The laundry at Middelmost is a multi talented room and, at the moment, it smells like the public bar of the local hotel. It's the butchery some of the time, the dairy most of the time, and the brewery all of the time! There is always something out there crouching in a barrel going bloop or blop or fizzle-fuzzle - depending on the type, stage, or size of the item being brewed. It was time to do some bottling this week. In fact it had been time to do some bottling for the last six weeks!! My stocks in the cellar had been getting disastrously low and, to my horror, I found only one bottle of 1999 plum wine left. It was even more of a disaster when I discovered on opening it that the cork was not as good as it should have been, and my one remaining bottle of '99 plum was undrinkable! Yet, it's an ill wind, as the saying goes and my subsistence mentality slotted into gear and saved the day.
Every year I try to learn a new skill. Especially a skill that has been lost to, or forgotten by, my generation. Home cheese making was a skill one year, herbal medicines another. About five years ago I had a hankering for onions pickled in red wine vinegar and I went enquiring as to how to make my own. I learnt that making vinegar is not at all difficult to do and it certainly makes any wine-making woopsy not such a waste. The bottle of plum wine is now up in a cupboard, curing in a pottery container. The top is open to the air (apart from a gauze cover to prevent fruit flies and other insects drowning themselves) and with an added 'vinegar mother', which can be bought at any health shop, I should have plum vinegar in about six months. My lips are tingling with the thought of summer salad dressings! In the meantime the incident prompted me into some serious work out in the brewery.
Bottling is a difficult task. First of all you have to carefully siphon off a tipple from each cask or barrel and then make a decision as to which one is ready to bottle. This process, of course, may need to be repeated several times, and I find it's easier to invite neighbours and friends in to help. Naturally, my cries for assistance were heeded by all and sundry and a jolly Friday evening was had. We started our sampling with a sweet marrow and ginger teamed with dips, soft cheeses and a game of cards. We continued with a sharper feijoa, which needed to be shandied down with lemonade because it was so alcoholic. And we finished the evening with laughter and dominoes and hot meat sandwiches served with a very rich, smooth plum and blackcurrant. All of this was punctuated by a proud neighbour sharing her very first wild blackberry wine! As I staggered off to bed early in the morning I hoped like hell no one would fall into the pig pen as they wandered home across the paddocks. It does help to have these sorts of functions on a full moon and, although it was a bit past full, the light must have been good enough as no one was missing the next day.
Necessity is the mother of invention and some creative thinking solved a couple of problems caused by the recent torrential rain we have had. Mrs Pig's picnic area (which never gets wet) was wet to the point of bog and I was running out of places to dump her porridge onto. I avoid having bins or troughs for the pigs to eat out of because it is so awkward trying to empty the rain water out of them with several sets of small trotters (or in Mrs Pig's case - one set of extremely large trotters) leaning heavily on the bottom. No sooner you shoo one set out another set hops in and while trying to shovel those out yet another set is climbing into your gumboots. Leaning over the fence and heaving the pig's dinner onto a dry patch of ground is much simpler but Mrs Pig's picnic ground was becoming a little unsavoury. A sheet of corrugated iron left over from the calf pen building was the answer. It now lies flat on the ground wired firmly back to the fence. There is plenty of room for Mrs Pig to hop on and eat comfortably and, as it is on a slight slope, the rain runs off it nicely "doing the dishes" as it goes. Being wired down, Mrs Pig has no chance of firing it over the fence like a Frisbee as she is inclined to do with any bins put in for her milk!
The other brainwave was the back gate which was being reinvented as a mudslide. After becoming dangerously close to having to leave my stuck gumboots behind, I decided to haul the mats out of the horse float and make myself a little bridge.
"Great!" said the cows.
"Great!" said the horses.
The mats will never be the same as, twice a day, the traffic banks up at the end while the animals patiently wait their turn to trip-trap trip-trap over the mats and into the milking shed paddock!
I'm always on the lookout for inventions and good ideas that I can pinch from other people and I came across one while visiting a friend of a friend. Milk powder is a ghastly thing to try and mix. The blender does a great job for tiny amounts. The electric whisk is suitable for small amounts but anything over half a bucket resists any attempts to be lump free. I find the quickest and most satisfying way (if you are a tactile person like me) is to roll up your sleeves, think thoughts similar to Cleopatra, and get stuck in. I catch the lumps and squeeze them deliciously through my fingers, squashing the powder between my palms and rubbing it over my hands. It only takes a few minutes of playing kindy-kid and I have a no-waste, smooth result which will flow easily through the calfateria teats.
This season I am raising twice as many calves as ever before and my tried and true methods are getting a bit of a shake up. Mixing larger quantities of milk powder successfully was something concerning me, but I think I have a remedy after I watched this friend of a friend mix a huge amount in a plastic 44-gallon drum. He had trimmed the lid down and had bolted it onto the end of a rod. With a few holes bored into it, it resembled an oversized coffee pot plunger. The drum was quarter filled with very hot water, the milk powder was tipped on top and given a quick stir with an old leaf rake, and then the "plunger" was pushed up and down several times. Dead easy! The rake and plunger were hosed off and hung up, the drum was topped up with water, and he was in business.
I am going to attack one of my twenty litre musting bins and create a smaller version. With any luck it will work just as effectively and, although my sensory needs may be a little less satisfied, my fingers won't suffer the dreaded fate of turning horribly pruney twice a day!