During the summer, the Killavullen Farmers’ Market moves to Friday nights for a time, which is useful for me going home from work, and I was delighted to pick up a couple of just-picked globe artichokes there last week from the Nano Nagle stall. We ate them during the week, the stalks sliced off to the base and the artichokes then simmered in salted water, under a side pate to keep them immersed, until the point of a knife penetrated the base easily.
After the excitement of our first – albeit cracked – egg, three out of four of the chickens have been earning their keep. We’re still not sure who’s holding out, but most mornings, when we go out to the run to feed and water them, there are three eggs waiting in the nesting box. They’re small – I’m using two instead of one at the moment – but perfectly formed and, I didn’t expect this, have an incredible flavour. It must be all the Ballyvoddy slugs that they pick up on their wanders around the garden.
Our half-acre plot is surrounded by mature trees, including several elders that are currently blossoming in a profusion of heady-smelling, cream-coloured flowerheads. Rather than just admiring them this year and thinking – afterwards, of course – that I should have made elderflower cordial, last weekend I dug out my recipe, buckets and ingredients, made a special trip to the chemist for citric acid, picked a selection of the flowers and had it made in minutes. The recipe I used comes via my mother, who noticed one of her students drinking a bottle of elderflower cordial last summer and got her mum’s recipe for me. Ever since then it’s been sitting on the kitchen mantelpiece, just waiting for some elderflowers – and a little motivation!
On Saturday – two weeks after our (supposedly) point-of-lay pullets arrived – there was great excitement when the Husband discovered a little egg, still warm, on the bottom of the hen house. Unfortunately, by the time he found it, it was already cracked, proving that our chickens still haven’t got the hang of things. The chicken that laid the egg managed to do it from her perch, rather than the nice cosy nesting box. Still, the cat was delighted to get an egg for her tea and hopefully it won’t take too much longer for the rest of the girls to follow her example.When you take the cost of the hen house and run into consideration, this is, as the Financially-Orientated Brother pointed out, the most expensive egg ever in the history of egg-laying. When the chickens get the hang of the egg-producing life, we are hoping that the average cost of each egg will come down quite a bit.
My Nana always kept hens. As a child, I spent a lot of time at her house – just the other side of the hill from where we now live – and hens were an ever-present, taken-for-granted part of growing up. Previously my Nana, a trained and skilled poultrywoman, had kept flocks of hens for breeding; by the time I came along she just supplied Dwanes, one of the local shops, with fresh eggs for sale at the counter. But there were still jobs for the grandchildren to do. One of the dreaded chores was that of collecting the eggs. Slowly, slowly, slowly, the straw-lined wicker egg basket banging against my Wellington-clad bare legs, I would go through the gate in the far corner of the yard, wander past the haggart with all its fascinating bits of rusty farm machinery, turn right on to the lane the cows ambled along twice a day for milking and, keeping close to the less muddy inside side, come to the old wooden hen house. After taking a deep breath of clean air, I would twist the old bolt across, opening the door into the musty fug of the hens’ world and prepare myself for the egg search.
Although there has been lots of salad planted in the garden on recent weekends, including mustard greens, rocket and mizuna (at least I’ll be able to distinguish between the plants after cramming in Ballymaloe for the salad leaves and herbs exams!), it’s going to be a while before any of the leaves are big enough to eat. Then, of course, because our planting in succession routine is not entirely developed – despite best intentions – we’ll have another glut to work through. But that’s all ahead of us and, until then, I’ve been growing my own salad on the windowsill.
Spring may not be properly sprung, judging by this week’s storms, but there’s still a lightness in the air, a brightness in the mornings and evenings which translates itself onto the dinner table. Not being entirely well organised gardeners, it took us a while to figure out which of the selection of plants still standing (or half battered down) in the garden is kale – the other that we still have growing is purple sprouting broccoli or PSB, although not yet P or S, although we still have our fingers crossed. We’re growing a variety called Ragged Jack, with large frilly leaves, and I had only ever encountered curly kale before this so initially refused to believe that it was edible. After confirming that it is indeed edible – more than that, it’s actually delicious, with tender and juicy leaves – we have been eating it with abandon.