It’s beautiful out today isn’t it?
Here in Willamette Valley today we’re experiencing blue skies. The bright orb in the sky is providing some much needed light therapy for those of us who get the winter dole drums and that includes the farm animals. On days like today you will find the pigs out basking, bellies up in the sunshine and warming their thick skin to the bones. The chickens will be out pecking away at the worm holes in the ground and then spreading their feathers away from their wings and napping in the sunshine. Its good for their egg production and we’re starting to notice an uptick in the number of eggs that come out of the coop each day now that the day light hours are increasing.
I always get antsy during days like this. I want to go out and plant something! I want to turn over the soil and see what’s been going on under for the past few months and give it a good piece of my mind about what I want it to do over the next several.
But its to early. If I jump the gun, I’m just going to waste seed that will drown rather than germinate. The soil is still to cold and rather than doing good by turning it over, I’ll just be opening up the protected soil that’s been building over the winter under compost and cover crop, exposing it to the rain and cold days we are still going to have for the next month or two (or three or four) likely causing more harm than good. If you’re like us and have access to a greenhouse and cold frame, you may be starting your earliest seeds in hopes of getting a jump start on the season.
So instead now is a great time to do some brush clearing on nice days, in this case taking down some trees in the yard to expose the lawn to more light this year and help the flower beds that will be planted to get better sun exposure. Now is a great time to also organize your seed packets and order any remaining seeds as well lay out your plans for planting throughout the season.
Also, if your like me- you have glass jars stacking up and taking up space on your counters in ones and twos, or every time you reach for a water glass your hand grasps a quart jar and most of your coffee mugs are pint jars. I start to crate and stack the empty jars into storage for the up coming canning season- setting aside the chipped or cracked rimmed ones for the recycle.
And of course winter is a great time to practice and hone your skills in the kitchen. Portland Meat Collective has a great class list offering, but sign up soon since classes have a tendency to fill up quickly. Additionally I’ll be taking some classes from Champoeg Creamery this spring, my goal is to get a wheel of Parmesan aging so its ready by fall.
The last few months have been a strange few months. Battling freezing weather, farm sitting, keeping animals and my new farm hand warm, but the hardest thing to do is picking out seeds.
For most people they love pouring through the dozens of catalogs looking at photos and descriptions of heirloom tomatoes, tons of colored carrots, and more types of lettuce than I can count.
You see CSA farming is nothing like having a few raised beds in the back yard. It’s kind of like chess (I suck at chess) you have to plan 3-4 moves out. The system I use to pick the seeds is I I pick things I know I can grow and verities I know are work horses. With that I consider color and what month I can expect to pick it. Once I get the staples that one would expect in a CSA box I get to be creative and challenge myself. For example, I never have good luck growing corn, but this year I am trying popcorn, and for the first time I’m growing romanesco broccoli, (this likes to bolt and go to flower.)
Once all the time is done marking and crossing out my options and then cross referencing Sarah’s list I have to figure out all the quantities. Usually I do that while I’m on the phone, which means I order way more than I should.
Now that march is almost here I can start planing and planting. As always we will keep up on the blog and Facebook, but in addition we have been using Instagram at the_collective and taking great photos of all the animals, plants and of course Ulysses. So follow us in all the ways of social media.
Your household farmer
Its always about this time of year that I start to crave greens and fruit and all of the spring and summer veggies. I think it honestly has to do with color. When I prepare meals I like to see a variety of color on my plate- mostly because it makes eating interesting but colors mean seasons. During the winter I notice that the color palates of my meals include oranges, toasty browns and deep purples. Dishes are heavier, usually incorporating stocks and grains or pastas. Items that were preserved through the spring and summer are rationed and become more garnishes or accents that the main event as they are during the height of their production seasons. Spices are used with a heavier hand during the winter as well, bay leave, sage, juniper berry and loads of black pepper (a spice I’ve come more affectionate with after my visit to France where the signature of the region was its heavy use of black pepper). We drink differently during the winter as well- pairing red wines with our heavier meals, and whiskey or gin as our liquor of choice. I know that we are in the heart of winter when my hand automatically reaches for a cut of pork to braise and the flour to make pasta, and let’s be honest- searching for a bottle of red wine on the rack to open and sip while I work.
So when Bubba and I finally butchered a pig for our own freezer the other week I carefully trimmed one coppa for curing and the other for cooking. My friend Camas recommends cooking the coppa in milk and spices, then reserving the braising liquid for a delicate sauce that I love to pour over noodles and slurp up loudly. Camas has introduced me to many, many new adventures in preparing our favorite animal- the pig, but this truly one of my favorite ways to cook coppa, the group of 5 muscles when cut crossways resembles a star shape. It comes from the neck of the animal, tying together the head just behind the ear to the top of the shoulder blade. Pigs use this muscle group to root, turning and lifting their head which makes it fork tender even when uncooked.
Milk Braised Coppa and Pappardelle
1 whole coppa, 4-5lbs, trimmed of excess back fat and skin
2 cups whole milk, appox.
1/2 cup white wine
2 bay leaves
3 sage leaves
2 sprigs thyme
5 juniper berries
1/2 tsp of whole black peppercorns
Salt and pepper
Pappardelle noodles (or whatever wide, flat noodle you have available)
The short instructions for those of you who cook by hand- Sear coppa, throw other stuff in pot and place in oven until done then blend juices for sauce.
The longer version for those who like to follow step-by-step instructions:
In a dutch oven (or heavy pot) large enough to hold the coppa and liquid with a heavy lid, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium- high heat, until it glistens in the pan, but is not smoking. Sprinkle the coppa generously on all sides with salt and pepper (I always use fresh cracked pepper with a larger grind) and then sear on all sides until browned, probably 7 minutes total. Once seared lower the heat and pour in the milk, wine, and spices and then bring to a simmer (liquid should come up 1 inch on side of coppa). Once at a simmer, place in a 375 degree oven for approximately 45 minutes- or until the internal temperature of the coppa reaches 135. Once to temperature, remove from the oven but leave covered sitting on the stove for another 10 minutes to rest and finishing bringing the temperature to 145 degrees. Promptly remove from dutch oven and allow to rest on a platter or carving board. While the roast is setting, skim out the juniper berries, sprigs of thyme and bay leaves (feel free to remove the leaves from the thyme sprigs and put back int the pot). Then with an immersion blender blend the juices and braising liquid into a thin, smooth sauce, adjusting salt and pepper to taste or adding more white wine for acid. Serve by slicing the roast and placing on top of the pappardelle then ladle on sauce. Pairs beautifully with pinot noir or whatever remains of that bottle you opened at the start of this process.
Note* – if you have the time and where withal to make your own noodles, do it. The fresh pasta soaks up the sauce beautifully and allows for that loud slurping I mentioned.