Spring has been good to us so I thought I’d share photo overload of the holler.
For these jumbo size eggs from our Rhode Island Reds (Roxy and Rita), I preheat my oven to 325. I wash and dry the eggs then place them in a muffin tin and pop them in the oven for 30 minutes and then place them in a bowl of ice water for 10 minutes to stop the cooking process.
I like to eat one or two for breakfast sometimes, or add them to salads and other dishes so I cook several at a time. I leave the shells on and they’ll keep in the refrigerator for a week.
If you give it a try, be sure to adjust your time based on your egg size so you don’t over or undercook.
Dandelions are everywhere, just like honeysuckle every spring!
We keep a small patch of dandelions in our back yard for the bees each year (and if we’re being honest, you can never completely rid your yard of them anyway).
People spend a lot of money to maintain grass: by watering it, cutting it, and buying bottles of weed killer.
We let the rain water our grass, we mow and give the clippings to the chickens for foraging/entertainment, add some to the compost bin, and if there are weeds that are beneficial to the bees we leave some for them.
I learned as a young girl that dandelions are multi-purpose; the first being dandelion wine (thanks to the Ray Bradbury novel of the same name), salve/lip balm, and in recent years as food: dandelion jelly, which I made last year and cookies made from the yellow flower, and even pesto from the leaves. Every part of the dandelion is edible and research shows there are benefits to eating these weeds.
Most people may picture hippies foraging in the forest and spending countless hours making “free range organic” health food. I’m here to tell you this was a simple 20 minute project from start to finish. I didn’t have to leave my house, wear patchouli oil, or devote a day to making food from scratch. Wearing a tie dye shirt is optional.
Dandelions are easy to spot though they closely resemble catsear. If you want to make sure you’re picking dandelions, pull up the plant by the root and look for a milky white excretion from the stalk. Also, the leaves will be pointy ended and smooth, unlike catsear which will be fuzzy.
My daughter and I made the journey to the back yard (every outing is a journey with a three year old!) last week to gather two cups of dandelion leaves to make pesto, which was a quick process. If you plan to pick some for yourself, please pick from an area that you are 100% sure hasn’t been sprayed with chemicals.
After we gathered our greens, we brought them inside and gave them a thorough wash.
I gave the batch a light rinse and then picked through looking for pieces of dirt/debris to remove. I gave it a good spray and sifted through again to double check.
Next, I collected my ingredients for pesto. It’s like making traditional pesto with basil, except you’re replacing the herb (basil) with a weed (dandelion green).
I placed about a third of my dandelion greens in my food processor with the olive oil and let it chop down for half a minute. I added the remainder of the greens until it was all finely chopped.
Next the garlic cloves, pine nuts, salt, and Parmesan cheese were added in with the greens and processed until smooth and creamy.
This batch made enough to fill two jelly jars. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to one week so I left one jar in the fridge and placed the other in the freezer for a later date.
2 cups dandelion greens, washed well
3/4 cup olive oil
5 cloves minced garlic
2oz pine nuts
1 tsp sea salt
2 oz Parmesan cheese, shredded
After greens have been washed thoroughly, place a third in a food processor with the olive oil and process for around 30 seconds.
Add remaining greens and process until finely chopped.
Add garlic, pine nuts, sea salt, and Parmesan cheese and process until smooth and creamy.
Transfer to jars. Refrigerate up to one week; freeze for up to 3 months.
This recipe can be used in place of traditional basil pesto. Enjoy on a warm crusty baguette, mixed with tomatoes, topped with spinach and artichokes, or as a pizza sauce base.
I used a pint size jar of marinara sauce we canned last summer mixed with a third of the dandelion pesto as my base sauce for this pizza. It’s topped with grilled chicken, Vidalia onion, olives, and kale. Spinach and artichokes would also be excellent toppings for this pizza!
It’s April, which means Masters week (a big golf tournament in Augusta) is over, the tourists are gone, our garden has been planted, and honeysuckle is everywhere…
I love everything about it: the scent, the fact that is attracts the bees which pollinate our garden and take it back to hives to make honey, not to mention its beauty. It’s also super invasive so we spend time hacking a lot down at the end of the season to prevent it overtaking everything. We’re not really winning that battle but I’m certainly not mad!
It takes me right back to spring and summer during my childhood and I think every Southern girl wishes we could bottle up the scent and the taste fresh off the vine.
Last year I made this honeysuckle breeze cake for my dad-in-law’s birthday and enjoyed that rich sweet taste baked in to the cake.
This year, I decided to and bottle up that taste for our sweet tea by making a simple syrup!
A simple syrup is exactly that: a simple mix of sugar dissolved in water to create a syrup. You can add certain elements to the sugar water to give it a unique flavor; in this case it’s honeysuckle.
My husband’s reaction after trying it in his sweet tea for the first time: “It tastes just like it smells!”
That basically means it tastes like summertime in Heaven, y’all.
I started by collecting two cups loosely packed honeysuckle blossoms, making sure the green stem at the bottom was removed (it can create a bitter taste) and brushing off excess dirt.
Once that was done, I brought 1 1/3 cups sugar and 1 cup water to a boil, stirring until the sugar was completely dissolved.
I packed the honeysuckle down in to a pint mason jar and poured the hot sugar water over the blossoms.
Once the jar reached room temperature, I placed it in the refrigerator for 8 hours to let the blossoms flavor the water.
Next, I placed a strainer over top of a clean pint mason jar and poured the syrup in to the new jar, discarding the dirt/debris and honeysuckle blossoms.
We’re left with this lovely jar of honeysuckle syrup! You can cover and refrigerate for a couple of weeks – if it lasts that long! I use around 3 teaspoons of syrup for a pint jar full of sweet tea but you can play with the amount until you get the flavor you want.
You could also use this syrup in a batter to add the flavor to pancakes, madeleines, or sweet breads.
2 cups honeysuckle blossoms, greenery removed
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 cup water
Pick your honeysuckle; remove green stems and shake off dirt.
Boil your sugar and water; stirring until sugar is completely dissolved.
Pour the hot sugar water over the packed honeysuckle in a pint mason jar and bring to room temperature.
Place covered jar in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours.
Pour contents through a strainer in to a clean pint mason jar, discarding blossoms and debris.
Eggshells are multi-purpose around our house. We use them in our garden, compost, and even crush them up and put them back into the chicken’s food for the nutrients they provide.
Around Easter, I plant hens & chicks (a type of succulent) in some of them as a table centerpiece.
My grandmother gave a pot of hens & chicks to my dad for his birthday many years ago and they thrived and multiplied at the beginning of each spring, spreading out and over the pot they were planted in. We started them in new pots and shared them with family and friends.
A few years ago we planted several in an old birdbath outside our kitchen window that would no longer hold water due to a crack.
The great thing about most succulents is that they are low maintenance and virtually impossible to kill. These hens & chicks can be pulled up and transplanted almost anywhere, put outdoors in shade or full sun, or indoors with bare minimum window light and they still thrive. Our outdoor succulents are watered only when it rains and our indoor hens & chicks are watered maybe once a month. I love low maintenance plants!
I started by filling my eggshells with dirt from a rotted tree stump on our property. Potting soil or compost will work just fine too! I pulled up the “baby” hens & chicks sprouting off the larger ones in the bird bath and cleaned off the clumps of dirt to expose the roots and placed them in individual eggshells. For the larger eggshells, I planted 2-3.
I watered them generously and then brought them indoors for my table centerpiece.
I added a sprig of rosemary and some feathers for fun. Nothing fancy, just things from the yard.
If you want to take some extra time, you can always dye your eggshells to give it more of an Easter vibe. If you don’t have succulents on hand already, visit your local greenhouse (or home improvement store) and see what they offer. If you’re around Columbia County Georgia, I cannot say enough amazing things about Sanderlin Greenhouses. The have a beautiful selection of plants and my favorite part is the vintage Radio Flyer wagons that act as your shopping cart!
27 chicks arrived safely and over the course of 20 weeks, we lost 2 roosters to a hawk in December and around that time we realized that, surprise!, the hatchery sent us a hen in the mix. We were left with 24 roosters to process.
2 days old
18 weeks old
Our adorable fluff balls grew rapidly and by the time they were moved from their brooder to the great outdoors at 7 weeks old, they were feathered pecking machines.
While the plan had been to raise them free range, a hawk quickly changed that after making a meal of two roosters. A fence went up around their coop to keep them safe from predators (and a plan is forming for a chicken tractor next year).
At the end of our first year of chicken processing, we have spent a grand total of $455.95.
$157.29 was spent on construction and supplies for the brooder and the coop, meaning it’s a one-time expense. This total included hinges, lumber, metal roofing, pine shavings, brooder lamps and bulbs, chick feeders and waterers for brooder, food pans and gallon waterers for the coop.
The remaining $298.66 was the cost of the chicks and shipping, along with 16 bags of chicken feed.
We chose the heritage breed chicken Black Australorp, which are usually processed for meat between 16 and 20 weeks. We decided to process 5 chickens per week beginning at 16 weeks so that we could see if there’s a significant weight gain in that time period. This will tell us whether to process early or later in the future, which could potentially save us money in feed cost if there isn’t a large weight gain between 16-20 weeks.
Based on our chicken and feed costs of $298.66 and our birds weighing an average of 4 pounds each, our price per pound for 2017 is $2.99.
While many companies selling chickens use the term “organic”, it is almost impossible to know what they actually mean since it is used so loosely. Even seeing the term “free-range” simply means they have access to a small door to the outside but doesn’t tell you if it’s a slab of concrete outdoors or an open pasture to roam (not likely). I’m tired of the guess work.
The chickens we raised were given a large outdoor space in the woods, free of human interference besides refilling their water source and giving out additional feed (and lucky them: our leftovers!). They were raised free of antibiotics, hormones, or steroids. When processing their meat, we’re adding zero artificial ingredients or preservatives.
I see “organic chicken” sells in stores in a wide price range, the cheapest I’ve found being $4.99 per pound and upwards of $10 per pound for boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I’d say that by taking the guess work out of how the chicken I consume was raised by doing it ourselves, our price of $2.99 per pound is a bargain!
I understand many people don’t have the time, ability, or stomach to process chickens themselves. I understand many people may not care about the conditions these chickens live in before becoming a meal.
This was a personal decision my family made to take control of our food which we believe also means taking responsibility for our health. As meat eating animal lovers, it means treating all of our animals with respect and great care, right up until the very end.
I read something recently (and I wish I remembered who to attribute the quote to) that will stick with me: “Every day something dies so that you can live.”
I hadn’t thought of the sharp truth of this before. Each day, trees are cut down for paper and warmth, animals are butchered, vegetables are consumed, minerals are excavated… the list goes on. We live in a time when we don’t think of these things because we have removed the majority of the overall population from the equation. Only a couple of generations ago, people grew their own meat and vegetables instead of driving to a grocery store. Your supper was hard work and had a face (possibly a name, too?) behind it. If a crop didn’t do well one year, you had to go without. If predators took hold of your livestock, you went without whatever that animal provided, as well as their meat.
So while it is inconvenient in this day and age to consider how animals and vegetables are raised (I’m talking about pesticides, genetic modification, antibiotics, steroids, etc.) before it’s on our plate, it wasn’t so long ago we knew how to raise our own food in order to survive.
At the end of our 2017 processing, here are the final stats:
27 chickens: 1 surprise hen, 2 roosters lost to hawk
16 bags of chicken feed
800 lbs of chicken feed consumed by 27 chickens over 20 weeks
24 chickens processed for the freezer
Each chicken averaged 4 pounds
Based on the cost of the chickens themselves and their feed, our meat cost us $2.99 per pound, compared to the average grocery store cost of $7.99 per pound.
Since there wasn’t a significant increase in weight between 16 and 20 weeks, we will be processing future flocks at 16 weeks, which will cut our feed costs by around $80, if we continue to use the same feed. This means we have the potential to cut our price per pound to $2.50
We’re researching making our own chicken feed in the future (cost effective by purchasing ingredients in bulk, which is perfect for a large meat flock) and also building a chicken tractor. We have a few ideas for making feed and water distribution easier.
In addition to the meat in our freezer, we are using the chicken carcasses, necks, and feet in our own chicken stock canned for the pantry. The gizzards are kept to eat (don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it!) and sell, the feathers become compost, the hearts and livers are fed back to the remaining chickens, and the intestines and heads are left in the woods for the nocturnal animals to take care of.
I have put together a basic step-by-step with pictures of how to process a chicken. If you’re morally opposed or sensitive to images of butchering an animal, please don’t scroll further. For those interested in the process, take a look and let me know if you have questions. If you’re interested in more processing details, I’m happy to discuss!
We begin each butchering day by saying a prayer and thanking the birds for providing us with food.
I first heard about Biscuit Love in the current edition of Garden & Gun magazine. Owned and operated by husband and wife Karl and Sarah Worley in Nashville, this food truck operation turned restaurant serves locally sourced from scratch food. After hearing descriptions of the dishes (seriously, just look at that menu online!) I’m ready for a road trip specifically to dine there! You may think that I’m joking but my family takes food very seriously. We drove 7 hours to Townsend, TN just to eat at Smokin’ Joe’s Bar-B-Que. Okay, so yeah, we may have also visited Cade’s Cove and Clingman’s Dome while we were there but the entire premise of that trip was the BBQ.
After processing our first batch of chickens, I knew the first dish I wanted to make was chicken and dumplings. My family already has a killer recipe for the creamiest slow cooked chicken and dumplings you’ll ever taste in your entire life, but I’m kind of obsessed with Ronni Lundy’s cookbook Victuals so I had to take a peek at her recipe!
Coincidentally, the recipe in her book is from none other than Biscuit Love’s Karl Worley. When something so coincidental happens, I feel like it’s meant to be and so I set out to have a little of Karl Worley’s cooking in my kitchen rather than road tripping several hours with a toddler because I’m adventurous but not completely insane (…yet).
Karl’s recipe gives directions on roasting a whole chicken and making your own chicken stock from the reserved bones. While I did this since I had a freshly processed chicken available, let’s operate under the assumption you’re coming home from work and want this dinner on your table like, now. If that’s the case, ain’t nobody got time for roasting a chicken and making your chicken stock. So let’s just say we go to the local grocery store deli and pick up a nice rotisserie chicken for around $7.00 and call it a day.
We’ll start this recipe by making the sauce:
Mix up your butter and oil in the skillet and add carrots, garlic, and bay leaves once melted. You’ll cook it until the vegetables are soft. Next we’ll add in flour, continuously stirring to really coat the vegetables and remove starchy flavor.
We’ll pour in our chicken stock a cup at a time, stirring well.
We’ll reduce the heat and let it simmer until it thickens up (about 15 minutes). We’ll stir in our heavy cream last and set this pot aside.
Next up is our dumpling dough (my favorite part!):
In a large bowl, we sift our flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and pepper. Use your fingers to work in the lard (or bacon fat) until your mixture is crumbly. Stir in the cream until the dough just comes together. It should be thick and stick well to your spoon.
Next we’re going to divide our sauce and shredded chickens equally between two wide pots and bring them both to a simmer. Drop spoonfuls of dumpling dough into the pots and be sure to leave plenty of room for them to expand so they don’t end up sticking together.
Reduce your heat to medium low and cover while the dumplings poach for about 10 minutes. You’ll want them firmed up but fluffy.
Karl Worley’s Roasted Chicken & Dumplings (serves 6)
1 whole chicken (roasted at 375 degrees on rack in a roasting pan for an hour then shredded once cool OR a precooked rotisserie chicken from your grocery store, shredded)
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 carrot, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 cups chicken stock (from the grocery store is perfectly acceptable but I’ll be posting a super easy recipe to make your own soon!)
1/4 cup heavy cream
Heat a wide pot over medium heat. Add butter and oil. Once butter is melted, add carrot, garlic, and bay leaves. Cook until soft. Stir in flour to coat vegetables; keep mixing for a couple minutes to remove starchy flavor. Slowly pour in chicken stock, 1 cup at a time, stirring well. Reduce heat and simmer until sauce is thickened up, about 15 minutes. Stir in heavy cream and salt to taste then set pot aside while you make the dumpling dough.
For the dumpling dough:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup lard (or bacon fat if you happen to keep yours)
2/3 to 1 1/3 cups heavy cream
In a large bowl, sift flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and pepper. Using your fingers, work lard (or bacon fat) into dough until crumbly. Stir in heavy cream slowly until the dough comes together. Dough will be thick, sticking to your spoon.
Follow instructions to roast your bird or shred your rotisserie chicken.
Make your sauce.
Make your dumpling dough.
Divide sauce and shredded chicken between two pots.
Bring pots to a simmer.
Add dumpling dough by the spoonful to each pot, making sure they are not crowded.
Cook at medium-low heat, covered, for about 10 minutes, until dumplings are firm and fluffy.
Fall has always been my favorite time of year here. I think the picture above of my walk to the chicken coop explains why!
We’re busy flipping through seed catalogs and preparing to start some of our plants indoors from seeds we saved from the summer garden, raking leaves for the compost pile, and loving on our new baby goats!
Hazel and Eloise were born November 21 and they came to our home, along with their mama Choca, on November 23.
Our meat flock is now 11 weeks old! If you’d like to read about how we prepared for and why we started a meat flock, read my first post here.
We moved the flock from the brooder to their coop on November 19 when they were 7 weeks old.
Unfortunately, a hawk found our flock on December 11 and we lost our first rooster. The following day, the hawk came back for lunch and we lost a second rooster.
The evening of December 12, Joe and I created a fence around the coop with a cover until we’re able to trap and relocate the hawk (it’s illegal to harm a hawk so we are trying to do the right thing while keeping our chickens safe). Unfortunately free ranging is over for now until that’s taken care of.
The chickens are weighing in at 3 1/2 pounds at 11 weeks old; they have been gaining around a half pound each week.
So far we have spent $132 on feed (we’ve purchased 450 lbs in bulk) and they have gone through 300 pounds of that food in just 11 weeks!
Another $145 was spent on brooder and coop supplies (these are one time only costs so this will not be a part of next year’s flock expenses thankfully!)
I’m keeping track of every penny spent on the flock so that I can share the grand total with you in February when processing begins and calculate exactly how much each bird cost us compared with grocery store chicken prices.
The first time I heard about putting apple butter on pork chops, I hesitated. Then I remembered my pantry is filled with jars of canned apple butter after our trip to Justus Orchard in September so really, there was nothing to lose.
I’ve had pork roasts slow cooked in apples before so this didn’t seem too off base once I gave it a second thought. Getting my husband on board with this pork chop idea was the tough part. (Hence the single grainy, dark image I provided you with: I wasn’t sure this meal would actually happen. This photo is the only proof I have!)
Here’s a quick recipe if you’re curious. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
2 thick pork chops, bone in
1 cup apple butter
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp brown sugar
1/4 c heavy cream
Grill your pork chops. I’m not going to boss you around about this, every griller cooks their chops a little differently, so do this how you like. If you’re in to pan frying your chops, that’ll work just fine also!
While your chops are cooking, melt your 2 tbsp butter in a pan over medium heat.
Once your butter is melted and frothy: add apple butter, chili powder, and brown sugar. Stir well.
Add the heavy cream and bring to bubbling (not boiling) while you stir.
At this point you can add your cooked chops to the pan to marinate a few minutes or just pour the apple butter sauce over each pork chop on your plate.
Yes, for real. The very first. My family didn’t eat winter squash when I was growing up, for whatever reason. Now that I’m grown with my own family and we’ve started our goal of eating as much locally grown food as possible, that also means eating seasonally. So this fall/winter, it’s time to learn the different types of winter squash and what dishes to serve it in.
I brought that beauty pictured above (the large squash, far left) home and after a couple of days, I started looking for recipe ideas. There were so many chili with squash recipes that I decided to mix up a few variations to create my own. I can’t think of a more classic fall/winter dinner than chili!
I gathered my chili ingredients and began my food prep when suddenly I realized …
I had no idea how to peel/cut a butternut squash.
I’m not embarrassed to admit that because I know I’m not the only 30 year old who has stood in a kitchen with a squash in their hands and thought: “What next?”
When I was a kid, my dad stuck some brittle hydrangea stalk cuttings into the dirt here and 20 years later, we still have a thriving “snowball bush” (that’s what we call it here in the South). The acidic pH levels in our soil keep our snowballs a beautiful blue color that fades to purple before drying.
(You can change the color of your hydrangea by adding or subtracting lime/aluminum to your soil; read all about that here.)
After a long and dry summer, the snowballs have begun to dry and I usually clip a few to put in a vase over the fall/winter months, but this year I decided to try a wreath.
This is suuuuper simple, y’all. Like, no-instructions-truly-necessary simple.
I purchased a grapevine wreath and floral wire at my local Dollar Tree and cut some dried/drying hydrangeas from the plant.
I left a long stalk on the hydrangea so there was wiggle room for wrapping and securing it to the wreath.
I placed hydrangea around the wreath to create a full appearance and secured each piece with the floral wire.
That’s it. Seriously!
After you spend some time cleaning up the loose dried petals that fall off and give the wreath a nice “fluff” to make sure it’s full and secured, it’s ready to hang.
For two bucks and some change, I made this fall wreath!
I found this cute shutter at an antique shop recently and I thought it’d be the perfect place to hang my wreath. Now I have to figure out where to place this in the house.