Thursday, October 17, 2013

Finding the RIght Thing

I often am at a loss on how best to meet Sylvie's unstated wants and needs, those things I often can just sense with the other two. But, I suggested she give this a try the other day, and it was just the thing for my little monkey. Though probably not so good for my nerves.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


With the extra-curricular activities in full swing, I have a few hours a week just sitting. This is the best time for me to do reading and knitting. For reading, I've been slowly working my way through a David Foster Wallace book on the history of infinity.

For knitting, I've finished one pair of socks
I used yarn that Stacey dyed. She sells it at her Etsy shop- Brazen Stitchery. This was a skein that blew across her yard when it was drying. I told her I would happily untabgle it for her, and she gave it to me. I think she calls it Birthday Girl, but I call it birthday cake because the colors remind me of how desperately I wanted those terrible candy things they sold at the grocery store that were exactly these colors.

The other pair of socks are for Ezra and I am knitting them on size 1 needles- that means lots more stitches in a pair of socks. I am almost through with the first sock.
This yarn is also from Stacey's shop, and I actually paid for it. She calls it yellow submarine. She had a really yellow one that I liked even more, but it was on lace weight. I love this yarn; the colors are awesome, and the yarn is REALLY nice to work with. It does have a little nylon in it. This goes against my purist tendencies, but it sure is turning into a nice pair of socks.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Giving Thanks to the Turkey

We got turkeys in early June, and I cannot remember at the moment what part of this story I've included on the blog. So, when the post office called to tell us we had poultry waiting, we hustled right on into town to pick them up. Our kindly postmaster said, as she handed me the shipping box, "This is the quietest bunch of chicks I've seen."  Uh oh...

Of the fifteen turkeys that left Ohio, four were alive in the box. The good news is those lived on. And to start with, they were not all that pretty. They were big, all the same, and they were pretty smart for poultry; by smart, I mean less skittish and pretty observant. Also, their eyes were all black instead of the reptilian yellow of chicken eyes. They made different noises, too; I would compare their noise to the sound of water slipping down a metal tube.

I will admit that we got the overbred white variety. The first reason was that a friend had experience with the gooney birds and heritage breeds, and she warned us that the heritage breeds were a pain to tend and fence. The next reason is that a friend I help with slaughtering gets the gooney variety of chickens, and boy! do those birds get fat. They are also much easier to pluck. I expected these turkeys to be particularly dumb- you know, like drowning because they looked up in a rain storm- but as I already mentioned, they seemed smarter than the average chicken.

Turkey in late August
Well, before we left for our trip about a month back, one of the turkeys was looking pretty doggone big already. I suggested that we might kill him as soon as we got home. With one thing and another, we just did not have time to kill him. For at least a week, I have had mixed feelings about this turkey. I actually LIKE the turkeys and find them interesting. I could sense that killing one might make me sad; killing chickens does not even faze me. On the other hand, every time I looked at this turkey, I felt like Mrs. Hoggett or a starving cartoon character, imagining this living bird dressed for dinner. I have spent a surprising amount of time trying to figure out how to kill a turkey. If such things bother you, skip the next paragraph.

When we kill a chicken, we use a killing cone, which is like a metal snow cone with a hole in the tip for the chicken's head to poke through. This allows for the slaughterer to slit the chicken's throat instead of cutting off the head and makes for a better bleed out. It also keeps the wings from getting broken during death throes. We do not own a killing cone sized for these turkeys, nor do we know anyone with one of that caliber, so I kept pondering what exactly we were going to do. Imagine even catching a bird that big; when we catch chickens for whatever reason they thrash around- wisely- in a way that makes you want to let go. These turkeys are HUGE and if one thrashed around like that, I doubted I would emerge from the battle feeling like a winner. Also, I couldn't imagine exactly how the bird would be secured for the death throes, which is the point in the process that the phrase "like a chicken with her head cut off" comes from. Poultry is very active as it's dying; if the bird's body isn't moving around like mad, you probably haven't successfully killed it. I pondered this question and began asking all sorts of people if they had any idea how to kill a big turkey.

The friend who I trade slaughtering help with had a couple of ideas, and yesterday, he suggested we go ahead a give it a whirl. First, I got a pillow case and cut a hole in the corner. We also got water heating and a piece of baling twine to hang the carcass to pluck it. I also gathered the requisite knives and cleaver. Once the water seemed hot enough, Ezra went to catch the turkey. To be clear, Ezra LIKES catching fowl even if it is for the purpose of killing them. My friend and I followed- my thought being, "how is this kid going to hold onto this thrashing bird?" But that is not what happened.

Ezra knelt beside the bird and put his arms around it and the bird just sat there. Then my friend tried to slip the case over the bird's head. The turkey fought just long enough to tear the pillow case and show how foolish THAT notion was. So, he picked the bird up and walked over to our stump. Still the turkey isn't struggling. It was weirdly peaceful. We had the briefest of confabulations on what exactly we would do now that the wings weren't pinned, but we were on the way to an execution and it just did not feel like there was time left for reflection. I held the bird and he used the cleaver on the neck; the turkey went into death throes and proceeded to beat my shins all to hell with his wings, but I waited out the convulsions and we dipped the bird.

Here was another problem that we did foresee, but couldn't find another way around it. They turkey was too big for a real baptism even in my biggest canning pot. We dip poultry (though not waterfowl) in very hot (though not boiling) water to facilitate plucking. This guy would not really fit all the way in the pot, but we did our best. Around this time, I notice my friend is straining when he has to heft the bird; most likely I was, too, but the adrenaline made me oblivious to my own state. Anyway, I tried to help my friend get this bird hefted up so we could pluck the turkey from a hanging position; it really is much easier than any other way I've tried. And we come to a nice part about these over bred birds. That turkey was so darn easy to pluck, even the parts of him that had only a dousing in the hot water.

Then, I laid the bird in the garden cart and eviscerated him. His liver filled the palm of my hand; his heart was big enough to look at the different valves and ventricles. He was so heavy that I wasn't sure I could carry him into the house. I kept looking at him and trying to figure out how I was going to cool him down. The meat is more tender if you don't put them straight into the freezer. If they can sit in cold water overnight, it's a little like hanging beef. And this guy was not bound for the freezer anyway. Thanks to my sister's wife, he ended up in our cooler under water on the back deck overnight. I did weigh him before I got him under water, and he weighed roughly 30 pounds.

This morning, he looked like this.
The quart jar is to give a little perspective. He is sitting in a 12 quart bowl.  I really was not sure how to cook a bird this big; I just knew it was worth my while to do whatever it took from letting the meat get dry.

The first thing I did was cut the neck off and throw it in a pot with the heart, gizzard, and liver to make stock for the dressing. Then, I split the skin on his back and used the cleaver to cut him in half up the back. I had thought I would break his breast bone and then cut him in half there, too, but his breast bone was too much for me. I just split the breast and cut the bone the same way I did the back. Then I put each half into a roasting pan with some salt, pepper, parsley onion, lard and a little water. I covered them and cooked them at 200 for about 8.5 hours. That is one delicious turkey; we had a little dressing, some potatoes, some green beans, so cranberry sauce, and friends to share the dinner with. We have a lot to be thankful for.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Steady Rolling

Since my last post, I've gotten the pantry more than half full. We made more jam this year- blueberry, blackberry, a tiny bit of raspberry, and peach. I canned a few peaches for treats. Peaches are pretty expensive, as we buy them from a local group who sells peaches from Pennsylvania. I do not think people have much luck growing peaches this far north. With the gray, cool beginning to summer, we really didn't start harvesting tomatoes until well into August, and then the tomatoes have been slow to ripen, as the temperatures began the fall swing at about the same time. This week, we had one morning that was 29 degrees and another day with the high of 91. Everything had a touch of frost damage the one day and looked extremely wilted and tired two days later. I'm just not sure we'll have the same full-to-bursting pantry we had last year.

On the upside, I managed to grow onions this year. They're beautiful. I have them laid out on the bed curing. We've been using leeks for most cooking, so that we can use the onions through the fall and winter. I know we can keep using the leeks and store them even, but the onions are still easier to keep. We also have a fair number of carrots, which is very pleasing, as I have never managed to grow more than a handful. The butternuts also managed to make.

The pumpkins, on the other hand, just never seemed to take hold. I'll do a soil sample within the next week or two, and then I will hopefully learn what I need to do to that soil to help out the pumpkins. At the moment, I am considering just doing a cover crop on that row next year. A little green manure seems like it couldn't hurt anything. I'll keep giving the soil the other amendments even if it's only in a cover crop.

We have the most amazing sunflowers this year, and we're looking forward to having sunflower seeds to munch on through the winter. There are so many that I feel certain there are enough for us and some wild life.

I haven't managed to get enough tomatillos for a batch of salsa yet. I think I'll put them in the hoophouse next year, as the last time I had oodles of them was when they were in the hoophouse. I think the plants look much prettier in the field, and I would only harvest seed from field plants. However, I plant the tomatillos to add some variety to our diet, and if I do not manage to harvest enough for a couple of batches of salsa then I might as well call them ornamental.

We culled the old layers last week. We killed about 15 chickens, leaving roughly 15 hens of laying age and another fifteen who should begin laying this winter. At the moment, we're getting precious few eggs, and it seemed wasteful to be feeding all those hens. If we cannot find a hidden nest, I might kill off more; fifteen is still too many to feed for 3 to 4 eggs a day.

In the coming week, I'll pull everything in the garden that will be killed by a hard frost to prepare for our trip. We have someone staying at the house, but there is too much garden work to expect of a housesitter who is already tending all these animals. We'll dig potatoes and other root crops after we get back; the basement isn't cool enough to consider putting them down there yet, and we just need to be sure to get them out of the ground before it freezes.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


We did transplant the strawberries, but they don't look so good. I'll have to see how they look come spring. I am thinking hopefully that they have time for roots to get established before fall comes on.

Everything else looks really good!

This bit of yellow is worrying.

And these glaciers just don't look as lusty as the other tomatoes.
For the pollinators.

The blue of borage is almost electric.

Add caption

Trying to show just what color they are.

Look at this PASTE tomato.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Cow update

The cows are looking good as we pass the halfway mark of summer. Our pasture has held out better each year, and this year, Violet is still eating almost entirely pasture with just a little hay when she nurses the calves.

Nick and Nora are growing well, and we've decided to take Nora through the winter as a companion for Violet. We'll keep Nick probably until November or so depending on how cow management is going once the pasture does give out. Nora is very sweet, and we've decided to breed Violet back to Jersey again. We are wondering if the Jersey temperament is better than brown swiss.

 Nick is the one on the left. Steers grow faster than heifers. But compare them all to this:

Thursday, August 8, 2013


I took the children fishing today. I like fishing and would enjoy doing it more often, but when I tried before, I found it to be a tremendous amount of work. First there was the time spent gathering and loading rods and tackle and bait and water and a snack and something to carry fish in. Then there was the unloading of all these things and the three children. Go ahead and throw in a bit of a hike in which I carried most of the gear and Sylvie. Finally, once everyone's hook was baited and everyone had a snack and no one had a tangled line and I finally cast into the water, the children were done fishing.

A week or two ago, a man wash fishing off the dam where we like to swim. Sylvie got him to show her how it was done. Since then, there has been no peace because all she wanted in the whole wide world was to go fishing. This time the difference was obvious. Ezra found the fishing gear, and Jason bought the extra rods since everyone is now old enough for their own line and an actual reel. The children loaded the car. Sylvie dug the worms. We all put on swimsuits. I did have to get a fishing license, but that was no big deal.

When we got to the dam, the children carried their own gear. I felt like I might actually get to fish. Sylvie wanted to learn to cast, but the wind was blowing so hard I did most of her casting for her. She switched to the cane pole so she could just drop her line in. Ezra and Phaedra alternated between fishing and swimming, but everyone seemed to enjoy the fishing part, in spite of the wind and all my admonitions to mind their hooks.

When we were done, we had caught three perch, all of which we released. I did actually get to drop a line in a couple of times, and I figure with a bit of practice, I will get to do more fishing. We've left the gear handy to facilitate some spontaneous trips.