Sunday, August 14, 2011

Swiss Chard... what to do with it?

After my last post explaining the bounty of our swiss chard, I thought I should tell you what I'm doing with it. Well, trying to do anyway.

I harvest it by grabbing a bunch and cutting it off near the base. More will grow back.

Then you need to wash it. By the way, this is more difficult than you may think. The dirt likes to stick in the celery-like stalks and cling to the leaves. Even after a couple soaks in cold water, I find myself scrubbing at the stalks with a potato scrubber, and using my fingers to get final grains of dirt off the leaves. To do this for each leave is a bit time-consuming. So do the best you can.

At this point, a more particular cook would advocate separating the entire stalk from the leaf. However, since I'm not that particular, I just cut off the bottom part of the stalk and throw it into a pile. You can choose to chop off the stalks and cook them first, since they take longer to cook than the leaves, OR you can give them to your pigs and chickens, OR you can compost them. (And actually, I'm not even THAT particular anymore... I just chop it all up and throw it in the pan!)

There are several options for the cook at this point.
  • Freezing. I throw in as many leaves (wet from their wash) as will fit into my 5-qt. cooking pot and let them wilt till about 1/3 of their size, about 2-3 minutes. Then I throw them in a pan to cool off. I measure some into freezer baggies, and into the freezer they go. I'll plan to use them in egg bakes, quiches, and other hot-dish type entrees.
  • Frying. I heat up butter or coconut oil or, our favorite as of late, palm oil, in a frying pan and cook chopped onions, garlic, and some chard stalks if you like. When those are softened, fill your pan with chopped swiss chard leaves. And fry it like you mean it. It's best when leaves are partly crispy. Don't forget to add salt and pepper. I really like the palm oil... mainly because of it's strong flavor. It covers up the swiss chard flavor... ;-) But if you're not used to the flavor, it may be a bit off-putting. Butter's always good. And don't skimp on the grease!
  • Baking. Okay, this one's a bit weird. Recipe for Swiss chard chips. Yeah, you bake the leaves. Basically just toss leaves with olive oil and salt and pepper and bake. One thing I learned with this... the leaves MUST be quite dry before baking, otherwise they just wilt and are limp. Gross. My boys enjoyed the chips, and kept coming back for more. "More crunchy, Mom!" "Thanks for the crunchy, Mom!" It's fun for something different. Also, it's best to eat it all in one sitting... the chips don't keep well in my experience.
    Here's my oven, original from the 1960s... timer doesn't work, though.
  • Dry the leaves well!
    I put parchment paper on the pan before putting on the chard.
    My taste testers... what is this?
  • Substitution for spinach. Basically any type of dish you'd use spinach, I am pretty sure you could use swiss chard.
  • Hotdishes, quiches, sautes, salads, etc. Swiss chard is easily added in to these types of dishes.
  • Whatever your creative mind can come up with! I'm sure there are more ideas than these, but this is the extent of my creativity and willingness to experiment. I'm not quite brave enough to make "green smoothies" that you add veggies to.
We'll probably plant it again next year. But maybe not quite so much..... that stuff is prolific!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Garden and Animal Update

Okay, it's about time I posted this, now that it's been over two weeks since I began composing this post....

Here's what we've been up to with our animals and plants:
  • The pigs are getting bigger. They've been moved a couple times, and are currently in a large grove of trees. It's amazing how quickly they root up the ground. Today I saw one of the pigs trying to eat a golf ball. Hmm... how'd that get there?! Runty is growing, but only seemed to make progress after introducing diatomaceous earth into his diet. He must've had worms or something? When they hear you nearby, they love to come running up to you and say hi, usually by trying to nudge your leg with their snout.

  • Broilers. Butchered. Our final numbers were 89 Cornish Cross (white broilers) and 95 red broilers. The red variety took a couple weeks longer to reach butcher weight. I preferred the red broilers... they just looked a lot nicer to me. It took us four weekends, but we finished. My parents came one weekend to help out. We got pretty good by the end of July. There are still some in our freezer if you want to come for a visit to buy some... ;-)
  • Turkeys and dual-purpose birds. Turkeys are growing nicely. We are down to 15 now. Hopefully no more losses. The Ameraucanas are maturing nicely... it's interesting to me how different they all look... some are just brown and black, some white and black, some white, black and brown with some red. The roosters are going through puberty... they try to crow, but it's sort of like their voice cracks... kind of funny. I think it's another couple of months before the pullets will be ready to lay. Then hopefully I'll be able to find some ready egg buyers.

  • Hens are laying okay. Some of the older hens are laying weaker shelled eggs, so we know that we must check for eggs often so there's less chance for them to be broken. The lone rooster in with them keeps them in line. I'm learning how serious a pecking order is. One day a few weeks ago, one hen decided to be difficult and get out of the coop, so my husband decided to let all the hens out to free range for a few hours before bedtime, which is when they naturally all come back to the coop to roost. Albert, the dog, decided to come and chase them. Rooster rounded all his ladies up and ushered them directly back into the pen. And that was that!
  • Cats. Smokey, the Mama cat, had her five kittens two months ago. We are down to three, thanks to Albert. They don't stick close to the house anymore, so they're getting more wild and hard to get close to. Creamy, a male cat, is still around.
  • Albert. Needs training. I'm not a good trainer, and Jeff doesn't have time. He eats everything, it seems like. Chicken poop, broccoli, and junk food--especially when you throw it down the ravine.

  • Garden. We've gotten waaaay too much rain on a plot of land that is very susceptible to flood-like conditions. Much of what we planted got flooded out or grew very poorly--onions, corn (tasseling at 2 ft. tall?!), peas, some beans. The other issue we had was planting some things a bit too early, so most of our transplanted squash was, well, squashed. My tomatoes plants are finally getting a few red tomatoes on them. The swiss chard and cilantro have been producing well, and the potatoes, carrots, and beets look promising! We hope to prepare better next year by digging trenches in certain key areas. We will also prep the ground with more tilling, and will be mixing in some compost, which we didn't do this year. My husband plans to build a greenhouse soon, in which we can hopefully grow a few things into the colder season, though the main purpose of that will be to house chickens during cold weather.
One of several muskmelons.
One of two pumpkins
First tomato!
This is some swiss chard (ignore the weeds...).
The swiss chard growing back after I chopped it!
Some sunflowers...
Our really short corn.
  • Lawn. Our lawn nearest the house had been largely dug up due to that drainage tile project around the house back in April. (It worked, too, no more puddles in the basement!) Well, clay-like soil conditions hasn't been real conducive to growing grass, but it has grown thistles and random weeds pretty well. It's filled in quite a bit, though still patchy. Hopefully it will fill in soon because I feel like quite a country bumpkin! The picture below is the two boys looking out longingly at the backhoe rented for the occasion. I don't have many pictures of my front lawn, mainly because it's kind of embarassing. Maybe later this fall...
  • Till next time, I hope your gardens grow!