Monday, September 21, 2015
The little brown blob in the lower left foreground of this picture is a young Jacob's sheep. She is about four or five months old, and wads given to me by my sister in exchange for babysitting her children for a weekend so she could go away with her husband. For the record: I would have babysat in any case, but once offered, I wasn't going to turn down a free sheep.
Jacob's sheep are those funny four (or even six) horned breed. They are an ancient "unimproved" breed, meaning they have not been highly selected for any given trait or developed for commercial purposes. Until recently, they were usually only found in the U.S. among Native American herds in the southwest. Sometimes they are called "churro" sheep.
As such, they vary widely from herd to herd, but in general they are small (a ewe reaches approximately 80-100 pounds) and have good quality wool and lean meat. You can see how small the little ewe looks next to my Nubian goats.
I was afraid my goats would bully her terribly, but it seems not. I brought the lamb home last night and shut her up in the Mama Barn for the night. This morning I went to the Gleaner's Pantry and so I wasn't around when Homero let her out to mingle with the goats. It seems to have gone well, though. This afternoon - a beautiful sunny warm September afternoon - when I let the goats out, I tried to keep the sheep in the pasture because I didn't know how herd able she was. At my sister's house she lived in a small enclosure and nobody ever tried to herd her in an open space.
After twenty minutes or so of enjoyably perusing my magazine while the goats grazed, I heard the sheep bleating plaintively from a direction incompatible with her being inside the pasture fence. The little thing was apparently able to squeezed through the gap between the gate panels and get out onto the front lawn. She simply followed the goats around, any stayed close to them even though the does occasionally butted her in the side.
Our plan is to keep her over the winter - hopefully she will grow well - and then shear her in the spring. Rowan is interested in her wool. Then we will let her fatten a bit on the spring grass before we turn her into lamburgers. Lamb is actually my favorite meat. I never buy it at the store; it has become so terribly expensive lately. I'm looking forward to having some put away for our personal use.
Saturday, September 12, 2015
Although I do a lot of canning, it is almost all water-bath canning. I am afraid of pressure-canning. Basically, water-bath canning is packing food into sterilized jars and immersing them in boiling water to seal the lids. Pressure canning is doing much the same thing, but processing them in a pressure canner, which uses steam raised to temperatures higher than 212 degrees Fahrenheit - the temperature of boiling water. Water bath canning is safe for high acid foods like pickles and salsa or high sugar foods like jam. Anyone desirous of more precise information can find it here.
I've already written a long and informative post on why I seldom use a pressure canner, and it is reproduced at the end of this post, so I won't go into it again here. Here I simply mean to document what I did with these beauties:
The Gleaner's Pantry offered up an abundance of eggplant again. I think these came from Trader Joe's, which usually carries the most perfectly shaped and glossiest eggplant. These ones were oddly shaped, and some had bronzy-patches which were a skin-only phenomenon. I don't know what causes that, but the eggplant underneath is perfectly sound.
Eggplant is one of those love 'em or hate 'em vegetables. Most people dislike them, but I enjoy them. I think part of the problem with eggplant is that is hard to cook correctly. It's easy enough to bake until soft and mash, as for baba ganoush , but it's more challenging when the eggplant retains it's shape and texture. It's not easy to avoid the eggplant turning to mush when you don't want it to.
Then there's all that stuff about salting and extracting the "bitter juices," which I totally ignore and have never felt that the eggplant was especially bitter as a result. I can't claim to be any sort of eggplant-cooking expert, but I have several decent recipes that I like.
Not enough, however, to use up SEVEN big eggplants. I don't know what I was thinking. After making an extra-large eggplant parm, I still had three eggplants to use. I decided to make caponata and can it. Recipes found on the internet disagreed about whether or not caponata needs to be pressure canned. Last time I made it, a few years ago, I water-bath canned it, adding extra sugar and vinegar to make it into a kind of chutney that I felt would be safer. This time around, I wanted to err on the side of caution so that I could give some of it away if - as seems likely - we didn't actually want to eat 8 pints of caponata.
So I borrowed a pressure canner from my friend M. It was actually very easy to use. I set it up on the propane cooker outside and never felt nervous at all. My only issue with it now is that I feel like the caponata came out overcooked (one of the jars didn't seal and so we ate it right away). The caponata is cooked first, of course, and packed hot into sterilized jars. Then the pressure canner has to heat up and vent steam for 10 minutes before you let it come up to pressure. AFTER THAT, the caponata is processed at 10 pounds pressure for 20 minutes. It all seems like just too much for delicate eggplant flesh.
The caponata is delicious fresh, however, and so I'm giving my recipe here for those of you who find yourselves with too much eggplant at the end of summer.
1 large eggplant, cut into 1" dice
1 red onion, chopped
2 long green Italian frying peppers, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup kalamata olives, chopped
heaping tablespoon capers, rinsed
4 medium ripe red tomatoes
1/4 c. red wine or apple cider vinegar
1/2 c. sugar
salt and pepper
Heat olive oil, and saute peppers, eggplant, onion, garlic, and raisins. Put tomatoes, vinegar, and sugar in blender and puree. Add to eggplant mixture and simmer until somewhat reduced and vegetables are tender. Salt and pepper to taste. Shower with minced parsley and serve with good quality crackers.
The following is a repeat of my "controversial canning" post from 2011.