Attack of the Killer Gooseberry

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Gooseberries don’t grow in the tropics. Cape Gooseberries yes, but not the ones pictured above. So my gooseberry experience is ZIP.  We inherited a gooseberry bush with our new property. Actually I thought it was a clump of dead spiky sticks until the Mother In Law mentioned it looked like a gooseberry bush. Over winter it’s dormant and it wasn’t until spring arrived that the plant started looking less of an eye sore.

When the fruit arrived I was kind of excited. Something to experiment with. But how to tell if they’re ripe? And are they supposed to taste so tart? They’re a complete and utter mystery to me. So for the last few weeks there has been lots of squeezing, tasting, spitting and well they just didn’t seem to improve. After a bit of internet research I discovered the following:- gooseberries are  supposed to taste slightly revolting (well some anyway), they have a slightly laxative effect, gooseberries freeze well (so they can be picked and frozen and months later made into jam etc) and because I wanted to make jam it was best to pick them slightly unripe, more pectin.

Picking them however proved to be a bit of a challenge. Notice those NASTY POINTY THORNS? The fruit grows in amongst the thorns so there is no avoiding them! What worked for me was a glove on one hand to move the branches about and then the other hand bare gingerly picking the fruit. But I’m not sure why the gooseberry bush developed thorns to protect its fruit, because the birds aren’t even bothering to eat them. Their lack of interest had actually made me suspicious about the edibility of the fruit in the first place.

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Very simple recipe that I found on the internet – equal parts sugar to fruit plus water. Wash, then top and tail the gooseberries (I also most of them in half but not necessary to do, I just found it therapeutic). I  picked about 1.7kg gooseberries. Add about 300ml water (that quantity is a bit blurry as I’d altered the original recipe to suit the amount of berries I had, I just know it looked quite watery to start with but eventually thickened up). Cook until gooseberries fall apart and go mushy, then add equal quantity of sugar. Bring to the boil and then turn down to simmer. I kind of let it cook for a bit until it had reduced and then did the ‘saucer in the freezer’ test when I thought it was ready. The original recipe also said to add 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla at the end but I forgot, reckon it would be yummy though. Also the jam changed colour, started out green and ended up red, could mean I burnt it or could just be perfectly normal. I’ll know next time!

Verdict – it’s odd but edible. Alpha Male liked it which was unexpected, he’s usually pretty fussy. I’m going to try to find a decent gooseberry chutney recipe next.

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Twill’s Death

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After multiple phone calls throughout the day, I finally manage to get hold of the Father-In-Law. I wail into the phone, telling him how Twill hasn’t stood for the entire day, she’s dying and in great distress, please come and end her misery. He agrees to come after dinner.

When he arrives there is a huge shovel on the back on his ute. “No way”, I cry, “I’m not allowing you to whack her over the head with a shovel!”.

“That’s not for the lamb”, he laughs, “I’m off to a fundraiser after this, have to shovel sawdust. I’ll be using this instead”. And he brandishes a huge butcher’s knife.

I may have fainted…..

But it seems waving a dirty great knife past her face worked the trick. Twill bounded to her feet, deciding life was worth living after all.

“Where there is life, there is hope” said the Father-In-Law wisely.

So I fed her, nurtured her and after about a week Twill was back to her old self.

I’m not sure now what illness she had but I do know that my treating her for bloat made her worse. Sometimes I wish animals really could talk human language because at least then you might have a chance of working out what the problem is.

He Left Me AGAIN!!!

The man doesn’t learn! He’s gone away again, he and Favourite Son are away on School Camp, having fun no doubt. This time he’ll only be away for 4 days, but anything could happen in that short space of time.

Waded across the hills through knee length grass, time to shift the mob of cattle. Was relatively easy to get them from one paddock to the next. All I had to do was open a gate, hide in the shelter belt behind the safety of the fence and yell “Come on up!” at the top of my lungs. They all came, even the wild river heifers who stampeded through the gate in a tightly formed pack, giving me the wild eye as they passed. Oh, except for one…. there is always one…who took its time, sat around for a bit, finally got to its feet, ambled along, then decided to moo pathetically because the others had left it behind. As if they care about you buddy, they’re off munching through the luscious green stuff. Finally, finally he decides to get a move on, and actually bucks his heels up into the air as he galloped by. Like I was scared, its safe up in the pine branches…

So I had this moment of happiness as I dangled there, admiring their fat shiny hides, watching them contentedly converting greenery into, well, another kind of greenery.

But there’s mowing to be done. Can’t lurk in the shelter belt all day. Hard going mowing on hills. Have decided that Alpha Male is right, we do need to get the digger man in to flatten the backyard because there is no way I want to mow that lawn again. It actually didn’t worry me when he was mowing it, in fact I may have told him to “stop whingeing and keep mowing, no we can’t afford the digger man just at the moment”. Looking up the digger man in the Yellow Pages right now.

Lawn mowed and time to spray. Yep you read that correctly. I am fully ashamed to admit defeat and finally resorting to chemicals as a last-ditch effort because the weeds are driving me insane. Reckon if I spray then heavily mulch I may achieve some sort of equilibrium and not need to spray again, hopefully.

In the meantime however, Twill the lamb is dying. For 3 days now I’ve been treating her for bloat, but whatever she has its killing her and she is suffering terribly. Of course Alpha Male isn’t here to deal with the situation and I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t be able to go through with doing the deed. So I move her to a comfortable position (actually that’s partly a lie, I moved her away from the other lambs so that I couldn’t see her while I’m feeding them because it was too upsetting), then continue on with setting up the backpack sprayer.

Can’t get the lid off the sprayer. I try and try and try but it just won’t budge. Up till this point I’ve managed a few quiet sobs over Twill’s plight but now I’m sitting on the floor of Alpha Male’s Man Cave wailing loudly, nose running, tears falling, thinking that I just want to leave because really its all far too hard. Oh wait, the extra lubricant from my tears has made opening the backpack sprayer lid easier……

Learning Curve

It’s late September and our old wild ewes have started lambing. Mostly it goes well. We were told by the Father-In-Law and the Brother-In-Law to leave them be, put them out in a gully paddock and let them do their thing. But we pair like to interfere and I’d hate to think a lamb died unnecessarily. So each day one of us does the lamb beat. Usually I end up mismothering a lamb, not sure how it happens especially as I walk through the flock while Alpha Male uses the quad bike he’s borrowed from his father (he ended up regretting his decision to walk the hills, I on the other hand have stuck to walking out of pure fear). The engine roars away and I don’t know how he doesn’t manage to unsettle them but he claimed he doesn’t. Usually when he arrives home from work I have a little list of lambs who’s mothers he needs to locate and my creche of bottle fed lambs is also slowly growing, due to deaths, triplets or mothers not being able to produce milk.

But anyway…..funny story…….sometimes sheep mums’ really do leave their sheep babies unattended for lengthy periods of time in random, out-of-the-way locations, giving the appearance of abandonment but not really. I’ve just spent 20 mins crawling around on my hands and knees IN THE RAIN making very convincing “I’m your new mother, come with me little child” bleating noises, unsuccessfully trying to catch the sheep child, only to have its mother finally return for it.

I think the people who live in the house across the road may have been sitting in their lounge, looking out the window and wetting themselves laughing “Oh look, it’s that weird townie girl pretending to be a sheep again”.

Just Call Me Skip The Sheepdog.

Have decided I’m pretty magic at moving sheep around the farm. All it takes is some gate opening skills, a good strong eye, the occasional woofy bark, and having the sheep hungry and keen to move on to greener pastures does help a little. Today I got 95 of them from the lane way, through another paddock and then into the new one. Was a text book manoeuvre.

Monday is Saleyard Day, a big day out for us, get to chew the fat with all the other diehards, and usually followed by mass money spending on farming essentials that we can’t possibly afford.

Cattle were out of our budget price range today. We’re cut price lifestyle farmers, go for all the flash accessories (like secondhand corrugated iron and pre-loved woolly jerseys, really must tell you the tale of Alpha Male and his dump adventures on our first day here), but when it comes to buying stock we just baulk at paying top dollar. Yup, we are the manky sheep people, even the auctioneer knows it now.

So of course Alpha Male couldn’t resist a bargain when 5 undernourished, undersized lambs came up for sale at a measly $40 odd dollars each. Pretty sure the auctioneer didn’t even bother looking in anyone else’s direction, just said SOLD TO BUYER NUMBER 31. Bang went the hammer. Wondering what the neighbours think when they drive past and see our motley collection. Am considering calling our farmlet ‘MANKYVILLE‘.

We also got a freebie today. A pup called Roy. Yeah I know, Roy is such a tragic name (apologies if anyone has a relation called Roy, but really?). Anyhow, can’t change it as he is about 6mths old and answers to Roy. “Come Here Roy” as he attempted to chew on Peter the ram lambs’ leg. Sure he was only playing around though.

Although we doubt his talents in the sheep herding department (he’s still young so we will give him the benefit of the doubt, but he was given to us by a dog trainer so its not looking hopeful), he does appear to be child friendly which is a big plus as far as I’m concerned. I can see Roy and I will be competing over the top dog sheep herding spot but really the prize is mine because from what I could tell this afternoon Roy was more interested in eating sheep poo than actually herding them.

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