Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Alpaca fleece and sprouting peas

After two weeks, I couldn't wait to see what was sprouting in the garden!  While not all the seedlings have survived, the bulk of them have so far, and the peas are even starting to flower.  The only sprouting seeds I could find under the straw were also peas.  We've had a lot of rain since the garden went in, which is great, but it will be nice when it gets some sunshine on it!

One of the initial goals of owning land is to have a few sheep to give fleece.  I'm hoping to be able to offer yarn and roving which has been hand spun and dyed with plant dyes grown organically on the farm.  Of course, to do that, I better learn to spin!  I've previously processed a sheep fleece, from cleaning raw wool to spinning it into yarn using a hand made drop spindle.

The last time I visited Nana, she gave me an alpaca fleece which had been given to her.  It's stayed in a vacuum space saving bag ever since.  I pulled it out over the weekend and have started working through it.  I'm going to share the method I use to turn it into yarn over the next couple of weeks.

So far, I'm about halfway through the fleece, sorting through it to remove second cuts (where the shearer has had to cut the same are twice, producing short locks which aren't suitable for spinning), and pulling out grass seeds and, on occasion, dead bugs.  Once this is done, the locks go I into netting bags and washed.  Washing the fleece is done by soaking it and then rinsing it until it's clean.  It's imperative that the fleece isn't agitated or rubbed at all while it's wet, as this will cause it to felt.
I was fleece by half filling the washing machine with the hottest water possible, and add a generous amount of a gentle detergent.  Then, when the machine has finished filling, put the bags of fleece gently into the water and use a wooden spoon or similar to gently press down, allowing all of the fleece to be submerged.  Leave to soak for 45 minutes to an hour, then run the spin cycle only to drain the dirty water.  Remove the bags from the washing machine and repeat again, but without the detergent (if the fleece is particularly dirty or greasy, you may need to use the detergent again).  Repeat the process without detergent a couple of times to make sure any residual detergent and dirt is rinsed away.  Place the netting bags outside to dry, either laying them flat on a clothes aired or pegging them up to your clothes line.  Remember to move the contents around regularly until it's all dry.

The next step is to 'card' or comb the fleece.  I'll cover that in the next post, once I get finished sorting and washing the fleece.

There are plenty of great resources online which helped me learn this process and also gave me ideas for making my own tools for the process for a lot less than you would ordinarily pay for them (although I suspect a lot of the quality of the properly made tools is sacrificed).  Putting the search term 'washing fleece' or 'scouring fleece' into YouTube will give you heaps of how-to videos for cleaning both sheep and alpaca fleece.

If you have any questions as this how-to series continues, feel free to post a comment, or email me.

Good luck with your springtime craft and DIY projects!

Monday, 4 November 2013

Book review: The Dirty Chef

(Disclaimer: this is not a paid endorsement or critique of this book.  It is my own point of view.  I am not connected in any way to the author or anyone associated with this publication.  Although, I did get my copy of the Gourmet Farmer Deli book signed by all three authors at their launch at Fullers.  It was pretty cool, but doesn't constitute any bias!)

I bought this book as we have been watching Matthew Evans in his guise as The Gourmet Farmer on the popular SBS tv series' of the same name, and greatly enjoyed seeing Tasmania presented in such a warm way.  His ability to make connections with local producers, to learn from them and present their contributions to the culture of this lovely state made us a bit proud of our island home.  More than that, it made what we want to achieve seem, well, achievable.  Surely if this city boy with, seemingly at times, more enthusiasm than acumen, could make a small farm work here, then surely two locals, who had grown up in regional Tassie could too!

The book is an accompaniment to the TV series, in that it expands on the premise and philosophy behind it, as well as giving a great insight into the true chronology of events happening behind the scenes.  Due to the magic of editing, the show made it seem like Evans was embarking on slightly disorganised chaos, with something resembling a plan.  The book makes it plain that there was a bit more chaos at times, and a lot less plan at others!

Setting out the book according to ingredients ties it back to the central philosophy of all Evan's work, which is to celebrate good, locally produced food and ingredients, and the closing of chapters with a related recipe makes the philosophy a practical undertaking.  In between are anecdotes of humour, poignancy, frustration, wonderment and the reality of farming.  Evans doesn't shy away from the role of death in the cycles of farm life and the challenges of raising livestock.  The story of the passing of Maggie the house cow, the challenges of birth and the devastation caused by native wildlife to stock makes someone like myself, who wishes to walk this path, question whether I could handle these challenges, and where to seek practical information about dealing with them.
By the same token, there are tales of the beauty of his adopted home, and his wonder at the fact that fresh food of high quality is so abundant here.  He speaks affectionately of the nature of rural communities and their ability to set aside differences to lend a hand where they think one might be required.

While The Dirty Chef is basically a memoir of Evans journey from foodie to farmer, it's also a nod to all the people he has met along the way, and who have supported him and his family in their endeavours.  It is a great reminder to anyone who may wish to follow him in the same adventure that there will be good times, successes and great food, if the wallabies don't get it first.  But, there will also be pathos, death, really bad weather and incredibly stupid turkeys.  And for those times, you need friends, neighbours and anyone else you can rope in to get through it.  If living on the land is about nothing else, it is about people.

Have you read this book?  Or any of Matthew Evans other books?  What did you think of it?  Do you like The Gourmet Farmer?  Let us know in the comments below!