Saturday, March 31, 2012

Home-Cured Easter Ham: Part I

My ham and its detached hock defrosted so the prepping and brining have begun.  This is only the fourth ham that I ever cured and smoked on my own.  I am still very much working my way through the apprentice level of ham crafting but I want to encourage you to try one sometime, too.  

On the first three hams, I used the method described by Rytek Kutas in his book Great Sausage Recipes and Meat Curing...a wonderful must-have book.  This recipe requires dextrose amongst its ingredients which I normally keep on hand and for some reason I forgot to replenish my supply.  Luckily my friend pointed me in the direction of this recipe, and it doesn't require dextrose of which I have none. The recipe which I will be doing is in two parts since the brining time is for a week:

American-style Brown-Sugar-Glazed Holiday Ham

The Brine (this week):
  • 1 gallon/4 liters water
  • 1 ½ cups/350 grams kosher salt
  • 2 packed cups/360 grams dark brown sugar
  • 1 ½ ounces/42 grams pink salt (8 teaspoons)
  • One 12- to 15-pound/5.5 to 6.75-kilogram fresh ham, skin and aitch-bone removed
The Glaze (next week when I smoke/cook it):

  • 1 ½ packed cups/270 grams dark brown sugar
  • ¾ cup/185 milliliters Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon/20 grams minced garlic
Since it came from the butcher with the skin removed, I trimmed the excess fat from my fresh pork ham and ham hock.  1/4 inch of outer fat was left on.

The brine was made with chilled water and stirred until all the ingredients dissolved.

Though the recipe that I provided the link to does not mention injecting cure into the ham, I did it and recommend that you do it, too.  There is a lot of meat between the outside of the ham and the bone so I inject straight in from the outside to the bone just to make sure that cure in getting inside meat. I set the ham in a non-reactive rimmed container and inject about 2 cup of the brine into it.  What ever drains out of the ham is caught in the container and you can add it to the brining container along with the ham.

Now I like to use ZipLoc 2 gallon reseal-able bags to brine my hams but you can use any non-reactive bucket or container.  Just make sure you put the bag in another container in case of leaks.  Brining time is 6 to 8 days, the recipe recommends "half a day per pound).  Mine will be in for 7 days.

Next week I will be smoking, glazing and cooking my ham.  Looking forward to showing you he technique and the results.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Wednesday is "Egg Day" Around Here

If you enjoy collecting chickens like Imelda Marcos enjoyed collecting shoes, then you might have quite a supply of eggs every week. When you come to the realization that your family is sick of egg salad sandwiches and Easter really does come but one time a year, it is time to sell some eggs.

When my fridge was filling with eggs, I started passing fliers around the neighborhood to sell the excess. Also, I put the word out with friends and folks that have bought locker beef from us. Now I sell about 10 dozen a week and the birds are definitely paying for their feed.

Wednesday is "Egg Day" around here. All the eggs get washed in an organic egg wash, dried and placed in cartons. I have labels on the egg cartons that have my name, phone number and stating that they are "Non-Graded Eggs". Also included is a label kindly asking for the cartons to be returned to me and that carton donations are always welcomed.

Want to hear my only egg carton story? I had one of my egg customers who was attending a funeral wake in the home of an old rancher and he noticed a huge stack of egg cartons in the kitchen and asked if he could have them to give to me! The family said that was just fine and he couldn't wait to bring me this stack of about a hundred cartons and tell me how he got them! I hope the probate lawyers didn't find out! ;)

Unlike a big commercial operation, where they can sort the eggs into medium, large and extra -large, I just make sure that the eggs of various sizes get evenly distributed amongst the cartons. A large egg is supposed to be 2 ounces so I try to have an average that distributes around that 2 oz size or better. I never use eggs smaller than 1.85 oz (yes, I check the smaller ones with a digital scale!) and I have no limit on how large of egg I will include. Customers love getting those big double-yolkers, too. Customers also love getting a good variety of color which I try my best to do.

With everyone seemingly to want to eat "local" nowadays, there is no shortage of folks to buy our eggs. Fliers, word of mouth and Craigslist are all good places to find buyers for your eggs if you find yourself with an abundance of eggs.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Selling on CraigsList 101

I am a big fan of our local CraigsList and have used it quite often to sell and buy things.  Buying stuff is pretty straight forward if you are aware of some of the scams that do raise their ugly heads now and then.  There is a list of common scams on each CraigsList homepage, make a point of reading before shopping.  Now when you sell stuff on it, you start to realize that some days it seems like the inmates are running the asylum.  The anonymity that the internet provides seems to embolden some folks and not for the better.  I'm going to share with you some simple techniques I use to reduce interaction with folks that have no intention of buying  what you are selling but seem to have every intention to waste your time.  

When your little homestead produces enough excess to sell a bit to the public do a little research and see what folks are selling stuff for.  Keep in mind that the further you live from a populated area (and the more that gas costs) that you are probably better off asking a lower price to get things sold.  But don't rip yourself off either.  It's better to try a price and if you don't get a reaction from your ad, lower it a bit.

When you arrived at a price make sure that your ad says "cash only" and if you are firm on your price list it as "firm cash only".  Never, never take a check from a stranger.

I also highly recommend that when making your ad, do not list your personal email address, your name (especially if you are a female), address and if it can be avoided, your house phone number.  Now when you make your ad you can choose to have inquiries made to a CraigsList email address which forwards an email from your perspective buyer to your regular email address.  The buyer will never know your name or email address.  

I used choose to have buyers contact me in this manner but for every one truly serious inquiry, I would get about nine others that would seem serious and really weren't or they just seemed down right weird. Don't even respond to the ones that don't feel right. But the seemingly serious (that really are not) are the biggest drain of your time if you are going to be listing stuff frequently enough like I was doing during the height of hatching season.  With listing hatching eggs and baby chicks almost weekly, I finally started just listing my cell phone number and disabled the email forwarding from CraigsList.  Guess what!  Suddenly 90% of the folks calling me were good, serious buyers that actually wanted to buy something...imagine that!  You could list your home number but sometimes that could be putting up a bit more personal info that you want to especially if your phone number is a listed one.

Now another word of advice I want to share is to never hold anything for anyone without a down payment transferred to you on PayPal.  If you are a sweet, kind somebody willing to hold something for nothing you may end up holding it for the nobody that never shows up.  I have had many times where folks call me midweek from a distant neighboring town saying they definitely want what I am selling but cannot make it until the weekend.  I tell them that's fine, here's my email address, PayPal me a 50% deposit before the day is out and I'll hold it for you until the weekend.  Not only have I never had anyone refuse but they have always ended up paying me the entire amount instead of the minimum 50% that I have requested.  As a seller it will cost you a couple bucks to receive a payment on PayPal but it's money well-spent.  Never give out your bank account info to someone that says they can't do PayPal but they can do an online transfer from their bank account to yours. Don't do it!

No matter how sweet and friendly someone sounds on the phone or in their email, NEVER EVER have them come to your house when you are alone without another adult with you.  If you are a single gal have your dad, boyfriend, brother or scary-looking neighbor when you have a buyer come to your home. They don't need to come in your house either. If you have a product that can be moved like fruit, eggs, chicks, etc, meet your buyer in front of your local store or any well-populated place if you cannot get some one to be with you during the transaction.  Just keep yourself safe. You don't want to end up the inspiration for a made-for-tv movie on some cable channel.

On CraigsList your will soon become aware of something called "Flagging".  Each local CraigsList has a list of items that you may not sell on it.  The Spokane area one does not allow the sale of dogs.  Folks will often try to sell dogs in the "Farm and Garden" section where I list my birds and they are often "Flagged" thus removed by anyone that sees it and takes action.  When your ad is Flagged, it is removed from the listings.  Unfortunately, this is where those that are wanting to play God, are emboldened by their internet anonymity and start Flagging ads that are within the rules of listing. These sad people just want to feel powerful, maybe they know who you are by what you are selling and have a grudge against you or the most sinister of all:  they are selling the same product you are and they want to stifle the competition.

If you get Flagged and are certain your ad doesn't violate the rules of CraigsList, just repost it.  Don't take it too personal because you cannot control mean people, especially ones you don't even know.  Here's my favorite Flagging story:  One morning I posted an add for chicks in the morning and within an hour it was Flagged.  Didn't think much of it and I just reposted it again but it happened every hour.  The upside of being Flagged is that you get to repost and show up right at the top of the listings.  By being Flagged hourly and diligently reposting just as quick, I ended up with more sales in one day than I ever experienced before.  So, eventually I edited my listing to thank the sorry individual who kept Flagging me for the best single day of sales and said please feel free to Flag me again.  The Flagging ended with that open display of gratitude!

Check out CraigsList if you haven't yet.  It is a great resource for the hobby farmer that wants to sell their what they produce.  Also, it becomes a great way to network with other little farms in your area.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Feeding the Bees

It actually got near enough to 60F yesterday that I could open the hives for the first time this year.  We did have one day that was in the 60's early in the month but I was out of town.  This would of been the first day to open the hives but alas I was absent.

Here in North Idaho we have a very short growing season that seems to get shorter every year.  I have almost given up the idea of ever seeing a red tomato in my garden anymore.  Also, this makes our bees more dependent on our help to get them though, too.  Even well established hives that go into winter with great stores of honey can starve to death in the early spring while waiting for the first flowers to open.

Beekeepers feed their hives sugar syrup to make up for this short fall but need to be careful when they put liquid feeds into their hives.  In this region the general rule of thumb as been April 1 to November 1on giving liquid feeds.  The other five months are just too cold and the liquid feed turns out to be a heat sink in the hive which robs the precious heat that the bees work so hard to maintain.  During those cold months beekeepers use candy boards (made from sugar) or patty feeds which contain proteins and sugars.

When I opened my two hives yesterday, it was cool and windy enough that I opted not to pull frames to examine them.  Both hives were boiling with bees and bees were flying back and forth in large numbers to the hives bringing back with them some sort of pollen.  Also, along the tops of the frames I did see capped honey which, along with the live bees, indicated that their winter stores are still keeping them fed.  I think it it safe to say that my hives made it through the winter. (Knock on wood!)

In each hive, I left a Bee Pro Patty on top of the frames and closed them back up.  This will only be my third year raising bees and my first time using a solid food.  I'm hoping I will be able to make a split off both hives and end up with four hives. Last spring I made a split off my original hive and also started a hive with a package of bees. The split hive has thrived but mid summer the package hive lost their queen and never was able to replace her even though I added frames of uncapped brood weekly.  In the fall, I ended up combining this hive with my split hive which saved the bees from the queenless hive.

In a week or so, I plan to start adding liquid feed to both hives and examining some frames.  I promise I will get some pictures to show you all, too.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Honey Ice Cream

Remember in the Bible where God promised His chosen people a "land flowing with milk and honey"? I often wonder if they made honey ice cream when they arrived in the promised land. It may sound like I'm trying to make a funny here but when I make honey ice cream that's the first thing that comes to my mind because it's made mostly from milk and honey and it is heavenly.
Here is what you will need to make a little over a quart of your own honey ice cream.

  • 1/2 cup honey, a light-colored honey works best, clover honey is a good choice
  • the yolks of 6 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cup of milk, I used 2%
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup of heavy cream
Start the milk to simmer over medium heat in a heavy sauce pan.
Mix together the half cup of honey with the 6 egg yolks until well blended. SLOWLY pour the milk into the honey egg mixture while the mixer is running a medium speed. If you add the hot milk in too fast you cook the eggs and end up with honey-flavored scrambled eggs floating in hot milk...not good. If this is something you have never tried before don't be scared just go slow, you cannot go too slow adding the hot milk, only too fast.
Once you have added all the hot milk to the egg mixture it will not take long for it to blend into a beautiful pale yellow mixture.
Now return this mixture back to the sauce pan you used to heat your milk. Place on a burner set at LOW heat and stir constantly until it thickens slightly. We don't want to simmer this mixture. Remember we can end up with those honey-flavored scrambled eggs if we cook this mixture too hot or too long.
After it thickens slightly remove it from the heat and pour it through a strainer into a container or bowl.
Let it cool slightly, the add 1 cup of heavy cream and one teaspoon of vanilla, stir until blended.
Before you run this mixture in your ice cream maker, make sure it is chilled completely by placing it in your fridge over night.
All ice cream makers are different so I will leave the actual ice cream making to you. I have an ice cream maker attachment for my Kitchen Aid stand mixer that I just love and highly recommend.
The freshly churned ice cream will be soft and wonderful. But if you like the texture of a more frozen, firm product, leave it in the freezer for at least 6 hours after removing from your ice cream maker.
I hope you'll make some of this delisuous ice cream for yourself sometime. If you keep bees like I do this is a unique opportunity to enjoy your honey in a whole new way. Enjoy!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Time for Some Ham and Eggs

I'm not exactly sure why this year I have been hit with a bad case of either cabin fever or spring fever...maybe I'm afflicted with both! This was the view out my window yesterday and it just seemed beautiful and depressing all at the same time. The day before I was looking at one of our gardens thinking maybe I'll start digging it up and get ready to plant some spinach and arugula in it next week but now once again it's buried under the snow. Alas, life in North Idaho where the news of Global Warming just hasn't arrived yet.
But I am being proactive in battling this depression by defrosting a fresh ham which I will start to cure in a week. This way it should be done for Easter. I will share with you how I do it as soon as I start curing it.
Also, this evening, I am going to set 14 fertile eggs from my French Black Copper Marans flock into my trusty incubator. These eggs are from my new generation of birds that started laying late last summer. This breed of chickens lay a beautiful dark brown egg that is darkest at the beginning of their laying cycle.

So, in a little over two weeks I should have a lovely ham for Easter Sunday and in three weeks a batch of chicks. I will keep you all posted.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

My Painting Gallery Blog

I have began a new blog dedicated to the display of my paintings. The blog is called Carolyn Parker's Painting Gallery. Please check it out now and then to see what I'm painting.