Jonathan: D and I were away from home this morning – together for once, and not just to cleaning at our holiday lets either! No, much further afield – to Lochmaddy in North Uist, in fact. Seven hogget lambs to bring home from the abattoir. ‘A bit on the lean side’ he said, meaning that they weren’t particular big and there was very little fat on them. The mainstream market for lamb is leaner than it would have been in the past, but all meats are expected to show a significant proportion of fat. Hebrideans are a niche market (along with the likes of North Ronaldsay) with a reputation for darker, fuller-flavoured meat, very lean and such fat as there is being low in cholestorol. And that seems to be exactly what we’ve got! The seven wedders have come back with an average butchered weight of 9kg: they were 15 months old. Last time (October 2010), five wedders were 15kg average weight at 19 months. The difference? Their last four months were spent grazing down the verdent grasses and wild flowers of later summer early autumn, not requiring much effort, so much of the additional 6kg was fat – and very obvious it was too. By contrast, this year’s wedders have ‘finished’ on coarser upland vegetation that takes some getting – and that’s where the lean-ness and flavour comes from. Once out of the cold store and into the back of the car, the aircon was turned up to max (or is that min?) and we set off briskly for home before we caught a cold! This afternoon we’ve sorted and packed the meat as leg, leg shank, shoulder, shoulder-shank, chops, loin chops, scrag end (really a lot better than it sounds!), kidneys, … dog food … and bagged and frozen the meat, with a number of roasting joints set aside fresh – for those who have placed advance orders.
Jonathan: Hardly! Frankly, the dreariest Christmas I can ever recall, what with the never-ending barrage of wind and rain. This is without any shadow of doubt the worst autumn and winter since we moved to the islands more than nine years ago. And it’s not as if the earlier part of the year was much better. May – normally the best month of the year, and reliably so – was gales and rain from beginning to end: so little light and warmth that the tomatoes plants never really got going and we lost out both cash sales to tourists and tomatoes for ourselves, including preserved for the winter. Other crops suffered too – and the bees;. But to cap it all the rats – the winters here are too ‘mild’ to kill them off – are this year so numerous and so hungry that they’ve been digging up and eating our carrots and parsnips: they’ve got into the potting shed too and eaten or damaged lots of the potatoes. The nerve of it! But we can’t live without carrots: when the Co-op reopens after New Year we will indeed have to bury our pride and for the first time ever (in Uist) stop by the vegetable display, grit our teeth, master the strong impulse to throw up at the mere thought of having to actually choose something from that morgue-like display of dead vegetables – and buy some something to put on our plates. But where do we put them? I don’t know what mainland folk do, but we normally keep our vegetables in the ground until we need them: even in the depths of winter, we can go out into the garden and pick them for a meal that day – and they’re still alive. I suppose, they’ll have to go with the potatoes (which we do harvest in autumn and store – more a matter of convenience than necessity). Except that we’ve had to bring the potatoes into the house to keep them from the rats. Yes, the carrots will have to go in the weaving room too, then. At least there’s plenty of peas and beans in the freezer, and winter cabbage in the greenhouse – the rats haven’t got that far … yet!
Jonathan: Sales of garden produce – sales generally – plummeted at the end of August: it was if Calmac had simply cancelled all sailings from Oban until further notice – there’s scarcely been any visitors on the island since the beginning of September. And those that come aren’t for spending much. Campervanners are renown for bringing half the shelves of their home-town supermarkets with them and scarce a penny here; but this year it’s others too. A young couple declined the offer of juicy sweet freshly picked tomatoes because they’d brought their own home-grown with them – picked a fortnight earlier in the south of France! A regular guest at our Askernish cottage brought the essentials with her – from her local supermarket at home in Canada! Mind you that’s a different matter altogether: when I think of my morning ritual of fresh roast coffee and toast, I think I’d do the same. Too important to leave it to chance!