Sunday, June 24, 2012

Piglets! Finally!

I started early this year and reserved my piglets from a local farm early in May.  I had the money set aside in an envelope and now would await the birth and weaning of my piglets.  I bought four pigs from this farm last year and was very happy with them.

Happy pigs have dirt on their faces!

I checked in with them every couple weeks, making sure I hadn't fallen off their list.  He'll call you, I was told each time.  He never called.  By the end of May  I was getting nervous.....Sorry to be a pest, I told the lady at the farmstand, I just need reassurance that you will have two pigs for me.  Yes, she assured me they did, and that "he" would call me to arrange pick-up or delivery.

The call never came.  Mid-June, I called yet again, this time telling "her" that I never got the call back and what did I need to do to actually get my reserved pigs.  My plan was to drive over there in a borrowed truck that afternoon and pick them up myself if needed.  She said "he" would call.  I pleaded and begged.  Doesn't "he" have a cell phone, I asked?  She assured me she'd call me back.  I assured her I'd call her if I didn't hear in half an hour.  We left on friendly terms.

I got the call.  No more pigs were available.

WHAT?!?!?!?!?  Not being one to burn bridges, I didn't say what I was thinking and I was careful of my tone of voice.  Good thing I was on the phone, because I'm told that I don't own a poker face.

We put the word out far and wide, put up ads on craigslist in the Farm & Garden section, and called everyone we could think of who might know someone who might know someone.  We are not exactly in the middle of farm country here, living about halfway between NYC and Boston.  Chances of finding piglets this year were pretty none.

Hiding in the A-frame.

Well, turns out we know someone who knows someone who knows someone.....and that someone happens to live literally around the corner from us!  They had two piglets that were reserved and the reservee was a no-show and did not return their calls.  So I had two piglets.  Since they were "small and not growing as well as we'd like," they insisted on giving them to us for half the going rate....and delivered them at no charge.  I insisted on giving some gas money and a bag of goat's milk soap. 

Plum can't resist investigating the goings-on.

We stood around and chatted for a while and I made a new connection.  Funny how people with similar mindsets can almost be your neighbor and you might never meet them.  In the end, I'm so glad that other farm backed out on their word.  We may have smaller pigs by late fall, but that is ok.  Meeting new, good people is far more valuable.

I thought about this as I walked back to the house after they drove away.  I think I'll invite them to the WAPF potluck we'll be hosting in a couple of months or so.

Here are some lovely sights I enjoyed on my way back across the main pasture:

                                       Good rooster...watching over his hens while they forage.

Critters grazing in a lush pasture warm the cockles of any farmer's heart.  And wallet.  Free food!

Ahh, life is good.  Don't you just love it when something awful turns into something oh, so good?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Locate elderberry bushes now for pie later!

If you'd like to pick elderberries this year and haven't found a good patch yet, now is the time to find them.  They are very easy to spot by their shape, height, and flowers.  I have my husband drive me to likely locations while we both search, and I jot down notes as to where they can be found later.  Once the berries are ripe, they are almost impossible to see from any distance.  In fact, I've walked right past loaded shrubs without seeing the berries, even while looking intently for them.  Increase your chances of success by getting out there now and do some reconnaissance.

Although it is getting a little late here in New England to spot elderberries from a distance by the flowers, you can still find them.  These pictures were taken a few weeks ago and not published due to a big computer crash, so look for bushes now that have fewer white flowers and lots of fallen petals and teensy developing berries.  Right now, most of the bushes I've seen have about half white flowers and half developing berries.

Close-up of a new elderflower

Although they commonly grow near water, they are also to be found in sunny areas on the brushy edges of fields and along the edges of woods.

Once you know what they look like, they appear everywhere.  Many grow alongside highways and busy roads.  Reject these, as the berries will be polluted by exhaust fumes from passing vehicles.

Along the edge of a wooded area

I looked in areas where I could go back and pick without getting into too much trouble....mostly around commercial and public buildings where there are unkempt areas at the back of the parking lot.  There are some nice ones next to the post office in one town, to remain unnamed (wink-wink!)  I can go pick the berries after hours and on weekends, when the building is empty and no one will notice.  I don't go where there are no trespassing signs, however.

Notice the distinct leaves and flowers.

A distance view of elderberries next to a pond.  These were cut to the ground last year, and I hope the farmer neglects this task until after I can get to the berries this year.  They recover quickly enough to put out berries within one season.

Elderberries should not be eaten raw, as they are poisonous unless cooked, dried, or fermented.  This is to our advantage, as the birds leave them alone.  More for us!  They have enormous food and medicinal value, containing powerful antioxidants and immune-stimulating effects.  And, properly prepared, they are rather delicious, have a delightful texture, and have a gorgeous color.  I love them in pie, in sauce for chevre with or without other fruits, and made into wine.  The flowers make a wonderful tincture that can help with immunity during cold and flu season, or can be made into wine or mead.

More on what to do with them when it is time to pick them.  For now, locate some bushes and you won't regret it, I assure you!  They grow in many areas around the globe, so do a quick google search to see if they grow in your part of the world.  I bet they do!

Thursday, June 21, 2012


I think of kimchi as a kind of spicy Korean pickled salad.  I'd been meaning to try this recipe for some time, but never got around to it...until a colleague brought it to a potluck and the hubster raved over it.

2.5 gallon jar stuffed with chopped veggies

Like all fermented vegetables, this was super easy to make and required no cooking.  The recipe came from Sandor Katz' book, Wild Fermentation.  I used two heads of bok choy (napa cabbage works, too), two onions, some radishes from the garden, four thinly sliced carrots.  Almost any other vegetable could be added and it would still be delicious.  Traditionally, big, white daikon radishes are used, but I had these red ones from the garden and I love the color they add.

I chopped all the veggies and put them in a stainless steel pot with a lid for brining overnight.  I covered them with water and sea salt, about 2 Tbsp of salt per gallon of water.  Then I added more salt, just because.

In the morning I drained the brine, reserving it, and tasted the veggies for saltiness.  Lightly salty, I added a bit of salt, maybe two teaspoons, to the following paste:

The instructions say to then make a paste of garlic (used a whole head) and fresh ginger (used previously minced, peeled ginger from the freezer, maybe 1/3 cup or more) and hot chili peppers, two per head of cabbage.  I don't like things too hot, so I used one super hot pepper from last years garden for this double batch, seeding it first.

The recipe also calls for making a paste of the garlic, onion (I added the sliced onion in with the veggies), ginger, and hot peppers.  My dried pepper was rather flexible and wouldn't pulverize with the mortar and pestle, so I ended up throwing everything (ginger, garlic, pepper) into the VitaMix with a cup of the brine and giving it a good whir on high.  VitaMixes did not exist when kimchi was invented, but I bet the ancients would have loved to use one! 

After thoroughly mixing all the ingredients, I stuffed it into a clean, large, glass jar and pressed them all down as best I could with my hands. 

Now the veggies need to sit at room temp for a few days to ferment before going into the fridge.  There are a number of ways to do this....Sandor advocates using clean hands and pressing them under every day if you are the type to remember to do this.  I'm not.  In season, I use grape leaves weighted down with a clean rock.  If your container is the right size, you can use a clean plate with a canning jar on top filled with water.  Another method is to fill a Ziploc freezer bag with brine (not water, because if it leaks, it will water down your brine) and place that on top.  I've used this method, too, but I avoid using plastic with food as much as possible because of the estrogen-like compounds that will leach into the food.

Grape leaves from our vines, wild ones work well, too.

This jar will sit on my counter for 2-5 days.  Since we are getting temperatures into triple digits today and tomorrow, it will likely be only two days.  In cooler weather, five days would be more appropriate.  Then it goes into the fridge for some additional aging, although it can be eaten right away.  I will likely taste it tomorrow and the next day, to see if it is getting the lovely sour fermented taste.  Then I can decide, with the extreme weather, if it is ready or not.

Weighted down with a scrubbed and sterilized beach rock

Doesn't it look lovely?  Can't wait to try it and share it with the family!  A little bit of fermented food with each meal adds valuable probiotics to aid in digestion.  More powerful than anything that can be made into a pill, it is very much worth the effort.  Interestingly, in some ferments, the vitamin C content shoots up with fermentation.  Since this happens with sauerkraut, made with cabbage, I suspect kimchi is like this too, since the main ingredient is from the cabbage family.

Grape leaves and rock in place, holding veggies under the brine

Have you tried fermenting anything yet?   Be brave, be bold, the risk is small and the benefits are enormous!  Nervous?  Get one of Sandor's books and read up on the safety of home fermented veggies....or just dive in and start chopping!