Monday, July 9, 2012

Lacto-fermented Sarsaparilla

My dad dug up a lot of smilax tubers in the yard recently.  He gave them to me thinking I might be able to do something with them, and so we made some sarsaparilla soda (it's not ready quite yet).

First of all, they are incredible.  I love the strange way they look once they have been washed off and trimmed.  I've tried making it before, and the first mistake I'd made was trying to grate the tubers.  Don't try it.  They are so tough, it is impossible, you can't really even cut them with an extremely sharp knife.  Perhaps with a hatchet.  At an herbal conference I heard someone say the Native Americans used to boil them until they were soft, mash them and dry them as a survival food.  So this time I snipped off the roots and put all the tubers in a pot, covered them with water and cooked them for two days.  After two days, they were still as hard as a rock.

They turned a deep red color, and the water became a reddish broth with a good flavor, so I poured it off into a 1 gallon glass jar and mixed it with:

1 cup dark raisins
1/2 cup molasses
1 cup rapadura

I ended up separating it into two 1/2 gallon jars, to give it more room to ferment (somehow, this works out, even if it doesn't make sense.)  Then I added the culture--I just use the commercially available powdered kefir culture for sodas like this--it's convenient, I can use it for something experimental without ruining it and I don't have to feed it all the time--although a home made ginger bug would be really good, too.  I use it instead of yeast in brewing to make things be lacto-fermented rather than alcoholic.  Of course, if it goes for too long it will be alcoholic, but then it has the beneficial yeast from the kefir culture.

After mixing in the kefir powder, I leave it on the counter for a few days, to let it ferment.  This was very sweet, and it's warm, so it will probably only need maybe 3-4 days to ferment.  We tasted it before I added the culture, and it actually did taste surprisingly like sarsaparilla soda (uncarbonated, of course).

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Muscovy Menace

We unleashed the Muscovy ducks again.

We had to catch them last year as they were destroying the garden (who knew ducks liked to eat tomato plants?) and swimming/pooping in the water troughs.  Two of the ducks, Aunty Mabel and the Crazy Duck, gave us quite a hard time, although the entire process was an epic effort, known to us as "The Last of the Muscovies."

They've been being tractored around the pastures in the movable coops like the chickens ever since, but it was getting really old to be moving five chicken coops every day.  We did get some eggs from them when they were in the coop, but it wasn't enough to really be worth the extra time, effort and food (when they are out we don't feed them at all, and they actually begin to scorn the ration we offer.  We tried to catch them that way at first and they just laughed at us).

Remembering what a total pain they were the first time, I suggested we buy them their own water trough to foul with dirt, duck droppings, grease and feathers, and park it way away from everything else.  Ethan put in a water line, just for them, and we filled up the new "duck trough" with high hopes and let them out.

After a few days they were back to wandering around the barn and milking area--and even roosting on the milking shed roof.  The duck trough is lonely, empty and forgotten in a far corner of the farm.  They have been menacing us ever since.

There are only six of them--including the odd White Peking duck, who is the last of that long-ago batch of ducklings we had bought, only to discover how incredibly frustrating it is to pluck a duck (it was like eating a down comforter).  His nickname has become "The Rapist," for reasons which would be apparent if you watched him interact with the other ducks for five minutes.  It's just awful to watch.  I squirt him with the hose when ever I get the chance.  I keep hoping he'll get eaten by something, but no.  The chickens only last a week, maximum, but this fat, flightless duck seems invincible.  He even roosts on the ground.  Maybe it's the down.

The first week they were out, I was milking Mairie, who is the most neurotic animal I've ever had to deal with, other than the rabbit Lily, who is related to the Monty Python attack rabbit, when this awful sound of beating wings and claws scrabbling on a metal roof made both of us jump.  I looked around and saw Aunty Mabel's face peeking out at me along the eves of the milking shed.  She gave a saucy "peep" and scrabbled into the middle of the roof.  Then we had to endure the rest of the flock (minus Big Whitey) flying up and crash-landing the same way.  I don't think Mairie has recovered from the shock yet.  I certainly haven't.

While I was doing the chores in the rain last week, there was a brief spell of clear weather after I had moved the chickens, who are at the very furthest line away right now.  I quickly drove back across the farm to milk the goats before it started to rain again, and met the stupid ducks in the part of the road along the power line, sandwiched between two fences so I couldn't go around.  They just sat in the middle of the road and stared until I braked just before running them over, at which point they began very slowly walking down the road.  I crept along behind them at 1/16th MPH.  Honking had absolutely no effect, other than to terrorize Mairie, who was next to the milking paddock, and so it went for the remaining 50 feet of the road.  It was raining again when I finally got out of car.

They also hang out in the barn and steal food from the buckets, poop on the paths, attack the milking area, try to drink the solar panels and generally get in the way.  At least they are roosting on the mulch pile now, and I have managed to keep them out of the water troughs by diligently filling up a washtub for them every day.  The dog helps with this, too.

I wish they were more edible.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Garden Update

This wild mess is actually the garden.  The four (or was it five?) days of rain last week really made everything grow.  It's extremely intimidating to try fighting your way through to get to the vegetables.  (I think next year we are going to try some different weed-control--cardboard?  Mowing?).  It's a jungle.

And the bugs--there are soooo many bugs!  There are swarms--buzzing around, eating the weeds, eating the garden plants, eating each other.  Just walking through is like something out of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.  I feel like I need an insect whistle and a glider to survive (and also a machete).

However, we are still pulling lots of vegetables out.  Not summer squash or beans this year, unfortunately, but lots of other things.  The rain turned the remaining melons to mush.  I know I could have gone in and harvested them during the rain, but since I was doing all the chores myself those days, no.  It was enough to be rained on while moving chicken coops and milking cows and goats.  There were two left, and there are still healthy-looking melon vines in there, so there's a possibility of more.  The cucumbers look like they're getting a second wind, too.

We didn't get many pumpkins this year, but we did get a few.  There were two Potimarron pumpkins, a Sibley (the long blue one), a Winter Luxury Pie pumpkin, and a Strawberry Crown--and not pictured there were also several Thelma Sander's Sweet Potato pumpkins, an Australian Butter pumpkin and an Amish Pie pumpkin.  I like growing so many different kinds, because I get a good perspective on how well they do during certain conditions.  For example, the Sibley was nice-tasting, but it was very susceptible to insect damage.  Winter Luxury Pie is nice, but it has never really thrived here, not last year or this crazy year.  However, the Potimarrons were good pumpkins and produced well, even with all the neglect.  I will definitely grow them next year.
An yes, I admit that the pumpkins were neglected this year.  I vow to do better next summer.  There is also a strange volunteer white pumpkin, that looks like a white hubbard squash growing out of a compost pile from the chickie brooder.  It's not in the garden, so it hasn't been watered or cared for at all this year, and actually has been stepped on quite a bit by cows because it's growing in the path to the milking shed, and yet it has several nice large pumpkins on it--more than any of the vines in the garden!
I don't like to think about what that says about my gardening skills, but I'm trying to think of how we could replicate that for next year's garden.  More batches of meat chickens?  

The okra has really started to produce well.  It went crazy during the storm and there was a lot of very long, woody okra I cut and tossed out, but still plenty of tender pods, too.

We lost a lot of the large tomatoes in the rain, and even some peppers, but the cherry tomatoes seemed to thrive.  They are all ripening up now, and we still got a lot of peppers.  I really like the Czechoslovakian Black peppers.  They are hot peppers, and have all the flavor of hot peppers, but they become mild enough when cooked to be able to include them in meals that my children will eat.

The cow peas are also ready!  I got twice as many as this along the second row.  We got out our new pea sheller--which did require some searching on Youtube for someone who knew how to make it functional (you have to hook a drill up to the handle--apparently it needs a lot of torque), and we did get enough for a pot of peas with fresh side cooked up for lunch.

As I was saying to Ethan the other day, it might look like an inhospitable jungle, but at least we're still getting a significant amount of food out of it.  Not too bad for swarms of insects, lots of rain and over 90 degree weather.