Archive | January, 2011

Lifts, separates, shapes, supports and contours.

30 Jan

What the heck, people! We live on hills and hollers! I was just talkin’ about my tractor!

Since you looked, here’s my “new to me” tractor.

Okay, obviously I have a little too much time on my hands, (or spend too much time editing my pix) it being winter and all the slow time of the year, you know. If you’re still reading this and I’ve not lost all credibility as a farmer with y’all, please, It’s yellow:

My friend, Farmer Joe says “you’re either on it or under it”. A fact about farm machinery and the dependent relationship we have with it. Believe me, I appreciate the technology. He also says that Ford tractors should be “blue or *maybe* yellow”. I told him I wanted to paint mine pink. He told me, under no uncertain terms that he was taking it back to the seller if I dared to deface it with that color (he knows where I got it since he delivered it). I think they might just kick me out of Tennessee if I paint it pink, so I probably won’t. Really, I’m not a girly-girl. But I do like pink when it comes to the farm. Pigs, plants, flowers. There’s a lot of pink around here.

The tractor, although it might appear rusted and aged to you, is an object of art and beauty to my eye (and sore back) and allows me to feel like a legit farmer. I told another friend that I got this tractor and he said “well, that’ll be a nice little tractor for you”. It’s just a mid-size tractor, not really worthy of playing with the big boys, but respectable. Then I got some advice from him about implements: I need more of them. Looks like I need to spend a little more time and money on Craigslist, as per usual.

I have a couple of horses – the four legged kind, Equines. They are relieved about the tractor. They would rather just hang out in the field and look stellar than toil as beasts of burden. Lucky for them, I’ve now got 45 mechanized diesel (veggie oil?) fueled, piston popping bad boys just like him, except the mechanized ones do what I ask…

“The only difference between a pigeon and the American farmer today is that a pigeon can still make a deposit on a John Deere.”

~Jim Hightower

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Best friends

26 Jan

These two will teach you that you can make friends with anyone. Burley was recovering from a sprained toe and got some TLC from 4 month old T-bone. When we got T-bone, we were told that he and Burley would be inseparable. This is true.

Citrus, hazelnuts, truffles.

21 Jan

Until I have my own orangery (chances, slim to none) I’ll have to buy Florida citrus or hope my friends and former neighbors in zone 9 out west continue to take pity on my decided lack of bright yellow and orange food hues during the winter season here in Tennessee, where I am trying to eat local.

A few weeks ago I ordered 40 pounds of red navels and 40 pounds of ruby red grapefruit from a local food coop that has citrus shipped in from Florida in January. I suppose when you’re going to cheat on the eat local thing, make it count.

I’m a little late getting in on the whole canning/preserving lovefest. I tried this summer but had so much fresh produce to grow, harvest and sell (much of it to canners, no less) that I didn’t get a chance to put up much for myself.

Looking at canning recipes for citrus I found a gorgeous marmalade, Christmas Marmalade in the Putting Up book by Stephen Palmer Dowdney which I will try, but it calls for more sugar than I had on hand. I am trying to cut down on sugar and since I couldn’t help but want to preserve these gorgeous fruits and hold on to the vibrant colors – RIGHT NOW, I continued my search.

The description for Sliced Orange Pickles in The Joy of Pickling book, by Linda Ziedrich (pg. 243) goes like this: “chewy, sweet, tart and slightly bitter”. Assuming tart means sour, we’ve hit 3 of the 4 types of taste buds in one go. I like that for some reason, it seems thrifty, plus the recipe only called for 4 cups of sugar, so I went with it.

Since I’m new to canning, I didn’t trust my canning/sterilization methods with the first batch (confidence issue) and I thought the slices were too large to snack on (rationalization). The instructions called for slicing the segments rind and all, but they didn’t come out clean so I had a lot of pulp in my syrup.

I don’t care about the pulp, but wanted smaller slices and to ensure sterilization. Instead of putting that fist batch in the cupboard, I gave it to Wally, our Red Wattle boar. Pigs don’t typically like the rind of citrus but in this case, he ate it ALL.

Future truffle hunters. NOT!

Speaking of feeding pigs, although they eat grass from pasture or nuts, plants and roots from the woodlot, they still require additional food inputs, especially during the winter months. This can get expensive so the alternative is to generate the additional food for them on-farm in keeping with a more sustainable production model. The benefit happens to be tastier pork. I’ve researched nut trees to plant this year and have settled on hazelnuts. Obviously if I plant hazelnut trees, then they MUST be inoculated with tuber melanosporum, black truffle spores to make “black diamonds”. Can truffles be grown in TN? I guess the answer is yes, but it’s complicated.

Sorry, back to the oranges, this time I halved the oranges and sliced them, here is a picture of the finished product:

It looks a bit like marmalade. I see these petite spiced orange pickles as a smart garnish on all kinds of roasted or braised meat dishes. This recipe also makes wonderful syrup for vinaigrette’s and marinades. I even like the idea of putting a small slice in my tea for the aromatics of the cloves and cinnamon.

I highly recommend The Joy of Pickling, there are all kinds of unusual recipes and unique ingredients, like pickled nasturtium pods which, according to the book make better capers than capers. My nasturtium seeds have already been ordered; can’t wait to try that one.

Next, I turned my attention to the grapefruit, which was not disappearing as quickly as those beautiful red navels. I was thinking Moroccan Lemons but with grapefruit. Funny how my Joy of Pickling book doesn’t have any recipes for pickling/preserving grapefruits at all. There might be a reason for this, I shall find out.

I forged forward using the recipe for the Moroccan Lemons, again, in The Joy of Pickling book, by Linda Ziedrich (pg. 156). While I was preparing this very easy recipe, I thought about what goes with grapefruit. Crab, chicken, halibut, avocado, lemon thyme, parsley, cloves, cinnamon and why do I keep seeing a fresh red-orange papaya chopped up with the rinsed, preserved grapefruit, Italian parsley, red onion and fresh squeezed lime over Mahi Mahi? Must be hungry.

I put the salted grapefruits in the jars with the salted fresh squeezed juice. I left one of the jars plain and in the other jar, I added cinnamon sticks and peppercorns. I used 2 grapefruits per jar and 2 more for the juice. I topped both off with olive oil and marked the calendar for 3 weeks, at which time they will go from my counter-top to the fridge.

This is an experiment, if they taste awful I can always clean the bathtub with them. Or make bath salts. Preserving is fun, but still a little scary.

How about a nice easy limoncello, but with grapefruit, this seems fairly foolproof ahem, well, something proof. I did a quick search for pompelmocello and THAT’S certainly not an original idea! It would make a SAweeet salty dog though! When I make mine I’ll post it. It will officially be called a “Salty Hog”.

Next project: Pompelmocello!

Cousin Itt? Nah, just onion seedlings.

16 Jan

Farm seedlings for January: Onions

I went a little crazy with the onions this year. I’m told that onion seeds lose a large percentage of viability after the first year so I gathered up all of my old (and new seeds) and planted them. They all germinated! Now the challenge is to figure out where to put them all when spring planting time comes.

I believe that all great meals start with something from the allium genus. Good for companion planting with cabbages and in helping to deter rabbits, onions are a must in any garden.

Here’s a little preview of what we’re growing this year at Pinkguitarfarm.

Rear, left to right:
Scotland Leeks – an heirloom variety from Scotland this leek is described as “hardy, short-shanked, (with) excellent flavor and texture.” Seeds of Change. I bought this because it is a good variety to overwinter or keep in the greenhouse. I immediately envision a creamy potato leek soup when I see the picture on the package. However, this spring I’ll be indulging in some roasted baby leeks with an herb marinade and baby leeks with fennel braised in cream, hmmm, I wonder if they will all make it to winter.

Shimonita Negi – Japanese Bunching Onion Single Stalk Type. From the packet: “(365 days) King of the Negi, this single stalk Japanese bunching onion is worth the wait in seed to harvest time. It doesn’t get better than this for flavor which only gets sweeter with cooking! The short and fat white root makes the Shimonita Negi look more like a leek than a scallion. The chunky shape means this variety does not need deep soil mulching and a lot of extra work around harvest time. From the sowing to harvest (typically December)this is a one-year crop….The Shimonita Negi is popular throughout Japan, but particularly so in its place of origin, Shimonita Town, famous for its produce. Tourists are advised not to miss a particular Shimonita rest stop where the onions are sold during their season.” Kitazawa Seed Co. I’m a sucker for this kind of marketing, what can I say? Hope it’s worth an entire year of raised-bed real estate!

Mini Purplette Bunching Onion. From the packet: “The first purple red-skinned mini onion. Early maturing with delicate, mild flavor. Attractive either topped or bunched and can be harvested very young as baby bunching onions with purple pearl ends. Turns pastel pink when cooked or pickled”. Seeds of Change. Mmmm pickled!

Ed’s Red Shallot. From the packet: “Red skin with red interior. One bulb will produce up to 30 bulbs. Unique flavor is great for flavoring soups, salad dressings, vegetables and grain dishes”. Seeds of change. Cool! No more buying shallots at the grocery store…

Garlic chives. From the packet: “Heirloom, medicinal…Popular in 16th century European gardens for adding garlicky flavor to soups and salads. Hung inside homes to ward off malevolent spirits. Green seeds impart rich flavor to cooking oils. Leaves and flowers add spice. Also used in Chinese medicine to warm the kidneys and treat lower back and knee pain”. Seeds of Change. This one is indispensable for the garden, kitchen, household and body! Don’t you love the word “garlicky”?

Center, left to right:
Red Beard – Japanese Red Bunching Onion Splitting Type. From the packet: “This popular specialty red-stalked bunching onion has a mild pungent flavor and tender leaves…The red color is stimulated by cold temperatures. Mature plants can reach 26” tall. Used in stir-fries, salads and as a garnish. Red Beard makes an unusual and attractive addition to the garden”. Kitazawa Seed Co. Hmm. Wonder if it will be a big seller at the local farmers market, I may have to bring some recipes with this one. Can’t wait to see how it looks at maturity.

Texas Early Grano. From the web-site: “Texas heirloom, ‘The Mother of All Sweet Onions’ This Vidalia-type onion is a good choice for the Mid-Atlantic and the South. Best started in the fall or winter and transplanted in early spring. Large top-shaped bulbs, thin skin, soft white flesh, with sweet mild flavor. Good resistance to splitting. Short keeper”. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Sweet onions are my fave, French onion soup anyone?

Japanese Bunching Onion Splitting Type – Menegi. From the packet: “This delicate white green onion is a young shoot of the wakegi scallion. Specially cultivated to produce young shoots that are used as a sashimi and sushi garnish. Menegi are harvested very soon after planting when the scallion has grown to a height of only 3”-4”. Because they are harvested when they are young and thin, Menegi need heavy planting”. Got the garnish, need the sashimi! Oishii desu ne!

Front, left to right:
More Scotland Leeks, see description above.

Cipolla/Long of Florence. From web-site: “Long (4 inch) narrow red onion. Wider in middle than the ends. Mild sweet taste. Beautiful. Medium/long day type. Mid season harvest. Use in salads but stunning grilled or on skewers”. GrowItalian.com I LOVE, love, love ALL my Franchi seeds!

More Cipolla/Long of Florence, see directly above.

More Texas Early Grano, see above.

Bunching, Deep purple. From the web-site: “A new development in bunching onions. This reddish-purple variety develops and retains its color throughout its growth period and through high and low temperatures”. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I like purple.

Here’s to a great year of onions! Onions are easy to start and grow. From quickie chives to large bulbs there are enough varieties to keep you in onions year round in your own garden, so people, please start your onions!

Jack and Jane, patrolling

13 Jan

The sun came out today and everyone on the farm was delighted! Jack and Jane made sure the chickens were safe from hungry hawks while Sophie and I filled water buckets and replenished hay. The air was crisp and the snow was beautiful!

Free Range Snow Chickens!

11 Jan

Brined, smoked range chicken and a Charcuterie Challenge

9 Jan

This morning I decided that the 3 thawed range chickens we were planning on smoking today should sit in a brine overnight. Good planning on my part, eh? A search on the net lead me to this post, and a recipe for a quick brine, perfect for those of us that want something now or at least sometime today. Here is my version:

I mostly followed the recipe with ingredients I had on hand. I added Italian parsley and sage from the raised beds (that made it through last nights temps of around 9 degrees Fahrenheit) then added some of our farm raised dried red pepper in addition to about a cup of Red Guitar (!) Old Vine Tempranillo Garnacha left over from last night.

While on Michael Ruhlman’s site, a cute picture of some red pigs caught my eye. CharcutePalooza? Right on! What a coincidence! Though I did not see any telltale wattles on the pigs, I clicked to find out more.

Interestingly, I had just this past Friday, conversed with a local farmer friend about preserving meats and told him this was my year for learning about how to make Virginia style hams, prosciutto and all other good things porky: smoked preserved and otherwise cured.

I love how things come together in life and the universe gives you a kick start when you really need it. This is all part of my journey here in Tennessee towards learning the old way and in doing so, I plan to document artisan skills that are nearly lost. I believe it’s why I became a farmer in the first place and is a perfect opportunity to stay focused on the goal. Here are the “Ruhls” as posted on the Mrs. Wheelbarrows Kitchen site (see link to site above re: charcutepalooza).

“The Ruhls

* Let’s celebrate the age-old talents and skills of charcuterie with contemporary takes on techniques, flavors and presentation.
* Let’s agree to use humanely raised meat, sourced as close to home as possible.
* Let’s write about our experiences. Not just how the charcuterie is made, but how we use it, serve it, flavor it.
* Buy a copy of ‘Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing’ by Michael Ruhlman.
* Cook along as often as practical. There’s no obligation.
* Post about your experiences on the 15th of the month.
* Display the Badge, if you are so inclined;”

I am joining this challenge if only for the pork portion (since that’s what I have) in order to keep things simple. Duck Prosciutto, January’s challenge sounds wonderful, maybe next year? I’ve been hoping for a pond this year in order to raise more fowl. Yet another Mr. Pink Guitar honey do list item… The cool thing about this challenge though, is that anyone who has access to humanely raised meats can participate.

So I am off to purchase the book, please feel free to join me in this challenge, I would love your comments. Oh, and I will keep you posted on how the smoked chicken turned out.

UPDATE: Well, the smoked chicken sat in brine for a few hours and then went into the smoker:

Then we phoned up our West Coast expert smoker friend, Steve, for advice. Here is what we SHOULD have done, and will do so next time. Brine for at least 12 hours, then, and this is critical: RINSE THE BIRD prior to smoking. We only had our chickens in the brine for a few hours and did not rinse them, so, although we sacrificed full tender juiciness, we still got great flavor without too much salt.

The chicken was delicious, even with our errors in planning. I would love to tell you that we sat down to a fabulous meal of smoked chicken, a nice bit of couscous, some healthy winter greens and then complimented the smoky flavor of the chicken with a sweet ginger/plum chutney, but we got it to the kitchen and devoured it with a chopped salad. The bad, blurry picture below shows how horribly IMPATIENT we were to try the chicken. Sorry, the picture just doesn’t do it justice.

The next day, it was served in sandwiches with that beautiful ginger/plum chutney mentioned above – sent to us this summer by more good friends on the West Coast. We feel lucky to get to eat such wonderful food and it is even more satisfying to know that we raised those chickens here. We also really appreciate all of the good help and flavors sent from so far away!

Porky research and the Red Wattle Hog

6 Jan

When I started growing vegetables I wanted things I couldn’t get easily at the store. I wanted weird stuff that no one had ever seen and to make dishes nobody else had ever tasted. I’ll admit it, I’m a food adventurer, a trait encouraged and nurtured while only a 10 year old child on sabbatical with my family as we traversed around the world. We lived in Japan and Sweden during that journey for six months each and it was immersion into these cultures, and others along the way that opened my eyes to so many wonderful choices in food.

Heirloom fruits and vegetables are therefore an obvious component in my garden. So too, are heritage farm animals, which brings us to the elusive and extraordinary Red Wattle Hog or Pig, depending. And really, just what is the difference between a hog and a pig? Just like heirloom plants, heritage animals must be consumed in order to continue on.

If there is no added benefit in the form of taste, better flavor, hardiness, regional adaptability, or an incredibly unique finished product, they will not survive our industrialized world. And if you have read this far, please check out this post a story regarding Adam and Eve, two 8 week old Red Wattles that traveled from Kansas to live in the Napa Valley. Especially thought provoking, are the comments in this link, there are excellent rhetorical questions posed and insights revealed.

Luckily, the Red Wattle population is increasing and most Red Wattle farmers are passionate about their cause. Although touted as a trendy foodie item for several years (yet again, another Adam and Eve reference), I hope that more people have the opportunity to taste heritage meat and learn about these animals with an eye towards preservation, animal welfare and excellent flavor. To know that meat raised the way it is supposed to be raised has better flavor and that more small farmers are supported in doing so, is a win, win situation for all local communities.

Raising Red Wattle Hogs is an honor. We have Yorkshire/Landrace/Hampshire cross gilts alongside the Red Wattles and the Red Wattles appear to be more primitive and old-fashioned. They are larger, grow faster, forage better, hold up to the weather and thrive in the woodlot and pasture. The Red Wattles have been referred to as dinosaurs and, I’ll admit, they do have a primordial look to them. When surprised or scared, they bark like a dog and hop around in circles, it’s a sound from the past, eerily prehistoric and oddly appropriate for their looks.

The white pig on the right is about 300 pounds - for perspective

Where did they come from? I wonder if they are a genetic remnant from our ancient past, a treasure that has been rediscovered and/or a delicious unsolvable mystery. Regardless, we are lucky to have them.

And by the way, what ever happened to the cute little piglets named Adam and Eve that got to go live in the Napa Valley?

So, with fingers crossed while knocking on wood (ow!), If all goes well, we should have our own farm raised Red Wattle piglets in about 4 months! If you are interested in a piglet of your own to raise, or a whole or half, please contact us at pjmatthews7750@gmail.com

I’ll take a Mimosa, hold the o.j.

1 Jan

Happy New Year! We started out our first day of 2011 processing chickens. This was not by choice but by necessity. An unpleasant task, but a practical one, because it means a freezer full of chickens, or so we hope – man, is it a lot of work!

First new year’s resolution: I will not order 125 baby chicks for any reason. For the life of me, I can’t remember the warped rationale that prompted this. Did I think I was going to be a chicken farmer some day and needed the practice? Did I want to torture the family? Did I buy stock in chicken feed and feel the urge to drive company profits? Whatever it was, it escapes me now as I am up to my elbows in…well, never mind.

Don’t worry, I still have some of my city sensibilities left so I won’t be posting any graphic pictures, but there is a lesson here – the very reason for this blog, to share success and failure and experiences in the journey towards sustainability.

Did you know that you can order day old baby chicks by mail? They show up at the post office after you lose your mind ordering them over the internet. This is how it looks:

First thing in the morning on the day your chicks arrive, the local post office will call you: “Hey Mrs. Crazy, your chicks are in!”. When you go to pick up your baby chicks, because of the nature of the small southern town you live in, you will find that the staff politely snickers and looks at you sideways. Why? Because it’s a small town and Yankee stupidity is FUNNY!

The real work starts when you get them home. Every chick is given a once over for health issues and as they are added to the brooder their beaks are dipped in water so they will know how to drink. ALWAYS HAVE YOUR BROODER READY AND WARM AHEAD OF TIME!

The day before the chicks arrived, I was still trying to figure out my brooder arrangements and since the kiddie pool I had used before only held about 45 chicks, it dawned on me that I might be in a bit of a pickle.

I opted to convert my greenhouse shelving into a brooder with aluminum sheeting (flashing) and carpenter cloth from the local hardware store. We added a side door and with 2 heat lamps, we were good to go. Until, that is, about 3 days into baby chick brooding when I realized that the exponential growth rate of a chick was not factored into my brooder size calculations. Luckily, we had a second greenhouse shelving unit.

At this point, I became painfully aware of what poultry farmers already know. Baby chicks eat a lot, they also poop…a lot, frankly, I think more comes out than goes in! It’s really gross! Two weeks in the brooder and I was ready to put them outside in the coop. People, please find a poultry farmer and thank them! This is a dirty, thankless job!

Oh! And here was another realization, the coop was too small. Maybe I thought I would have a lot of loss? We actually lost less than 10% in the 3 months we have had them. Thanks to the LGD’s, and the hardy nature of this breed of chicken, we were lucky, despite my ignorance.

No doubt, I was unable to conceptualize what 125 chickens meant on any level.

So here we are, 3 months later, with an insane number of chickens running around the yard, free to go where ever they please. Except, since it is winter there is not much to range. So of course, they have identified food with humans and whenever we walk into the yard, try to get in the car to run an errand, open the front door, make a noise, etc., we re-live the movie The Birds, except this is a ground assault!

Today, we put another 10 in the freezer. 29 down, who knows how many to go? Paul is the executioner, the kids are the pluckers, I gut the birds and Paul puts them in the freezer. We have a good system. It’s quality family time. How did we get here? Our learning curve has been steep over the past year.

Taking advantage of our new year’s resolution and reflecting on 2010 in order to make better choices on the farm I asked each family member why we do this. Sophie said “so that we have fewer antibiotics in our food”. Paul said “so that we know where our food comes from”. Jack said “because we are stupid”. I say “so that chickens get to be chickens” We do this for their health and subsequently ours, even if it seems stupid.

So what the hell does this all have to do with a Mimosa? I don’t know, it’s the new year, people! A time to celebrate new stuff on the horizon and put a tough year behind. You can have a Mimosa, even if you are processing chickens. I had one with fresh squeezed tangerine juice from fruits sent to us all the way from California, no less. Thanks Scott and Eileen and also Bob and Kathy for brightening our winter with citrus! Hold the o.j., I’m out of tangerine juice, I’ll take the next one neat. Cheers!

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