Friday, August 13, 2010

Heat, Humidity, Building, Canning, Weeding - is it worth it?

This summer will definitely be in my memory banks as a hot, miserable year. People who spend time by the water are likely thrilled to death with all the hot, sunny days, and I'm very glad for them. We are working on various projects here on the farm and the heat and humidity are making life tougher than it needs to be, in my opinion. Darrell is working, primarily alone, but sometimes with my help as needed, on building a new chicken coop. I've been wrestling with the garden, weeding, harvesting, processing, pickling. The kitchen is hot at night when, after supper, I'm processing corn for freezing, or heating the canner and various elements needed to pack jars . . . however, working against time and weather certainly gives you a sense of accomplishment and perspective! We, in our area, don't NEED to do all this - we could go buy whatever we want at a multitude of markets, stores, and specialty shops. Unlike Darrell's grandfather, whose family emigrated to Kansas, staked out a quarter section of land, and proceeded to turn over 10 acres of it by hand with shovels (this was virgin plains buffalo grass), plant and harvest wheat, then take that wheat to the nearest town to sell, in bags, in a wheelbarrow, because they couldn't afford a horse to work the land or pull a wagon until AFTER they had harvested and sold that first year's crop of wheat. And, while the men/boys in the family were busy with that 10 acres of wheat, the women/girls were scavenging, growing, and preserving every scrap of food they could find to feed the family. So, as we continue on with our house-recovery projects, farm improvement projects, and utilizing this year's garden, I'll try to keep focused on WHY we do this - for more healthy food!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Pickling Season!

Pickling cukes and cabbages for slaw and sauerkraut are coming on in the garden. I have packed some sauerkraut, which has to cure for several weeks before canning - hoping to pack some more later this week. It's been years since I made homemade 'kraut, but it sure is good! The process is simple - you shred the cabbage, layering in a little canning salt as you go, let that sit for a couple of hours to draw moisture out of the cabbage. Then, in sterilized jars, you PACK the cabbage in, pressing it down (I use a meat mallet in a wide-mouth canning jar). You fill the jar to the top, pressing as you go, which will force even more liquid out of the cabbage - you will end up with liquid over the top of the cabbage at the neck of the jar. I have done this before, canning the 'kraut after 2 weeks, but many people advise letting it ferment even longer, so I'm going to try that this year. Here's a link to a quite good description of the process. I have found similar instructions where people add mustard seed, caraway seed, dill or even onion in the packing process . . . go crazy! Season up your 'kraut! Once fermented, you clean the outside of the jars and reseal (I use fresh lids, as the original lids have gotten the fermentation brine all over them, including the sealing edge), then water-bath can them.

The cukes came on so fast that a bunch of them got HUGE, so the piggies got a treat. Last night I made the first batch of kosher dills from the recipe Darrell had found and used last year - it makes fabulous pickles! I got carried away with planting - planned on 4 mounds of cukes. When two of the first four failed to come up, I planted new seeds - those made it. The first two plants are literally spewing out cucumbers and I told Darrell I didn't know what I was thinking that I needed to have four plants. But, last year, we had three plants and the weeds got away from us, so our yield was smaller. We got enough jars of pickles for ourselves for a year, with a little self-discipline involved in how often to get a new one out of the fruit cellar. This year, we're hoping to make enough to actually give away, and maybe branch out and make some other types of pickles as well.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Blueberry Jam and Syrup time, plus some garden goodies.

Haven't posted for awhile, because we have been consumed with cleanup from the tornado - had to move everything out of the entire upper floor of our house and the garage so the roof repairs could commence - ceilings and rafters and damaged roofs torn off, dumpsters full of the detritus of that activity, huge vehicles destroying the lawn delivering wood and roofing materials - we look like refugees in a war zone at the moment. But as of yesterday, the roofs are enclosed again - what a relief!

But, in the midst of this, a neighbor got free blueberries from a friend and shared them - Darrell made blueberry jam when he wasn't building the new chicken coop, and plans to make syrup with a few more pounds of berries that are coming our way. I had to travel for my business and came home to find a dozen jars of jam awaiting our "from the kitchen at Coach Stop Farm" labels that I create.

And, the beets in the garden, which I had sampled the day before I left on the trip, have yielded more. I'm debating if I want to can them with or without pickling - maybe some of both! I roasted a small bunch of beets and made a beet salad on Monday evening.

Last night's supper included cole slaw made from a big head of cabbage, nice and sweet, that I cut in the garden after we did evening chores. I need to make sauerkraut with some of this year's cabbage. Broccoli is about ready, also.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Red Raspberries!

Our fairly young patch of raspberries is finally beginning to produce enough fruit to use. Our first batch of red raspberry jam from our own berries is in the jars. Darrell mentioned something about raspberry sorbet . . . . hmmm!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sweet Cherry Jam - different and so tasty!

Darrell found this recipe referenced several places on the Internet - if you like sweet cherries, you will love this jam recipe!

Traditional Cherry Jam
(from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving)
4 c sweet cherries, pitted & chopped (about 2 lbs)
1/4 c lemon juice
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t ground cloves
1 package (1.75 oz) powdered pectin
5 c sugar
Prepare the jars & lids for canning. Jars should be boiled in water for 20 minutes & lids for 5 minutes.
In a large enamel or stainless steel saucepan combine the cherries, lemon juice, cinnamon & cloves. Whisk in the pectin until completely dissolved. Turn heat to high & bring to a boil. Stir in the sugar all at once. Return to a boil. Boil hard while stirring for 1 more minute. Remove from heat & skim of foam.
Ladle into eight hot sterilized half-pint jars leaving about 1/4-inch headroom. Clean off the tops of the jars & cover with a lid. Close with a neckband & finger-tighten. Process in boiling water for 10 minutes. Turn off heat & let sit for 5 minutes. Remove jars from the water to a heat-proof surface & let cool for 12 - 24 hours (do not dry jars). Check to make sure the top of the jar has been drawn downwards, creating a seal. If it hasn't either reprocess that jar or store it in the fridge to be eaten within 3 weeks. Remove the neckbands & store jam in a cool dark place.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The blessings of friends

Today we rented a huge wood chipper and had sent an email to everyone who had offered to help with cleanup. We needed to clean up a downed tree and tons of branches that were between our house and the pasture so that the professional tree people can take down the hazardous still-standing tree parts, and get the branches off the deck, which is what our insurance will pay for . . . all the rest is our problem.

32 people from 4 counties turned out at our farm today - some for 2 or 3 hours, some all day. Some were neighbors, some were people we work with, people from Barbershop who Darrell sings with, people we know through other affiliations, a cousin, her daughter and grandson and their friends - I'm completely awed by how hard everyone worked, in spite of the heat and brutal humidity. And even more amazing is what we accomplished with a Bobcat, a Kubota tractor with a bucket, chain saws, and just plain hard work feeding that monster chipper.

Here's a photo of our side yard "before" and another one "after" this monumental effort everyone put forth. Our unending thanks to everyone who turned out - you all were fantastic!

So now, the tree guys can get the truly dangerous stuff cleaned up so that THEN the contractor can come in and begin repairs. Wow, it's going to be an interesting summer!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Major storm damage!

Well, we got hit by what had to have been a small tornado last night - every tree around the house is exploded and wrecked EXCEPT the dying one we were planning to remove this summer, naturally! Given the position of the trees around the house, we are incredibly lucky to have sustained as little damage to the house as we did . . . even so, it's going to be a major repair project.

Tree guys are working right now to begin clearing the downed wood, then will remove the damaged and now very dangerous remnants that are still standing. We will end up with no shade around this house at all. The deck is pretty much toast, the upper story of the house has a major hole in it, as does the garage attached to the kitchen end of the house. I am in mourning over all our beautiful trees . . .

None of the animals were hurt, although Jock, the stallion, was very lucky, as his relatively small turnout is littered with debris from the walnut tree by his pen and he was outside in the pen when this happened. We couldn't get to him right away because the power lines were down across the lane to his pen and partly over his fence. Once Consumers' had turned off the juice from the road, Darrell was able to get him into the barn. He's going into another turnout tonight, as there is a bunch of work Darrell will need to do to repair his normal spot.

We were without power for most of the day, but the Consumers' guys got us back together about 2 p.m., which meant we could stop worrying about all the meat and stuff in the freezers.

You can view the damage in this online photo album. Wish us luck!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Mid-June and things are jumping!

Back from nearly a week of traveling on business. While I was gone, Darrell got some strawberry jam done, and is ready for the cement tomorrow morning for a new chicken coop. The strawberry patch is being neglected more than we like this year, but there is so much else going on. The vegetable garden is getting off to a decent start - could not believe how many things had sprouted and how big they had gotten while I was gone! During my trip, I talked with a fellow foodie who recommended two books, which I ordered used on Amazon. One is called "Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking", and the other is "The Flavor Bible". This one just came today in the mail, and the other should be here shortly. Will comment on them after I get a chance to go through them. The person who recommended them was raving about what a great resource they are. He owns a cheesecake business in Grand Rapids, MI called "Cheesecake Jake's", and he uses these reference works to play with flavors and combinations for cheesecake.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Baby Pigs are escape artists!

Darrell brought home 15 baby pigs today - some are a couple months old and some are so small they're hardly bigger than the cats. Two of them managed to somehow get under the trailer as we were unloading them and trying to herd them into their pen in a big pasture, so things got exciting for a little while, but all is well. They have deep grass to root around in, one of the shelters he got this spring is in their pen, and their feeder and waterer sit up on a sled that can be moved. The fencing is electrified and portable, so when they thoroughly work over this area of the field, they can be moved to another one.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Chive Blossoms are yummy things

We like to pick the blossoms on the chive plants in our herb garden and just eat one, or gather several and chop coarsely to include in various things like green salads, pasta or grain salads, and the like. They are so tasty and add a lovely little overtone to various dishes. We decided to try drying some this year, so I gathered a large bunch and hung them up on the mantle piece to see if they dry nicely. We shall see! Meanwhile, they're making a pretty, upside-down bouquet in the kitchen!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Darrell's Rhubarb Sauce (with strawberries, if you like!)

This is one of those recipes that's so easy, I'll have to tell a story just to make it worth your while. If you've never made rhubarb sauce, you'll be amazed at its simplicity. If you have made it, then you probably don't need to even be here. We have lots of rhubarb and I like the sauce a lot so I make big batches. The amounts given below can be adjusted to suit the amount of rhubarb you have and the number of people in your house who will eat it. I will caution you that it should be eaten with a certain amount of restraint. If you've ever over-eaten rhubarb, you know what I mean.

I start out with a big bunch of rhubarb, trim it and wash it well. Chop it into 1/2 to 1 inch pieces. When this is cooked down, the rhubarb gets all mushy but the strings don't break down. The length of your pieces will determine the length of the strings in the sauce. When you've got about 12 cups, put it in a large saucepan, add about 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then reduce to strong simmer and cook it until it's complete mush. Now it's ready to finish.

One method is just to add sugar. For this amount, 2 to 3 cups should be about enough. If you don't add enough sugar to rhubarb, it will strip the enamel off your teeth but the tartness is part of its charm so add enough that it tastes right to you. You might want to add it incrementally and taste it - it's much easier to add more than to take it out.

An alternate method is to add strawberries along with the sugar. This is the method I much prefer. Since the rhubarb is ready long before the strawberries, I use frozen berries. We put up strawberries mashed and with a little bit of sugar to preserve color as much as anything, then put them in quart bags and freeze them. The amount of rhubarb used in this recipe will accommodate a big, fat quart bag of berries. If your berry patch was under-productive last year, you can use strawberry jello. For this amount, a large box will do just fine. Stir the berries or jello in before you add the sugar because the sweetness of the fruit may throw off the amount of sugar you need. Strawberry season is coming up, and the rhubarb will last into early strawberry season, so you could buy fresh berries from a local producer. I don't recommend the shipped-in berries we get in stores here out of season - they won't add any flavor because there isn't much to start with.

This keeps in the refrigerator for several weeks or you can put it in containers and freeze it for a refreshing treat next winter. If you can afford the calories (or just don't care about them) a great serving suggestion is to dish out a bowl of sauce and pour a dollop of heavy cream in the middle. Take a spoonful of sauce from the edge of the pool of cream for a real taste treat.

Recipe summary:
12 cups rhubarb pieces
2 cups water
Cook to mush
Add sugar to taste, 2 - 3 cups.
Alternate: add crushed strawberries or strawberry jello.
Refrigerate and serve chilled.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Sampling the Pickled Asparagus

Sampled one of the first jars we did, as they are 2 weeks old. They are yummy, and the zing of the pepper flakes is just right. These will make nice little snack/garnish items. However, have made a note on my copy of the recipe to cut the sugar in half - a little too sweet for our tastes.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Two more shelters being assembled today!

Darrell and Tom are assembling the other two Port-a-Huts today - this time using air hoses and impact wrenches, rather than doing it all with muscle power. They have saved a lot of time and effort!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Great excitement today! Darrell and a friend assembled one of three Port-A-Huts he bought to use for sheep and pig shelters! This first one will be shelter for the lambs we are about to wean. The other two will be used for sheltering feeder pigs for the summer. Darrell was thrilled at how easily the hut went together - says they did a great job of engineering them!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Asparagus season is upon us!

A week or so ago we started getting enough asparagus out of our little patch to make meals with. This past Christmas someone gave us a jar of pickled asparagus (commercially done), which we thought was quite yummy, so Darrell searched out a recipe for pickling asparagus on the Internet and decided to try it. It's a simple little recipe for processing small amounts at a time, so perfect for home canners who aren't trying to do a whole bunch of asparagus at a time. You can find the recipe here: Pickled Asparagus. I had a slight issue with the amount of pickling liquid the recipe provided and had to augment with additional vinegar to fill my jars to within the 1/2 inch of the rim needed. Darrell also found a recommendation from a user to add a garlic clove to each jar, so I did that, too.

I tasted an onion cooked in the pickling liquid and found it to be excellent - now we are waiting for 2 weeks to open a jar and sample the results, as dill, garlic and red pepper flakes were added to the jars after the asparagus was packed and before the hot pickling brine was poured into the jars - should be even more flavorful and spicy!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Action item to protect "direct from farm" food options

As you are no doubt aware, the government continues to look for ways to control things - sometimes there is an overall societal benefit, but often it just adds costs and limits options.

Below is an excerpt from this month's LocalHarvest newsletter. In it, you will see brief info about a Senate bill that is in process that will put onerous costs and reporting burdens on small producers and could, in effect, eliminate your options to buy your food from local, known sources. There are links for calling or emailing your Senators to object to their supporting this bill without exemption for small farms and direct sellers. It's easy, and will only take a minute or so. There's also a link to another organization that might interest you, as well.

In part, the letter they have drafted which you can use or amend to suit yourself reads: "Direct market sales are immediately traceable, transparent and inherently accountable. State and local health agencies already have the authority to protect public health, and exercise that oversight." This is a key point - one that you take into consideration every time you elect to buy food from a direct source.

Excerpt from LocalHarvest:
The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a sweeping overhaul of the food safety laws very soon! S. 510 is a "one-size-fits-all" approach that will unnecessarily burden both farmers and small-scale food processors, ultimately depriving consumers of the choice to buy from producers they know and trust. Please contact your Senators to urge them to support Senator Tester's amendments, or oppose the bill entirely. Senator Tester's amendments would exclude small facilities and direct marketing farms from the most burdensome provisions of the bill.

To call both of your Senators. You can find their contact information at, or call the Capitol Switchboard toll-free at 877-210-5351. Ask to speak with the staffer who handles food safety issues. To send an email, click here.

For more information, we recommend the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliancewebsite.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Our farm name - how it came to be

In case you're curious about our farm name . . . our property was once a coach stop on the "corduroy road" (logs laid side by each) across the muck lands between Grand Rapids and Holland Michigan. Another stop was east of us on the other side of the "muck", and teams of horses were kept on both sides to do nothing but haul heavy coaches across the boggy land. (The muck lands in our area are alleuvial soil which is between 6 and 12 feet deep; farmers on this land grow garden vegetables like celery, onions, lettuces, leeks, bok choy and parsnips.)
When we first moved to the farm, a friend sent us a postcard to "welcome" us to our new place. She addressed it to "Conni and Darrell at the Coach Stop", and the name stuck.

Setting up our blog for Coach Stop Farm

We've had a farm web site for years, but blogging seems to be a better way to connect people with people directly - that's the beauty of the Internet, isn't it?
We decided we wanted to blog about food - we raise most of our own meat, lots of vegetables and some fruits in season, and also search out sources for bulk fruits (Michigan is SOOOO lucky with the choices we have for fruit!) that we can or otherwise preserve. While we are not adamant about "no processed foods", we have gravitated over the years to a diet that s primarily made from scratch - fresh food, prepared for a meal or preserved for future use, the only additives being seasonings. Can't tell you the last time we bought anything "processed" at the grocery store, with the exception of peanut butter and ketchup - and that last only when we run out of the home-canned stuff!
So, we hope to share some of our activities through the seasons here on Coach Stop Farm, recipes, ideas, resources for like-minded people - food is fun, and we hope to make this blog a fun place to visit and become inspired. We realize not everyone is able to raise so much of their own food, but together we can promote the basics of how to become more self-sufficient even living in a city apartment.
We're just getting started in this world of blogging, so things will evolve. Please don't hesitate to offer constructive comments about what you see here (or what you don't, and would like to see!)