Friday, May 20, 2011

Sweet Abundance

Fruit picking season has begun.  Baking, canning, drying, freezing, all the hours spent processing farm fresh fruit is well worth it.  Today we went to a u-pick farm in Brentwood called Pease Ranch.  Not certified organic but all pesticide free, these cherries are super sweet and delicious.  We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves picking until our hearts were content.  Anyone who knows me well knows that pie is absolutely my favorite food on earth, any kind, but especially cherry.  So here is my version of a homemade, country cherry pie.  There aren't really too many measurements, as that's how I tend to bake.  You may just need to experiment to get it right.  Oh, and don't forget that vanilla Haagen Dazs!

Pie Crust (Pate Brisee)
2 1/2 cups flour (can use unbleached white or half white and half whole wheat)
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup very cold butter, cubed
Ice cold water, 8-10 tbls. 
(double recipe so there is enough dough to play around with)

Combine flour salt and sugar in food processor or kitchen aid, mix lightly.  Add butter and mix into a meal.  Add water and mix gently until dough comes together.  Dump the dough onto a board and shape/press into a disk.  Chill for an hour or so while you pit the cherries.  (Can be chilled for up to 4 months.)

Pie Filling
Pitted cherries, enough to fill pie plate (or other fresh fruit in season)
About a cup of maple syrup
Butter, several pats
1 egg

Once you have pitted enough cherries to fill your pie plate (this goes way faster with a cherry pitter!), press the dough evenly into the dish. 

Place all the pitted cherries into a large bowl and drizzle maple syrup over the top.  Toss the cherries around and taste for sweetness.  If not sweet enough for you then drizzle on more syrup.  Toss in about a half of a handful of flour over the cherries, just enough to coat them.  Stir gently and then pour into pie shell.  Place pats of butter here and there over the top of the cherries then begin to assemble the top crust in the pattern you desire, or just cover the whole pie with remaining dough.  

Pinch down the edges of the pie and brush with a beaten egg until all the top is shinny.  You can then sprinkle the top with sugar or leave it plain (its probably already sweet enough!) 

Bake in a 425 degree oven for 10 minutes then reduce heat to 325 and bake until crust is golden and filling is bubbling (about 30-35 minutes). 
Enjoy!  This weekend's breakfast will be fresh eggs and cherry scones:).  

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Harnessing Some Energy

Life loves to be taken by the lapel and told:
"I'm with you kid. Let's go."
-Maya Angelou 

This is our new chicken tractor that I am very pleased with.  My second attempt turned out way better than the first.  I am not so keen on the way it looks like a big soccer goal instead of some natural bamboo structure but it is really sturdy and lightweight.  (PVC pipe as the base with heavy duty black mesh and deer fencing fastened on with cable ties.)

the front has a door that lifts outward to let them in and out

So why do we need two of these?  Well, to spread the chickens out over more ground (so they can dig and prepare garden beds for us), to separate the ducks from the chickens until the ducks get a little older, and the latest big idea is to try using the chickens as pest control under our Black Walnut tree.  When we moved here the Black Walnut was laden with fruit, very green and very huge.  We had no idea what type of tree it was.  After making many guesses, breaking open the unripe fruit, and then doing some research online, we finally realized those big green fruits were nuts!  We were so excited to harvest what seemed like thousands of nuts come to find out there was something going on with the tree that made all the nuts a dark mush inside.  So long story short, we think that the culprit may be the walnut husk fly that lays its larvae in the husk but over winters in the soil.  We have done the recommended sweep under the tree, raking up as much of the fallen infested fruit as possible, but why not let the chickens hang out under there to scratch and eat what they find? 
Hence the new chicken tractor upgraded and ready to go....

happy beneath the Black Walnut tree with lots of greens to eat

I found that if we put a medium sized box or shallow laundry basket filled with hay into the tractor, the hens lay will their eggs in there.

ducks and chickens side by side

Friday, May 6, 2011

Make Way for Ducklings

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning
 and spread it over the fields...
watch now how I start the day in happiness,
 In kindness.
-Mary Oliver

The ducklings are getting bigger so quickly.  They really have a collective personality and are super entertaining.  Somehow they must think that we are all their mother because they tend to follow us around.  We have not yet built a structure for them to live in, still trying to figure our where poultry should permanently reside.  Here is a clip of the hilarious scene every morning getting them from the barn, where they sleep, to the chicken tractor where they spend the day. 

We also have 4 new chicks.  I know I said no more this season but I just couldn't resist.  Two Americaunas and two Wellsummers, hoping for more green and dark brown eggs to come!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Adventures in Grainland, part one

Certain things catch your eye,
But pursue only those
that capture your heart.
-old Native American saying

organic heirloom seed packets from Bakercreek

We are embarking on a collaborative effort with our neighbor of villa sobrante to grow some larger crops of heirloom grains.  How to prepare the soil was the first question to come up since we wanted to prepare several 5' x 20' beds and didn't want to break our backs double digging in the process.  So we have had a few sessions working on the beds, mowing the waist high grass, tilling the soil with a rototiller, spreading horse manure over the beds, watering heavily, and then letting it sit for a few days. We went back to turn the manure under and found that the soil looks really good.  Using a rototiller is something new for us since we have thus far prepared our beds by hand, either double digging or sheet mulching, it's definitely a big experiment.  We ended up planting quinoa, red, green, and orange amaranth, black beans, and chickpeas in one area. Nearby we will plant sweet and popping corn.  I was extremely excited at the prospect of growing sorghum for pressing and making syrup but that quickly faded when I found out it takes 50 gallons of pressed juice from the stalks to make 5 gallons of syrup (100 plants make only 6.5 gallons of juice).  Anyhow we may try growing the grain sorghum which has a much higher yield. 

three smaller beds freshly double dug for black beans and chickpeas