Salt Preserved Herbs/ Bread and Butter Pickles/ Dried Cress Seeds/ Lacto Lemon Cucumbers/ Yellow Plum Jam with Vanilla
There are weeks that go by when I'm more interested in trying recipes from some of my favorite books and websites, rather than working on my own ideas. Although, this year I have definitely toned down my canning projects by working in smaller batches. I've also been freezing a large portion of fruit, thanks to a brand new chest freezer. By freezing most of my fruit, I'll be able to make more jams and jellies when the weather gets a bit cooler. It also saves me from having to put up everything all at once, so we can enjoy more time outside.
If I had to use one word to describe this summer it would have to be, mild. We had a few bad days of heavy rain and wind, but overall the humidity has been low and comfortable. With all this beautiful weather my garden has kicked into gear, and is bursting at the seems. Herbs are unruly, cucumbers are spreading, and tomatoes are finally starting to ripen.
So here's a little update from the backyard, and some links to the fun recipes I've been working on over the last few days.
Lemon cucumbers have got to be the prettiest variety I've ever grown. They spread like crazy, and the few vines that I have are producing more cucumbers then I know what to do with.
Thankfully, I planted some flowering dill this year, in hopes of using it to make pickles. The flowers just started to turn to seed, at the same time a few of the lemon cucumbers were ready. I picked a few wild grape leaves and decided to go with a lacto-fermented dill pickle. I used this recipe and added 2 tablespoons of whey to speed up the process. I'll have to let that ferment for a while before I can let you know how they turn out.
My girls are getting so big. I am still amazed at how they continue to develop. Their colors deepen, and their combs and waddles get larger by the day. Even though I'm still another week or two away, I can't help but check the nesting boxes every day in hopes of seeing that very first egg.
One of my all time favorite spring green is curly cress. Instead of pulling out the now overly bitter greens, I decided to let them go to seed. The plants eventually turn brown and right before the seed pods open I collected them so they can be stored and planted again next spring.
Each of my four varieties of tomato have started to ripen. I'm getting super excited for tomato season, but also a bit worried. I didn't have enough canned tomatoes to last us through this last year. I'll be devoting all my efforts this next month to tomatoes, and I'd like to shoot for about 400 pounds, which sounds quite ridiculous.
This is Luna, the devil chicken. Ok, not really, but she's definitely not my favorite. Every family has one, and Luna is ours. She is our only Easter Egger who sports a beard (cute, right?), but she is also the only one in the whole flock that will peck at me. Yes, peck at me! Not just towards me on accident, no, she pecks at me with intent. She also refuses to go back into her coop after free-range time. The allure of meal worms and sunflower seeds are not enough for this girl. Most days, my oldest son and I have to chase her around the yard until she gets close to the coop. Once we have her cornered, I gently scoop her up, which then causes her to make enough noise to make my whole block think I'm killing a chicken. I have on many occasion, gently reminded her that if the attitude continues after she stops laying eggs, she'll find herself in a big ole pot.
My Mexican sour gherkins are doing great, and they are starting to look like mini watermelons now. The ground cherries are also coming along nicely. I can't wait until both of these plants are ready for harvest.
I also wanted to give some bread and butter pickles a try this year. I specifically planted pickling cucumbers for recipes like this one. This recipe only uses one pound of cucumbers and will make enough to fill a one quart jar. I used up all of my cucumbers that grew in funky shapes since you have to slice them anyway. I love to grow all my own fresh herbs year round, but when they are outside they grow more rapidly. There is a recipe in Preserving by the Pint, that I was interested in trying. You chop up a few ounces of herbs and add coarse salt. The salt preserves the herbs so that you can keep them in the refrigerator indefinitely. I'm looking forward to adding some of this mixture to soups, stews, roasted veggies, and anything else I can think of. It is so strange seeing pictures of my own chickens on my site. I actually thought that I wouldn't be able to have chickens until we moved to a larger piece of property. Even though there is no mistaking where I live, if I sit in the grass with our fences blocking the view of the surrounding houses, I can daydream about living on acres of farm land. We actually are currently looking for that perfect place, but finding the amount of acreage we want in New Jersey, is no easy task. I also made up some Yellow Plum Jam with Vanilla from Preserving by the Pint. It makes only 1 pint of jam and uses only one dry pint of yellow plums. I know I have said this before, but if you are interested in preserving you really need to pick up this book. Working in smaller batches allows you to try more recipes, without taking up so much time and space. I do feel bad that I don't have lots of extra jars to share with friends and family this year, but working in smaller batches has been wonderful, because I feel that I can try many more new types of jams and jellies.
Hope you are all having a wonderful summer! Maybe I'll have a great new recipe to share soon, but in the meantime we'll be outside, exploring.
So have you ever heard of a Wineberry before? Me neither, until I took some awesome foraging classes this last spring. They are quite unmistakable, probably one of the easiest wild edibles to identify. If you look below, this is a picture of what I saw in my class. Red stalks that are covered in stickers and clusters of buds on top. If you were to touch the buds you would notice they are slightly sticky. A very beautiful but intimidating looking plant, right? There is lots of great information about wineberries on the internet. And lots of great recipes too. They are actually a type of raspberry that was imported into the United States and quickly became an invasive species. It seems that New Jersey is one of the lucky (or unlucky depending on your perspective) places where wineberries took hold. Even though they are readily available, I highly doubt you will ever be able to purchase them in a store or farmers market. The berries are highly perishable and very fragile. To top it all off, the process of picking wineberries is unlike anything else I have ever experienced. Are they worth it? Absolutely, but you'll have to decide for yourself.
I actually sought out wineberries this year thanks to some advice from a friend. She knows just how wonderful these sticky berries are, and was kind enough to share her spot with me. If you are a forager, this is normally something that is just not done. But, I quickly learned why sharing a wineberry spot is not such a big deal.
When I arrived at her spot I noticed it was completely covered in berries, and I was so excited to find them that I jumped right in without hesitation. Now, my friend told me to wear long pants and long sleeves, which I followed, sort of. I had long pants but no long sleeves, and I decided to go with sandals for some stupid reason. Big mistake! I am now covered in scratches all over my arms and feet.
The next thing that makes foraging for wineberries uncomfortable is the stickiness of the berries. With so many berries around, using both hands is unavoidable, so be prepared for sticky and slightly itchy hands. The next component is the timing of these berries. The middle of July in New Jersey, means temperatures that can be well over 90°F, with humidity levels that make it feel like you are walking through an Amazon rainforest. At this point there are so many bugs out, you will more then likely be picking berries and swatting bugs at the same time. Doesn't that just sound like a wonderful walk in the woods? When I just couldn't take it anymore, and I was completely drenched in sweat with sticky hands, scratches from head to toe, and pulling bugs out of my hair, I ran for the car, sped home and immediately jumped in the shower, phew!
I can now say that I understand why wineberries are not sold. If I had to sell a quart of wineberries to someone I would probably charge them upwards of a hundred dollars, probably more. These berries are so delicious, but the process to get them is quite frankly worse then hell. Don't get me wrong, I had so much fun gathering these berries. There is some sort of primal satisfaction that must stem from our hunter/gather days, that make picking and eating wild edibles so rewarding. Either that, or I am just completely off my rocker.
Speaking of which, you also might be wondering why the heck I have a picture of a quarry in this post. Well, if you are local, it is a little clue to the location of our wineberry spot. Even among acres and acres of wilderness and hiking trails, New Jersey is still, Jersey. It is still a cool view though, and little boys love to watch trucks.
My head was spinning with what I should do with all these "expensive" berries. I really wanted to preserve them, but finding enough information about the levels of pectin they have was difficult. I know I have been making lots of jelly lately, but that is really how I wanted to go. The seeds in these berries aren't as bad as most, but I really just wanted the essence of wineberry to spread on my toast or crepes. My heart was set on jelly, so that's what I made.
I made up the jelly that night, but I also went the next day to grab a few more berries for one more recipe that I found online. I decided to go with some Wineberry Cordial. You can find the recipe here. And I'll be sure to let you know how it goes once it is finished. As for the jelly, it is the best I have ever made, and the taste is incomparable. Since I only have a small amount of jelly you can be sure I won't be sharing any! *Except for the jar that my friend gets for sharing her spot.
Makes a little over 1 pint
1 quart of wineberry juice (I forgot to weigh my berries - I would just collect as many as you can!)
3-4 cups of organic cane sugar
2 tablespoons commercial powdered pectin
Prepare your jars and lids. To make your winberry juice, slowly heat the berries in a large pot with 1/2 cup of water. Gently boil the berries until they becomes soft, about 5 minutes. Strain out the juice by using a fine mesh cheesecloth and hanging it up to drain completely. Place all the juice back in in a clean pot. Bring the juice to a boil and add the sugar. Stir until it dissolves. Add the pectin and boil until the juice hits the jelly set point. The metal spoon test is the best to use in this case. Fill prepared jars within 1/4 inch of the top. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
It was one of those beautiful mornings. The one where I dash off in a hot sports car (my husbands), while he watches the boys. With only a few hours, what could I accomplish? It is always about the greatest amount of accomplishment. Hours are precious and alone hours are even more so. Over the last few days I'd been thinking about berry picking. Little boys get bored really fast, and berry picking takes time, lots of time. In my mind there really was no doubt where I wanted to go.
Riding through the morning traffic rush, with no need to worry about arrival time. Blasting the music with the windows open. It's all a matter of perspective when you're a mom. A small moment to remember yourself amongst the bees and the berries. I couldn't have asked for more on a random Wednesday morning.
If I could live in this picture forever, I would. Rows and endless rows of raspberries, a cool breeze and soft white clouds overhead. Can't you picture a little stone cottage covered in ivy, just around the corner?
I found two other women in the fields, just as excited about black raspberries and currants as me. The older woman and I started talking about preserving. She told me about her favorite jam combination of black raspberries and currants. I smiled to myself. I could only hope that thirty or more years down the road, I'll be doing the same thing. Schooling some young (ok, relatively young) woman on the ways of jams and jellies.
So when I got home and looked at all my beautiful berries, I started thinking about what to do with them all. I kept going back to that raspberry currant combination. The women I spoke to said she left the seeds in her jam, but I just can't do raspberry seeds. It's not my thing, too much crunch. I soon discovered that the currants have seeds that are just like raspberry seeds. So in my mind, jelly was the way to go.
Do I use all my currants? Black or red raspberries? Finally, I settled on one quart of red raspberries and one quart each of white and red currants. Since they have the exact same requirements and high levels of natural pectin, this one would be easy.
Ever get that feeling you're being watched?
And don't forget the cubes of Meyer lemon juice and zest. I planned it all out a few months ago. Six cubes, means six different jams or jellies that get a lovely boost of Meyer lemon goodness. One of these cubes is earmarked specifically for this!
--I am going to assume that if you are attempting this recipe, you already know how to can. If not, I would suggest going over proper canning procedures before attempting to make jelly. You need to have a clear understanding of when your jelly has achieved a good set.
makes 2 pints
1 quart red raspberries
1 quart red currants
1 quart white (or champagne) currants
1/4 cup water
3-4 cups organic cane sugar
Zest and juice from 1 Meyer lemon (fresh or frozen and totally optional)
Wash and stem your fruit. In a large pot combine the raspberries, currants and water. Slowly bring to a boil, gently crushing the fruit with a masher. Gently boil the fruit until it becomes soft, about 5-10 minutes. Let the mixture cool slightly and pour it through a strainer. This should give you approximately one quart of juice.
--If you want to make really clear jelly place the mixture into cheese cloth and hang it up to allow just the juice to drip out. I really don't care how "clear" my jelly is, so I just take the quickest way and use a strainer.
Clean out your pot and add the juice back into the pot. Heat the juice to boiling and add the 3-4 cups of sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves and then boil rapidly without stirring or skimming until the jellying set point is reached. Best way to know if you reached the correct point is to use the spoon test.
--Mine hit point just before reaching 220°F
Remove the jelly from the heat and skim if necessary. Fill prepared jars within 1/4 inch of the top. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
This year the rhubarb was late and strawberries later. The perennials seem to be a little hesitant to wake up after this last winter, and I can't say I blame them. Last year by this time I had three different types of strawberry and rhubarb jam made and preserved. While I was able to finally get my hands on some rhubarb, I really didn't manage to get much. Strawberries still seem to be a bit of a contest. The fields have been picked clean by hungry localvores, and the remaining berries struggle to ripen. I managed to save away some berries for this epic roasted strawberry rhubarb jam, but I have been craving something a bit less jammy and more pie-like, in the last few days. Actually a pie would have been great, but pie making is not one of my stronger skills. I tend to prefer tarts or more specifically a galette. One dough, push up the sides and bake. Cross your fingers that the filling doesn't spill too much, but otherwise easy peasy.
Thanks to a rainy morning I finally got a chance to bake up a galette. Even if this is the last time I get fresh strawberries and rhubarb this year (I sure hope not), I couldn't think of a better way to use them. This recipe is straight from the food and wine website. I think I only omitted one thing and added one other. A galette is really not something you go around altering, which sadly for some, is the reason I chose not to go the gluten-free route. Gluten-free pastry is really not the best, but cookies, cakes and bread are a whole different story. Sometimes the gluten just needs to stay where it is (as long as you don't have serious allergies), and I'm sure all our adventures outside will help it and all those fat and carbs, from taking up residence in my thighs. Sometimes you just need to splurge a little, go ahead, it will be ok!
I don't think this galette could have come out any better, which is why I'm sharing it with you today. Flaky crust with a sweet and tart filling. Pie, without having to be pie. More rustic looking, right? You could always whip up some cream to go with this, but it can also stand well on it's own. If it wasn't going to be a spectacularly warm sunny weekend, I'd try making some of my homemade mascarpone to see if that would go well with it. Perhaps it will have to wait for another rainy day.
Strawberry Rhubarb Galette
slightly adapted from food and wine For the pastry:
1 1/4 cups of flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 sticks (5 oz.) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
5 tablespoons ice water
For the filling:
1 pint of strawberries, sliced
1 pounds fresh rhubarb, sliced
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juicelarge pinch of ground cardamom
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small piecesIn a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the butter, and use a pastry blender to cut it into the flour, until it is the size of small peas. Sprinkle the water over the dough and toss it together with a fork. Use your hands to press the mixture together in the shape of a disk. Wrap the disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes or overnight.Preheat your oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Sprinkle a little flour on the parchment lined baking sheet and roll out the dough to a 16-inch round. Refrigerate the dough on the cookie sheet in the refrigerator for 10 minutes. Wash and slice your strawberries and rhubarb. Place the sliced strawberries and rhubarb in a large bowl. Add the sugar, lemon juice, cardamom (if using) and vanilla, mix until combined. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and spread the strawberry rhubarb mixture in the center of the dough, within 2 inches of the edge. Fold the edges over the filling. Lightly brush the dough with milk. Dot the filling with small pieces of butter. Bake the galette in the oven for 1 hour, or until the filling is bubbly and the crust is golden brown. Let the galette cool slightly before cutting.
Every year my children grow and so does my garden. We are firmly planted in years two and four, but despite the challenges of age, my ability to get work done outside increases. They grow from helpless wobbly walkers to independent preschoolers, with less and less need of support. I suddenly gain the ability to dig, till, plant and weed, all while two little boys find trees to climb and forts to make. My backyard has never looked better and my garden is neat and tidy; an accomplishment I could never visualize during those long summers stuck inside, nursing an infant.
I don't consider myself a expert in gardening. My unorganized direct sow style puts me a bit behind on the harvest calendar, but I'm still able to grab some tender greens before they bolt. With two boys busy at work getting dirty, I can cut a few handfuls of greens and throw together a quick garden salad. No need for fussy dressing, just some avocado oil, grated pecorino romano, salt and pepper. We all know that simple is sometimes best, and we most definitely want to really taste those homegrown greens.
Early this spring I threw down some seeds of kale, cress, chard, lettuce, peas, beans and beets in one section of the garden. When we play outside I can tell exactly when nap time has arrived because the shadow will move to the very edge of this section, covering all the tender greens in a nice cool shade. My little guy sleeps while my oldest and I let the chickens out for some free range time. They make a mad dash for the yard, and gobble up as many greens as they can before moving back to the shaded corners, to scratch through leftover leaves in search of tasty bugs.
The worms in my vermicompost are probably better fed then most people are. As far as I can tell they are doing their job because I have to continue adding scraps every few days.
My poor little raspberry bush took a beating this winter but there are already berries forming on some straggly looking branches.
I have four varieties of heirloom tomatoes doing great, one of which is a minibel. My hopes were to replace the hydroponic plant that is on its last leg, with one that will grow outside. Most of my hydroponic plants now have counterparts in the garden, so I can break down the systems and give them a good cleaning.
The little sproutlings below are Mexican sour gherkins and next to them I planted ground cherries. I'm really hoping that at least one of these works out. Only time will tell.
The lilac blooms have come and gone, but I did manage to cut a few to bring inside.
makes as much as you want
Assortment of tender greens: Kale, Chard, Cress, Arugula, Spinach and Lettuce.
Handful of cherry tomatoes, larger ones cut in half
Drizzle of avocado oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Pecorino romano, freshly shaved
Wash and dry your cut greens. Arrange them on a plate with a handful of cherry tomatoes. Drizzle on some avocado oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste and shave some pecorino romano over the top. Enjoy!
When I became interested in chickens a few months ago I did a lot of reading. My husband calls me, "a one track mind." I like to think I am a good researcher. Either way, one of my favorite sources of information was to read blogs from other women who also took the leap into raising chicken. I think it is easy enough to say that backyard chicken keeping has become more then just one aspect of the urban agriculture movement. It has become part of many different movements involving regular people who want to know where their food comes from, and to be in control of some aspect of it. In a lot of cases, people who are passionate about the local food movement have started growing small gardens and raising chickens as a way to become greater involved. We support a local organic farmer through a CSA each summer, but being able to supplement this food with our own homegrown vegetables, herbs and eggs makes me feel not only part of a movement, but part of a push toward social change.
I can't tell you how many people, after finding out that we are raising chickens, will ask questions such as, "Are you going to eat the eggs?" I think we have become so far removed from what we are consuming that most people really don't even know how the items they are purchasing, get to the grocery store. When did we stop associating eggs in pretty plastic containers to the chickens that are actually laying them. Why should our children view chickens as animals they see in a zoo, instead of a pet that will give them a healthy daily reward for the food, water and nice clean home given in return. This is one of the reasons I want to continue writing about my experience raising chickens. If it weren't for the many other bloggers and website resources that wrote about their experiences, I might have continued thinking it was impossible to raise chickens in my own small backyard.
Over and over again you will find that the ladies who started My Pet Chicken, created one of the greatest resources for backyard chicken keepers around. That is where our girls came from and where we purchased our backyard coop. We got the "All-American Coop" which allows you to decorate and paint it however you like. Once my coop was all set up and ready I took a picture to share with the people at My Pet Chicken. Traci, the CEO and co-founder of the company, liked it so much she called me one day to see if they could use the picture on their site to inspire others. In return she was nice enough to send me a signed copy of her book and some treats for our girls. I can't say enough nice things about this company and it seems that many other people feel the same way, even our Martha! One of the first things I learned about chickens is that they all have their own personalities. I'll admit that I always thought of chickens as dumb animals that functioned instinctively the same way. On their first day home I quickly learned this is not the case. They are fun and interesting animals that have the ability to show affection like any other pet. The next three pictures are of our Weird Sisters who are easter eggers. In a few months we will get to see what color eggs they will lay and all our hard work will pay off in the form of organic, free-range, GMO and soy free eggs. Pretty nice, right?!
This is Phoebe who seems to be growing at a slower rate then the others. She is the smallest but definitely the loudest and most daring of the bunch. She spends all her time digging for bugs or exploring behind bushes away from the others. She will loudly proclaim that she doesn't like being held and is the only chicken that looks like she is wearing some heavy "date-night" makeup.
This is Luna and she is sweet, showy and sassy. Always has her tale feathers up and struts around as if she is in a pair of heels with a drink in hand. She is a great forager and loves to eat greens. She prefers the protection of her older sister Cara, and follows along with her wherever she goes.
This is Seline and she is quiet, calm and wise. She prefers to take the lookout role. She will watch the sky while the other girls forage and eat. Every so often when something bothers her she will give a little purr and the others will stop and look up until they determine everything is safe. We think her coloring makes her look like a hawk more then a chicken. She definitely has the quiet grace of a hawk.
And here is Sunny and Cara the two Red Stars. They have even more personality then the easter eggers and they are more likely to approach me. They will either climb up on my legs if I am sitting down, or sit on my shoulder for a better view. They put up with my boys more then the others, allowing them to pick them up and give them hugs. They are a week older then the easter eggers and will most likely start laying eggs much sooner.
I decided to put the girls outside because the weather has been warming up and their little brooder box became way too small and stinky. My kitchen and dinning room smelled like chickens so I decided it was time. The first night I tried, but brought them back inside because they looked cold. But the second night they were all sleeping soundly next to each other. As much as I loved them as baby chicks, I am so much happier they are outside. Every morning I head out to change their water and fill up their food dish. They get free-range time every afternoon and they are hysterical to watch. Our coop sits next to our garage so from my side window I can see what is going on without walking outside. A little feature I'm sure I will love in the winter time.
Here are a few things I have learned about chicks so far:
- They can EAT. In fact they can put a college boy to shame. I had to order 60 pounds of chick feed for the five of them for the recommended first eight weeks. They seem to be going through less of it now that they are outside and eating weeds and bugs, but they can sure eat. While they were in the brooder they would waste a ton of food by knocking in onto the floor. Now that they are older I have noticed less wasted food. You also have to provide them with properly sized grit when they start eating food other then the chick feed.
- Sometimes when chicks sleep they look like they are dead. Yes baby chicks actually lay on the floor, sort of like a dog does. They will stretch out their legs, little wings and have a floppy little head that will make them look like they are dead. They are also narcoleptic when they are little. They will be bouncing along cheeping and then the next minute you'll find them taking a nose dive to the floor and they will sleep standing up. At first I thought something was wrong but quickly learned this is just one of the reasons chicks are so much fun to watch.
- They smell. A lot. They smell like chickens and their poop smells worse. Making sure they have fresh bedding takes care of this, but I really didn't realize how much they smell. If you are not into cleaning up really stinky poop I suggest staying clear of chickens. Or small humans for that matter, but at least they will use a potty one day. Still waiting on my youngest to reduce the amount of poop I come in contact with each day.
- They get bored so making sure they have time outside their cage each day is essential. If they can't come out because of the weather you can provide them with treats to keep them entertained and happy.
- They move faster then a toddler on gummy bears. That action mode on your camera is a must. Those heads and feet are constantly moving and pecking. So if you want good pictures take a whole bunch so you have plenty to choose from.
- Their care is really only slightly more involved then caring for rabbits (I have two rabbits by the way). If I needed to I could leave them for a weekend with plenty of fresh water and food and not have to worry. For long trips I will need to find someone to check on them, refresh water, let them out to free-range and collect eggs. But I will see how that whole process goes when we get to that point. Right now since they are little and have plenty of room in their coop, I could easily see leaving them for a quick weekend trip.
I can just see a little Cara thought bubble saying, "What are fresh eggs?"
Did you also know that chickens need to take dust baths to keep their skin and feathers healthy and free of bugs. And it seem to be a communal thing, like the Romans. Dust baths are so much fun to watch. They lay on the ground and push the dust up into their feathers and then shake their bodies to get it all over. Then they rub their heads on the ground just like a dog rubbing his face in the grass. So much fun to watch and they seem to do it almost every day. They also take lots of time to clean and arrange their feathers throughout the day. I'm guessing that I am not the only person that has a fascination with watching animals clean themselves.
So that is as much as I have learned so far. I'll let you know how it goes and of course I'll be sharing those first egg pictures. The amount of effort that goes in to raising chickens is really quite easy. There is definitely a lot to learn, but after you have the basics down it becomes lots of fun. In my mind they are a "pet with benefits" and I would recommend anyone raising their own if they are interested. You don't need to have a whole farm to get enough eggs to feed your family. I'll be sure to let you know if these five will provide enough for my family of four each week, which I'm sure they will. Backyard chicken keeping is something everyone can do if you want to give it the time and effort. And I can tell you that my experience so far has been worth it (and we don't even get eggs yet!).
For a few days now I've been contemplating my lack of updates. Not long ago I decided to free myself from the stress of regular posting, because it makes the whole adventure seem too obligatory. Granted, setting schedules does have benefits, it's just not something I'm interested in at the moment. I must admit, I've been spending a lot of time watching the "chicken channel." Not to mention the weather has been gorgeous lately. There really is no better distraction. In the mornings I water the garden and set up the pool for the boys. In the afternoon we let the chickens free range and scour the backyard for bugs, while we enjoy some ice pops. My favorite blue hammock soon becomes a place where imagination takes us on long lazy adventures to the clouds. Later we light a fire to roast some marshmallows, and wind up laying next to each other watching dancing embers late into the night. I plan on getting every ounce of outside enjoyment I can, because in a few weeks the temperatures will rise and sitting on my patio in a sweater enjoying a cool breeze, will be a thing of the past. Today we were forced inside because of the rain, but in no way do I consider this a loss. My rain barrel will be full tomorrow and my pantry will be stocked with shortbread cookies. I finally got the chance to use the rest of my black walnuts and was granted a little reminder of last years fall fun. It is amazing how certain smells can bring you right back to a particular time or place. It's one of the reasons why preserving flavors from each season is so enjoyable.
I guess baking has been on my brain lately. We haven't installed our air conditioning units yet, and I'd like to try and keep it that way until June. It really is nice that we only need the AC for two or three months of the year, and it makes getting a central system seem like a complete waste of money. But I'm getting nervous about how much longer I'll have to use my stove. Without central air the use of the stove or the laundry dryer becomes almost impossible. It's time to get all the baking out of my system and get as much bread in the freezer as I can. I guess it was stupid of me to start trying to catch some wild yeast. And catch some I did! Better late then never, I guess.
Lazy? Yes, I think I would say we have been lazy of late. Sometimes lazy could also be considered, quietly appreciating a momentary slowing down. Summer is when the weekends fill of activities. Fishing trips, foraging classes and basket making, among many other things. With so much to look forward to, siting outside on our patio to watch the rain, might be just what I need. Warm rainy days are supposed to be perfectly lazy and they are absolutely appreciated.
Black Walnut Shortbread Cookies (Gluten-Free)
makes 4 dozen
2 cups gluten-free flour blend (recipe below)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup cane sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup toasted and chopped black walnuts (or finely chopped regular walnuts)
Extra sugar for topping
*Maple sugar glaze (powdered sugar mixed with grade B maple syrup)
Grey sea salt
In a bowl combine the gluten-free flour blend with baking powder, salt and ground nutmeg; set aside. In a large bowl or stand mixer, beat the softened unsalted butter with sugar until smooth. Add the vanilla extract and egg and continue to beat until combined. With a spoon stir in the chopped walnuts and the flour mixture until you can form the dough into a ball. Divide the dough into two pieces and shape into a disk. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Take the dough out one at a time and roll out on a floured surface (this is where the extra gluten-free flour blend is helpful). Cut dough into shapes and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle some extra sugar on top of each cookie. Bake in preheated oven for 8-10 minutes or until the edges get slightly browned. Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool. Drizzle on some maple glaze and top with some flaked grey sea salt. Store cookies in airtight container.
*I don't have an exact recipe for the maple sugar glaze. The best way to achieve a type of glaze like this one is to start with 1 cup of powdered sugar and slowly add the maple syrup until you get a consistency you like. Don't make your glaze ahead of time because it will harden as time passes.
Gluten-Free flour blend
1 1/4 cups sorghum flour
1 1/4 cups oat flour
1 cup sweet rice flour
1 cup tapioca flour
2 teaspoons xanthan gum
In a bowl whisk together all the ingredients. You will have extra, so store it in an airtight container.
Ok...just one chicken picture!
More ramps? Yes, just one more little recipe, I promise. This one begged to be recorded, since I have now made it three times over. Preserving ramps is wonderful, but using them fresh from the ground is far more desirable. I know I'll probably loose a few "likes" and maybe a few notices to unsubscribe from my newsletter. Such is the nature of tossing ramps around like they are something everyone can get. As long as I am able to sustainably acquire ramps each spring, I will continue to do so, and the ramp recipes will continue. But unlike my recent ramp jam, in this recipe you can certainly substitute some green onions in place of the ramps. In fact, green onions is what I normally use for this dish during the rest of the year, and they are no less delicious. Foraging for wild edibles is definitely a little hobby of mine. As long as I can remember I have been interested in this topic. As a young girl I would comb through books on wildflowers and herbs and spend countless hours in any patch of woods I could find. Not much has changed after growing up a bit, except for the fact that two little boys are now normally running ahead or trailing a bit behind me. My oldest says, "I'll help you find flowers and mushrooms, Mama." Although we still haven't been successful in the mushroom department yet. All of our hard work is normally rewarded with a little picnic by the river. Yesterday we even got to pull our shoes off and kick around in the cool water, under a sun filled sky. We headed back home wet, covered in mud, but drenched in happiness.
--Although it is not required, having a well seasoned cast iron pan for this recipe would help tremendously. I have amassed a small fortune of vintage cast iron pans in the last few months, and I can tell you they have made a huge difference in the food I cook. Because of this, I have gotten rid of all my non-stick pans. It is cast iron all the time now, and the few remaining all-clads seem to be getting a little jealous.
Sautéed Vegetables with Ramps
3-4 large carrots
1 bunch of asparagus
8-9 ramp bulbs (or subsitute green onions)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup white wine
ground black pepper to taste
Peel and cut the carrots into 3-inch batons. Peel the woody ends of the asparagus and slice diagonally into 3-inch pieces. Diagonally slice the ramps, both the bulb and the greens. Heat the 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a cast iron skillet over high heat. Add the carrots and asparagus and saute until they are slightly browned and have a vibrant color, about 5 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 tablespoon of sugar and 1/3 cup of white wine and cook until the wine has evaporated. Add the ramps and continue to cook until they are wilted and fragrant. Taste a carrot to see if you need any more salt and add a few cracks of black pepper. Serve warm.
Foraging for Wild Edibles
This last weekend I decided to take a class on wild edibles. It was the first in a three part series that will take place over the next few months. We walked for a few hours on the Duke Farm property, identifying wildflowers and what most people would consider weeds. We got to taste everything except the stinging nettles (pictured above). With nettles you have to dry or cook the leaves before eating them, because they have little spikes all over their stems and leaves that contain formic acid. I have never used nettles before, but I feel a little more comfortable with them, now that I know what they look like. Bring along a pair of gloves if you are going to pick some. Nettle stings, although not very long in duration, are really uncomfortable. Sort of like a mild bee sting.
I am always amazed at how many species of hawks there are in this area. I'm not exactly sure which this one is, but she wasn't at all disturbed by the presence of people. They are beautiful, but I can't help but be a nervous Mama. Our chickens will definitely need to have supervised free range time each day.
Some wild watercress, but not enough to collect for a salad. I'll definitely be looking for more of this!
The leaves and flowers of violets are edible. They make a beautiful addition to salads. The jack-in-the-pulpit (above right) has edible roots, but they are mostly just pretty to look at. This one looks like it got nibbled on by something.
The little white flowers (pictured above), belong to the garlic mustard plant. This invasive weed was actually one of my favorites we tasted during our class. The raw leaves were delicious, having a slightly bitter and sharp peppery flavor. I have heard of people making a pesto from garlic mustard, but I'm most looking forward to having some in a tender green salad. One of the things we learn about this class was that early bitter spring greens like garlic mustard and dandelion, are actually digestive stimulants. They give your system a kick into gear, and are great to eat before consuming a very large meal.
This little doe I found grazing around in the woods later that day. She didn't seem all that bothered by me, and she let me get close enough for a picture. Beautiful creatures, but I also secretly wish my father is successful at hunting this year, so I can add some deer meat to my freezer.
Two days after my class I took a little walk down by the river and grabbed of few of the things I learned about. The first dish I made was some scrambled eggs with greens, garnished with field garlic and violets. I threw in a few of my hydroponic tomatoes because they are still growing great! I'm really looking forward to trying out more of these spring edibles in other ways. And in a few weeks I will attend the second class, and hopefully learn a whole bunch of new edibles.
Yes, it is that time of the year again. Ramps are on the menu and I have some new ideas for my haul this year. I wasn't actually expecting to get as many ramps as I did. A week ago when I did a little preliminary scouting at my typical spot the pickings were looking slim. A few clumps were still there, but when you are harvesting ramps you have to be very careful to only take a few because they can take years to grow back. I was planning on being conservative and only taking a few to satisfy a little craving. When I arrived at the spot something was telling me to look a little bit further along the trail. I knew that if I could find ramps in one spot, it was a good chance there might be some more. Little did I know just how many more I would stumble upon.
I found more ramps then anyone could possibly eat in twenty lifetimes. A sea of ramps. In some spots I had to deliberately step so as to not trample any. Every so often I would quietly giggled like a child with a secret. I walked for hours just enjoying the cool spring breeze and the warm morning sun shining through the trees. Now I could be selective, picking only the larger ramps in each bunch. Something I noticed is that ramps that were growing on the north side of a tree, probably getting more shade then the others, were a much brighter shade of purple. I also came across ramps with seed heads still hanging on. I managed to collect a few of the tiny black ramp seeds. Now the true test of my skill would be to germinate those seeds, but after doing a little reading on the subject, it does not sound easy. So are you wondering why I chose ramp jam? It is not the most attractive looking condiment I'll admit, but we all know sometimes looks can be deceiving. I am not actually the first person to come up with ramp jam. Blackberry Farm in eastern Tennessee, sells items such as ramp pesto, ramp kraut, pickled ramps, ramp jam and strawberry ramp jam. Currently the ramp jam is all sold out, which is precisely why I knew I needed to make my own. They give a list of the ingredients so it wasn't hard to to figure out how to make it.
I've made caramelized onions before, which is pretty much the exact same process as making onion jam. Let me first warn you about the smell this condiment is going to make inside your kitchen, and living room, and quiet frankly the whole house once it is complete. Just don't say I didn't warn you.
Now what do you put ramp jam on? The same things you would put caramelized onions on: hamburgers, grilled meat, cheese plates, over eggs and even in a tart (just some ideas to start with). One thing about this jam and other onion jams, is that they unfortunately have to be stored in the refrigerator. I'm not actually sure why they can't be canned, but this recipe makes a small batch so there really is no need anyway. If you want you can divide the recipe and freeze half to keep it a bit longer.
makes 1 pint
2 tablespoons olive oil
15-20 ramps, sliced (bulb and leaves)
6 large onions, halved and sliced
1 tablespoon sea salt
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup organic cane sugar
salt and pepper to taste
Sliced the onions and ramps. In a large stockpot add two tablespoons of olive oil. Add the sliced onions and ramps in layers. Sprinkle the sea salt on each layer to draw the moisture out. On the stove top, heat the stockpot over medium low. Cook, covered until the onions start to release their moisture, about 25-30 minutes. Periodically lift the lid and stir to prevent burning. The mixture should deflate considerably. When the level of moisture in the pot is about equal with the top of the onions, remove the lid. Continue to cook uncovered, allowing the onions and ramps to slowly reduce and caramelize, about one hour. Stir periodically to prevent burning. Once the onions have taken on a darker shade of color and reduced by half or more, add in the red wine vinegar and cane sugar. Increase the heat to medium and stir often until the mixture thickens, a few minutes longer (watch carefully so it does not burn). Remove the pot from the heat and add salt and pepper to taste. Ladle the ramp jam into clean jars. I placed mine in two half pint jars. One jar went into the freezer and one in the refrigerator.
Ramp jam will keep for a few weeks in the refrigerator, and for 6+ months in the freezer.
I get an email in my inbox: Your chicks have flown the coop. I nervously wait for three days, constantly checking the tracking information with not a single change. Finally the call comes in early (the 6:20 AM kind of early) Wednesday morning and a woman says, "Your babies are here." I can hear them chirping through the phone line and that lump in my throat gets bigger. Who knew little balls of chirping fluff could evoke so much emotion and terror. I've given birth to two humans and have never once been nervous about caring for them. I guess my mothering instincts are good, but chicken on the other hand; I have no idea how to be a chicken. Will I be a good mommy chicken? Do I have to teach them to peck and scratch? I hop in the car and drive to the post office. I am met with another woman with the same look of happy nervous excitement on her face. She is also getting chickens I quickly learn (and she divulged they are in fact legal in our town...whoo hoo!). The post office worker finally brings out two boxes and we can hear the chirping getting louder. Now there are three women all standing around prying open the boxes to take a peek inside.
I rush my three little girls home, snap a few pictures and take a little video. All the while I keep noticing one of the chicks is not able to stand or pick her head up. I didn't have to be a mother hen to understand that something wasn't right. It took a few hours but despite my attempts to nurse her back to health, her little body finally gave up. I was quite surprised at how remarkably calm I was. Here was my first task at hand and I messed it up. But, they are chickens after all and there are lots of things that can go wrong. I scooped her up and quickly performed a little burial in the backyard, my oldest son watching from the window. Then I got right back to the two remaining and made sure they were going to be ok. * I write this after receiving three additional chickens today and after seeing their behavior, I can tell you that my first three were not in good shape when they arrived.
Our first two girls are Red Star chickens. From what I have read the red stars are very good egg layers. They will continue to lay through the winter, when most chickens will take a break. We named them, Sunny and Cara. My oldest son was instantly attracted to Sunny. She is inquisitive, nosy and loves to be close to us. She was the strongest of the three and seems to have risen to the top of the pecking order. Sunny chirped the whole first day home. Anytime I would walk away from the brooder she would chirp louder and louder until I would finally give up and walk back. I have a feeling she is probably going to be more like a pet then the others.
Sunny and Cara really took up most of my week but we were granted some beautiful weather this last weekend. We got a chance to clean up the backyard, throw down some extra wood chips, build and paint a coop, and I even got a chance to set up my garden beds to plant the cooler weather vegetables. We also decided to take a quick walk down by the river and I couldn't help but check out my ramp spot to make sure everything was where it was supposed to be. It took me a while to find them. I was beginning to freak out a bit but finally they appeared. The two pictured below are loner ramps, normally you find them in big clumps. They seemed a little small for my liking so I decided to leave them until this next weekend when we can enjoy them fresh on Easter Sunday.
* Yup...that's a bald eagle. You can find them in New Jersey believe it or not. They live close to our favorite spot on the river.
Coop building was lots of fun. If you are wondering where we got our chickens and the coop, they all came from My Pet Chicken. They allow you to ship a minimum of three chicks at a time and they have everything you could ever need to take care of them. And the place that I go for all my chicken information, recipes and general care is Fresh Eggs Daily. This site is a wealth of information on how to raise your chickens naturally. If you are seriously wanting to do this yourself, check out these two sites and read every bit of information you can. I still have a few finishing touches to make on the coop, but I will definitely share the finished product with you.
Our next three little girls arrived today, in the same fashion as the last bunch. Only I was a little more calm this time around. Maybe?
The reason I decided to order three more chickens is because they like to be in groups. Sunny and Cara seemed a bit lonely on their own and I really did start this adventure for the eggs (and the beautiful compost). Having only two chickens would cut down the egg production on the "homestead". Getting a few more would also help to keep each other company and more importantly warm in the winter. Since I already got two great egg layers I didn't really need three more great egg layers. I have always wanted to get chickens that lay different color eggs and now here was my chance. This time I ordered a breed called Easter Eggers. These girls have the potential to lay eggs that could be pink, green, blue, or brown or even white. There is no way to know what type of egg they will lay, and whatever color comes out will be the same every time. So fingers crossed that these three will lay a variety of different colors. They also won't lay as many eggs as the red stars, but this is actually a redeeming trait at the moment because I'm not ready to get into the commercial egg business just yet.
Oh..and these three are named Luna, Phoebe and Seline. Anyone know where the names come from? I'd be very impressed if you did.
We also tried to dye some eggs today. My oldest hiding in the back there is really into Easter. He told me today that he wants to wait up all night for the Easter Bunny so he can give him a hug. Probably because he was not interested in giving the Easter Bunny at the mall a hug...who would be though, right? I really wanted to try those "Natural" dyes out this year. They did come out really pretty. Unfortunately boys are not so much into pretty. They were quite disappointed that the blue dye didn't work. I think I need to boil the red cabbage a little bit longer next time. Overall, I really liked doing it naturally, but it was hard for the little guys. Each egg had to sit in the dye for a really long period of time. Not like the stuff in the box that works almost instantly. I'm not giving up though because they might enjoy this little science project as they get older, and I would love to experiment with more types of natural dyes.
And finally, how about those hydroponic tomatoes; they are just now starting to ripen. My son pulled the first one off proclaiming, "Look, they are ready!" Now I know you are wondering, "Do they taste as good as a sun ripened summer tomato?" Ehhhh...not quite. But for a homegrown tomato in the middle of a freezing April, they aren't too shabby.