Sunday, October 28, 2012

Preparing for "Frankenstorm"

Buttermilk Rye, Cottage Cheese,
Plain White & Dinner Rolls
It's too early to tell how bad this storm will actually be, but we did make some preparations, just in case the worst case scenario plays out.

It is important to remember that we live in southcentral PA, where even a hint of a snowflake triggers a massive run on the bread and milk aisles in the grocery store.  So with "Sandy" slowly moving up the east coast, there was no bread to be had by Saturday, which was not such a bad deal, because I got to bake all day Sunday and call it "storm preparations".

Bottled Water in the Barn
In addition to baking bread and different apple cakes, we did fill up a number of our unused 5 gallon carboys with drinking water and stored those in our barn.  We have rain barrels under our downspouts to catch water (great for flushing toilets) and we do have a well stocked canned food cellar and freezers. 

We also re-organized our canned fruit, (which really had to be done anyhow)  in case our cellar floods.  All the full jars are moved to the top shelves, so the bottom shelves only hold empty jars, which can easily be washed and cleaned.

We moved all our outside furniture into the barn, got firewood closer to the house, emptied the rain gauge,  hooked up a large propane tank to the gas grill and got gas for our cars.  And we finally moved Oliver, the tortoise, inside.

Now, the phones are charging, flashlights are ready, the laundry and dishes are done...and I have time to post on our blog.  Outside, the wind has definitely picked up, its starting to rain harder and the temperature has dropped quite a bit.  Just be safe everyone!!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Jeff's Chicken Corn Soup for a Crowd

A long time ago, Jeff asked an old farmer's wife how to make chicken corn soup.  She looked at him as if he was daft, and then told him to cook chicken with corn - duh.  Jeff  has expanded on those basic ingredients and over the years learned to make pretty decent soup.  Last week, his own mother asked him for his chicken corn soup recipe, so I thought it may be time to write it down for everyone:

Jeff's Chicken Corn Soup
(makes 5 gallons)

  • 20 lbs chicken pieces (we use thighs and breasts)
  • 4 lbs onions
  • 1 bag celery
  • 1/2 stick of butter (or 1/4 cup vegetable oil)
  • 1 Tablespoon ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup of salt
  • 1/4 cup of chicken bouillon powder
  • 3 gallon bags of frozen corn
  • additional seasoning to taste
Using a 22 quart pressure cooker - with the drain tray for jars placed in the bottom - add the 20 lbs of meat and 1 gallon water (the drain plate prevents the meat from burning).  Cook the chicken at 10 pounds of pressure for 20 minutes.  This pretty much "destroys" the meat.

Pour meat through colander, catching the broth in a bowl.  Pour all the broth back into the pot.  Let the meat cool enough to handle, then debone it and add it back to the pot.

Coarsely chop the onions and celery and simmer in a separate large pot, with some butter or oil (just enough to get the onions started to make juice, about 1/4 cup or so).  Simmer for 20 minutes, until soft.  Optional:  we use our salsa screen for the food mill and run the onion/celery mixture through this, which removed all the strings from the celery, and leaves "no chunks".  The onion/celery mixture makes another gallon of creamy liquid, which we add to the broth.  For "chunky" soup, the food mill step can be skipped, just add the mixture to the broth.

Add pepper, salt and bouillon.  At this point, the pot will be less than half full.  Add the corn until the kernels are level with the liquid.  Bring back to a full boil.

We then let the soup sit several hours (actually over night).  By the next morning, the corn will have soaked up all the liquid.  Add more water to again just cover the corn.  Reheat the soup, adjust seasoning (with pepper, salt and bouillon powder) and simmer for several hours.  (We simmer it all day and serve it in the evening.)

This is the soup Jeff originally made for a wedding with over 100 guests, for which we had doubled the above recipe. 
We freeze left-overs in 1 gallon containers

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Fall Garden Maintenance

For the past few weeks we have been concentrating on getting all plants ready for the winter.  Each weekend, we get a little more done and the farm looks a bit more cleaned up.

The blackberry rows are an arduous task, we can only work a few hours on this at a time, so it is taking a while.  We not only trim the stems, but control how many stems per bush we want to keep - selecting the strongest and making sure none of the branches shade out other stems.  Then we manually pull the weeds around the bush, just within weed-whip range.  All the trimmings are dropped between the rows.  Eventually, Jeff will run the bush hog through each row, which pretty much destroys even the thickest bramble branch.  Then we will run the weed-whip along the rows to clean up the final weeds.


This weekend, Tina finished the final weeding and rototilling on the "Jam Garden", and planted a few more red raspberries (they were on super clearance at Lowes).  This garden now has 3 rows of blueberries, 2 rows of strawberries, and one mixed row of black and red raspberries, plus one gooseberry bush and two black currant bushes.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Spices and Herbs

Managed to get one more good cutting of herbs today, before starting to weed the herb garden:
  • 2 huge bunches of peppermint
  • 2 bunches of thyme
  • 1 big bunch of rosemary
  • 1 bunch of oregano
  • 1 big bunch of sage
Fresh herbs hung up to dry in the kitchen

We also made a batch of spiced apple wine - the recipe called for cloves, broken up cinnamon sticks and shredded ginger root.  Can't wait to see how this will turn out - may we'll have it ready for next year's Thanksgiving holiday.  In the meantime, I am making do with mulled hot cider - actually sipping it right now and it is delicious!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Birthday Party in the Barn

Our grandson Toben turned 3 today! And fortunately for us, his birthday party took place in our barn.

Rachel arrived with a complete birthday party in a crate!  Favors, decorations and games galore.  All we had to do was clean up the barn to get ready.

This ended up to be a family pig roast as well  - no use not utilizing our pig roaster, and Zach and Rachel got half a pig for roasting.  We had lots of potatoes, corn and rolls with jelly, as well as cakes, muffins and jigglers.

Overall, we had about 40 people, including a dozen kids - all under the age of 4.    Caleb brought over his hay wagon, with some hay bales, and took all the kids and some parents for a ride around the farm. 

Gracie brought a pinata - which we hung up outside of the barn.  None of the small children were able to break the pinata, though not for lack of trying.  It took Lars to break it open :)

Other games included "pin the tail on the donkey", and "go fish" - with quite an elaborate set-up.  And the of course there was birthday cake, balloons, presents and treats for everyone.  What a fun day!
Birthday Cake
"Go Fish" setup

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Making Apple Cider

There are just a few simple steps to making apple cider:

1.  Start with 50 bushels of mixed apples from a local orchard - second grade/juice grade (meaning they are smaller, not very uniform, but clean and worm free)

2.  Invite your entire family for a weekend of "fun"

3.  Clean and sterilize the cider press and connect it to the motor

4.  Clean all food grade buckets and barrels (our assortment ranges from 1 gallon jugs, to 5, 10 and 20 gallon buckets)

5.  Clean all saved plastic jugs - juice containers, soda bottles and even long as they have lids, for keeping cider.

6.  Set up an "assembly-line" for efficient work flow, including the following stations:
  • Getting apples off wagon into 5 gallon buckets (removing leaves if necessary or sorting out the occasional rotten apple) - this involves eventual crawling into the large bin to reach the bottom apples
  • Carrying the 5 gallon buckets of apples over to the press
  • Dumping apples into the hopper for shredding (requires a tall person)
  • Supervisor to ensure that shredded apples don't overflow the baskets and moving baskets toward the press mechanism
  • Running the (manual) press after apples have been shredded (can be same person who also dumps the apples)
  • Catching the pressed cider into suitable containers and then dumping those into larger storage containers
  • Water hose, pressure washer and final cleanup station is also a good idea.

Fresh cider only keeps about a week in the refrigerator, at least we never tried to keep it longer. What we can't drink or give away, we can, using 2 quart jars.  The sediment will settle to the bottom, and when we drink it later in the winter, we just carefully pour out the clear juice.  This also works great for making mulled cider all winter long!  We also use some of the cider for making apple wine.

With everything set up, 50 bushels of apples can be pressed
 into cider - using a 100 year old cider press rigged with
an electric motor - in a day.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Shed Roof Progress

Start of project on Saturday
Despite the weather forecast, we did not get any rain until late on Sunday afternoon, so we were able to work more on our shed roof.  Over the last 2 weeks, we finished putting up the long roof pieces on both sides, so now we were ready for the finish trim and the roof cap.  This turned out to be more time consuming than the big pieces. We worked on Saturday for a few hours, and then again on Sunday (it got a lot colder and we had to take a break just to warm up again).

Attaching brackets for roof cap

Individual brackets had to be screwed onto the top of each of the 44 roof pieces - to attach the cap to.  Jeff had been cutting and trimming these throughout the week and he pre-drilled each pieces with 3 holes. 

Two pieces of specially formed metal had to be screwed along the angles edges, forming the front trim - the bottom piece had to screwed on, the top piece got pop-riveted.  We were able to finish the road side trim up along both edges, and attached the first section of the roof cap before it started raining. 

Holding piece of edge trim in place
Attaching trim at the peak

Finished half of the roof!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Baking with Pumpkin

I think one of my favorite pumpkin variety to use for baking is the long-necked kind (also called Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck, or just simply neck pumpkins)  - they are basically stringless and have nice color and great taste.  I had two large neck pumpkins this weekend, courtesy of Jens & Grace's garden and used all of it for baking.

After peeling and seeding, we cut the pumpkins into chunks, rinsed them and put them into a large pot to which we added some water.
We boiled them until tender - just a few minutes - drained them and let them cool a bit.  I then used my trusty immersion blender, and mashed them into a smooth pulp.  This can be substituted for any canned pumpkin that recipes call for.

I made awesome pumpkin muffins from a recipe that I found on "The Pioneer Woman Cooks" website.  They turned out great and were gone in a few hours.

Since it was Jens's birthday (and he brought the pumpkins)  I made pumpkin pie.  Here is my basic recipe:


Single 9" Pie Crust:
 - 1/3 cup butter
 - 1 tablespoon Crisco
 - 1 cup flour
 - 1/2 teaspoon salt
 - about 3 tablespoons of cold water
I use my Kitchenaid paddle attachment to cut the butter and shortening into the flour/salt mixture, until crumbs are the size of small peas.  The slowly add water, until dough resembles the consistency of bread dough.  Roll out into a circle on floured surface (I use a clean smooth kitchen towel).  Pick up dough by loosely rolling it around the rolling pin and unroll into 9" pie plate.  Set aside and heat oven to 425 degrees.

Pumpkin Pie Filling (for 9" crust)
 - 2 eggs
 - 2 cups cooked mashed pumpkin
 - 3/4 cup sugar
 - 1/2 teaspoon salt
 - 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
 - 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
 - 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
 - 1 large can evaporated (NOT condensed) milk
Beat eggs with whisk attachment until foamy, add pumpkin.  Mix sugar, salt and spices in a small bowl and then add to egg/pumpkin mixture.  Slowly pour in the milk until well blended.
Pour filling into prepared pastry and carefully place in oven.  (some people prefer to put the pie plate into the oven - on a pulled out rack - and then pour the filling in - but I make more of a mess trying to slide the rack back into the oven, so I take my chances the other way)

Bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees, then reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake an additional 45 minutes (until knife inserted in center of pie comes out clean).  Let cool and serve with whipped cream.