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The Duck's Husband

The rooster, husband of the duck, was waiting for her at the carriage house door. She had been inside for two or three days. No faults on my part. She had simply refused to leave when I opened the door for her. The difficult goat, Glynnis, was apt to run outside if it were opened too long. She is difficult only in the sense that she evades being touched. After all of these years. He went inside very nicely when invited and promptly referred to the hay loft after a few moments with his wife. There is enough spilled grain there to feed him for a few days, however, he does have to fly out of the upstairs window  should he decide to go out for awhile. He had presented me with a problem. I don’t want to break up the lovely relationship between the rooster and the duck, however, he and his two brothers were identical in appearance. Glorious orange Buff Orpingtons. My favorite. Two of the three were destined for the soup pot. Probably not mine, but certainly some one else’s. I spent some time watching all three of them. Are the markings on their legs different from one another? No. Their  wattles? No. Their combs? No. Suddenly, while sitting by the portable chicken coop I noticed that two of the roosters had a single long feather hanging out of their tail. One didn’t. I kept an eye out on the duck. Fortunately for us all, the one she walked out with a saunter in the pasture, was the one distinguished only by not having that one extra long feather. And so he shall stay. One of his brothers is already stew. The other, having spent the afternoon with my pullets, albeit outside of their cage, obligingly walked in when the door had been opened. He, too, shall be soup, or stew, or coq au vin. And the duck’s husband shall remain free.
            Life on a farm, or at least my farm, involves a series of trade-offs. Usually the winner is in the animal site of the equation. I don’t win very often. Therefore it is my hope that the duck’s husband is not the rooster who has taken to eating the green black currants from the lower branches of the currant bushes, but is rather, either one of the others, the one in the stew pot or the one to be sold for coq au vin.
            Gilliam Merriman is bagging. The last of the goats to freshen. She has been bagging for at least two weeks now, if not three. However, she never seems to get any wider, therefore, it would seem that she is carrying a single rather than the twins that have been the custom to be born here of late. I’d like to have twins although more kid goats then I have already will be much more additional work for me. I bottle the goats after they have spent forty-eight hours with their dam getting colostrum. There is a pen in the basement which makes things a little easier for me. I bottle often rather than the twice a day recommended by some books. The weaned goats still are asking for milk, however. They live in a pen in the carriage house and stick their heads over the gate when I am milking their mothers. They fuss and blatt and in all ways make me sorry they can see and smell the milk but there was no other way. At least no other way occurred to me. When shearing is over, I hope to keep them in some well ordered arrangement in the lambing room. Either the kids or their mothers. The older goats have lived in there sometimes. It had been very nice to walk them on lead cords to graze in the cow path. I used to love it. Of course, sometimes, when taking two or three out at a time either they or I was apt to get tangled in their lead cords. That wasn’t very good. Three of the adult goats have horns and have a tendency to express their annoyances with each other in aggressive ways. I have a fear of getting gored. A natural fear at that. It could be a possibility. I put the pregnant Gillian outside when I’m about to milk Adelaide Merriman, Cameron MacDouglas or Rebecca Penhaligan. That way she will be grained separately and not be included in any possible fray. A most reliable way of getting them to finish all of their grain, which has been a problem of late, they only want corn and have been refusing to finish their extremely expensive goat ration after picking every last kernel of corn in it, is to pour what they leave behind into a large communal feeder. They then compete heavily with each other to finish it all up. My latest method is to add cracked corn almost equally to their sweet feed. They then eat all of the required amount of grain plus the unacquired amount of corn. Corn does not make milk. Sweet feed does. Of course, it is much much more expensive to feed the combination as they eat more pounds of grain to get what both I and they want them to have. So be it.
            Someone brought me some buttermilk this afternoon and the day’s milk shall become cheese. I hope. I’ve two recipes for buttermilk/goat cheese. One I have tossed already. One is new. The problem with being an experienced cook is that I don’t follow recipes very well anymore. As if I ever did. Today I am determined, thermometer and measuring cup to hand to follow each recipe, both amazingly different, perfectly. It is the first hot day of the year. One recipe calls for bringing the milk “up to” 80 degrees. That seems to presume it has come out of the fridge rather than out of the goat. Whose body temperature is 103 degrees.
            I used to cook. I rarely do anymore. But I am hungry for my own cooking. It seems so simple to just start again, and yet, for some reason I don’t really understand, I set  so many obstacles in my way that it doesn’t happen. One of the interesting obstacles living here for me was making the appropriate food for each part of the day. I used to time the oven to start baking at 6:00 in the morning so I’d have some fresh bread right after making the fire in the wood stove in the kitchen. The systems involved, creating dishes where the left overs could be served in completely different ways, was something I was skillful at doing. I took great pride in making a pot au fen which would turn into beef miniton the following day and a cold salad with salt capers on the last day. Now, I am capable of eating a sleeve of crackers for a supper. I wake up often in the middle of the night and have found some comfort in reading about Angela Thirkell’s world: England, between 1933 and 1958 or 59. There always seems to be someone else making the afternoon tea. And serving it. And clearing it all away after. Someone else. Not the lady of the house. Oh, I have two remarkable, successful recipes, both quite different, for scones. Neither with things like dried cranberries. One is made on top of the stove which is the easy way. The other is made in the oven. Both are equally delicious. I can make them with my eyes closed. And don’t. I don’t really know why. In that world, so very long gone, there seemed to be so many people all in their own way looking after one another. Evan Jasper, the woodsman and half gypsy poacher who brought Lady Glencora more rabbits than he sold to the Black Market, from her woods, by the bag to the Admiral’s daughter who kept goats, lived meagerly on her father’s pension and was given an incredible length of pre war tweed to be made into a suit by Rose Fairweather and who provided the Thatchers down the road with a broody hen when necessary, or was it the vicar who borrowed the hen? Nonetheless, I, who did give my friend  Barbara a broody hen, but as yet do almost everything here alone, am wistful for a world I will never know.
            I am making the huge and abundant dinner for the shearers and everyone who comes to help on the 11th of June. All by myself. And think with envy about the Thirkellite saying to another, “how do they do a dinner party for twelve”. “With money and willing help,” was the reply. Meaning paid help. There will be at least twelve different things served at my dinner and all I can think of is maybe I should iron the napkins today. Not only do I cook the dinner but I supervise the shearing as well, running back and forth from the lambing room to the kitchen, up those half sets of stairs for that matter. It always works out. Experience helps and I never cook anything I haven’t made many times before. Even the Martha Stewart people when they reproduced one of my dinners for Living Magazine didn’t make everything that I always do. However, I do with them were someone else to mop and wax my floors.
Until the next time.


Sylvia Jorrin  

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