In last week’s episode…
My husband accidentally attended a turkey butchering session and came home with 36 lbs of turkey and his first meat-making experience. We were also invited to come the next day when they were slaughtering a steer.
We took them up on their offer. The girls decided that maybe they’d rather swing–which was probably for the best–but my husband, Elijah, Isaiah, Joseph and I all watched the whole thing from the bullet to the cooler. The steer kept kicking a LONG time and there was a lot of blood initially, but it was amazing how quickly the butcher could turn it from steer to beef. As he went along he asked our neighbor what he wanted to keep and then he would offer it to us if our neighbor said no. In this way we got a whole beef liver, kidneys and oxtail. He offered us the feet with a little bit of a guffaw at the beginning. If I’d realized he was serious and that those were the marrow and soup bones, I would have taken them, and if I’d realized that all that blood was just going to have been poured out and washed away I would have brought a bucket for that as well. Have you priced blood meal lately? It’s nearly $10/lb out here. The boys really wanted to take a big piece of hide to try their leathermaking hands on. We compromised on a small strip which they keep disappearing this week to go work on. Also, as I watched I tried to imagine trying to do the job without an power tools…
Nothing in life is truly free and fresh beef innards are no exception–processing the stuff is no laughing matter. I read the next morning that organ meats (especially kidneys) are highly perishable and started to worry that I was already a little late in dealing with them 16 hours later. The very few instructions I could find (does everyone in the world already know how to do this except me?) said that the “white core” needed to be removed from the kidneys, the membranes removed from the liver and that odd flavors could be minimized by soaking in salt water. I decided to go ahead and dice and soak the kidneys to minimize thawing and processing times on the other end of the freezer. It was a little challenging because I was so clueless, but I soon figured out that it worked best to cut the kidney off the core instead of the core out of the kidney and that crosscutting just resulted in getting kidney stones and gravel in the meat. I am reasonably certain that there are techniques I could have used that would have made it all go more smoothly but, all-in-all, I feel like it went pretty well, if rather slowly. Elijah has offered to tackle Steak and Kidney Pie this week, so we will see how that all goes.
Next came the liver. Livers are enormous. I ended up with about 8 lbs of VERY generously trimmed liver–apparently enough for about four meals for us. The membrane I was so blithely instructed to remove, not only covers the entire surface of the giant, quivering thing, but also branches throughout, lining the bile ducts. The suggested slicing thickness was 1/2″-1/4″ for ease of cooking. My thickness was typically in that range, but I would hit one of those ducts and all bets were off. It was one of the more difficult projects I have tackled and the difficulty was compounded by the fact that Joseph would not go down for a nap that day and became increasingly hysterical even as I became increasingly exhausted. I was SO glad to finally tuck the last of it into the freezer, wash the congealed blood off my wrists and put that project, Joseph and myself to bed…in that order.
Elijah cooked some of it for dinner that night. I grew up eating liver, but it was never like this. It was mild-flavored and so tender that it reminded me of veal. It was still livery-tasting (some recipes suggest soaking it in buttermilk–we’ll have to try that now that we have milk and liver to experiment with) and different for my kids, but I just had to keep telling them how wonderful it was. I guess I should stop being surprised by how much better everything is when it’s home-grown, but it always shocks me.
The oxtail went into the freezer, too–awaiting cooler days to become oxtail stew.
Wednesday I was still tired and tried to lay low, knowing that the following day was the day I needed to prepare the turkey. I got to bed later than I wanted to, unfortunately, just in time for Joseph to wake up. Since we were awake, I started looking at what it was going to take to cook a 36 lb bird and after I did I was sort of glad I was up. The timetables all said that it was going to take 12-18 hours to cook! Fortunately, Joseph as in an ok mood. I put together the spice rub with him on my hip and then pulled down my giant roaster pan, put him in his chair and hauled out that ENORMOUS bird. I’d seen it sitting there in the fridge all week and knew that it was big, but until I started trying to deal with it, I really had no idea. In my still-weakened state I could barely heft the thing onto the counter and from there into the roaster. Its ankles felt as big around as Grace’s wrists and I could barely wedge it into the pan. On its back, its legs stuck way up into the air, so I decided it needed to be roasted breast down or risk having the legs remain raw. Even breast down I could not get the lid on and Joseph was now deciding he was tired and done being in his chair. I wrapped the top of the pan in aluminum foil as well as I could and hoped for the best. Joseph’s crying had awakened my husband and he was concerned enough about the roasting set-up that he decided to sleep on the couch just to keep an eye on things. It was about 2:30 when I started it.
During the remains of the night I kept waking up and smelling it roasting. It didn’t smell very good to me, but I was too tired to care. Around seven I go up and checked on it, added some more water, told the older kids that I needed them to hold down the fort while I got a little more sleep and went back to bed until Joseph woke up. By about lunchtime it was starting to smell good, finally, and I should have checked it then. When I finally checked it around 2:00 it was up around 200F! I basted it thoroughly and set the pan to keep warm until dinner.
It was a little dry but, again, flavor like I’d never tasted before. The dark meat was as dark as beef in some places. The kids and I pulled the meat off the carcass after dinner and just kept gawking at the size of the bones. I added enough water to cover them all (except for the breastbone which stuck up just a little too far above the rest) and started the roaster on low for stock-making.
On Friday the kids and I all headed up into the mountains to buy fruit (2 large boxes nectarines, 1 large box pears, 1 medium box pluots, 2 small boxes peaches, 1 small box each apples, red bartletts and plums and 2 cartons of truly fabulous figs–around 150 lbs of fruit), pick up our bulk food order and have a picnic. We were having a hard time finding anywhere we could picnic. Most of the farms up there were not open yet (many are just apple orchards) and we didn’t feel good about plunking ourselves down on the grass underneath their CLOSED signs. We prayed a lot as we drove and finally pulled in somewhere where a woman was working to get things ready for opening in a couple of weeks. She said that we could use their picnic area as long as we didn’t leave any trash behind. It was a great spot, tiny, but perfect for one family. We spread out our food on the table and a sheet on the grass, we enjoyed our awesome turkey sandwiches, pluots and most of the figs, as well as an apple cake that Bethel had made the night before. We read scriptures and a chapter of the book we just started and had a great time. It has been so long since I’ve done anything like that with the kids. Our last six months in Oregon were one long house project after another as we got ready to sell, I was sick pregnant or sick recovering during most of our brief sojourn in Georgia, our first year here was hectic trying to get all the shelters built for the animals and then this last year and a half we’ve dealt with sick kids and then sick pregnant again. I think it was time. We all needed the break and we will do it again soon.
I bought three new books: one on mastering artisan cheesemaking (nothing on buttermaking, unfortunately), one on small-scale grain-growing and one on top-bar beekeeping. Beginning to read all of them, I am reminded of how little I know and how much I have to learn and how glad I am that this is the case. How rotten if we truly could have figured out all the mysteries of the world by the time we “finished our education” as young adults! The cheesemaking book is full of ahas and mindblowing details alike. At once I am more fascinated and repulsed by the process. For instance, cheese mites. Also, apparently, goats’ milk lacks certain compounds that certain cheeses require. I am not terribly, terribly sad about this. I will really be happy if I can come up with some type of aged hard cheese that I can eat (I get migraines from store-bought cheese) and know enough to troubleshoot and somewhat control the outcome rather than being at the mercy of my own ignorance and inexperience. Mastering artisan cheesemaking is probably not a good activity to pursue at this point in my life…rather incompatible with four-month-old babies…it probably mentions that somewhere in the book: “Step 4) Keep the milk at 80F for an hour and a half while stirring constantly. Step 5) Put all of your minor children up for adoption. Step 6) Dissolve rennet in 1/2 cup cold water.” I’ve barely dipped into the beekeeping book. More ahas (years of experimentation led him to discover that the best-suited hive shape was, of all things, a half hexagon) and mindblowings (did you know that drone bees develop from unfertilized eggs?). And so far I’ve read only the cover of the grain-growing book. Lots to read!
Elijah finally finished up the mozzarella that I started on Monday night. Stretching can be put off for a bit, and put it off I did. It seems to have turned out well. I made ricotta as well and the whey turned out nice and clear. I think my milky whey of a couple of weeks ago was insufficiently acidic. My one complaint is that the mozzarella is not salty enough. The only salt in my recipe is only in the heating water prior to stretching. I need to poke around and see about adding it to the curd.
The mystery birds are laying well. They are very small eggs still, but consistent and tasty. It is funny to have white eggs in the basket as we never have before, but I like the variety. Apparently, one of our barred rocks also likes them. She’s been rather broody lately and Isaiah brought in eight one morning that he had chased her off of! White eggs only, despite the fact that barred rocks lay brown.
This was the hay sale weekend. We have filled our shelter and then some. We need another shelter or we need to figure out how to roof the entire stall where we store the hay.
The goats are holding steady at 1.25 gallons daily between the two of them. Most of that is Penny, but Ella’s making a pretty good show for a first freshener. Hopefully, next year we will be doing this the right way–weighing and keeping daily milk records. I have dreams of being organized and thorough.