Thursday, 9 February 2017

Hindsight Celery Soup

Last year I planted celery seeds, it's the first time that I've attempted to grow celery and was delighted with the results. We had about twenty good sized plants of a variety called 'Red Soup', which as autumn gave way to winter, I cut the heads and froze a few pounds of celery.

I have been using the frozen celery in stews and trays of roasted mixed vegetables, but a couple of days ago I started thinking about cream of celery soup and today I decided to have a go at making it.

Now usually I am a pretty good cook, my children and Mr J can all recall the dishes that were disasters and, as there are very few total failures, I think I'm safe in saying that the rest of the meals must be either in the category of passable or jolly nice (or somewhere between the two).

Here's how I made the cream of celery soup.
I weighed about 12 ounces of frozen celery.

I put it into approximately half a pint of hot water in a saucepan.

 Then I added a small pot of lamb stock (because that was the first pot of stock I pulled from the freezer).
Once the celery was soft I whizzed it up in the liquidiser to make a puree and returned it to a large pan.

Then I made a thick white sauce from ghee, milk and gluten free flour.
I added the white sauce.
And stirred it into the celery puree.

So far it all seemed to be okay. Then I tasted it. Hmmm, it needed seasoning.

But also it needed more time in the blender to make it less stringy in texture, so I put it back into the liquidiser and blitzed it for longer. Well that didn't work either, the texture was still bitty and off-putting, there was certainly nothing creamy about it.

Next I thought sieving the soup might remove the bittiness and yes, it did, or at least it did with the small amount that managed to pass through the sieve. 

It didn't really matter though because when I tasted it again I realised that I really didn't like the taste. It looked like stagnant pond water, it smelt like stagnant pond water and although I've never tasted stagnant pond water (SPW), the soup was pretty much how I imagine SPW would be.

So the experimental cream of celery soup was relegated to the food recycling bin and we'll be having baked fillet of fish for supper instead.

This just goes to show that you can't win them all and in hindsight I should have strained the puree before I added the white sauce or perhaps, I should just stick to making cream of leek soup!
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Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Keeping chickens in UK v USA

I've been inspired by so many people over the years and most recently by a bunch of homesteaders and smallholders via the wonderful magic of the internet. Early in 2016 I started searching online for advice, information and inspiration and found that there are several (quite a lot actually) folks who share their daily working practices, knowledge and hard-learnt lessons online via blogs, websites and vlogs.

We had already decided on the direction and way that we wanted our smallholding to work, to use no artificial chemicals, fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides etc., to raise as much of our own food as possible and to keep chickens and ducks for their eggs. Raising meat birds came as a slightly later decision and as a natural progression of the way we were living.

I made so many mistakes in those early months, I followed completely correct advice and ideas that I had seen online from American vloggers, only to discover little by little that many of those practices are not allowed in the UK.

So I thought it may be interesting and perhaps, useful to look at some of the differences in the practices of keeping chickens between the UK and USA as I understand them. Please feel free to comment below if I am mistaken about any of these differences, it would be interesting to learn more.

Registering your birds.
In the UK we have to register our premises and also our flocks as soon as we have 50 birds, that's not just chickens but all the poultry we keep. When we started keeping chickens I couldn't imagine how we would ever have that many birds, but it doesn't take long to build up to 49 birds, particularly if you are keeping meat birds and hatching chicks and ducklings. I don't know whether you have to register your premises and flocks in USA, perhaps someone could comment and let me know.

Feeding the birds.
In UK we cannot feed kitchen scraps to poultry. It is fine to feed fruit and vegetables from the garden to our birds, but not if they have passed through a domestic or commercial kitchen before being given to the birds. Here's the APHA (Animal and Plant Health Agency) information about kitchen scraps. This also means that we shouldn't feed crushed eggshells back to our birds.

So in our house, cooked food goes into a biodegradable bag (and then plastic bin) and is taken away weekly by the local authority services. As I understand it, the cooked food is sent to processing plants for Anaerobic Digestion producing Biogas which is used as a power source or In Vessel Composting which produces a soil conditioner. Thus reducing land-fill and reducing the amount of fossil fuels required for power. This great little animation explains the processes.

Because we have a good composting system in our garden, we put all of our raw fruit and vegetable kitchen scraps onto a compost heap. 

Likewise, we can't let our birds scratch through and eat any compost heaps that have kitchen scraps put into them. So I keep one or two heaps that have kitchen scraps in them which the birds are not allowed to access.

The other compost heaps have nothing that has been in the kitchen and the birds have access to these (usually). We make these heaps inside a ring of straw bales - on our smallholding we call these heaps the Circles of Love.

Washing & storing eggs.
In UK (and the rest of Europe) eggs are not washed and are not refrigerated. There is a protective layer on eggs that prevents bacteria from entering the shell, keeping them safe to eat for some time (weeks!). Washing eggs removes that protective layer and means that those eggs would need to be kept cool to stop the bacteria from forming. So our eggs are collected and put into boxes and kept at room temperature. If for any reason eggs do get refrigerated, they need to be kept that way because if they then warm up again there is a risk that bacterial growth may start.

Processing meat birds.
In UK on smallholdings (homesteads), backyards and small farms we have to dislocate the neck of a bird rather than using only a sharp knife, so the killing cones that make dispatch relatively simple in USA (and other countries) are only useful here to put a bird into after dislocation, to allow them to bleed out. Here are the UK government guidelines for slaughter at home. We can only dispatch a limited number of birds per day (70 birds) and larger, commercial farms have different regulations, which I am not familiar with at all.

The lockdown issue.

Since 6th December 2016 all poultry keepers (commercial keepers, smallholders or homesteaders and backyard keepers) in the UK have had to keep their birds under cover, preferably housed, but at the very least completely away from all contact with wild birds. This is because of the threat (and now reality) of Avian Flu H5N8 which has been found in birds as far away as China, India and more recently mainland Europe. Here's DEFRA's latest situation information.

In Europe (and the UK is still part of Europe) steps have been taken to try to reduce the spread of H5N8 which has included the mass culling of birds across regions. Here in UK there haven't been many cases of this strain of Avian Flu, but there have been some and the proceedures that follow an outbreak are heartbreaking for the owners of the birds (all birds on the premises are culled immediately upon confirmation of the disease).

We are heading towards ten weeks of the birds being in lockdown and the current regulations may or may not be changed on 28th February (the date that DEFRA have given for reassessment of the situation). After that date eggs which have previously been sold as 'Free Range' (which is what I think may be called Pasture Fed or Pasture Raised in USA) will not longer be allowed to carry that label. I understand that the majority of eggs in Europe are now Free Range eggs and so the industry could be devastated if the lockdown continues after a 12 week period as this is the maximum time that birds are allowed to be kept inside in a 12 month period and still be called Free Range. We can only wait and see what happens nearer the 28th February.

So there are a few differences between UK and USA in terms of how we can keep our poultry, but when all is said and done, in my opinion the most important thing that we all have to do (on both sides of the Atlantic) is to keep and treat our birds safely and humanely.

Edit - this post is receiving a high volume of views - hooray! Please could you leave a quick comment and let me know where you found the link to my blog and what country you live in, it would be really interesting to see how far and wide it's being read. Thanks!

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I also post vlogs daily (almost). You can find my YouTube channel here.
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