Mmmmm good!

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Take one fresh ham….bake on low alllllll day…..mmmmmmmm!!

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Babies!!

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One week old and acting like the big guys….well except for the nursing part ;-).

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Clearing

Last year we, the kids and my husband, spent quite a bit of time clearing out some of our land in the back.  They dug out stumps, cut more trees and chipped a TON of brush.  They used the chips to “pave” our road going out the the clearing.

1_Photo099 1_Photo100 1_Photo101DSC02952 It always amazes me how hard kids can work and have fun doing it!  When they would all come back in the trailer behind the tractor or in the back of the truck, you could hear them singing, laughing and yelling before you could actually see them.  The grown ups would be wiped while the kids would want to know if they could go back down to the woods and go swimming in the river!

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Why….

We choose to raise Golden’s…

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Rototillers…

Joel Salatin calls his pigs “pigerators”.  This is so totally true… I call ’em little Rototillers.

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I think farmers of old had a great wisdom when they let the animals do the work.  The pigs dig up the soil for your garden and eat the grubs, they get fat… you eat them.  No fossil fuels used and you benefit!  win -win!

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Easter Halupkies

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Forget the chocolate – that’s my kind of Easter Basket!

We’ve been busy on and off the farm.  Wife Steph had Vitrectomy surgery from which she is recovering nicely but going crazy from boredom because she can’t do anything other than sit and heal.  Also, our son Nick is moving back from New Hampshire, commandeering the empty farm cottage.  I guess I’m going to have to get to know him all over again because the guy who left some years ago bears little resemblance to the guy who’s been here for the past couple of weeks busting his rear end fixing up the place.  He’s been working night and day getting the place up to snuff for his wife and our two grand bebes.  He looks like Nick and talks like Nick, but someone has taken over his body and whoever he is, he’s pretty cool.

So, needless to say, Easter Holy Week has been relatively disrupted.  We’re still trying to keep some of our normal traditions though.  One of the essentials that I am expected to create for any major holiday are halupkies.  We pronounce it “haloopkees”, but they are known by many, many names (as the link makes clear) and come in any number of recipes.  Halupkies are a tradition in my family that comes through my Ukrainian roots, how far back I know not.  My earliest memories (all of my memories, really) of my “Tomcova” grandparents always include a plethora of Ukrainian food, and Halupkies are probably the most important and remembered staple of our family feasts.  Not only are they cherished on the table, they also create a sweet nostalgia for simpler times, and a connection with our family roots.  When the aroma fills the house, I am back at grandma’s house with all of the memories that go with being there.  It’s a reminder to me why carrying on family traditions through every generation is important, and why we need to try to pass them to and through our children, and theirs.

Since you’re going to ask anyway, here is my Halupkie recipe.  It’s extremely similar to Grandma’s, but with just a couple of small tweaks.  This is also a batch size for the Tomcova family, plus in laws, etc. – so proportionalize.  This will make about 40.  Also, I don’t measure anything, so sizes are approximated.  I use (roughly):

1 -1/2 to 2 lbs raw ground beef

1 – 1/2 lbs short (or medium) grain rice

1 lb bacon

1 medium onion finely chopped

6 cloves garlic finely chopped

3 to 4 large heads of green cabbage

6 to 8 jars of pasta sauce

2 – 16oz bags sauerkraut

Salt & pepper

Kielbasa (whatever amount you wish)  Kielbasa is optional, but I recommend that you don’t skip it.

Process:

– The night before you plan to cook, put all of the rice in a bowl and put enough cool water in the bowl so that the rice is covered.  Let it soak overnight.  This will give the rice a head start and will make sure that it cooks sufficiently.

The next day:

– Put the cabbage in a large pot and fill with water to boil.  If you can only do two cabbage at a time that’s ok.  You’ll have plenty of time to do the others.  Cook the cabbage so that the leaves are soft enough handle but not so soft that they fall apart.  I usually boil them for 20 minutes.  While the cabbage is cooking:

– Take the bacon out of the package in one piece and cut the whole slab into small strips then turn and cut into small squares.  The smaller the better.  Then put the bacon in a pan and cook it about “half-way”. It should be soft (not crispy) but alot of the grease should be cooked out.  Remove the bacon with a straining spoon and put aside on a paper towel to let it fully drain and cool.

– Put the rice and raw hamburg in a large bowl.  Put the rice on one side of the bowl and the hamburg on the other.  It’s done this way so that you can approximate roughly equal amounts of rice and hamburg in the bowl side by side.

– Add the chopped garlic and onion to the hamburg and rice.

– Once the bacon is fairly cool, add it to the hamburg and rice.  By this time the bacon will be significantly less than one pound because of the fat that was cooked off and because you ate a bunch of it.  That’s ok.  Add it just as it is anyway.

– Add some salt and pepper.

– Now for the first fun part…  Mix all these things thoroughly.  Gush and squeeze the hamburg through your fingers making sure the rice and all the other ingredients are mixed.  It is absolutely essential that the hamburg gushes, not for any good reason, just because.  If you are squeamish but you have young boys, this is their job.  They love squishy raw stuff.  Unfortunately I didn’t get pictures of this part.

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– When the cabbage is sufficiently cooked, take the cabbage out and put them in a strainer over a bowl or something.  Don’t just drain the water off because you want to keep the cabbage water for later.  Let them sufficiently cool so that you can handle them.   If you have more cabbages to cook, use the same water and cook them the same as the first.

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– Line the bottom of a large pot with the sauerkraut.  There should be about a one inch or so layer.  The purpose of the sauerkraut is two-fold: To add a bit of flavor throughout the batch, and to protect the halupkies on the bottom from burning.  Open a jar of pasta sauce and cover the sauerkraut completely with a light layer of sauce.

– Now for the second fun part that everyone always wants to do.  Carefully peel off a leaf from the cooked cabbage.  Lay it down flat and put a small amount of the hamburg/rice mixture in the middle.

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Roll and fold it to a small, cylindrical shape.

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Then do it again, and again, and so on.  Place the halupkies in a single layer, side by side, leaving space between each.  Space is left so that water and sauce can penetrate all the way through the batch and cook evenly.

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Uncovered Layer

Once the first layer is completed, open another jar of sauce and completely cover the layer.  Repeat for every layer, staggering the halupkies.  I usually use one full jar of sauce per layer.  When all halupkies are made, cover the top layer completely as well.

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– Some of the cabbage water, which was saved, is now poured into the pot until all of the halupkies are covered.  You shouldn’t need much, probably about a jar’s worth, because of all the sauce that has already been added.  I will usually first pour some cabbage water into the pasta sauce jars to rinse and get all of the sauce into the batch.  I will also fill up a couple of sauce jars with cabbage water to save in case I need to pour more water in the batch as it’s cooking.

Cabbage Water

– Put the pot on the cooktop on the lowest heat possible and cover.  Let it cook all day, and possibly all night as well.  After eight hours or so I will take a large holupkie off the top to test it.  If the rice is done all the way through then it is done.  I will usually let it cook for a couple more hours just to make sure that the whole batch is thoroughly cooked.

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– Once you’re sure it’s done, shut off the heat, take the kielbasa out of the package and place it on the top of the batch and cover it again.  Let the heat of the halupkies steam their flavor through the kielbasa for a couple hours.  You can skip this step but I don’t recommend it.  The flavor of the kielbasa is so awesome that it’s almost worth making halupkies just for the kielbasa.

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And that’s it.  It’s really not that hard to do, nor very time consuming.  The most important thing is to make sure you let them cook thoroughly.  It takes alot to burn a batch, but it’s pretty easy to have rice that isn’t quite done.  Cooking a little longer is better than not quite enough.  About the sauce: use whatever you like using.  Even my Grandma would use Ragu on occasion.  They always came out awesome.

Happy Easter to everyone.

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Nature’s Candy

Black Birch

It’s spring which means that the days are getting longer, things are starting to warm up, and sap is starting to run.  Here in the northeast it’s normal to see tree taps in maple trees  all over the place from all sorts of folks making maple syrup.  But maple isn’t the only sap that’s sweet.  Walking the farm today, I happened by a birch tree down by the river where I snatched a bundle of green, budding twigs.  I chewed on a few “chaw sticks” on my way back to give the kids a treat.  Spring birch has a sweet, minty “birch beer” taste.  Birch also is reported to have healing properties.  Native Americans would let their teething babes chew on birch twigs due to its pain relieving properties.  It is also known to be an anti-inflammatory, and may, like aspirin, protect against heart attacks.  I don’t know about all that, but it sure tastes good which is good enough for me.

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Something is Wrong…

Yes, something is wrong…very wrong with this picture.

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Benefits…

When you have puppies on the farm everyone benefits….especially the grand-bebes!

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Pigriculture

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When we first moved here about 11 years ago, we came with the intention of farming our new little 14 acre plot.  We were younger and much greener, never having the opportunity to spread beyond back yard animals and a garden, so it didn’t take very long to realize that there was alot of work ahead of us.  The first year, after performing some basic preparations like spreading lime and adding a few organic amendments, we planted a fairly large garden but very little grew and almost nothing grew well.  The next season (and every season since) we added a bunch of compost from homemade piles.  It helped, but we simply could not make enough for the amount of land we wanted to plant.  We needed much, much more than we were making.  We even sought external sources of chicken manure (against our better judgement – you never know what might be in it), but nobody local was taking any new customers for delivery.  We couldn’t believe it.  There isn’t enough poop in CT to go around!  (I should just go to the state capitol where there is never a shortage…  ahem… but anyway…)

Produce

So, one year in the fall after the weeds took over, we had one of those “well, duh” moments.  We fenced in a garden area and just threw some pigs on it.  We expected good, but we didn’t expect the immediate and dramatic improvements that occurred.  We also received another surprise : pigs plant seeds!  Our pigs eat alot of produce.  Their entire diet is composed of leftover produce from local markets and what they glean from the land.  Naturally (figuratively and literally), seeds either “pass through” or get dropped then trampled into the ground.  In one area which we didn’t plow or plant, there was a full garden of tomatoes, squash, eggplant, peppers, and, of course, weeds.  In another area, last year we set up a small 10 x 10, temporary spot for some piglets, and that area magically produced about 40 butternut squash without any garden work on our part.  We are now fertilizing our gardens and land with several tons of produce that passes though a natural “produce processor” which, in turn, produces healthy pork and more produce.   It seems that the pigs are better farmers than we are, but we take credit for it anyway.  Pigs are humble creatures and don’t seem to mind that we steal their accomplishments, as long as they are well fed.  Not a bad arrangement.

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All this has got me thinking about permaculture.  Permaculture is a method of farming that focuses on creating conditions that allows plants and animals to thrive by balancing the natural inputs and outputs of multiple species in concert for the maximum benefit of all.  In contrast, modern farming relies on the manipulation of conditions which requires maximum input of human ingenuity, repeated use of machinery and synthetic inputs to produce a specific output.  Partly due to our experiences, I am becoming increasingly convinced that the pupose of modern farming is to sell fertilizer.  If you want better soil put an animal on it.  Simple.  Probably one of the best known “permaculturists” is Sepp Holtzer.  (Turn captions on for subtitles if you care to watch.)  He’s a fairly eccentric fellow, but his land is beautiful and productive beyond compare.

Our little experiment with “Pigriculture” is turning some wheels in my head on how we can transform our little patch.  Wouldn’t it be something if, instead of stressing about the perfect grass manicured landscape, we all turned our own little yards into semi-self sustaining, food-producing, nature enhancing oases?

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