175g sugar
3 large eggs
75g good quality cocoa powder or 150g dark chocolate (I used cocoa powder for cake above)
100g ground almonds
50g self raising flour
blackcurrants (a good handfull)

Melt butter and chocolate or cocoa powder. Separate eggs. Beat yolks and sugar. Whisk whites. Combine all folding in the egg white last. Stir in the ground almonds, fold in sieved flour and add blackcurrants. Bake in a spring form tin at 160C fan for 40 mins.

So don't waste any glut. And if you can't be bothered with all of the above at least take up Firehouse Bakery's offer and trade your glut for cakes or bread.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

This is Cavan 2015

Aine's Chocolates 

The Taste of Cavan 2015 is over for another year after a mammoth event which saw the Cavan Equestrian Centre probably more packed to the rafters than it ever has been before. The main arena more used to horses and riders competing, had a myriad of food and beverage stands set up in rows and between the rows the crowds milled - tasting, talking, buying and marvelling at the crowds which grew bigger every hour.

Outside the cars queued to get in and an army of volunteers directed them quickly and efficiently to parking.

4pm on the last day
Last year's attendance numbered over 35,000. I think the first day this year came close to surpassing that.

Most of the exhibitors came from Cavan and the surrounding counties. A whole aisle given over to new micro breweries with tables and chairs at the end where you could sit and sample their wares and watch the world go by.

Local Virginia micro brew

Brehon from Carrickmacross

Cockagee from Meath 
Piedmontese beef burger and a Celtic Warrier beer 
The tables and chairs were a stroke of genius as you could buy from the stalls selling food and wash it down with a craft beer or a cider. Others just took the weight off their feet with a coffee or an ice cream.

Really good organic coffee

At various stages during the day there were cookery demonstrations from well-known local and not so local chefs. These took place in a large area with seating at the back of the venue. Sound and lighting were superb and even standing at the back you could see and hear clearly. Shane Smith from Fallon and Byrne made some stunning looking cakes. Gearoid Lynch gave a coeliac friendly demo and Anjula Devi who came from London made some fabulous Indian food. And of course no Cavan food festival would be complete without the man himself, Neven Maguire.

Rachel Allen from Ballymaloe
Neven Maguire

Sampling the food from Anjula Devi's demo

Gearoid Lynch from The Olde Post Inn 

Glorious cakes from Shane Smith's demo

A walk around the food stands where most were giving taste samples and selling their wares. What struck me was so many doing the same thing. Any amount of the ubiquitous cup cake (when will we tire of these?) Some looked great, some were just horrendous. In fact I stood beside one stand which had the worst excess of sugar, artificial flavouring and colouring and listened to all the comments. The vast majority were positive........

Red velvet cakes pretty and simple
There were jams, chutneys and sauces. There were puddings, relishes, handmade chocolates, meats, ice cream, mushrooms, poultry, honey, fudge and marshmallow. I particularly liked Moran's jam packaging. So many great products were badly let down by bad packaging and just as clothes make the man, they certainly help to make a sale.

Wildwood Vinegars have the packaging lark sewn up. I would buy them just for the bottles alone. It helps that they make the most amazing vinegars from wild berries and flowers grown around them in Co. Mayo. We bought some and left them with him for safe keeping. When we returned the stand had been cleaned out. The proof is in the pudding.

Wildwood Vinegars

Lovely packaging from Delish Melish

And I think this final photo sums up what were a brilliant couple of days.

The official photographer and some curious small girls
I have to hand it to Cavan. A great festival of food organised by people who are passionate about what they do and work tirelessly to achieve it. Onwards and upwards.