27 December 2010

Roughing it in the Bush

I've been meaning to read Susanna Moodie's 1852 account of her early years in Canada for years now, ever since I first heard about it. She emigrated from England to Ontario in 1832 and spent the first eight years here farming, first near Cobourg and then north of Peterborough. After that time, her husband was appointed Sheriff of Hastings County and the family moved to Belleville. Roughing it in the Bush describes the family's experiences in their attempts at farming. Most of the book was written by Susanna, with a few chapters by her husband, John.

The Moodies emigrated almost exactly 175 years before we did, so the book was sure to be interesting, in seeing how things had changed for new emigrants in all that time. As someone with a fairly strong interest in history, I thought I would be bound to enjoy it. I was disappointed. There were some interesting details about household and farming life in the mid-nineteenth (I had no idea you could make coffee from roasted dandelion roots, for example), but the overwhelming impression I gained was of Susanna Moodie's strong sense of entitlement and even stronger sense of self-pity. I found her irritating in the extreme. For example:

My husband and I had worked hard in the field; it was the first time I had ever tried my hand at field-labour, but our ready money was exhausted...and there was no help for it. I had a hard struggle with my pride before I would consent to render the least assistance on the farm

In the end, the best part of the book was towards the end of it (I'm glad I persevered), when she talks about Prince Edward County a little (having moved to Belleville - whose population was 4,554 at this point). Suddenly her tone changes completely and it's like reading one of today's local business development brochures. Here's what she had to say about the County:

Large quantities of wheat and other farm produce are transported over the ice to Belleville from the neighbouring county of Prince Edward, which is an exceedingly propserous agricultural settlement, yielding wheat of the finest quality, and particularly excellent cheese and butter. The scenery on the shores of Prince Edward is exceedingly picturesque, and there are numerous wharfs at short distances, from whence the farmers roll their barrels of flour and other articles on board the steamers on their way to market. I have seen no scenery in Upper Canada presenting the same variety and beauty as that of the shores of Prince Edward in particular...Certain it is, that more quiet, industrious, and prosperous settlers, are not to be found in the Province.

I particularly liked her description of the local women-folk:

The counties of Hastings and Prince Edward are celebrated for female beauty, and nowhere can you see people in the same class more becomingly attired. At the same time there is nothing rustic about them, except genuine good nature and unaffected simplicity of manners. To judge by their light elastic step and rosy smiling countenances, no people on earth seem to enjoy a greater share of health and contentment.

I'm going off now, to try to perfect my light elastic step.

23 December 2010


We got some lake-effect snow last Saturday, our first real snow of the winter. Today was the first time I'd walked along the path in the picture since the snowfall. You can see that there are a lot of tracks in the snow - they're mainly made by coyotes.

We got a more gruesome reminder of the coyotes' presence when the dog came running out of the woods with a deer's leg in its mouth on Monday. We distracted him with some dog biscuits and Mike took the leg away to hide it from him. The following day, just south of the spot in the photo, I found the leg again, this time gnawed almost clean. I didn't have my camera with me, so no photo. (For which I'm sure you're grateful!) Luckily the dog was behind me at the time, so I just turned for home and he didn't see the leg. Today, it had vanished again and I hope that's the last we'll see of it. Does make you realise that those coyotes aren't to be messed with, though...

17 December 2010

Festive ice cream

These are my Christmas gifts for my co-workers at the library (it's OK, I don't think they read this blog, so it should still be a surprise!). I decided to make ice-cream for them this year. With a North American flavour.

The orange-coloured layer at the bottom of these pots is pumpkin pie ice cream. I roasted my pumpkin at the weekend and it produced about five pounds of purée. Mike suggested that my colleagues might like it as ice cream. A quick hunt online found a few recipes, including this custard-based one which was what I used as the foundation for my version. I drained the purée in cheesecloth in a sieve for half an hour or so, first, as pumpkin can be quite watery. The other departure from the recipe was to stir in pieces of crystallised ginger to the finished ice cream (an idea from one of the other recipes I found).

As you can see, the pumpkin pie ice cream didn't really fill the five containers, so I needed to think of something else for the top layer. Originally, I was just going to do vanilla, but then it occurred to me that it wouldn't take much to turn vanilla ice cream into egg nog ice cream. Just a bit of nutmeg, cinnamon and a generous slosh of brandy, in fact. Tastes pretty good. There's some left over and I think it will be great as a topping on my Christmas pudding. A mix of Old and New World. How apt.

16 December 2010


The lake is starting to freeze over at its eastern end. On Tuesday I picked up a newly-laid egg and cracked it into a frying pan for lunch. The white was already frozen.

11 December 2010

Ice contours

I don't understand the process by which these icy contours form, but the end result is attractive.

After a cold week, the temperatures got above the freezing mark today. The stream, whose surface had been completely frozen, is now running with water again. In some places, it is bubbling through holes in the ice, rather like a blow-hole:

The chickens didn't stir from the barn for two days this week, when it was too cold and windy for them outside. Today, though, they're back in the orchard. We got four eggs from them yesterday, which is the first time since 22 September that we've had that many. And about time, too.

With freezing rain in the forecast for tomorrow, and cold temperatures again after that, they'd better make the most of their day outside!

07 December 2010

Top deck

I was going to call this post 'New Layer', but I see that I've already done that, almost exactly a year ago.

Sigh, so hard to be original. It would have been even more apt for this post, as the new layer in question positioned her egg directly above where the older hen put hers - precariously balanced on top of the nest boxes, instead of safely inside one. There's quite a difference in size between the eggs. And yes, before you say so, I know that this looks just like the picture in that same post from last year.

I've put some more nesting material inside the boxes, to encourage the new hens to lay there. The former lining of hay was looking a bit sparse.

06 December 2010


We found a likely-looking tree yesterday and Mike performed his magic with the chainsaw, which took all of three seconds or so.

We had to cut another two or three feet off the bottom of it to make it fit in the living room (why is it so hard to judge the size of a tree when you're outside?) and even then, it's easily the biggest Christmas tree we've ever had. Our old Christmas lights looked so pathetic on it that we had to go out and buy some new ones. So much for our 'free' tree...

Anyway, it's now installed and looking as gloriously tasteless as any of its predecessors.

05 December 2010

Summer in winter

I enjoy making meals which use a combination of fresh and preserved local food. Today I did that with a braised lamb shank recipe. The lamb was from our meat CSA scheme and has been in the freezer since it was delivered in the summer. I've also used a jar of the tomatoes I preserved in August (even though we do still have some fresh ones).

The remaining ingredients are more seasonal: garlic, onions, carrots, swede/rutabaga and rosemary.

After browning the meat in an ovenproof dish, I cooked the chopped vegetables in butter for five minutes or so and then added the jar of tomatoes, some white wine and some stock. The lamb shanks were added back into the pan, which was covered, brought to the boil and then transferred to a 300°F/150°C oven for three hours. I served it with mashed potato and braised red cabbage.

And if that wasn't enough to fill the house with lovely smells, I also used the woodstove to dry some orange slices for use as Christmas decorations. I tried this last year and managed to burn some of the slices slightly. This time I've mastered the technique - the rack on top of the roasting pan keeps the slices sufficiently far away from the heat of the stove to let them dry more gently.

I love the way they look when they're finished: like small pieces of stained glass. A promise of summer.

04 December 2010

Here it comes...

A glance at the weather forecast yesterday spurred me into action in the garden. The temperatures were going to be below freezing for the next week and I still had some root crops to lift.

I got five pounds of purple carrots and three pounds of (rather gangly) parsnips, several small red cabbages and a fair bit of broccoli. Then I did a bit more clearing out in the greenhouse, removing the last of the aubergine, pepper and tomato plants. There are still some herbs and greens in there, including this determined little cilantro/coriander plant, which had established itself in a tiny patch of earth on the concrete floor.

Knowing that everything was about to change, I went out and took pictures of the watery landscape yesterday. After a cold night and some light snow this morning, things are already looking different.

Pond yesterday

Pond today

Woods yesterday

Woods today

02 December 2010

"The best soup ever!"

Writing this down quickly, as it's not often I manage to please everyone with a soup that's mainly made of  vegetables.


Sunchokes (about two handfuls)
3 medium-sized carrots
Potatoes (two handfuls: they were a fingerling variety)
1 leek
Ground pepper
Bit of butter
1½ pints stock (I used ham stock)
2 broccoli heads
Stilton cheese (about a handful, once grated)
3 rashers of bacon, chopped and fried until crispy

Very precise measurements, as you can see.

Chop the sunchokes, potatoes, leeks and carrots into small pieces (about ½ inch cubes) and sweat them gently in the butter for a few minutes with a little freshly ground pepper. Add the stock and bring to a gentle simmer. Leave for around 30 minutes and then add the broccoli heads, broken into individual florets. Cook until the broccoli is tender, for about five minutes.

Remove the soup from the heat and stir in the grated Stilton. Blend until fairly smooth, pour into serving bowls and top with the bacon pieces.

I didn't get a chance to take a photograph of the soup (though there's a photo on this blog that gives the overall effect), but it got rave reviews from both children, which is quite miraculous. Especially as I had no idea what I was going to make for supper until about an hour before we ate it. In the days when I used to buy cartons of fresh soup, when we were back in England, my daughter's favourite was always Broccoli and Stilton. This is the closest she's had since - and I managed to squeeze in a whole load of other home-grown vegetables, too!

An improvement on the reaction to last soup I served up (butternut squash, carrot and lentil), which Child #1 says she had to pretend was chocolate sauce in order to finish...