Well Aged

When we last butchered pigs, early in 2019, I took one of the hams, cured it, and left it to hang in my garage. That’s right, no typos there, the ham has been hanging in my garage at ambient temperatures since early 2019, almost 2 years.

Until today. On a lazy Sunday I thought it was time to see how it was doing. I hang hams from the rafters in a cloth bag. I took this one down and turned it out of the bag.

That’s a ham? Eww, that looks pretty nasty. But I wasn’t daunted, I’ve cured hams before and they never look good right out of the bag. After a good scrubbing with a bristly brush it looked better.

Looks pretty good! But you never know until you cut into the ham.

Ohh, look at that! Perfect! Cured all the way through to an even rosy hue.

Well of course this is one of the best slices I cut. Long and so thin you can see my fingers through it. I have plenty of hacked up little pieces and pieces thick as a shingle.

While a picture is worth a thousand words, it’s not worth a single bite. I thought after hanging that long the ham would be even more dry and salty than a home cured ham usually is. But it’s not, it’s mellow and mild, succulent and salty.

I think the next ham may have to hang for 3 years!

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Garlic Many Ways

Last year my brother’s friend, Brian Bianski [1], gave me some garlic shoots. I didn’t have the first idea what to do with them, so I brought them home and stuck them in the ground.

Nothing happened, and the grass and weeds took over and then Debbie burned it all down with Roundup thinking it was just a weed patch. “Well,” I thought, “that was a failed experiment.”

Then this spring the garlic burst forth.

Garlic Patch

In June the garlic sends out flower buds. You’re supposed to cut those off so the plant will put its energy into the cloves underground. These flower buds are called garlic scapes and they have garlic flavor just like the cloves.

Garlic Scapes

So I had a big bowl full of garlic scapes and wondered what to do with them. I looked up recipes and found a recipe for a double garlic soup that used garlic scapes and green garlic. Scapes, I have plenty of, but what’s green garlic? A little more searching and I found out that green garlic is immature garlic cloves. I’ve got plenty of those too!

Green Garlic

These are a couple I dug from my garlic patch. They’re a little past the ‘green’ stage, but they’re still soft and mild, so close enough!

The scapes and green garlic all went into the pot.

Cooking Scapes

Then I added stock and so on as the recipe below calls for. I made a few croutons with lots of salt and garlic and parmesan cheese to sprinkle over the soup to add a bit of crunch to the bowl.

It was just splendid. A delicious meal from the scraps of pruning the garlic patch and the thoughts of good friends.

Double Garlic Soup
– serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a side

3 fat bulbs green garlic
3 Tbsp butter
3 c chopped garlic scapes
1 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
3/4 tsp kosher salt (more to taste, depending on how salty your butter and stock is)
ground black pepper
1 large potato, peeled and diced
1 quart chicken stock
1 c half-and-half (or whole milk or cream or skim milk or yogurt, whatever you like)
2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
freshly grated nutmeg

Trim the root and green part of the green garlic, and remove the outermost layers, then chop it finely. In a soup pot, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add green garlic and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add garlic scapes, thyme, salt and pepper, and sauté for 5 minutes.

Stir in diced potato and broth, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until scapes and potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Add half-and-half, and purée soup with a blender. Stir in the lemon juice and season with more salt and pepper. Garnish with nutmeg and thyme leaves, and serve hot.

Add garlic parmesan croutons to make it a triple garlic soup!

1. I hadn’t seen Brian since high school. A few years after Dave died I was standing in Ranney’s Welding Shop in Churubusco talking with Ranney about welding a part for me and I felt someone staring at me from the side. I turned and he (Brian) said, “Chuck? You freaked me out, you sounded just like Dave.” I think we all still expect to turn and find Dave there.

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I Wish I Was

It’s a cold and rainy night here. We have a nice fire in the fireplace, the heat and light radiating from the fireplace is so pleasant. It would be more efficient if I’d close the glass doors, but the crackle of the flames and the faint smell of wood smoke is comforting.

A Nice Fire

Except a few minutes ago one of the logs popped really loudly. We [1] all jumped.

Owen had been sleeping across the room and when the fire popped he got up and trudged over and flopped down beside me. Clearly I would make sure nothing bad would happen to him.

It was so touching, that complete and utter trust. It’s the stuff of country music songs, but I wish I was the man my dog thinks I am.

1. Debbie, Owen (the Wonder Dog), and me. Spenser, the other Wonder Dog, is deaf as a post. He missed all of this.

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Raspberries 2017

Owen and Spenser (the Wonder Dogs) and I went picking wild black raspberries today.

We went to the hay field first that has raspberries growing around it, but the Japanese beetles had decimated those vines. I gathered up the Wonder Dogs (Spenser couldn’t believe we were leaving so soon, he practically defined “hang dog” coming back to the truck). But little did Spenser know we were heading for the woods at the home farm.

I parked on the north side of the woods and we worked our way around the north side and then down the east side. There’s a swamp on the east side and around it the raspberries were plentiful.

I was picking and Spenser was getting his hound on, running through the woods and howling as he tracked various woodland creatures. Owen was following me, but when we got to the swamp he turned aside and I heard him getting a drink in the swamp.

I kept picking and Spenser kept running and howling and I didn’t hear anything from Owen. That wasn’t unusual. He tends to loll in the shade as much as possible.

A half hour or so later it was getting on towards lunchtime and I had enough berries. Spenser was coming around in one of his howling passes near me so I captured his attention and said, “Let’s get Owen and head home.” And then I looked around and Owen was nowhere to be seen.

Now Owen is a little dog (or at least short) and the grass is tall, so I didn’t think much of it. “Ohh-En” I called… Nothing…

“Well, bleep,” I said. I started slogging around the swamp. Owen’s stubby and I imagined him bogged down somewhere. I fought all the way around the swamp through muck and brambles and fallen trees. No Owen.

“Maybe he went back to the truck,” I thought. So I stumbled across the northeast corner of the woods to the truck, still calling “Ohhh-En” thinking that if he had cut through the woods heading for the truck I might find him in the woods. I get through the woods to my truck and… no Owen. I went back around the outside of the woods to the swamp, thinking he might be hunkered down in the shade along the edge of the woods. Still no Owen.

“Spenser,” I said, “go find Owen.” He dutifully ran off into the woods howling while I made another lap around the swamp.

No Owen.

I was about to call Debbie and ask her to come over help me comb the woods for the Prodigal Corgi when I thought, “surely he wouldn’t have gone back up to the barn?” It’s a hard half mile from the woods to the barn, through brush and trees and up and down hills. But before I called Debbie and admitted I’d lost Owen I figured I’d check.

I thrashed across the woods yet again, got in my truck and drove up to the barn. And there was Owen.

The Prodigal

He looked at me with an expression like, “what are you doing here?” I boosted him up into the truck and we went back to the woods to get Spenser. Spenser had realized he’d been left and was heading up the lane pell-mell. He’d run so much I thought I was going have to boost him into the truck too, but after only a couple tries he got in himself.

And now we’re all enjoying the fruits of our labors.

The Wonder Dogs are sacked out.

Tired Spenser

Tired Owen

And Debbie and I are enjoying delicious wild raspberry pie.

Black Raspberry Pie

(Through enormous self restraint I got a picture of the pie before devouring the last slice.)

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The Great Bananagram Challenge

We’ve started our annual winter game that we’ll play most nights until the first day of Spring [1]. The winner then gets to name their prize [2].

This year we’re playing Bananagrams. It’s like Scrabble, except you each make your own word grid and only play on it.

You can follow our scores here. There’s a link to the page on the sidebar to the right too.

1. The vernal equinox.

2. No, you can’t ask for that.

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The Queen and Corgis

Queen Elizabeth, famous for her corgis, had a photograph taken of them for her 90th birthday.

Queen's Corgis
Queen’s Corgis

It’s not my 90th birthday, but I thought a picture of our corgi was in order.

Chuck and Debbie's Corgi
Chuck and Debbie’s Corgi

I’m hoping the Queen sees this and wants to come to visit. I’m also hoping that Annie Leibovitz, who took the pictures of the Queen, sees this and wants to hire me to take pictures for her.

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Cold and Tired

Spenser [1] spent several hours today digging down through the snow


into the unfrozen ground underneath. He can’t hear, and his eyesight’s not that good, but he can still smell rodents under the ground. He came in with ice and mud caked on his paws and has been resting ever since.


When I come home
Cold and tired
It’s good to warm my bones
Beside the fire
– Pink Floyd

1. The Wonder DOg

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Chicken Excitement

I went out just before suppertime to shut the chickens in. It was getting dark and it was cold and windy. I wanted to get cleaned up and have supper and not have to go out again.

But the chickens were all still in the outside pen, clucking their stupid heads off, and one of them was throwing itself around the closed in pen, fluttering and banging off the fence. What sort of chicken drama was playing out in their tiny chicken brains?

I got closer and realized the “chicken” throwing itself about in the enclosed pen was actually a sharp-shinned hawk. It had flown in there somehow and couldn’t find a way out.

Sharp-shinned Hawk
Sharp-shinned Hawk

That’s a generic picture of a sharp-shinned hawk. We’ve had one hanging around our place all fall. He hangs on the wind over Skunk Hill and captures rodents in our native planting areas.

While the hawk was bashing about in the enclosed pen, our rooster was on the other side of the fence, throwing himself at the hawk, quite willing to take on the predator to defend his hens.

Our Rooster
Our Rooster

That is a picture of our rooster. He as full of himself as any creature can be. But he went after that hawk without a thought of himself, despite the fact that the hawk would’ve surely have torn him apart if he had gotten through the fence. You can attribute that to his chicken sized brain, or to the insane belief in their own immortality and invincibility of all young males. Whatever the reason, it was impressive to watch.

I opened the door to the pen so the hawk could find his way out, and Spenser the Wonder Dog immediately dashed in. Spenser is deaf as a post, so he didn’t hear me screaming at him that the hawk would tear his eyes out. Spenser trotted over, sniffed the hawk, evidently found it not interesting and wandered into the chicken coop to look for eggs – which he finds very interesting.

In the meantime the rooster continues to throw himself at the fence to try to get to the hawk, and the hawk flies into the fence right by me and hangs onto the fence with its talons and stares at me, evidently wanting to rip my throat out.

Being only slightly smarter than the rooster, it took a while for me to realize I should move away from the open door. When I did the hawk burst through the open door and disappeared over the roof of our house like a fighter jet on afterburners.

I went into the coop to retrieve the Wonder Dog and there was one dead chicken that the hawk had killed. Spenser, being senile as well as deaf, didn’t notice it until I picked it up.

As soon as I stepped back outside the hens and the rooster bolted for the coop. I sealed the doors up, and as I did I heard the contented, interrogative “chook, chook, chook?” noise they make as they settle onto their perches for the night.

Minus one chicken, all was well again.

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Lots of apples this year. Tom and I picked my pickup about half full from just a couple of neighbors trees.

We pressed them tonight, ending up with about 16 gallons of cider.

Pickup load o' apples
Pickup load o’ apples

Hillary's saying, "are you taking a picture?"
Hillary’s saying, “Are you taking a picture?”

Tom pressing smarter, not harder
Tom pressing smarter, not harder

We ended up with about 16 gallons of cider. We’re going to ferment around 13 gallons of it, and drink the rest fresh. Fresh cider is so incredibly delicious, pasteurizing may make it safe, but it also kills all the taste.

We also had some nice grapes and ended up with a half gallon of grape juice that I’m going turn into red wine vinegar.

My Dad (Tom’s Grandpa of course) built that press about 40 years ago. 3 generations of pressing apples and good times.

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Eating Locally

This morning I went to the opening day for the Columbia City Farmer’s Market. I came home with greens, ramps, miner’s lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata, and a loaf of crusty bread. Tonight I whipped that into an almost entirely locally grown meal.

Salad with Smoked Duck

I had a whole Maple Leaf Farms duck in the freezer. I thawed that out and smoked it in the Jay Rosswurm Big Stone Cooking Area with some cherry logs cut from our farm.

I made that all into a salad topped with an orange vinaigrette. The oranges were probably picked by slaves and trucked 1,500 miles. I should’ve used the apple cider vinegar I made.

Oh well, it was tasty all the same. The duck was rich, fat, and smoky, the greens were bitter and fresh, the ramps pungent, and the vinaigrette cut it all with its sharp and bright acid.

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