Alex James: The Great Escape

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The Independent Online

I wouldn't like to start working out how much these eggs cost to produce. They wouldn't be competitive on price. It took four years of living on the farm until we were ready for chickens, then another three months of looking after them until, on Friday, lying on the barn floor, nowhere near the special nesting boxes, were one green egg and one brown one: little cherries on the cake of country living.

Home-grown vegetables seem to express themselves more vividly than the ones I've been used to and only approximate the shapes they achieve in the shops. These eggs though, are definitive eggs. They're surprisingly upmarket. I've never seen a more accurate egg shape, or a more Farrow and Ball eggshell. I've been staring at the green one for ages. I'd like to tell you about the yolk, but I'm not ready to break the shell, quite yet. I'm not sure whether to cook the thing, hatch it, or pickle it in formaldehyde. However much these eggs cost seems a small price to pay for their mystic perfection and this disproportionate feeling of triumph. I think it calls for a soufflé.

It really has taken years of chin stroking and groundwork to get to egg Valhalla. Farming isn't something you can really rush along and I can't see how we could have got to this point any quicker. I knew soufflés weren't easy, but a lot of work has gone into this one.

Here's the recipe: First, rebuild the house; deal with ditches and drains, toppling trees, and fallen fences. Convert the entire 200 acres from intensive beef unit to organic pasture. Enter stewardship scheme. Next, make your cheese. When the cheese is ready, consider chickens. Convert stables and choose chickens. Build fences to keep dog away from chickens. Take egg, mix with cheese and place in hot oven until ready.

Buoyed up with egg-inspired confidence, I ordered a cow and called the pig dudes in Oswestry. They're really cool. They all have beards and look like a band. If it doesn't work out with the pigs, we could try making a record, I suppose. They looked at the pig pens down by the woods, gave me plenty of advice, and offered to lend me a boar to serve the empress. It was all looking good, but when I went to feed her on Saturday she was ailing and couldn't get up. The vet came straight away and she was back on her feet in no time, but it was a reminder of what a fragile business this is.

Still, when it's good, it's very, very good – and with the old sow back on her feet, it did seem, that all of a sudden in the middle of winter, the place has sprung to life. We're all systems go. Ewes lambing, chickens flying, cow coming, pig playing football again. A fruit cage and new vegetable beds will be ready for planting in spring, when the cow arrives, so I'll be able to start experimenting with archaic species of cucumber and bygone berries. I can hardly sleep at night, I'm so excited.

a.james@independent.co.uk

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