Dried, sauced, diced, chipped, “cidered” and fermented…

We have so many of these “wild” apples trees. Whether they were planted by the cows years ago, or maybe by a farmer years ago, for whatever reasons they are here, and they are an endless bounty of apples for us. Put this together with the apple trees we planted years ago, and the abundance is amazing! This year in particular was a great apple year, and I am hearing it all around our area. We even had a huge showing of pears on our pear tree, which often leaves us with only a bowlful. Generally most of the pears are on the top of the tree, which is above any sized ladder reach, well ok, if the fire department came out with their ladder truck it would reach those top pears!

So much prettiness!

I made quite a few jars of applesauce that I froze for future pork chops or visiting grandchildren. Our poor littlest grand was so sad last visit. Teething is just no fun and cold applesauce was the ticket to making him happier.

I’ve dried over a gallon of apples into little chips for snacking on. These small chunks were dried for baking into breads or cookies and stirring into Oatmeal.

They turned out chewy and delicious.

While we attended a wedding, well north of here, we let the apples sit, as they are better for making cider after they have sat a bit. When we returned it was time to get to work!

Hubs popped an old motor he had onto this apple crusher unit and it crushed them about a million times faster than when we crank it ourselves. It was a game changing addition to the process!

Turns out that this stainless steel fish poaching pan, (a great Goodwill find, that had never even been used) came in very handy. If the cider was coming out slowly it tended to drip under the spout instead of straight down, so this pan didn’t let a drip get away!

This giant tub is the “apple smash” after crushing it for pressing.

The smash makes for some very happy pigs!

While most of the apple cider and also pear cider, went into our freezers, we still had some leftover when we ran out of containers in which to freeze the cider. So what does one do when you are out of containers?

Make hard cider of course!!! This is bubbling away in the basement. It will be a while before it is fully ready to drink, looking forward to this in early Winter.

Our Farm to our Table

Farm to table means many things to many people. This is our farm to our table. These birds arrived on June 7 and were butchered on September 1. They were 85 days old at butchering day. The days in between were spent, in a brooder in our garage, while we watched them carefully for developing problems that we could lose chicks to, if we were not watchful. The first week, there is a lot of rear end cleaning, this is to be sure they do not suffer from “pasty butt” when their poop can dry and stick to their bottoms because of the heat lamps they need to regulate their temperature. This can result in death if not carefully monitered. After the first week, this hurdle is generally behind us.

While the garage was busy with the brooder chicks, we planned their move up to their new home in the big coop. After about 4 weeks in the garage they start getting rambunctious and this creates lots of dust in the garage, so out they went to the big coop which had a carefully regulated temperature in it, as they didn’t have their full feathers yet. After about 2-3 weeks they were big enough and it was warm enough to let them out, first into their protected run so they were on grass, but then we opened them up to the big world in the latest part of the day so they didn’t range too far and forget where home was for them. We lit up their run that leads to the coop so they would see the light and come home to it. Within a few days they were full on free ranging, and exploring. We have lots of fir trees for cover for them, and they were pretty savvy to danger or hawk shadows up above. Finally butchering day came almost exactly 12 weeks later. We could not be more pleased to have birds going into the freezer at 4-5 pounds this year. We will stick with this breed, a heritage breed bird, comprised of a mix of 2 other heritage breeds. They grew much faster than our Delaware birds did, are much bigger, and we butchered 4 weeks earlier. I’ve never been a fan of Cornish Cross chickens that grow way faster and bigger, we always prefer to raise a heritage breed here on our farm. We will be sticking with these Red Rangers!

Day 1

Day 75

Day 85

The effort that went into these birds is well rewarded. This bird was delicious, juicy, and flavorful, beyond anything I have ever purchased in a store. This is what “our farm to our table” means to us. It means giving up the garage to the brooder and checking on them every couple of hours the first week, and it means hot days feeding and watering chickens, and early mornings letting them out before it was too hot in their coop, and even hotter days butchering the birds, which is an all day event. None of this is complaining, I enjoy the process, but it is a process, it is work, and it sure is rewarding.

Sitting down to the table to eat this bird, after the effort that went into raising it, becomes more than just dinner. This dinner started, actually on June 7, and to me, nothing tastes better or has more meaning, at a meal, than the food, that we spent months, bringing to the table.

Turning the corner into Fall

This past month we got rain. This was not your garden variety rain, this was more than an inch an hour. It came down in sheets, and the volume of water was incredible. Fortunately we are lucky to have our house on a hill, so flooding was not an issue for the house. The driveway washed out quite a bit, but we are again fortunate to have the heavy equipment to fix it. All in all we were very lucky, so many others did not fair so well. The above picture is of our “pond” which is not much of a pond at all. Mostly a large wildlife watering hole, but now it is a pond, till the water goes down again.

This was our little creek after the storm. Normally one can jump across this creek!

When we want to get a “flush” of mushrooms we soak a log in water. The storm however, essentially soaked all the logs at once. We got over 7 lbs of mushrooms! We have never seen that much from our small mushroom set up, at one time.

We celebrated with turkey mushroom soup.

The garden has peaked. It is now producing just small amounts of large tomatoes, a fair amount of cherry tomatoes, (shown above) some Swiss chard, kale, collards, parsley, basil, and cutting celery. The onions have been picked and are drying, the cucumbers are done, and I am officially done canning tomatoes. If I save anymore, they will get frozen whole, and used later.

These are the cherry tomatoes shown up above, but they are dehydrated for winter time snacking. Hubby loves these.

This was a couple of weeks ago. It was not a normal garden year but turned out to be a pretty productive one, in the end.

Hard to stop taking pictures of vegetables. They are so beautiful, and colorful!

Well, my carrot crop was not huge, by any standards, but it’s the best I have done. Carrots, it turns out, are not super easy to grow. I think, though, that I learned some things from these, and now I could possibly have a decent crop turn out next year. I did, this year, actually manage to grow enough potatoes for most of the year and that was a first. Carrots, onions and potatoes are traditionally crops I have purchased from local farms in a quantity to last us through the winter. We just haven’t had a fenced in garden that is big enough for these crops. Now, though, I am starting to think about that larger hoop that we have stored up the hill. It would be nice to have a larger tunnel than I do now and be a able to use it for crops like onions and carrots, so they are protected from the critters.

Carrots with parsley, tomatoes with Cilantro, and Shiitakes with, gathered, dried ramps (wild leeks).

This Elderberry cluster will be all purple soon. It will be picked, so that I can make Elderberry syrup, tincture, and liquor all to be used in warding off colds this winter. The netting you see around them is so the I can be sure to get my fair share of them. I net some for me, and then let birds have their share.

These chickens were ready for butchering. Since this picture we had butchering day. We had 3 extra people and the 26 birds went quickly. We are getting it down to a smooth system. These birds were a new variety here on the farm. Still a heritage breed but they grow larger and a little bit quicker. The birds are now “resting” in the fridge, and will get shrink wrapped tomorrow and put into the freezer. I have weighed about half of them and am happy to say that they have gone from a range of 2.9-3.7 pounds last year to 3.10-5.5 pounds this year. Hopefully we will like the taste and texture, and if that is the case then we would definitely raise this breed again. It’s good to have them ready for the freezer. One step closer to closing out this years growing season. We still will have some tomatoes, and lots more apples to pick and press, and pumpkins to puree, and then lastly the high bush cranberries to pick. We are definitely seeing things winding down.

These are Aronia berries. They have more anti-oxident power than blueberries, and even the recently fashionable Acai berry. They are native to Wisconsin. These will be made into an Aronia/Cherry jam. They are not tasty on their own, but mixed in jam with other fruits and it tastes great and is oh so healthy.

Thee are some of my honey ferments. Aronia honey on the left, and pineapple honey in the middle. The pineapple honey is to be used as a cough syrup in the winter. The cherry honey, on the right, is to be used as an aid for achy sore joints. I still need to make my elderberry honey, I am a firm believer that Elderberry helps to prevent colds, or at the least shortens their duration.

Just another sign of change. The pumpkins look beautiful on the hill.

 

The Kitchen Brings Such Comfort

We had some fun family time this past weekend, which included a wonderful meal out, which was a gift from my daughter and her husband. It was a delicious meal in a very beautiful, location, out of the way of most everything, apart from some kayakers and canoeists, that we saw. It was a special evening!

The next day while the guys worked on hay, we did some baking. It resulted in amazing goodies. These Challah loaves came from a recipe from my west coast daughter, and it’s the perfect recipe! They turned out quite pretty!

These little squares of cheesy goodness are completely addictive and really very easy, especially after hubs said, “wouldn’t those roll out easier with the pasta maker”? Sometimes I forget to put two and two together! It was a great idea, it helped make them thinner which also, made them crunchier. The ones that didn’t come out of the pasta maker, that I rolled out, taste just as good but I would call them cheesy biscuits, rather than crackers. Absolutely delicious.

I haven’t been on top of my sourdough starter as I should have been. I am feeding it but not as often as I should, it therefore is not active enough yet for making full on sourdough bread. It’s fine though because I have been making English muffins and waffles with the discard from my sourdough feedings.

I have written about these before, but now I have perfected the breakfast sandwich! It took some tweaking to get them right. The scrambled egg kept falling out, and so now I use the muffin cutter to cut the eggs, as well, so the eggs are a circle that just fit and no more egg fall out! Oh and no that isn’t mustard in the sandwich, it is just our bright, beautifully colored yolks that do that! A sign of a well pastured chicken. These are made of our breakfast sausage and eggs, and some amazing local cheddar from a small cheese factory near by us. These are mostly his breakfasts, and occasionally mine if I plan on working outside much of the day.

The beginning of tomato season! Tomatoes can make the meal, this time of year!

This was absolutely delicious recipe. Minnesota wild rice, our dried currants, leeks, celery and lots of homemade chicken bone broth. Healthy, in so many ways, and definitely the best rice dish I have ever eaten. It makes a large recipe, so I froze a few quarts of it for later. I have enough of my dried currants to make one more batch to divide into quarts to freeze for an easy dish on Winter nights.

Gazpacho, a wonderful cold Summer soup. Well in reality it is a wonderful fresh Pico De Gallo that I thought would be great frozen salsa, but since it was not cooked salsa, and because vegetables have so much water in them, when thawed it was too full of liquid and the vegetables were of course not crunchy. Lesson learned. Fresh salsa is way different after the freezer. It did, however, still taste amazing. I had many 2 cup portions frozen, and I was expecting company. I decided to serve Gazpacho, by thawing the 2 cup portions and pureeing them. Everyone loved the Gazpacho. This year I will freeze fresh Pico De Gallo again, but I will know I am going to serve it as Gazpacho.

Pickle season has definitely begun. Lots of cucumbers, and it hasn’t nearly peaked! Looks like there will be loads of them. Cucumbers, beyond what you can eat fresh, either have to be canned or fermented as pickles, chow chows, or relishes. Surely you can’t freeze them. The good thing is that we have hungry pigs and chickens so they get what we can’t eat or process. In exchange they give us pork, eggs and chicken meat. It works.

First kraut of the year, from the garden. It’s been a while since I got my ferment on, and made kraut! I’ve been doing a lot of vinegar pickles, but I think I will start making some Kimchi and  fermented pickles, the kraut inspired me!

I still had frozen strawberries, from a local farm, from last year. Since things last so long in a deep freezer, they are still perfectly fine. This is Sherbet, made from last year’s strawberries, and this year’s wild blackcap berries from the farm. I doubled the amount of fruit the recipe called for and this helped to reduce the sugar per serving, it also has milk in it and I added about 1/4 cup of cream to the about 6 cups of Sherbet that it made, so that it would be a bit richer. It is so good and so refreshing! The great thing is that no ice cream maker is needed. Just frozen fruit, lemon juice, sugar, and milk and it’s all made in the food processor. Takes 5 minutes. Since we always have fruit in the freezer, we will be able to make this all year. I am very happy to have stumbled upon this very easy recipe.

Now just a little bit of farm, since this has been all kitchen, kitchen, kitchen!

There is nothing hubs loves more than a beautiful day to make hay! It just makes him very happy. Yes, he was having a hay day!

Wednesday we will have the mobile slaughter unit out to process our steer. He’s over two years old, which is about time for a Highland. We usually process between 26-30 months. We have had mobile slaughter come out for the pigs for a couple of years now. There is a state inspector here for every bit of it, and s/he never takes their eyes off the animal from start to finish. The people are great to work with, and it goes very smoothly. They use an electrical stunner, which takes the pig down in a literal second. Then they bleed them out. This is the most humane way we have seen. We’ve tried loading and transporting and off loading at the locker, but after a life on green pasture and no stress it is very tough on them with the gates, and the cement floors and the clanking of equipment. We never wanted to do that again, it was hard on them and hard for us to see them stressed. Many people don’t have an option, but we are fortunate to have this mobile slaughter unit. We sell our meat so it must be done with inspectors on board at all times. The pigs though, are with us only 6-7 months, since they are feeder pigs. This steer has been with us, over 2 years, and this makes on farm slaughter harder for us. We really know this guy. We aren’t just dropping him off somewhere this time, we will be here for the whole process. The most important part though is the steer. If he is eating hay one minute, in his normal surroundings, and is out the next second, we know at least that his end is extraordinarily quick, and that is much more important than how hard it feels to us. I have said this in other entries. It should feel hard. Raising animals and getting to know them, makes it harder, come slaughter day, but it should be hard. I never want taking a life for food, to be easy, for me I always want it to be felt.

John Boy and Kleitos have really grown. They will be with us on the farm till their date comes in December. John Boy is the littler one, and he also seems to be the more clever one. Kleitos gets so excited, when I come with food, that he can’t think straight, and can’t even remember that the food is out, at the end of the pasture.  John Boy knows right where it is, and while Kleitos is running in circles excitedly, John Boy runs right for it, and shows him the way. They really are fun to watch!

It’s not just opening a jar, it’s so much more…

Today it is time for a garden update!

These tomatoes are growing in abundance! They are a variety I have not tried before called Verona. They are mostly still green, we’ve tried only a couple and they weren’t quite at their peak of ripeness, I confess to not being able to wait, so I can’t make a total judgment on taste at this point, but they sure are prolific!

Garlic was pulled almost 2 weeks ago. It did very well, and we should have loads of good garlic this year. I learned that in order to grow the best and biggest garlic the next year, that you have to set aside some of the best bulbs for breaking up and planting next year. In the past I have usually gone for the nice big ones right away for cooking, but this year I will, a bit sadly, tuck away those huge lovely bulbs for next year, and cook with the more medium sized bulbs I have. This should increase the size and quality of our garlic for next year, eventually after years, we will have all large high quality bulbs.

A pretty sampling from the garden.

Things are starting to really get going, soon the kitchen counter will be mounded with loads of produce for processing and storing for the Winter. The joy of opening a jar of tomato basil soup, or salsa, or pickles or kraut during the Winter is amazing, and thinking of what went into said produce is very gratifying! When I open these jars, I often find myself thinking about how I started the plants on a cold February day and tended to them till they were transplanted into larger pots during a rainy cool April, and then in late May transplanted to the garden with hopes of no late Spring frosts occurring. Then comes Summer and food processing from June to October. Finally, I open those jars in the Winter and taste the Summer inside them. It is more than gratifying, these jars are a living calendar of the seasons, and despite all my convenient kitchen tools that help me process this produce, and prepare it for the future year’s food, it still gives me a reminder of how historically people worked so hard to do what I am doing, they didn’t have the options of eating any other way but seasonally and by working hard to store enough food. My way of doing this surely is easier than their way, but it gives me pause each time, and I am filled with respect and reverence for the incredible work people put in to feeding their families, whether it was our ancients, or our more recent ancestors, everyone worked to put food on the table. This is one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done.

Nope, these are not this year’s potatoes. These slightly less than perfect potatoes are the end of last Summer’s potatoes. I will use them up quickly at this point, because our new potatoes are ready! Making sure things last throughout the year is a bit of a dance. I don’t want to use too much up early in the Winter, and when late Spring comes I also don’t want to be left with too much, this dance has gotten easier each year, as I can now anticipate our needs better.

The only thing here from the garden is the Calendula flowers and the Chamomile. The rest was gathered. Mullein is useful for nagging coughs from colds, while the Elderflower is a soothing tea, Yarrow helps to stop minor bleeding, Chamomile soothes the skin when made into a salve and Catmint (sometimes referred to as Catnip) can be used in a preparation for use as an insect repellent.

I could not be more grateful for this way of life.

Pig time

Pigs are on the ground at Red Tail Hollow! Meet John Boy and Kleitos! If you’ve missed earlier entries, I should explain that we name the pigs alphabetically, and these two are J and K. This system lets us know how many pigs we have raised by what letter we are on at the time, just as is done with storm names. These two are adjusting well and digging things up at a rapid rate. Soon they will go out on pasture, we just wanted them to first get used to us in their smaller pen. It’s easier for them to get to know us in a smaller space than in a larger space. It’s been a bit tough weather wise since they got here, with either intense heat or intense rain, and not much in between that, but with two wallows and lots of water they seem to be doing well. We are starting to have some produce scraps from the garden and they have been enjoying crunching through the outer cabbage leaves I have been sharing with them.

The past few years my cabbage, broccoli, kale and collards have been eaten by bugs, but this year I have been managing them differntly and am happy to say that so far so good! We had coleslaw yesterday and fried cabbage with salt and pepper tonight. I’m already wishing I had planted more of it!

These are volunteer pumpkin plants that are growing in the Winter Chicken yard. I fed the chickens a locally made seed mix last Winter as treats, and there were large pumpkin seeds in the mix, and this is what happened. I wasn’t sure if it would actually flower and grow pumpkins or if it would just be foliage but sure enough there will be loads of pumpkins for the pigs this year! We already planted a pumpkin garden, so these are a bonus, and check out the size of these leaves…

WOW!

I planted Currants about three years ago, and was lucky to get one currant off of the bushes each year. The birds and critters were always getting them. This time though the bush has much more fruit on it! I guess it is enough fruit for the birds, the critters and me, this year!

These currants were dried, so that I could use them in a special recipe for a dinner party coming up soon. Wild rice, Currants and Walnuts.

The raspberries will be ripening soon!

This flower is on my blackberry bushes. They are absolutely huge berries and this year looks like I will get much more than last year!

Cherries! Cherry ice cream has been on the menu, as well as Sourdough Cherry muffins. After eating a bunch of them the rest got frozen for goodies later.

My tomato fence didn’t work quite as well as I hoped. I I thought I would be able to get all the branches to grow along the fence, but thankfully I left plenty of room around the tomatoes, so even if they go jungle on me, I can still get in there. Can’t wait for that first red tomato, and the first tomato sandwich of the year!

Shiitake mushrooms are so beautiful.

A tray of today’s treats.

Elderflower, Mint, Chamomile, Basil, Spearmint, Dill and Calendula.

The storms this Summer have been impressive. This one we watched for a long time. What a lightening show. In addition to the lightening show the fire flies were everywhere! It was quite an amazing display.

 

Babies and Mushrooms and Gardens, oh my!

     

Nope this isn’t a baby lamb! This is Casper our new bull calf. Our Mama who is a white Highland has had 3 white babies on our farm. Our bull is a very dark color but our Mama’s genetics are strong. Her calves look like little lambs to me. He has been a pretty friendly fella so far, which is good because his little bum has needed a lot of cleaning. It’s important to keep him clean so flies don’t lay eggs on him. This can lead to “fly strike” which actually can kill a calf, so it’s great that he has been cooperative with the cleanings he’s had to endure.

It was a week for babies on the farm! I got the very, very early call from the post office that these little ones had arrived. I headed over there to pick up my chirping box of chicks. They are doing really well so far. They have been here only 5 days and they are already much bigger. I was just out there bringing them fresh water and food, and they are already starting to flap their tiny wings and suddenly they think they are tough little tiny chicks, and have started sparring with each other, by running towards each other and bumping chests and flapping their wings at each other. It’s very amusing because when one thinks of tough, a tiny baby fluffy chick just doesn’t come to mind!

I am still trying to get used to this look. Many people are not proponents of garden fabric, however, when you have a back that needs to be treated kindly, you try garden fabric. Weeding can be tough on the back, and so I now have a weedless garden. It seems a bit sterile to me, but oh the hours and hours of weeding I am saving my back from. I could get used to this! Hopefully the experiment will be a successful one. This picture was a week ago and the plants in the middle, the cabbages, collards, and broccoli plants have doubled in size in the last week!

This is my tunnel garden that was wrapped in plastic all Winter. I finally pulled all the Spinach. I planted it last July and we had Spinach all the way through till a few weeks ago when it bolted and was pulled and given to some very happy chickens! Now I have 2 short rows of Dragon Tongue beans, in there along with 3 short rows of beets and carrots, as well, that just went in there. The peas, I didn’t think would even grow at all, because some little critter burrowed in and ate most of them, but somehow they missed just enough and they grew. At best the harvest is a handful at a time, but they are a delicious handful!

The Gardens are all doing well. Next post I will show the upper gardens. They are looking great! Up there we have garlic, pumpkins, squashes, potatoes and mangels. The mangels and extra pumpkins will be great for the pigs come Fall when they are very big and very hungry!

 

These foraged Morels were found by hubby a few weeks ago. It was not a great Morel mushroom year, but that never stops him from finding at least some. We enjoyed several Morel adorned meals and then dried some and sautéed the others in butter and froze them in packets to add to meals. Morels are like magic, they are surprising, unpredictable, and always leave you wondering. We are always thankful for the magic.

Another Spring treat! The Spruce tips this year were beautiful. The vibrant green tender tips, of new growth, were perfect to make some Spruce Syrup with, and it is great! Basically, a simple syrup infused with the spruce tips, which adds vitamin C and a bit of a bright citrus-y and slightly piney taste. Since I had my waffle success with my sourdough discard, I thought this syrup would go great with them.

Golden Oyster Mushrooms! We have never seen them on the farm. Hubby found them in the woods, and we have gone back 3 times now. We now have 4 quarts of dried Oysters and have enjoyed them in two meals so far. They are a very delicious mushroom. Hoping they keep on producing up there! They are so beautiful!

As long as I am on a roll with mushrooms, I thought I would add in this picture of our Shiitake bed. The lighting was so pretty that day, I had to get a picture of it.

Ready for the oven!

My bread recipes were finally becoming predictable and turning out well, and then I got my grain mill, which I love, and as I have mentioned it changed up everything. Suddenly all my recipes needed some re-working to get them right. This one was a very happy surprise, light and delicious inside, with a chewy crust. Success!

These whole grain, sourdough cherry muffins are one of my favorites for using up my sourdough discard. These I made the other day and today I made my other favorite sourdough discard recipe too, which resulted in 27 English muffins. The freezer is stocked!

It is the quiet lull now. Everything is planted and there is little to harvest yet. Things will get very busy soon with processing lots of garden veggies as they come in, I am enjoying the lull, and will use some of my time today to go on a camera walk, no, not a phone camera walk, a real camera walk. Looking forward to it.