Our Food Year

September is when we start to really see the winter food coming together. Food growing season actually runs throughout the year, but in very different ways.

January is when the seed catalogs arrive, with their colorful covers and beautiful pictures of vegetables and fruit varieties. I save looking at them for the quiet that comes after the holiday season and this year I will sit by our, soon to be, beautiful new fireplace to look at them. Choosing new varieties and comparing garden notes is always fun. I am getting better at taking garden notes, thanks to a farmer friend who enlightened me. It’s also the time that I look at the chick catalogs and make choices for our meat birds and new layers. January also, brings a bit longer days and the Spinach that is in the mini high tunnel begins to wake up and grow a little faster, by March it is looking beautiful, given that the climate inside there is entirely different than outside the tunnel. February and March is tree tapping season. Although I do it on a very small scale, our syrup needs are not frequent, so it is all we need. Mid-March is seed starting in preparation for the summer garden. I start more plants than I need, in part to be sure I have enough of what I want to have, but also to sell some plants so that I can cover the seed costs. March and April are busy with tending to the seeds, re-potting them into their next size up pots, as they grow, and also enjoying the last of our cool weather, grey skies and cozy time. April is also when our meat birds arrive. This requires lots of attention. The more attention they get, the lower the chick losses. Over the last 7 years, I have only lost a couple! Their temperature must be properly regulated and they get fresh water intermittently all day. This is easier to do when you only have 40 birds. If I had a couple of 100 birds it would be much harder to tend to, especially their sensitive issue at 3-6 days old, which requires getting very personal with their care and cleaning! Mid May is time to clean up the garden and prep for planting. When May comes to an end the garden plants are in, and the chicks (our meat birds), have moved to their big outdoor coop and have left the confines of our garage. This is always a big YAY moment, to regain the use of the garage. May is also Morel mushroom foraging time, often we find pheasant back mushrooms and wild ramps as well (these taste a bit like garlic and onion put together). If there is abundance of these, I dry them for later use. June is generally a quiet time, and it is the last quiet time till October! August is time to plant winter spinach, radishes and carrots in the mini high tunnel, which we cover in plastic in October. August is also the time when we process our meat birds, here on the farm. This year for the first and hopefully the last we took them to a processor because of the building project we are involved in, there just wasn’t time to process them here. July through early October is gardening, canning, dehydrating, freezing, fermenting and of course lots and lots of delicious cooking with fresh vegetables! This year, if it is ready in time we will also add root cellaring to our storage methods. December brings to an end, the pig raising year, and at any given time during the year we process 1-2 highland cattle based on their readiness.

October until February is the reward, in my mind, for a long gardening and food preservation season, allowing more time to read about new gardening, preserving and cooking methods. Now that I have learned pressure canning, I use this time, also, for stocking the shelves with soups and broths, and stews. Canning really heats the kitchen up, so this is the perfect time to do this. Also, finally reading a bit of fiction. I love this time of year. This year it will include a fireplace and so I am looking forward to it even more!

These onions finally dried enough, and with the help of my daughter, they are strung and will be hung tonight in the basement and moved to the root cellar when it is completed.

These potatoes have been stored carefully in boxes and will have to be looked at weekly to be sure one hasn’t spoiled. I guess it’s like the old phrase, “one bad apples spoils the bunch”.

These beans are now frozen in 2 cup portions for serving this winter.

My outdoor refrigerator is filled with vinegar pickles, pickled peppers and some fermented pickles. They last a surprisingly long time in the fridge!

The corn is also frozen in 2 cup units.

Some of the tomatoes were monstrously large this year!

Tomato puree in jars for the shelves. This will get used in soups, stews, pasta sauce, and possibly for making more BBQ sauce this winter.

Fermented tomatoes with garlic and basil. This is a new technique, so the jury is out yet. The recipe says to take the tomatoes and the garlic out of the brine and puree them for a fresh sauce. Fingers crossed this works!

I think I have finally found a good, thick salsa recipe. It could have been a bit spicier but I can amend that when I open them, with a bit of cayenne.

We have been eating tomato salads nightly! They are so good. Tomatoes, cucumbers, feta cheese, herbs and a bit of Italian dressing.

Veggies, veggies and more veggies!

This is a progress shot. We actually have a roof and shingles on it now. It is great to see a roof on, and things are drier now, but I have to say that the beautiful trusses look prettier without a roof!

Breakfast for dinner is always good! Everything on this plate is from the farm. Even the dried sprinkled pepper powder and foraged Lamb’s quarters is from the farm. I never get tired of taking stock of my plate and thinking about the food year that went into it.

Fall will be here officially just days from now, however, when I see an orange pumpkin it’s as good as here to me.

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!

Summer Food Processing, New Pigs, New Pastures, and Heat!

It is really feeling like Summer, with high temps and it’s accompanying elevated humidity. I am not a Summer person. While I love the produce Summer provides, and how pretty and lush it is outside, I am counting down till Fall begins. Summer is beautiful, hot, sticky, and filled with hard work. Once Fall and Winter hit, all of the bounty from the Summer stickiness becomes comfort food, and it warms the kitchen and fills the house with delicious smells while the wood stove warms us. To me, this comfort in Fall and Winter give Summer it’s worth.

This is a Purslane ferment with garlic and last year’s dried cayenne peppers. Purslane is a super healthy food, and I am lucky that not only does it grow nicely and wild here, but it kindly grows right in my garden! Since Purslane is so healthy, fermenting means that we can eat it all year instead of just Summer. The carrots were from our local farmer’s market. I have been itching to ferment, and my garden does not have too much to harvest yet. Next to the carrots is an Echinacea Tincture. It has leaves, buds and flowers of the Echinacea plant (Purple Coneflower). This is covered in vodka and will sit till Fall when I add some of the roots to it, once the plant has gone dormant. Once ready it will get strained and this tincture will hopefully help us when cold/flu season comes around. The last jar on the right is Spruce tips in sugar, for Spruce tip syrup. It has a ways to go as all the sugar has not melted yet.

I was ready to feed the carrot tops, from my farmer’s market carrots, to the chickens, when my friend said, “do you know you can eat them”, well NO was my answer. So, I looked up some recipes and made something delicious. Thank you friend.

Here it is, carrot top Pesto! I used carrot tops, basil, almonds (it’s what I had left from my granola business I just sold), garlic and olive oil. It’s absolutely delicious!

First harvest of fresh broccoli:)

These are collards, stacked for chopping. They went into the freezer for Winter.

My kitchen table, in the summer becomes my drying area. Here I am drying some red clover to add to what I have collected already, it is good in tea mixes. Also Mullein in the front right to be used for colds/coughs. Pineapple weed (wild Chamomile) in the back right will be wonderful in tea, and smells so much like pineapple! I pick off the flowers and dry them. In the picture I had not done this step yet. There is Yarrow in the back left, which has many uses which I am learning about now in my readings, and lastly a few Mullein flowers. I had quite a few Mullein plants around here last year, but I am not seeing as many this year. The yellow flowers, take a long time to harvest as only a few flower each day on the very tall stalk. They are often used for helping ear infections, by making a medicinal oil from them.

The grapes, despite our poor training for them, look like they are growing well. Last year our grape juice had so many varieties in it, it tasted nothing like store grape juice. It tasted like grown up grape juice, with a really nice flavor to it.

Piggies! We just got these adorable little girls. They are more friendly than their counterparts last year, and cute with their little spots!

This was a big morning at our farm. Hubby has worked so hard to get things fenced in the front of the farm where we have wonderful grazing land. It was a big job! This was their first day down there, and they couldn’t have been happier. They have a stream to water at, and lots of grass to eat, and tree branches to browse. We are pretty happy to, because they have just begun what we have wanted for a while, they are going to clean up the area. When they are done it will be beautiful. We know this, because they cleaned out our woods already, which are now more beautiful than ever! Highlands are amazing cattle.

Now I am off to give fresh cold water to our 45 younger chickens, our 11 two and three year old chickens, and to two cute little piggies. They will all feel refreshed from this, however, with 93% humidity, I will not. Shower time.

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:)

all new ferments

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

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

sap collection

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.