Hen House Drama, a Timely Pardon, and Cornmeal Pancakes

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In the spirit of full disclosure, our adventures in backyard poultry rearing have not been without, um, shall we say,  challenges.  We started back in April with three Rhode Island Reds – Fred, Tweety and Sally.  Things seemed great at first – we were getting three eggs a day, the chickens seemed happy (we let them free range during the day, and put them back in the coop at night), and it wasn’t a tremendous amount of work.  We made sure they had food, water, and fresh air, and they provided us with a dozen eggs every four days. It seemed almost too good to be true.

And that’s because it was.  We lost Fred in August to what we believe was a black widow spider bite, and we lost Tweety in October to a predator of some sort or another.  We didn’t want Sally to be lonely, so we found her four new friends – Spot and Dot, two lovely black and white Barred Rock hens, and Fred, Jr. and Tweety, Jr., a couple of Ameraucanas.  We promised to keep them safe, well fed and watered, in exchange for eggs.  We were looking forward to four or five eggs a day, perhaps enough to share with our friends and neighbors.  This was in November.

At first, Sally wasn’t terribly keen on her new coop-mates.  In particular, she decided that Tweety, Jr. was her nemesis.  Every time that poor hen would get close to Sally, she would peck at her and pull her tail feathers out.  Tweety, Jr. became scared to leave the corner by the nesting boxes – she would huddle there, trembling, trying to make herself as small as possible.  Sally was like the schoolyard bully, exerting her dominance over the new kid on the block.  I’m not sure what it was about poor Tweety, Jr. (maybe it was her name), but after a while Sally left her completely devoid of tail feathers.

In addition to this little pecking-order drama, the egg production was not what we’d hoped it would be.  For a while, it was only Sally laying.  Then occasionally one of the Rocks would lay – either Spot or Dot.  We know it wasn’t an Ameraucana because all of the eggs were of the brownish variety – Ameraucana eggs are greenish blue (part of the reason we chose the breed).  From late October to late January, there was nary a green egg to be had.  We’d been told that the hens were 8 months old when we got them, so they should have been of prime laying age.  Had we been swindled?  Were these gals completely infertile?  Was the trauma being inflicted upon them by that bully Sally too much to handle?  We weren’t sure.  What we did know was that they were eating an awful lot of feed and not producing anything in return.

Over time, the drama subsided, and Tweety Jr.’s tail feathers began to fill in again.  Both Rocks began laying regularly, and things seemed to be on a more even keel in the hen house.  When the weather began to get cold (for those two days back in January) we decided we need to put a heat lamp in the coop to keep the water from freezing overnight.  The light seemed to make things even better – the egg production from Sally, Spot and Dot increased.  Tweety, Jr. and Fred, Jr., though?  Not so much.

My mother and my husband have “joked” on more than one occasion about sending the Ameraucana’s to the stew pot.  I chose to ignore them.

The other day I went out to the coop, as I do in the afternoon, and I lifted the door to the nesting boxes.  There, nestled in the straw, were four eggs.  Three brown and one green (!).

And there was much rejoicing.

The (theoretical) trip to the stew pot has been stayed.

This morning I used that beautiful green egg in some cornmeal pancakes I’ve been wanting to tell you about.  I made them for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been thinking about them ever since.  I make whole-grain pancakes all the time – usually a mixture of rolled oats and freshly ground wheat – but this is the first time I’ve really delved into the cornmeal variety.  I think it’s because I’ve been getting all of this lovely freshly ground meal from Rockin’ S Farms – I really want to showcase it.  The sweetness of the corn lends itself really nicely to a pancake application.  Together with some local raw honey, cultured buttermilk, and those coveted eggs from our backyard flock, they make for a delightful breakfast. 

Honey, Buttermilk and Cornmeal Pancakes
prep time: 5 minutes
cook time: 20 minutes
yields: 16 4-inch pancakes

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 2/3 cups buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup honey (I’ve also used molasses here, for a deeper flavor)
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 Tablespoons melted butter
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, honey, eggs and melted butter
  3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to combine.  Do not overmix.
  4. Ladle by quarter-cupfuls onto a hot griddle.  Allow to brown on the first side before flipping to the second side.
  5. Serve warm with warm maple syrup, honey or fruit compote (I used some warm blueberry jam).
  6. Enjoy!
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A Post Dedicated to Community Supported Agriculture

Over the summer, I took the time to read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  It was the height of gardening season, we’d just acquired our first round of chickens, and I was completely enamored of her stories of sustainability and year-round local eating.

Of course I was – our garden was overflowing with tomatoes and beans and peppers, and there was local produce to be had at farmers markets and roadside stands everywhere I turned.  Even the chain grocers carried local and regional fruits and vegetables, and proclaimed it proudly with prominent signage.

When fall rolled around, I even planted a “winter garden” full of a variety of cruciferous vegetables – cabbages and brussels sprouts and broccoli and greens – along with tender lettuces and spinach.  Unfortunately, the brassicae were more fodder for a host of Mamestra brassicae (cabbage moths and their larvae) than they were for our family.  We managed to eke out a few small heads of broccoli and some collard greens, but for the most part the chickens enjoyed the leafy treats crawling with juicy caterpillars.  Our lettuces did well, though.

About four weeks ago, the Marketing Team Leader at Harry’s Farmer’s Market (with whom I’m partnering on the pantry stock-up giveaway – if you haven’t already entered, there’s still time!) announced on their facebook page that they were working with Rockin’ S Farms to put together a Community Supported Agriculture subscription program.  I was so excited to hear this – I’d read about Rockin’ S on Jenn Carter’s A Hundred Miles of Food blog, and was intrigued by this little farm located about 14 miles northeast of my house.  They grow their own corn for meal and grits, and grind it on their property.  They also make jams and jellies, and are known for their chow-chow.  I immediately decided that I would give their CSA program a chance.  I even had a chance to meet Nichelle Stewart, one of the owners, and her family at Harry’s one day when I went in to pick up my produce.

The thing about eating locally year round is that winter can be a tough time for produce.  Luckily, here in Georgia we’ve had a very mild winter so far, which means our winter growing season has been extended.  However, winter vegetables are very different from what we’re used to in the spring and summer.  Instead of brightly colored summer squashes, peppers and tomatoes, we’re talking about root vegetables, leafy greens and densely packed heads of cabbage.  As far as fruits go, you might still be able to get some varieties of apples, persimmons, pears and pomegranates.  And since we’re close to Florida, citrus is always an option.

One of my favorite ways to use kale

Our bags from Rockin S’ are always chock full of picked-fresh (usually the morning of the day they are delivered) greens and root vegetables. We’re also privy to bags of corn meal and grits, as well as shiny jars of preserves.  One week we even got honey from a local bee keeper.  I’ve had a great time coming up with new and interesting ways to incorporate these vegetables into our meal routine.  Yesterday, I had a comment on my facebook page from a fellow CSA subsriber.  I had mentioned using rutabagas from our bags one week to make dinner for our family.  She said she was a little inexperienced with some of these veggies, and asked for more info on how we used the rutabagas.  It occurred to me that there might be more people out there with similar questions (Nichelle Stewart from Rockin’ S does a great job of including recipes and information in the bags each week, by the way), so I decided to do a post recapping some of the ways we’ve put this bounty to good use, including the Kale Carbonara pictured above.

This salad with greens, pomegranate arals, pumpkin seeds and goat cheese is based on one that Tami of Running with Tweezers featured a couple of weeks ago. I shredded up some napa cabbage and colorful rainbow chard from one of our bag one week, and subbed chevre and pumpkins seeds for Tami’s pine nuts and aged goat cheese.  It was a huge hit at a dinner party we went to, and I’ve been making variations on it ever since.

This Asian-style beef stew is loosely based on this recipe for pot roast from Whole Foods.  I used carrots, beets and rutabagas as the vegetables in the pot and added some orange zest to brighten things up a bit.  It was delicious.

And for breakfast this morning, I made rutabaga and mixed-greens hash with a poached egg.  I love hash, and typically make it with potatoes.  Nichelle had mentioned that they use turnips and rutabagas in place of potatoes in lots of different applications so I thought I’d try them here.  I have to admit, I’ve always had a slight aversion to turnips.  They have a slightly bitter earthy flavor that can be a little offputting.  However, I really enjoy them in this hash.Rutabaga Hash
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Serves: 2

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons coconut oil
  • 1 large rutabaga, diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3 small carrots, finely diced
  • 1 cup mixed greens (I used rainbow chard and mustard greens), cut into thin ribbons
  • salt and pepper to taste

Begin by melting the coconut oil in an iron skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the diced onion and saute until translucent.

Add the rutabaga and carrot and spread out into a single layer.  Allow to cook, undisturbed, for 5 minutes (you want them to get good and brown on one side before stirring).  After the first five minutes, check to see if they have browned sufficiently.  At this point, stir periodically to make sure that rutabaga pieces get brown on all sides.

Toward the end of the cooking time, add the greens.  If necessary, cover for a couple of minutes to make sure the rutabagas are cooked through.  Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve topped with a poached or fried egg and a sprinkling of hot sauce.

I have really enjoyed the challenge of finding creative ways to use the vegetables I’ve received from Rockin’ S Farms.  I love knowing where the food comes from, who grew it and harvested it, and that I’m doing my part, however small, to support our local economy and agriculture industry.  Nichelle and her family are providing a wonderful service, and we’re lucky to have access to that.

Don’t forget to click over to this post and let me know your New Years Resolutions (maybe you resolved to eat more locally this year!), or tweet the following: I want to win a $50 Whole Foods Gift card from @HFM_Alpharetta and @lifeinrecipes: http://bit.ly/AsEio7.  You could win a $50 gift card to Whole Foods, courtesy of Harry’s Farmers Market.