so many eggs

2016/09/22 deej 0

The other great thing about spring is that the chickens have all finished (or mostly finished) moulting, and have started laying again. We’re getting 4 – 10 eggs a day. So today was an egg-using-up day.

 

(On that note, if anyone is interested in putting in a regular egg order, please contact us. We don’t have an endless supply, but we definitely have more than we can use. Note that our chooks are not free range, because we don’t have the ability to protect them from foxes if they’re out and about, but they do have very swish and spacious coops and runs, and get spoiled rotten with treats and fresh grass as well as their regular food. We keep mostly Transyvanian Naked Necks and Wyandottes, with a few miscellaneous other pretty-feathered floofs as well.)

 

Using up eggs isn’t a chore. I’ve always liked eggs and I love baking, so.. scrambled eggs on toast for lunch, hard-boiled eggs to have as morning tea treats tomorrow, and my new favourite tea-time treat / dessert: clafoutis. I can’t claim to be entirely authentic on this, since I made up the recipe based on having made it once before, years ago, and having a broad general idea of what the dish is mean to look & taste like, but it’s pretty nice.

 

Clafoutis is almost a baked sweet custard; it’s an egg-heavy, custard-like batter baked with fruit in it (traditionally cherries), kindof like a sweet quiche but less omelettey. It gets a crunchy, sort of cakey crust, but the inside is.. well, it’s a French recipe, so I’m sure you can imagine. Made with sour cherries, fresh peaches, or blackberries it is entirely amazing. (I may have to get the planned sour cherry trees in soon, and some berry brambles.)

 

Batter:

4 eggs

1/3 – 1/2 cup sugar, to taste (use more less sugar if using sweeter fruit)

1 Tbsp olive oil

about 1/2 – 2/3 cup milk

1 tsp baking powder

a scant 1/2 cup plain flour

2 cups of fruit, chopped or sliced (or whole if using berries)

 

Beat all those ingredients except the fruit together into a smooth batter. You may need to use a whisk. The consistency should be similar to pancake batter.

 

Pour the batter over your chosen fruit (I used caramelised chopped apple, but any fruit will do) in a cake pan or pie plate. Bake at 180 degrees C for 25 min, or until completely set. Serve warm (although cold is still pretty good).

 

If you want to use caramelised apples as per my experiment this afternoon, roughly chop your 2 cups of apple (about 4 – 5 small apples), then pan fry with 2 Tbs butter, 1 Tbs cumquat & lime jelly (yeah, I made that too – replace it with marmalade for the closest approximation), 1/2 tsp cinnamon, and 1 – 2 tsp brown sugar. Cook the apple until the jam and butter have melted and dissolved the sugar, the whole lot is bubbling and smelling of delicious appley caramel, and the apple is almost cooked.

 

Drinking yoghurt and cultured milk products

2016/09/09 deej 0

A few years ago (quite a few, actually) I went travelling through Europe. Some of the trip I did with a dear friend of mine, some I did on my own. One of the things I discovered was drinking yoghurt.

 

Now, drinking yoghurt (i.e. yoghurt which is thicker than milk, but thin enough to drink like a smoothie) used ot be not uncommon in South Africa when I was little, but it’s almost unheard of in Australia to the best of my knowledge. I remembered liking it as a child, so I tried some in the Netherlands, and in Italy. It exceeded my expectations in every way. My cherry-flavoured (but not too sweet) yoghurt drink became a daily thing while I could get it, and I’ve missed it ever since. I like eating regular yoghurt, but there’s something about fruit-flavoured drinking yoghurt on a  hot summer day that is just very appealing to me.

 

I tried making yoghurt and just fermenting it less long, to get a thinner consistency. Did not work out well.

 

I tried making smoothies with yoghurt, fresh milk, and fruit. Those are pretty good, but not what I was after.

 

So I did some research, only mildly hindered by the fact that while I was enjoying my cherry yoghurt drink in foreign climes I couldn’t read the local language so I had no idea what it was called (brand name or generic term), or what was in it. I came up with a variety of alternative cultured milk products which are described as being yoghurt-like, and traditional to various parts of northern Europe. All are heirloom cultures, meaning that they’ve been maintained as live ecosystems over the years, and you can continue to use a sample form one batch to make more basically forever (many store-bought yoghurts only contain a few species, and without the support of their mutualist ecosystem partners will fail and die – and stop producing yoghurt – after a few batches, requiring a new starter).

 

For my birthday this year, my very on-the-ball mother acquired for me a selection of starter cultures. Today I’ve put three of them (viili, filmjolk, and langfil) in to ferment, to see how they go. I would have done the other two cultures as well, but I don’t have enough milk in the house to do that many batches, so the piima and the buttermilk will have to wait for next time. I’ll report back in the comments on the results of the fil mjolk, langfil, and viili experiments.

 

For anyone wanting to carry out the experiment themselves, this is what I did:

  • Start with some full-cream dairy milk. It can be whatever milk you like – goat, sheep, camel – but I used regular cow’s milk from the supermarket. Avoid UHT milk if possible. If you can get non-homogenised milk, that’s better as well, but go with what you can get.
  • Heat some of the milk (300 – 500 ml per culture type) up to almost boiling (about 60 – 80 degrees C, the scalding point or point where small bubbles start to form on the surface but before you reach a rolling boil). Be careful not to burn it. Once the right temperature is reached, turn off the heat and cover the milk; wait for it to cool to just below body temperature (about 25 degrees C if you have a thermometer, or luke-warm if you’re going by touch).
  • Stir your starter (about 1 tsp of dried or freeze-dried starter, or 1 – 2 Tbs of active cultured milk product) into the luke-warm milk. Pour into your cleaned and sterilised container (either a small thermos or a glass jar – sterilise with boiling water) and put the lid on. If using a glass jar, wrap a towel or tea towel around it for insulation.
  • Leave it alone for 12 – 24 hours, depending on the ambient temperature (less time if it’s warmer). The ideal temperature is 20 – 25 degrees C; if it’s warmer, the fermentation will happen faster and the result may be grainy. If it’s too cold, you might need to put your culture in a warm spot, like on top of the fridge or in the oven with the light on to keep it form getting too cold. During this fermentation period try not to move or knock the container. After 12 – 24 hours check the result. If it hasn’t started to change consistency and set or firm up, leave it for another 12 – 24 hours & repeat. (Making regular yoghurt I’ve had batches that fermented fully overnight, and batches which took a week to firm up, so give it some time.)
  • Once the yoghurt (or whatever) starts to firm up or change consistency, place the container in the fridge for 12 – 24 hours before eating. Remember to save some for the next batch.

 

All the cultures I’m using are mesophilic, which means they ferment at room temperature (around 20 – 25 degrees C). Standard yoghurt is thermophilic, meaning that it likes warmer temperatures to ferment properly. That’s why you use a yoghurt maker for regular yoghurt, and mix the starter in when the milk is around 30 – 37 degrees C.

 

FYI, the cultures I’m trialling are these:

  • Piima is a Scandinavian yoghurt which is known to have the thinnest consistency of the mesophilic (room temperature) yoghurts, similar to buttermilk. It is sometimes described as having the consistency of honey. It also has a mild, slightly nutty or cheese-like flavour. When used to ferment cream, it makes a good sauce for vegetables. Apparently it originates from natural (wild) cultures found in the milk of Scandinavian cows which have eaten the butterwort plant. It contain the following probiotic species: Streptococcus lactis var. bollandicus and Streptococcus taette. ; note that Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis. used to be known as Streptococcus lactis.
  • Cultured Buttermilk (as opposed to the liquid left after churning butter from cream, which is also called buttermilk) has a fascinating history. It can be consumed as a beverage (sometimes sweetened, but also sometimes as a savoury tomato-juice style beverage with salt and pepper and no sweeteners), but is more often used in baking and cooking. In baking, the acidity is used to activate sodium bicarbonate as a raising agent, or increase the activity of baking powder (which is itself sodium bicarbonate with an acid added to activate it when wetted). It can be used in marinades, where the acidity helps tenderise meats, or in sauces and salad dressings where the sour flavour works well. According to Wikipedia, the probiotics in cultured buttermilk are: Lactococcus lactis (Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis, Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris, Lactococcus lactis biovar. diacetylactis and Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. cremoris); note that Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis. used to be known as Streptococcus lactis.
  • Viili is thought thought to originate in Sweden, although it is consumed throughout Scandianvia under various names. It has a viscous consistency like thick honey, and forms strands and trails the way sugar syrup does. The flavour is reported to be mildly sour, almost faintly sweet by comparison to other cultured dairy foods. Contains the following probiotic species: Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris, Lactococcus lactis* biovar. diacetylactis, Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. cremoris and Geotrichum candidum; note that Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis. used to be known as Streptococcus lactis.
  • Langfil is a variant form of fil mjolk which has a ‘long and elastic texture’, a little like viili, due to the presence of yeasts and bacteria which form polysaccharides during fermentation. It can be thicker than regular fil mjolk, but the flavour should be very similar – sour and tangy. It’s sometimes eaten with ground ginger. In addition to the probiotics found in fil mjolk, it contains Lactococcus lactis var. longi.

 

There are some good comparisons of the probiotics in each culture online.

dairy production

2016/08/31 deej 4

I was interested (and felt vindicated too!) to see that the national response to predatory milk pricing by the milk wholesalers, potentially pushing dairy farmers past where they can make any profit at all, has been to boycott non-name branded milk in droves. The supermarkets are struggling to move it off the shelves, while sales of name brand milk (Pura, Browns, Harvey Fresh, etc., as well as smaller local brands such as Sunnydale and ?) have continued as normal. Consumers really do want to support farmers, and when a way to do so is offered which makes sense and is easy to do, I’m proud to say that we actually eat the small extra cost to make sure our farmers can stay in business.

 

Because of that, though, I’ve been thinking about milk and dairy animals again. Flavours and nutriotional comparison and production quantities of milk from cows vs. goats vs sheep. I’m not really sold on camel or donkey milk, but those are also valid options. There are lots of comparisons and descriptions available online, even some with flavour profile descriptions, but there’s no replacement for direct experience.

 

I’m tempted by dairy sheep, but I’m not 100% convinced that sheep’s milk is something I’ll enjoy. I should probably source some sheep’s milk yoghurt, and do a taste comparison with goat’s milk yoghurt and standard cow’s milk yoghurt. Ideally I should make the yoghurt myself using the same bacterial culture and the freshest milk I can get from each type of animal. I wonder if there’s anywhere in WA that I can get fresh sheep’s milk. Cambray Cheesery in nannup sell sheep’s milk cheeses made on farm using milk from their sheep, but it doesn’t look like they sell the milk itself. If I can’t source fresh milk, I can always do the comparison using Meredith Dairy yoghurts – their goat feta is amazing, so I’m fairly confident that the rest of their product line will be good.

 

Either way, would anyone be interested in doing their own taste test comparisons and sharing their thoughts?

fruit tree varieties

2016/07/22 deej 0

I was talking to a friend at work a couple’ve weeks ago, about her garden (she’s recently bought a house, and is madly excited to be planting some dwarf fruit trees in the garden), and she asked me what trees I have in the ground. It made me think, maybe other people might be interested in our choices of trees and varieties too. So, here goes. 🙂

 

Not all of these are in the ground as yet; I’ve noted which ones are planted, and which are on order. The trees without a status note are on the wishlist.

 

Apples:

 

These are for the cider orchard. Most are table / dessert apples (i.e. for eating), but these can be juiced to make cider too. The cider apple varieties usually aren’t well suited to eating fresh, but the two we’ve chosen are reputed to be reasonable for fresh eating as well as cider-making.

 

Citrus:

 

I may have a fruit tree collecting issue. Gotta catch ’em all, right?

 

Dates:

 

These are an experiment. They should get enough heat to fruit, but we can’t be completely sureuntilt hey do fruit. or at least until they flower.

 

Figs:

 

I don’t actually even really like fresh figs – but I very much like dried figs, and fig paste, and fig jam. And caramelised fig sauce stirred through ice-cream. Thus: figs.

 

Olives:

 

 

Yes, olives are fruit. Even if you have to pickle them before they’re edible, or just use them for oil production.

 

Pears:

 

Pears are K’s favourite fruit. So we had to have a variety.

 

Stone fruit:

 

In case it wasn’t abundantly clear, I adore stone fruit. The smell of peaches and nectarines in summer is one of my happy things, and the sweet-sharp taste of an apricot or plum fresh off the tree is.. well, my mouth waters thinking about it. I also love jams made with stone fruit; apricot jam is endlessly useful, and plum jam is actually my favourite of all the jams I’ve ever tried (actually my favourite jam in the world is the plum jam my mum makes, with ruby blood plums from her tree and a touch of fresh orange juice for the pectin content).

 

Miscellaneous:

 

And then of course there are the nut trees. But I’ll leave those for another post.

guinea pigs, the reprise

2016/07/08 deej 0

No, I haven’t gone and acquired some guinea pigs. Yet.

 

What I have been doing is some productivity calculations. My objective in keeping guinea pigs (aka cavies, aka cuy) is meat; if that squicks you, please stop now and don’t read any further.

 

Ok then. One young guinea pig (at 4 months old) weighs 0.5 – 1 kg, on average. That obviously includes the bones, organs, skin, etc. which aren’t really edible – although the organs are useful for feeding to cats (and the dog we will eventually get), and pet food is one of the primary drivers here. So at a guess, one guinea pig will produce 300 – 600g usable meat (using a 60% dress-out percentage, since the organs and smaller bones will be useful for cat food).

 

Guinea pigs reach sexual maturity at 3 – 6 weeks (3 – 5 for males, 4 – 6 for females), and they can breed year round. Females can become pregnant as little as 6 hours after giving birth, although it isn’t good for them. The gestation period averages 63–68 days (but can be anywhere from 59–72 days), and baby guinea pigs are able to eat solid food immediately, although they continue to nurse; they should be weaned by the age of 3 weeks. So, taking all of that into account, and assuming a break between pregnancies, there should be about 79 days between matings for any given female. In other words, a female guinea pig may have 4 – 5 litters per year (depending on the exact length of gestation, and the length of the breaks between giving birth and re-mating). Guinea pig litters normally consist of 1 – 6 pups, with an average of 3.

 

The recommended ratio for guinea pigs is one male (boar) per 5 – 6 females (sows). So if they were kept in a colony situation, you might keep 5 sows and one boar together, removing babies when they reached about 2 weeks old to a separate pen. Alternatively, you might keep the females in a group pen, and introduce a male when you wanted the females mated, to get more control over the timing of mating and birthing. either way, each group of females would produce somewhere around 80 babies per year. Assuming that you only kept babies as replacements for adults who were getting past their prime (in which case, those adults would be retired – and slaughtered), that means each group of females would produce about 24 – 48 kg meat per year. (Or you could think of each guinea pig as 6 meals for a cat, or 2 meals for a human.)

 

Since guinea pigs eat grass, hay, and other greens, like any other grazing animal, that’s pretty good. Each guinea pig needs about 6% of its body weight per day in food – slightly less in hay, slightly more in greens because of the water content, and must have greens every day because vitamin C is an essential nutrient for them. So each group (of 6 females and 1 male) would need 420g food per day. Additionally, each group would have an associated group of (on average) 36 juveniles (when the new babies are weaned at 2 weeks, the previous lot of babies will be 10 weeks old, so at any one time there will be 2 age groups of juveniles), which will require 1.6 – 2.2 kg food per day (younger and therefore smaller pigs will need less food than adults). So the total feed requirement for each breeding group of guinea pigs would be 2 – 2.6 kg per day. For comparison, a small bale of hay ($8 – $24, depending where you get it) weighs around 20 – 25 kg, and a (standard 10 L) bucket of cut grass or mulberry leaves would weigh approximately 1 – 1.5 kg. So, about a bucket of cut grass and/or leaves (from good fodder shrubs or trees) and a bucket of hay should be enough food for all those guinea pigs for a day.

 

The recommended minimum space requirements for guinea pigs are 0.7 sqm for 1 -2 individuals, or 1 sqm for males, and an additional 0.3 sqm per additional animal (some recommendations allow less space than this, suggesting 0.25 sqm per breeding pair, with an additional 0.1 sqm per additional breeding female). Either way, around 2 sqm is sufficient for a breeding group of 7 guinea pigs. For the 36 juveniles, a pen of 7.5 sqm (or another four 2 sqm pens) should be sufficient.

 

For those who are curious, yes: this does mean that I’m planning on building some guinea pig runs and then getting some guinea pigs in the near future. I really do have to wait til next year for sheep or goats, until the pasture is established, but these grazing animals are plausible much sooner.

1 2 3 4 7