Archive for the ‘Food and Recipes’ Category

Our First Real Chicken Dinner

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

Warning: This post contains material that may not be suitable for some readers.

I went outside the feed the chickens the other day and saw that Cornelius was covered in blood and that his comb had been torn near the back.* I’d seen him getting into minor scuffles with another rooster (Young Punk #2), but that other rooster had always just backed down in the past.

Well, YP2 had grown markedly larger than Cornelius, and apparently was no longer satisfied with 2nd place. I looked at YP2 and saw just the tiniest nick on his comb. Clearly, it wouldn’t be long before YP2 made a play for the throne. Since Cornelius represents fresh genetic material, however, the other roosters are all destined for our bellies.

YP2, I decided, was ready for the pot.

It was already evening, so I wasn’t going to kill YP2 right then. I let them all return to their chook house for the night, as usual.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like catching chickens during the day. A friend of ours uses a large fishing net to do the job, and after the antics I’ve experienced, I like that idea. I’d caught YP2 once before, when he had escaped, and it wasn’t pleasant. He instinctively knows that I’m bad news and he puts up a fight. (Becky says it’s because I’ve been feeling up his drum sticks since he was a few months old.)

If time allows, the best method for catching a chicken is to walk into the chicken house at night and simply pick the desired bird off the roost. In case you don’t know, chickens are pretty much switched off at night. So, a few hours after dark, I put on my headlamp and headed outside. In a matter of seconds, Daddy Wolf had YP2 under his arm.

YP2 wiggled around a little, but nothing at all like the mortal combat he’s up for during the day.

Now, what to do with him until morning?

The previous owner of our property used an old washing machine, minus the internals, as a compost bin. It just had a bit of dried weeds in the bottom, so I put YP2 in there with a bucket of water in case he got thirsty. It’s well ventilated, and, at the moment, it’s in the shade. I put a piece of wood over the top with a rock just in case he tried to push himself out somehow.

The next day, I got everything ready. Hot water, knife, and hatchet were laid out near the old stump outside our garage.

I went to retrieve YP2. Woh. He was pissed. He tried to jump through the top of the washing machine as soon as I removed the cover, but I managed to grab him.

While I was fairly confident with my ability to break the chicken’s neck by hand (from my previous lesson), this rooster was substantially larger and stronger than the one I killed before. I decided to go with the broom handle method.

This involves lowering a broom handle, or similar implement (I used my axe handle), over the chicken’s neck, standing on the handle and then pulling upward on the legs to break the chicken’s neck. This is done on a hard surface. It took a lot of force to break this rooster’s neck, so I’m glad I was able to apply it quickly and authoritatively so there was no question that the job was done. I’ll probably use this method again in the future.

I went about the business of plucking and gutting the bird. Becky came out to check on my progress. She had Reed in a pouch and Owen by the hand. She looked pretty proud and pleased with me. She has been looking forward to putting this roo in her Dutch oven.

And it’s a good thing that she bought the largest Dutch oven that we could find in New Zealand (29cm). This chicken just barely fit.

Ready for the pot

Becky specifically requested the chicken feet. She’s going to make stock out of them. I thought she was kidding at first, but she has been coveting them. It turns out the people who don’t use the feet are the minority.

She’ll probably write more about chicken recipes in the future, but for now, here’s a picture of the end result of all of our efforts. Becky prepared an unforgettable meal for us and her parents:

Chicken dinner

Wow! It was absolutely delicious. I’ve read about people who don’t go back to industrially produced chicken after raising and eating their own, and it’s clear why after the first bite. This British site refers to Barred Rock chickens as, “Walking dinner.” It’s not a joke. We were very pleased with the amount of meat on this bird. Four adults and Owen (who eats nearly as much as an adult) were easily filled up. And even though I gorged myself to the point of disgrace, there was still meat left. The next day, Becky turned the Dutch oven into a soup pot and we ate delicious chicken soup for three nights after this main meal. I don’t mean chicken soup with pathetic little scraps of chicken. There was plenty of meat left for the soup.

All in all, raising Barred Rock chickens for meat is very worth doing and satisfying.

* Don’t worry about Cornelius, he turned out to be just fine. A couple of days after his altercation with YP2, it rained and all the blood washed off of him. He looked as good as new.

I Slaughtered a Chicken for the First Time (With a Little Lot of Help from My Friends)

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

WARNING: This post contains material that may not be suitable for some readers.

I really like to eat chicken. Becky likes it too. However, we’ve gone almost completely off industrially produced chicken. The cost of organic chicken is about twice as expensive as the regular variety here, and those aren’t inexpensive.

Since we’re going to be eating our chickens, I needed to learn how to kill, pluck and dress them. Becky has a friend who’s husband also needed to learn these skills. This friend of Becky’s has a mum and dad who have been raising and eating their own chickens for decades. So, on an absolutely fine Saturday, we all converged on a nearby farmlet for a delicious lunch… and a hands on lesson in the skill of slaughtering chickens.

From the reading I’ve done, I knew that there were a lot of ways to kill a chicken. This time, we would be breaking the chickens’ necks (See: How to Kill a Chicken, or How to kill, pluck and dress a chicken).

The small children were removed from the area and Garth and I were each handed an Orpington rooster. The method of how to break the neck was explained. I was up to go first. As I stood there, preparing to kill the chicken with my bare hands, I wondered: How is it that, at the age of 38, and having consumed some unthinkable number of chickens in my life, this will be the first time that I’ve personally killed a chicken? The answers to that question are far more disturbing than the act of killing the chicken.

Kevin kills a rooster

A lot of things that are wrong with the planet today can be explained by the fact that the vast majority of people in “developed” countries have absolutely nothing at all to do with producing the food (and in many cases, alleged food, or pHood) that they are consuming. Once societies were sold on letting food production become someone else’s job—and in the most horrific examples, left up to the state—that was it. Heretofore unthinkable nonsense came to be seen as efficient, healthy and convenient. Toil outdoors was no longer necessary. Better living through chemistry. The green revolution. Trust us. Welcome to the brink of oblivion.

If you’re reading this site, you probably won’t learn much from watching, Food Inc., but I’d suggest watching it anyway, especially if you have a hard time with the idea of killing a chicken yourself.

So, there we were, Garth and I, holding the lifeless roosters. Leila, the chook authority of the region, showed Garth and I how to dunk the carcasses in hot water to loosen the feathers. Plucking the birds took the most time, but it was actually easier than I thought it would be.

The rest of the procedure was pretty much the same as you might read in the guides linked above, and in books. However, Leila showed us a great trick for dealing with the intestine and anus that all but eliminates the chances of… an undesirable rupture. A few centimetres forward of the anus, gently cut a small opening through the skin (cut in the direction perpendicular to the spine) until you can see inside the cavity. This will allow you to clearly see all of the plumbing that needs to stay intact as you cut out the anus. Then use the knife and draw backwards to cut out the anus. There’s absolutely no guesswork using this method because you’re able to see exactly where the blade is going.

Thanks to Leila, Ken and family for having us over and teaching us such valuable skills.

Hens Starting to Lay

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

One of our Barred Rock hens started laying about two weeks ago. Bask in the glory of the first egg (it was pouring rain, so this was taken inside):

The first egg

A couple of days ago, another hen started laying as well. She dropped a couple while she was on the perch and they cracked on the floor of the chook house. “Silly chook,” is such a perfect phrase, isn’t it? Oh well, she has figured out how the nesting boxes work now.

How do the eggs taste? As you might expect, they’re absolutely delicious. The yolks are a deep, saturated orange/yellow.

It’s hard to put into words how satisfying it is to be eating these eggs. Keeping chickens has been a dream of mine for a long time. As I toiled in the depths of my last corporate job in the U.S., I used a picture of some chooks in a field as the wallpaper image on my screen. Thinking about having chickens helped me make it through the day, believe it or not.

I should order a large print of that egg, frame it and hang it up proudly in our lounge. HAHA.

Country Calendar: Growing Strong — Whangarei Growers Market

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Crossposted from Cryptogon.

We were over at my mother and father in laws’ house on Saturday. They have a television, so we all watched Country Calendar.

Country Calendar is usually very good, but it was particularly good this time.

Most of the food purchased in New Zealand is sold through the retail networks of just two large corporations. There’s New Zealand based Foodstuffs (which operate New World, Pak’n Save and Four Square stores) and Australian based Woolworths Limited (which operate Woolworths, Countdown and Foodtown stores). This duopoly has led to New Zealand having the second highest food price increases in the world over the last decade. (The cost of food in South Korea increased the most.)

The duopoly that has a death grip on most of New Zealand in the retail food sector exists to screw everyone over, except shareholders, to the extent possible. The people who produce the food are paid the minimum possible price. The people who buy the food are charged the maximum possible price. Yes, while that sounds like a good business model for the vampire middlemen, it pretty much sucks for everyone else.

Now, you know how I’m always going on about the power of many small scale producers selling directly to the retail customers.

Well, don’t worry, I’m not going to write it all out again.

Just feast your eyes on what happened when a couple of small scale growers got fed up with being screwed over by Foodstuffs and Woolworths. HAHA! This is fantastic.

Behold: The Whangarei Growers Market.

The retail customers are buying more varieties of higher quality food for lower prices. The growers are earning more, having eliminated the vampire middlemen. Foodstuffs and Woolworths, aren’t allowed to have stalls at the Whangarei Growers Market because they’re not growers. The purpose of the market is for local producers to sell locally produced food. And by the look of it, people seem to like the arrangement quite a lot. The vampire squid duopoly middlemen… Not so much.

Watch: Country Calendar: Growing Strong.

Here’s a bit more from Transition Towns Whangarei:

Via: TVNZ Country Calendar:

When supermarket price-setting was threatening the livelihood of Northland growers, they fought back by cutting out the middle man and selling their produce direct to consumers.

Today the Whangarei Growers Market is a thriving venture providing a living for around 30 local producers. Many more seasonal suppliers jostle for space throughout the year.

The market was started 12 years ago by Robert Bradley and Murray Burns in what has been likened to a David and Goliath struggle.

Robert Bradley says the supermarket chains were using their buying power to dictate prices, with low returns driving small to medium sized growers out of business.

Tomato grower and market co-founder Murray Burns was one of those whose margins were being whittled away.

“The only way to deal with that was to get much bigger or close down – and we wanted to do neither,” says Murray.

The pair were inspired by the concept of village markets in Europe and the United Kingdom, and a resurgence of farmers’ markets in the United States.

They found other growers who shared their predicament and a group of 12 held the first market in a car-park in Whangarei in 1998.

It now takes place every Saturday morning and, when Country Calendar visited, everything from fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs, milk and cheese to macadamia nuts and olive oil was on sale. The market has a rule that all produce must originate in Northland.

The local-only principle has kept struggling growers afloat and encouraged new businesses that may not otherwise have been viable. Asparagus, for example, is now grown in Northland for the first time in many years.

The market is also a venue for growers and consumers to meet face-to-face – there is a requirement that growers are also the stallholders.

At the peak of the growing season, the market attracts up to 6000 shoppers over the four hours it is open. Around 50 pallets, or 2000 cases, of produce is sold each Saturday.

Robert Bradley says the key to success has been offering significant qualities of high quality local produce at moderate prices.

Many similar markets have sprung up around the country in the last decade but the Whangarei enterprise deliberately distances itself from the popular farmers’ market movement.

Robert believes some of the newer markets have got sidetracked into “food fashion”.

“For us it is a matter of ‘keep it simple stupid’ – and it has really worked.”

Rendering Lard

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Hello out there! I got swept away from updating our beloved website for a while. . . by life and all its demands. I’ve missed writing Farmlet posts! It feels like high time to be getting back to writing regular updates again.

I’m breaking my long silence with a few words about something very dear to my heart: lard.

We were lucky enough to find a source of local free-range pork fat. Finally! I was actually given this precious fat for free because nobody else wants it. The farmer told me he doesn’t kill many fat pigs any more, except for the occasional older sow. He and his wife now aim to breed and raise lean animals, which are preferred by the “health conscious consumer.” This is a sad state of affairs for those of us who recognise lard as a delicious, nourishing and healthy food.

Straining the lard

I decided to try rendering batches of lard three different ways: stovetop, oven, and slow cooker. The slow cooker (crock pot) got the thumbs down. My usually-reliable recipe book claimed that much of the fat would have liquefied after 4 to 5 hours on low heat in the slow cooker. I left it for three times this long and still felt that I was wasting too much of the fat due to incomplete rendering. Both the stovetop and oven methods worked well, though.

How to render lard

I used about 2kg of pork fat for each batch (belly fat is especially good), cut into small pieces.

Put it in a large enameled cast iron casserole (any heavy-bottomed pot or casserole with a lid will do) with about 1/4 cup of water.

Add an onion and a handful of herbs if you want to give your lard some extra savoury flavour. We rendered some of our lard with onion and herbs and kept some plain.

Heat the casserole on the stove (over medium heat) until the fat is cooking nicely. Then turn the stove down very low or transfer to an oven preheated to about 140 centigrade.

Cook for about 4 hours, or until most of the fat has turned to liquid.

Strain the lard and cool it a little before pouring it into glass jars. I warm the jars before pouring in the lard, so that they don’t crack from the heat of the hot fat.

Let the lard cool to room temperature before storing it in the fridge or freezer. Lard should keep for a few months in the fridge, and will stay good for over a year in the freezer.

Please be very careful handling the hot fat!