Thursday, 25 February 2016

Hurrying to catch up

The days and weeks have been galloping along here, at a pace too fast for my liking, but this is Summer. Harvest time, pig processing time, preserving time. And all of the usual jobs; cows, poultry, preparing wholesome meals from scratch and gardens as well.
I don't know how I ever managed all this when I was working longer hours over many more days of the week.
I so love our "simple" life and am now even more grateful that I'm semi-retired, but the hours are long, the days too short, and the work seems to never end. Sometimes it can all feel quite overwhelming and it is then that I need to take a breath and remind myself to focus on each task at hand, instead of having six things on the go at once. Well, as women, we are always multi-tasking, but my aim is to practice mindfulness in all that I do, being grateful for having the ability and the tools to do it. 
Who enjoys vacuuming the house, (?) but I'm grateful to have a vacuum cleaner, and indeed, a house to vacuum. I'm grateful to have taps and hoses attached so that I can hand water some of the gardens, unlike many women in other countries who have to walk miles each day to carry a container of water back to their home. Oh yes, we can quickly slip into ungratefulness when we are tired of watering the garden again because the rain didn't come as predicted.
Autumn is just around the corner, and slowly but surely, the tasks are being ticked off, one by one.
The pigs have gone, so that's one less job to do each day. Twice a day feeds, yard cleaning, water trough filling.
I picked up the carcasses from the abattoir last Thursday (they were killed on Tuesday) and we hung them in our refrigerated cool room until Monday.
They were big pigs, dressed weights were 103kgs and 102kgs, but the fat ratios were just perfect, which is always a big relief to me. I have no idea how to judge the fat ratio of a live pig, other than looking at it and making a judgement, but I do know that a pig that is too fat is just as undesirable as a pig that has too little fat. Getting it right has become a skill that I'm learning to master. Phew!
Monday was pig processing day. After all of our morning tasks were done, cows milked, chickens fed, gardens checked and watered, we donned our aprons and made a start.
It took all day, the cutting up into roasts and chops, packing 10kgs packs into the boxes for the orders, the customers turning up all afternoon to pick up their boxes of pork and ordering their pork again for next year.
We kept some of the pork, and I diced, minced and packed chops and roasts, into our freezers until they are groaning full.  Two buckets of bellies and bacon bones are in the nitrate free brine in the fridge until Brian fires up the smoker on Saturday.
Now I need to clear some space in the freezers to make some room for the bacon, smoked hocks and bacon bones after they are smoked as these will be our year's supply of all things bacony.
Some family dinners between now and Sunday should clear up a bit of space if I cook up a couple of sizable chunks of meat.

This is only one of three freezers!  That beef dripping will be used for soap making in the next week, and some of those tubs of cream will be made into butter. Maybe there will be space for the fifteen meat roosters that are ready for processing after all.

Brian installed the filter tap a couple of weeks ago. We have rain water through the house and although the water is  filtered before it reaches the inside taps, we decided to put in another filter because we are hearing more stories of people becoming sick from their rain water.


Never underestimate the purposeful power of flowers growing among the vegetables.

The rubber snake that scares more people than pesky sparrows!

Yay..!! The Queensland Blues are finally starting to set.

That smiley face. (Love)

There is a hint of dampness in the air this morning as I finished milking Lavender, and the temperature has dropped.  There's only one thing for it.... light the kitchen wood stove for cooking up the pork roast with side vegetable dishes for a family dinner tonight.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Say Cheese

For a couple of years it has been a dream of mine to operate some small work-shops here in my kitchen. We have already been active in hosting Bio-dynamic work-shops and a few other small outdoor gatherings relating to farming, gardening. and animal care, but I was still waiting for a sudden burst of energy (and courage) to get my plans and dream into action. I just needed a nudge.
Do you know what I mean? It sometimes takes just a nudge to get things started and to put plans into action.
I had spoken about my future plans to a couple of friends, one of whom owns a house cow on her farm.  She really wanted to get started on learning to make some simple cheeses, so I said, "OK, if you get another two people who want to learn cheese making we will have enough to make a work-shop worthwhile."
So she organized another couple of friends and we had our first work-shop last week.
One of them had to drop out at the last minute, so there were just the three of us, which was still lots of fun.

We got off to a cracking start at 9am. The first cheese we made was a mild cream cheese and here is Mary-anne tying up the curds for draining, while Danielle observes. Then it was her turn to tie the cheese after an hour of draining.

Then we got into starting our Feta cheese. Great concentration was necessary as the rennet was measured in its exact portion.

We enjoyed morning tea during a short break in curd cutting and turning, temperature measuring, and all things cheese.
We had coffee and cheese-cake made from cream cheese that I had prepared earlier in the week. There was also a savoury dip made from cream cheese and home made Jembella Farm Apricot chutney.
This cream cheese is so versatile and so easy to make.

The day before the work-shop I took this cheddar (made in September '15) from the fridge to find it covered in blue mould. As I was cutting the mould off the surface I could see the little blue mould spores jumping into the air and then realised it was actually blue mould from a Blue Vein cheese (made in October '15) I had stored in the fridge near to the cheddar. We had finished eating the Blue Vein over a week ago.
The mould tasted exactly of blue vein cheese, and then I saw that the mould had permeated into the centre of the cheddar. Have I invented a Blue Vein Cheddar?
Well, this is all very well if all of the household loves Blue Vein cheese, but Brian does not!

 The offending Blue Vein cheese that has been eaten and is no longer in the fridge, but its spores remain.  Oh well, worse things could happen. ;)
We made a 4 litre feta cheese that was ready for its first "turn" just before the end of the work-shop. 

At the end of the morning the girls took with them a bag of goodies including;
-a piece of Feta cheese that I had made earlier in the week,
-a container of mild cream cheese,
-a jar of Cream cheese starter with which they can inoculate and continue making their own starters
-a jar of Type A Mesophilic starter for making Feta, Cheddar, Haloumi, Camembert, Mozzarella
-printed recipe sheets and instructions

During the workshop we talked about;
-inoculating our own starters and making new ones from what we have,
-making simple cheeses from start to finish,
-how to store and age our cheeses,
-how to adapt and make our own equipment from containers we already have or can purchase for little cost from second hand stores, cheap stores or op-shops,
-different types of cheese making supplies ie rennet, starters, cloths, molds, cheese press etc
-hygiene for us and our equipment
One of the main points that was appreciated by the girls was that cheese making is not so daunting after all. They had previously thought that it could only be done in  perfect conditions with special (expensive) equipment. That myth has now been debunked after spending a morning in my kitchen and turning out a couple of great tasting cheeses.
I think many people have this view that making cheese is a mystery and it will be expensive to buy all of the equipment needed.
Well, let me tell you a little secret. I have never been to a cheese making work-shop or purchased any special equipment, apart from the rennet and starters.
I had been keen to learn how to make cheese for many years, and that's the main reason why we bought our first cow. I read everything about cheese making that I could lay my hands on, borrowed every library book, photo-copied pages of recipes. I spoke to cheese makers, sat up into the wee hours searching the internet for more information. But most importantly, I just got on with it, and after a fair share of failures, there were more successes than failures.
I could not afford to buy all of those special baskets and equipment, so I learned how to adapt containers and other bits of everyday items to fit with my requirements.
Brian has been a great help in drilling holes, cutting bottoms out of jugs, and even made me a cheese press for making cheddars. It may not be perfect, but it works!
So, if the expense is putting you off, don't let it, just do it!
Cheese making workshops at Jembella Farm are priced to be within the reach of everyone. Once the basics are learned, participants will very soon recover that cost by the savings made in future non- necessary purchases.
It is not necessary to own your own cow as cheeses can be made in small batches using store bought milk if you don't have a friend with a cow who will give (or trade) you some milk. It is illegal to sell raw milk in Australia. Another stupid law, but don't start me on that one. 
The work-shops are limited to three people and are hands-on so that you will get to feel the texture and temperature of the curds at different stages. 
Work-shops will begin again in April (after Daisy's calf has been born and we have milk to spare)
They will begin at 9am  and finish at 1pm ... includes morning tea/coffee and delicious cheesy treats.
Also includes a take home bag of starters, cheeses, and recipe sheets.
Cost $60 per person
Numbers limited to three people per work-shop
Bookings essential. 

Do you make some of your own cheeses? Are you keen on making some simple cheeses? Did you know that some cheeses are just that, simple? And when you make them yourself you can save money as well as experience the satisfaction of making another item from scratch.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Welcome Home Mulga Bill

Look who's home. Mulga Bill has spent twelve weeks away on a beautiful property in the Adelaide Hills. He enjoyed the company of twenty Hereford cows who's calves should start dropping in September.

We drove to collect him this morning. It was a pleasure to load him onto our trailer as the farmer has a practical and efficient yarding system which made the job easy.  No stress on the animal, or us.
He asserted his dominance just as soon as he returned to our paddocks, rather fancying Lavender .  She gave birth to her calf, Blossom, in April, so she's now ready to be mated up again and no doubt Mulga Bill will be happy to oblige.
Daisy's calf is due at the end of next month, 29th march, so I stopped milking her on Friday. She was producing only four litres a day, so her "drying off" is happening with no issues at all.
I can feel her calf moving around when I stand close while holding my hands to her belly. Exciting!
Now we are relying on Lavender for our milk, and one of us is milking her daily before she is allowed in with the two calves again.
We have an extra mouth to feed now, but it feels reassuring to have him back with us. After his travels and adventures, he is still the quiet and well mannered gentleman.
My goodness, the folks and heifers on our neighboring properties know he's back too. The bellowing is something to behold, but thankfully now that night has come he's quiet and relaxed again.

Cheers and thanks for dropping in today.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

My Week

The days have been much milder lately, thankfully, because there has been more fruit picking going on.
The last of the plums, that haven't been sold in the Farm-gate stall, have been added to some peaches, apples and onions, with vinegar, sugar and a concoction of spices, to make fruit chutney.

Lots of jars, plenty for us and some for the Farm-gate stall. I love having fruit chutney. It's so useful in many ways.

This is how I slice the pears for dehydrating. Long ago I used to slice them neatly, but I like the rustic appeal of leaving the core in. The little bits on the very edge, what I call the cheeks, are the only part I throw into the chook bucket, because they don't dry evenly in the dehydrator. Sprinkle with lemon juice to prevent browning.

The Farm-gate stall has been going gang busters lately with all of the fresh fruit on offer at a reasonable price. We have a local site on Facebook where we can advertise anything we have to sell, or things we are looking to buy etc. It's incredible, and business is booming after advertising small lots of fruit. The honesty system seems to be working well and I'm ever thankful for the wonderful community spirit we experience here.

We have a hen who is eating eggs. I was suspicious after getting fourteen eggs one day and then two eggs the next day. Of course the big black crow that was caught by Brian in the hen house last week was eating more than his fair share too.
I'm now checking and collecting the eggs during the mornings at hourly intervals, to prevent the egg eating hen from over indulging. I've spotted her with egg on her beak, but she looks so much like three of the other hens, I can never tell which one she is when I get a chance to catch her. Her days are numbered though.
A small detour on the way back from the hens filled my bowl nicely.

A sneak peek into the glass house. Lettuce, capsicum, silver beet, beetroot, and along one side are pineapples that Brian planted from the tops that were rescued from the scrap bucket collected from a local restaurant for the pigs.  After more than a year taking up space they are yet to fruit, but he's determined to grow pineapple.
Basil and parsley grow in the planter on the shelf at the back.

 Basil Pesto for the freezer.

Brian cleaned the solar panels last weekend after I suggested we get someone in to clean them for us. "No way" he said, "Just because I got a new hip, I can still climb onto the roof."
There's no point arguing, just white knuckles for me until the job is finished and he's down on the ground again.

Brunch on the run. Homemade everything! Yes, I like butter.

 I took Saturday afternoon off and dragged out the sewing machine.
Last week I was in a local store buying things for work, when I spotted some colorful cushions that I loved the look of. The price tag was $75 each!

Fabrics in my stash, from many previous incarnations have been given a new life. I enjoyed the process so much......

I made another one on Sunday night.

A very early morning walk with the dogs to open up another paddock for the cows. They smelled a fox but it was long gone.

We drove the pigs to the local abattoir on Monday evening. I'll collect the carcasses tomorrow and hang them in our cool room for a few more days before cutting into chops and roasts, and making bacon. We put ear tags in their ears to be sure we get our own pigs back.
Because we sell some of this meat, we are required, by law, to have them butchered at a registered abattoir. Ridiculous rules. I would much prefer our pigs to end their lives here where there is no stress at all and no risk of any cross contamination of disease from other pigs. Consequently, the butchers have to wash the carcasses with anti-bacterials.
But this is the way all commercial meats are processed and there is no way of getting around these rules. Our regular customers are waiting for their annual pork packs and although we could sell more than triple the quantity that we can produce, we prefer to keep it the way it is.  I've told a few folks that they will have to wait for someone to die before they can get onto our pork list!
This is the best pork around and our customers place their orders years in advance. Yes, I guess you could say that I'm unashamedly proud of our quality pork.

More hot weather is on the way, but hopefully that will be the end of this hot summer. The nights and mornings lately have a real autumn feel about them which is energising and sets me to thinking of plans for the garden after the breaking rains arrive.
I wish there were so many more hours in each day, don't you?

Monday, 8 February 2016

Dairy, Socks and Sheds

Our butter for the coming week. This batch is cultured and oh how lovely it is to make because it "turns" very quickly with hardly any beating at all. 
I haven't been separating Daisy's milk lately for two reasons. Firstly, I had been over dosing on the cream and my clothes were feeling tight, and secondly, she is not giving as much milk now; averaging six litres a day.
I'm feeding Rosie a supplement feed each morning to make sure she is getting enough milk. I doubt she is getting enough from her sneaky raids on Lavender's udder, and this makes me feel better knowing she is getting two litres every morning from the calf feeder.
So I've only got four litres of milk to bring back to the kitchen each morning at present.
However, during the months of excess milk and separating the cream, I had stored lots of it in the freezers to have on hand for this time, so I can continue to make our butter during times of no cream.
I took some cream (approx two litres) from the freezer yesterday morning and let it thaw on the kitchen bench all day. Frozen cream is fine for butter making and using in cooking, but it doesn't make nice ice cream or for eating after it has been frozen.
My guide to butter making here.
Last night I stirred a dessertspoon of yogurt into the thawed cream and left it sit on the bench over night to culture.
The cultured butter milk is an added bonus and I will use it for baking or for a cheese starter some time over the next few days.

I have also got a batch of Feta on the go this morning and am stirring it with my hand every five minutes while I write this. I cheated with the above photo, that is not today's cheese, but "one I prepared earlier".
I'm wondering if anyone else is having issues with Mad Millie rennet tablets.  I'm finding that often, the cheese is not coagulating (setting) in the required time and I have to add another rennet tablet which puts the whole process back by at least another hour or two. Already I'm using half a tablet above what the recipe calls for, and today, I've used a total of two and a half tablets when the recipe actually called for one tablet!  Just as soon as I can get to the "Big Smoke" shops I'll be making the switch to liquid rennet. I really like to have rennet in the tablet form as it stays stable (supposedly) and is easy to store without refrigeration, but I'm really getting tired of the inconsistency.
I will be running a cheese making workshop here next week and as the time is limited to four hours I can't be taking the risk of the rennet not coagulating in time.

The "new" tractor is so high it doesn't fit into any of our sheds. We want to look after this large investment and are hoping it will be the last tractor purchase we ever have to make.
So Brian whipped up a shed over the weekend! Yep, I know, most people would take weeks to build this, but he's one of those blokes who gets an idea and has to work until it is finished.
He gathered the supplies of timber during the week. On Friday evening he dug the holes with a digger borrowed from friends who had hired it for the day and finished with it earlier than planned. (Bonus)!
The tin was from his stack that he has gleaned over some months from other people replacing their roofs. (Roofs doesn't sound right, but spell check tells me that "rooves" is incorrect and far be it from me to argue.)  A bottle of wine or a tub of honey is traded for the iron.
All of our sheds are built this way to make them look old and to fit in with the sheds that were already here.
 Just the eastern side to fill in the gaps, but mostly it was finished by Sunday evening. Phew, it was exhausting just watching him and getting him to pause to eat a meal.

 And finally!  When I've gone to all the trouble of darning a sock I'm not shy about the darn being visible. Celebrate the darn I say!
Do you mend your clothes? Darn your socks?
Truth be told, these socks were from one of my favorite op-shops and cost 50c over a year ago. Now they will go on keeping my feet comfy for another year.
Cheers for now and I hope your days are full of things that make you happy or content.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Catching Up

A few days respite from the summer heat so you might guess what's going on here in my kitchen. If  the temperature is going to be below 24C, you can lay even money this little baby will be alight and cooking up everything I can possibly fit in the oven and on the top.
Peach and rhubarb jam is bubbling along nicely in the big pot, with a saucepan of beetroot picked from the garden this morning, a big pot of stew for the dogs, the kettle on for a cuppa, and small cakes in the oven.

Made a plain cake batter with some sour cream I found at the back of the fridge, mixed in some cinnamon, folded through chopped fresh peaches, sprinkled the tops with raw sugar.

I watched them rise through the oven door...... and then watched them sink.  Not looking like a magazine food shot, but I can attest to their delicious-ness.
I may have eaten one too many with a cup of tea.

The farm gate stall is stocked with seasonal produce, jams, sauces, chutneys and eggs. Quite the busy little place lately.

This has to be bragged about. I did some sewing!!
My favorite shorts that I bought at an op-shop for 50cents nearly five years ago are showing signs of wear.  Really, wouldn't you think they would last a bit longer than that? ;-)
I set up my sewing machine and really needed to take a lot of deep breaths to remain calm and in control of the situation. Slowly, I started sewing with zig-zag stiches until I felt confident and then there was no stopping me.
I used to sew clothes for myself and young daughters back in the late 70's and 80's. It's hard now to think I could have ever done that, but I'm planning on having a go at another random patchwork bed cover for my newest grand daughter Clover. Her big sister Isla received my first attempt at a patchwork bed cover when she was born three years ago. I want them both to have a Granny's bed cover as an heirloom to take with them through their lives.

 Yesterday's Plumcot jam. Labelled and ready to go into the farm-gate stall and into the outlet shops. I use donated and collected re-cycled jars for the farm-gate sales, but the jams that are sold in outlet shops are put into new jars.
I need to finish off writing the weights on these outlet shop jars, plus a small sticker with a "use by" date.
No prizes for guessing where it's cheapest to buy this jam?

 I never take it for granted that most meals we eat are almost completely from what we grow here on our small farm.  Last night's dinner of fillet steak, sausages, zucchini, and tomatoes cooked on the barbeque. (We bought the gas)
Beetroot and potato bake cooked in and on the wood stove.
All ingredients grew here except for the rice that we used to make the sausages. That makes me feel very satisfied that the hard work is worth every sore muscle.
It's a week since I last watered the vegetable gardens as the soil is holding onto the moisture with this cooler and humid weather. I LOVE it, but warm days are coming up again.
How many days until Autumn?
Cheers for now. :)

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

It Rained.!

Rain has fallen here in the Barossa and it has lifted our spirits somewhat. First we got 24mm on Friday night, then we had 10mm this morning.
What sheer joy it was to pull on the shorts and raincoat this morning and to become soaking wet while I did all of my chores in the heavy rain.
Daisy was not so keen about leaving her shelter shed to make the dash into the milking dairy though. Precious girl, hates getting her face wet.!

 Brian, always prepared, had cleaned out the gutters on all of the catchment sheds last week. The stock and garden tanks were empty and we had been using mains water for those purposes for the past month, but now the stock are drinking our rain water again.
The house rainwater tanks are separate so that we never run out of rain water for the house.

This is one of the tiny lizard watering bowls that have been appreciated by the many Skink lizards that are breeding in great numbers. While I was watering this mint plant, prior to the rain, I noticed a little skink dash out from behind the pot and drink the drops that fell onto the stones, so it was obvious they were thirsty and water bowls were needed.
Most of us supply water for the birds, but we must also think to place water low to the ground for the lizards, bees and the ground loving birds.

I promise not to write about fruit in this blog post. I just need to think about other things besides fruit preserving for these few minutes, but that blush appearing on the apples is too gorgeous not to share.

Three of our bee hives were not performing well, they were grumpy and lazy. So new queens were ordered from .... Queensland, of course!
They arrived by Express Post and were brought home and placed into the hives immediately. Brian had to find the existing queens in those hives, and kill them before placing a queen cage in the hive.

Inside each little cage the queen bee was accompanied by five worker bees to look after her on her journey. The end of the cage is filled with candied honey and the bees inside eat their way out whilst the bees on the outside, in the hive, are eating their way in. If new bees were introduced into the hive the existing bees would kill the new bees to defend their hive. So, it takes two to three days for the candied honey to be eaten through on both sides, by which time all of the bees will be friends and the new bees will be fully accepted into the hive.
The queens that we purchased were chosen for their placid nature and their ability to perform well in the hive. ie. turning out the maximum honey for the conditions.
And speaking of the conditions for bees, they are not good this year. Most apiarists in this area are resorting to feeding their bees, and we are also feeding. They love the over ripe bananas that we put into the top of their hives and the sugar water that is available in a trough near the hives.
We just have to keep them fed to get them through this tough time of inadequate flowers due to the extreme dry conditions we have had for the past ten months.
There will be no more honey taken from them this summer at this rate, which is most unusual and has happened only once before since we have been keeping bees.
Hopefully we will have a wet year forthcoming and have better flowering for our bees, but until then we will concentrate on keeping them alive.
Thanks for dropping by, and now if you could let yourself out and shut the door behind you, I'll get on with more of this jam making and preserving.
See you again soon. :)

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