6 Dec 2010 - 9:25 AM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2013 - 9:31 AM

One thing that strikes me every time I eat somewhere else – away from the farm, in restaurants, mostly – is that the flavour of food seems washed out. Like so many before me, I’m discovering that taste is dependent on many, many factors – the most notable being the breed, the nurturing and the freshness of the ingredient. But it has taken me until my forties to find out.

So it shouldn’t come as any surprise to find that a panel in the Sydney Morning Herald tasted chicken meat and found it shouldn’t taste of anything.

'The panel eventually agreed the appeal of chicken is its subtleness and that it carries other flavours well. A good chicken should be 'moist and tender with a clean flavour that doesn't really taste of anything’."

Oh dear. So it’s official. Chicken is really just animal tofu; a sponge for other flavours. Millions of animals die each year (and the vast majority live an abysmal life) for no other reason than to act as a piece of tender sponge for sauce. We factory farm a meat simply to be a vehicle for dressings or marinades, not because it has any inherent quality of its own. How far down the industrial food chain have we gone?

You wouldn’t think that chicken was the meat equivalent of cotton wool if you had one of my chickens. Robust in flavour, moist but not soggy, the brown meat isn’t slimy, so the wife reckons, compared to the leg meat she despises on mass-produced birds. There’s complexity in the aroma, colour in the fat. Each breed has its own nuances, though the Barnevelders’ pinkish meat (when raw) and fine texture is rather attractive on the palate. My neighbour’s buff Orpingtons are magnificent eating too.

But this idea that chicken has no inherent flavour of its own is a furphy. Why, if it’s just a moist, tender piece of meat with no taste, do we make chicken stock? Yes, we’ve bred them to be bland and moist and so short legged that they can’t breed naturally and not much else (the bloke from Inghams reckons they marinate 60 per cent of their birds to make them even more tender). Yet there must be some residual flavour there, somewhere. You’d hope.

Life on the farm has settled back after Maggie’s death. We’ve been bucket feeding her orphaned calf for two weeks now. And bottle-feeding it for nearly a week before that, even before his mother died. From drinking two litres in about 30 minutes through a teat attached to a beer bottle, the calf (Bobby, I’m afraid, we’ve called him) now drinks three litres in about a minute. He then spends the next 30 minutes trying to knock you over as you do chores. Leggy and playful, he’s been chasing sheep, talking to the pigs, and being generally curious. Speaking of sheep, I’ve had to borrow the elastrator again, and learn how to use it.

I’ve also just made elderflower cordial. Elder trees abound in this wonderful temperate climate and a friend showed me how to spot the flowers from a fast moving car. I found some barely a kilometre away. So now I’ve steeped the tiny fragrant flowers in sugar and lemon, and pretty soon I’ll be dowsing my raspberries in it when they ripen. And dowsing a little gin with it, too, no doubt, on those long summer evenings.