Thursday, July 30, 2009

Farmgirl Susan's Green Tomato Relish

Makes about 3 pints
Recipe may be doubled; increase cooking time by 10-15 minutes

2 lb. green tomatoes, cored and chopped
1 lb. white or yellow onions, chopped
3/4 lb. sweet red peppers, cored and chopped
1/2 lb. tart cooking apples, such as 'Granny Smith', cored and chopped
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon kosher or sea salt
4 jalapeno peppers, cored, seeded if desired, and finely chopped
2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon ground cumin (optional)

Combine the tomatoes, onions, peppers, apples, garlic, vinegar, and salt in a large,nonreactive saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about an hour.

Stir in the jalapenos, cilantro, and cumin and simmer for 5 more minutes. Carefully purée the mixture using a stick blender (I can't say enough good things about my KitchenAid Hand Blender—one of the best things I ever bought for the kitchen) or in a traditional countertop blender (in batches if necessary) until still somewhat chunky.

If canning, return the puréed relish to a boil, then ladle the hot mixture into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Process 15 minutes in a boiling-water canner. Store in a cool, dark place.
10 calories, 0g fat, 60mg sodium, 0g fiber, per Tablespoon

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

chicken tractor

A chicken tractor is basically an open-bottomed movable pen that houses chickens. We use our chicken tractors to raise meat birds (Cornish-X broilers). I have a few criteria for our tractor design. First, my pregnant wife must be able to move it easily. Second, it must hug the Ozarks' steep and rocky terrain. Last, it must endure for several years in the weather.

This chicken tractor (plans to follow) was years in the making. I perused several books, searched the internet high and low and consulted with my father-in-law. The final result is simple and elegant. The thing that makes it elegant is that it is light and easy to manage.

My six year old son can move it easily, feed and water them for the day with just one visit. Being based on electrical conduit was my father-in-law's idea and the cornerstone of this tractor. Electrical conduit -also called EMT (Electrical Metallic Tubing)- is inexpensive. This chicken tractor uses 1/2" EMT and cost us around $100. EMT is galvanized and should last for upwards of ten years in the caustic chicken raising environment. People have asked me why I don't use PVC pipe. It won't hold up in the direct sun, it is heavier and isn't as strong as EMT. I also considered pressure treated wood but rejected it because it is treated with poison and chickens will try to eat anything. I don't want to eat pressure treated wood even once removed.

The dimensions of our chicken tractor are 8' by 10' by 2' high. These dimensions are to optimize the materials--EMT comes in 10' lengths. Normal chicken wire comes in 4' widths and hardware wire mesh comes 2' wide. This size also fits through our farm gates and maneuvers through our small paddocks easily. People have made narrower versions of this tractor with great success.

Some of what our tractor is made from is found materials; I collect stuff. We live fairly near an attraction that supports plenty of billboards. Billboard tarp is a godsend. We use it everywhere and it is almost free. Chickens need shelter from the hot sun and rain. Billboard tarp is our answer. You'll need to find a similar solution. Lumberyards usually have surplus lumber tarp.

The poultry fountain and feeder are both items that I spent a lot of effort optimizing. I built the hopper-style feeder from found parts. That is a topic for another day. The poultry fountain is commercially available but needs simple plumbing to make it really useful for an uneven terrain chicken tractor.

The tractor parts list
  1. 13 pieces of 1/2" electrical conduit EMT
  2. 8 pull able 90°s for the 1/2" EMT
  3. 100' of 12 to 16 gauge galvanized steel wire.
  4. 37' of 1/2" squares hardware wire cloth
  5. 21' of 48" wide standard chicken wire (the smaller holes)
  6. 30" length of steel roofing 30" by 3'
  7. 98" length of 1" EMT the axle bushing
  8. 2 wheels with axle extending one foot out one side of each wheel
  9. a handful of 1-1/2" self tapping metal screws I like the kind that have a 5/16 nut driver head.
  10. tarp UV stable 5' by 8' or larger. has to be a rip stop type of material.

tools list
  1. flat head screw driver
  2. hack saw
  3. linesman pliers
  4. variable speed electric drill
  5. drill bit sized to pre-drill for the outside diameter of your metal screws. just a little bigger than your screws.
  6. magnetic 5/16" nut driver bit to fit your drill
  7. 1/2" EMT pipe bender
  8. six year old helper optional

The concept of this tractor is to be flexible and light weight. It needs to follow the contour of the terrain. That is why 1/2" EMT is better than any larger size.

The first step is to take apart the EMT 90°s. Save all the plates and screws, you'll need them later. This is a good job for a six year old. Then, drill out a hole in the exact center of each removed plate from the 90°s.

Cut eight of your ten foot lengths of EMT, two feet off each one. You should end up with eight 2' pieces and eight 8' pieces of EMT. Assemble two rectangles 8' by 10' using the EMT and pullable 90°s. This is also a good job for a 6 year old. Hand tighten each corner firmly--you'd better double check your helper.

Especially since he was only five in this photo.

Mark four of your 2' pieces of EMT in the exact same spot at both ends. You can do this by holding the EMT firmly on a flat surface and marking the top. This step helps keep things lined up. Attach one removed plate to each end of all four pieces of 2' EMT (the corners). They should be 1/2" away from the ends. The self tapping screw can drill right through the EMT without pre-drilling. I put the little escutcheon of the plate facing the head of the screw. Just make them all look the same.

Reassemble the plates (corners) to the 90°s this forms the box shape of the tractor. Five gallon buckets are helpful to keep the other three corners off the ground when first starting.

Cut one inch off the four remaining 2' pieces of EMT (the side supports are 23" long). Make four more side support pieces from the remaining 10' piece of EMT.

Let the drilling begin. Mark and drill holes on every end of each piece of remaining EMT minus one of the 8' pieces. these must all be drilled on the same plane so be sure to use the marking method described earlier. The holes should be large enough that a piece of your 12 gauge galvanized wire fits easily through. Pieces to be drilled should include:
  1. one 10' piece
  2. three 8' pieces
  3. eight 23" pieces
Wire this baby together. The 10' piece gets wired to bisect the top first. Wire it by threading the wire through the hole and wrapping the other pipe and twisting them tight. It is clunky at first but you'll get really good at it. Each wired spot should make a perfect "T". Wire the three 8' cross supports above the 10' on the top at 30", 60" & 90" respectively. Make everything parallel to the edges. Wire the the cross over points together too--wrap twist snip twist some more.

The center needs a support in case any kids or dogs decide to climb on top of it. I bent the remaining piece of eight foot EMT 90° and held it to an edge and cut the tails off. The tails make good handles. Then I wired it to the center support like a swing using the wiring method above. When the tractor is moved it slips around obstacles and rights itself at final resting place to act as support (see second photo below).

Wind protection
Cut the tarp into strips 2x(8' by 30") or one long strip 16' by 30". Choose an end of the coop to have the door and all the heavy stuff. Wrap this end with the tarp leaving the extra width on the bottom to act as a skirt when moving it. The wind break/skirt should cover the entire door end and wrap evenly along the sides. Wire this in several places to the top and bottom. Slightly thinner gauge wire can be used for the tarp covering if you have it.

Wire the hardwire/hardware cloth to the perimeter, overlapping any joints. Wire this securely every foot or so and doubly at the corners. This is your main defense so don't cut any corners here because regular chicken wire won't defend against raccoons.

The top
Stretch and cut the chicken wire to the top. Leave a rectangle on the door end open for the door. Wrap a little extra length around the EMT at the perimeter ends and door. The wire should join at the center cross support. Wire it together and to the 10' cross support frequently--every 6 to 10 inches.

The door

I use a piece of steel roofing material for the door. Hinges are made of wire.

The door, feeder and water should all be on one end--the heavy end. I have a set of small wheels with axles from a kids bicycle trailer. I wired a piece of one inch conduit in such a way to receive the wheels.

I lift each corner by wire handles and slip the wheels on.

If you don't have extremely heavy gauge wire for handles you can thread a stub of EMT less than 12 inches long. This photo shows a threaded bent handle at the move-around end.

Once the wheels are on the entire thing moves around like a wheelbarrow. The chickens follow along and are happy to dig-in to the newly exposed area. It is amazingly light, anyone can move it, even a six year old. This feature is surprisingly important since during the last few weeks of occupancy it is best if you move them twice per day. I find that if I have to muster my courage to attempt farm chores they easily slip to the back burner until just shy of too late. We raise twenty five broilers twice per year per chicken tractor--we have two of them.

The wonders, benefits and sustainability of chicken tractors are the subject of a few books. Here are a couple of them.
Pastured Poultry
Chicken Tractor: The Permaculture Guide to Happy Hens and Healthy Soil

Saturday, April 07, 2007

grilled asparagus

this is a simple easy recipe and in my opinion one of the best ways to eat asparagus. fresh asparagus is the only important ingredient. take a zip lock bag and put the asparagus in. pour in a mixture of 3/4 soy sauce 1/4 balsamic vinegar--enough to cover most of the asparagus. close the bag and squeeze out all the air. let this marinate for at least 20 min and less than 12 hours. toss those babies on the grill--perpendicular to the grate. grill until slightly blackened--not burned. it goes with any other grilled dish.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

canned dried beans

this makes for an easy side dish for any meal or the main course. the result is what day-long simmered beans are like except they are always just a few minutes away, once canned.

soak beans overnight
drain and fill pint canning jars 2/3 full of swollen beans
1 clove garlic
1 - 2 table spoons chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
top off with hot water 1" head space

pressure cook 10 lbs pressure for no less than 75 min and no more than 110 min.

IMO really good for:
black beans
garbanzo beans (makes wonderful hummus)--so good you'll drink the juice if you eat them right out of the jar.

any dried beans you like will work though.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Eggs In Hell

a recipe adapted from The Passionate Vegetarian!

we have chickens, they lay eggs. 10 a day. it's a beautiful thing. what do we do with all those eggs? is a question people ask us more than any other. we are still learning how to best use all of our eggs, but this recipe has quickly become a family favorite.

stage 1: Tomato Sauce

canned (or fresh, if you have them) tomatoes
olive oil
bay leaf

i spent the first couple of years of my housewife career unable to make a decent tomato sauce. every time i tried, i failed- the sauce missed something. it just wasn't Good. these days i love a tomato sauce from Passionate Vegetarian, and the easiest version of it is what i use for Eggs in Hell. i can't really say what is different with this sauce from my old failures. but something is- this sauce is Good.

heat the oil, a lot of it (2 tbsp- 1/4 cup) and add the onions, then the garlic, and then the tomatoes. tailor the amount of tomatoes to how much sauce you want, it really doesnt matter. add the honey and stir it in, maybe a big spoonful. salt and pepper to taste, a bay leaf. oregano, thyme, basil. Fresh or dried. simmer the sauce for about 20 minutes. that's it!

variations i have tried and recommend:

for Eggs in Hell these days i always peel a fresh beet, quarter it, and almost puree it in the food processor. i add this to the sauce about 10 minutes before it is done. truly Hellish color, wonderful flavor, very good for you and your picky toddlers.

also, add finely chopped carrots or celery, this gives the sauce a comforting character.

if you arent making Eggs in Hell, but want a good vegan bolognese, omit the honey for molasses & crumble tofu in the finished sauce, it is so good.

stage 2: Pasta

one pound or one package
the water and pot to cook it in.

when our friends and family are kind enough to send organic, whole-wheat pasta to us from California, we use just about any shape for this recipe. linguine is best, or spaghetti/ capelinni. but any noodle will do, even homemade pastas. (which are a wonderful thing! more on them some other day...) we also order whole wheat pastas in bulk from a local mill, Hodgson Mill.

stage 3: Eggs

one dozen organic, free range eggs

as i said, we have fresh eggs from free range hens we know and love. i recommend you have chickens, too. if that isnt in the stars, buy free range eggs. our family of barely-four (two adults, a 3.5 year old & an 18 month old) eats at least 10 eggs in this meal. i usually use a dozen and have a couple as leftovers.

the pasta is cooked as usual and drained. the sauce is simmering over low/ medium heat. you have grated a lot of monterey jack, or not, it isnt required.

take a small bowl and crack one egg into it, careful not to break the yolk! open your sauce (for whish you have a lid, no doubt! and use a spoon to make a dent in the surface anywhere in the pan. gently pour egg into sauce. if your sauce is the 'right' consistency, the egg will sink a bit into the sauce and stay put. if it is too thick, it will stay on top. no matter, add 1/4 cup of water at a time to your sauce until consistency is reached, but dont stir around the egg that is already there. depending on how your sauce is, and how high the heat is, you may have to add more water after the first batch of eggs.

my pan fits 6 eggs at a time, without the eggs touching in the sauce. crack and pour as many eggs into the sauce as yours fits. cover, at a slow simmer, not a crazy boil. check often- when the white of the eggs is done, remove them right away. overcooked, poached eggs are okay, but not as good as runny yolk poached eggs. when the first batch is done (and in a covered serving dish for later) do it again, perhaps adding 1/2 a cup of water to the sauce and simmering a bit first.

the eggs are done. now pour all the sauce into a bowl with the pasta and mix it up. serve pasta, cover with cheese and a couple of perfectly poached eggs. voila!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

peanut butter, buttered peanuts

peanut butter has become something less than it once was. real peanut butter- like you can have freshly ground for you at whole foods- is just peanuts. but people have been eating skippy & the like for so long that they want sweet, fat, salty peanut butter. because that is what is in skippy- sugar, shortening, and salt.

wherever you live, if you look hard enough you can find bulk peanuts for sale. shelled, roasted, unsalted are best, and i am sure you can get them, even organic.

these are potential peanut butter.

spread as many as you can on a cookie sheet and warm them in the oven. the lowest setting will work, maybe 10 minutes.

fill your food processor with them, grind them to desired smoothness. if you want crunchy, add a handful of whole peanuts at the end and let them grind just a little.

it may take a long time to get it as smooth as you like it, especially if the nuts werent hot.

once it is ready, pour/ paddle it into clean mason jars and seal. keeping this in cold storage is a good idea- the fridge. if you cant do that, add salt to the processor stage to taste. salt will help it keep.

that is real peanut butter. and it is really good!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

our favorite borscht (beet soup!)

we call this soup borscht in our house, but i am aware it is not like much of the borscht out there. it is a beef-based soup, and i like to keep in that way, but the vegetarian, vegan, or simply without-beef chef could leave that out.


beef. i used to use a whole tri-tip roast, cut into 1" x 2" strips across the grain. i have been known to substitute just about anything. ground beef to steaks. good, natural beef stock will do. why, just today i made it with soup bones and nothing else.

onions. 3 or 4. red, white, or yellow.

beets. whole, 3 or 4 large ones, more if you're feeling beety. tops on is always best, but it isnt the end of the world if they dont have tops.

root vegetables. carrots, celery root, radishes, parsnips, turnips, potatoes, any and all of these. at least 2 of them.

spices: like salt, pepper and bay leaves. oh wait, that is all you need!

garlic. deserves its own entry. a whole head please. ok if you dont have it or arent a garlic lover, whatever!

extra credit: an apple or pear. have one around? chop her up and drop her in. you'll be amazed!

dressing. sour cream and fresh dill.

making the soup.

brown the beef in a little oil in the bottom of your big soup pot. add onions and garlic, brown. add water or stock (If not using meat you would begin with water and add onions/ garlic to the plain water/ stock.) dump in everything else, peeled (if required) and chopped, even the beet tops. if you have some celery laying around that would be nice. any greens you enjoy will fit well in this soup. (especially the beet tops!)

i want to mention here, based on personal failure, that you really do want to peel your vegetables. most of the root vegetables (turnips, celery root, parsnip, etc) you get in the store have very tough skins that you do not want in your soup! organic carrots, radishes, and potatoes are the only exception.)

boil/ simmer as long as you feel like waiting. all day is fine. i usually cook my soup for 3 hours.

once finished, check spices for salt and so on. pour in bowls, add a generous dollop of sour cream and finish with freshly chopped dill. yum!