The reality of farm life: it ain’t all sunshine and roses

If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that we are still relatively new at this farming/homesteading thing-only a couple of years.  Most of the time, we are blessed with happy and healthy animals.  But, as with everything else in life, it’s not always that way.

Enter in Wilbur, one of our barrows.  Wilbur was one of the piglets we brought home late last year and raised to full weight.  He was a happy and healthy pig…until he wasn’t.  When we fed the animals on Sunday morning, he wouldn’t get up to eat.  By the time we came home from church on Sunday, he seemed worse and died within minutes of us arriving home.  Maybe he was waiting until we got there to say bye?  Yeah, I’m not quite that sentimental, but it did all happen really fast.  My immediate fear was the PEDv going around, but he didn’t display any clinical symptoms..and frankly, the way we farm and the few people who are invited onto our land mean that we have pretty strict biosecurity procedures naturally.  Upon further research, I found that it’s not terribly uncommon for pigs to die without obvious physical symptoms and the only way to confirm cause of death is with an autopsy.  Seems a little too CSI for us, but I’m sure that makes perfect sense to a “monoculture” farmer with thousands of pigs to protect.  We immediately moved him from their yard and took him a good distance away from all livestock for disposal.  Some have asked why we didn’t just butcher him and sell/eat the meat.  There are so many reasons why we wouldn’t do that.  One is that for a pig to be butchered commercially (ya know-not by your uncle Fred behind the garage), the butcher or his/her agent has to witness the killing.  Two is because we didn’t know or even suspect what killed him, we did not feel good about selling (or even giving) that meat to anyone.  We may not know everything there is to know about raising pigs, but we know our own values and we will never sell meat we wouldn’t feed to our own Blueberry girl, so with his death, it’s a total loss.

As to the future, our remaining gilts/barrows seem to be doing just fine.  They do not love the high heat, but do love the baths I’m giving them every day.  We have made some tentative plans around what we want our future to be with raising pigs and I think it’s the right decision.  We have been thoroughly (and I mean thoroughly!!!) enjoying the hand cured/smoked bacon, amazing chops, delicious steaks, and incredible sausage from these Berkshire piggies, and for that, we are grateful.  If it’s up to us, we will never, ever go back to what we now recognize as inferior quality pork from the local mega mart.

Until next time, happy homesteading Blueberry Acres Fans!

Giving up store bought bread

You never realize how incredibly convenient it is to purchase store bought bread until you make the decision to give it up cold turkey. Especially if you are like me: a full-fledged breadaholic who could eat bagettes, boules, loaves, buns, etc starting now until the day I died…and I would die happy.

However, if you take a moment to look at the ingredients on your bread, you begin to realize just how far from nature you really are with store bought bread. We have tried to buy organic bread as much as possible, but I have to admit that once we made the move out of the city, we found that the many of the organic products we had come to rely on were no longer readily available. So, after yet another report on the evils of corn syrup, I decided enough was enough.  Enter breadmaking for idiots-my version of baking bread:

I’ve gotten pretty close to perfect on artisan bread.  You know-that crunchy yummy loaf of bread that will not really make a normal sandwich but it’s perfect for slicing up with good butter, cheese, whatever…it’s just great on it’s own.  But….with a 4 year old in the house and a husband who is not as much of a bread-junkie as me, I need to come up with a “normal” bread recipe.  Here is one that I’m working on:

  • 1.5 Tablespoons of active dry yeast.
  • 2 Cups of warm water (Now a lot of recipes will give you a temp here that the water should be-often between 85-120 depending on what you are making. However, I am far too lazy for that nonsense. It should be warm enough that you would want to take a bath in it but not hot enough that you wouldn’t bathe your 4 year old in it. Capisce?).
  • 1/4 Cup of Oil-I prefer Olive Oil
  •  2-3 Tablespoons of raw honey (Local if you have it, and it’s ok to add more or less depending on your palate. Don’t go crazy though).
  • 5-6 Cups of Bread Flour.  (Yes-there is a difference between All Purpose and Bread Flour, but we’ll talk more about that at a later time.)
  • 2 Teaspoons of salt.

Mix the water, salt and honey together.  I like to give it a minute for the honey to dissolve a bit.  Then take your water mixture and put that and the yeast together in a large bowl.  Honey-it’s going to get bigger, so your cereal bowl ain’t going to get it done.  Trust me!  Let it sit and get foamy for 10-20 minutes.  How do you know when it’s enough?  Try to be out of the room while it’s doing it’s voodoo and you’ll find that when you come back in, it’s grown like one of your kids and well, also your kitchen is going to reek (in a good way) of yeasty goodness.  Mine looked like this:

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It’s alive!!!

Notice my slightly skanky bowl?  Well, I don’t mean that I took a dirty bowl and just threw some bread in it.  I mean that is my bread bowl.  I like to mix bread in the same bowl.  Often batch after batch because as any lover of sourdough knows, a little bit of extra flavor goes a long way and having a repeater bowl in breadmaking can be very helpful for imparting some complexity of flavor.  Just try not to use last night’s chili bowl…

Then pour in your olive oil.  I tried to make a smiley face with mine, but it didn’t exactly come out right.

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Jackson Pollock smiley face

Now it’s time for what I like to call makingcleaningthekitchenagainanecessity: adding the flour.  While I have a perfectly awesome stand mixture that I use for making doughs, I like to do this process manually so I can feel it with my hand.  I add a cup and then incorporate that cup before I add more.  Don’t feel like the dough needs to look perfect.  Think pancake batter-you’ll have some lumps and not all of your flour will be mixed in, but that’s ok.  Also, you will find that depending on the humidity levels on the day you are cooking, you might need to adjust your flour a bit.  You can always add more flour, but you can’t take it away, so once you get to cup 5, start paying attention to how your dough is acting.

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I could probably sift here, but I’m just too lazy…

Once your dough is all in, it’s time to give those biceps a work out.  Either prepare a flat, slightly floured surface to knead the dough or be like me and just knead it in the big bowl.  I can’t tell you exactly how long you should knead.  I try to get to the point where my dough is not ripping when I push it into little balls, but I’m sure others would tell you that there is a better process.  For me-that’s what making things homemade is all about…figuring out what works best for you.  I knead mine until I get bored (which doesn’t last long) and then I let it sit in the same bowl that has been oiled.  I cover the dough with oil as well.  How much oil?  Not deep fry oil, just enough to keep it from sticking.  Cover it with a damp cloth if your kitchen is not particularly humid and leave it alone for an hour or so.

No peeking!

No peeking!

Then it’s time to take out your frustrations and punch it down.  This is not a euphemism peeps.  Punch it down.  Then cut it into 2-3 portions and let it rise again in a greased bread pan.  I typically let it go 20-30 minutes.  About 15 minutes in, I start preheating to 375 degrees.

Cook for 28-35 minutes depending on your oven.  If you aren’t sure if your oven is consistent in temperature, spending a couple of dollars on an oven thermometer would not be a bad plan.  Once mine comes out, I take it out of the pan immediately and let it cool off on a baking rack.

Actually, that’s a lie.  Sometimes I let it cool off on a baking rack.  Sometimes I let it cool off in my mouth.  I am a junkie after all.

I wish this blog had smell-o-vision

I wish this blog had smell-o-vision

Now, is this bread perfect?  Nope.  I think it still needs a little more complexity of flavor.  I also think that I got lazy in my kneading because of that Trump-style combover the top of the bread has.  However, this is a great, easy recipe that even the most busy of folks can accomplish and ultimately build on.  Not including cook or rest time, this recipe probably didn’t take me more than 10-15 minutes tops.  So, get out there and try some homemade bread.  I promise that once you do, you’ll never go back to that sad stuff in the grocery store again.  Happy baking!