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Another “it seemed like a good idea at the time” farm lesson

29 Aug

We’re going to do some Before and After pictures here so that when Spring comes around next year we can refer back to our “lesson” lest we forget.

BEFORE – BEFORE: Nothing fun here, just work, work, work. The door to the hoop house in the back? Yeah, there’s an example of measure once, cut – never mind.

Springtime 2013: Pre-weeding, Pre-raised bed preparation and Pre-planting.

Springtime 2013: Pre-weeding, Pre-raised bed preparation and Pre-planting.

BEFORE: Weeded, planted and off to a nice start! However, our folly this year (and every year) is over crowding the beds. We just get so excited for our summer fruits!!! And the plant starts and seeds are so small…

Can't you just taste those ripe tomatoes and squash already?  Can hardly wait!!!

Can’t you just taste those ripe tomatoes and squash already? Can hardly wait!!!

We even gussied up the front of the greenhouse area and painted the old door, so we could just hang out and relax. Cuz that’s what farmers who milk goats and work full-time do, they hang out and relax.

Almost like, a destination!

Almost like, a destination!

AFTER:

image

Since we are no longer pig farmers, this is not really what we would consider a wildly fortuitous, fabulously abundant crop. More of a pain in the neck, really. Although the smaller zuchettas taste great sliced thin and cooked as the pasta in a pork sausage lasagna with chèvre, goat mozzarella and marinara (marinara from last year, mind you as this years crop of tomatoes had a little – ahem, competition for sunlight).

Squash lasagna with pork sausage, chèvre,  goat mozzarella and marinara.

Squash lasagna with pork sausage, chèvre, goat mozzarella and marinara. Prior to cooking.

So what to do, what to do. The goats are NOT interested in eating this forage. did I mention there are no pigs around?

A  local artist's impression of the fact that there are no more pigs on the property.

A local artist’s impression of the fact that there are no more pigs on the property.

One of my good friends who I actually met through Craigslist (bartering goats for pigs, what else?) has pigs. He, and his pigs are the lucky beneficiaries of this forest of Zuchetta in addition to numerous buckets of whey from cheese making.

The other day, I was talking to the artist who rendered the pig picture above and she told me that when she grows up and purchases her own farm, she is going to raise pastured pigs. Wow. I guess dairy goats might be too much work for our budding farmer who is calculating having stout fencing in place, lots of silly greenery abundance and gallons of whey (read: free pig food) at her disposal from her parents that don’t do a very good job of remembering “lessons” on the farm. Momma didn’t raise no fool.

Sunflowers, planted by goats.  Who tossed their dinner bucket on the ground, which included black oil sunflower seeds.  Maybe they are more work than pigs.

Sunflowers, planted by goats. Goats who tossed their dinner bucket on the ground, which included black oil sunflower seeds. Maybe they ARE more work than pigs.

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Shabalabashingo…aka Head Cheese, Brawn, Souse, Fromage de Tete, Testa in Cassetta, Coppa, etc., etc.

15 Aug

This thing needs a new name!  I told the kids and my friend Cam the day they were to be my kitchen tasters of the August Charcuterie Challenge: Head Cheese.  My son said “call it Shabalabashingo!” with eight-year-old flourish and bravado.  We all turned to look at him with amused interest and tried it on for size, hmmm.  Let’s write that down.  So in our household we now call Head Cheese or Souse, (as it is referred to here in Tennessee) Shabalabashingo.

But before we got into the tasting part there was the prep part, like brining.  Then cooking.  Luckily, I had already completed these tasks.

Initially, there was the issue of the head and 4 trotters to deal with which I had been avoiding for a while now – sitting wrapped in plastic and a white garbage bag in my kitchen freezer.  Awkward.  Awkward to move around and awkward to store.  Not to mention how awkward it was when a guest at the house opened the freezer door and rooted around it, ignorant to the contents of the giant frozen “brawn in a bag”.  I had saved it when I’d butchered a pig raised on the farm into primal cuts.  The head and trotters likely a little past due on their “use by” date but what the heck?  I do believe in using all parts of the hog even if it means there may be a little freezer burn on an item while I’m out looking for my courage to make it.

So, already thawed out, (out of sheer necessity due to limited freezer space) I was thrilled when the Head Cheese challenge was announced; my timing was perfect if not telepathic.  Here it is in the stock pot.  If you are squeamish, look really fast or simply move on.

I followed the head cheese recipe in The Ruhlman Charcuterie book.  Everything went according to plan except my “terrine” was cube shaped and I had to use a zip-lock bag instead of plastic wrap.  This made for a blocky less than smooth presentation, but did the job.

Well, it is a peasant dish, yes?  It doesn’t have to be pretty.  I thought it would be tasty with crusty bread.  So I bought a baguette and had my friend Cam slice it on the diagonal.  Then we drizzled some olive oil and spread it with seasoned goat cheese and broiled it until just crunchy and a little brown.

I didn’t really have a recipe, I was just going by what I thought would set off the “Shabalabashingo” in its best light, texture and flavor.  The tomatoes have been obscenely tasty this year – my best year growing tomatoes…EVER.  So I sliced a few heirloom Italian tomatoes over the goat cheese and then turned to my daughter  to see if she would be willing to pick some fresh flat leaf parsley from the garden.

We pulled off the parsley stems and asked over or under?  We settled with under the Shabalabashingo.  Then we took a picture of the final product:

My daughter loved it.  She has now requested it numerous times and that’s a good thing because I think this recipe could make about 100,000 little crusty goat cheese, tomato, parsley, peasanty Shabalabashingos!  I froze it.  So actually, it’s back in the freezer just in a smaller, denser less shocking and now edible format.  It really was a hit, even my friend Cam said she liked it… come to think of it though, she hasn’t been out to visit the farm since.  😦 We were all pretty brave that day, even my son, who dropped his on the floor and promptly instituted  the 5-second rule.  He liked it but only had one while the rest of us finished off the plate.  I suppose for my son, it was enough to come up with a new marketing strategy for Head Cheese by changing the name for us.  There are undoubtedly some more dishes out there that he could “modernize” in hip, eight-year-old parlance.

Charcuterie Challenge July: Emulsified Sausage – Black or White?

15 Jul

“Stop singing!” I said to my son, exasperated, calling from the office over the raucous (false) tenor bouncing and echoing off of the pine ceiling obliterating all semblance of creativity or rational thought, for those of us forced to listen to Jack, anyway. Was he an opera singer in a past life? I’ve never met anyone with such a call to wail indecipherable words out with such abdominal abandon. He also sings to annoy his sister, which was the case today so I felt somewhat justified in cutting off the “music” even with the nagging irony that we ENCOURAGE singing most of the time. Parenting…always a new challenge – and the issues are never black or white.

Which brings me to the Charcuterie challenge, black or white? Though I did not follow the apprentice or charcuterie challenges, I was compelled to ask blanc or noir regarding boudin. After some quiet time away from the “opera”, I decided I really wanted to try both of the boudins. The choice though for today was obvious, blanc, as in Boudin Blanc. Why? Because I have eggs, lots of free range eggs, even with a hungry fox out there chasing hens this morning right past the LGD’s. The fox, skinny and desperate was not afraid of the LGD’s or me, until I turned the Dane out. Funny that Lucy, the Dane scared the fox away just by her presence but didn’t see the fox, as she was otherwise too busy chasing doves, again,…sigh. At least she leaves the chickens alone.

Boudin Blanc would also work since I had pork shoulder from the farm, chicken breast from the farm, and spices and milk (local) on hand for this intriguing recipe. Though I also have that elusive ingredient for the Boudin Noir as in “Boudin Noir with Apples and Onions” the ingredient that makes the sausage distinctively noir “on hand” on the farm… no one around here is up to procuring said ingredient right now. Nuff said.

We got home mid-day after some local shopping, ready to start up our fabulous sausages. But before we eat, our farm eats. So as we walked the farm, doing the regular afternoon water and welfare checks prior to feeding, we heard a strange noise from the woods where some of the pigs are kept. A baby piglet noise… As Sophie and I got closer, we noticed that there was a strange looking but very small, very dark animal in the pen with Wally, Roselle, Willow and Dixie. Hmmm. It squealed again, jet-black and wobbly, raising a ruckus with Dixie (the alpha) who was investigating, this little newborn piglet caused Dixie to promptly direct the other pigs away, leaving Willow, the momma, alone to labor on.

Goodness, more piglets! These were a surprise… 6 born today, 4 boys 2 girls. The little black piglet is a girl. She was obviously the first-born and most sassy! I sense trouble with this one… she’s already been investigating OUTSIDE the enclosure only hours old, she’s got attitude.

With an unexpected piglet delivery crowding out our evening (we wanted to be there, just in case) we started sausages late but we were ready this time, we had organized and prepped, and all of our machine parts were pre-assembled with our grinder, and our food processor (which gets used daily) was sparkling clean and ready for action.

Here is how my little Pavarotti and I made Boudin Blanc:

We ground the 1 inch cubes of pork and chicken breast through the meat grinder, then added the ground meat, salt, pepper and Quatre Epices into the food processor. We added the remaining ingredients per the instructions in the Ruhlman Charcuterie book. After a quenelle check, we added a wee bit more salt, stuffed the meat into the casings and poached the sausages. They were ready to partake in this evenings entrée.

Boudin Blanc with a Beet, Amaranth, Cucumber Chopped Salad and Yellow Squash with Red Onion, Basil and Garlic.

It’s summertime so we’re trying to balance out this rich sausage with a light, beautiful purple salad and fresh yellow squash sauteed with onions, basil and garlic.

Beet, Amaranth and Cucumber Salad:

1 Cup Purple/Red Amaranth leaves roughly chopped (use only the smallest leaves)
1 large bunch or 8 small peeled finely chopped beets and beet greens (process with metal blade)
2 medium sized pickling cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 bunch flat leaf parsley chopped.
½ Cup Walnuts chopped

Dressing:
1 heaping tablespoon of good quality stone ground mustard
2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
Splash of apple cider vinegar
Fresh Thyme, leaves only, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine the first 5 ingredients in a bowl. Whisk together the dressing ingredients in a small bowl or shake up in a mason jar. Add dressing to the salad and serve (this salad can be made a few hours ahead of time, the flavors will develop).

Yellow Squash with Red Onion, Basil and Garlic.

4-5 meduim yellow straight neck squash sliced
½ Red Onion Sliced
1/3 Cup packed Basil sliced into very thin ribbons
3 cloves of garlic minced.

Sautee red onions with yellow squash until al dente, about 3-4 minutes. Finish the dish by stirring the basil and garlic into the hot squash. Serve immediately.

Brown Boudin Blanc sausages until re-heated (they have already been poached to an internal temp of 160).

This meal was delicious.  All of the produce  ingredients in the salad and squash were picked the same day and were bright and sweet tasting, a perfect compliment to the nutmeg and cinnamon in the sausages.  If I were to serve this in the winter, I would serve the sausage with mashed sweet potatoes and a simple radish salad.  This recipe is a keeper, the kids loved it!

I have fond memories of “Blood Pudding” (similar to Boudin Noir) a cow or pig blood pancake that I used to enjoy a long time ago served up as an entrée during elementary school lunch – in Stockholm Sweden, while my family lived there on sabbatical.

When evaluating recipes for the challenge, I was tempted to go for it with the Boudin Noir, it has been on my mind because of my childhood experience. My courage was bolstered after a chance meeting with a woman from Sweden, named Maria during a gig downtown when my husband played with Todd Bolton a few Sundays ago. We started talking after the show and the discussion quite quickly turned to Blood Pudding. I had been interested in researching the dish and thought she might have some insight regarding the name, etc. She was very helpful. Perhaps if I see her again downtown I can enlist her help in making some, they have just moved here from Austin and her husband is a singer…

Nothing around here is always either black or white. Parenting, cooking, animals – except maybe today when it comes to sausage and newborn piglets… Thank goodness for shades of gray!  And the Boudin Blanc was fantastic…I mean really, look at the ingredients, how could it not be?

On farm, all farm breakfast…

15 May

This morning we rushed to finish chores and make breakfast in order to get downtown for a Mr. Pink Guitar gig on Broadway with Todd Bolton. We’d originally planned an obligation free Sunday for our breakfast sausage-making for the Charcuterie Challenge/Charcutepalooza the apprentice challenge this month (due today – nothing like waiting until the last minute…). However, Mr. Pink Guitar got a call late last night to fill in for the Sunday show, as the other drummer had canceled. So suddenly our Sunday was wiped out. Ruh, roh.

Waking early, we opted to divide and conquer. Mr. Pink Guitar and Jack finished the morning feeding chores while Sophie and I harvested tatsoi and collected eggs.

Oh, and herbs,

Tatsoi on the right, Napa cabbage on the left, onion “companions” interspersed:

We’d hoped to harvest our February planted fingerling potatoes…but alas they were not ready. So, no starch today for breakfast. With feedings done, we cubed our pork, chopped herbs and sprinkled seasonings;

ground our sausage;

Cooked the patties; wilted the chopped greens in sausage drippings (yes, the tatsoi has a few bug nibbles, we don’t spray insecticides).

fried up some farm fresh eggs;

And ate the most delicious, satisfying and nourishing breakfast ever. No kidding.

All of the ingredients came from our farm except the balsamic vinegar, butter (local) salt and pepper. That, my friends , feels like quite the accomplishment. Mr. Pink Guitar wants me to do a post on how hard the work is on a farm, how it is every day work that is a labor of love and costs a fortune. He’s correct but that stuff is boring.

So as I sit downtown at Layla’s Bluegrass Inn on Broadway, writing this post, worlds away from the farm, my gratitude for the animals, vegetables, hard work and time it took to bring this incredible food to the table is a bit overwhelming. The brick walls of the venue, the worn plywood floors, the tiny front window stage and music reverberating around my head and through my core inspires me; but the farm food sustains me.

My friend Farmer Joe always shares words of wisdom whenever he delivers hay to the barn or when I see him at the elementary school where both our kids attend. He tells me stories about hog killin’, making lard, the design of their scalder (it was set in a hill) how it was an event for multiple families and brought the community together. He says… “we ate really good for being such poor people”. Joe is one of the smartest farmers around, we’re lucky he shares his stories, insight and wisdom with us.

And he’s right, the food is so undeniably delicious, it doesn’t seem fair. If you want access to the freshest ingredients, meet your farmer, lend a hand, help out, the rewards are immeasurable.

Sausage recipe: (Adapted from Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s breakfast sausage recipe)

1 Pound Chopped pork (we used what would be pork chops along the back bone from a primal cut) so there was already a lot of fat on the meat
1/4 Pound Pork fat (see primal cut reference)
1 small bunch sage
1 small bunch oregano
1 small bunch parsley
1 small bunch thyme (no stems)
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 Generous shake of kosher salt (be liberal if you like salt)
Many grinds from the pepper grinder (you decide)

Mix all ingredients together and grind into sausage. We used a manual meat grinder.

Form patties and fry in lard until browned, flip and repeat. Wilt the greens in the sausage drippings, remove and then fry about 6-8 farm fresh eggs in a little butter.

Enjoy!

More Piglets!

7 May

Born last night, they are less than 12 hours old. Out of 8, 6 made it. 5 females and 1 male.

This piglet (mini)  documentary was filmed and produced by Jack Matthews.

Heritage piglets, heirloom seeds. Happy Easter!

24 Apr

Though we have not slept in for eleven years (kids) our morning started more gradually than it should have. Mr. Pink Guitar ran a hay/mulch errand, meeting up with Farmer Joe, one of our kindest farmer friends who offered to give us rotten hay rolls for the garden. Free mulch, what’s not to love about that?

Mr. Pink Guitar indicated that he would do chores when he got back, so the rest of us drifted around sleepily making breakfast, reading and starting seeds. Mr. Pink Guitar must have spent a lot of time shooting the breeze with Joe (who is a wonderful conversationalist and oozes wisdom) because it seemed like hours before he got back. We’d finally decided to start chores just as the big ranch truck rumbled up the drive, trailer laden with hay in various states of decomposition.

Sophie left the house and wandered off to the barn right after the truck pulled up. Soon after I heard her scream, when I looked out the window she was running, arms flailing towards the truck. I got my muck boots on quickly, mentally prepared to face something terrible.

Roselle had farrowed, but what should have been a joyous occasion became somber as the situation revealed itself. Roselle was not showing interest in her piglets and had crushed two. Two more had not made it through the birthing process. We counted six tiny piglets skinny and shivering huddled in the corner, ignored. We tried to put a heat lamp on them and Roselle freaked. Well, at least she was being protective.

There were a lot of hushed comments about letting nature take its course and leaving the new mom alone. Because it was Roselle’s maiden voyage into motherhood, we needed to give her a break, and the birthing conditions were not ideal. We had wanted her to farrow out in the woods separated, but comfortably close to her herd the best way for a gilt/sow to farrow in our humble opinion.

But Roselle had become Houdini and would be held in by NO pen, maybe she wanted to range with the chickens, but with babies on the way, we didn’t want her nesting in the woods somewhere – way out there. We put her in the barn (well, actually she walked right in because that’s where she was hanging around) two weeks ago, in a horse stall, ousting our calf; and with fasteners, clips, hog panels, power tools and stall mats, we were able to keep her contained.

The critical time for piglets or any newborn is the first 24 hours, the piglets needed colostrum and warmth and if they made it three days we figured we could announce with confidence the arrival of 6 purebred heritage Red Wattle piglets.

Update: Roselle has calmed down and is taking wonderful care of her babies, they are all fat and sassy. She just needed some time to figure things out and get used to the idea that it is not all about her right now. She does still like her “me” time a little more than the other sows seemed to. However, all is well in piglet world with 5 females and 1 sturdy male, who nurses at first position.

One piglet had an injured foot, so we had to do a little doctoring, which gave us an opportunity to cuddle (!) with her. This piglet is a runt and her name is Zinnia.

Heirloom seeds are one of the greatest gifts on the planet, at least to me. Great things come in small packages and I love seed packets. I collect them like a pre-pubescent baseball card junkie of olden days hoarding them in boxes and containers; I even turned my wine fridge into a seed vault.

So when we got an Easter care-package in the mail from our wonderful friends Bob and Kathy a few days ago we carefully cut the tape and opened the box with rapt anticipation. Care-packages are always exciting. Among the goodies, plastic Easter eggs filled with treats and treasure as well as several thought provoking books “Harvest for Hope, A Guide to Mindful Eating” by Jane Goodall and “The Good Good Pig, the extraordinary life of Christopher Hogwood” by Sy Montgomery. Both authors are vegetarian, one – Vegan.

Interesting how I had just come across this article and was pondering the debate about humanely raising animals for food versus the Vegan perspective – all this after watching Food, Inc.

I find it’s important to look at all sides of an issue with an open mind. Research and contemplation of an issue so close to home is a much better alternative than ignorance.

So what else was in the box? Some nice Easter cards and news clippings with great information about farming and food, mentoring us further along this journey, and last but far from least, was a small innocuous looking bag from the gift shop at the venerable Monticello Estate. I carefully unfolded the small sack to reveal the most marvelous selections of Heirloom seeds!

A cache of 12 historic plant varieties! Cardoon, Prudens Purple tomato, Bloody Butcher corn, Lemon Balm, Early Curled Siberian Kale, Purple Calabash tomato, Fish Pepper, Brown Dutch Lettuce, Sesame, Red Calico Lima Bean, Cow’s Horn Okra, Balsam Apple. WOW! Hey, what’s Balsam Apple?

From Packet: “Jefferson planted this tender annual vine along the winding walk flower border on Monticello’s West Lawn in the spring of 1812. The Balsam Apple’s glossy, delicate foliage, small yellow flowers, and bursting orangish red fruit are a curious and unusual addition to the summer flower border. Plant the seed after the last spring frost and provide support with a fence of trellis. The vines will twine to ten feet in a sunny, fertile site”.

This year will be the year for cardoons and artichokes, multiple varieties of purple tomatoes, herbs and pink corn, unique peppers, amazing lettuces, beans of all shapes and sizes, several types of okra and Balsam Apple! What am I forgetting? Oh, I need more land…

What a wonderful Easter Sunday: heritage piglets and heirloom seeds, it doesn’t get any better than this. We also planted a mini-orchard with 10 fruit trees (orchard now totals 50), moved the chicken coop so our 27 new chicks could be closer to the house and to make room for our 7 Bantams and 6 Pekin ducklings.

Reflecting back two years ago exactly, the enormity of our move away from friends and family was sinking in. We had just lost a favorite uncle with no opportunity to say good-bye. We were alone on the holiday and phone calls to loved-ones made the distance more painfully clear. We did the only thing we knew to do, face the future and embrace it, and plant an apple tree in honor of Uncle Wayne.

Pinkguitarfarm is in its infant stages. We keep on keeping on against various odds because we have cherished friends who have lent us huge amounts of emotional support, not to mention gifts, seeds, rotten hay, fencing, green house supplies, free pig and bull-calf castrations, community endorsements, wagon rides, songs and music, wisdom, social invitations, articles, links, books, mentoring, care packages, a skype camera, visits, wine and late night conversations. We have farmers market customers that try our vegetables and recipes even though the vegetables and recipes might seem weird, and those that buy our fabulous pork. Thank you for being a part of this crazy adventure!

There is not a sprig of grass that shoots uninteresting to me.
~Thomas Jefferson~

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!

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

LGD’S

10 Oct

We were losing chickens. By August, we had lost all of our spring roosters and we assume they died protecting their (our laying) hens. When the roosters were gone we started losing hens, almost daily. The day Sophie lost her prized Bantam hen “Peppermint” evidenced by a puff of tiny buff and white feathers, we decided that we must act and fast.

We felt we had two choices, fence the chickens in, or find LGD’s (Livestock Guard Dog’s) to protect them. We love having our chickens range and initially suffered few losses. But our farm was becoming an all you can eat buffet for all the usual (and possibly some unusual) suspects.

We want our chickens to eat bugs, weeds and whatever else a chicken/raptor chooses to eat even if it means hanging out with piglets. We feel that especially in the summer time, it cuts down on feed costs and aids health and immunity (as long as they are not being eaten by a predator!).

We also like the idea that our chickens get to go for an afternoon stroll (or scratch, rather) in the woods, take a dust bath in the pony pasture or simply work out their chicken politics in an open forum. We decided we did not want to fence them in, nor did we have the means to tractor them, so free range it was – meaning the search for LGD’s was on. As you can see below, the piglets enjoy a little free ranging too.

I started researching LGD’s about six months ago, but with so many projects, I wondered how I would have time to train one… or two. Nevertheless, I had talked to farmers, seen LGD’s in action and felt confident that they would work for us, we just wondered how to find one preferably already trained (training can take up to two years) that would also be able to transition to our farm.

While we were out picking up our RWH gilt, I mentioned to the farmers at Ecotonefarm that we were looking for LGD’s (they have two wonderful Great Pyrenees dogs). And as luck would have it, they knew of a farmer who was looking to place two 18 month old Great Pyrenees dogs, a male and a spayed female who were siblings. After several e-mails, phone calls and a visit to our farm by this very conscientious farmer, we went to pick up Jane and Burley on October 3rd.

This is Jane (to the left), not only does she patrol all night long between the chicken coop and the pig pens, she walks the kids to their bus stop (the entrance to our driveway) in the morning. Jane is a sweetheart.

This is Burley (above right); he wanted to hang out with me in the garden today while I harvested sweet potatoes. I put him in the shade by the barn since he is too large and furry for the meager shadows of a fallen amaranth flower stalk and a bell pepper plant. I sure appreciated the company though! He is a big sweet boy.

Poor Jane, she had no idea that when she came here, she would have the dubious honor of piglet babysitter. She is a good piglet herder too, especially when they are naughty and try to eat the chicken food up by the barn.

Burley is more reserved and mellow than Jane, and he has a very deep bark. There have been no more chicken losses in the past 10 days since they arrived here.

Everyone sleeps better at night now that Jane and Burley are here on the job, including our Narragansett tom turkey, Brad. In fact, he feels so secure now, he even gobbles at the moon. G’night Brad!

We are very grateful to have found Jane and Burley through the farmers at Ecotonefarm and to benefit from the wonderful training they received from their former owner. Jane and Burley are truly amazing, incredible dogs and are already a very important part of our farm. Many thanks to C.J. and Fletcher!

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