Sunday, April 27, 2014

From Farm to Table Part 3: Buttermilk

Now that we have pasteurized our milk, skimmed the cream and churned our butter, it's time to get to the true gem of this whole entire process, the buttermilk!
 I can't even begin to tell you how many recipes I've been excited to try...I'll skim down the ingredients list and mentally tick them off in my head saying, "I've got that...and that one...Oh! we still have some of that..." only to reach "buttermilk" and have my heart sink. Toss the book aside and make something else! Since I live at least 20 minutes away from nearest convenience store, if a recipe calls for an ingredient I don't have, I'm not going to go and get it. I'm too lazy for that.

 Now however, thanks to our handy dandy home pasteurizer that has unlocked a floodgate of new possibilities, I can try these recipes that call for buttermilk and sour milk.

 I stated earlier that I called the liquid that was left over from the butter making process, "buttermilk"... it says in my butter making book that: "'true buttermilk', which is the liquid that remains after the solids have formed as cream is churned into butter. However, there is not really a consensus as to what true buttermilk is." (Helweg, Pg. 62)

 Whatever it is, I use the leftover liquid and it makes AMAZING pancakes! It's become a known thing in the Shawhan household...pasteurize milk one night and two days later we have pancakes for dinner. I found a simple recipe in a cookbook I already had.

Since I normally get about a quart or more buttermilk, I've been doubling the pancake recipe (though I could triple it I guess) since the instructions call for 1 cup of buttermilk.

 The recipe called for an egg too! Nothing like using your own eggs with your farms' milk!

 I like to make extra so I can freeze a bunch of pancakes. They freeze well and I just pop them in the toaster in the morning while I get Carl's breakfast ready. Nothing like a good hot breakfast that is ready in just a couple of minutes! Carl and I then both sit at the table and start our day together.

 This picture says it all. From farm to table. I'm not sure how else to say it or present it. A fresh glass of milk with buttermilk pancakes and homemade butter. (Complete with John Deere silverware!)

  So far I've only tried buttermilk in pancakes, but I can't wait to try biscuits and many other tasty treats!

I'm sure some people think I'm a complete fruit loop... why go through all this work when I can go to the store and buy everything? Well, that's part of my answer "buy"...why "buy" when I can get it for free? (Free of money anyway, there is a lot of work involved).

 The other part of the answer is that I'm weird I guess!

Helweg, Richard. The Complete Guide to Making Cheese, Butter and Yogurt at Home. Ocala: Atlantic Publishing Group, Inc, 2012.

Monday, April 21, 2014

From Farm to Table Part 2: Butter Making

 The coolest thing about having access to a dairy, is that we can utilize so many things besides the milk. When we pasteurize milk, about once a week to once every week and a half, I know I'll be doing a little more than plugging in the pasteurizer and waiting for the bugs to be killed.

 The day following an evening of pasteurization, I skim the cream off the top of the milk. (Sometimes I have to do this first thing in the morning if I want a bowl of cereal for breakfast!) Because cows milk is not naturally homogenized and the home pasteurizer does not do this for us, any milk taken from the dairy will have the cream separate to the top. I'm not sure how long this process takes...I know it isn't very long, but I usually wait until the next morning to skim the cream.

Here is a jar of pasteurized milk with the cream on top. My camera isn't the greatest, but where my finger is marks the point where milk and cream separate. Everything above my finger is cream.

Due to the amount of cream, we do lose some of "amount" of milk we pasteurize. Like if Dan brings home one gallon of milk and we pasteurize it, after the cream separates and I skim it off, we now have less than one gallon of milk.

 To skim the cream, I take my super fancy 1/4 cup measuring cup skimming tool and skim my cream off the milk.

 I put the cream into pint jars and leave the cream to set out until the afternoon, since cream needs to be at room temperature to make butter. (I'm not sure why... the book I have on butter making and the instructions that came with the butter churn said so.)

 I skim the cream off until it looks like I have gotten it all. In the end, I never get ALL the cream. There is always a thin layer of it in the jars of milk, so every time we pour milk to use, we have to shake the jar first to distribute it back out.

 There is more than one way to make butter. The two ways I have done it are by putting the cream into a larger jar with a secure lid and shaking it until the butter appears, or when I get the right amount of cream, using the electric butter churn. This way is so much easier with a 10 month old! I can just plug in the churn and go about my business. When you make butter in a jar, you have to constantly shake the jar. Butter can't be made with a little bit of shaking and a little bit of resting. There are good video tutorials on Youtube on how to make butter in a jar.

  When I make butter in the electric butter churn, I need at LEAST 3 pints of cream. This is because the arm on the churn won't reach the cream if there is any less inside. I think the butter churn I have can hold 2 gallons of cream! One day, I would LOVE to try and churn that amount.

  For the electric butter churn, all I do is pour in the cream, secure the lid with the arm and motor on top, then plug it in! After about 20 minutes or so, I can see butter forming!

From here on out, no matter how the butter is made, I believe the steps are about the same.

 I have read that after the butter forms, it's good to let it sit for 5 or 10 minutes to let the butter keep forming. After that, it's time to separate the butter from what I THINK, is the buttermilk.

 I do this step in the kitchen sink. I place a large bowl under a strainer so the strainer catches the butter and bowl underneath catches the "buttermilk".

After that, it's important to remove the bowl of "buttermilk" from under the strainer. I pretty much always forget this part. I say that because next, the butter needs to be rinsed with cold water. I was nervous doing this step the first time because when the butter come out of the churn it is very smooth and creamy. You'd think that if you ran water over it the butter would wash away. Now it's my favorite step because it helps the butter become more solid! (FYI - it takes a lot of cream for a little butter!)

Once the butter has been rinsed you have to press the remaining water out and get out as much water as you can.

 Now I was always under the impression that what you squeezed out of the butter during this step is the buttermilk, but you need a lot of butter to get any amount of buttermilk if this is true. I don't know for sure, so again, please don't use what I say as fact!

 This is when you can add salt to the butter, or honey, garlic, cinnamon, whatever you want! I sometimes add a little bit of salt because I read it helps it keep a longer shelf life.

  The only thing left to do is put the butter into a storage container! Fresh butter is good for a week or a little longer in the fridge! It's not recommended to let it sit on the kitchen table or something. I usually take whatever is left and freeze it to save for baking.

   There you have it! All that work for fresh butter! See how weird I am...I often wonder why I do things this way when the grocery store is easier! But I can't help but marvel how milk being brought home from the farm has turned into fresh drinking milk and now butter...and lets not forget that bowl of buttermilk!

Friday, April 18, 2014

From Farm to Table Part 1: Home Pasteurization

 Several months ago, Dan and I were lucky enough to be able to get our hands on a home pasteurizer. Thanks to Starlite Dairy and Grain (Dan's family farm), we have now been able to open a door that leads to fresh milk, cream, butter and buttermilk. I'll do other posts on all of these I've just listed, but for now I want to focus on getting the milk from the farm to the table.

 The dairy milks right around 100 head of Holstein dairy cows, every day twice a day...even on Christmas! (GASP!) It's A LOT of hard work but also something to be very proud of. For years, however, no one would utilize the daily fresh milk that was right there on hand. We would all still go to the store and BUY  a product that was just worked so hard to produce. Trust me...I know! It was like a slap in the face to wake up at 4:30 in the morning and trudge through cow poo still half asleep and work for 3 solid hours before breakfast. Then go to Kroger's and do the grocery shopping and have to BUY the milk! Meanwhile there was a 2,000 gallon bulk tank just full of the stuff at the farm!

 Thanks to modern scare tactics, Dan and I at least were a little leery about drinking the milk fresh from the tank. There are still plenty of people who do father-in-law for one, as he grew up on the stuff and, though it can be debatable, he turned out OK in the end. I'm pretty sure the Amish and Mennonites who have dairy farms drink their milk straight from the tank too, and so did the whole flipping country back in the day. (The human race survived just fine before "pasteurization" became the "in" thing.)

 And what is "pasteurization" anyway? According to a book I have on hand, it means, "the process of heating milk to high temperatures to destroy harmful pathogenic organisms" (Helweg, Pg. 279).

 Not to be confused with "homogenization" which means, "the process of heating milk to break down the fat globules, rendering a uniformity to the liquid" (Helweg, Pg. 278). I think I've heard that goats' milk is naturally homogenized, but please don't take that as a fact. You can see the lack of homogenization in expressed human breast milk. After it has sat for a time, you can see the fat separated on top and you have to shake it up so that it's distributed throughout the milk before feeding it to baby. The exact same thing happens to cows' milk if it hasn't been homogenized yet. The bulk tank at the dairy that stores the milk before the truck comes and takes it away keeps it cool and "agitated" so the cream doesn't separate in the tank. The milk we buy from the store has been homogenized since you don't have to shake the carton up before pouring the milk on your cereal in the morning.

 Is anyone confused yet?

 So... we now have a home pasteurizer so we can drink the milk from form the farm and not have a need for an over abundance of toilet paper, Pepto-Bismol and Imodium!! Oh and a fragrant spray...

 The pasteurizer is pictured on the left. There is a heating coil in the bottom of it. The grey container in the middle is what the milk gets dumped into and sits in the bigger container. At the far right is our jar of fresh, or raw, milk.

Once the lid if secured into place on the grey container inside the pasteurizer, hot water is added until it covers the lid. The pasteurizer works faster if the water is hot since the goal is to reach a certain temperature and keep it for a period of time. We also discovered that milk taken from the tank immediately after a milking pasteurizes quicker since it hasn't sat in the tank long enough to cool down. At the end of the black hose coming out of the pasteurizer is a cork that prevents the hot water from draining out.

Next we add the lid and plug it in. Nothing has to be set and the pasteurizer buzzes when the milk has been pasteurized.
  After that, we unplug the pasteurizer and take off both the lids. The black hose is inserted in-between the grey container and the pasteurizer and cold water is ran through the hoses. The hose connected to the pasteurizer loses its cork so the cold water can drain into the sink. This step in the process is actually what takes the longest.

 Periodically, we test the temperature and when it feel pretty cool we transfer the milk into a clean jar and put it in the fridge. See how technical I get...I don't bother with a thermometer, my finger works great!

 And there you have it! The whole process takes right about an hour to do and we usually do it as we are eating dinner so we can unplug the pasteurizer once it dings and keep testing the temperature of the milk once it cools. Is it work? Yes, a little, but well worth the results! I grew up on 2% milk and Dan always drank Vitamin D. I can definitely taste a fresher product with this milk versus the after taste store bought milk has. Plus I know for sure that this milk DOES NOT contain the BST hormone that everyone is all up in arms about.

 The best thing is, it's free!!

  The farm to table process has not ended here. Home pasteurization is just the first step!

Helweg, Richard. The Complete Guide to Making Cheese, Butter and Yogurt at Home. Ocala: Atlantic Publishing Group, Inc, 2012.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Plow Days 2014!

Yesterday was THE perfect day! Perfect weather, perfect company and the perfect task to be completed. As you can see, I put my team of Percheron draft horses to work and got my garden step closer to planting!

 STEP 1: Spread Fertilizer - As I'd mentioned earlier, Dan had already scattered some pony poo over the garden with the skid loader. (In my perfect world, I would have a horse-drawn manure spreader and dump the pony poo into that each time I clean out stalls, then all I'd have to do is hook up Jimmy and Charlie and scatter it on the garden. But, for right now I guess I'll survive with the occasional visit from the skid loader via Starlite Dairy and Grain.)

 STEP 2: Plow - It took some coordination and planning to get this step done yesterday. The first thing we needed was good weather. We were originally scheduled to plow last Friday, however, the threat of rain (which never happened) made us decide to reschedule it for Sunday since it looked like a guarantee for good weather. Sunday sounded better to me anyway since Dan would be around pretty much all day to look after Carl, and this way I didn't have to worry about making alternate arrangements with someone else. When I'm working with my horses, no matter where it is, I need to be able to focus solely on what I'm doing with them. I don't think it would work if half my attention is on Carl and half my attention is on the horses. They are, afterall, like children themselves and they each have a brain, so it's a lot to focus on at the same time, and I'd rather not take the risk!

 The other thing I needed was a plow...and the help that comes along with it! Two years ago I plowed my garden with Jimmy and Charlie with a borrowed plow from my dad's friend, Don Ryan, who got us into draft horses years ago! Don does a lot of plowing competitions and has been very kind in helping us out with all of this.

 At nine o'clock yesterday morning dad and I were harnessing the boys in the cross-ties in the barn when the buggy brigade when by. All the Amish were dressed in their Sunday best, heading off to Palm Sunday services. I couldn't help but feel a little guilty...after all it says in the Bible that Sunday is the day of rest and that you should let your animals rest on Sunday. However, almost every day is Sunday to Jimmy and in "farming" you have to make hay when the sun shines...

 Before 10 we had the first furrow already plowed! After that first pass Jimmy stepped into the furrow every time after that! It had been two years since they had plowed and both horses acted like they had done it the day before! I can't help but love them even more, if that's even possible! Dad and I would take turns, each plowing a few rows, then trading places in the driver's seat. We also had to stop frequently to let the horses rest. Don stayed until we got the hang of the levers and getting the right depth, which is about 6 inches. Our yard isn't really flat, so in the beginning of the row the plow wasn't cutting very deep, but by the middle it was. Thankfully, I wasn't in a competition yesterday, so the uneven depth and lack of straightness in the rows doesn't matter in a vegetable garden!

 I know I'm a really weird person in this almost obsession of doing things the hard way, but I can't help it (I'm going to show you more of what I mean in future posts!) I mean, Have Horses, Will Use Them...why not?! I don't want to just give hayrides in the fall, I want to do all kinds of things with Jimmy and Charlie. After we got our rhythm down yesterday, I was having more fun plowing than, sorry to say, giving hayrides. It was soooo relaxing. Nothing beats having your horse know his job and doing it well, and working in perfect harmony with them. Not to mention just spending that time your dad and sharing in the experience.

 STEP 3: Disking - For right now, I'm the proud owner of an antique single-bottom sulky plow! The next horse-drawn implement to acquire is a disk. Having one would be a lot of fun, but I'm not as worried about a disk as I was about a plow. It would be nice to have one because that would mean another day of working the horses, but I've been more focused on the plowing aspect. Don also has a disk he has offered to let us borrow, should we decide to disk with horses after the upturned dirt has time get a little weather beaten. It's still April and I'm not worried about disking right now, since if I did, the weeds be moving in before I even plant anything.

 At the end of the day I was sunburnt and pretty tired, but over the moon at the results! Here are some pictures of Plow Day 2014 at the Shawhan Farm!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Coming of Age

 This Saturday will mark the fourth week that we have been graced with the presence of Flock 4. So far we still have 12 healthy birds, who are "coming of age". They are no longer full of soft fluffiness...instead they are sprouting their big girl feathers in sporadic patches all over their bodies. Sometimes when I look at them it makes me start to itch...I have no idea why. I guess if I were a baby chick who was entering its teen years, the big feathers coming out of my body would make me want to scratch all the time.

 Dan thinks they look ugly. To him they might as well have acne and braces and be wearing shirts with sleeves that are too short and high water pants. Flashbacks to middle school anyone?? I think they look cute, but you know what they say, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder". I suppose you can classify them as being in middle school. In just a few weeks we can begin to open the brooder and put the ramps in so they can venture out during the day. That day will be middle school graduation and the beginning of high school. By June, they will be ready for the "real world" and start their "jobs" as egg laying hens.

 Now that the chickies are a bit older, we were able to remove the newspaper bedding and put sawdust inside. This is so much nicer! It smells better and someone doesn't have to bed the pen everyday with old news...literally! I learned with Flock 2 the importance of using newspaper until chicks become a few weeks old. Their feed will fall onto the newspaper and can be easily picked up and eaten with journalism bedding, whereas the feed can fall into the sawdust flakes and you risk the chick eating the sawdust over the feed. Then you will have an emotional day trying to remove the hardened poop off your chicks' butts! (At least that is what happened to me... and I really don't want to have to go through that again!)

The rest of the Shawhan farm is coming of age as well. We are in springtime limbo, where the weather is so nice (finally!!) that we want to do things, but it's not quite that time yet. The trees and bushes have buds on them, I do see some asparagus sticking their heads up out of the asparagus bed, and my spring time flower bed is filled with purple, white and pink Hyacinths. Dan even mowed for the first time last night. My fingers are itching to get dirty and plant something! A couple of weeks ago, Dan did some cleaning up around here and spread manure on the garden. Jimmy and Charlie don't know it yet, but we are scheduled to plow on Sunday morning!!! I can't wait!

 Someone else is changing a lot too. Carl can now crawl, sit on his own and stand up on his own!

He keeps me super busy since he gets into everything! As you can see bread pans are more fun than musical toys that spit out balls. I'd be lying if I said I'm not just a bit nervous about the next few months with everything there will be to do around here and a little man to take care of. Soon I'll be losing my right-hand man to a John Deere tractor and a Kinze corn planter.

 It will be worth it. I can't wait for summer and to grow things and to teach Carl how to do them all too!