Home-Made “Canned” Pumpkin

Where I grew up we ate pumpkin as the “other” orange vegetable.  Roasted, boiled, mashed, steamed or sautéed, it was served with our main meal alongside potatoes, beans, peas and corn.  But then I moved to the US and found that pumpkin here is eaten only as a dessert.  Pumpkin pie, pumpkin cake, pumpkin pancakes, even pumpkin ice-cream – always with “pumpkin pie spice” and sugar added.  I missed being able to buy pumpkin in the produce department of the grocery store; instead it is found only in cans in the baking aisle.

So when I visited a Farmer’s Market recently and found a vendor selling pumpkins, I grew unaccountably excited.  I selected a beautiful pumpkin – the vendor called it a “Cheese Wheel Squash” – and brought it home to cook.  This beauty was $5.

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First we cut it in half.  This is the most difficult part of working with pumpkins because they are large, heavy and tough.  HWA started to cut with the largest knife we had available, but added a small hammer to help knock the blade through the pumpkin.  In no time it was in half.  Scooping the seeds out was easy.  I saved them and plan to try to grow my own next year.  What we don’t use will be fed to the poultry.  Pumpkin seeds are (I’m told) a natural dewormer for birds, but are also a welcome treat for them.

Next we placed it on a cookie sheet, cut half side down, poured water in to a level of about ¼” and put the tray into the 350-degree oven.  An hour later a knife sliced easily through the flesh and we removed it from the oven to cool.  After cooling only a short time, we scooped the flesh out of its skin and ended up with a large bowl of cooked pumpkin.

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The skin that is left will not go to waste.  The chickens will happily peck off any remaining pumpkin and in doing so will devour the entire skin as well – the beta-carotene rich pumpkin will help keep the egg yolks the beautiful orange color we prefer.  If I didn’t have the chickens the pumpkin skin would go into the compost.

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Once all the flesh was removed from the skin, I mashed it with a fork, drained off the pooled liquid (the dogs will think the pumpkin “juice” poured over their kibble is a wonderful treat) and put 1-cup portions into ziploc bags to be frozen.  This pumpkin yielded 12 portions – each equivalent to about half a can of commercial pumpkin, for a fraction of the cost of canned pumpkin at the store.

THIS pumpkin will be eaten as a dessert – but the seeds saved from it will – we hope – produce many more next year and I look forward to steaming, mashing, boiling, roasting and sautéing them.

Thanksgiving Turkey

We did something this year we’ve never done before: provided the turkey for our extended-family Thanksgiving dinner.  We raise heritage turkeys – Bourbon Red, Royal Palm and Black Spanish.  Heritage breeds differ from those used in the commercial meat industry because they are able to breed naturally, and can even fly short distances.  Several of my turkeys regularly fly from the ground up to roost on the top of our horse shelter – 16′ off the ground.  By contrast, the broad-breasted varieties favored by ButterBall because of their huge breasts, are so heavy they can barely walk towards the ends of their lives, and have to be artificially inseminated as they are too big to breed naturally.

Because turkey toms will fight aggressively in spring, and I didn’t want to have to pen birds up to avoid the fighting, I keep only one tom – currently a Bourbon Red – which means that eggs hatched from the Royal Palm and Black Spanish hens are mixed.  There is no market in our area for mixed breed turkeys but we hatched them anyway, knowing they would still have a purpose.

The small breast and leaner muscle mass – my turkeys free-range several acres and eat a natural diet of greens and bugs rather than living in mass confinement and sitting in front of a feeder all of their lives – mean they need to be cooked differently in order to retain moisture and tenderness, so while I processed, I asked HWA to research the best way to cook a heritage turkey.

I had planned to skin him as I do most of my birds, and then slow cook him in an oven roasting bag.  I don’t have a pot big enough to dunk a bird the size of a turkey so did not think plucking was an option.  However before skinning, I tried pulling out a few feathers and long story short, I found that dry plucking was actually easier than plucking after the bird has been dunked!  The feathers released just as easily but they didn’t stick to my hands as they do when wet, so I was able to pull the feathers out by the handful and toss them immediately into the trash.  The only feathers that challenged me were the wing tips and the tail feathers, but a little extra muscle and those too pulled clean out.

Once the plucking and eviscerating were done, I turned him over to HWA, who basted with an herb butter concoction, including cutting a few slits in the skin and stuffing some herb butter into the slits.  We then trussed the wings to the body with string to keep the wing tips from over-cooking, stuffed the cavity with quartered onions and lemons, and placed him in the oven set to 225 degrees for a 12-hour cook.  A timer reminded us to re-baste every three hours.  After the 12 hours at low heat, we turned the oven up to 375 for about 30 minutes to brown the skin.

The result?  A moist, tender turkey that got rave reviews.  And, while my heritage birds may not have the enormous breast of a broad-breasted turkey, there was plenty of meat for anyone who wanted to, to go back for seconds.  And thirds.  And, in some cases, fourths.  When dinner was over, there was still enough meat left over to leave a gallon zip-loc bag with our host and take another home with us.  Just like families across the country, for the next week we dined on turkey leftovers.

My Lovely New Jugs

No – I’ve not had any plastic surgery.  We built birthing jugs for the ewes and the goat doe too.

Last year we had only two pregnant ewes and not much idea of when they were due.  The first lambed out in our pasture (taking us completely by surprise) while the second did alert me in the early stages of labor and I was able to put her in a small pen where she delivered overnight without need of assistance.  We were lucky that neither had problems and that the lambs were born hearty and able to survive being plopped out into the snow.

Not wanting to count on luck again, Saturday afternoon we built two 8′ long, 4′ wide lambing jugs so that when the time comes, the ewe can be in a separate, private space, the lamb will have shelter from the elements, and there is power and light nearby should we need to assist.

They don’t need to be fancy to be functional, so we looked around the homestead for materials to use.  We planned to build under our horse shelter, which has a north wall and a good roof.  Having already built hay walls under the shelter, the obvious place to build the jugs was in the same area, making use of some of the existing walls.  All we needed then, were the long walls of the jugs, and two gates.  To start, I cut a livestock panel in half, giving me two 8′ lengths.

The two 8′ walls standing attached (at the far end) to the hay wall by wire:

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Note: I have not yet filled the hay wall at the head of the jugs but once I have, the ewes will be able to eat all the hay they want while confined.

We then pounded in a couple of t-posts to secure the gate end of the panels.

Next we looked for a way to make the bottom portion of the walls solid to provide better wind protection for the newborns.  My first thought was to use cardboard since it is easily obtained and should stay pretty dry there under the shelter.  However HWA had a better idea.  We recently replaced a shower in the house and were left with the old shower panels.  They proved to be perfect for the job!  Working carefully, we drilled small holes in the panels to secure them to the livestock panels with wire, and they provided an instant, solid wind break.  The ewes will be able to see over the panels to talk to their flock mates, while the lambs will have a safe and secure area to spend their first 48-72 hours.

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Last we made the gates.  Using another panel, we carefully measured and cut sections to fit.  The northernmost gate was secured to the north wall of the livestock shelter using screw eyes and wire, while the other gate was secured with wire directly to the t-post.  The gate openings will be secured using some chain we have left over from another project, and a carabiner.

All that remains now is to refill the hay wall that heads the jugs.  HWA suggested that a sheet of plywood on top of the front half of the jugs will provide further weather protection for the lambs since a roof closer to their height will retain heat better than the current 12′ roof.  We still have a few weeks before they are due so there is time to add that.