Friday, June 29, 2012

Busy, Busy

I have not written in so long! Time is just flying by.

After getting my degree in 2010, I finally managed to snag my first job in my field. Although it is only a temp job and will be over soon, I am incredibly happy with the opportunity. It is definitely a job that I am loving, and every day I am still surprised that they are paying me to wander around through Missouri's prairies and identify native plant species. It is something I would have gladly done for free... but shhh, don't tell them that.

Because of my new job, I am still getting accustomed to being away from the farm all day. It just never seems like there is time to sit down and write about what has been going on around here! I promise I did not abandon you, dear readers! I just need to get myself into a new rhythm.

Since I do not like posts without pictures, here are the chickies sprinting around in the yard before the grass got all brown and crispy:

I hope everyone is staying cool out there! Let's all get together and do a rain dance.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Raccoon Found the Chicken Coop

It had to happen eventually, I guess. I figured the chicken coop was secured after the opossum incident. Apparently keeping out opossums is easier than keeping out raccoons.

We are not sure how it got in... let alone drag Big Brown Lady (my chicken names are so creative) out into the run. We think it pried open part of the chicken wire that surrounds the run, and somehow managed to open/push in one of the coop doors.

When Tad went out to check on the chickens this morning because they were making a raucous, he found poor Big Brown Lady and in the dim light thought that she might have had her head taken off. He came in, woke me up, and broke the news to me.

Immediately I wondered why I did not wake up to an alarm call of scared chickens when it happened. When I went out there this morning to clean up the damage, I realized that BBL probably had no chance to raise the alarm. Her throat was ripped and it looked like it was a quick death. Besides that, chickens are ridiculously heavy sleepers. You can go into the coop in the middle of the night, pick up a sleeping chicken, and it would be none the wiser. I don't think the rest of the flock even knew something had happened until they woke up this morning.

Feathers were strewn everywhere, but her head was still intact. She was, however, partially skinned and had her crop ripped open. A bird's crop is in their throat area, and it is used to store food until they are ready to digest it. After some research, I found out that it is not uncommon for raccoons to go after chickens just for the corn that is stored in their crop, which is what happened to BBL.

Two chicken losses in one month... I am definitely starting to feel like a bad momma-hen.

R.I.P. Big Brown Lady.

Update:  After cleanup, I went back out to fortify the coop and found that the raccoon had attacked another chicken. This time it was one of my broody hens that was separated in a dog crate to try and hatch some chicks. The raccoon must have swiped through the cage and mauled her, as only her face has any wounds. Poor girl, I hope she recovers.

Another casualty of the attack on the broody hen was one of her eggs she was sitting on. Either the raccoon tried to snatch it, or it was smashed in the scuffle, I am not sure. The egg that was broken had a partially developed chick in it.

Where's my gun. Raccoon stew for dinner tonight.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Gooseberry Pie

If you live in the Midwest, chances are gooseberry season is upon you! The ones we have growing in our woods are known as Missouri Gooseberries, and are green when unripe, fading to a deep purple when they are at their peak.

You can harvest these beauties at all stages, but when green they are extremely sour and astringent. As they begin to ripen, the flavor mellows to a mild tartness, and when a deep purple, they taste like a tiny plum. After finally identifying these plants growing in our woods, more exploring around our land led us to discover a lot of thickets of them.

Yesterday, Tad and I decided to go out and check on the status of them and were pleased to find many ripe ones. Harvesting them was no easy task, though, as the stems are very spiny, and the ripest of the fruits will fall off of the shrub no matter how careful you are.

Add in a multitude of ticks, dense undergrowth, and high humidity, and you have a glorious adventure of foraging for wild foods.

So if you plan to go looking for wild gooseberries, wear jeans to protect from the vicious brambles (although you will still get poked and scratched to no end), do not expect to get a huge bounty of a harvest, and do an intensive tick check after it is all said and done.

After harvesting, the gooseberries still have two stems on them which need to be removed. Next time, I think I may just toss them into my foodmill to see how that works... destemming the 1lb of berries we got took a really, really long time.

It turns out that our harvest was just enough to make one fantastic gooseberry pie.

Gooseberry Pie
3 cups of gooseberries
3/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp honey
3 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp unsalted butter
A pinch of nutmeg and cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees
2. Crush the gooseberries and combine them with sugar, honey, cornstarch, spices, and salt.
3. Cook over a low heat and stir until the mixture thickens
4. After lining your pie pan with pastry dough, pour the mixture into it. Scatter bits of the butter throughout the filling
5. Cover with the top layer of pastry, cut slits, crimp the edges, and bake at 450 for 5 to 10 minutes
6. Knock the heat down to 350 degrees and bake until golden brown

The only pie pan I have is a deep dish one, hence why the pie looks so flat. But boy was it good! For this recipe, you can use all green/unripe berries and adjust the amount of sugar you add to them. Same goes for using entirely ripe berries, as the filling may need less sugar.

Since we used a variety of berries, ranging from green to deep purple, 3/4 cup of sugar turned out to be the magic number. It was sweet enough to appease Tad, while tart enough to keep me happy at the same time.

This was the second time I have made pie crust from scratch. The first time was a chewy disaster. This time it was a flakey masterpiece. I followed the steps listed here, so if you are afraid of making your own pie dough (like I was), check that link out.

Want to see what other people are doing with their harvests? Check out Thursday's Kitchen Cupboard.