Cake, cheese or pie?

Say hello to Peter.



Peter was one of the three piglets that were the first we had six years ago. He and his sisters had a long lovely summer and autumn chomping away and snuffling about until the inevitable time came. Peter was the first to go, mostly on account of reaching an age where his intentions towards his sisters become not entirely honourable.

I took this picture at Ray Smith's (the River Cottage butcher) house, where we chopped him up into various pieces, made sausages, hams and salamis. Ray used it as his Christmas card that year.

Having not eaten meat for 16 or 17 years it was a pretty big deal taking him to the slaughterhouse. I was quite shaken by it. Why did I do it? Because not eating meat didn't add up to the right thing to do for me anymore. My whole diet was a compromise between what I believed, what I knew enough about, what I chose to ignore and what I was ignorant of. I drank milk, I ate dairy...male calves of a dairy breed obviously don't give milk nor was their meat (sold as veal) hugely popular, so they're usually killed reasonably promptly. I ate those vegetarian sausages made from soya (hardly a sustainable crop usually) using much energy, before being packaged and shipped to us to buy from the supermarkets. Hardly a model of sustainable eating. My work at the time was in advising government agencies and local authorities about managing landscapes - I was perfectly aware that animals that we raise to eat give us many of our most valued landscapes - the South Downs for one - that in turn supported valuable biodiversity that would be compromised if we decided to plough them up for vegetables. Could eating the 'right' meat, I wondered, really be 'greener', mean that more animals lived, that more ecosystems thrived, than by being a vegetarian?



I wrote a reasonably ordinary article about it at the time, describing how Meat Is Murder summed up entirely how I felt when I wasn't eating meat, but my mind had started to wander in that year before getting Peter and his sisters. Morrissey, it occured to me, might just as easily have written ‘Milk is Murder’....or 'Eating Processed Soya From Halfway Around The World Causes Climate Change That In Turn Kills Things Even If You Don't Happen To See It Happen Which Also Is Murder'.



It was tough taking Peter to the slaughterhouse but, crucially, it didn't feel wrong, just tough. We kept pigs for a few years after and now, after a gap of a couple of years we have pigs, or rather piglets*, back at Otter Farm. That's them above. I am ridiculously happy. I hadn't realised how much I miss the life that their movement gives to the place, the fun they are and how very sociable and bright they are. They're nervous at the mo, but should get bold in a couple of days, as long as we keep chatting to them.

I've a chapter or two of book edits to check, a couple of pieces to write, a school visit to plan and I still can't help myself from sneaking out too often to say hello.



We kept Peter's sisters - Miss Diane and Sue Ellen - as breeding sows for a while and the birth of the first litter was something I'll never forget.





So I eat meat now, but not all meat. Just some, where I feel like eating it is doing some good as well as tasting so bleedin' delicious.

Apologies, I realise there are only two things duller than talking about eating meat or not:

(a) a person who when playing Scrabble constantly bleats 'Why do I get all the crap letters?'

and;

(b) that dullard who interrupts a perfectly tedious game of Trivial Pursuits with something along the lines of 'well, of course, he used to be the holder of the most light-middleweight weightlifting titles but Ramsuack Bobofumble from Tangingyika eclipsed his oft-considered unbeatable record during the world all-comers weightlifting championships 2006, held in Pant Y Cumbkock, South Wales. This must be the 2003 release of Trivial Pursuit. Obviously we have to go with the answer on the card but we may want to take it to a vote as to whether an award of a piece of cake** is merited'.

At the risk of impersonating Mr Trival Pursuit, I would like to contend that the fastest creature on the planet is NOT, the cheetah. It's the piglet. Or at least it's the male piglet that backs gently on to the electric fence, while trying to gain advantageous purchase on a favourable root. The snap of electric as the fence comes into contact with the piglet is enough to make any male, of any species, wince. Which part they come into contact is fairly evident from the picture of the young Peter. A fabulously comic set of backwheels.




* My 4 year old daughter told me how lovely she thought they were - she's named them Alice and Daisy, even though they're boys. Then she asked when we could make them into salami. Hmmmm.

** Cake or cheese? Maybe piece of pie? Please submit your vote via Comments.

A response to Matthew Appleby

Dear Matthew

I nearly didn't write this I can't help myself. I'm a little dischuffed.

I'm not sure where you get off giving us bloggers a hard time on your blog this week. [For anyone who doesn't read Matthew Appleby's blog, the RHS Malvern Spring Gardening Show, one of the great celebrations of all things to do with gardening and growing, is a few weeks away. A few dedicated folk have been good enough to organise something called Malvern Meet, so that many of those that inhabit the often solitary world of the blogger can meet up. 50 odd garden writers/bloggers think this is a good idea. Matthew Appleby does not.]

Those involved are apparently 'dull' and 'semi-literate'.

I couldn't give a toss if you fancy insulting me and what I write - like you, I do it for a living - have a pop all you like, it comes with the territory. I'd even go so far as to say I might enjoy it. But being paid to do what you do and having a big public whack at people who don't have your platform, who write in their spare time with other pressures around them, when it's not their living, who are mostly doing it for the love of it and to contribute something really isn't ok. It's not far off bullying.

That'll be 50 odd people who are out there creating something, being positive about what they do, and trying to communicate some of that to others. I find much of it highly entertaining, fascinating, educational and inspirational at times. I find some of it dull too but that'd be the same if you gave me 50 albums, 50 recipes or 50 holidays.

You say these bloggers should 'get a real job' - and that's part of my dischuffedness: your blog has a go at those who do have a real job (often doing something unconnected with gardening) who still manage to squeeze in time to blog. Surely these are the 'amateurs' we should be celebrating rather than knocking? It doesn't really matter whether you or I find any of their stuff incomprehensible, unentertaining or utterly brilliant: writing and communicating isnt easy but it is important and it's what draws others into this lovely thing called 'gardening' you and I are lucky enough to do for a living. Or perhaps you'd rather it was for only the oh-so-clever few.

Starting off blogging can be painful - you're putting yourself on show - and even if what you're saying isn't overly or specifically personal you are offering something of yourself to the wider world. It's a difficult thing for many to do - pump up the courage to expose something of themselves. Even now after 5 years of blogging there are times when I've paused before pressing 'publish' on my blog, thinking people won't like it, people won't be interested, or it's too personal. For some, your blog will add an extra ounce of weight to that doubting finger hovering over the mouse.

You can obviously write but you mostly choose not to. You seem happier knocking others rather than giving anything of yourself or creating something. I'm not sure I understand why. Perhaps under all that bluff and bluster you really are upset your blog didn't win at the Garden Media Guild Awards? At least yours got shortlisted...*grumble, gristle, gripe*

Fair enough though, you're in the position to write what you like, how you like - a lovely privilege. Me too - but for my money I'd rather read a few dull blogs amongst the many corkers than sit on the sidelines sniping at others while moaning about being excluded all the time.

Most of these bloggers also use Twitter, like you, but they use it to add something, rather than just lurk in the hope of picking up scraps of gossip so that they may appear 'in the know' to others.

I guess you may say you were being controversial/hilariously ironic/playing devil's advocate/that you did put in a link to the MalvernMeet website/that, hey look, someone took the bait/it was just a joke and if it was just aimed at the likes of me who do it for a living, maybe.

But however you dress it up using your platform like this to get at others who do it for the love of it and do not have your platform is low. And a darn sight less brave than actually creating and contributing something yourself.


from One of those bloggers happy to be to be part of Malvern Meet.

A plan for another place

At night after a long drive, I usually wake up with that am-I-going-to-stop-in-time-before-I-screech-into-the-back-of-that-car feeling. My body seems to take around the same time I was driving to realise and to stop 'driving'. After the journey to Portsmouth, the ferry, the drive from Caen to an hour south east of Bergerac, I was entitled to a few jolt-awake moments but they didn't come. I slept like I'd spent an afternoon watching the first day of Wimbledon with the TV just inside the house to keep the shade on the screen and with me and a couple of pints in the sun.



A few years ago Pat (who I'd landscape-assessed most of the southwest and Suffolk with) and Rob hopped the Channel. A few ties keeping them in England had loosened and they wasted no time. I've been a terrible arse, always too busy to have got over there to visit. I knew they had converted a barn into a house, refurbished the main house, put in a pool, created gardens, uncovered orchards, started running garden design courses and figured out what to do with the acres of chestnut woodland that came with the buildings. But I didn't know what it looked like, what it meant, what they'd actually created, and knowing the ingredients doesn't mean you can imagine the dish well.

I'm full of cliches so you'll have to excuse me if a few spill out. I'll remember those few days for the rest of my life. Although not necessarily my favourite films, Delicatessen, Radio Days, Bonnie and Clyde, Close Encounters, Whiskey Galore, Von Ryans Express, A Matter of Life and Death, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and even the first while of War of the Roses drag me into another world, similar to those intense dreams you wake from feeling absolutely as though you were still submerged. Those few days at Pat and Rob's did just that.



I'm not sure why and I'm reasonably certain I haven't got the skill to convey in words quite why it was so special, so I'll just have to list the ingredients. It was warm, but not too warm, I saw my first ever hoopoe*, we ate the first Gariguette strawberries of the season after spending many minutes just smelling them, I drank a thimbleful of the awful local walnut wine moonshine, I ate (and have brought home) bags of prunes, I put on 6 pounds in 5 days, we walked around in chestnut woodland looking at the wild strawberries growing next to the hellobores, found the pond created by wallowing wild boars, drank chocolat chaud** while watching the hummingbird hawkmoths, lay around in fields full of cowslips, counted orchids and smelt the blossom on the wild peaches in the orchard, tried to keep up with the variety of bees, ate too much Reblochon, too much of the neighbours lamb, had a mildly frightening Gator ride through the steep woods, listened to cuckoos in the day and to my daughter mimicing the owls at night, the cathedral in Sarlat, and realising (when chased by farmer and crabby geese) that the 'road' to the boulangerie I'd been using for the first couple of mornings didn't include the track through a farm.

Find an excuse to go there if you can.



Those few days were a complete time-capsule of almost everything I enjoy most. It feels like the end of an affair, except I'm not unhappy, for I have prunes and last night I made the pudding I enjoyed most there - prune tart - from Goose Fat and Garlic.



And I have an idea for a kind of reverse Otter Farm: move there and try to grow things that grow well in England. Genius. Except tens of thousands of others thought of it first.


* Apart from the stuffed one that was kept in a Victorian bird cage at the historic house I worked*** as a guide in my teens

** I'm not sure there's ever been a better job in music than being the guitarist in Hot Chocolate

*** Work consisted mostly of eating cream teas, playing croquet, swapping C90s and hiding when anyone came to the house for a guided tour.

Go to Otter Farm | by Mark D