Saturday, December 19, 2009

Headed towards Solstice

Brrrr.....winter is here! I hope you are all keeping warm. We are burning lots of wood these days. The sheep and pigs are staying warm in their nests of hay, inside the old sugarhouse.
We had a great time at the Brandon Farmers Market Christmas Fair last Saturday, meeting other vendors and new customers! I mentioned to some of you that, with enough interest, we would consider a drop-off point in your area. This would require someone to volunteer as coordinator, but it can be done. Please drop me a line if you are interested and we can discuss for the coming season.
This Friday, December 18th, is the Bellows Falls Winter Farmers Market, being held at Boccelli's on the Canal in downtown Bellows Falls (see for directions). We'll be there, and hope to see you! Here's a note from market manager Abi Miller:

This market is a great chance to reconnect with the regular vendors and farmers from the Bellows Falls Farmers Market, as well as a few new vendors, to purchase holiday gifts and foods for your holiday table, to stock your pantry with hardy root vegetables and canned goods, and to have an enjoyable evening at Boccelli's with live music by the Red Fox Band starting at 6:00.

Here is our list of vendors, along with the products they will be selling.

Basin Farm: bread & produce
Deep Meadow Farm: produce
East Hill Farm: pastured meat & pickles
Ewetopia Farm: maple syrup
Grace & Miss Mouse Soaps: soap, body products, gift baskets
Harlow Farm: produce, eggs & meat
Jersey Girls Dairy: cheese, eggs, veal
Maya Zelkin Pottery: pottery
Sherwin Art Glass: hand-crafted glassware & art
Salt Jewelry: jewelry
Sunshine Cottage: hats (crocheted), scone mixes, an assortment of teas, and pre-packaged cookies
Zoe Scott: jewelry, chair massage
We are nearly sold out of smoked hams and bacon, and at a couple of requests, I am taking reservations for fresh hams for next season. We'll probably have some available in mid-May. We do have plenty of sausage, chops, and ribs left, so contact me if you'd like me to set some aside for you. I'm happy to pack an order for pick-up at the Bellows Falls market, as well.
Broiler chickens are dwindling in our freezer. We are still offering them for sale and expect to sell out in the next month, so please let me know if you want a few for the winter still.
Now that we're dealing with some major changes in temperature, we should all be taking good care of ourselves, eating lots of immune-supporting foods. One staple we recommend is meat stock. This is something I make year-round, whenever we cook a chicken, and then put in the freezer in quart-sized yogurt containers. If you have a pressure-canner, you can store it in jars. Meat stock (or broth) is highly nutritious, containing minerals from bone, cartilage, marrow and vegetables as electrolytes, a form that is easy to assimilate. Adding an acidic vinegar during cooking helps to draw those minerals, especially calcium, magnesium, and potassium, into the broth. The gelatin from bones that is released during cooking is equally nutritious, aiding in digestion and allowing the body to more fully utilize complete proteins. Including soups made with gelatin-rich stock helps us make use of meat eaten in other meals during the week. This is good news for your checkbook as well as your body -- by buying fewer cuts of quality meat, bone-in, you can still eat many nutritious meals which complement each other.
Sally Fallon's wonderful cookbook, Nourishing Traditions, is a source of more information about the benefits of using the whole animal when cooking.
See below for a recipe for chicken stock. Note the simmering time -- I often let the stock sit on the wood stove for a day or two. It reduces quite a bit, but is rich and delicious. I can also provide recipes for other bone-based stocks -- they're basically the same, but usually call for roasting the bones first. Email me if you're interested.
Peace to all as the New Year approaches.

Chicken Stock

1 whole chicken,

or 2 to 3 pounds of bony chicken parts,

such as necks, backs, breastbones and wings

or 1 leftover carcass and pan drippings

chicken feet (optional)

4 quarts cold filtered water, or enough to cover chicken

2 tablespoons vinegar

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

2 carrots, scraped and cut into large pieces

3 celery sticks, coarsely chopped

1 bay leaf

several whole peppercorns

If you are using a whole chicken, cut it into several pieces. If you can find them, use the chicken feet – they are full of gelatin. (Jewish folklore considers the addition of chicken feet the secret to successful broth.) Farm-raised, pastured chickens give the best results. Many battery-raised chickens will not produce stock that gels.

Place chicken in a large stainless steel pot, cover with water, add vinegar, vegetables, bay leaf, and peppercorns. Let stand, with the heat off, for 30 minutes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Skim off any scum that rises to the top. Reduce heat to lowest setting, cover, and simmer for 6 to 24 hours. The longer you cook the stock, the richer and more flavorful it will be.

Strain the liquid, discarding the vegetables but reserving the chicken carcass. Let cool, then pick any meat off the carcass and save for other uses, such as chicken salads, sandwiches, or potpies. To store the stock with its fat, simply portion out into quart-sized containers or freezer bags, and place in your refrigerator or freezer. To remove fat, place stock in a large container or bowl, cover tightly, and refrigerate. When it is chilled, you can skim the fat off the surface.

Adapted from Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions

Monday, November 2, 2009

Buttercup Squash Soup

I make soup all the time, no matter what the season, but this feels like the first true Fall Soup. For the stock, I used a rooster we killed back in April, then froze it in quart-sized yogurt containers. The best stock: deep flavor, lots of fat. If you're like me, you'll forget the squash is roasting and leave it 1/2 hr longer, until it has burnt slightly. This adds nothing but sweetness to the final product.

Buttercup Squash Soup

2 quarts chicken stock.
3 buttercup squash, quartered and de-seeded
3 yellow onions
good salt
4 T butter

1) Prepare squash: distribute evenly on baking sheet or roasting pan, rub some butter or oil underneath each piece, and roast at 350 for 1 hr.
2) Thinly slice onions. Melt butter in a deep soup pot, add onions, toss until evenly coated. Cover and let cook on lowest heat for up to 1/2 hr, until onions are carmelized and smell sweet.
3) Scoop squash flesh from skin and add to soup pot. Cook and stir for 10 minutes.
4) Add stock to soup, stir, add salt. Simmer 1/2 hr or longer.
5) Blend. If too thin, add some pureed potatoes. If too thick, add milk or cream.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Time Flies when You're Having Summer

Whoa...after a long hiatus...we are back.

We've finally hit summer, or it's hitting us, all of a sudden! These few days are upper 80's/lower 90's sort of weather. Hazy, with heavy air and crickets signalling the heat soon after sunup. Up on the hill, we have a nice constant breeze, whereas down in Chester it's hot as the dickens. A doozy, as my father used to say.

In the news here:
We've harvested our last bunch of chickens for the year. Monte and Rupert came on Saturday to process our Cornish rock cross meat birds. It went much more smoothly this second time around; Oliver and I worked out some of the kinks in our routine, and we got all 102 birds chilled, bagged, labelled, and put in the freezer. Oliver made a great compost heap out of the offal. After a late lunch (more like early dinner), we set about burning our tomatoes. What?

Yes! We got The Blight. Late blight, that is...afflicting nightshade crops up and down the East Coast. Thanks to the unusually cool and wet summer we'd been having up until last week, the blight has spread to most growers we know. Farmers are plowing under their crops of tomatoes and, in some cases, eggplant, and cutting back potato foliage to save the tubers underground. It originated in Alabama, I heard, at a commercial nursery that then sold thousands of plants to large distributors like Home Depot, Lowe's, and Wal-Mart, and then all the home gardeners who purchased their starts at those stores brought it home. I've been reading ag reports from up the East Coast, and by their dates of publication, you can watch the northward spread of the disease. Maryland in May. Vermont warned of it in late June and July. It's a sad affair. We had put in 35 plants, which were prepared to take off in this heat stretch and bless us with a year's worth of fruit. We are grateful for the potatoes, which will probably survive underground, growing thicker skins until we move them to a root cellar.

I mailed my cutters and combs in to have them sharpened, so hopefully soon I can take care of poor Sari and Ella, who are wayyyyy wooly and in need of some shearing!

This Saturday, we are hosting some bicyclers who are doing a bike tour of farms. I believe their name, the 350 Group, is in reference to 350 parts-per-million, which is the recommended "safe" level for carbon in our atmosphere. This number is being promoted by, an organization headed by Bill McKibbon (of Deep Economy fame), in an effort to raise awareness of carbon levels and what we all can do to minimize global warming. So these bikers are powering around to different farms, staying over, emitting lots of goodwill as they go! They are also working with farmers to make and eat meals of local bounty: meats, eggs, fresh veggies, berries. Jon, whose family land this is, is one of the cyclers, and together with his family, we are hosting a dinner here Saturday night. You bet we'll be having chicken. & greens & carrots, red cabbage, zuchinni, and other veggies. Our garden is doing great, thanks to Oliver's attentive eyes, hands, back, mind. He is transforming it, starting from the soil up, working the compost and adding to the beds. And it's flourishing.

Farmer's markets are so slow right now. Is everyone on a vacation? End-of-summer, last hurrah? I believe the kids are going back to school soon. We have friends moving across the country to begin a new school year in a new town. Other friends are letting out their pants in pregnancy. All sorts of new life continues to appear. We are preserving it, also, in the form of dilly beans, pickled beets, sauerkraut, freezer chickens, liver pate, and all the myriad daily interactions that happen between two people trying to make a go at farming & just keeping a home together.

Eat well, be well.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Brand New Last Century

On the morning of my first batch of hand-made hay, I stopped to see a friend, retired dairyman Quentin. We settled up an old trade. His rhubarb and composted manure for our jam and chicken. Then Quentin gave me some valuable encouragement and resources at just the right time. He kindly pointed out that it was quite possible to make hay by hand and had been done thus for a thousand years before machinery. What's more, he happened to have, and was willing to part with the most basic tools I would need, IF I could find them amongst the dusty accumulation. For the tools we made another trade. One crooked old hay fork for a pint of our pickled beets. He pointed toward his coveted bull rake, an antique wooden hand tool with some broken tines, but still operational. Quentin couldn't part with this family heirloom, but he did loan it to me for the day. We agreed that I would bring it back and he would show me how to fix it properly. Good enough.
My friend Sean and I went about raking the hay into piles. Just as we began loading up to go home, it began to rain. As the rain steadily intensified, we realized that this loose hay does not need to be as perfectly dry as a modern compacted bale. Being loose, hot air could easily dry the hay if we flip it later. So we worked quickly and quietly, marveling at how good we have it at this place in the land of the free. Noting that the laborers of yesteryear wouldn't have thought this nearly as great as we do. None the less, picture books show old farms with loose hay stacks great and small everywhere. A century ago, haying was less restricted by wet weather, and thus made more regularly, in small batches. The hay was piled as needed in a barn, or on the field using a thatched pattern to shed water aside. On this day we took the hay to Sean's barn and made an inviting pile to jump in.
When we were done, we agreed on a trip to the gorge at Brockways Mills for a swim, a gutsy choice as the rapids were full. This was a super-scenic adventure full of waterfall massages well worth the slippery rock climbing.
At home I was welcomed by the earthy tang of pickled beets, Lucy and her friend were hard at work in the kitchen.
In the evening, Sean came over and with more friends we did feast. There was brand new produce: roast carrots, potatoes, and a simple salad. Lentil soup, our own chicken liver pate and finally, red and black rasberries in cream.

Monday, July 20, 2009


Wet weather eventually clears up. So then what? Caught off guard and with no sunglasses, I found myself frantically grasping for projects I've been saving for the sun, but couldn't help but wonder what other summer bounty might be passing me by. From the road I could see that the local haymakers were hard at work rambling through their fields. I got a phone call from my friend. Like us, he's got a few sheep and no hay in the barn or money to speak of. A hay shortage, with varying degrees of expensive, poor quality hay will cause desperation. He suggests that we seek to make hay by hand. A novel idea. For us little guys have got big arms so it's doable, ha ha. But, in a perfect world we would partner up, buy the essenstial, modest equipment; tractor(s) mower, tedder, rake, baler, wagon, and make a good hay business because it is possible and we like it. Unfortunately the initial startup cost is at least $10,000 (angel investors inquire here). Meanwhile, he says he cut a swath of grass with his weed wacker, hand flipped it with a fork to dry, and raked into bundles which he then just stuffed into his volvo. I'm intrigued. At my friend's house we picked ripe rasberries for jam and talked about our haying potential. He would cut the hay, we'd both dry it, roll it, and load it with forks. Then I would transport it home in our truck. But the question is, how do we get it safely into a loft? Whew! I just don't know if it's worth the trouble. The old school fellas would've used a dump rake, wagon, block and tackle. We haven't got any of that either, but the feeling that we should be reasonably able to make enough hay by hand to feed ourselves persists. As one farmer we worked for used to say, "there is a solution, we just have to find it." So we're going to get on the field with no equipment and make some hay. This could be the wave of the future.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Hay Fever

When mother nature gives us lemons, we're supposed to make lemonade right? Sounds nice, but here on East Hill and elsewhere around New England, too many lemons are causing the pale complexions of farmers to pucker. I'm talking about RAIN. Too much of this good thing makes stockpiling dry hay impossible. Of course, farms with livestock need a certain amount of hay in the barn to carry them through the following spring. Here in Vermont, that means we need to put at least 7 months worth of hay in the barn in 4 months time. Seasonal mood swings during our precious few warm months can put tractor operators on the hot seat, wondering what it will take to make lemonade this year. If the days aren't hot enough, dry enough, or long enough, they've got to find another way. Prayer? No...err...maybe. More like drastic diversify. For example, if the weather won't cooperate with farmer John, maybe he'll make more firewood to make up the difference it will cost him to buy hay from elsewhere. Or, maybe he can wrap the wet grass in air tight plastic to make a fermented hay. Legend has it that a crafty hay witch will sweep up hay while it snows in November given half a chance. The more creative potions he/she can cook up the better. Seasonal quarks are dangerous to crops and with a global climate in flux, there may be no such thing as normal anymore. Let there be no doubt, that where there is perseverance in agricultural pursuit, wry humor and stubborn creativity make the difference from year to year.Which way should we diversify next, rice or watermelon? Leave your idea in the comment box below.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

I Feel Like Chicken Tonight

Greetings! Our first chicken processing day came and went without a hitch. We are pleased with our first crop: 81 birds are safely in the freezer. Thanks to the many people who picked up their chickens fresh and got an idea of how this exciting process works. Also, thanks to Lucy's dad Ron for his photography and moral support.

As of this morning, our new crop of chickens are 2 weeks old and have hit the pasture running. We are on track to raise a higher percentage of birds to market weight this time. We hope our learning will continue and that results will improve with every trade secret we collect.

Save the date of August 15, the next processing day. However we do have freshly frozen chickens for sale at any time from now on.