Category Archives: Food

We are new chicken farmers!

If you have come around here for very long, you probably know that I get hair-brained ideas and jump before I think.  Well, the other day, I posted this picture and caption to Instagram.

Box of baby chicks
It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission

I didn’t tell Emily I was going to get chicks on that particular day but I thought I was justified.  You see, we were out at the deer stand the other day and I happened upon a rabbit hunter walking in the woods who found a near-starved beagle while out in the field.  We talked a little and he indicated he didn’t want the dog but didn’t want it to starve either.  I didn’t think much of it but later told Emily.  She loves beagles it turns out, so I said I am sure we could get that dog if she wanted it.  We discussed a little and she finally declined saying, “we can’t have a beagle and chickens”.  Since we didn’t get the beagle, I figured that meant I was green-light on chickens.  Seems right, right?

Baby Chicks!
Baby Chicks!

Anyhow, I begged for forgiveness and was eventually granted neutrality.  Emily doesn’t really have a lot to do with the chicks but I am not presently concerned with her smothering me in my sleep.  Of course, that is always subject to change.

Baby Chicks!
More Baby Chicks!

Anyhow, I got a mixed box of 8 chicks…4 from the dark pullets and 4 from the red pullets.  That basically means I probably have female egg layers and they will probably be reddish or blackish in color.  I may be able to better identify breeds once they get older, but being new to chicks, this could just remain a mystery.

Two or three week old chicks
Two or three week old chicks

One of the chicks, I noticed after I got home, had a goobered-up eye.  It was crusty and swollen shut.  I read online a good bit and tried cleaning it many times with a wet cloth.  I could get it to clear but within a day, it got messed up again.  We figured she would be blind in that eye so we named her Hook.  We couldn’t remember if Captain Hook had an eye patch but Hook stuck as her name.  Unfortunately, a few days ago, we discovered she had a broken or maybe dislocated leg.  It was clear she wasn’t right in several ways…so RIP Hook.

Two or three week old chicks
They are growing so fast!

We have named 2 of the remaining 7 birds…one is Hodor and one is Fezzik.  Both birds appear to be big and dumb.  We will name the others as their personalities become apparent.  Ultimately they will be named Soup, but in the meantime, we intend to have a lot of fun with them and enjoy the eggs as well!

Snow sucks…and other stuff

Right after Christmas, the kids and I went to PA to visit with my family.  Various things have gone down recently which changed other plans so this was sort of a spur of the moment trip.  Luckily, my brother and sister-in-law were able to make it too so we had a chance to just goof around together.

Ring bologna!
Ring bologna!  Breakfast of champions!

So we left WV on Friday morning and headed North.  It was pleasant when we left here but as we approached Tionesta, PA, we found snow.  Luckily it wasn’t on the roads but snow still sucks.  Of course, in my misery, I felt the need for comfort food.  Comfort food is a personal thing of course, but to me it meant ring bologna (on this trip at least).  There is a local store that used to be sort of famous for their ring bologna.  I stopped there before even going to my parents’ home.  I swear they used to have rings just hanging from the rafters but I suppose sanitation concerns took over eventually.  They still had bologna but it was sealed and in a refrigerated case.  I don’t think any other part of the store had been cleaned since the last time I was there 25 years ago, but the bologna was good.

Snowman time!
Snowman time!
Teenager snowman
Teenager snowman

Abigail and my SIL saw the snow as an opportunity so they headed out to build snowmen.  There wasn’t a lot of snow but they worked with what they had.  They made a snow turtle, a snow pig, a snow teenager(complete with smart phone) and a snowman.  Definitely cool…but snow still sucks.

It's science time!
It’s science time!
It's science time!
More science time…with Mountain Dew
Crazy elf!
Crazy elf!
Bad elf!
Bad elf!

We ate meat and cheese for lunch and opened some gifts.  Abigail got a chemistry set from my brother, the chemist, so they did some experiments and no one got hurt.  We ate more meat and cheese and drank a little beer…just a little.  Then we acted like idiots.  Well, we didn’t just start then but it became more apparent as the day went on.  We had a pretty good time and I think I finally am recovered from eating all that ring bologna!

It’s never too soon for eggnog!

Like many folks, I typically get irritated when I see the big box stores roll out Christmas stuff before Halloween.  I mean, seriously, why do they do that?  I am still trying to wrap my mind around the end of summer (though these freaking cold temps are helping to make it feel real to me now!)  I cannot possibly contemplate Halloween already, let alone Christmas!

Southern Comfort eggnog is from the gods!
Southern Comfort eggnog is from the gods!

Anyhow, soccer season is finally coming to an end.  I don’ know if I ever mentioned it but I am the head coach for the middle school soccer team where Isaac attends.  We have had a great year and are in the play-offs for the county championship next week.  It’s dark early now and as I have regular work during the day, our soccer time is limited…and increasingly cold.  After practice is over, we are usually pretty well shot.

The kids enjoying Southern Comfort eggnog!
The kids enjoying Southern Comfort eggnog!

I was delighted last night as I returned home, to discover that Emily had been to the store and found eggnog!  And not just any eggnog but the very best eggnog of all, Southern Comfort eggnog!  Please, people at Southern Comfort, make a product page so I can keep up to date on when and where I can find your eggnog!  I would marry it if I weren’t otherwise attached to my wife and kids!  It’s amazing stuff!  Nectar of the gods I sometimes call it!

It's always so sad when you get to the bottom of the glass!
It’s always so sad when you get to the bottom of the glass!

The Southern Comfort eggnog replaced my exhaustion as it coursed through my system and made me awake and alive once again!  I am still not quite ready for Christmas (or even Halloween really) but Southern Comfort eggnog will soothe my soul through both Halloween and Christmas!  Bless you Southern Comfort, bless you!

Sorghum Cookies

I hope, dear friends, that you don’t mind hearing a little more about my sorghum.  You see, I am just so happy to have followed this whole process through from getting the cane mill to planting to finished product.  I am already planning a much larger patch for next year so we should have a really nice bit of syrup by next fall.

Making a mess of the mixer
Isaac and I made the cookies…of course, the mess too

A few people have asked me where I got the sorghum idea…I was reading Mother Earth News magazine and saw an article on the topic.  I was intrigued and started my mill hunt.  I found that sorghum is finding a new life in people reviving the art of sorghum making and I just had to be a part of that.

Sorghum cookies
Sorghum cookies
Sorghum cookies
We made bread too

Finally, last night we got to really enjoy the fruit of our labor…I made sorghum cookies!  Holy cow they are good!  I stole the recipe from here.

Best Sorghum Cookies

1/2 cup margarine (I used unsalted butter)
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup sorghum
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a large mixing bowl, cream margarine (or butter), shortening, and sugar. Beat in sorghum and eggs; set mixture aside.
3. In an another large bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda, ginger, cloves, and cinnamon. Blend thoroughly with wire whisk.
4. Gradually mix flour mixture into creamed ingredients until dough is blended and smooth.
5. Roll dough into 1 1/2-inch balls. Dip tops in granulated sugar; place 2 1/2-inches apart on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 11 minutes. Do not overbake. Cool on wire rack.

Store in tightly covered container to maintain softness.

My cane mill/sorghum stuff

Making sorghum – Part 3

I know, I know…you could barely contain yourself, waiting for the conclusion to the sorghum saga.  In my last post, I described how we pressed the sorghum cane to extract the sweet juice using our Kentucky No. 0 Cane Mill.  We didn’t really pay much attention to how much juice we actually got but it was enough to make me smile.  Of course, anything greater than “none” would have made me smile.  Anyhow, we got several gallons of weird looking green sorghum juice.

Cooking sorghum syrup
Cooking down but still green

To make the juice into syrup, one has to cook the water off of the juice which thickens the liquid into syrup and converts sugars and starches into wholesome goodness that is otherwise known as sorghum (or sorghums as the old timers call it).

Cooking sorghum syrup
Cooking down nicely

Originally, people cooked the juice on a wood fire in a large cast iron cauldron…sometimes several feet in diameter.  The cauldron had a lip which allowed the cauldron to sit on a circular brick or stone wall inside of which a fire was built.  Sorghum cookers got more sophisticated and built long, shallow evaporator pans with baffles which allowed the cooker to add juice to one end and move the sorghum through the pan to the other end as it cooked where syrup was eventually pulled off.  Either of these options are still viable but involve a good bit of money to purchase or make.  I already have a good bit of money invested in the cane mills and couldn’t see spending any more this year.

Cooking sorghum
It thickened nicely and turned a beautiful amber

It occurred to me that a turkey fryer is not much different from an old fashioned cauldron so we decided to cook our juice in a turkey fryer over propane.  I know, it is not too authentic but I had to go with what I had.  One of the first things that happens when one turns on the heat under sorghum juice is that a tremendous amount of nasty foam rises to the top.  This happens every time as a part of the process and the foam has to be skimmed and discarded.  I had a ladle I used to dip it off of the top.  We stirred the pot nearly continuously to prevent burning the syrup.  It took a few hours over low heat but the juice gradually cooked down and thickened.  The smell of the mixture changed from wet pumpkin (almost as bad as wet dog) to sweet…sweet something.  I can’t really describe it but it was a nice smell.  Finally, the color changed from green to a beautiful amber color.  We tasted often and watched it thicken.  I finally decided it was done and pulled off the end product.  We ended up with 2 quarts plus a little of homemade sorghum syrup and it tastes great!

Homemade sorghum syrup
Homemade sorghum syrup

We learned a lot and, more importantly, spent a lot of quality together-time.  We didn’t get enough sorghum to make it extrinsically worth it, but satisfaction in seeing a product through from field to jar is worth a lot to me.  Seeing my kids helping out and enjoying time spent is worth a lot to me.  Feeling some connection to how old farmers in WV might have produced their own sorghum is worth a lot to me.  The syrup is really a secondary part to all of this, but what a sweet bonus it is!

My cane mill/sorghum stuff

Making sorghum – Part 1

I am far too excited to write only one post about how the sorghum harvest went this year so please humor me and allow me to write two posts.  You may recall that on a wild hair (or two hairs actually), I ended up buying two cane mills and planting sorghum this spring.  The sorghum grew and I finally got around to fixing up one of the two mills.  My brother and I finally harvested it last weekend.

Cutting sorghum cane
A start on cutting the sorghum cane
Cutting sorghum cane
Stripping sorghum leaves

But let me back up.  The sorghum grew pretty well once it started growing.  I planted a patch around 50’x50′ and it produced a lot of nice canes and beautiful red seed heads.  But, of course, time got in the way and it did what sorghum does when you ignore it and don’t harvest when it needs to be harvested.  It fell over (which is called lodging).  I have read where it might be caused by a number of things but in the end, it adds difficulty to harvesting mechanically and may ruin the canes even if they can be harvested.

Cutting sorghum cane
Sorghum makes everything sticky
Harvesting sorghum cane
We both enjoyed drinking sweet juice from the canes

Luckily, we got into the field pretty quickly after it started so all of the canes were in good shape although we lost all of the seeds that I otherwise had planned to save and grind into sorghum flour.  So, next year I will try to beat the lodging and save the seeds.

Harvesting sorghum cane
The first few sorghum canes

So, my brother and I took turns swinging the machete to cut the stalks at the ground while the other stripped leaves from the cane.  The leaves aren’t harmful to the sorghum exactly but apparently they add a bitter taste to the finished sorghum syrup.  I suppose we spent an hour or two harvesting the patch.  It seemed like a small job but it turned out to be a lot more work than we expected.  It’s also sticky and dirty work as the sugar content of sorghum cane is pretty high.

Harvesting sorghum cane
More cane…still early on but I think it looked really nice

We tied the canes into my brother’s trailer and hit the road to my parents’ house around 4pm…their place is around 6 hours away so we rode sticky and sweaty and dirty and had a long day.  The plan had always been to harvest and process the cane at our place so we could have an old fashioned neighborhood pressing party like they used to do a hundred years ago.  We ran out of time though so decided to have a pressing party at my childhood home where we were planning to visit anyhow.  Still, I was on the edge of giddy as I had my first crop of sorghum cane harvested!

I’ll write more in my next post about pressing and cooking the syrup that was in the cane.  Harvesting, it turns out, was the easy part!

My cane mill/sorghum stuff

Garden whoopee

I remember watching the Newlywed Game when I was a kid.  I guess it was in syndication when I saw it but we watched regularly, and I really enjoyed it for some reason.  The couples were funny and spontaneous and innocent.  It was a different sort of tv I guess.  Anyhow, Bob Eubanks invariably asked the newlywed couple some question about their “whoopee” habits.  I guess I was young and dumb but I knew what they meant but sort of didn’t either…know what I mean.?

Harlequin Beetles mating
Harlequin Beetles mating

That phrase has sort of always stuck with me as catchy phrases about sex tend to do.  So, when I spied some critters “making whoopee” in my garden the other day, I decided that I had better grab a few snapshots (does anyone use that word either?) and call it a new hobby.

Japanese Beetles mating
Get a room!

We built a raised bed and planted a lot of different things in the garden this summer.  It’s somewhere around 4 ‘x 20’.  I love that it is convenient and I barely have to bend over to work it.  I basically planted it square-foot-garden style so I have quite a number of plants in that space.  Perfect space for insect exhibitionists to show off their style!

Broccoli Bell pepper

The good thing is that the plant whoopee that’s been going on in my garden is also paying off.  Insects aren’t the only things reproducing.  We planted broccoli, Brussels sprouts, jalapeno and bell peppers, onions, cucumbers, zucchini and tomatoes and they are all doing great!  We still have plenty of blooms on things so there is more fruit yet to come!

Green tomatoes

I am still not sure I understand what Bob Eubanks was talking about but I do know that this sort of garden whoopee is always welcome and I don’t feel the least bit bad taking pictures of the whole thing!

Converting yard space into garden space

We have chunks of yard at our place, some of which the kids play around in, but most of which we complain about mowing more than anything. In particular, the fenced in back part where the former dog used to stay was a big waste of space. With the dog having run away, the canine treasures returned to earth leaving us once again with usable space.

Digging a ditch Digging a ditch

Digging a ditch builds character…do well in school kids!

As with most of our projects, we decided to go big, heavy and expensive! Actually, we just went with big and heavy but I like the added drama. Anyhow,we decided to turn a mess of a yard into garden space using railroad ties to build raised beds. We spent a few days digging up the apparent underground rock garden that existed before we decided to make a garden in our yard. I leveled out space and added gravel for drainage under the railroad ties and we began to set them. It turns out that our railroad ties are 8’6″ and weigh around 200 pounds each. We used around 17 of them for our space so you can imagine how sore and tired my mule Emily and I were just moving the pieces into place.

Raised bed garden with railroad ties Raised bed garden with railroad ties

Abigail drilled a few of the holes we drove rebar through to bind the ties together.  We used a lot of rebar to make sure they stay in place!

I laid cardboard boxes over the existing ground to keep weeds down and we lined the edges with plastic to minimize the leaching of creosote from the ties into the soil.  The plastic does not cover the entire basin of the garden so water will still drain fine and worms can still navigate upwards without impediment.

Lining the raised bed garden with plastic and cardboard

The cardboard will eventually rot away but not before killing weeds and stuff from coming up through

I read a bunch about creosote and railroad ties before undertaking this effort.  Creosote is pretty bad stuff and eating it would not be a great thing.  I read a number of opinions on the subject and came to a few conclusions.  First, used ties have probably leached out the worst of what is going to leach out already.  Secondly, I didn’t have my soil tested for contaminants to start with and most people do not.  That fact makes it apparent that we don’t really worry about our garden soil anyhow.  Finally, my soil is still almost assuredly better than soil somewhere far away on an industrial farm and my food is not likely to pick up any more contaminants that what food that travels by train car and truck picks up.  I added the plastic liner and have determined that I will not worry about it any further.

Raised bed garden from railroad ties Raised bed garden from railroad ties

Those rocks were huge and buried.  I suppose the digging was easier but only because the rocks took up so much space!

So, we had to buy a bunch of dirt (56 bags of .75 cubic feet top soil to be exact…plus 6 bags of manure) to fill in the space.  It looks awesome and will hold a bunch of vegetable plants.  Isaac, Abigail and I planted it over the course of a few days.  We added marigolds for decoration  and because all gardens are supposed to grow marigolds.  We also have tomatoes, jalapenos, brussel sprouts, broccoli and bell peppers.  It looks so much better than the yard that used to be there plus I get to eat all of my favorite vegetables right out of my back yard!

Raised bed garden from railroad ties Raised bed garden from railroad ties

I cut the angles in the ties where they ended using a chainsaw.  Creosote sawdust down your back will leave a rash!

For now we have some of the rocks I dug up holding the liner in place.  I will eventually top it with more wood and make it look better, but for now, our new garden space makes me smile every morning when I see it…both for the veggies growing and for the fact that I do not have to mow that space!  Yeah gardens!

Planting sorghum

I wrote a few weeks ago about wanting to grow, process and eat sorghum.  The first step in that process is, of course, planting some sorghum seed.  Really, before that, we had to prepare some ground to plant.  Larry, Granny Sue’s husband turned over a bit of earth at our place.  I don’t know if you have ever tried to cultivate a new piece of land for garden space, but it is bone jarring, punishing work if you don’t have big equipment.  One could certainly take to it with a rototiller and it will work but you’ll feel a new kind of pain.  Anyhow, Larry ran his plow and tractor over a nice chunk of our land to do the initial “turn-over” which I followed up with a smaller tiller to break up the ground further.

Planting sorghum

I got about half way done with the tilling when another neighbor, Tim, stopped by with his tractor which he used to save my life finish tilling the land.  Everything was bone dry and dusty which made this whole process a messy endeavor.  Still, Emily and the kids pitched rocks into the woods while I set up the rows and drove row stakes.  We carefully planted a dozen or so rows of Sugar Drip sorghum seed.  Sugar Drip is an old-time variety good for our part of the country.  It matures in around 102 days and makes nice sweet 8-10 foot tall stalks.  I ordered seeds from 2 well known heirloom seed suppliers and one says it is a rare breed while the other says it is common across the South.  Who knows?

Planting sorghum

So, we marked our rows and planted the beautiful little seeds (which we will collect from our plants this year and save for next year) and covered them carefully with the freshly tilled dust dirt.  Luckily, it rained some this week so things should start growing well.  Sorghum is an African native so prefers warm temperatures but does well in heat and dry once it is established.

Planting sorghum

I have learned that sorghum is one of the top grain crops grown around the world.  Varieties can be used for syrup but most sorghum is planted as fodder for animals or as grain for daily consumption by humans.  Many people are considering using it to make biofuel as it thrives in most warm locations.  For folks with gluten allergies, it also is a common grain source for gluten free beer (hmmm…another project?).

My cane mill/sorghum stuff

Sorghum seed

So, our sorghum is in the ground though possibly a little early.  I will keep a close eye on its progress but am hopeful for some awesome looking cane in a few months.  Now, I really have to get back on track with restoring those cane mills I have sitting out in my yard!

My cane mill/sorghum stuff

Violet blossom jelly

I mentioned mountain color in the last post and as much as I like green, I think purple has to be a close second. We have thousands of wild violets in our yard this time of year. They make a really nice blanket of purple in the still-alive-until-summer green grass we have. I hate cutting grass with a passion and my excuse is usually something along the lines of, “I hate to lose all of the pretty flowers that the bees need so much right now.” It has nothing to do with my being lazy of course…it’s for the bees!

Wild violet blossoms for jelly

Anyhow, I was perusing the interwebs the other day and a blogger I follow, Woodridge, posted a recipe for violet blossom jelly. Check out the original there but I am going to include the recipe here for my own reference too. Woodridge writes from East Virginia, the lesser cousin of West Virginia…

Wild violet blossoms for jelly

So, Abigail, Emily and I set about picking violet blossoms the other day. Abigail wanted to take some creative license with the recipe so she included a generous helping of green grass also. I picked it out…I have eaten both violets and grass before and only one is really suitable for my palette. Evidently I misread the recipe too as I insisted we pick twice as many blossoms as we needed. We just made a double batch. Many other recipes I found used less blossoms for a single batch but I figured if some is good, more is better which was in line with this recipe anyhow:

Making wild violet blossom jelly


  • 3 – 4 cups fresh violet blossoms
  • 3 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 1 package (1 3/4 ounces) powdered fruit pectin
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 4 cups granulated sugar

Violet blossom jelly


  • Rinse and drain fresh-picked Violet blossoms; place in a large heat-resistant glass bowl or Pyrex measuring cup.
  • Pour boiling water over the blossoms. Allow to steep until cool, then cover and allow to stand overnight.
  • Strain blossoms and reserve violet liquid. Discard blossoms.
  • Measure violet liquid; add enough water to measure 3 1/2 cups (liquid will be blue-green).
  • Pour liquid into a large stainless steel pot.
  • Measure 4 cups sugar (exactly 4 cups) and reserve.
  • Stir in lemon juice and pectin. Place pot on stove top and bring to full rolling boil on high heat.
  • Add 4 cups sugar all at once and stir continuously until sugar completely dissolves. The mixture will turn a reddish-violet (depending upon the color of the Violet blossoms). Continue stirring until mixture comes to a hard rolling boil. Stir exactly 1 minute (use a timer), then remove from heat.
  • Skim foam. Carefully ladle hot liquid into hot sterilized half-pint jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace.
  • Wipe jar rims, add lids and screw rings. Adjust lids, place jars in canner and make sure boiling water covers jelly jar lids by 1 inch or more.
  • Cover, bring canning water to a boil.
  • Process in boiling water bath for 5 minutes. (Adjust timing for elevations over 1,000 feet above sea level.)
  • Remove from boiling water bath and allow to cool (and ping!).
  • When cooled, check seals and refrigerate any jars that failed to seal properly.

Yield: 5 half-pints.

Violet blossom jelly

Anyhow, the jelly is a beautiful light purple and is some of the prettiest food I have ever seen. It has a super mild flavor and is a little earthy…maybe. I am not sure if that is the right word. Wild is more like it maybe? But that sounds bad…like eating poorly cooked ‘possum or something. Anyhow, it is a light, subtle flavor and will be a really nice addition to our breakfast toast. If you have some violets, whip up a batch and let me know how you would describe the flavor!