Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Meat Chicks

See, I told you I was going to get meat chicks this fall. And, I ordered 15 of them (plus a free rare breed, more on that in a bit!) just before the cut off for the season until January! Hatcheries do not ship during holiday seasons for obvious reasons... chicks need to be in your hands within 24 hours of hatching. Mine I tracked and they left Minnesota around 7:00 pm Monday and were in my post office by 11:20 am Tuesday. I didn't get the call as soon as they came in (bad phone!) but I picked them up before closing at 4:30 pm. Everyone was healthy and well and driving the post office staff up a wall with hungry peeps. Puzzle Boy was so excited and could barely wait to get the little fuzz balls home! We stopped off at TSC to grab some Save-a-Chick probiotic and smaller feed and water attachments since all I have is the big gallon sized feeders. I have to say I looked at these little attachments and then looked at the bottles that go with them (but bought separately, why?) and thought a mason jar could probably screw right in those. I've got those! And, it worked. Smarty pants over here.

So! I got the chicks and the kids in the house which is tricky if you don't make multiple trips. After I got Mini Me settled and occupied I set up my indoor brooder and prepped the water. Chicks are not born knowing how to find water. I mean, were you? Jeez, give 'um a break! So don't just dump your chicks in the brooder (aka a cardboard box) and wish them luck. Very gently (they just got flown across the country, have sympathy), pick up each chick and dip the tip of it's beak in the water. This one dunk teaches them how to drink and where water is. Cool right? This would be a total pain if you ordered 100 chicks but for 16 it took all of one minute.

After they have mastered drinking let them practice that for a few minutes before you introduce food. Sprinkle the chick starter feed on the papers for them to peck at and then you can put the feeder in. Let's talk about feed for a minute. I am raising these birds on certified organic feed from day one. This means although I am not a certified organic farmer I technically am producing organic chicken that could be certified. The feed I am buying is produced only 2 states over in Vermont. Score. Yes, it's more expensive then the feed store special that is full of antibiotics and pesticides, but really? Why would you want that crap? Spend the money, you'll save it in doctors bills when you don't get cancer and can still fight off infections. You are what you eat!

I have now moved the chicks to the barn stall and the set up while a little hobbled together seems to work fairly well for the moment. I have turned on it's side my unfinished TV stand and hung the brooding lamp on a nail. Then I have it covered with an old ripped screen (just a small hole) with a piece of cardboard over one half to help keep the heat in but not suffocate them. Then I weighted the covering down with paint can (for lack of a better way) to keep the cat out of there. So far so good.

I ordered all females because they tend to be more tender and tasty in the end result, roosters can cause some off flavors if not castrated (and who has time for that!). In about 6-8 weeks they should be at slaughter size as Cornish Crosses are the franken-bird that is bred to grow like it's on roids. I am hoping for them to finish out at around 6-8 pounds. Based on the reviews I read on the breed, this is entirely realistic. While this is ideal for a quick end of the year meat production it's like buying hybrid seeds every year. There is no way to perpetuate the flock, they are a one time deal. I will be researching dual purpose breeds to hopefully develop a breeding flock that will serve as both meat and egg producers. A girl can dream anyway!

I will update weekly to share how fast these little buggers grow. Day 2 and some of them already have sprouted feathers! Crazy!

Oh yeah! The rare breed chick that was free with my order...

What the heck. They sent me a Modern Black Breasted Red Game chick. What do I even do with this?! I thought, hey, it's free maybe it will be something super cool. Not cool! I don't mean to sound ungrateful and mean but, I do not plan on cock fighting anytime soon (what this bird was bred for) so I find it as a foreseeable problem. Darn cute as a chick though!

Til next time!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Final (maybe) Canning Totals for 2013

I say maybe because I do have the temptation of make some soups and canning them just for fun and convenience. Yes, I really did just say that. Let's move on shall we?!

So this year was my first year canning more than jam or dilly beans and also my first time using a pressure canner! Let me assure all you who are scared of the pressure canner, it's not going to blow up, if you can read at a 5th grade level you will be able to follow the directions to safely can those low acid foods that are oh so delicious and nutritious. So relax! Get one.

Top shelf: piccalilli, pumpkin, pickled beets.

What is on my shelves right now is not exactly what I have canned this year. Some of it I have used to bartered for items or just given as gifts to friends just because or eaten because, let's face it, some stuff is just too good to wait for! This will give you a pretty go idea though.

Piccalilli (a green tomato relish): 9- half pints, 1- twelve ounce, 5- quarts
Pumpkin: 8- pints
Beets, pickles: 6- twenty-four ounce
Beets, plain: 7- pints, 2- quarts
Cucumber, pickles: 3- pints, 6- quarts
Dilly Beans (pickled green beans): 4- pints
Tomatoes, plain: 4-pints
Salsa: a lot of all sizes!
Carrots: 6 pints
Cayenne Pepper Sauce: 1- half pint (in use), 4- quarter pints
Banana Peppers, pickled: 1- half pint, 3- quarter pints
Jalapeno Peppers, pickles: 1- quarter pint
Chicken Stock: 7- quarts
Applesauce: 3- pints, 7- quarts
Blackberry Jelly: 7- half pints
Wild Grape Jelly: 10- half pints

Middle shelf: cucumber pickles, chicken stock, plain beets and applesauce.

No, it's not as much as some put up but honestly I think it's pretty impressive for the fact that most of it I bartered for as produce with my eggs. The rest either came from the greenhouse or local farms/farm stands.

Last shelf: carrots, plain beets, tomatoes, cucumber pickles and dilly beans, salsa, banana peppers, hot sauce, etc.

A few tips I have for storage:

1. Take the rings off. Not only will this help in showing you a spoiled jar sooner but it will also allow you to stack some jars easier. Ideally you wouldn't need to stack but we don't all have the ideal shelving that looks like this. Although, someday I'd like to! Maybe two jars deep though. Three deep starts getting annoying.

2. Store in a dark place with a fairly constant temperature. These are in the basement and I will store them in my basement in the new house as well. Light and temperature fluctuations will effect your nutrition values of the food. Sorry to squash your dreams of the sunlight sparkling on your pretty jars. The bare light bulb in your basement or pantry will have to do.

3. Check them over every so often. Is anything leaking or bulging? If it is then the contents need to be destroyed. By destroyed I mean either sealed up like hazardous material and thrown away or burned. Sound like over kill? It won't if you find your dog suffering from poisoning because he ate it in the garbage. Please take it seriously.

Well, that's pretty much it. Have a good weekend everyone!

Til next time.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Pressure Canning Pumpkin (On My Anniversary)

I have to say that of all the veggies out there, pumpkin has to be one of my most beloved. It tells me it's my favorite season, makes one of my favorite pies and my very favorite certain latte. Yup, I love pumpkin. But, have you noticed the stuff in the can doesn't taste so good unless it is doctored up quite a bit (i.e. in a pie)? I have, ever since last year when I made my own pumpkin puree (and froze it). What a difference! This year due to my canning bug I wanted to can it. Pureed. But you can't! It's a safety thing. So I had to decide, freezer or canned? I chose canned, obviously, and I canned it reluctantly cubed. Although, honestly this really makes no difference because I can just drain it and mash it when I need it for something like bread or pie. No biggie.

So! This particular canned item started with 3 small/medium Small Sugar heirloom pumpkins from a farm a few towns over that we have been going to ever since our wedding in 2010. This is where we got the pumpkins to decorate our October wedding with, we made the small ones into vases and filled them with sunflowers and blue hydrangeas for centerpieces. They were beautiful. *sigh* Anyway, I am getting on a tangent... 'cause yesterday was our anniversary. Yes, I canned on my anniversary.

Let's break it down shall we?

I peeled, split and scooped out the seeds. Then...

... I split the halves in half and cut into strips then chunks, about 1/2"-1" dice.

Filled up a large pot and then covered with water (as best you can because pumpkin floats!). Bring to a boil and cook for about 2 minutes. You do not want to cook it through at this stage, the canner will do that for you.

Fill your jars and cover with cooking liquid leaving 1/2 and inch of head space (make sure to de-bubble). Wipe rims and place lids and rings on, tighten ONLY finger tight.

As you can see I have a double pressure canner which can hold about 18 pints or 9 quarts. Personally I do not like my jars to touch so I don't put more than 7 jars in one layer. And, also, as a side note this canner was made in 1942 and is being lent to me by my great-great aunt. No really. People in my family live a long time! My great-great-grandmother was still alive when my brother was little before I was born, therefore we have once had a true FIVE generation family! Currently we have four generations. Sorry that's another tangent. My bad.

Anywho! This canner has preserved probably thousands of jars of food. I cleaned it, put in a new seal and it was good as new. I will need to replace the gauge and petcock at some point but for now I just over shoot my pressure by and pound or two and call it good.

Put the canner over high heat and with your vents open wait for the steam to flow "freely". When it is set your timer for 10 minutes to exhaust all the air. When time is up close your vents (or whatever your canner's manual says) and bring up to pressure.

Ten pounds please. Set your timer for 55 minutes for pints, 90 minutes for quarts. Pints I feel are a smart choice for most home cooks unless you have a large family. One pint will equal about one can of commercial pumpkin (I assume) once drained and mashed.

After time is up I take the canner off the stove and let it rest on my wooden cutting board. Once it comes down in pressure to zero I open the vent (petcock) all the way and let it set a few minutes. Then I open the lid but don't lift it off, I just leave it resting on top for about 30 minutes. After that I take the jars out and set them on a towel in a draft free place to cool (like the above). Also, pictured is the book I have used this year for my instructions. It is a classic but it's the updated edition so everything is up to date (although it still gives instructions for using bail jars so it must be a die hard author). Bail jars are NOT considered safe anymore but those who grew up using them like my grandmother and mother-in-law still use them for acid foods like pickles. I see the appeal, I do. But, I prefer to use them for storing beans and rice dry.

I promise I will do a post this weekend on my canning totals! I know right now that I have filled over 100 jars with deliciousness. Wow, right? Not bad for my first year of serious canning and not a very good garden! Next year I plan to up that by about another 3-400. Wish me luck!

Til next time!