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You are here: Croan Cottage Blog » Newsletters » Blog article: Christmas 2016

Christmas 2016

Such lovely December weather we’re enjoying as we prepare for Christmas and 2017. It’s an ideal time to look back over the year we’re had and to look forward and plan for the coming season.

This year, for the first time, we brought home a clutch of beautiful bronze turkey chicks to raise for the festive season and it’s been an interesting experience. Of all the poultry we’ve raised, it must be said that the turkeys are the least self-sufficient and by some considerable distance. Our peacocks live up a tree and take themselves off to bed at night. The hens’ instinct to roost has them all safely in their house in the orchard as the sun sets.  We set the turkeys up in a lovely house in a large paddock with plenty of room and grass to pick at. Despite their comfortable surroundings, they’re completely unable to make the connection between night-time and going inside. We tried everything – Francis put a solar light inside to encourage them to move towards it at dusk. We tried feeding them exclusively in the house so they’d gather there. But all to no avail. Every evening, we have to wait till they’re sleepy and then quietly and calmly herd them into their house. We’ never before had to tuck our birds in! And to complicate matters, our peachick has fallen in with this bad crowd, but she’s much smarter and to try to get her to move indoors with the others, without disturbing them, is no small matter.

But it’s been fun watching them grow. They have the most amazing bronze plumage, striking pink wattles and they make a lovely singing, gobbly sound. They’ll make a stunning centrepiece for any festive table and there are still some available for sale if you’d like to celebrate Christmas with a really fine free-range bird. We’ll be using our friend Steve Lamb’s recipe for a flavoured brine before roasting in the wood fired oven (See recipe here).

Our other new addition to the farm this year is our new Angus calf.  As our cow Bo was no longer capable of raising a calf, she retired and we bought Bowie as a weanling from our neighbour and named her in honour of David.  She’s already proving to be quite the rebel, rebel. She’s acquired the goats’ bad habit of ignoring/wrecking fences to get to the greener grass and she enjoys bulldozing through the pigs’ feed bins. But all in all she’s a sweetie and has settled in really well.

We also raised two pigs (a Hampshire and an Oxford Sandy and Black) who have since left and we’ll bring in two more in the Spring to join the lambs in the paddocks.  The geriatric goats Daisy and Bill are in good health, despite their advanced years.  Poppy and Peggy continue to annoy and delight one another in equal measure and the rest of the poultry delight us with their self sufficiency, particularly given our experience with the turkeys.

In the garden, we battled a plague of sow thistle to produce one of the best vegetable harvests ever.  We tried some new varieties with varying degrees of success, including artichokes and kohl rabi. Giant Pumpkins for Hallowe’en were truly giant and after carving, the flesh made for a delicious Pumpkin and Chickpea Stew and Spiced Pumpkin Cupcakes. Even now that we’re approaching Christmas, the garden continues to supply us with vegetables: leeks, kale, cavolo nero, celeriac and beetroot are in good supply and allow us to continue the great treat of picking your dinner in the garden.

In the greenhouse, we had our worst ever year for tomatoes. They were late to start given the cold Spring, and never really took off.  On the plus side, our fig tree produced masses of fruit and the vines were heavy with grapes. Our strawberry crop was poor, again most likely because of the cold Spring, but raspberries, gooseberries and currants were so plentiful that we filled a freezer to use throughout the Winter.  It’s been a great year for orchard fruits and the fruit stores that Francis made in the potting shed will keep us going for a few months yet.

This year has been one in which we took advantage of some fantastic opportunities to team up with like minded groups and individuals to expand on our own knowledge and to share it with others.  In April, we were delighted to welcome Steven Lamb and Gill Mellor from River Cottage UK for our first residential cookery course. We had 16 students, including food writer Katy McGuinness from the Sunday Times, for a three day course in which we cooked, ate and laughed a lot together.  Gill and Steven were amazing tutors and great sports and the course went so well that we followed on with an August foraging course with River Cottage’s John Wright for a two day exploration of the fields, hedges and woodlands around Croan in beautiful sunshine. The bounty of the wild made for some memorable meals with a great bunch of students.  Steven Lamb joined us again when we hosted the Savour Kilkenny 10th birthday party and festival launch in September, along with his River Cottage colleague Tim Maddams. Following a delicious pig roast party for the Festival team and guests, Steve and Tim taught a two day course which covered such diverse topics as bread making, cheese making, curing and butchery.  With half a lamb and three professional butchers among the students, the discussion was lively and the craic mighty!

For 2017, we’re planning another foraging course in May with John Wright, this time with a seashore dimension and another cookery course with an emphasis on smallholding in October with Steven Lamb. We’ll post details on our website as the details are finalised, or feel free to contact us for further information. Our partnership with River Cottage is really important to us as the TV series was the inspiration behind our decision to abandon the city for a rural life many years ago.  Though Francis has worked at HQ since 2014, it was our first visit to the Dorset HQ as a family in August and a really special moment.

In October, we partnered up with the legendary Olivia and Roger Goodwillie of Lavistown House for a mushroom hunt. Following a morning’s foraging in Castle Morres, we hosted a delicious lunch for all the participants before continuing with an afternoon trip to Woodstock to continue the search.

Having launched the Savour Kilkenny Food Festival in September, it was our great pleasure to host the inaugural Smallholders Gathering as part of the 10th (and biggest yet) Food Festival over the October Bank Holiday weekend.  With a large tent at the Castle gates and joined by some of our friends from Smallholders UK, we prepared a programme of talks, panel discussions and workshops covering all aspects of Smallholding for all levels from novice to expert.  The Zwartbles sheep, Oxford Sandy and Black pigs, turkeys, geese and impressive Alpaca, proved a huge draw and opened up an important conversation about self-provision and ethical, quality food production. Indeed, our turkeys made their radio debut on KCLR, promoting the Smallholders Gathering with their unique sound effects.  Croan has been making more forays into the media, with some great coverage in the national press.  We were thrilled to be recognised as the 8th best Cookery School in Ireland by the Irish Independent in the Spring and Francis has become a regular contributor on food and gardening topics on KCLR and KCCR radio stations. Francis appeared on both stations last week to advise on gifts for the gardener and foodie and in case you need further inspiration, we have a wide range of gifts from Croan this year, from beautiful handcrafted chopping boards in a range of sizes, free range turkeys for your Christmas dinner and gift vouchers for holidays breaks and courses. For details and pricing, check out www.croancottages.com

Wishing you a very peaceful Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year,

Niamh & Francis




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