Just Peachy!

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The end of summer means many things to many people, but one of my favorite seasonal gifts is the availability of ripe, local peaches.  I have never had much luck with growing them myself and our current mini-orchard, with its apple, persimmon, fig, and cherry trees is wonderful, but it doesn’t provide us with peaches.  Yesterday, we headed out to one of our favorite (other) local farms and were delighted to find freshly picked, huge, ripe peaches–still damp with morning dew!

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Since we are convinced that one of the things that makes our jam so delicious is  that we strive to use the freshest fruit in-season, and cook it up into glistening jam as quickly as possible,, we couldn’t wait to get all that peachy magic into jars.  This year, we’ve created a new Vanilla Peach Jam recipe, so tucked in between the soft ripe bits of peaches, there are tiny tasty seeds scraped from organic vanilla beans and we added a pinch of our homemade vanilla extract to the batch as well.

Of course, we didn’t use all the peaches in jam!  Last night’s dessert was a warm peach crisp and we’ll be canning some jars of sliced peaches in syrup for winter use too.  Meanwhile, our chickens have been delighted to feast on all the peach skins coming out in pan-fulls from the kitchen here at Raggedy Hen Farm.

If you’re interested in giving our Vanilla Peach Jam a try, we have it available for a limited time over at the shop! 

Making Delicious Medicine~Elderberry Syrup

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Elderberries ready for harvesting

Growing up on a very rural plot of land on the side of a mountain, I never gave much thought to the native Elder berry “trees.”  The berries were so small and grew up high in the tree and, besides, the folk myth was that they couldn’t be eaten raw and children should stay away from them.  I do remember there being some elderberry wine and jam making by some of the older folks in the community, but that was about it.

As an adult learning about eating locally and healthy wild and native foods, I became enamored with elderberry.  It is full of antioxidants, flavonoids, and all sorts of other good-for-you stuff that I understand very little about.  This year, after scouring nurseries and plant stands, we found a native elder berry (Sambucus caerulea ) and planted it mid-spring.  It is doing well and has grown to about a foot since being plopped into our front garden.

As the fall approaches, and we are busy preserving and preparing, this is also the perfect time to make syrups and vinegars that can be used as foods and medicine.  Elderberry syrup is wonderful as a cough syrup or taken by the spoonful at the start of the sniffles.  It is also wonderful poured over pancakes or waffles or used in a hot or cold beverage.  Since we tend to be food-as-medicine sorts of people–preferring to create healthy teas and add good-for-us herbs and spices into our daily cooking, elderberry syrup is a delicious creation to have on hand.

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You can find myriad versions of this syrup in recipe books and online, but here is how we like to make it:

Raggedy Hen Farm Elderberry Syrup

1 cup dried, organic elderberries (we get ours from Mountain Rose Herbs) or 2 cups fresh elderberries

4 cups water

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or 2 cinnamon sticks

1 teaspoon whole cloves

1 teaspoon ground ginger or 2 Tablespoons grated, fresh ginger

1 Tablespoon dried orange peel

Put all these ingredients into a sauce pan and heat to boiling.  Once the mixture boils, turn the heat down and simmer for 20-30 minutes.  Pour the mixture through a sieve into a large Pyrex pitcher or glass bowl.  The sieve will catch all the berries and bits of unground herbs.  Press down with the back of a wooden spoon on the berries just to make sure you get all the juice out of them.

Now add 2 cups local, raw, organic honey and stir into the juice mixture while it is still warm (but not too hot.)  You can now pour this into a jar and keep it in the fridge, or even can it in a hot water bath.  This makes about 5 cups of syrup–enough to fill a quart jar and have a little left to use fresh and warm on morning pancakes!

Winding Down

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Our first season as bumbling beekeepers is winding down.  You would hardly guess it by watching the bees pour in and out of their beehive!  According to all the local bee experts, August 15th marks the end of summer and the beginning of autumn for the honeybees.  I’m not entirely convinced that bees use calendars but I do imagine our recent cooler nights and couple bouts of rain have signaled to them that it is time to think about cleaning house for the cooler months.  We are starting to see more and more dead bees around the yard and when we checked out the hive this past weekend, we found them working busily to cap all the honey they have been making throughout the nectar-flowing warm months.

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Since our hive is relatively new and we are not sure how much honey they will need to make it through the winter, we have only taken a little bit for ourselves.  We took about a half comb from the hive and crushed and strained it in a somewhat messy process in our kitchen.  We feel like the richest folks on earth to have two gorgeous, golden jars of honey to taste and use.  We got about 12 ounces of fresh, raw honey from the little bit of comb we took from the hive.  After straining the honey and pouring into jars as well as we could, we put the bucket, bowl and remaining wax outside again and in less than a day, the honey bees had rescued back every last drop of honey.  Teri and I were dazzled to find that not one single drop went to waste!

While keeping bees has not proven to be “hard” exactly, there is a bit of a learning curve.  We have made mistakes and not always been as smooth, graceful and confident as the books suggest.  We have had to keep reminding ourselves that the bees don’t really know they are being “kept” and that they know best how they want to live, build comb, and go about their business and even if it gets a bit inconvenient for us (crowded comb, for example), we don’t have the hive just to get the maximum amount of honey.  The bees have calmly pollinated our flowers, herbs, fruits and veggies and we have received appreciative reports from our neighbors for their abundant garden crops as well.  Besides, seeing a plethora of bees as we have this year–honeybees, bumblebees, wasps and others–gives us hope that there may be a way to right some of the wrongs we humans have done.

Sunday Morning Quiche, Anyone?

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With a small flock (currently 7 and counting) of hens in our backyard, we have no shortage of the freshest eggs on Cedar Street!  Well, not including those eggs laid by our neighbor’s hens Maddie & Betty.  We’ve created our own version of this classic egg pie using a not-so-secret ingredient…buttermilk!

3-Egg Buttermilk Quiche

1 pie crust, homemade or ?

3-4 large eggs*

1 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon Raggedy Hen Farm Seasoning 

1/2 cup chopped veggies of choice (we are currently using a lot of summer squash, red & green peppers, onions, and tomatoes from the garden)

1 Tablespoon organic olive oil

1 cup cheese (you choose)

1/2 cup cooked meat , optional (good with ham, cooked ground pork, shredded chicken, sausage)

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Roll out pie crust and place it in a pie pan, crimp edges if you’d like, but get it ready for the egg mixture.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix eggs in a medium size bowl and add 1 cup buttermilk.  If you don’t have buttermilk, add about 1 Tablespoon vinegar (white, apple cider, infused) to 1 cup of milk and use.  Mix in raggedy Hen Farm Seasoning to this mixture.  Meanwhile, sautee’ chopped veggies in 1 Tablespoon olive oil at medium high heat, just until tender.  Toss cooked veggies, cooked meat, and cheese into the waiting pie shell.  Pour egg and milk mixture over and shake lightly so that mixture moves to take up the whole pie.  Don’t worry if it doesn’t come to the very top as it will puff up and expand in the oven.  Bake in 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until puffed, slightly brown, and eggs are set.  Remove and let cool for a few minutes to allow the eggs to further set and then slice into wedges an enjoy!

*Depending on the size of your eggs.  We often have a mix of sizes since we are taking these eggs right from the nest boxes .  You’ll want to have the equivalent of 3 large eggs.

Just in Time for Fall…Orange, Clove & Coconut!

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As the season turns, our thoughts turn to hot cups of tea, cozy kitchens, and warm soaks in the tub.  Our newest “flavor” of soap is ready to be shipped out to soap dishes everywhere~orange, clove and coconut!  Created from organic coconut oil and some our own comfrey-infused olive oil, this bar has just the right strength of orange-clove scent to be comforting without overpowering.  We’ve added some finely shredded organic coconut for nice exfoliation.  This nourishing bar of soap only looks like a cookie! You can find this soap and our other current bars in the Raggedy Hen Farm shop.

Compost Delivery!

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This is the time of year when our thoughts turn to rebuilding the garden beds, making adjustments and creating new growing spaces.  We woke up this morning with soil on the brain and within a couple hours of placing our order, Lane Forest Products arrived with 4 cubic yards of fresh garden compost!  Located only a few miles from us, this local business has always been a friendly, speedy supplier and a big reason our garden is as happy as it is!

DSCN7372We were just starting lunch when the truck backed into the driveway and you would have thought they were delivering a brand new car instead of a big pile of dirt!  We both scooted out the front door grinning with delight as they warm, dark compost was dumped onto our waiting tarp.  Stay tuned for updates on happy garden beds and new adventures in all things compost!

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