Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Making a Pear Tart

We have two small pear trees.  One does not produce any fruit and the other produces only a handful.  To supplement the pear production from our trees, Tricia purchased a 20 pound case of organic pears from a Co-op we're members of called Azure Standard.  The Bartlett pears came packaged in a box, chilled and in good shape.  The pears that grow on our little tree are hard.  I call them baking pears, because really, in order to enjoy them, you must bake them in a pie. Not these.  They are soft, sweet and delicious just eating them plain.  After eating a few, Tricia decided to make a pear tart.

Here are a few of the pears in the fridge waiting for their chance to become dessert...

Bartlett Pears in the Fridge
The recipe came from Nourishing Traditions Cookbook by Sally Fallon.  The recipe is actually for an Apple Tart, but Tricia substituted pears for apples.  We selected 10 nice pears.  They were heavy to hold, full of sweetness.  We pulled the stems off and got potato peelers out and peeled and cored them.  Working together we had this done in no time, saving the cores, seeds and peelings to feed our chickens.  A win-win situation for all involved at Our Maker's Acres Family Farm!

10 Pears about to be peeled and cored
Then we cut the pears up into chunks.  My wife placed a stick of butter in a skillet and melted it and then sauteed the pear chunks in the butter until they turned a nice golden brown color.  She added 1/2 cup of sugar, stirred, and sauteed a few minutes more.

Saute the pear chunks
Now earlier during the day, Tricia had made up a homemade crust and baked it.  It was waiting in a shallow pie pan and the sugared, buttery sauteed pears were spooned into the prepared crust.

Into the crust the pears go...
The pear mixture perfectly filled the crust.  It was warm and beckoned hungry eaters to the kitchen!

Homemade Pear Tart
We put some whipped cream on top and watched it start to melt into the warm tart.

Ain't that a pretty sight!
It is a simple recipe that is simply delicious!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Marching to the BEET of a Different Drum

A person who is growing a garden, if he is growing it organically, is improving a piece of the world. He is producing something to eat, which makes him somewhat
independent of the grocery business, but he is also enlarging, for himself, the meaning of food and the pleasure of eating. The food he grows will be fresher, more nutritious, less contaminated by poisons and preservatives and dyes than what he can buy at a store. He is reducing the trash problem; a garden is not a disposable container, and it will digest and re-use its own wastes. If he enjoys working in his garden, then he is less dependent on an automobile or a merchant for his pleasure. He is involving himself directly in the work of feeding people. - Wendell Berry

I like that Wendell Berry quote.  It kind of encapsulates everything bouncing around in my little brain about small-scale agriculture at any given time.  I am always amazed that you can work up the soil a little bit, removing the weeds and put a dead seed into the ground and with a little water and a bit of sunshine, in no time flat little seedlings are popping up out of the ground.  If those seedlings are cared for properly and if the grower exercises a bit of patience, the happy gardener will be harvesting delicious vegetables that will be enjoyed by family members.  Healthy vegetables from healthy soil results in healthy people.

Of course there are things that we can't grow here.  I love mangoes, but we can't grow them, so we must purchase them.  While many are content to purchase most of their vegetables and fruit at the grocery store, if it is possible, growing them yourself is the better choice in my humble opinion, but maybe I march to the beat BEET of a different drum...

Well, it was, after-all time to get the beets planted.  We like beats.  They are great sliced and cooked in a pot with a little broth.  They are great pickled, making a delicious appetizer and fantastic cut up and roasted in the oven.  In the past we threw the beet greens over the fence to the cows, but now we've started eating them. Sorry cows.  So I worked up a 24 foot row that is approximately 30 inches wide.  I stepped off three similarly sized blocks on the row and using a stick, made two furrows, evenly spaced, on top of the row.

Late afternoon sun shining on the Beet Row
We're putting in three different types of beets this year.  We're using the old stand-by variety that we always plant - Bull's Blood Beets.  While varieties like Detroit Beets have green greens. Bull's Blood Beets have red greens.  We tried a new variety last year called Golden Beets.  While we didn't get the yield with the Golden Beets that we did with the Bull's Blood Beets, we're planting them again.  They just look so nice on a plate next to the red beets -  a work of art, you might say, on your supper plate.

Three beet varieties
So the new variety we're trying this fall in the Chioggia beet.  I'm assuming it must originate from Chioggia, a town in the province of Venice in Northern Italy.  This beet comes highly recommended, and I've read that it is the SWEETEST beet there is.  We'll see.  I think it is interesting because the beet, when sliced, looks kind of like a starlight mint.  Starlight mints will always remind me of the candy that you try to quietly unwrap in church prior to the end of service and pop in your mouth to ward off the dreaded "church breath" that threatens to offend your fellow congregants if not properly dealt with!

The "Starlight Mint" Beet 
Beets are a very pretty root crop and they come from a dull, unassuming seed. Although I've tried to save seeds from beets, I've never been successful in getting them to flower.  Perhaps I'll try again this year.  

Beet Seeds
I sowed these seeds in soil that I've amended with lots of organic matter over the years, so it works up nice and deep.  They are planted 1/2 deep and spaced about 4-6 inches apart.  In addition to the three varieties shown above, I'll also plant Mangel Beets, a mammoth beet I talked about HERE to feed to the cows during the cold weather.

I like beets and I like to march to the beat of a different drummer.  Henry David Thoreau said at the end of Walden:

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."
Sounds like good advice to me...

Monday, October 5, 2015

Harvesting a few Pumpkins

On September 23rd Autumn officially began.  Autumn is a nice time of year around here.  The weather (at long last) cools off, the grass stops growing as quickly and thus doesn't require mowing as often, and finally, you begin to see every product advertised from cappuccino to muffins to M&Ms having a pumpkin spice flavor. There are not many fragrances that are better than a Pumpkin pie baking in the oven!

This year we planted a 45 foot row of pumpkins, with three different varieties.  I haven't talked about them since THIS POST FROM EARLY JULY, so it is time for an update.  On cool mornings you can walk out by the pumpkin patch and see their beautiful flowers opening open wide, encouraging honeybees to come pollinate. Here is a bee that is obliging...

Busy Bee on the Pumpkin Flower
The bee does its job and then, using the flower petal as a runway, launches off to search for another flower.  It doesn't take long to find the next one, mere inches away!

Cleared for take-off
Here is a New England Sugar Pie Pumpkin still growing.  It is not a large pumpkin, only weighing 3 pounds or so at maturity, but they are supposed to be excellent for pie making, as the name suggests, and loaded with seeds.  We like to roast the seeds in the oven and eat.  I'm sure I'll save some seeds for next year's pumpkin planting venture as well.

New England Sugar Pie
Here is a Jack-be-little Pumpkin.  They are the very first of the pumpkins to ripen. Even though the pumpkins are really small, the vines are prolific and will cover up a lot of landscape!  These little pumpkins are great for fall decorations, but they are good eating, too.  

Another great benefit of pumpkins that I might mention are the vines.  I planted our pumpkin patch in the yard.  This was very strategic thinking on my part as I knew that the vines would crawl all over the place, reducing the amount of mowing I would need to do throughout July - October!  That's using the old noggin.

Jack Be Little
Below is a Jarrahdale Pumpkin.  Of the three varieties I planted, this one is maturing the slowest for me.  It has an odd, flat shape, but the neatest thing about it is that it will be a blue-gray color. The ones growing now still have a light green color at the moment.  They are supposed to grow to 6 - 10 pounds, although I must say that I don't think my New England Sugar Pie Pumpkins or my Jarrahdale Pumpkins will reach the size they are supposed to get.  I attribute that to an extremely dry summer. Even though I watered them daily after the drought became severe, I feel that tap water is near as good for plants as good old rainwater, and that likely stunted their growth a bit.

Here is a New England Sugar Pie Pumpkin that has turned a beautiful orange color. If the stem is still green and the pumpkin itself is still soft to the touch after putting my thumbnail against it, I allow it to continue growing.  I'll keep my eye on this one for a week or so.

New England Sugar Pie Pumpkin Ripening
The vines were looking pretty rough with the hot dry weather, but with the cooler temperatures, I'm actually seeing new growth and new flowers.  I'll allow them to continue growing as long as they like.  More pumpkins = more pumpkin pie and that is a positive development in my book for sure.

Future Pumpkins...
I harvested 2 New England Sugar Pie Pumpkins and 14 Jack Be Little pumpkins this afternoon, and I'll allow them to dry on the back patio for a couple of weeks.  I learned that it is best to allow a long stem to remain on the pumpkin, and that wiping the pumpkin down with a 10 % bleach solution kills organisms that causes the pumpkin to rot prematurely.  
The First Pumpkin Harvest of the Year.  Many more to come
We have lots more to be harvested, but I'm allowing them to continue ripening on the vine.  I don't want to pick them prematurely and have them rot before we have a chance to convert them into delicious homemade pies.  I can't wait to see the Jarrahdale (blue gray) Pumpkins in all their glory. I'll be sure to share a photo when we pick them.  It's not everyday that you see a blue pumpkin.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Dead Chicken

We throw our chickens a big bucket of rice to eat first thing in the morning and then again in the evening.  The chickens rush around, scratching, pecking, and eating.  Once they are done they meander out to the pasture to eat bugs, worms, tender grasses and other morsels to eat.  They also scratch through cow patties to find undigested grain or seeds to eat.  That doesn't sound appetizing to you or me, but a chicken loves it.  Then the hens convert all that gross stuff they eat into the delicious eggs with deep yellow colored yolks that we love to eat.

Our laying hens have long life spans.  They don't have to be worried about us butchering and eating them, because we grow Cornish Cross meat birds for that purpose.  They don't have to worry much about predators because the dogs around the perimeter keep the raccoons and possums at bay.  Hawks and owls seldom bother them because they've learned to be very watchful and when they see one circling overhead, they run quickly to the barn for shelter.  We do lose a few roosters, but that loss is due to fights between roosters competing for their place in the pecking order.  Mostly, they live happy and carefree.  

At any given time, however, we have a few birds walking with a limp.  100% of the time the limp was due to them being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  That place is under the feet of an 800-900 pound cow.  A chicken that weighs around 3-4 pounds is never going to win that battle.  Cows are notorious wasteful eaters.  As they eat their dairy ration during morning the cows drop the feed pellets and/or grain out of their mouths while they are chewing.  The chickens foolishly gather around and snatch up the feed.  They are so focused on eating that they don't pay attention to the cows' feet. Or the chickens will just get in the cows' way.  Cows don't worry about what's underfoot, they just plod along en route to their destination.  Inevitably, we'll hear a squawk and a hen will limp away with a hurt foot.

Most of the time, they heal up on their own.  Sometimes, though, the injury is fatal.

RIP Barred Rock Hen
Every so often we'll find a dead hen and it is for this reason the each year we purchase some "replacement hens" to take the place of those birds who have died of natural causes or from accident throughout the previous year.  We're expecting a delivery of day-old chicks for this purpose in about two weeks.

It is sad when we lose a bird, but the bird is is not wasted.  She's buried in the garden.  As we posted in the Trench Composting Blog Post, the hen will continue providing for us long after she's gone.  In this case she'll give us some good vegetables instead of eggs.

The Final Resting Place
You would think that the other chickens would learn from their feathered friend's demise, but this doesn't appear to be the case.  Even though we shoo them away from getting around the cows' feet, they continue to put themselves in risky situations.  They get distracted, lose focus, and put themselves in harm's way and sometimes they pay a high price for making a poor choice - sort of like people.    

Friday, October 2, 2015

Racing the Sun To Get Lettuce Planting Done

I consult the LSU AgCenter Vegetable Planting Guide to let me know when to plant items in our growing zone, how deep to plant the seeds and how far apart to space them.  As I was perusing the Planting Guide, I realized that September 30th is the last date recommended for planting lettuce in our area.  So when I got home from work on September 29th, I got my rear end in gear.  I had a 15 foot long row all worked up and weed-free.  Its 30 inch width was perfect in allowing me to plant seeds in three furrows I made across the top of the row in which to place the tiny lettuce seeds.  You can see the furrows below if you look closely.

Furrows in the Lettuce Row - ready for planting
Let's talk a little bit about lettuce.  I like salads.  I like to add different toppings and vegetables and a nice vinaigrette dressing on top.  Let's be honest, though.  Salads aren't filling.  Will they help you to survive in very difficult times when food is short?  Hmmm, probably not.  In survival cases, your garden better contain root crops like potatoes, carrots and the like that contain more calories and nutrition than lettuce.  But for non-apocalyptic times, a fresh garden salad is a nice complement to a meal.

I have five different varieties of lettuce that I'm planting on our lettuce row:
  • Red Romaine
  • Black Seeded Simpson,
  • Red Wing Lettuce Mix
  • Oak Leaf Lettuce, and
  • Rocky Top Mix
I've alternated plantings into five separate blocks, separated on the row and alternating red and green coloring of the lettuce.  It ought to be pretty once it is up and growing.  I like to plant things that not only taste good, but that look good while growing.
Five different types of Lettuce
I learned a couple things last year about lettuce that I'll put into practice again this fall/winter.  In previous years, I would pull up the lettuce by the roots, harvesting the entire plant in order to make a salad.  I realized that this was very wasteful. Rather than do that, I started just pinching off leaves I wanted to eat.  This allowed me to have a nice mix of different types of lettuce in my salad and the lettuce will continue growing and putting on more leaves that we could eat.  In short, by doing this, your lettuce will yield more per square foot.  Also, by leaving the roots in the ground at the end of the growing season, the soil is loosened and  broken up by the growing action of the roots.

Another thing I did was I covered the lettuce with a tarpaulin overnight on nights that we had freezes, weighing down the tarp with landscape timbers to keep them from blowing off of the lettuce. By doing this we were able to enjoy fresh salads even deep into the winter, without experiencing frost damage or plant death.  As the temperatures rose above freezing during the day, I would pull the tarp off the lettuce and let it continue growing in the sunshine.

Lettuce seed is very small and lightweight.  You only need to cover it with 1/8 inch soil.  I first tried the Red Romaine Lettuce variety last year, when it came as a free item with my seed order from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  This is what the Red Romaine lettuce seed looks like:

Red Romaine Lettuce seed
Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce is a variety that I've been growing for years.  It produces a nice bunch of lettuce and its bright green growth contrasts with the dark green leaves of surrounding broccoli and cauliflower.  I have better success growing lettuce in the fall and winter than I do in the spring.  It just gets hot too fast here in the south.  As a result, the lettuces bolts to seed and gets bitter-tasting very quickly. I've found that a fall planting alleviates that problem.  You can see why this lettuce is called, "Black Seeded" Simpson as you compare the picture above to the picture below.

Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce
Red Wing Lettuce Blend is a new variety I'm trying this year.  Since it is a mix, you'll note the seeds are different.

Red Wing Lettuce Mix
This is a photo of a harvested bunch of leaves from the Red Wing Lettuce mix that I found online. That will make a nice looking salad, don't you think?

Image Credit
If you look at the first photo in this blog post, you will see that the sun was higher in the sky.  As I seeded the lettuce, I became aware that the sun was dipping in the western horizon at a quick pace, and that encouraged me to hurry it up with the task at hand.  I got all the lettuce planted, covered and then lightly watered the row, simulating a rainfall.
Lettuce Row Planted
Once the lettuce is up, I'll figure out a more aesthetic way of marking the different varieties of lettuce.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Making Homemade Mushroom filled Ravioli

When I was a kid and also when I was in college, I'd open up a can of Chef Boyardee Ravioli.  With magician-like skill, I could make the contents of that red can disappear.  I've always liked ravioli or tortellini.  Utilitarian in design, they are manufactured to efficiently transport little packages of deliciousness to your mouth. Only the canned ravioli also contains artificial ingredients, colors, flavorings and are highly processed and thus, not good for you.  It would be neat to make our own ravioli, only our ravioli would be healthy, wholesome and nutritious and so we set out to do just that.

Image Credit
I always want to give credit when we do things.  We searched and found This Helpful and Informative Site that explained in detail and with photos how to make the pasta and a mushroom filling for our Mushroom Filled Ravioli.  First, for the pasta, you'll need:
  • 2 Cups Flour (we used kamut flour that we had just ground)
  • 2 large Whole Eggs
  • 4 Egg Yolks
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
We mounded the flour and made a well in the center, pouring the eggs and salt into the well, beating the eggs with a fork and then gradually mixed the flour and egg mixture together into a sticky dough. Tricia slowly added flour while kneading until the dough was the right consistency.  Once done, she wrapped the ball of dough in plastic wrap and allowed it to sit at room temperature 1 hour.

She quartered the dough ball and after flouring the counter-top, rolled out the quarter with a rolling pin.  Then she ran the dough through the pasta roller 3 times, each time reducing the setting for thickness until the pasta is the thickness you desire.  While working out the remaining 3 quarters, you'll want to cover the pasta with plastic wrap or damp dishtowels to keep it from drying out.

Rolling out the Dough
Now Tricia shifted to making the mushroom filling for the ravioli.  We used Serious Eats recipe that we found HERE.  It requires:
  • 15 ounces mushrooms
  • 2 1/2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup green onions, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 3/4 ounces (1/2 cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Put the mushrooms in a food processor and pulse for 8 - 10 pulses, chopping them so that they are broken into 1/4 inch pieces.  Put the butter in a skillet and melt, adding mushrooms and cooking for 3-5 minutes.  Then add the green onions, garlic and salt, reducing heat and cook while stirring, until the contents are dry and browning.

Add the wine and Worcestershire sauce, turning heat back up to high and cook while stirring until no liquid remains.  Take the skillet off the fire and add in the Parmesan cheese.  Move the entire mixture to the food processor and process until it is smooth.  Allow it to fully cool and now you are ready to put the ravioli together.

Mushroom filling all prepared and ready to stuff
Now if you are a serious ravioli-maker, they make some ravioli makers that look sort of like an ice cube tray, only with smaller dome-shaped compartments.  Never fear, you can make these just fine without a ravioli maker.  Simply spoon half teaspoon sized amounts of filling to the ravioli, leaving adequate space between.

Filling being placed on the ravioli dough
Once complete, we're ready for the next step...

Fold the other side of the dough over the side that you just filled with mushroom filling.  Use your fingers to seal the dough together and around the little pockets of filling.

Sealing the edges
Now, serious ravioli makers have nifty perforated cutters to cut the ravioli, but a simple knife performs the same task admirably.  Cut out the ravioli into individual pieces.

Cutting the ravioli
Place the ravioli on a floured surface.  This is your 'staging area' while you wait for your water to boil.
Ready & Waiting
Once your water comes to a low boil, dump the ravioli into the pot and allow to cook for about 3 minutes.  Then remove to a colander and allow them to drain off excess water.

They are ready to eat now!  You can make a sauce for them or you can just drizzle some olive oil and herbs on top.  Tricia made a cream sauce using some of the remnants of the mushroom filling in the skillet coupled with some of Rosie's fresh heavy cream.  Tricia (aka Chef Boyardee) spooned the sauce on top of the homemade, hot ravioli.

Then she grated a bit of Parmesan cheese over the bowl of ravioli and there's only one thing left to do...

Homemade Mushroom stuffed ravioli
Eat!  Here is a fork view of Homemade Mushroom stuffed ravioli with Mushroom Cream sauce.  The photo is lousy as my lighting is far too bright, and I seriously considered taking another photo, but it was time to eat!!
Review: While it is unquestionably easier to grab a can opener and open a can of Chef Boyardee Ravioli, making your own is fun, rewarding, and I've got to be honest, homemade ravioli is delicious. There is simply no comparison to the canned stuff.  Not to mention the fact that while canned ravioli is not healthy and contains stuff that you don't want to put into your body.  This Article actually delves into what is contained in canned ravioli.  Our homemade ravioli was better than the canned stuff, by a wide margin.  We all "cleaned our plates!"

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Breeding Annie

Annie is our Nubian goat who is 2 1/2 years old.  We thought that she had been bred back in December and were expecting her to kid in May.  We noticed that she was beginning to show signs that she was about to kid in May as her udder began to swell, but then she never went into labor.  We never found any signs that she miscarried.  It was just strange all around.  To this day we still don't know for certain what happened, but we're not giving up and want to try again.

We began to search the area for Nubian bucks to breed her and fortunately were able to find that a gentleman right down the road about four miles or so that has a Nubian buck.  He also has Jersey bulls and we had taken our cows over to have them bred before, so we are familiar with him and his set-up.  I made arrangements to bring Annie to him so that his buck could breed Annie.  Benjamin and I went into the pasture tonight and found Annie sitting atop the round bale of hay.  We grabbed her by her collar and let her out of the pasture and toward the driveway.  Annie hardly ever gets out of the pasture and she was leery.  What are they up to?  Big Boy was barking his head off and Annie became very nervous and jittery.  She tried to bolt and run, but we held her tightly.

Time to go, Annie
Since Nellie (Annie's mom) died in December, we hadn't had any goat kefir to drink.  Goat kefir is a drinkable yogurt made from goat milk.  We add honey, fruit and a dash of cinnamon and it makes a delicious, healthy breakfast smoothie.  We are anxious to get Annie bred so that she'll kid and be in milk so that we can have goat milk once again.

We don't have a trailer to carry her in, but being that the buck is only four miles down the road, we lifted her into the back of my son's truck and Benjamin and I jumped in the back, holding Annie tightly, as Tricia chauffeured Annie down the road to meet the buck.  I'm sure we were a strange sight riding down the road with a goat in the back of the truck!

Riding in the back of the truck
At one point Annie got very antsy and nervous and began to cry and try to get up, but I laid down on top of her and held her firmly until we reached our destination, pulling her out of the truck with the leash.  The gentleman I spoke with has many goats and dairy cows, along with bees.  He has a nice place.  We began walking Annie into his pasture toward a pen.  He'll isolate Annie and the buck in the corral for however long it takes for her to get bred.  

Immediately the buck came running and jumped on top of her - repeatedly.  But Annie is not in heat yet.  Goats are like deer and only really breed during the fall/winter months.  I don't know for sure how to tell when a doe is in heat, but I did read something that said that just being around a buck will cause a doe to come into heat.

I don't really know how long it will take for successful breeding to take place.  It could be a few days. It could be a few weeks.  We'll just wait and see.  Hopefully, though, Annie will be successfully bred this time around, and she will kid this spring.
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