Friday, February 24, 2012

Recipes for curing Pea are the recipes we used to cure the hams, bacon, etc.

From the book "The River Cottage Cookbook" by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

Pea Bacon  (Sorry it's all in Engle-measure)
1 kg sea salt (non-iodized), 100 g brown sugar, and 1 tablespoon cracked black pepper.

   Mix all together then rub into the slabs of bacon with your hands. Rub into all the surfacs with your fingers (wear gloves if you have any cuts on your hands or eyaw!). We put all the pieces into a clean 5 gallon bucket, stacked on top of each other, then the lid on. We put the bucket in the basement.
   Every day Marty would take the pieces out, drain out the salty liquid in the buckets, rub more salt mix into them, and then restack them in the bucket with the bottom ones on top and the top ones on the bottom.
   He did that for five days. Then he took them out, rinsed them very well under water to get the saltiness out, then put them into pillow cases and placed them on the porch to dry.
   Now that they are dry he plans to put a couple in the freezer and then smoke a couple over a very cold smokey fire in our little smoke house.

Hams and shoulders (recipe 1)
   We put together a mix for a "basic brine". It was 2 kg sea salt and 6 litres of water. (We leave out the saltpetre as they said it was optional.) Brought it to a boil on the stove then we cooled it thoroughly.
   We put the meat into another 5 gallon bucket (we have tons of these great buckets thanks to our friend Tom from White Oak Gourmet - thanks Tom!). We added the brine, put a dinner plate over the ham and a brick inside a plastic bag on the plate to keep the ham under the brine, and then put the lid on the bucket.
   Then we put it into our walk in cooler (38 degrees) for ten days. It was figured at ten days because of the weight. Our meat was 3 kilos and it was to be three days for every kilo. 
   Tomorrow Marty will take the piece out of the brine, dry it as much as possible with a cotton cloth, and hang it to dry further for 24 hours. He plans to smoke that one also.

(recipe 2)
   This one is called the Suffolk cure. (we left out the beer as we didn't have any on hand)
2 litres of beer if you have it, 2 litres of malt vinegar (we added a little maple syrup vinegar as we didn't have enough malt vinegar. We make the maple syrup vinegar ourselves...not sure where you would buy it), 1.5 kg of sea salt (non-iodized), 25 g peppercorns, 25 g cloves, and 1 kg brown sugar. Left out the saltpetre again.

   This brine was also brought up to boil, then cooled. The meat was also put into another 5 gallon bucket, brine poured over, plate etc. to weight it down, lid on, in walk in cooler for 10 days.
   Marty will smoke this one tomorrow also.

Whew! My job was the easiest. I just measured the stuff and boiled it. So I'm wishing Marty luck on the smoking part. After smoking the pieces, we'll hang the pieces in the basement to cure (in the pillow cases).
Then we'll have Chef Chris help us out by taking a look a them and determining if they are edible. I sure hope so after all that work and time curing. They could take as short as a couple of months and as long as a year to cure.

All I can say is...don't try this at home! or if you do then find someone who knows what they are doing to give advice. And don't plan on asking me any questions about it! I'm just the guinea pig (no pun Pea) who gets to eat it when it is done.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Pea Chops

   I love my pigs. They are cute, happy, efficient foragers, fun, look like black hamsters when born, act like dogs when grown, and give me kisses (the big boys anyway). But, they still are livestock. And, according to my rules, I don’t name the ones that get butchered.
   Unfortunately, sometimes one that is named will have health issues and need to be “put down” as pet owners call it. And, as they are PIGS…”put down” means butchered and put in the freezer. Sorry folks, but that is farm life.
   When Pea got to where her bowed back legs were just too painful and she wasn’t even wanting to stand up, we had to make the decision to take her in to the Chenoa Meat Locker. They butchered her for us, scalded her black hairs off, and sent her home. I had a hard time looking at the head…really hard time. But, the body is just meat now and we had to figure out what to do with it. Cure it? Freeze it? Hm.

   Last Wednesday was to be a visit with our great friend and chef, Chris Pandel. He is the chef and one of the owners of the restaurants The Bristol ( and of Balena ( His food is fannn-tasss-tic! Check out the websites and these two Chicago restaurants…Balena is to open soon. But, unfortunately Chris couldn’t make it on ham day. So…we forged ahead (no pun intended Pea) anyway. We’ll get his take on how we did next time he comes down for a visit and see if we did everything okay.

Here’s the meat…

Here’s the resident chef all ready to go…

Here’s the reference books…

Will helped Marty break the carcass down into pieces...hams (back butt), shoulders, loins (upper back section), and belly. We used a picture so we knew where to cut. It also helps that Will works at the locker in the winter.

The belly was for making our bacon. Four pieces were salted with a mix of non-iodized salt and spices, all was rubbed into the meat. Then they were put into a white 5 gallon bucket and placed in the basement. Each day Marty would drain off the liquid and re-salt them. He would restack them so the bottom two were on top. Did this for five days.
He'll rinse the salt all off, then dry it for a couple of days. We hung it in a pillow case to dry. And, then we will use some (yum) or smoke it over a very cool smoky fire for a day and then store it. We will smoke a couple of the pieces and put the rest in the freezer. 
We packaged up the cute little Pea Chops into bags and froze them, as well as some loin cuts.
One shoulder was cut up into chunks to make sausage. We chopped up meat chunks and then fatty chunks, mixing it half and half as we put it thru Grandma Hazel's old grinder.
We were VERY careful not to get our fingers in!
Check back for the next blog and I'll include the recipes we used for the brines and spice/salt mixes for the hams. I'll also include the sausage spice mix - it turned out wonderful!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Mr. farm employee

This is Mr. Vole (at least I think he is a vole…it’s hard to hear what he says. Maybe he is a shrew). He made his way into the washtub in the basement and didn’t make it back out. So, I hired him. We always need a helping hand, even if the hand is about 2 millimeters long.

I started him out with the basics –
Syrup sales.

Then we moved on to taking care of the cacti garden.

He was a great assistant for helping me glue up some fabric

And for arranging my next quilt project. He has no eye for color…well, he can’t see now can he?

He tried his hand at emailing the order info for the week. He doesn’t like using the mouse tho.

And, you never know who you will reach when you call the farm.

As we became better friends I learned more about this handsome guy.

During his time off he enjoys reading,


Hanging out in nature,

Volunteering for great non-profit organizations like Spence Farm Foundation,

And taking dancing lessons.

And he likes cats…and thankfully Petie liked him too (kisses).

So, I guess I’ll keep him on for a while. At least until he begins to smell.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The New Old Tractor

   We got one of the best Christmas presents ever this year from our friend Rich Aberle. He asked us if he could restore the Allis Chalmers D-15 tractor. Wow! Such a generous offer not only left us speechless, but also dumb founded. We didn’t know what to say…so we said yes.
  She sure could use some help.

   A few years ago our neighbors, Wally and Dorothy Alpers, asked us if we were interested in purchasing the D-15 from them. It had a pull behind mower and was heavy duty enough that it would really help us with the field work. Wally said he would like to see it be used again in the fields. So, we asked an Allis Chalmers expert (Doc Smith) to take a look and tell us what he thought. He said it was in fair condition and gave us a suggested price to offer. We bought her and brought her home to Spence Farm and she has been a life-saver with the tilling and planting ever since. (Thanks Wally and Dorothy!)

   But she was looking pretty tough…she is 51 years old after all…

   So, in January she was sent in to Fairbury to Ben Meister and Adam Roberts. They worked on her for a few weeks and did a great job.
   Will took some pictures of her when she was all broke up into the skeleton pieces as they worked on fixing her innards (she needed some work to keep her oils in) and painting her (they even got all new Allis stickers for her). Unfortunately we can’t figure out how to get the pics off his phone so you can see them. But, when she came home…WOW!

   It is almost scary to use her! We keep telling each other – “watch out for that stick!”, “Don’t bump that tree!”, “for cryin’ out loud! Don’t scrape the paint!”, “you’re gettin’ her durty!”

   She is soooo purrty! And she runs great leaks.
   But, there is only one minor flaw…I have to get the guys to put the little steering wheel wheely thingy back on so I can swing her around the corners easier. (That is truly MINOR to them.)

   We are so happy with her. She’s beee-youuu-tee-ful!

   Thank you so much Rich for this wonderful present!!!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Sprouts & Pea

   Remember those pepper seeds I wrote about...putting them on damp paper towels on the warm radiators to sprout? Well...
They sprouted! I planted them on a "fruit" day according to the biodynamic calendar and yesterday I planted them into the soil on another "fruit" day. These guys are just coming out of the seed. Cool!

This is my method...the finger method. I just put a hole in the soil with my finger and drop the seed in and then cover it, water it, put the lid on, place it under the lights. Not much to it.

I have to say that sometimes I'm really glad we aren't a huge producer. Oh yeah, we could use the extra income and it would be great to feel like we are really packed with tons of produce all the time, to look out over the farm and have it chock full of greens all the time. To see thousands of seedlings packed into tiny spaces. To have everything that everyone wants, all the time.

But, I also don't have to use the gadgets. I don't have a metal soil block maker, a seed-drop-in-the-holer thingy, and don't have to transplant four times. We use the bigger cells so we only have to transplant once. We learned from experience of planting into tiny cells and then transplanting that it just set us back too much in our growing time. And, with only us three we chose plants that didn't need started inside so much, saving on space and electricity and time.

We also don't do farmers markets where we have to have tons of produce in piles. We don't grow a lot of greens that are in thick blocks of rows. And, we have a lot to learn. TONS. So...maybe someday we will be able to have a unique system for blocking soil, dropping seeds, etc. Maybe our desire to try to do it all will override my desire to enjoy digging in the soil.

And...maybe someday we will have other people to do all that. I personally like digging my finger into the soil, dropping the tiny seeds in by hand so I can pump all my love and good energy into them. I like talking to them, taking my time, knowing that I don't have thousands upon thousands of transplants to do later. My simple methods might sound kinda whimsical - how will I ever be a big business if I keep doing it the small way? Guess it comes down to my quality of life - this is quality to me...not quantity. So...

Did you know that the seed casing sometimes stays attached to the plant leaf as it sprouts? Maybe you've seen this. It meant that when I had a bunch of really leafy seeds sprouting I had to be careful to drop the right end into the soil!

These were a little further along than I like. But they will do fine. Serrano peppers!
I love doing this...planting the seedlings. My allergies kick in and my nose gets clogged, my eyes get itchy, and I have to take a break every so often to breath (all from the soil molds and dust), but I still enjoy it. I'm glad I only do this once a year tho.

We have a friend farmer named Alma Augsburger of North Avoca Farm. She grows quite a few pounds of pea shoots and tendrils for restaurants every week. She amazes me cuz she grows these all year long in flats under her grow lights. Her growing area must be like a little jungle in the winter. Very impressive!

Animal news...we had to take our piggy Pea to the butcher. She had bad back legs, bowed, and as she grew they got worse and worse. She got where she looked miserable and laid around a lot...not good. I'm thankful to her for her life and for the food she will give us, wish she hadn't had leg problems and could've stayed around.
   The ducks have figured out the water tank for the cows. They reach their heads up over the sides to slurp up the water. And, they are shy about it! I see them from far away, but whenever I get closer to take pic, they quit doing it.
   The little roosters aren't chasing me as bad as they were. I have a new strategy. Used to be we would chase them back. Then Marty accidentally caught one in a bucket, swung it around, and now it leaves him alone whenever he has a bucket in hand. For me...well, I turn around and face the little bugger. I quietly ask him if he is thinking. "Are you sure you want to do that? Are you thinking that is a good idea? Are you sure you wouldn't rather think some more about what you are going to do? Think hard now. It might not be a good idea." Strange...but he turns and walks away. Hm. Peaceful, calm, direct,

Have a peaceful, sunny day!

Monday, February 6, 2012

An Early Syrup Season

   The last couple of days have been foggy and it has attached itself to the trees and plants. Lovely.

Syrup season is underway, a whole week under our belts. The first week is really hard. We are excited to start, but aren’t used to the physical work after sitting on our butts in the warmth for a couple of months. How physical is it, you ask? Well…

There’s tapping trees…and thanks to the Prairie Central high school agriculture classes, Will only had to tap about 50. Last year we tapped 322. This year we decided to get wise and only tap 150 to see if we wouldn’t have so much wasted by it flowing over on the really heavy running days. So, far it is working out.

Then there is the collecting the sap. Once again, we’ve had help from the teens at the school (they are terrific!). We’ve collected twice and they’ve collected twice. We put all the sap into a large stainless steel tank that holds about 400 gallons. It is well insulated and with the temps below 32 at night it keeps for a few days.

Here you can see the cool lean-to and the big sap tank
Then there is the firewood. Loads and loads and loads…We fill it in the back of the pickup and it takes 1 ½ loads a day to boil…minimum. Lots of wood. The best is dry and under 3 inches in diameter. That burns hot and makes for less work keeping the sap at a rolling boil. We stack it under the lean-to that we built last year and bless that thing every time we walk under it…so nice to have. Then we cut piles of the firewood and carry it in to put in a box inside, filling it quite a few times during the day.

Other physical work includes pouring buckets of sap into the evaporator. Sounds easy, but for me…well, I’m shorter than the guys. So, I like to use an old water jug to pour it in a gallon at a time. We also fill a 55 gallon drum in the morning and it trickles in thru a pipe until about 2:30 when the barrel runs dry. Then we bucket it until 5pm...closing time.
The blue barrel behind Will holds 55 gallons of sap.
Marty is watching the back pan to make sure it doesn't boil over.
Will is getting ready to draw some syrup off to put in the finisher (not shown).

But, there is some great down time also. With two or three of us, we are able to take some time to read, chat, listen to music, etc. One person has to keep a constant eye on the sap so it doesn't boil over and the other two will add wood as needed. But we take some breaks to just sit. We all take turns with cutting and bringing in firewood, hauling sap, and watching the boil. It makes the work less and more enjoyable by far!

Here's Marty taking a much needed break.
I love the walk to the syrup house. There are three paths, all are nice. One is thru the prairie, one along the edge of the prairie and woods, one just along the inside of the woods. Today there was a yearling deer that I scared up unknowingly when I passed it. The guys saw it flit away. I’ve also heard the starlings come into the trees with their incessant chatter, and the kree-kree of the killdeer scouts entering the area.

Everything is a few weeks early this year. The season itself is three weeks early! We were afraid if we didn’t start to tap trees then we would miss out. It all depends on Mother and what she wants to do. Temps above freezing during the day (up to 4o is ideal) pushes the sap up into the branches of the trees. Then below freezing at night, it goes back down into the roots. As it passes the spout…drip, drip into the buckets with a musical ringing sound. And, this week the last of January was perfect weather to start.

So far we’ve bottled 48 – 12 oz jars and a gallon and a half of syrup. Almost all sold out! We have a lot of gallons presold every year to our chefs, but we like to bottle some for other people also. If all works out good, we will beat our record of 53 gallons made last season. Fingers crossed!

More syrup news to come...and animal updates!