Late Summer and Signs of Things to Come!

Hard to believe that so much of the Summer has gone by without a post since mid June! I guess we have been busy! It was a great year for Currants! We moved the currant bushes into the confines of our high security garden, and finally we have Currants. This garden is fenced from deer, but also is covered on the outside with chicken wire, so there are no rabbits or other small critters in there. Additionally, I netted the bushes so that even the birds were unable to get at them. They are so pretty. They will become Currant jelly (when it gets cool enough to dare heating up the kitchen), and I will save some for adding to a special Wild Rice dish, I love, this Winter.

Meet Haddie. She was born in the hottest of weather, but is doing great. Her Mama is our most protective Mama, making vetting the calf trickier but we have only had take care of the calf once so that has helped. Haddie is doing quite well and is darn cute too!

Although it has not been a great tomato or bean year at all, there is enough to eat fresh. I may have to buy beans and tomatoes for bulk processing from a local farmer. If I can’t grow it myself, I rely on the area’s great local organic farmers. My poor Brussels sprouts, got ignored while I needed to help with family matters…but they still tasted good!

Beautiful, beautiful salads. We appreciate them so much. We do get simple spinach salads through most of the Winter and in the earliest of Spring, because it grows well in our double layered mini high tunnel garden. Summer salads though are a totally different ball game! We are, for the most part, seasonal eaters so we enjoy and appreciate these amazing Summer salads for the short time that we have them! Summer food, and Winter food are very different here.

Plants amaze me. How all that info is packed into a small seed, and how it produces so much food from that tiny seed. Then more amazingness when you look at the perfect little packages that Mother Earth has created for her beautiful works of art. I can’t get enough of this picture!

Pickle season has begun in earnest!

The red onions are not ready to harvest yet but they are close. Yesterday I harvested the yellow onions and found these mushrooms had naturally fruited due to some evenings being cooler. This variety of Shiitake is called West Wind. It’s been fun getting to know the different varieties and how they respond at different times of the year.

We had a special occasion here the other day. It was Hub’s parents 61st anniversary and his Dad’s 88th birthday. Lots to celebrate! These bread knots always look so pretty for serving. The buns were made out of some of the dough since we were out of bread, and there wasn’t time to make a loaf with all of the party cooking.

I tried to re-create a cake that the birthday boy had described from his boyhood, and hopefully I came close. It was a lemon cake with lemon curd filling between the layers, topped with a vanilla frosting with lemon zest. The Calendula flowers made it so pretty and summery!

As the work continues on our addition to our home, these trusses (4 of them) finally got finished. They were a TON of work, literally and figuratively! Hub’s worked with people to learn this craft and although it was very, very hard work, in very, very hot weather, he loved learning this skill. He has always wanted to do this! Hats off to these guys for their fine craftsmanship!!

Sunset over construction.

These High Bush Cranberries, are my sign. I watch them from early Spring till late Fall. Their color is an indicator of things to come. As Fall gets more near, they begin to blush with color. October will turn them a brilliant red. I’m a Fall and Winter kind of girl, so the color of these berries make me think about cool weather, hot coffee, soups, stews and cozy warm blankets.

Almost Summer

It’s funny how I don’t realize how much the garden has grown until I see the comparison to it a month ago! The pic below this one really shows the difference. I have started to harvest a bit of kale, collards and chard. Not sure who the little pest is that has been feasting on my swiss chard before I can get to it, but I did manage to get some before the little bugger! Other things are doing quite well, it just might be a bad chard year.

I’ve been adding a little to my herb garden each year and it’s starting to come together nicely. Oregano, Thyme, Chamomile, Rosemary, Calendula, Basil, and cutting celery. I am hoping to add more to this garden by digging up some wild plants and transplanting them here, such as Motherwort, Marsh Mallow, and a few others I have found.

MINT! I have tried growing mint for years, and it’s never enough. People say not to plant it because it will take over everywhere, which is actually what I have hoped for but it never happens. I get a small amount each year. This year though I started a lot of it from seed and finally it is looking pretty good and spreading which is just what I wanted.

PIGS! We picked up our two feeder pigs and these pigs are pig L and pig M. Introducing Lyla and Mabel. They are adjusting well, and are now out on their first pasture. We keep them in their small area till they get to know us and know that we are the food providers. This way when they are out in their pasture we can get them to come to us when we bring their feed bucket to pour into their bowls.

Ground Ivy, Creeping Charlie, Gill Over the Ground. These are all names for this plant that I have harvested and placed in this jar. Most people know it as the ruination of perfect lawns and call it Creeping Charlie. I prefer to let it grow. It is a good for the bees and now I learned a new use for it. It can be used in salads, but here I am making a tincture out of it. I filled the jar with vodka to cover the plant matter and let it sit for a while and then strained out the plant matter. Tinnitus is a condition that many people have that causes you to hear a humming, ringing, or other sound in the ears when in a very silent room, where no other background sounds can be heard. I have read that a tincture of Ground Ivy can help this and since we are both somewhat bothered by this problem we thought why not give it a try. Who knows if it will really work for us, but it can’t hurt to try.

We have been having a VERY stormy Spring, and the skylines have been dramatic. I love that dark blue sky, filled with constantly changing, cloud formations.

Pheasant back mushrooms. They are not as flavorful as other mushrooms we forage for, such as Morels or Golden Oysters, but I found if you dice them and sauté them in butter till a bit crispy they are great on a salad. If I was a vegetarian I would call them mushroom bacon bits! These particular pheasant backs are a bit large and on the older side, but on the other side of this stump, there were some small young ones I harvested.

Ready for the dehydrator! These are Shitakes and Morels we harvested this Spring. They are all dried now, and ready for Winter soups!

Pickled Asparagus are a real treat and pretty darn great in a Bloody Mary. These will be saved for Winter as well!

I made bagels once and I didn’t do a great job on them, but I think I have the knack now, and these did NOT disappoint! It’s nice to have them in the freezer and take out a few at a time. I have done this with buns as well, so now our freezer always has these items at the ready! When we have a cool day I bake more, saving a few for fresh and the rest in the freezer for another day.

I found out that making Za’atar seasoning is quite easy, and now I finally have a use for the Sumac berries I foraged last year! I ground the sumac berries and then sifted out the seeds. There are various recipes for this but the base recipe is Sumac, Thyme, Toasted sesame seeds and salt. There are other additions such as coriander, ground fennel, cumin and cinnamon with marjoram in some as well. I learned that you can make a paste of it with olive oil and brush it on breads before baking, or add a bit more olive oil to it and use it as a dip for breads, which we tried last night and it was fabulous.

Speaking of foraged items, this one here is one of my favorites to add to tea mixes. It is pineapple weed, which as I understand it, is the wild form of Chamomile. The tiny yellow cone shaped flower smells like pineapple! I thought I wasn’t going to find much this year, but on a walk, I hit the jackpot! Now, I have loads of it to dry for tea this year!

I’ll admit, this walk I had to push myself to do. It is Gnat season here, and they are bad! They seem to have about a 2 week run of just being awful and this walk was me against the bugs. The view, however, was very pretty on this muggy “almost Summer” day.

One Day

People have asked me, what is a day like on the farm? Surely that depends on the season and some days are busier than others. Wintertime is slower, but in the Spring most days are busy! Today was a day of spring planting, chick feeding, house cleaning, dinner prepping and good eating. With a well deserved glass of wine in hand, I ran through my head, the details of the day, and here they are…

Coffee with hubs, started the day, then out to the brooder to check on the wee chicks. They are growing while we watch them. We did some connecting on, when should we move them out of the garage brooder, and into their rooster coop, where we house our meat birds once they leave the garage. Then I collected some shiitakes from their shady spot, and grabbed some spinach from the mini high tunnel, and robbed the coop for some eggs. Then inside to make some breakfast for us.

After some dish cleaning, it was back outside to the garden, to get more plants in, and to feed the laying hens, and make some cages for protecting my new herbs from those curious hens. I knew dinner needed to be easy on a planting day, so I had thawed one of our chickens from the freezer the day before. I ducked inside and put it in the oven, knowing we would be coming in that night late, and tired. I threw in some laundry, set a timer on my phone for the chicken and headed out to plant a few more herbs in the herb garden and good thing I set a phone alarm for the chicken, in the oven, or I would have lost track of time!! I set the chicken on the counter, to cool enough to handle, and started more laundry. Once the bird was cooled, I separated out the meat from bones, while saving a bit of the meat for throwing on my spinach salad for lunch, and then dropped all the bones into a pot of water and set them on low on the stovetop and headed back out. It was time to tackle the potato planting, which we were way behind on already. We plant them in buckets, and hubs had gotten all the buckets set up already and we put the cut sections and small whole potatoes into the buckets and covered them up with compost. Then a quick stop at the rooster coop. I swept it out and got it straightened up for the moving of the chicks, and then back to the brooder to check on the babies. Inside, I sorted the last of my plants on the plant rack. I ended up with one more tray to sell, one tray for my mother-in-law’s garden, and then there were the extras. My garden is full so remembering that my doctor said he was excited about a community project raising food for the local food pantry, I gave our clinic a call and they were happy to take the extra plants and grow even more food for the food pantry. Then one more time outside to clean up tools, collect empty coffee cups and water jugs,and it was time to call it a day, and clean up for dinner. Guaranteed not all days are this packed, but the late part of Spring is when everything happens at once!

While this day might just seem like just another day, here, when I reviewed it all at the end of the day, I realized it was exactly what I dreamed of 6 years ago. A day raising our food, caring for our critters, coming in to our plates full of foods, we carefully raised, and going to bed tired and happy. I never forget not even for a day how grateful I am for this farm.

Onions

Almost all the veggies are in the ground. The garden fabric is a huge help in reducing weeding time…weeding is a back breaker and this is the solution for me!

We are back to the catch of the day trays! Today’s catch brought Shiitakes, Spinach, Nettles, Dill, Hosta shoots, and chives.

Nettles are packed with nutrition, and after a long winter with few greens, they used to be considered, and still are by some, to be a Spring Tonic. I have always been afraid of them, because, well, they are Stinging Nettles!!! I brought them inside and put them in boiling water for a minute and a half, because it said they should boil for 30 seconds, ha, ha!

Here are the Stinging Nettles, properly prepared. I only used the leaves, as I read that you only use the stalk if they are still very small, and these were just past that stage.

Here is the beginnings of the Mushroom Nettle Soup.

I added just a bit of cream and it was absolutely great! I am not afraid of Nettles anymore!

So many, many years ago, sitting down to food that came all or almost completely from the homestead was the norm. These days not too many people get to experience a meal that came from a few feet out their door. Although it is a lot of work, I feel beyond fortunate to have such opportunity.

The hens weren’t used to the warm sun yet, they decided to stay in the shade for the day and be bush hens.

Signs of Spring and other things…

The buckets are hung…

The sap is flowing…

Everyone is walking in mud…

The eggs are increasing…

The seeds are getting started…

The sprouting has begun…

The shedding of long hairy coats begins…

The last of the summer berries are being used up from the freezer…

The critters are exploring, and this one was BIG!

It was a very long Winter here, and although I didn’t mind it at all, I am finding the signs of Spring a very welcome site. The creek sounds like a river, the small blades of grass on the southern exposures have showed, there are rumbles of thunder and smells of wet dirt, and sun on a cool day that feels like it melts your bones from Winter. Even the giant clods of mud on my boots, they are all welcome signs that the growing season is here. It’s time to prepare gardens, time to clean up from Winter, time for baby chicks to arrive, and time to forage for Day Lily shoots and fresh Nettles. Watching our farm wake up from a long Winter slumber, is always beautiful. I guess I am just a four seasons girl. I love watching the changes.

Speaking of change, this Fall we will have a great room with a fireplace, something we have wanted for some time. I look forward to snowy days and warm fires! Hubs is doing a lot of it and wow what a difference. A few weeks ago all we had was a foundation and a mountain of dirt from the excavating. Today the mountain is gone, and the landscaping is in the works. Even the retaining walls are getting set in place. I truly don’t know anyone who works harder! I’m so in awe of all he can do! (See my starter plants glowing in the window?)

I can’t possibly make a post without a bit of food, so here is some goat cheese with red peppers and coated in last Spring’s foraged Ramps. I always like visiting the goat farm.

Then there was this. A hunter asked if he could have an opportunity for some hunting ground at our place this Spring Turkey season. He offered to help with farm chores in exchange, and brought us, on his second visit, a wild turkey breast. He recommended this way of preparing it. Our own Red Tail Hollow bacon wrapped around WI wild turkey. The man gave us a good tip here! It was delicious.

Then, last Sunday everything changed in a heart beat. When a beloved family member is hurt everything else instantly doesn’t matter! I am happy to say that Dad, the rock in my life, is recovering. At this time he is all that matters. It is such an honor and privilege to be there to help him recover. The farm will always wait for me. I never want him to have to wait for me. Family is everything.

Still a bit more Winter left…

While other people have tired of Winter, the cattle and I have not. It is the coziest time of year and gives me more time to focus on things inside the house. This includes some yearly attention to closet cleaning, clothing donations, basement organizing, tax preparations, and of course food preparation, and with Summer not that far off, it is time to reduce what’s in the freezer. This is always a hard thing to calculate, at the beginning of the Winter I am careful to not use our frozen fruit and veggies too fast, but at the end of the Winter I am trying to find ways to use it all and make room, it’s not a perfect science but the more years we do this, the more I learn about the rhythm of this cycle.

It’s been the craziest snowiest February we have had in a very long time. I visited family on the west coast, and returned in very early February. We had lost all our snow in my absence, due to a warm front and lots of rain. Upon my return the snow began and it’s been snowing on and off for the whole of February! The farm couldn’t look prettier. It has stalled our construction project, but to be expected in the Winter.

This particularly snowy day was one of our bigger snowstorms. The deer are doing more browsing now, as grazing is pretty much out of the question.

This is the pathway to the chicken’s coop and run. They don’t come out on these days. We open their door for ventilation, but they consider snow about as safe as hot lava, so when they come out and see the new layer of snow, they cluck a mouthful of complaining chatter and run straight back into the coop.

Despite the mountains of piled snow around the mini high tunnel, there is still spinach inside and it’s doing well too! When this plastic layer gets rolled back, it smells like Spring inside!

The green presents such a contrast to the brilliant white that is covering everything outside.

Crazy to think we are eating spinach salads while we are buried under snow. It is an amazing treat, there are even some surviving little dill volunteers amongst the spinach. It is all so appreciated!

I’ve been working down the freezers to make room for this Summer’s produce. This is cherry juice, (hubs enjoys mixing it with sparkling water), and next to it is chicken broth. Slowly but surely the freezer stock of veggies, fruits and soup bones is getting a bit lower.

I am really excited about being able to pressure can beans. We really didn’t used to eat that many beans, for a couple of reasons. I don’t prefer to buy food in cans, and because starting with dry beans takes a lot of planning ahead, since some have to soak as long as 8-12 hours! Now I can take these garbanzo beans off the shelf and put together a very quick batch of Hummus, and it is delicious!

Hummus and spicy refrigerator dill carrots, a great snack! The carrots are from our neighbor’s cold storage. He found himself with a broken tractor and no way to plow out his driveway to go on deliveries. Hubs went over and plowed him out and we got a big bag of carrots and some micro-greens as a trade. We have been using the carrots in salads, as well, and there are still plenty for fresh eating.

These pinto beans made perfect refried beans! Really happy to have convenient, “on the shelf” beans for adding to soups, stews, and the garbanzos, shown above, are great on a salad too!

Pickled hard boiled eggs (they are awesome) and onions, our neighbor’s micro-greens and carrots, some red pepper flakes I made last year from our Shishito peppers, and some local blue cheese.

People ask how we eat veggies this time of year if we are not buying them at the store. A visit to my freezer is all it took to make this veggie side dish. All of it is from last Summer, and it tasted fresh and delicious at dinner.

What would a post be without a picture of bread? This one was especially pretty!

The sides of the driveway are getting taller, if Spring doesn’t come soon, we may have our own luge run!

When failures turn delicious and more about bread…

Funny that someone told me the other day that they enjoyed my food blog. This intrigued me, since I never planned this to be a food blog, I guess though that a big part of homesteading (or our version of it) for me is the food end of things. Not buying much food at the store means a lot of cooking, planning, making what we have work, and doing lots of food preparation. This point is driven home in the Winter, when much more time is spent indoors, and meals need to be a bit more creative with less fresh items available. A warm belly is more important, at this time of year too, than at other times of the year, so I guess in the Wintertime, this blog does become even more food focused.

I have been creating more and different kinds of bread this Winter. I have left behind my yeast in a jar, and am working just with sourdough starter at this point. This picture above came out of a sourdough failure. The bread that I made did not cook as long as it should have, and the resulting outcome was very moist dense bread…BUT the crust was crunchy and chewy and fabulous! I ended up making pizzas on, what were basically, sourdough crust heels. I cut off the outer layer of the round loaf, which made use of the crunchy chewy crust. The pizzas were some of the best I have made! The rest of the loaf I diced and dried in the oven to be used as bread cubes for making stuffing.

Here is another “failure”, and where I learned, you cannot rush sourdough bread, or probably any bread for that matter. Here I made a nice fruited sourdough pumpkin bread and a regular loaf of sourdough. I wanted to bring them to someone’s house for dinner, and I didn’t get my timing right, so I had to rush along the rising, and the baking. These loaves were not edible as they were baked, (I kind of knew it would happen), so…I sliced them thinly and put them in the dehydrator. They turned out to be really nice crispy, snacky crackers, in fact they were good enough to try making again, if I can recreate it.

Here they are sliced and going into the dehydrator.

Drying…

Crunchy new snack food, that I broke into cracker sized pizza.

These are what my breads usually look like. One is the sourdough pumpkin bread with dried fruit in it and the other is a simple sourdough bread, great for sandwiches and toast. Getting bread to rise well in the Winter is not the same as Summer bread that rises quickly with the warm temperatures. Our wood stove is in the basement, so sometimes I bring my bread down there to rise in a warmer place!

I’ve made various cracker recipes over the last years, but keeping us stocked on them, as in not buying crackers at the store at all, meant making larger batches. Hubs loves having crackers to snack on at night, and this particular recipe, using sourdough discard, goes super quick.

I use my pasta machine to roll the dough out, and I even have a new tool, a wonderful Christmas gift, for rolling across the crackers before baking so that I don’t have to poke those little holes with a fork anymore. That and a pizza cutter to slice them really streamlines the whole process! They are easily flavored with cheese, or garlic and pepper, or sometimes just dill with a bit of salt.

These were my first sourdough pull apart dinner rolls that I served to company. They came out great, definitely, a make again recipe!

It’s been record breaking cold out for days, and Hubs went to check in on his parents and bring them a resupply of our soup, bread, eggs and these Scuffins! Scuffins are muffins where the batter came out to thick, and turned out a bit more like scones, than muffins, therefore I named them Scuffins! The blueberries from last Summer made them an especially delicious treat!

This here is a big deal! We are adding a room with a fireplace AND a root cellar below it! The circled area will be the root cellar. It will be so great to have it and the wonderful family space above with a toasty fireplace. Having a root cellar will change what we can do here with our garden. We will now be able to try and grow enough potatoes, onions, carrots and squash to last from Fall through Winter and until the next season’s food comes from the garden again. Next year we will sit around the fireplace in the Winter, I can hardly wait for that to happen. These are all exciting changes here!

Things continue to look like this outdoors, which is just fine with me, as always, I continue to enjoy the shorter days, and the “holing up” aspect of Winter, it’s my human version of hibernation.

Why did I think this was so scary and so difficult?

Here she is, my first pressure canner. I mentioned in a recent post that I had gotten one. It was something I was afraid to do for a while, for some reason it seemed complicated and dangerous and turns out it really can’t be dangerous unless you do it wrong, and since it is a super easy process it’s pretty tough to do it wrong!

Raising beef, pork and chicken, we end up with so many soup bones and they take up a huge amount of space in the freezers due to their bulkiness. When I make them into jars and jars of bone broth it helps get more space back in the freezers, but if I then freeze all the bone broth I have a space issue again. Enter the pressure canner. This pressure canner means I can make the broth shelf stable and it’s so nice to be able to pull a jar off the shelf and pour it in a pot and heat it up, rather than thaw it from the freezer. Having this on the shelf I can use it as a soup base, and make all kinds of soups from it. It’s also nice when someone is not feeling so great and there is homemade broth that can be warmed right up.

Bulk bones ready to be roasted and then go into the pot for a 36 hour simmer.

Ready for the maiden voyage.

This gigantic warning looked pretty scary, especially since it’s secured on, and you are told not to remove it!

It was totally easy, and turned out such a pretty color too.

I can see that this is only the beginning!

This day here, was what I call a “kitchen day”. I set these days aside for when I have the time to really enjoy creating. This day yielded, 14 jars of beef broth, 3 jars of beef tallow, 2 dozen sourdough English muffins, 4 quart jars of sourdough cheese crackers and one loaf of sourdough bread. I am working on my scoring, on the bread, and this one I knew did not go so well, ha ha, when Hubs asked, “is it supposed to be a smiley face?”

This is the gold. After I cooked the beef bones and put them into the soup, I scraped every bit off of the sheet pan and put it in the fridge…

After removing the fat, I had this beautifully jelled beef bouillon. I save these in the freezer to add to soups, or use in rice. It makes the flavor of everything I add it to, so much richer!