Thursday, September 29, 2011

Gardening: Potato Harvest

Little Miss Farmer
Helping the Potatoes Out of the Barrell

My previous post about growing potatoes was almost prophetic. The statement, "We don't exactly have huge potato crops each year," turned out to be a huge understatement when it came to the 2011 crop:

Yup. That's all of them.
We had a very rainy summer this year, and many of our plants suffered. One potato barrel yeilded only one small potato. The other gave the sad bowl of tubers seen above. It is barely enough for a single meal for the four of us. We may not even bother with them next year. I am considering repurposing those barrels and using them for flowers instead.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Cooking: French Onion Soup

(No, I did not grow these.)
Last summer my Enabling Brother In Law dropped off bag after bag after bag of onions at my house. When I was bewailing my frustration over what on Earth am I going to do with all these onions, my other brother in law suggested I make onion soup. After all, that's what he was doing with the many bags of onions he was given at the same time! I had my fill of dicing and freezing onions at that point, so I was willing to try anything- even something as fancy as French Onion Soup.

I was kind of let down when I looked into the process for making French Onion Soup. After all, French Onion Soup is a big deal, right? In diners it is never the soup of the day. In fact, any restaurant that serves French Onion Soup charges extra for it- you cannot just get it as part of your meal. So, obviously French Onion Soup must be expensive and time-consuming to make, right?


Onions, as you know, are cheap. No, you do not need a special kind of onions. Broth is also cheap. You can make it yourself from leftovers. Butter isn't exactly out of the reach of the common consumer either. Most recipes call for some red or white wine, but it is not completely necessary, and chances are you have a little lying around. Bread? Cheese? So... where is the expense?

Time consuming? Not really. If you don't have a half hour to watch onions caramelize, you can even use the slow-cooker. Seriously.

Difficult? My kids could do this.

I'm not going to insult you with a recipe. Here's how you make French onion Soup:

Half and thinly slice a whole bunch of onions.

Saute slowly in butter until nice and soft and brown.

Add wine (optional).

Add beef broth (I have used other broths, still yummy), pinch of sugar, salt, pepper, thyme to taste.

Getting fancy? Serve in a heavy bowl with croutons or toast, top with cheese, and broil until brown.

Easy. Crazy easy. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Gardening: Final Tomato Harvest

Hurricane Irene passed by on Saturday, August 27, 2011. We are far enough inland and high enough in elevation that we had next to no damage, and the brief  3-hour power outage was a non-event, since we have a whole-house, standby generator to keep things running. The following week through the Labor Day weekend, however, was one of non-stop rain. The nearby creek flooded repeatedly. The opening of school was delayed by two days. Our Labor Day picnic was held under the gazebo in the downpour as we shivered and enjoyed good company and some of the best roast pork ever. My poor tomatoes, however, drowned.

It has been a pretty good tomato summer for us. The Lemon Boys came in first, then the red tomatoes came in. We had a tomato or two on hand at all times for several weeks- perfect for snacking and salads. When the sun finally came out the weekend after Labor Day, however, the plants were black, shriveled, and sagging.

It is hard to believe that our vegetable garden went from this...

May 2011

To this...

July 2011

To this...

September 2011
(How Sad!)

... in just a few months. Where did the summer go?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Cooking: Scrapple

3  pounds processed pork parts
4  quarts broth
3  tbsp salt
4  tsp black pepper
2  tsp white pepper
1 1/2 tsp dried thyme
2  tsp rubbed sage
1  tsp ground savory
2  tsp granulated onion
3  tsp marjoram
1/8 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp nutmeg
3  cups corn meal
1  cup buckwheat flour

Making scrapple is actually more process than ingredients. The list of seasonings above, however, is the closest to the scrapple I remember in my youth. I am extremely proud of Mr. Farmer for working it out. The process usually takes us several days to complete.

The first step to making scrapple is the cooking of the first two ingredients: cooked pig parts and broth. Pork liver, tongue, etc. (basically anything you don't want to keep for the dogs - some people use snouts and such, but dogs LOVE those, so we don't) as well as bones with any meat left on them are boiled for hours and hours (sometimes we do this overnight) until fully cooked and meat is easily removed from the bones. The broth is strained off and put away to cool. The meat is sorted and separated to remove cartilage and excessive fat, then ground through a fine food mill.

When you're ready to cook, bring the broth and spices up to a near boil. Add the corn meal and the flour slowly. Once that is completely combined and smooth, add 3 pounds of the prepared meat. Simmer the scrapple low to medium low until the corn meal is soft and the flour is indistinguishable from the meat (they are about the same color, so we are talking about texture here). A slight increase in heat at the very end may be helpful. The mix is ready when a wooden or plastic spoon stands up on its own in the mixture.

Did you think I was kidding?

Once the mixture is fully cooked, pour into loaf pans and cool at least a full day (2 is better). Scrapple handles best when frozen and sliced. Fry it up - Thin and Crispy or Thick and Squishy - you decide.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pigs: Good Riddance

Back in the spring we purchased a number of pigs to flip. We got a good deal on them, and after a short visit, we resold them for about twice what we paid for them. We kept two gals from that purchase: one we had collected a deposit on for a freezer pig, and the other we promised to a local for a Labor Day picnic.
These two are the ones we refer to as the Houdini Sisters. When we had them in dog crates, they got out while we were away (click here for full story). When we tried to move them up with the breeders on the Beta Site, they got out of their pen and in with the breeders (full story), then later out into the yard. I guess we should have suspected they would be trouble. After all, they were related to Scooter, the precocious little runt piglet, who also had a penchant for escape (full story). So, to keep an eye on them, we moved them back to the house and put them on lock-down. They no longer escaped, but they took forever to grow!

At first we thought they were hungry. We fed them as much as and more than we fed the breeders. Tiffany needs only  a maintenance diet, and Mamas and Wilma need a bit more than that because they are nursing. When the Sisters failed to thrive, we wormed them more than once and gave them extra goodies from the dumpster. Still they cried and oinked and grunted almost constantly (a problem since they really shouldn't be at the house at all), and only put on a bare amount of weight. We were throwing away money feeding these two. It was time to cut our losses.

We had a big ham that we were going to cook for an end-of-summer picnic with our Pig Partner and family on Labor Day, but the buyer for the Labor Day Pig backed out. One thing led to another, and the two family picnic quickly turned in an event. A neighbor who complained about the pigs in our yard was quickly turned around when the person hearing the complaint responded, "The pig is at the house so that it can be served at the Labor Day Picnic. You're coming, aren't you?" The emails started flying, the phone started ringing, and the question, "What should I bring?" was handled over and over. Houdini Sister Number One was put down and dressed for whole roasting in the smokehouse. (Sister Number Two will be served at our Pig Partner's "Thanks For Helping Me Move" barbecue later.)

I am glad to see those noisy, under-performing pigs go. Our neighbor who put the deposit on the second pig is understanding and will wait for one of the new piglets to fatten for her freezer. The relief of being able to work in the garden without having to tiptoe so those two won't oink and squeal is a joy. I won't miss them at all. Good Riddance!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Off Topic: Blog Stats

I avoid checking my blog statistics too often. After all, this is a small blog, followed by like-minded people and people I actually know. I don't advertise; I don't go to Blog Hops, and I don't have enough followers on Twitter or Facebook to drive any real traffic here. I don't want to be disappointed when I see how few people are reading the blog that I put so much work into writing, so I usually keep my visits to the blog statistics page infrequent.

Imagine my delight when I recently saw that I had 159 views in one week! I just had to see what I had written that had caused such a buzz. Was it the usual front runner in my stats, the No Shell Egg post? No? It was the Piglet Castration post! I don't consider it my best work, and it certainly doesn't have the most compelling photos or any useful, step-by-step information. In fact, it is little more than a post about me complaining about how dirty and exhausting the process is, with just a sprinkle of me being proud of myself for actually helping out with the process. I must admit, I was surprised to see all those hits.

My curiosity got the better of me, and I just had to look further. Was I getting all those hits from web searches? No. Was I getting them from that "Link Within" widget on my own site? No. Then people must have been following a link from another site! Wait, I thought, that site name kind of sounds like... no, it couldn't be... (after visiting the referring site)... Good Lord... It's an ADULT site!!

(I guess it is clear now why I edited the name of the referring site out of the screen capture above.)

Apparently, since human castrations are illegal in this country except in cases of serious medical issues, there are a group of people out there who indulge their morbid curiosities by researching animal castrations. Again, since I removed the name of the site, I have the uncomfortable job of explaining that my post was of particular interest because I am a woman. (Shudders.)

The Internet is scary sometimes. Maybe I should stop looking at my stats altogether.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Off Topic: My September 11 Story

Everyone has a September 11 story, especially those of us in the Northeast. Since I have this blog, here's mine: ten years and 12 hours later.

Young Master Farmer was not quite six years old in September of 2001. We were between homes and living with my parents in the Lehigh Valley. He was home-schooled then, and we started our studies at 9 am. Before that, of course was the usual running around: breakfast, getting dressed, watching cartoons on the television. I believe Little Miss Farmer and I were watching Dora the Explorer or some other Nickelodeon show when the phone rang. My best friend from school was on the other end:

"Are you watching the news?"
"No, we are watching cartoons. (To myself: I have kids, silly thing.) Why?"
"An airplane just flew into the World Trade Center!"
"What? Was it an accident? (Of course it was an accident! What made me think that?)"
"I don't know, but it's bad. Turn it on."
"What channel?"
"ALL OF THEM!" (She almost squeaked.)

We watched the news like everyone else who was able at that time. When the second plane hit the second tower, my suspicions were confirmed. This was most definitely not the accident of the century. It was an attack!

Then the TV went black.

The home of my youth is situated nicely between New York City and Philadelphia. My whole life we had two of every TV station, even before we got cable. There were two ABCs and two NBCs and even two different PBS stations: One was from New York, and the other from Philadelphia. The only station we had just one of was the "local" station, which was actually from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (over an hour and a half away by car). Fortunately for us, this meant that we could still watch the news. The New York stations were gone, but the Philly stations remained. We watched over and over video of the second plane hitting, the smoke, the people screaming and scrambling, and the bodies falling (jumping?!?!) from those big buildings. When the first tower fell, the commentator fell silent for a moment then said, "I have no words."

We watched the coverage in stunned silence for what seemed like hours. Footage became available of the first plane. Another plane crashed into the Pentagon. The government reacted publicly. Another plane went down in rural Pennsylvania, and no one knew for sure why (did we shoot down one of our own planes?). I cancelled school, "because of a national emergency." Young Master Farmer was glad that he would not have to write his letters or do his math flash cards that day.

Little Miss Farmer was barely three years old. Recently diagnosed with PDD-NOS, an autistic spectrum disorder, she was not yet speaking, except to occasionally repeat us or read a word she knew from a book or song. I had not noticed that since we turned off the cartoons that she had been sitting there on the opposite couch, quiet, thoroughly engaged in the news that repeated that horrible scene for what seemed like hours but was really less than two. Her eyes were round and wide when I turned to look at her when she said, "Plane go boom." It might just have been her first sentence that she neither read from a book or repeated from one of us; I'm not sure, but I knew immediately that it was time to put the cartoons back on.

For the rest of the day, we shooed the children out of the living room when we watched the news. My office called and told me not to bother coming to work that afternoon as they would be closing for the day soon, but not to worry, as I would be paid for the shift nonetheless.  We learned of the terror plots, the bravery of the souls on the flight over Pennsylvania, and the panic in NYC. We watched millions of people walking across bridges back to New Jersey. We experienced difficulty using our phones. We felt pity for those trapped, lost, without news, TV, phone service. We cried and prayed for those who did not know if their loved ones were alive and for those who knew they were not.

You already know what happened next. There was grieving and bravery. There was fear and resolution. There was pain, and there was kindness. There were flags everywhere. And those of us with small children hoped that this war which seemed inevitable would be over before our little ones grew up and wanted to enlist in the military. I don't care if it's selfish; I really did the math in my head- twelve years and nine days until he's eighteen. Surely long enough to beat an enemy so small and so far away, even if they were evil enough to do all this.

That's my story. Thanks for listening.

A Pennsylvania Corn Field
October 2001