Saturday, 17 September 2011

What you sow

Do you remember the story of the Little Red Hen? Apparently it's a Russian morality tale, but I'm only acquainted with the illustrated Golden Book version from my childhood. You know the story: hen finds a grain of wheat and asks the other animals in the farmyard if they would like to help her plant and tend the wheat, harvest the grains and bake them into bread. The other animals, all being workshy, decline until it comes to eating the bread. The hen tells them they didn't help so no bread for them.

Even as a child I found the hen a bit sanctimonious. As an adult with my own seeds to tend, I find out that I'm both hen and lazy farm animals. Now that it's harvest time, I'm reaping the rewards where I put in the work, and suffering deficiencies where I put in hours in front of the TV.

We've started harvesting our game. Our first partridge shoot was last Thursday and we put 219 birds in the game dealer's larder. None of the dogs are fit enough to work a whole day in Indian summer temperatures. Dulcie, who was sidelined last year with a ligament repair, is back on good form. Determined to prove her worth, she overheated and had to be revived with a sugary treat but I'm glad to report no other injuries.

More roe deer need to find their way into my freezer - or 'Ice Camp' as Kate calls it, a term we've taken to our hearts. Feeding the horses on dark one night, I saw two bucks in the orchard. They were in range and standing side on, in front of a perfect backstop. Had I brought the rifle we wouldn't be having this conversation, and the shoot staff wouldn't be having carrot and coriander soup for lunch Monday instead of venison casserole.

I am harvesting a bumper crop of carrots. And beans. I've pickled both. They make nearly healthy accompaniments on nights when I'm too lazy to cook extra vegetable side dishes. In England, 'Meat and Two Veg' is the national meal. Sometimes in our house it's just meat, leftover fried potato, and pickled vegetables.

I was overjoyed with my onions, and I spent yesterday engrossed in my favorite harvest activity: plaiting the storage onions. Space is limited so they're going to be stored in the same place they dried: the spare bedroom. It isn't really a bedroom. as there's no bed in it, and in spring I use the room for incubating and hatching chickens. Onions are hygienic by comparison. But heavy. I hung the plaits on the curtain pole, eyeing up the ever-increasing bend, wondering if the pole would hold up.

It didn't. The pole pulled out of the wall sometime around 2a.m. but it's come to rest on top of the bookshelf, so my onions are still hanging in there. The whole balancing act can stay that way until we've eaten enough to lighten the load, then I'll screw it back in the wall.

A lot of the onions have already found their way into some batches of apple chutney. Apples are a big part of the harvest right now. I can't take credit for the bounty, I just try and make good use of it. We go through chutney like drinking water and however much I make it's never enough.

Pickled beans and six jars of chutney

It's the same with jam, although I had some trouble with mould in last year's supply. Instead of re-using jars, as is tradition in England, I ordered some Ball jars with the sealable lids to see if that would solve the problem. I just put up two jars of blackberry-apple-elderberry jelly, and heard the satisfying plink of the vacuum seal. I hope to reap the rewards of good canning practice.

I feel somewhat less rewarded that the sum total of my morning's work picking blackberries resulted in two meagre jars' worth of jelly. Even after I bulked it out with apples. I can't resist the lure of free, ripe, (did I mention free?) berries in the hedgerows - I collected buckets of elderberries, a basket of sloes, Tupperware tubs full of blackberries. My fingers are permanently stained during the month of September. Also a good time not to lend me any books unless you want them returned with purple fingerprints on the pages (My sincere apologies, Colette - only page 210, I promise).

Quincy came with me for her first blackberry picking outing. It's strange to think that she's only been on this earth for ten months. She's learned so much in that short space of time. Having paid the price for training shortcuts with other dogs, I am putting the hours into her. The commands I plant now, I will harvest when Quincy starts her first season in the shooting field.

Quincy doesn't worry about personal space

Oh! I just heard the second jar go plink. If it sets midway between liquid ooze and ballistic gel, it's a winner.

Since my lamentable start to the lambing season, I have been checking the ewes regularly enough to be a nuisance to them. I make up for it by picking a few apples which are out of their reach, and tossing them each a treat.

Sharing the fruits of the harvest

Like they need to be fatter, I know. Looking at their bellies, I have a terrible feeling that there are going to be more singles than twins this year. Had I made sure their nutrition was right before I put them to the ram, I would be cropping twins. I will add that to my ever-growing list of lessons learned. A big single lamb can mean a difficult birth, so now I have to be extra-vigilant.

It's not a huge harvest but I have enough to keep all of us, including our little red hens, fed through the winter.


megan said...

apple chutney recipe please? The farm I'm working has several long abandoned apple trees with loads of apples. We don't (yet) have a cider press, so we're looking for things to do with them. Last year's applesauce still fills our larders....

Kate said...

It's always thrilling when I manage to coin a term that catches on, even a little. We're sending at least a few broilers to ice camp tomorrow. The smaller of the broilers will hang around just as long as it takes to finish off the bag of feed. Most of the year I wouldn't say so, but we've had our first touch of fall weather, and so I'm a bit jealous of your meaty meals at the moment. I can just imagine how good that chutney would be with all sorts of roasts. It sounds lovely. Good luck with the lambing. I'm thinking good thoughts for your ewes.

Sara said...

Quincy has gotten so big! Doesn't look like a puppy anymore.

You've harvested enough food to take you through the winter? That's sooo cooool. My suburban one-fifth of an acre only produced a weeks' worth of green beans, spinach, and some meager tomatoes. The herbs and allergies responses are lasting all season, though.

Plans for the 25th next Sunday? Hope it's a nice one!

Dog Hair in my Coffee said...

AH, it's that time of year. Not my favorite, but a time when gratitude for what it DOES hold comes easily. Just finished a big batch of elderberry syrup yesterday, and have enough left to make cough drops and liqueur. Apples will be cooking down to make sauce soon, and I have beans galore to pick and freeze. I LOVE the bounty.
Your top three pictures say "Fall" beautifully, Quincy just looks huggable, and the sheep are beautiful. All in all, ALWAYS glad I come here. Glad to "be back." :)

Dog Hair in my Coffee said...

With extra carrots, have you ever tried carrot and raisin salad? For some reason, that was often a staple at our house for our "second vegetable" when I was growing up. I still love it, but have never been able to convince my kids.
Shredded carrots, raisins, mayonaise, and even a little bit of sugar if you need, but I never added that. Mix it all together. Not a lot of mayo, but enough to hold it together and give it flavor. I love it.

Paula said...

Man you have pretty sheep. Really pretty sheep.

Love 'ice camp'!! Great term. I have three roosters that went to ice camp.

CZLion said...

Do you have Ball's Blue Book for canning? There is a recipe called Victoria Sauce and it is quite good. The main ingredient is rhubarb and it goes quite well with venison or roast beef.

The guy what sprayed my roof with with moss killer evidently over sprayed and killed my rhubarb and old sage plant which i planted when we bought the house in 93. Some of my rhubarb was from plants that were brought to the NW on the oregon trail - pioneer stock. I'm not happy about this. I see a little green so hopefully some of it will recover. The sage is gone.

I got qualified and signed up to hunt released pheasants on Ft. Lewis. It is strictly controlled so hope to get a few birds for the christmas season. with this bad knee and son's wedding coming up, I won't be making a big trip to south Dakota this year.

I look forward to your reports of the shooting success.

Warm regards,

Johnny West

Jen said...

megan - chutney recipe is from my copy of the Women's Institute cookbook. email me and I'll gladly send you the recipe. It's a favorite around here.

Kate - You are responsible for VD (the term only!!) AND Ice camp. Both firm favorites. Really enjoyed your post on humane chicken killing.

Sara - Only enough for winter if you count chutneys, pickles, and frozen fruits and veg. We wouldn't get fat on it. Quincy is SO big now, and just the kindest dog.

DHimC- Glad you're back too. If there are no more lambing idsasters I'm planning on picking more elderberries tomorrow for syrup (cough and drinking stuff) I haven;t ried carrot raisin salad but I will. Mike says he likes the sound of that (mayo is a staple foodstuff for him)

Paula - They are quite sweet-looking. I'll pass on your compliments. have you tried any of your roosters yet?

CZLion - I don't have the Ball's canning book. I understand it's the canning bible for the US. Must try and get hold of one. What a horrible shame about your rhubarb. If the spray wasn't a systemic or translocated one, the rhubarb crowns should survive. Sage, not so much.

Big congrats on qualifying to hunt! Loking forward to pictures and 'hunt stories'. If you want any recipes, just ask.

CZLion said...

Thanks, getting qualified to hunt the military base is just having to jump through a few hoops. Years ago I took the classes and test to hunt in Germany and am proud of that accomplishment. I've been hunting pheasants over 51 years and it will be a life's pursuit till the end. I'd love to hear of your favorite pheasant recipe. One thing I do like to fix is caccatori using quail, pheasant and rabbit.

If there is a way to send me your snail mail address I'd gladly send you a copy of Ball's Blue book.

Congrats on saving the lamb and hope all goes well tonight. I'll be thinking of you and the Mr for sure.

CZLion said...

I hope this isn't too big for the comment section. I've made these before and will make a fresh batch on the morrow. The Col went out to get fresh spice so they should be perfect. Her green sweet pickles are coming along nicely.

I got this recipe from one of my state department buds and hope you can give them a try.

Adapted from a recipe by Greg Higgins, a Portland, Oregon chef and restauranteur.

Quick and easy.


4 quarts of pickling cucumbers rinsed well
16 large garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
4 heads of fresh pickling dill, halved
about 1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 quart cider vinegar
1 quart water
1/4 cup pickling spices
1/2 cup pickling salt
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 cup chopped fresh pickling dill

Wash two half-gallon, 4 quart or 8 pint jars. Keep hot untill needed. Prepare lids as manufacturer directs.

Pack the cucumbers into the jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Divide the sliced pieces of garlic and halved heads of fresh pickling dill among the jars. Add a pinch (about 1/8 of a teaspoon) of the dried red pepper flakes to each jar.

Prepare the brine by combining the vinegar, water, pickling spices, salt, sugar, turmeric and 1 cup of chopped fresh dill in a non-aluminum pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Strain off the seasonings from the brine and ladle the hot brine into a jar at a time, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Wipe jar rim with a clean, damp cloth. Attach lid. Fill and close remaining jars. Let cool to room temp, then store in the refrigerator. The pickles are ready to use after three or four days of aging, but they will continue to improve further for several weeks. They will keep, refrigerated, for about a year.

I have some gallon pickle jars and use them. As they reduce in number I put into quarts to get back some of the refer room. When it's cold out they go into old garage for most of the winter. We're real fussy about water, too, and used distilled water or filtered.