Thursday, 14 July 2011

Hens, Zen, Yorkshire Puddings and Tradition

Regular readers will know that I think everyone who can should keep chickens. A world full of poultry keepers would be a less stressed, more caring, more insightful and more compassionate one. Hens teach responsibility, they reward care with their gifts of eggs, their lives are a demonstration of the virtues of societal living. Every visitor to my home is enchanted by my little flock, everyone feels the tug towards a way of a life that is more simple and comprehensible. The routine tasks of caring for the birds provide an opportunity to meditate. The weeds from the garden go to the hens. The hens consume them. I collect eggs, then take the litter from the hen run to use on my vegetable garden. Surplus vegetables go to the hens, more eggs, more nourishment for my garden comes from them. A circle is established, I have my place, the hens have theirs, the garden its. We live in sybiosis, in a circle - Zen symbol. Repititious simple work, deeply symbolic, highly productive is the key. Fulfillment comes from a basket of eggs, a bowl of home grown salad, a vase of freshly cut flowers, a healthy happy flock of hens, bright of eye, shiny-feathered, red-combed. Hens alone cannot be Zen, they are fully occupied in being hens. But we can participate in, observe and learn from the system that contains them and so become Zen ourselves.

Those who keep hens become wise in the ways of egg-based cuisine. One of the nobler uses of an egg is what I call a batter pudding, but those not fortunate enough to be from Yorkshire call a Yorkhire pudding. Like all true Tykes, I learnt the art of creating this handy, delicious and nutritious food at my mother's knee. I realised with slight suprise today that YP making is the last thing I still do in Imperial Units, not metric, following the family tradition and recipe. 4 oz plain flour, 1/2 a UK pint of milk, a teaspoon of salt, a good big egg. Two tricks - make your batter at least an hour before you need it in the oven. Beat it up every 15 mins, keep it in the fridge. Result - no lumps. Secondly, you need your oven as hot as the deepest depths of Hell - turn it all the way up. Preheat your tin with oil in it until it is smoking, Pour the batter in, get it in the oven with the door shut ASAP, and reckon on 45 mins cooking time, though it might vary a little. The new silicon bakeware is great for YPs, but its's floppy, and potentially dangerous, so stand your silicon ware in/on a metal tray to make it stable.

Eat your puds with roast meat and gravy, or whatever takes your fancy. They should be light and fluffy - keep practicing.