When it comes to my birthday, I go a bit over the top. Growing up in Wales, my parents organised parties that were more and more wonderful as the years went by. Tables groaning with food, games around the garden, adventures in the Preselli Mountains, a treasure hunt along an old railway line – sunny memories. I was ten when we came to Australia, and things changed. It was summer every day up in North Queensland. Birthdays faded. They came back into view in 1988, when we moved to the Upper Murray. One foggy, frosty mid winter day at Corryong High School a girl turned up with a basket full of roses. For me. The Lushness! After that, my birthday expanded into a “birth week” and now, however many years later, I unashamedly indulge in a “birth month”.
Planning for this year’s party began in late June, after the 8 week baby fog cleared. Part of the process involved my annual trip to The Essential Ingredient in Albury. I hit that place like a shearer just after cut out, warning the new owner that I was from out of town, with limited time and a birthday looming. The presents to self included: One massive heavily discounted french stock pot, five vegetable peelers, a zester, a Benrinner Vegetable shredder, freekah, wheat berries, spelt grain, puy lentils, Murray River Salt, pomegranate tea, rose bud tea, and sheets titanium strength gelatine. The owner offered me a choice of truffles or picked samphire as a present. I chose the samphire, which is like dill pickle in a seaweed body. All this sounds like mad decadence, but it came in well under last year’s spree – which included a bath tub full of grog, five kilos of lindt chocolate, food colouring and chilli strands.
First out of the box was the vegetable shredder – for turnip “spaghetti” under a Burrowye beef ragout.
Next, the spelt – mixed with neighbour-grown silver beet and free range eggs from the Tallangatta Hub.
Next, the gelatine, for making tea jelly to go into bone china tea cups as an “art stunt”. More on this later.
Next, the vegetable peelers – handed out to guests at the fiesta, for mash to go with the venison stew and for Sri Lankan spiced potatoes (part of Ruki’s Saturday Lunch feast)
Next, the Zester for lemon tang to the honeyed Baklava. No photo evidence. It went too quickly.
Next, the tea for the “High Tea” event with Megan Evans. Some how the event and the “high” and the “tea” got separated. More on this later.
And finally, the stock pot. Folks were dubious: “When that’s full you won’t be able to lift it onto the stove.” “Is that even going to fit between the AGA and the shelf?” And, in my own voices to self: “That pot looks like something a serial killer would use to process victims”.
I seem to be developing twin obsessions – one with vegetables and rawness, the other with meat. The second is hardly surprising, given that we are beef farmers. I am ashamed to admit that we have been buying supermarket meat for the past three years – near rotten little slabs on plastic trays that never really seemed to make the distance home. In the rush of “farming operations”, getting home grown meat butchered seemed to fail the cost benefits analysis – cheaper to buy quick-cooking cuts than muck about with a whole beast. Things have shifted since Dora was born. I was a bit scared about becoming housebound, but I find myself revelling in it. Driving 100km to wheel the baby around a supermarket seems like madness, and having a freezer full of meat means I don’t have to do this nearly as often. After the kill, James seemed most excited about the garbage bags full of dog bones. I was most excited about the little bags of soup bones. My insatiable appetite for panna cotta during pregnancy has developed into an obsession with bone stock.
All said and done, it took me about three weeks to get up the courage to pull the stock pot out from under the bench and have a go.
As soon as I had piled in the lamb bone left overs from our party curry,and poured on water, I instinctively knew I’d made a mistake. They should have been roasted. After one day on the slow plate of the AGA, the stock was OK, but not the jelly I was after. After two days on the slow plate I chickened out and removed the bones. Or I should say, I took a deep breath, lifted the lid and struggled to remove the bones without being disgusted. As a beef farmer and a stock maker, I AM a serial killer.
The result was a cloudy, golden, sweet lamb stock – pretty good in a turnip, carrot and spelt soup. I have frozen the excess, and even collected the fat with fancies of soap making. I’m not keen on using caustic soda and am considering the older, messier and more complex technique that involves soaking lye out of wood ash. This has nothing to do with frugality, sustainability, or environmental friendliness – I like the idea of the mess and the “play” factor.
A bit of internet research taught me that lamb and beef stock can require up to 72 hours to get to the jelly stage. And yes, roasted bones are better.
So. When it all boils down to it, taking stock takes time. And some negotiation with the dogs.