Diocletian’s Cabbages, Ricotta Cheesecake, and a Broken Ankle

A lovely head of cabbage that would do an abdicated princeps proud!

The Roman emperor Diocletian abdicated the purple of imperial office and went into retirement in AD 305. He had been a competent if ruthless ruler of Rome’s vast empire for over 20 years, and many regretted his retirement. Following his withdrawal from public life, the empire was thrown into turmoil, as his former colleague Maxentius and an upstart Roman governor from Britain, one Constantine, later Constantine the Great, came to blows.

“If you could show my cabbages to your emperor”, he wrote to one official requesting his return to the public arena, “he definitely wouldn’t dare to suggest that I replace the peace and happiness of this place with the tumult of insatiable greed”. As our cabbages swell – all thirty heads and some 120 lbs of it – I can understand Diocletian’s preference for cabbage to the imperial throne.  Soon we will be up to our eyeballs in coleslaw and sauerkraut!

Eris continues to live up to her name, and her mother continues to give lots of rich, sweet milk. Gratias ago!

We are at that time of year, frankly, when farm life makes everyone as busy as an imperial pretender. We are tending the garden, dealing with nearly 200 birds, and milking twice a day. So it was a bit of a disaster this week when on an otherwise lovely Fourth of July Nancy broke her ankle: it happened towards the end of the day while she was trying to get over some poultry netting. Since she was on pasture we drove the truck down and Lori and I loaded her onto the cab, drove her to the Mini, packed her in, and Lori zoomed off with her to the hospital. Lori finally came home at 1:08 am and Nancy spent the next two nights at Willamette Valley Medical Center to have surgery on her ankle which now has eight screws and a plate.

Titus Pullo watched Nancy’s fall with what could best be described as restrained jubilation.

So amidst the harvest, the processing of fruit, the goats now weaning their kids and us milking twice a day, we have been busier than one can imagine. The past month since we’ve posted has been harried to say the least. Since mid-June we have taken on another 80 chicks plus fourteen turkey poults. The garden has started to produce fruit, and keeping up with it is a chore. But what is keeping us most busy now are the goats and keeping up with the fruits and veggies.

A group photo of a collective crew of Satan’s spawn! Cute, but prone to leaping on you with hooves caked with manure.

This week we finally weaned all the kids off their mothers, which means we now milk twice a day. Once at 7:00 am, again at 5:00 pm. Alas, the great devotee of the cocktail hour with 5:00 being usurped by the need to squeeze teats. O Tempora, O Mores! You are witnessing in slow motion the implosion of a once great Sybarite. It was, once upon a time, an hour devoted to cooking, listening to music, drinking wine, usually all at the same time.

A mixed blessing – lots of blueberries; the catch is you need the time to pick and preserve them!

Our days start outside at 6:00 and end at 9:30. The first two hours of the day are taken up with feeding our ducks, turkeys, and chickens (we have a total these days of 9 flocks: 4 ducks in our fruit orchard; two sets of 25 chicks in tanks; 14 turkey poults in a tank; two layer flocks out on pasture; and two flocks of broilers in tractors). Then we feed and milk our goats and kids and let them out for the day. We may do a bit of light watering, open our green house, and uncover any plants. Then it’s time for breakfast.

We assess what we need to do that day. Right now we are in the midst of building a coop for our permanent flock of red ranger chickens; they are a meat bird that we want to try to raise ourselves so that we stop the outlay of expense for buying and shipping. Red broilers, by the way, are delicious, and we have found the best way to prepare them is to rub them with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and oregano, and then to marinate them in olive oil and lemon and to throw them on the grill (chicken a la Grec!) The project of infrastructure is imperative right now: we still need to build, in addition to the new coop, two more chicken tractors and a turkey mobile within the next two weeks to pasture our new flocks.

Building is often interrupted by trips to town to get hardware or lumber for construction, but we try to work through the mornings right now because it’s so hot, and working past noon is trying. Usually at some point in the morning we do a walk through of the garden to see how each of the plants is doing. Fortunately drip has been installed in about 50% of the garden, so hand watering is less of a burden than last year. Watering, however, is still a constant task, especially since we have so many young fruit trees that need attention, not to mention grape vines.

Hooray for fennel!

An unintentional experiment: these sunflowers are growing in a patch that just had weeds . . . 

while these are growing where we had a cover crop of oats last year.

Cucumbers are loving their trellis so far . . . 

. . . while their neighbors the pumpkins are going gangbusters!

Hey, tomato plants always look bad . . .

but taste great!

Hooray for slaw and kraut!

By the afternoon we are inside from the sun or making trips to town. I have had to go to McMinnville quite a bit recently for a variety of reasons, including volunteering with the Extension in order to get my state certificate as a master gardener. But most afternoons have been devoted to putting up preserves or picking fruit. We have been putting up blueberry, strawberry, and cherry preserves this year, with plum to come in September.

Managing milk has also become another big task: we are currently handling about three gallons of milk a day. We save the milk from Marguerite for the cats and for our little buckling, Benny, since he’s still nursing. Leah’s and Janet’s goes into cheese production; we store the milk up for three days and then every third day or so make batches of chevre, feta, or ricotta.

All of these have been great for cooking, but the ricotta has been especially good, and on the Fourth of July I made what was perhaps the best cheesecake any of us ever ate. No, I really mean it: it was an OMG moment. The recipe came from an old Italian baking cookbook, and called for whipping the cheese in a processor which gave it the appearance of a fine marscapone. I used our own duck eggs in the recipe too, and by the time it was done (with a fabulous pasta frolla, i.e., cookie crust) the consistency was nothing like the somewhat dry New York style cheesecake, but a rich and beautifully gold custard. Indementicabile e fabuloso!

This is the best photo you’re gonna get because people just couldn’t leave it alone long enough for me to take a photo of it intact, so just deal!

There is, however, no escaping the heat: we do not yet have AC, something that will thankfully change as of the 15th, so cooking becomes a hot, hot affair, and during these sweltering afternoons, no matter how much water you give the animals, they still need to be checked, since they go through water quickly. The goats, because milking requires so much fluid, go through water at a particularly prodigious pace. It means that we are outside at the height of the heat to make sure all the animals are provided for. Then it is back to building until 5, when the goats need to be milked yet again and Benny fed.

Somewhere in the midst of all of this dinner gets prepared somehow, more and more with our own home grown veggies. Caesar kale slaw has become a favorite this summer, and in a day or two we will start to cook up zucchini flowers, while we’ve already been able to enjoy salads consisting of our own tomatoes, basil, and feta – the only thing off farm is the drizzle of olive oil! I’m sure the emperor would approve.

Along the way we still manage to smell a lovely rose . . .

. . . or two.

I’d love to put a period there, but it’s summer, so we can’t. After dinner, at around 7:30, we tend the garden, hand water, and prep the animals for bed. By 9:30 these days the chickens mercifully head in or the night, and they are the last thing we deal with. If we are up for it, we pick some last minute blueberries. Then we head to bed. It’s 10:30, and the sun will rise on Diocletian’s cabbages in seven hours.