Reading This Weekend

Our little farm is humming along as we enter spring. From the green grass and ample rains, to the large flock of sheep and expanding poultry yard, the farm looks more prosperous this year than last; when the onset of what was an extreme drought began to color the land brown. That the orchards and all of the new plantings survived and are now thriving, we remark on daily as a miracle (thank you, Mr. Dionysus, for keeping the new wine grape plantings alive).  

Between tending the animals and the gardens, I still try to find time to maintain an active reading life, a balance that is important to my mental health. And Mr. Cobbett is always a good tonic to put things in perspective. Reading (again) portions of his Rural Rides, volumes 1 &2. This work is now close to its bicentennial and still full of timely information. Example: beware of visiting clergy, particularly the Methodist variety, they keep a keen ear for hog butchering days and consequently time their visits for the dinner hour.

Also, reading the new work by Jeffrey Roberts, Salted & Cured: savoring the culture, heritage, and flavor of America’s preserved meats. It is equal parts travelogue and history, and an interesting account of cured meats as they exist today in our land. A bit awkwardly written with a confusing narrative but it still has me interested in continuing our own curing experiments.

The 2015 title, Collards: A Southern tradition from seed to table, published by the University of Alabama, and written by Davis and Morgan, is well worth seeking out by any lover of greens. Personally, I’m more of a turnip or mustard greens man, having grown up outside of the core collard-belt. But this book is a well-written and enthusiastic account of the cultural importance of greens, a food group I always will celebrate.

What are you reading?

Greens and Sweet Potato Soup

Greens and Sweet Potato Soup
Borrowed from some cookbook…can’t recall which (maybe from the Splendid Table?). But a great use for sweet potatoes and whatever greens you have fresh from the garden: A favorite of ours in the winter months.

Ingredients
• 2+ Tbs olive oil
• 1 large onion, chopped
• Sea or kosher salt
• 2 large leeks, white and light green only, washed thoroughly, trimmed, and chopped coarsely
• 1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
• 1 small white potato, diced
• 2-2 1/2 C vegetable or chicken broth
• 2 C water
• 12 oz. (2 large bowls) kale or other greens, cut in 1-inch strips or chopped coarsely
• 4 green onions, sliced (if you have them)
• 2/3 C fresh cilantro, chopped
• Fresh ground black pepper
• 1 Tbs cumin seed or several shakes of powdered cumin
• 2 Tbs lemon juice
• Pinch or a few shakes of hot pepper
• Garnish: olive oil
• Optional garnish: crumbled feta or other cheese

Instructions
Heat olive oil and start sautéing onions, with a sprinkle of salt. When they are translucent and soft, add leeks. Cook, stirring often, until all vegetables are golden, about 20 minutes.
Combine sweet potatoes and greens in a pot with broth and water and salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 15 minutes.
Add leeks, onions, green onions, cilantro, and lots of black pepper. Simmer about 10 more minutes.
Add cumin and lemon juice, and taste. Add more salt, black pepper or lemon juice as needed. Finish with hot pepper.

Ladle into bowls, garnishing with olive oil and cheese.

A Fall Update

That first real hint of the winter to come rolled in yesterday. We were in the middle of conducting a workshop for fifteen participants on how to raise a homestead hog when we all felt the temperature drop. Felt more keenly since all were dressed for a sunny sixty plus degree day. What we received instead was an overcast windy day with temps dropping into the mid-fifties.

Odd how our bodies adapt, soon a day with the temperature rising to 55 will remind us of the warmth to come in spring and summer. For now the change has us reaching for cups of hot tea and thinking of warm hearty foods.

Lambs: The lamb, injured by a dog, is recovering nicely. Her appetite is strong and she is very active with no trace of a limp. She is still confined in the hospital ward, aka the dog pen, and receives a shot of penicillin twice daily. No recurrence of maggots, thankfully. The old injured flesh has fallen away leaving large circle, perhaps 12 inches in diameter of new pink flesh. A smaller area of about four inches is still scabbed over. But consider where she started and you will agree she has come a long way.

The other lambs are healthy and close to 100 pounds each. A date with the processor has been set and they will make the fateful truck journey the week of Thanksgiving; A cruel irony for the lambs and for the customers plenty to be thankful. The injured lamb will remain and join the other ewe lambs as breeding stock.

Gardening: I love fall and winter gardening. The bugs are at a minimum, the weeds are sluggish and whatever you plant seems to thrive. A bonus is the absolute thrill and joy to walk out on a cool morning and harvest beautiful ten pound Hubbard squashes.

Hubbards

The squash patch has another fifty to harvest in the next four weeks as long as we can avoid a heavy frost. Perfect for stews, we love our winter squash!

The turnips and the collards are all up and thriving. The mustard greens were the first to reach a harvestable size this past week. Sweet potatoes are still holding out and will not be harvested until the leaves begin to die back.

Bees and horses: If the weather warms enough today we will complete our fall harvest of honey. We hope to be able to get forty pounds of rich dark honey, more than enough to see us through to next fall. Having your own honey in the cupboard is real food security. Like Tolkien’s character Beorn in The Hobbit, we feel capable of shape shifting and accomplishing mighty deeds with our honey surplus.

Last night after a nourishing stew of roast pork, greens and potatoes we had delivery of a new draft horse to the farm. A Haflinger named “Candy”, an eight year old mare, Amish trained for farm work. An absolute beauty in appearance and temperament, she offloaded easily and we secured her in the corral before turning into bed.

Well, the animals are signaling by bleats, whinnies, meows, crows, cackles, snorts and honks that our presence is requested outside. Everyone have a great week.

King of the Southern Table

“Mogul of appetite, lord of misrule, the king who must die”: John Thorne, a favorite quote from a favorite author. More pork is butchered each year per pound than beef, lamb, goats or chickens and any other competing livestock. That is more pork around the world. Scratch the billion plus Muslims, scratch the kosher adherents of Judaism, pork is still tops.

The pig has been our constant companion for over ten thousand years. A fellow omnivore, a perfect companion, a domestic vacuum cleaner or gleaner of all things left over. The pig converts food into pounds at a ratio of 33%; a sheep does the next best at 13%, and a steer at a measly 7%. The hog plunges out of the starting gate at a couple of pounds and ends the first year at an easy 300 pounds. Take that you squalling human infant!

I have no books on my shelves celebrating the sheep or goat (excluding the instructional), only one on the steer, a handful on chickens and an even two dozen celebrating the hog: Serious Pig, Pork and Sons, Pig: King of the Southern Table, The Whole Hog, Pig Perfect and Everything but the Squeal, to name but six.

Pig meat: nothing is more communal than a pig roast. Next to it beef is positively boring. Pig meat is accessible and democratic. We all eat “high on the hog” with pork because pork is easily raised by one and all. In Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson, she speaks of how little kids gather choice thistle and grasses during the day to feed to the family pig: A year-long family project to fatten the pig so that all could enjoy the sausage, flitches of bacon, salted hams, head cheese, chops, loin, blood puddings.

Pigs are the meat of choice for the sustainability crowd. We can survive, do for ourselves, a pig in a paddock proclaims. Pull up an overturned bucket, hunker down and watch a cow eat hay and you feel nothing. Watch a pig tuck into a trough of steamed zucchini, corn and stale bread and you shout Comrade!

Tonight we dined on what Cindy referred to as a keeper: Lacon Con Grelos, A Galician dinner that could be ripped from the pages of any decent Southern cookbook. We physically restrained ourselves from eating until sick. Fix this immediately and restore your soul, find a new center for well-being, toss out the yoga class, deliver up your Lipitor to the porcelain god. Better to check out a few years early than to squander those extra years deprived of good eats.

Lacon Con Grelos: as adapted from The Food and Wines of Spain by Penelope Casas.
• 1 ½ pounds of smoked or salted pork. We used left over smoked shoulder
• Salt and fresh ground pepper
• 1 pound collard greens, rinsed and roughly chopped
• ½ pound Andouille sausage or other piquant cased meat
• 4 new potatoes
Place pork in pot and cover with water. Add salt and pepper. Bring to boil, cover and simmer for one hour. Add greens and sausage and potatoes. Simmer for another hour. Serve.

This dish is so elemental that it blew us away in its complexity. Get thee to a pig!