What happens when you have a bit of time to spare in the evenings? Well, some very nice burr birch branches made some lovely spoons (God knows what use they are but they do hold water! Although maybe spirit would be more appropriate as they are not very big). Each spoon was once a small branch with a growth on it ( these growths are called burrs and are formed by zillions of buds) so the handles are made from the clean branch and the bowl is made from the burr.
The other weekend we had a ferreting course at Wimpole. John Dove came to help and Neil was the only participant which meant he would have our undivided attention. I have two areas in the Park: one to the west of the Hall and the other is behind the Hall to the north. This time we were on the west side in the very old Park with its remnant medieval ridge and furrow. Plenty of smallish rabbit warrens here but I had a nasty suspicion that there wouldn’t be too many rabbits about because of myxy.
The day started slowly- the first warren we netted and then put the ferrets down… took a good half hour before the first rabbit appeared. Blast and damn- it slipped the purse net and sped off towards the Gardens to find sanctuary. (Pssssstttt! Don’t let the gardeners know!) A short while later we did indeed bag a rabbit but, alas, another was killed underground which meant we had to leave the hob (male) ferret in the warren for now as we cannot dig on a Scheduled Ancient Monument (that is unless we get permission from English Nature, which would take months!)
Very slow going but, by lunch time, we had six rabbits and lost four. We also managed to coax the hob ferret out of the first warren we did. After lunch the numbers slowly crept up to nine, a few more were lost but a final flourish got us into double figures and the grand total for the day was eleven with five missed. Neil was also shown how to eviscerate (gut) the rabbits and skin them so that he could take his four rabbits home and prepare them for dinner. A good day in good company in glorious sunny weather.
On Sunday the Rheesearch team were surveying the field below the Folly as it appears that there was human habitation here probably dating from the Iron Age right up until the Saxons. They were using the magnetometer and resistivity machines to see what lies beneath… we’ll find out what they have found in due course.
John and Alan also went ferreting… but on Sunday. When I went to see how they were getting on they had only caught two rabbits; would they beat our Saturday’s result? Not by the look of it as, after lunch, they had not fared much better. With a grin I left them, almost certain they would not reach double figures as they had done the best warrens and only had a small one to go… Some hours later they trundled past Cobbs Wood Farm. On my enquiry they said they had only got nine from the warrens they had done. Yes! I had beaten them! But… what was this? Six, maybe seven, more rabbits appeared along with two great big grins- the last warren had exploded with rabbits and they had bagged seven of them! That’s how it goes- boom and bust (or was it bust and boom?).
Rabbit stew was on the menu along with some more mushrooms I had found. Below is one of the recipes I use from Riverside Cottage:
- About 1 hour
- Serves 4-6
- • 4 tbsp sunflower or rapeseed oil
- • 1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
- • 1 bay leaf
- • 4 cardamom pods
- • 2 large onions, chopped
- • 2 tbsp garlic and ginger paste (see above)
- • 1 tsp chilli powder
- • 1 tsp ground turmeric
- • 1 tsp paprika
- • 1 tsp ground cumin
- • 1 tsp ground coriander
- • 2 whole plum tomatoes from a tin (or skinned, fresh ones)
- • 2 tsp black onion (a.k.a. nigella or kalonji) seeds
- • 2 rabbits, jointed into 10 pieces each
- • 1 tsp garam masala
- • Fresh coriander, to finish
- • a little root ginger, cut into very fine strips (julienne), to finish
- • salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat 3 tbsp oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the cinnamon, bay and cardamom and fry for about 1 minute. Add the onions and the garlic and ginger paste along with a good pinch of salt and sweat down for about 10 minutes, until soft. Now add all the other spices except the garam masala. Cook for another few minutes until the oil separates from the spices. Squash the tomatoes to a pulp in your hands, or crush with a fork, and add to the pan, along with the black onion seeds. Add the rabbit and enough water to just cover the meat. Bring to the boil, turn the heat low, cover and cook gently for about 45 minutes or until the rabbit is tender, stirring often. Stir in the garam masala then check the seasoning – add more salt and pepper if needed. Serve, scattered with fresh coriander leaves and ginger. NB: To make the garlic and ginger paste, just blitz about 50g each peeled garlic cloves and peeled root ginger with about 85ml water in a processor. This will make more than you need for this recipe: keep the remainder in the fridge, where it should keep for a week.
Try it out, it’s well worth cooking… all you need now is a rabbit!
The frosts are now finally here which helps keep the mud at bay (but not quite!). After the tree planting sites had been marked it was time to dig the holes: a half metre square and deep. There were 162 to dig and some were in very wet spots indeed. With a concerted effort throughout the week we had managed to dig all the holes by the white stakes; the blue stakes were deemed to be in areas that may contain some medieval archaeology and these were left for the archaeologists to dig. Their holes were going to be much bigger however: one metre by one metre… and a metre deep. Glad we were not digging them as some are on boggy land (suspect they will need diving equipment).
A by-product of digging (and one most of us know about) is the bad back it gives you, and I for one suffer quite badly, so I tried out the long-handled, tin miner’s/Irish shovel. It had been languishing at the back of the shed and needed to see some action. I hadn’t used it because I assumed it would only be useful for shovelling but, to my delight, it worked perfectly and saved bending down. Of course the spade was needed for the final touches as these were test pits (aka tree planting holes) so had to be clean in order to assess if there was any archaeology about. Shane is demonstrating the shovel in question- well worth buying one, especially if your back hurts after digging and shovelling with normal spades and shovels.
Meanwhile, the Winter Festival decorations were being rapidly deployed… christmas balls on the young trees in the Park, sofas and a fireplace in the Gardens, a dining table in the Rectory Restaurant gardens (with, of course, a chandelier). What else can they dream up?!