Freezer camp

My chickens have enough heritage blood in them to go broody in the summer. I’ve tried the incubator project but nothing hatches eggs like a real chicken. When I notice the hens beginning to sit I gather large (but not too large) clean eggs, tuck them under her and hope she sits for 21days. And voila, the miracle of life, baby chicks!! And with the good comes the bad–the good, replacement hens–the bad, roosters!! On a farm, males are nothing but a bother. Yes you need one or two but the sad truth is that most of the boys, pretty though they are, are destined for freezer camp.

So a few weeks ago, after watching the forecast religiously for a warmish weekend, we decided to go for it. Little did I know that over the next couple weeks the weather only warmed unnaturally and had I waited I could have butchered in a t-shirt. Oh well.

I only had 8 roosters and ten rabbits. I gathered my supplies–my best friend, a really sharp knife. Nothing is more frustrating than a dull knife (not to mention dangerous too). This knife is a genius invention with a replaceable scalpel type blade and a no slip handle. Excellent for the job. I had prepared the fire pit a few days earlier and stocked firewood nearby. The chickens need to be dipped in HOT water to release their feathers, but not too hot so the skin doesn’t tear. We had separated the roosters from the hens a few weeks before hand. They were just too mean to the girls and I wanted them in a place where they would be easier to catch.

My chicken wrangling daughter caught them, I dispatched them, dipped them, she plucked, I gutted. Quite the assembly line. And just like that they were done. It was a cool day so we were glad to head inside. I left the chickens soaking in a salty brine to pull out the last of the blood. Then we did rabbits, which are so much easier than chickens. It took no time at all to harvest the ten rabbits, all young pet stock that didn’t sell. When we were at the coast on holiday it was quite a common occurrence to see signs advertising rabbits, PET OR POT!!

I broke the rabbits down into pieces, easier to store in the freezer and different parts are used for different dishes. Rabbit meat is much denser than chicken. I just read on a FB rabbit site that rabbit meat is more like turkey which is surprisingly accurate.

The carcasses I roasted for broth, and then I picked every shred of meat off the bones for the dog. Rabbits have a million tiny bones that can choke a dog, or puncture a gut but there is sooo much meat left on the carcass I just can’t bear to waste it. All in all a very productive harvest.

Spirits and jewels

I’m late this year making my Christmas cakes. I had found the last piece of the cakes I made two years ago in the pantry after the recent mouse related purge and was quite enjoying it when my sister came for a visit. Christmas cake?!? said she. And that was the end of that as I gave her the last of it. It only gets better with age and this one was particularly good. But all good things come to an end.

I gathered all my fruit and nuts in my big bread bowl and doused them in a liberal portion of a really good dark rum. I generally use Lambs but I was visiting my neighbour not so long ago and he had this one which we drank straight up. It was delicious–dark and caramel-ly–lots of body there. First one cupful then a day later another cup if the fruit has absorbed it all. Then a final shot of amaretto. The recipe calls for blanched almonds which I don’t understand. Why would you remove the fibre? Looks? You can’t see the brown skin when the batter surrounds the fruit and nuts. And when it’s sliced the beautiful pale nut flesh is revealed. So simply whole almonds. And candied ginger. When my mom made her Christmas cake she bought ginger in syrup and diced it up to put in the cake. I can’t find that anymore–I’m sure it’s around somewhere but I used candied ginger slices and left them in big pieces. Lots of cherries and big chunks of pineapple. Candied peel and citron–no raisins. They are too dark and I want the slices of cake to look like stained glass with big chunks of colour mortared together with the thinnest of batter.

I was heavy with the spices as the cake needs flavour and added extra ginger and molasses. Ten eggs, a pound of butter and the smallest quantity of flour possible. Demerara sugar. Sour cream and homemade apple jelly. Mix it all together and spoon into paper lined tins. Mom always used brown paper bags from groceries that she greased with lard and lined her tins with. I just used parchment paper.

O, a wonderful pudding Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since their marriage. Mrs. Cratchit said that now the weight was off her mind, she would confess she had had her doubts about the quantity of flour.

I too had doubts about the quantity of flour. Two hours into baking I found the batter had bubbled up and over the edge of the tins, lava like in its consistency. I pulled the cakes out, scraped up the crispy bits from the cookie pan and the sides of the cake tins (and the flaming bits off the oven floor!!) and shoved the cakes back into the oven for another couple hours, praying for the best. The crispy bits were yummy 😋.

The cakes cooled on racks overnight and then the moment of truth. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, or so they say. Delicious!I trimmed the crispy edges, bathed them in rum and amaretto, and wrapped them up to age in the pantry. One is heading to my cousin in Vienna and one is for my sister. The other two are mine, all mine 😍😍. They will be best next year, if I can save one that long. Maybe I should just make another batch!!