Archive | July, 2011

Pickled Beets

31 Jul

Growing up in Wisconsin, I loathed the month of August. That’s when my mother harvested and canned her fruits and vegetables. As the eldest daughter, I was expected to help her peel carrots and apples, snap green beans, blanch tomatoes, chop onions, pit peaches, and whatever else needed to be done to make sure the shelves in the root cellar were stocked for the winter.

The water bath canner and pressure cooker going full tilt made the already steamy summer days almost unbearable, and the only thing on my mind was how soon I could get out of the kitchen and go jump in the lake.

Nevertheless, at the end of summer, the sight of the shelves lined with jewel-like bottles of vegetables, fruits, sauces, jams and pickles was very satisfying. One of my favorite home-canned foods was Pickled Beets, a Midwestern farm classic. Opening a jar of them when the snow was six feet deep outside the door could bring back summer in a heartbeat.

This morning I harvested the first crop of baby beets from our garden and made six pints of those rustic, ruby pickles. The kitchen was hot and steamy, my hands were stained crimson and the scent of vinegar and spices was intoxicating. I thought of my mother several times and felt grateful for how hard she worked to feed us and teach us how to feed ourselves. And now I’m going to jump in the lake! Well, the pool, that is.


Irena Goes to the Henitentiary

11 Jul

This spring three of our hens have gone “broody”, meaning they want to sit on their eggs and hatch baby chicks. Because we have no roosters and thus no fertile eggs, it’s a pointless exercise. Also, it means the hen is not earning her keep, as she quits laying eggs once the broodiness sets in. If not discouraged from this, she may stop laying  for several weeks or even months.

The brooding cycle can also have some negative consequences for the wannabe mama. She will often leave the nest only once or twice in a 24 hour period to eat, drink and defecate – in the form of a particularly large and malodorous chicken dropping – so it is necessary to take her out of the nest several times a day. Her temperature also rises and she may pull the feathers from her breast, the better to warm the eggs. All this can happen even without a single egg in the nest!

Our approach is to “break the brood” as soon as we see signs of it. The first time we experienced this phenomenon with Natasha Nogudnik we researched it on the web and tried out various methods, including removing her from the nest several times a day, dipping her tummy in cold water, and finally isolating her in a dog crate for a week. The isolation seems to do the trick.

This year Eddie converted the chick nursery to a “henitentiary” by removing the floor and replacing it with wire, making it impossible for the hen to nest. We put it in a cool room inside the barn and placed Henrietta, a Welsummer, and Antoinette, a Cuckoo Marans inside. Within a week they snapped out of it and were allowed to return to the general population.

Last week we noticed Irena Szevinska, a Polish hen, was spending more and more time on the nest and protested loudly, puffing out her feathers and pecking at us, when we tried to remove her. So she was sentenced to solitary confinement in the henitentiary for a few days.

This morning I let her out and she cackled loudly, ran around the hen yard, ate some hen scratch, and finally settled herself into a nice long dust bath. Welcome back, Irena! Now let’s get started on that egg business again.