Homestead Happenings

Weird scenes inside the homestead! What have we to add to the big wide web of weird today? A couple of things only, along with some sad news and some happy snaps. Successes and failures, as usual. Trying to keep them all in stride, which with the wild flowers and a short country drive, isn’t too big a challenge at the moment.

Creepy visitor appearing everywhere after the rains

Best to get the crap out of the way first, I prefer. We’ve got seemingly severe blackberry failure and an established bee colony suddenly lost. I could write exhaustively on just those two, but since I’m already exhausted, I’ll keep it brief. And continue the relentless churning in my mind alone.

These photos and several more have seen the cyber rounds this week, let me assure you! And the cornucopia of responses we’ve received is rather astounding. Long story short—we’ve had some lovely rains, finally. But it sent our blackberries from thriving and gorgeous, to this brown, crispy-looking horror nearly overnight.

Not just a few bushes either, the entire row, a dozen bushes easy. It looks terrible. So we got a bit frantic and have been sending photos to Ison’s Nursery, where we got them. Also, to various friends and forums, where we’ve had answers to run the gamut: too dry, a virus, a fungus, a blight, Botryosphaeria canker, empty pocket syndrome, aphid damage, and then the kicker . . . This is totally normal development.

Wait, whaaat??

You mean to tell me these could be normally progressing blackberries and after many years of growing blackberries we just never noticed it before?!

Well that would certainly be a big and welcomed WOW! Yes please!

But unfortunately, I don’t think so. They look brown and shriveled beyond anything I’ve seen in any of the online photorama. And there’s no sign of aphids, and it’s not cane blight, and it’s certainly not too dry, although I totally understand that guess, since that’s exactly what it looks like.

And I do so appreciate all the speculation, seriously! It gets me thinking and exploring every time and I do so love all the effort and camaraderie inherit in it. Be wrong, it’s not the end of the world!

Of course, what I did so notice among the seeds of speculation was the one that was, unsurprisingly, totally missing. Toxic rain perhaps? Some other oddities in the atmosphere, perhaps? Not on anyone’s radar? Really?

No idea what’s happening in this photo with the blue dot-purple ring, I just snapped the shot with the tablet as soon as I saw the trail while busy in the garden.

On better themes . . .

I also took some lovely happy snaps of the wild flowers blooming along the road, which was so much more gorgeous than what I was able to capture here. But I tried, and that should count for something, no?

And on that note, this post will have a Part 2 to finish later, cause that’s all I can manage at the moment. More to follow, so much more!

Thanks for stopping by!

I leave with a song that motivates me when I really need it most. Hope it works for y’all too!

Of Pigs & Life

This post is not for most vegetarians or vegans, or anyone easily shaken by reality. Graphic images and musings on the cycle of life will be presented with impunity.

This post is for those who:
~Love bacon;
~May ponder the ethics of eating meat, perhaps even to the point of reading such books as The Omnivore’s Dilemma;
~Think we’re crazy for doing such monumental tasks ourselves, instead of going to the grocer or butcher like normal folk.

Before getting into the boring stuff, let me start with a virtual standing ovation and huge ego-stroke to MY MAN!

That’s one giant hog for one middle-aged mere mortal!

And, just a bit of backstory for nostalgia’s sake. Mama Chop and Papa Chop were our first pigs. They are Red Wattles, a heritage breed that we bought from friends as a breeding pair about 7 years ago. We would’ve kept Mama Chop as a breeder indefinitely, except for one major problem—as sweet as she was, she kept squishing her piglets, no matter what we did to try to prevent it. And, try Hubby did, repeatedly, for several years, to no avail.

Something else peculiar about Mama Chop, which I have not noticed with any of our other pigs: She smelled fantastic. I’m talking about her natural aroma, not her cooked flesh full of seasonings, which is also proving to be delicious. I mean her living self—just being in the vicinity near her—she smelled like maple syrup. That may sound crazy, but it’s absolutely true.

Fortuitously, Mother Earth News has a feature story about this breed in their current issue. “Grandma and Grandpa’s Red Wattle Hogs” by Amanda Sorell.
“Red Wattle hogs are immense, reddish pigs with fleshy appendages that dangle from each side of their necks. Their up-turned noses and upright ears with drooping tips give them a friendly demeanor that matches reports of the breed’s charm.”

“According to The Livestock Conservancy (TLC), this pig’s gentility lends itself well to small-scale, independent producers, and its foraging skills make it suitable for pasture production. Further, this hardy breed is adaptable to a wide range of climates, and it grows rapidly—usually reaching maturity between 600-800 pounds, but individual hogs can weigh as much as 1,200 pounds.”

Red Wattle Hog Stewardship – Mother Earth News

That’s a whole lotta pork!

Thank you for our blessings, Mama Chop!

We don’t know how much she weighed in at slaughter time, but here’s Hubby’s approximation of her results:
150 – 200 pounds of meat for our consumption, that is approximately:
25 # chops
40 # sausage
36 # ham
20# bacon
15 # hocks
20# stew meat
10# in pressure canned
2 gallons bone broth
3 gallons rendered lard
Plus dogs get ~40#s of scraps…, lungs, ears, liver.

Wow, right?!

But, it’s SO MUCH WORK! He is one man in one small kitchen with one unskilled helper. That’s me. I’m the equivalent of his Girl-Friday (aka Galley Slave) — on call, doing what I can in wrapping and cleaning and cooking. The bulk of the work falls on him and he does it like a true stoic.

But what about the bang for the buck? Most folks who raise their own pigs don’t do their own slaughtering, for myriad reasons. It is a highly-skilled process that requires significant strength and time and at least some basic equipment.

It’s now 10 days since she was slaughtered, that makes: 2 days to hang, initial butchering one day, hams and bacon curing for 5 days, a day for making and packaging sausages, a day for smoking, a day for roasting bones, making broth, canning meat and broth.

However, it’s not only costly to go to a professional processor, it’s also a lot more stress on the pigs, as you’ve got to load them into a trailer and drive them quite a distance, sometimes as far as 2 hours away, plus reserve your slot months in advance (whether or not your pigs are ready), all which can affect the final flavor of the meat. We’ve heard many complaints from friends about this process.

Another significant drawback to this expensive convenience is typically, depending on the processor, you will forfeit many valuable parts, including the organ meats, the leaf and regular lard, the bones, including all the trimmings that go to the dogs, not to mention to the vultures, coyotes, and the bugs and soil as the entire animal never leaves our land.

Such is the cycle of life and this makes so much more sense than concentrating carcasses and waste in one place. We, and our neighbors and friends and pets and land are the direct beneficiaries of our labor, and that degree of skill and self-reliance makes me super proud. And when I’m proud, Hubby’s pleased, and so it goes the bitter-sweet circle of life!

There Must Be 50 Ways

. . . To ruin ravioli.

Just choose the wrong tool, fool
Then screw up the cheese, Steve
Don’t gum up the dough, Joe
And roll it out slow . . .

Hehe, just playin’. My mom used to love that song.

Granny requested in the comments that I use yesterday’s failed ravioli as a teaching moment. As open to that excellent idea as I am, because I agree that failure is the best teacher, still, it’s hard to teach anything when you still suck at it.

We only ventured into homemade pasta last month after buying a hand-crank pasta maker. Hubby started us in the adventure, brave man that he is. He read the directions, watched some vids, and proceeded to cursing his way through a batch of fettuccini, of which a good portion went to the pigs, because the ‘noodles’ were so scrunched and mis-shaped they’d never taste right.

They always make it look so easy in the videos! Alas, manuals and videos are no substitute for hands on failures.

He tried a second time with somewhat better results, but was still discouraged. Enough so that I knew if I didn’t step up to the plate soon the new machine would end up in the back of the storage closet only to be seen again during spring cleanings.

And I know for sure ravioli is going to be my thing. Eventually. I just love to play around with fillings and shapes and assemblages and finger foods.

Ravioli is not a finger food, you might be thinking? But, toasted ravioli is! Which is why I had Mom on the mind, because it reminds me of growing up in the suburbs of St. Louis, from where this popular dish originally hails. It was on the menu of every bar and pizza joint in the region. We ate it often, and it’s so delicious.

You’d think I’d try to master simple ravioli first, right? Nope. Gotta go for the gusto first time out. At least I did it with less cursing. (Hubby was in his man cave, and so can’t verify that fact.)

I learned immediately that the special ravioli attachment was a nightmare-level mistake and quickly gave it up.

When I wrote yesterday that it was all ruined, that was before tasting it. It actually wasn’t too bad. It only remotely looked or tasted like the dish I was going for, but at least it didn’t have to go to the pigs.

As for the multiple learning opportunities, where to start. The filling was very tasty, and all from the homestead (diced liver, sausage, onion and basil), but it wasn’t diced finely enough. That might have worked out ok, except that the dough was drying out too much, too fast, because it’s so hot we have the air conditioning blasting in the kitchen with extra fans blowing, too. To try to moisten the dough sheets just made them gummy, and whether too dry or too gummy, they still tore quite a bit when I tried to form the filling between the sheets.

The dough sheets were getting stuck in the machine on one side and crimping up, I’m still not sure why. So I tried using half the recommended dough amount for shorter sheets, which worked better, but they were still somewhat lopsided with very ragged edges and some small holes and tears.

I thought I might still be able get away with it, because ‘toasted’ ravioli actually means ‘deep fried’. What better way to hide broken dough than with another layer of egg, flour and breadcrumbs, right?

Except my homemade breadcrumbs weren’t fine enough and uniformly-sized like the store-bought varieties are, so while deep frying they didn’t cook evenly. Some parts were burned, some hardly browned. My ratio of edges to filling was way off on some of them, leaving large edges so crunchy they tasted more like dough chips.

The results reminded me of that McDonald’s skit by the young Eddie Murphy!

I’ll take it in stride, and give it another try, before throwing the machine in the back of the storage closet. 😒

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