Welcome to Painted Hand Farm

Painted Hand Farm is a 20 acre Civil War era farm located in Cumberland county, Pennsylvania. We raise meat goats, veal calves, turkeys and organic vegetables using humane and sustainable agricultural practices.

Search This Blog

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Mother Nature's Harvest Schedule

Helianthas tuberosis, aka sun choke, Jerusalem artichoke or fartichoke. In fact, it is not really a member of the artichoke (thistle) family or from Israel, but a tuber native to North America--a truly local food.

Just-dug deliciousness!
There are lots of suggestions as to why it is referred to as a 'choke', but my guess would be is because it literally chokes out all competing plants around it as is so prolifically spreads without replanting. In some areas of the United States, it is listed as an aggressive invasive.

This unusual seasonal tuber is actually a perennial member of the sunflower genus which has towering stalks that grow as high as ten feet tall with a cluster of daisy-like brilliant yellow flowers at the apex of each stalk. 

The patch towering over the trellis and outhouse.
While some producers choose to harvest as soon as the flowers begin dying back, I have always waited for Mother Nature to choose my harvest date--after the first killing frost of the season. That frost was yesterday meaning that this afternoon I was out digging in the dirt so I'd have fresh chokes for farmers markets tomorrow.

As always, everyone asks, "How do you use them?"  "What do they taste like?"

You can:
  • Eat them raw
  • Boil & mash them with a little butter 
  • Saute them
  • Bake/roast them
  • Steam them
  • Deep fry them (and absolute delight as we found out at Cafe Bruges a few years ago after having unsold product when I stopped in for a post-market libation.)
As for taste, they've been described as a cross between a rutabaga and a parsnip, but being a type of sunflower, I've always thought the taste like that a of a giant sunflower seed.

Often mistaken for ginger root, the knobby tubers are a good source of carbohydrates. The sun choke stores inulin instead of insulin as its starch for extra energy during winter months. This can be useful, especially for people who limit glucose in their diets, because the inulin breaks down into fructose rather than glucose during digestion. This unique quality can make the tuber a good substitute for other starchy foods like potatoes, particularly for diabetics and Paleo eaters.

An unpleasant side effect for some people, the "fartichokes" tend to cause intestinal gas due to the fructose.
These vitamin-rich roots are high in thiamin, niacin, and iron. They also contain relatively large amounts of potassium and Vitamin C, while being low in calories. The tubers contain no fat or cholesterol, and only small amounts of sodium. A 1 cup  serving of sun chokes contains approximately 110 calories, 3 grams of protein, and 2.4 grams of dietary fiber.

Ready to give them a try? Here are some serving suggestions and recipes.

Roasted Sun Chokes and other fall vegetables

6 cups assorted fall root vegetables (winter squash, parsnips, turnips, beets, carrots, sun chokes, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, etc.)
1 large onion
1 bulb garlic
1/4 cup olive oil or nut oil
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

Clean and chop all vegetables into 1-2" pieces. Peel garlic cloves. Place all vegetables into an airtight container, add oil and thoroughly coat. Spread on baking sheet and season with salt & pepper. Roast in oven pre-heated to 400 degrees until cooked through and caramelized (20 - 30 minutes). Enjoy!

 Sandra’s Sun Choke Gratin

1 quart box of Painted Hand Farm Sun Chokes
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup freshly grated artisan cheese (I’m preferential to a drier sheep cheese, but any great local cheese will do. Support farmstead creameries!)
1/4 cup cream
Salt & Pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Using one tablespoon of butter, smear oven-proof dish.
Scrub and slice sun chokes. Arrange in a single layer in dish, sprinkle with cheese, add another single layer, sprinkle with cheese and continue until dish is full or chokes are gone.  Season top layer, drizzle with cream, dot with remaining butter and sprinkle with cheese. Bake until soft, golden and bubbly. Let rest ten minutes before serving. 

Sun Chokes at sunset

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Double Blessing

"If an Amish bull can't get her bred, then nothing will," my neighbor quipped as I dropped off my Jersey cow at his farm to be serviced by his purebred Red Devon bull. She had been open for two years now as I chose not to breed the year after my knee injury and adjusting to running the farm on my own. But the second year I failed to catch her in 'standing heat' in time to call the AI (artificial insemination) guy to get her bred. Two tries, no calf...I seriously considered turning her into burgers & sausages. 

But it was the night of the winter solstice and lunar eclipse when I torched off a massive brush pile as the temperatures dipped into the teens that I decided not to load her on to the trailer for a visit to Mr. Horst. Despite the roaring fire in front of me, the chill of the bitter cold night licked at my back until Emma wandered down into the pasture to investigate the flames. There she stood wrapping her massive dark fuzzy body around me in as best of a bovine hug she could muster. 

"I'll give you another year," I promised her.  And how she came through!

When I went out around six in the afternoon to do chores, gather eggs and check on everyone, it was evident from the large sac protruding from Emma's hind end that calving was imminent. I called the girls next door who had been diligently waiting and  hoping that they would get to see the baby being born. They were about to get their wish. 

A big red bull calf hit the ground about ten minutes after their arrival. Excited, they watched as Emma licked the newborn dry. But there had been a minor issue with them running out of the house just prior to dinner and not really asking their parents if they could come over to watch. This led to their father showing up to collect them, but it wasn't long before he, too, was caught up in the excitement when we all realized that a second baby was on the way.
 Twins! I knew the old gal was as big as a house, but I didn't expect a whopping set of calves. As someone who routinely purchases newborn calves from neighboring dairies, I see quite a few sets of twins and this pair were definitely a strapping pair, each weighing at least sixty to seventy pounds each, if not more.  
 "Those certainly aren't puny cross-eyed, buck-toothed Jersey calves," commented one of my workers who had spent time working for a Jersey cow dairy. Indeed, he was correct. From day one, it was evident that the sire ruled the genetics of these two.
 Although I've been looking forward to the rich Jersey cream for making my raw milk cultured butter, I'm more than happy to give it all to these two in order to give them a good start in life so they can grow up to be some of the most awesome steaks and burgers ever to come from Painted Hand Farm.
 Darn cute, aren't they!
 I think I'll send her back for a visit to that bull come July again.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Are your chickens free range?

Yes, much to my residential neighbors' dismay. They would prefer it if the birds were sentenced to Alcatraz or the stew pot.

I answer this question at least once a day, if not more, when I go to farmers markets. The next step is to educate the customer as to the differences between "free-range", "cage-free" and "pastured" as well as "natural" versus "Certified Organic".

My birds are pastured and natural. That means they live outside, not fed commercial feed (I mix my own) or antibiotics and have not had their beaks trimmed. Yet there are people who prefer to pick up a dozen of Eggland's Best Certified Organic Cage-Free eggs for $0.22 less than mine from the local international conglomerate-owned grocery store because they feel they are getting a better deal since I'm not organic with a big O and a piece of paper.  My hens also get to live when they molt instead of being ground up for fertilizer.

"Do you have a rooster with your laying hens?"

When an customer asks this question, I'm 99% certain that if I tell them "no", they will exhale in a great sigh of relief and happily purchase a dozen eggs that have no potential to become embryos thanks to the instinct of a broody hen. {FYI--the roosters were only added again late last summer}

"I just don't want to be responsible for ending a life," they sometimes blurt out in an attempt to explain their ovo-vegetarian belief system. The truth is even when an egg is fertilized, if it is not incubated (by machine) or brooded (by hen), an embryo will not develop. Although I'm sure there are some politicians out there right now who would beg to differ....

But roosters exist for a reason, again, much to my neighbors' chagrin. Granted, it is a rather rude awakening for city folk turned country folk to realize that my big black and white cocks don't only crow at dawn, but in the middle of the afternoon and at night, particularly during a bright moon. Think of them more as watchdogs as it is their job to guard their ladies.  Anyone keeping a flock of hens with a rooster will see soon enough that when the big boy makes a particular chirp, the ladies all scatter for cover. Look up and a hawk will be hovering. Or there's always the "come and get it" squawk when he discovers a mother lode of tasty treats. And of course, there's always the "hop on and wiggle" cackle. Where else do peeps come from? {and don't even say Tractor Supply!}

Welcome to the complete disconnect between the realities of raising food and eating food based upon misplaced ethical logistics or slick marketing.

As much as we'd like to press our ethnocentric ideals of feminism into the barnyard, the plain and simple truth is that males serve much more than a reproductive service in the animal kingdom. While there are squabbles and occasional sparring between the ladies {can you say 'pecking order'?}, those bad boys of the barnyard are equipped with thick leg spurs and an equally sharp attitude for a reason.

Here at the farm, I have two roosters--a purebred Barred Rock named Schtupp and Lucky, a Barred Rock/Auracanna cross with brilliant emerald iridescent feathers mixed in with his black and white plumage. He's aptly named because after buying several roosters from my organic feed guy for their colorful capes and saddles, an evening of skinning and cleaning left me tired, cold and hungry with one rooster left to go. I stuffed him in a cardboard box instead of a vacuum-sealed bag and took him home alive. There's plenty of hens to go around.....
And go around they do!

The one BIG disadvantage of free-ranging poultry that forage for bugs and such in the pastures is they also tend to lay there eggs in a variety of places so every day here at the farm is a Treasure Hunt despite having nesting boxes in the portable pen where there food is offered. Most of the spots are obvious, like inside the barn, under the gate between two stalls. That spot is good for about six to ten eggs a day. Sometimes if they can't get inside the barn, they'll lay then next to the ramp up to the center stall where the baby buck goats first go until they are big enough to handle a larger group. Under the canoe and in paddock #1's shelter are good for up to a dozen eggs each. The basement casement window well gets checked daily, too.

But sometimes those biddies are outright stupid and will drop an egg any old place, including in the middle of a mud puddle. For the most part, though, they choose dark, enclosed spaces where there is some sort of nesting material--either straw, hay or leaves. 
 Ultimately, they all end up in the same place---in the egg basket and on the plate.

 "Where do your chickens live in the winter?"

Anyone concerned with poultry welfare and the quality of their eggs should be asking their farmer this question. During a visit to another farm that also sells "pastured eggs" at year-round markets, I was shocked to find all their laying hens stuffed into a room in their barn. No pasture, no dirt---just concrete, straw, crap and overcrowding. This way the light could be controlled and the hens would continue to lay. What most people don't understand about "natural" eggs, is that it is not natural for chickens to lay eggs year-round. Some, especially hybrids or very young layers will lay eggs over the winter months, for the most part, egg production is dictated by the amount of daylight.  

Consider the cost of those eggs when you realize the hens need to be fed even when they are not laying due to a lack of daylight or they are molting. That's why commercial layer operations have completely enclosed buildings so they can regulate the light tricking hens into believing a day is only eighteen hours long instead of twenty-four so they lay more or that they get rid of hens as soon as they molt for the first time--16-18 months. That's the life of a bird that lays eggs which sell for $1.29 a dozen.   But look for those cheap egg prices to disappear as the cost of energy continues to rise; those industrial complexes are hydrocarbon-intensive operations, meaning they suck a lot of juice--electricity, natural gas and petroleum products and anyone who has filled any tanks lately wince at the growing costs.
 If you look closely at this image, you will see this flock of hens is on an area that will be planted this spring with vegetables. No petroleum-based fertilizers needed. No electricity or propane required to light the hen house. Similarly, Mother Nature designed those chickens with feathers. How many out there love your down/feather comforters, coats and sleeping bags...raise your hands. Nice and toasty, aren't they? The scratching isn't going to replace the rototiller, but the pigs' rooting will. It all works quite well together...it really does.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

I know exactly what my crap is worth

A dollar!
Despite the frigid temperatures today with light winds driving the wind chill factor into the teens, the brilliant sunshine and blue skies beckoned me from office work. Plus, I knew that the frozen ground in the marshland would afford me access to places I had not gone this year without wearing hip waders. A much needed property check was in order.

One thing I have intentionally done with the farm is leave a wide path the entire way around the perimeter of the fenceline--my private bridle path for me and the little red mare (who turns 27 on Monday).

So imagine my surprise when walking down at the far end of the property outside of the perimeter fence on the bridle path I came across a money on the ground. Not just any buck, but one stuck tight in a turd. 

I'm a lucky gal to end up with a Quarter Horse who can squeeze a dollar out of crap.

Enjoy the pictures from the rest of my walk.

The transition between marshland and stream bed. Last year I planted a bushel of wild leeks from West Virginia on the little island. Let's hope they get established and bountiful.

Going along on the walk today, the goats enjoy the tender shoots of wetlands grasses that sprouted last week in the balmy 60-degree weather.

This locust tree than blew over in the marsh a few years ago was covered in oyster mushrooms this year from all the wet weather.
The hillside of hardwoods,  home to all sorts of wonderful fungi, flora and fauna.

The peaceful little stream that quietly babbling in the afternoon sun.

Mother Nature & Father Time take a toll on all living things.