Monday, February 20, 2012

Roosters for tea

We hope to sell more eggs, and as a byproduct of this (as we want to hatch all of our layers here under broody mother hens) there will always be baby roosters. Conventional hatcheries employ specialist chicken sexers to sort the baby boys from girls upon hatching and dispatch the male chicks straight away. I've seen a horrendous video of how this was done in one factory farm, but I don't know how it's done here in Australian farms.

Anyhow, to our surplus boys.

This year I realised I could tell male from female chicks early. This gave us the chance to harvest the male birds before they became too chewy. Our first spring clutch this year had a poor hatch, only 5 chicks, but among them were only 2 boys. Yesterday they met their end. It was heart wrenching, it always is, a little bit gory, a little bit fascinating for the kids to watch the gutting of the birds and identify all of the organs and their functions, and ultimately delicious. As I write, the bones of the birds we roasted last night are in the stock pot for soup, and some tasty scraps of flesh I gleaned from the frames will be cooked in a little of the stock with carrots, spuds and herbs, and used to make pies for lunch.

I got a little carried away with instagram, recording and sharing our day. So here is a little photo log of a tasty rooster cull. Please don't judge me by my photography, it's all snapped with my phone in the middle of a busy afternoon!

Very mixed feelings about preparing dinner. Local, tasty & sad.

Mise en pluck. I experimented with dry plucking versus scalding.
The dry plucked bird had more supple skin, easier to loosen and slip herb butter underneath,
but some disconcerting, black feather stumps remained. 
Feet & gizzards to make stock for gravy. Hearts (yum!) & livers for buttery, sagey entree.

Mexican tarragon, Spanish thyme to flavour Dutch Barnevelder teen rooster.
Very cosmopolitan dinner.

And there's these from the garden....
Apart from butter, bread and salt, dinner is all from here!

Except for this....!

Rooster liver & crispy sage.

And the rest of him... Peace can return to the chook run.
We'll be at Farm Gate Market this Sunday, the 26th of February, and at MoMa on Saturday the 3rd of March.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Grey Saltbush

Growing around the driftwood base of my Mum's letterbox is a magnificent Tasmanian native plant. It grows like the clappers, it's drought hardy, fire retardant, very beautiful and, perhaps its most important attribute to me, it's edible.

Grey Saltbush, or Atriplex cinerea, is in the goosefoot family, Chenopdiaceae, along with lots of other valuable edibles; silverbeet, beetroot, quinoa and spinach. Even closer edible allies share its genus, Atriplex, which includes orach and fat hen.

I can't find many references to Aboriginal uses of it, please tell us if you know any more, but in the early days of white settlement it was depended upon as a vegetable. From what I can gather of its history of use, there was a terrible famine in Tasmania when supply ships failed to arrive. Grey Saltbush took on great importance as a famine food. It was eaten boiled, and it is still recommended today that it be cooked before eating.

The most delicious use it has been put to in my kitchen was to as a covering for a leg of lamb. I'd put the lamb in too hot an oven, and placed a bunch of saltbush on top of it to protect it while it cooked. A great example of nescesity being the mother of invention, we threw away the sprigs on top that were burnt, and underneath found the most delicious leaves that had soaked up a little lamb fat, and had become like crispy, lambey, vegetabley potato crisps.

The fantastic Michelle and Jo took a bunch to a feast at Tarremah school where they dried and ground it and used it to season and flavour bread. Ben Shewry at Attica uses it in a dish I'm dying to try, 'Potato cooked in the earth it was grown'. And a couple of fantastic Southern Tasmanian chefs weave it into their menus from time to time.

We have this plant available as tubestock for your garden, and if you're lucky (or ask nicely!) Mum might bring a bunch or two to MoMa this Saturday the 18th of February and to Farm Gate on Sunday the 26th.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Cats, and why I really don't like them.

It's frog season here, natural insect control, environmental barometer, lullaby and cute distraction.

I've been waiting for the inspiration to write a stream of consciousness post. For passion to strike so that I can write something heartfelt, perhaps entertaining, maybe interesting to people other than me....

We've been so busy lately, markets, supplying chefs, digging, propagating, planting, weeding, family stuff and quite a bit of playing too, that finding room in my mind for more than just a perfunctory plant listing has felt impossible.

But, tonight I'm fired up!

A huge, EVIL, black cat was just sitting on my back doorstep. I hate cats. So bad.

I have young chickens in my garden and I like to think that my choice in animals should not be affected by other peoples. My chickens will not jump a fence and kill somebody elses cat (no matter how much I wish they could...).

We deliberately leave room in our garden for wildlife. Apart from the fact that we love native birds and animals, they deliver an economic benefit in the form of pest control. Birds love insects, bluetongues eat snails and if you have bandicoots on your land, an optimal population of these critters will cultivate your entire soil surface over a 20 year period, all the while controlling corbie grubs and looking cute.

'Our' river.
Jewel beetle. Beautiful part of a balanced landscape.

Cats will directly affect populations of native creatures by killing and eating them. Consider that a house cat is recommended to be fed 150g per day, and a blue wren weighs 8 grams. A feral cat must need to take thousands of tiny lives to keep itself alive. But here is the bit that makes me really MAD, and frightened. A less understood, but terrible aspect of feral cats is toxoplasmosis. 

Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by parasitic protozoa. It is carried by cats, spread by their faeces, harboured in earthworms, and is known to be dangerous to pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems. Feral cats spread the disease to native animals for whom it can be fatal. Where I live we have regular encounters with pademelons in daylight. These animals are nocturnal, but toxoplasmosis causes blindness, loss of coordination, and the animals soon lose a sense of night and day, and eventually weaken and die. One such animal was recently attacked by a neighbour's dog in my paddock, unable to hop away. I had the choice of furthering its suffering by trying to catch it, taking it to a vet to be euthenased, or leaving it to die in the bushes.

What I'd like to see, at least, is legislation controlling cats, at least equal to that involved with dogs. I'd like, at best, to see compulsory desexing, dusk to dawn, curfews and people being obliged to keep cats within their own boundaries, particularly in rural areas and adjacent to bushland.

What does all this have to do with plants, growing food and all the things I usually rant about?

Here, I'm hoping to tread lightly. To share my ideals of using land thoughtfully, valuing natural areas, looking after biodiversity, both in native and economic species.

So, please allow me my rant, and we'll get back to writing about a beautiful, edible plant next time.....

True free range (from the moment it hatched) chick.
Totally at the mercy of predators.
Its mother can protect it from hawks, cats are another matter.
We learned a few years ago we can only keep large breeds here.
Bantams all get taken by cats.

Native hens, also at the mercy of cats. Our local family hatch
up to 14 chicks and they usually dwindle to 2-3 survivors
when cats are about.

We'll be down at Farm Gate Market, with the best of our plants and produce this Sunday, the 12th of February, from 9-1, and at MoMa on Sunday the 19th of Feb. Hope to see you there!!