Monday, August 31, 2009

Grass fed meat may actually be the bargain

If you haven't yet seen Time Magazine's recent cover article The Real Cost of Cheap Food (August 31, 2009 issue), I would recommend it to you. I thought the article was well done for the mainstream press, and although many of the statistics and facts cited will probably be old hat for most readers of this blog, the fact that the media is devoting more positive coverage to sustainable farming and humane and healthy methods for raising animals for meat will hopefully have a positive affect.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Maple Syrup - How It Is Made

Maple Syrup begins as sap in a maple tree. The sap is harvested in the spring when temperatures rise into the 40s during the day and cool off into the 20s at night. It takes a very special place for the conditions to be just right.

The sugaring season, as it is called, can begin as early as late January in Southern Kentucky and ends in late March. The season usually lasts about a month whenever it begins, but it can be extended if the weather is right.

Trees are tapped using a drill to make a small hole. A spile is inserted into the hole and the sap drips out if conditions are right. The sap either drips into a bucket or flows down a special tube to a holding tank. Drop after drop collect until there are gallons upon gallons of sap. Many gallons of sap are needed to make just one gallon of maple syrup. It can range from 35-50 gallons of sap, depending on how much maple sugar there is in the sap. All maple syrup has the same amount of maple sugar, but the maple flavor can be different as we shall learn.

The sap is collected into a large holding tank and from there is fed into the sugar house (the place where the magic happens!). In the sugar house, it is systematically poured into an evaporator (pictured here). Maple sugar evaporators are specially designed to 'boil off' hundreds of gallons of water very quickly and so the sap is concentrated into maple syrup. This is called 'boiling down'.

The evaporator works by first 'pre-heating' the sap so that it is almost boiling. This is done by making use of the steam that is already coming off of the evaporator. A series of pipes works the cold sap through the hot steam under the hood at the rear of the evaporator. The rear portion of the evaporator is where most of the serious boiling takes place. There are groves in the pan that drop down into the heat source below (fire, oil or otherwise). These give the pan more surface area and so the boiling is more fierce.

As the water is boiled off and the sugar becomes more concentrated, the sap moves toward the front of the pan. There, the sap becomes syrup and is 'drawn off' into a pail or some other container before it is filtered. The syrup at this point contains nitre or sugar sand. This needs to be removed from the syrup or it will have an off taste.

Once filtered, the syrup is put in bottles or containers and sealed until someone opens it up to enjoy a sweet treat!

In early January we will start to watch the weather and take a trip out to the farm for anyone interested in seeing full process. We have just received another, and probably our last, shipment of maple syrup until the new syrup is harvested. We have both Grades A and B in stock in quarts and half gallons.  Buying local maple syrup is an excellent way to add a whole food to your diet and also support local farming.  Eat Local!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Maple Syrup

There are times when I get so disappointed in the success of media hype and food masquerading that I could just... scream. Not much is sadder that the marketing campaign against maple syrup and how we have been duped into believing that the imitation is better than the real thing. I have had several women give me recipes for "maple syrup" consisting of corn syrup, sugar, imitation maple flavoring (ouch!) and water. When I tell them that this is not real maple syrup, that real maple syrup is a whole food and does not need a recipe, they seem surprised. We seem to have "cut off our heads to save our pocketbooks"!

I am always amazed at the wording used to describe the imitation syrup and how it is touted as being healthier with less calories than the real thing and, surprise, surprise, it actually tastes better.


Here are the ingredients in real whole food maple syrup; MAPLE SAP

I am trying to count how many of Michael Pollan's rules for eating that this "food product" breaks.

1. Don't eat anything with more than 5 ingredients

2. Don't eat anything with ingredients you cannot pronounce (even my spell checker didn't recognize 3 of the ingredients) or don't know

3. Don't eat anything your grandmother would not recognize (come on, no real maple syrup oozes like that)

4. Don't eat anything that contains high fructose corn syrup.

5. Don't eat anything that won't rot.

It so saddens me to hear mothers tell me that their children will not eat real maple syrup. Many mothers resort to emptying the Mrs. Butterworth's container and filling it with real maple syrup because their children will rebel other wise. I have a customer who's children will tell me that they hate maple syrup when they have, unknowingly been eating only real maple syrup for years.

What are we doing to this younger generation when they refuse to eat the real thing because we have trained their palates to prefer what is sweeter and gummier? There are groups on the Internet that suggest that the public does not want real maple syrup and that taste tests show that people prefer imitation over the real thing. The general comment is not how good the imitation version is but that it is what they grew up with and it gives them a "comfort feeling".

Over the next few days I will post information on REAL maple syrup so that you will know the real skinny on why maple syrup is such a healthy product and how to use it in your kitchen. We will examine the different grade, cooking tips and recipes.

So I'll close this post with a rule of my own,

7. Don't eat anything that tastes disgusting, even it you grew up with it.

We have several great maple syrup producers in the Southern Kentucky region and we are trying to support them and keep them in business. Mrs. Butterworths for us all!!!  Eat Local!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life is Barbara Kingsolver's memoir of the first year her family experimented with eating ONLY locally-grown foods. In order to abide by their agreed-upon rules, she and her family began growing more of their own food on their land in Virginia, and became much more connected to the sustainable farming and animal husbandry of their region. The family learned to eat food in season and grew more adept at preserving food for use during the winter. Each section of the book describes one season, how the family procured food, ate, and preserved in that season, and includes recipes they liked for seasonal foods. Interspersed in the narrative are Kingsolver's thoughts on the importance of local sustainable farming and the health benefits of eating locally-grown foods, as well as sidebar articles giving the perspectives of her husband and daughter on the year-long experiment.

In addition to being a memoir, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle also contains a wealth of interesting and useful facts and tips for organic gardening and notes about the history and importance of different foods. Although Kingsolver espouses some political opinions and conclusions that might not be in line with those of all readers, for the most part the book was useful and inspiring.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Any Questions?

Is there something you've always wondered about farming, raw milk, organic food or natural living but never asked? Anything about the farm that sparks your curiosity and makes you want to know more? Please feel free to leave a comment with your question or concern and we'll gladly answer it, either in person or in a future blog post. Ask away!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Simple Living: Renew Your Mind

In the pursuit of simple living, it's important to remember why exactly you're attempting to slow down and lead a more deliberate life. Often growing your own vegetables, hanging out your laundry, baking your own bread and other valuable simple pursuits take up a bit of time and it's easy to find yourself getting too busy being simplified!

Every schedule can use periods of built in, productive down time. I think one of the most rejuvenating forms of rest is reading a good book. If fiction is your preference, good literature abounds and can afford you the opportunity of thinking about different places, times, and sorts of people. Perhaps you always wanted to read the classics and you could give yourself a little bit of time each day to become acquainted with the canon of great literature. Alternatively to fiction, or perhaps interspersed with it, you might take time to research a new skill or a topic of particular interest to you. We hope that some of the book reviews we've offered on this site might be a good jumping off point for you to learn more about natural living, and there are other books we have enjoyed linked in our Amazon page.

Whatever you decide to read, we think that taking a little time to renew your mind and pause to sit with a good book is a good investment in simple living. If you run across books on natural living, supporting sustainable farming, organic food or the like, please feel free to leave us a comment - we're always looking for good book suggestions too!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cultured and Fermented Foods

If you're interested in trying cultured or fermented foods before you decide to try your hand at making them yourself, the farm shop carries sauerkraut and cultured vegetables already made the natural, wholesome way! These wonderful traditional foods will help to build your family's immune systems and provide a whole host of other health benefits.

If you're new to cultured and fermented foods, be sure to let us know what you and your family think, and how you integrate these foods into your diet!

Monday, August 10, 2009

What To Do With Whey

I have recently begun straining my homemade raw milk yogurt to get a thicker product by placing a colander over a large bowl, lining the colander with a thin towel (cheese cloth would be even better for the task), and letting it drain, covered, in the refrigerator overnight. The whey that drains into the bowl is also a useful food product.

What do you do with whey? I have used it with great success in baked goods like pancakes and muffins, enjoying the slightly tart flavor. You can also use whey in smoothies, or as a healthful drink when sweetened slightly like lemonade.

I'm planning to use whey this fall to make my own fermented fruits and vegetables. Inspired by an article on the Weston-Price Foundation website and Sally Fallon's excellent book Nourishing Traditions, I think I will try my hand at making lacto-fermented chutney and kimchi.

The process of lacto-fermentation, aided by the addition of whey, has wonderful health benefits as it aids in digestion and supports the immune system.

If you're interested in using whey in baking, for drinking or for making your own fermented foods, you can also buy it by the quart at the farm store. Let us know how you like it!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Eric Brende Interview

If you've read Better Off or were just intrigued by the idea of such radically simple living, you might be interested in the above video clip of a recent television interview with the Brendes, who now live in St. Louis and are applying their idea of simple living to a more urban setting.

HT: Like Merchant Ships Tumblr Page

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Book Review: Better Off

In his excellent book Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology, Eric Brende, then a MIT grad student studying the costs and benefits of technology, undertook an 18 month experiment with his new wife to leave Boston and go live in a Mennonite community without electricity, gas, or modern conveniences. The book is well written and full of great stories that will be of particular interest to you if you are pursuing simple living.

The real strength of the book, in my opinion, is Brende's discussion of his thought processes on the philosophy of technology. His measured and throughtful approach is both insightful and piercing as he suggests new ways to think about the impact technology makes on our lives for good and bad. Brende concludes that technology is not inherently evil, but that in our day and age, technologies that are supposed to be making our lives easier are more often than not making them harder when you really consider the expenditure of resources, your stress and lack of true leisure, and so forth.

Better Off is a compelling and entertaining book, and I highly recommend it.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Monday, August 3, 2009

My Favorite Meatloaf Recipe

Sometimes a recipe comes along that is so wonderful that it spoils you from making any other way, no matter how badly you want to. I have a recipe that falls deeply into this category: meatloaf. Sounds crazy, I know, but since I adapted this recipe from the The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook using grass fed beef, pastured veal and grass fed lamb I have been forever spoiled.

It almost seems that the stars must align just right for me to have all three meats in stock at the same time. As it is impossible for me to purchase meat from the grocery store I seek out local farmers when some special occasion or another has warranted meatloaf and no other recipe will do.

At times like this though, early in the summer when the first flush of grass is waning and our animals are beoming fat enough to butcher, is when I have all three meats in abundance in the store. I make several meatloaves at one time and stock the extras away in the freezer. I cook the extra meatloaves as stated in the recipe and freeze once cooled. I reapply another 1/4 cup ketchup when I reheat.

The uniqueness of this recipe is that the grass fed lamb gives this meatloaf such a wonderful, rich flavor and the pastured veal makes it tender beyond words.

Organic Cooking: Meatloaf From Grass Fed Beef, Pastured Veal, and Grass Fed Lamb


1 Tbs. olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
3 or 4 slices white bread
1/4 cup raw milk
1 lb. grass fed ground beef
1/2 lb. grass fed ground lamb
1/2 lb. ground pastured veal
8 oz. tomato sauce
1 egg, lightly beaten
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/4 cup ketchup


Position a rack in the center of an oven and preheat to 350º F.In a large fry pan over medium-high heat, warm the oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion, celery and garlic and sauté, stirring occasionally, until tender and translucent, 6 to 8 minutes. Set aside.

Tear the bread slices into small pieces, transfer to a food processor and pulverize the bread into crumbs. In a large mixing bowl, combine the bread crumbs and milk, stir until blended and let stand for 2 to 3 minutes.Add the onion-celery mixture to the bread mixture and stir until blended. Add the beef, lamb, veal, tomato sauce, egg, salt and pepper and fold together gently until blended.

Transfer the mixture to a 2 1/2-lb. loaf pan and, using your hands, shape the mixture into an oblong loaf. Spread the ketchup evenly over the top. Bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the meat loaf registers 165ºF, about 1 1/2 hours.

Serves 4 to 6.

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