Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Spring in Montana

Well, it's snowing. I don't know why I'm surprised. It was 62 degrees yesterday and beautiful....perfect cloudless day and no adequate words to describe the blue, blue mountain sky. We put our backs into a few chores that would take more than just a couple of hours and have the sore bodies to prove it. My beloved husband began re-staining the front porch. It has needed it for a while and he jumped into the project with both feet. Of course it will take several nice weather days to complete and of course since it is SNOWING today, the rest of the project will be delayed. That's OK. It'll look great when it's done.

I sifted through our potato bin (this box is only 1/2 full of those that are-to-be-planted); sorting the lovely German butterballs into piles of potatoes-we-get-to-eat from potatoes-we-are-going-to-plant this spring from the potatoes-that-get-to-go-to-the -chickens. The pile of potatoes going into the garden is larger than the pile that gets to be eaten. Since we really love these potatoes, it's hard to be without for the several months it's going to take to grow more. But it's always worth the wait. The books state that these nice potatoes are supposed to be best eaten up to just after Christmas. After that they become kind of mealy. But our experience is that they do fine into spring as long as they are kept cool but not frozen. The hardest issue for us is the "don't let them freeze" part. These butterballs are really juicy and therefore seem to be more at risk of freezing while wintering over in our unheated garage. We also have a small box of reds that we will plant this spring as well; can't be without our red potatoes! It must be the Irish in us!

Sunday, April 8, 2012


I think most people who make sauerkraut, make it in the fall. But I've gotten into the habit of making in the spring. I do this mostly because I'm lazy, but also, it's easier to accomplish in the spring when it's still too cool to plant anything outside and the crush of harvest isn't looming.

Sauerkraut is really easy to make and it's pretty good for you, too. Cabbage is easy to grow in our climate, even from seed. And our family happens to enjoy sauerkraut a lot so making it is a win/ win food storage skill. I am able to use up any cabbage that starting to show it's age by now plus, my cabbage recipes are becoming fairly exhausted (or maybe I should say that the kids are getting tired of cabbage soup, cabbage salad, steamed cabbage, cabbage and pork, cabbage and get the idea). So sauerkraut is the perfect solution for those few heads of fall cabbage that haven't been eaten yet.

The traditional way to make kraut is to allow the cabbage to ferment in a large crock after preparing the slices, but I don't have a large crock so I just make the kraut in canning jars, one at a time.

You start by slicing the clean head of cabbage into fairly thick slabs (after the large floppy leaves have been removed. I often use these leaves if I'm using the cabbage just after harvest. But usually by this time, the outer leaves can be, um, undesirable.) In the past, I've used a food processor for this part since the slicing is time consuming, but I've found that the processor makes the cabbage pieces too small for my liking and hard scoop out of the crock pot after cooking. I end up loosing a lot of my hard earned sauerkraut because the small, food processed pieces slide off the spoon when transferring to the plate.

So after you slice up about 1/4 of the head you put the cabbage into a very clean Mason jar (or any other type of canning jar....I just call them all Mason jars. I'm kind of weird).

Then you sprinkle salt over the slices and pound the poor cabbage into smithereens. There's no exact measurement for the salt. I just sprinkle several teaspoons over the top of the cabbage.

(I don't have a picture of the cabbage being pounded to smithereens because I didn't have a way of pounding and snapping the picture at the same time. But you can see the instrument of doom in some of the early snaps. It's that wooden thing that looks kind of like a short rolling pin with a handle. Actually, it's the tool that you use when pushing meat into the Kitchen Aid grinder. For some reason I have about 3 of these little gadgets. They come in real handy!) You don't have to pound hard. The pounding really just helps the salt release the natural juices of the cabbage. As you pound, find you can add more and more cabbage to the jar. Just continue to layer the cabbage, sprinkle salt, pound, repeat. Eventually you will have the jar filled with salted and pounded cabbage. The secret is to make sure that you have all the cabbage covered by salty juices when the jar is full.

(This is a hard-to-see picture of juicy, post-pounded cabbage.)

The next step is my favorite. You just store the almost-sauerkraut in an out of the way, semi-warm place. The warmer the storage place, the quicker the fermentation process. I cover mine with the Mason jar lid that has NOT been screwed on.... at all. This way as the cabbage ferments, it can release gases and sometimes a little juice in a safe manner. (If you place the lid on the jar in any way other than just balancing the lid over the mouth of the jar without screwing into place, it will not be "in a safe manner". Over time, the jar will build pressure under that lid and it could actually explode in a "not safe manner", spewing interesting smelling cabbage juice ALL OVER THE PLACE. Don't ask me how I know this. Just take my word for it!)

Anywhoo, after a couple of weeks, you have amazing, great sauerkraut, ready for imbibement. (No, wait. Imbibement is drinking. Is imbibement even a word? OK...forget that. After a couple of weeks, you will have amazing, great sauerkraut to eat.) You can either eat it immediately or place in the refrigerator until you are ready to eat it. By placing the sauerkraut in the 'fridge, it stops the fermentation process so the kraut doesn't make anymore gases and you can safely put the lid on without fear. Plus, the fridge halts the resulting "sourness" to just the exact tartness to our taste.

So there you have it. A cheap, nutritious way to use up waining heads of fall cabbage that is easy on the money bags. My mother would be so proud!

(Sorry. I don't have a picture of the finished product. I have to go clean up a juicy, smelly cabbage mess.)

Friday, April 6, 2012

We had another dog attack. We were lucky. We only lost one chicken because of our big red rooster.

True to his nature, the rooster saved the day by distracting the dog away from the majority of the flock. (You know, I really don't know anything about what a rooster thinks when he's being attacked. I attribute "manly" thinking to the rooster because he's the "man" of the flock. I just assume that he's thinking "save the the the girls" when he is fleeing away from the hens, pulling the dangerous dog with him. My husband gets a chuckle out of my thinking. He says that in reality, the rooster is probably just screaming "WHAT IS THIS!!!! A WILD WOLFE HAS MY FANNY!!! AGAIN!!! RUN! RUN! RUN!
Humph. I don't care what my husband thinks. I prefer to think that the rooster is selflessly caring for his women.)

Unfortunately, he also got the brunt of the attack.

Or at least his tail feathers did.


I'm glad he was on duty.

I'm sure the girls were glad he was on duty, too.

He'll be OK. Just a few feathers missing.

The dog that "helped himself" is a good dog, usually. He keeps the coyotes away from our neighbor's animals. And we have a really good relationship with our neighbors. I'm sure he won't be back. At least not to eat anymore chicken.