2021–In Praise of Chicken Excrement

Black Gold

When you get up early on New Year’s Day to feed the chickens, and the low temp is 67 F, something is seriously wrong. That something is Anthropogenic Climate Disturbance, aka Global Warming. It’s fine now, but the summer will be when the bill comes due.

There is one constant, however–the wonders of chicken excrement. Americans in general treat chickens like a protein machine, caged, abused, and thrown away and eaten at a very early age. Our flock of eight ramble around all day, eat greens and high protein food, and we get eggs by the dozen. Better, possibly is the giant piles of excrement, which I compost. I am just beginning to use it as fertilizer. It could be the GOAT (greatest of all time.)

Chicken excrement and I go way back. When I grew up on the old farm, that was our main fertilizer, and sometimes the only one. As it turns out, industrial scale chicken production produces industrial scale chicken stuff. We had tons of this stuff at a time, which means we had tons of vegetables, and pounds and pounds of beef–we fertilized the pastures with chicken stuff, and even had to buy a giant stuff spreader to be able to do it.

So the moral for this new year is, what goes around, comes around. I have been fertilizing my mustard greens with chicken stuff, and feed the greens to the chicks, and the egg quality just gets better. I composted my garlic plants (forty in total,) and they took off like weeds. I just layered my young asparagus patch with several inches of compost. I better get the asparagus steamer ready for spring.

Film at eleven.

Spring Planting

Peaches, Waiting to Happen

When these plants bloom, it’s time for early Spring planting. The absolute first to bloom is in the next picture.

Neviusia alabamensis

That’s commonly known as Alabama Snow wreath, one of the rarest shrubs in the world, mainly because it only reproduces vegetatively, aka, by stolons instead of seeds. This year it began blooming during the second week of February, easily the earliest I have ever seen. That was when I got busy. Here’s a list of veg I planted, every one of which is up and growing.

Greens

Lettuce “Lolla Rossa Darkness”

Lettuce “Jericho”–can take some heat

Kale “Lacinato”

Brussel Sprouts “Catskill”

Mustard “Mizuna Red Streaks”–currently my favorite of the greens

Root Crops

Carrot “Kuroda”–also can take some heat

Radish “Lady Slipper”

Peas

I accidentally managed to plant all three types of peas–Snow, Sugar Snap, and English. They are growing like crazy, as it is supposed to be eighty degrees F here today.

Dwarf Grey Sugar-Snow Pea that actually grows to about five feet here

Sugar Daddy–Sugar Snap

Little Marvel–Heirloom English Pea

Here are the remains of the project.

J. L. Hudson, the anarchist seed seller in California, is the best around, for both quality, selection, and value. Still, I will also buy a commercial pack of heirloom seeds for fifty cents.

At this point I must agree with the last sentence of Candide, the great work by Voltaire: “That is very well put, said Candide, but we must go and work our garden.” No wonder Thomas Jefferson had a bust of Voltaire, in the entrance hallway at Monticello.

Festhalle Farmer’s Market

What a Market Should Look Like

While the farmer’s market season is technically over for the year at the Festhalle in Cullman, Alabama, the authorities at Parks and Rec have been convinced to let farmer’s still sell after the official end of the season–for free. The strange thing about this early closure is that anyone who has ever grown any greens, knows this is the prime season for them in this area. Cool weather and abundant moisture make for the best greens, especially collards.

Case in point. This past Saturday was both cold and windy, but our favorite seller was there early in the morning with an assortment of greens. It had been so warm up to this point that he even had tomatoes! Best of all he had what is said to be the largest timber framed structure in the Southeast all to himself.

We loaded up on tomatoes, as we have greens left over from the week before. Then, right behind us, was the brand new tribute to our German roots. A Weihnachtspyramide, and a big one at that.

That’s a Christmas Pyramid

Not satisfied with having the largest timber framed building around, the Mayor and Parks and Rec went straight to the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) in Deutschland, and commissioned this gigantic ornament. It even has a carved replica of Colonel Cullman on the second level from the top. Not only does it dwarf the gazebo behind it, it is documented to be the largest Christmas Pyramid in the US.

Three big guys actually came over from the Erzgebirger to assemble this thing, although while I was reading a version of this story in German, Google translate kicked in, and said there were “woodpeckers” coming over to assemble it. If the woodpeckers looked across the parking lot, this is what they saw on the side of the office for the Festhalle.

Use the ATM so Farmer’s can Get Cash

Judging by the size of them, I would say that they agreed with this sentiment.

Tortelli alla Maremmana

A Healthy Plate of Pasta

Having become fascinated with the parallels between Tuscan and Southern cooking, I decided to make a dish that has entire food festivals dedicated to it–tortelli, or tordelli. They are made in a bewildering number of fashions, and with many local fillings, so I ad libbed and made my own version, with some honking big tortelli, with a sauce approximating a Tuscan meat sauce. The result is incredibly rich and tasty.

Meat Sauce with Fresh Tomatoes

This is a typical meat sauce, and the quantities are determined by how many tortelli you need to sauce. I only had four, so I used fewer tomatoes, and piled on the meat. Saute some onion and pepper in olive oil, and then add the fresh tomatoes (I milled mine in a food mill, so they were peeled and seeded at the same time). The Tuscans would use chopped meat in a sauce like this, but I had homemade Italian Sausage, and some hamburger I ground myself, so I browned those in a skillet, and added those to the sauce. My customizing was to add some oregano, and two actual Italian ingredients, both of which come in tubes like toothpaste tubes, which are tomato paste and garlic paste. Naturally, there is also salt and pepper in it.

Fall Greens

The filling for the tortlli is as simple as you want to make it, but I used the traditional greens and ricotta combo. The Tuscans use everything from spinach to thistle, but we had fresh kale at the Festhalle farmer’s market, so I went with that. I wilted it in olive oil, shredded it, and added it to some homemade ricotta.

Lots of Filling

The judgement call comes when you decide how big to make the tortelli, and in what shape. I went by the Tuscan saying that tortelli should have a “wide footprint,” so I made mine big enough that just two would cover a plate. I also used a technique that I had never seen before, that was on an Italian website. I started with homemade sheet pasta.

DIY Tortelli

I cut fairly wide strips of this pasta, about twice as long as wide. The next trick is to put a spoon full of filling on one side, and then fold the pasta over itself. This eliminates the fiddly business of cutting the pasta into squares, making the tortelli, and then trimming them yet again with ravioli cutter. I just put water around the bottom edge, and used the back of a fork to form a waterproof seal. Tortelli should be boiled in water as salty as the sea for ten to twelve minutes, strained, plated and topped with sauce. Add some grated parmesan, and have your own festival. We did.

Ham Quiche with Fresh Greens and Herbs

Almost Green Eggs and Ham

Having scored a pillow sized bag of greens and some fresh pasture-raised eggs from our local farmer’s market, at the Festhalle, we decided it was quiche time again. We had our own fresh herbs to add to the mix. This is my old recipe, with a fresh local twist.

Ingredients

1 Creole Pie Crust

8 ounces Swiss Cheese, cubed

1/2 cup Ham, cubed

One handful of Greens, shredded (We bought Collards)

4 organic Eggs

Heavy Cream (Enough to fill the Crust)

Fresh Herbs, chopped (We had Chervil and Parsley)

Salt and Pepper

Nutmeg

Again, crank your oven up to 400 degrees F, as this pie crust goes in uncooked. Add the chopped pieces of the cheese into the uncooked pie shell, and then the ham. Saute the greens in butter until soft (my wife prefers collards to be boiled, but I was cooking). Mix the cream and egg mixture together, with the sauteed greens and chopped herbs, and season. Pour that over the filling in the pie shell, season with nutmeg, and bake. Ours cooked for 65 minutes. The result is as close to edible green eggs and ham as you will ever get, and will even make you feel good about eating all that cheese and cream.