Grape Filling for Pie, crumble or cobbler

When we bought our place here in the Muncy Hills, it did not have running water or other modern amenities, but it did have an apple orchard and two Concord grape vines. The hardy grape cultivars endured my how-to-take-care-of-grapes learning curve and now are reliable producers. Compelled by roadside signs advertising "Grape Pie" in the Finger Lakes and our family's love of fruit pies, my internet search for a recipe led me to a blog post by Chism Heritage Farm. I love reading the story of Aunt Marian and with adjustments made to her pie filling recipe to accommodate for our preferences, we enjoy all of the fragrant grapes from our sturdy vines.

Grape Pie, with notes outlining my adjustments.
5 1/3 c Concord Grapes
1 1/3 c Sugar (I usually add about 1/3c. less of sugar since the grapes are usually sweet enough)
4 T Flour (because of the celiacs and my preference for a clear fruit pie filling, I use instant tapioca to thicken my filling. I measure the amount of filling and follow the directions on the side of the box for blueberry fruit pies.)
1 1/2 t lemon juice
Dash of salt
1 1/3T Butter
Remove and save the skins from the grapes.
 I squeeze the pulp right into a small saucepan.
Put pulp into a saucepan without water and bring to a rolling boil.
While hot, put through a strainer to remove seeds.
 I usually put the strained pulp right into the bowl with the skins.
Mix strained pulp with skins.
Mix with sugar mixture (and flour, salt and lemon juice) and put in crust in 9" pie pan.Dot with butter
 Instead of the flour, I add the correct amount of instant tapioca. I stir it and let it sit for 15 minutes, per the instructions on the tapioca box.
Bake at 400'. At this point, the filling can go into a pie crust or under a cobbler or crumble topping.
For a crumble I butter the baking dish before adding the filling and top with a nut/oatmeal/butter/sugar topping. I do not add spices to the crumble topping but I sometimes toast the nuts before chopping them. 
If the filling is for a cobbler, I stir my final  grape mixture in my cast iron skillet. When spooned on top of hot filling, cobbler dough doesn't seem to get "gummy" on the underside when it bakes in a hot oven.

The prepared filling freezes well.

Why Geese?

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Why geese?

What value can geese add to a small homestead or farm?

  • Geese are quick growing and can produce a large bird for the table.
  • Geese are vegetarians and love grass and clover.
  • Carcass quality is improved with some additional feed according to Dave Holderread, but geese can be raise will little additional feed.
  • Geese produce more than meat for the table. Their livers are the primary ingredient in foie gras, down can fill a pillow or provide insulation for winter mittens, quills are valued by historic reenactors, and goosefat, with its high smoke point, makes beautiful oven fried potatoes.
  • Geese are excellent guardians. When traveling along a bike path I once saw a goose in a freshly bedded pen next to the door of a rural homestead. As we rode by the dooryard, the goose "honked" our presence--a perfect alarm.
  • With their large feet, flocking behavior and vegetarian diet, geese are an excellent livestock choice for small places that want to start and benefit from small-scale mob grazing.

2016 is not the first time we have tried raising geese. With some changes in management, I hoped to overcome some of the challenges I faced when raising these affable barn yard creatures in the past..

 

Interested in cutting your own meat?

A few months ago I culled some lambs that had not grown well. The $65/lamb-slaughter, cut and wrap fee, seemed too high for the amount of available meat. Instead, I paid the $25/lamb, slaughter fee, brought the carcass home, searched youtube, followed along with an online video and cut, wrapped and froze our own lamb. In addition to the usual chops and roasts, I saved every bit of meat for  winter stews and had bones to make rich lamb broth. With a bit of seasoning and a quick saute, slices from the boned legs have been the perfect addition to summer dinner salads.

Before this kitchen experiment, I had no experience cutting meat but with sharp knives, the youtube video and the knowledge that all my mistakes were going into sausage- I was able to tackle the job. My greatest fear was that the process would somehow be disgusting or bloody; it wasn't. Breaking down the carcass and dealing with each section, kept the whole job manageable. Honestly, I liked the work.

The second week of August we have two sheep going to the butcher which provides another opportunity to hone my butchering skills. If you would like to try your hand at preparing your own meat, you could join me in the kitchen.

So what's it going to cost?
---$5.25/pound x the hanging weight   
---$25 slaughter fee

Because the meat will come from a pasture raised sheep over a year old, the meat is "mutton". Our mutton has not been greasy or strong-flavored, but because it is mutton, the price per pound is less than lamb. 

If you are interested or have questions, contact me.

 

 

 

Grit

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Birds do not have teeth or rumens to break down grain or greens for digestion.

A gizzard is an organ found in the digestive tract of some animals, including birds, made of thick muscular walls. With the help of previously swallowed stones, the gizzard grinds food.

 

This year I added Gran-i-grit to all our birds' diets to make sure they can utilize all the nutritional value from their grains and pasture.

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Murphy, Flock Guardian

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After a week of rain, it was time to tag Mab's lambs (born 4/30) and transition them into the pasture with the flock. Because I inadvertently left a gate open, the transition from lambing jug to flock was very accelerated. Mab brought her lambs up through the yard and towards the grazing flock. Once the electric fence lines were moved, Mab took her lambs into the paddock.

For Murphy, flock guardian, the lambs, especially the ram-lamb, were intruders and he got to work.  With a calculated race around the paddock, he moved his flock to the far end of the field, then with nose and hoof, shoved the ram-lamb away from Mab and her ewe-lamb. Ears back, hide quivering, Murphy looked fierce, especially next to the week old lamb. 

As the flock moved to welcome Mab back to the flock, I moved to calm Murphy. If you drove by that day, you would have seen me waving my coat to get Murphy's attention, pushing the ram-lamb towards his mother and positioning my body between lamb and donkey. (I'd like to think I was a calm, quiet shepherd; honestly, there was a wide gap between my aspirations and reality that afternoon.)

With my hand on Murphy's back, we followed the newest members of the flock around the paddock. Mab contentedly grazed, ewe-lamb by her side while Murphy followed the ram-lamb, as he wandered though the flock and occasionally sprinted away from the shock of the electric fence.

I stepped back when Murphy settled: ears turning at every sound. not pinned back; eyes following the lambs, not wide and wild; nostrils sniffing in the lambs' direction, not wide open and snorting; and hide smooth, not twitching. Murphy walked up to the ever calm Mab, sniffed her and the ewe-lamb and then followed the wandering ram-lamb into the middle of the flock. Now that the ram-lamb was not an intruder, Murphy nudged the lamb towards its ewe, and kept the flock away from the trio as they got accustomed to grazing together. 

Until dark, I saw Murphy circling the trio, repeatedly nosing that meandering ram-lamb back to Mab's side. The next day the flock was a seamless unit and Murphy's new adversaries were a few stray Guineas that appeared in our fields.

 

 

The middle of lambing season

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At the beginning of lambing, the barn was a quiet place with the ewes eating and resting. Watching for restless behavior and counting heads was pretty straightforward during my regular barn checks. Now that about half of the ewes have lambed, the barnyard is busy place. 

After the lambs and their mothers leave the lambing jugs they are moved to a barn stall with its own paddock. In the small paddock and with a few other lamb/ewe families, the lamb-ewe bond is strengthened. The lambs and their dams learn to find each other in this temporary small flock. The transition is not always smooth and I occasionally have to go to the barn to move a  bleating lamb around a corner to her frantically calling mother.

Once I am sure of the lamb-ewe bond, I move the families in with the larger flock. Fortunately the first ewe to lamb, Mauve, is also my fiercest mother and under her protection, her lamb moved safely within the flock. The first night Mauve and her lamb were in the barn, most of the flock slept outside to avoid Mauve's protective foot stomping.

Last night there were three lambs in with the larger flock. Each ewe staked out her own area of the barn for her lamb. The still expecting ewes were resting together with only a few outside. 

Watching the widening, expectant ewes; the just born lambs stand so quickly to suckle after birth; the lamb/ewe families as they bond and the flock as it integrates new members, is fascinating. For me it just does not get tiresome, even as slip into my Muck boots for another barn check.

 

Lambing jugs

First lamb in the new lambing jug.

First lamb in the new lambing jug.

As our flock has grown, so has our need for more lambing jugs. A lambing "jug" is a small pen that a ewe and her lamb/lambs are housed in after lambing. In this small space, separate but still near the flock, the mother and lamb bond. The lamb learns the sound of its mother's nicker and how to nurse away from the jostling of the flock. The ewe/lamb bond is very important for the  success of the lamb, especially when the flock is turned out onto pasture.

We cut panels from our local ag' supply store with 4"x4" openings to length then "stitched" them together with spiral posts from Premier. The backbone of the jug pens is an uncut 16' panel. The spirals make a perfect hinge for the front of the jug and a clip latches the front door closed.

A bucket hook holds the water safely off the ground, away from the curious lamb. The welded wire hay feeder was an add on item I ordered from D-S livestock when we bought our handling system last November. It hooks over the wire panel (or a wood board). 

If all goes well, ewes get two days in the jug; new mothers and groups of twins or triplets get a few extra days before they rejoin the flock.

 

Watching the ewes

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It is in the last few weeks of gestation that lambs do most of their growing. By watching the sheep for changes in behavior, I can sometimes ward off lambing complications.

So when I go out to check the ewe flock, what am I looking for?

  • First thing I do when I leave the house is to listen. Generally the sheep are quiet; if the sheep are noisy, I need to find out what has them upset.
  • As I approach the flock I look at it as a whole. I want to see that all the girls are near to each other. Stragglers may be sick or out of sorts. If the stragglers do not join the flock as I approach, I need to get closer to check for signs of discomfort.
  • I count the sheep to make sure no ewe has wandered away.
  • I observe the ewes' ears. Katahdin ears usually stick out to the side and move to better hear my approach. Drooping ears can be a sign of illness or pain.
  • When the sheep stand first thing in the morning, I like to see them give a big stretch, almost like a cat, which signals good health.
  • When I can get a hand on the girls, I wiggle my fingers through their hair feeling for prominent bones. Too much bone and a ewe needs more feed.
  • I watch the back ends of my ewes. When the ewes are lying down, I check for early signs of prolapse. I look at the girls' udders to make sure they are filling evenly. I also watch for any discharge that can be a sign of impending labor.
  • Before lambing, hollows sometimes appear in front of some ewes' hipbones.
  • Feeling for signs of labor I check the fullness of udders and the loosness of the ligaments at the top of the tail head. 

With less than two weeks until lambing, I check the flock a few times during the day and once after dark. Next week I will start the late night and early morning barn checks.

Maude

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Maude is one of our original Katahdin ewes. She has given us 6 lambs and raised 8, accepting a set of 8 day old twins when their mother died. This is her fifth breeding season and I believe she is bred. She is calm and very maternal, "un-weaning" lambs as they move through our summer grazing paddocks. Last year, a day before her own lamb arrived, Maude tried to "steal" new lambs from their mothers-herding the lambs into a corner and pushing the actual mothers away. Until I moved Maude  and her equally maternal flockmate Mab, into their own pen, the usually quiet flock was unsettled-ewes running in circles and lambs crying for their mothers.

A ewe that steals lambs puts her own soon-to-arrive lambs in danger by feeding the first milk, colostrum, to another lamb, leaving her own lambs at risk. Without the nutrient dense, antibody rich colostrum, a lamb's survival rate is decreased.

This year I am keeping an eye out for overly maternal behaviors and will pen Maude or Mab with a companion before the flock is upset.

 

Cream Legbars

Pullet

Rooster

Rooster

3 week old Cream Legbars

3 week old Cream Legbars

Into the coop brooder under heat lamps.

Into the coop brooder under heat lamps.

Last year a neighbor told me of his new-to-his-coop breed of auto-sexing chickens. These birds are not sex-linked, a first generation hybrid of two separate chicken breeds, but a breed of chickens that produced visually sexable birds. 

An auto sexing breed of chickens is a practical addition to a small farm that wants to breed their own flock replacements. 

  • After they are fully feathered roosters can be separated from the pullets and fed a grower feed for earlier processing. 
  • Juvenile roosters are easier to manage as a group, away from the pullets and mature roosters. When I select the next generation of roosters from the juvenile group, it won't be the more aggressive, could-stand-up-to-the-mature-rooster-in-the-flock boy that makes the cut.

Recently imported from the UK, we will be breeding our Jill Rees Cream Legbars for productivity, hardiness and mothering ability. That the Cream Legbars lay pastel eggs and have a wild pompadour sprouting from the top of their heads is just a bonus.

 



Lamb shanks

From a 2010 NPR article
If someone asked you what part of the lamb the shank comes from, you'd probably guess right: It's the lower part of the leg, from the knee down. The kneeward part is the meaty part; there's practically nothing as you get toward the hoof. As in any animal, the most-used muscles are the toughest ones. 

In spite of being "one of the toughest cuts," shanks can be the centerpiece of a simply seasoned braise. Quickly seared in a hot pan, then braised (cook slowly in liquid in a lidded pot) at a low temperature, it takes very little effort to bring a richly flavored meal to the table. When the meat is cooked, I usually remove it from the pot and cook down the braising liquid to make an easy sauce to top the meat.

Keeping track of lambs

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Last year I started using colored lamb ear tags. With color coding, I was able to keep track of sire, and that a lamb was a single, twin or triplet. From afar, I was able to compare Burgess' lambs (blue sire tag) and Duncan's (purple sire tag). Early on I did not worry if a lamb with a lime ear tag was a bit small, after all it was a triplet.

In the past,ewes and their lambs were marked with one (single), two (twin) or three (triplet) lines to quantify the type of birth. This year I will paint the dam's ear tag number to their lambs' backs to aid in quick, from-across-the-barn assessments. This will be helpful early on when lambs can get separated from their ewes and later in the spring when they are first out on pasture.

 

 

Ground lamb

Grilled lamb burgers with crumbled goat cheese

Grilled lamb burgers with crumbled goat cheese

Growing up we did not eat lamb so learning to cook the lamb we raise, beyond chops or a leg roast, has been a learning experience.

I have discovered that in all the recipes I have attempted, ground lamb can replace all or part of the ground beef. As I experiment with Middle Eastern, North African and Greek recipes, their spice blends compliment the delicate lamb flavor. As much as I like my mother's old family "Meat Mixture"  recipe for stuffing a pumpkin, substituting ground lamb for her choice of ground beef balances the earthy pumpkin flavor. Since family lore says that it is an old recipe, I wonder if beef was a modern concession over lamb, mutton or a mixture of different meats.

For those accustomed to cooking with imported lamb from Australia,New Zealand or feedlot fattened meat, our grassfed meat is leaner and to my taste, milder. 

If you want to try lamb in a recipe of your own, give me a call.  

Time for Murphy to move in with the rams

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As lambing season approaches, I make changes in  the pasture/barn set up to keep the ever widening ewes safe and comfortable. 

Murphy's protection is important, especially when the flock is moves across our fields during the grazing season. Murphy moves his flock around with a stomp or head swing in response to perceived and real threats. Now that the ewes are a little slower, I want to limit rushing around the round bale feeder and narrow spaces in the barnyard.

After some "how-do-you-do" head butting, the rams and Murphy have settled down.

 

 

 

 

Boat barn to sheep barn

The Boat Barn sits across the drive, behind and a little to the right of the Barn.

The Boat Barn sits across the drive, behind and a little to the right of the Barn.

The Boat Barn stores our assortment of homemade,wooden boats and farm equipment. With its access to the North Field and physical separation from the Barn Field, it is a great location for overwintering the vacationing rams,weaning lambs from their ewes,and providing an extra pen for sorted sheep.

Sliding door on the north corner of the Boat Barn

Sliding door on the north corner of the Boat Barn

A sliding barn door works best,especially when piled snow is on the ground and would impede a swinging door. If we need to keep the door closed,the opaque window panel opens,adding ventilation to the pen inside.

The hay feeder and water bucket are accessible from outside the pen.

The hay feeder and water bucket are accessible from outside the pen.

I can add hay and water from outside the pen which is especially important when the rams are unhappily separated from their ewes. The Boat Barn has electricity to keep water in a heated bucket unfrozen, running water,and an easy to clean concrete floor.

High stall walls should keep separated sheep in place.

High stall walls should keep separated sheep in place.

Tucked around the small craft, there is room for some convenient hay storage.

Just for this winter,we pounded posts and wired on temporary fencing for a winter ram paddock. In the spring we will permanently fence the North Field with small grazing paddocks,access to the orchard,and long gates so that big boat can leave on its next cruise.

The Barn

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One of my favorite writers, Gene Logsdon wrote  The Sanctuary of the Barn in a recent weekly post. His essay reminded me that I love our barn. It was sited in the hill, barnyard facing the low winter sun  by wise farmers before us. Repaired and renovated, it still serves as a haven for our livestock and us.

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Lilac Hill Farm Cassoulet

Cassoulet is a rich, slow cooked bean  dish, traditionally prepared with pork sausages, duck/goose pieces and pork skin.  The combination of the tender meats, creamy beans and caramelized crusty top is very satisfying, especially in winter. Once the dish is assembled and set to slowly bake, it requires little attention.

 A few cooking notes for adjusting this recipe:

  • Since our larder does not always have the exact meats listed in the recipe, I follow the techniques listed in this recipe, but substitute lamb shoulder chops, lamb or pork sausage and our pasture raised chicken and duck legs and thighs.
  • Until our next pig butchering when I will add enough garlic sausage to our cutting order to satisfy our cassoulet cravings , I add garlic to our ground lamb or pork. 
  • I do use rendered duck fat from our birds. Even if we do not raise many ducks this year, I will raise a few especially for the fat.
  • Our cassoulet has more beans and less meat than recommended in the recipe because we really like the beans and my cast iron pot fits fewer pieces of meat neatly on top.
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American Pastured Poultry Producers Association

Membership in APPPA is a valuable tool for managing poultry on this farm.

Our flocks are small, but the topics shared on the Yahoo group site, weekly podcast and bi-monthly magazine supply solid information to support planning. APPPA members share their feed costs per bird, seed mixes for side by side pasture trials, and techniques for handling predators and weather variables.

 Let's face it, if you buy chicken or duck from me, you pay a premium for the certified organic grain and the labor of keeping the birds clean and healthy on pasture.Until my customer base increases and I have a more efficiently sized flock, it will be hard to drop prices. That said, I feel an obligation to my customers to make flock management choices that keep my operating costs as low as possible while optimizing poultry health and welfare. Last season, when I decided to try a non-Cornish Cross hybrid, I went to my APPPA Grit magazine to compare the data on the different meat bird breeds when selecting a hatchery. 

The discussions about all those labels (organic, certified organic, transitional organic, soy-free, GMO-free, conventional, humanely-raised, locally raised, heritage breeds, Cornish Cross, Red Rangers, to name only some topics customers are interested in) is open and respectful. The conversations about choosing breed, feed and management style is balanced with realistic business planning.

If you are considering buying your poultry from a smaller producer, now is a good time to contact a farmer since many farms are finalizing their production and pricing schedules. Most small farmers that I know are interested in what you are hoping to buy.

Here's a few things you might want to ask your farmer:

  • what kind of feed to you use and why?
  • where do you source your feed and chicks?
  • if the poultry is raised pasture pens, what is the square footage per bird in the pen?
  • if the poultry is day ranged, how often are the paddocks moved?
  • what options do you the customer,have in the cutting order,packaging and pick up schedule

The time you invest in finding a small poultry producer will have a very delicious return.

 

   

 

 

Flocking Behavior

Our sheep are content the the company of other sheep. Each sheep is aware of the actions of their flock mates.

Our sheep are content the the company of other sheep. Each sheep is aware of the actions of their flock mates.

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Some ewes stay closest to their pasture buddies.

Some ewes stay closest to their pasture buddies.

I use the natural flocking behavior of our sheep to move them around the farm. With only 26 ewes I can move the flock into the barnyard, across the road to the Hill Field and between pastures without the assistance of a herding dog. 

Once a sheep, usually one that is most curious and friendly, starts moving towards me in the field, the others follow. To complete the move I circle around the back of the flock, forcing the stragglers towards the rest of the group.