Archive for June, 2008

Best Wishes to All on the Winter Solstice

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

Yesterday was the winter solstice. We went out to the coast to have dinner with my parents.


Time to enjoy warm meals of oxtail soup and beef pot-roast.

Time to work on sewing and crafts during the long, dark evenings. Yes, I do still find a little bit of time for this, even with a crawly baby to look after! I’ve been making some home-made baby rattles, and have plans to mend some old sweaters and maybe sew a new shirt and dress.

Time to make sure warm covers are on the bed for the cold nights ahead. Though the solstice marks the solar midwinter, the climatic “midwinter” usually comes in July. We have a big warm duckdown comforter on our bed. It’s a kingsize, even though our bed is just a double. Owen snuggles between us in the nest, covered with a soft woolen baby blanket. This is a very cosy and happy arrangement, as long as Owen doesn’t wake up at 4am, churning his limbs like a conglomeration of eggbeaters. Fortunately we all sleep well most nights.

Young garlic growing in the winter sun

Time to get out the garden plans and seed catalogues, and make plans for the coming spring. We are keen to try growing a new kind of hot chile, recommended by some friends. They also have a recipe for some delicious hot chile sauce (a fermented one). We can’t wait to try this.

Time to plant garlic. Actually, our garlic has already been in the ground for about three weeks. We were given a very generous supply of seed garlic by some kind friends, so have been able to put in 300 plants. This is a huge increase over the last two years. We feel happy every time we look out the window and see all those spears of green poking out of the garden soil.

Best wishes to all on the winter solstice!

Lots of Meat!

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

Even a small steer like Herman Beefsteak produces a lot of meat. At the butchery, the weight of his skinned carcass was 255kg. This didn’t include the tail and offal, which we kept aside at home. Both Lloyd (the slaughterman) and Ngaire (our wonderful butcher) guessed Herman’s age at around 15 months. He was actually only 11 months old, but considering how well the grass grew this season, and considering that he had access to his mother’s milk until his dying day, it’s not surprising that he grew faster than average. It’s probably more normal to slaughter an animal at 18 months old, in order to get more meat. In our case, we only wanted to carry three animals through the winter, in order to avoid the possibility of running out of grass. That’s why we slaughtered our steer at just 11 months. So. . . what have we done with all that meat?

Owen gums a piece of delicious rump steak

For starters, we have given half of the meat to our neighbours, Dennis and Mary. We have an arrangement with them that they will share half the meat from each of Rosie and Coco’s calves in return for grazing our animals on their pasture. We are pleased to say that Dennis and Mary now have a freezer full of beef to share with their six children.

The other half of the meat is for us — me, Kevin, Owen, and my parents. We do not have a large chest freezer here on the Farmlet, but my parents do have one out at the coast. They are keeping most of the meat in their freezer. We visit them often, so it will be easy to pick up some meat whenever we are over there.

When Kevin, Owen and I went to pick up the meat from the butcher, we could barely squeeze all the boxes of meat into our little car. Boxes were jammed into the trunk, and wedged into the back seat next to Owen’s baby seat. We had to leave the box of drippings to pick up next time we are in town. And that was only half the meat! Dennis and Mary had already collected their share earlier in the day.

We were happy to support a fine local business like “Personal Choice Meats” by having our steer processed there. Ngaire, the butcher, has an excellent reputation around here for running a clean business and taking pride in her work. She was really helpful when it came to deciding what cuts of meat to choose, and gave me advice about how to make customised additive-free sausage fill for the sausages. Since we were taking the meat to my parents’ freezer, I was glad she could blast freeze it for us. This saved the hassle of blood leaking into the freezer from lots of unfrozen meat. It also saved my parents the hassle of having to keep turning the meat as it froze to stop it all sticking together in a great big lump!

Kevin looked very happy after we picked up the meat, as Ngaire had praised its quality and tenderness. She noted: “that steer wouldn’t have wanted to be any fatter.” (Lloyd said that it looked too fat!) For our part, we are pretty pleased to have raised a nice fat beast. We think the fat is very useful and tasty. Also, we are not suffering from fat phobia: Pasture-raised beef fat is health food in our book!

We are all enjoying the delicious meat. So far, we have tried scotch fillet, rump steak, sausages and shin-on-the-bone. The steaks were wonderfully tender and juicy. Owen has been given a piece of rare steak to gnaw on during dinner, and looked like he was taking the job very seriously. Did he just squish the piece of steak and play with it? No. It went straight into his mouth! No worries about that. So far, meat is one of Owen’s favourite foods (next to cod liver oil, which is the most favoured treat of all!). We are glad to have an abundant source of healthy organic beef for our baby to enjoy.

Kevin and I were especially excited to try the sausages. We refrain from eating “regular” commercial sausages in order to avoid MSG, preservatives, and other unhealthy ingredients in the sausage fill. The only additive-free sausage we’ve found around here was too expensive for our budget. It is wonderful now to eat a meal of tasty sausages, knowing that they contain only the special fill that I supplied to our butcher. What was in the fill? We kept it simple: Rice flour, sea salt, cayenne pepper, ground cumin.

(Note: According to Ngaire, iodised “table salt” should be avoided in the preparation of sausage and preserves. We don’t use “table salt” in any of our food, in any case, so this was no hassle.)

The sausages came out really tasty, with just a hint of spiciness from the cayenne pepper.

My parents have also enjoyed a meal of rump steak, and we all tried the shin-on-the-bone when we were over at my parents’ place for dinner last night. Mum put beef shin and vegetables in the slow cooker to make a delicious soup.

More culinary adventures are in store:

I’m planning to render the drippings to make tallow, and boil up lots of the bones to make rich and healthful stock. We are looking forward to beef liver pate, steak and kidney pie, pot roast, rib roast, corned beef tongue, oxtail barley soup, beef stew, sourdough crackers and pastry made with beef tallow, beef chile, empanadas, spicy meatloaf. . . I hope to be posting some beef recipes on this website in the not-too-distant future.

Black Pudding on the Blood Moon

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

“Once we accept the premise that living takes life, we can begin doing vitally important work: ensuring that farm animals and wild animals have the opportunity to lead a good life and die a good death. We need to approach the body of a slaughtered animal more holistically, ecologically, consciously and spiritually. We have to witness the lives and deaths of farm animals, and to be less squeamish about the truth of what happens to them.”

—Jessica Prentice, Full Moon Feast (An excerpt from the “Blood Moon” chapter of Full Moon Feast is available online)

The Winter Solstice is approaching. The first frosts have finally come, and the grass has all but stopped growing on the Farmlet pastures. Even here in the mild climes of Northland, the colder, darker days increase our hunger for rich meaty dinners and healthy grass-fed fat. Now is the time to kill some of the animals who have fattened on the sweet summer grass, to reduce the number of animals on the farm during the leaner winter months. The butcher and slaughterman are busy. We might call this season the “Blood Moon.”

Rosie’s calf, Herman Beefsteak, was the first of our livestock to be born and die on the Farmlet. His slaughter has marked a milestone for us, in terms of producing our own food. We feel proud to have raised a healthy animal who lived his short life outdoors enjoying his mother’s milk, fresh pasture and sunlight. We feel proud to have produced nourishing meat to feed ourselves and our loved ones. I also feel humbled by the enormity of taking this life in order to sustain our own lives. I can’t say I felt sad when I saw the steer’s body buckle from the slaughterman’s bullet; we have been resigned to the necessity of his early slaughter since before he was born. What I do feel is a profound responsibility to make the best possible use of this animal’s meat. More than ever, I want this food to be cooked with love and pride, and shared joyfully with family, friends and neighbours. More than ever, I feel the urge to hone my cooking skills to make the most thorough and nourishing use of this precious food.

As I contemplated the impending slaughter of our first steer, I resolved to take this opportunity to learn a new skill: How to make black pudding (sometimes called blood pudding).


* Because I had read about the great nutritional value of bovine blood fed on summer grass. In particular, it is a rich source of vitamin D.

* Because it seemed like a good way to reduce waste and make best use of the gift of this animal’s body.

* Because black pudding is delicious. (This is true. If you have not been brave enough to try it yet, you might be surprised to find out what a treat you have been missing!)

* Because, perhaps, this was my way of bearing active “witness [to] the lives and deaths of farm animals, and [being] less squeamish about the truth of what happens to them.” My part in the death of this animal was not to fire the bullet or skin the carcass, but I measured the still-warm blood into the saucepan. . . hurrying before it could congeal. The blood splashed my hands, and dribbled on the floor and kitchen cabinets: Mess. . . bathos. . . benediction?

So. . . how does a novice black pudding-maker make black pudding? I found this excellent recipe online, and have written my version (with a few small changes from the original) below.

Black Pudding for Beginners

2 litres fresh pork (or bovine) blood
3 onions, very finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1kg suet or diced pork fat (back fat or bacon fat)
500ml heavy cream
500g rolled oats (soak them overnight in enough water to make a thick paste)
500g barley (soak it overnight and boil it in water for 30 minutes)
3 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg


Once you get the blood, you’ll need to use it quickly before it congeals, so do all the following in advance:

* Soak rolled oats overnight (use “quick oats” or finely rolled oats rather than the chunky “jumbo oats” for a smoother texture)

* Soak barley overnight in water with a little whey or lemon juice in it

* Boil and drain the barley

* Dice the pork fat, chop the onions and peel the garlic

* Check that you have the following gear handy: a very large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, a sturdy wooden spoon for stirring, clean buckets for catching the blood

* You will need a bain marie for cooking the pudding. If you don’t have a purpose-built bain marie, organise one in advance. (I figured out that I could make a water bath inside our large covered roasting pan, and then place a big pyrex casserole dish in it.)

Right before you get the blood:

* Preheat your oven to 160 degrees celcius.

* In a very large saucepan, soften the onions in 1/4 of the fat. Add the garlic and the rest of the fat, and leave to sweat slowly for 10 minutes.

* Add oatmeal and cream, and cook for a few minutes

* Add barley and spices and stir thoroughly.

Ideally, you have just reached this stage when your accomplice passes a bucket of fresh blood through the kitchen door!!

* Add the blood to the mixture as soon as you can after the kill. Cook mixture gently, stirring thoroughly until it has started to thicken like a dark, meaty porridge (maybe about 5 minutes).

* Bake in an ovenproof container using a bain marie for 1-2 hours until firm to the touch.

Once the black pudding is out of the oven:

* Turn it out of the cooking container while still warm.

* Once it cools, you can cut it into slices for storage

* Store in the fridge of freezer.

* Fry or bake slices of the pudding when you are ready to eat them.

Buckets of blood

Almost ready for the oven



How much blood do you get from one steer? I asked Lloyd (the slaughterman) this question. He said that he’d expect to get a good 10 litres of blood. . . but couldn’t be sure of catching more than half of it. So, I was very impressed when Kevin showed up in the kitchen with 10 litres of clean blood in our stainless steel buckets.

How quickly does the blood congeal? This probably depends on all kinds of variables, but we found that it set into a lump within about 10 minutes — and it started to congeal a good deal before that. I’d heard that stirring it and adding salt could help stop it setting, but Lloyd said he’d seen someone try these tricks and the blood still set like a rock in no time flat. I decided that the best course of action was to work quickly. I guess I got the blood into the saucepan within 5 minutes of the kill.

How much black pudding does this recipe make? About 4 or 5 kilos. I doubled the recipe and ended up with close to 10 kilos. That’s a lot of black pudding!

Did any difficulties arise during the cooking process? Since I doubled the recipe, the biggest challenge was dealing with the huge quantities of mixture. I could barely fit it all in my two biggest saucepans. Also, because of the small size of the bain marie I’d constructed, I had to bake it in four separate batches. (Then there’s the bit where the cook has blood splashed all over her hands, black pudding mixture sticking to the bottom of the pots for lack of stirring, and her baby needing some urgent attention. . . )

Does it matter if you can’t transfer the pudding to the oven as soon as the mixture starts to set? No, I don’t think so. I cooked four separate batches, one of which even had to be refrigerated overnight before it went in the oven. They all seem to have turned out fine.

Can you use a slow cooker instead of an oven to cook the pudding? I set up a water bath in our slow cooker, and tried cooking one batch in there. It worked out ok, but I think the resulting black pudding is a bit too soft and moist in texture. It tastes fine, but tends to fall apart in the frying pan.

Why didn’t you put the black pudding into sausage casings like lots of the recipes suggest? Because it’s a lot simpler and easier just to bake the pudding in a bain marie!

So. . . how did the black pudding turn out? Delicious! Such a treat for our winter breakfasts! I’m definitely planning to make black pudding again next time we kill an animal.

Farmlet Reader Sends Contribution

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

Eileen sent US$40 to us. Thank you.

Slaughtering a Steer

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008


Slaughtering a steer is a big job that requires a lot of skill and equipment to be done properly. A block and tackle or hoist would be necessary to haul the carcass up for skinning and gutting. A meat ax is helpful for splitting the carcass in half. After the killing, skinning and gutting are complete, the meat needs to be transported to the butcher in a sanitary manner.

Becky and I knew that all of this was far too much for us to handle on our own. We decided to call in a home kill professional to do the job and transfer the meat to our butcher in town.

Herman Beefsteak on his last day

Lloyd Johnson has been providing home kill services in New Zealand for twenty years. He’s trying to retire from this work, but rural people continue to call on him. For a cost of $60, Lloyd will do the job neatly and efficiently.

Besides his years of experience, Lloyd brings with him a mobile slaughterhouse in the form of his specialized ute.

All the customer has to do is walk the cow to be slaughtered into the vicinity of that ute and Lloyd will do the rest.

I assumed that I’d do the same thing that I always did when I shifted the cows: Offer a treat bucket to Coco and then walk to where I wanted the rest of the cows to go. They all follow Coco. Except for that day, they didn’t. I don’t know if it was a coincidence, but they wouldn’t follow me down to the front of the paddock, where Lloyd was waiting with his rifle for Herman Beefsteak.

Long story short, eventually Lloyd and I managed to shift Herman into a desirable location for what was about to happen.

I wasn’t really sure how I would feel about slaughtering Herman Beefsteak. I felt… I suppose, matter-of-fact about the situation. From the day this animal was born, Becky and I both knew it would come to this. We gave the animal a care free, stress free life, and now it is going to feed and nourish us and our baby son, Owen. It’s not any more complicated than that for me.

Lloyd stepped close to the steer, aimed the rifle at its head—“Just above the point at which imaginary lines from alternate eyes and horns cross”—and pulled the trigger. The crack of the .22 calibre rifle was followed by great thump as the animal collapsed and rolled onto its right side.

“Get your buckets,” said Lloyd. Becky had instructed Lloyd that she would like to have blood to make black pudding. I retrieved our two stainless steel buckets. (Becky is writing a post dedicated to making the black pudding.)

Lloyd said, “The death throes can be strong. Watch those hooves.”

The animal convulsed powerfully a couple of times, and then settled down.

With one of my buckets in hand and ready, Lloyd cut a long opening, deep into the animal’s neck, severing the main veins and arteries.

Both the volume of blood and the pressure with which is emerged took me by surprise. In a short time, I had about two gallons of blood, far more than necessary for Becky’s black pudding, I was sure. Better to have too much than too little, I figured, and whatever was left over would go right onto the garden beds.

I immediately delivered the buckets of blood to Becky, who was standing by in the kitchen. You’ve got to move fast when making black pudding. She’ll tell you all about it.

Back outside, Lloyd was already at work.

I’m not going to try to describe exactly what he did. He’s such an expert at it, and so fast, that I’m at a bit of a loss to explain it, even though I watched him do it. Luckily, I took pictures.

At the time, I kept thinking, “How is this going to be a one man job?”

Lloyd makes use of clever implements. Probably, the most clever of all is the small hoist and winch system that he custom built onto the back of his ute. This machine deploys in a matter of seconds and allows him to raise the animal up for gutting. The back of the ute itself is all stainless steel, which facilitates the transport of the beef to the butcher in a sanitary manner.

He has metal chocks to position the beast on its back so that it doesn’t roll over as he’s skinning it on the ground.

He uses some kind of stainless steel rods with hooks on both ends to pull bits this way or that. (There’s probably a name for these, but I just don’t know what they’re called.) If he needs some tension applied to the flesh, he hooks one end of the rod in and then he hooks the other end onto a tendon or hoof or another bit of flesh that’s going to pull the way he wants. Look carefully at the pictures and you’ll see this much clearer than I can hope to explain it.

He has an obviously custom built, all metal ax. The blade looks like a heavy duty meat cleaver, but it has a full length ax handle. This is used to actually split the dressed carcass in half.

A high quality stainless steel saw was used once—and only very briefly—on the breast bone, I believe.

He sharpened his knife continuously with a sharpening steel that he wore around his waist.

He had a stainless steel brace that he wore over his shoulders and waist. This assists him with carrying the meat—in quarters—from the hoist to the back of the ute for transport.

He tows a trailer in which the animal’s head, hide and internal organs are carried away. He sells the hide. I don’t know what becomes of the head and the guts. We kept the heart, liver and kidneys.

The process was remarkably neat (considering the scale of the task) and seemed to happen very fast. How fast? You might not believe it, but the job was done in about thirty minutes.

Here’s the story, as told by the images. They run in order.

And away it all went to our butcher in town…