Tuesday 4 October 2016

Thyme-roasted belly of pork, cider apple sauce - and an 'au revoir'

Summer has inexorably ebbed away over the last few days. Chillier mornings are here, that beautifully clear light that comes on a sunny Autumn day, the undeniable yet indefinable 'smell' of Autumn that's there as you breathe in. The trees are heavy with apples, and overhead, the geese are forming and re-forming their skeins, honking loudly as they make pass after pass over our house from the estuary, and our top field is strangely quiet as the pigs that arrived in late Spring were dispatched early last week only to return, butchered and bagged, ready for the freezer.

pigs in their stye

You only really know how big a pig is when you try and fit it into your freezer. That's not a euphemism. As the pigs got fat snuffling around, rootling through the ground, churning it up, wallowing and generally enjoying about the best life a pig could have, I became increasingly concerned as to quite how our portion of pork - the rent, if you will, as the pigs were not ours - would fit into our array of white goods.  For weeks, we've been eating our way through the boxes, tubs and bags stashed away in months gone by - in many instances playing freezer roulette as a result of my apparently frequent labelling lapses. And each time it was my responsibility to feed the pigs, my anxiety would return. 2 buckets of feed morning and evening each day became three and then five, along with plentiful windfalls and other treats. I had to employ increasingly tactical strategies to get over the fence, into the pen and emptying said buckets into the feeding troughs without getting knocked into the mud and trampled all over by 8 eager, hungry and enormous pigs...

Fortunately, our efforts eating through the freezer were rewarded and the 70kg that came back on Friday all fitted in, along with 10kg of sausage. That, along with some lamb that also originated on our land earlier in the summer, and some fantastic grass fed beef from Esgair Farm near Carmarthen, means that we're pretty much sorted for meat for the next few months. 

Of course, we couldn't resist trying the pork this weekend: when you've spent 3 months anticipating meat that has grown up within 100 feet of your house, meat that you know has had a fantastically happy life, free to root around, free to wallow in mud, free to play football (stop press - pigs play football) and to run around having mad half hours - you just have to try it. I defy any meat eater to do anything else.

Pork joint ready for the oven with thyme and salt rubbed into the scored skin

Browsing through Diana Henry's Food from Plenty, I found the perfect recipe - nothing too heavily flavoured that would mask the pork, a simple treatment - and simple is often the best. Thyme-roasted belly of pork with baked apples did the job perfectly giving incredible crackling, melting meat and some rather tasty apples to go with. Apples which had grown in our garden too, along with the thyme that I rubbed into the scored skin, along with salt and pepper, in readiness for the oven. Even better, the baked apples recipe made use of some of the Husband's rather challenging home brew cider... Although we're in no position to give it our day jobs and immerse ourselves in smallholding and self-sufficiency, there's a certain sense of satisfaction to be felt from eating a meal where the meat and a significant part of the accompaniments come from your own garden.

roasted pork with amazing aromatic and crispy crackling

Caring for the pigs, deputising for our neighbour who they actually belonged to has been a big part of what has been a bit of a funny summer, what with one thing and another. Life has thrown a number of curved balls our way - nothing insurmountable, but each requiring time and attention. 

When I was blogging regularly, engaging and participating in the blogging community, I'd occasionally come across a blog which just seemed to have 'stopped'. One day, a blog post, one of a regular stream, and then - nothing. I used to wonder what had happened to those people - people obviously like me who had cared enough about what they were interested in to post regularly. Had something happened? Had they got bored? Worse? I often feared for the worst - after all my own blogging had started out of my son's serious illness - and I often imagined something of those proportions might have happened, intervening with their blogging. And then, at some point over this crazy summer - I realised that my blog was one of those - simply abandoned. Nothing to indicate the state of play, one day a post, then nothing...

I've thought about it a lot over the last few weeks, and what I've realised is that, this blog, this blog that I've loved writing, loved the comments, loved being a very small and insignificant part of the food blogging community, this blog has done its job. I started it at a time when my life was in chaos, and it gave me a focus, something I could do for me when every other moment was full of caring for a child with a life threatening illness and a baby. This year, though, with all its trials and traumas, all its highs and lows hasn't really given me any cause to sit down and blog. Fred the dog had to be put to sleep, Brexit threw me off kilter for weeks, Blue broke a foot bone, kiboshing much of our summer . On the plus side, some amazing camping and walking trips, days on the beach, sailing with dolphins, catching lobster in our own pots... and yet none of it made it to the blog. The cooking for solace and celebration - and life in general - it's all been going on, but nothing I just haven't needed to share in the way I used to feel so compelled to do so.

And Blue and Pink who gave me so much fodder for the blog - being as much of my cooking that formed the heart of the blog was aimed at feeding them healthy, varied, homecooked yet easy food - have all of a sudden grown up. I no longer feel comfortable calling them 'Blue' and 'Pink'. Blue, almost 13, is taller than me, and is as strong as an ox, enjoying life at secondary school. Pink is a maelstrom of hormones, already comfortable in the kitchen herself, and working her way through a collection of Sam Stern recipes and the children's Silver Spoon cook book. Even more significant, I can pretty much put anything on the table, and it will be eaten up. Salads, lentils, curries, fish. My work here is done.

So to those of you who came with me on my blogging journey, thank you and goodbye - well, au revoir. I'm still lurking about on Twitter and Instagram, There may also be another blog on the horizon, so watch this space (or, at any rate, a similar blog space). And if you just came across this blog and wondered what happened, well, I just moved on. I've said all I have to say about food - from now on, I'll just be cooking and eating it.

apples in the tree
All that remains is for me to leave you with a recipe for cider apple sauce - a great way to use up cooking apples and challenging bottles of home brew cider.  With the bulk of the pork in the freezer, I actually had space left - space to fill with apples. Faced with the rest of the bottle of challenging home brew cider from the baked apples, and a pile of cooking apples, I cooked up a huge batch of cider apple sauce, which is now frozen in portions alongside the pork. It's going to be a good winter.

Cider Apple Sauce

Cooking apples
Dry cider (home brew is fine)
Soft brown sugar

Depending on how big your pile of cooking apples is (I reckon I had at least 20) take a big, thick bottomed pan and tip about 1cm of cider into the bottom, plus around 50g sugar. Turn on the heat to low.

Start peeling, coring and slicing your apples, adding them to the pan as you go. Stir the apples occasionally as they cook down and as you add more apple slices in. 

Taste as you go and add more sugar as needed (this will depend on how tart your apples, and your cider, are...)

If the mixture looks like it's drying out, add a slosh more cider and basically keep going till you've used up your apples, and they are all cooked out and it all looks like a big pan of apple sauce. If you like it a little chunky, take the pan off the heat before the last apples have fully cooked down.

Leave to cool and then portion up and freeze.


  1. I've just been cooking rabbit with a cider apple sauce, but I really can't claim that I made the cider or knew and fed the rabbits. I'm feeling a deep sense of respect for you as a result. I'm very sorry to see you go but I do totally understand your reasons. I seem to recall that I never did manage to persuade you totally of the virtues of pomegranate molasses. Maybe in a future lifetime. Bye for now.

    1. Ah Phil, I should have told you - sitting in my kitchen is a fresh bottle of pomegranate molasses... I have been converted...

  2. Life sounds good Sally - reading your lovely words brought back memories of when we both started blogging all those years ago! Even felt a little nostalgic. It was such a wonderful focus, certainly helped bring some kind of order to the muddle in my head. But life moves on, and I think unless you're prepared to put the time and effort into moving your blog on too, it sort of gets left behind. Know this is what's happened to mine, it is less relevant and rather unloved, but can't quite bring myself to let go! Anyway, hopefully keep in touch through Instagram, now I've got the hang of it.. xxx

    1. Thanks Tracey - you look like you're having an exciting time too. Yes, it's funny how time casts a veil about how bleak things could be, and gives you the perspective to see the 'positives' such as they were of difficult situations. I think there will be another blog - but a different one. This one just feels like I've outgrown it - and also I have nothing interestingto say about food any more. (whether I have anything interesting to say about anything else is something I guess I'll find out if I get round to putting my plan for the new blog into action)

  3. I had wondered about you. A very beautifully written au revoir. Your blog has been a joy to read and I really hate it when a blog just stops without saying why or goodbye.
    In fact you have put into words and clarified my own feelings about my blogs. Being me I'm not quite ready to let go just yet and might just tickle them along for a bit longer.
    Anyway, it's been a pleasure to have crossed your path in blogland and
    I wish you all the best.

  4. 3 years later and I still miss this blog! Dont suppose you want to restart it or know of any others like this? Can only find perfectly manicured food blogs which I find dull!

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