Sunny Hill Farm

Egg Season

Its egg season

If you shop for your foods locally, you may have already noticed that eggs, like many other items, have a season, a time of greatest abundance.  And like other seasonal items, one is challenged to find ways to preserve the abundance for the times of scarcity.  This has been an age-old question, with some interesting solutions.

For our farm, eggs are abundant at this time of the year, early spring and summer.  Often the heat of August can cause the chickens to stop laying their eggs and go through the molting process, when they naturally drop all their feathers and grow a new set.  Obviously, the warmest weather is the best time for this, so that is when they do it.  But again, this means no eggs! (But hours of amusement watching naked chicken butts running around!)

So the trick is to somehow stash the eggs up while they are plentiful.  Storing eggs has limits, because a whole egg does not freeze well.  A thawed egg is still edible, one can no longer distinguish between the white and yolk, and they no longer froth if needed.  If you enjoy your eggs scrambled, they can be beaten and frozen raw, or cooked scrambled and then frozen.

Eggs can be hard-boiled and pickled, if you enjoy the unique taste.  Simply save the brine from store-bought or homemade pickles and drop in your own eggs.  Let them sit in the brine at least two weeks for best flavor.  Pickled eggs should be stored in a very cool, dark place, such as the refrigerator or proper pantry (below 40 degrees, F).

One of our favorite ways to store up extra eggs is to make homemade pasta.  European-style pasta is traditionally made from eggs, flour and salt.  Pasta can be thus dried or frozen and will keep for a while.  Make lots of batches of pasta while the eggs are abundant, and enjoy throughout the year.

pasta is easy to make

My pasta recipe is simply:

8 cups of flour
6 eggs
2 tsp salt
water, if needed to moisten

We mix ours with the dough hook, but a paddle will work fine.  It needs at least a couple of minutes of mixing to get the gluten strands going.  The dough should not be sticky when finished.  It can be rolled out by hand or put through a pasta roller.  Keep layers of pasta separated with floured wax or parchment paper, or they will re-combine.
 issac making pasta

Homemade fresh pasta is boiled for a shorter time than dried.  Fresh pasta is done in under 5 minutes.  When it is finished it will float.  It is such a treat, much more filling than the pasta from the store.

fresh pasta

Another old-time method for storing whole eggs is to bathe them in a substance called "water-glass".  This is sodium silicate, and is used 1/3 cup to 1 qt of boiled, cooled water.  Eggs must be unwashed (but wiped clean) and infertile.  Eggs can be stored immersed in the water-glass solution for up to three months under 40 degrees F.   I have personally never done this, but have heard my elders talk of doing it with good results.

And of course, the best way to keep fresh abundant eggs from going to waste is to indulge is rich dishes and deserts that use many of them, such as mousse, sabayon, bread pudding, homemade pudding, Quiche, Carbonara, etc!

Please share your favorite recipes and methods of keeping extra eggs.  I would love to hear them.

Even Farm Animals Like Recycling!

Springtime has come early to Sunny Hill Farm in the high tunnel.  When the weather is sunny, the tunnel is usually 10-15 degrees warmer than outside, especially when it's windy.  The green things have already begun growing for the season and the smell is wonderfully warm and verdant.  My daughter likes to go in there and take off her shoes, enjoying the feel of grass between her toes a few weeks early. 

 High Tunnel 

Spinach, arugula, mustard and lettuces are waking up and growing again from last Fall's sowing.  Other green things are growing in there, too: clover, purslane and especially chickweed.  These weeds need to be removed before we plant the space anew for the Summer season.  I know that many of the plants we consider "weeds" are actually perfectly edible, nutritious, and quite yummy.  Back in the past, many of these cold-hardy greens were a welcome addition to the diet in the earliest days of Spring, when folks were living off their winter store of starchy roots and rich meats and were ready for a fresh change.  Chickweed, in particular, is especially sweet and nutritious, and it grows abundantly in a low spreading carpet. 

 Chickweed

Even though discarded weeds are composted to return their nutrients to the soil, I still look for ways to capture even more of the nutrition and resources available on-farm, to minimize our off-farm inputs, reduce costs, and keep our ecosystem as healthy and diverse as possible.  One way we do this is to harvest plants such as grasses and weeds to feed to our animals, especially those who cannot always be out on pasture.  Feeding the animals grasses and weeds is closer to their natural diet than grain, and provides the myriad of vitamins and minerals often needed to be supplemented else-wise. 

So my daughter and I have been going out to the high tunnel daily and harvesting this abundant chickweed to feed to our pigs and poultry.  I was unable to find definitive evidence that it was suitable daily for our other animals, so I only feed it to them, not the sheep, cows or horse.  Many of these weeds are good for one species of animal but not others, so always do your homework and check first, being sure you have a positive identification.  In order to keep the horse from getting jealous, we also grab a few handfuls of clover to give to her, too.

This time together is very enjoyable for my Gwee and me, and we are doing two jobs at once, weeding in preparation for this coming season, and giving our animals a little nutrition boost.  Fun, easy, and cost-effective recycling!

Why I Need Winter

Pigs Keeping Warm in their Bed of Hay 

It finally looks like Winter out. On March 1st. Better late than never!

There has been much lively discussion on the Media and in Real Life about the weather this Winter, or lack thereof. Winter sports enthusiasts have been quite disappointed, folks with an eye on their heating bills have not. Mud season has been in a sort of suspended animation, and the kids have learned that near-frozen mud can be just as slick as ice. It has been a Winter unlike any I can remember.

The farmer in me wants to be alarmed, for Winter not found within its normal confines means it’s on the loose and can be found lurking about at any time, hindering growing plans. But the impartial observer in me says all the seasons fluctuate in duration and intensity, why not Winter for once? It’s natural for all elements of our environment to vary.

So why am I missing those blustery, frozen days? The Internal Clock, I suppose. My body, brain and being are all used to taking a break during those dark, cold months. My metabolism is used to a respite. My landscape is used to a respite. My summer wardrobe is used to a respite. The load of paperwork in my office is used to me taking a respite from the field to catch up on it.

My kids are used to a season of confinement and constraint, of focus on school studies and building up dreams of what to do with next Summer’s freedom. They are used to those sledding forays from which they invariably return frozen, no matter how much clothing and accessories I pile on. There has been markedly less hot cocoa this season.

This is where we live. In the Northeast. Where there’s Winters. And snow. And cold. We need these things to better appreciate the sun, heat and activity of Summer. Our bodies are accustomed to the down-time, and just like the plants and flowers who subsist on photosynthesis, we find that it is not only the light, but the periods of dark that are necessary for proper metabolism.

It is in the Darkness we find beauty in the Light. It is in the darkest of Winter when we learn the true meaning of Faith, to hold fast to the knowledge that no matter how cold and dark, Spring must surely come.

We will again by Summer’s end take the warmth and light for granted, and be ready for another break in the hard work of farming. We wonder then how we will ever go through a growing season again, the hours so long and the list of jobs endless. We will be ready once more for a purging of cold, of stillness, of waiting. It is in this crucial time we are recharged, and motivated anew to take on another season of the triumph and tragedy that is farming.

I would not have it any other way.

How the Kids Eat the Pets

Niechelle head shotOne of the more amusing aspects of raising kids on the farm is the age-old question (mostly from “city people”): “How can your kids raise these animals as pets and then eat them?” A reasonable question, certainly, and one I did have to ponder for myself a number of years ago, when the children were first coming along. The simplest answer is that the kids do not regard all the animals on the farm as pets. We have 2 dogs, a number of cats, and a peacock as pets. Yes, the kids do own some of the animals as 4H projects, but even these they regard as “livestock,” not “pets.”
 

peacock 

Livestock are not pets. Many people, myself included, remember watching “Charlotte’s Web” as a child, how sad they felt when there seemed no hope for Wilbur, and how relieved we all were when he was saved with his trust fund set-up. Few recall early on in the film, when Fern’s parents declared that it was time for Wilbur to move outside because he was trashing the house. Young animals raised in the house often develop more aggressive personalities along with expectations, and more than not become unmanageable when older (and much bigger and smellier). They also may not learn to compete with the herd for their food ration, and therefore remain dependant upon the handler to feed them.

The question has been asked of me how anybody in the family can eat animals after raising them from babies? Again, cows, pigs and chickens do not behave like dogs and cats. Often, by the time the animal has reached its time of butcher, it has broken through fences, rummaged through the garden or greenhouse, chewed up tools and clothing, possibly even eaten my favorite flowers. It can sometimes be challenging to tolerate the animal until its date of departure. Not in every case, but often enough to keep the situation in perspective.

The children do help with the chores as well. A stall that yesterday held a large pooping animal and today is now empty means chores will be done all the sooner.

When it all comes down to it, probably the most compelling reason why the children are at peace with raising their own food is the very obvious difference in the taste and physical effect of the meats. Long ago, the children noticed the superior quality of our products like bacon, ham and sausage. They have felt, also, the very different feeling in their stomachs after a meal at a restaurant. There are a number of items they will not even consider eating unless it is comes from our farm. Even with food from other farms, they report a difference in the taste and quality from ours.

This, I believe, is because we do respect and appreciate our animals. The children have learned to strike a balance with how they relate to the animals in the barn. The animals are all given names, all spoken to and even played with, but always with the understanding that this animal is going for food. But this interaction while with us is what gives the animal the positive energy that we are hoping to get back from the food we eat. The saying, “You are what you eat,” is true in so many ways. In my opinion, the delight we take in savoring the steak is the ultimate respect for the animal.

The enthusiasm that we as the adults feel toward our food is very contagious to the children. After all, the reason I came to the farm was to raise the best and freshest ingredients to cook with. The fabulous meals, and the obvious pride and delight I take in preparing them, all lead to understanding for the children as to what we are doing and why, with very tangible results they can see and taste time and again.

Others may find it unusual, but to our kids, it seems perfectly natural to ask at the dinner table, “Who is this?”