Thursday, 15 December 2011

Fruits, Fowls & Father Christmas

I thought I would talk about the activities keeping farmers busy at this time of the year, but it is quite prudent to talk about what is keeping farmers wives busy right now!  With the abundance of fruit starting to ripen, jam making is in full swing.  And the aroma of apricot jam bubbling away on the stove is such a vivid reminder of my youth growing up with an extremely industrious mother, grandmother and aunts who were the most excellent farmer’s wives I have had the privilege to know in my life.

Apart from apricot jam, stewed apricots are dead easy to make and are delicious with cream or custard.  We had guests overnight – in fact my dear cousin Liz who is the eldest of the brood of six who grew up in this house, her husband and two grandchildren – and I realized that we had no fruit juice in the house.  It was a hot and thirsty day and I thought for a few seconds  (actually panicked ever so mildly) and then a thought occurred to me that we had apricots but how to use them for juice?  So I took some of the stewed fruit with its juice, gave it a few seconds in the blender and added iced water and there it was, juice declared ‘delicious’ by our guests young and old.

The trees are groaning with fruit this year and so far luckily no hail to damaged fruit and trees yet.  Just birds and monkeys in their elements.  So we are picking plums and apricots every day as they ripen.  The figs are starting to ripen slowly and in the new year they will be needing attention.
As I sit here looking out at the garden, a beady eyed fowl is checking me out hoping to find a way to get in as she has a fascination with inside the ‘big’ house right, more than ever.  She has taken to sneaking into one of the bedrooms to lay her daily egg, much to my horror and our guests delight.  On Monday morning while our guests were having breakfast she snuck onto their unmade bed and sat there for at least an hour before depositing her beautiful egg in a conveniently cosy nest in a fluffy blanket.  The guests were amazed that she stood her ground and did not budge while they pointed and took photo’s.  They had to leave and when I went in to check on her, there was the egg still warm and snug.  Since then she has returned every day (without being detected while we all go about our daily work) and now lays on a bookshelf!

Last Saturday we had a surprise visit from Father Christmas after tennis at the tennis club.  He apparently had got lost,  so Michael volunteered to go out on his bike to see if he could be found.  He was found in a land not far from his intended destination, his reindeers absolutely delighted to find Uncle Sinclair’s wonderful, luscious lucerne.  They apparently refused to budge until they had indulged and as it was getting late and he still had make his way to America via Cape Town, he happily hopped up on the bike and arrived full of spirits ringing his bell.  The children were quite beyond themselves with delight and sat wide eyed while he told his story and hauled out their gifts – first making quite sure that they had been ”good and clean and nice” since he last saw them.  He even became reacquainted with some of the fathers and grandfathers who he remembered quite well from many years past.  He declared that he was now 140 years old and still good as new!

And so we head for Christmas next week which seems to have popped up out of the blue this year (time flies when hands and minds are kept busy).
Wishing you and your families good health and happiness for the coming year and enjoy a relaxed Christmas this year with loved ones.
Regards, Anne

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Silver Creek Mountain Band Sunday

If you missed our fabulous humdinger of a Sunday here at Lowlands Country House I am so sorry for you!  We put on a laid back Sunday show featuring the Silver Creek Mountain Band and had close to 90 people turn out for some serious fun. Everyone arrived and found their spot under trees, on the lawns or in the tent.  We served a variety of breads (made by my husband Dave who had many hats on that day!), butter, cheese, preserved figs and jams. 

The band played wonderful music which everyone remembers from the good old days when music was great (the sixties, seventies, before and after).  If you are looking for foot tapping, singing, drinking, eating music then the Silver Creek Mountain Band is a must.  And man, can those three guys do the job!!  Even the younger people love all that music and I know that it was thoroughly enjoyed by absolutely everyone – our staff included who were hopping and bopping in the kitchen.  What a day in many ways.  We had been praying for good weather and up until that very day we had great weather but as lunch was being served outdoors, a gale sprang up out of almost nowhere accompanied by driving rain.  So it was a mad scramble to get the food under cover, the guests out of the rain and umbrellas saved from a journey to outer space. After a short while calm returned, the band cranked up again and we relaxed and had a great afternoon.  For those of you who missed this, we will do it again and again in the future as I can’t think of a better way to chill!  In fact I was so chilled I felt like dancing in the rain and being the latent hippie I most probably am at heart and do the Woodstock thing with no shoes and lank wet hair dotted with flowers.  I’ll tell you it was quite tempting but then I remembered just in time that I am respectable(?) granny and the kids toes would have curled in horror!

Silver Creek Mountain Band have been around forever and now live in Cradock from where they tour around the country.   Do yourself a favour and check out their website to see just how dedicated they are to damn good music and down to earth living – fabulous guys!

The children also had a great time running around, playing and at times listening to the music in fascination.  So good to see teenagers also joining in and enjoying a day on the farm listening to music. 

This darling little boy above, Matthew, was one of the children having a great day out on the farm - chasing chickens, pretending he was a warrior with a reed as his sword and generally being edibly cute!  
We partied until rather late, although there were a few farmers who couldn’t resist a late afternoon kip once tummies were full and went home (you know who you are, you faders!). 
And funny thing about the chickens – while we were setting up, they were fascinated with the activity and insisted on hopping onto every table, chair and lucerne bale checking what these foreign things were on their turf.  Once the music started I imagine they were foot tapping under the bushes in between being chased by the youngsters.  I told one of our little guests how the chickens were born in the basket of pot pourri in the dining room (check back a few blogs) and he is now pestering his mother to borrow the basket so he can also have some chicks ‘borned’ in it.
And I just can’t resist sharing a cupcake recipe with you – actually not so much the cupcake as the icing and decorating which Kate did.  So pretty and quite a good look for a vintage style party or wedding.  The ‘leaves’ are slices of green fig preserve with tiny fresh briar roses.

125g Butter
155g Caster sugar
2 eggs
115g Flour
1 1/2 t Baking pwder
150 ml Milk
  • Preheat oven to 180 and line muffin tins with paper cases
  • Beat together butter and sugar with an electric beater until pale and creamy
  • Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition
  • Stir in flour and milk and spoon into cases
  • Bake for 15 minutes until skewer comes out clean
  • Take out of muffin pan and cool on a rack
  • Ice when cool with vanilla flavoured butter icing and decorate
I make double quantities every time as they are delicious and get snapped up in no time at all.
Till next time when we have a look at some farming activities keeping farmers extremely busy at this time of the year.

Monday, 17 October 2011

The Fish....and the fish

As mentioned in the last posting, we had a great Fish River Canoe Marathon once again.  The valley was taken over by hoards of paddlers, partners, families, seconders and various hangers on.
Thousands of ‘foreigners’ here to enjoy the rushing water, beautiful scenery and Karoo hospitality. 
We really enjoyed having all our guests to stay and this was echoed by almost everyone I spoke to.  It was wonderful for us to share what we have with paddlers and their families who made a long weekend out of the occasion.  They children had a great time on the farm. So, every year we thoroughly look forward to sharing our beautiful valley with those not fortunate to live here.

Talking about fish................ well there is a jolly good reason why the Fish River in so named.  Have a look at the photo Kate took of the local fishermen who regularly catch fish in the river and sell them.  Not only are those living at the coast are lucky enough to go fishing!

Our guests were introduced to our lamb who started off life as ‘Snowy’, then became ‘Hansie’ and was called ‘Shaun’ by our little visitors.  Shaun (Shorn).......what an appropriate name for a sheep!!!
He is a Xhosa speaking (bleating?) sheep and responds to his “Dad” Vellie whom he loves and vice versa.

A sad update on my darling chicks – their wonderful mother died a few days ago – cause unknown.  We noticed her getting weaker and weaker over two days and less mobile and despite our valiant efforts to feed her and give her a boost, she expired, much to my sadness.  I did tell her repeatedly that she was a good and brave and kind mother, so hopefully she went off feeling good about herself!  I must be getting soft in the head!?  But she taught me quite a lot about matching, hatching and finally dispatching - a patient and fiercely protective mother.  And, considerately, she waited until her chicks were able to take care of themselves – poor little orphans!

A recipe I have been asked for is this:

1 packet       Tennis Biscuits
1 tin              Condensed milk
1 small tin    Crushed pineapple (440gr)
750ml           Custard
1/3 cup         Lemon juice
·       Make custard, medium thickness
·       Put a layer of Tennis Biscuits in a large glass dish
·       Pour over hot custard and repeat with another layer of biscuits and custard
·       Beat condensed milk with lemon juice and fold in pineapple
·       Pour over top of base
·       Decorate with dollops of whipped cream and crushed biscuits or as desired
This makes a large pudding and is lovely on its own or served with ice cream

Take care – from a sunny and bloomingly beautiful Karoo.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Busy, busy, busy!

We have just survived another Fish River Canoe Marathon once again when this area becomes alive with people, canoes and a great atmosphere.  Canoeists, seconders, family and friends descend on Fish River and Cradock and in between and the locals have to fit in or ......... oh, never mind  - we love it and enjoy the buzz.  More of this next time.
But this area doesn’t only come alive for the Fish.  We have been enjoying the brilliant variety of veld flowers and after the excessive rains this year it has been a particularly good season.  The Kapok bushes are snow white and we have noticed birds making use of the downy white fluff for their nests.  I went off in search of freesias last week which I remember with great fondness from my childhood.  There are certain areas where they grow in amongst the rocks and I wondered if they still did.  Well, to my absolute joy, there they were in profusion – creamy coloured with the edges of the older flowers turning mauve.  Kate and I picked a big bunch and we had them in a vase on the desk to enjoy  their simple beauty and strong scent.  Nature at it’s best!!  If only I could let you smell them somehow – the freesias we all know haven’t  a patch on their wild cousins (probably ancestors?)!  Walking through the veld looking for flowers is so rewarding as one misses so much driving along without seeing all the tiny plants nestling and hiding under rocks seeking shelter from the harshness.
The garden is starting to bloom with the irises, roses, mock orange and banksias showing off most beautifully.  The vegetable garden is beginning to look lush and I have been able to gather spinach, radishe, lettuce and soon peas will be podding and ready for picking.  The strawberries have started flowering and need to be protected soon from the birds plus all the fruit trees are looking healthy and are laden with the tiniest fruit.  Hopefully this year the hail will play ball and stay away or be kind if it has to fall.  It did so much damage last year, so we are holding thumbs.  Can’t wait to be able to bottle fruit and veg this year.
Sweetcorn, carrots, bringals, beetroot, butternut, pumpkins, onions  are amongst the crops planted and being planted plus a new herb garden is being born which is my pride and joy as I have always wanted to have one. 
Now and update on our darling chickens............ the nine babies were doing wonderfully well until last weekend when four disappeared mysteriously while we were away in Morgan Bay attending my nephew’s wedding. I was heartbroken on our return, but have now come to terms with the loss.  Actually the mother is able to cope far better with the remaining five and they are strong and happy and give endless pleasure to the little people who have visited us over the past two weeks.

We had 19 members of the DSG/St Andrews Prep Orchestra with us for two nights last week and it was such fun to be surrounded by such well behaved and enthusiastic young people.  They gave  performances in the Fish River Tennis Club Hall, the Moederkerk and Elizabeth Jordaan Old Age Home in Cradock and I am sure all who heard them were enchanted.

Until next time,

Friday, 9 September 2011

Lambs Galore!

‘It’s raining lambs, Hallelujah’  – or so it would seem!  There are dozens of the most darling little things playing and cavorting all over.  The weather has been sunny and hot and the feeling of spring in the air is exciting and makes me feel productive and looking forward to a bounty of flowers, fruit and vegetables.  The lambs seem to be conscious of the change in the weather as well and in the early mornings and late afternoons can be seen playing together just like children – they chase each other and jump with unbounded joy.  Quite the most heart-warming sight to behold!  Once the sun starts to set, there is an almighty cacophony of mothers calling and lambs answering so they can all be found and settled down for the night close together for feeding, warmth and safety.  Nature is incredible!!  Just this morning I went for a walk and took photos of a sight I found fascinating. It was around midday and really hot and there were at least a dozen lambs in the shade being looked after by a two mothers while their mommies had time off to graze quietly on their own.  When a mother came back to fetch her lamb and offer a milk snack, the mother first smelt her baby’s bottom and once she was sure it was hers, the lamb was allowed to feed.  If a lamb tries to feed off one of the aunties, she shrugs it off and walks away – no free milk/lunches anywhere it appears!

And the birds are equally aware of the glorious weather.  As I sit here with the door wide open to let in the sun and fresh air, the only sound I can hear are birds of all shapes and sizes chirping and calling.  There is a palpable excitement in the air with much nest making and frisky behaviour going on around here. A dove is making a nest in the walnut tree right near the stoep, so we will watch their progress with interest. Doves are cooing and courting, cocks crowing and strutting around importantly, fish eagles soaring high with their distinctive calls and of course the raucous hadedas shouting louder than all the others.  They are either happy to see me and greet me every time I am in the garden or they are warning their friends and family that the ugly old woman is hanging around again, so beware, she’s going to shout at us again and scare the children.  I confess that there have been times when I have told them in my loudest and hopefully most threatening voice to SHUT UP!! 

And now on to the Pecan Pie I have spoken of previously.  I have been asked – actually begged to give it to everyone who has tasted it.  So here it is.  It has an indecent amount of butter (and I confess that I only use butter but margarine can also be used) in it, but every now and then it is such a joy to eat something so decadent and mouth-watering that, oh what the hell, just do it!  I usually serve it with lightly whipped cream.  Ice cream can also be served with it for pudding but I personally find it way too rich.


300 gr        Flour
3 level tsp   Caster sugar
210 gr        Butter (or marg)
·       Rub well together (I do it in the food processor)
·       Keep 1/3 aside
·       Line a tart dish, sides as well

1 tin          Condensed milk
2 Tbsp       Syrup
1-2 Tbsp    Vanilla (Tbsp not tsp!)
100 gr       Pecan nuts (or walnuts)
125 gr       Butter (or marg)

·       Melt topping ingredients in a pot – DO NOT BOIL
·       Allow to cool slightly and add nuts
·       Pour over pastry in dish
·       Crumble remaining pastry over the filling
·       Bake at 180 deg for +- 35 minutes until brownish

When we have guests and I serve this for pudding I usually put the remains out at breakfast the next morning and there are always a few who can’t resist a small piece with their coffee.  Utterly indulgent!


Monday, 29 August 2011

The Possible Pecking of the Pecan Pie

We are continuing our saga with the chickens – simply because they offer hours of amusement. 

Our little black hen is still sitting on her eggs in the pot pourri basket in the dining room. We had a group of 14 wonderful people staying for the weekend, so there has been lots of food and fun! Little hen was not disturbed in the slightest by all the party noise and mayhem going on just two feet from her nest. Such a dedicated and special mother!  She sits there day and night as still as a stone, only going out for half an hour a day to stretch her legs, grab a bite to eat, a drink of water and fluffing her feathers.  Then after her ablutions she sneaks back into her nest, shifts the eggs around, as they need to be turned every so often and there she lies looking after her brood.  Actually, it is quite comical to see her off the nest because she has a genuine problem with walking and looks like a cat with socks on.  She can’t quite decide what to do with her feet after all the sitting!

On Saturday for dinner we served roast lamb, venison pie with vegetables and two puddings – one of them was Pecan Pie (this is a pecan producing farm, so all our guests get a pecan pie experience at least once!).  While I was out of the kitchen, one of our guests, Linda, who was sitting on the stoep like a dassie in the sun with her knitting, heard a noise in the kitchen and found our darling, cheeky (foul) fowl “Chicken Pie” in the kitchen on the counter sniffing around for a tasty morsel.  The Pecan Pie was cooling on the counter and she was fast approaching it with serious intent when she was shooed out of the door.  I then came in to hear of this near disaster and on telling the story to my daughter, Kate, we decided to name the incident “The Possible Pecking of the Pecan Pie”!  I was relieved to see that she had not started on her snack and the pie was unscathed all thanks to Linda, “The Protecter of the Pudding”!  It was enjoyed by all and soon the recipe will be posted on this blog for all to enjoy.

Right, enough about the chooks and on to the change in the weather.  Spring is springing and it is just bloody marvellous!!  Everywhere there are signs of new life.  Newborn lambs, blossoms, pale green new leaves on the trees, especially the willows.  There is almost no sight more heart-warming for me than to see than the willows coming back to life after a hard, cold winter.  Having grown up here in the valley, I have always had a soft spot for willows in particular.  We had them in our garden and one of our favourite playtimes was grabbing a branch and swinging over the furrow – so much better than a jungle gym!  Also, they were very climbable so we spent many an hour pretending to be monkeys and other creatures.  My ‘cuz’ Alan did the best impression of a monkey – but more of his antics as a child another time.  A legend and still naughty to this day!!

Oh, so much to tell you and so many recipes to share!  Today’s recipe is for Easy Cheese Puffs.  And the name describes them to a T.  I made them for breakfast this morning to wide acclaim. So here goes:

Flour                      - 1 cup (250 ml)
Baking Powder    - 1 dessert spoon
Cheese                  - 1 cup (grated Cheddar)
Milk                       - 1 cup
Oil                          - 50 ml (mixed in the milk)
Salt                        - small pinch
Cayenne Pepper - small shake
·       Mix all the ingredients together
·       Put into muffin tin
·       Bake at 180 deg - +- 20 minutes

 See how easy it is?  They can be baking while you set the breakfast table or if a friend pops in for coffee, while she (I am presuming it will be a she, but you never know!!) is talking, you can mix a batch while the oven is heating and the kettle is boiling and you are hearing about the latest shopping expedition/bargains/husband irritations (but don’t we just adore them!? – most of the time!) you can sit down and enjoy soft cheesy puffs with butter oozing out of the centre and forget about any angst for a few minutes.............. YUM!


Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Clever clucks!

Our darling chickens - bantams and the other hens - are proving to be both a joy and extremely invasive! On one hand, they provide us with endless entertainment and on the other they have a fascination with the inside of the house and will sneak in at any unguarded moment.  No matter how we have chased and shooed, they still give it a go and although we at first thought it was rather sweet, it has become quite an irritation.

Observing their behaviour has been really interesting as we had never thought about poultry having brains but birds do have brains, pea-brained as they may be! The roosters (cocks sounds downright rude in polite society!) are so very good to their women and humans could take note.  The male will find a tiny morsel and make a particular clucking noise which gets the females running to him.  He then puts it down for one to eat and immediately presumes she will be willing to pay in kind.  He prances around her doing a sideways dance with his feathers splayed out beautifully and then pounces.  To us humans it is most comical.

Currently we have a little black hen sitting on eggs in a large basket of potpourri in the dining room  As you can see from the photos, the menfolk find the right spot and try it out for size.  Then they encourage their ladies to test it and once one has shown her approval, she will begin to lay her eggs - usually one a day.  Once she has enough, she will start to sit continuously, getting off once a day to eat, do her ablutions and stretch her legs. Such good and devoted little mothers they are!

We have decided to allow this hen to stay inside to give the chickens a chance to hatch because if they are outside, their eggs are stolen by a grey mongoose who has dined royally these past few months and we have had two bantams and a large hen taken in the night by some predator - possibly a wild cat of some sort.  So they need to be closed in their 'hoks' at night to keep them safe.  In fact it is almost time to go and see to them now.  They will be given some stale bread which they absolutely love and follow me like I am the pied piper and before they know it, they are safely put to bed.


Friday, 12 August 2011

Harvest Time!

We have had a busy week with guests - all such super people.  I love meeting so many people who all have stories to tell and are so interested in the farm and our history here in the Karoo.  I took them up to Grassridge Dam and we were lucky to see Rhino close up next to the road.  They are on a lion farm close to the dam.  We went on drives around the farm to see the new lands and centre pivots being installed.  But more of that next time.
Recently the mielies were harvested and it was quite exciting to see the combine harvester in action.  The three children from next door had a wonderful time sitting in the cab with the driver, in fact they spent three hours in there which is quite something for two boys of 8 and 6 and a girl aged 4 years old. 

The golden mielies which have been removed from the cobs by the harvester are transferred into large metal bins on a trailer and taken to the silo for storage.  We climbed into the silo a few months ago when it was fairly empty and lay on the mielies with the children.  We felt like Scrooge McDuck who apparently enjoys swimming in his money vault!  It was great fun until one of the children got a mielie in his ear and it was time to go home.  He wasn’t  amused when I said I wondered if he would wake up in the morning with a mielie plant sticking out of his ear!  But his dad was able to remove it without too much drama so next time we will have to wear beanies to make sure it doesn’t happen again. 

The dried cobs are just wonderful for heating up the fire for a last blast of heat before heading off to bed on a cold winters night.
Bouts of freezing weather have left brilliant displays of winter wonderland scenes.  If sprinklers are left on at night, the ice and icicles are begging to be photographed the next morning.  Flowers are encased in ice and recover completely once the ice has melted. Some plants are remarkably resilient and tough even though they look so delicate!

The first daffodil has opened , so Spring is finally on the way!  Pruning of fruit trees and roses is under way and the vegetable garden is busy being prepared and planted.  Can’t wait for everything to start growing and offering forth its bounty.  One of lifes many pleasures!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Congratulations, ewe are pregnant!

A new farm experience for me was seeing how much time and effort is put into the care of sheep.  They need correct feeding programmes, mating sessions, health checks etc.
I was fascinated to see how the ewes were scanned for pregnancy.  Who would have thought that sheep would go throught the same process as humans do to check their babies!  It is important to see who is pregnant and with how many - mostly one or twins but there were some who were carrying triplets (poor things!).  Those which were not pregnant were put back with rams and checked at a later stage.
The process does not appear to cause distress as they are literally in the chair for a few seconds and when they are released from the chair they look back and seem to be thinking "What the hell just happened there?"

We are expecting the first lambs to be born from 21st August onwards.  Can't wait to see these precious babies frolicking in the early mornings and at sunset.  They congregate like a bunch of children in the playground while their mothers wait for them to tire out so they can have a good sleep afterwards.  The similarity between humans and animals is so fascinating!

Ruaan, Kate's fiance, recently found this little darling in the veld with no other sheep in sight and it was already becoming dark on a freezing winter night.  It had the umbilical cord still attached so he knew it was a very new lamb which would have died had it not been found, so he had to take it home where we could feed it and give it a chance.  We had guests staying at the time and their little girls were fascinated - they christened it "Snowy".  My daughter Kate became it's mother and the little thing became her shadow over the next few days.  It is thriving and a joy to us all.

 Best regards,

Monday, 1 August 2011

Welcome to our blog!

Having fairly recently moved back to the wonderful Karoo where I grew up, it seemed unfair to keep this to myself.  So here goes with regular updates on what happens on a farm which supplies that great South African delicacy Karoo Lamb and beef.  Also grown on the farm are pecan nuts and walnuts plus maize and lucerne.
My husband Dave and I run two guest houses catering for anyone looking for a real Karoo Farmstay. There are various activities available or guests can chill, sitting on the stoep drinking coffee or having an afternoon nap under the trees.
Our daughter and her fiance have moved to the area and she is now helping us with our marketing plus she is a great chef in the making so we are being spoilt and kept on our toes with new ideas.
We have had a very cold snap and it is wonderful to wake up in the morning to a winter wonderland of frost and ice.  Spring is the most beautiful time of the year with roses, blossoms and new leaves bursting forth, not to mention newborn lambs frolicking in the lands.  Summer brings hot weather which is just perfect for river activities such as canoeing and river rafting as the Great Fish River runs through the farm.  Autumn is a relief after the hot summer with stunning colourful leaves falling.

 Please check back often for regular updates of whats new and happening on the farm and in the community. We'll be sharing recipes, events, gardening & because there's never a dull moment on a farm there will be many incidents to report on!

Till next time,