Sunday, October 21, 2012

Autumn is in the Air! That means PUMPKINS!

I LOVE Autumn! I love the change of seasons in general, but Fall has always been my favorite. I am somewhat sad that the garden is done with the production explosion that occurs during the summer. It is still a working garden, though. The kale is up and doing wonderfully. The lettuce and carrots are close behind. Almost all of my garden beds are full again, and many will remain so until it is again time to replant this spring. One reason I love this area is because it is growing season every month of the year! Unfortunately, my pumpkins didn't do well this year. Pumpkins are my absolute favorite fall fruit! Yes, fruit. Technically, anything that has seeds growing inside of a fleshy covering is a fruit. Hence, the veggie garden, aside from root veggies and leafy greens, is really a fruit garden. Just sayin'! Anyway, pumpkins are also my favorite Autumn decoration, and the majority of the activities and recipes that I enjoy the most this time of year, include them.

I couldn't resist buying jack-o-lantern pumpkins and some sugar pumpkins as soon as they started appearing in stores and at roadside stands. I never can. I did manage to resist the urge, however, to dig into them yet. Last night I finally got to! I de-seeded and baked one of my sugar pumpkins and made pumpkin puree. It is so simple! I couldn't find my camera though! Ugh! I will add pictures later. I always used canned pumpkin, because it is more convenient, right? Not that much... not really. And it isn't nearly as much fun OR as delicious! Fresh pumpkin is by far superior to canned pumpkin. Why take my word for it though? Try it for yourself!

Making Pumpkin Puree

1. Get your pumpkin! Small sugar pumpkins are best if you buy them from the store. Jack-o-lantern pumpkins can be used, but the taste is more bland and they are more stringy most of the time. I have done it, though, and it has turned out wonderfully. There are many heirloom pumpkins that grow to be very large and are delicious! Unfortunately, most stores only carry sugar pumpkins, and I assume that is what most people will have access to.

2. Cut the pumpkin in half length wise (top to bottom, not around the "equator" or the pumpkin). The stem will get in the way, but it will be easy to cut out once you break the pumpkin into halves.

3. Remove the seeds and strings and set aside. Don't throw them away! We will roast the seeds later! Try to get most of the strings, but don't spend forever trying to get every single one. Give it a good once over and then you're done.

4. Set the pumpkin halves upside down (skin side out) in a baking dish. The dish or pan must have sides because juice will collect in the bottom.

5. Bake in a 350 F oven until you can easily pierce it with a fork, the same way you would check to see if potatoes are ready to be mashed. The time depends on the size of the pumpkin. For a 4lb sugar pumpkin approximately 45 minutes.

6. The skin will peel right off when the pumpkin is done. Peel the pumpkin and then mash it with a potato masher or send it through a food processor. If the puree is very watery I line a strainer with a coffee filter, set it over a bowl, add the puree, cover it, and place it in the fridge over night. The pumpkin juice will collect in the bowl (I love drinking pumpkin juice! Very Harry Potter, very tasty, and oh so good for you!) and the thicker puree is easy to scrape off of the coffee filter.

6. Either use the puree right away, or freeze it. It is easiest to measure the puree out before you freeze it. I measure it out in 1 cup amounts, place in a freezer baggie, get the air out, and then smash it down until it is flat. It defrosts faster that way, and it takes up less freezer space.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

1. Separate the seeds from the strings. The strings make an excellent treat for your chickens or turkeys. Don't have chickens or turkeys? Put them in your compost pile to enrich your garden next year, or throw them directly into the garden to compost on their own.

2. Many people rinse their seeds. I prefer to leave them like they are.

3. Toss them with seasoning of your choice. Mrs. Dash works great, as does cumin, chili powder, or simply a little salt.

4. Spread them on a baking sheet and pop them into the oven with you pumpkins. 350 F for around 20 minutes, or until they are golden brown.

5. Enjoy! Pumpkin seeds are eaten just like sunflower seeds and are very high in vitamins and nutrients, as is the whole pumpkin. It is a wonder food! The beautiful vibrant color alone is evidence!

What to do with all of that wonderful pumpkin puree? Obviously, pies are high on the list. But that it not all that can be done with pumpkin! I love making pumpkin rolls for the holidays. I will have to include that recipe later, although there is a wonderful recipe on the side of the Libby's pure pumpkin can. I tend to write down the recipe and then put the can back on the shelf! It is amazing mixed with a little bit of butter and a bit of brown sugar, as a side dish. Sauteed with onions is another wonderful way to serve it up as a side dish. Pumpkin soup, as well! I pureed the pumpkin last night primarily to make gingerbread pancakes and pumpkin bread! I make breakfast in large batches on the weekend and then store them in the freezer so we can have a healthy breakfast all week long, rather than living off of high sugar, highly processed foods like breakfast cereal, or spending twice as much on prepackaged food that is also high in preservatives. We don't have a lot of time in the morning and it is usually hectic.I also made sausage and eggs so we can have biscuits in the mornings. Gingerbread pancakes are one of my favorite recipes for this time of year, and are amazing for breakfast during the holidays with family. Just as a warning, this recipe make a very large batch. I think I got about 2 dozen pancakes this morning. It is a recipe I found years ago for waffles, that I tweaked just a bit, but it will still work for waffles as well.

Gingerbread Pancakes

Dry Ingredients                                                     Wet Ingredients
- 3 cups all-purpose flour                                       - 4 large (fresh) eggs
- 4 tsp baking powder                                            - 2/3 cups packed dark brown sugar
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon                                         - 1 cup pumpkin puree
- 2 tsp ground ginger                                              - 1 1/4 cups milk
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg                                                     - 1/2 cup molasses
- 1/2 tsp salt                                                           - 1/2 cup melted butter

1. Combine dry ingredients in a LARGE mixing bowl.
2. Beat eggs and and brown sugar in a medium bowl until fluffy, then mix in the rest of the wet ingredients.
3. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix just well enough to moisten. Do not over mix!
4. Ladle ingredients onto non-stick pan over medium heat.
5. When bubbles start to form on the top of the pancakes it is time to turn them. Cook evenly on both sides.
6. Top with fresh whipped cream. I find that these are sweet enough to not need syrup.
7. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Doggie Drama

I love dogs! They enrich my life. Dogs can be the best companions that anyone could ask for. Like furry children, even. They have been causing so much heartbreak and drama here the last few days, though. Randy, my foster puppy, has had a bad habit of catching, and killing, my chickens. At first it was Miss Idgie's babies. I assumed that it was because they were small, fast, and made lots of noise. I tried keeping them away from him and hoped that it would stop. On Thursday, he killed Gabby, one of my adult easter egger hens. I assume that it was him, anyway. After today, I wonder. Yesterday, he caught Greta (Gabby's sister) be the tail and was trying to get a hold of the rest of her. At that point, I realized that it wasn't something I was ever going to be able to correct. He is a wonderful dog, he just isn't "chicken friendly". I had to return him to the shelter. I signed a paper saying that I would not give him away to anyone else, and if I couldn't keep him for any reason I would return him. But, I didn't want to take him back to that place. I cried halfway up there, stopped and got Randy a cheeseburger, and then cried the whole time I was getting him processed and coming home. I hope that he will find a good home, somewhere that he will not have feather covered temptation staring him in the face all of the time. As much as I love my dogs, I am just as responsible for keeping my chickens safe, as I am responsible for the dogs' safety. I have been working on circulating photos of Randy in hopes that he will find a new home.

This morning, I was awakened by the sound of my turkeys, upset, right outside my window. Immediately, I hopped out of bed and ran outside, to see a hunting dog chasing them around the yard. He had somehow unlatched the hoop coop, and was trying his best to catch one. Again, I love dogs, but we have to protect our animals. Brad grabbed the gun and took aim, but missed. The dog ran off. After locating most of the turkeys, we went looking for the dog (they always have phone numbers on their collar). We found him next door, got the phone number off of his collar, and hoped that he would not be back. I am missing one of my blue slate females (of which I only had 2). This evening, the dog returned. He was a sweet dog, but I didn't want to take any chances, so I put him on a chain until I could get in touch with is owners. Finally, the owner returned my call and said he would be right over. I assumed that I would be able to explain to him our situation, and he would be apologetic, and promise to keep his dog off of our property. Boy, was I wrong! He was upset because I asked him to reimburse me for the turkey! When I explained why we can't allow hunting dogs on our property, he looked at me as if I were insane, and said he has run dogs here for years, and asked if I was even from around here! I don't care if I moved here yesterday, it is my property! I finally had to tell him that if we caught his dog on our property again, we would have no choice but to shoot it (surely he would think better if bringing them back, right?). He came back with "that really wouldn't be a good idea, I suggest you don't do that" and then started listing the local police and sheriff as his hunting buddies. I called the sheriff's office, because I felt like he was threatening me, at that point. Once the police officer got here, he informed me that I do indeed, have the right to shoot the animal if it is in the act of killing my poultry, but they can be on our property as much as they want and I can't do anything about it any other time. Hunting dogs have more rights than I do, apparently. I have to let the dog attack my animals before I can do anything about it. Really?! Where are my rights?! Where are the rights of my animals? 

Now I just don't feel safe. I feel helpless. Now I have made the hunters in my area mad at me, and half of the hunters are the public officials that should be there to protect me. I am worried at this point that they might come back and retaliate for me causing a commotion and "threatening" their dogs. Perhaps I should have just kept my mouth shut, and ate the cost caused by their dogs, simply because they have the numbers in their favor? I also have to find a new place to buy my feed. The brother of the man I was dealing with owns the feed store. He showed up part way in to the conversation and was not happy with me. He finally bit his tongue, got in his truck, and left. Was I wrong to expect the response that I did? That is how I imagine I would respond if the tables were turned. If one of my animals went onto someone else's property and caused damage I would feel terrible! I would do everything I could to make up for it! I would at least promise to make sure that it never happened again! It makes me want to move. I am praying that the issue is over and the problem is solved, that all of my animals will be safe, but as upset as the hunter was, I don't see that being the end of it. I am worried now, that he will come back when I'm not home and do damage to my animals, himself. I am buying game cameras, motion sensor lights, and lots of "No Trespassing" signs to put up. Only time will tell how this will play out. 

Doggie drama has run rampant here the last few days. I'm ready for it to be over...

Update: We found the remains of our turkey hen in a side field on our property. We received the game camera that we ordered. It will be up and working as soon as possible. The hoop coop dutch door has been wired together so it is more difficult to open. I am more hopeful that things will work out than I was the other night. Everything always works out in the end. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Trade offs

 As with everything in life, there are trade-offs. With every decision there are consequences, both good and bad. The trick is to try to balance between the two. Mostly, it is making an informed decision and hoping that it evens out. Raising chickens is no different. By just having chickens, you must understand that there will be losses. Because we choose to free range (pasture) our chickens, we have (sometimes significant) losses, due to predation, mostly. Everything loves to eat chicken! Why do we choose to do it anyway? Because I feel that the gain that we, and the chickens, get from free ranging far outweighs the losses. They get to spend their lives being chickens. Scratching around in the grass, playing in the sun, always having fresh ground to explore, being able to stretch their wings and run and fly! We get the benefit of better quality eggs and meat, birds that are sick much less often than if they were caged up, and less work cleaning out the coop (seeing as they aren't in there nearly as much). They also squabble less frequently. I have made the informed decision to allow my chickens to free range, and I believe that it has evened out. The losses are still difficult, however. We lost Miss Idgie a couple of days ago. She was the only remaining hen from our first ever batch of chickens. She had survived them all.

I made a post a couple of months ago, about her being twitchy. Now, while I believe that she did, indeed, have bug issues from having not dust bathed in a month, I think there were other issues. I think Idgie may have suffered from heat stroke while she was sitting on eggs. The heat shot up very quickly, and I was unprepared for it to occur while I was out of town. She had a neurological tick which acted up when she got upset. She was a wonderful mom and fiercely protected her young. Unfortunately, we lost most of them too. We have 3 left out of the original 11, I think mostly due to the hawk (federally protected hawk...) and partially to our puppy, Randy, who has been dealt with and will NOT touch my chickens again. The three remaining babies are almost as big as their momma, and she slowly started letting them go off on their own.  She started quickly losing weight at that point. I really wonder if she had not held on long enough to raise her babies before she gave in to being tired and sick. She had been slowing down and getting skinnier all week, despite my trying to hand feed her treats. Finally, a couple of days ago she didn't return to the coop. It breaks my heart to lose her, and all of the chickens that I have lost.

Our chickens are functional animals at the homestead, but they are still pets and we love them. They sit on our laps and let us pet them, and follow us around the yard. They get treats and attention, just like our dogs do (as do our turkeys). Even the chickens that are meant for our freezer are treated kindly are well cared for, their entire lives. Our hens are our babies, though, and we have had them since they were day old babies. Losing one makes me seriously rethink my decision to free range them. To re-evaluate the trade-offs associated with it, every time this occurs. Predators (not federally protected ones anyway...) are dealt with immediately when they are found, the girls are counted and closed up securely every night to keep them safe while they sleep, and we keep a close eye on them, and the area where they are allowed to range, in order to catch issues as (or before if possible) they arise. If we so much as sleep in, they go crazy because they want out of the coop in the morning. Our automatic door opener is on the blink so they have been relying on us. They are NOT happy with the arrangement. I can't imagine keeping them contained all of the time, even with a run. At least when they are free, if a predator comes close they have the chance to get away, rather than being confined. Predators get into runs and coops fairly easily, even the best made ones. In the end, again I feel that they are better off free ranging and taking the chance that their happier life may be cut short, rather than keeping them safe but at the price of their happiness and health. That is my personal decision, and know that there are many ways to raise chickens, and that even confined chickens, given enough space and attention, can be every bit as happy as free range. I am not making judgement on anyone else. In fact, I know that in some areas, it is not plausible to free range because there are so many predators. I know there will be losses, and with every one I will re-evaluate my choice to determine if I am still making the right decision with the circumstances at that point in time, as I should, because the world is ever changing. At this time I think I am. I still mourn for the losses. Especially my sweet Idgie. She will be missed. So long Miss Idgie. Until we meet again.