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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Farm Fresh Eggs

Eggs in the Icebox or Not?
The United States is one of the few countries in the world that keeps its eggs in the refrigerator.  In fact, in Europe, eggs can be found in their cartons on the shelf with other shelved items.  (I've heard tales from expats wandering the chilled section of European markets looking, dazed, for eggs.  When directed to the shelves, they reach toward the cartons, shaking, as if reaching towards a snake.)  In the US, the eggs from battery factories, must be processed within 7 days of being laid. By the time they are collected, and washed, packed and shipped to the market those “fresh eggs” from the local mega mart could already be two weeks old.  Then there is the time they spend at the market, two to three weeks, and then the time they spend in your refrigerator.  So “fresh” is a loose definition at best.
So what’s the deal? 
Eggs are permeable membranes, covered in thousands of pores.  When an egg, fertilized or not, is laid, the last thing that happens to it on the way out of the hen is getting coated in a natural sealant called a “bloom”.  It is this bloom that quickly dries on the egg and seals the pores on the shell, making it impervious to bacteria and reduces the loss of moisture from the egg.  Nothing gets in or out of the egg.  This bloom is meant to protect the young developing chick inside.  (Even a fertile egg will not develop on the countertop.  More on that later.) 
In the factory egg system, this bloom is immediately washed off, as well as any chicken waste product and/or waste from broken eggs from the production line.  Since the bloom has been washed and scrubbed off, with anything from acid to chlorine, bacteria is now able to invade the egg and moisture is allowed to escape from the pores.  As moisture leaves the egg, carbon dioxide escapes from the egg and is replaced by oxygen, which speeds up the deterioration of the egg.  The cloudiness in a new egg white indicates the presence of carbon monoxide.  As an egg ages, more gas escapes, making the white more clear and more watery and runny.  You’ve probably used a store egg, that was at or near the date on the package and noticed this change.  Since the egg’s security firewall has been removed, to protect the consumer from bacterial growth, the eggs are kept in cold storage, usually below 40’ to INHIBIT bacterial growth.  (Bacteria may still be present, but cannot thrive and reproduce or thrive on, or in, the eggs at those temperatures.)
ONCE EGGS HAVE BEEN WASHED, and the protective bloom removed, THEY MUST BE STORED BELOW 40'F to inhibit bacterial growth.

At DunRovin Station we store our unwashed eggs on the counter.  They are kept dry and cool.  Assuming you’ll be eating them within a couple of months, there is no need to refrigerate the eggs. (Not that they are ever around that long here, YUM!)  Even then, studies have shown that they are still safe to eat, they just don’t cook as well.  We only wash our eggs right before we use them.  Overly dirty eggs, do not make it to our storage shelf.  They are, hold your hat, washed in the barn, then cooked and crumbled with the shells and fed back to the hens.  Yes, hens are omnivores.  They will eat anything, including each other, if given the chance.  Our hens are open pen, free range happy hens.  They are only closed in, for their safety;  due to predators, weather, or for sleeping at night.  Otherwise they are happily wandering about the acreage, under the watchful eyes of Zap – the Rooster - eating their high protein feed, chasing grasshoppers and butterflies, and enjoying the occasional treat tossed to them over the garden fence.  It’s all that protein and greenery that allows our hens to create those bright yellow and orange yolks!
I can hear you now, “WAIT?! You have a ROOSTER?!  But I don’t want to eat a baby chicken!”  You aren’t.  Did you ever wonder how a bird can lay several eggs over several days, sit on them, and then have them all hatch on the same day without one being “over cooked”, some “undercooked”, and the others “just right”?  Here’s how it works.
Firstly, a hen does not need a rooster to lay eggs. When she reaches about 20 weeks old, she starts to lay about an egg a day, depending on the breed.  It may be every day, or every couple of days.  If she has no rooster, that’s all you get –just an egg.  If she has a rooster, she will still lay an egg, but this time, the egg has both sets of chromosomes.  If left undisturbed, she will continue to fill a nest box with her eggs until she has enough.  Then she will SIT on the eggs.  It is this process, called “going broody”, that allows the fertile eggs to begin to develop an embryo.  Not until certain, very specific, environmental conditions occur will the eggs even START to develop.  When the mother hen sits, she keeps the eggs at over 100’F, and her body heat and closeness to the eggs increases the moisture around the eggs to incredible levels.  She becomes a living steam bath for the eggs.  So while not all laid at the same time, they all start developing at the same time, and therefore, all hatch within hours of each other on day 28.  I promise our eggs at the station are kept nowhere near the conditions of a broody hen.
Remember the “farm freshness” we learned about at the beginning?  Well how fresh are our eggs?  We currently have 14 pullets and hens (hens are birds over 1 year of age, pullets can be of laying age, or not, but are under one year old), and one rooster (technically a cockerel, since he is less than a year old).  As of this writing we have 5 laying eggs almost every day.  So it takes us less than 3 days to get a dozen eggs.  Demand is high, so as I fill a carton, out the door they go! The time to fill a carton can be slightly longer when we have a girl decide to take a broody break, or the heat of summer slows them down, or the loss of daylight in winter slows them down, OR unless I get the overwhelming urge for a good fluffy egg soufflé or such at home !  Soon all 14 SHOULD be laying, and those that want eggs, will not have to wait “their turn” for those jewel blue cartons to show up!
So if you decide to store your eggs on the counter, GOOD FOR YOU for stepping out of the (ice)box.  I won’t hesitate to tell you that it took a huge leap of faith and a great deal of research for me to get over that hurdle.  Old habits die hard.  Like I said, I wash my eggs right before I use them.  YOU MUST USE WARM WATER to wash your eggs.  If you are running your water and put your hand in it to test and can hardly feel it, the water temperature is 98’, make it warmer.  If you use cool or cold water, the membrane of the egg will contract and pull any bacteria on the outside of your eggshell to the inside of the egg, which defeats the purpose of washing your eggs.  I also use a drop of mild dish soap, like dawn, and teaspoon of bleach to 4 cups of water.  I mix the two in a bowl and take the eggs for a ride through, rinse them in warm water and let them dry on a plate, napkin, or other clean surface, while I prepare the rest of whatever I am making.
IF you decide to store your eggs in the refrigerator YOU MUST WASH THEM FIRST!!!! ALL OF THEM.  Following the washing and drying directions above and then place them in a CLEAN container in the refrigerator.  Do not reuse the old carton, which held the unwashed eggs.  We do NOT recycle our egg cartons, or use old grocery store containers.  Our containers are NEW and clean when we put our eggs in them.
“I cracked my eggs and there STUFF (or blood) in them!”  This rarely happens with factory eggs, but can.  It is more common in farm eggs.  Why?  Factory eggs are processed along a shockingly bright egg table.  Eggs that have meat spots or blood spots are either tossed in the garbage, or cracked and blended, and sold as prescrambled egg product for use in industrial settings or baking.  We do not light sort our eggs.  It’s a cosmetic thing.  The meat spots or blood spots will not harm you.  When cracking an egg, crack one at a time in a small bowl and then add that egg to your larger project.  Repeat with the next eggs.  If there are spots in the egg, and you WANT to remove them, you  can do so at this point with a spoon or fork. (It’s also a great way to chase bits of egg shell that get away from you.) 
“But what IS IT?”  As egg travels through the hen without the shell.  Amazing, but true.  It isn’t until near the end of the road, that the loose egg gets its final coating of calcium, and sometimes color (which we jokingly call the paint sprayer).  The meat or blood spots are simply harmless bits of the hen’s reproductive tract that got caught up in the encapsulation process.  This is also how you can end up with a double yolk egg.  Two eggs are released at once and contained in one shell.  These eggs are removed from the factory process, to protect our delicate consumer mindset.
“I made boiled eggs from your eggs, and they won’t peel!”  Yes, I know.  Shockingly enough, I still purchase store bought eggs.  These are for the SOLE purpose of making hardboiled eggs.  FRESH eggs hold tight to the inside membrane, and are low in water content.  OLD eggs, have a higher gas content and water content, and have looser protein strands and will boil and then peel.  Even an OLD farm fresh egg is nowhere NEAR as old as a store egg.  So when the hankering for egg salad, potato salad, or (DROOL) deviled eggs calls, I pull my store eggs from the refrigerator. Besides, farm eggs are SO amazing in dishes that feature eggs; like scrambles, quiche, soufflé, over easy, eggs benedict, over hard, etc, you’ll not want to waste them on boiling and mayonnaise!  Cakes and cookies?  SURE! But a deviled egg?  Nah.
“My eggs cook faster than they used to!”  Fresher eggs have less water in them.  You aren’t having to heat the water in a scrambled egg or fried egg before the egg starts to cook.  Fresh eggs DO cook more quickly than OLD eggs, so don’t wander from the stove! (As always, completely cook your egg product for food safety.  And do not eat raw egg product.)
One of the things I LOVE is when a person first opens one of our cartons for the first time is the “OOOOs and AHHHs” of finding a rainbow of color inside.  That’s all the goofball breeds of chickens we have.  We do not dye the eggs.  The chickens do!  It comes down to genetics.  Between all of our silly breeds here, our eggs range from the palest of pinks, tan, beige, sand, milk chocolate, chocolate, dark dark chocolate, olive green, and baby blue.  We fill our cartons as the girls lay them, so we cannot promise colors.  Each carton is hen’s choice.  This also includes grading or sizing of the eggs. 
Most of our eggs are in the larger medium size to large, to extra large in size range.  Again, it’s hen’s choice. We do hold back our tiny eggs from our new layers, until they start laying larger eggs.  The eggs in the carton can be used interchangeably in recipes.
We are not a commercial farm or business.  We raise chickens for fun and entertainment.  The eggs are a bonus.  The cost of a dozen eggs goes towards the cartons and their feed.  There is no way we could ever turn a profit on these critters or their eggs.  But we love caring for them and being able to share the fruits of everyone’s labor!
Please wash and store your eggs properly.
Happy Baking!
The DunRovin’ Girls:
Olive - Olive Egger -olive eggs
Hyacinth - Lavender Irvington - cream eggs 
Meriwether - Ameraucana - sky blue eggs
Nugget- Slash Maran - Dark Chocolate eggs
Violet - Blue Laced Red Wyandotte - pale pink/buff eggs
Daisy - Light Sussex - light brown eggs
Rose - Welsummer - light brown eggs
Leela- French Blue Copper Marana - Dark Chocolate Brown eggs
Flora- Black Ameraucana- sky blue eggs
Lucy& Ethel - Copper Marana - Dark Chocolate brown eggs 
Donder & Blitzen - daddy is a blue egg Ameraucana and mommy was a Red Leghorn light brown, So I call them American Reds-  blue/green eggs
 
Cirrus - Daddy blue eggs Ameraucana mommy was a Buff Orpington light brown. I call her an American Orpington - light green eggs? 
 
ZAP the Rooster - French Blue Maran

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Hoosier Cabinet

The Hoosier Cabinet is a generic term used to describe a free standing kitchen, or pantry, cabinet with multiple storage cabinets and an enamel counter workspace at hip level that is able to be pulled out to enlarge your workspace.  Fancy versions could have decorative window panes, flour sifters, sugar and flour storage, spice racks, rolling pin holders, recipe storage and handy baking tips on the insides of the doors. 


When/IF you can find them at antique stores, or sometimes a barn or estate sale, their price runs anywhere from insane to ludicrous.  Their condition runs the gambit between a pile of wood scraps, a cabinet that is 6 inches larger in every direction due to a million coats of paint, and near pristine (or even newly made copies, distressed and being sold as antiques).

I have ALWAYS wanted one.  As far back as I can remember, I have wanted one.  I must have had a great, great aunt that had one in her kitchen, and it is hidden deep in some corner of my good memories.  I think they are wonderful.  There is just something so incredibly fascinating about them.  They represent creativity, thrift, hard work, craftsmanship, and home and family.  The catch was, as they are antiques, there is no way one would ever survive being moved frequently.  Compounding the issue was never finding one that was in decent enough condition that had a price tag that didn't send my eyes rolling.

Until this April.

I have been visiting Liberty House Antiques about every one to two weeks for the past year.  Not only is it an amazing Victorian era home used as a bed and breakfast, but it is also a fabulous antique store.  Pat, the proprietor, has the antiques in the appropriate rooms of the house (kitchen items in the summer kitchen, clothes in the closets, etc).  There are also amazing nooks and crannies that hold little treasures if you have the time to look. She is constantly bringing in new items, and is always willing to keep an eye out for things you collect while she is on the road hunting.  Anyway, one Spring day in April, I noticed a set of fiesta teacups on a shelf.  Then it dawned on me that the shelf was in a cabinet, A HOOSIER CABINET. 

The cabinet was always open so you could things displayed on the shelves for sale, and the counter was covered in items as well.  I had never noticed it before for what it was!  It was in really decent condition, so I didn't even BOTHER looking at the price tag.  There was no way this thing was less than $500.  So I just kept going through the shop, shoving the image of the cabinet to the back of my dust bunny filled brain.

Fast forward to the end of July.  I was visiting the shop again and decided, just for giggles, to check the price of the cabinet.  I moved items around looking for the tag until I found it.  $125!  I quickly started going over the whole piece, looking for missing pieces, broken wood, missing legs, broken hinges, anything that I couldn't fix myself or easily replace.  There was nothing that was so major that I couldn't handle.  The hardware wasn't original, and judging by its design was from sometime in the 60s,  The interior, at some point, had been sloppily painted a dark Hershey bar brown, but the wood, for its age, was in great condition, and the counter was almost pristine - no chips in the enamel, the roll top door (the tambour) on the utility cabinet needed repaired, but that would be easy.  I couldn't get that cabinet paid for and loaded into my truck fast enough!

(I forgot to take a photo of it IN the shop.  Silly, over excited me!)

Once I got it home ( I had to take it apart into its three pieces to get it in the truck), I looked up reproduction hinges online and quickly tossed that idea out the window and went local.  All this cabinet was a cleaning, light sanding, staining/sealing, and that Hershey brown had to go.





I selected Rustoleum high gloss Wild Flower Blue for the inside, which is a shade lighter than my kitchen walls.  This illuminated the interior by leaps and bounds.

The stain is Olympic stain and sealer in one, made for decks, and I chose semi-transparent Canyon Sunset.  A warm deep brown.  The more layers that went on, the more rich the stain became.

The inside of the utility cubby, which I would leave open for display would be painted Flat Navy Blue.

The flour dispenser/sifter, I chose Rustoleum High Gloss Candy Apple Red!

Several trips to area hardware stores finally revealed the hardware that I had in mind, library cup handles in flat black.

Then, the work began.  The first task was to tackle the cleaning.  Almost a century of grime had to go.  OF COURSE I decided to start this project on the hottest week of the summer!  I vacuumed out glitter, crumbs, and dead bugs.  The cabinet then had a good scrubbing with Murphy's Oil Soap, and then had a good rinse down.  Even just washing the cabinet, seemed to bring the cabinet to life.  All the hardware was removed, as were the doors and drawers.  I allowed it all to dry for two days before continuing.

It was during this cleaning that I found the original shipping labels and price tag, which was written in oil/grease pencil on the backs of the pieces,  Sears and Roebucks, Nappanee Cabinet, $25.95!

I digress.  It's the paint and stain fumes.

With the cabinet now dry, I lightly sanded all the surfaces and wiped them down with a tack cloth to remove the dust.  I taped off all the area where the painted and stained surfaces met, and then proceeded to paint the interior.  I also painted all the hinges flat black and the flour sifter.

Two coats of paint later, and a wicked spray paint, heat exhaustion sinus headache later, The painting was done.  I decided, due to the high humidity, to allow the paint to fully set up for two days before tackling the staining.

The staining really went quickly.  I managed 4 coats in a day.  With each layer of stain, the color became more and more luminous.  I couldn't wait for it to dry so I could put it back together and get it into the kitchen and start filling it with canned goods.

I allowed the stain to set for a full 24 hours before carrying it, piece by piece, into the kitchen to reassemble there, in the cooling, arctic breezes of the Air Conditioning.  It took me two hours to put her back together and get it set up.  I lost track of the work hours. The supplies; paint, stain, and hardware, came to $100.  I still got a deal!

She's BEAUTIFUL!

The lower cabinet still has the wire shelf in it, but I made a 7/8th" thick, stained to match, wood shelf, to store quart jars of tomatoes. The wire shelf just isn't strong enough to take the weight.  The drawers hold canning supplies.  The bottom drawer is a tin lined bread drawer with a sliding lid and holds all my rings.  The middle drawer is divided and holds my citric acid, fruit fresh, tongs, lid lifter, and the boxes of flat lids fits perfectly in each cubby.  The top drawer holds odd cooking utensils.  The rest is self explanatory. 

I like to think she's happy again to be loved and useful and clean and new again.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Summer "down time"

Ok, ok...

I am shamefully hanging my head.  I realized I had not posted on the blog in three weeks.  To my credit, I simply cannot believe it has BEEN three weeks!  I do not know what has happened to the calendar block we CALL summer, but there you have it, it's gone.

It seems like just yesterday school was letting out, the first of the corn rows was popping up, and the cicadas were just gearing up to full song.  At some point, late July and early August became a flurry of activity.  With temperatures becoming unrelenting and hovering near 100' everyday, and the humidity hovering daily between tropical rainforest and visiting the underbelly of a submarine, days became all about survival.

 Keeping the flock alive and happy was not only a priority, but a major undertaking.  They required a ridiculous number of trips to the coop, making sure they have not only water, but COLD water.  The amount of water a chicken goes through when it is hot out is INSANE!  We filled their 2 gallon waterer at least twice a day, and refreshed it with giant one gallon sized ice cubes made in the recycled lids of plastic bakery containers.  We made sure they had cool fruit and we would toss in frozen peas for snacks. ( We call them vegetarian pill bugs. Greenbeans are vegetarian grasshoppers.)  I also installed a huge barn fan in the front coop windows. 

The coop vents really quite well, until it hits 100' AND the wind stops.  The wind on this hill NEVER seems to stop blowing, until the heat rolled in.  We also decided that letting the girls out to free range, and find their own spot in the yard that was comfortable, was a lower risk than keeping them cooped up in the heat.  It turns out they love the dirt under the coop, especially when half of it has been sprayed down with water.  They can dry dust bathe  and settle into the cool earth on one side, or dig and splash in cool mud puddles on the other.

It was a long three weeks of catering to chickens, but everyone made it.  Three more girls actually started laying eggs as well. Nugget, our Splash Marana, lays the most delicious looking deep chocolate colored eggs and has worked up to almost large size eggs.  Violet, our blue laced red Wyandotte, with her still small terra cotta eggs.  Then there is our mystery layer.  Two days ago, small dark chocolate eggs started showing up in the nest boxes.  So it either belongs to Lucy, Ethel, or Fauna, all of whom are Marans.  But all are too hard to differentiate on the web cam.  My bet is on noisy Ethel.

Chicken Story of the week, since so many of the readers here love the chicken antics.  Zap, the rooster, is still quite young, but he's feeling his oats.  When he gets it into his mind that he want to mate one of the hens, he is all focus.  He picks a hen, and the chase begins.  IF she's in the mood, she will quietly sit, do the deed, he'll wander off, and she'll get up and ruffle her feathers back into place.  We call the whole process "feather ruffling".  Anyway, one day ZAP decided to go after Ethel.  Well, it being 100' Ethel wasn't in the mood.  (Who can blame her.)  She took off racing across the yard, screeching for all she was worth, with ZAP close behind, wings out, head down in full chase. She bolted for the run ahead of him and jumped in through the pop door and into the coop, and then stood still and quiet in the doorway.  ZAP, being focused on the chase, didn't catch her lightning quick turn into the run and coop, and thought she had run behind the whole building.  He ran behind the run and UNDER the coop, and stood there with a most bewildered lost look on his face.  I swear I could hear her laughing.

He got her back yesterday though.  We had three inches of rain in two and a half days.  Needless to say, the run and yard were a drippy muddy mess.  The area where we stand outside the run door had very large mud puddles.  I was in the run raking mulch, when I heard a commotion.  I looked, and there was poor Ethel being shoved deep into the mud and water by ZAP.  How's that for a gentleman?  Not even a cape to stand on.  When she got up, she looked like a drown rat.  That's a fine how do you do!  Roosters, ugh.

We were also attacked by the garden.  When you have warm summer nights, plenty of rain, and a good supply of sun and fertilizer, well, you get plants, BIG plants, and quite quickly.  To date I have pickled 50 pounds of cucumbers (various forms of pickles and relish), 10 pounds of banana and jalapeño peppers (pickled for subs and sandwiches), and have canned a whopping 75 pounds of tomatoes!  Holy Mason Jars batman! Tomato season hasn't even STARTED in full yet!  I'm up to my eyeballs in tomatoes! And glad of it. 

You never know when a tomato season will go bust.  Tomatoes are picky. The love hot and humid, but not too wet.  They really love humid hot nights.  IF any one of those things isn't up to par, your harvest will suffer.  Disease is also an issue.  So far I've had no disease problems.  But our nights haven't been as hot as I'd like, but we'll get there again.  It does give me a chance to kick back and take a tomato purée break!


I

I also managed to find a wonderful Hoosier Cabinet at the Liberty House Antique Store.    It had some wear on it, but was in generally good condition and had never been painted.  The enamel counter was almost pristine.  I have always wanted one, but they can be so ridiculously expensive.  I'll have a whole post on its rehabilitation.  But I am filling it to the brim with canned tomatoes, which I prefer to keep in the darkened cabinet. (Which is why there aren't any in the glass cabinet photo above.)

Garden update. 

The corn was a bust.  It never grew taller than 5 feet.  It was bleached from too much rain and not enough nitrogen.  I never sprayed, so we got worms and bugs.  The ears were small, but the chickens enjoyed them.  I will not bother with corn again next year.

The green beans were a dud.  My composted black soil is too rich, and all I really got were greens and very few beans.

The cucumbers, as I said above, were very prolific, until just last week, when the squash beetles found there way into the vines.  But that is fine.  I had plenty from those three vines.

The sweet potatoes and cantaloupe are merging into one giant plant, which I am sure will take over the planet.  We've had two gorgeous, delicious melons so far, and many more are sitting there hiding from the beetles.  The sweet potatoes, mercy, I hope they are super, as the vines are everywhere!

The Yukon gold potatoes are starting to die back, so harvest is just around the corner on those.

The sorghum is 10 feet high.  It suffered in a wind storm two days ago, but I have it bundled and tied to the fence.  I hope that will save it.


The orchard is struggling.  The high heat, high humidity, and low rainfall have done its worst.  Three trees, which were struggling upon purchase have died, and will be returned for replacements in the Spring.

Well there you have it.  The great update.  Tomorrow we will carry on to more of the FUN stuff!