While in Ireland, Sally and I made several batches of bone broth. Finding enough bones to place in a kettle and simmer down to a nutrient-rich concentrate was no problem. In the small village where Sally lives there are at least 3 butchers. This always amazes me. Belfast is the largest town near us here in Maine ( 15 miles towards the coast) and is actually a bit larger than the little town I spend my time in while I am in Ireland. There is no butcher shop in Belfast, there are fine places to buy meat, but no actual butcher shop. We raise lamb, pork, and chicken here on the farm ( as well as having several deer hunters in the family), so the lack of a butcher is not so needful on our behalf. Back in Ireland, it seems that most little towns support not just one but several butchers in a small community. Everyone has their favorite, and all of the little shops seem quite busy. There’s also a fish market, providing a locally harvested catch. Great to go food shopping there, every day a great selection of protein to choose from! Now about those bones. At the butcher shop, I ask for several pounds of bones, usually a mixture of beef and lamb. The animals raised in Ireland are mostly grass fed, which is what I prefer. Back at the kitchen, I toss the bones into a large kettle, cover them with water and add about 3/4 of a cup of organic apple cider vinegar. The vinegar helps to extract all of those incredible minerals out of the bones. I let the broth simmer for 4-5 hours, afterward, I strain the broth through a fine-meshed wire strainer. Then, I simmer the broth for another hour or so to reduce it into a concentrate. Why am I simmering bones into a rich dark broth? Bone broth is one of the most nourishing things you can add to your diet. It is super high in minerals- calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium, and are in a form that makes it easy for your body to absorb. Bone broth is really good for your gut and helps with digestion, it can actually help to heal your gut lining and to reduce intestinal inflammation. Glucosamine, which is a naturally occurring substance found in bones and in bone joints are vital in building cartilage and connective tissue. The amino acids that are responsible for making collagen and cartilage, proline and glycine, are found in bones. Proline helps to break down proteins for use in creating healthy cells. Glycine, another amino acid, converts glucose into energy and aids in the functioning of your digestive system and the central nervous system. The collagen, which is a protein made up of these amino acids, is the gelatinous substance in bones, muscle, skin, and tendons and in our own bodies often diminishes as we get older. Bone broth can help to restore some of this much-needed collagen in our bodies. Bone broth is really a super food….and tasty. It is valuable to maintaining healthy bone structure, healthy skin, it’s good for digestion, for your muscles, heart, and immune system. Once you’ve made your bone broth, you can freeze any extra and add them to your nutrient rich stews later on. We made a broth and added mushrooms, garlic, and spinach. Honestly, it is a nutrient-rich brew your body will appreciate….so, if you have achy bones and achy joints, try making some bone broth, it may very well help to restore some overall vitality.
This past weekend was our date for processing the pigs we’ve raised. Growing and raising our own food continues to be a significant part of what we do here at Fernwood. Another form of our ‘home economy’ happens to be the meat we put into the freezer. Now that the nursery is closed for the season, the vegetables all harvested and preserved, the firewood in, and the hay stored, it is time to fill the last freezer with this year’s pork supply. The days we slaughter animals are never really pleasant ones. We know what we’re in for. We’ve raised these critters and because we are committed to following through with the whole process of raising our own meat from start to finish, it is certainly a day of thoughtfulness and consideration, and it should be. In 8 months the pigs have grown to a weight of about 280 pounds. That’s a lot of bacon and chops. Every year we change our decisions on the type of cuts we want. We have found that we eat more pork in the form of roasts than chops. We smoke a few of the hams and leave the others fresh. We consider what will go into ‘grind’ for sausage making and what we will be cubed for quick meals. The roasts we cut get smaller as the number of people in our household dwindles. Always decisions to make. Then there’s the bacon…….we never want to skimp on the amount of bacon we have on hand. Both the bacon and the hams ( and the hocks) will all be brined and then smoked here. The fresh bacon will be smeared with a combination of maple syrup, brown sugar, and salt, then left for about 10 days to cure. The hams and the hocks will be put into a liquid brine solution of hard cider, brown sugar, and some spices. After they cure, we will smoke them in a homemade smoker. The smoker is nothing fancy….a large wooden box with loose seams to let out some of the smoke and a small woodstove that fits neatly inside. The meat will hang inside or be placed on the racks we’ve made and then smoke for about 4-5 hours at a controlled temperature of 150-155 degrees ( a higher temperature will cook the meat instead of just smoking it). We are very grateful for this home grown/home processed food we raise. Our trips to the grocery store are fairly infrequent even in winter….and it’s nice to breeze right by the meat counter knowing all that we need is carefully and safely preserved back in our own freezers. Often, if we’re not starting our winter mornings out with a hot bowl of oatmeal, then a plate of fresh eggs, homemade sourdough toast, and strips of home-raised bacon may be on the menu. You may want to consdider coming for breakfast!
CHICKS! ( can you see the one poking its beak through the hole in the word baby?, I didn’t plan for that!)
This morning we received that early morning call from our local post office, “your chicks are here”. 60 little meat birds that is. Off we went to retrieve them, wanting to get them home as quickly as we could. After two days of travel, they were ready for food and water. It is not at all uncommon to have new baby chicks arrive in the mail. Most people around here order their birds from a hatchery in the mid west, there are not too many hatcheries in the north east. Once we arrived home and unboxed our little hatchlings, we set them up in their brooding area. We use the kid’s old tree house. It has access to electricity ( for a heat lamp), is way up off the ground so the chicks are less susceptible to predators, and it’s draft free. The chicks will remain in their “high rise” until their real feathers appear. Usually they are completely feathered by the 3rd to 4th week. Then they move outdoors into a shaded hoop house, along with an outdoor run so they can spend their time foraging.. Every couple of days we move their housing and their run to fresh grass. Between 8 to 10 weeks they will be ready for butchering. We do all of our butchering here on the farm. This year we are raising birds a bit later than usual. I think in the long run the timing may actually work out better ( than early spring or mid summer), by the time we are butchering it will be the first part of October and much cooler. These 60 meat birds ( remember we cut back this year!) will fill the freezer back up with a winter’s supply of chicken. Home grown, that’s the way we like it!
As we have mentioned in the past , we raise a lot of our own food here at Fernwood. Along with the rows of canned vegetables and fruits lining the pantry shelves and the freezer bags full of blanched greenbeans, broccoli, and swiss chard, we round out our supply with the chicken, lamb, and pork we raise. Yesterday, it was time to process the meat birds we had bought as chicks back in June. Our system for processing chickens has become fairly efficient over the last few years. We always process our own birds, opting to not send them off and have a butcher shop do it for us. It’s the same with the lamb and pork we raise. We raise them here on the farm and see the process through to the end. It’s a choice. Most often, we share the work with another farm who also raise their own critters for the table. Many hands make light work, as they say. We process their birds on one day and the next day we are back here processing ours. Having the right set up for efficiently processing 70 meat birds is crucial. We start by making sure that the eviscerating table is set up, the knifes sharpened, and by keeping a big pot of water heated to 140 degrees. Once the chickens are killed, they are submerged in the hot water to loosen their feathers, then they are ready for the plucking machine. The plucking machine ( ours is a Picwick) is worth its weight in chickens and feathers. It saves us a huge amount of time. With the plucker, a chicken is defeathered in about one minute. We are very thankful for the chicken plucker! The chickens go from the plucker to large sterilized buckets filled with ice water. This cools them down and gets them ready for eviscerating. Once the birds are cleaned out, they again go into sterilized buckets of ice water. We chill the birds in ice water for 24 hours, changing the water several times, before bagging them for the freezer. Everyone has their job, and we tend to keep our ‘station’ through the whole process. I am usally running the plucker. Rick and our friend Len are usually at the eviscerating table. We’ve also had the help of our friend Rick H. , who before he began helping us pluck and clean chickens, had a lifetime career as a surgeon. He’s a very thorough chicken processor. We are very glad to have his help and he will usually take payment in the way of a chicken……and often some livers. The chicken plucker was bought between three small farms ( ours being one of them), and this helped with the initial cost. Now, all three farms have use of the plucker, and most often the help of many hands. Pluckers are pretty pricey and there is no real sense in each farm owning one, unless they specifically raise chickens as a cash crop and are processing on a regular and continued basis. It takes us about 2 1/2 hours to process 70 birds. Not too bad. As long as we continue to have meat in our diet, raising this meat from start to finish, keeps us very mindful and appreciative as to where the meat comes from. We are also committed to raising our animals in a healthy and humane way. We are always grateful for all of the food we raise and how it helps to sustain us. We truly give thanks. Always, after this big chore is done, we all sit down to share a meal. This is one of the best parts of sharing farm labor. The mid day meal. Always a treat after a job well done.
“>Over the last week, we have been processing the final pig we butchered. All the major cuts….chops, roasts, hams, and loin are wrapped and in the freezer. The bacon is curing in its brine. A variety of savory and sweet sausage are linked or formed into patties. This morning I made scrapple using my grandmother’s old recipe. We often ate scrapple for breakfast as a kid while with her. I love it as much as bacon, and certainly more than sausage. My aunt Jane, my grandmother’s youngest daughter, who is also a fantastic cook, shared this recipe card with me a long time ago. I don’t think she’s in the habit of butchering her own pigs, but I know for certain she’d approve of all this “pork making”. If she lived a little closer, I would be sharing plenty of homemade Italian sausage with her for her well known and epic spaghetti sauce ( long before it was cool to do so, she was rolling out her own handmade manicotte dough).Scrapple is basically a mush of cooked pork scraps and trimmings combined with cornmeal and spices. It is then formed into loaves and set to chill until it firms up and congeals. Later, you can slice it and fry it……. it’s really, really good. Not kidding. It is traditional to the Pennsylvania Dutch who refer to it also as Pon Hause.
We will freeze most of what we made and share some with neighbors. I know of one friend who summers on the lake and will be arriving here shortly, who will be over promptly to get his share of scrapple.
Today, we will be cooking down the pig fat for lard, which by the way, was used to grease the scrapple pans. Nothing wasted.