08 November 2017

How Do You "Do"?

     People ask us all the time, "So what do you all 'do'?"  "Do you each have different jobs on the farm?"  "Does everyone have assigned responsibilities?"  Yes and no.  Though the division of labor is by no means set in stone and we all help each other out, the tasks on the farm have fallen out to each one of us according to our skill sets.  Here is an overview of who normally does what and how it all fits together.

     Mama is the backbone of the operation, without question.  She attends to marketing, finances, record interpreting, public relations, custom orders, and many other areas of the business that I don't know the jargon for.  She is also the sounding board for all our crazy ideas, which can be quite taxing.



Daddy is the founder and chief administrator who does the research and buys all the toys. He teaches history full time at Crest High School, but manages quite a bit in his spare time.  All of our equipment, from fencing to processing to mowing and toting, is thanks to him.  He developed the design for our chicken tractors and the recipe for our homemade organic fertilizer.  He mows ahead of fence lines when we tell him to with our newest toy, the BCS walk-behind tractor.  He is our foody, or should I say, our "meaty;" he tracks down recipes for all the cool stuff we do with our meat and runs experiments on the grill like a mad scientist.  He also listens to as many of our crazy ideas as he has patience for, and tells us whether they will work or not; more often than not, he's right.


   

      If Mama is the backbone of the farm, then Hannah is the right arm.  She oversees most of the outdoor work, which mainly consists of animal moves.  We rotate all our animals through the pasture and the woods behind portable electric fences; the chickens live in wooden houses inside the electric fences so that they are protected from the hawks and owls.  Laying hens move every other day, broilers move every day, sheep move twice a week, pigs move when they have used up their forage (they have very large pens and move every couple months), and the dogs move whenever they end up in the way of a chicken fence.  Hannah weed eats ahead of the new electric fences if possible and tells Daddy to mow if not; then she sets posts, runs the wires, tightens everything up, and moves the animals into their new pen.  It is quite a process.  She also monitors animal behavior and nutrition, breeding and birthing, and body condition; she could tell you off the top of her head when a calf was born, how long a sheep limped before we figured out what was wrong with her foot, and when the next pregnant sow is due to farrow.





     I am the floater and Hannah's chief assistant.  I pitch in with whatever needs to be done at the moment, from helping Hannah trim the sheep's feet to washing eggs for Mama while she sorts out a bulk order over the phone.  I also keep the deep freezers organized and defrosted, monitor our stock of frozen meats, keep up the blog (yours truly), and pack up the coolers on market mornings.





     Seth is in training for pretty much everything.  He accompanies Mama to the farmer's market, helps move animals, dotes on any baby animals, tends the neighbor's cats, and very patiently bears his three sisters' contradictory orders.  It is not uncommon for us all to be sitting around the table discussing a pending task, whereupon Seth will grin and say, "I know: 'Let's make Seth do it!'"











      Caroline's area of expertise is discipline.  She keeps the gardens religiously weeded, records all of our sales and expenses, rations the winter food supply, and trots out through the woods at the same time every morning to open nest boxes, feed the pigs, and make sure all the animals have water to drink; you could almost set your clock by that straw hat bobbing through the backyard just after sunup.




     Last, but by far not least, is Nathanael: the big one.  He is the muscle.  He is quite busy just now attending school to become a lineman, but we call on him for anything we girls are not equal to.  He saws down trees, lifts especially heavy things, researches everything under the sun, and tells us how to do things in more timely and efficient ways.  His hidden talent is pig whispering; if a pig of any size or temperament is afraid to cross the space from an old pen into a new one (pigs have a legendary respect for electric wire), leave it to Nathanael to coax her across.









     There you have it.  That, in brief, is what we "do."

     Anne Marie            

20 October 2017

Livermush - Greene Family Farm Style

     Each October, we North Carolinians celebrate one of the most distinctive Southern food traditions passed down through the years: liver mush.  It is one of those foods that you have to grow up eating to appreciate.  Many of our mothers and grandmothers remember helping to make liver mush on the farm when they were young, and, while the dish itself is still widely available, many of them think no one does it at home anymore.  Only a few people do, and, after you read this post, you can be among those few.  We no longer have to make an enormous batch on hog-killing day and eat it up within a month before it goes bad.  Thanks to freezers, refrigerators, and food processors, we can now make small batches as we please and eat them up in a week.  

     My pictures will show large portions, because that is what I use when making liver mush for my family.  You will see me using a whole pork liver that weighed 4 or 5 pounds, a pork heart, and a respectable quantity of plain ground pork for a total of nearly 12 pounds of meat.  Yes, that is a lot of liver mush, though nothing like what my own great grandmother made when she and her family butchered twenty hogs each fall.  Liver mush takes roughly equal weights of organ meat and plain pork meat (though the ratio varies from family recipe to family recipe), so anything that was not hung in the smokehouse or ground up for sausage, such as the head, often went into the liver mush.  

     Here is my recipe, cut down to make a single loaf or block of liver mush.  All you will need is a 1 pound package of ground pork and a 1 pound package of pork liver (we offer both).  The only fancy equipment required is a 4 quart stockpot, a food processor, and a sturdy long-handled spoon.

     1 pound of pork liver
     1 pound of ground pork

     1 1/2 tbsp. of sage
     1 generous tbsp. brown sugar
     2 tsp. of salt
     2 tsp. of black pepper
     1/2 tsp. of cayenne pepper

     1 cup of chicken stock (homemade chicken stock works best because it is thicker and more gelatinous than store bought)
     1 tbsp. of bacon grease (optional)

     Approximately 1 cup of cornmeal
          



     First, place the thawed organ meat in a large stockpot and cover it with water.  Let it simmer on medium heat until cooked through, about 30 minutes.  It will look creepy, but don't be alarmed.  Remove the liver from the stockpot and cut it with a steak knife into chunks half the size of your fist; if it is still purple and squishy in the middle, put the squishy chunks back in the pot to simmer for a few more minutes.  Keep the sludgy-looking brown water after simmering; it comes in handy later.    





     Next, brown the ground pork in a skillet and drain the fat.  Set the fat aside to use later. 




     Put a couple chunks of liver and some of the ground pork in your food processor and add 1/4 cup or so of the simmering water to moisten it; this will make the meat easier to grind.  Pulse the food processor a few times to start breaking up the chunks and then turn it on for 10 seconds at a time, scraping down the sides and checking the texture in between.  If it appears very dry, add another splash of simmering water.  When the meat looks "mushy," it is sufficiently processed; don't go so far as to make it a smooth paste, or the final consistency will be wrong.  Return the mush to the empty stockpot and repeat this process as many times as needed until all the meat is turned to mush.






     Next, combine all your spices and seasonings in a small bowl and dump the mixture on top of the meat, stirring thoroughly to distribute everything.  Turn the medium heat back on under the pot.  Also add the bacon grease and chicken broth and stir them in.  I like to use the drained fat from the ground pork as part of the liquid and make up the remainder with chicken broth, but that is optional.     




     Then for the impressive part: adding the cornmeal.  The rule of thumb is to add 1/3-1/2 cup of cornmeal for every pound of meat, but bear in mind that is only a guideline.  The liver mush will tell you when you have enough.  Start with a cup of cornmeal and gradually sprinkle it in the pot, stirring aggressively as you go to keep anything from burning to the bottom of the pot.  The mixture will thicken as the cornmeal cooks.  I have to add 6 cups or more of cornmeal to my big batches, but 1 cup may be sufficient for a small one.  How do I know, you say?   When your arm is sore and the mixture is too thick to stir, it is ready.  This step is also what I call kitchen "play time"; taste the mush as you work and see what you think.  Do you want more sweetness?  More heat?  More sage?  Don't be shy, throw some in!  Liver mush is very flexible.  Here is a video of this step for a big batch; it gave me a new respect for my great grandmother, who did this in a huge cauldron over an open fire, stirring with a big wooden paddle.   

     The completed liver mush will look grainy and be very thick.


     Scoop the liver mush into greased loaf pans (your small batch should only require one pan), cover each pan with plastic wrap, and store them in the refrigerator.  After they have chilled overnight, try turning a loaf out of the pan and wrapping the entire thing in plastic wrap.  This will make it easier to slice, but homemade liver mush does not hold together quite as tidily as commercially made liver mush, so be prepared for anything.     




     And the most important tip of all?  At breakfast, fry the liver mush first and scramble your eggs right behind it in the same skillet.  There is no egg like the egg cooked in that hot, seasoned skillet, with a few bits of crunchy liver mush left in the bottom.  

Anne Marie




21 September 2017

I Ain't Movin'

     It's that season again.  Last year's meat supply is dwindling, fall's hogs are fattening in the woods, and my task is to organize, defrost, and clean the deep freezers in preparation to receive the winter store.  There is already a supply of frozen applesauce, broccoli, tomatoes, and other delights to work around.  I don't at all mind the moving, shaking, and shifting; I love to organize and consolidate anything.  What I do mind is when the food does not want to be organized and consolidated.  When we freeze large amounts of something, we often spread the packages out among several different freezers so that everything can reliably freeze, then I come back later to put like and like together.  Something squishy, like a quart bag of applesauce (we froze a very large amount of this), has a little time to settle into its spot before it freezes solid.  While doing my first round of consolidating, what should I find but one such bag that had squeezed into the slot of a plastic freezer compartment, frozen stiff, and stuck tight?  There was no human way to get it out.  The other packages underneath were trapped, but in desperate need of moving.  With some coaxing and scolding, I managed to wedge and wiggle an item or two out from underneath the bag of applesauce.  That broke the stalemate and slowly, one by one, I fished the other packages out as well.  Of course the applesauce stayed there, suspended more that twelve inches above the bottom of the freezer, but by golly, I had rescued all its captive neighbors.  I guess when I defrost this one, we will have a thawed bag of applesauce to eat.  I won't complain about that.




All the winter fruit and vegetables (save one) in their proper
place and all together.  So there!
        

28 August 2017

A Lovely Summer Morning and A Bee Hive

          The weather this morning has been gorgeous and the work has been exciting.  After the animals were tended, I gathered up the bee jacket, the smoker, the hive tool, and a box of matches, and I headed to the bee hive.  I expected the bees to be irritable because conditions are dry this time of year, and they were.  I planned to calm them with smoke, but a stiff breeze made it difficult to light the smoker and keep it going. I went through the topmost one-and-a-half boxes of the hive, frame by frame, before withdrawing to relight the smoker and snack on a piece of honeycomb that broke out.  The bees were hopping mad, but everything looked good so far in the hive.  Then I went through the remaining one-and-a-half boxes, surrounded by quite a cloud of bees and with very little help from the smoker because of the wind.  As I was putting a box back on the hive, I realized that I had a bee in the hood of the jacket.  (I think this is where the saying "a bee in your bonnet" comes from.)  I shoved the box into position and ran to a safe distance to unfasten the veil.  The bee attacked, but didn't make it past my hair before I caught him.  I zipped the veil back up and went back to the hive.  After a few minutes more work, I felt a bee crawling up my neck.  I ran off again, stripped off the whole jacket, and checked it over thoroughly before I put it back on.  Once jacket and dignity were restored, I went to get an empty box to add to the hive, not realizing that red wasps had built a nest in the stack of extra bee boxes. When I pulled the box off the stack, red wasps exploded out of it. I'm so glad I still had that bee suit on! I escaped the wasps unscathed, added the empty box to the bee hive without further incident, and returned to the house with a little honeycomb, no bee or wasp stings, and the knowledge that our bees seem to be doing well.
A frame from the bee hive
          My next task will be to mow the grass under the electric fences.  I hope that goes smoothly, but at this rate, I'll likely cut the top off a yellow jacket nest.  Maybe I should mow in my bee suit. 
      
Hannah

16 August 2017

Bringing in the Sheaves

     The only thing better for a farmer than breaking new ground is eating the fruit of it after many months of care.  The new ground that we broke in the spring is bearing abundant fruit in the form of summer vegetables.  Those beans, tomatoes, and squash that have been at our booth and on our table came from that new ground.  Soon there will be sweet potatoes and ginger, as well.  We are currently keeping the okra for ourselves.  After all of our tilling, planting, weeding, watching, waiting, and praying, Mr. Jones's old garden is yielding its first crop in decades; enough to feed us, to feed you, and to put by for the winter.  What a summer.




 

23 May 2017

Breaking New Ground

     There are few things more exciting and meaningful for a farmer than breaking ground; the thrill of taking a patch of fallow earth and making it into something it was not, the rich brown of the fresh-turned soil, and the hope of good crops to come.  This particular patch of earth is special to the Greene farmers.  Many decades ago, Sherman Weaver, my great-grandfather, lived in the house we live in now.  His neighbors, Mr. Vernon Jones and Mr. Hoyt Carrol, lived in the next two houses down.  These three men worked together every year to make their three spacious backyards into one big garden patch, sharing a little tractor that they parked under a shed at the edge of the woods.  Many people say that farming runs in certain peoples' blood; perhaps it runs in land, too.  All three men have long since passed away and their land had said goodbye to its farming days, but not forever.  We were able to carry on the farming legacy on Sherman Weaver's land, cultivating and expanding it into what into what it is today.  Last fall, we purchased what was Mr. Vernon Jones's house and land.  This spring, that farm land is waking up after many years of sleep under the grass.  We have broken the fallow ground and planted the first summer crop it has seen in a long time.  Before the summer is out, some of you may help us taste that crop.      


Mr. Jones's backyard in December, with the back of his house in the distance. 

The groundbreaking begins...


...and the field is prepared.


The view from the other end.  The little shed that housed the tractor
still stands; if you look closely, you can see it under the trees.


      Anne Marie Greene
   

28 March 2017

Friday Night Feasting

          It doesn't take much to make a fabulous meal in a short amount of time.  During breakfast on Friday morning, Caroline and I made plans for supper.  We decided to have Daddy grill pork chops (we did ask him first if he would) and serve crowder peas, apple sauce, and mushroom Marsala sauce with the chops.  Anne Marie got some of our own farm-raised pork chops and a bag of homemade apple sauce out of the freezer, and Momma and I got mushrooms and Marsala wine from the grocery.  About 5:00 pm, I came in from checking on a bee hive to fix supper.  Momma had already started the crowder peas boiling in beef broth left over from a beef roast the we had cooked earlier that week.
          I put the apple sauce on the stove to warm, then mixed up the Carraba's Grill Seasoning from our Carraba's cook book to put on the pork chops.  In the meantime, Caroline washed the mushrooms for me and the Dutch oven heated for the Marsala sauce.
The seasoned pork chops waiting to go on the grill
           I browned the mushrooms, then added chopped homemade bacon, chopped onion, homemade chicken broth, and Marsala wine.
Browning the mushrooms
Chopping up the bacon
The Marsala sauce all mixed up
          The sauce reduced (i.e. boiled off some liquid) until the pork chops came off the grill at about 6:15.  All that remained was to load up the plates...
Mushroom Marsala sauce
Steaming hot crowder peas
Hot apple sauce
Grilled Greene Family Farm pork chops
...and eat.
Crowder peas, apple sauce, and a pork chop topped with mushroom Marsala and parmesan cheese
It didn't stand a chance.
Hannah