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November 2010

The Shepherds Hut

Its seems a long time since we had the iron framework made for the construction of the Shepherds Hut
Thwaites engineers at Morland tackled the job, with a few alterations to get it in proportion.
With a sprung base and articulated back wheels the frame looked enormous.
What a struggle to get it back to Crake Trees
After winter we managed to find a room indoors so that the body work could progress whatever the weather.
But progress was slow as other more pressing hobs got in the way
It was not until we had a booking that Mike had to change up a gear and enlist Malcolm’s help to get completed by August
The galvanised sheeting cladding went on fine, but the curved roof caused a lot of brute force, and the internal insulation and boarding a frustrating amount of waste.
The next hut will be altered slightly to allow more economic use of the timber
When the lovely oak floor went down, it all began to look rather smart.
We had much discussion over the size of the windows and the placing of the door.
Then, adding a verandah and getting it balanced and looking ‘right’ was the next hurdle.
I sometimes thought we had too many opinions , as the construction was certainly creating a lot of interest in the village , and of folks walking the footpath that goes down by the yard .
But , at last it was time for me to paint the boarding , scrub the windows and floor and try to get the Shepherds Hut pulled to just the right place , by the pond , with the best view , and level of course!

The Hut certainly looked the part, as you drive up the track it looks like its always been there.
Mike then had to build the Oak bed and the special slate stand for the tiny wood stove.
I had some simple blinds made , with an old handmade crochet rug , a bright shaggy rug and some wonderful locally forged candle holders ,all was warm and welcoming.

So… the first guests came to stay one balmy August evening and we were relieved to hear next morning , as they had breakfast in the house that the night had been a great success.

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Here at Crake Trees Manor breakfast is of tremendous importance. I try to keep the breakfast menu that little bit different, as well as including a traditional Farmhouse Platter of course. The Westmorland Oatcakes are popular, mainly because they are not what folks eat at home everyday. We use Oatmeal from the Watermill at Great Salkeld , and sometimes Spelt instead of Wheat Flour, which means the oatcakes can be tolerated by folks with a wheat allergy.

12 oz Medium and Fine Oatmeal
8 oz SR Flour or Spelt plus baking powder
1pt Milk and plain Yogurt mixed
1 pt Water
½ tbsp Salt
½ tbsp Sugar

Mix with a wooden spoon and soak overnight .
Re-mix well and maybe add a drop more water.
Cook the oatcakes as you would cook pancakes using a few drops of melted oil/butter mix to grease the pan.

It’s quite a job that requires a lot of patience, and the skill of a good oatcake comes with much practise. I can never make them as well as Agnes, who used to work for me. Polish people have a natural talent in the pancake department. When you have a good stack of oatcakes, freeze them interwoven with greaseproof.

They are served at Crake Trees Manor with 2 slices of smoked bacon and a tot of maple syrup…..
OR
At dinner time with a grating of hard ewe’s cheese from the Appleby Creamery and homemade apple & date chutney.

We are lambing in the paddy fields at Crake Trees Manor, 6 am – 4 singles 4 sets twins and a set of triplets all alive, quite remarkable considering the weather. Ruth did the school run as all was quite on the Bed and Breakfast front. Kay was busy doing the Brew House self catering cottage which is always booked.

Four hours later Colin arrives, we move twins to back of beathams 1 and singles to b of b 2 (less shelter in there), we have a casualty in one of the pens Colin removed its jacket and an orphan gets a new mum!!!

More problems motor bike trailer gets a flat tyre, and we are low on petrol.

Into Penrith 4.30 pm Harold’s Tyres ever reliable fix it, tea with Laura Lee and Bill Back into my work shop sort out wood for benches for Arboretum in Oxford then home for supper

I can remember the mighty affairs that pig killings were, in the 1960’s. Dad was the Crosby Ravensworth pig man, a more unlikely pig killer you could not imagine, him being the most gentle and good tempered dad.

I cannot imagine how he came to the job. Maybe it was a profitable diversification for a hard pushed small dairy farmer and he was a renowned local good shot with a rifle.

Saturday was pig killing day, a day rigidly divided between the sexes, as to each part of the process from live pig to well hung carcass. My male cousins were allowed to witness the death, even pull the trigger on the gun, if they had turned 12, we girls hung around the far end of the yard, waiting for the squeal, we could all now heave a sigh of relief, and the most horrible of tasks was over.

We would scurry back to the house, with just a glimpse into the milking parlour (temporary abattoir) to see if we dare catch sight of the deceased pig. Us farm girls were not fazed by the process of pig killing, but there were usually some town cousins or village girls who made a real fool of themselves with their ashen faces and retching stomachs, I was full of self importance, after all my dad was the most important man of the day, his attitude and skill was the pivot to the success of the operation. It was imperative we all were quiet and behaved, or we were banished to the farmhouse sitting room to look after the babies…Yuk!

It didn’t seem more than a few minutes until the calm farmhouse kitchen changed suddenly to production line factory. Up to 4 sisters or sister-in-law were ready for action, fully aproned and ready to make black pudding.

My memories of the actual process are unclear but I remember the great stainless steel buckets of blood, the constant battle to keep the cats out of the kitchen, and the smell, that is most vivid, not horrible, but unique, THE smell of pig killing mixed with the smells of spices, salt, warm oatmeal and the humid atmosphere amongst vats of boiling water. Above all, the constant stirring, and stirring, of the fresh blood. It was essential the blood be kept moving; it must not coagulate, so I can remember sharp voices and much tension as every spare hand was kept busy with massive wooden spoons stirring and stirring till the blood was cold.

What happened next I’m not sure, but by evening the blood was cold, and mixed with the oatmeal, salt & spices & left in the dairy, ready to be mixed with chopped white fat and cooked on Monday in an array of flat baking trays in the bottom ovens of the Aga.

The men folk meanwhile set to scalding, shaving and opening the pig carcass, that would hang upside down from the strongest beam of the coolest outhouse.

All this went on as quickly and quietly as possible. Far away from the pig pens, so that the poor pig’s mates would not be upset, needless to say the other pigs didn’t eat much for a few days but they soon seemed to forget. The afternoon soon came to an end, all was washed down, tea time approached and Dad had to get back home for milking.

I had enjoyed the whole day, spent with my cousins, with great drama & excitement, a good dinner, lots of snippets of grown up gossip to digest, and the knowledge that my Dad was the best pig killer in the whole parish of Crosby Ravensworth.

Snow Pancakes

Years ago, probably when I was a small girl, my mother found an old recipe for ‘snow pancakes‘. We religiously used the recipe each year whenever we had a few days of snow.

Whilst Laura & William were also very young there seemed to be short bursts of snow each January, but it’s been neither here nor there for the last 15 years so we seemed to lose the tradition of making snow pancakes.

Anyhow, most of December 2008 has been very cold with odd bursts of snow, but at Crake Trees we have had a proper snowfall last night and woke up to a beautiful silence and sunshine that surrounds the countryside for a short time on that first morning of winter snow.

The sheep are happy, the horses want to be out straight away without rugs and the Jack Russells go mad rolling over and over, even 14 year old Milo thinks she’s a puppy again.

Apart from all exposed water pipes being frozen at the cattle sheds life suddenly seems good again. India wanted to make pancakes for supper, the snow is crisp but fluffy and just right for that important task of being the premier ingredient for the pancakes.

What is there about snow? Who thought of using snow in the pancake mix? I do not know, but they certainly taste wonderful and have a strange texture that the frozen air molecules create.

When following my recipe be careful where you gather your snow, not where the dogs have had a wee or any other suspect area.

I collected it from the top of our Oak seating blocks from the front garden, where no birds have been hopping about on either.

We had the snow pancakes with left over Rum Butter from Christmas and a squirt of lemon to sharpen them up a little.

Mix 9 oz of Plain flour (I used half plain and half Spelt flour) with 4 beaten eggs and about 2 oz of melted butter and a drop on vanilla essence.

Slowly beat in ½ pt of milk (with a wooden spoon) and then the ½ pt (by volume) of fresh snow.

Make the pancakes with a very little extra butter and oil used to grease the pan.

Layer up and keep covered and warm.

Remember the first pancake is the cooks perk, which can be eaten whilst the second is cooking.