Saturday, December 3, 2011

Loaves, Fishes and All Things Abundant

Zeke's Dinner Rolls
We had a really nice Thanksgiving. And I don’t say that lightly. Normally, we’re pretty much homebodies and we don’t really enjoy being away from home for long anymore. But my mom and stepdad live in northeastern Oklahoma just on the border of Arkansas and we decided we were long overdue for a few days away. It’s BEAUTIFUL country up there in the Ouchita mountains so other than the long drive, it wasn’t too much of a hardship. J

This is actually the first time in 10 years we’ve been able to go away for more than an overnight stay somewhere without getting someone to stay here to take care of the animals. Our neighbor’s daughter is finally of an age where we trusted her to come over and let the chickens out every morning, feed them and close them up at night. She also fed the rabbits and dogs. We paid her a little to do it, but they’re not really the kind of people who understand how we live so trading the service wasn’t an option.
Chicken on the Hoof

We had our Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday. My step-dad Zeke has 5 kids. Counting them, their spouses, their kids and grandkids, we had about 25 people who showed up for dinner. All of Zeke’s kids brought a dish which helped a lot, but Mom and I spent most of Friday getting all the prep work done so there wasn’t so much to do on Saturday. I’ve never cooked for that many people before. It was fun and everything turned out well. Meanwhile….

The fish were biting! Zeke has a couple of well-stocked catfish ponds and Curtis loves to fish more than just about anything in the whole world. He and Zeke spent most of Friday fishing. They brought in 5 nice catfish and 8 assorted sunfish, mostly crappie. Needless to say, after cooking most of the day, then cleaning fish that evening, I slept like a rock that night! But I don’t ever mind cleaning a few fish. If you can’t go to the trouble to clean a simple little fish, you don’t deserve to eat.
Channel Catfish

After cleaning the fish, I hauled the heads, guts plus vegetable trimmings over to their next-door neighbors. Mom was baffled as to WHY I’d want to do such a thing, but old habits die hard and I can’t remember the last time I had so much as a potato peel that didn’t go into the compost pile or get fed to the chickens or rabbits. I just can’t tolerate waste and throwing such things into the garbage is wasteful to me. Hans and Cathie are permaculture enthusiasts and sure enough, there was a compost pile just waiting for those treasures!

Oh, and we got to share some of our chickens with Hans and Cathie. I ended up with a few too many pullets this year and most people around here want more colorful chickens than the White Rocks I’m so fond of for egg-layers, so they’re very difficult to sell. I really HATE butchering hens of any age, so I was relieved to find someone who’d take a few of them. Those were some MAD little hens after a 5-hour drive though -- their eyes were shooting daggers at me by the time we arrived! J

It rained all day Saturday so we didn’t get to see much of Hans and Cathie’s garden or farm. But I’m just in love with their dog! They have a beautiful Great Pyrenees named Bella. She’s everything a farm dog SHOULD be and I’m not going to be happy until I have one just like her! Truth be told, I’ve wanted a Pyr for awhile, but seeing how protective she was of her cats and chickens and how friendly she was to us really cemented that for me. Our own dog is getting really old, so it won't be long before I go in search of one.

As we were leaving, Hans gifted me with a couple of his favorite books: “Secrets of the Soil” by Tompkins and Bird, and “Seeds of Change” by Hobhouse. I’m looking forward to a snow-day when I’ll have time to read them!

Mom and Zeke also have a couple of friends we’ve been trading with for years. They spend a great deal of time trout fishing and we’ve been trading processed chickens for trout for quite a few years. Apparently, one of their kids brings her Cortland apples every year from Ohio and she happened to be in possession of quite a few of them this year. She gifted us with about 25 pounds! I realize now that I’ve never smelled a REAL apple before. I set them in the cab of the truck that evening and the next morning when I opened the door, the wonderful, intoxicating smell almost knocked me over! Sadly, they aren’t very good as a fresh apple as the texture is too mealy, but she assured me they make the best applesauce. We’re not really into applesauce, but apple butter is something I can live with! (That snow-day is looking better and better!)

She also gave us some pear preserves and applesauce she had made. I took her and Mom half a case of wild plum jam I made last year.

Over the summer, Mom bought several bushels of sweet corn from a local woman and put it all in the freezer. She sent me home with an ice chest full. I was really thankful to get that as our corn did not survive the drought this summer. It’s not going to last long though – we LOVE sweet corn!

Anyway, we had a great time. Now that we’re back home, it’s time to start butchering chickens in earnest as they are just the perfect age. I just got done butchering all the males from our own hatches and "The Hundred" are officially 17 weeks. There’s not a lot of meat on them at this age, but they’re so tender and juicy we’ll gladly eat 2 of them to make up for that! (Not really, ONE is the perfect size for two people.) At this age, they take about an hour to roast. I brush them all over with melted butter or chicken fat, then rub them with garlic or rosemary or lemon pepper and bake them uncovered at 350, basting again every 15-20 minutes. Sometimes I bake them on a bed of rice or dressing. What an incredible treat they are!
Roasted Broiler

A few weeks ago, I set up a butchering area on my backporch so I can do the job out of the cold. I had a ceramic-tiletop rolling kitchen island I wasn’t using in the kitchen so I moved that over by the big washtub. It’s nice having a sink and warm water for doing the job and cleaning up afterwards. I hung a chain from the rafters and I pluck the chickens into a big trash can that sits diretly under them while they hang. The backporch isn’t heated so on REALLY cold days I’ve been turning on a small space heater, but I like the cold for the most part. There are windows on all sides of the porch, so the view is nice and I can watch for coyotes trying to sneak up from the woods. I also have a cheapie CD player out there I can plug my MP3 into to make the job more pleasant. It’s really nice to have a good butchering setup – it’s all the difference between looking forward to the job and dreading it!
18-Week-Old Broilers

This week, I’ve butchered 9 chickens already. I’m trying to do four a day, six days a week until Christmas, but had to take a couple of days off to plant garlic. I finished putting 2773 cloves in the ground yesterday. I’m running a little late on the garlic, but only about a week later than I planted it last year and lots of that turned into nice big bulbs. And it can only turn out better than last year: as of November 10th last year we were already under burn ban and that didn’t get lifted until this October! At least we’ve had quite a bit of rain this fall. And it’s raining this weekend, so I’m hopeful about the garlic. Quite a bit of what I planted was from seed stock I expanded last year in spite of the drought. Garlic doesn’t take much room to grow intensively, so I’m hoping to turn it into a small cash crop.
Garlic for Eating
The garden is doing well, though there’s not a lot of variety. But just this week, we discovered a patch of volunteer collard greens. I didn’t know collards would grow through a hard freeze, but these are doing just as well as kale or cabbage. We LOVE greens and were thrilled to find them. I picked a big basket of them for lunch today.

Zeke is a really good cook when it comes to roasting the holiday hams and turkeys. In fact, his is just about the only turkey I’ve ever liked. He normally makes the rolls as well, but his daughter brought some this time. They were good, but I really missed his. But turns out I got the recipe last year so I made some when we got home to go with a pot of stew. I make several different types of dinner rolls, but these are hard to beat. I’ve fiddled around with them trying to use ingredients I’m used to putting in bread (like whole wheat flour, potato flakes and real butter), but I’ve not managed to improve them. You can’t fix what’s not broken!

Zeke’s Dinner Rolls
(makes 24)

*2 packages yeast (I just use a heaping tablespoon)
*2 cups warm whole milk
*3/4 cups warm water
*3 tablespoons sugar
*3 tablespoons melted shortening
*1 tablespoon salt
*about 7½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Mix and knead dough. Let rise 2 times. Divide 24 times and form into “buttons.” Place in well-greased 10”x14” pan. Rise, then bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown on top and bottom. Brush with melted butter or fat while still hot.

My Stepdad Zeke