Autumn Again

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Fig preserves, freshly canned, and cooling on the counter.

Growing our own food keeps us well-tuned to the seasons. This past summer has been a bit of a blur as painful realities of life demanded our full attention. The garden got a little raggedy, Hilda managed to hatch three chicks without much attention or fanfare from us, and before we knew it, it was time to plant the the fall and winter veggies!

We currently get 4-7 eggs a day from 10 laying hens, but it seems the eggs are starting to taper as the daylight hours shorten and the temperatures cool. We are expecting some serious molting to start any day. We have started to evaluate our little flock and think about any changes we might want to make as we head into the Fall. We’ve learned that keeping the flock healthy and thriving sometimes means making tough decisions about who stays and who does not.

We like to use the fall to make repairs, changes, and additions to our garden beds and this year we’ve been replacing some of the wood edging frames around the beds and tidying up the layout. Now that most of the summer garden has been harvested and we’ve planted the winter veggies in one big bed that is fenced off from intruders, the chickens are allowed to free range again. They are great helpers in tilling up the beds, weeding away any weeds, and fertilizing the beds for next year. So, as the leaves start to fall, we rake them into the beds and let the chickens break them up and work them into the dirt. It’s a great system!

Some of our last harvesting tasks involve the fruit trees. There are still apples on the apple trees, and we are just starting to harvest the ripe figs to make the delicious fig preserves we use as a marinade for pork and hams throughout the year. The persimmons are just starting to turn a pale orange, and while the leaves are starting to fall from the persimmon tree, the fruits won’t be ready until the weather gets a bit colder. Meanwhile, everything else has been harvested, canned, dried, or frozen!

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Hilda hatched 3 chicks in late August (she was setting on 4 fertile eggs) and proved to be a fantastic mama hen!

Busy, Bustly Days at Raggedy Hen Farm

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This…is crunch time!  The garden is blousy and overgrown and producing like crazy; Most of the pullets are laying, along with the old hens; it is time for canning, drying, saving seeds,, and just trying to keep up with this last big hurrah of another summer season. This has been an incredibly prolific year as some of our long-term projects like raspberry canes, grapevines, and hop vines are really coming in to their own.  Here’s a little run-down of what’s keeping us so busy…

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We are getting 5-8 eggs a day from our plethora of busy hens. It is so fun to have the diversity of colors in the egg basket. We now have everything from white to green, to dark brown (along with the light brown we’ve had for a while.) We haven’t had any trouble finding homes for all these yummy eggs!

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Our daily forages into the garden with a harvesting basket under one arm are yielding pounds of tomatoes, green beans, zucchini, cucumbers and, now, some of the ripest of the winter squash. This means we’re doing all sorts of canning and preserving, along with eating our share of these tasty treasures!

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The apple trees are laden and almost ready to be picked and canned. We’ll make applesauce and can slices for winter pies. Any “drops” get tossed into the chicken run as the hens all love to eat up the fallen apples.

 

 

 

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We have dozens of pumpkins this year and they are all starting to turn orange! It’s a good thing, too, because it’s helping us realize and find them all…although there tend to be daily “surprises” as we stumble upon yet another swelling pumpkin. These magical vines are starting to get a little ragged after roaming all over the edges of the garden all summer.

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Harvesting Hops! We have three different hop vines that we planted a couple years ago. This year, they are laden with ripening hop flowers and we are determined to dry them and use them in the making of home-brewed beer. These have been incredibly easy and fun to grow–the vines twine and stretch and grow along the fences and up into the trees and the hoppy smell is delightful too!

So, there you have it! We are neck-deep in projects and preserving all the bounty coming from our overgrown urban lot. Stay tuned for an update on the also-very-busy honeybees!

Cherry Bomb!

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Last year,  just about this time, we lost our bigger cherry tree. The weather was much like it is right now–rainy and windy. Fortunately, we do have a second, smaller and younger, cherry tree in our front yard and this one is blossoming now.  We love the fluffy, promising, faintly pink blossoms and while it doesn’t rival our old one, it is something! We’re wondering if we won’t get a few more cherries on this little whipper snapper too?

Chocolate-Dipped Huckleberry Biscotti

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With the temperatures well below freezing and our entire corner of the world covered with more than a half-foot of snow, we’ve decided it is high time to start the holiday baking.  Inspired by some frozen locally-harvested (and downright delicious) huckleberries we purchased last week from Mycological Natural Products (where we also purchase local mushrooms), we created a to-die-for Biscotti recipe that looks as festive as they taste!  If you don’t have huckleberries, or can’t get them where you live, feel free to substitute frozen wild or cultivated blueberries…

Chocolate-Dipped Huckleberry Biscotti

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease (we used almond oil) two cookie/baking sheets

3 large eggs

1/4 cup sweet almond oil

1 1/4 cup white sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon lemon extract

1 teaspoon hazelnut extract

1 1/2 cup thawed, frozen huckleberries

3 1/2 cup unbleached, all purpose flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate, milk chocolate or chocolate of choice

Mix eggs,oil, sugar, and extracts together and beat until well incorporated.  Fold in huckleberries. Sift or mix flour, baking powder and sea salt together and fold into the wet ingredients.  Mix until incorporated.  Divide dough into two halves and shape into flattened logs. Put each log onto the lightly oiled cookie sheet and bake 20-25 minutes until cooked through and golden brown.

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Remove logs from oven and cool for 5-10 minutes on a rack.  When cool enough, slice into 1-1 1/2 inch slices and arrange these flat on the cookie sheets.  Bake for another 10 minutes and then remove and cool on racks.

Melt chocolate in a heat-proof bowl in the microwave (or in the top of a double boiler over boiling water).  Melt at 30 second intervals, stopping to stir and check the consistency.  When melted, dip half biscotti into melted chocolate or use a knife or spoon to coat one end of the cookies.  Allow to dry on racks until chocolate is firm again.

Once these cookies have cooled and the chocolate has hardened, store in an airtight container and enjoy!

Wendy’s Great Grandma Della’s Persimmon Pudding

DSCN8107While we live in the Pacific Northwest now, both Teri and Kori have lived in various parts of the U.S. (and beyond, in Teri’s case). One of Kori’s oldest and dearest friends lives in the heartland of the Midwest (Indiana) where they met when their now-grown kids were starting preschool! This recipe comes from Wendy’s family treasures and we are so grateful she shared it with us; it inspired us to head out on a frosty November day to see what we could do with our persimmon tree!

Harvesting Persimmons…

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Every year, we promise ourselves that we are going to learn more about what to do with the gorgeous little orange fruits that grow on our persimmon tree. The fact is that they are ripe long after we’ve put the garden to bed and they grow so high up on the thin branches, it is a bit daunting to figure out how to harvest.  The squirrels love them, as do the chickens, and our honeybees romped in their blossoms this past mid-spring, but we decided this year we’d make them into people food too!

Since persimmons are a big deal in the mid-West, Wendy was a good source of recipes and lore. Wendy suggested spreading a tarp down on the ground and then shaking the tree so the ripe fruit would drop.  Well, our tree is too thick and sturdy to really shake, so we used a long-handled rake to reach up and shake the branches until the fruit fell…

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With quite the sloppy plop! We had to fend off the chickens who thought surely these tasty morsels were all for them as we gathered them up in a colander.  

Making the Pulp…

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We took the colander full of smushy persimmons in and washed it well, removing stems and twigs and pressed it through a sieve. This took a little while, but we ended up with this wonderful, heady-scented orange pulp and we were finally ready to prepare the recipe…

Great Grandma Della’s Persimmon Pudding

2 cups persimmon pulp

1 1/2 cup sugar (we used brown sugar)

1 1/2 cup half-and-half

2 cups all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoon Raggedy Hen Farm Baking Spice Blend OR

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon cloves, 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs, slightly beaten

2 Tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix pulp, sugar, cream, and eggs.  Sift dry ingredients and add.  Melt butter and add this last.  Mix well and pour into a lightly buttered baking dish or cake pan…

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Bake for 45 minutes to an hour.  This makes a super moist, dense, old-fashioned “pudding” which is like a very dense cake.  Once cooled it can be cut into squares and served with ice cream or whipped cream, if desired.

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And, in the end, the chickens got the remaining smushy pulp after all!

 

J-J-J-J Jelly Roll!

Another easy, delicious, and deceptively impressive dessert. It is a wonderful way to incorporate delicious fruit jam into your baking and a great recipe to have in your collection. Join Kori in the kitchen at Raggedy Hen Farm and check out all our delicious fruit jam offerings in the Raggedy Hen Farm store.

Apple Cider Toddy…Raggedy Hen Farm Style!

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We came home from our recent trip to the pumpkin patch with the season’s first pressing of fresh apple cider.  While it is so amazingly delicious right out of the jug, one of our favorite seasonal treats is to sip a cup of hot, spiced, and spiked cider in the evenings as we unwind.  Like most of the recipes we share, this one is easily adaptable…

Apple Cider Toddy

4-6 cups fresh apple cider (yes, you can use unsweetened apple juice, but it won’t be quite the same)

2-4 whole cinnamon sticks

1 Tablespoon whole cloves

1 teaspoon Baking Spice Blend

optional liquor: brandy, whiskey, bourbon, or spiced rum

Pour cider into a large sauce pan or kettle and toss in the spices.  Give it a stir or two and put on medium high heat.  Gently heat to desired temperature.  We pour an ounce or two of the chosen liquor (and you can leave this out for kiddos or those who prefer without) in a mug and then pour the hot cider over (straining out the cloves and cinnamon sticks).  This way, each person can have their “nip” of choice.  We like to serve it with a cinnamon stick just for extra festive fun.

So easy and so yummy!

 

Super Simple Syrups & Cordials

WP_20130929_001Making syrups is one of the most delicious ways to preserve some of nature’s tastiest and healthiest offerings.  By taking herbs, berries, roots, and spices and creating these concoctions of goodness, you can extract the wonderful properties, vitamins and health benefits and make very useful syrups.  These can be used for making cocktails and mixed drinks, sweetening tea, coffee and cocoa, drizzling over ice cream or even using in an icing or a pancake and waffle syrup.  Some even work well as medicines–soothing a sore throat or combating a cough.

To take the syrup up a notch, mixing it with alcohol like vodka, bourbon, whiskey, or rum helps to turn it into a cordial or liqueur–perfect for sipping as a sweet, after-dinner treat.  We’re going to share our basic recipe, along with some tips on how to customize and experiment to create your new favorites!

To start the process, you are basically making a very strong tea.  Add 1 cup herbs, berries, roots or whatever you want to decoct to 1 quart of water.  These can be fresh or dried.  Some of our favorites include: licorice root, dried rosehips, fresh mint leaves, fresh or dried rose petals, lavender petals, fresh basil leaves, and dried elderberries.  (We get most of our dried ingredients from Mountain Rose Herbs, we’ve included a link, but you can source from a place you trust.  We like knowing everything is organic!) Bring this mixture to a slow boil over medium high heat in a sauce pan with no lid; and then turn down and let simmer for 1/2 hour to 45 minutes.

Strain this mixture and compost the herbs, berries, etc. Pour the strained liquid back into the pan and add 1/2 cup raw, local honey or sugar for every pint of liquid. Stir until dissolved.  You shouldn’t need to cook this mixture any further unless you want a very thick syrup.  For honey, we prefer to NOT cook it since many of the beneficial enzymes can be destroyed by cooking.  If you are using sugar and want a thick syrup, you can bring the mixture back to simmer and cook until it is the consistency you want.  Once finished, you can decant to a jar or bottle.

For a cordial, you will basically just be adding alcohol to your syrup (or syrup to your alcohol).  Let the syrup cool completely (if you add alcohol to hot syrup, the alcohol could “cook” out of the mixture.) I like to add about 1/2 cup of vodka, whiskey, bourbon, or white rum per quart of syrup.  You can make it stronger or weaker depending on your tastes.  Combine this well; bottle and cap.  You can store cordials and syrups made with honey in a cool, dark place, but, they will last longer if you refrigerate them.

It is really that easy!  You can make combination syrups if you like (elderberry and wild cherry bark is one of our favorites for a medicinal syrup) and you can add spices, essential oils or extracts for added flavor.  There are so many possibilities and this is such a delicious way to preserve some of those herbs and fruit growing in your garden.  These make wonderful and gorgeous gifts as well. Happy sipping!