Finche's Soutterain

Bringing the Late Iron Age to Life

Winter (modern/mundane thoughts)

With winter in full swing, but with days growing longer, I have been busy learning and planning. While I will be experimenting on growing my small grain crop in my backyard using more or less period methods (hand preparing the ground, sowing, and reaping), I will be using modern practices of sustainable soil management. I know that I have a number of obstacles to overcome, and while I want my Bere barley crop to be successful, I don’t want to make things harder for myself – or my crop and vegetables – now or further down the road in this exploration.

As a part of this, I am currently taking an online course on Sustainable Soil Management through edX offered by Wageningen University in The Netherlands. Since this is winter, there are a few exercises I will have to wait to fulfil in spring… or when the ground isn’t quite so frozen (as now, as we are going through an “arctic blast”). As a side effect of taking this class, I have delved into the soil survey for my county (Athens) and was a bit surprised at what I found. I knew we had a clayey soil, but I did not realize that it was as high as it is in silt. But, in retrospect, it makes sense.

Edited (18 Jan 2017) to add a link to the course on Sustainable Soil Management. 

Bannocks of barley (and oat)

Well, the visiting King didn’t steal me away, have me imprisoned, or executed. I’ve just been a bit busy around the farmstead. The days are so much shorter now, but I know the Solstice is coming. I have got to get the charms ready and in place so as to ensure that the sun will return! The winter solstice is a bit more scary here than the summer solstice – mainly because we won’t see the sun very much (if at all!) on Solstice Day. The days are so dim and true dark comes so very early in the day, after leaving so late in the mornings.

Still, the animals have to be tended, no matter the weather or lighting…but I swear, even they don’t like to go out much. It’s almost as if they feel a presence that menaces them. It’s not true, mind you, but the animals that we have still seem to spook easier.

I’m glad that I have enough stores put by, and my bannocks this morning, for some reason, were exceptionally tasty. Perhaps it’s because I added some oat flour to the barley flour – not so much to stretch out the barley, but because I like the nutty flavor the oat flour gives them.

So, here is my preferred recipe – for those interested (given in mundane terms).

  • 1 cup barley flour
  • 3/4 cup oat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 TBSP butter
  • 1/2 cup milk

Mix the flour and salt together, cut in the butter and work until crumbly. I work this by hand, making sure to reduce all the lumps of butter as much as possible. Then, add the milk (your choice as to fast or slow), mix into the flour/butter until all is wet. The dough is quite sticky, which is what I found to be the best consistency.

Heat your cooking stone/skillet (on low heat), then turn out your dough onto a lightly floured surface. You can then either press it down into a flat-ish circle, or lightly flour a rolling pin and roll it out to about 1/4″ thickness. Mark an X (or into 8s) with something (mundanely, I use a chopstick). Transfer the bannock to the skillet. Generally, cook each side for 15 minutes. If your heat is too high, you’ll start to smell “burning popcorn”, if that happens, lower the heat and flip it over to cook the other side.

When done, put butter on them, if you like. They go well with honey or jam/preserves – but you do want to eat them fresh for the best flavor. Enjoy!

Fairs and visiting Kings

Now I have a few minutes to write about the fair day our little hamlet hosted this past Saturday to celebrate the turning of the seasons and that the last of the harvests were finally in. After the many days of rain during the week, it was looking a bit iffy on the weather front for our fair day. Luckily, the winds blew the rain clouds beyond our borders during the night before the fair, so we had fair skies and cool weather. This was a good thing for various activities that were planned,with unfortunately no alternatives for them should the weather have remained rainy.

So, we got to the location where the fair was being held, to help set up and see what other things may need to be taken care of. Eidiard had been asked by the organizer of the fair day to be our hamlet’s liaison for any visiting dignitaries. So he was off taking care of those things, making sure that there were libations and treats for those that decided to join us for our festivities. It was a good thing he was taking care of this as we had not only the neighboring Baron and his Lady but also a visiting Baron with his Lady from lands much further away. We even had a King from the neighboring lands visit. I happened to notice that the quarters set aside for the visiting dignitaries didn’t have anyone guarding for good portion of the day. So I, being a conscientious wife to Eidiard, volunteered my time to help keep an eye on the quarters – to prevent any brigands from absconding with any belongings of the visiting dignitaries – and, to be honest, to keep a watchful eye on them. After all, they were visitors with strange ways of their own, and I felt it only proper to help protect our lands.

The day was filled with much merriment for all. There were contests of strength and skill in various martial activities, including shooting bows and throwing axes. There was also a showing of various artistic abilities that while sparsely attended,did show some of the pride our people have in their abilities to make nice and pleasing items. Eidiard had put in his latest experimentation with an exotic grain called “rice” that he smoked. I had put in a loaf of my bread (I didn’t intend for it to be an entry, but it seemed to be well received), and my adopted daughter put in a neck scarf that she had made – processed from the wool of one of her own sheep, including dyeing it a beautiful golden yellow (or, to be honest – goldenrod) after she wove it.

My adopted daughter was also in charge of the feast for the day – and she truly shone through. She had more than enough meat to feed all the people who partook of the meal. Of course, she was able to process the deer herself (I still feel I have so much to learn from her) and, it and the pig meat was so tender that they seemed to fall apart if you stared at them sternly. She finished off the meal with a wonderful fruit dish with dairy.

In all, our fair day was a success, and I can now begin focussing on other projects to get me and mine through the winter months.

Sunny, but shorter, days

Seeing as we have been enjoying an unusual spate of balmy days, I have been taking advantage of the weather to get more things done outside. Getting the newly reclaimed land ready for spring planting has been more demanding than at first thought. I still don’t know how rubble rocks from the broch made their way all the way into this unused field. Or perhaps it’s just that the rocks are so prevalent… either way, getting them out of the field – as well as the bracken and other unwanted plant roots – has kept me pretty busy, along with all the other things I have to get done to prepare our little household for winter.

Mundane vs. persona – My persona has different challenges than I actually have in reclaiming land. For her, there would be no trees to deal with removing, but she would have rocks, shrubs and various other low-growing plants. Me? I have three more trees to remove so that my proposed location for my garden and cereal crop experiment will get enough direct sunlight. Admittedly, the amount of direct sunlight may be toward the lower end of the spectrum in desirability, but that’s all part of the experiment.


Rainy days, smoking meats, baking bread

Last week, Eidiard decided he wanted to smoke some meats, as a project for our lunch on Faire Day (this Faire Day was a good few hours journey from our home). Of course, the gods have a sense of humor and made sure that it was going to rain on the days of smoking. Not having a dedicated smoke house (although it now appears that may change) meant that Eidiard had to figure out a way to accomplish this… since the meats, once smoked, needed some time to ‘sit’ to maximize their flavors. I am happy to say, that even with all the challenges the gods threw at him, Eidiard was successful in his endeavors.

I decided, that we needed to have some bread to go with the meat and pulled out my baking skills. I decided to make a sourdough bread using the spelt flour that we had traded for. Even with the damp weather, my bread loaves were successful. Not having a purpose built bread oven, while challenging, was not an impediment to the success of the loaves.

In all, our lunch with our friends at the Faire Day was quite successful, tasty, and filling.

Our lunch Photo credit - Tammy Crawford

Our lunch. Photo credit – Tammy Crawford

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