Violet Update

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Violet at about four weeks.

Violet at three months.

Violet is three months old as of last Sunday, and a sturdy, healthy calf. At this age, she’s about the equivalent of a human toddler, with typical toddler behaviors – easily distracted, the occasional temper tantrum and “forgetting” lessons she’s already learned. She’s up to about 150 pounds, which is enough to be ouchy when she steps on your foot during the feeding process. We went from the bottle to a bucket with a calf nipple on it about five weeks ago, as she decided that playing “Pull the Nipple off the Bottle” was a really fun game.

Violet four weeks.

Violet three months.

Although she had been nibbling at bit at hay before her mama died, she seemed to forget how in the stress and thrash of the aftermath and wanted to focus exclusively on milk. If she had been with her mother or the herd, she would be learning to graze by imitation. Competition also fosters eating behavior, which is why you always put out at least one more pile of hay than you have cows. That way the critters on the bottom of the totem pole have a place to go when a more senior cow crowds them out. Not being willing to get down on my hands and knees and chew hay for her education, I decided to borrow a goat from the neighbors. That worked very well – the first day the goat was there, I threw out some hay and Violet promptly lay down in the middle of the pile to keep the goat away from it. After a few days, she was competing well and had just about doubled her hay intake. Winter the goat went home after a three week stay, his job finished.

I love you, Mom! (That’s my Tee shirt in the foreground just above where she’s snuggling.)

Leading lessons are progressing well, although she gets pretty excited when she sees the milk bucket coming and tries to drag the handler around. She stands tied very well and loves to be brushed. We’ll keep this routine going until she’s ready to wean from the milk, preferably no sooner than six months. She’s learned that when Mom goes out in the pen, she’s supposed to come to me – I want her in that habit rather than thinking that’s OK to make me chase after her.

All in all, things are going well in Violetland.

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Cooking Heritage Chicken

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Delaware roosters.

Chickens are on my mind at the moment as we are butchering the excess roosters from the chicks we bought last fall. My husband believes that there are few finer meals than fried chicken dinner (preferably with corn on the cob and mashed potatoes). He’s also partial to roasted chicken, chicken and noodles, chicken and dumplings and chicken soup. Since we prefer to raise our own chicken and since I am not enamored of the Cornish Cross, I thought I might talk a bit about how to cook a heritage breed chicken.
First, a bit of background. At one time, “egg” chickens were the breeds that didn’t go broody and that didn’t need as much food to produce eggs. They were otherwise not really much different from what we now call dual-purpose or even meat birds. For example, Delawares are supposedly a meat bird and Australorps are supposedly an egg bird (although you’ll often see both breeds called dual-purpose). Yet both produce about the same number of eggs per year. Delawares grow a little faster and at maturity will weigh more. Modern Leghorns, on the other hand, will produce at least half again as many eggs, have not the slightest interest in setting or raising chicks and eat less food. However, any meat, egg or dual purpose breed can be used for frying, broiling or even roasting – if you prepare and cook them correctly. I like Delawares because of their fast growth, but Australorps are also good dual purpose birds, as are the various Rocks, Sussex, Javas and Orpingtons.
Chickens are classified as broilers, fryers, roasters or fowl. Back in the day, the first three were more likely to be the surplus roosters, although hens could also be used. Since about half the chicks in each season’s batch were roosters, they held an important place in the food supply chain, unlike today when hatchery roosters are usually killed within a day of hatching. Fowl could be the hens past their laying prime or an older rooster. The classifications take both age and weight into account:
Broilers: 7 to 12 weeks in age and about 1 to 1 ½ pounds in weight; squabs are a sub-classification, traditionally Leghorn cockerels about the same age but ¾ to 1 pound in weight.
Fryers: 14 to 20 weeks of age and 2 ½ to 4 pounds in weight (similar to the typical supermarket chicken in terms of weight, but those chickens are butchered at about 9 weeks of age, well before they’ve developed any flavor). The other way to assess whether this age group should be fried or roasted is to check the tip of the breastbone – if it’s still soft and flexible, the bird can be fried; once it becomes hard, it’s better to roast.
Roasters: 5 to 12 months of age and 4 to 8 pounds. This was the classic, old-fashioned Sunday dinner chicken.
Fowl: any chicken over the age of 12 months. Mature roosters would probably go about 8 ½ to 9 pounds and hens about 6 ½ to 7 pounds.
When cooking heritage breeds, it’s important to recognize that these birds are older when butchered – no way could you butcher a heritage bird at 9 weeks as you can the modern Cornish Cross meat bird. It’s the extra time that promotes real flavor, but it also means the bird has been well-exercised and is more muscular. In similar fashion, a two- or three-year old grass-fed steer has great flavor, but improperly cooked, it can also be tough. In both beef and chickens, proper aging increases the tenderness of the meat. Heritage chicken needs at least 24 hours of aging in the refrigerator and older chickens can/should be aged up to 5 days.
Next is the cooking method. Broilers should be split and grilled or broiled. A little butter basted on them as they cook adds to the flavor. Traditional fried chicken is soaked overnight in buttermilk before frying (and was always fried in lard). Cooking gets little trickier with roasters. Because of the difference in time requirements for breast and leg meat, the best method is an open roasting pan with the breast side up. If you cook this way, you MUST baste about every 15 minutes. Alternatively, cook the chicken in a tightly covered granite ware roaster (that’s what they were originally designed for). This supplies moist heat but also allows the skin to crisp. For roasters over 10 months, add about a cup of water to the pan. Roast at 325 degrees, 30 minutes to the pound. Fowl is simmered at about 180 degrees – do NOT boil it or it will become tough. Allow about 45 minutes to one hour of simmering per pound. I prefer to boil fowl cut up as more calcium leaches from the bones, but it’s not a requirement. Fowl boiled this way will produce excellent broth – add about ¾ to 1 cup per pound of chicken if you’re stewing a hen, and about 1 ½ cups per pound for a rooster, as roosters make stronger broth. You can also steam-bake fowl at 300 to 325 degrees for three hours for a three- to four-pound chicken, with one to two cups of water added to the covered roasting pan.
There you have it – heritage chicken, properly cooked, healthy and absolutely delicious.

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Old-Fashioned Cooking: Cauliflower Leaf Soup

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These cauliflower transplants look so promising at this stage…

In this modern-day-take-it-out-of-the-freezer-and shove-it-in-the-microwave world, we often lose sight of what real food tastes like. Not too surprising, when you look at the ingredient lists on most prepared foods. Many so-called foods have more chemicals than food ingredients. I figure if you can’t even pronounce half the ingredients, you shouldn’t rely on it as a major food source. On the other hand, just think about beef stew or chili simmering slowly through the day, ready to warm the cockles of your heart – not to mention your cold hands – come dinner time. Or home-made breakfast burritos or Cornish pasties, stored in the freezer for those mornings when you can barely find the kitchen, let alone think up a menu.
In the old-fashioned kitchen, nothing — and I do mean NOTHING — went to waste. It was too darned hard to grow it, store it, process it and cook it, so canny ranch wives created all sorts of dishes with things we throw away today. Take cauliflower leaves. There’s at least twice as much leaf as there is head on a cauliflower plant. And the leaves have plenty of nutrients, so why waste them? I have trouble growing cauliflower because it’s a cool weather vegetable and my springs tend to go from cool and damp to dry and hot in the blink of an eye. The cauliflower, thinking summer has arrived, promptly sets a very small head and bolts into the flowering stage. The miniscule heads don’t make for very good eating (and look rather odd, as well), but the plant itself is quite large and the leaves have plenty of nutrients. I have similar problems with broccoli, but it doesn’t seem to be quite as heat-sensitive, and it will winter-over well so I can harvest before the spring weather heats up.
Balked of being able to eat cauliflower heads, I just use the whole plant for soup. I usually make the soup base and freeze it. This also works well with broccoli, or you can combine the two.

Cream of Cauliflower Leaf Soup
Leaves from two cauliflower plants, washed and roughly chopped
One head of cauliflower (optional, in which case you can use a third cauliflower plant)
One large onion, roughly chopped
Three or four cloves of garlic
Two or three stalks of celery

Put the veggies in a large stockpot with enough water to cover. Cook until onion and cauliflower or cauliflower stems are soft. Let cool. Run through the food processor in fairly small batches (otherwise it runs over the center post and makes a terrible mess — just sayin’) until the vegetables are pulped. Depending on how many people you plan to feed at one time, freeze in one or two cup batches. When ready to serve, defrost, heat to a simmer and add whatever you consider to be the right amount of cream; I usually use one cup cream to two cups soup. Sprinkle on a little parsley, add salt and pepper and enjoy.

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