Plato and Pie

The Greek philosopher Plato believed that every reality here on earth was a pale shadow of the perfect form of each reality in the Realm of Forms. Hence, though it is hard to believe, my feta is just the mere image of the perfect form of feta from which all other imperfect fetas take their appearance. But I think I’ve matched the realm of forms for strawberry-rhubarb crumble pie, and that Plato would stand agape in wondering admiration, if not some befuddlement at the blowing up of his system if he could taste it (as in “Geez, I thought I had this all figured out, but then tasted this damned pie, so gotta rethink all this”).

So without further ado:

Bee-bop-a-ree-bop rhubarb pie and rhubarb pie filling was never like this! I love that we are already consuming anywhere from 25-50% of our calories from our land, and it’s only late May!

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble Pie Recipe

For crust: Combine 2 ½ c. flour, 1 T. sugar, 1 t. salt; work in 1 c. butter cut up until the consistency of ground meal; add in 5 T. water until crust clings together. Work into a ball, divide in two, pat into a disk, and refrigerate for ½ and hour or so. This will make a double crust, so save half for another pie.

Roll out the crust; put into a 9” pie pan.

For filling:

Chop about 3 c. rhubarb and 3 c. strawberries.

Mix in 1/3 c. brown sugar, ½ c. regular cane sugar, ¼ c. cornstarch, a big pinch of salt and 2 T. lemon juice, and set aside.

For Crumble:

Mix ¾ c. oats, ¾ c. flour, 2/3 c. sugar, 6 T butter and a big pinch of salt

To assemble:

Mix ¼ c. crumble into the filling; put filling in pie crust and sprinkle crumble on top.

Bake in oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes then 350 for another 35-40 minutes.

Serve with ice-cream and a text of Plato’s Republic.

Feta-ccompli!

Creamy, fragrant, and slightly salty, our first batch of feta is ready for Greek Salad! Oh, our kingdom for a real tomato, now that feta’s here!

Amidst lots of work this week we finished our first batch of feta, and it was delicious. It was so good we made another on Memorial Day along with our first stab at gjeitost, a Norwegian goat cheese. Otherwise we are pretty much up to our eyes in goat kids and taking care of their mothers. The all of our cheeses have turned out beautifully so far: the chevre had a wonderful creamy texture with a slightly earthy, rich flavor, with a slight tang at the finish. We made well over a pound and cut it into four portions, one of which we blended with some local smoked salmon and slathered on slices of baguette. The feta was as good as any I’ve ever had, with a bit heavier saltiness to it, but definitely creamier than what one can obtain commercially. But the real triumph was the gjeitost, whose creation is a bit of a production.

Before we eased off milking we were taking nearly a gallon and a half of milk from our girls in the morning. Within ten days we are proud to say as novice milkers that we went from 2 hours to about a half hour for milking our three goats by hand.

You take whey no more than 3 hours old and boil it; skim the foam, and save it for later, then you boil over a low heat for a long long long time – 6 hours. You add back the foam, stir in 1-2 cups goat cream, then put in a blender, put it back in the pot until it’s the consistency of fudge, then plunge the pot into ice water and stir until it’s really thick, and put in a mold. The sugars emerge from the milk and cream to create a wonderful sweet, soft, caramel color cheese: its flavor is a cross between sweet and salty, with strong hints of caramel, and the consistency of soft rich butter.

For feta, the curds need to be stirred for about 20 minutes once separated from the whey; the whey itself can be saved and a little extra cream added to make either gjeitost or whey ricotta.

None of this comes without enormous background input from everyone around here, and this week Lori and Nancy were busy tending the goats. This week was just this side of crazy-busy: we all got concerned that Marguerite and Janet were getting excessively thin, so we took Marguerite to the vet. Her milk had also been off, with a heavy salty taste, which could be a symptom of mastitis, but she showed no other signs. It turned out that she had worms and that her two kids, Bucky and Pandora, had been so rough on her udder while feeding that they had caused some blood vessels to burst and enter her milk in her udder – this is apparently not uncommon, but who knew! So they loaded her up in the truck and carted her off to Dallas and once they got her back home we had to deworm the lot; we also increased their grain ration so that the kids don’t cause the mothers to melt away.

Poor Marguerite has taken a bit of a beating lately. First, we gave her a really bad haircut (to prevent too much hair from getting into the milk [which is why you filter and pasteurize!), then she gets her udder knocked about by Pandora and Bucky! We have now doubled her oat ration and taken less milk to give her a break – she is our easiest milker and deserves a vacation.

Pandora has lived up to her name: she is curious, a first rate escape artist, vocal, and a bit of a nudge! Here she is standing on her mother – I’ve been surprised how tolerant and patient the mothers all seem to be of their kids, even bruisers like Kastor and Pollux, standing on them full weight on!

Since milking and nursing have taken their toll on our three milkers we have backed off from how much milk we take for our own use, and in fact, we are not taking any at the moment, because we have a new arrival. His name is Binein, but we call him Benny for short, and he is a cute little Saanen buck of good stock; our neighbors down the road, Stacey and Emily, kindly offered him to us for free if we’d take him at three days old. We named him Binein after a Greek verb one finds in Aristophanes, whose meaning, well . . . let’s just say it is a strong term not meant for polite company that reflects what we hope he will do: Breed! Currently all the milk we take is saved for this little guy, because he takes so much of it – today our little 9 pound 5 day old Mr. Binein drank a hearty 62 ounces of our girls’ milk. While we milk that out, the rest we leave for the kids so they’ll have plenty of it and hopefully beat up less on the mothers. It has been something of a surprise how brutal kids are to their mothers: the kids jab violently with their snouts on the udders so that their mothers let down the milk. The three of us have been taking turns nursing Benny, and it is a gas to watch this little guy suck down 17 ounces of milk in nothing flat. Puck, against my wishes, has been slipping in during nursing time and playing with Benny, but the two have struck up quite a bond – but I never take my eyes off of Puck, in case he decides his friend might make a tasty dinner. The joke will be on Puck once Benny hits 350 pounds.

Hello World! Our newest addition, Mr. Benny, was still a bit wobbly on his feet, as most kids are for about a week, when Nancy and Lori brought him home on Saturday.

Lori, Nancy, and I have been taking turns bottle feeding Benny several times a day. He’ll suck down 17 ounces of our does’ milk in nothing flat.

The other big leap the three of us took together this week was castrating, or, more accurately, elastrating, our boys. It took three: Me to hold the goat, Nancy to secure its legs, and Lori who wielded and fitted the elastrator and the band around the bucks’ naughty bits. It was quite a surprise how easy a task it was, seemingly easier than trimming hooves. Kastor and Pollux were troopers, but Bucky, Marguerite’s boy, was not: he raised a ruckus and hollered through the whole procedure before we even touched him. We are leaning towards keeping Pollux as a friend for Bucky, whose job will ultimately be to propagate our herd (which now stands at 11 goats, but at least two of our bucks, probably Bucky and Kastor, will be roasted for Christmas barbecue!)

 

Apart from that, Nancy and Lori have been working like fiends to keep the milk operations running smoothly: the animals know their order for milking now, and we pretty much have down the rhythm of milking: pumping the first three squirts into a strip cup to check for mastitis; dip the teats in mild bleach; wash the udder; dry the udder; milk; spray the teats with anti-bacterial spray; filter the milk; taste test it; pasteurize it, then chill.

Worlds collide: Puck’s nose protrudes into our goat pen as he tries a little detente with Pandora.

The milk is a rich cream color, but the cream is ivory white, and thicker than any cream I’ve ever seen (and sweeter). But – and file this under another “who knew?!?!?!” – now is not the season for cream, now is the season for milk and cheese. Goats’ butter fat production changes with the seasons; in the fall, the fat content of their milk goes up high enough to make plenty of butter. For now we are saving milk for Benny and the kids. But soon it will be ricotta, yogurt, kefir, gjeitost, feta, chevre, occasional mozzarella, and some day, maybe, Havarti.

And our milk supply is destined to increase: Anna and Obie are about to give birth in the next few weeks. I am glad to have our garden in – it is going to be a busy summer of raising kids, building more infrastructure, and finding time to smell the roses – and taste the cheese (with our tomatoes) . . .



Light Blogging . . .

Light blogging this month due to the confluence of very long days, goat kidding, milking, lots of hard work in the garden, and getting totally sucked into Game of Thrones and catching up with the series. Geeez I HATE King Joffrey!

The Floralia

 

A peony in full bloom in our front garden. These were pre-existing, but we’ll put in more very soon.

Well, Horace’s beloved chorus of the Three Graces who dance naked in the spring have long since stripped off their last shred of clothing, and in fact have been resting under the shade of the trees, cold drink in hand and trying to catch a breeze for many a day now. It has been hot. On the Roman calendar it is the time of the Floralia, the festival of blossoms, when the Romans celebrated the arrival of spring and its flowers with a riotous festival that included bawdy public displays by naked prostitutes and culminated in the racing of highly sexed animals such as hares and goat kids. We don’t have the rabbits or the prostitutes this year, but we do have the kids. And we have the flowers.

This climbing rose I put in last year in our circle garden has exceeded expectations with its large, beautiful red flowers.

It has been unseasonably warm here now for quite some time, forcing the blooms to come much earlier than we would otherwise expect. We have had some rain storms in February and March, but the winter was rather dry, and now it has been six weeks or longer since we have had any substantial precipitation, with temperatures soaring into the mid 80s. As a kid, I remember some springs like this. April and May can give a respite, and there were whole days when, after a dark wet winter, even the teachers were happy to let us spend the day in school playing softball and doing little else. I swear in the fifth and sixth grades we had three hours of school and three hours on the softball diamond. Back in Maryland I could time the academic calendar by the blossoming of the gorgeous peony flowers that surrounded our house: the first one emerged during finals. By graduation they were normally at peak. Here this year they have peaked during a full month in advance – early June is when they came out last year, but this year they are a full month early.

Purple iris is everywhere around our house – in fact, it’s one of the prettiest invasives I’ve ever had to deal with.

I do not recall anything quite so relentless as this year’s early, arid spring heat. The ground is parched and cracked. We have had to irrigate daily our seed beds, our strawberries (which started to ripen this week), asparagus (which has been up and growing for weeks now), onions, raspberries, and rhubarb (both in our backyard and garden). We have had to do weekly deep irrigation of our fruit trees, and have lost no less than fifty percent of our blueberries. This week we put in peppers and tomatoes, which have also required heavy irrigation. Thank goodness that this year I have learned the fine art of installing drip irrigation for all of our crops. It has been so warm that the goats and their kids do little more in the afternoon than sit in the shade of the barn and snooze or pant. We still have much of the garden to plant, and this week took off some of the black plastic we had put on the oats, pulled out the oats, and were happy to find beautiful loamy soil underneath, which there will be almost no need to till except for adding some compost. We’ll plant our cucurbids (pumpkins, squash, melons, and cucs) in that part of the garden.

A peach colored rose is one of my personal favorites in our front garden.

We are still in the process of adding raised beds, but soon everything should be in place and humming: we have yet to plant beans and peas, will put in some more Walla-Walla- Sweets and yellow onions, as well as sweet potatoes, an herb bed, and some boxes for miscellaneous crops such as quinoa and broccoli. Then we’ll set up the drip, weed periodically, fertilize occasionally, and wait. The northeast quadrant of the garden will be tilled up and planted with sunflowers for our birds, and we’ll be done. Our other projects will be to place some more fruit trees (three apple and one plum) in the garden and to plant some more flowers. The middle of the garden has turned into a beautiful flower meadow, with lots of Bachelor Buttons (okay, I know they’re invasive!), cone flowers and bee balm that I planted, lupins, poppies, cosmos, and other types of wild flowers, as well as a lovely carpet of crimson clover on the garden path that is doing a fabulous job at attracting pollinators.

I generally do not care for white flowers, but this climatic and the candy tuft that flowered beneath it (not in the picture), really popped out for me this year.

It is so far so good with the goats, who have been pretty intrepid considering how off routine we have them with all of this kidding and kid rearing. Every morning at 7:00 am we bring the goats one by one onto the milking stands, hand milk them, then reunite them with their kids who feed off them for the day. At night we separate the kids from the mothers. There is a set order, which the goats have determined, to their milking: Marguerite first, then Janet, finally Leah. Each gets oats with a bit of molasses and a handful of sunflower seeds. It is truly a joy to watch the kids “gambol and frisk” as Homer would say, and to watch them have the morning and night crazies as they hop and jump and leap everywhere, and probably drive their mothers nuts. Each has their own little personality, but Pandora, true to her name, probably takes the prize: she is vocal, and curious, and quite the escape artist. She has foiled every attempt to segregate her from the adults, so we have surrendered and stopped trying (at night that is). By day the kids and adults now run together.

I love our gold chain tree out front and the wisteria that intertwines with it – in fact, this is just one of a row of such trees out front.

The mothers are remarkable to us: we now simply let them out of the barn in the morning and they run across the yard to their milk station and stand at the ready for oats and milking. We are awash in milk and as of Saturday, May 11, we milked out about ¾ of a gallon from the three of them and left the rest for the kids to nurse on for the day; right now the milk all goes to the chickens until we get our cheese making supplies in. We also put our next set of broilers out on pasture this week, and started to build a field shelter for our goats.

Two more pics of irises from our circle garden just because they’re so darned attractive!

I put peppers in this week, and this year got smart and put them in a raised bed up against the house. They should be nice and toasty during our cool summer nights and get a good dose of heat to boot!

We have long since seen our first roses bloom. In fact, we are surrounded by beautiful roses, irises, honeysuckle, and assorted wild flowers and herbs in our gardens. At morning we are greeted with literally a symphony of peacocks from a neighboring farm, songbirds, roosters, owls, and, rather endearingly, the gobbles of wild turkeys. Fine music to lull the Graces into a hazy afternoon slumber under the trees, or to accompany the celebration of the Floralia.

A portent of a long hot summer: we have already put the chairs under the trees and keep a cooler full of ice water to chill us down after mornings of hot hard work in the garden.

 

And now we milk.

We started milking three days ago – every morning at 7:00 am one or more of us can be found milking one of our three lady goats. There is nothing more Zen than an animal’s soft teat emitting the rhythm of their stream of lactation, pumped against stainless steel in the silence of the morning.Steve and Nancy take turns as they do their pre-breakfast milk this past Saturday morning.