Farewell 3 Spot

Without a doubt, 3 Spot, this beautiful Black Australorp that I hatched way back in July is a rooster. After that one tenuous crow in early October, his crowing got louder and he started doing it earlier in the morning and more often. It's just amazing how loud a sound can come from such a little chicken!

What to do? If a neighbor complained, animal control wouldn't hesitate to take him away. I was very close to breaking down and butchering the poor little guy, but he just didn't seem big enough yet to make it worthwhile so I put a last ditch call out on Craigslist. I was overjoyed when a woman responded to my add! Her mom lives in Southwestern Minnesota and has a flock of chickens looking for a young rooster. To top it off, her mom has a "thing" for black chickens. The perfect home for 3 Spot! She came and got him today. I'll miss the little guy, but I'm quite happy to know he'll have a good home with a flock of his own. He'll be a good rooster to them I'm sure.

Here's a few more pictures I took of him today before he left. What a beautiful chicken!

With Puff, his "sister." My next big chicken challenge will be to integrate her into the rest of the flock. I've let her out a few times to mingle with the big girls, and it didn't go too well. They seem to like to gang up on her and peck at her....

His face is blurry here, but you can see how nice his feathers are. They have a beautiful green sheen to them.

The two Black Copper Marans. Still not laying... lousy freeloaders..... They are sweet though. They don't hesitate to come up and say hi whenever I go into their run.

The feather footed Wheatan Maran. Both she and the Buff Sussex are really close to laying. In the last week, their combs have gotten a lot more red, which is supposed to be a good sign. It seems like I've had them forever with no eggs!

This sweet girl is turning into my favorite hen. She's the best layer of the two that have started laying, and whenever I come into the run she follows me around like a puppy. I don't have a good name for her - Red Hen is the best I've come up with.

Not much to report in the garden. Here's the backyard as it looked this afternoon. Still some beets and turnips to pull, and I planted some garlic for next spring. Everything else is cleaned up, ready for winter.
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Probiotic Pork Roast

I just finished eating this meal, and it was so good that I have to write about it right away while the flavors are still in my mouth. Pork roast with homemade sauerkraut, apples, onions, and brussels sprouts. Have you ever heard of a more perfect mid-October meal?

It's been about a month since I started the sauerkraut. It's been stinking up the basement something fierce, so I got it out today and put it in jars in the fridge to stop the fermentation. Here's what it looked like. Yes, that's scummy mold on top - or bloom as some sauerkraut lovers like to say. I skimmed it off, took the plate off that had been weighting it down, and mixed up the kraut underneath.

Beautiful! The red and green cabbage combined to make a beautiful bright pink color. It tastes pretty good. It's got a little bit of a musty basement flavor, but all in all, I'd say it's the best batch I've made yet. In case you're not familiar with the benefits of probiotic foods like this one, check out this article at the Weston A Price Foundation website. It's really really good for you. Maybe it's my imagination, but I get a buzz after eating a whole bunch of raw sauerkraut. It's energizing and makes me feel a little tingly. It could be all in my head, but who cares - I like it!

I put it in glass jars and into the fridge to slow the fermentation. I was amazed to find that all that cabbage I'd fermented only filled 5 quarts.

Nothing goes with sauerkraut like pork. I decided to celebrate my best batch of kraut with this beautiful pork roast. I'm ashamed to say it's not local. It's from Jennifer Street Market. Unfortunately, there's nowhere in town to buy fresh (not frozen) local pork.... and I didn't have time to thaw it. Oh well, nobody's perfect, and it is a nice looking roast.

I coated it with some homemade apple butter......

.... and dusted it with black pepper. It went into the oven to start cooking while I chopped some apples and onions.

The apples came from Ashland, WI. Dave does research for school up there, and found some unused apple trees at his research site. He picked a bunch and brought them home - they're really good! This all went back in the oven to keep cooking while I prepped the Brussels sprouts.

I've been holding out on eating Brussels sprouts until now. They're really not too good until after a frost. The cold sweetens them up. I'll be eating a lot of them between now and Thanksgiving.

Once the Brussels were prepped, I added them to the roast and it all went back in the oven.

Here's what it looked like a few hours later. Beautiful!

The white bubbling out of the roast is where we put the meat thermometer in and juices ran out. The apple butter/pepper crust was just perfect!

The flavors were just awesome together. Apples, pork, sauerkraut, Brussels sprouts, black pepper.... it just doesn't get any better than that!

Pork Roast with Apples Onions and Brussels Sprouts
(for info on making sauerkraut, see this post.)

1 3lb Pork Roast
Apple Butter (directions can be found here.)
Black pepper
4 tart apples
3 yellow onions
Brussels sprouts
Apple cider vinegar
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat the roast in apple butter, and then sprinkle on black pepper to coat. Put the roast in a large glass baking dish and into the oven. Cut the apples and onions into large chunks. Add them to the dish with the roast. Prep the Brussels sprouts (take off outer leaves and trim the ends), and add them as well. Sprinkle a little apple cider vinegar, salt, and olive oil onto the vegetables and toss them to coat. Roast in the oven for about 1 1/2 hours more, until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees. Let the roast rest for a few minutes before slicing. Serve with raw sauerkraut.

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October Randomness

A few disjointed pictures and stories to share today.
First this pullet - my Buff Sussex that I call Blondie. She caused me a lot of concern this week when I noticed that her neck feathers seemed to be turning white and looking eaten.

Lice? Mites? I was imaging the worst and decided to post a question about her on the backyard chickens message board. Backyardchickens.com is a great reference site, and there's a ton of people who are very active on the message board - it's a wonderful support network for newbie chicken owners like me!

Anyhow, it turns out that she's just molting. I hadn't even considered the possibility since she's only 6 months old, and everything I've read says that chickens don't molt until they're at least a year. Apparently it's not terribly uncommon for young chickens to go through a light molt, especially when the weather gets colder like it has been. The white that you can see is actually pin feathers, young feathers that just grew out and have a white coating around them. Since she can't preen the back of her neck she can't get the coating off and it looks pretty bad. This pictures was taken last weekend and already she looks much more normal. Whew!

Now if only she would start to lay eggs! Still only two of the pullets have started to lay.... lousy freeloaders! I've put a light in the coop in the early mornings and evenings. Longer daylight equals more eggs, and it's common to light coops in the winter to keep egg production up.

In other chicken news, I'm now about 99% sure that 3 Spot (one of the Black Australorp chicks I hatched back in July) is a boy. I walked out to the dog crate coop that he and his sister are living in and heard a crow - an unpracticed and warbly crow, but a crow none the less. I had a feeling all along that he was a rooster, but I've been in denial until absolute proof presented itself. You can't have roosters in the city, so now I've got to figure out what to do with him. I'd like to quietly butcher him but he's still too small, so I'm hoping he'll stay quiet for a while longer. That one crow was the only one I've heard - maybe he'll hold off on the real crows for a while longer. If not, well, baby chicken is a delicacy in France.....

I'm more and more sure that his "sister", Puff is a girl, and she's getting big enough that I'd like to get her integrated into the rest of the flock. Yesterday, Stanley came over to help with the first attempt to let them intermingle freely. It didn't go so well. Puff got pecked pretty bad a few times, but knew what was good for her and submitted right away. It was interesting that the pullet who picked on Puff the most was the Black Copper Maran who is at the bottom of the totem pole in the rest of the flock. I guess she likes feeling like she can boss someone around.

3 Spot on the other hand, wasn't going to back down to anybody. This would be fine if he was a full grown rooster, but he's still only about 2/3 the size of the older pullets. He could really get himself in trouble! After an intense 20 minutes we put the young ones back in their small run. I'm going to wait till they're just a little bigger before I try that again.... Having chickens is stressful!

Ah... too many words without pictures! I'll post some good pictures of the little ones soon.

Here's a funny story. If you go west of Madison on highway 14 toward Spring Green, there's a farm store called Peck's. My brother and sister-in-law were there a few weeks ago and got in on a killer winter squash deal - 50lb for $15.00. They told me about it and I knew I had to go. Winter squash is such a great fall/winter staple, and $.30/lb is just too good a deal to pass up. We looked up Peck's website and saw that they also have a petting zoo - which was awesome since Stanley's 2 year old son, Elwood has a serious obsession with animals.

So Stanley, Elwood, and I drove out toward Spring Green until we came to a farm store, in about the right place, except it was called Heck's. I was pretty sure we were looking for Peck's, but it just seemed like too much of a coincidence, especially when we saw the Heck's had that deal on winter squash. I walked in to ask about the petting zoo. The lady at the counter didn't look happy and informed me that that was at Peck's, just two miles down the road. I didn't want to miss out of the squash, so I quickly filled up a 50lb bag (Elwood was getting antsy to see the promised animals), and we took off down the road to Peck's.

What do you know? Peck's had the exact same deal on winter squash, and their squash looked to be a little better quality. So, in true Megan fashion, I went overboard and filled up another 50lb bag of squash. I'm now the proud owner of 100lb of winter squash: buttercup, kabocha, red kabocha, butternut, delicata, spaghetti... it's a nice mix that should last through the winter.

But really, how did that happen? Heck's and Peck's? Two miles apart with the same product line? There's got to be a story there......

And yes, Elwood got his animal fix. There's absolutely nothing cuter that a baby miniature goat. Nothing.
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A Windfall

First some pretty pictures, then on to the real windfall. I picked the last of my winter squash from the Main Street garden today. Here they are - two marina de chioggias and four black futsu. A few weeks ago I picked the three winter luxury pumpkins and one more black futsu. Not too big a haul for as many plants as I had (I started out with three plants of each variety), but when you consider that I grew a bunch of sweet corn and some dry beans on the same little plot of land, it doesn't seem so bad. The marina de chioggias are pretty small for their variety, and not very warty. The futsus never turned very orange. I'll probably wait a while to eat them so they can ripen inside.....

I also picked the climbing beans today. Working amongst the dried up cornstalks helped remind me what a wonderful season autumn is. Suddenly, I've stopped regretting it's not summer anymore and started enjoying pumpkins and warm socks and apples and the rustle of dried cornstalks. October is really a wonderful month.

The bean pods were really hard to pick - they blend in perfectly with the dry cornstalks. I think I'll let them dry a little bit more in the pods before I shell them. I didn't get that many - 2 or 3lb total of dried beans if I'm lucky... once again, the poor yield is tempered by the fact that I got corn and squash from the same plot.

In other gardening news, I pulled the carrots in the backyard a week or so back and this is what I got. They germinated really poorly and I was prepared for zero good carrots to eat, so I was pleasantly surprised to pull up these sweet crunchy beauties.

The threat of frost last week prompted me to pull the last of the basil from the backyard garden. There was a ton of it!

I made pesto - 7 quart bags full of it - to freeze. I can't wait for homegrown pesto pasta in January! I'll give a recipe at the end of this post.

I also finally cleared out of our Quann Garden plot. It came with the rental house we moved out of in August, so we won't have it next year. The potatoes were dug months ago so all that was left were the canario beans. I hadn't been to the plot for over a month, and it was a bit embarrassing to see all the weeds that had sprung up. I guiltily picked my beans and got out. The canario are bush beans, and many of the pods were damp from recent rain and starting to mold - not nearly as attractive as the beans at the Main Street Garden. Once they were shelled however, they were very nice looking if I don't say so myself. I got 3 or 4 pounds total - we've already cooked some up, and there are a few more drying on the porch. They're really good!

Whew! All that is just the lead up to the real subject of this post: apple butter.

Last weekend was pretty dreary. It was the first time I'd felt like we really were heading toward winter. The cold, windy, and rainy weather was perfect for spending some time indoors getting reacquainted with my kitchen after a long summer of grilling outside. Nothing celebrates the coming of fall like a nice big batch of apple butter - Not only is it delicious and a good thing to store for the winter, but there's absolutely nothing like the smell of cinnamon and apples slow cooking in your house on a stormy late September day.

I headed out to Door Creek Orchard, just a short drive down highway 12. Their web site advertised either pick-your-own or already picked apples. For once I wasn't feeling like picking my own. Just buying some and processing them seemed like work enough. When I got there, I asked what they had in the way of cheap apples for cooking. The woman said they had a lot of cortlands for $1.50 a pound or I could just go pick up some windfalls for $.60/lb. Suddenly, pick-my-own didn't seem like so much work! We'd had a wind advisory the night before, and a ton (literally!) had fallen from the trees. It took me about 5 minutes to get 27lb of really nice fresh cortlands. They were a little bruised, but perfect for apple butter! Score!

With all the money I saved on apples, I bought a $4 apple slicer at the orchard's store. It made slicing all all those apples a lot easier, although it still took quite a while.

These girls were just delighted to take care of the cores for me.

This isn't even all of them. I filled the 4 gallon stock pot with most of the apples and waited for it to cook down a little so I could add the rest. I finally had them all in around 1 or 2pm. I turned the heat down as low as it could go and let it cook.....

By the time I went to bed it had cooked down quite a bit and was looking like really good applesauce.

It slow cooked all night, all the next day, the next night, and most of the next day. I've never seen an apple butter recipe that calls for such a long slow cooking, but this is how I've always done it: Partly because it makes a wonderful condensed flavor and partly because it prolongs the good smells in my house.

This is what it looked like when it was finally done - less than half its original volume, thick and deliciously apple-y. I added some cinnamon and since by then it was the middle of a busy work week, I put it in the fridge until I had time to deal with it.

Today I took it out, processed it in the food processor, and put it back on the stove. I added some lemon juice, maple syrup, more cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg and heated it up to boiling.

I got boiling water going in my canner, sterilized a bunch of 12oz jars, filled them with the apple butter, and processed them in the boiling water for 10 minutes. It felt a bit dangerous to can without an "approved" recipe, but I processed them in the water for more than twice as long as all the recipes I found called for, so I'm pretty sure they'll be OK.

I ended up with 12 12oz jars filled plus two quarts full. I didn't process the quarts in the canner, instead I just sterilized the jars, filled them with hot apple butter, let them cool, and then put them in the fridge. We'll use them up first. Eating up this apple butter won't be a problem. It's really really good, just perfect for putting on the buttered toast along with the fresh eggs I eat every morning for breakfast!

End of Summer Pesto
(to make on the night of the first frost)

Basil - everything left in your garden before the first frost.
Olive oil
Parmesan. I prefer whole chunks of cheese, not pre-grated
Lemon Juice
Walnuts (or pine nuts it you are rich)

Wash the basil. (we tried to save time by not doing this step. We ended up with slightly gritty pesto. Next time I'll wash the basil.) Blend or food process the Parmesan and walnuts and set aside. Stuff as much basil into into your blender or food processor as you can. Add a bunch of olive oil and a little lemon juice. Blend. Add more basil, garlic, and salt to taste. Actually, everything is to taste in this recipe. Taste it often and add ingredients as you like them.

Apple Butter
25 pounds apples
1-2 cups lemon juice
2-3 cups maple syrup
1 Tbsp salt

Core the apples and cut them into 1/8 wedges. Place them all in a large pot and cook over extremely low heat for 2-3 days. Stir them at least every 8 hours to make sure they haven't stuck to the bottom. When apples have reduced to about 1/3 their original volume, turn the heat off. Process in a food processor and return to heat. Add lemon juice, maple syrup, and spices to taste.

I'm not going to include instructions for canning. Either put it in your fridge and eat it soon or can at your own risk.

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