Since I started trying my hand at making sausages, one of the things I’ve wanted to try is homemade brats. While you can find fresh brats almost anywhere in the midwest, they are harder to come by in New England.
Fortunately they are just a fresh sausage that get their flavor from good meat and a certain set of seasonings. Most recipes call for a mix of pork and veal, but veal is tough to come by and even tougher to come by if you are looking for a humane option. Plus it doesn’t add much to the mix other than a certain creaminess. Certainly most of the actual meat flavor comes from the pork.
So I just made all pork brats, using some wonderful pork shoulder from Jericho Settler’s farm and some fat back. Here is the result, both just after stuffing and on the grill. They turned out great, although I will certainly be tweaking the seasoning mix a bit.
Due to a nice warm spring here in Vermont, our garden is off to a great start. Here are some photos from a couple of weeks ago, stuff is much bigger now.
We are trying out some new trellis ideas. The trellis netting works great for most things (tomatoes, peas, beans, cucumbers), but couldn’t really hang (no pun intended) with the heavier squashes such as Blue Hubbard. Here is a new trellis I built using scrap wood and chicken wire. May build a few more, this only took about an hour.
Peas poking through and then a few weeks later
Garlic off to a good start. It’s almost 2 feet high now
Bought a tiller
Cabbage overwintered in cold frame. Soon after we transplanted it, the chickens got into it. This poor cabbage can’t catch a break. It’s still limping along, so maybe it will come back.
You can see more photos and keep up with our 2013 garden on Flickr.
Last year I was looking around for a small greenhouse I could use for seed starts and hardening off plants. There are a number of small ones with a few shelves and a plastic cover. When I saw how simple they were, I didn’t see the point in spending the money.
We already had a few of the wire rack shelving units that you can buy at a lot of places like garden/home supply stores, Target, etc. I was already using one to start seeds in the basement, so I knew the general layout would work. So I just bought some greenhouse plastic and basically wrapped one of those racks. I fastened the plastic to the rack using wire along the vertical supports. The plastic is thick enough to hold for the most part, although obviously it tears a bit over time. It doesn’t have a nice zippered front on it, but other than that it’s the same principle and costs a lot less.
I used it a bit last year, but did have some issues with wind on our front porch. This year I have a sandbag on the bottom rack and some clothesline fastening it to the porch railings. That seems to do the trick as we’ve had some pretty good wind storms since I put it up this spring. So far so good.
It’s working really well to start cold hardy plants and I’m also hardening off other plants that I’m starting in the cellar. It gets nice and warm in there and doesn’t seem to dry out too fast. The other trick I added this year is some foil covered insulation board to reflect more light from under the starting trays. I’m also doing this in my basement underneath the heated seed starting mats I have and it seems to make a real difference.
I think I mentioned this last year, but wanted to throw it out there again. You’ll find this noted elsewhere online, I found it last year when growing peas for the first time.
Since peas can be started so early (apparently sometimes they will even sprout and grow through snow), the soil conditions can be all over the map. So I sprout my peas indoors first. It’s really simple. Take some paper towels or cloth and get it moist, but not wet. This year I used an old diaper. Put the peas inside. They like to roll around, so it can be helpful to roll up the sides in some fashion to keep them in. Put the paper towel or cloth inside a plastic bag or really anything that can hold some moisture in. I find a gallon ziploc works great and we always have used ones around. Just leave enough of a gap in the container or bag for some air to get in and out. You are basically making a little greenhouse.
After a couple of days, start checking them. As soon as you see sprouts you can plant them outside. Be careful with them at this stage as the little sprouts can be pretty fragile. If you break them off, that seed is done.
They seem to like a diaper better than a paper towel because this time a bunch sprouted by today, probably 60-70%, and I just started them during last weekend. Some of the sprouts actually grew through the diaper cloth. They are ready to go!
It’s time to start more seeds. Onions are going, time to add brassicas to the mix.
Yesterday I made another round of breakfast sausages. I’ve been wanting to try a couple of different recipes and I had a pork shoulder in the freezer that needed to be used.
I did two variations on breakfast sausage. The first is the basic breakfast sausage recipe from Home Production of Quality Meats and Sausages. This book is awesome for technical information, including lots of sanitation regulation and helpful tips on food safety. I’m not sure all the recipes are the best though. For instance, this one had you grind the meat and then add the seasonings before the primary bind. Seems wrong to me. I always figure that meat benefits from extra time in contact with seasoning, particularly salt. So I mixed everything and let it sit for a bit in the fridge and freezer before grinding. Added a bit of extra pepper too, since I like a fairly peppery sausage. I think this one turned out pretty well.
The second was a maple breakfast sausage recipe from Home Sausage Making. This one had some onion and so I thought adding garlic might work too, but with the maple syrup I think it is supposed to be a sweeter flavor profile. Still good, but I’ll leave the garlic out next time. That’s the fun of experimenting.
Here are a few photos. The meat was really beautiful, Kristin thought it was a shame to “waste” it on sausage. I stuffed quite a bit of this into small links, but neglected to take photos of the finished product.
Yesterday I bought seeds for this year to replenish our stock and thought I’d write down a couple of interesting observations.
Last year we were planning to have a large garden for the first time and we went a little nuts. Bought tons of seeds and I think we ordered from 4 or 5 different companies. I think for the most part we used everything we bought and were pretty happy with most of it.
This year we decided to go a little simpler and decided to buy everything from two companies, High Mowing (a local VT company) and Baker Creek. We had a chance to visit High Mowing last fall for their “Field Days” and we were very impressed with their operation. Besides the plus of being local and thus having a higher possibility of getting seeds well adapted for our area, they are also doing some interesting seed development and hybridization work. As far as Baker Creek, we just love their selection and advocacy for heirloom and open pollinated seeds.
One thing we decided to try for the coming year is to buy a few hybrids. We had a decent amount of trouble with various wilts, rusts and blights last year. We never did get zucchini going, although a lot of that was bug issues. A lot of the tomatoes ended up with various levels of disease, although some of that may be rectified by giving each plant a bit more space and pruning better.
After a lot of experimentation last year, we are probably going to go a bit more basic this year until we have our own property with more room. That means we probably won’t grow cauliflower (takes a lot of room and we didn’t have much luck getting heads to form), popcorn (proved out we can grow it and also takes a lot of room), melons (not enough sun, difficult to get started and once again room) and soybeans (we’ll definitely grow these when we have the space).
Every year we like to try some new things, so here are a few things we are planning to experiment with this coming season:
- some hybrid cucumbers from High Mowing (a pickling and a slicing variety)
- Kaitlen cabbage – a sauerkraut variety
- Tomatoes – Amish Paste, Cherokee Purple, Black Cherry and Berkeley Tie Dye (a funky pink and green variety developed by Bradley Gates of Wild Boar Farms)
- Potatoes – Russet and Russian Banana (fingerling) – had good luck last year with Yukon Gold, La Ratte fingerling and Red Norlands, want to try some other varieties)
- Good Mother – an heirloom dry bean
- Various greens – new salad mixes, a Bibb lettuce, Purple Orach, Purple Mizuna
- Eggplant – Aswad (large dark purple Iranian variety) and Ping Tung (a Thai variety)
Should be another fun year and hopefully we can take what we learned last season and build on that.
The chickens have enjoyed pecking around in an inch or two of snow, but this latest storm seems to have them a bit confused and tentative. No wonder, a couple of feet is a lot more snow. It’s fun to see their different colors contrasted against the snow though.
Ezra turned one year old on first day of December. I was hoping to get this posted closer to his birthday, but the holidays have a way of getting in the way.
Typically this blog tends toward the practical and matter of fact, but sometimes it’s good to reflect on the why. Although having a family wasn’t necessarily the primary motivator in our decision to move to Vermont and change up our lives, it certainly played a part. While many people raise families in a large urban area like Chicago and I have the upmost respect for those who do, the fact is it can be difficult. It’s pretty expensive to afford housing in the city with plenty of room for kids, although people make it work. Obviously much of the world where extended families live in large huts would consider this a first world “problem”.
So that’s one reason people move to the ‘burbs, but that wasn’t in the cards for us. In particular, many of the things we wanted to do involved needing space, not just for kids, but for canning jars and beer making equipment … animals and gardens … and so on.
Anyway, I’ve already covered a lot of the reasons we moved to Vermont, so I won’t reiterate those. I’m more interested in thinking about what kinds of dreams I have for Ezra and how living in Vermont plays into that. When I was growing up in a very rural area, I reached a point where I couldn’t wait to leave. There were a lot of reasons for that, many having nothing to do with the rural environment.
Anyway I’m hoping we can do some things differently and give Ezra some good reasons to love the lifestyle we’ve chosen. I know he may reach young adulthood and need to set out on his own adventures. He may have to live in his own “Chicago” for awhile to appreciate his young life here. That’s certainly a discussion for another day well down the road.
Here’s what I’m dreaming for him in the meantime though:
- That he’ll learn to appreciate good food and drink and what it really takes to have it. That includes growing his own food, including understanding where meat comes from. Eventually making beer. How to preserve food through canning, root cellars and curing meats. How to cook something yourself and realize it’s better than whatever you ordered that last time at the restaurant.
- That he’ll be able to plant stuff and watch it grow, including stuff that takes awhile to mature like an apple or nut tree.
- That he’ll learn the joys of hospitality, community and good friends. You don’t have to be in the country to learn that, as we found in Chicago and other places we’ve lived. But we certainly hope to continue it here and have already made strides in that direction.
- That he’ll be exposed to other viewpoints and people from all walks of life. This may take some work in Vermont, which isn’t the most ethnically diverse place. That’s one thing we miss about Chicago. On the other hand, we have way more friends of the “experienced” and even “elderly” persuasion here, so I’m hoping he’ll take advantage of their wisdom and knowledge. And we’ve met people who have moved here from all over and/or have traveled extensively.
- That he will develop an interest in creativity and the arts. We are starting to meet a lot of creative people (musicians, artists, writers, potters, fabric artists, etc.), so I’m hoping we can expose him to all of that. Also hoping to spend more time on music myself, so that he’ll not just be around music we play at home, but also seeing music be made at home and by others in the community. I know I can’t force him to play an instrument (or at least force him to enjoy it), but I would love to see him develop an interest in really any musical instrument and/or singing. He seems to be trying to sing already.
- That he’ll learn to enjoy contemplation, silence, nature and just being in the moment. That seems to be getting harder and harder in our fast-paced world, but Vermont has a lot of natural beauty and outdoor space that at least provides a setting for it.
- That he’ll learn to use technology in a balanced way. Despite living in the country, we still have a lot of technology around and that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. I’m still a computer programmer. But I want him to get his hands dirty and do physical things as well. Since moving here, I find that getting out and doing physical work provides a nice break from being on the computer and vice versa.
- That he’ll learn to work hard, but also play hard and relax hard. I got a great work ethic from the way I was brought up, but I also struggle with being a workaholic sometimes and getting too caught up in always doing stuff. When the garden is in full swing I’m out there all the time. That’s good, but sometimes you need to take a break too.
It will certainly be fascinating to see how Ezra develops and experiences his environment. I can’t wait to watch and dream with him.