Apple Butter Spice Loaves | Recipe

Since I posted this apple butter recipe I’ve used the last couple years, I’ve had several friends ask:  “The apple butter sounds great… but what can I do with it?”

I’m the type of person that’s happy to to eat apple butter straight out of the jar with a spoon or spread it on a piece of toast as a quick snack, though I have found several other awesome ways to use it in the last few years!

  1. Apple Butter Pancakes.  You can add apple butter into your pancake batter OR you can put the apple butter on top of your pancakes in place of (or in addition to!) syrup.  I’ve tried it both ways and they both rock.
  2. Apple Butter Pork Chops.  Sounds crazy, right?  I beg to differ!  Follow that link to see what I did.  (Shocker:  My hubby actually ate it and liked it!)
  3. Apple Butter Snickerdoodles!  You can add about 1/2 cup of apple butter to any snicker doodle recipe to give it some extra “umph”.  You know what I’m talking about!  …Right?
  4. Apple Butter BBQ Meatballs or Ribs.  Sounds crazy just like the pork chops.  Honestly though, apple butter is excellent mixed with your favorite BBQ sauces.  It adds a subtle additional flavor to mix things up a bit.
  5. Apple Butter Spice Cake/Bread.  I found a recipe last year for a spice cake that included apple butter and made a mental note to try to create a new recipe using my mini loaf pan.

    DSC_4521WEBedit

Apple Butter Spice Loaves
(makes 8 mini loaves or 1- 9×5 loaf)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (or 1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk (*see my note below if you don’t have buttermilk)
  • 2.5 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1.5 cups apple butter

    *Note:  If you don’t have buttermilk, add 1 tsp white vinegar to 1/2 cup of whole milk and let it set for 5 minutes.  Works like a charm!

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly spray your mini loaf or 9×5 loaf pan with cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar.
  3. Add eggs and buttermilk  and stir until smooth.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking soda, salt and all the spices.
  5. Add half the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and stir until it begins to come together.  Add the rest of the flour mixture and the apple butter, mixing until combined.
  6. Pour batter into your loaf pan.  (If using mini loaf pan, fill each about half to 3/4 full.)
  7. Bake 40 minutes if using a mini loaf pan.  Bake 60 minutes if using a 9×5 loaf pan.

 

DSC_4517WEBedit

A friend told me she plans to can apple butter and give out jars as part of Christmas gifts this year and I love the idea!  I think these mini loaves would also be a wonderful gift idea; you can package them in a variety of ways and include a jar of apple butter to smother on top!

DSC_4537WEBedit

DSC_4531WEBedit

Advertisements

Jack Skellington Blueberry Pie | Recipe

I love all things Halloween, including Jack Skellington.  I also like pie.  A lot.

So when I saw this photo floating around the web, I thought it was worth risking a Pinterest fail to recreate.

Using my favorite double pie crust recipe (it’s crazy easy), I created my own version of Jack Skellington pie using this blueberry pie filling from Dinner with Julie.

DSC_4478WEBedit
I’m one of those people who forget to pre-heat the oven so I took this photo while I waited.

Double pie crust recipe

You’ll need an 8 inch pie pan and some wax paper

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup whole milk

Directions

  1. Whisk flour and salt together in a bowl and create a well in the center.
  2. Pour the vegetable oil and milk in the well, stirring everything together.
  3. Once dough comes together, knead gently on a sheet of wax paper.
  4. Divide dough in to two parts.
  5. Roll one piece of dough out between two sheets of wax paper.  Since we’re using an 8 inch pie pan in this recipe, roll the dough out about 10 inches (always give an extra 2 inches so it can climb the sides of the pan).
  6. Remove top sheet of wax paper and flip the dough in to your pie pan using the bottom sheet of wax paper.
  7. Pour in the pie filling (seeing filling recipe below).
  8. Roll out the second piece of dough between two sheets of wax paper then remove top piece.
  9. Use a knife to cut out your Jack Skellington face.
  10. Pick up using the wax paper and flip on top of the pie filling.
  11. Trim excess edges around the pie pan and seal gently using the tines of a fork.
  12. Bake in the pre-heated 375 degree oven for 35-40 minutes (until the crust is a nice golden brown).

 

Blueberry Pie Filling recipe from Dinner with Julie

Ingredients

  • 4 cups frozen blueberries
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients except butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat.
  2. Bring to a simmer and stir often, cooking until mixture thickens and blueberries start to bubble.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in the butter.
  4. Place in 8 inch prepared pie pan.

 

 

I took these random photos with my phone while making the pie because it didn’t occur to me until afterward that this could be a fun blog post to share.

 

 

 

DSC_4484WEBedit

DSC_4480WEBedit

 

 

Autumn Apple Picking | Apple Butter Recipe

You may remember our visit last year to Justus Orchard.  We picked apples, gorged on apple cider donuts, and I gave you an apple crisp recipe!

This year was our third annual visit to Justus Orchard in Hendersonville, North Carolina and it was a foggy morning on the mountain.  We picked a couple baskets of Mutsu and Gala apples, had an awesome BBQ lunch from the Good to the Bone food truck on site, purchased a 7 lb mountain cabbage, two dozen apple cider donuts (yep, they are THAT good), a gallon of apple cider, and a fried apple hand pie for the road!

DSC_4353

DSC_4319webeditDSC_4321webedit

DSC_4339webeditDSC_4336webeditDSC_4335webeditDSC_4322webedit

I made apple butter for the first time last year and it was a huge success thanks to Ronni Lundy’s suggestions in her cookbook, Victuals.

I plan on keeping my pantry stocked with apple butter again this year (we’re on the last jar of our 2016 batch so we visited just in time!) so I thought I’d share how I make it!

We’ll start by peeling, coring, and slicing up 5-6 lbs of apples.  That’s enough to fill a 6 qt slow cooker to the top!  (I used Galas with a few Mutsu apples tossed in)

DSC_4427webedit
This is a quick process if you’ve got an apple peeler.  Trust me when I say it’s worth the $20!

 

Once you have your apple slices in the slow cooker, cook on high uncovered for one hour.

After the hour is up, place the lid on your slow cooker and turn to low for 10 hours.

I do this at night so my apples will cook while I sleep.

DSC_4416webedit

When I wake up, my apples have cooked down to this brown mush.

DSC_4419webedit

Now it’s time to add our fixins (as we say in the South).  I add two and half cups sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt.  I stir it up, crank the slow cooker back up to high and cook covered for one more hour.

DSC_4422webedit

Now I add 3 tablespoons of unfiltered apple cider vinegar (with the “mother”) and stir it in before I use a potato masher to blend everything into a velvety butter.

If you don’t want to can your apple butter for the pantry, you can put the butter in sterilized jars and store them in the fridge up to 8 weeks.

Since mine will be going in the pantry, I sterilized mason jars and filled them up.  I placed the jars in my pressure canner and filled with water up to the jar rings.

DSC_4424webedit

I processed the jars for 20 minutes.

DSC_4426webedit
Pardon the dirrrrty stove top.  We fried catfish before canning (’cause we needed our strength, of course) and it was delicious.

I removed them from the canner, let the jars cool and waited for the sweet music of the lids popping (that lets me know they sealed) before writing the process date on the lid and adding them to the pantry.

There’s not much better at the beginning of October than a plate of scrambled eggs and a side of toast smothered in apple butter.

DSC_4439webedit

Here’s the recipe:

Apple Butter
(adapted from Ronni Lundy’s The Art of Apple Butter)
makes 5 pints

Ingredients:

  • 5-6 lbs apples (enough to fill a 6 qt slow cooker slap full); peeled, cored, sliced
  • 2 1/2 c sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 3 tbsp unfiltered apple cider vinegar (with the “mother”)

Directions:

  1. Peel, core, and slice your apples to fill a 6 qt slow cooker (allllll the way to the top because they will lose about a 1/3 of their volume after step 2).  Turn slow cooker on high and cook uncovered for 1 hour.
  2. Place lid on slow cooker and turn temp to low.  Let the apples cook down for 10 hours.
  3. Add sugar, cinnamon, ground nutmeg, ground cloves, and salt.  Give everything a good stir and then place lid back on and turn slow cooker back on high for 1 hour.
  4. Add the apple cider vinegar and stir it in before using a potato masher to blend the butter into a velvety texture.
  5. Now you have two options:  You can choose to skip canning the butter and simply place it in sterilized jars in your refrigerator for up to 8 weeks, or you can process your sterilized jars of butter in a pressure canner for 20 minutes and keep them in your pantry to enjoy over time.

Feel free to play with the ingredient amounts to suit your taste!

DSC_4454webedit

SaveSave

Spring in Leseberg Holler

Spring has been good to us so I thought I’d share photo overload of the holler.

WEBvictorygarden2016-17
I enjoy taking this photo every year to see the many changes!
DSC_0841
Nothing like fresh strawberries!  We made strawberry milkshakes and froze quite a bit for the year.
DSC_0843editWEB
I accidentally left the bike out (a habit from childhood you never lose, apparently!) and it didn’t take long for the blackberry and honeysuckle to find it!
DSC_0834
Speaking of blackberries, we’re patiently waiting for summer picking!
lemonbalm
I keep the lemon balm in a pot in the garden because it’s like a weed and will take over if I let it!  Haven loves to garnish her sweet tea with it (and feed it to our goats).
DSC_1323webedit
Speaking of goats, they are still inseparable!
DSC_1243editWEB
The tomatoes are coming along nicely.  I’m dreaming of the day we pick our first ripe tomato this year!
DSC_1424
We decided to try our pepper plants in burlap this year.
DSC_1143
And we found a type of corn that is supposed to grow well in buckets so we’re giving that a try, too.  (I can’t believe how much it has grown since this picture was taken!)
DSC_1419editWEB
Haven can easily hide in the vine tomato plants now.
WEBsundaydiptychXL
Rhonda and me, just living the dream.
DSC_1298
The hens have been laying so well, we can’t sell or eat them all quick enough!  I like to scramble up extras once in a while and feed them back to the gals.  
DSC_1303
They love it (as well as the crushed eggshells added to their food).
DSC_1308
Speaking of extra eggs, I like to hard boil them in the oven!  I find it’s easier than boiling on the stove top.

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.

DSC_1316

Dandelion Pesto

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.

DSC_1160

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.

difference-dandelion-catsear-001

DSC_1152

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.

DSC_1191

After we gathered our greens, we brought them inside and gave them a thorough wash.

DSC_1196

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).

DSC_1205

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.

DSC_1207

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.

DSC_1213

Dandelion Pesto

  • 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
  1. After greens have been washed thoroughly, place a third in a food processor with the olive oil and process for around 30 seconds.
  2. Add remaining greens and process until finely chopped.
  3. Add garlic, pine nuts, sea salt, and Parmesan cheese and process until smooth and creamy.
  4. 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.

DSC_1226edit

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!

DSC_1221

 

Honeysuckle Syrup

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…

DSC_1016
Along the garden fence to attract the bees.
DSC_1021
The smell is incredible.  Takes me right back to childhood when I lived in a neighborhood and all of us kids would take our little sips of honey off the vine in front of the mean old lady’s house.  Every neighborhood has a resident “mean old lady”, right?
DSC_1026
On my walk to the rain barrel.
DSC_1031
Climbing the trees around the blackberry patch.  Literally, it’s 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.

DSC_5562edit
No caption, just drool.

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.

honeysucklesyrupdiptych

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.

DSC_1038edit

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.

DSC_1063

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.

honeysucklesyrupdiptych3

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.

DSC_1091edit

honeysucklesyrupdiptych2

Honeysuckle Syrup

  • 2 cups honeysuckle blossoms, greenery removed
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  1. Pick your honeysuckle; remove green stems and shake off dirt.
  2. Boil your sugar and water; stirring until sugar is completely dissolved.
  3. Pour the hot sugar water over the packed honeysuckle in a pint mason jar and bring to room temperature.
  4. Place covered jar in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours.
  5. Pour contents through a strainer in to a clean pint mason jar, discarding blossoms and debris.
  6. Cover and refrigerate up to 2 weeks.

DSC_1081

{Easter DIY} Succulents in eggshells

DSC_0621

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.

DSC_0641DSC_0632

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.

DSC_0647

DSC_0638

DSC_0649

I watered them generously and then brought them indoors for my table centerpiece.

DSC_0778

I added a sprig of rosemary and some feathers for fun.  Nothing fancy, just things from the yard.

DSC_0780

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!

 

Chicken Processing

*Note:  The end of this post contains photos of butchering a chicken.  Please do not read past the disclaimer if you’re opposed or sensitive to the images.*

We’ve been preparing for this since our meat flock arrived at the beginning of October.

dsc_8302webedit

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.

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.

dsc_0365
Our killing cone is a traffic cone attached to a board and cut to accommodate a chicken’s body.  In the background is a double sink on a wheeled cart made of scrap wood.
dsc_0361edit
We have a burner on to keep our stock pot of water between 145 and 150 degrees.
dsc_0371
My husband made our chicken plucker by attaching rubber plucker fingers to a PVC cap on a drill.  A zip tie holds down the power so the drill is hands-free while plucking.
dsc_0376
18 weeks old.  The bird is carried upside down by the feet to the killing cone.
dsc_0380
The bird is placed in the kill cone; neck down, feet out.  An incision is made across the neck.  The bird is instantly unconscious and the organs will shut down as the bird bleeds out over 2-3 minutes. (Photo taken before the cut)
dsc_0384
Next, the bird is placed into the stock pot of water between 145 and no more than 150 degrees for 45-60 seconds.  This loosens the feather for plucking.
dsc_0392
The drill is plugged in and the rubber plucker fingers rotate to pull the feathers quickly from the skin.  The barrel is set up behind to catch the feathers.
dsc_0399
After the plucker, we place the bird in the sink to rinse it and remove stubborn feathers by hand.  The wing feathers are always the most stubborn.
dsc_0401
The feet are removed next.  By bending the leg you will find the joint the blade quickly separates.
dsc_0403
It’s beginning to look like what you see at your grocery store.
dsc_0404
Next we remove the head.  We make a thin incision then twist and pull.
dsc_0405
Once head is removed, we find the crop (also known as the craw) in the neck.
dsc_0406
We make a small incision in the skin above the crop.  The crop is attached to the esophagus and one breast, so you will feel the large sac at the base of the neck and above the breast plate.
dsc_0407
We pull the crop through the incision we made and pull it away from the skin and the breast.
dsc_0408
Next, we flip the bird around and slice off the gland located above the tail.  This is the oil gland, which oiled the birds feathers.
dsc_0410
Flipping the bird on its back, another small incision is made over the pelvis.
dsc_0411
We use our hands to stretch the incision and open the body cavity for organ removal.
dsc_0413
Inserting your hand is the easiest method for removing the organs in one scoop.
dsc_0415
One large scoop should remove all the compact organs at once, including pulling the crop we started with at the neck down through the cavity and out.  Take a look inside the cavity to make sure it is completely cleaned out.  Sometimes the lungs are stubborn and have to scraped out.
dsc_0417
This is just a quick photo I snapped of a few of the organs.  The gizzard is a muscle that is essentially the stomach, but it doesn’t contain bile/acids.  Chickens eat small stones/pebbles which filter to the gizzard that then contracts and grinds down the food before it passes through the intestines.  People cut open the gizzards, remove the stones and muscle lining,  and then fry them up and eat them.  Sounds tasty, right?
dsc_0419
The final step is to begin an incision between the pelvic bones and cut around the anus  to remove the final piece of intestines.  This removes it without opening up the contents of the intestines (which would ruin the meat).
dsc_0423
The body cavity has been completely cleaned.
dsc_0428
This bird is ready for the cooler!  We keep the meat “resting” on ice for 2 days before we quarter it up to cook immediately or freeze for later.

Chicken & Dumplings

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:

dsc_0126

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.

dsc_0127
(I had to take a photo of my chicken stock.  This is from my first canned batch and I’m so proud of it.)

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.

dsc_0129

Next up is our dumpling dough (my favorite part!):

dsc_0131

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.

dsc_0133

Reduce your heat to medium low and cover while the dumplings poach for about 10 minutes.  You’ll want them firmed up but fluffy.

dsc_0135

dsc_0143

 

Karl Worley’s Roasted Chicken & Dumplings (serves 6)

Ingredients:

  • 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
  • salt

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.

Directions:

  1. Follow instructions to roast your bird or shred your rotisserie chicken.
  2. Make your sauce.
  3. Make your dumpling dough.
  4. Divide sauce and shredded chicken between two pots.
  5. Bring pots to a simmer.
  6. Add dumpling dough by the spoonful to each pot, making sure they are not crowded.
  7. Cook at medium-low heat, covered, for about 10 minutes, until dumplings are firm and fluffy.
  8. Serve immediately.

dsc_0149edit

Happening in Leseberg Holler (with a Meat Flock Update)

dsc_9658webedit

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!

dsc_9865webedit

dsc_9856webedit
The only raking we do around here is for the compost pile or to keep the chickens busy scratching around during the winter.  I almost lost Haven while taking a wheel barrow full to compost; luckily I spotted her leg kicking up out of the pile.

Hazel and Eloise were born November 21 and they came to our home, along with their mama Choca, on November 23.

dsc_9505webedit
Haven and Eloise.
dsc_9508webedit
Haven and Hazel.
dsc_9516webedit
They are an adorable handful!
dsc_9591webedit
This is mama Choca, nursing her babies.  She’s clearly not amused at my photo taking but she was thrilled with the collards I fed her afterward.  She’ll hang around until Hazel and Eloise are finished nursing and then she’ll go back to her home!

 

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.

dsc_9668webedit
The chicken coop
dsc_9660webedit
Free ranging

dsc_9665webedit

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.

dsc_9664webedit