Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Beauty in imperfection

I can't believe it took me this long to spot this, but this morning I noticed that our lovely* Bourbon Red turkey hen's left eye is crossed!

My guess, then, is that she was the poult with the bulging, infected eye--the tiny feathery thing that the s.o. and I nursed back to health against the odds. Until now, I'd had no way of knowing whether it was her or one of her Bourbon brethren.

This makes me all the more fond of her.

* "Lovely" is in the, er, eye of the beholder when it comes to turkeys. J has pointed out that this particular hen bears a striking resemblance to Montgomery Burns from The Simpsons. But for a turkey, I think she is unusually pretty.** Her plumage is bright copper, and her head is softly fuzzy. And maybe it's that crossed eye that gives her her endearingly dim look. Or maybe that's part and parcel of being a turkey...

** As I reread this, I notice that it could be interpreted to say that J is a turkey. Rest assured that this is not my intention. J is pretty, and her plumage is bright copper. This, however, is where the similarity ends.

Monday, January 29, 2007


I've kept schtum about this until now because I wasn't sure I would be allowed to do it. But I've just returned from a city council meeting (the word "city" being used somewhat loosely, since our town has only 400-some residents) and I have most excellent news:

I have been given permission to operate a Wednesday drive-time farmers' market in our town! It'll be in the town park at the crossroads, along our busy little rural highway. It will operate from approximately mid-March through October every year. And the city councilpeople are so enthusiastic about it that they waived the cost of my business license!

Can I get a collective "woo hoo"?

I decided to try to do this for a variety of reasons. One is obviously self-serving; for us, it will be a supplement to the Saturday morning farmers' market in Oconee County, which we will continue to attend. But the other reasons are more community-minded. I've noticed, more and more, that this area is losing its backyard growing tradition. The people who have big plots of rutabagas and collards, or who grow rows and rows of muscadines, are all 70-plus years old. Meanwhile, the young people eat at McDonald's and can't identify an okra pod when they see one.

As a recent transplant to this area, I'm particularly sensitive to cultural signifiers. So I ask: In the absence of pecans and peaches and collards, what's so special about being a southerner? I want to keep those things alive, and to help make them new again--because they really are special.

I suspect this thing will start out tiny. There may be weeks when it's only us and our friend L2. But I want it to grow large and prosperous. I've already been asked whether the oldest lady in town can bring her crochet work and her cracked pecans (yes), whether the owner of the meat-and-three can sell banana pudding (yes), whether a church can have a booth (yes), and whether a person with an accidental surplus of tomatoes can set up a table (yes, please!). I almost don't care what people sell, as long as they come together in the name of the community.

And maybe along the way, I can get them to try kudzu jelly or purple sprouting broccoli...

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Pig in pics

Pig pickup day was Friday the 26th. As we headed out our driveway, we were startled to find that there was a large, very freshly roadkilled doe next to our mailbox. What bizarre timing! On any other day, I think we would have thrown it in a wheelbarrow and processed it. As it was, there was no time to even contemplate it. We had places to be:

As the folks at Fries Frozen Foods loaded our half pig into our trunk, we had time to gawk at the next hog to come out of the cooler. It was a monster!

Back at the house, we instantly started to forget to take pictures. There's so much to do processing a pig. First we trimmed the leg and weighed it before putting it into a pre-chilled hard cider brine on the back porch. Our ham this year is 23.5 pounds. Awesome.

Then we separated the belly from the loin. There was some debate about where exactly to make the cut. Further up would mean more bacon. Further down would mean longer ribs. We ended up going straight down the middle. Okay, maybe a scootch toward the "more bacon" option.

Here's our friend L2, whom we recruited as slave labor--oops, I mean an intern--rubbing the belly with bacon cure. The cure is made of salt, brown sugar, black pepper, bay leaves, and juniper berries.

The bacon will cure for five to seven days. Every day I'll drain off the liquid that has accumulated, then rub in more cure and restack the pieces of belly. When it's done, it'll air-dry for a day before we start using it. This year, like last year, we're making an unsmoked bacon--basically a pancetta. Next year we may try to rig up a cold smoker.

And here is a not-very-informative shot of the front end, with the hock removed.

I took this while we were trying to decide how many large roasts we wanted vs. how much meat we should save for sausage. The decisions are the hardest part! Everything else is simple as long as you remember: Use the knife for meat and the saw for bone.

This is what we ended up with on Friday night:

At the back are two huge bags of meat that we've set aside for sausage. We're so busy right now that we've decided to save that part of the process for a future rainy day. Believe me, it took some doing to cram those bags into the freezer on top of everything else! But one advantage of waiting is that I'll have time to order some beef middles for salami casings. We already have the pork casings for the rest of our sausages.

Last year it was the brawn (AKA head cheese) that we saved for a rainy day. But this year I cranked it out immediately. First I soaked the head in a simple brine overnight. Then I cooked it, along with one of our two trotters, in a pot with onion, herbs, coriander seed, pepper, and cloves for four hours. Then I fished it out, let it cool, picked off everything that looked good to eat (there's a lot of gorgeous meat in a pig head!), mixed the chopped pieces with lemon and parsley, and set it in a terrine in its own gelatin. It's in the fridge right now, looking mighty tempting.

Ahhhhh. A job well done, and a freezer well filled.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Pig in progress

I just talked to the folks at Fries Frozen Foods in Millen, and our pig is in the house! Our half will probably be ready tomorrow or Friday.

That means I've got to get busy. First there's shopping--we'll need pickling or kosher salt in very large quantities, plus some hard cider, sausage casings, and various other items. Then there's a brine to make; one of the lessons we learned last year is that it should be cooked and chilled beforehand so there's no scramble to get the ham in in time. I should prepare the bacon cure, too, while I'm at it. And I have to tidy up a little right now, because one of our friends is coming over to watch the Pig in a Day DVD with us.

The weather's going to be perfect. It's forecast to be fair and in the upper 40s to mid-50s for the foreseeable future. Normally I'd prefer it 10 degrees warmer, just for my personal enjoyment, but this will be totally ideal for working with large quantities of meat on the back porch.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Er, hi

Nothing much to say right now, except that I planted a nice long row of peas (snow and regular--the sugar snaps will be part of the next wave) and will be harvesting the first of the new radishes in a day or two.

Sorry I've been uncommunicative. I'm just kind of busy and kinetic-oriented right now, and haven't been feeling too inspired to write.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Cross your fingers

Looks like our annual half pig (scroll down to the entries at the bottom of the page) might be coming through next week!

Oh, to have homemade bacon again! Oh, to have cider-brined ham and fennelly Italian sausage!

Monday, January 15, 2007

It begins

I have planted the following in the newly-manured soil:

Teton hybrid spinach
Sweet onions
Cherry Belle radishes

Right now, we are trying to use up our stores of frozen, dried, and canned food before the new garden season gets in full swing. We have far too little of some things (salsa) and a tad too much of others (frozen corn).

Our remaining stores of fall apples are going soft at an alarming rate, so this morning I made an apple torte out of a thrift-store cookbook I'd never used before. It looked good on the page, but it wasn't worth repeating--or even mentioning, really. Eh. Does anyone have a recipe for apple quick bread? I remember there being a really good one in one of the Moosewood cookbooks--Enchanted Broccoli Forest, I think, which I used to have, but which seems to have disappeared.

Oh, and does anyone have any sun-dried tomato recipes they really love? I've never used sun-dried tomatoes much in the past, but now that we have our own gorgeous little tomato nuggets, I need knowledge.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Black gold

The s.o. has brought the first of many truckloads of dark, crumbly, well-rotted horse manure from our neighbors across the street. It's time to start preparing the spring garden!

I see this manure as being vastly superior to last year's manure, not only because of its proximity, but also because we know the farmer. We know there's nothing weird lurking in our fertilizer because our neighbor is a self-described Tree Hugger and doesn't apply any unnecessary chemicals to her land or to her cows and horses. That's really a great feeling.

So this weekend I will mostly be found with a shovel in my hand...

Friday, January 12, 2007

Consumer madness

This week I've taken care of a lot of business. I've ordered all our vegetable seeds, all our fruit trees, and (finally, as of this morning) all our baby chicks, poults, and (you knew this was coming) goslings.

The seeds are too many to list. Suffice to say I wasn't satisfied until I had patronized FOUR separate seed companies. (Sheesh! It's a sickness.) The fruit trees are more of the same, really: a few kinds of low-chill-requirement apples, another quince, and a couple of Seckel pears. We went back to Trees of Antiquity again because they rock.

The "poultries" -- why does it amuse me to pluralize that? -- have been requested for the week of April 16, and are as follows:

From Cackle Hatchery*

10 Ameraucana chickens (pullets)**
5 Welsummer chickens (straight run)
4 Embden geese (straight run)
7 Bourbon Red turkeys (straight run)
2 Royal Palm turkeys (straight run)***
2 Blue Slate turkeys (straight run)

* We decided to order some of our birds from Cackle since they had Welsummers (which I wanted for no very easily articulated reason) and their online reviews were quite positive. Plus, they were a lot cheaper than McMurray on almost everything. Never hurts to try something new.

** I think it's kind of stupid that everyone who watches/reads Martha Stewart wants blue and green Ameraucana eggs. But it would be even stupider for us to ignore that demand. Plus, we like chickens with funny whiskers.

*** Why, oh why, aren't turkey poults sold sexed? This order represents an effort to obtain mates for our Royal Palm tom and our Blue Slate hen. But Murphy's Law dictates that we will receive two more Royal Palm toms and two more Blue Slate hens.

From McMurray Hatchery

4 Mille Fleur d'Uccle bantams (straight run)*
4 Porcelain d'Uccle bantams (straight run)
4 Light Brahmas (straight run)
4 Dark Brahmas (straight run)
4 Black Langshan (straight run)
11 Dark Cornish (cockerels)**
4 Barred Rocks (pullets)
4 Speckled Sussex (pullets)
11 Black Stars (pullets)***
11 Red Stars (pullets)

* We are in love with Belgian d'Uccle bantams. We are buying these four Mille Fleurs in hopes of getting mates for our existing boys. We will be giving two (probably roosters) to our friend D, who also finds them impossibly cute. Meanwhile, we're also acquiring four Porcelains, because...well, there's no rational reason. We just want them.

** These Dark Cornish cockerels are to be raised for the table, in a separate chicken tractor. The law of averages dictates that we'll have several other roosters to eat, too.

*** By now you're saying, "This is a SHITLOAD of chickens." Yes, yes it is. But we are brooding 27 of them -- including all these Red and Black Stars -- for other people. So it's not as bad as it seems.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Note to self

Gracie has started kenneling herself every time she hears me blow-drying my hair, because it usually means I am about to leave the house. (She's pretty trustworthy when left without supervision, but unlike the other two dogs, she gets terrible separation anxiety. So she is actually more comfortable in a crate when we're not here.)

The thing is, this isn't a daily routine. I only go into town twice a week, tops. Maybe this is a hint that I ought to "put myself together" a little more often!

Sunday, January 07, 2007


Ha! Finally! Here it is with a Three Dog Bakery cookie for scale (because even though it's a dog treat, I figure everyone knows how big an Oreo is):

I have a sneaking suspicion that this well-formed specimen is not actually the very first duck egg. Recently, a certain Rouen female has been spending an undue amount of time underneath the chicken house. I will add "Block Access to Crawl Space" to my list of things to do.

Friday, January 05, 2007

New digs

Yesterday we finally repatriated the chicks--okay, pullets--that we had been raising in our attic brooder area since my stepsister gave them to us at Thanksgiving. We had been wanting to move them outdoors (for what I think are probably pretty obvious reasons--phew!), but we weren't sure how they would manage in the winter weather. One answer would have been to finish the second chicken house we have planned for spring, but we just hadn't had time to get started.

So the s.o. and I were brainstorming.

"What about that old bathroom vanity?"

"Let's look at it. Oh, it's perfect! But it's pretty small. They'd need to have space to roam during the daytime. And would it be secure enough?"

"I could build more onto it."

"Then we almost might as well build the whole chicken house."


"Hey, wait. What if we put it in the greenhouse and chickenwired off an area for them to peck around?"

We looked at each other and grinned. Perfect! And it would also solve the problem of the weeds I had carelessly allowed to grow in the half of the greenhouse I wasn't currently using--it would be instant pasture. Granted, I'd be giving up a lot of space for my early crops, but then again, it's been so warm that I guess I might as well plant my first round of peas outdoors anyway. And it goes without saying that the chicken manure will enrich the soil for the future.

So out they went, with a brooder light for extra security on chilly nights. They stood around for a while in confusion, then quickly started doing Chicken Things.

If anyone can remember seeing a chickens-in-the-greenhouse arrangement on someone's blog, please tell me. I'm almost certain I saw it online somewhere.

In other news, my second winter rye poultry pasture is growing like gangbusters. The grown-up chickens can't wait to get in there.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


This morning I moved the portable electric fence that encloses the duck pasture. The pasture is now a skinny, kind of stupid shape that probably gives them less room overall than the old square. But it also reaches into a pristine grassy area, which was the intention. There's a lot to be said for fresh greenery in January!

Here's a pic of the ducks with, in many cases, their bills stuck greedily into the ground.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Happy New Year!

How can it already be the 3rd?!

The s.o. and I had a really nice, quiet New Year's Eve, just the two of us, watching the ball drop on TV. We discussed our plans for the coming year and drank cava. And then on the 1st, we threw a little shindig for our friends, with Bloody Marys and blackeyed peas and greens and two roasts--ham and lamb.

It was really a great way to kick off what, by all appearances, is going to be a pretty good year. (I'm trying not to go into global warming, etc., here--so just indulge my optimism for a moment.)

Last year my New Year's resolutions were as follows:

1. Learn to knit really. Like, more than just scarves. I may ask some of you for help. You know who you are.

2. Get to know more about Atlanta, which, despite its proximity (1:20) is mostly a big black box to me. (It's not really the greatest city. Overall, it's extremely "eh." But the DeKalb Farmer's Market has improved our lives so much; surely it can't be the only thing. Stepsister just informed me that there is an Australian bakery I didn't know about. We will maybe meet there for tea sometime. It's a good start.)

Well, I had Liz's help getting started with #1 (thanks again, friend!), and then I took several classes at the local knitting store. I really turned a corner. I made all kinds of projects that I'm proud of. I'm gearing up to make my first grownup-sized sweater. I feel as though I've done really well!

I sort of followed through on #2, too, although not on purpose. I was in Atlanta for business several times, so I learned a little more about a couple of different neighborhoods. I found new eateries to go to, and I joined Costco. I still haven't been to that Australian bakery, though--d'oh!

So what are my resolutions for 2007?

1. Keep myself and the house a teensy bit more presentable (i.e., not covered in dog hair, straw, dust, grease, mud, etc.) so that I won't be mortified when friends drop by. Because the s.o. and I actually made some friends in our town in 2006, and they have started to, you know, drop by. It's a very happy turn of events.

2. Wear sunscreen. (I'm doing pretty well at this, but I want to shoot for 100 percent.)

Easy, right? Well, you'd think so. But then again, I still have this to contend with: