Maple Sugaring at Hillside Homestead

Time to make sugar at Hillside Homestead

Maple Sugaring season is upon us at Hillside Homestead. How long will it last, only the weather knows. The perfect weather is around 40 degrees during the day and dipping below freezing at night; that allows the sap to run up the tree and then drop back down at night.

Just for fun here are some maple sugaring entries from Sarah Palmer’s diary. Sarah and her husband farmed in my community and she kept a diary from1876 to 1915, not every day, but many days.

April 9, 1893
Perry got home this morning. Lorin came down this morning. Nellie is sick. Elmer brought Edwin & Clyde up to stay while they went over to Eri’s. Indian (a sir name was given but it was unclear) came here & brought us a pail of maple syrup. Mother was here a while. Elmer came for the children after supper & Lorin went home in the evening.

March 17, 1904
Lyle went up to Norris’s Mill with a grist of wheat, Pa done the noon chores. Rosa’s cough keeps troublesome, she is taking Kings Discovery. It is not very cold nor very bright, it snows. my cold bothers me a good deal. I am eating maple sugar every day. Lyle got his grist ground and got back home about three oclock. Pa walked to town this afternoon and got a letter from Amzi and one from Catherine Peck. I will make biscuit for supper.

April 23, 1907
Pa went to town afoot the boys went to school. I sent a letter off to Perry, also one to Amanda Weaver at Gr Rapids. Eri came before dinner. Clyde Peck is plowing across the road & brings his dinner up here at noon at sits at the table with us. Lyle is plowing. Rosa finished her washing. I made bread six loaves, and a batch of cookies. We had a dish full of maple syrup that I made on the stove.
Notes: evidence of making syrup on the stove and not outside! And the neighbor is already out plowing and she is still making syurp, overlapping seasons.

Sept 24 and 25, 1908
Baked bread, cake, cookies, and apple pies and made sauce. We went to the Leelanaw Co Fair, Melville took Ned and Dennis and the Calf. I took a big plant of California grass and Arthur’s cake of maple sugar, 25 years old. We took our dinners with the Catholic ladies. School closed for afternoon and the boys went from school.

We all went to the Fair again. We got our dinners with the Ladies Aid of the Keswick church. the boys went from school again to day. Melville got First premium on Ned & the calf and winter squash, we had watermelons and onions there, I got 1st premium on the plant and Arthurs maple sugar.

Notes: 1st premium means first prize which usually included a monetary award too. So She won an award for one of her houseplants and a 25 year old cake of maple sugar! And she uses an old spelling of Leelanau, replacing the U with a W .

Three meals a day, literally and figuratively. The cure for what ails us.

 

 

Today I spent some time reading a 19th century book called, “The Hearthstone; or Life at Home. A Household Manual. ” by Laura C. Holloway, 1883.

It eloquently describes many housekeeping themes from the 19th century  most of which I am familiar with. They seem trite in todays world, they include topics like,  understanding why there should be a parlour for company and a sitting room for family, reconciling with the tyranny of carpets, the dangers of overcrowding and cluttering in furnishings, window decorations and more.

But I heard a theme today that I had not really considered as of late and that is the home is the center of all that is good and right, “… the best security for civilization is the home, and upon its perpetuity rests the future of the world.” This idea of individual homes that are the center of it all seems lost to history to me. I don’t recall that emphasis in my 52 years on this planet. I can sense a theme in my life of family being very important but somehow that seems a bit different from the ‘home’ emphasis here.

But do not think the author of this book is entirely focused on lace curtains and window boxes, although she does expand a lot on those topics, she extrapolates her idea to say this, “The basis upon which all homes should be founded is good living  and no matter how straitened the circumstances  how little there is to be spent, this can always be secured if housekeepers will begin at the beginning –that is, in the kitchen.”

So then she goes on to explain how three well-planned meals, served at a consistent hour each each day, in an attractive dinning room will lead to family togetherness and harmony. I admit this all appeals to me — especially that is, because it comes from the kitchen. I adore the kitchen and all things food.

I am thoughtfully considering these ideas and comparing them to the modern world today where there seems to be such division, falseness, intolerance and fear. It makes me wonder if three meals a day, at a lovely table would give us all the chance to engage in conversation. The author of the book expresses it thus, “The dinning room out to be the pleasantest place in the house; it is the meeting room where the family are expected to be always present at stated times, and where the events of the day are talked over while the pleasant business of eating is being discussed.”

Of course it is dangerous to look at history with rose-colored glasses. No generation is devoid of strife. But the theme of home and three meals a day, literally and figuratively, as center in our lives and how that might apply in 2017  gives me reason to pause and think and to….that is, digest.

"The Hearthstone; or Life at Home. A Household Manual. " by Laura C. Holloway, 1883.

“The Hearthstone; or Life at Home. A Household Manual. ” by Laura C. Holloway, 1883.

Thoughts on chicken breeds from 1884

So I spent some time tonight reading about chicken breeds or varieties in a lovely,thorough and lengthy at 1234 pages, book from 1884 called, “The People’s Farm and Stock Cyclopedia” by Waldo F. Brown. The chapter on chickens certainly warrants a second, third and more readings, but I did glean a few things this evening.

I have a mixed flock, which perhaps I am tiring a bit of because I am observing and beginning to real understand the differences in the chicken breeds. I’ve been keeping chickens now for about six years and at last I am honing in on what I want from my flock.  Last summer I had some chicks hatch out her for the first time. The father is a Buff Cochin and the mother is a Light Brahma. This book suggests crossing Light Brahma hens with Partridge Cochin cocks (I do appreciate that they use the real word for an intact male chicken, rooster is a Victorian euphemism) to obtain a large fowl for meat purposes. So that peaked my interest. Of course my cross was with a Buff Cochin and not a Partridge Cochin. As an aside I do have a Partridge Cochin hen.

But the author goes on to say that it is only the first cross that is desirable to produce a large fowl. It states that if one allows “..the half-breed fowls to breed together the stock will rapidly degenerate.” It goes on with this good advice, “Caponize the cockerels and fatten the pullets for hte fall and winter markets, when they will bring a good price.” I don’t know how to caponize and I do not understand that entire process.

I wondered if my mixed chicken breeds would produce strong young. This book says no. This may help me decide what to do with those birds who I call my ‘Brochins’. My funny way of mixing Brahma and Cochin.

It also states that the Buff Cochin is a favorite among the chicken fanciers. But they are not popular among farmers because they are poor layers. Well I do keep a few birds just because they are fancy. But as the years go by, I become more and more a farmer. My selection of chicken breeds is starting to reflect that.

He notes that all the other Cochin varieties are good layers, except for the Buff. Now I wonder how different the Buff Cochin is in 2017 compared to the 1884 Buff Cochin. Breeds evolve and change.

He states the Buff is a docile bird, which I can confirm in my barnyard observations. And this lovely quote, gives me something to think about as I close this post; again regarding the Buff Cochin, “They are very quiet and docile, and as sitters and mothers can not be excelled by any thing that wears chicken feathers.” I value quite highly chicken breeds that can successfully reproduce on their own.

Illustrations of chicken breeds from 1884

Illustrations of heritage breed chickens from an 1884 farming manual.

 

Farm manual from 1885 title page, includes chicken breeds and much more

Title page of the 1884 farm manual, “The People’s Farm and Stock Cyclopedia”

 

The Chicken Experiment: Heritage birds vs. modern birds

I have a keen interest in food history and agriculture history. I own and operate a historic Farm Stay. Cooking from 19th century cook books is one of my passions. I have a love for farming too.

But I knew that the chicken I could buy at the grocery store was nothing like the chicken that was being cooked in those old books. So I had to know. I had to try. So I had to raise some old style, heritage birds. or what we should really call, Standard Breeds. A standard breed chicken is capable of sexually reproducing by itself. The modern chicken that is most commonly eaten today, the Cornish Cross Broiler, is a hybrid and as thus can’t reproduce on its own. She and he is a hybrid that has been in development since about the 1950s. Today that bird gains weight quickly and is ready to butcher in 6 to 8 weeks. This chicken does not live long enough to mature sexually and would probably have some health problems if it did. They have the ability to rapidly convert grain/feed into meat.

So I settled on two standard breed birds for my experiment, Silver Laced Wyandottes and White Plymouth Rocks. I purchased them from Murray McMurray Hatchery in March 2016 and butchered them in September 2016 at about 22 weeks of age. At the same time my friend and partner in all things farming raised up a batch of Cornish Cross Broilers that we butchered the same day when they were 7 weeks old. Circa 1900 standard breed birds were used for meat and eggs and of course they can sexually reproduce. They take 20 to 24 weeks to reach a butchering weight. That is a lot longer than the 6 to 8 weeks.

The standard breed birds were smaller at 22 weeks then the hybrid birds who were only 7 weeks old. That was a bit disappointing. The broilers had larger breasts and smaller legs and a wider hip. The standard breed birds were taller, had a much smaller breasts, in fact the breast bone was sometimes prominent. The leg quarters were large and well developed compared to the broilers and that dark meat was very dark.

And then we had a chicken tasting. We roasted and fried one of each bird. The broiler tasted as I expected in both cases. Our home-grown broilers are quite tasty. The only thing I don’t like is the dry breast. The standard breed birds overall had a better ‘chicken’ flavor. The breast was much smaller but it was very tender, moist and flavorful in both the roasted and the fried. The legs were a bit tough, especially in the roasted bird. I wonder if brining will fix that? And some thought the skin was a bit too tough.

I plan to continue raising some standard breed chickens, even though it is more expensive ( more feed and more of my time) than the Cornish Cross Broiler. I want to try again and read more cook books. Make more observations. I’m not here to demonize the Cornish Cross hybrid, I’m here to learn and try to rediscover old foodways.

Please come back to this post in the future I plan to update it periodically ! thanks for reading. another interesting article is here, http://heritagefoodsusa.com/blog/the-chicken-of-tomorrow-needs-to-be-the-chicken-of-yesterday/

This webpage sells this sort of chicken, ready for your freezer http://goodshepherdpoultryranch.com/

 

 Catching free ranging birds is harder than broilers

Catching free ranging birds is harder than broilers

some of the roosters we butchered

some of the roosters we butchered

part of our butchering set up

part of our butchering set up

the broilers are on the left and the standard breeds on on the right

the broilers are on the left and the standard breeds on on the right

broiler

broiler

standard breed

standard breed

broiler leg on left. Standard breed on right

broiler leg on left. Standard breed on right

the tasting crew

the tasting crew

 

July 2016 Share for our Value-Added Meat CSA

 

 

Welcome to the July 2016 Value-Added Meat CSA Share!  You might be unfamiliar with some of the items or maybe need some recipe suggestions, so please read below…

 

What is Confit

Sounds fancy right? Well as it turns out, it is just another way of preparing duck, chicken or other kinds of meat. All it really means is poaching meat in rendered fat at a low temperature for an extended period of time. The meat is seasoned and salted and then stored in the refrigerator for a day or more.  Then the meat is rinsed and cooked in the rendered fat for several hours at a low temperature. The meat must be submerged in fat during the cooking process. This method tenderizes potentially tough pieces of meat, like legs, and adds delicious flavor without being greasy. After cooking the meat is removed and the fat is strained. And then the meat is poured back over the meat and it is usually stored for several weeks before serving. Before modern refrigeration meat like this could be kept for months if entirely sealed in the fat The following items are all related to the confit process, heritage hen confit, duck confit tid-bits, rillettes, confit fat and jelly. Read below for some prep tips, all part of our value-added meat CSA!

Heritage Hen Confit

What we have here is five-year-old chicken, cooked in the confit process. Yep, you read that right, five-year-old chicken, compare that to the typical chicken which is 6-8 weeks old. We culled some of our oldest layers for this. The flavor is outstanding and it is not tough at all. This is a very unique product we made – I don’t think you will find it anywhere else.

To prepare the Heritage Hen Confit, thaw it in your refrigerator, take the meat out the bag and reserve the fat for later use. Put the meat, skin side down, in an oven proof skillet. Carefully pan fry the meat skin side down, till crispy and finish in the oven if needed or place the meat on a baking tray, skin side up and bake till the skin is crispy at 425 degrees. You want the skin to get crispy, oh my gosh that is so tasty!

Duck Confit Tid-Bits

These tid-bits really exemplify our whole-animal processing but not wasting any of the duck meat.  During the process of cooking the confit some of the meat falls from the bone. Also there are bits of meat taken from the back and parts of the carcass of the duck that were also cooked in the confit process.  To serve the duck confit tid -bits allow the jar to warm up a bit at room temperature. Remove the meat and reserve the fat for later use. The meat can be gently heated by sautéing in a skillet. Serve on a bed of lettuce as a salad, tossed with pasta, as a topping for cooked greens or other vegetables. You can probably come up with some more ideas too for these tasty morsels of duck.

Rillettes

This is a delicious spread made of duck and chicken confit tid-bits. It is mixed with some of the confit fat and jelly and seasonings; combined well in the food processor and stored with a cap of fat. It has been frozen to ensure freshness. To serve, allow to thaw in the refrigerator, remove the fat cap and reserve that for later use. Spread the meat on crusty bread and enjoy with lunch or as an appetizer.

Confit Fat

The confit fat is a combination of duck and pork fat. It is perfect for frying potatoes, sauteing onions, etc. Because this is the fat the duck and chicken were cooked in, it has been infused with the delicious flavors of those meats.

Maple Smoked Bacon – bacon comparison with first delivery

We are proud of this bacon, it was cured with our maple syrup produced right here at Hillside Homestead. After its curing process was completed, we hickory smoked it. This batch of bacon was cured longer than the April batch and will have a stronger ‘bacon’ taste. It has not been sliced, which gives you the opportunity to slice it thick or think or to dice it, etc.

Maple Smoked Bacon Tid-Bits

When we packed up the bacon in the vacuum bag we had to do some trimming. So we took those trimmings and diced them for these tid-bits. Talk about convenience! You could fry up these tid-bits as a topping for salad, potatoes, polenta (which is sort of like corn mush in my world). Or you could make wilted lettuce, an historic way of making a lettuce salad with a woefully bad name. This is what you do….. take the tid-bits and slowly cook them till they are crisp. Remove them from the pan. Have your lettuce ready in a big bowl (of course, you can add carrots, radishes, etc). Now put the bacon fat on the stove and get it hot, just till it starts smoking. Then add some vinegar, I like to use the Sicilian  Lemon Balsamic from Fustini’s.  It will sizzle and pop when you pour it in. Stir it around some and then take it off the heat. Pour it while its hot on to the lettuce. Season with salt and pepper, also nice with hard boiled egg slices.

Pork Cracklin’

After the lard is rendered there are bits of pork leftover that just will not render/melt. These are the cracklin, they are actually the tissue called fascia. They come packed in a jar with some lard. I like to extract them from the jar and and sprinkle them in a pre-warmed cast iron frying pan. Let them warm up slowly, salt them generously, and then crisp them in the pan. I like them very crispy! They can be eaten as is  for a snack, sprinkled on salad, with cooked vegetables, or added to soup. Or you can make cracklin’ corn bread. Follow the instructions above, but don’t let them get too crispy. Leave them in the cast iron frying pan. Make sure some of the lard has coated the bottom and sides of the pan. The lard and cracklin’ is what greases the pan. Mix up some corn bread batter and pour it on top of the cracklin’ and bake in the oven. Let cool for just a few minutes, slice it and serve it hot from the pan.

Country Pate

Country Pate with Pistachios! This is fully cooked and ready-to-eat. Try it cold with pickles, cheese, a dab of mustard and crusty bread. Or serve it with fresh fruit or maybe a fruit compote made with dried fruit. You can even make a sandwich with it!  Ingredients include: ground pork, cream, onion, garlic, white wine, parsley, pistachios, spices.

 

 

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