Day 3 – baking and veg plot updates

When I was at work, everyone was asking me where I am going for my fortnight off.  Of course, we enjoy a break as much as the next person but we’re not going abroad this time (we are later in the year though, I’m not averse to it).  However what I do want to use these 2 weeks for is a combination of things.  Firstly to spend plenty of time with Ste and the kids doing things that they find fun and that do not cost the earth.  Secondly to get on top of the veg plot, greenhouse and polytunnel and house chores so that when I’m back to work, it’s more of ‘maintaining’ than ‘drowning’.  Included in the house thoughts is cooking for the freezer. We do have some space left in there, not much seen as though they are all full of meat.  However I’ll make sure they are stacked well and there’s plenty of home made produce in there for go-to meals.
Today started off as always feeding the animals and checking everything is present and correct.  The dogs came with me.  They love that I am off work.  Then back in for crumpets and a cup of tea before heading out with the kids and dogs to the feed shop as we needed more layers pellets and corn.  We were back and sorted by 9:15.  The kids offered to help out for an hour by tidying their rooms with the view to spend time after lunch doing the craft things they have both been waiting for.  They did a great job so I am pleased.  Making a start on cooking for the freezer, first up was a lemon drizzle traybake a-la Mary Berry.  I had all of the ingredients in, including the lemons thankfully.  It took no time at all to prepare.  It’s a throw it all in recipe, which suits my lifestyle 100%.

 

It turned out really well so I am adding it (and the cookies I made yesterday) to my batch bake list as the kids loved it as you can see!

In the veg plot, I have a million and one things to do.  I decided the best way to go about it is one bed at a time, finish it and move on.  Sounds obvious but when you get out there it’s hard not to start something and move on before you finish as something always catches your eye and before you know it the day is over.

So today I lifted the onions from Bed 1.  These have been brilliant, great size, didn’t go to seed and every single one came up so as long as the taste isn’t too bad then we will stick with these each year.  If it’s not broken then don’t fix it.  They are Sturon an Garnet (sets).  The bed was full of weeds in between the onions, they’ve been crazy after all this rain.

However I am really pleased with the results.  They’re all drying out head down which my neighbour told me to do.  We’re due a really heavy down pour tonight so they’ll get a wash and tomorrow is supposed to be lovely so they should dry out nicely before being taken into the barn.

I also tidied up the swiss chard as it was taking over, despite us using it regularly.  I’ll definitely be growing this every year, it is so versatile. 

Also the chickens love it so they got all the of bits that I tidied up.

So that’s 2 of the beds weeded and tidied up.  Although I didn’t start on the other beds, I noticed a few squashes coming along nicely which made me very happy.  I’d missed a couple of courgettes whilst I’d been so busy at work too, so I roasted them tonight for tea.

I’m really pleased as we had a free, home raised meal tonight.  It was pork burger (with chilli) in a homemade roll, cucumber and tomatoes, roasted courgettes, red onion and pepper with steamed Athlete potatoes.  It was delicious however a talking point was I’d thought the peppers were peppers when in fact they were chillis, ooops…..Burgers aren’t something I ate until this week – but these are too nice!

I also made a couple of loaves of bread for the freezer and I will continue to so we have them ready to just take out.

We then went out bramble picking for the first time this year and got a great haul which I will preserve with tomorrow as it was a bit late tonight after a busy day.

 
Another couple of photos from today that I took as they caught my eye and I’d like them to look back on for August memories.
 

 

Monday night preserves – Perfect pork! We did it!

Well I have to say I am proud as punch.  Only a couple of years ago, last year even, I could only think about what it would be like to raise your own meat.  This year we have managed to become self sufficient in chicken and now we can tick anything piggy off the list too.
We’ve been the proud owners of 2 large white x land race pigs since March 2017.  We bought them from a local farmer who we made friends with when we moved into the smallholding.  He supported us with advice during the life of the pigs and we are forever grateful as this year was all about finding out what it was like to raise your own pigs and whether or not it was for us.
Well guess what – it is! 
With Ste working for a large butchers, we are lucky enough that the pigs could go to the abattoir there and we knew they were in good hands.  However we don’t have a trailer yet, so what to do.  Well around here it seems that you mention it to a neighbour and they go out of the way to help you.  Seriously.  We couldn’t believe it.  Up until now we’d not met our ‘neighbour over the river’ (all neighbours here have a “over the river, across the field, on the corner type” phrase attached to their description given our location) however we were told to call him and he’d help out.  So feeling rather cheeky, that’s what I did.  Well what a lovely man (and wife too, we were to later find out).  David and Marg – they didn’t question us and just offered the use of the trailer based on the word of a mutual friend.  Now I also must say, we only met this mutual friend as a sheep of his got stuck near our land so I made sure I found the owner and returned it.  He’s obviously never forgot as he went on to help us get the trailer contact when we needed it.
Turns out, on the day the pigs were due to go, David said he’d join me and help out too – even better as I must admit I was worrying that we’d struggle to get them on safely.  We’d not had time to familiarise the pigs with the trailer as it wasn’t ours, so we hoped for a bit of luck which came in bucket loads and combined with a few shoves with of our wellies and a bucket of pig nuts – the 2 hungry pigs barged their way onto the trailer.
We were off.  I felt slightly sick but that wasn’t the fact the pigs were going, it was at the thought of something going wrong with the journey or the papers being wrong.  I shouldn’t have felt sick though, it all went just fine.
The pigs went through the motions at the abattoir and after a couple of false starts, we got them back ready for the weekend.  Ste got a photo of them at work whilst they were hanging in the big fridge.  I couldn’t wait to reap the rewards of the happy, free range life they’d lived.  We had weights of 54kg and 66kg which we are happy with this year.

We initially got the fillets and offal home.  These were frozen on the night, with the loins vac packed.

The first night we set the dining room up for Ste to butcher the sides he brought home.  He’d cut them down at work into manageable sizes.  We worked on a wooden board resting on a sanitised new shower curtain which did the job perfectly. Everything got wrapped up and the end and went in the bin – cost a couple of pounds.

He boned and rolled the spare rib half of the shoulders giving us 8 joints.  Each one was cut into sizes that will be large enough for at least 4 people right up to feeding a tribe! 

The thick end of each loin went to the bacon tray (to be dry cured for back bacon) and the thin end into medallion chops, which gave us 27 chops.  As 27 isn’t an even number, we cooked one up and tested it on the night.  Goodness me it was the nicest chop I’ve ever had (and no, I’m not just saying that).

Now, something we didn’t realise when raising these pigs is we may have given them too much space as there was very little fat on them from all the running around they did.  There was no flare fat so I couldn’t render that down, but that’s ok – I’ll take a happy life for the pigs and little fat for us.  This did mean that the bellies were very lean and thin too.  Therefore 2 went to sausage and burger meat, 1 was boned and rolled for a nice belly pork joint and the other we trialled as streaky bacon.

I decided to use Dawn’s dry cure recipe for the bacon and we are on day 2 of that now.

The bones out of the bellies and backs went to racks of ribs, so we have 8 racks which we tested one, but it was quite tough so I will slow cook next time. 

We kept one leg for a Christmas ham so that was cut and wrapped, going straight into the freezer.  The chump end of that went to steaks.  The other 3 had the hocks taken off which went into a wet cure along with the topsides and the thick flanks.  They were weighed down with a plate so they don’t bob above the surface.

That was 6 ham joints and 3 hocks.  Once these are ready I will cook all of these straight away.

We also got 6 roasting joints off the legs.  All in all, these joints will see us through the rest of the year and beyond.  We cooked one up for lunch on Sunday.

I roasted and cooked the bones up to make pork stock which will be frozen in portion sizes tomorrow.

Out of the trim that was left over, we had 3kg of diced pork and 8kg of minced pork, 36 burgers and 120 links of sausage.

All in all, our hands are tired and our freezers are full.  The whole family chipped in, including my visiting nephew. 

We had burgers (pork and apple) and Jack declared them the best he’d ever had.  Grace preferred the sausages (spicy ones) and we had a joint roasted on Sunday which were amazing,
So we’ve achieved a life long dream, we know exactly where our meat is coming from and to top it off, there’s no air miles on this little lot of meat.  Happy days!

Processing home reared chickens for the freezer – be warned!

If you do not want to see the process of putting chickens from plot to plate then read no further.  This post shows how we slaughter our home reared chickens.
 
As always, I’d like to point out that our birds have had free range lives, been protected from the evil supermarket conditions and have thrived living in the countryside.  We know we’ve kept them happy and that we can say we’ve raised healthy and happy meat.
 
As I mentioned last week, we’re proud to be producing our own meat now and will no longer have to rely on shop bought meat.
 
Steven’s been researching new methods of plucking which he was very pleased to read involved having to make a fire.  What is it with men and fire?
 
The Ross Cobbs are all at our desired weight now, so over the next few weekends we will be processing 5 or so at a time.
Steven stole my comfrey tea making bin!  I must admit it is just the tool for the job though.  We needed a large tin suitable for a heavy load of water that could sit on a fire.
He built up the sides from the zillion stones we have lying around the smallholding and got a good fire going.
 
The idea is to get the water up to a temperature that makes the birds easier to pluck… I’ll explain.
He set his butchers apron, knives, gloves and steel out.  He also stole my stool to sit on 😉

Meanwhile the birds were not let out of their coops (he did this first thing) so they weren’t eating filling up their crops (we don’t normally worry about this as he’s careful and doesn’t pierce them on butchering, but this breed eat so quickly it was safer to withhold food and do it early).  The heaviest looking birds were gathered up and kept quiet in a box as the water was now at the desired temperature of 147F.

The birds go upside down straight into the “kill cone” which is just a large roadside cone, upside down and screwed to something solid.  The cone has the bottom cut off which allows the bird’s head to come out but not its body.
Using the sharpened knife, to ensure a quick dispatch, Steven removes the entire head in one go.  The reason we do this is we feel it is more humane and is our personal preference to ensure they go as quickly as possible.
The heads go into a bad and the birds drain in the cone for a few minutes into a bucket that’s below.  It doesn’t look nice, why would it, but it’s part of the process.  I’ve included a photo from before the first dispatch rather than after.
Once the birds is drained, a few minutes, it’s removed by it’s feet and plunged into the hot water for a few seconds, removed, shook and repeat maybe 3 times.  Wearing gloves (friction) test a few feathers for ease and if they come out quickly, proceed, if not then do it again.
As you can see, the kids know exactly where their meat is coming from.
If we have a few to do, they are all dispatched together and hung up until they’re ready
As soon as you dunk them in the hot water and the feathers are starting to free up, use the gloves to rub your hand over the skin and the feather literally peel off in your hand.  Ste was cursing that we had sat there for hours previously plucking the dry feathers by hand – you live and learn though right?
He got rained off outside and moved into the polytunnel – no letting the weather stop play around here.

Once plucked they were hung up whilst we did the rest.
The birds were gutted outside this time to keep the mess all in once place.  I kept getting photos and telling Ste to smile!  The organs that we keep were bagged and froze ready for pate or terrines that I make nearer Christmas.
They then had a rest inside for 24/48 hours, covered up in the fridge before being labelled and dated and put in the big freezer.  They all weighed in at slightly over or under 2kg.
Also we did ducks the same way.  The water method does work but takes longer when dunking as the feather obviously repel water.  The below photo isn’t the ducks we did this way, but I’m pleased as punch with them all the same.
We’ll be using this method moving forward.  Incidentally, we also used the big metal tin to boil up potatoes for the pigs by the 25kg sack full and it worked a treat plus again kept the mess outside.

Monday night preserves – Christmas spiced red cabbage and home grown chicken

When I think of preserving, my thoughts don’t always lend themselves straight to the freezer which is crazy really as it’s one of today’s modern options for preserving our harvests.  This week we have switched on the new (to us) chest freezer that we were given, as we will shortly have the pigs to fill it.  It seems to be working fine thankfully, got to love a freebie.
So that got me thinking and when I wandered round the veg plot the other morning I noticed every single red cabbage was doing great and they would need harvesting very soon.
So for my Monday preserve, I decided to trial a Christmas cabbage recipe as those of you who were hear last year know I love red cabbage at Christmas!  It freezes amazingly and tastes even better afterward in my opinion.
This new recipe from BBC Good Food which is Spiced red cabbage.

I’ve used 2 heads of cabbage for this recipe as mine came in short of the kilo that it recommended, but not far off.  I also used 2 red onions of my own, very satisfying feeling.  Don’t the cabbages look pretty?

Method taken from BBC Good Food.
Sweat 2 onions and add the zest of an orange and a cinnamon stick after 5 mins.  Give them a minute to fuse and then add the cabbage (shredded and washed), 150ml port and a dash of red wine vinegar.  Bring to the boil and then simmer for up to an hour.  It looked delicious!
 
We also dispatched our first Ross Cobb chicken at the weekend which was to see how big it was based on it’s current age (9 weeks).  We’re wanting to slow grow them but trial and error as to when they would be ready.  Well it surprised both of us, already weighing in as a table ready bird of 1.8kg.  I’m really pleased as this is a milestone for us, meaning we will never have to buy shop bought chicken again! 
For those who are interested we also did a cockerel, but he will be as tough as old boots I think (weighed in at 3kg, a Rhode Island Red) and we did them using our new area set up specifically for working on the poultry.  As this is a preserving post and to avoid upsetting people just looking for preserving info, I’ll post about that in another post later this week.
So our freezers are now starting to fill up nicely for the leaner growing months ahead.  We’re one step further onto the path of self sufficiency (long it may be!).

A day off work for Ste means a new cold frame for us all!

Not just 1, but 2!
You may have guessed from the last post or 2, Ste had a couple of holidays to use so took 2 days off.  After putting the new gate up at the weekend, he kept up the pace by working on the new veg garden that we’re putting in.  I say we as he builds it, I’ll grow in it.
We have the 3 raised beds that he made and filled with muck already this year. 

With more of the same wood, which we bought specifically for this job to keep things looking nice, he’s made another bed which will become The Pumpkin Patch for 2017 (I always wanted one from reading about them in books as a kid!)

Taken from the other angle.
 However not only did he make another veg bed, he also made a start on some cold frames.
Not just one, but two!
 

He actually finished them but I don’t have a photo of the cold frames woodwork finished as it was dark when I went to see them after work.
We need to source some glass/plastic for the top of them but have been told to be careful as certain corrugated plastic removes much needed rays from the sun that the plants need to grow? 
Either way – we’re really getting ready for the 2017 and beyond self sufficient veg challenge!