Wild Honey

Boone grew up in a traditional household. His father had a job in town and his mother stayed home raising the eight children while working the farm. His family lived in the hollers of Kentucky and milked cows, stripped tobacco, dug ginseng, gardened, hunted, fished and robbed bee trees periodically.

Since Boone is regularly out in the woods and pastures he is very good at spotting honey bees. We happened upon one of our bee trees purely by accident while out hiking. We were headed back to the house and smelled something really strong and oddly sweet. Backing up we started looking around and spotting a black walnut with bees buzzing around it. It was a bee tree and what we were smelling was the honey. It was that loaded with it.

We only take a small amount of honey from a tree. We need our bees to pollinate and they need enough honey to get through the winter. Boone, myself and our son went out to harvest some honey last year but due to so much rain ruining the pollen for the bees the honey was not as plentiful. We decided against harvesting any in fear that the bees would not have enough for themselves.

A couple of days ago, we had a beautiful frosty sunny morning and Boone pronounced that it was a good day to collect some honey. We gathered our tools in a bucket; knife, hammer, crow bar, caulk and caulking gun, smoker, handfuls of hay and matches. I donned a bee hat because while I have read that smoking the bees will make them retreat, I have never done it and only halfheartedly had faith in it until I had proof that it would work. This bee tree is a black walnut that is in a pasture near the house so off we go.

First, Boone uses the crowbar to pry the opening out. Years ago, he chainsawed a block out of the tree for an access hole to the honey. The bees have their own access hole on the other side of the tree. Once he gets it open, we will be able to get to the honey. The bees are buzzing away somewhere in the tree but we do not see any yet.

Bee Tree

The block is out and wow, look at that honey! It is new honey with light colored combs bursting full. The smell is amazing. I have the smoker in hand and SON OF A BEE TREE, here comes the bees. They have been down in the bottom of the tree and a few hundred it looks like come up to see what we are doing. I start pumping the smoker and sure enough they simply withdraw back into the tree. Boone had a few minutes of hopping around as one of the bees did fly out and land on him somewhere. We found it, plucked it off and put it back in the tree. Boone cut out a bit of the comb and we could see plenty of dark honey behind it but we did not mess with it.

Honeycomb

Combs are in the bucket and a few bees have come out to sit in the sun at the opening of their access hole in the sunshine but do not bother us.

Bucket of Honey

We tap the block back in place, caulk all around it to keep the cold air out, gather up our tools and we are done. All in all, it took only about 20 minutes.

Caulking Honey Tree

Back at the house, I crush the comb, set a mesh strainer inside a large pot, then line the strainer with a new paint filter, pour the honey comb in, put a lid on it and set it by our wood stove.

Straining Honey

The heat from the stove will warm it up a bit so that it will strain easier. Using this method, I strain the honey until it is free and clear from any bits of comb, etc. This batch took 3 strainings. After straining I ended up with a bit over a quart of honey and it is heavenly. I cannot wait to make Zippy Wings, they are going to be amazing made with wild honey.

There is another bee tree that was part of a dead cherry that was brought down in a storm a few years ago. Fearing an animal would ravage the honey thus killing the bees, Boone trimmed the bee section out and propped it up to get the bees higher off of the ground. He has already cut the access hole so we will be checking it out next.

Wild Cherry Bee Tree

Wednesday, Feb. 3

farm-boy Boone’s Farm Report:

  • The sheep have found a hole in the fence and wandered out into the cattle field to graze. Luckily, they are like chickens that come home to roost every evening so we do not have to go out and catch them.
  • The sheep run-in shed has been mucked out.
  • It rained yesterday so it is a good day to burn some of the brush piles that have accumulated from cleaning up the undergrowth in our small forest.

Hello 2016

Now that the holidays are over, this is the time of year I start planning….planning on what to put in the garden this spring, where to go camping, what farm/house projects to tackle, and more. From now until around March, Kentucky is normally too cold and raw to do much outside so I sit inside and make lists and plan for warmer days.

Boone is working on putting a woodstove and more lighting in the garage so we can tackle small projects in the evenings in relative comfort. I have already got the Small Project list going: painting lamps, finishing a covered headboard, and painting tins to name a few. The first thing to tackle is the garage itself. Being on a farm brings lots of mud, tools that need sharpening, empty canning jars, feed sacks and such to the garage. It is a catch all for just dropping things off that we will get to later.

The big snow storm left us with around 20” of snow. We were lucky in that we did not lose power. It was hard getting out to feed but we got all the animals taken care.

Neither snow, sleet or rain stops a farmer

Neither snow, sleet or rain stops a farmer

Cows in Snow

Good Morning!

I hope you are warm and safe!

Charge!

His name was Rambo and he had a killer instinct. Yes, he was quite the ladies’ man but quiet and deadly to all others…..

Ha, I am not speaking of the movie character but of Rambo our ram. He is gorgeous, protective and produces beautiful lambs but we cannot step foot in the pasture without being armed and willing to do battle. Knowing that I have a bullseye on my back makes spending time with the lambs much less enjoyable.

Rambo

Every single ram that we have had, has turned from a sweet boy into an aggressive adult around the age of 2. The thing with rams is that they are quite silent, they just put their head down and charge you. Unless you are constantly watching them you may not hear them coming. Boone has been bounced off of the shed walls, knocked down and generally roughed up by various rams.

Miss Piggy has even had a couple of run-ins with Rambo. When he was about a year and half old, he hopped the electric fence into her enclosure with the intent of doing her bodily harm. Head down, he charged and she basically just caught his head in her mouth. Boone was working on the fence in her area and said it was the oddest thing he had seen so far on the farm….Miss Piggy standing there clamped onto Rambo’s head and Rambo too scared to move a muscle. Boone shook his tool bucket at her and she let Rambo go. Rambo wasted no time hopping back over the fence.

Last week, Miss Piggy’s fence went down during a storm so Boone had to retrieve her from the sheep field. Naturally, while they were walking back to her field, Rambo made a beeline for them. Miss Piggy met him halfway, knocked him down and proceeded to tromp all over him. Once again, shaking the tool bucket brought her back to Boone. Rambo scrambled away unharmed.

It was decided that it was time to bring some new blood into the flock which we do every couple of years anyway so Rambo had to go. He sold quickly and I hope he is happy on his new farm.

Now I can go sit on my overturned bucket in peace to watch the lambs play.

Ready for Winter

The hay is put up and the harvest is over. Everything from the garden has been frozen or canned. We have fresh pork in the freezer and Boone is hunting hard so we will have venison to add to it. Nuts have been gathered from the woods, the wood stack is high and I think we are ready for winter.

We are about halfway through the fall lambing season and I am enjoying the lambs tremendously. They love to jump, run and play. Such curious little creatures. This week is the start of a slower period on campus so I have taken the entire Thanksgiving week off. It is a nice way to ease into the holiday season.

lotsoflambs

I wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Fall Evening

We are having beautiful warm fall days here in Kentucky. After a particularly stressful day at the office this week, Boone and I went for an early evening ride through the countryside to help blow my stress away. It was gorgeous, peaceful and relaxing.

Old barn

Beautiful old barn

Old Equipment

Horse drawn equipment that is now part of the landscape

Kentucky River view

Kentucky River view

Bacon and Barbecue, part 4

Cold smoker

The bacon has been cured and dried in the refrigerator for a couple of days. It is ready to eat at this point or smoked. I cold smoke my bacon which means that little heat gets to it as I do not want to cook it but flavor it with hickory smoke. There are many types of smokers on the market but we like to things as inexpensively as possible so we used a barrel placed over a hole that had a trench running from it to a fire pit dug in the ground. A fire of charcoal and hickory was started in the pit, covered with a sheet of metal (offset for air to feed the fire), we laid plywood over the trench and then covered it with dirt. The smoke would travel from the pit to the barrel and smoke the bacon. We drilled holes in the barrel right below the top rim and ran a broom handle through it. From there we hung the bacon with wire from the broomstick and covered the barrel with another piece of plywood. It worked really well but was a lot of work digging the pits and trench.

For this batch, we came across an old smoker and modified it. Boone cut out a hole and ran some woodstove pipe from the charcoal holder to the smoker body. Nothing fancy here as he took the door off to run the pipe into the smoker then duct taped around it. I wanted 3 racks and the smoker only held two so Boone just ran 4 sheet metal screws into so I could use a rack from our regular smoker.

Layered Bacon

I first start a small amount of charcoal in a charcoal chimney. Into the charcoal pit of the smoker I put a handful of unlit charcoal briquettes, then the hot charcoal then some chunks of dry hickory and then a few that have been sitting in water. They will produce a good smoke, the hickory will catch fire and the unlit briquettes will eventually catch fire which means I do not have to check them very often. As long as smoke is coming out I leave it alone.

After about an hour I flip the bacon. I only smoke the bacon for about 3 hours. Then I bring it in for a rinse, pat dry then wrap in plastic wrap, freezer paper and finally into a labeled freezer bag. Oh, I will probably go ahead and slice some so I can have my favorite sandwich – a BLT on my favorite Buttermilk Bread. So good!

Buttermilk Bread

Bacon and Barbecue, part 3

Bacon

I enjoy curing and smoking bacon. It’s a slow process so you cannot be in a hurry and have to plan ahead. For this batch of bacon the curing took about 2 weeks and the smoking was done over a weekend. First thing I do is get my supplies ready:

Cure mix ( I use Morton’s Tender Quick)
Brown sugar
Maple Syrup
Quite a few sharp knives
Gallon size storage bags

There are many recipes out there for making your own cure mix. While it is rare for me to buy prepackaged mixes I am more comfortable when it comes to curing to use an old standby – Morton’s Tender Quick. Around my area, few big chain grocery stores carry it but luckily there is a butcher shop that has a small grocery section that stocks it. I am sure it can also be purchased online.

When we got the meat back from the processor it was already frozen. After the pork belly and jowls thawed in the refrigerator it was time to get to work. I have this great big cutting board that I just love because it has a lip on it that drops down in front of the kitchen counter edge to keep it from sliding. When visiting my son in Chicago some years ago, I picked it up at IKEA for around $12.00. I do not know if they still carry them but they are well worth it if you are in need of one.

pork belly

The first thing I do is to rinse, pat dry, and then lay out the pork belly, skin side up and trim the skin off. You can either go ahead and cut the belly up into bacon size slabs first or take the skin off first. I tend to cut the belly in half to make it more manageable and then cut the skin off. Pig skin is extremely tough and will dull a knife quickly so I have quite a few handy. Boone is at the ready to sharpen the knives as needed. The trick is to cut close to the underside of the skin because you want to leave enough fat to have nice mix of meat and fat in the bacon slices. Do the same with the jowls if they have skin on them.

After the skin is off, it’s time to cut the belly into slabs. I like to cut mine into a rectangle that will fit into the freezer bag. I save any trimmings to cure. Also, I have an electric slicer so I know about how long the rectangle can be to fit on the slicer easily. My slicer is pretty old, about 15 years or so, and I picked it up at one of the big box stores. Okay so now I’ve got all of the pork belly skinned, cut and stacked. Time to start the curing process.

bacon stacked

I have a large plastic container that I do the curing rub part in to help contain the mess. First I set up my curing station with the Tender Quick and brown sugar. There are many recipes online that call for a lot of different spices so it is easy to experiment or straight Tender Quick can be used and is good if flavoring is not desired.

First I weigh a slab and put it in the tub. Boone helps out with this part since my hands are going to get pretty messing with rubbing in the cure. He mixes the correct amount of Tender Quick per each slab weight (1 tablespoon per pound), and equal amounts of brown sugar and or maple syrup in a small bowl which I dump over the pork slab and rub it in good all over it; both sides and edges.

cure mix

Place the slab that has been rubbed with the cure mix into the gallon bag and seal. Repeat with all the slabs and any extra pieces that are left from trimming. These can be used to make bacon bits or for flavoring beans, greens, soups, etc. Everything goes into the refrigerator. It takes about 7 days to cure an inch of meat. Most of the bacon slabs were an 1 ½ -2 inches thick so I planned on 2 weeks for the cure time. Every day, I flipped the slabs over. The cure mix will start drawing liquid out of the bacon. The liquid will act as a brine to help with the cure. Flipping everyday insures that both sides will cure evenly to the center.

bacon bagged

After the cure time is up, I take out one of the slabs of bacon, rinse it well and do a fry test. Using my slicer, I slice off a couple of pieces. We tend to like our bacon a bit on the thinner side so it will fry up crispy instead of chewy. It had great flavor but burned easily, so I rinsed the slab some more as I think it was the sugar that burnt so easily. After the second rinse it was perfect. I find that I have to cook home-cured bacon at a lower temp than store bought.

bacon drying

After rinsing all the slabs, they go back into the refrigerator bare (no bag) to air dry for a couple of days. At that point, the bacon is ready to be frozen or smoked. I keep a few slabs unsmoked so I wrap the slabs individually with plastic wrap, then freezer paper, and then into a labeled freezer bag. When ready to cook, I will partially thaw a slab as it is easier to slice at that point rather than when entirely thawed.

More on smoking in the next couple of days!

Bacon and Barbecue, part 2

First up was the whole shoulder. I like it hickory smoked, so off to the woods we go to find some fallen hickory. Early the next morning when it was still dark,  I got the charcoal going. Boone left to go hunting and must have agitated the coyotes in the woods because in the area he went into, 2 different packs started sounding off. It was eerie and surreal standing out in the dark by the smoker listening to them.

As the charcoal was getting hot, I dropped the chunks of hickory into a bucket of water to soak. The shoulder was so big it would not fit on the smoker so Boone had to hack it into 2 pieces. I do not do anything other than wash and pat dry the shoulder. No salt, pepper, nothing.

The USDA says pork is done internally at minimum temp of 145F. It will pull off the bone easily around an internal temp of 200F. so I do stick a meat thermometer into it to be sure of when it’s done. When the charcoal is ready – into the firebox it goes with some of the wet hickory on top, then the smoker body – fill the water bowl with water, then lastly the grate with the 2 pieces of shoulder. Lid on and we are smoking our way towards some great barbecue.

smoker

Being from southeast North Carolina I like vinegar based barbecue. I like the thick tomato based  type barbecue sauce but only when making beef barbecue. For me it’s vinegar all the way with pork. On a side note: I had never heard the term “pulled pork” until I moved to Kentucky. Anyway, here’s how I make the sauce:

Eastern NC Barbecue Sauce
 
Ingredients
  • 3 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups white distilled vinegar
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp. crushed red pepper (or more if you want more heat)
  • 1 tsp. salt
Instructions
  1. Mix all ingredients, bottle and let steep for at least half a day before using. Steeping overnight or longer is preferred for the best flavor. Strain if preferred before using.

 

I keep an empty cider bottle around just for sauce making time so all I have to do is pour the ingredients in it, shake it once a day and let it steep for a week or so before using. A lot of folks don’t but I like to strain the sauce before using it. The peppers will give the meat heat if you leave it in but we like ours to come mostly from the Texas Pete that we put on the barbecue sandwiches.

Smoking takes a while so I do it on the weekend when I am home all day and can check the smoker every couple of hours, adding water or more hickory as needed. I think I added more charcoal at least 3 or 4 times. Around the 6 hour mark the internal temp was up to 170 so I decided to go ahead and pull the shoulder off, wrap it up in aluminum foil (I took the thermometer out and reinserted after I wrapped them) and slid it into the oven (350F) to finish it off to 200F. When it was ready, I let it sit until cool enough to handle.

It shredded beautifully and since we like chopped barbecue I chopped everything up. I also include bits of minced skin in the barbecue for added flavor. Since we were planning on having barbecue for dinner I went ahead and put some aside and added the sauce to it. The sauce is really thin but when you reheat the meat with the sauce a lot of the liquid will be absorbed.

Since we are splitting the pork with our son, I packaged the rest in ½ lb. freezer bags without the sauce and froze. This way, the smoked pork can be used in different recipes besides just barbecue. The perfect barbecue sandwich for us starts with a warm bun with just a slide of mayonnaise, then barbecue, coleslaw and topped with a bit of Texas Pete. Heaven!

Eastern NC barbecue sandwich

 

 

Bacon and Barbecue, part 1

A few weeks ago, the time came to process one of the pigs. Being raised on a hillside with part pasture and woods, the pigs consumed little feed with all the good stuff offered up to them by the field and woods. They are also given vegetable and dairy scraps from the kitchen. We like to offer them a little feed so we can scratch their backs while they eat to keep them tame and manageable. They were started off that way when they were piglets and looked forward to the back scratching. Our goal weight to process was 250 pounds.

smoked pork

The university, where I work, has a small public meat processing facility so that is where I had the meat processed. There are quite a few processors around us so I bought a roll of breakfast sausage from four different ones so Boone and I could do a taste test. The cuts of meat (chop, ribs, etc.) are going to taste the same no matter who cuts it up but everyone has a different sausage recipe. I could have made my own as there are plenty of recipes online but never having done it before I did not want to ruin many pounds of meat to get it right. Anyway, my university’s sausage was the best tasting overall.

We wanted the whole process to be low stress for both us and the pig so we put the trailer in the pig pasture a few weeks before the processing date. That way the pig would be used to the trailer and would hopefully load easily. Boone started putting the feed in the trailer and within a few days the pigs were hopping in and out easily. The actual loading went as we hoped, quickly with minimal excitement and stress.

Stock Trailer
The cost of processing was $141.00. We received 147 pounds of boneless chops, ribs, ham hocks, tenderloins, sausage, leaf fat for lard, a whole shoulder, pork belly, jowls, steaks and other various cuts. I had talked with the manager ahead of time to discuss the cuts I wanted. When I picked up the meat all was vacuum sealed and already frozen.

I cure and smoke our own bacon plus I had plans to smoke a shoulder to make barbecue, southeast NC style, so we put the pork bellies, jowls and shoulder in the extra fridge out in the garage to thaw. We picked this fridge up off of Craigslist for $50 and it has really come in handy.