A sheep giving birth is never the same experience. Sometimes you wake up and it’s already been done, the lambs have been licked dry and are already suckling their first few drinks of nourishing colostrum. Sometimes the ewe needs a bit of assistance like if the little legs are coming out first or if she’s getting tired from so many contractions – then again, sometimes the lamb even comes out backwards but is completely fine. Then, even occasionally, you get a tragic event like a stillbirth. Annie was in labor for most of the day (pretty unusual,) was walking around restlessly, only stopping to stoop when the waves of contractions took over for a few minutes, then she was back to walking around, pawing the ground and seeming out of sorts. She laid down and kicked out her hind leg straight to the side like sheep will do when birthing is near. Her breathing became intense and labored, and finally her sack dropped out, but still no lamb came forth. We even brought our supper out to the barn so we could watch and see how it was going. After a good half-hour of the partial birth, Annie finally produced her lamb, blue and still. Natalya tried resuscitating it by swinging it by its hind legs back and forth in an arc above her head (the up and down pressure of the swing mimics the lung compression and release of normal breathing) but it was to no avail. It had probably been dead for a couple days prior to the labor.
But, all things for the best, we’re able to milk Annie regularly every day to save up a good supply of colostrum in the freezer should any lambs be born to mothers with non-functioning udders. It’s even an opportunity to work with some colostrum/milk recipes. So enough with the morbid barn stories, on to the kitchen, where I’ve been cooking up a few small, local and tasty storms……
To begin with, Natalya had a butternut squash that was begging to be used (not actually the season for butternut squash, but some amazing recipes were constructed around this one 5-lb fruit!)
To begin with, the most simple barebones soup you will ever simmer salivate over in your life: Butternut squash and red lentil soup. Dears, I’m talking even too simple for salt and pepper – you just don’t need them!
Put about a cup of lentils in a pot, add about 1 ½ cups of peeled, cubed squash, then 3 cups of water and bring to a boil then simmer til the liquid is taken up and the squash and lentils are fully softened (might need to add more water depending on the day.)
Voila, faithful readers! You have flavor, texture and beautiful color all wrapped up in 2 ingredients and one soup bowl. The only thing that could possibly make this better would be a slice or 2 of toasted homemade bread. Try it, you’ll adore it.
The rest of the squash I then peeled and cubed also and put in a pot with ground cloves, 2 cinnamon sticks and the zest of an orange, covered all that with water and let it cook down to ‘pumpkin butter.’ 2 ½ cups of that were combined with:
3 ½ cups of whole grain flour
1 cup of oats
1 cup of honey and molasses
Some more cloves (hey, no half-ass spicing ok?)
About 2 teaspoons of soda
The same of salt
2/3 stick of butter
Diced up crystallized ginger
It was beaten until just mixed with no lumps, then I added a teacupful of chocolate chips, oiled some muffin pans and baked at 350 for about 15 minutes each batch.
It made about 3 dozen smallish muffins in a beautiful burnt orange and dark chocolate-swirl motif. Highly recommended as an accompaniment breakfast, lunch, snack and supper.
Other, more local-fare I’ve been working with are pestos in different varieties; salad burnet and sorrel pesto with walnuts (think wasabi+cucumbers and you’ll get a vague taste, only the spiciness goes down with the food and not up into your nose and tear ducts); lamb’s quarters, spinach and sage pesto with almonds (quite a sophisticated pesto if I do say so.) And a few hummus blends: red beans with (garden) chives, salt and pepper; garbanzos with garden sage, oregano and chives. And even a homemade salsa with frozen tomatoes, dried peppers and cilantro. It’s amazing what’s over wintered in the garden here!!
I’m currently trying to concoct a completely ‘local’ hummus; heirloom prairie beans, sorrel in place of lemons, chives (again) for the garlic, and boiled and mashed sun chokes (Jerusalem artichokes) instead of tahini. I’m thinking celery juice for the salt?
As a side note, Jerusalem artichokes seem to embody the true meaning of ‘Food Security.” They are indigenous to this country, used traditionally by many Native American tribes and grow so prolifically that in a year’s time the 2 rows you’ve planted will have spread into a garden bed of 4 rows or more! A member of the same family as sunflowers, Jerusalem artichokes are the roots at the base of the plant also called ‘sun chokes.’ This food has become almost a novelty in our grocery store system and even among a lot of farm communities. Why is almost no one harnessing this viable, easy to grow, native food source? They bloom beautiful yellow flowers late in the summer and are one of the few foods you can harvest all winter long and into the spring. They contain no starch, are great for people with blood sugar problems, and cook up as easily as potatoes. Our supper the other night included Sweet and Sour Swiss Chard (recipe to follow) Smashed Sun chokes and toasted Garden Herb Bread.
"Outback" view of the farm
Soups are another daily kitchen occurrence. When you have lambs coming at all hours of the day and night, a farm owner with a full-time off-farm job and plenty of garden preparation and planting to do, there’s just not always time, will or energy to concoct lavish 3 dish meals *sigh*. So, soups are the order of the day. With plenty of lamb in the freezer to work with, I usually brown the meat a bit, and slip it right into a stock pot with water, an onion, some whole garlic cloves, pepper berries, salt and apple cider vinegar to let the meat cook down tender, and the bones to infuse the stock with all their goodies and minerals. Later I’ll come back and add garden greens, carrots, potatoes, sun chokes or something that’s been sitting in the fridge for a while and needs a new life. As long as we’re kept in steady supply of bread, we’re set for most meals.
And since I keep referring to homemade bread, I’ll offer a couple of ways I’ve been making it out here:
1) Simply mix equal parts water and flour (about ½ cup each to start) in a bowl, cover with cheesecloth or a thin towel and set somewhere out of the beaten path. The next day, come back with ½ cup more of both water and flour (you can alternate white and whole grain, or just use whole grain. For that matter, you could just use white if you prefer.) Mix it up real good! Then let it sit some more. Keep coming back to the flour/water mixture everyday til it becomes bubbly on top and starts to smell sour (about 3-4 days.) At this point, switch it to a clean bowl and continue doing the same for another 3-4 days. After about a week total, and once the smell is vivaciously acidic, take about 2 qts of the batter and mix with enough flour to form a solid, rubbery dough and knead directly in the bowl with some salt for about 10 minutes, not punching it down terribly hard. Form it into loaves or place in loaf pans and let sit a few hours to overnight so it can rise, then when it looks happy and plump pop it in a 375 oven for about 35 minutes. Yum! Your own natural sourdough bread.
Sandor Katz offers this bit of wisdom: “Fermenting with spontaneously occurring local organisms integrates us into the web of life of our environment and adapts us to the local microbial ecology.”
As you feel you’re adapting to that ecology, try your hand at different flavor combos like sage-thyme-oregano-rosemary, or molasses-ginger-almond, or honey-nutmeg-walnut. Whatever floats your boat and makes your mouth happy.
Alternatively, if you want fresh bread but don’t have a week to wait, simply put about a Tb. Dry yeast into a cup of lukewarm water, mix up for a couple seconds, maybe adding a pinch of sugar or honey to the mix and let it get bubbly for about 10 minutes. Add that to some flour and a pinch of salt and more water to make another good rubbery dough. You definitely want to knead this bread more and harder than a natural sourdough, and let it rise once in an oiled bowl for a couple of hours til doubled. Then do the loaf-forming, let it rise again and pop in the oven.
Oh! And another fun thing you can do, especially with the sourdough, is place a pan of water on the bottom rack when you begin to heat up the oven so that it’s letting off some steam by the time your loaves are ready to go in. Leave it in for the duration of the baking. This forms a really pleasing, crunchy and shiny crust.
Oh, Oh! One last fun bread idea: brush some butter over your loaves as soon as they come out to keep the crust moist, and duh! what’s not better with a little butter?
PS: Your sourdough will have a longer counter life than the ready-yeast loaf, up to 2 weeks unrefrigerated I’ve found. So you might need to store the ready-yeast loaf in the fridge after a few days………..
And as promised, I leave you with the recipe for Sweet and Sour Swiss Chard:
1 lb. Chard
2 Tb. Fat
½ c. Onion
3 Tb. Vinegar
½ c. raisins or dried cranberries (cranberries are more esthetically pleasing paired with the chard)
Some salt and pepper
Wash and chop the greens. Sauté onion in fat (I used chives, in that case you want to only just barely flash-sauté them, their very sensitive.) Add greens, vinegar, cranberries and s&p. Once chard is wilted, but before it loses its pretty color, remove from heat and take your taste buds for a ride.
*Also try adding walnuts or sesame seeds with the onions to boost up the ‘meatiness’ and give it another texture complex.