Friday, January 28, 2011

How to Be a Ghee Whiz! (Get it?)

I know that I said that my next post would be about fermentation, but I'm busy making ghee today and thought I might as well write about it while I'm doing it.

Ghee is also known as clarified butter, or butter oil. Basically the idea is to get rid of all of the dairy solids in butter and end up with pure butterfat. You've probably had ghee at seafood's what you dip crab and lobster into. This stuff is wonderful. It's shelf stable for months, has an extremely high smoke point, and is super easy to make. It's also incredibly good for you, tastes amazing and can be eaten by almost everyone...even if you have a severe dairy allergy.

Now, naturally, if you do have a severe dairy allergy, you'll want to talk to your health care person before you start binging on ghee. But everyone else?  Dive on in!

The first step to making your own ghee is to fill a stockpot with butter and a few pinches of salt. (Forgive my poor photography skills and ancient, stained pot.) It looks something like this:
My butter is homemade, so it's not in cubes. But you can certainly make ghee with store bought butter as well. Just do me a favor and look for butter from grass fed cows, 'kay? Your taste buds and your health will thank you.

The next step is to melt it and bring it to a simmer. On my stove, with this particular pot, it's the number 3. Don't walk too far're going to be here for a while.
After your butter melts, you're going to start seeing white foamy stuff rise to the top. Get a big spoon and skim it off, a little bit at a time. I also stir each time I skim, to bring some of the solids off the bottom.
It's going to take a while (Just keep skimming, skimming, skimming,) but eventually you'll end up with a pot of clear ghee with visible solids down at the bottom. When these start to turn golden brown, your ghee is ready to strain and put in jars.
I use a second stock pot (this one happens to be really easy to pour out of) and a colander lined with several layers of cheesecloth. It's important to strain every last bit of solid stuff out, or the ghee will mold.
This is what you'll see in the bottom of your cheesecloth. It's not very pretty, but it's kind of cheesy tasting and some people put it on toast. Frankly, I think that sounds a little icky, so I give ours to the pigs.
And this is what you end up with! Beautiful, clear butter oil. Let it cool and keep it on a shelf away from the heat, and you should be able to use it for about six months. You can also freeze ghee or keep it in the fridge, so it's a good way to take advantage of sales on butter...if you can keep it around that long.

Oh, the joys of ghee! Deep fry with it. Saute vegetables with it. Drink it...or not.


PS:  Check out the Weston A. Price Foundation for some science on why you should be eating ghee.
PPS:  This is unrelated to ghee, but my dear friend Ann Marie Michaels, aka Cheeseslave, has a fantastic and heartwrenching post up today about the Estrella Family Creamery.  Please listen to the podcast and share it like crazy.  We need to support our small farmers!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Red Hog Food: Winter Edition Part I.

Okay, so I'm probably preaching to the choir here, but wintertime eating starts in the summer. Yes, that's right...if you want to eat seasonally, you're going to have to do some prep work while local produce is abundant and cheap.
Eggs, apricots, and raspberries.

I tend to compulsively freeze everything I can get my hands on during spring, summer and fall...which is why my family thinks I'm crazy. Why yes, I do have 22 quart sized bags of rhubarb in my freezer. And no, I have absolutely no idea what I'm going to do with it.

However, two summers ago we had a truly bumper crop of tomatoes. And since we were members of a CSA in our area, we also had bumper boxes of tomatoes.

I went nuts. I froze tomatoes daily (I don't can tomatoes.  We'll get to that later.) and by the end of the summer we had an entire upright freezer full of tomatoes.

Fast forward to the spring of 2010. It got to be about April, we were cleaning out freezers and my mother actually wanted to throw the remaining bags out.  She said,

"It's already April. We'll have more tomatoes in August. There's no way we're going to use this many tomatoes in four months! Let's just give them to the pigs."

Man, am I glad that I said no. Because August came and went. Then September came and went. No tomatoes. None of our neighbors had any either. I talked to some of my most trusted farmer friends (who, like, grow tomatoes professionally) and their crops were bad too. You could find tomatoes at some of the farmers' markets, but they were mushy, flavorless, and expensive. In other words, not a great year for preserving any tomatoes.

We were okay, though. In fact, it's now late January and we are just opening our last bag of 2009 tomatoes. We've enjoyed barbecue sauce, soups, and on Christmas Eve we had the yummiest meat sauce over pasta (well, the rest of the fam had it on pasta and I had it over broccoli).
Here it is.  The LAST bag.

Here's the moral of that story: you really can't freeze/can/preserve too much.  One of these days rhubarb is going to be dearer than diamonds and I will be all set.

So over the course of the next few posts, let's talk about the four basic methods that I use to preserve stuff here on Red Hog Farm: freezing, fermenting, drying and canning. Please keep in mind that I am not a professional, just a homemaker, and the opinions expressed here should be taken with a few grains of minimally processed sea salt.

Freezing comes first because it's my favorite. It is easy, you can keep fruits and veggies mostly raw, and the flavor is awesome. Plus it's beyond're not likely to give anyone botulism from improperly frozen cauliflower. But the main reason why I love freezing fruits and veggies? Because I would much rather hang out with my family and friends during the summer than be stuck in the kitchen making jam.
Sure, it's beautiful and delicious. But wouldn't you rather go on a hike?

Here are some of my favorite things to freeze, and how I do it:
Tomatoes/Peppers:  Freeze whole. When you cook them, just skim the skins off the top. No one will notice the seeds. I promise.
Broccoli/cauliflower/kale/cabbage:  Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Drop in veggies (chopped if you like, or not) and cook for no more than three minutes. Then shock them in a sink full of ice water. When all your veggies are done, dry them off and put them in containers.
Green beans/peas:  Treat like cruciferous veggies. I blanch mine for about a minute because I like my veggies crispy, but feel free to cook for a little longer.
Summer squash:  I know that this one is controversial (or as controversial as you can get when you're talking about a vegetable,) but I think summer squash freezes just fine. I don't saute them in the winter (save that for the fresh stuff in summer) but they make marvelous thickeners for soups and stews, and make a fantastic chowder with some frozen corn and a dollop of sour cream.
Berries:  Don't do anything to them...just freeze them. Small batches work best so you don't end up with a big block of frozen, useless goo. All berries flash freeze well, meaning that you spread them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and freeze individually. Strawberries work whole or sliced.
Other veggies/fruits:  Use your imagination. I've frozen just about everything except apples, and lettuce doesn't work very well. Other than that, go crazy!  Walk on the wild side! Freeze everything!

The key to freezing seems to be to acknowledge that some things change in the freezer. Moisture rich fruits and veggies (strawberries, watermelon, cucumbers, spinach) will become a little mushy. Don't let that stop you! Just learn to work within the limitations of your product. If your strawberries are squishy, turn them into a smoothie. If your squash is chewy, use a stick blender to turn it into an amazing puree for gluten free soup.

I freeze wintertime produce as well. Too many lemons? Juice them and freeze the juice in 2 ounce paper cups. Your buying club got a stellar deal on winter squash? Peel, chop, freeze.
Can you really have too many of these?

You can also freeze dairy products like butter (although I like ghee better...we'll talk about that in another post) and cheese. Eggs, which are abundant in spring, freeze beautifully too. Make sure to crack them first.
Freeze me, Seymour!
There is a lot more to be said about freezing food, but I'll just leave you with this:  don't be intimidated. If you think something might freeze well, try it! If it doesn't, don't fret. There's always next year.

Next week:  fermentation!  I'm also not an expert in this area, but I'll walk you through what I'm doing in my kitchen right now, and recommend some amazing resources for anyone who wants to make their own sauerkraut, pickles and ketchup.  Yum!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Winter on the Farm

I love winter.  When I was a suburban girl I hated it...rain, mud, and seasonal affective disorder.  As a farm girl I love it.  It's still rain and mud, but the seasonal affective disorder disappeared as I learned to accept the dark, short days as part of the beautiful cycle of seasons that God created.
A pasture in progress.  In the spring, this will be green and in about two years it will be lush, thick and green.

Here's what goes on around here in the winter:

In late November or early December, we do one last clean up of our poultry.  Every bird that's left gets harvested.  This allows our pastures to rest, free from chicken, duck, turkey and goose manure (all very high in nitrogen, which is fine while grass is growing and not that great while grass is hibernating) for three or four months.

Then it's time for a big long rest. Praise the Lord and pass the bonbons.  Not really, but you get the idea. There are still cows to milk, gardens to tend, and pigs to move around, but overall the winter is a time of rest, family, and warm fires.
Pile o' piggies in their warm, snug winter barn.

Jesse and I use our evenings to catch up on all the movies and TV shows that we don't have time to watch during the other three seasons. I crochet like a madwoman.  The kids color and we all drool over seed catalogs and dream of the coming spring.
Joey with a silly flap-eared hat that I made.  I have to keep my hands busy so I don't plant things too early.

This winter, for the first time, Jesse and I took a vacation as well.  We spent four days in beautiful Cashmere, WA.  We explored Leavenworth (adorable and fun) and marveled at the amazing divinely-designed architecture of the Cascades.  Truly gorgeous and a sight to behold.

You'll have to forgive me for going off topic, but I would move to Central Washington in a heartbeat...just for the view and the fact that they get four seasons! Then there's the cheap land, affordable hay and perfect orchard growing climate! Frankly, though, the idea of packing up six people, 1600 square feet, three cows, two steers, fourteen pigs, five leftover goats, eight sheep and a 2000 square foot barn...well, it's enough to give me palpitations.  So I guess you're all stuck with me.

In a few days I'll do a post about wintertime eating...otherwise known as "How to Make Your Family Think You're Nuts in Five Easy Steps."
One last picture, just because I think my kids are cute.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Why I Quit Facebook

I quit Facebook today. Facebook doesn't really like it when you quit...they hold your account for two weeks before they'll actually delete it. I think they're hoping that you'll log in during those 14 days and change your mind.

A lot of people have asked why I quit, so these are my three reasons:

1.  For some time, I've been feeling that the Lord wants me to spend more time with Him and my family, and waste less time online. Since Facebook takes up a whole bunch of my time online and I don't believe in doing anything halfway (except for crochet projects, but we won't talk about those) I actually deleted my account instead of putting it "on hold".

2.  I love building relationships, and for a while Facebook was awesome for that. But after a time (and please understand that I am not judging anyone else here) Facebook became a shortcut to relationships. I could know a whole bunch of stuff about people, and feel like I knew them. Did I? Nope. I had 364 people on my "friends" list and, and with most of those, I knew their online persona, not them. The truth is that friendships take time, effort, and real life contact.  Facebook is relationship cotton candy when what my soul wanted was delicious, grass fed steak.

3.  The third and last reason that I quit Facebook is that internet privacy is increasingly becoming a thing of the past. Now, obviously I'm blogging, so I'm okay with some loss of privacy. But avoiding Facebook is one way that I can hold on to a little of my internet anonymity.

So that's it! Those are my reasons for quitting Facebook. I! If you are my friend, I love you. But I don't want to find out on Facebook that you are getting a new puppy. I want you to call me and tell me all about your puppy, or your trip to Costa Rica, or your marriage.

Now to figure out what to do with all of my free time......................


Welcome to the official blog of Red Hog Farm!  We're excited to share with you some of what we are up to, and to hear more feedback from our customers.  We want to know what you want us to grow for you.  Exotic poultry?  Tilapia in barrels?  Berries?  We love hearing your opinions, and look forward to getting to know all of you better.

I thought I'd start out by explaining who we are and what we do around here, for people who don't already know.  We are a small, family-owned and operated, sustainable farm in Colton, Oregon.  We're about fifteen minutes outside of Oregon City, and are surrounded by Christmas tree farms.

We raise pigs, Jersey cows, and LOTS of pastured poultry...chickens, geese, ducks, guineas and turkeys.  We also have a few lambs running around clearing blackberries for us. 

I know that goats have a reputation for being good at clearing land, but let me tell you...sheep are better.  Goats are picky; they'll walk around an area choosing the tastiest morsels and leaving the rest.  Sheep are like walking lawn mowers.  They will plow through a section and leave it BARE, which is great for us since our biggest challenge in farming out here has been keeping the blackberries, thistles and bracken fern down long enough to grow grass.  Plus the lambs fertilize and mulch the earth at the same's a win-win!

We just started our third year of farming.  The first was on a small one acre homestead in Estacada, about eight miles from here.  Farming was like a drug for us...once we started, we couldn't stop!  We knew that we had found our calling.  I love walking outside in the morning with a cup of (decaf) coffee and looking at all the growth that happens overnight.  Let me tell you...if you want instant gratification, just plant squash.  Two days later you have sprouts, and if you're not careful you'll get zucchini or pumpkins that will eat your house.

We are members of the Weston A. Price Foundation ( and believe in real, whole foods...including LOTS of good, pastured animal fats, raw milk, homegrown vegetables, and minimal grains.  If you turned that silly USDA food pyramid upside down, removed all the GMO's, and added bone broth...well, that would give you a pretty good idea of our food philosophy.

Most of all, we are born-again, compassionate, loving Christians.  We are not always perfect, but we believe that God does NOT make mistakes and we run our home and business with that in mind.  His design is perfect, and He certainly doesn't need us to "improve" upon it.  We are not accidents...neither are you.

Have a wonderful day, everyone.