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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Meat processing

One of my coworkers at the University of Maryland research farm is a sheep and goat specialist. Last week I used my horse trailer to help her transport her research goats to the abattoir (processing plant) to have them slaughtered and the meat evaluated. Watching the first goat killed is rather gut-wrenching but you get use to it very quickly. A stun gun is used to desensitize them. It is humane and the animals do not suffer. The throat is then cut and the animal bleeds out. Then in about twenty minutes the animal is skinned and the entrails removed. The workers are very skilled. The carcasses are chilled down in a cooler and then later reduced to cuts of meat. Watching the goats processed from live animal to a carcass of meat was not pleasant but is was an educational experience that I would encourage others to take if the opportunity arises. I once heard Paul McCartney say that he became a vegetarian when he associated a lamb chop he was eating with a live animal. While I accept his viewpoint, I feel differently. Having experimented as a vegetarian for one year of my life and seeing my own chickens processed simply gives me a better appreciation for my food. I would encourage others to experiment likewise as you develop your own food philosophy.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Goodbye, little hen, may you rest in peace...

It's been a while since I've had a hen die and I'd forgotten how hard it can be. The other morning my son went out to feed the chickens and get them fresh water when I heard him say, "Mom, this is really strange, come look." My stomach immediately got a knot in it because even though it's been a long time since a chicken has died, I am constantly scared it will happen again. So I went out and found Marshmallow lying in a heap inside the coop. Her head was completely curled underneath her and she was as still as a rock. You can see her at the bottom of this image.

I don't know what killed her. Maybe a raccoon reached through and held onto her until she died of a heart attack or perhaps she was sick - I wish I knew. They've been molting which I know can be hard on the little gals but our other hen Cracker seems fine. Since I only had two hens and am left with just one I don't now what I'll do know but I am leaning towards letting Cracker go to a friend's coop and just going without chickens over the winter. We'll see.

Eat the Seasons - Rustic Potato-Leek Soup

With the changes in the air, nothing - and I mean NOTHING sounds better than a good hearty bowl of soup. So, this past week I made a healthy, simple, and yummy Potato & Leek soup. And here's the recipe(taken from The New Best Recipe):

Serves 6-8

4-5 pounds leeks(clean them well!)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
5 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1 3/4 pounds red potatoes(about 5 medium) - peeled and cut into 3/4 inch dice
salt & ground pepper

1. Cut off the roots and tough dark green portions of the leeks, leaving the white portions and about 3 inches of the light green portion. Slice the leeks in half lengthwise and chop into 1-inch pieces.
2. Heat the butter in a large stockpot or dutch oven over medium low heat until foaming. Stir in the leeks, increase the heat to medium, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are tender but not mushy, 15-20 minutes; do not brown the leeks. Sprinkle the flour over the leeks and stir to coat evenly. Cook until the flour dissolves, about 2 minutes.
3. Increase the heat to high; whisking constantly, gradually add the broth. Add the bay leaf and potatoes, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to med-low and simmer, covered, until the potatoes are tender and the flavors meld, 10-15 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately. (The soup can be refrigerated in an airtight container for a day or two. Warm over low heat until hot; do not boil.)

This made a good amount of soup so it was able to warm us up for a few days. I also added a sprinkle of cheese on top.

What's in season? Potatoes & Leeks

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Backyard Chickens: Molting

We usually get an egg from each of our two hens a day but about a week ago we stopped getting eggs altogether. And they became completely silent which was quite a change since my little hens are usually talking from sun up to sun down. I didn't know what could be wrong - were they spooked? Were they sick? Not getting enough feed? I gave them extra food and water and made sure everything else was ok. A few days passed and when I checked on them I realized what the problem was. There were feathers EVERYWHERE! Aha, my ladies are molting. Molting is a process chickens go through once a year to shed their feathers and replace them with new ones. Many of you may be experiencing the same thing since decreased daylight times and temperatures will induce molting.

Here's some information I found on another site about molting:

Molting is the shedding and renewal of feathers and occurs about once a year. The order in which the different sections of the bird lose their feathers is fairly defined: head, neck, body, wings and tail. Molting is a difficult time for birds, since it involves hormonal fluctuations and increased energy requirements. Eliminate stress during this time: keep temperature in a narrow range (70-80o F), provide a high quality diet, and each day mist the birds with a fine spray or provide a pan for bathing. It takes about seven weeks for new feathers to complete their growth cycle. Domesticated chickens bred for high egg production have a definite molting pattern. A natural molt does not normally occur until the end of an extended, intensive laying period. Chickens that have been laying heavily for one year or longer molt easily in the fall since this is the natural molting season. If they finish their intensive year in the spring, they do not molt easily and may wait until the fall. A chicken loses feathers from various sections of its body in a definite pattern. The order is: head; neck; feather tracks of the breast, thighs and back; wing and tail feathers. Some birds molt more slowly than others; some molt earlier. A good high producing flock tends to molt late and rapidly. Decreasing day-length is the normal trigger for molting. Therefore, lighting programs for egg production flocks should provide either constant or increasing day-length. Stresses caused by temporary feed or water shortage, disease, cold temperatures, or sudden changes in the lighting program can cause a partial or premature molt.

*Did you know that when you have questions about your chickens you can go to this great forum and people will start posting replies almost immediately? I have used it for many reasons asking things like, "What breed do you think this pullet is?" to "Can chickens get fleas?" It's been a great resource. You should check it out!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Autumn Decor!

Nature gives us wonderful decorations in each season! Autumn is ushered in with chrysanthemums and cornstalks but the ornaments are pumpkins and gourds. I love them in all their varieties. I especially like moonshine pumpkins. These white pumpkins are a perfect representation of the harvest moon. I look at them and my mind conjures up a witch with her black cat riding her broom stick across the moonlit Halloween while my children below scurry door-to-door in their scary trick-or-treat costumes.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Today's Harvest-34 lbs.

Here is todays harvest. A whopping 34 lbs! All grown on our .11 lot in the suburbs.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Eat the Season Friday

Thanks Kristi for guest writing our "Eat the Season" this week!

Dehydrated Apples


Peel and core, cut into slices or rings one-eighth to one-quarter inch thick. Peelings may be left on, however they tend to toughen during dehydration.

Fruits that are to be dehydrated are pretreated to prevent discoloration by oxidation, to keep a fresher color, to have a more pliable texture, and to help retain vitamin A and C.

Each of the following pretreatments perform a useful part of the dehydrating process and each has merit. Personal preference should be your guide.

Sodium Bisulfite:
Dissolve 2 teaspoons of sodium bisulfite in one quart of water and add cut fruit. Slices of fruit should be soaked for no more than 10 minutes. Drain and dehydrate. (CAUTION: Sodium Bisulfite can affect anyone with asthma, allergies or other respiratory problems.)

Ascorbic Acid:
Dissolve one tablespoon of pure crystalline ascorbic acid in one quart of cold water. Add cut fruit and soak for a few minutes; remove with a slotted spoon; drain well and dehydrate.

Lemon Juice:
Use one cup lemon juice to one quart water. Soak the fruit for no more than ten minutes. Drain and dehydrate. (Lemon juice is only one-sixth as effective as ascorbic acid.)

NOTE: After pretreating, the apple slices may be sprinkled with cinnamon or flavored gelatin crystals.


Sun Drying.
This method takes 3-4 hot days (98-100 degrees F). Be sure to cover fruit with screen or cheese cloth to keep away insects. Bring in or cover at night to keep moisture from collecting. To "pasteurize" sun dried fruit in order to prevent contamination from insects, freeze for 28-72 hours.

Oven Drying.
This is generally the fastest method. The temperature should be no higher than 140 degrees, leave the door ajar; place a fan so it blows across the opening and carries the moisture away.

Dehydrator Method. The temperature should be 150 degrees for 2-3 hours, then reduce to 130 degrees until dry.

Fruit is dry when it is soft and pliable with no moist area in the center when cut.

From: http://www.seasonalchef.com/appledehyd.htm

Beef & Sausage Pot Pie (You can also use chicken)

2 cans Cream of Mushroom or Cream of Chicken (10.5 oz)
1/4 cup Water
1 pound ground beef
1 pound sausage (or use 1-2 pounds diced chicken)
1-2 scallions or very small onions (optional)

Options for veggies
Green Beans
Spinach (diced really small)
Lima Beans
Or anything else that sounds good to you
Salt and Pepper to taste

Mix 4 servings worth of Bisquick with 1/4 less cup water than the recipe calls for. (You could also use your favorite biscuit recipe instead. Buttermilk biscuits are also really good.

Brown meat that you are using (Beef & Sausage or Chicken). If you like onions and 1-2 scallions or small onions. Mix meat with Cream of mushroom or chicken.
When adding veggies, things like green beans, lima beans, carrots, and potatoes need to be precooked. Cook them until they are almost as soft as you would normally eat them. If you cook them until they are "done," they will be mush by the time you cook the whole pot pie. Mix veggies with meat mixture and put in the bottom of a pan or dish. Mix Topping and spread evenly over filling.

Cook for about 45 minutes (or until top is golden brown)

Hint* Most times I will only put on half the topping, cook it until that is done, and then add another layer of topping. This makes a thick crust and ensures that it is not still gooey in the middle.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Off Da Grid Janice's

Going Off Da Grid Janice posts her monthly food harvest, she harvested 100 lbs. of food in her own backyard in August. Even more inspiring is the variety of her harvest.