Butcher’s Wife Pork-chops: a recipe

After a late evening shearing sheep with the help of neighbors, we reentered our home with well-earned appetites. I had done the prep work on this recipe hours earlier. So it was the matter of about thirty minutes before we set down to a late meal.

This is a favorite recipe, using ingredients produced on our farm.

Season a couple of inch-thick pork chops with salt and pepper and any herbs you like. Heat up a cast iron skillet and throw a knob of butter into the pan. Cook the chops about ten minutes a side. I’ll usually throw more butter into the pan when I turn them over. When the chops are done put them into the oven to keep warm.

Fry a few strips of bacon in the same skillet. Remove the bacon and add one chopped onion, sauté until soft. Add two diced garden tomatoes, a bit of wine or balsamic vinegar and let cook for a few minutes. Add some chopped homemade dill pickles (capers or olives also work well) and a large bunch of greens (about a pound). We used turnip greens last night but any garden greens would work.

Cover your skillet; turn the heat down to simmer for about five minutes. The greens start out bulky and piled high but quickly lose their volume within a few minutes. Uncover, crumble the bacon into the mixture and toss the ingredients.  Spoon the ingredients over your pork chops so that it forms a nice pile on top. Make sure to spoon some of the pot liquor from the greens over the dish.

Before eating say a note of thanks to the pig (the one on your plate) and dig in. You might also thank me for turning you onto one of the best, and easiest, dinners in your repertoire.

Thanks to Mr. Reynaud for this recipe, from his French Feasts cookbook.


Reading this weekend: Plato’s Revenge: politics in the age of ecology by William Ophuls. I should, however, be reading the manual on our ancient New Holland manure spreader. A tension bar broke and I’m not sure if that might not signify something more technically advanced than my duct tape approach to all things mechanical would solve.


Late Spring Update: bungee cords break

Important tip for you gardeners and farmers out there: bungee cords don’t last. This may seem self-evident. And this lesson is one I learn repeatedly. But please remember that when using a bungee cord to secure a gate or fencing around your garden that it will eventually rot and fall away. That falling away of the cord can then be interpreted by thirty sheep as an invitation to brunch.

Waking after my afternoon siesta, a civilized practice that I have adhered to since kindergarten, and one I am fortunate to share with my mate, I heard our flock bleating what I took to be signs of distress. Upon examination of the source of this sound I found the whole damn flock in the spring and summer gardens. Magnificent kale, three feet in diameter, reduced to a nub. Onion tops nibbled down to the bulbs, potato plants trampled in their haste to get to the cucumber patch. And what I thought was sounds of distress were instead the sounds of delight from gluttons stampeding into a casino buffet.

I chased them out the open fence line, aimed a few well-placed kicks to the rear of the dawdlers and replaced the bungee cords with some wire ties. Surveying the damage and I realized that they had probably been in there less than thirty minutes. It could have been worse. At least I got them out before they hit the dessert bar and eaten the tomatoes plants.

This has been a vacation week, cutting hay, weeding the gardens, bush hogging fields, hauling hogs to market, canning pepper sauce and a hundred other small tasks. We have had two farm volunteers this past week from the state of Vermont, two women in their mid-twenties on a summer hiatus from the job of looking for careers, spending the next few months working gratis on farms across the country. We provided room and board and our charming company each evening over dinner. They helped work through the mountain of tasks that kept getting bumped to the back burner. This morning they hit the road for Alabama. They planned to stop in Dayton, TN to visit the site of the Scopes Monkey Trial, just a short 30 minutes away from our farm.

On other fronts we have new bees and are working on our sawmill shed. The shed is 30×20 feet. It will house a portable sawmill and have room for storing cut lumber. The footings have been poured and the support posts set. Once the shed is completed we will order that sawmill and move forward on our woodlot management plan.

Our new beehives are in place and both are active. We had to introduce a new queen in one hive. Tomorrow we will get into the hives to determine her status and when to add a new hive body to each. Clover is still in bloom, so they should be getting plenty of pollen and nectar. However, we will supplement those sources with sugar water over the summer.

Finally, for this update, we have been working with the state forester and local extension agents on a plan to develop a remote pasture into a nut orchard. We have a pasture of about 6-8 acres that is seldom used for cattle or hay. We had discussed using it to grow pines for a crop, harvestable in 16 years. But we’d prefer to use it for a food crop. Still in the exploratory stage, but excited about a new project. Because, we know nothing stays static on a farm.

Now why are those cattle bawling?

Country Directions: You know that field where the cows used to be?

Cindy was on the phone trying to get directions to a new source of feeder pigs.

Cindy: We’ll be coming from up around Sweetwater. (The pig farmer was around Cleveland, TN.)

Farmer: OK. Turn on the road that takes you to Dalton, GA.

Cindy: You mean Dalton Pike? (What he had left out at this point in his instructions: take I-75 south 30 miles to the second Cleveland exit. Turn left on 64 and follow about 5-6 miles until you see the signs for Dalton Pike. Turn left. Fortunately, we had both been in that area a number of times over the years.)

Farmer: Yep.

Cindy: OK. How far down Dalton Pike?

Farmer: A bit. Y’all want to turn near the old school they tore down. (Hmm, a bit problematic for guests from out of town.)

Cindy: Helpfully, “Any other landmarks?”

Farmer: There is a big golf course where you need to turn. (Bingo!)

Cindy: What road should we look for…?

Farmer: The new road.

Cindy: OK. We take the new road next to the Golf Course. What next?

Farmer: Turn right at the first stop sign. Go past the old dairy barn and look for my road on the left. I’m the last house on the left.

Cindy: How far down is the old dairy barn? (This area of the state is littered with barns old and new.)

Farmer: A fair bit.

Cindy: About how many miles is the old barn?

Farmer: Oh, a few.

Cindy: (Giving up on this line on inquiry.) What is the name of your road?

Farmer: Green Valley.

As it turned out we found his farm with no problems. And, the new road was conveniently named New Road.


Reading this weekend: Uncivilization: the dark mountain manifesto by Paul Kingsnorth. A short arts based critique of any technological solutions, in part, to our current dilemmas.

It has been a busy week getting the garden in for the summer, moving the cattle and sheep to new pastures and having an early season dinner in the backyard. So, time for one from the archives.

This Farm Note from the archives was written in April 2009. This is before I began to regularly post on the blog. The Farm Notes began in 1999 and were shared for those years with a group of friends and family. Over the coming year I will post periodically from those archived Notes.

A Winged Elm Farm Scrapbook: April


Farm life has gotten real busy now that spring has arrived. We are in in the middle of the annual barn cleaning, and most of what’s removed has to be dug out by hand. The resulting compost pile of bedding and sheep manure from wintering our flock has grown to a stack eight feet high and 20 feet long. I love the smell as the mixture steams in the corner of the inner corral. It smells like diving into a Louisiana pond on a summer’s day. All creosote-y and good, that’s a childhood thing you might not understand.

So here are some pictures from our busy farm, including a compost pile or two.

April Scrapbook 048 April Scrapbook 047 April Scrapbook 044 April Scrapbook 040 April Scrapbook 039 April Scrapbook 038 April Scrapbook 037 April Scrapbook 035 April Scrapbook 032 April Scrapbook 031 April Scrapbook 028 April Scrapbook 023 April Scrapbook 019 April Scrapbook 018 April Scrapbook 016 April Scrapbook 014 April Scrapbook 011 April Scrapbook 010 April Scrapbook 008 April Scrapbook 007 April Scrapbook 005 April Scrapbook 003 April Scrapbook 002



A Winged Elm Farm Scrapbook, With Soup!

What Your Well-shod Farmer Is Wearing

On the farm I wear my steel-capped wellingtons 80% of the time.

Daily footwear

Daily footwear

For muck, and high wet grass and sheer ease to put on they can’t be beat. When working in the woods or going for a walk to check on the cattle, I reach for my Timberland work boots. And for fine warm afternoons in the garden, Birkenstocks are ideal.

I Got Your Polar Vortex Soup, Right Here

During one of our single digit nights I fixed this Scotch broth. A perfectly simple soup made better by using the “odd bits”.

2lbs. lamb neck or soup bones

2 tbsp. barley

½ cup of finely chopped carrots, turnips, onions, leeks, celery and parsley

Use a large Dutch oven and fill with two quarts of water. Add meat and bring to a boil, skim off any scum. Add barley, salt and pepper. Reduce to simmer, partially covered for an hour.

Add veggies, partially cover. Cook for one more hour. Remove the meat and let cool. Separate the meat from the bones. Add meat to soup. Season and serve.

The wind is up, the brush pile is large, give me some matches

An elderly neighbor stepped out his back door two weeks ago on a fine wild fire 016blustery day and burned his brush pile, then burned a couple of acres of his in-laws. Then to keep the fun rolling his fire burned another few acres of an adjoining property before being stopped just shy of a house. Having been stymied in that direction it took off and burned six acres of our winter pastures before our volunteer fire department in South Roane County arrived and put out the fire.

Woodlot Management in the Anthropocene

The modern urban life has made a fetish of the idea of wilderness, a landscape untouched by human hand. It is a powerful image that has done much good in the past century by helping preserve from grasping industrialists some real gems of the natural world in the form of national parks.

But one might argue persuasively that the very act of setting aside some land to remain “untouched” albeit with interpretive nature centers, hygienic toilets, washrooms and campgrounds and state of the art asphalt roadbeds for scenic motoring, has led to greater exploitation of the non-wilderness world. After all, if we are preserving some beautiful national parks then the rest of the landscape is fair game.

This fetish is one that we all have internalized. I know for myself how powerful the allure of wilderness is in how I view Cindy’s and my farm. But the concept doesn’t hold up upon closer scrutiny. The human species has impacted life and terrain across the globe. The unflattering term ecologists now use for the current epoch is Anthropocene: a period in earth’s history when the impact of human existence shapes both the natural world and its climate.

All of this brings me to discuss our decision to begin working our woods as part of our productive use of our land. The current model for woodlot management is to strip it of every tree of even the remotest possible economic value every fifty to sixty years. Bring in heavy equipment, build roads to get the logs out and abandon the land to heal itself. We only have to walk to the back of our property to gaze out at that example, fifty acres of former forest, denuded into gullies getting deeper after every storm.

I have many old farming texts in my library that remind me that the idea of sustainably managing woodlots so that they are in continual production is not new. It makes sense and I understand the concept intellectually and practically. But we both wrestled with the idea of cutting any trees down for base commerce. There was a sense that to care for our land meant farming the open pasture areas, that the woods were somehow sacrosanct. Even though the woods have been logged, and not well, countless times.

The man must surely get tired of being referenced, but a recent article by Wendell Berry on sustainable logging had us rethinking our relationship to our woods. It inspired us to devise a template of sorts to allow us to harvest firewood and timber on a rotating basis. The template divides our woods in eight woodlots with a two-year harvest timeline.

This is all in the preliminary stages of execution. The next two years are a learning period. And there is a lot to decide on and discuss as we move forward. The practicalities of selecting cull trees and market trees, cutting bulk firewood, cutting and felling trees safely and without damaging other trees, removing the logs without scarring the land or removing topsoil, dividing the woods into woodlots, selling timber on the market or to farm customers are things I’ll try and address in a second post in the next couple of weeks.


Reading this weekend: Garden Earth: from hunter and gatherer to global capitalism and thereafter by Gunnar Rundgren.

Farm Scrapbook: January

Farm Cast: Brian

Farm Cast: Brian

Farm Cast: Cindy

Farm Cast: Cindy

Farm equipment at rest

Farm equipment at rest

Where work gloves retire

Where work gloves retire

His days grow short

His days grow short


An attempt at a scrapbook of our life on the farm starts with a bit of a cheat. The pictures of Cindy and me are from last summer. The other three are from this weekend. Change is in the air, however. We are to reach a balmy 52 degrees today, snow tonight and a high of 12 degrees on Monday.

I’ll return to a regular post next week. The next scrapbook will be in February.