Archive for the “Real Food” Category

Chareva’s gardens are pretty much done for the year, but she harvested these recently:


This bounty came from a small patch of ground, maybe 16 x 8.  Imagine if we’d grown an acre of the things.  These squashes, along with a book I just finished, got me thinking (again) about what the true paleo diet was and wasn’t.

At one time, I believed Paleo Man was first and foremost a hunter who spent most of the year living on a diet of meat, meat and more meat. Then autumn rolled around, and Paleo Man would eat a few squashes, tubers and fruits during the brief harvest season.  Then it was back to the meat or the fish, because plant foods weren’t available.

Let’s just say that belief has been squashed.  With proper care, these squashes will be edible well into the winter.  That was also the case with the sweet potatoes we grew and harvested last year.  So if Paleo Man knew a little about proper food curing and storage – and I believe he did – he could have been eating squashes and tubers for a good chunk of the year.

I commute to Nashville three days per week, which means three to four hours per week in my car, depending on traffic.  I spend the drive time listening to books.  Blood and Thunder, the book I just finished, is about the conquering (or theft, if you prefer) of the American Southwest. The culture of the Indian tribes who lived there is described at length.  Food sources:  sheep, goats, occasional buffalo, deer, elk and other wild game – there’s that meat-meat-meat part of the paleo diet – but also maize, beans, pumpkins and ground tubers.

Granted, these Indians didn’t settle down and build towns around their crops.  In fact, in one stirring speech recounted in the book, an Apache warrior explained to an American soldier why the Apaches didn’t want to become farmers and send their kids to the reservation school:  you white people spend your lives as slaves, working for the sake of your big houses and your crops, he said.  Your schools teach your children how to be good slaves.  We don’t want to live like slaves, and we don’t want your schools to teach our children how to be slaves.  We want to be free.

But while they preferred a nomadic lifestyle, many Indians of the Southwest – the Navajos in particular – were quite adept at growing plant foods.  They planted, moved around at will during the warm months (herding their goats and sheep along with them), then came back in time for the harvest.   In fact, as the book explains, they depended on their maize, beans and pumpkins to get them through the winter.

Unfortunately for them, the U.S. Army figured that out.  An army general assigned Kit Carson the task of finding and destroying the fields where Navajos and other Indians grew their crops.  Carson apparently had little taste for the job – his first wife was an Arapaho, and he didn’t agree with the policy of herding Indians onto reservations – but he followed orders.  With their plant foods destroyed, the Navajos surrendered to avoid starving to death.

If these Indians were typical of paleo people, then tubers and squashes were part of the paleo diet.  Their diet would certainly be low-carb compared to the sugar-laden, wheat-laden diet of the modern western world, but it wasn’t zero-carb or ketogenic by any means.

You could argue that the Indians of the Southwest in the 1800s weren’t typical paleo people because their lifestyle had been transformed by the introduction of horses.  That mobility allowed them to be nomadic much of the year and still return to their maize and pumpkins at harvest time.   So perhaps the Indians east of the Mississippi – who didn’t ride horses – are a better example.

Well, those Indians ate squashes and tubers as well.  One of the plants we’re considering growing next year here on the farm is Apios Americana, otherwise known as the American groundnut.  Here’s some of what Wikipedia has to say about it:

The tubers were a staple food among most Native American groups within the natural range of the plant … In 1749, the travelling Swedish botanist Peter Kalm writes, “Hopniss or Hapniss was the Indian name of a wild plant, which they ate at that time… The roots resemble potatoes, and were boiled by the Indians who ate them instead of bread.”… The early author Rafinesque observed that the Creeks were cultivating the plant for both its tubers and seeds…  In 1910, Parker writes that the Iroquois were consuming significant quantities of groundnuts up until about 30 years before his writing … The author Gilmore records the use of groundnuts by the Caddoan and Siouan tribes of the Missouri river region, and the authors Prescott and Palmer record its use among the Sioux. The Native Americans would prepare the tubers in many different ways. Many tribes peeled them and dried them in the sun, such as the Menomini who built scaffolds of cedar bark covered with mats to dry their tubers for winter use.

Another plant we’re considering growing is Cyperus esculentus, otherwise known as the tiger nut.  Richard Nikoley has written about tiger nuts several times on his blog.  Apparently they were a major food source for early humans, including paleo Indians in North America.  Here’s another quote from Wikipedia:

It has been suggested that the extinct hominin Paranthropus boisei, the “Nutcracker Man,” subsisted on tiger nuts.  Prehistoric tools with traces of C. esculentus tuber starch granules have been recovered from the early Archaic period in North America, from about 9,000 years ago, at the Sandy Hill excavation site at the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Connecticut. The tubers are believed to have been a source of food for those Paleo-Indians.

I ordered one bag of tiger nuts from Amazon and liked them enough to order several more bags.  They’ve replaced almonds as my watching-football snack.  I enjoy the taste very much –like coconut with a hint of raisin — but it takes awhile to chew them because they’re very high in fiber and resistant starch.  (If you have a constipation problem, I can almost guarantee tiger nuts will fix it.)  I like the idea of growing tiger nuts because they’re apparently quite prolific – some strains are so prolific they’re considered an invasive species.  That tells me they’re not difficult to grow.

It’s clear from the historical evidence that our paleo ancestors ate squashes and tubers.  That being said, I’m not quite as enthusiastic as Richard Nikoley when it comes to white potatoes.  Yes, if you cook and cool them, you get some resistant starch.  That helps to reduce the glucose spike.

But like many other foods we buy today, modern potatoes were bred to be more palatable than their ancient counterparts – which means less fiber and more starch in the case of tubers, or less fiber and more fructose in the case of fruit.  I still believe diabetics and people with genetically low levels of amylase need to be careful not to over-eat those foods.

Tiger nuts are tubers, but they’re not exactly the metabolic equivalent of a baked Russet potato.  White potatoes are low in fiber and fat.  Tiger nuts are high in fiber and fat, both of which help to slow the release of glucose into the bloodstream.  Putting numbers to the comparison, if I eat a small baked potato that provides 120 calories, I get 30 carbs of which 3.5 grams are fiber (26.5 net carbs), and 4 calories from fat.  If I eat an ounce of raw tiger nuts that provides 120 calories, I get 19 carbs of which 10 grams are fiber (nine net carbs) and 63 calories from fat.

Think about that fiber content for a second.  I don’t know how big Nutcracker Man was or what his daily calorie needs were, but if I ate 2,400 calories of tiger nuts to get through the day, I’d end up consuming 200 grams of fiber.  I hope Nutcracker Man subscribed to a good magazine.

So yes, Nutcracker Man subsisted on a tuber, but his diet was way high in fiber and more than 50% fat by calories.  Richard listed tiger nuts as 42% carbohydrate, but if I go with the net carbs (the fiber would be converted to short-chain fatty acids in the colon), I get 30%.

So what was the true paleo diet?  It would, of course, vary by region.  But based on what we know about paleo people discovered in modern times (like the Indians in North America) and the foods other paleo people ate, I think Paul Jaminet got it right in the Perfect Health Diet book:  more than 50% fat by calories, with the carb calories in a range of 15% to 30%, mostly from tubers and squashes.  Not meat-meat-meat, not VLC and not ketogenic, but still roughly twice the fat and half the carbohydrate recommended by our national diet dictocrats.

I’ll take meat-meat-meat over the USDA diet any ol’ time  But I don’t have to choose from those two options, so I’ll take meat-meat-meat with a side of squash and some greens.

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Hi Fatheads.

One of the comments on my last post (from Pamela) had a YouTube link of a young student demonstrating the difference when trying to sprout sweet potatoes (the “regular” ones wouldn’t sprout, the store bought “Organic” ones generated some weak growth, while the locally sourced tubers did quite well), along with the note that “Of course, growing your own is best, but some of us don’t have that luxury.”

I pretty much agree with both parts of her statement. I give pretty wide interpretation to the “don’t have that luxury” part. I think there’s a tendency to think of that meaning not having a large enough plot or enough time to tend to a full garden. But I think not having the luxury can also mean that if you want a tomato or strawberries in November, you’re not going to find that in your garden or the local Farmers’ Market. I assume if you’re here, we tend to agree that eating seasonally is best, but sometimes you just want those strawberries.

I also think that having access to a decent Farmers’ Market is the same as having that luxury. If a local producer is raising the food without chemicals, GMO seed, or other weirdness, there’s no magic missing compared to a strawberry grown in my own back yard. Odds are, it’s going to be better and more diverse, because they’re doing it as a vocation.

Without going into a full out rant, I’m also not enamored of the “Organic” label. It encompasses a lot of bureaucracy, paperwork, and expense that don’t have any positive relationship to the quality of the certified products. I know there are a lot of wonderful people who’ve jumped through those hoops, but there are also a lot who produce great food who can’t or won’t. There’s a grassroots alternative called “Certified Naturally Grown” that’s independent of the sundry government agencies that tend to help Big Food take over these certifications. Enough about that.

Okay, back to that first proposition — growing your own. I’ve kept a few “Square Foot Garden” style beds in the back yard the last couple of years. In the Midwest this year, between the cool temperatures and plenty of rain, if you couldn’t grow a garden, it’s just not in the cards for you!

I thought I’d share a couple of pictures. I’ve never grown potatoes before, because you normally “hill” them. Some people grow them in containers, but I’ve heard mixed reviews. However, out at Linda’s, where we build the compost pile with thrown-out produce, we had a number of light wooden crates that had been filled with green beans. I snatched a few of those, put about a dozen seed potato pieces in the bottom of each one, then covered them with some of that compost. As the plants took off, I kept adding compost until the boxes were full. This is what they looked like after the plants died back…

 

Harvesting was simply a matter of dragging the box over to a spot in the yard I wanted to dump some compost, then turning the box over and “rooting” out the potatoes.

 

Those are from one of the boxes. Not a huge haul, but I was pretty encouraged since it was my first try.  Then they go in the basement to cure for a couple of weeks. The dirt stays on until they’re ready to cook. So, I assume do all of the probiotics!

I also had a great turnout with some Brussels Sprouts.

If you don’t think you like Brussels Sprouts, you’ve probably never had them roasted in the oven with some olive oil, salt and pepper. Once some of the leaves start to turn a little black, that means the sugars are caramelizing.

My spaghetti squash turned out really good, too.  Yeah, that’s old nylons they’re hanging in.  No, not mine. Growing them vertically gives you a bigger harvest than letting them sprawl across the ground, and helps reduce access for the bugs. There’s still some peppers hiding out behind the squash.

Like I said, it was easy to grow veggies this year — even if you didn’t mean to. These cherry tomatoes “volunteered” and are growing right up in the middle of where my strawberries were earlier in the season.

 

It feels nice to see real food you’ve grown as Fall starts to ramp up. Having some success this year will inspire me this winter while I’m buying too many different kinds of veggies from the Seed Savers catalog.  That’s okay, we’ve got a really good Farmers’ Market, so people that know what they’re doing  can always bail me out, while I can still enjoy occasionally eating straight out of the garden.

Cheers,

The Older Brother

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Isn’t evolution great?

I don’t mean the monkey-to-mankind stuff.  I got tired of that debate years ago.  I’m talking about the kind of evolution you can observe.  Specifically, how folks in the low-carb,  paleo, LCHF, etc., etc. camps have evolved back to potatoes!

Yes, the lowly tuber is back in the rotation, and I’m happy about it.  Honestly, I was okay with not eating them, and still like the recipes with cauliflower, but The Wife had really missed them, and as we all know, “when momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

After getting clued in to Richard Nikoley’s (of the Free the Animal blog) new thinking on resistant starch, I had two thoughts:

1) That’s really interesting, and seems to fit with the paleo/evolutionary model; and

2) How am I going to tell The Wife?

I’m kidding. Some. She really had been a good sport, and went above and beyond the call of duty experimenting with cauliflower, turnips, rutabagas et. al.  But she missed them more than I did.   I wasn’t sure how she was going to take it when I told her the whole “no potatoes” thing for the last couple of years had all been a big misunderstanding.

I just knew I didn’t want to be in the room alone with her at the time. Fortunately, The Oldest Son happened by and asked how she’d taken the news that potatoes were actually okay. Right in front of her, before I’d said anything.  She took it really well.

So they’re back, and we’ve been enjoying them in moderation.  Like this:

Those are Wasabi/Horseradish mashed potatoes under that grilled, sesame-seed crusted tuna, with the bacon-wrapped asparagus as a sidekick.

Tuesday was one of our pastured chickens that The Oldest Son & I had processed, with sides of peas and “Bourbon Bacon Whipped Sweet Potatoes with Brown Butter and Crispy Sage.” The sides looked like so:

[Foodie alert: Not a very good picture -- the sweet potatoes had a much better presentation besides being delicious. Have to say, we didn't get much out of the sage. That's the second recipe we've tried with fried sage. From now on, we're putting it in raw or just skipping it.]

Forgot to take a pic while they were plated with the chicken, which was used in the “Chicken with 80 Cloves of Garlic” recipe from the Eades’ book, “The 6-Week Cure for the Middle-Aged Middle” …

That was one tasty bird, and the new thinking on tubers (I know sweet potatoes were already kind of tolerated) really added something. We’ve also taken, as Tom has also mentioned, to baking some potatoes and just keeping them in the fridge.

All of the potatoes recipes are made ahead of time, then refrigerated. We’re interested in the resistant starch process, but the fact is that they taste just as good — and I think maybe better — when reheated, and there’s a real convenience factor being able to prepare some courses ahead of time, so you’re not juggling them at the same time as a rocket-hot charcoal chimney…

… that tuna only goes 30 seconds a side, so it’s nice to be able to focus on the main dish.

Okay, back to the evolution thing. My real point is — how long did it take, given a heretical “new” idea introduced to the sundry LCHF, paleo, etc. communities, for what was really something of a paradigm shift to occur. I know, not everyone is necessarily on board with the tuber stuff yet, and “your mileage may vary” depending on whose N=1 experiment we’re talking about. But seriously, there’s been a pretty abrupt shift in the general model of nutrition and how these venerable starches fit in.

The inconvenient facts Richard raised were, albeit with some perseverance required, gradually looked at and evaluated. When it became reasonably apparent that the current thinking couldn’t account for these facts, the model adjusted. It wasn’t declared a “Tuber Paradox.” Most people didn’t double down and commence name-calling. The model changed.

It evolved. It’s robust. It adapts. It bends. It improves.

Contrast that with the official government line on, well, just about anything. Saturated fat. Statins. Cholesterol. Hearthealthywholegrains. The gut biome (official government line on the gut biome: “the what?”). Farm programs. Subsidies. War. Energy. Bailouts. Raw milk.

Nothing changes. Once a “model” is adopted by a bureaucracy, all of the money and power coalesces around the model, not the pursuit of the knowledge the model was trying to conceptualize.

Government models don’t adapt. They implode. They collapse.

This is the difference between the market, the “wisdom of crowds,” on one side, and on the other various systems of force, which are genetically infected with what F.A. Hayek termed “the fatal conceit.” Eventually, the options are — evolution, or extinction?

I’m going with the fries.

See, I did have something on my mind other than teasing you all with some food pics. If that’s all I wanted to do, I would’ve put in a picture of Sunday’s desert.

Oops.

Ok, the honey-lavender ice cream wasn’t low-carb or paleo, but it was all real — honey, cream, egg yolks, lavender. Yeah, the praline basket was a total cheat.

Cheers,

The Older Brother

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Hiya, Fatheads!

Bad news.

Tom is hard at work on that book/DVD project he’s been teasing us with for the last year or so, which is good. But it’s taking a bit more time and effort for this phase than he’d planned, so you all are stuck with me for another week or so. It should be worth it in the end, so let’s all, as Lone Watie said in the classic “The Outlaw Josey Wales” (played by Chief Dan George) –

“endeavor to persevere.”

BTW, if you’re too young to get that reference, you need to watch that movie. If you don’t have that kind of patience, or if Josey has ended up on the non-PC list, or if you’d just like a reminder of one of the great scenes in movies:

Okay, enough about the first Americans put on a government-run welfare program.

Back here in the present day, I’ve pointed out before the adage that “grandchildren are your reward for not strangling your children when they’re teenagers.” The Wife and I got an invitation to go to breakfast with The Oldest Reward (1st grader) yesterday at her school’s Grandparents Day. It was fun, and well attended.

Of course, you knew this had to be there:

You want to indoctrinate kids when they’re young. Otherwise, they may start thinking for themselves and we all know how messy that can get. Here’s something I never saw posted on the wall in the school cafeteria when I was a kid:

I never saw it, because hypoglycemia is associated with diabetes. Type I (juvenile) diabetes is rare and kids with it don’t need a poster to be aware of it. The other is Type II diabetes, but when we were kids, that didn’t exist. The condition did, of course, but it hadn’t been renamed to Type II diabetes. It was called “Adult Onset diabetes,” because almost no one got it until they were well past school age, usually mid-life and later.

It’s no puzzle to any Fatheads on how you create an unprecedented epidemic of insulin resistance in children. It’s simple. You just feed them breakfasts like this:

Didn’t manage to capture the other offerings in the picture, but you could balance your plate out with oatmeal and/or a plastic wrapped muffin, also. Not a drop of the fat kids need for their brains in sight, and the only protein available was a few grams in the milk. Fat Free!, of course. Ugh. The menu was missing one of last year’s offerings:

Thanks a lot, Michelle Obama.

Leah picked out what she thought looked good, and ate about half of it.

The Wife and I passed on the meal and just enjoyed being with her and her multitude of buddies. I was still fuming over the whole raw milk thing (or as the grandkids call it — “creamy milk!”) and took a look at the label on the fat-free chocolate milk:

Interesting that the FDA, USDA, CDC, and the Illinois State Medical Society are conducting a jihad against raw milk, but don’t seem to have anything but praise for the folks who bring our kids milk concocted with alkali, cornstarch, salt, artificial flavors, and carrageennan. Note also that the label does warn the consumer that this product “CONTAINS: MILK.” You know, just in case anyone was worried about there being milk in their milk.

It was fun being with the Oldest Grandkid, and we got to meet her teacher and see some of the school before she blasted off to the playground to squeeze in some playtime with her buddies before the bell started the school day. But the wife and I were a bit hungry so we stopped on the way to work and picked up a much higher quality breakfast to start our own workdays:

(Heh, heh. Just making sure Tom keeps getting those royalty checks from Ronald McDonald!)

Have a great weekend. Like it or not, I’ll have a few more things to say next week.

Cheers!

The Older Brother

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Here’s another callback for you longtime Fatheads. It’s from the end of a two-parter I wrote on the State of Illinois’ attempt last year to regulate raw milk producers out of business, “The Older Brother’s notes from the sausage factory floor…” At the end, after over a hundred people showed up to politely but loudly protest the state’s heavy-handed actions, I noted:

“I’ve heard from a couple of folks who think the regulators got an education on raw milk… Maybe the bureaucrats would change things up substantially.  Maybe even remove impediments to raw milk while setting a few common-sense protocols, as it fits in with the buy local/real foods programs the state and others talk up.”

Feeling I had a better understanding of bureaucratic sausage-making than those good, honest people, I ended with…

“I’m guessing they’ll lay low for a few months or more, and then pass pretty much all of those rules as is, maybe without the 100 gallon limit.  Or maybe they’ll bump the limit to 500 gallons.  But they didn’t learn anything, and they’re there to pass those rules.

It’s what they do.”

… Well. Sorry to be right again, but really, it was an easy call.

Apparently, in the last week or so, the FDA-funded lickspittles at the Illinois Department of Public Health went ahead and promulgated new rules concerning raw milk because… well, because there were no rules and how can you just let people mind their own business without someone writing rules to give them permission to do their own business and regulations detailing how that business is to be minded.

This go-round, they’ve posted for comment regulations that will require anyone selling raw milk to gather the name, address, and phone number of anyone they sell raw milk to and turn it over to the state on request. They will also be prohibited from milking a cow with any dirt on its udder or belly, and be required to only milk cows in a building with floors and walls that can be cleaned. In other words, you can’t milk a cow outdoors, and you’ll have to build a building for several tens of thousands of dollars to do it in.

These are, of course, only a start. Once they get some regulations on the books, they can keep expanding them and “re-interpreting” them until they’ve driven all raw milk producers out of the market.  Mission accomplished!

I wouldn’t have known about this as my local paper — the one in the state capital and the middle of ag country — didn’t actually mention any of this. It did, however, helpfully print a letter to the editor from one of the FDA’s useful idiots – the (prepare to be impressed) president of The Illinois State Medical Society. Here’s a few of what the medical establishment’s public mouthpiece seems to think are compelling arguments on why educated, intelligent, health-conscious people shouldn’t be allowed to choose to consume milk in the way it’s been consumed for the last 7,500 years or so…

 

As the Illinois Department of Public Health advances rules governing the sale of raw milk, the Illinois State Medical Society remains opposed to the sale and distribution of “raw” or unpasteurized milk in any form. Federal law prohibits dairies from distributing raw milk across state lines in final package form and about half of U.S. states prohibit the sale of raw milk completely.

Correct answer: So what?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other medical and health organizations, raw milk that is not pasteurized may contain a wide variety of harmful bacteria, including Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria and other bacteria, that can cause serious illness and, in extreme cases, death. And studies show that children, particularly, are most susceptible to illness due to consuming unpasteurized raw milk.

You mean, there might be germs in milk? Like just about any other food out there. Only as the statistics show, not so much. The nice thing about raw milk is that, unlike pasteurized milk, it also contains all kinds of good bacteria that, in addition to controlling the baddies mentioned, also brings both documented and anecdotal benefits. Probably in about another twenty years, the adherents to the type of medicine practiced by the Illinois State Medical Society will discover the wonders of the gut biome. (Don’t tell them now – you’ll ruin the surprise!)

Pasteurization, simply put, is heating milk to a high temperature and then rapidly cooling it to eliminate harmful bacteria, yet maintaining the milk’s freshness for an extended period of time. Even the Illinois Farm Bureau advocates that individuals drink pasteurized milk.

Wow. You mean, the industry group representing the commodity dairy producers who keep their livestock in confinement pens, inject them with hormones and antibiotics, then mix milk from thousands of cows from different producers, to be shipped hundreds of miles, think people should only drink pasteurized milk? The ones who also put artificial coloring and aspartame in their products?

Now, if you’re going to drink milk from one of these producers, you damned well better want it to be pasteurized. That has nothing to do with the environment of healthy dairy cows raised on pasture with sales going to people within driving distance, who can walk around those fields if they want to see what conditions their food is being produced in.

(Don’t worry about that aspartame thing though. The FDA of which the guardian of our health at the Illinois State Medical Society speaks is engaged in an effort, at the behest of these same producers, to allow aspartame to not be listed in the ingredients of your store-bought, “healthy” milk.)

And these commodity producers, having seen milk sales drop over 20% to the lowest levels in thirty years, are more than happy to advise the FDA, the USDA, the Medical Society, and any other economic illiterates, on how to best put small farmers — who are producing a healthy, ethical, vastly superior product at premium prices — out of business.

I’d say that if the good doctor’s medical expertise is in line with his depth of understanding exhibited in the areas of epidemiology and economics, it would explain why there are over 90,000 medical malpractice-related hospital deaths a year.

That’s an interesting number, because coincidentally, according to an excellent breakdown of the real numbers done by Chris Kesser here, that’s about the odds (1 in 94,000) of a person even getting ill from raw milk (not dead – just a reportable tummy ache). The odds of being hospitalized due to raw milk are around 1 in 6 million, or about three times less than dying in an airplane crash. As for dying, well that’s hard to calculate, since the last reportable deaths associated with raw milk were in the late 1990’s, and those were from homemade “bathtub” queso cheese, which was assuredly contaminated by the maker.

Now, back in 1985, both the worst case of food poisoning deaths (52) and the worst case of salmonella poisoning deaths (possibly up to 12) since the CDC began keeping records in 1970 resulted from consuming dairy products. However, both of those cases involved pasteurized milk. You know — the safe kind.

In fact, there has never been a death reported from just drinking raw milk. That’s according to the CDC. But it took a Freedom of Information Act request to get that out of them, cause it tends to mess with their mission, which is to produce press releases that say “Majority of dairy-related disease outbreaks linked to raw milk.”

Not that food can’t kill you. Since that last death associated with raw milk products, people have died from spinach, green onions, cantaloupe, peanuts, drinking water, apple juice, various types of meats, and again, pasteurized milk products, among others.

If the sundry State Medical Societies worked on “physician, heal thyself” and “first, do no harm” instead of acting as the PR wing for the FDA, CDC, USDA and other Big Ag-owned agencies, they could save countless lives. Up to 90,000 just for starts. That’s without even touching all the havoc and suffering they create helping out their other good buddies over at the pharmaceutical companies.

NOTE: If you live in Illinois, you’ve got until October 20th to let your elected representatives know that you’re not interested in less freedom, crappier food choices, and putting small farmers out of business. Remember, nothing gets a bureaucrat’s attention like a lawmaker who’s getting an earful from irritated (but polite, please) constituents two months before an election.

Cheers,

the Older Brother

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Hey, Fatheads! Long time since I’ve got to sit in the Big Chair. I asked Tom if I could fill in for awhile because I seem to be buying a book a week for my nook after his reviews and citations, and I wanted to give my PayPal account a rest.

If you’re a regular here, you may remember one of my last guest posts was “The Yankee Farm Report,” where I went on about chickens, cows, and compost.  For us it’s all about real food that you not only know where it comes from, but that you’ve also participated in the full cycle.

[ I know Tom and Chareva have their own land and chickens (and now they've had goats), but I figured I still had him on the whole farm life scene.

Then they ate a raccoon. On purpose.

Game. Set. Match. Second place again! Cripes. The Wife assures me we won't be trying that. ]

Anyway, back then I had about 50 chickens that were too big and getting bigger because we’d bought them in September and by the time they were big enough to process (butcher) we were right in the middle of the coldest winter we’d had in decades. We (meaning The Oldest Son, Linda, and I) finally got started processing them in February, and they averaged about 10 lbs. Plus it was still damned cold out,so keeping the water you dip the (already killed) chicken in at the right temperature with a camp stove in a garage was a borderline proposition. But the biggest pain — and I know any of you who’ve ever lived on a farm will back me up on this — was plucking the now soaking wet carcass. After that is when you get the innards out and start making it look like what you see when you go to the store for a whole chicken.

We got four done the first time we tried but it took about that many hours. We did another eight and improved our time a bit, but it still took us about six hours.

We’re doing the math in our heads – twelve birds down, thirty-two to go. At that rate, we should be able to finish by, oh,  about Christmas, 2016! That pretty much did it for me. I told The Oldest Son — “we’re building a chicken plucker!”

We still had to process another dozen by hand while I assembled the Whizbang Chicken Plucker from terrific plans in a book by Herrick Kimball that Linda happened to have, but once completed, we really tuned up our technique with the remaining birds. We still weren’t super fast, but it went so much smoother that Linda agreed to trying another batch.

I was going to get another fifty Freedom Rangers — a breed that grows fast, but does well on pasture and without the health issues that make Tyson/Big Chicken’s Cornish Cross so pathetic.  Then my buddy Greg — the one with the truck and tractor from my Yankee Farm Report — asked me to get an extra twenty-five for him, so this would be seventy-five. Except when I called to place the order, the nice man on the phone pointed out that with the volume price break, it would cost me two dollars more to buy seventy-five than to get an even hundred.  So I figured Linda wouldn’t mind an extra twenty-five birds. I mean, they were FREE, right? Plus, they’re so cute and tiny when you get them.

Of course, right after I ordered, my buddy’s friendly neighbors passed an ordinance prohibiting backyard chickens in their  1,500 citizen metropolis (proving that little burgs can shove their heads just as far up their a**es as big cities). So I had to explain to Linda that there would be a few more chickens on the farm than we’d talked about. But only double.

At any rate, this time things actually went wonderfully. At about a month, the chicks were moved into some old chicken tractors  (think portable coop — Tom’s had pictures of his in previous posts) that had been sitting at the farm unused for years (after a bit of patching up). Linda used an ATV to move them once a day.  Here’s what chickens look like when they get to eat bugs, scratch in the dirt, get moved to a new patch of fresh pasture every day, and generally get to express their chicken-ness:

These are a black variant of the same Freedom Ranger bird…

Of course, after about three months, it was time to start processing. We’d made some improvements with our first “learning curve” batch, but with this group we really worked out the kinks.

We spent three Saturdays in a row processing, and got better each time as we made adjustments to our layout and process. Once we had the chicken plucker, the bottleneck became dispatching the chickens.

I’d made a home-made kill cone, but we decided to use a couple of traffic cones with the ends cut off.  They’re sturdier, easier to mount to the platform we were using, and I just didn’t have time to do any fabricating. Greg helped the first week, a friend that works with The Oldest Son helped the next. They were both there the last week, so we added another cone.

We did twenty the first Saturday, another twenty-five the next, and all fifty remaining on the third Saturday (I know — that’s not 100. We’d had some attrition early).

We got everything (kill cones, scalder, plucker, processing table, coolers with ice) lined up only a few steps away. Here’s how it lays out:

Linda would bring nine chickens at a time from the chicken tractor out in the field. We’d use the kill cones to quickly dispatch them three at a time (we started with four cones, but adjusted back to three):

After the kill, the birds are dunked in the scalder, which for now is a turkey fryer setup (which The Wife has banned me from using at home due to an unfortunate incident years ago!). The temp has to be around 145-150.

(I say “for now” because the scalder and keeping it in the magic temperature range of 145-150 degrees is now the new bottleneck, and the same author has published plans for a Whizbang Chicken Scalder.)The soaking/dipping in hot water for about a minute is what loosens the feathers so they can be plucked. Then they go into the amazing Whizbang Chicken Plucker…

About thirty seconds later, they come out cleaner than if you’d spent five minutes hand-plucking.

Plus you can put up to three in at a time, so you’re replacing fifteen minutes of wet, smelly labor with a flick of the switch. Gotta love technology.

Here’s how it looks in action (that’s Greg “narrating” and taking the video with his phone, and Linda running the plucker. She seemed amused by my answer to Greg’s query as to my total investment in the plucker):

Once that’s done, they go to the processing table, where in about two minutes The Oldest Son can turn a plucked chicken into a clean bird ready to go into the ice bath cooler to chill down prior to bagging.

That’s not Joel Salatin fast yet (I’ve seen a YouTube of Salatin doing a chicken in about 25 seconds, and he was talking the whole time), but with our other helpers at the table working about half to three-quarters of The Oldest Son’s speed, they get them done as fast as Linda and I can work the kill/scald/pluck side of the operation.

All told, we got to the farm to do the the final fifty chickens at about 9:30 am, and had all fifty bagged and in coolers, we’d cleaned and put everything away, and were pulling out of the drive by 3:00.

Five and a half hours of labor on a warm, cloudy summer day with some good friends and we had filled the freezers for us and some family and friends with weeks’ worth of real food. We felt, as one of Tom’s previous posts mused, the Joy of Being Dog-Tied Satisfied, while looking forward to many good meals…

We just received our newest batch of 100 chicks (Linda’s idea!)the first week of August, and they moved into the pasture two weeks ago.  That will be the last batch for this year, but by the end of October we’ll have freezers jam-packed with real food for winter; and I think we’ll get serious about seeing if we can make this, if not a full business, at least a paying hobby in 2015.

Cheers,

The Older Brother

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