Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Yes, this is also a Food blog!

Greetings and welcome to those recent readers who have found me via a very nice "Five Random Blogs" posting from Foodie Blogroll (or scroll down at my blog sidebar, at left) the other day. While I most often write about food in more of a second-hand way, as well as food-related and pantry-related pursuits (yes, I suppose even chickens and gardens are food-related), I do also post the occasional recipe and will try to do that more frequently.

For example, I've been a long-time browser at and have used many recipes there (as I no longer subscribe to Gourmet--however, I do still buy it in the market on occasion--I was delighted to find that they, and other, food magazines post recipes here). The other day I decided to sign up as a member of the site (free). That night for dinner I had made a succulent--for lack of a better word--rendition of orange-soy-braised pork ribs (substituting boneless beef ribs for pork and I braised them first in the pan on the stove top before baking them as directed--ah, the braise!). Rather than rewrite the recipe here I have linked to it with my comments/changes. I posted my comments on that recipe here (as "PantryGal" of course). I do enjoy tweaking recipes to fit. This will be a future favorite in our house. Next time I will try it with pork and fresh ginger but I suspect that beef will be preferable most of the time.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Bill Reilly

This morning we got the kind of phone call that one dreads. Richard, a friend from New Hampshire, called to tell us that his brother Bill had died suddenly on Thursday. He was only in his mid-50s.

Bill and Richard were not only brothers but best friends. They were also colleagues in the paint business for the past several decades. They were the best painting duo in the Monadnock region, without question, and long-time friends of my husband. Many times over the past thirteen years they have been a part of our days as they had painted most of our house--inside and out--at different times. They had also worked at the house for many years before we married (our former historic home was an on-going maintenance proposition).

Bill and Richard were always patient with our paint schemes and only once did they have to redo something they had done recently: our living room redo (when we opened two parlors into one) in November 2005. I remembered today that I had taken some photos of him then. Among the many other imprints they made on our new family life together in my husband's ancestral New England home: they painted and papered our first son's nursery (later my office, another redo) and painted and papered our two new (old-style) butler's pantries that I designed and that would inspire my book. They painted and papered our boys' first bedroom together. (Some rooms we had left alone out of homage to the original wallpaper.) They were as much a part of that big, old wonderful house as we were. When I remember that house I think of them in it, too, as the walls and woodwork are infused with their spirit and hard work.

Bill always had a warm grin and liked to talk about all manner of things including books (he was also a book dealer), sports (with his brother), even a harmless bit of gossip. It was never boring when the Reilly boys were around and Bill was happy to tell it like it was. I never minded when they listened to Howard Stern in the mornings (before he went to satellite radio), after our daughter headed off to school, as I was a closet listener myself (I don't think they could ever quite believe that).

It was also Stern's radio show that provided one of those unforgettable life moments. On September 11, 2001 Bill rushed into the kitchen from the front of the house, "Turn on the TV, a plane has hit the World Trade Center!" He had heard about it on Stern's show. The horror of that morning was somehow diminished by the presence of the Reilly brothers in our home. With them quietly painting, somehow it all seemed OK, that life was just going to go on. We talked, we processed, we vented. Always, Bill brought a certain Zen-like quality to his profession and presence. He also was an unwitting counselor and was happy to share his knowledge and experience on so many things.

While Bill was older than his younger brother and boss, Richard (whom we liked just as much), the respect and humor was always mutual. "Do you guys ever fight?" I'd often ask. Bill would make a snide comment with his wide smile and Richard would playfully fire something back. He was good to all of us: to my husband's aunt, to our three children, to our dog Lucy, whom he adored. Bill was just one of those rare and genuine people who truly meant what they said or offered in life. He was a craftsman, a jack-of-all-trades, a bibliophile. Bill was also a gentle giant. His heart was as big as his stature and that is ultimately, and suddenly, what ended his life. It is ironic that Bill's heart failed him in the end but I would doubt if he ever failed anyone in his life.

Chickens are in the House!

Mama Pond and her chickens: born on the first day of spring and delivered today.

At about 6:30 this morning we awoke to a call from Shelley at our local post office saying our chicks were in and we could get them as soon as they opened at 8 o'clock. The closest comparison to the bleary-eyed excitement I had is when we knew it was the day for each of our children to be born. I got to the post office while my husband got the boys to school. As soon as I opened the post office door, I heard a high "peep-peep" sound and there were the chicks, right up front next to Shelley. The divided box was small enough to keep 38 chickens warm: 10 New Hampshire Reds (of course), plus one extra that they provided; 10 Barred Rocks, plus one extra; 5 Rhode Island Reds; 5 Speckled Sussex; 5 Araucanas.

The chicks were shipped on Friday from Murray McMurray and apparently nature must have designed chicks to withstand three days without food or water. Sadly one died in shipping and, in dropping a light cord in trying to swing the cord over a rafter, I'm afraid I may have injured another (who is hobbling). I hope with some extra care and by making sure she gets to food and water several times a day that she will make it. I now realize why they sent 1 extra for each of the two sets of ten: things happen. We weren't expecting the chickens pre-dawn ("week of March 23" is a bit general but I guess they meant business), hence the light snafu. In other words, be prepared with the heat lamp before you take the chickens out of the box. Had it been colder we would have had to heat the box a bit before acquainting them and probably should have done anyway. Everything else was ready, at least, but that doesn't help the guilt I feel in harming a chick.

They also gave us a special "exotic chick," which is either male or female, and all we can determine right now is that he/she is a lovely silvery gray with an emerging distinctive tuft on his/her head. I think this chick might be a Blue Andalusian judging from a quick photo chick-check on a website, but we won't really know for certain right away. For some reason I immediately wanted to call he/she Alfonzo. When I later looked up the meaning of the name it derives from old German and means "ready for a fight," so perhaps it is a rooster. The naming of the chickens will be fun but I'm not sure how I will tell them all apart, even when they are larger. Perhaps they have their own distinctive characteristics that will help us. [Can you tell I'm a complete novice here?]

We retrofitted an old wooden frame crate with curved cardboard in the corners so the chicks won't bunch and crush each other.

When the chicks were taken out of their shipping box, I immediately put each one's beak in the waterer. I don't know where I read that but it seemed to work. Soon they were scurrying between their feed and water jars.

We also put a screen (not in photo) on top of the box so they can't jump out just yet.

Tonight the chicks are all warm under the heat lamp and are eating and drinking well on a soft bed of cedar shavings (a natural bug deterrent, too, like the cedar clapboarded chicken house). We waited until now to get the chicks because we wanted to make sure the outside temperature wasn't a sustained cold. Fortunately it is not too cold this evening and today was in the upper 70s. Before I came in to finish this blog, my husband said, "I was going to get you a subscription to Backyard Poultry magazine but our chicken house is located in the front yard." Ha, ha. (Or is that "peep, peep?") Either way, I look forward to many years ahead with the hens. With three boisterous male puppies, two boys and a husband (our daughter is 1,100 miles away), I need all the girls I can get around here!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

How to Get Your Husband to Roto-Till

This is golden shovel kind of moment: my husband roto-tilling our first Kentucky garden patch which lies in front of our new "hinkel house" (Pennsylvania "Deutsch" for "chicken house")

I tend not to nag but started in about our small garden patch a few months ago. It was last planted two summers ago when the former owner had her last vegetable garden here (I am grateful for so many of her thoughtful plantings of trees, shrubs and some perennials and I'm sad to say I haven't done her gardening justice). Her wire fence was caving in and I wanted something more substantial. About a month ago, post-chicken house construction, the crew put up some sturdy locust posts and good solid wire--the kind we have inside and out of the chicken house--and a cedar gate. Not only does the garden have to be chicken-proof, it needs to avert puppies, guinea hens and any number of wild rabbits (and let's not forget the neighbor's often unpaddocked horses and goats--not that I'm complaining).

For several weeks I've been itching to plant onions, early cabbage and lettuces, spinach, radish and peas that, if I plant next week at the latest, I can pick in mid-late May. I'm realizing that mid-March here is like late April or early May in New Hampshire with its warm days, cool (often cold) nights, and still a chill to the ground and air. Because the growing season is longer here you can really have a spring garden, a summer garden (all annuals that thrive after frost), and a fall garden. Our first frost last year was well into October and I understand you can set out squashes, melons, peppers, tomatoes and everything else after May 10. By June it is too hot for peas and most lettuces or colder crops like kale and cabbage. [Not sure when I can plant leeks--spring or late summer here? Something else to check. Meanwhile I emailed my garlic farmer friend Edie at Bee's Wing Farm and she reminded me that garlic is planted in the fall and harvested in the spring. It will be interesting to try it here. "Definitely soft neck," she added.]

As the fence has been done for a while, I have been sending subtle--and not so subtle--hints that we need to get the garden roto-tilled. Today, while we were at Homestead Greenhouses, I mentioned in front of Lena the owner (knowing full well my husband was in ear shot, but pretending that he wasn't) that "we're here to look at your fruit trees and bushes and I can't buy my onion sets until our garden is roto-tilled." You know, breezy, not pointed, and kind of in passing. As soon as we got home what was the first thing my husband did? Hauled out the roto-tiller, changed the oil and away he went. Then our boys each had a turn. He was pleased that a 39-year old tiller could start as it did, especially after not being used in a few years. I chuckled, noting the proximity of my age to the roto-tiller (add about seven years) and questioned my capacity to do the same.

However, the emergent problem became: "that because the ground is hard, I will probably have to cut the wire fence and go in with the tractor and cultivate it." "OH NO! NOT THE FENCE!" I said, silently to myself, followed by an equally silent "of course, the garden soil probably wouldn't be so packed down if you didn't have the tractor parked on top of it all winter." Now all that remains: "Will he or won't he?" That is the question.

Meanwhile, I feel like, well, a mother hen awaiting the call from Shelley at our local post office telling me that my chicks have arrived from Murray McMurray Hatchery. Tomorrow we need to make a large half of a wooden shipping crate into a circle by affixing rounded cardboard in the corners (to keep the chicks from backing each other into a corner if they get scared), rig up the heat lighting, get the feeder and waterer cleaned and ready (of course I bought the feed and shavings weeks ago--the chicken baskets, feeders and waterers I've had for a few years--truly--it's like getting a nursery together for an expected child). We will be going to a local Mennonite auction next week where we will likely pick up some guinea hens and maybe a few other chicken varieties. The guineas will free range and live in the trees but I need to better research how or if I can mix older laying hens with chicks in the chicken house.

I've just ordered our Cornish X chicks (for the freezer--aka "The Chickens that Will Have No Name but for which We Are Thankful") that will arrive the week of May 11. It is probably best to have the chick arrivals staggered. Even though the meat birds and the future laying hens will be in their own half of the chicken house duplex, I'd rather not be overwhelmed with too many chicks at once. That also gives us four months or so to eat up the rest of the food in the freezer! At least this is my rationale given that the local source we thought we had for young meat birds is not getting them this year and May 11 is the earliest Murray McMurray will ship them now.

Two pots of emerging New Hampshire rhubarb plants await their new home, along with thirteen (always a lucky number for me) strawberry plants that I salvaged from our Kentucky garden, pre-roto-tilling, and placed on top. Now, where to put them? Our son Henry is having his turn on the roto-tiller.

I was delighted today to discover that a tiny bit of "Golden Glow" brought from my New Hampshire garden survived its winter pot and two glorious shoots of rhubarb are also beginning to emerge from theirs. That rhubarb came from the Gray Goose Farm, where my grandparents and mother farmed, then to my apartment, to our home in Hancock and now to Kentucky. The Golden Glow, in the Rudbekia family, is an old-fashioned tall perennial sunflower-type plant that blooms in late summer. It was often planted next to New England outhouses [in this photograph, above, it blooms happily next to the tool shop at the Sawyer Farm in Jaffrey, along with some phlox]. About ten years ago or perhaps more, my husband and I ventured up to East Hardwick, Vermont to Perennial Pleasures Nursery. This mother and daughter duo specialize in heirloom plants and every one is grown in their gardens and hardy to Zone 3 so you know they are tough. Golden Glow is one of the first perennials we bought (from this nursery) when we were setting out our first garden together so I very much wanted to bring some of it along here.

The other day we unloaded the contents of our "barn truck" that has been in a friend's driveway since last July. It was like Christmas in March--now all housed in the new shop and old garden shed. Eli holds a garden sign I found in a scrap pile at a New Hampshire nursery.

We wanted hardy New England stock for our first New Hampshire garden planted over ten years ago and it is really no surprise that after haphazardly watering the transplants in late fall, a few winter freezes, and puppy nibbling, that these pots from New Hampshire have survived. I am delighted that they did. Meanwhile, some transplanted apple mint--another Gray Goose Farm "original" heirloom via a transplanting from the Sawyer Farm--needs to be checked up the road at its temporary location. In the rush of our last few weeks in New Hampshire I dug those plants with my friend Rosemary (also a Cupcake--who prefers to be anonymous) who also dug some for herself. Somehow this last garden ritual seemed important to do and in sharing the plants with a friend, somehow less upsetting. I felt like the early settlers might have done when they carried root stock and seeds across the mountains from New England to their new frontier homes, among few things brought from their old homes along with them. It's been a very long while since I've wanted to put down new roots.

Oh it is good to dig in the dirt while watching your husband (and boys) roto-till. [And yes, I could probably get the thing going myself but there are some things that just aren't in my job description!] As he said, it is the last he'll have to do with the garden this year. I expect he is waiting to see how committed I am, first. I don't mind as the boys will enjoy helping me and it will be my own little patch of earth to tend. Meanwhile, the daffodils are thriving in front of the chicken house and seem to await the chickens' arrival, too. It amazes me that they pushed forth despite all of the activity on top of them in recent months. Spring is a glorious time and always an assertion that life goes onward, no matter what comes our way or what beats us down.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Oh, Happy Spring on the Ridge! Hurrah!

Here on the ridge, forsythia and Bradford pear trees are blooming, and the daffodils are poking up around my chicken house! This is a view up to our knob on Hickory Nut Ridge from the back of our chicken house in the circle in front of the double-wide where the old barn once stood. It is the largest knob on the ridge, Dick Knob (no, "Dick Knob Farm" just won't do, will it?), but you can't see the top from our double-wide. Soon it will be a pasture to cattle after we hay it one more season.
And Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;

And each flower and herb on Earth's dark breast
rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.

Percy Bysshe Shelley, "The Sensitive Plant"
In third grade, we had to memorize Riley's "Little Orphant Annie" and "The Raggedy Man," with Miss Schell at Old Trail School outside of Akron, Ohio (a beloved place and time in my memory). Both are classic Riley poems about a hired girl and a hired man. Because of their sing-song cadence, amusing dialect, and images that delight children, it was not hard to memorize them. At the start of my kindergarten year in 1967, my grandfather Penfield in Akron also gave me his original illustrated book of Riley's children's poems, The Raggedy Man [This edition was reprinted several years ago.] I still have this cherished edition, complete with Grandpa's own childhood scribblings and a lovely inscription to me. [I am hard pressed if I can find it in my boxes and general clutter right now--for more on this topic of chaos and clutter, see my recent posting over at Cupcake Chronicles. The Cupcakes are all in a tizzy about spring cleaning, town meetings, Peeps, and our upcoming reunion in Asheville, North Carolina on April Fool's Day! Biltmore Estate will never be the about spring cleaning!]

Little Orphan Annie was a real person who came to stay at the childhood home of beloved Hoosier poet, James Whitcomb Riley, in Indiana. Riley wrote poetry in the native cadence and speech of his day, like Mark Twain and others, and for that reason was often considered offensive or in poor taste by contemporary critics (and even when examined in our more politically correct modern times). But I say, put aside your PC-ness and embrace this beloved rural poet. His poetry is made to be read aloud, preferably by a cozy fire with children and puppies at your feet.

Here is the first verse of this immortal poem:
Little Orphant Annie's come to my house to stay.
To wash the cups and saucers up and brush the crumbs away.

To shoo the chickens from the porch and dust the hearth and sweep,

and make the fire and bake the bread to earn her board and keep.

While all us other children, when the supper things is done,

we sit around the kitchen fire and has the mostest fun,

a listening to the witch tales that Annie tells about

and the goblins will get ya if ya don't watch out!
NOTE: If you want to read the poem in its original dialect and sentence structure, as written by James Whitcomb Riley, click here. To hear Riley reading this poem, and "The Raggedy Man," click here.

Today I was reminded of Little Orphan Annie (or "orphant" as Riley spelled it -- I should note, too, that no one knows if she inspired the comic strip version a few decades later on) when one of the Cupcakes asked about whether or not there was a local rag man in New Hampshire (spring cleaning and all that). Apparently, rag men used to come door to door and would buy old rags, clothes and cloth to sell to paper companies for pulp. I just learned of this term in Perley: The Story of a New Hampshire Hermit that the Cupcakes are reading this month. [In looking for images to illustrate this blog, I discovered a new blog that I know I will love. James Whitcomb Riley was written about over at Life at Willow Manor and I look forward to reading more of this blog on art, literature, good food and so many things I enjoy reading and writing about.]

I could use a Little Orphan Annie around here, or Wendy Darling from Peter Pan, especially when those chickens arrive next week (although I expect the puppies will do their best to shoo them off our porch). And I know those goblins will get me if I don't finish my office and bedroom tidying up. Today, and every Friday of late, I am blessed to have Debbie cleaning up a storm in the double-wide. It is helpful to have someone help me clean house, especially when I have ADD and am generally distracted by other things (like writing, office organization--she still hasn't seen my office and bedroom--and soon our garden). Fortunately, I have a tolerant husband and one who suggested that we hire Debbie in the first place. I had to admit I needed help and for someone with self-diagnosed compulsive-hoarding syndrome, Debbie is God sent.

...Now, I'm just thinking that Debbie might not mind if I call her "Little Debbie," as she has a great sense of humor, but now that has me thinking of the oatmeal pies creme-filled pies by the same name and Whoopie pies, those delectable chocolate pies that deserve an entire blog to themselves and that my Mennonite friends make to perfection--chocolate and pumpkin and that I once made from the King Arthur Flour recipe long ago (divine: click here for the recipe) and that were recently written about in The New York Times "Food" section--oh, dear, are Whoopie pies the new Cupcakes? Please, no! And can't you tell that I haven't had lunch?--and oh, just a literary aside, do you realize you are now witness to my ADD problem just flowing to the bark of the tree like fine New Hampshire maple sap, that is surely boiling on a day like today up there?...Believe it or not, this ADD-addled woman once wrote a book. Who was that woman!!?? Hopefully I shall find her again after I recover from this intoxicating, brisk first day of spring...and a necessary late-March frenzy of spring cleaning, too...

Monday, March 9, 2009

"The Earth has shaken up now..."

Lenten roses blooming behind our double-wide.

Last night we had a rolling thunderstorm that came in around dusk and stayed with us most of the night. When it was not pouring or thundering or flashing, it was balmy and still, blackness. I even woke in the middle of the night, very much awake, perhaps confused by the new time change or the muggier air. I rarely wake ready to get up at 2 or 3 in the morning but I'm glad I went back to sleep as it was a busy day ahead. [There was a small part of me that thought I might accomplish much in the four hours before the rest of the house got up but she was easily overtaken by Reason and even Sloth.]

Today was our friend Melvin's birthday and his wife Anna and I made him a birthday dinner at noon for the entire crew as they are almost finished with our projects here (for now). It was in the 70s, breezy, warm enough to not need a sweater. I will miss having them around as things have been bustling and soon the bustling will be on us (and for me, it can be hard to bustle at times!).

In the car this morning Anna and I spoke about the storm last night and I noticed how green everything had become, just in the past day.

"Melvin says that the Earth has shaken up now, after that first March storm, and now things are really going to grow."

When I drove Anna home I noticed some daffodils blooming by her duck pond. At our own home I remembered the Lenten roses that had surprised me here last February and March (they really did bloom until Easter, as their name describes). I returned home today to see them, rather ignored and unnoticed just off our back porch, but blooming there all the same, making a case for themselves.

Before I packed it up last July, I took some photos of our Hancock "Herb Room"

Meanwhile, over at the shop we started to unload our last container filled with beloved and necessary things from our old barn and, more importantly, for me at least, the contents of our former garden shed (or "herb room" as we called it, as Temple's grandmother had done, in the northeast room of the barn). So I'm seeing things I hadn't seen in a while (as I didn't have a garden last summer) and putting them aside for our first garden here. (In fact, my youngest boy is now motioning for me to come out and unload the car into our small garden shed at the double-wide, left over from Miss Lillian's garden days--and it is she I thank for the perennials and fruit trees on the place, and the Lenten roses.) But before I unloaded the car, even though it is getting dark (it will be dark by 8pm), I had to check those roses and to write about them.

Spring--the annual rite of hope and promise and always a "shaking up," whether we need it or not! And boy do I need it!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Der Hinkel Haus (aka "Chicken House")

Our chicken house, or "der hinkel haus," as finished on March 7, 2009.

As many readers and friends know, I have always wanted a chicken house. At my grandparents' New Hampshire farm we had an old separate shed structure that was later converted into a garage/tractor shed. Before I was born it had been windowed off with a door and was attached to the old greenhouses that my grandparents built, whose only remains in my memory were the bits of glass and cement blocks strewn about the field. The structure was always called "the pigeon house" as I assume my grandparents or the previous farmer had once kept pigeons there (note to self: ask my mother about this). As children we liked to play house in it even though we weren't supposed to go in there as it was full of old pesticides and glass shards. It may have even once housed chickens.

When we first moved to the farm year round in 1974 after only being there for a precious bit of each summer on vacations from Ohio, the chickens were in the cow tie-up in the main barn. My grandfather kept hens for eggs, and some for meat, and that August, only two months after we moved to the farm, he died. I helped my mother and uncles put those chickens up and my task was to help hold each one on the chopping block for my Uncle Bob and then to help pluck them. Gruesome tasks and easier then for me, for some reason, than it probably would be now. I'm not certain why we didn't keep the chickens or perhaps they were just ready for the freezer. [I expect my grandmother breaking her back a few weeks before my grandfather died, my mother working full-time after being a full-time mother for almost twelve years, and our starting a new school in a few more weeks, were all contributing factors.]

When I married Temple and we lived in Hancock, we had room for chickens in the barn and for an adjacent hen yard on our 1-acre village piece. However, being so "public" in the village, and right next to the town library, it was not something he wanted to start there, despite my pleadings. We also would have had to lug water from the house during long, heavy snow winters. Besides, I never felt we were going to be rooted there and so I did not do many things that I might have done. Garden attempts on my part were well-meaning launches and then never with any great staying power or conviction (however, my patient husband was enthusiastic and installed raised beds and compost bins for me, even though I was not as persistent a gardener then as I might have been). So instead I focused on the kids, the house, and my writing, and I became really good at planting pots full of bright and unusual annuals--perfect for a transient gardener.

West side of chicken house with entry into grain room and coops. [And yes, the little stoop will have a potted plant or two on it each summer, I'm certain of that!]

So, at last, in Kentucky, I got my chicken house--and for our first Kentucky Christmas, at that. The week before Christmas the crew started on it and it was largely finished over the holidays. [I just haven't blogged about it until now as I wanted to wait until all of the finishing touches were done, like the weathervane.] It sits on the oval created by our circular driveway in front of the double-wide, where the old barn used to stand and where, in recent years, Miss Lillian had a perennial garden. [Fortunately, many of those perennials are just starting to nudge up from the soil and I can lift and save some before the grown chickens start pecking at them in a few more months.] My garden patch, also just fenced and gated as it must be chicken proof--as well as puppy, rabbit, deer and general critter proof--is just below the chicken house at the start of the oval and also where Lillian had her vegetable garden. [More about that as garden season progresses.]

I designed the chicken house for putting onto a roll-back and hauling up the road a few hundred yards to our future farm site one day, but in the meantime it will be a genuine fixture here. After studying dozens of designs and not finding anything I really felt was useful for what I wanted, I sketched my own plan for Melvin and his crew: 20 x 10 feet with a half-dividing wall inside (topped by chicken wire for cross-ventilation), a small feed and storage area when you walk in between two c. 100 x 100 square foot rooms (for meat birds on one side and laying hens on the other). In the hen side (on the south) there is an array of 15 metal nests for laying (1 box is recommended for about five birds, so we have plenty) and a roost, about three feet off the ground, where the grown chickens will sleep at night (and, below which, where most of their manure will ideally end up). It is a duplex, a theme echoed in our former Federal New England home with its two front doors and also in so many Kentucky homeplaces that have two front doors that open directly onto their front (or often back) porches. (This local vernacular architectural tradition intrigues me.)

Another view of the finished chicken house: east side with chicken ramps.

The outside chicken yard is also divided in two, as apparently meat birds and hens will fight. The idea is that when the fryers are in the freezer (Cornish X birds only take about 8-10 weeks to fatten up for that purpose), we will then get some turkeys to raise on the "meat bird" side from June-November in time for the holidays. The "duplex" yard is also gated for easy access and my plan is to allow the hens, at least, to free range for a time outside each day after they've laid. [My friend Anna opens her coop up in the late afternoon by which time they've laid their eggs for the day: the chickens apparently learn to go back inside to roost in the evening and, of course, soon learn where their grain and water is located -- then the outside hatches can be shut.]

Now, I like chickens as I like all animals. It is possible that our hens will be pet-like, or at least some of them might live to be a ripe old age, but most farmers will eat their hens once they have stopped producing eggs. This remains to be seen here but I need to be realistic. However, I can not become attached to our meat birds in any way. It would be hypocritical of me to say that "I like my animals and want to eat them too," but there it is. I clearly would not make a very good vegetarian. Regardless, the Cornish X chickens will not have names and I probably won't pay them much attention apart from food, water and hygiene. I might not even name the hens unless there are a few that I foresee always having as pets. Our turkeys will be a harder proposition than the meat chickens as we will have them longer with the idea of eating them--or giving them and selling them--around the holiday season. [I am thinking of the farmyard in the movie Babe or in E.B. White's Charlotte's Web and "what would Wilbur do?"]

In January we had dinner with our friends Melvin and Anna (Melvin is the head of the crew here and is a fine carpenter and builder) and I asked them what "chicken house" would be in Pennsylvania Dutch. As I also learned that this is only a spoken dialect of German interspersed with some English words, and not written, they have to spell phonetically if required. In other words, they always write in English but speak in "Dutch" (a derivative of the German word for the German language: "Deutsch"). When the old order Mennonite and Amish children start school that is when they are first introduced to the English language and also learn to write it. At home they speak nothing but "Dutch" (which also uses many English words) when they are young children and also when alone with each other. Otherwise, they are all raised to be fluent in both languages as they have to interact with "the English" in society.

We bought this weathervane from Melvin and Anna who did not want it after all.

So the long and the short is that "chicken--or hen--house" in Pennsylvania Dutch is "hinkel haus" (in German it would be "hun haus"). As we had primarily old order Mennonites building our chicken house, and because of my own Germanic ancestry from Gernsbach, Germany in the Black Forest to Lehigh County, Pennsylvania and eventually to the Akron, Ohio region, I thought it would be fun to name the house "Hinkel Haus." Now, I need to find and consult our "Dutch-English" dictionaries to see how this should be spelled before I paint a sign to put next to the door! [Yes, confirmed today, 3/11, it's "hinkel" but pronounced "henkgl"]

Looking back at the progression of our chicken house in photographs, I realize that most of it was actually done during a two week period before and after Christmas. Then the crew went across to the street to work on the new shop (see "Frolic on Friday the 13th!" blog entry), oil tank house and wood shed at the same time. Now we are winding down on all projects and the crew should be done sometime next week. On Saturday, they put up a storage shelf inside the chicken house and the weathervane atop the house. Now it is officially ready for our chicks to arrive from Murray McMurray Hatchery sometime during the week of March 23 and we will buy our Cornish X starters locally about the same time. I'll keep you updated with our progress and my learn-as-I-go approach to having chickens.

Photos of the Chicken House In-Progress (with captions)

The chicken house was started on December 18, 2008.

Everyone lends a hand with the framing.

The next day, December 19th, the roof and sides were all up.

We like dark-green standing seam metal roofing and have it on all new buildings (and will also have on our future farmhouse).

On December 20 the side walls were clapboarded and windows framed. As with the siding on the shop and woodshed across the road at our future farm site, we used cedar clapboards (applied in board & batten fashion) from trees cut on our property. The chicken house is not too far from the double-wide where the important outside water source is, too. Electricity, when needed, can be run by extension cord from a small storage shed on the west side of the chicken house.

The chicken house is at a nice angle on the site where the old barn on the property once stood (our double-wide was built eight years ago on the site of the former "dog trot" house). It faces southeast (left elevation) for good sun and ventilation.

I had forgotten how red the chicken house was less than three months ago. The red cedar will weather into a tannish-gray that we like for old barns.

On January 2, the windows were in, the fence started and gates installed.

The 20x20 (divided in two) poultry yard has sturdy locust fence posts from trees cut on our property. [The grassy cluster--a perennial tall grass on the outside of the fence--is now a favorite place for puppy hide and seek so it's staying.]

The windows were designed to pull in for ventilation and, since this photo was taken, are now encased with chicken wire so the chickens--or vermin--can not have access or egress.

Jonathan and Melvin (right) finish the front stoop. The door was salvaged from a house fire and one of two that Melvin (he has one just like it on his chicken house). We wanted the multi-panes for additional sunlight. [And yes, we've discovered that shirtsleeves on occasion during a Kentucky winter is not uncommon!]

The chicken house after a late January ice and snow storm.

The west side of the chicken house with a patch of snow from another winter flurry in front of its north side (taken February 25).

On March 7, the weathervane and an interior shelf--above the filled grain bins--was installed. Everything is now ready for our chicks in a few weeks. It feels like getting together a nursery! [For fun and whimsy, I will be painting a "Hinkel Haus" sign on an old barn board that will hang to the left of the door.]

The chicken house, as photographed on March 8, from our fenced garden patch. [We just installed two compost bins made out of scrap cedar only yesterday--for chicken manure and kitchen vegetable scraps that the chickens won't eat--just to the left of the gate on the outside of the fence.] As the narrow wall between the tractor and front of chicken house faces south, I want to plant hollyhocks there this summer (if the chickens will let me!).

Old caches of daffodils are emerging below and in front of the chicken house. They will likely be blooming in late March when the chicks arrive.

Old window sash was used for all chicken house windows, including two small 2/2s that had been the only windows in our original Hancock upstairs bathrooms (originally washroom/closet rooms, pre-plumbing). When we renovated the ell, the roof extended over them so we salvaged them for a shed one day: now it is nice to have a part of our former home with us, as well as salvage windows from some old Kentucky barns.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Hen Pantry

A modern day buttery in an old Western Reserve farmhouse in northeastern Ohio.

Several months ago a reader contacted me about my blog and book and I was delighted to discover that she is a fellow butt'ry (or "buttery") aficionado. She also, at my request, sent me some photos of the buttery (and Hen Pantry) that she has created in her old Ohio farmhouse. [She also happens to be a Della Lutes fan and that combination, as well as her connections to my home state, well, let's just say it is kismet.]

The new Hen Pantry of a blog reader in her Ohio farmhouse could easily be over 100 years old.

This reader, who prefers anonymity, named her pantry "the Hen Pantry" because when she inquired of Tasha Tudor's family why they referred to her pantry as "The Hen's Pantry," they answered that this is where the grain was kept for the chickens and that it was the pantry closest to the chicken house (assuming Tasha Tudor had several pantries, and why not?). These pantries are worthy of a design book and display historic kitchen and pantry items as well as more modern items stored out of sight.

In The Pantry-Its History and Modern Uses I wrote:
"A buttery was originally a storeroom for large barrels, or 'butts,' of beer, ale, and large provisions. In castles with great halls, the nobility ate at one end, on the dais raised above the rest of the room, and on the opposite wall was a screen that divided the great hall from the corridor that led to the pantry and buttery, where servants carried food back and forth to the diners."

This reader's buttery could easily be found in an 18th or 19th century farmhouse.

One of the inspirations for writing The Pantry was Mary Mason Campbell's The Butt'ry Shelf Cookbook. The introduction of this book includes a detailed description of a New Hampshire butt'ry (something that was a part of most farmhouses). This is a mere taste of Campbell's homage (and I included it in The Pantry):
“City people used to have pantries,” begins Mary Mason Campbell in her romantic homage to the New England pantry in The Butt’ry Shelf Cookbook. “The country counterpart of the pantry was called a ‘butt’ry.’ In occasional hidden corners of New England, this country room may still be found in use, but only the most old-fashioned houses, loved and lived in by the most old-fashioned kind of people, have a ‘butt’ry’ these days...The butt’ry (properly spelled buttery, of course) is a small room with a smell of good things to eat and a look of delicious plenty. It is located next to the kitchen in the cool corner of the house. Its window is shaded in summer by a crab-apple tree. . . . In the winter now the butt’ry is warm and cheerful, though in years gone by it was often bitter cold and the New England housewife who never dreamed of such a thing as an electric freezer kept her store of frozen pies and muffins and cookies handy to the kitchen on a shelf of the butt’ry...Sheathed in warm-colored pine boards, the walls of the butt’ry are lined with hand-planed shelves, sturdy enough to bear the weight of jars, crocks, platters, and plates filled with the richness of country cooking...“Every inch of the butt’ry is crowded with goodness.”
Here is another lovely pantry creation, including a display of Mary Mason Campbell's The Butt'ry Shelf Cookbook over at a delightful blog I just discovered called Storybook Woods. Clarice Fox-Hughes has shown her readers "A Well Working Pantry." It is also attractive, too. [Clarice also reminded me today when I emailed her that she featured my book in a blog from last year on Pantry Love that also has photographs of many other enticing pantries. Thanks again, Clarice!]

I miss my pantries and the original kitchen pantry cupboards back in our former 1813 home. I long for, and have planned on paper, my ideal farmhouse pantry. One day! Until that time I will live vicariously through other pantry friends, descriptions, literary references and photographs. Thank you to "The Hen Pantry" for the use of her photographs of her lovely pantry and buttery. I invite any reader to submit other pantry images or references to

PS An afterthought: believe it or not, and in part because of the inspiration of a hen pantry, when we do build that dream farmhouse I want to have the kitchen ell with pantry and laundry room access out a side door near where we have our wood shed (already in place) and where I want the clothesline to be and the hen house...which, by the way, is officially finished TODAY after some last details (most of it was built over a month ago but they are finishing up at the farm on the recent building for some fencing and cattle and our orchard and the garden...anyway, elusive Chicken House blog will be posted very soon...)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

"Forty acres of wood to burn if we need it, and food in the pantry."

Among the books on my bedside table right now, I have a library copy of Janice Holt Giles' first novel, These Enduring Hills (and a later novel, Miss Willie). Giles, as it turns out, sold millions of copies of her novels, most about Kentucky hill people, and lived not far from us over in Adair County. The second home that she shared with her husband, Henry, after they had to move to higher ground because of the Green River dam (one of the TVA projects of the New Deal), is preserved today and operated by the Giles Society.

Giles was born in Arkansas and met Henry during World War II and married him when he returned. They went to his family home place on Giles Ridge after a few years in Louisville. There, among other novels, she would write her first and most popular trilogy, including the above mentioned two novels and ending with Tara's Healing. She also wrote several non-fiction accounts of their lives in Adair County. Forty Acres and No Mule is a memoir of their coming back to Giles Ridge from Louisville and is a well-written back-to-the-land book. Giles' Kentucky novels were well received and it was especially high praise that the people she wrote about, although fictitious, were among her greatest fans. She is known for her accurate depictions of self-reliant hill people and many natives have told me that reading these novels goes a long way towards understanding the culture here. [Photo from Giles Society.]

I have a large collection of rural and back-to-the-land memoirs so was delighted to discover Giles last year after moving here ourselves. I can empathize with Giles and am intrigued to learn more about her. After all, while neither my husband or I came from Kentucky, we came to a ridge here, I'm a writer, and, like Henry and Janice Giles, we wanted to shed our former more urbane lifestyle for one more rural. We were rural before but, comparatively, we were far more suburban than I realized (with rural roots and farming in our DNA, more or less). Like Janice, I am, at times, a stranger in a strange land while my husband is more easily acclimated.

A few weeks ago I said I would post the occasional literary pantry reference. Here is a passage I came across last night in Forty Acres and No Mule and I found it relevant because we, too, have that elusive new house in mind. Also, the Giles' made do with very little and these kinds of books have so much relevance now. And can't we all relate to what she is writing here in some way? Simplify, simplify, simplify. I'm trying to make it a mantra as I sift through the detritus of stuff from our move last summer.

I have just taken a quick look around the living room to see. Henry's guns stand in one corner by the fireplace, and his fishing tackle is scattered over the mantel...A pair of gloves and Henry's boots are drying on the hearth, and Honey lies there with her paws stretched to the fire. In another corner two bags of cement are stacked. The house is the only place where Henry can be sure they will stay dry. The bookshelves ranging around two walls are full to cramming, not only with books but with the few pieces of ironstone I possess...On the table at the end of the couch is a stack of magazines, a dozen or so books, two reams of paper, three ash trays, a cup of coffee, and Henry's drawing instruments. He is at present working on plans for the barn.

But that's home. That's what makes it home, and when you evaluate happiness in terms of comfortable living, it takes remarkably few gadgets. For us it seems to take a chestnut log crackling on the fire, the popcorn popper handy nearby. It takes the wall of books, and the piano. It takes Henry on one side of the fire and me on the other and Honey in between. We've got a stout roof over our heads, tin though it be, and tight walls between us and the winter winds. We've got forty acres of wood to burn if we need it, and food in the pantry. We talk idly about building a new house someday. We may. But I wouldn't bet on it. We've lived ourselves into this little house now, and it gives us just about everything we want or need. What more could a new home do?

NOTE: The Giles' did eventually have to build a new house, in 1958, before the Green River was dammed and flooded their old property. Better Than Plumb is her account of that move and seismic shift, really, in their sense of place. All of Giles' books in print can be found at Cumberland Books, an on-line bookseller also based in south-central Kentucky, which bills itself as "helpful resources for folks pursuing the good life" and yes, they also carry The Pantry-Its History and Modern Uses, for which I'm grateful.