Here in our Central Virginia garden & yard I/we are in Fall mode. This is always a combination of cleaning up and closing down along with strategizing on how to keep ongoing projects running despite bad weather.
The big thing this year was to get the gravel work area installed in front of the barn. It’s a place to store equipment, fill buckets, and work outside without standing in mud. It’s been on the TO-DO list for a long time but only this last weekend did the available manpower synchronize with the large pile of gravel we had delivered. Younger son and two granddaughters worked with Kip to load and haul many wheelbarrows of gravel to the area where I leveled it with a rake. Of course we were burning up all the calories we’d had for our breakfast; sausage, fried eggs, toast and jam and applesauce; all home grown/homemade.
Most of our hens are just chugging along pumping out eggs but a few of the girls are nearing the end of productivity and there are two roosters who are beginning to raise hell. So it’s time to cull. This means a late evening trip out to the coop to lift the selected birds off the roost to put in the holding pen for slaughter. Next week.
The two ‘Jer-Stein’ calves, Lucy and Lilli, are doing well. They are learning to be led, to stand when told, and behave calmly with people. We are aiming to wean them from the bottle over the next few weeks. The way they enjoy the bottles is such a gas – huge slurping, drooling, babies that run to us when they see us coming into the barn.
Our large garden is mostly clear of the summer plantings. The three covered rows contain the more tender veggies for all fall and winter (or as late into winter as they can be coaxed to survive!). The covered crops are chard, carrot, beet, and two varieties of lettuce. The uncovered green patches are pac choi, collards (2 kinds; Georgia & Vates), kale (2 kinds; Lacanato & Green Curled Winterbor) and bunching onion. Unlike former years the hens didn’t get the run of the big garden to clean it up for winter because I ended up scattering the planted patches instead of concentrating the fall plantings at one end.
As usual I have planted a large Elephant Garlic bed. We’ll see the first sprouts sometime in late December than I’ll mulch the bed and wait for spring. After we harvested late potatoes we used that bed to broad sow turnip for greens for the animals. We’ll feed those greens for as long as they last. The same is the case for the oat bed. These plantings keep the soil busy – which is a principal of mine – I don’t like to see bare soil just hanging out. I either want to sow some sort of cover crop in it or to mulch it heavily in a form of sheet composting through the winter. The large bare spaces in the big garden have been sown with oats, turnip, and buckwheat seed but we may have cut it too close and now it’s too cold for a good germination.
In the hoop house the aquaculture unit is still in the experimental stage. Making the syphon work in the way it needs to do in order to drain the growing bed back into the fish tank has proved a bit tricky so more tinkering is needed. Now with all the summer plants have been pulled out I’ve created a large indoor compost pile in there in the hopes of holding the heat in that building above freezing. Again, this is a work-in-progress but so far it seems to be effective. In the hoop house is also the new indoor sprouts setup. As you can see in the picture the soaked oats when given warmth and regular rinsing become an amazing mat of sprouts. We create a ‘salad’ of oat sprouts, chopped comfrey leaves, and turnip leaves. The calves love, love, love it! And the hens as well.
Our winter firewood stack is getting larger and larger. A couple of weeks ago our granddaughters, under the supervision of our daughter, ran the log splitter all day Sunday. Stacked wood is perhaps one of the most satisfying sights one can see!
The most unusual occurrence of the week; at the fall of the last leaves off the Japanese persimmon the granddaughters spotted the lone fruit of this season!! It had successfully hidden in the leaves all summer. Last year I harvested 48 fruit but this year only one! Sigh.
I really like a good hot dog! Way back when I lived in Los Angeles I had all the routes to Pinks Hot Dogs on La Brea Boulevard memorized. My favorite was a kosher dog loaded with chili, sauerkraut, onion, and sweet pickle relish.
When it comes to the dog itself more artisan butchers are producing lovely sausages these days and one can still fall back on Nathan’s in a pinch. The problem for me has most often been the bun – soft, too short, little flavor. I’ve baked a lot of bread in my life but my experimental rolls for hot dogs were too flat and hard to separate. A while back I saw a pan for a New England style hot dog pan but the resulting shape was ‘wrong’ to my eye and in any case I am not willing to buy such a specialized pan.
It must have been my recent obsession with baguette baking that finally inspired the idea I had last week. Could I create a pan with the same channels as a baguette pan? Yep. I used foil and it worked so well I mostly wonder why the hell it took me so long to think of it.
So here is the pan;
And here is the recipe: The commercial buns that seem to have the most heft and texture all call themselves ‘potato’ buns. I decided to see if instant potatoes (a brand with no flavorings or additional ingredients) would work. (Next time I’ll use fresh potato to see any difference. I’ll boil 1 medium raw grated potato in the ½ cup water.)
6 Cups flour (I used 4 cups all-purpose and 2 cups white whole wheat)
1 TBLS sugar or honey
1 TBLS salt
1 TBLS yeast
8 oz unsalted butter melted (or lard or olive oil)
½ Cup instant potato flake
2 Cups warm milk
½ Cup warm water (maybe more if you use more whole wheat flour)
Combine all the ingredients in the bowl and mix well. I let the mix sit for 10 min or so before kneading it just to see if I need to add more flour or water; you want a fairly firm dough. Then I knead the dough for 8-10 minutes adding as little flour as possible.
Let the dough rise in a greased bowl covered with clear wrap and draped with a towel for at least an hour and a half.
In the meantime create your baking pan. Use heavy duty foil folded in an accordion pleat. Lay the foil in the pan, separate the sections and crimp the outside rim to the cookie sheet. Keep the top edges of each section an inch or so above the rim of the cookie sheet. Spray the pan sections with cooking spray. Have another cookie sheet ready to use as a lid for the pan during the first part of the baking.
When the dough has doubled, punch it down and divide it in half with the bench scraper. Put one half aside for the second batch. My ‘pan’ turned out to have 7 sections so I divided my dough into 7 pieces. Flatten each dough piece and tightly roll it into a log stretching it to make sure it will be long enough for your sausage after it has risen. Cover the formed rolls lightly with clear wrap and a towel and let rise for a half an hour. Set the oven to 375 degrees.
When the rolls are almost doubled in size gently remove the clear wrap and cover the whole pan with an upside down cookie sheet. This keeps the tops of the rolls from browning too fast. After 20 min in the oven remove the top cookie sheet and finish the baking for another 5 minutes.
Cool on a rack. When the pan is mostly cooled down form the second batch, let them rise and do the whole thing over again.
These hot dog buns can be frozen for several weeks.
What a busy spring it has been! Since the last of the chickens went into the freezer the garden, the hoop house, and the barn have taken much of our time.
In May we celebrated my husband’s 75th birthday – wonderful friends, great food, much laughter! We grilled two of our large chickens – they each weighed in at 8 lbs-marinated in Apricot/Garlic/Hoisen goodness.
The fresh ham was marinated in garlic, paprika, cumin, rum, sugar–then rubbed with more garlic, sugar and paprika. It smoked for 8 hours and was a great success. Yum!
As usual we joyfully celebrated the first totally homegrown meal of the season; fried chicken, kale, new potatoes, with lots of gravy. Now pretty much most of our evening meals are largely home grown with the first of the summer bounty coming in to be combined with our eggs, the stored pork and chicken.
Kip’s seven chicks from the incubation experiment have grown into lovely little birds. Their coloration ranges from mostly buff blending into speckled gray and black to mostly gray and black. See how sweet they are?
I am delighted with the veggies growing in the hoop house. We’re getting summer squashes and cucumbers.
Out in the large garden the spinach is gone and I think we will be eating cabbage and chard soon. We harvested the second row of potatoes yesterday; RED NORLAND.
The large bed of Yukon Gold potatoes will be ready next week. All the seed potatoes came from last year’s crop as did the Elephant Garlic which is also ready to be harvested. This morning I sowed a double row of winter carrots. Even in the heat of summer we have to think of the chill of winter if food self-reliance is our realistic goal.
Other fall plantings of collards, kale, and more scallions will come over the next two weeks. The big planting of Italian Flat Beans and Kentucky wonders will end up being canned, while the yellow bush beans get eaten fresh. I plant a 4 foot row of the yellow bush beans every two weeks or so through the season as soil becomes available.
Last week I went off for a lovely two days in Richmond with the Southern Foodways Alliance Summer Symposium to talk about Mary Randolph and the black cooks in her kitchens. There is some serious and delicious food action happening in Richmond!! The cooks and restaurants and provisioners organized to feed us all were inspired by The Virginia House-Wife, that 1824 classic of fine food. Some cooks did riffs, others did authentic, all were incredible spreads.
The rain has been persistent and regular all spring—one hates to complain—but I could use a few dry hot days!
Any ideas my friends? I have not been able to find a successful way to set my cookery class schedules so as to end up with the necessary sized group and the dates/topics possible. I love teaching and I miss students coming to my house. I have PayPal for payment and can also get a Square so people can pay when they get here.
Today Kip and I butchered the first ten of this season’s 120 chickens. At 4 weeks and 4 days these Harvest Whites from S & G Hatchery in Alabama have been fast gainers – the dressed birds weigh on average 2 and a 1/2 pounds each!
Folks often mention to me a child hood experience of watching or participating in the neck wringing / chopping block style of chicken butchering. I have always been horrified at that style of dispatching a bird! Yikes! Luckily all those thirty plus years ago we helped our South Dakota neighbors, Wayne and Carol Parsley, and learned their technique. Gallon milk jugs with the bottom cut out and nailed to the barn wall works great especially if you have 25/50/a hundred birds to do in a day. With a family of ten children they needed to get the job done!
As you can see in the picture we started with the old method when we returned to raising our own meat birds again. But plastic degrades in the heat of the Virginia summer and are not quite big enough for the big breed birds we have been raising. Kip constructed the galvanized steel cones and they are great.
So that’s how we do it. We’re thinking of building a chicken plucker . . . . . . . . . . .
Here is our granddaughter a few years ago lending a helping hand on butchering day.
But for today all is cleaned up and waiting till next week’s session and in the mean time I’m making stock from the chicken feet;
This is what we did last Sunday. It seemed to be the first real day of Spring, bright, warm, and lovely. Kierk, Bjorn and Zoe were the crew while Kip was the foreman and I was the cheering squad. Oh, and I fed them all a breakfast of French toast, homemade sausage patties, bacon, coffee!
Pretty much done on part 1 – today Kip is working on building the door which will have a glass window that lowers for a screened opening. Then we have to get the fan to insert into the far wall for ventilation. Without ventilation and even with no door in the opening it was 120 degrees inside at 2 pm today!
Early this month I spent part of a day grinding a large piece of beef, a loin of pork, with added ground turkey for a BIG batch of meatballs! We love them for adding to pasta sauce and for sub sandwiches. I pack six balls to a small sandwich bag and then pack them in a large freezer storage bag. We will have meatballs for many months! I did a cost out for this batch; 251 meatballs > 25,72 pounds of meat > cost $52 for the ingredients = cost me about $2.70 a doz. Pretty good, eh? Certainly worth the work to my mind.
I saute finely minced onion, celery, and garlic in olive oil and add the mixture to fine breadcrumbs made of our homemade bread. I use rubber gloves to mix the breadcrumbs and the meat together thoroughly. With very loud rock and roll driving the action I roll meatballs to freeze on cookie sheets. Each layer of meatballs is covered with a layer of plastic wrap and by the end it makes a neat pyramid and is ready to be well wrapped in more plastic and put in the freezer. It takes a few days to firmly freeze them all.
Packaged and labeled I can now look forward to many a spontaneous whipped up meal! And I do not fry the meatballs or cook them before adding them to the pasta sauce. I saute some chopped onion and garlic in some olive oil, throw in a jar or two of home canned tomatoes, submerge a branch of rosemary tied with oregano and thyme, and cook it all down for 20 minutes or so. I then remove the herb bundle and with my immersion blender I puree the sauce. Its then I add a shot of wine – if I have it – and the meatballs and return the herb bundle as well. The whole pot simmers along till I’m ready to cook the pasta.
On Jan 3rd we bought a 125 lb. ram lamb to fatten for the freezer. He had horns and had not been castrated.
Of course I named him Lamb Chop lest anyone forget he was intended for food. [Do you find it as odd as I do that all those years ago TV show host/comedienne/ventriloquist Shari Lewis named her sock puppet character Lamb Chop? In a 3-degrees of separation way my life intersected with Lewis and Lamb Chop; I was living in the basement apartment of her house in Laurel Canyon the fall President Kennedy was assassinated. Small world, yes?]
We fed our lamb chops-on-the-hoof with sweet hay and a daily treat of about a cup of 2-grain scratch (what we give the hens) and while he basically maintained an aloof attitude he would come quickly when the grain was shaken into the feeder!
The actual killing took place very quickly and quietly. The animal was not excited and neither were we. A single shot and it was dead. The scaffolding had been set up beforehand to hoist the carcass and to insure a proper bleed-out. All the knives had been sharpened. Garbage bags for the head and the offal were ready.
Our son, his two daughters and a friend came to help. Because this was a first time learning process for the girls and our friend Jenny each step of the process offered a new way of looking at where our meat comes from.
The photos show us from the beginning to the end. I’ve included captions so you can tell what is happening.
To dress the tamales I made a simple thick sauce of seeded dried guajillo chilies, hydrated in chicken stock, tomatillos, Anaheim chilies, onion, cumin, and pepinos. Tasty!