Groceries by the Pallet

We buy groceries by the pallet-load, but we don’t eat them.

Our goal when starting our homestead was to produce more of our own food.  Initially we had eggs and the occasional chicken meat.  We’ve since added animals (for turkey, duck, lamb and goat meat), established the veggie garden, and added dairy animals.  We were also fortunate that the previous residents planted an apple tree that has produced an abundant crop of apples all but one of the years we’ve been here.

Consequently our spend at the local Kroger has reduced tremendously over time.  In September I spent $38.20 at the grocery store, on items like bread, cereal, spices and condiments that we cannot produce here.  It wasn’t an unusual month.

I wish I could truly say that is all we spend on “groceries”.  The reality is, instead of buying human groceries, we now buy animal groceries by the pickup load because, in order to provide us with good quality food, they need to eat good quality food themselves.  In summer, the cows, sheep and goats are able to graze almost 100% of their nutrition (they get a small amount of grain as a treat for standing nicely while being milked).  But, in winter, when they are heavily pregnant or nursing babies, and at the same time the grass is dormant so they have to eat hay instead, they consume more purchased calories.

We tried an experiment this year with the poultry.  Commercial pelleted feed is a relatively new invention; old-timers didn’t feed their chickens – they got by foraging/scavenging everything they ate.  So, this year we reduced their feed substantially, to encourage them to get out and find more bugs and greens of their own.  I expected egg production to reduce, but if it did, I couldn’t tell.  I had just as many broody hens trying to hatch and raise chicks as ever, and was still inundated with eggs at the peak of the season.  Meanwhile, the hens look healthy and our property has very few bugs.  I call that a win-win-win.

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However we are approaching the time of year when our grocery bill will increase again.  Maybe not for the people – the freezers and canning jars are full and will take us through the winter easily – but expenditure on groceries for the animals will increase.  Nevertheless, I’d say we are where we hoped one day to be and it is satisfying.

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Goat Cheese Cheesecake

An abundance of milk leads to an abundance of cheese, which ultimately leads to cooking with cheese.  Goat milk turned into chèvre makes amazing cheesecakes.  The following has been well received every time I’ve made it (and never lasts long).  It has the added bonus of being quick and easy to make, and suitable for just about any dietary restrictions, as it contains no sugar or grains.

The crust:

  • 1 ½ cups walnuts
  • 1 ½ cups dates
  • ½ teaspoon salt (I use pink Himalayan)

The filling:

  • Chevre made from one gallon of milk (about 11 oz)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 packet of unflavored gelatin dissolved in ½ cup hot water
  • ⅓ cup agave nectar
  • pinch salt

Blend the crust ingredients in the food processor, then press into the bottom of a springform pan.

Blend the filling ingredients and pour into the crust.  Refrigerate for several hours and serve.

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The only challenge is saving some for later!

Seasonal Meals

Throughout the year, what we eat varies based on what we are producing.  Summer is obviously prime time for fresh food and we find it most satisfying to eat meals that comprise 90% or more ingredients produced right here on the homestead.  Dinner today is one of our favorites.  I should give the dish a proper name but for now we call it Scrambled Tomato, Zucchini and Onion.  If you have a better idea for a name, please leave it in the comments below!

I start by dicing a freshly pulled onion and sauté it in fat rendered from our poultry.  Once it is softened, I add diced zucchini.  I grow multiple varieties – traditional long green zukes, round 8-ball, and yellow squash – so which squash is used varies according to which most needed picking.  For added color, I like to use all three if I can.  While the zucchini cooks, I dice tomatoes.  Once again I grow multiple varieties and whichever was the ripest gets added to the dish.

As the veggies continue to sauté, I crack eggs – 8-10 of them! – into a bowl, scramble, then pour over the top of the vegetables.  Flipping and mixing, the eggs cook quickly and once cooked, the meal is ready.  Staying true to using only ingredients we have produced, I season with freshly picked herbs but, if I’m feeling lazy I have been known to season with salt and pepper.

Scrambled tomato, zucchini and onion.  The eggs are almost cooked so the meal is almost ready to eat.

Scrambled tomato, zucchini and onion. The eggs are almost cooked so the meal is almost ready to eat.

Baked Custard

What do you do with a surplus of both milk and eggs?  Make custard of course!  We hadn’t been milking long before we found ourselves in that situation and, seeking a way to use the surplus, I looked up recipes for baked custard.  However I didn’t like any of the recipes I found as they used too few eggs.  So, I took a bit of this and a bit of that to create my own version of this wonderful dessert, that HWA has nicknamed “hot ice-cream”.  Here is my recipe for baked custard:

3 cups milk (we use raw milk, either goat or cow)
8 eggs
⅓ cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt

Break the eggs into the bowl of a food processor, and process for about a minute until they are thoroughly mixed.  Add the remaining ingredients and mix again.  Pour into a glass or ceramic baking dish.

Place the baking dish into another oven-safe container that is somewhat larger.  Pour water into the second container until it comes about halfway up the sides of the custard dish.

Bake for 40 minutes at 350.

That is all.  It doesn’t get any easier!

I tried to get a photo before anyone ate any but you have be faster around here than I am apparently.

I tried to get a photo before anyone ate any but you have be faster around here than I am apparently.

Liver and Onions

I mentioned here that I would provide the recipe I use to cook liver and it really couldn’t be simpler.

First I dice up an onion or two and sauté in a little of the fat I save from every bird I process.  While it is sautéing, I cut the liver into bite-size pieces and dredge thoroughly in flour that has a little salt and pepper added to it.

Once the onions are golden brown, I remove them from the pan, add a little more fat if needed and wait for it to heat, then add the liver.  It only needs to cook for a few minutes on each side until the flour is browned and crisp.  Then I add the onions back in to mix and reheat and a minute or two later it is ready to eat.

I am no nutritionist so I won’t try to provide the specific benefits to eating liver except to say that it is high in many valuable nutrients.  It is an acquired taste – I can’t say I loved it from the first bite, though I grew to like it quickly – and after eating it, I feel good; energetic and like I can take on the world.

Modern society shuns organ meats but in my book they are definitely worth revisiting.

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.