Making use of all my wool

Spinning and felting Oct 17

With the help of a friend of mine I have taken up a new hobby, spinning and felting. Thanks to the loan of a pair of hand carders and the spindles I bought years ago, I am now producing the beginning of uneven and bumpy yarn. My kids enjoy it as well and together we are slowly, very slowly, using up one of the sheep fleeces we have.

As I explained in a previous blog (see post Shedding the winter coats) sheep fleeces are considered a waste product and are pretty much useless. Unless you have some fancy and exclusive mohair sheep and particularly if your sheep are intended for meat or dairy, the price you get for the fleece will only about cover the cost of the shearing.

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A real spindle for my yarn. Great fun!

I have recently been baffled by some interesting opinions on sheep shearing online, where some animal rights activists have classified it as animal abuse. I guess you can only have this opinion if you haven’t seen the relief on the sheep after shearing on a hot day (Shedding the winter coats), or if you’ve had to deal with flystrike and maggots in the fleece after hot and humid weather (don’t miss post Disgusting sheep chores). A good shearer is quick, efficient and careful, the fellow we use is all that and taciturn to boot, you won’t even get a grunt out of him and the sheep are as meek as…well, sheep. Sheep are fully domesticated animals, which really just means that they cannot live in the wild without the help of humans. There are of course breeds that are better at this, but it does not apply to most of the breeds you see in the European countryside.

While I meant to get the fleeces to the mill for a few euros each, I kept forgetting. Instead I have sacks of fleeces waiting to be used and no time better to start at the “Spinning Day” in Ennis. Attended by a whole group of local spinners and a friend of mine who had promised to give me the first rudimental skills, so my girls and I got two of what I hoped where my best fleeces and got a lesson with both the spindle and the spinning wheel.

According to the women spinning there, the fleeces were not bad at all, they were of fairly long and soft fibers. I had rinsed one of the fleeces a couple of times and laid it out to dry in my polytunnel, the other I brought with me in its raw state. I did give one away to another local spinner, she was delighted with the gift.

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A drop spindle, easy to bring anywhere.

The spinning is very relaxing, there is something almost hypnotic about it and it can be hard to stop. My kids enjoy it as well, and since I’m not worrying about creating the perfect yarn they are welcome to spin at any time, of course it usually turns out they want to spin when they see me doing it, particularly after I have prepared a good few skeins (carded pieces of wool). We’ve decided that the yarn will be used for a Christmas knitting project, so I better get more wool spun.

The other thing I tried my hand at is needle felting. Being a right Pinterest addict and a bit of imagination, I was able to figure out the basics of this craft, which is another addictive and hypnotising pastime. It is exactly what it sounds like, you literally shape wool by compressing it into shapes with a needle, which you punch through the wool endlessly. You can add colours and shades, to create whatever you like. Have a quick look at Pinterest and you will be amazed at the creations. I will for now show of my first project, a tiny unicorn made with my own sheep’s wool with fancy coloured mohair wool added to it, just for the effect.

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My first attempt at needle felting. A bit lumpy but not too bad, if I can say so myself.

I love learning new skills and there crafting something with your hands is incredible relaxing and therapeutically, but there is also something sad about old-time and traditional crafts. There is one thing all the spinners at the event were in agreement on, spinning doesn’t pay. Many of them used their beautiful wool for different projects, whether this be hand knitted jumpers, scarves or other clothing items. These are items that have a sentimental and artistic value, but few people could imagine paying for the time spent on such a project. That is true for most crafts, unfortunately.

Regardless of the economical imbalance of crafting, there are few things that give such gratification as creating something from scratch. For me it goes even one step further, it is to be able to appreciate all aspects of my animals and farming. I have reared and cared for these sheep, they have provided meat for me and now I can say that I have not wasted any part of them.

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Me and my sheep bestie, simply called “The kind one”. Its time to give her a proper name.

 

 

Eating my home grown produce

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The time has finally arrived, when I can walk through my tunnel and “shop” for what need for today’s lunch and dinner. The fruits of my labour are paying off and are both abundant and full of flavour.

There are still ways to go to get a balanced diet, the meat protein is missing as it is not time yet to kill our lambs and too soon for the ducks to lay their eggs. It is still amazing how much you can do with the glut of squashes.

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Traditional deep red beetroot.

My private veg market, i.e. my polytunnel, is currently providing for 90% of all the veg we are eating. I am still learning the knack of spacing out the gluts and providing veg out of season. So, the only veg I am currently buying are onions, garlic and lettuces. You might be surprised at the lettuces as these can literally be grown all year round, but I had problems with sheep breaking in and seed not sprouting, my next crop is still in the early stages.

My beetroots are just beautiful, not only are they gorgeous to eat but are so pretty as well. I have the traditional deep red variety, but also bright yellow ones, light red, white and striped ones. I simply roast them with my potatoes, onions and a few garlic cloves; and serve them with crumbed up feta on top. Sweet, warm, smoky and so good.

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Curly kale, one of the most hardy veg to plant.

The kale, curly and other, is a powerful addition to pretty much everything. Such a hardy and easy veg to grow, and it lasts forever. We particularly love it in soups, but it also works well in stir-fries, salads, risotto, steamed on its own and in colcannon (an Irish dish of potato mash with green cabbage through it).

I didn’t have time to sample my greyhound cabbage, which I particularly love in salads. I will be planting a good few more of these next year, they take a lot less space than the traditional cabbage. A lot of my brassicas are interplanted with nasturtium flowers, which supposedly attract the caterpillar away from the cabbages and broccolis.

This year I have hunted for caterpillars with a much happier outcome, as my ducks simply love them and they are a great treat for them. I seldom have the heart to kill the butterflies in the tunnel, which leaves me at war with their progeny. I don’t mind sharing a bit of my brassicas with the caterpillars, but when they take the mickey (go overboard, Irish idiom) I get really pissed off. This year’s sprouting broccoli is doing pretty good, but I need to keep on top of the harvesting. Again, the ducks do love the flowered broccoli for a treat.

My tomatoes are almost ready, just a few more days of warm weather and we are there. I can’t wait to taste the Indigo Blue variety, which I’m hoping will taste as interesting as they look. While I have tasted blue tomatoes before, not shop bought tomato can be compared with what you grow yourself.

In an earlier post I told you about the Rolet squash (see Curbing my seed frenzy), a huge favourite in our family, and I can confirm that it still an excellent veg to serve. It is so easy to cook and can accompany almost any meal. Boil or steam for about 15 minutes until soft, cut in half and eat the soft inside with butter and a bit of salt. Some people also eat the skin, but I find it a bit bitter.

In the Clare Garden Festival last April, I bought two types of pumpkins or winter squash if you prefer, from a fellow selling a good variety of seedlings. A bright Ushiki Kuri (red kuri), which already has provided me with a few, and a secret type that the fellow said hailed from Catalonia, in Spain. He couldn’t remember the name but said that it had tasted fabulously when he tried it during his holidays. I will get back to you on that when I taste them. I am training them up to the rafters of the tunnel, which they seem to enjoy.

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Spagetti squash, a great low-carb alternative.

This year’s newbie success has to be my spaghetti squash, which are almost impossible to find in a shop and a meal by themselves. This is my first year growing them and they are doing really well. You eat them by cutting them in half and roasting them, you serve the spaghetti looking flesh inside by scraping it out with a fork. If you are doing a low-carb diet you could not ask for a better option.

I will leave you with a very cheap, tasty, fresh and a true the low-carb option. It is a favourite as a side dish or salad – zoodles – zuchini noodles. This is so tasty, particularly on a hot day, served with fish.

 

 

Zoodle Recipe 

3-4 zucchini or other soft squash
2 finely cut onions or handful of spring onions
Lemon juice
Olive oil
Salt
Handful of finely chopped coriander (optional)

• Cut the outer part of a zucchini or soft squash into julienne strips. I only use the more dense outer meat and throw out the soft core with the seeds. Do not use a grater for this, either cut with a knife, use a xxx or ideally a xxx. The xxx is a great investment which I would highly recommend for any kitchen.
• Mix it with the onion and salt, let it rest for about 10 minutes. Throw out the excess water and mix in the lemon, oil and coriander (after your own taste, like a salad).
• Serve as is or chilled, by putting it in the fridge for about 15 minutes.

I’m not going to give you recommendations on how much lemon juice, oil or salt to use, as I love lemons I tend to do my salads a bit on the sour side. Just do a bit at the time and find the balance that suits you best.

I know a lot of people don’t move away from the turnips, carrots, spuds and cabbages; don’t get me wrong, I love them but there are so many more veg to try and they are not difficult or complicated, but often surprisingly tasty.

Cheesy chores

As I mentioned in my last post (Raw milk in the house) I am now making cheese with the surplus milk we get from our cow Oprah. I decided not to milk the ewes, no matter how pushy my kids get trying to convince me. I did give it a go, out of necessity to feed a lamb, and I have to say that while I managed, it was not the easiest thing to do; pressing milk out with only the tips of my fingers from very small teats. We are also not set up for milking the ewes and I refuse to go hunting for the one ewe to milk every morning. Maybe next year.

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It all starts with the morning milking.

Instead I am slowly perfecting my cream cheese recipe. The one flavoured with chives is the most popular, as the plain one tends to be simply too plain. I have also tried my hand at mozzarella, with medium success but great for a first try, and a very popular ricotta, which my girls had with jam on pancakes.

The key to cheese, apart from extreme hygiene, is understanding the consistency of cheese curds at various stages. Too hard, too soft, just right, all depending on temperature, acidity and how long you leave them in the hot whey.

Making the ricotta was due to my strong dislike for waste. After making the cream cheese and mozzarella, I had a huge amount of whey left and thought that there must be use for it. As we don’t have pigs or hens at the time, nor did I want to make bread, a very successful alternative was to strain it through a very fine cheesecloth and ta da…a small amount of ricotta. Very tasty as well.

Whey is very high in protein and you can supposedly use it for a range of things, all from bread to cooking pasta and rice. The problem is that I just don’t have the fridge or freezer space to store it. I will continue researching, maybe there is more it can be used for. Leave me a comment or send me an email if you have any suggestions!

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A little cheese gift for the neighnbours. The chive falvoured one was the most popular.

You don’t actually need milk directly from the cow to make your own cream cheese, store bought milk will also do the trick. Is it worth it? Probably not.

You need and awful lot of milk to make a small bit of cheese, but it can still be a fun thing to try out, just for your own curiosity or for the kids to learn where food comes from. Give it a go and follow the recipe below.

Recipe
3 litres of milk
2-3 tbs of Lemon juice (maybe more)
3-4 tbs of Natural yogurt (I use natural full fat greek yogurt)
Salt (plenty of it)
Flavouring (optional, such as finely chopped chives, garlic and/or other herbs)

You will also need
Cheese cloth (muslin)Mixing
Strainer
Mixer or bowl (for hand mixing)

Make sure all your utensils are disinfected but odourless.

Boil the milk, once it is boiling add the lemon juice one spoon at the time and stir constantly. This is where practice is a must, as you must decide how hard you want your curds. The more lemon you add the harder they are. Once you are happy with the curds and that all the milk has separated. Strain the curds, wash them at least twice to wash out all the whey (liquid from the milk) and lemon juice.

Mix the curds with a couple of spoons of yogurt, by hand or in a mixer, once it is smooth add plenty of salt and your optional flavouring. Finally, put the mixture into the cheesecloth and hang it up for about six hours. Store it in a container and keep it in the fridge.

This recipe has been adapted from Sharmis Passions blog. Have a look if you want a more detailed recipe and step description.

As all three cows have now calved, I could start my own cheese production, but I have to say that I am more than happy to just milk the one cow and make cheese once a week or so. The other two cows will likely get a calf each to make use of the surplus of milk they produce, and I am sure it is a solution that will suit us all.