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February 22, 2013

Gearing Up for the FTE

Does everyone have their storm preps done? At this writing (Thursday night) the Big Storm of Doom is stretching all the way back to the Dakotas and all the way down to Louisiana. They are already cancelling school - lots of schools.  There is only one thing to do - declare an FTE.

Sooooo much butter and syrup.....

That's right - a French Toast Emergency.  That's when everyone panics and runs out to buy bread, milk, and eggs...everything you need to make french toast.

This was a fabulous breakfast.

It's still my favorite joke. Seriously. My most hilarious friend told me the FTE joke and I can't get enough of it. Or french toast for that matter... and us with all that maple syrup.

The syrup was from our first batch made over the campfire. I added a drop of cream while cooking.

Unfortunately the freezing rain is no joke and we expect up to a quarter inch of ice to coat everything. Hopefully by the time you read this we still have power. The storm should push off by noon on Friday so here's to hoping.

I kinda like an FTE every once in a while. But only for the french toast.

The last time we lost power due to ice we were down for 4 days. We are ready tho. We have our winter storm preps done and we are ready to Defeat the Four Horsemen of Ice Storm of Doom 2013. To make extra sure we went and got another load of firewood earlier in the week. We may end up not using most of it until next year because I'm just sure spring is going to be coming soon... but that's OK. If we end up without power for a while we'll need all that wood to stoke the cook fire so we can have plenty of french toast.

Good Luck everyone! Did anyone else actually make french toast?

February 21, 2013

How to Cook Maple Syrup

I should say this is ONE way to cook maple sap into maple syrup. We are probably doing it wrong but it totally worked! So we were really excited. Maybe some of your northeasterners who know what you are doing can give us other ideas?

 This set up worked really well for us.

Here is what we learned when we were out there cooking the "M" the other day.....

First, our rocket stove didn't take off. Maybe we were missing something but it didn't seem worth it to construct the whole chimney thingy to have a small fire that only kind of did the job.

So we moved on to a campfire type set up. We were warned by a couple people that if we cooked the sap over a regular fire it would taste smoky. Ours didn't get smoky at all and it was terrific. But I'm not a superduper taster so if it had smoky notes I didn't notice. We actually thought our syrup was pretty vanilla-y.

The campfire arrangement was the business. It worked like a charm. Granted I can make a smokin' hot smoke-less fire... so maybe it was more luck than anything.

The day we cooked the sap outside it was pretty darn cold - and it even snowed a little later in the day. We used the biggest pot we could find and then a smaller one also. We'd get a head start with the smaller pot and let it boil pretty fast until it boiled down to a certain level. Then we poured it into the bigger simmering pot. This way we could boil as much of the water out as possible.

Yes the handle on this pot it broken - that's why I'm using it on the campfire.

At the end of the day we brought in both pots and let them set on the woodstove all nite. Then after church we "finished" it on the stove top. Apparently you are supposed boil the heck out of it until it reaches 7* over boiling. Then its officially syrup.

The only wonky thing we found was that we hit boiling at 208*!!!! I'm a little freaked out by that but we rolled with it and took our syrup off the heat at 215*.

It was spectacular.
We had pancakes. 

Very soon there will be french toast. Oh yes.... there will be french toast.

So was it worth it? Heck yeah! The day I sat outside and tended the fire was one of my best days on the farm this entire winter. I sat with my feet propped up getting warm, randomly reached down to pet the dog from time to time, and watched snowflakes melt in my hot chocolate. It was fabulous.

But was it worth it just get a few pints? I guess that depends on how you value your time. Sure I could have driven down and grabbed a $9 bottle off the grocery story shelf then gone home and watched Desperate Housewives of Peoria for the rest of the afternoon... but my time is more valuable than that. I'm learned fun things and had a terrific time doing it. So yeah, it was worth it.

Happy Thursday everyone! Any body else boiling their syrup this week? Sap is going to be running Saturday and Sunday for sure. I don't know about you but I'm totally hooked on this syrup thing.

February 20, 2013

Goat Due Dates, a new Goats Page, and Questions?

Yesterday I finally sat down and figured out exactly when all of these goats are due. You'll remember our breeding plan didn't really pan out. We had the highly ineffective, but delicious, Peanut....we drove about a million miles trying to get our tall girls bred to a short buck, then we had to spend all one of our Saturdays and most of our money for the ugliest buck in the state.

I think it all ended well tho - I keep looking a Debbie and Dahli and they are both looking a little tubby around the middle. Nibbles is as big as a house. Previously I thought she had maybe 3 babies but she still has 45 days to go... So I'm guessing four. I hope it's not five.

I used two different goat gestation calculators - and my own notes to figure out some dates. I found them here for full sized goats and here for mini goats. My goats are La Manchas (and Nibs is a mini mancha) so they have slightly longer gestations.

As far as I can tell the ladies earliest due dates are:

Nibbles: 04/06/13   
Dahli      05/19/13  and could be as late as  5/28
Debbie:  04/26/13   and could be as late as 5/5

Nibbles could be a little earlier. This could be a ridiculous spring.

I also did some work to clean up my Goats Page along the top of this blog. I tried to reorganize it so it makes more sense. And I added some additional links.

A couple days ago someone contacted me and asked for more...and more in-depth goat posts. We can sure do that - does anyone have any specific questions. We can try and do a "200 Level" goat discussion if that will help. What do you think - do you have any specific questions?

Happy Wednesday everyone - are you ask cold as we are today? Our windchill hasn't even moved into the double digits yet....

February 18, 2013

Home Hog Harvest - Yes you can! Interview with Harmonious Homestead

It may be just 20* out there but I just know that spring is coming and we'll all be ramping up our farming activities. Hopefully you've got your confidence up and are ready to take on raising some pigz. But what about the harvest part of pig raising? Are you ready for that? By now you've read our How to Hog Harvest Step by Step... but can you really get out there and get 'er done?

Sure!  You know that we can do know that our friend Duncan can do it... but do you need more encouragement? Ok - how about our friend R from Harmonious Homestead? Does everybody know HH? What a great site - and she offers classes on all kinds of homestead skills. Everything from making home dairy products, to cooking and preserving, and even how to build  a hoop house! If you are in Central Ohio and want to get some good teaching you've got to check out these classes.

And....they butcher pigz. That's right, regular people doing home butchering. If we can do it, you can do it.

OFG: Thanks for doing this interview with us, HH! First, tell us a little about your farm... and you teach classes for folks, is that right?

HH: In October we moved from 1/10 of an acre in a neighborhood of Columbus called Clintonville to 2 acres a few miles away. We're surrounded by the city but technically live in an unincorporated township. Our property right now is a lot of lawn with some older growth trees but we have big plans.

We are receiving chicks today (yay!) to raise into laying hens. These will move into a new bigger coop with our 3 year old Australorp chicken soon. We're hosting a hoop house building workshop in early March that will result in a 10x20 house to grow seedlings and extend the season for greens, lettuces, and roots. A blueberry patch is already planted and 25 fruit trees are on their way. We are building top-bar hives to prepare for bees in April. Because we aren't sure of soil quality, we are planting smaller gardens in several areas of the property to see where vegetables will grow best.

We are inclined toward growing edibles because we love to eat. My husband worked in a restaurant and does much of the cooking and charcuterie while I focus on canning, preserving, fermenting, and baking. I teaching cooking classes around Columbus on homestead/DIY topics and record our homestead adventures on

OFG: So, you are an old pro at home butchering, what is your experience and how did you get started?

HH: Three years ago, a farmer we knew had an extra full grown pig and was open to us slaughtering and butchering ourselves. We wanted to preserve the offal and certain cuts for charcuterie. On an early spring day we headed out to the farm and did the deed. It was fascinating to learn on the job as we gutted, skinned, and butchered.

Since then we have slaughtered a couple chickens, several squirrels, a deer from our own backyard (free meat!), and we slaughtered a pig from Six Buckets Farm.

Butchering a large animal is exhausting work. Pigs and deer take at least three days - one to gut, skin, and get into primal cuts, the second to make meal-friendly cuts, and the third to make trim into sausage. We actually haven't made the sausage from deer and pig yet. We should get on that before the weather warms too much to air-dry sausages.

OFG: Aside from the logistics, what did you learn about about "making" your own food with a first timer? How did they do?

HH: It's amazing how universal people seem to react to slaughtering an animal they've known alive. There is initial anxiety and nervousness before the shot. Then, a pause and maybe some words of reverence. Next comes gutting which is fascinating to every kid and adult that's been around when we've slaughtered. It is an amazing way to learn about anatomy. During the skinning or plucking, everyone gets a little silly with exhaustion and then there's a final push of energy when we cut the meat into pieces that can fit in coolers.

Every time we've slaughtered, we have included friends or family who are first timers. No one yet has had a bad reaction or not been helpful - it's always an educational experience.

OFG: What does your family and friends think about you "making" your own food?

HH: Some are a little grossed out at the things I choose to make and consume. But I come from a family that is thrifty and so they understand why I would cook heart - otherwise it would be wasted.

Some friends are thrilled to taste meats like venison that are difficult to purchase if you live in the city. I believe the desire to know your food is expanding and I am happy to be part of the community allowing this exposure for city folk.

OFG: What is your best advice for someone who is hesitant to do this?

HH: Be prepared with tools and energy. Slaughtering and butchering doesn't take many pieces of special equipment beyond a way to hang the animal and sharp knives. A bone saw is extremely useful but even that isn't absolutely necessary. The killing shot is what everyone is worried about but the hours of standing and working with heavy meat is what they will remember.

OFG: Thanks, HH for all the great info. I really loved how you said it takes 3 days from soup to nuts (as it were) when butchering a large animal. That's what we've found also. I'm also glad to see that we aren't the only ones with stupid butcher day jokes. I also really liked that you said that first timers are nervous about the shooting part of it...but then they become really interested when they get into the work and that's what they will remember.

It seems the theme of "community" really comes out for a lot of people who do their own butchering. Working together to provide for your family is really rewarding.

So friends, what do you think? Has R's story given you some confidence? Do you think this will be your year to butcher at home? Can you do it? Yes you can!  Now go back and re-read some of the posts about raising pigz and butchering and get up your gumption!

Happy Monday everyone!  

February 17, 2013

Cooking the "M"

A bunch of us over on 'the facebook' had a pretty good laugh this weekend about a recent news story. As I was tromping thru the house when I caught the last part of a story about some folks who were raided by the police. The local boys got a tip from a neighbor that some folks were cooking up some meth right there in their yard. The raid ensued.

Turn out the only "M" they were cooking was...... maple syrup. Not meth. Just pancake topping. There's a lot of material here and tons of jokes to be made.

The joke was on me tho - for the last two days I've been cooking up my own "M" out in the yard.

At first I thought this happened in Ohio - the news story named a county near mine - but then I saw this was actually in Illinois. I have to say these folks took the whole thing much better than I would have. I might have been able to talk my way out of meth charge... but I probably would have gone down hard on "resisting." I'd be laughing too hard to cooperate if the local police didn't know the difference between a meth lab and making maple syrup.

Luckily for me, if I was hauled off to the pokey, I found out I had some blog friends who would come and post bail - even if they had to pay my bond with a sack of ducks. 

Dog#1 - always helpful.
Saturday was probably one of the most fun days we've had on the farm in a long time. After all the tapping we finally started cooking down all the syrup on a bigger scale then just a couple gallons.  I was not raided by the police.

Shine came and helped. Mostly he just looked disinterested.

I sat outside with my best dog and my favorite barncat and tended the fire most of the day. It started out a blue sky day but then the snow started. What could be more farmy then cooking down maple syrup in the snow?

The local cardinal came to see what was going on about the time the snow started.

Happy Sunday everyone! Any body else got in danger of being raided for cooking the "M"?

February 15, 2013

On the fence

I found some old pictures.... I love this one. It's from several years ago, fall, at the old farm.

On the fence.

Happy Friday! Any body else going thru old pictures?

February 14, 2013

Winter Pigz. Sucks.

The winter pigz are just about done......

Would you just look at the bacon on these bad boys? TBM for scale.

We were talking on 'the facebook' yesterday about why winter pigz are the pits. If you are thinking about fall or winter pigz you might want to hold out for spring and summer pigz. Winter pigz suck.

Pig looks wistfully at a bucket collecting maple sap...foreshadows a maple cured ham.

We raise our pigz on pasture - down in the woods. During the winter there just isn't a lot for them to eat down there. Sure they rooted everything up during the fall - and they did a great job. But after everything dies back and the weather turns the pigz pretty much just want to snuggle in. This means we need to buy more bagged feed.

By far these are the most expensive pigz we've ever raised. Not only are feed prices extraordinarily high because of the drought this summer - we've also just had to buy more feed for a longer time.

These pigz didn't seem to grow as fast this year. Granted we got an extremely late start, but we normally grow out pigz for 6 or 7 months, so we are about on track. However, we've had a few things working against us:

* we started these pigz during the hottest part of the summer - everyone did poorly in the heat
* the goats and chickens were winding down by the time the pigz should have started to take off in their growth - so we didn't have the extra milk and eggs that we would regularly feed them
* the weird summer caused a strange growing season and so our orchard friends didn't have as many apples for as long as they normally would - so we had fewer apples to feed the pigz

All of these things caused the pigz to grow out more slowly. Just as they started to grow again...the weather turned. This means that some of the calories from that expensive feed went to keeping the pigz warm instead of concentrating on their growth.  That was another strike against us. We finally just gave up and started pouring on as much bagged food as we could. This worked. That bacon had better be worth its weight in gold.

Winter pigz in mid/late December. They don't hate the snow.

The cost of feed is bad enough but the worst thing about winter pigz is doing chores.  Winter chores are harder anyway with having to deal with the cold, mud, and snow. But the pig chores just seem more exasperating. The pigz are a good long way from the house. So not only do we have to hike down there to feed them, carrying heavy buckets, but we have to water them too. When the weather gets too cold, no matter what we do, the hoses freeze up. So we have to haul water down to them. Sometimes we have to make two trips. Uphill - both ways. In the snow. Barefoot. It's terrible and frankly I'm glad its my husband's job.

The good news is that our heritage breed pigz, the Tamworths, actually do just fine in cold weather. They have a thick layer of fat and a heavy coat of shaggy hair. We whacked together a prety good shelter for them - which is bone dry even in the bad mud - so they are out of the wind and can retain their heat. We also take bales of straw down for their shelter to make sure they can dig in deep and stay warm.

Raising pigz in a barn would be ideal. But frankly we've never had good luck keeping pigz in their enclosure with anything other than electric hotwire. We could use hotwire inside but that just sound like a horrible way for me to get tangled up in it and die. And I'd hate to put the poultry in that close of proximity with pigz. A stand alone hog building would be terrific - but these pigz only lasted a couple weeks in the turkey house before they very nearly got out by digging under the walls. We just aren't set up for that.

With all of that foolishness it just seems easier to go with earlier-in-the-year pigz, grow them out on pasture, goatmilk, and eggs... and have a hog harvest during the first or second really cold stretch.

Winter pig a couple days ago. That's the way to get 'er done. 

As it is, we look to have our butcher day the first week in March. I am counting the days.  For sure we've learned our lesson with these late season pigz. But I have to say - would you just look at all the bacon on those porkers? It could be worth the wait!

Happy Thursday everyone! Any body else sick of their winter pigz?