Thursday, April 28, 2011

Chickens: Fart Egg

(Apologies to my mother, who does not like the word "Fart"... I will use "wind egg" from this point forward; I promise.)

Little Miss Farmer has been on chicken/egg duty for the better part of a year now as part of her chores. She is getting bigger now (12 years old, nearly 5 feet tall), so her responsibilities around the house are increasing. I'm sure she doesn't look forward to feeding the chickens each day, collecting their eggs, then washing the eggs. The egg washing alone can be a fairly unpleasant task, especially when the coop gets dirty. The other day she was rewarded for all her hard work by finding an unusual egg - a "wind" egg.

We have had an unusual egg or two before (such as this one, without a shell), but I believe this was our first wind egg. It was so tiny in comparison to the extra-large to jumbo sized eggs we get most days from our leghorns. Little Miss knew right away that this egg was special. She showed it to all of us with great excitement (egg-citement?).

Naturally we had a full photo shoot before we broke the egg open to see if she was right. We took pictures with other eggs for size reference and pictures of them in her hand. Finally, once Little Miss was convinced that the event had been sufficiently documented for posterity, we broke it open.

I think that is under-developed enough to call a wind egg.
Surely enough, Little Miss Farmer's suspicions were correct. This egg was clearly underdeveloped. It was so small that I didn't even see the point in dirtying a pan to fry it in. So I put it in the microwave, and it exploded in under 20 seconds.

The End.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Off Topic: Waffle House

Recently I had the unpleasant experience of giving the Waffle House another chance. The last time I was in one was somewhere in the neighborhood of 1994-95. I don't remember the visit much, except that I always had this nagging urge to vomit a little when we passed one every time since then. Imagine my surprise when Mr. Farmer suggested we eat there again, all these years later.

We were trying to choose a place for dinner out, and when he said the words "Waffle House?" I replied, "Really? *choke* I mean, you are in the mood for breakfast for dinner?" He was, and when I asked him if he remembered how I liked it last time he said, "You were not impressed." Well, not impressed isn't the worst thing in the world, I thought, and we went inside.

The entire kitchen was in plain view behind the dining counter. I could see the waffle iron had not been cleaned and was dripping with batter. The stainless was not exactly shiny, and the place had all the feel of a greasy spoon restaurant. The grill was manned by a pimple-faced teenager, and the waitress didn't look happy to be there at all. There were very few patrons, and it was the heart of dinner hour.

All of these things are forgivable of course, so long as the food is delicious, which it was not. Each piece of our meal arrived separately. First my runny eggs and paper-thin steak arrived. Then came my undercooked, flavorless, instant grits. My cold toast followed, and we had to wait another minute or two for Mr. Farmer's hash browns. We decided to stop waiting and eat when his flour-and-water-wallpaper-paste-covered biscuits arrived.

The meal gave me cause for so many questions. How do you mess up instant grits? Why did she even bother to ask me how I wanted my steak cooked when medium is clearly not an option for a steak so thin? Who makes cream gravy without any pepper in it? What were we thinking?

When the waitress returned to the table to ask how things were, I quickly shoveled a bite of tasteless food in my mouth so I wouldn't have to answer. If you can't say anything nice, you shouldn't say anything at all, right? I was in no mood to send it back, mostly since I had no confidence whatsoever that any of it could have been done better. I mumbled under my breath, "I cook better than this."

I have repeatedly assured Mr. Farmer that I forgive him for taking me to the Waffle House, but I assure you that it will be another 15 years or so before I give them a third chance.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Hillbilly Ingenuity: Meat Grinder

When I wrote my essay on Getting Dirty, I forgot one of the key types of dirty jobs: the Dangerous ones. I was reminded of this the other day as I assisted Mr. Farmer in feeding piece after slimy piece of meat and fat into the meat grinder for Kielbasa and German Ring Bologna. The job was unpleasant in every way possible. We had to stand for hours in the walk-in fridge, which is kept slightly colder than your household refrigerator. The meat had to be taken out of many small bags, and the bags were dripping everywhere. Then the meat had to be cut up and fed into the grinder- without adding your fingers to the mix, of course. During the process I was reminded of just how impressive Mr. Farmer's grinder setup is.

Disassembled When Not in Use

The pre-fabricated part of the project started with the stand from a saw, and a hand-crank meat grinder. That particular grinder was chosen for its ability to be used with a motor. The motor, incidentally, was salvaged from a soft serve ice cream machine. He wired the motor into a switch on the side of the frame, and welded angle-iron supports on the bottom of the table to hold the motor. The top of the table was replaced with a piece of salvaged maple flooring, and a large notch was cut out of the wood to allow the fly-wheel to spin.

The main issue was, and remains, vibration. The motor turns the wheel on the grinder, which turns the gears and the auger. All this motion is hard on the frame. It had to be re-welded several times before a suitably strong arrangement was found. Occasionally during the grinding process, when a particularly large or partially frozen piece of meat was put in the hopper, Mr. Farmer would have to put his foot on the support brace. That was quite a feat of balance to observe. Still, if you make your sausage by the 25 pound batch, an electric meat grinder is something you wouldn't want to do without.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ducks: Destiny

We got a phone call last Sunday morning from my brother-in-law who, as I have mentioned, works across the street from the flea market. Once again, he is enabling my husband in his penchant for animal husbandry. In addition to low-cost, end-of-shelf-life produce, he always alerts us when there are animals for sale at a reasonable cost. Several years ago he even brought home a box of baby quail completely unbidden. This time he called to tell us that there were baby ducks for sale.

Naturally Mr. Farmer and his partner packed up the van and headed out for duck shopping. They were not pleased with the quality of the ducks at the flea market, but they had mallard on the brain and kept on searching. Being that it is so close to Easter, it did not take long before they located them at the same general store where they had purchased the bantam chickens a few years ago. Eight baby ducklings of ten days to two weeks old were boxed up and on their way to the homestead.

These ducks, Peeking Whites, are meat birds. Our partner is going to raise them in his garage and yard for about 6 weeks. Once they reach full size they will make several fine dinners for our two families. Until then, they will be fed a diet primarily of corn, but will be treated with fresh greens, which our last ducks loved. Since their purpose is clear, we will call all eight of them -regardless of gender- "Destiny".

Post Script: She's at it again. Knowing full well that each of the "cute little duckies" has a destiny, our partner's girlfriend is naming the ducks. What am I to do?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cooking: Refrigerator Cookies

I have been making these cookies for so long that I don't even remember where I got the recipe. They have become a tradition, as they are almost the only cookies that I make. Almost.

1 c sugar (measure, then sift)
1/2 c butter (room temperature)
1 beaten egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 c sifted all purpose flour (sifted, then measured)
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder

Beat 1/2 cup butter until soft.
Reduce mixer speed, put 1 cup sugar into sifter and add gradually to butter.
Add 1 beaten egg and 1 teaspoon vanilla to mixer.

Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder to the already sifted flour and sift again.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet gradually until completely combined.

*** Now for the fun part! ***

This basic dough can be used a number of ways, but all of them need to be refrigerated or frozen to work. It can be colored and/or additional flavors can be added, but if you do, you may need to add an extra tablespoon of flour at the end to take up the extra moisture.

CUTOUTS: Roll dough between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and chill. After 15 minutes, remove the plastic, place on a floured surface, cut with shaped cutters, decorate and bake quickly.

DROPS: Chill entire dough ball for 15 minutes. Just before cooking, roll into small balls and place on cookie sheet. Drops will spread into perfect rounds.

BASIC SLICES: On a floured work surface, roll the dough into a tube shape that is slightly smaller in diameter than you want your finished cookies to be (they spread). Place the dough on a piece of plastic wrap, wrap and refrigerate 15 minutes or freeze. Moments before baking, unwrap and slice for round cookies.

SQUARE SLICES: Use the same process as above, only flatten the tube (after wrapping in plastic for ease) into an elongated box. When you slice them, they will be squares.

PINWHEELS: Make two batches of dough, one plain and one colored (or two different colors). Roll each batch between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and chill. After 15 minutes, remove one sheet of plastic from each and stack one on top of the other. Then remove another sheet of plastic from the outside and roll the 2 sheets into one log. Re-wrap in the plastic, chill again, then slice and bake.

The 2010 Christmas Cookie Box
Drops, Pinwheels, & Cutouts

STRIPED SQUARES: Make as many batches of dough as you want colors on each cookie. Roll flat sheets of dough as described above, chill, and stack. Cut the dough in half lengthwise and stack again until height and width are even and you have a square tube. Chill again, then slice and bake. (I wish I had a picture. These look so cool!)

*** Bake ***

Bake 8-10 minutes at 400 degrees. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheet, then use a spatula to carefully remove and transfer to paper to completely cool.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Gardening: Barb's Hostas

I first heard Barb's name shortly after we moved here. I was an Avon Lady back then, so naturally I asked a new friend and neighbor if she wanted to see a catalogue. She told me that her friend, Barb from across the street, sold Avon. I knew the protocol was to leave other reps clientele alone, so I did not mention it again. One doesn't always think about the first time she hears a person's name unless that person really changes her - and Barb did just that.

The next spring Barb's husband was doing some cleanup around the yard while Mr. Farmer was visiting across the street. He was thinning and removing some overwhelming hostas, and he asked if we wanted them. Mr. Farmer brought home a huge, root-bound clump of them and set them in the side yard. When fall came and we had not yet found a home for the monstrosity, he dumped it unceremoniously into one of my annual beds. It stayed there for a few years.

In the winter of 2008, I was assigned as the emergency chairperson of a community activities committee. I have always been more of a natural workhorse than a leader (though I am working on those skills), and I really did not want the position. Barb, however, did. She came in and took over quickly. She poured her heart and soul into that committee and the two of us became inseparable. The group was in trouble, and we felt like it was us against the world, but she kept me motivated day after day, week after week, as we made the best of a bad situation and smiled through it all. We worked together, we suffered together, and we even worked out together.

But Barb was fighting a personal battle as well. In addition to some issues resulting from her recent hysterectomy, she had migraines that no doctor seemed to be able to cure or even help. She was missing a lot of work. She gave up her Avon business to focus on her health and her community duties. She even spent some time in the hospital, desperate for answers to why the migraines would not improve. One night in November 2009 she confused her many medicines prescribed by several different doctors and took too many. She did not wake up the following morning.


I am not the kind of person to get sentimental over a plant, especially a hosta. After all, these things grew up by the roadside where I grew up. They needed no tending or care. They almost seemed to appear here and there out of nowhere, and I've never been particularly fond of them. When they removed the big, dead tree from my best friend's yard when I was a girl, I mourned the tree and its shade (briefly), but not the beautiful, full ring of hostas that surrounded it like a halo.

Barb's hostas are different. Barb was the first friend I ever lost, and she was only 45. We became close so quickly, and she was gone so suddenly. The hosta that was carelessly tossed into my annual bed and cursed year after year that I didn't move it became my personal shrine for her. It's a living shrine, and it means more to me than any of my other plants.

So, late last summer, I rebuilt the wall running down my driveway. I dug up the hosta and carefully washed the tangled roots. I separated it into 5 manageable sized plants, and replanted them behind that wall. I moved load after load of dirt to cover them, but ran out of steam before they were fully covered. So I buried them in the last of our mulch and prayed they lasted the winter. They became covered with snow and the chips and sawdust from the winter's fire wood cutting. I removed all the wood two weeks ago, but I still wasn't sure if they survived.

I found Barb's hostas this week. They were popping up green shoots just above the ground, and I was elated. I rebuilt the rock wall (again). I started a back wall to make a bed for them, as Mr. Farmer suggested. And, once again, I moved load after load of dirt to fill in and make a proper bed. I even added a stone path (also Mr. Farmer's idea) so that the bed won't be desecrated by children and dogs seeking access to the side yard.

There is much left to do. The rear wall is only half finished, as is the fill. The entire bed needs mulch. I will no doubt need to tend it all summer, and in future years I will surely need to thin them again. This garden, however, is not a matter of pride or pleasure. It is a labor of love.

The Hosta Garden So Far

Monday, April 18, 2011

Cooking: German Ring Bologna

5 lb ground meat
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp #1 prague powder
6 tbsp brown sugar
8 tsp ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp granulated onion
4 oz ice water
8 oz red wine

Mix meat and spices and pack into hog casings.

Allow to rest in refrigerator until completely cool and dry.

Smoke at 225 F until internal temperature reaches 165 F.

Dip in boiling water to shrink casings.

Air dry at room temperature, and package.

Bologna Resting In Fridge Before Smoking

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Gardening: Rock Walls

"...Something there is that doesn't love a wall, that wants it down..." -Robert Frost, Mending Wall

Every spring it's the same thing: walk around the yard, rebuild the rock walls. Snow and freezing cause the rocks to shift. Dogs and children can't resist walking on them. Plant roots pop up. Heavy rains wash them down. The cycle of rebuilding the many rock walls that surround our raised garden and flower beds is a never ending chore for which there is no technological solution that I can see.

"...The gaps I mean, no one has seen them made or heard them made, but at spring mending-time we find them there..." -Frost (Again)

The good news, however, is that where I live Mother Nature has provided an endless supply of material to build and rebuild with. Anyone in my vicinity who has tried to plant a lawn or install an above ground swimming pool will testify to the intrusion of what the locals call "Pocono Potatoes." These flat stones that magically grow up from the ground year after year make lovely stone walls, and they are usually a size that even I can manage. As usual, what most people consider a hindrance, I consider a blessing.

I will probably continue to blame the yearly near-destruction of my stone walls on my own failing as a mason. I will also, however, keep rebuilding the walls each year as long as I am able. It is good exercise for the body and mind, and maybe one day I will learn the secret to a sturdier wall. Either that or I will learn a lesson of acceptance of whatever it is "that doesn't love a wall, that wants it down."

My Bulb Garden, and Its Failing Wall

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Cooking: Kielbasa

We made this recipe with equal parts venison and pork meat/fatback. The result was excellent! It is my understanding, however, that it can also be made with pork and beef or chicken and beef with similar results.

5 lb ground meat (part red meat, part white)
2 tbsp garlic powder
2 tbsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp black pepper
1 tsp white pepper
2 tbsp paprika
1 tsp marjoram
1 tsp #1 prague powder
1 cup cold red wine

Mix the meat and spices and pack into pork casings.

Air dry in refrigerator or in cool smoke 90-100 degrees F (never over 100).

Smoke 160-165 degrees F until internal temperature is 152 F.

Rinse with cool water until 120 F below (to prevent shrinkage).

Age 2-3 hours at room temperature to dry (and allow for color to bloom), then pack.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Life Is Good: Inspiration

I spent most of the day today nursing a sick dog. It would seem that he got into some (possibly spoiled) trash, and his digestion was suffering for it. The weather was cloudy, cool, and dreary, and any possible hope of doing any outside work was dashed to pieces by the whining of my poor doggie. So, between the emergency runs outside and the cleanup of the accidents inside, I sat at the computer and tried desperately to put to words the many ideas I have come up with over the past few days. The words just would not come. The interruptions were just too great a distraction. So, at 1 pm when the 8 hours of constant doggie-rhea finally ended, instead of writing I took a nap.

When I woke up and went out to fetch the children from the school bus, the sun had come out. It was still a bit chilly outside, but it was nicer. The dog was feeling better; the kids were home and about their chores, and Mr. Farmer was able to coax me outside.

It was a refreshing afternoon. I put on my work gloves, moved some stones for garden walls, and before I knew it I was tying my hair back, taking my sweatshirt off, and really getting down to work. I hauled stone. I hauled soil. I raked up wood chips from the winter wood splitting. I enlisted the help of the bored neighbor boy to haul the chips away. I worked until my back got tired and I could take the hunger no longer. It felt so good!

While I toiled away in the yard, my brain finally woke up. All the ideas I had been working on started coming together. One idea that I had last summer came back to me as I worked on the project I started way back then. I had ideas for new blog posts that almost create a story line.  I started planning the order that I would put my ideas into words and what order I would put them out for everyone to see. I was enjoying the work, and I was looking forward to putting my plans into action.

I suppose I should not be surprised that working outdoors inspired me. This entire blog has been the result of our outdoor lifestyle and our appreciation for hard work. The fresh air and heavy lifting got my blood flowing and my mind alert. In spite of all else, today was a good day.

My Neighbor's GORGEOUS Red Tulips

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Life Is Good: Getting Dirty

Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel is one of my favorite shows. The people who make that show share many of the same beliefs we have regarding the value of hard work and knowing where your food comes from. Mike Rowe's rugged good looks, soothing voice, and everyman manner don't hurt either. Mr. Farmer, however, sees the show as a challenge. Having worked many dirty jobs in his lifetime, Mr. Farmer likes to watch the show with me and repeat "I've done that!" over and over. It occurs to me that I get dirty every now and then myself.

Dirty jobs come in various types. Some are literally dirty- where your clothes get soiled and you end the day with mud under your nails. Others jobs are smelly or distasteful. Many tasks are just plain hard, backbreaking, sweaty work. And of course there are the jobs that many people don't even think about that "make civilized life possible for the rest of us." We do a lot of those thing here on our little suburban farm.


Planting the garden each year is dirty work. Raking the leaves away and shoveling soil and mulch is sweaty work, but the earth is the main mess. To do it right, it is best to get down on your knees and start digging in with your hands. I have tried using gardening gloves. I have tried using rubber gloves. I have tried using gardening gloves on top of rubber gloves. However, without fail, I end up with dirt under my nails and behind my ears (from pushing my hair back).

Feeding the pigs can be dirty, too. Pig water and slop have the amazing ability to splash up and get on your clothes, even when you pour carefully. I recently got some pig mud (I'm going to keep telling myself it was mud)  in my eye when feeding eggs to the females. Fortunately, pig feeding is not one of my usual chores.

Dirty Chickens
After Several Straight Days of Rain

*** Distasteful***

Putting down animals is not a pleasant task, but if we are to eat meat, someone has to do it. Usually that means a shot to the head, the cutting of a vein, or both. The animal must then be dressed (opened and entrails removed). The process involves death and blood and occasionally a bad smell if an intestine is accidentally opened. Most people find this necessary task distasteful. We just find it necessary.

As much as I can handle, there is just one job that I cannot stomach: cleaning pig heads. Slaughter and disembowelment of animals doesn't bother me at all, but when Mr. Farmer starts cutting apart the heads, I have to run and hide. Something about the crunch of cartilage when he is removing the snout just makes me cringe. I can't take it.


If you are going to keep animals, you are going to deal with excrement. In our case, neither pigs nor chickens nor dogs use the toilet, so the poo has to be picked up. And poo smells. Aside from the usual shoveling and pitching, this week the boys power washed the pig enclosure. This caused a river of mud and straw and stink, but it was extremely effective. The remaining breeder pigs now have clean beds that are more mud than poo. They were kind enough to do the resulting laundry themselves, rather than getting me involved.


Last week I helped separate meat for scrapple. That meant going wrist deep in a pot of boiled pig parts and peeling gelatinous fat off of meat. The job of butchering meat can be pretty slick as well, and more than a pork chop or two has gone flying across the counter.


There seems to be no end to the things that need to be humped across the yard. The garden needs soil and mulch. The animal pens need to be cleaned out and the resulting mess piled up. Fire wood needs to be cut and carried, then shortened and split, and finally stacked up- until it's time to carry it into the house, of course. Slaughtered animals are hung in the fridge to age. Sacks of feed are purchased and moved. The list goes on and on, and the work continues, as does the sweat.


I have mentioned more than once that the entrails of an animal have to be removed. Most people give little thought to what happens to them next. Sometimes they are discarded, but simply putting them in the trash is not the best option. The enzymes involved break down entrails quickly, making for very smelly trash that attracts unwanted animal visitors in the night. So, Young Master Farmer usually has the honor of walking the entrails into the woods a mile or so, where the animals can enjoy them without messing up my yard. Conversely, the insides can be cleaned out for sausage casings- which involves squeezing out the semi-digested food and running fresh and salt water through the intestines.  On one occasion we were even asked to clean out a stomach for some old-world recipe.


Few would argue that farming on any scale is hard work. There are things to do every single day, and we drop into bed, exhausted, nearly every night. The work is rewarding, however. It provides for our family. It teaches us new skills. It gives us a feeling of more independence. Every day is an accomplishment, and life is good.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Gardening: New Oregano for 2011

I'll be going out late tonight for a co-worker's birthday, so I should be napping. As I drove home from work today with the windows open, however, I realized that I would have to play in the garden today.  So, with a quick wardrobe change and a hello to Mr. Farmer and his helpers who were packing pork, I donned my gloves and headed outside.


For the past few years we have been growing oregano in the herb garden. It is an easy plant to grow, and it is very hardy. We have moved it from a bed on one side of the front stairs to the other, and the same plant has been growing in our yard for about 5 of the 7 years we have lived here. Each year I thin it vigorously, and it recovers with a vengeance. We use it all summer and fall long for cold salads and spaghetti sauces. For the most part, we were very pleased with it, but not completely.

The flavor of this Italian oregano was a little weak. It was nice in cold pasta salad, but we had to put a LOT into red sauce. Last year we discussed replacing it, but it was growing so well that we decided to dry some. I took the time to wash it, strip the leaves off, and process it through the dehydrator. The result was a bland pile of green that was nearly worthless, and the plant's fate was sealed. It is time for it to go.

When Mr. Farmer shopped for spices for the sausage, he brought home some dried Greek oregano. I asked him the difference, and he told me that the flavor was a bit stronger. So, the other day, when I saw Greek oregano plants at the local grocery store, I had to pinch a leaf off and take a sniff.  I bought two.

So I started my oregano genocide today. I raked the leaves off the already-sprouting Italian oregano and added them to the manure pile. I yanked out roots and stems and dried up remains without mercy. I dug into the dirt a bit to make sure I got all the roots out. Then I replaced the empty spot with nice soil from last year's pig and chicken manure pile. Then, for good measure, I took three more loads of soil and filled up one of my annual flower beds that had been trampled all winter long.

It is still a little too soon to put the new plants in the ground. A freak frost in April is not unheard of here, and these plants were not cheap. But their new home is ready for them when the time comes.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Cooking: Hot Italian Sausage

You didn't think I was going to leave you with the Sweet Sausage recipe and not give you the Hot, did you? Of course not. This hot recipe is mild enough for even my sensitive palate and that of Little Miss Farmer, but it has the heat that the boys love and is packed with flavor.

Weighing Spices

Hot Sausage Variation:

25 lb ground pork
1/2 plain table salt (non-iodized)
5 tbsp ground black pepper
1/4 c + 2 tbsp cracked fennel seeds
2 1/2 tbsp coriander
5 tbsp hot hungarian paprika
5 tbsp dried red hot pepper flakes
1 c sugar
2 1/2 c water
2 1/2 tbsp oregano
2 1/2 tbsp garlic powder
1 tsp granulated onion
1 tsp winter savory

Once again, we mixed these by hand. Gloves are a good idea with all the hot ingredients.

These are especially good on the grill with nice sweet onions... is it summer yet?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Cooking: Sweet Italian Sausage

Mr. Farmer had a great idea this year: making an entire pig into sausage. Little Miss Farmer would probably name Sweet Italian Sausage as her favorite homemade food (she's 12, so if you ask for her favorite food, she will most likely say, "pizza"). We made 75 pounds of Italian Sausage so far this week in 25 pound batches. Fifty pounds were sweet, and 25 pounds were hot.

In Case You Were Wondering What 50 Pounds of Sausage Looks Like...

Here's the Super-Secret (Nah!) Recipe:

25 lb ground pork
1/2 c plain table salt (not iodized)
5 tbsp ground black pepper
1/4 c + 2 tbsp cracked fennel seeds
2 1/2 tbsp coriander
1 1/4 c sugar
2 1/2 c water
2 1/2 tbsp oregano
2 1/2 tbsp garlic powder
1 tsp granulated onion
1 tsp winter savory

We mixed these ingredients by hand, adding one or two at a time and spreading them out over the meat to try to keep it as even as possible. Then we put it through the sausage stuffer into casings. Of course it would be just as delicious as patties or rolls.

NOTE ON SUGAR: We reduced the amount of sugar from last year's recipe, and it is still pretty sweet. If you are using this recipe and are considering adding any other sweet ingredients (fresh green/red bell peppers, fresh sweet onions, sweet paprika), it would be a good idea to decrease the sugar to just 1 cup. This is truly sweet sausage.

NOTE ON SALT: As a habit, we use a reduced amount of salt in our cooking. After all, there is salt on the table, and it can be added later, if needed.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Hillbilly Ingenuity: Butcher Paper Dispenser

It's butchering and packing time again, and the question of how to package meat is one we often consider. We once used vacuum seal bags and a vacuum sealer, but found that to be time consuming and expensive. The cost was not worthwhile since we were consuming the meat far faster than the recommended shelf life, so the extra protection from freezer burn just wasn't necessary. Additionally, the wear and tear on my machine caused it to fail in a fairly short amount of time. Zipper bags are more economical and convenient, but not always strong enough or reliable enough of a seal. So we are currently experimenting with a double wrapping of plastic wrap and butcher paper.

The only problem with this method so far is convenience. Admittedly, the ability to write on the paper or tape directly is great. The two wraps are economical when purchased from a commercial supply house. The paper, however, is unwieldy, and heavy, and does not come with any kind of dispenser/cutter as the plastic wrap does. Our partner/neighbor/friend put together a device to help deal with that issue.

Meat Packing Station/My Dining Table
The structure is basically like a commercial paper dispenser. The box is made of scrap plywood. The roll is supported by a piece of concrete reinforcing metal bar. The cutter is a piece of 90 degree angled aluminum which was repurposed from the lid of a terrarium, held down by bungee cords. There is even room underneath for a box of plastic bags.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Cooking: Making Scrapple- The Dirty Work

Waste Not - Want Not.

In case you didn't know, Scrapple is a kind of sausage that includes "everything but the squeal". This combination of flour, corn meal, broth, seasonings, and offal (organ meat and other parts generally discarded) is somewhat of a local delicacy, but it's one I grew up with and have been missing over the past few years. The bad news is that it takes quite a bit of good, old-fashioned, hard work to make.

This past weekend I had the pleasure of being a part of that process. Many pig parts had been boiling in a large stock pot on the stove for nearly a whole day. Once they were cool enough to touch, they had to be separated. I pulled on a pair of black rubber gloves and just dug into the pot with my hands. I used a big stainless steel bowl to hold the bones. I separated the meat into a scrapple pan, and the fat, skin, cartilage, and small bones into another. It was slimy, drippy, messy, dirty work- and I had not had my morning tea yet.

My Low-Tech Meat-Separating Station

When I was finished, I bagged up the clean meat and the fat/grizzle.  The bones went into a warm oven to roast before the final smoking for the dogs (ours and our neighbors'). Maybe, if I'm lucky, I won't have to do that again. Ick.