2015 Pigs….

pigs

Do you want to know the most worrisome part of raising pigs??

The escapes!

Pigs are naturally curious creatures and want what is on the other side of the fence, that is until they learn what the fence can do.  But until then they try and this crew succeeded well, multiple times!  These guys and gals were an adventurous crew to say the least.

The day that we picked them up happened to be the day of our son’s 9th birthday…happy birthday kid!  You get pigs! Yay!

Anywho, we safely got them into their new enclosure.  This crew is the first to be re-homed directly in the new enclosure.   We really thought they’d be good little piggies and stay within the fencing since this was their home now.  Umm..nope.

In the middle of the party the hubs and I taking turns watching the pasture for our little friends.  Then it happens…I don’t see them anymore!  First, let me say that they are little babes when we get them and have over an acre of tree filled pasture to themselves so they can be hard to spot even when they are grown and 235 lbs.  In the middle of the party, in our party clothes, we slam on our boots and run out the door.  Searching the enclosure they are no where to be found.  PANIC!  I grabbed a piece cardboard and off we went into the woods to find them.  These wonderful heritage breed pigs are not your typical pink color, these beauties are black, which makes them veery hard to spot in the forrest.   Especially when they are tiny, fast, and low to the ground.  Luckily they stayed together and eventually we spotted them, got in front of them with our make shift cardboard corral and nudged them back toward home at which time they WALKED right through the electric fence without even a squeal!

We need a plan B…oh and can some one pass the party punch??

We were so afraid they would do it again, that we stole the chicken fence (the chickens got a crash coarse in free ranging) and put that inside the electric fence. Ha! Take that cutie pies DOUBLE electric fence.  While all of this is going on, the guests of the party are non the wiser to the pig chase, until one notices that I’ve changed my clothes.  Then I had to explain how I fell in the mud in my dress clothes chasing pigs, during the party.  All in a day, right??

So we we are all good, pigs are back and in a double electric fence!  Phew!

Umm..nope.

Escape numero deux…

About a month and a half later while playing a video game with my little guy, I glanced out the window and see a black pig casually stroll by the window, then another…hmmm I thought, that is odd, then it hit me, the pigs are out!!

PANIC!!

It’s just me home and 4 pigs on the loose.  What to do??  Well. honestly, I don’t know what I did but after a bit of chasing and enticing with feed (I am built for comfort, not for speed), I got one back in the fence and the others followed.  Thank the lord!  It was decided then that we would have to run another electric line in order for me not to end up in the looney bin.  So that is exactly what we did and they stayed put, grew well and were happy.

These guys are the first to live their whole time with us with an entire acre + to do as they please.  They had a favorite wallow spot that I would fill once a day and on really hot days, they would bound down the hill to get a daily spray down of cool water, then back up to lay in the shade.  These guys were wonderful. ❤  Sweet, good natured, attentive and they came when called.  They loved their organic apple snacks and all of the organic garden goodies.  I am so very thankful that we can do this, raise our own animals for ourselves and for our friends.

We are truly blessed. ❤

2015 pigs

What to do with that fresh ham steak??

Last year when we butchered our first batch of pigs, we kept the ham fresh because the butcher used nitrates in curing and that is something that we don’t want in our food so we decided that we’d cure it ourselves.

It was a BIG ham and we’d never done anything like that before.  Long story short, because it was so big, the cure didn’t penetrate through the whole thing and only the outer 3 inches tasted like ham, the rest like a delicious pork roast.  No harm, no foul…it was still delicious.  Just not “ham” as we know it.

Fast forward to this year with a new butcher (still nitrate curing) and fresh ham steaks vs. a whole ham.  2 of the ham steaks I threw in the crock pot with apples and onions and they were good, but drier then I’d like.  This week I pulled out the last 2 steaks and decided to try curing them, again.

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Cured ham steak

For 2 steaks about 3/4 inch thick

In a large shallow baking dish for the brine:

1.5 qt of water

1/3 cup organic brown sugar

1/3 cup organic maple syrup

1/2 cup sea salt

1/2 teaspoon organic vanilla

Mix it all up until the sugar and salt are dissolved.  Put in the ham steaks in and made sure that they stayed submerged (you can weight it down with a plate if you need to).

Place it in the fridge for about 24 hours.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees

After 24 hours, rinse the brine of well.  Dry off the ham steaks very well.  Pan sear the steaks in a frying pan with some butter or even better bacon fat!!! Mmmmm..

When they are browned on both sides, place the pan (make sure it is oven safe) in the oven for about 20 minutes.  Depending on the thickness of the steaks, it may take longer or less time to cook.  Make sure your pork is 145 degrees in the thickest part.

Pull out of the oven and let rest for a few minutes…then eat!! Yummy!!

I served this with sliced potatoes roasted in bacon fat and sea salt and steamed cauliflower finished in the oven.

It felt like a frontier meal to me (minus the cauliflower of course). 😉

The kids gobbled it up and the hubs was in awe of the impromptu ham experiment.

All in all a great meal and the leftovers of ham and potatoes made an excellent breakfast skillet the next morning. 🙂

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Cured Ham Steak

The Dinner Party….

Our son hosted his first dinner party this past week!

He’s 7. 🙂

This child has been groomed to be a foodie.  He was never given the option to eat or not eat.  His only option was try it once, if you really don’t like it, then you don’t have to eat it.  To this very day he eats everything, except mushrooms

Lately his favorite show to watch is the Pioneer Woman!  He loves to watch her cook and his favorite episode is “Ranching in the mist”.  He has watched this particular episode so many times that he knows the recipes and the wording by heart.  The last time he watched this episode, he asked again if I could make the pop pulled pork.  Well, we don’t really drink soda , so cooking with it is out of the question for me, so I’ve said  no in the past to that recipe.

That same week we were all struck with the flu…boooo!  The hubs came back from the store with a natural soda called Dr. Better, because sometimes you just need something carbonated and it tasted just like Dr. Pepper!!  Light bulb!!  When everyone was feeling better and Ree Drummond was again on the screen, he asked again and this time I said sure!

He did the entire meal by himself!  I put everything in the oven and made the dough (which was Gluten free) but he did the rest from chopping onions to peeling and slicing the apples for the pie.

The hubs took the little one away for a few hours so we could have some space alone to work, and work he did!  He started at 11:30 am and finished when dinner was served.

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Cutting Onions

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Seasoning the pork shoulder

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Adding a little Dr. Better

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Slicing apples for the flat apple pie

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Cutting the cabbage for slaw

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Mixing up the slaw

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Making the potato au gratin (yes, he diced all of the potatoes) 🙂

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The finished pop pulled pork!

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Dinner is served!!

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Making caramel for the pie

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Pie is done!

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My guy! Sorry for the bad picture. 

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The whole meal was delicious!  The gluten free dough was so good!  You could never tell that there was no wheat in it at all.  The caramel was not my favorite recipe…it was a quick caramel and it lacked the depth that I love in caramel, but I wanted to stay true to the Pioneer woman evening, so we made all of her recipes.  I would certainly make them all again, with the addition of this salted caramel. 😉

I loved the feeling of pride that I saw on my little guys face when everyone was eating HIS dinner!  He was exhausted when bedtime rolled around and I think a little bit more appreciative of the meals that we eat…knowing a little bit better what actually goes into them.

He is already planning his next party with meatballs, pasta and cake.  I love that he loves being in the kitchen and I love even more the time that we get to spend together cooking.

Spring is not here yet….

I’m not sure that I have EVER wanted spring more than I do this year.

I am not quite sure if it is because we just finished reading The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder or if I actually feel like this has been the longest winter EVER!

Long Winter

Either way I am desperately craving warmth and sunshine even though the low tonight is supposed to -9 degrees….I am trying to be positive as the over 4 feet of packed snow in the yard dwindles slowly.  On the warmer days, every inch it melts is one inch closer to seeing grass.  It usually seems to happen over night anyway.

One way to “feel” spring before it happens around here is to order our chicks and piggies for the year!  We have done that already! 26 day old chicks will be here next week (some for meat and some to keep for eggs) and 3 piggies in a few short months!

The newest additions to the farm this year….. Drum-roll please….

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30,000 Honey Bees!

Yes…we (actually the hubs) is taking on the chore of bees…which is good because although I am not scared of bees and really appreciate all that they do for us, they creep me out…they are in the buggy category after all.  I am getting better with that part of farming, although not fast enough in my opinion!

Next is a dairy cow…Oh, how I long for a dairy cow!!

Someday….*sigh*

This Week…

This Week….

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~We are: learning about George Washington

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~We are: Drinking lots of coffee due to mid-night continuous wake-ups

~We are: Catching up on lots of work

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~We are: Falling way behind on laundry

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~We are: Wishing for spring but watching the snow fall

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~We are: Remembering where we were last year with piggie plans

pig pen winter

~We are: Planning for  this years piggies!!

~We are: Wanting a nap, very badly

~We are: Feeling pretty dingy for slipping on the ice while always preaching of “paying attention”

~We are: Wishing that the cleaning fairy would come over and do her magic

~We are: Thankful for the craziness of life and young, relentless spirit of these little ones

 

Bacon, Sausage and Lard…

Phew… we’ve had quite the busy week!

2 – 30 lbs hams curing and waiting to be smoked.

13 pints of lard rendered and canned just waiting for pie crust.

100 lbs of sausage (breakfast and Italian) made, stuffed and packaged.

Almost 70 lbs of bacon cured in molasses and maple for 5 days then smoked, sliced and packaged.

~Blueberry Maple Sausage

~Sweet Italian and Blueberry Maple

~Getting a little Maple Yumminess..

~Rubbed and curing for 4 days

~Resting an hour before the smoker

~Smoked for hours and ready for the oven!

We still have so much to do…I must have 80 lbs of fat left to render, but the majority of the hard work is done.

Rendering fat….

Thankfully a friend rendered fat from a pig that she purchased earlier this month and warned of the odor and being very sensitive to odor myself, I am glad that I decided to cook the fat outside on the porch in slow cookers…It definitely had a certain smell to it.  Outside it wasn’t bad, actually we were cleaning up the yard in anticipation of hurricane Sandy and my son yelled “it smells like potato chips!”, which it did. 🙂  That being said, when all was said and done I had the whitest snow-white lard I’ve ever seen.  Because our pigs spent their lives outside in the sun, their fat is chock full of vitamin D, second only to cod liver oil!  Can you imagine??  Have you ever tried to stomach cod liver oil?  Not my favorite by any means.  Good to know that my pastries and morning eggs will have serious amounts of vitamin D…perfect for the winter. Yay!!

Anywho, here is how I did it.  You can literally set-it and forget-it!

~Sunny day rendering a little lard

Cut your fat into small pieces, the smaller the better, the more lard you will render out.

Place it all in a crockpot

Add 1 inch of cold water to the bottom of the pan

Set the crockpot on the lowest setting

Cover and forget for about 6 hours

You’ll see the fat shrink and the lard will begin to fill the pan.  When the fat (which will become cracklings) begins to brown, it’s time to strain, strain through cheesecloth in a strainer.  This will be the whitest of white lard.  Perfect for baking.  Pour hot lard into sterile jars and top with sterile lids.  They will self seal and be shelf stable.

Place the fat pieces back in the pan and continue to render.  When the cracklings resemble bacon pieces, you can strain it a

gain and this straining will be a bit darker and have  a little bit of a bacon/pork flavor, perfect for breads and frying.  Anything that you want to have a little more of an in-depth flavor.  Some people save the cracklings and add them to salads or anywhere else you’d want a little crunch.  I can imagine that a chicken breast coated in panko crumbs and cracklings would be AMAZING!

I, however ended up tossing them as it was really late and I was kinda tired of them…if I’m being completely honest. 😉

~lard, glorious lard

Here is the dream shot, although not a great one…

Our goal….

~Our own eggs AND bacon!!

From the very first egg gathered from our backyard chicken house over 3 years ago we said “wouldn’t it be great to have our own bacon to go with it!”…

 Much to the nay-say of others and many thinking that we are nuts….we did it!

We did it!!

And we will do it again, next spring.

 It has been so much more than a learning experience, it has really made me more aware of where my food comes from and where I WANT my food to come from.

I do have to admit that I can’t wait until next year to have little piggies running around outside…they really are such neat creatures. ❤

If anyone local is interested for next year….let me know.  We would love to share our home grown food. 🙂

Off they go….

Off they go…

When we got these little ones over 6 months ago, we knew what their purpose joining us here on the farm was.  We respected, loved and cared for these animals from the moment they arrived to us.  We vowed to give them a healthy and stress free life in turn for them providing us with healthy, stress free meat for our family.

That time came this past Sunday…

I knelt down, looked each one of these creatures that I’ve been caring for in the eye and said a heartfelt thank-you.

It was now time and we had work to do.

The sun was shining for the first day in what felt like forever!  We gave them some of their favorite food to buy us a little time to make the necessary preparations…it is true that a pig will do just about anything for food.

We backed the trailer in, filled it with hay and positioned the ramp, we were ready to go…or so we thought.  When the time came, the gate was opened.  I stood in the trailer, shook the bag of food and after checking out the situation, 3 of the 4 came walking up  the ramp.  The other, well he wasn’t going anywhere.  He was going to make us work hard today. 😉

After a muddy 2 man, 2 woman, 1 hog, country fair style pig scramble, he was on the trailer and they were ready to go.

Once the trailer pulled away, the farm-yard was still sunny, but very quiet.  I have to admit that it was a little sad, they were my little buddies, always ready to greet me because I usually came bearing food. 🙂

Will we do it again?

YES!

 Our first year with pigs was a success!  And by success I mean, we raised healthy, well cared for, drug free, stress free pigs and my FEAR of them getting loose and having to chase them all over God’s green earth didn’t happen…thank goodness!

  We are very fortunate to have land and the time to grow food for our family and friends.

That is our pig adventure for now…

Perhaps next year, we’ll add some pastured chickens for meat….maybe. 😉

The last of the warm summer days…

Every year about this time I look around and think, did I have my windows open enough this summer?

Did we get enough fresh, warm air?

Did we do all that we wanted to this summer?

The answers:

There is never enough open window time. 🙂

The air is always fresh, though not always warm. 🙂

No, the summer escaped us, but all of the major ideas were accomplished.

Our garden was not uber fruitful this year.  We had a giant crop of cucumbers early on, before the beetles got them.  The  tomatoes did well before the hornworms got them.  Zucchini also did well, before the beetles came…We just donated the garden to the pigs, they loved it and are still digging out there, for a few more weeks anyway.

The seasons seem to change so fast around here!  One day it’s sweltering, the next the fire is roaring.  I fear that I’ve hung my last load of laundry on the line until the spring.  As much as I will miss all of the outside doings, I will have more time to take care of things inside now. 🙂  Bring on the baking, blogging, crafting and homeschooling!

I am ready.  We have had a very busy summer and are ready for a little slowdown.  We have some buttoning up of the farm around here, the chicken coop needs to be cleaned out and winterized, the pigs off to the butcher, summer gadgets put away for the winter and on and on….

Now that the warm weather is coming to an end, the grill will go away and so will one of our favorite meals.  It’s quick, a great vessel for leftovers and tastes great…

Since this is a quick grilling pizza, your sauce and toppings must be warm when they are put onto the pizza.

We used some leftover bacon from breakfast and garden goodies to make this one…

Pre-flip…

Post Flip.

Grilled Pizza!!

1 Dough ball

Leftovers from the fridge, garden etc…

Sauce

Cheese

 You can buy dough at the store or make your own.  I always pick one up while shopping, it keeps great in the freezer and is so quick and useful.  This dough was an organic sample given to us (perks of the “other” job)

Pre-heat grill to high, scrape your grill clean.  It often helps to take an old, clean towel drizzle  it with  olive oil and rub down the hot grill grates (quickly) using tongs to hold the towel.

Let dough sit out at room temp for about 20 minutes.  Rub a little olive oil on a sheet pan (leaving the corners dry).  Hand stretch the dough then place it on the tray.  Stretch the dough to the corners of the tray pressing the dough into the dry corners  (it helps the dough from shrinking back).

Meanwhile heat your sauce stove top.

Sauté all of your toppings.  I often just do this in a pan on the grill, top down with the pan handle sticking out while it is heating up….why waste the heat. 😉

Now….

Turn your grill to medium-high.  Slide your dough off the pan an onto the grill.  Close the grill and wait a few minutes.  Your dough will rise.  You are looking for nice grill marks on the underside and a nice crust.  Once that is formed, using a big spatula, place the spatula under the dough and begin to lift, quickly place your other hand to guide the top when flipping and continue the flip.

Now it’s time to top your pizza with the warm sauce, cheese and toppings.  Close the cover and allow cheese to melt and bottom to get a nice crust.  Once this is done, lift one side of your pizza, slide your original pan underneath and Voila! Dinner!

So Easy…you can omit the sauce and make it into a flatbread….

Pre-cook eggs, add salsa instead of sauce and you’ve got breakfast pizza…

Give it a try!  It’s an easy way to keep the kitchen clean and cool. 😛

If anyone out there has any organic remedies for squash beetles and hornworms, I’d love to know! 🙂

Fighting, fences and depression…..

Sibling rivalry is alive and well in the farm-yard!

After a little routine (well less than routine this year) lawn mowing, we heard a terrible squealing coming from the pig pen, not an oops I touched the electric fence squealing, but something quite different.

Three of the pigs had the 4th cornered and were biting his tail and hid quarters. 😦  The gentlest of the bunch was under attack.

We hopped in and separated them but once they see the red color of blood…it’s game on!  So after they went at him again, we decided that we had to separate them and the only way to do that was but splitting the area with the electric fence, him in one side and them on the other.

Yay!  It worked!  We tended to the wounds and he healed within a few days

New problem..pig depression.  Now, I am no pig psychologist, but we had one depressed piggie on our hands…it was pretty easy to tell.  Pigs eat.  They eat ALL of the time, they eat almost anything.  It’s amazing what will go through a pigs digestive tract only to show up on the other side.  Stories for another day though.   I knew he was depressed, because he would just push his food around and take a few bites (not to mention the escape to the side with his pals that ended up with more wounds).  He would sleep beside the fence, just inches from his pals.  It was truly sad and very heartbreaking.  When I went  to scoop the poop, as I lovingly refer to my chores as, he wanted to play with me.  He was lonely, so we bonded.. full well keeping in mind that this animal could eat me or crush me against the fencing. He missed his buddies and I was no substitution. 😦

We decided that they needed more space, so we ordered some electric netting and decided to sacrifice what was left of the garden so they would have a little yummy distraction when we put them all back together.  It was really cute, they sniffed each other and went on their merry way to till our garden.  They made quick work of it and have been pig happy ever since.  Every once in a while, Red will sneak up to one of his buddies and give a little snout rub as if to say “I missed you”.

I believe that this is the picture that got me shocked to the bone…um, yeah…the new fence works. 😉

They are hovering around 200 lbs each and are just a joy to watch.  I learn so much by watching them…they are such smart creatures.  The most peaceful part of my day is doing my chores, feeding them and watching them.  I really think we are ready to make the jump into farming a bigger property….I feel it in my bones. 🙂

Now…if only my bones would find that perfect piece of property!! 😉

Stay tuned!

Pigs, Pasture and Amazing Grace….

After a VERY busy few weeks, things around our little farm have calmed down a tad…well, enough for us to tackle a few of the things on the to do list.  One of the big ones was to move the electric fence outside of the pig enclosure to move the Babes into fresh greens. Well, it was more like getting up the nerve to move the electric fence outside of the pig enclosure to move the Babes into fresh greens.

It’s a pretty nerve-racking feat.  You see, the hubs is not home for most of the waking hours and that leaves me to “chase” pigs, should the need arise.  This is not something that I feel is in my repertoire of things that I am good at, but the pigs needed some fresh greens and this is the easiest way, so my fears remain on the back burner.

So, move them we did and what many have told us it is true, they say that pigs won’t cross the line where an electric fence was…that is unless there is pig feed on the other side!  We opened the gate and they went right up to it, but not past it.  We tried to coerce them, push them, chase them and nothing until I shook the feed bucket and they came a running, right past the gate into the field.  Those Babes truly LOVE their organic pig feed!

Whenever they see me, they snort, grunt and occasionally bark and when I grab the feed bucket they start frothing at the mouth, literally.  NEVER, ever come between a pig and their feed, they go nuts trying to get to it!

( A happy pig, is a muddy pig. 🙂 )

Once they were through the gate, they started chowing away on the greens and digging up the dirt with their snouts looking for bugs and whatever else smells yummy at that moment. 🙂

Once they were settled, the hubs and I grabbed a couple of chairs and just watched them do what they do while we sat in sun chatting about the future, our goals, and dreams for our bigger farm.   The kids were actually playing and getting along, then we heard it…bagpipes!  Seriously?!?  Now, where we are situated, there aren’t a ton of people around us and hardly anyone is around on a late Sunday afternoon, but someone was playing the bagpipes.

 As magical as it seemed at the moment, I soon realized that it was coming from the church not too far away.  There were no services at that time, just someone playing amazing grace on the bagpipes.  There was no traffic and no noise, just peaceful amazing grace.  Even after I realized that the sound wasn’t coming from the heavens (bummer), it was still magical.  After all, it isn’t everyday the we are treated to a private concert of amazing grace while sitting in the sun, talking about what the future holds, watching our kids play peacefully and seeing our animals enjoy new pasture.

It was a magical, well needed afternoon.

Thank you Bagpiper, whoever you are 🙂