Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Scandinavian Hillbilly Smoker

On my new favorite cooking show  New Scandinavian Cooking With Andreas Viestad   In episode # 212, Learning to Smoke,  Andreas rigs up a woodstove connected to a small refrigerator to smoke some shrimp and sardines. Here on the farm you never know what you might find on the junk pile waiting to be re-purposed.  In this case it’s a old Hobart commercial dishwasher.  It was too heavy for one person to put on the truck, so I called my lawyer.  Skeptical at first, he helped get it on the truck.  Once in the barnyard and the electrics were thrown out and he had a beer in hand he started to see the beauty of this project. Just to be safe he called the bank president in on the job. We needed more beer and time to cogitate anyway. The bank president arrived and laughed for a long time. After he he settled down he too came around and started tearing the plumping out of thing.   Funny thing about the Hobart commercial dishwasher is that it's like it was made to be a smoker.  All stainless steel construction. Two chambers, counter-weighted door. The top even comes to a cone like chimney. The first incarnation of this hillbilly smoker involved a hot plate and cast iron pan for the wood chips. This worked very well until the hot plate burn out.  

While having a beer at my lawyer’s house he says 'Have you seen New Scandinavian Cooking With Andreas Viestad?' I had given him the book Kitchen of Light a number of years ago but had not seen the show. And there it was in episode #212--the answer to the burned out hot plate. In the barn I had no less than three small wood stoves to choose from. I went for the cute, short one.  I had my lawyer’s father-in-law, a real handy guy,  make me a 24” x 8” plate with a 6” hole in the center for the duct pipe.  That’s worth two smoked chickens,  isn’t it?  Applewood in the stove and good to go. So keep watching TV and drinking beer.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Bangers by Dietrich-Gehring This past Sunday my kitchen was invaded by men making sausage. They came from all walks of life: an artist; a lawyer; a retired hospital administrator; a seller of restaurant supplies; a bank president; and of course the requisite IT guy. They brought meat, sausage making equipment, recipes and beer. They also brought a lot of little girls, who the weary wives spent much time helping to dress in snow clothes and send outside-- reverse upon re-entry, then repeat. Fortunately our 15 year old son was away for the day skiing and did not have to witness little girl’s invasion of his room and the wives had plenty of beer and wine of their own to drink. We all ate split pea soup and bread and of course ate sausage—a lot of sausage. It was delicious and everyone got a bag to take home. The only thing that concerns me is that a certain plastic cheetah went missing again, but that’s another story.

Chicken Congress

chicken congress by Dietrich-Gehring

Last Saturday I was fortunate enough to be invited by a friend to attend the Northeastern
Poultry Congress’s 29th Annual Poultry Show titled From Chicks to Champs. The show
was held indoors in the Mallary Complex at the Eastern States Exposition (known to
everyone simply as The Big E). It turned out to be the perfect place to spend a frigid
January day.

Once inside, I’ve never heard so much clucking, crowing, gobbling, quacking and cooing
in my life. In a way it was not all that different from that human congress that just started
convening again in Washington DC. Enclosed in rows and rows of wire cages were
hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of poultry of every imaginable size, shape, color
and species. Land fowl, water fowl, turkeys, guineas, pigeons, cocks and hens, cockerels
and pullets, large, bantam, modern game, game, single comb, rose comb, clean legged,
feather legged, heavy, medium, light—all competing for ribbons, trophies and cash.

My friend, Annie, is a chicken fanatic. We looked, literally, at every single bird in that
place. It took several hours and it was a lot of fun. There were many people walking
around with chickens tucked casually into the crooks of their arms or perched on their
shoulders. Others wore chicken hats, or jackets with cool bird club insignias on the back.
We the Junior Poultry Showmanship where young poultry keepers dressed in white shirts
and jackets, black pants and black ties show off their birds and their technique. People
were selling birds, raffling and auctioning off birds, fertile eggs and chicken equipment.
Tables were set up with all kinds of poultry accessories both necessary and fun.

An excellent time was had by all and to top it off Annie’s daughter Claire won an
incubator in the raffle! Now Annie is trying to get me to go to the Mid Ohio Alternative
Animal and Bird Sale and the end of March. All we need is to borrow a livestock trailer.
According to their website “Animals range from domestic to exotic with over 100 species
for sale.” I love a good auction and have some good auction stories to share, like the time
I went to the Catskill Game Farm auction, or the Sprucehaven Farms auction where I saw
a holstein heifer sell for $60,000. More on that later…

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Thoughts about Bulls

Let’s Talk Bull

You don’t see bulls around much anymore. Artificial insemination is now the method of choice for cattle reproduction.

My mother-in-law grew up on her family’s dairy farm in St. Johnsville, NY living in terror of extremely aggressive bulls. According to her they had rings in their noses from which hung long chains, the idea being that when a bull started to run at you it would step on the chain and come to a screeching halt. However, she remembers one bull that knew how to flip the chain up onto its back so that it could charge freely.

My only other knowledge of bulls comes from my cousin who did research in livestock fertility when she was a graduate student. Every morning it was her job to collect semen  from the bulls that lived in a university laboratory. (Yes they actually lived in a lab. I saw a picture of one of her bulls in a green tiled stall with a stainless steel gate.) My cousin is a very pragmatic person. The collection process was conducted by hand. She liked to say about her work “My bulls really love to see me coming in the morning.” These days she specializes in human fertility and says that in comparison to the bulls’ the human sperm is “just pathetic.”

I had an experience with a real live bull a few days ago. This particular bull was of a breed called Milking Devon http://www.ansi.okstate.edu/breeds/cattle/milkingdevon/index.htm. Some friends of ours, Paul and Phyllis, have a grass-fed beef and dairy farm in Sharon Springs NY called Dharma lea farm. They have a Milking Devon bull on their farm. His name is Rex. He weighs about 2,000 pounds, is solid rusty red color and has a big set of horns and a ring in his nose. As with all bulls, he is kept for breeding. We happened to be at Dharma lea one day when Rex was to be loaded onto a trailer for transport to another farm where he was going to earn his keep by impregnating cows with his superior genetics.

When we got there Rex was stanchioned in the dairy barn eating hay. The barn was closed up and empty except for him. All the dairy cows had headed out to pasture. He seemed peaceful enough, munching his hay. Prepared for travel he had the words “No Grain” spray painted on his side in huge green letters. Rex’s owners were not taking any chances. Rex is an extremely valuable animal. He has never eaten grain. According to Rex’s part-owners Joan and Rob, who have partnered with Paul and Phyllis to raise this animal, his organic, all-grass diet is essential to his excellent health and his reproductive strength. According to just about everyone Milking Devon bulls are “good boys” but I had reservations. He was a young male after all, and in any species that can mean trouble. And did I mention he had a ring in his nose?

Anyway the pick up truck with a livestock trailer was backed up to the barn door. A short makeshift chute had been set up for Rex to walk through enroute from the barn into the trailer. While I remained in the barn with Phyllis the others got into position outside in the chute. Phyllis unchained Rex from his stanchion and told him it was time to go. He backed out of his stanchion reluctantly. She danced around his hindquarters and gave him a firm pat on the haunch. “Let’s go Rex” and he began to amble forward. I followed.

We walked in a  parad, Phyllis first, then Rex, then me. As Phyllis exited the building into the chute I realized that I was about to be the only thing standing between Rex and the barn he was in the process of leaving. I know from my own limited experience that when you are trying to move animals that are used to being in a barn to a place that is unknown to them the main thing that they want to do is to go back in the barn. I looked for an exit other than the one Rex was using. After a panicky moment I found the door to the milking parlor. From the parlor another door led outside. This brought me out right next to the chute.

Inside the chute Paul and Phyllis stood on either side of the door to the trailer, the opening to which Rex was investigating with reservations. Paul held a pitchfork in one hand. Ron had taken the unenviable position of being between Rex and the barn door. And Dieter had decided he should be in the chute with his camera to get a good shot. Rex remained uncertain about the situation.

Paul began to tap Rex on the back with the handle of the pitchfork. Phyllis lamented the fact that no one had thought to put hay in the trailer to lure Rex in. A moment later Rex seemed to decide he did not want to go in the trailer. He swung his big horned head around and looked over his shoulder at Ron who clapped his hands together a couple of times.Paul pressed the prongs of the pitchfork against Rex's haunch. Rex swung his head back around and looked into the trailer once again and then began to turn around in the chute completely in order to go back into the barn. Ron made a move to one side with his arms spread wide like he was going to try and stop him and Paul said “Let him go. Let him go.” Ron stepped away and Rex trotted back into the barn. Once inside Rex ran the length of the barn bellowing. I was glad I had found the milk parlor door.

Paul was laughing. “You know the question ‘What does an 800 pound gorilla do?’? The answer is ‘Anything he wants.’.” Some modifications to the system were made. A nice pile of hay was fluffed in the trailer. Paul traded his pitchfork for a piece of flexible plastic fencing. Phyllis went back into the barn to have a talk with Rex. After a minute Rex came ambling back out. Rex appeared in the door and moved forward to take another look in the trailer. Paul swatted him lightly on the back with the plastic fence post. Rex seemed to like the look of the hay in the trailer, climbed in and began to eat. Everyone scrambled to shut the trailer door. Another job well done.