This little light…

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I really don’t want to be that person that starts a blog entry with, “I can’t believe how long it’s been since I have posted”. What I will say is life has been drawing me and my attention in other directions. Homesteading, or stepping towards it, is no different than any other personal path people decide to take in life. The course is always tempered by twists and turns and lately that is in the form of aging family members and health concerns. These things turn all else on their side. Having said all this, I am brought back to this candle. This beautiful handmade 100% Beeswax candle, was made for me by my friend. I find it very calming.

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Lighting it as evening starts rolling in is a nice way to close out the day and transition to night. It feels very soothing in our kitchen and smells just barely of sweet honey.

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In farm news, it’s been prairie burning time, as well as sap cooking time, both of which came early and had very short windows to work within unfortunately. We do have a week of weather coming up that has temps above 32 during the day and below 32 at night, so there is a chance I may sneak in another week to tap.

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This was a gallon of Black Walnut sap, ready to boil down. The eggs were in the pic because they came in with me on the way back from bucket emptying. All in all it has not been a good year for syrup. It warmed up way too quick leaving only a couple of days of good flow.

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The greenhouse is doing great. The greens in there lasted entirely through the Winter with my double layer blanket system. Their growth was a bit stunted at with the double blanket not providing enough light at times, but as soon as the days got longer they shot up. There was actually lettuce that started to bolt on the last day of March! I couldn’t have been happier with it’s performance. Next Fall I will plant the whole darn thing not just a test batch. About 10 days ago we went ahead and planted the rest of the tunnel with radishes, chard, spinach and bunching onions and things are already up! Ironically it is going to snow a bit on Thursday but nothing this tiny but mighty mini high tunnel can’t handle! It’s been so nice to eat fresh salads!

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I guess the eggs made it into this picture too… which maybe is just about right, when you look at the next photo!

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You might ask what is this? Well it is a few things. It is a steam cooked hard boiled egg, or would that be called a hard steamed egg? I read that if you steam the eggs that they peel easier, and guess what? They do! This egg, I peeled and put into a jar of beet kvass that had fermented with onions and garlic. Once sliced this oniony, garlicky egg was not only pretty, it was delicious!

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To finish a few kitchen photos, I will show (with pride) my sourdough hotcakes. Yes they could have gotten a bit fluffier, but I was so excited about this coming from my own starter that I couldn’t have cared less. A bit of butter and some Black Walnut syrup, was a great way to start the day. I have volumes to learn about sourdough! One of the things I need to learn will be how to use the discarded part of the starter when feeding my ‘lil starter. That is where these sourdough hotcakes came from…happy belly.

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This is my normal every day no knead bread, but I tossed in some starter to see what would happen. It had a nice little sourness from the starter. Once my starter is really ready, I will do a true sourdough bread, which I hear takes days to make! I’m having trouble coaxing along my sourdough starter, since we have a cold house. It is generally 61-65 in the house so my ‘lil starter has not been happy enough to bubble with joy, over the top of it’s jar. Today I will set it in the oven with the light on, and maybe that will make it happier.

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This picture I am including just because it is beautiful. Food is amazingly beautiful. These are carrots and daikon radishes, that I put into a ferment. Speaking of ferments, I had a special treat on my birthday. I got a bit of birthday cash and decided that although I don’t buy produce at the store, I had to feed my need to ferment. It is tough in the Wintertime to feed that need, what with all the frozen, canned, stored and dehydrated foods we eat in the winter. This was a strange experience buying produce, as it has been years. I felt like a kid in a candy shop as I selected my yummy organic cart full of fruits and veggies. Seemed so strange to buy citrus fruits, but they were beautiful and such a treat.

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This is sunshine in a jar. Ok, it is not, but if you could put sunshine in a jar, this is what I imagine it to look like. Beautiful lemon slices bathed in local honey. I have used some in my tea and the lemon infused honey has a magical taste. This jar is loaded with vitamin C and the wonderful immune properties of honey, as well as the beneficial value there is in eating local honey! All this and it is so nice to look at in my pantry!

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This is what came out of my birthday ferment-a-thon! Fermented garlic green beans, a “ginger bug” starter for ginger beer, beet kvass, moroccan lemons, fermented cauliflower carrot dill mix, kimchee, sourdough starter and lots of purple kraut! Love my ferments! They are so delicious and so pretty too, I love putting them together.

To the outdoors…

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My little corner of the barn is cleaned up and ready for a new season.

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We had some eggs that got pushed back to the back of the fridge for too long. I used them for target practice. I was having a very hard time with my new (to me) gun. I just wasn’t hitting the target. This is a new to me problem. The sites on this older Colt 22lr, are different then any sites I had every used. I literally was not hitting the darn paper. In total frustration I went to “my people” (Facebook homesteaders) and told my story. I asked if anyone had advice on these sites that I had never used. Someone wrote me back and sent me this chart. My sites are the one on the bottom row. After that? Problem solved. All shots are tightly grouped and I think I just need to adjust it a tiny bit, as they were slightly left of center.  I love my Facebook homesteader pals. They always are there with an answer!

 

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We took an anniversary break and went fishing. Hubby caught this amazing bass on his first cast! I got to filet it, and it was the first time I ever fileted a fish that had such substance to it, I am used to smaller pan fish. This was amazing and delicious. Half was for dinner and half went into the freezer for another dinner. It was a perfect anniversary.

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Recently, while on a farm walk, I stopped at the old stone cheese factory ruins on the farm. Oh if these walls could talk…

This week is one of the two times a year that I fly solo here. Cattle, chickens, greenhouse, keeping the house warm, it’s all me this week. Having a week alone 2 times a year is therapeutic for me. I have a great list of things to do… I am going to clean through items in the basement to purge and get them on the local FB buy and sell page, clean out the coops, clean out two fridges and organize the two chest freezers, get the garden plan done, write on this blog and of course, work on my granola biz, but it’s taking a back seat this week. If the rest of the family is off on vacation, I decided that basically I am too!

Looking forward to my solo week…

Bubbling soup, and a crackling fire…

I cleaned up from a simple dinner of grilled cheese with delicious 5 year local cheddar and homemade soup. Then I sat down, with a hot cup of Ginger Lemon tea (this is new for me, never have been a tea drinker) which I really like, and opened my computer to work on Quickbooks for my business. My intention was to get all book keeping done tonight. Then I started thinking about the garden and then pretty soon Quickbooks was off the desktop and i started working on my garden list. While I was pausing to think about what else to add, I realized how quiet the house was and that all I could actually hear was the simmering beef broth on the stove top, the crackling of the wood fire downstairs, and an owl that was just down the hill from the house. Nights on the farm are very quiet. This sparked yet another of my, multiple time a day moments, where I just feel so grateful, and so lucky and so happy to live on our hill, and be able to do what we do here. It seemed like a good time for a blog post, so now work and the garden were both off my desktop.

We’ve been wanting to have a “farm meeting” before Spring hit, so we could talk about animal and garden plans etc. It just kept not happening so on our most recent drive to see my folks, we had our farm meeting in the car. I of course hadn’t thought of this idea before hand so all my perfectly organized notes were no part of the discussion unfortunately. We did pretty well though and I am excited about all of our new ideas and plans.

We confirmed a previous passing conversation about not having new Chicks on the farm this year. We have gotten Chickens in the Spring for the last 3 years. We had pigs the first 2 years and then not last year, so each Spring we do things a bit differently. Last year we raised 50 birds for the freezer and 8 new hens. This year after talking it over we have decided to not get new birds. We still have the layers from the year before in a different coop and run and we decided we will let those birds do their thing in the cow yard and be free ranging birds. They are not our main layers anymore, although they do lay, and if we were to lose a layer, which of course we don’t want to happen, I sure wouldn’t want it to be one of our current layers, who have another whole year of laying. This will be a good experiment. Additionally we realized that if the older hens range than we can move the new layers into the old layers pen and this will free up the chicken area in our permanent coop, to be a well fertilized garden. This will be new garden space, and since it is completely fenced in, I will let all the pole beans climb up these fences on all three sides. This frees up space in my other garden where they were last year. In the Fall when the younger layers head into this area, the things planted there will be done and the chickens will enjoy cleaning it all up! We also made a decision that this year will be a pig year, we will get 2-3 feeder pigs, same as last time, Large Black Hogs. So this covers the pig and chicken plans for Spring.

Lastly for animals it brings us to the Cattle. We are pretty sure by an incident that occurred recently that we will likely have calves in September. Our original 9 cattle ended up as 8 when we sold a calf, then 6 when we processed to steers. Now we are at 5 and the decision is that one of our two last steers will get processed in the Spring and one toward the end of Summer. This will leave us with our 3 mama cows and our bull. We had been worried about having calves and not having enough pasture to support the animals, but now that we have thinned the herd, it is a good time for calves. We will have a huge new pasture open in the Fall, that will give us endless grazing for our small herd and will be wonderful to finally see happen.

In garden news:

We will now have 3 gardens! The mini high tunnel that is in use right now will be where I start all my greens early, and it will keep the bunnies away too. The big garden will be extended a bit and now I have the chicken yard to plant in too, this will help provide some of the extra space I will be needing this year. We also discussed fencing the big garden which would be a big job but would be helpful for years and years, I am really hoping we can get to this.

In other random news, we are seeing loads of Eagles, and I am loving it! These were feeding on a deer on near the road, we turned around to go back for the shot!

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I worked on another loom project. This one for my west coast daughter. We recently visited and I brought it with me. It turned out looking like this.

black and white mat

Naturally I have to bore any reader with my newest ferments. This includes my first true Krautchi. Well it’s real Kimchee but I used regular Cabbage so it is Krautchi:)

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Finally, it seems Spring is coming early so my daughter and I…

bucket cleaning…washed out the buckets and got to work…

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We rounded out this weekend after tapping the trees with a wonderful family dinner with fish we caught ice fishing, a veggie dish with red peppers, green and yellow beans, and broccoli, our bartered and roasted potatoes, some Krautchi and a bowl of Strawberries and Blueberries for dessert. Pulling all this colorful and pretty produce out of my freezer amazes me every time. This dinner was like summer with all the veggies and fruits. Finally we played a new game. This is saying a lot because I am a total wreck at learning games, but I learned it and now officially love playing the Settlers of Catan. All four of us liked it, mostly the three of them were in amazement that I could play it;) It was a great farm weekend.

Our first trip ice fishing was a success! We were dressed in many layers and I had pocket warmers in my mittens and socks, and between the two and the not bad temps, we managed to be out there about 5 hours.

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Every Wisconsin event needs Brats, right? And of course, I brought my fermented Kraut! By late afternoon we headed home, started up a fire in the house and got to fish cleaning, which we were doing for a while! There are now quite a few frozen fish meals set aside. All in all a great day!

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In the last entry I showed the lettuce mix I am growing in the greenhouse. With the extra blanket that I drag over the plants on the inside, they have kept growing nicely, despite the temps. They are getting bigger now..

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Green is amazing to see at this time of year.

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We made a trade of beef for bacon, with a farmer friend. This night dinner was fermented cabbage, our friend’s bacon, our eggs and fermented radishes and carrots with sprouts grown on the counter. If this were served at a Farm to Table restaurant, I believe it would be a repeat item on the menu!

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One last bit of food porn… bartered bacon, homemade bread, sprouts grown on the counter and topped with Watermelon radishes from cold storage.

At this point in the year, it is time for a list. What are our plans for the cattle this year, how many pigs will we get, discuss chickens for meat and eggs, figure out where to make more garden space, decide when we will prune the grapes, apples, raspberries, and more… Soon it will by syrup season, and then it all begins again. A year of food starts with Syrup in the Spring and ends with Pumpkin processing in the Fall.

Other areas of attention

I’ve been making frequent trips to Chicago to see my parents. Life is getting harder for them, and so this area of my life has been getting much of my attention. How lucky and grateful I am to have my sister to do this with me. The two of us have been taking turns spending time with Mom and Dad as well as coordinating needed services and other needs they have. It’s tough to see how quickly things are changing but I feel grateful and lucky to have parents at my age. Many of my friends lost their parents years ago, so while this may be hard, it comes from good fortune.

This all has made keeping up with my business and keeping up with our routines here a bit trickier. Hubby has picked up a lot of the Chicken chores for me, while I’ve been trying to catch up on work, and also because he knows how much I love doing chores in sub-zero temps. The trade off is that when he comes in from doing my chicken chores, I have hot coffee, a fire going and a breakfast for him, so as always it’s divisional labor, and it always works out.

I’ve been making pot after pot of soup these days, and have been enjoying having loads of beef bones to work with, they make such rich stock! A freezer full of beef and beef bones, whole chickens and a local turkey, is a soup makers dream!

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Soup. It’s what’s for dinner. A lot.

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It has not been a very snowy Winter, disappointingly, but we’ve had a few pretty mornings. This particular morning, came after I had been away for a week with my parents, and this was the first morning back. It was quiet and still and exactly what I needed.

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…and while all that was going on, these little ones are still slowly getting bigger. It is now the third week of January and there are greens! My “blanket” system for the mini high tunnel seems to be working well. It pulls over the plants in addition to the hoop itself that protects them. I wish I had planted them earlier…next year. We just traded some beef for bacon and although we don’t have tomatoes, we will make Bacon, Lettuce and maybe radish sandwiches, with lettuce grown here, in January.

This is new. I’ve been making Fruit Kvass, which as far as I gather is when you put 1/3 quart fruit in a quart jar and fill with water and 1-2 T of honey. It sits for a few days, and goes through a fizzy phase. When it was about done I strained it, and we used the fruit on homemade yogurt. The Kvass is good on ice, or in a cocktail too. This one used last summer’s local strawberries and our rhubarb, and it tastes like Summer!

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The Chickens have been hanging in there with the cold, and we are getting about 10 eggs a day. I’m working toward getting the word out that we have eggs here, mostly just friends are buying now, but it will be nice when we have more customers, for now we’ve been eating hard boiled eggs, egg salad, and this weekend potato salad:)

We are eating well, between our beef, chicken and eggs, and, bartered pork, and veggies and fruit supplies in the freezer are holding up well, I find that when I go to the store it’s the same thing…milk, butter, rum and coke (having a hard time letting go of that one), flour, coffee, and a very few other things. It fits in one bag and then I’m not back for a while. If we had dairy on our farm, it would cut off a big chunk of our small list!

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Soon we will head out to Portland to visit our Daughter and her family. This very pink item is for my 2 1/2 year old grand daughter. She loves PINK! This woven mat can be used for picnics with her new tea set and her dollies, or a mat to sit and read on or as a doormat in her room. It will be fun to give it to her in person! Time to start a new weaving project. It’s fun to pick out the colors. My daughter, who lives in town, saw on the local buy/sell Facebook page that someone was selling fabric pieces, this was perfect and added to my palette of colors. I have so much to select from now!

new ferments

New ferments are always fun. When I first thought about setting up ferments I thought it was about tasty foods with probiotics, which they are, but it’s become so much more for me, it is creative, they are beautiful, and here is the really sappy part, the process of making them, I find soothing, even peaceful. I love the process, I love the product and oh yes they are tasty and filled with probiotics!

This weekend we will try ice fishing for the first time. Hubby had put some fish in the freezer about a month ago, that he had caught, and when we cooked it up, the other day, we realized how nice it was to have fish for a change. Hopefully we will catch a good amount to put in the freezer. We’d already decided to go one more round with our leaky pond that we want for a fish pond. This dinner pushed it over the edge. We’ve purchased a pallet of Bentonite Clay to put on all the exposed sidewalls of the pond, and spread over the surface of the pond so it will sink and get drawn into the leak, all sources say this should plug the leak right up. Fingers crossed! We really want our own fishing pond!!

Farm Catch up… (mostly photos)

The is the wonderful aftermath of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving Soup. I was the lucky one who got to bring the carcass home from Thanksgiving. My sister who hosted our beautiful holiday was heading down south afterwards so that is why I got lucky enough to bring the carcass home. She had purchased a turkey that was raised on a small farm in their region and it was delicious. This Thanksgiving Soup is a tribute to her lovely meal, with bits of the stuffing that was in the bird, lots of rich turkey flavor, our carrots and shiitake mushrooms, and herbs. There was enough for her to have some as well as my parents, and my daughter who lives in town. It tasted wonderful!

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The weather has been more than odd, we have had 60 degree days and rain and mud and an occasional frost to let us know it is in fact December.  The weather forecasters are promising a Wintry mix tomorrow, one that involves, rain, sleet, hail, and snow, any of which will be measured in inches. I will get all deliveries done tomorrow early then lock myself in for the duration.

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Despite the mild temperatures Wisconsin is unpredictable, especially these days, so the wood pile continues to grow. We have been burning as though it is October. A small fire at night and a small fire in the morning. Tomorrow will be different.

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Because our hay gets wasted when on the ground to feed, and because our old round bale feeder ended up entrapping our Bull one time, we now have this feeder. Hubby created the design and the good news is that no one has gotten stuck in it yet. He loads it from the top with the forks on the tractor. Hopefully this will keep them from turning half their food into bedding!

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I’ve been trading eggs to our neighbor for his micro green flats (after he cuts them for customers). It’s nice to see the chickens enjoying greens at this time of the year! It’s a perfect deal!

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The good news about the weather is that it is helping my lettuces and radishes grow in the mini high tunnel. Hopefully salad will not be far off. We’ve never had greens coming in this late, but we have also never had warm weather like this in December!

Moving inside…to the kitchen of course.

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This new yogurt method I am using is awesome. So much less work and reliable and delicious, nice and thick too! Sometimes it takes a while to get it right like bread making. Finding the right recipe took over a year, but now it is reliable, this new yogurt method is the best and so it is a keeper.

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A few entries ago, I mentioned that I had taken all my frozen tomatoes and prepped them for making hot sauce, ketchup and bbq sauce. Well, finally I can say it is all done. I have two batches of hot sauce, one is hotter then the other, both of them use the fermented pepper, garlic, dried tomato, onion puree as a base. They are a bit hot for me, but I have gotten good reviews:)

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Finally the Raspberry Mead is ready!! It is a bit strong I think but I like it. Definitely could do some tweaking but not bad at all for a first time try. Next maybe peach?

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Many people say, but if you don’t buy produce, then what do you eat all Winter? Looks to me like between the extended cold storage at my neighbors and my Summer efforts packed away in the freezer that we are doing just fine in the Winter months!

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And here is one of my favorite breakfasts, however, this one was special as it was finally ready Christmas morning! Great way to start the day. Finally, a pic of my Hubby’s Christmas gift to me…. Ready?

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My own 1960’s Colt 22 LR, with a beautiful Walnut stock. I am working on getting the siting down, it is so nice and light for me. Do I see Rabbit dinners in our future?

Deer Camp 2015

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks, with friends here hunting, Thanksgiving and 2 different sets of visitors that happened to pop in to town at different times. We basically have had Deer Camp 2015 for the last week and a half. There were several days of no deer and then one of them did get one. It was almost the one that got away. They actually didn’t find it till the next day. Thankfully they did and it was my first time seeing someone skin a deer. I secretly wanted to take the knife and do it myself, as he was in a bit of a hurry and I actually see butchering as an art and would have enjoyed taking the time to do it it a bit more tenderly, either way the task was done, and he did go home with a deer in quarters. I am sure he had a lot more work to do that night when he got home though. We couldn’t honor the heart the way I would have wished to, because we are in a CWD zone and so you have to wait for the test results (not everyone does this but we would), and so therefore I wouldn’t feel ok eating the heart the day of the hunt:( The coyotes will have no misgivings about taking care of it though.

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In other news…

firewood

It’s fire wood time. Again.

honey ferments

Since the Winter is around the corner I’ve started some honey ferments. They are pretty and delicious. Our house seems to be too cold for them to ferment so they are really infusions. I am not much of a tea drinker but add a little pineapple honey to tea and suddenly it is tasting a lot better:) I learned that people used to store fruit in honey as a way to preserve fruit for Winter. I also have a garlic honey ferment going, people swear that the honey fermented garlic is good for colds. The fermentation process does not offer probiotics like most ferments, but garlic and honey are both great for the immune system so why not try it? So far, thankfully no colds yet!

I haven’t posted a dinner in a while, but it looked so delicious on the plate I had to do it!

pork veggie dinner

Locally raised pastured Red Wattle Pork, our brussels sprouts, our wild appleasauce, and our cabbage, fermented into Sauerkraut. I know I’ve had “too much of the Kool Aid” but I take a lot of pleasure in looking at my plate and thinking about when and where it came from, before I begin to eat.

Gravy with Heart

My Thanksgiving assignments were as follows: Mashed potatoes, Gravy, and Pumpkin Bread. Oh and I couldn’t help myself from bringing some of my ferments as appetizers!

The potatoes were from a neighboring farm and mashed up beautifully. The pumpkin bread was made in part from, our roasted pumpkin, along with our eggs, and it was sweetened with Black Walnut Syrup that we collected last Spring.

The gravy is always a trick. You see I bring the gravy to Thanksgiving, and heat it up when the bird is ready to serve. It’s a bit non-traditional because this is generally something you make after you take the bird out of the oven using all the wonderful golden and browned bits. I often make a bird a week before thanksgiving and use the drippings to make the gravy but then of course the turkey at the table is less of a treat since you just had it a week ago.

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This year I decided to take another course of direction. I pulled the 50 necks and 50 hearts, out of the freezer, from when we butchered our birds last Summer. I sauteed the hearts about a dozen at a time, and scraped every dripping into a bowl. Then I took said necks and put them in the oven and poured the drippings from the hearts over them.

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Then I scrapped all the drippings from pan after pan of necks until I had a considerable amount of drippings.

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I still wanted more drippings so I took all the necks and put them in a pan on top of the stove and rendered more drippings. Now I had a full bowl of browned bits and drippings!

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I then took the necks (yet again) and put them in water to make a very rich roasted tasting broth.

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Once the fat settled to the top of the drippings I put that in a pan and made a roux with flour, adding broth until I had this amazing gravy! Talk about not wasting anything!

My contributions to the meal included something from 3 different seasons…the Black Walnut syrup was collected in the Spring, the ferments were from our summer garden veggies and some from the neighbor,  the chickens were processed in late summer, the Pumpkin was from Fall. Not something everyone thinks about these things but I can’t help but notice that it took a year to gather, grow and raise the food I brought for the meal, and it is a very satisfying feeling.

My sister who made the wonderful, family farm raised, organic turkey for our Thanksgiving table, offered me the carcass which I couldn’t say no to, and she sent me home with all the drippings from her bird and it all went into the pot with the carcass and some water. I was going to use the neck meat from all the chicken necks I had used for the gravy, but when I saw them in the fridge I thought why not throw them in with the simmering carcass and drippings? I now have a fire in the wood burner and a huge pot of rich and delicious turkey broth simmering on the stove.  When it is done, I will freeze and share the Thanksgiving soup with family.

We come from a long line of soup eaters!