to keep chickens from being a nuisance

“‘Farmers, in general, who keep hens, are more troubled with them than with any other one thing upon their farms, considering the amount of work which they do. They are always scratching in the garden, digging up corn, or committing other depredations which keep the farmer and his girls running to keep them out of mischief.’

Of course they are, because they must scratch for a living. If you don’t want hens in mischief, feed them; and at times when it is really necessary, shut them in a poultry-yard and feed them, and adopt this simple rule for feeding fowls, known to most housewives in the country who have charge of the poultry, but it may be useful to amateurs, and as it is very short, we print it. Here it is: Don’t feed too much. That is all; though we may add that food should never be given to fowls unless they are hungry enough to “run crazy” after it; and just as soon as they stop running crazy, you stop throwing feed, and never—no, never—leave feed lying by your fowls “for them to eat at leisure.” This same rule does pretty well for all other domestic animals—children included.”

Solon Robinson, Facts for Farmers (New York: Johnson and Ward, 1865), 142.

fireplace cooking


On account of several things we couldn’t set the grill on the usual firepit outside, and as the broiler is such a disappointment with things like meatballs, and seeing as lately I’ve been inclined towards the primitive, we found ourselves cooking in the fireplace the other night.

Let me tell you, I am sold.

I think I learned more about grilling in one hour than in the last five years of grilling on grills and open fires. And despite there being things I would do better next time (like making a deeper coal-bed and using the correct color-balance when taking a picture) these were perhaps the most satisfying meatballs I have ever cooked.

There will be more posts on this subject. Many more.

In the meantime, I suggest you try it. Rig some way to set up a rack in your fireplace, such as the bricks I used. Make sure you have a good, deep bed of coals. Put the rack on, wait until the rack is good and hot before putting on the food.

Have a glass of wine and a good pair of tongs. Lay around on an oriental rug bolstered by a few pillows and blankets. Eat the meatballs as they become ready, with the rest of your food, already thoughtfully laid out.


links: picnicking in Paris and another coup for Virginia wine.

Paris, coup.

other foods, other fats


I was raised on olive oil. I was for most of my life not fully aware that there really were other cooking fats. I knew we kept ‘vegetable oil,’ made from vegetables, presumably, I think for popping corn. Butter was for baking with.

Things change. At the moment, we have duck fat (pictured), bacon fat and leaf lard, in the refrigerator. We frequently have tallow (beef fat, as hard as wax) and chicken fat. Usually twice a year, after holidays, we have goose fat, a favorite. All of these, with a small investment of time, are free for the not-throwing-away. In the case of lard it’s usually a matter of someone else throwing it away, but if you ask nice, it’s still usually free.

As much as I love olive oil and butter, there are some things that other fats do better. Poultry fat, for richness of flavor, cannot be beat. Leaf lard, as everybody knows, though hardly anybody has tried it, makes the best, flakiest pie crust. And not only that: lard-butter pie crusts are easier to make than butter-only ones. But lard is good for pan-frying, too: a little heavy, perhaps, but iconic in greens and beans, and good especially for use in the cold months. We don’t get much tallow on account of our not eating much beef, and the beef we do eat (don’t know his name, this last one, but he was an intact, one-year-old grass-fed bull) hasn’t got much fat on it. I suspect however that it has a higher smoking point than some other fats, though. I am still learning.

We keep a few other fats on hand, like coconut oil for popping corn, and sunflower oil, for I don’t actually know what, come to think of it. And I’m curious to play with grape seed oil and some nut oils, which I suspect I’ll get around to in good time. But those aren’t quite so free, or, now that I get around to mentioning it, local.

readying new fermentation vessels


We got a whole lot of one gallon ex-vinegar bottles at an auction the other week, for the purpose of testing out varieties of home-made wines. Old bottles, and old vinegar bottles in particular, need special attention before they can be used to make wine, or else they can impart all kinds of nastiness. These, I filled with a dilute bleach solution and left out in the sun for a week, to sterilize. This is the only time in a carboy’s life that I attempt anything like sterilization with anything like bleach: once it has seen a little service, I like to think that any lingering microfauna, so long as I treat them well, will actually be beneficial to the making of wine. This is a little heretical, by the way. But, so far, so good.

So: bleached, I scrub the bottles out with a crooked bottle brush and rinse them. Now, they are ready to use, according to some people, though they still smell like bleach and are angry because you have not yet shown proper respect to the wine-making gods, by preparing a suitable place in which they might like to live. Really. At least, that’s one way to put it.

But I am convinced of the necessity of “treat[ing] the barrels [fermentation vessels] like the best of friends,” as Norman Mommens put it so well in Patience Gray‘s “Honey From a Weed.” (London: Prospect Books, 1986. One of the best books ever, by the way.)

On this occasion I made up a strong tea out of stale kitchen herbs, ones I know to have some astringent, anti-bacterial qualities (though mild), and ones we have growing that we’ll soon harvest, dry, and replace: rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, mint. I would have used lavender, too, if we’d had any. Once the tea had steeped sufficiently, I poured it in the jugs and stoppered them up, so as to keep in the steam. I like to leave the tea in there for a couple days if I can, then rinse it out with good, clean water: the best I can find. Again, we are pleasing the gods here: forces no one fully understands. Do what needs to be done.

Now the jugs are ready to use, though I believe their juju will only improve with use, time, and continuing respect.

Incidentally, (a word I seem to like), those herbs I used in the tea all contain phenolic acid: an effective chemical for use in developing film. Take a tea like this, or made from any of its component parts, and add a concentrated base (as opposed to acid) substance such as baking soda, washing soda, or lye (if you know what you’re doing), and you will have an excellent, slow, fine-working, non-toxic black and white film developer. Add some vitamin C powder to speed it up. I haven’t played with this recently. I ought to.

NC wine (as in North Carolina), boxed in vintage Oval Office floorboards, sent by Obama to Italian President.

No joke. Blue Ridge mountain Vermentino?

I am always excited to find another east coast winery doing something interesting, and competently. These folks are not so far from me. I will be analyzing our respective climates shortly.

I heard it here.

garden, catnip

I harvested nearly an armload of catnip this morning to keep it from choking out the tomatoes it was choking out. Then I hung it up all over the house to dry. This place stinks. The cat is strangely unaffected.

the state of Spanish wine

Great article on the state of Spanish wine by Joe Manekin. The article is available at both links, but the text is easier on the eyes at the first one (sorry, Joe).

This was published as part of the 31 days of natural wine series—a series of essays by diverse authors that taken together, so far, represents the best damn collection of wine writing I have ever come across. You should take a look.

four mint ice cream


We grow a lot of mint in our garden. By weight, by accident and through neglect, it is probably the plant we have so far grown most of, this year. We have four kinds: spearmint, peppermint, apple-mint, and catnip. 

My standard way, my habit, of making ice cream, is to make a custard, and then freeze it in an ice-cream maker (super-frozen cylinder w/stir paddle). I vary the proportions of milk to cream and the number and type of eggs and yolks depending on the richness I want in the finished ice cream. In this case, a light summer thing… mostly because the good milk going past-date was on $1 sale. But, it was perfect. So, custard:

4 duck egg yolks (bigger and richer than chicken eggs’s)
2 duck egg whites

Mix in:
2 pints creamline (whole) milk
1 pint half and half

Stir over medium, medium-low heat, add sugar:
(a little more than to taste)

keep stirring this until it noticeably thickens (often, just shy of boiling: don’t boil it) and you have a basic custard: just put it in cups and chill.

However, we want to flavor it. So: take some mint sprigs, some of each kind you can find, and throw them in whole on the stem with the sugar. Every few minutes as you stir, throw in a few more. This way, the more delicate flavors, which will be cooked out (to some extent) of the first handfuls will still be present at the end of cooking. Put in more of the kind you like best at the end. Taste it now and again to see how minty it’s getting, to gauge eventual mint levels. Don’t worry: there is a very large margin for error.

Once it thickens, take the mint out at let the custard cool. Four-mint custard! Want ice-cream? Stir it up in a super-frozen cylinder!

Post about making ice-creams without cylinders forthcoming.

green peppers, onions


I’ve been keen on green peppers lately. We have eaten exactly two so far this season. We have used them in soup and in eggs (twice) and I can’t remember the other thing. In particular, we’ve been cooking them up fast with onions, so they blacken a little and retain a little of their crunch—also, cutting the onions in long strips, with the grain, so to help them retain their structure. There is an austerity and an earthy sharpness to green peppers that I have found recently, in between all the feasting this summer, deeply satisfying.