Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Monday, November 21, 2011
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Friday, November 18, 2011
In a recent letter to a friend, I described the aspect of hunting which makes it engaging as 'contingent action.' What I mean by this is that hunting involves walking out into the woods in the dark to sit still under a tree, listen and look, until something either happens or doesn't. The more apparent defining element of this experience is the ease of being in the moment, the ease of being attuned. The less apparent, but no less profound, element is uncertainty.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Sunday, September 18, 2011
Saturday, September 10, 2011
Saturday, September 3, 2011
Saturday, August 27, 2011
What does one do with this much cabbage? Lacto-fermentation is the only answer. Luckily it is a good one because, beyond preserving the cabbage, it makes its nutrients more available and offers beneficial bacteria for your intestinal flora. Unfortunately the temperature is still a bit high to make sauerkraut. It would be ideal if it could ferment for 4 weeks between 60 and 65 degrees. We considered burying our imaginary jug of sauerkraut in the stream bed, but the temperature two inches below the water level was 66.9. If this were mid-September, we would likely have perfect conditions, but August is August, and August it is. We proceeded anyway.
After weighing and slicing, we added around 3 tablespoons of salt for every 5 pounds of cabbage. You are meant to bash away at all of this cabbage until it releases and becomes submerged by its own juices. We were without a proper utensil, but we made good use of the rolling pin, the potato masher, the metal tongs, and the knife sharpening steel.
Finally it became like soup.
There are fermenting crocks that are designed specifically for this purpose, and I hear they work perfectly. The crock itself has a large rim that holds water that the lid sits down into. The gases that escape during fermentation are able to move through this seal, while it remains impervious to air and pathogens from the outside. Ingenious... and expensive. The smallest one I could find was over $125. So we are winging it, again, like we did last year. Hopefully this experiment will turn out better than last year's. Last year's sauerkraut rotted because we didnt' have a good seal. When the gasses escaped there were air pockets left in their places and deterioration took hold. This year we filled a 2 gallon plastic bag with salted water (in case the bag breaks for some reason) and placed it on top of the cabbage, thereby keeping everything submerged. Garth found a lid for a five gallon bucket from his beer making days with a contraption on the top that lets gasses out without letting air in. The bucket is on the dirt floor of our basement at the bottom of the stairs. If all goes well, we'll be in sauerkraut for months. If it doesn't, we will have wasted a few good hours on a Sunday, and a season's worth of cabbage. I'm not sure where my bets lie, but I know where my hopes do.
Monday, August 15, 2011
Some people hold strong views on the topic of animal welfare, ranging from a utilitarian belief that the pleasure and suffering of animals is as meaningful as that of humans to a biblically grounded belief that humans have dominion over animals, a dominion so absolute that the existence of an animal is justified only to the extent that it serves a human end. But most people I’ve talked to about it search for a comforting middle ground – a place where animals lead happy, healthy lives, but are then quickly dispatched, packaged, and sold for a reasonable price in a supermarket refrigerator case. As I know from personal experience, the trick to rhetorically supporting this sort of food system while eating a burger that concretely supports factory farms is to not think about it too much.
But I’ve been thinking about it quite a lot lately. A bit over a month ago we butchered the sixty-five broiler chickens we had been raising, a few more than last year. The experience of killing animals is a singularly difficult topic to address in writing. When I say this, I do not mean that it makes me uncomfortable to discuss or describe in detail. Most any striking or meaningful experience loses something in the translation to writing, though it may gain something as well. But in the case of killing another sentient creature, the act itself is uniquely visceral.
We raised our chickens in a 10’ x 12’ cage with an open bottom. Twice daily we shifted this onto fresh grass, so the chickens always had fresh forage and somewhere clean to lie down. We actually purchased 100 chicks, and we only lost the expected few in the first two weeks, but a few days after we put them out, 30 died in a single night. A predator had killed five, and the rest had suffocated after piling up in a corner of the cage. A few days later I trapped and shot the skunk that was responsible.
Modern chickens put on weight incredibly fast, and even though we were raising broilers bred to gain slightly slower than the most aggressive commercial varieties, by nine weeks they were big enough, and dragging the cage around the pasture had started to bother both my and Ed’s backs. So on an overcast Saturday we set up the scalding tank and plucker beside a table in the hops barn and positioned the killing cones just outside.
Ed went and caught about a dozen chickens at a time, placed them in smaller cages, and trundled them in a wheelbarrow from the pasture to our makeshift abattoir. Each went upside down into a stainless steel cone with a hole at the bottom just large enough for the head and neck to pass through. Each head was grasped, and each neck slit with a sharp knife. After this they went into the scalding tank, and then the plucker, and then to a table to be cleaned, bagged and frozen.
Last year Ed and I did all these tasks in roughly equal measure, but this time, with both Alanna and my aunt Juliet helping, we each more or less took responsibility for a part of the process. I only killed a few of the chickens early on and spent the rest of the time gutting them.
Although I can’t imagine a plausible alternative, I find slaughterhouses problematic. Of course I am horrified by unnecessary brutality found in many of them, but I am just as troubled by the idea that most of us do not confront the deaths we have chosen to endorse while a few of us become utterly desensitized to them. One step in the right direction would be to let farmers harvest animals and sell their meat directly to customers, a practice which is allowed to a limited extent with chickens, but doing this to a broad extent would require a complete overhaul of the regulatory system, and it would raise a host of health concerns, some legitimate, others not.
In the meantime, we will keep raising and hunting and butchering for ourselves, and I would encourage anyone – particularly anyone who eats meat – to have a hand in the death that preparing dinner really starts with.
Friday, August 5, 2011
Walking back from feeding the chickens yesterday, I ran into Datura. She had wandered away from the herd with her sister Lillyvale, breaching the electric line in an area weakened by tall grass, no doubt. I stopped to admire her. Isn't she beautiful? Edmund and Garth chased them back in a few hours later, which was easily done because they couldn't resist the companionship offered within their old confines.
Sunday, July 24, 2011
When hit at the perfect moment, it can be more than they can recover from. We want to break the cycle that has created a burdock monoculture on swaths of our pasture.