After the hustle, bustle and excess of Christmas, it's time to welcome in the new year, full of hope an promise.
Out on the farm, the land is still quiet, deep in its Winter slumber. The grass is still in relatively short supply and so the sheep are growing much more slowly. While we keep a close eye on their condition, for us, slower growth and a gentle laying down of fat suits the animal well. At this time of year, our lambs are killed out as Hogget, they will be closer to fifteen months by the time they have finished.
Chickens are having a more difficult time, with shorter days and sunshine in equally as short supply. They are less keen to roam their pastureland and instead spend more time snuggled up together cosy and warm - a little like us at this time of year! It is the most difficult time of the year to rear chicken as they are far more sensitive to cold and wet than the likes of our hardy sheep and native cattle. We will grow them on a couple of extra weeks to ensure they have fully matured.
Our ducks, however, are in good spirits flapping and waddling in muddy puddles. Their thick downy feathers protect them against the northerly chill, unfazed by the slumbering month, they are as busy as ever.
We'll begin to see ewes with rounding stomachs, not like us from too much Christmas excess, but instead ready to bring new life over the next few weeks.
In the kitchen
Wild food and fresh water are in short supply across the land and so it is kind to think of the birds who do so much to help us through the year. We are putting out our homemade fat cakes to keep them well fed through the toughest of months.
Just like our farmyard birds, our own healthy appetites will need nourishment in this inclement weather, there is time for cheaper cuts. Our most favourite recipes for this time of year all require a little patience: Silverside with Guinness & Bacon, Slow Roast Shoulder of Pork, Winter BBQ Oxtail, Osso Buco Alla Pipers Farm.
Fruit comes into play too, with the wonderful Seville Orange making a comeback and brightening a grey January. We'll be making our trusted family recipe for Seville Marmalade, a batch made in January will last us the rest of the year. There is no better time to make our delicious Marmalade Glazed Duck recipe.
What's in season this month
In the veg patch: Kale, kohlrabi, leeks, cabbage, cauliflower, carrot, and swede.
In the store: Apples, pears, onions, parsnips, and squash.
In the fruit bowl: Blood orange and Seville orange.
In the wild: Venison, duck, pheasant, woodcock, and hare.
On the farm: Red Ruby Beef, Parkland Venison and Properly Free Range Duck
Notable dates in January
1st January - New Years Day
A blustery walk is in need to blow away the cobwebs of the previous years excess. Many of you will eat beef on this day, a rib, a sirloin or a topside will do, along with a glass of red or the bubbly remaining from Christmas. There will be a cracker or two left over for Christmas to pull, and plenty of candlelight to celebrate the start of a new dawn.
5th January - Twelfth Night
Down come the tree and the wreath as we pack away the baubles for another year. Twelfth Night is celebrated more vigorously by our neighboring countries such as France, who mark the day with a rather delicious dessert, a Galette Des Rois. You can find this delicacy in many beautiful artisan bakeries across the country. The cake is a combination between a frangipani, Bakewell and puff pastry patisserie, often encasing a good luck charm.
In rural England, you may see wassail parties marked on this day. Wassail is a ritual where locals gather to ask the Gods for a good apple harvest. The villagers form a circle around the largest apple tree, hang pieces of toast soaked in cider in the branches for the robins, who represent the 'good spirits' of the tree. A shotgun is sometimes fired overhead to scare away evil spirits and the group sings, the following ditty:
"Old Apple tree, old apple tree;
We've come to wassail thee;
To bear and to bow apples enow;
Hats full, caps full, three bushel bags full;
Barn floors full and a little heap under the stairs"
7th January - Plough Monday
Plough Monday marks the start of the agricultural year. While local practices may vary, Plough Monday is generally the first Monday after Twelfth Day (Epiphany). The day traditionally saw the resumption of work after the Christmas period.
The customs observed on Plough Monday varied by region, but a common feature to a lesser or greater extent was for a plow to be hauled from house to house in a procession, collecting money. Plough Pudding, a boiled suet pudding, containing meat and onions would traditionally have been eaten on Plough Monday.
25th January - Burns Night
A wonderful Scottish celebration of one of it's most beloved sons poet Robert Burns. Of course, Scottish Whisky is in full flow, and guests will enjoy a traditional feast of Haggis, tatties, and neeps.
The evening often begins with the sounding of a bagpipe and an address to all the guests who gather in await of a night of feasting:
"Some hae meat an canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit"