Westminster Farmers’ Market Report from Maple Heights Farm
Cooking on the Edge: Pig’s Feet and Chicken Toes, Oh My!
Westminster Farmers’ Market has a new website…
We have a new (somewhat preliminary) website for the Westminster Farmers’ Market. Visit for ideas on how you can help the farmers’ market, participate as a vendor, or get information on our schedule for the season. Visit us at www.WestminsterFarmersMarket.com. Google us too, by clicking here. This will help us bubble up to the top of the search page (as of now, we are listed at the bottom of the first page).
Cooking on the Edge…
Because of our farm, we have some foods in our house that are out there on the fringe. We have an oxtail or two, pig’s feet, organ meats, and perhaps strangest of all, during the last chicken processing day and because my children’s favorite meals seem to revolve around our healthy broths (and because Julia Child and Weston A. Price tell me I can do this, and I know the nutritional value of homemade broth), I requested that they save a few chicken feet for me. Now, I know that puts me way out on the edge of strange, right along with the contents of my freezer, but I assure you, I wasn’t always like this.
When we first were married I said on more than one occasion, “if it doesn’t come wrapped in plastic on a Styrofoam tray, I’m not eating it!” So, what happened? It all started with fresh eggs from our first batch of chickens, progressed to dealing with a horribly territorial and dangerous rooster that had a personality conflict with my then 8 year old son. I felt the rooster’s life should not be for nothing, so we decided we owe it to him to eat him rather than bring him to the dump. Then we moved on to raising our first (48 lb) Thanksgiving turkey and I have continued to become more enlightened ever since ;-).
During this time, we traveled to France and throughout the trip I would jokingly tell Andy that I was certain that I was French in a past life. We stayed at Hotel Slalom in Les Houches (near Chamonix) for a week before moving on to Paris (and then onto Normandy and Mont Saint Michele). The owners of Hotel Slalom took great care of us (we were their first and only guests to start their winter season) and they spent a lot of time talking to us about local foods. Often they did not even present us with a menu but instead made the decision about what we should try at mealtimes: pate, fois gras, cheese fondue, beef bourguignon, wines and cheeses of the region (not that these were all new foods to us, but we loved that they wanted us to really experience France through the food, too!). Everywhere we traveled we were amazed by the food, many recipes made from things that we would discard instead of even consider eating in America, and yet, it all tasted so good!
Now, I wonder, am I enlightened enough to respect our animals by using every bit of them and not be wasteful??? I am about to find out! I am preparing to make stock with our own pig’s feet and chicken feet, armed with recipes and directions from a few websites (pork stock, chicken feet stock, pig’s feet soup)!
Andy has now dug through the freezer and found what I need – and I’m losing my nerve! I can do this! I hope I don’t have to wash or touch them! “Chop off the claws”! Are you kidding me??? I do not want to touch them! “If any rough patches, cut them away with a paring knife”??? I’m not going to eat them, I just want to simmer them! Can I skip this step??? Julia Child says I can do this! I have my doubts!
I washed the feet and put them in a large pot. I used my huge lobster pot so I would not have to keep rearranging feet as they stick out of the pot! I boiled the feet for 15 minutes and drained and rinsed them. I have decided not to chop rough patches and such. I don’t really want to examine them that closely! After rinsing, I added water, herbs and vegetables and put the pot back on to simmer. My house smells FANTASTIC right now. This is the richest smelling broth that I have made thus far. Two of my children know what I’m doing and are planning to avoid dinner tonight: one is skiing and will surely have other plans come dinner time, the other will probably be fasting. They are obviously not fully aware of the magic of the freezer and I will be able to feed this to them when they are not looking.
Later on Day 2
My broth is simmered and strained. The broth looks rich and smells terrific. The non-broth: not so great. Now, everyone in the house knows what I have been up to, only Russell (5 years) is looking forward to digging in. I think if I gave him a chicken foot right now, he would sit down with a plate and happily attempt to eat it! To him, there is probably no difference between that and a lobster leg. To the rest of us, we know it is not quite the same! Now that the broth is strained, we will chill the broth to solidify all the fat and Andy said he wants to pick the pork out of the pig’s feet. I have read that there is a lot of good meat in there, but I’m not going in for a look! If he picks it out, the meat will be a good addition to Hot and Sour Soup which I will make tomorrow.
Here is where it is all worthwhile. My broth is a gelatin now with a surprisingly small amount of fat on it, probably firmer than any broth I have ever made. I want to see this in my broth as gelatin is an important part of our diet: it aids digestion, helps us absorb complete protein, and provides a concentrated source of easily digested vitamins, minerals and glucosamine. While there are also benefits to consuming packaged gelatin, it is not the same as making your own, and your house won’t smell nearly as good!
For my soup, I’ll leave out the tiger lily buds because I don’t have any and I’ll substitute dried oyster mushrooms for the wood ear mushrooms because that is what I have on hand. I’ll substitute honey for the sugar and I’ll try to recover some leeks from the garden because I don’t have green onions. I will have to purchase bamboo shoots and tofu because this soup should have both of those ingredients, and I’ll double the amount of egg because I love that texture and flavor in this soup.
Will I do this again? YES. If you read about the healthy qualities of broth, you will see that this is a worthwhile task. If you taste foods with homemade broth, you will know that taste is a great reason to try this. My broth has added a delicious flavor to my soup that I would not be able to get from bouillon cubes. It has no salt, but doesn’t need it because it has real, concentrated flavors that don’t need enhancement from the addition of salt or MSG.
Is it worth doing? For the health reasons alone, YES, YES, YES. It was a bit creepy (perhaps a bit more than a bit creepy), but the more I do something, the more routine it becomes, and the easier it becomes. Making broth from chicken, turkey and beef bones is second nature to me and takes about 15 or 20 minutes of my time. This broth may have taken more than that, it certainly seems like it did, but that is probably because I over-analyze the process until it is familiar. I have access to about 120 pig’s feet per year and probably over 100 chicken feet. I’m sure I won’t be able to use them all, but I’ll certainly use some of them!
Now, what to do with that tongue…
In the Garden…
I hope you are considering planting a few seeds indoors on a sunny windowsill. You don’t need to go crazy with it, just try one or two vegetables or flowers. To me, the most satisfying things that I grew from seed last year were broccoli (start next month) and leeks (start this week), so if I were to only select two items, that is what I would select. Six broccoli plants fed us through most of the fall and into December. Late in the summer we started eating broccoli and every time we cut a head, new ones appeared, each as delicious as the one before! This year I will grow more! Leeks were so easy, and they are really beautiful and so are very appropriate for some green texture even in your flower gardens! Thus far, I am having great results with my geraniums and artichokes (though my ivy geraniums had only 50% germination and the seed company is shipping another pack). Both are ready to be transplanted into cell packs (which is what Bob Thomson in The New Victory Garden book recommends). I have had to give them a dose of wood ash early on as signs of fungus were springing up and I wanted to head-off damping-off. I would not start seeds indoors without a small dish of wood ash. I have started more geraniums, celeriac, onions and blue wave petunia… and those sit beside my fire until they germinate…
Bring a Little Spring Inside…
Now is the time to take a few branches of forsythia and pussy willows. Bring them into a cool room and put them in warm water. You will have blooms in less than 10 days!
Maple Heights Farm…
We still have some calendars available that will get you started on vegetable gardening in 2010! You can now order online!