MARY’S DAIRY DIARY - MAY 2011
When spring starts, I always get a sense of relief and surprise that it really is happening again. Now it’s May, that initial disbelief is replaced by complete amazement at how much life, growth, wild energy suffuses everything I can see.
Every hedgerow has gone crazy, sending out the cow parsley that grows visibly day to day, suddenly the lanes are too narrow for cars to go down without the delicate flowers stroking the sides. The thorn hedge that I laid, worried it would kill the blackthorn and hawthorn, is flowering for England on its side. Pairs of birds fly flirtatiously together, absorbed in each other, oblivious of predators for the only time in the year. The dazzling succession of greens in the woodland deepens and starts becoming one great motor of growth as all the leaves have unfurled from their delicate winter protection and open themselves, like photovoltaic cells, to harvest the sun’s energy.
CROPS - Wheat, anxiously watched all winter through the icy winter, grows, sending out strong stems that will hold the ears of wheat. Too many ears, the grain will be small and uneven, too few, there won’t be enough ears. Will it be just right? Seem about the right number of plantlets, we’ll need to see how it goes. Now the deer that graze can start eating baby ears that are moving up the stems, like tiny bunches of grapes. It’s the close season, so they graze contentedly and we watch. Mostly the crop outruns the grazing, throwing up leaf for them to eat not ear, but it means crops can be thin on the quiet parts of fields where they graze in companionable herds.
The maize starts growing, pale green lines on the red soil, looking pale and chilly in cold weather and growing visbly in warm - the rows will meet next month, astounding from a standing start. Spring barley again dashes to make up for lost time.
GRASS - The grass is the crop I watch most - cows graze, and instantly, overnight, there is a sweet shoot thrown up from the root reserves. So we keep cows off (that shoot is the softest and sweetest, no fibre, soft enough for people to eat) to kick start the crazy growth, that has the grass grown well over your ankles, in 10 days. Even our brave mob of cows can’t keep up, so as grass gets too strong for them to graze to a lawn, we let it grow to cut for silage at the end of the month.
SILAGE - Then the great caravanserai of metal, tractors, trailers, mowers, forage harvesters and tedders turns up. Fields suddenly look like machinery conventions. Please be understanding of farmers in their tractors and trailers, seizing the weather window to get the crop into the pit in the dry weather. Please forgive the forage harvester, great header at the front, inching out of fields and along lanes to harvest whole parishes of farmers’ grass for cows. Many farmers ran short of the vital winter feed last year, so this year’s first cut silage is very important to us. It’s the time of year when farmers, who normally take a huge pride in reversing massive trailers a long way up lanes, would prefer cars to pull into the layby if possible. They are focussed on harvesting the best feed for their animals. Silage in and tucked up under the plastic sheets and quietly fermenting, then the lanes go back to their normal quiet and tractors go back to their normal manners.
COWS - The cows are leaping out in a flurry of mating heat. We start serving cows in early May, and until they are pregnant, every twenty-one days you get chins alluringly rested on bottoms, riding - heads, back, anything. I remember my horse’s huge surprise and indignation a few years back when a heifer jumped him with me on his back, and the odd sensation as he slithered out from under the flailing feet and leapt away. Then for the cow, the peak of desire, standing stock still to be ridden, fluttering eyelashes to attract a rider, contented enjoyment when ridden. To begin with, in May, we serve them with the bulls whose daughters will make the best milk - the highest protein Friesians, the milkiest Swedish Reds, the handiest Monbeliards, to make the calves who will be the future milking herd in 3 years’ time. These pregnancies are the ones we want the most, and watch and record who’s hot and whose not.
CHEESE - All this energy and vigour gives a good firm curd that sets beautifully, making the structure of protein that is the bones of cheese. Last year’s grading gave a lot of even, creamy, balanced, complex, long finish cheddar that we are coming into now, and this year the curd looks even better. It’s a busy time of year, and we are making truckles, little cheeses to back up cheese that unexpectedly was selected to go on British Airways First Class. The menu gives a lovely description of the cheese, and it’s wonderful to think of cheese from our cows, our pasture, our village, making its way across the globe.
RECIPE - My daughter Jane has been adding our cheese to my taboulleh, that lovely and easy Middle Eastern dish, and it turns into a complete meal.
Wake up cous cous or bulgur with boiling water. Use more parsley than you could imagine, a bunch unchopped as big as the woken up cous cous. I like to add chervil and coriander for interest as I’ve got them all growing and needing eating, but it’s optional. Chop finely or it becomes too hard work to eat. Chop up spring onions or onion finely, and some fresh tomato for colour. Add enough lemon juice so that you can start to taste the lemoniness, not just acidity, again, more than you expect. Add olive oil or virgin rapeseed oil - the more the more delicious, but the more calories. Season with salt and pepper. It will last for 3-4 days in the fridge, getting tastier. Serve it with grated Quickes Traditional Mature Cheddar with a salad for a light lunch or a yummy first course.
DEVON COUNTY SHOW - I have the privilege and honour to be the President-Elect of the Devon County Show, 19th - 21st May. It’s a wonderful event, that has farming at its heart, as Devon does and reminds us that Devon is the heart of farming. It’s also a wonderful party that farming throws for the whole county of Devon, farming, rural and urban. It’s a hugely generous gift of the dedicated team of the Devon County Agricultural Association to anyone who wants to come along - please make it to the Show this year, it would be lovely to see you: I’ll be going round in a posh frock and fine hat, see you there!
QUICKES TRADITIONAL FARMHOUSE CHEESES
Newton St Cyres
Devon EX5 5AY
Tel: 01392 851222