Monday, June 16, 2014

Patrick Martins on Seasonal Meats

Patrick Martins of Heritage Foods USA is writing a book about our food systems. He has also written The Carnivore's Manifesto. Here's an advance chapter: Sex Sells, or, For Every Season There is a Meat.
Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.

— Henry David Thoreau

An industrial farm is a joyless place. Even the studly breeders don’t get to have sex! Everything is artificially coerced, and then artificially inseminated. These farms are not idyllic, impressionist paintings of greenery and sunshine — more like the technological nightmare of tubes and machines and vault-like freezers, racks of test tubes, genetic manipulators, and the cold-hearted tools of a science on the brink of disaster.

Did you ever read Charles Dickens and wonder why they were always eating ducks and geese at Christmastime? Well, it’s because of the sex lives of these toothsome birds. It’s that simple. Remember the song “Makin’ Whoopee”? Another season, another reason, for makin’ whoopee. You certainly didn’t think that applied only to people, did you?

Just as tomatoes and strawberries are best in the summer, so too do our animal chums have their own seasons, and being tuned in helps teach us respect for the natural order of things — the miracle of Earth orbiting the Sun and giving us the joys of spring, summer, winter, and fall. These days it’s not so obvious, in the supermarket, anyway, because all meat is available all the time. But when naturally bred animals are ready for slaughter, in season, that is Earth speaking to us.

Eating meat at its naturally most robust, ready-for- market time of year is part of our covenant as responsible, sustainable, thoughtful, spiritually sound human beings, and it’s humbling in a way that makes us all feel part of something much bigger than us.

And when the season strikes, buy these animals in bulk and freeze what you don’t eat fresh — to embrace livestock by season means more than just laying out a single lavish holiday meal. You can make it your fashionable protein for weeks. Think sandwiches, and then meat for chili or rag├╣ for your pasta. Almost any animal, including lamb and turkey, makes a great burger, and this is very important — when we only eat prime cuts, it leads to waste. Grinding the cheaper cuts is going to help us achieve an America where small farms can survive, because we are helping them sell the entire beast.

Let’s start in fall: In October farms all over the world are exploding—this is harvest season, when the spring’s efforts are ready for the table and it’s time for us to fatten up for the winter. But at Heritage we’re most excited about October’s bounty of goats — in fact, we call it Goatober.

Goat is consumed in more places on the planet than any other livestock, with wonderful recipes and traditions representing a mosaic of cultures, although in America it suffers from the lack of a good marketing scheme—no “Where’s the beef?” or “the other white meat” to push goat to the forefront of a carnivore’s cuisine that has always been dependent on cows and pigs.

Goats are like horny newlyweds down on the farm. They do it like crazy in the fall, and they reproduce easily, usually birthing twins in spring. When fall comes, you either eat them, especially the males that do not produce milk, or you’ll have to get them sleeping bags to get through the chilly evenings. They’ve spent their summers munching on green grass and by early fall they are at their peak, before they get too old, tough, and gamey.

In November, don’t be a turkey, eat one! Left to their own instincts, turkeys do it in the late winter and early spring and are ready for harvest in twenty-four weeks, which conveniently turns out to be Thanksgiving, when as a species, they want to be eaten. And that is why the tradition exists. But don’t leave it there—you could be eating turkey sandwiches and beautiful turkey breasts and drumsticks right through till Christmas, and don’t forget the ground turkey for burgers or chili. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, ground meat is what keeps America’s independent farmers in business.
Commercial turkeys are nothing like Frank Reese's Narragansett

Today, of course, turkey sandwiches are everywhere all year round, but nature pushed hard to put that bird on the Pilgrims’ table. If you are eating a fresh turkey in July, well, you can bet that turkey was not the product of a satisfying sexual experience—there wasn’t a tom anywhere near a female when that bird was conceived.
Metzer Farms' German Embden Geese are good for a family flock.

December is Dickensian and, once again, the time for ducks and geese. For Americans, they may seem a bit Old World and intimidating to cook, but the truth is they are no more difficult to prepare than a chicken or a turkey, and they are an incredibly tasty alternative. Stephen Barber, the chef at Farmstead restaurant in Napa, calls geese “rib eye in the sky” because they are that meaty and wonderful.

This is a commercial goose I roasted for Christmas at our house.

January and February are great times to enjoy cured meats, salami, prosciutto, anything that has been salted and preserved. Why? Because as humans became civilized, this is what we created to survive the winter. Winter is tough — it’s why squirrels hoarding nuts set such an apt example for the rest of us. It’s why bears hibernate. Winter is about survival. And if the winter lasts into March, you can still gnaw on that prosciutto.

Come spring, when March roars in like a lion, you should be tucking into some lamb. There is a reason that lamb is central to Passover and Easter — or did you think it was just convenient symbolism? Nope, that’s when young lambs are ready for the slaughter, based on their natural mating patterns. And it’s a good time to eat the older, more mature sheep, too, since they are done breeding or milking and are ready for harvest.

Again, buy in bulk: Many of the country’s best lamb and goat farms are not at the level yet where they can break up those animals into pieces and still keep their business viable. Buying a twenty-pound half lamb or goat, butchered to your specs, is the only way to eat the elite at this point in time, and the best way to help the farmer.

Even though cows do it all year long, some cuts are best known during certain seasons: Just look at how many Jewish grandmothers have ruined perfectly good briskets at Passover, overcooking them with ketchup and chemically based dry soup mix. We can’t explain why anyone would want to cook like that, but the reason brisket is popular in early spring is that it is a good, lean rough cut, the cut of the cow that stands up and lasts best through the winter until it is the last part of the cow left. It’s also no coincidence that we eat corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day.

Coming into summer, you’d be a fool not to eat salmon during the wild salmon harvesting season — those are the months you’ll get it fresh from Alaska, and you should only ever eat salmon from Alaska (even frozen the rest of the year!), which is the largest wild salmon run in the world. Better not to eat salmon at all than eat their flabby, sad- sack, farm-raised industrial cousins.

More importantly, summer is grilling season. Pigs, chickens, and cows are incorrigible, they do it all the time. Like rabbits. So sure, you can eat them all year round, but you should try to leave them alone when other animals want eating during the rest of the year. That’s a good way to help promote sustainability.

And that is today’s lesson: When an animal has its moment, eat it, eat it often, and learn to prepare it in many ways. Celebrate nature, and the traditions we have created around these animals over thousands of years of farming and breeding. Do it because it is healthy and responsible, because it is the natural thing to do, because it is sustain- able and succulent.

Cole Porter said it best in “Let’s Do It” — Birds do it, bees do it...They say that roosters do it...With a doodle and cock... And there you have it. Let our animals be happy. Please, eat them in season. Let them have sex.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

IWBA Directory

The International Waterfowl Breeders Association published their 2014 Member Directory. If you have any interest in waterfowl, these are the people to contact.

Joining IWBA gets you the directory and the newsletter, which is always worth reading. I keep mine, for the photos as well as the information, straight from the breeders. These lovely Runner Ducks are perfect for the cover.

Think waterfowl -- ducks and geese -- for variety in your flocks!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Incan Basket cockerels

Three of the South American chicks I hatched in the incubator earlier this year turned out to be males. Since I live in town and can't have a rooster, they will have to move.

Kermit Blackwood, who sent me the eggs, is happy to have them back for his flock. Raisin, their father, was killed by a raccoon shortly after these eggs, so Kermit needs a new rooster. These all have different qualities:

Raven has a tail and a coat of many colors. He's beautiful, especially in the sun, where his plumage glistens purple, green and orange.

Ebony is truly a collonca, tailless. He also has brilliant plumage and a bright disposition. He and Raven alredy often square off for a fight, ruffs of feathers fluffed around their necks.

Star was the first chick to hatch, from a different mother, who laid blue eggs. I hoped he would be a hen to give me blue eggs, but it was not to be. He was a leader from the start, not only because of his size. However, he's less inclined to fight than the other two.

They are moving to Kermit's New Hampshire farm. I look forward to watching their progress in years to come. I'll sure miss them, though.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

New chicks!

My sweet Blue Laced Red Wyandotte got broody about a month ago. It's her first expression of a maternal desire and I wanted to encourage her, so I got some fertile eggs from a friend in San Luis Obispo. He gave me three Cuckoo Marans and four Welsummer eggs.

He told me he's had 100 percent hatch rates, but I've never had that kind of results. Until now! She hatched seven beautiful chicks on Thursday.

 She wouldn't let me see them the first day, but I could hear peeping. When I woke up that morning, the chicken coop was silent. The four other girls are never really quiet, always clucking to the morning or commenting on something. But that day, they had nothing to say. I expected to find chicks.
I saw Mom's feathers moving, so I knew a chick was in there. I didn't want to disturb things until I was satisfied all the eggs had hatched, so I restrained myself. Well, maybe I poked around a little. Later, I saw a black one and then a striped one. The black ones with light undersides are Marans, the chipmunk striped ones are Welsummers.

The following morning she was clucking happily to them. I wanted to see what she had, but she remained settled on the nest. I was worrying about things like the broken eggshells. What if one of the babies got cut on one? As if chicks haven't been hatching for centuries without cutting themselves up. Should I go get the chicks and dip their beaks in water, the way you do when you hatch them in an incubator?

Naw, no need. Mama took care of it all. By that afternoon, she and all her brood were out of the nest, settled in the corner on wood chips. The babies danced around her, played in the water, tried to eat her food in the food dish and had eaten most of the dish of chick starter. I've never seen chicks get up and going so fast.

I put some kernels of corn in Mama's dish tonight, and the babies stole it! Two of them had a tug of war with one kernel. Mama did a good job of mashing the kernels for them, but no need, they pecked it and ran around with their prize.

I haven't had Marans before and am excited at these new additions. Now, so long as they are pullets...

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Nancy Luce and her chickens

Rebecca Nikols wrote this reminiscence on her blog. Check it out to enter the contest at the end. I wonder what breeds of chickens she was raising.

When I first contemplated the idea of backyard chickens I originally intended that this venture was my little attempt at a more sustainable lifestyle...  My goal was: "grow your own" and not rely on purchasing aged, processed or chemically altered food. Well, I accomplished that goal in a sense. I haven't purchased store-bought eggs in years and I do enjoy the fact that I know where my breakfast comes from (at least the eggs). It's true that the freshest and most organic food is what you raise and grow yourself.

But...  what I hadn't expected was a flock of chickens opening up a whole new world of enjoyment, entertainment and adventures! These endearing "farm animals" each have their own unique personality and odd quirks that together make "flock watching" a part of my daily routine! One of the many things I appreciate about this Community is that we can share with other chicken enthusiasts the stories and photos of our flock. Whether the tales are odd, funny or sad, this group understands how easily a chicken can touch your heart...

Susan Branch wrote a wonderful tribute to a lonely kindhearted woman, Nancy Luce, who when faced with illness, poverty and abuse found joy and comfort within her small flock of hens. Susan graciously allowed me to share this touching story of Nancy's life with our Community...

Nancy Luce ~ by Susan Branch

I would like to introduce you to someone who lived what seemed to be a tiny speck of a life here on Martha’s Vineyard from 1814 to 1890. She did the best she could, against huge odds, which has caught the fancy of generations and has made her a folk hero. Her name was Nancy Luce. 

For years, on my way up-island, I would pass the graveyard where Nancy Luce is buried, and notice the headstone at the back of the cemetery that’s surrounded in fake chickens — all colors, little and big, cement and plastic, in the snow and in the grass, but I never understood why they were there.

One day, in our used bookstore, I found a biography of Nancy Luce, written by Walter Magnes Teller in 1984 (and out of print now), called, "Consider Poor I" and that’s where I learned the story of the chickens in the graveyard. 

Nancy lived most of her life in a dark, lonely world of poverty and illness. She didn't start out that way; when she was young, she was a good horsewoman, rode twenty miles to and from Edgartown, often, and did all the trading for her family. But she became ill in her early twenties. At the time, no one knew what she had, so they couldn't help her. (I have a friend who’s a doctor and he thinks, from looking at her symptoms, she may have had Lyme disease.) Whatever it was, it was debilitating and it lasted the rest of her life.
Just about the time she fell ill, her parents passed away; Nancy was on her own, and prey to avarice of family and neighbors; they tried to steal her home from her; there are minutes from the town meeting at that time showing what they tried to do. She fought them and won; but it left her vulnerable; her enemies didn’t like losing to her; it shamed them; she became the butt of local jokes (schoolboys came by to scare her and make fun of her), leaving her even more isolated than she already was. She lived in her little house, all alone, winter, summer, spring, and fall, in the middle of nowhere (with no electricity, no personal physical strength, no family, and no money). What she had, were chickens, which she needed for the eggs they supplied. And she grew to love them in an extraordinary way. As anyone would in her circumstances. They were all she had.

The other thing Nancy had, but probably wasn't as aware of as I am now, was an indomitable spirit. I don’t think it gave her much comfort at the time, probably made things even worse, but it gives me great comfort to see how she soldiered on, despite the difficulties in her life. She tried not to care what others thought; she loved her chickens, and so when they died, she buried them in real caskets, and spent all her egg money on carved granite headstones for them; she made a little graveyard for them next to her house. This of course made her the object of fun, people would come by to laugh at her, as if she was crazy or something, but she most definitely was not crazy.

Because of her ailments, sounds were disturbing to Nancy, loud noise hurt her, inspiring her “enemies,” as she called them, to serenade her by beating pots and pans at her door. Someone “brought in cow dressing and put it in my entry and shut the door against it.” She tells many stories of neighborly abuse. But despite everything, when she was around forty-six, and with no outside help, she had the courage, and amazing inner reserve, to write, illustrate, and self-publish her own small books; the first was called Poor Little Hearts, a book about her chickens. These books aroused interest from curious tourists who began to beat a path to her door (not everyone was horrible to her, some people were just curious).

Exploiting her own peculiarities, since it was clear people were interested; she tried to pay her way (taxes, wood for the fire) by selling the little books. She also had photographs taken of herself and her chickens (which is saying something for the 1860′s in nowheresville, USA). Others made money on her too; hundreds of picture postcards of her were sold, of which she got not a cent. Because of her own original self, because she followed her heart and did her best, Nancy ended up being the most well-known island person of her time, although there wasn't much comfort in that for her. At the end, at age 75, she fell in her house, alone. It was days before anyone found her; she died shortly after, in poverty, and was buried by the town where she is today– surrounded by chickens left for her by admirers with “good hearts and tender feelings,” Nancy’s preferred type of visitors.
Nancy was a folk artist and poet. She was fanciful and totally charming when naming her chickens (I took pains to spell them as they are written in the biography, these are not typos!): Teeddla Toonna, Lebootie Ticktuzy, Jafy Metreatie, Otte Opheto, and Aterryryree Opacky — to name just a few. When one of her favorite chickens, Ada Queetie, died, Nancy was in terrible mourning and remembering the good times when she wrote:

Poor little Ada Queetie 
She used to do everything I told her, let it be what it would, And knew every word I said to her.

If she was as far off as across the room, And I made signs to her with my fingers, She knew what it was, and would spring quick and do it.

If she was far off, and I only spake her name, She would be sure to run to me at a dreadful swift rate, Without wanting anything to eat.

I used to dream distressing dreams, About what was coming to pass, And awoke making a dreadful noise, And poor little Ada Queetie was making a mournful noise, 
She was so worried for me.

Nancy’s books were hand-written, covers were made from bits of old wallpaper, they were filled with vignettes of her life and loves (her hens). They were how she stood up for herself. Just knowing about such courage reminds me of all the amazing, hard-working, giving, brave, and sometimes lonely people there are in the world.

Recently I was at an Island Fair, one of the people exhibiting was a famous local artist by the name of Dan Waters. He had this WONDERFUL PRINT (printed from a carved block of linoleum on a hand-operated printing press), which, as you can imagine, I snapped up immediately and have hanging in my studio. Whenever I think I have troubles, I just have to look at my wall, see Nancy Luce flying with her chickens, and I feel much better. If she can do what she did, surely, I can do anything!

-Susan Branch
All photos, images and artwork used by permission.

Thank you Susan for sharing this wonderful tribute to Nancy Luce. I know that her story will be honored and understood by this community more than most... We know the benefits of a flock of backyard chickens goes beyond the obvious.--They provide much more than a daily fresh egg; they also give us a daily dose of entertainment, companionship and love!

Susan Branch is the self-taught artist and author of the fourteen (so far) best-selling "Heart of the Home" lifestyle BOOKS all published by Little Brown and Company. From her studio overlooking her picket-fence garden in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, Susan writes and paints about the "home arts" of cooking, gardening, sewing, family, best friends, entertaining and the little things that make life sweet. Her books are "homemade" as in, watercolored and completely hand-written.

Please visit the following links to view more of Susan's artwork and writings...
Susan Branch (website-blog-online store)
Susan Branch (facebook)
Susan Branch (twitter)

Now here's the best part!

Susan has offered to send one of our lucky readers a copy of the print of Nancy Luce flying through the air with her beloved chickens by her side! 
Just leave a comment below (and your email address) and in two weeks a winner will be randomly chosen and Susan will send the print your way! Good luck!