02 December 2012

December pickings

After two days which felt like winter, today we're back in November, as far as the weather is concerned: it's mild, windy and very wet. Although this November wasn't at all like that, I will admit. Looking at the report from our nearest official weather station, they've recorded 16mm of rain/snow in November, compared to an average of over 80! Temperatures, on the other hand, have been close to the long-term average.

As it was so mild today, I went out into the garden to restock my supply of vegetables. I collected beets, parsley, broccoli, and carrots from the greenhouse and a Savoy cabbage, some sunchokes and Brussels tops from the barnyard.

This week we also 'harvested' the male chickens we reared this year: this was our first foray into deliberate meat production after having to get to grips with the process of butchering the chickens which had been killed by a weasel last winter (and once you've tasted slow-reared free-range heritage chicken, you realise what you've been missing out on all your life!). We killed ten of the eleven new roosters (keeping the remaining one as an heir to our other rooster).

Heritage breeds like our Buff Orpingtons take a long time to grow, compared to the Cornish Cross chickens which is what you always buy at the supermarket. So where the Cornish X is a non-stop eating machine which is ready to be processed at six or seven weeks (any longer and its legs can't bear the weight of its ballooning breast), the Orpingtons are not fully grown until they are about 20 weeks old. There's a telling photograph on this blog showing the comparative size of the two breeds at five weeks. 'Chickenzilla' is the word that sprang into my mind at the sight of the Cornish X.

The meat is completely different, too. I found an interesting article [PDF] by Gina Bisco yesterday on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy site about the need for cooking chicken differently when you're using meat from a heritage bird: because they spend longer running around, the leg meat needs longer cooking than the breast and has more texture to it than the meat from a Cornish X (there's also more of it). The leg meat is noticeably darker than the breast meat and responds well to long, slow, relatively low-temperature cooking.

I used two legs and a good selection of garden vegetables to make this chicken noodle and dumpling stew for lunch today. The broth made by the meat and bones of these more mature birds has to be tasted to be believed.


Linda said...

The pictures in this post alone are amazing!! I love reading your blog!

Amanda said...

Thanks Linda!

Lisa from Iroquois said...

The weasels have wiped out our flock. Four dead in the last five days. They seem to have moved into the walls of the coop so tonight the two surviving hens are roosting in the garage with the tractor. We've tried stuffing the walls with tin foil and stones and steel wool but to many holes to get them all. Last week there was even a weasel in the house. I think it was eating the cat food. It ran across my foot then under a bookcase when I came into the room. We had a problem earlier in the fall but the cat killed three and we thought the problem was ended. I guess not. I wonder if chickens can be paper trained if we bring them into the house for the winter. Picture a big country kitchen with three cats, two hens, and a black lab. Perhaps the makings of a reality TV show. Or a circus.

Amanda said...

Oh no, Lisa. I feel for you: the weasels are so small that it's almost impossible to proof the coop from them. And it seems so early in the winter for weasels to be going for chickens already. What bad luck.