Tuesday, May 29, 2012

RIP Big Girl

Margaret Thatcher, my big meat chicken passed over to chicken heaven yesterday. She was 12 weeks old and as far as a chicken's life is concerned, I think hers was pretty good. When I placed all my little babies in their brooder, this particualr chicken headed straight for the feeder and the other chicks quickly followed suit. Hmm. good leadership qualities, I thought. The name Margaret Thatcher immediately came to mind. As the first few weeks went by I noticed Margaret getting bigger much quicker than the others and began to think "she" was a rooster. I figured if that were true I would just call him Marge. I began training him/her to perch on my shoulder. Oh I had plans for this big bird let me tell you. MT was obsessed with eating and took on a short, round, plump appearance. As she grew, so did her legs. Getting much bigger than any of the others. I mean this gal had some seriously big gams.

After about 6 weeks or so, I figured out MT's true nature. She was a Cornish Roaster. Apparently she was placed in the layers brooder by mistake at the farmstore. Cornish Roasters are bred for meat purposes and reach their peak at around 10 weeks. Being a greenhorn, I was not aware that she was any different from the rest of the little flock I chose back in March.

I did a little research and found out some things I didn't like. MT was destined for a short life no matter what I did. This breed of birds grow so quickly that they sometimes have heart attacks as their hearts can't support the size of the bird. Or their legs break under their weight. I talked to people who knew more about chickens than I do, and most told me the same thing: kill 'er and eat 'er. ARE YOU KIDDING? I didn't sign up for wringin' necks and pluckin' feathers! Eggs and only eggs were my goal. I hold these birds everyday, take them treats, have everyone named.

Still, I was realistic regarding MT. In the last few weeks, her movements had gotten slower, she was gasping for air, and had taken to laying under the feeder to keep the other birds from pecking her. Not so good days for MT. I knew what needed to be done, but no way could I do it. I talked to some fellow chicken keepers who didn't have a problem doing the dirty deed and was getting myself prepared for taking her to one of them. I was dragging my heals on it though.

Memorial Day brought the usual hotdogs and homemade icecream witht he kids and grands. Afterwards, we took the kids down to the farm to see the chickens and the bees. The minute I walked into the coop I said, "Uh oh." For there under the feeder lay MT and she was no longer of this world. Pop, the always resoursful son-in-law asked me for a shovel and then quickly scooped her up and headed outside. Between him and the MOTH, they soon had rigged up a way to transport the big girl on our antique tractor,/ now chicken hearse. Hilary riding side-saddle with Grandaddy, they headed out. With a few wild flowers thrown on for good measure by Hilary, MT was sent on her way. And so my accidental chapter at meat chickens has come to an end.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

This bad boy arrived last week and I got take him on a test run yesterday. Canned some bacon that I got on sale.  Oh wow. I know, I am a canning geek, but this thing is a jewel. I have been limping along with a Presto brand canner for several years now. Between replacing various parts and the wild flucutations with the pressure gauge, I was not at all upset when it caused me so much trouble last week, that I retired it. My new All American canner has me swooning and trying to think of all kinds of things to can. Can't wait for the farmers markets and my own plantings to come to fruition so I can put up the harvest.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

I Can, Can You?

With a freezer full of chicken and a day all to myself, I decreed it "a canning day". I love to can. Seeing all those jars lined up on the shelf full of homemade goodness brings a smile to my face and a sigh of contentment from deep inside my homesteader wanna-be heart. I especially like to can things that I have grown myself. It's a full circle kind of thing for me. That little seed or plantlet so vulnerable but full of potential that I sink into the ground in April, months later grown into itself and placed by my hands into gleaming glass jars ready to feed us in the dreary winter months ahead. I tell you, there is nothing like it.

I come by my love of canning naturally. Daddy loved to can and once he retired from farming, he reveled in it.  Momma not so much. Although I do remember her doing it. She canned out of guilt. Daddy also loved to garden and all Summer he would come in the house, those burly arms of his cradling his latest harvest and pile it on the kitchen counter. I remember that after he was out of earshot, Momma would grumble about all the work that meant for her as she couldn't let the stuff go to waste. So she'd sling the pots and pans, drag out the canner and get to it. I guess feeling like you have to do something does take the joy away somewhat. Daddy didn't have to can, and neither do I. I guess that is why I love it so. The man didn't know when to quit when it came to tomatoes. For days he would labor over those sweet/savory red fruits filling jar after jar. I can still see the jars lined up like soldiers on the counter. I can still hear Momma grumbling in the background, "That man is gonna kill himself with all that gardening and canning." Momma was always saying that about anything Daddy did that he enjoyed. Never did figure that one out. Those tomatoes were red gold in the cold season when we would use them in soup, spaghetti sauce, or just eat them from the jar. If Summer had a taste, it would be tomato for sure.

I remember my Aunt Mac liked to can too. So much so that her husband, my Uncle Charlie built her the ultimate homage to home-canning. A canning kitchen. I loved it when visiting in the Ozarks we'd go in there. Everything you could possibly need for canning was in there. There were shelves and shelves lined with canned goods and hanging from the rafters was all manner of herbs that she had grown or wild crafted in the mountains. To this day, I dream of my own canning kitchen. It would look very much like Aunt Mac's.

I have Daddy's old canner, but it is way beyond using. Rusted, parts missing, but I can't throw it away.I think I will put a plant in it and put it on the porch. Using old stuff this way is all the rage now, so I'll  be stylin' with my rusty pot. I also have his funnel, lid magnet, and jar lifter. I am sad to say I have to retire the jar lifter. All the plasticky rubber stuff is cracked and I had 2 jars slip from its grip today. So I'll buy a new one and put his back in the drawer. I love to re-purpose things, so maybe I will come up with a use for it. I know it's a stretch, but you never know.

Postscript: Looks like I am getting a new canner too. Mine bit the dust today resulting in all my hard work having to go into the freezer. It's ok though. I have had my eye on the Cadillac of canners for a year now, but couldn't justify getting it since the one I have worked. It started making a really strange sound and steam was coming from EVERYWHERE but the top. I turned off the burner and left the room. Just in case. While it moaned and groaned its way to demise, I headed to Amazon and got my new baby. Maye I'll put a plant in it too. Matching canner pots. Canna Lilies maybe? Heh Heh.