These bizarre grey/blue looking creatures are Black Silkies, an exotic and ancient breed of chicken from China. I got them from a friend of mine who hatches a few different breeds of chickens. She had bought a half of one of our pastured veal and when I was heading over to her place in August, she’d said she had 5 Silkie roosters that she didn’t want, so would I like to take them?
I’ve been fascinated by all this black chicken information circulating on the internet for a while, so I said yes. Silkies were reputed to have black bones, skin, organs and meat. Fascinating! The 5 roosters came home with me and lived on pasture in a chicken tractor for a month. I wanted them to have time to enjoy the grass and sun and “fatten up” on organic grains before harvesting them. They were ridiculous, like stuffed animals that crowed, but they looked more scary- a bit like gremlins or characters in the movie Labyrinth. I really enjoyed their antics, strutting around like pompous puffy Steampunk wind-up toys. Each night I had to put them into a brooder tub, which served as a mobile “coop” and kept them safe from predators. But they did not like me gathering them up at night, leaping away from my hands as I tried to collect them, shrieking in melodramatic shrieks and wails. In the morning, they’d leap out of the brooder with the exact same sounds, then strut about, eating grass between crowing their territory all day.
But they were roosters, and I am not looking to keep ornamental birds or pets. The last summer Bubster had been living with the turkeys and geese for a bit longer to grow more, and he’d suddenly reached basketball size (you can see him behind the turkeys, he was darling) The weather was looking fair, so I decided it was time to harvest. I can’t deny that everytime I can knock a chore off the list of things to remember to do everyday, that’s a good thing. With these shortening evenings I was ready to take “catch the Silkies” off my nightly routine.
Silkies are said to have some sort of historical use in Chinese medicine, there’s lots of info and recipes out there. I have not cooked one of them yet, but because they are lean and tiny pigeon size, I will probably poach them, pick all the blackish meat off, and then make a rich and interestingly colored broth with the bones and skin. I didn’t save the feet because they were absolutely terrifying looking. Silkies have 2 extra toes and very furry feathered feet, with long straggly black feathers growing between their crazy toes. No thanks for my broth making! The dogs liked them though. There is nothing wasted here.
When we harvested our own calf in August, we de-boned all the veal instead of cutting it into traditional beef cuts. I have a bunch of bags in the freezer labeled with vague terms trying to describe the size of the meat chunk and where on the calf it came from such as “leg roast, or “neck bits.” Andrew’d been watching this Alaska documentary, showing the Inuit people taking all the meat off the bones of a massive moose because then the meat required less space to store. The basic idea is you follow the muscle groupings to find where they attach to the bones, and then try to keep them intact, instead of just slicing into the mass of muscles.
I’m not very familiar with cooking beef, let alone veal, so this bounty of food is quite the experiment. After hearing the word taco on a podcast, I wanted to make veal tacos. That’s basically how my menus get planned; I hear a suggestion that triggers a belly rumble, and then I make it work with what we have. I took out a 2 lb sized “leg roast” bag to defrost, and then rubbed the surface with chopped garlic, chili powder, pepper and our own bacon fat (I know right!?). I know veal is lean and I didn’t know if this roast, being from the leg, would be tough or not, so I stuck in it a 350 oven for about an hour. When I checked it was delicious AND tender, but you know what? It tasted almost exactly like pork, with just a hint of beef. I let it rest, then served it sliced thinly with oregano roasted potatoes and the last of the vine-ripened tomatoes (the ones with bad spots- our CSA members got all the nice ones.) Andrew had the great idea of putting a smear of duck egg aioli in our tacos, since we don’t have sour cream, and it was a very complimentary and pleasing mouth marriage.
May May is still giving a bounty of milk, and she has since March! At 6 years old this year (I think) she’s really gotten into her stride. After years of dealing with first fresheners, I’m just loving having a mature goat who I have a long relationship with. We hate each other some days, and “someone” sure knows how to push my buttons, but May gives so much, it’s impossible to not give her a ton of props for being such a solid goat. Milking time, which was on the 8am and 8pm routine this year, has started to get a bit off schedule because it is getting dark SO much earlier now. I’m milking in the pitch dark even at 7pm, shooting the sweet smelling hot milk from her giant warm teats aimed at jar mouths I can’t see. You can see my latte foam stack there, huh? Kind of hilarious. I’ve noticed her milk quantity varies significantly if she does not drink the water in her bucket. Goats often do this if something tastes funny about that particular bucket, or that particular water. But if she gets plenty of grass and fresh water, and some grain, she is still milking 3/4 gallon a day.
May has an appointment in the next couple of days to go visit her “boyfriend” Coltrane, the gorgeous black San Clemente goat owned by my friend Erin. I am very grateful to Erin for providing stud service for May so I don’t need to keep a buck, or buy one and risk exposing May to goat illness from other herds. Once May gets knocked up, I’m going to stop milking for the year and let her conserve her energy as her baby or babies grow, and also take that chore off my list!
I’ve been stockpiling her milk in the freezer for soap making, and then set to work on revamping my cheese making before May heads over to her romantic rondevouz. I got a culture going again over the past 2 weeks so I could make a batch of feta cheese. It’s been 3 years since I made feta, and we’re on my very last jar. Boy did it age gorgeously in the brine! It’s creamy, tangy and super richly flavored. Natural cultures are pretty easy to make, you just start with a bit of raw milk in covered jar. Let it clabber/thicken on the counter, then add some more milk. Let that thicken. Repeat several times, like feeding a sourdough, then pour out most of the jarful and give to the pigs or dogs, add fresh milk to the jar one last time, let it thicken again, then you’ve got a strong culture. Not at all scientific or precise though! More of a traditional foods/Wild Fermementation way. I adapted my techniques from the legendary Dr. Fankhauser’s “Cheese page” website. In my 3 gallon batch of feta, I used maybe 1 cup of culture and 3 drops of rennet. I hope I remembered the ratios right! It’s been so long! Our old house is freezing cold, like a fridge, so that may mess up my actual feta process, or maybe it will make the fermentation process slow down, which could actually enhance the flavors. We’ll see.
After the pot of renneted, cultured milk starts to curd up and float in the whey, I’ll cut and then drain the curds for a number of days, then lay them out on a board and salt the crap out of them and let them air dry for a week or longer. More flavor enhancement happens throughout all of these processes, as the cultures are still alive and kickin. Finally, the salted curds will go into a salt water brine in a clean jar and into the fridge, which by then will be located in our new home:
Wootwoot! Here’s the latest on the Farmer Barn. I just want to roll myself up in all that insulation. Well, not literally. But I see it and it feels like a warm winter is coming our way! Next up is getting the floor in, then the woodstove installed.