There are days that challenge my commitment to
farming. Like today. Cold, wet, slushy, rainy,
soggy…sick cows, muddy pastures, backed up storm drains in the
milking area, I am tired and feel sick….it goes on and on.
So, as an antidote to all the woes of the world I made soup.
We had a hog butchered at Home Meats in Shelton. They do
an old-fashioned slow cure on their hams and bacon. Very
tasty indeed. We had the ham for dinner earlier in the week
and all that was left was a meaty bone. I tossed it in the
crock pot this morning with a pound of white beans, a chopped
onion, a couple bay leaves, 3 quarts of water and about 1/2 cup of
pan drippings from roasting the ham. Pan drippings are my
secret ingredient any time I need to give a soup or gravy a boost.
Intense, smoky and salty, the pan drippings are
strained and defatted and stored in a ziplock bag in the freezer.
It is so salty that it doesn’t really freeze properly, just
getting firm but not solid. A couple tablespoons adds life to
potato-corn chowder, or gives an added layer of flavor to sausage
gravy. #2 son is always saying, “Everything is a little
better with some pig on it!” and I think he might be right.
This afternoon when the beans were cooked I tossed in a couple
potatoes, peeled and diced and half-a-dozen carrots, sliced up.
I stripped the remaining meat from the bone, chopped it up,
tossed it in the pot and gave it a couple turns of the
When we got in from doing chores this afternoon, chilled and
soaked to the bone, it really hit the spot. It will be even
better tomorrow but for tonight it was good enough!
Shannon was gracious and outed us about farm decor. In the
interest of full disclosure, the inside of my house is tidier than
my back porch. Even if I do have a latex IV set-up hanging from the suncatcher
over my kitchen sink. (It needed to dry completely after it
was last used!) This was taken last year (the BBQ is gone!)
and it is much tidier (sort of) now. We built this house and
I had the idea that we would enjoy the porch on warm summer
Instead we have to battle for space
with boots, recycling and camping gear. The garage where most
of this will go hasn’t gotten built and so rather than clutter up
the (unfinished) basement further it lives on the porch. The
little freezer on the porch has 200# of veal in it, and during the
summer it is handy for chilling fryers. There are two more
freezers in the basement…along with the canning pantry. The
garbage can isn’t full of garbage – it just happens to be
convenient to store the chicken feed in a garbage pan near the
porch because the layers live in a coop not far from the porch.
And, unlike Martha
Stewart’s architecturally designed coop at Turkey
Hill, mine is covered with a blue tarp. Did you honestly
expect anything else?
The 2012 Dark Days Challenge is upon us. Shannon,
who is more motivated to participate in these sort of things than
I, signed us up. And then today, she had a dinner failure.
So, it falls to me to keep our end up. Good thing that
we had a decent dinner tonight. Those Sundays when we eat
left-overs, chips and salsa and scrambled eggs for dinner don’t
really make for a very convincing blog about sustainable, local or
organic meals….all winter long.
During late summer and early fall the blog world is full of
folks posting about eating local, 100-mile diets, 100-foot meals…ad infinitum.
Now, I am not a complete zealot like the 100-mile folks.
I am not going to run down to Scenic Beach and dip water out
of the Hood Canal to evaporate and make sea salt. We grow and
raise about 90% of what we eat and I cook from scratch much of the
time – which upon reflection makes me sound sort of Amish which
isn’t the case (the bonnet not withstanding) – but let’s just
say we are less dependent upon the grocery store than the average
Frankly, during that time of year I am too busy canning,
freezing, picking, weeding, feeding, milking, and mucking to blog
about what we are eating. I think
about blogging a lot while I am doing those things! But until
they develop the technology for me to plug a USB port unto my ear
and download all those great blog posts composed in my head it
isn’t happening. The really interesting thing about those
days in the garden and nights canning and freezing is that I am
doing all the time consuming and hard work associated with warm
winter meals. Beans frozen in August take minutes to heat for
dinner in December. Tomatoes blanched and canned in September
make pasta dishes in minutes for mid-week meals – garlic harvested
in July is Fettuccine Alfredo when I have a yen for
something rich and creamy.
So, as we kick off the “Dark Days Challenge” I thought it would
be interesting to go back in time and take a look at the genesis of
The menu –
- Pork Chops – the last of the chops from a hog butchered last
spring. We buy piglets from a neighbor, fatten them on extra
milk and grain and butcher about twice a year. We don’t buy
any extra meat and eat out of our freezer all the time so we go
through a whole hog, half a beef, 20 or so broilers and 10-15
stewing hens a year.
- Smashed red potatoes – from the garden with fresh cream and
salt and pepper.
- Milk gravy – pan drippings, milk and Shepherd’s
Grain Washington grown white flour!
- Sauerkraut with apples and onions – we had great plans to
collaborate on the ‘kraut this summer but the day we were planning
on doing it I got side-tracked so Shannon made it. She
jump-started the fermentation with whey from some
homemade yogurt and it has a wonderful zing to it.
The King apples were picked at my mom’s house right before
Thanksgiving and the onions were from the garden. I season it
with a bit of brown sugar, pepper and caraway and saute
until caramelized. Very tasty.
- Applesauce – from Mom’s apples. I typically can 15-20
jars – need to get around to doing that.
- Pickles – dutch spears made from the abundant cucs we planted
last spring. This is a refrigerator pickle recipe that I got
from The Joy of Pickling. I only made a few
because I didn’t know if we would like them. Need to make
more next year! Sweet, tart and spicy!
- Green beans – from the garden.
- Milk – from Ellie
- Raspberry Juice – from the berry patch
And the best part about this meal? It was a meal eaten
around our family table with my husband and children, we were truly
grateful for the bounty of our life, and were able to talk and
laugh as we enjoyed the fruits of our labor. Regardless of
whether your food comes from 100 miles or 1000 miles from your
home, if you are unable to eat with the people you love, they are
dark days indeed!
Laura over at (not so) Urban Hennery issued her annual Dark Days
Challenge – and regretfully I missed the deadline to sign up.
I was spending more time back then farming than blogging.
I think that was the weekend we were butchering turkeys…but
that is a whole ‘nother Oprah!
Shannon and I have been talking about a pantry challenge for
this blog – but I am thinking that the Dark Days Challenge might be
kind of fun too! The rules say that basically you need to eat four
SOLE (sustainable, organic, local and ethical) meals a month.
That shouldn’t be much of a challenge for us – given that we
eat that way all the time anyhow! However – it will provide
me with the incentive to plan, take pictures and blog about what we
are doing – which is the bigger part of the challenge for me!
I spend hours working on the farm and compose great blog
posts – in my head! But when the time comes to sit down at
the computer and get it posted on the blog I just don’t seem to get
Tonight for dinner (we don’t have a picture of this because we
ate it before I found out about the challenge!) we had broiled pork
chops, rice pilaf, cranberry and apple compote, green beans and
milk or apple cider. The pork was from a hog we slaughtered
this fall, the pilaf contained scallions and carrots from our
garden, and the compote included apples from my mom’s place and
Grays Harbor-grown cranberries. The green beans came out of
the garden last summer and went right into the freezer. The
milk came from Alexis (The Princess Cow) and the apple cider was
pressed this fall. With the exception of the rice, all of the
food was Washington grown, most within 100 feet (let alone 100
miles!) of the house.
For many folks eating local all winter long is a challenge
because the Farmer’s Markets close down for a couple months, and
even though Abundantly Green has their farm store open on Tuesdays
and several other local farms offer winter CSA’s it is more
challenging and you need to work harder to locally source fruits
and veggies. In my case (and Shannon’s) winter is actually a
time to take it easy. It is much simpler to open the jar and
eat the contents than it was to put it up!
We look forward to sharing of our meals during the challenge and
hope you will share what you are doing with us!
I know that this is the name of the Kitsap Decision Makers
breakfasts – but it is also what is going on around here this
Eggs first! I have 19 hens laying right now – and most of
them have figured out how to use the nesting boxes in the coop –
though there are still a couple that lay on the ground which is a
bit tiresome and makes the eggs dirty. That is a dozen and a
half eggs a day and even for a full court press holiday baker like
me that is a bit much. Some friends and neighbors buy them
but right now I have 10 dozen in the fridge! They are young hens,
hatched in April, and I have lights on in the hen house to give the
14 hours of light so they will continue to lay during the winter.
As we are closing in on the winter solstice it is starting to
get dim as early as 4:00 most afternoons and it was just starting
to lighten up at 7:30 this morning. I actually enjoy how
nature imposes this winter rest upon us – giving us time to eat
warm stews and sit by the fire reading Wendell Berry’s essays on
farming – but doing chores in the dark twice a day is a bit
tiresome. Visiting the coop and chatting with the girls in
their safe and snug little home is comforting. They are
cheerful and gossipy and only slightly resentful when I don’t let
them out until at least noon. If I let them out earlier the
number of eggs starts to fall off. I found three nests in the
woods so far. I just have to remember that I need to leave at
least one egg when I collect from them. Good things chickens
Now for the issues! The Kitsap Food and Farm Policy
Council is reviewing proposed policies for farming in Kitsap County
for inclusion in the Rural Chapter of the county Comp Plan.
Look for more on this in the New Year. As we embark on
crafting a set of thoughtful agricultural policies to guide
planners and decision makers over the next decade your input is
going to be very important. The Sun has done a good job of
covering the “Year of the Rural” undertaking this year, so keep an
eye out for information on farm policies!
Found the camera! As my mother would say, “It was right
where I left it!’ Of course, I used to hate it when she said
that because it meant that I was still unable to find what I was
The hens were unimpressed with the snow. They spent most
of their time fussing about in the new straw and didn’t even leave
the coop. When they did come out they went right back inside
because the snow was so cold on their feet. I have a mixed
flock of 19 Delawares, Golden Comets, Rhode Island Reds and
Cross-breds. Most days I get 14-16 eggs and we sell them to
friends and neighbors. I have the chickens under lights
to keep them laying during the winter and they will molt next
fall. The coop is a livestock panel stapled to a wooden frame
with wire fencing for the front and back of the coop. The
door was $5 at the St. Vincent de Paul and the nest boxes were made
out of scraps of OSB left over from building the house. Total
cost was about $50. During the summer it is moved daily to
give them access to fresh grass but from now until spring it will
be parked on the garden and they will be bedded on
The snow did a good job of insulating the veggies that are still
in the garden – about all that is left is broccoli and
carrots. The broccoli was pretty much done but there were
some side shoots still coming on. The carrots were fine
under the snow and we had some for dinner on Thanksgiving. I
need to get them pulled and put in the basement before we have
another cold snap but like many other chores this fall, it didn’t
happen because I was busy with something else!
The Princess Cow (aka Alexis)
was unimpressed with the white stuff. She spent most of the
day in the cow palace munching on hay. She came out for some
grain but wasn’t thrilled about how cold the water in the trough
was. I had to pack water for her and the calf on Wednesday
because the hoses were frozen. Typically I fill a 100 gallon
trough and use it to water the animals during cold snaps. I
also make sure all of the hoses are drained and ready to roll out
for watering in cold weather. We have frost free hose bibs on
the house and frost free hydrants in the yard. When the
bathtub/trough gets low I roll out the hoses, fill it up and then
drain them all. Tiresome but better than packing 5 gallon
buckets. But, this time I got caught with my hoses full and they
froze solid. I loaded up the utility cart with buckets and
hauled it out to her. She drank 10 gallons and since
milk is 95% water and she is giving about 4 gallons of milk a day
that accounts for some of it but she was also grooving on the warm
The kiddo was doing laundry when the power went out. I
convinced her that frozen pants were better than having
them sour in the washing machine waiting for the power to come
back on. However, she REFUSED to believe that they would dry
in the cold weather. They were on the clothes line all day
and came in stiff as a board (which was very amusing for
everyone) but when it started to thaw out in the house the clothes
were only slightly damp. By this time the power was back
on so we tossed them in the dryer. We had to bend the pants
and stack them in the dryer but the only had to tumble for a few
minutes until they were done. Kiddo was impressed (briefly)
and since she is 14 and seldom impressed by anything her mother has
to say right now, I made a note of it!
The final pix is of my Better Half plowing the driveway.
The chains were bought after we had so much snow two years
ago. The tractor kept spinning out so we wrapped logging
chains around the tires and through the spokes on the wheels.
It worked but we didn’t have enough chains to completely cover
the tires. We didn’t get to try the chains out last year
(thank heavens!) but they worked a treat this year.
Since I am making product endorsements – check out the boots
hubby has on. They are kind of hard to see but they
are “Muck” boots. I have a pair of the boots and
some Daily Shoes in pink! They are
awesome! If you have ever worn regular barn boots you know
that there is nothing more bone-chilling than slipping your foot
into a pair of boots that have been sitting on the porch all
night. Even with felt insoles they are still cold and
stiff. Mucks are a foam lined rubber boot that are warm and
waterproof. If you have to be on your feet for long periods
of time they have enough cushion to stay comfortable and they come
in cool colors! They aren’t cheap but I wear mine every day
and they are built to last! Pair them with a Peet Boot Dryer
and you almost look forward to going outside on cold mornings!
New kid on the block, that’s me! My name is Shannon Harkness and
I have joined the force. The Farm Girl Force. I tend to wear a lot
of hats. Wife, Mother, Friend, Farmer, Volunteer, Food Preserver
(Instructor), Proponent of all Local Food, the list really goes on,
but frankly it exhausts me to think of it. I hope you will enjoy
reading about all things Kitsap Farmer, foodie, sustainable
homesteader. One thing I really hope is that you will feel open to
respond to our blogs and dialog with us.
So, I’m gonna jump in and tell you what I am thinking. All of
this blustery weather and lights flickering causes me to wonder
about a few things. For instance, exactly how much extra time
should I allow for chores on a daily basis when it comes to below
freezing conditions? Can I really pawn off the chores on my three
children? How well could they do it? And exactly where are my
gloves? Luckily, our farm is situated by a large transfer station
in Central Kitsap so our power loss is usually limited to a very
short period. We do, however, take necessary preacautions, making
sure we have enough fire wood handy, propane, gas for the
generators, diesel for the outdoor heater in case snow should
challenge our greenhouse or hoop house. And being a farmer and food
preserver, we always have quite the bounty bursting out of our
cupboards and freezers. Yep…that’s plural. Freezers.
So, in the month of October I did a personal challenge for our
family. I challenged us, myself really as I am the cook in the
house, to eating entirely from our farm and cupboards for as long
as we could. It was partly due to wanting to save a little cash and
partly because I wanted to see how long we could go. It was a
success…for two weeks. And then we went for a weekend getaway and I
lost steam. But, it really got me thinking about if I could do it
and how I would accomplish it if I HAD to. What I would stock up on
and what was “fluff” was clear to me. I hope to share this
challenge with you and want to know your thoughts. Are you ready?
We are still defining parameters and thinking about the opportune
time. More on that later.
For now, I leave you to switch hats. Mother duties are
calling…okay screaming annoyingly.