Here at Farm on the Hill in Richland Center, Wisconsin, "Mud Season" has begun in earnest. We eagerly await the pastures complete thawing and firming up enough to bring our first critters out to the green grass. This year, it'll be the chickens.
The broilers are still in the brooder in the basement, and they are growing like weeds! It's amazing to watch the way they change, literally before our eyes.
In the tractor shed, farmer Bryan Havens has added the roof and the sides to the Egg Mobile in preparation for the laying hens to join us in just a couple more weeks.
The two photos below show the interior of the Egg Mobile. The nesting box will be hung on the left side wall closest to you in this first photo. On the outside of the Egg Mobile, behind the nesting box, there will be a hinged panel, which we can raise and prop open in order to collect all the eggs laid in the nest boxes from the outside.
At the back on the left side of the photo below, you can see that Bryan has left an opening. He'll be building a "trap door" type of structure that will, when open, serve as the ramp that the hens will use to go in and out of the Egg Mobile. At night, Bryan will call them all back inside, and then he will close that ramp door up tight and lock it to keep predators out, and the hens in.
We have purchased 20 certified organic laying hens from a farm to the south of ours, and plan to pick them up in another week. So we'll have LOTS of activity happening really, really soon!
Stay tuned for more news from This Old Farmhouse!
Over the last 10 years, I've done a lot of reading and learning about food. I've been a "raw-foody," a vegan (briefly, but I felt better than I had in decades doing this ... I just couldn't keep it up with a young homeschooling family to care for who did NOT want anything to do with my food schemes!), a junk-food junkie, a fast-food junkie, a ... well, you get the picture. I recently came across a doctor who was interviewed on TV about his book titled, "Wheat Belly." Fascinating! I love breads ... comfort foods. I mostly buy organic, or grind my own organic wheat into flour to make my own bread. I love doing this! Even so, for the last few months, something in my system has felt "off." I'm not getting any younger, and I know I need to be more careful with my health each passing year. My love of breads and pastas has caught up with me! Personally, I'm not interested in the "Paleo Diet," nor do I ever want to go "vegan" again, for a number of reasons. I think God gave us all these good foods to eat ... even Jesus ate them, so I have to believe they're OK for me, too! So how to reconcile that?
As I listened to the "Wheat Belly" doctor's interview, he talked about the problems that can occur with our modern wheat, which no longer resembles the original stuff. It was fascinating to me. I know that not everyone has a problem ... but I think I'm developing one, and I want to stop it in its tracks. So I did a search for ancient wheat, and I found this stuff:
It's called "Einkorn" wheat. It is the only remaining wheat that has never been hybridized, making it the genetically purest wheat available today. Jovial provides the einkorn wheat that I bought ... I purchased mine here.
Since I'm trying to get to a place where I only eat foods in their original state (that's a looooong, tall order, by the way, one that is going to still take time if the good Lord allows me more of it!), I thought I would give this new ... I mean, this old wheat a try! Einkorn wheat has been on the earth for many thousands of years! (Learn more about it at the Jovial website, here.)
Their recipe looked simple enough ... grind a pound of einkorn berries into flour, mix with water, yeast, honey and sea salt. Stir together with a spatula ... no kneading ... let rise, pour into oiled bread ban, smooth dough with a wet spatula, let rise, then bake. Bryan helped me with it so I could photograph.
The einkorn berries are different from modern wheat berries ... they are lighter, "fluffier," not so hard. They are slightly powdery (kind of like oats have a little powderiness to them). I forgot to photograph them in bulk, but here are the last few being pulled into the grinder:
Looks just like wheat flour :-) but it smells different ... less pronounced, milder somehow.
While we were grinding our berries, I had the yeast, water and honey mixture "proofing" on the counter. My friend, Helen, surprised me a few weeks ago with a jar of her home-farmed honey ... now that's a sweet gift! I used this honey to feed the yeast in this recipe.
Bryan poured the yeast mixture into the flour and sea salt blend:
Then came the very simple, gentle stirring with a spatula (I used the stiff, plastic one that came with my food processor). No kneading!
The dough is sticky, but still pretty easy to work. It took Bryan about 1 minute to incorporate the flour and liquid together into the dough. We covered the bowl with a towel, and left it out on the countertop to rise for 30 minutes, after which it didn't look like it had done much rising. My yeast is a little old, though it did proof, so I figured I would give it an extra 10 minutes with the benefit of a barely warm oven and making the cover towel damp. That did the trick, and after another 10 minutes (so 20 in the oven, total), it had risen nicely, though I don't think it quite doubled.
Lots of good "gluten windows" (air holes)!
Next, we plopped it into the greased bread pan (I used butter, plus a little organic coconut oil spray on top of it), and used a wet spatula to smooth out the top. The dough is still very sticky:
Another 30 minutes rise ... this time I went straight to the barely warm oven, and covered it with the damp towel! It rose really well, all the way up to the towel! I had to peel the towel off, and it left a messy top:
I scraped a bunch of dough off of the towel, and decided to put it on the bread for fun:
Into a 375-degree oven for 35 minutes, and it was done!
Baking bread with a buttered pan makes for a brown crust...yum!
Now, if you thought that I was going to let that bread just sit there and cool completely off, you were totally WRONG! I wanted to see and taste the end result of this new adventure! I let it cool halfway, and then ...
How to describe this delicious bread? It is lighter than the bread I make with modern wheat, more "air-y." It is much moister, too. The wet, sticky dough hints at that, I suppose! And the flavor ... hmmm ... overall, it tastes like wheat bread, but with a definite difference. The weight of Einkorn bread is lighter, the texture is air-y-er, and the wheat flavor is lighter, too ... more delicate. I've been thinking of an analogy that would work, and I've come up with nut butters. If you know what peanut butter tastes like, and then you try, say, almond butter ... they're similar, but almond butter is less nutty, it's a more delicate flavor compared with peanut butter. It's kind of like that with Einkorn wheat bread vs. modern wheat bread.
Not to mention that this was the easiest loaf of bread I've ever made!!!
It was pretty much just like making a quick bread mix, other than the two rising periods. I'm in love ...
Next we'll see what kind of pastry flour Einkorn is. There's no "hard" or "soft" Einkorn ... it's all just real, God-created wheat. I wonder if this is the wheat that Jesus and the ancients ate?
“Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths,
Where the good way is, and walk in it;
And you will find rest for your souls."
(Jeremiah 6:16 NASB)
Good food for thought! I'm a fan of this ancient grain, Einkorn wheat! I hope you can try it sometime, too, and let me know how you like it!
Finally! The temperature here in southwestern Wisconsin rose up into the 50s! It was a wonderful day to enjoy being outside, so we helped Graham, a neighboring shepherd, and his wife, Margaret, who also operate a B&B on their lovely farm, to vaccinate their pregnant ewes. They raise Scottish Blackface sheep, as well as a Suffolk cross (can’t recall exactly what they’re crossed with) variety. These are good sized sheep, and feisty as all get out when they’re being wrangled and flipped onto their bums so they’ll stay still for the vaccination. That plus the pregnancy weight, and it was quite a workout for Bryan and Graham! I wish I could have taken pictures of the process, but my camera battery died the minute I turned it on, so I left it home to recharge.
Once we returned to Farm on the Hill, our 9-month-old Cockapoo puppy, Zoe, got introduced to a smell she will come to know very well once Bryan’s sheep join us in September! She couldn’t get enough of Bryan’s sweatshirt with its lanolin smell, plus the other “natural” smells one picks up when one vaccinates around 60 sheep!
My job was the easiest, by far ... Bryan and Graham wrangled and flipped the ewes, Margaret gave the injection, and I colored the newly vaccinated ewe's head with purple chalk so we'd know which ones were done. My barn coat absorbed a bit of that chalk as the ewes jostled and crowded around in the pen! Zoe enjoyed sniffing these new farm smells, so much!
Margaret served us a lovely lunch of sandwiches, fruit salad and tea, and then she “paid” us for our help in the best way I could have asked for … she offered us a dozen fresh eggs from their flock of layers! I’ve been wishing for some fresh eggs for the last week, so it was wonderful to receive these. They also loaned us a couple of books that they felt would be the most beneficial for Bryan at this point in time, and talked with us for over an hour about sheep and shepherding.
We don’t know for sure, but I would guess Graham and Margaret are somewhere near 70 years of age, and they’ve been working with sheep for many decades. They will be a fantastic resource for Bryan as he goes through his first year with sheep on his farm. We are so grateful to have met them, and for this new friendship!
I love our rural community here, and I love the way neighbors work together to accomplish tasks that would just be overwhelming if they had to be done alone. I look forward to being able to thank someone who helps us out with a job by giving them a delicious, pastured chicken from our freezer, or some lamb chops, or a dozen eggs. I’ve read heartwarming stories of times gone by where the doctor’s services would be paid for with chickens, or where the dentist’s payment would be covered with a season’s worth of free haircuts, or some other service. What a shame that doesn’t happen more often today. Everyone has something of value that they can offer to the community around them. Especially in these unsure economic times, I think all of us should be thinking outside of the financial box when it comes to helping a neighbor. Money isn’t the only thing in this world that should be viewed as valuable! There's little else more valuable than one generation sharing its hard-won wisdom with the next, up-and-coming generation. Except fresh-gathered eggs, of course.
Spring is approaching rapidly here at Farm on the Hill. After a difficult winter, Bryan and I took advantage of the first warm-ish day in February to work on the Eggmobile, which will be rolled out of the tractor shed and onto the pasture once it’s warm and dry enough out there … and we have a flock of laying hens to live in it! Since ours is a farm start-up, the structures come first, then the livestock will join us. Bryan is modeling his Eggmobile after the one he saw while at Polyface Farms as well as the one he worked with during his internship in New York.
The cats' Winter Quarters are in the tractor shed, so they were excited that we joined them for the afternoon!
The final adjustments for the day:
A neighboring farmer had an old coop in his barn, which he sold to us at a great price. We were grateful for it, as the budget is getting really tight right now. We can't wait to sell some eggs and chickens this summer to ease the strain!
Earlier this week, we ventured into the barn to take stock of what we had yet to do in the room he is turning into the brooder for the baby chicks, which are on order and will arrive the end of March. Last summer, Bryan and a friend worked in brutal heat and humidity to repair the old, original concrete floor of that room, filling in holes with gravel and sand and concrete, then smoothing two layers of Quick Crete over the whole area, taking care to allow plenty of time for the surfaces to cure between steps. They did a great job, and it looked ready.
When we looked at it the other day, we were dismayed to find that about one-fourth of the floor was covered with a slick of ice … a sure sign that we have a water leak from the outside as the snow melts and the rain falls, both of which had happened just a few days prior. In addition, part of the new concrete has a bit of a “bounce” to it when we step on it, meaning that it has separated from the base below, and is likely to crack. NONE of this bodes well for raising baby chicks in there! After dealing with the discouragement, we grabbed all the plywood that we were going to use for the brooder walls after putting in the insulation batts, and hauled it down into the farmhouse basement, which is yet unfinished, and has a solid concrete floor.
It will serve as the temporary brooder until the temperatures warm up enough outside and the ground firms up enough that we can get the little work truck, stocked with concrete, to the barn in order to pour a new floor. Like the astronauts in Apollo 13, I’d love to think that “we’ve just had our glitch for this mission,” but I’m sure plenty of other things will go wrong for us, too, as we do everything for the first time. Flexibility and resourcefulness are key attributes we’re developing, as well as keeping a loose grasp on our plans so it doesn’t hurt so badly when they are ripped out of our grip!
We cannot wait until the sun is warm and we can sit on the deck with a tall glass of ice tea while we look out at our EggMobile, Chicken Tractors, and contented sheep on the lush, green pasture. It can’t come soon enough!
Can we all say it together? WE'RE SICK OF WINTER!!! This one has been especially tough here in the Midwest. Since it's our first winter on our Wisconsin farm, we've had a real education in rural living ... or should we say survival! We are now pros at heating with wood, and I've learned what happens when you try to paint a wall that contains a drafty door when there is a strong, icy wind coming through ... who knew that paint granulates when applied to a cold wall? I suppose we've jumped into the deep end of the rural-winter-pool, and, having survived, it shouldn't be any worse in the future!
Nonetheless, there are some really wonderful winter experiences we've had up here that have made me stop and stare with wonder, even with below-zero wind blowing in my face. Here are a few of my favorites:
The Sun Dog
I can't explain what this thing is, so I'll let Wikipedia do it: "Sundogs are commonly made by the refraction of light from plate-shaped hexagonal ice crystals in high and cold cirrus clouds or, during very cold weather, these ice crystals are called diamond dust, and drift in the air at low levels. These crystals act as prisms, bending the light rays passing through them with a minimum deflection of 22°. If the crystals are randomly oriented, a complete ring around the sun is seen — a halo. But often, as the crystals sink through the air, they become vertically aligned, so sunlight is refracted horizontally — in this case, sundogs are seen.
As the sun rises higher, the rays passing through the crystals are increasingly skewed from the horizontal plane. Their angle of deviation increases, and the sundogs move further from the sun. However, they always stay at the same elevation as the sun.
Sundogs are red-colored at the side nearest the sun. Further out the colors grade through oranges to blue. However, the colors overlap considerably and so are muted, never pure or saturated. The colors of the sundog finally merge into the white of the parhelic circle (if the latter is visible)." (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_dog)
This huge bird is a regular visitor to the field adjacent to our pasture. He watched me as closely as I watched him while he ate his meal. I made sure our 25 pound cockapoo puppy was safely inside of the house before I headed into our side yard to take these photos!
Winter Sunrise, Sunset
I wish I had the kind of camera that could take nighttime photographs, so I could show you the glorious winter night sky, thick with stars and the Milky Way. Even when it has been way below zero outside, I have not minded taking puppy out that one last time before bed...I just bundle up well, and keep my eyes heavenward! It's been a tough winter, but there is beauty in the ice and snow which warms the heart.
This recipe comes from my friend, Rittu, who grew up in India. The first time I was there when she made it, I asked her what smelled sooooo good in her kitchen, and she said "it's chai tea ... would you like a cup?" No thanks, I said. I don't really care for chai tea. She just smiled. "Have a cup of mine, I'll bet you'll like it." Not wanting to be rude, I agreed to try it, but didn't think I'd like it any better than the mixes I'd purchased before.
Ha ha! Oh, did I eat my words! Actually, I drank my words! That was some fantastic tea!!! That was many years ago, and later, during a weekend getaway trip to Wisconsin with Rittu, her husband, and their two children, I finally paid attention as she made her nightly brew, and now enjoy making it here at my home. I've had a few bloggy friends discussing chai, and offered to share the recipe (as best as I can ... Rittu doesn't really measure).
Rittu's Indian Chai Tea
Purchase/Have on hand: Cardomom pods, Fennel seeds, honey, black tea, milk (I use 2%).
***First, put some water in your kettle and start it to boiling. You may want to add a bit of boiling water to your chai mix if you're losing too much in steam in the beginning! This is EXTRA water, it's not the water you put in the pan to start.***
Now, on with making Chai:
I'm using my almost 2-quart pot here, and have added 4 cups water. In it, place 5 or 6 cardamom pods that you have cracked to expose the small, black seeds. (Sometimes they crack with finger pressure, but often times I have to use my kitchen scissors to get them to break.)
Also add whole fennel seeds ... I don't count them, just add a couple/few big pinches ... this is about two pinches in my palm, I ended up adding one more pinch to the pot:
Bring the water with pods and seeds to a boil, and let it boil until the water gets "nice and green" (that's Rittu's husband, Wendall's, instruction!). I let it boil about 5 minutes. I will add some boiling H2O from the kettle if I feel I'm losing too much water in steam. The key from here on out is to KEEP IT BOILING! Here's a "before" and "after" of the water, to see the color:
It will be nice and fragrant now! Keep it boiling, and add 1 teaspoon fresh honey per cup/mug that you're making ... I added 4 teaspoons honey (you could use sugar ... but honey is better and healthier!).
Stir it in, KEEP IT BOILING! Let it boil about 3 minutes to really "cook" the honey flavor in.
Next, add BLACK TEA. You can use decaf black tea if you don't want the "perkys." I use 2 bags ... be sure to cut off the paper tags before putting it in the water!
Keep it boiling for about 3 minutes...
Now, add milk (I use 2%), just to get it about the color of a caramel:
Let it return to a boil, and keep it boiling for a few minutes until the milk scalds (I call it that "brownish sticky stuff on the side of the pan").
The rest of this, in pictures, should be self-explanatory:
*NOTE: Pre-warmed serving tea pot ... your homemade chai tea is special ... BE fussy!!!
Keeping warm under the tea cozy...
One thing I want to try for fun someday is to make this with my favorite black tea blend, Earl Grey tea. I think the bergamot, which reminds me of orange, would be out of this world in Chai!
I hope you enjoy making and drinking this delicious chai tea. It only takes 5 to 10 minutes to make, and it will warm you on the outside as you make it, delightfully fragrance your kitchen, and then it will warm you on the inside and lift your spirits as you drink it.
Moving into a new home is always an adventure. Moving into a “new-to-you” home that happens to be around 100 years old is even more of an adventure. Moving from the mega-suburbs of Chicago into a “new-to-you” home that happens to be around 100 years old that is on a 40-acre farm on a ridge top in rural Wisconsin … that’s the ultimate adventure! Winter here has been a crash course in rural-living …from heating with wood to coping with snow and ice sans the suburban services we were accustomed to, to dealing with the furry creatures who are searching for a warm place to stay and a bite of food…creativity and determination reign.
Fortunately for us, the previous owner of this century farm was a part time builder, and he added on a brand new kitchen to the tiny farmhouse about eight years ago, so we are the blessed recipients of his hard work.
Nonetheless, we find ourselves plagued with the same problems that, I am sure, a farm wife and mother found herself coping with 100 years ago in her then-new farmhouse. This winter, it’s mice.
Since we didn’t believe the pest-control man who told us that we should let him treat the home preventatively for mice at the end of the summer, we now find the furry little critters’ “calling cards” on the countertops and in some of the drawers in the kitchen. After a two-day “away” from the farm, we came home to find a bread bag that we’d left on the countertop nibbled open and bread crumbs scattered about. I began to worry about the many bulk-sized bags of dry goods I had stored in the nearby cabinets and on the countertops, and new I needed to find a solution.
A dear friend had sent an email asking if I might have need of some of her hundred-plus used canning jars that she wanted to get rid of. I offered to take all of them, not knowing at the time when I would ever use them all, but farm-plus-canning-jars seemed like a smart thing. I’ve now used over half of them! To keep the dry-goods safe from mice, I turned to my new favorite pastime: oven canning.
I spent an enjoyable three days oven canning, and ended up with dozens of jars. Not only was it a very satisfying process to make the food supply more secure, but the results were just lovely to boot.
Bryan plans to build a large pantry-storage area in the basement once the mess of an electrical system is all updated down there. Until he gets that done, I decided to *loan* him my 100-year-old pie safe, built by his great-grandfather and rescued by me some 20 years ago from my mother-in-law’s garage. Bryan’s not nuts about the pie safe, which is why I’m only loaning it to him. Hopefully someone will join him here on the farm someday who will see how perfect it is … and then I will let it go. If you look closely, you can see a gnawed-open mouse hole above the drawer on the top right of the pie safe. Perhaps that hole was chew-carved out 100 years ago by a hungry mouse with a taste for great-grandmother's apple pie!
How perfect that a 100-year-old “tradition” of raiding mice in Bryan’s 100-year-old Wisconsin farmhouse should link a great-grandfather farmer from Iowa to his great-grandson farmer in Wisconsin through a 100-year-old pie safe.
I call it a perfect fit. Thanks, mice! I think ...
Want to learn more about oven canning? This is the site from which I learned:
Oven Canning 101