Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Nothing like a private fireworks show...

County fair started tonight, with, as usual, a fireworks show at the end of the evening. The fairgrounds are a couple miles away by road but only a mile as the crow flies. The fireworks are set off on a hill behind our house. Perfect viewing location!

Monday, August 9, 2010

They grow up so fast

Chickens, that is.  (Kids, too, but that's another post.)

Smokey, the grey Silkie chick, (cockerel, we think) is now 10 weeks old.  His mama hen, Bandit, a first-timer on the hatching circuit, is like many mothers -- she wants her freedom but she can't quite drop the chick. She's a flyer, always going walk-about in the front yard, visiting the compost pile, that kind of thing.  And motherhood didn't change her.

She flew the chick pen the day after Smokey hatched.  Fortunately it was warm weather so he wasn't left alone AND cold but we had to put a wire cover on their pen, forcing Bandit to stay in.  And that was difficult for Bandit.  She paced the fence of her small enclosure, squawking almost constantly about her internment.  Poor Smokey spent most of his early days running alongside her trying to keep up so when she did settle down he could scoot underneath for a bit of warm "mama hen time."

DH listened to me debate with myself over whether to leave Smokey in with his seemingly dysfunctional mama hen or foster him in the garage.  (He didn't debate because he was not in favor of a chicken in the house.  Thin end of the wedge, you know.) I debated because as often happens with our livestock, I'm torn between the food-production side of life and the pet side plus nature vs. nurture -- difficult philosophical subjects here, people!

After the first couple of  weeks, we tried letting them both out into the backyard with the other backyard girls (and Snowball's one-week-older chicks) but Smokey couldn't keep up with Bandit's long legs and certainly not with her wings when she would go up and over the fence for a quick compost reccon.  So they went back in the closed pen till about 10 days ago.

Then, at almost 9 weeks, it seemed time to let him out with the flock to take his chances in our relatively safe backyard while still, somewhat, under Bandit's tutelage.  The neat thing we discovered was while Bandit may head off on her own as usual, Smokey's better able to keep up and, best of all, Bandit is now keeping a protective, if laid-back, eye on her older chick.  Now if Smokey cries out -- like when DS picked him up for this photo -- Bandit comes charging to his rescue.  Forget the times when she left a newly-hatched chick on his own in the chick pen, she's remembered that she has a responsibility.  It's cool to watch their interaction and that of Badger, the grey Silkie roo, who steps in to herd his ladies and any of their chicks as he thinks necessary.
Badger is definitely Smokey's sire and while Mrs. Badger, the other half of our grey Silkie pair, laid the egg, Bandit is his mama hen.  Together they make a great chicken family with some human parallels that make for interesting chicken-watching conversations on a slow summer afternoon.
Badger protectively watching over Bandit and a mostly-hidden Smokey -- even Happy Lamb turns from the camera...

Badger and his "other" families including Snowball and her then-11-week-old chicks: the Turken Twins, Dion the Wanderer and, in front, TBD or the-chick-to-be-named-later.

(Sort of makes me feel I'm reporting for a celebrity rag chicken-expose on polygamous roos but then I'm back to anthropomorphizing...)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Something old and something new

Well, maybe familiar would be a better choice than old...

After canning 16 pints of a spicy plum dipping sauce I've made for years, we tried something different with a few pounds of the damsons picked earlier in the week.  I've read of fruit cheeses in novels and English cookbooks and finally the time seemed right to try making some myself.

Fruit cheese is made from fruit and sugar and will hold its shape; it can be made in a straight-sided crock or jar and turned out for slicing when ready to serve rather than being spooned out like a softer preserve.  Tart fruits such as damsons and gooseberries seem most common but there may be other fruits that would work as well.  And fruit cheese will keep for months, too, thanks to all the sugar.

It's a pretty basic recipe.  For each pound of damson pulp left after sieving to remove the pits and break up the skins, you use 2 cups of sugar.  Here's a link to a page on the neat site, The Cottage Smallholder, with the easy directions.

The spicy plum dipping sauce is my adaptation of Helen Witty's "Chinese-style Plum Sauce" recipe included in her wonderful Better Than Store-Bought: A Cookbook. I modified it to include crushed pineapple and exclude the corn syrup and whole mustard seeds.  I previously posted the original version on Farm Bell Recipes at Chickens in the Road in case you want to compare the two.  Either one is great for dipping egg rolls, chicken strips, etc. 

The original recipe makes about 4 pints and the version below makes about 15 pints though it could be halved without a problem.  I found we liked this so well it's better to make enough to last till the next year's fruit harvest and still have a little to give away.  I hate it when friends or family beg, don't you?

Remember that this is a sauce for canning.  It's meant to be made and then held on the shelf for a minimum of a couple of weeks before serving -- better yet, make it this summer than wait till Thanksgiving to enjoy.  Almost any recipe for a preserve like this, or for pickles or relish -- similar dishes, really -- will benefit from a waiting period to allow the flavors to meld.  If you taste this as you're preparing it (and I always do and think you should, too) it will likely taste too vinegary and the flavor of the peppers may be too strong, too.  That's normal.  Give it a few weeks, preferably a couple of months if you can wait that long, and the flavors will meld into a wonderful dipping sauce you'll certainly prefer over that orangey-pink stuff in the little plastic packets.

Spicy Plum Dipping Sauce

8 cups plum pulp, *See note
8 cups peach or nectarine pulp, *See note
2 (20 ounce) cans crushed pineapple in juice
2 large onions, diced
2 sweet bell peppers, seeded and diced
5 jalapeno peppers, seeded and membrane removed, finely diced
3-inch knob of gingerroot, peeled and finely diced or shredded
1 head garlic, peeled and minced
6-1/2 cups apple cider vinegar, 5% acidity
3 cups water
1/4 cup dry mustard
3 tablespoons kosher salt
2 cups granulated sugar
2 pounds brown sugar (approximately 4-1/3 cups)

Combine the fruit pulp, pineapple, onions, peppers, gingerroot, garlic, and vinegar in a very large non-reactive kettle.  Bring to a simmer over low heat.  In a bowl, combine remaining ingredients and whisk to blend.  Add to the fruit mixture and allow to simmer for an additional 45 minutes.

If you prefer a smoother sauce, press mixture through a chinoise or food mill. Return to the kettle and boil gently, stirring, until the sauce has thickened, about 15 minutes longer (it will thicken a little more while cooling).

Process in BWB in half-pint (10 minutes) or pint (15 minutes) jars, leaving 1/2″ headspace.

Allow the flavors to meld in the jars for at least 2 weeks, better a month, before serving. This one definitely improves with a month or two of waiting — it’s worth it.

I use a steam juicer to prepare the damsons and nectarines or peaches.  It lets me obtain juice from the fruit than run the remaining pulp through a chinoise or food mill to yield stoned, sieved fruit ready to turn into a smooth sauce. (The juice I either can or use for another purpose.)

Alternatively, coarsely chop fruit and place in a large pot.  Heat fruit till softened sufficiently to run through a food mill, removing pits and skins, then measure out the amount of pureed fruit called for in recipe. Repeat for other type of fruit indicated in recipe.

Optional but good:
Roast the sweet red peppers over a flame or under the broiler till the skin is burned almost black. Let stand 5 minutes, then wrap in a plastic bag and let stand for 15 minutes. Quarter lengthwise, scrape off the skin and remove the seeds then set the peppers aside till called for in recipe.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


We picked about 4 gallons of damsons yesterday. I put together one jar each gin- and vodka-infused damsons with sugar. Both will take several months to work their magic and then damson liqueur for everyone! 

For each 1/2-gallon jar I used 2 lbs of damsons, each pricked several times with a fork, plus 12 ounces of granulated sugar and enough vodka or gin to cover the fruit -- about .65L each. Put a lid on the jars and covered them with brown paper to keep out the light. I'll shake them once every day or so till the sugar's dissolved. Then they'll sit on an out-of-the-way shelf in the kitchen for at least three months when we'll taste and decide if it's time to strain and bottle or wait another couple of months.

The other damsons are on their way to becoming damson cheese, spicy plum sauce, damson preserves and juice for syrup or drinking.  More recipes to come...

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Hot and dry but still producing

Today's harvest.
Hillbilly tomatoes with Arkansas Traveler and a few Early Girls
Green bell peppers with hot jalapenos and some Fooled You imitators.
Hillbilly and Arkansas Traveler tomatoes
Green bell peppers and Kennebec potatoes