2018 Apple Butter Fest at the Farm

It seems that ever since we finished up with last year’s first attempt at a farm Apple Butter Fest, we started looking forward to this year’s event with lots of ideas for improving on the day.

We chose the same weekend as last year since we felt that the second weekend of November brought a nice chill to the air – perfect for standing around a hot fire all day – and of course, even more importantly, the end of the apple picking season.

We have not proven ourselves to be the best at advanced weather predictions and this weekend was no exception. Friday, Apple Butter Fest Eve, brought an almost laughable, and shocking snow storm to our area…gulp!IMG_3511That night, grandson Coulter added to our amusement as he decided he could finally put his snowball makers to good use and was out enjoying a serious minded bit of fun. IMG_3514Although it didn’t have a chance to accumulate too much, there is still a light snow on the ground today due to the cold temps!

So the morning of the Fest, we awoke to record breaking cold weather of 19 degrees, which we were told felt like 11 degrees. Outlying areas were as low as 17 with other parts of Missouri recording 13 actual degree temps, breaking the record by 9 degrees. Our brains were thinking “yikes, are we crazy?” but we proceeded with all planned activities knowing that if things got really bad we could move to the barn for a bit of protection from the weather.

We proceeded apace in part due to a couple of improvements on last year’s apple butter making model. First, we decided to start apple peeling well in advance and used a Huckleberry Finn tactic of convincing some of our dear CSA subscribers that it would be “fun” for them to take apples home the previous Saturday to peel/core/quarter in advance to add to the pot in time for cooking. A big thanks to all those who contributed their help!

We also decided to start peeling the bulk of the apples beginning on Wednesday and continuing thru Friday morning as I personally prepared 112 pounds of apples! I had the help of two manual peeling tools but mostly relied on the attachment to my electric Kitchen Aid mixer (thank you to Peter & Stefanie for this wonderful gift!) for most of the processing.

Even with this advantage, I worked for several hours each day to peel the apples with a bit of precision and orderliness. Apples were cored and peeled with the intention of feeding peels to the chickens but cores had to be discarded due to arsenic in the seeds.  Is this where the phrase ‘a method to madness’ comes from? Haha!IMG_3496.jpgWe stored the apples in the refrigerator in 2 gallon bags and by the end of the preparations, we had 24 gallons ready to go into the copper kettle. IMG_3517.jpgNext, we were given a new tool for the cause from friends Janet and David Lange, who were devout stirrers last year and sadly recently moved out of the area, as they saw the need for a special wooden copper kettle scraper and kindly gave us one last XMAS. Even though the intention for this paddle was for stirring Cajun pots of Jambalaya and the like, it was a great help and we put it to good use this year! IMG_3498 We have a funny saying at the farm – “morning comes early” – and yesterday was no exception as in the dark of night (at 6am) with a light snow on the ground and 19 degree temps, we started the fire on the terrace and had the 30 gallon copper pot in place. Dave is virtually disguised in his practical cold weather protection!IMG_3515 2.jpgBut as it happens each and every day, the sun rises and shines on our silly activities. Here I am with our dedicated friend, Joyce, as by 7am we can finally see the contents of the pot we are stirring. Notice our futile attempts to protect the ferns in the background with plastic coverings…nope, they were toast!IMG_3529Joyce and I scurried back and forth, indoors and out, since there were food preparations to attend to for our guests…coffee, cookies, snacks, sandwiches and more. Here are the farm famous brown sugar, spice and jam cookies (think Linzer) that we had prepared along with trays of brownies and yummy PB&J sandwiches (with farm jam, no less!)  As you can see, the fall theme of oak leaves, acorns, apples and maple leaves are the design element on the cookies which were a huge hit with many asking for the recipe!IMG_3510The stirring of the steamy apples continued throughout the day as friends and family arrived to help and we enjoyed the delightful company of at least 17 families! Here are just a few…IMG_3577IMG_3556IMG_3552IMG_3597IMG_3591IMG_3594IMG_3568The day warmed a little with the sun shining brightly causing those of us with lots of activity to happily shed our coats and hats. I decided to sport my newest  Bohus Stickning knitted sweater as it reminded me of the colors of the beautiful apples I had peeled!IMG_3563As the day wore on and snacks and lunches were devoured, we were getting closer and closer to the end product of the bubbling mass of nearly butter-like consistency of the apples. The celebration of the day was euphoric!

A core group of die hard stirrers continued to the end and we mobilized, bringing out the tables and sterilized jars for the last effort of jarring up the goodies. IMG_5642Taking the hot, bubbling mass of apple butter (temps as hot as 202 degrees) from the kettle and ladling (with wide mouthed funnels) into the prepared jars was also a bit of an improvement from last year’s event. Unfortunately, with all hands on deck during the process, I have no photos of this fast paced action but here is a description: Dave continued to stir the pot while we had two people ladling and two people wiping the edges of the filled jars and securing the lids in place. The finishing team – Jane, Laura, Joyce, Nancy and Dave – proudly posed with 44.5 pints and 18 half pints of finished product!  Smiles all around and blue skies to boot!!! IMG_4219Yes, we were tired from the long day, but can’t wait for next year’s Apple Butter Fest with dreams of more participants and an even greater apple butter volume! Thanks to all who made this such a great day for Seven Oaks Farm & Orchard!

Fall Fun at the Farm…Plus Exciting Wedding News!

I’m pinching myself…ouch!…how could it possibly be November already? September and October were filled with farm adventures and November/December will be just as busy!

Remember the last posting about making fresh pasta? Well, this became a hit with our CSA subscribers and I found myself rolling out pound after pound of pasta every Friday evening to sell the next morning! I even got cute and ordered special labels to go along with our homemade tomato sauce…such a perfect use of our goods…making for a fabulous “gift-able” set as well. IMG_3221

The change of season also prompted us to change out the hoop house from the summer/shade covering to the winter/greenhouse covering. Dave and I managed this one brisk morning when we figured no one would be looking as it entailed a Lucy and Ethel sort of comedy routine. First, we had to remove the summer cover in tact, by undoing all the ties, clips and rebar rods holding it in place while not causing any damage to the young fall plants inside. IMG_3262IMG_3264.jpgI must say, removing the summer cover was so much easier than installing the winter one which was heavier and stiffer. Of course with tender plants under foot, we gingerly went forward – one inch at a time…  IMG_3266With success!IMG_3267There are doors at each end and windows along both sides. It has been very interesting to experience the ‘greenhouse’ effect here as we zip it up tight at night to protect from the frosty weather and open it up when the sun comes out during the day. The process of opening is crazy as the build up of heat inside will instantly fog up ones glasses and make one feel as if entering a sauna! This is exactly what our off season veggies – lettuces, spinach, radishes, turnips, scallions and Swiss Chard need in order to extend the season. Our CSA customers are enjoying the goodies!IMG_3344In the midst of all of this, I managed to sneak away one weekend in October, traveling to Massachusetts to visit relatives there and attend an ALS fundraiser that my cousin Peggy’s daughter, Lindsay was hosting with her Holy Cross Field Hockey team. The cold rain that weekend did not dampen the spirit of the team nor the fans who turned out to support the cause.

I’m so glad to have shared in the entire experience and we hope to host the Holy Cross team here at the farm in the future!

In the meantime,  a bit of news about our chickens as they continue to amaze me. Some days I feel as if I could write a book on what I’ve learned about the social interactions of chickens and their community. Sorry if there is limited interest here but bear with me for a bit.

Background: A female chicken is a hen. A male chicken is a rooster, but all chickens have both an X and Y chromosome. Hens have two ovaries but use only one of them to produce eggs. (Remember, no rooster is needed to produce eggs.) If the hen’s production ovary fails for one reason or another, instead of using her other ovary for production purposes, she actually starts to produce testosterone and can virtually become more male than female. Although ‘she’ lacks male parts, she can grow spurs which are a sharp, hornlike protrusion on the hind leg that acts as a weapon when males fight for dominance.

Enough background: We had a hen who developed spurs on her legs and started to act as a male would by being aggressive in the flock and mounting and riding other hens. This was disruptive to the flock as they had not had a rooster in their midst and didn’t take kindly to this. I consulted my chicken vet (yes, there is such a thing) and he advised me to take matters into my own hands. He told me to secure said chicken (meaning bind her in a safe hold such as a towel), cut ‘her’ spurs by 1/3 to 1/2 in length (bloody process with styptic substance at hand), and clip her nails as well. He said, that I needed to become the Alpha Chicken!

Results: I managed to clip the spurs as you can see here in the ‘stumps’ below. This actually worked as our ‘she-male’ chicken is now under control and not aggressively bothering the other hens. I’m not sure who was more traumatized by the experience but the flock is copacetic for now. IMG_3407It doesn’t help that the older chickens are continuing to experience their fall molt and the coop looks like a wild pillow fight every day. They don’t lose all their feathers at once but do so in patches as seen here with a Barred Rock and Buff Orpington. It is a bit painful for them as their new feathers grow in and their production is limited.

We also enhance the coop environment this time of year with a change of sand in the coop which requires some muscle. Last Saturday we shoveled out the interior coop sand and replaced it with 1100 pounds of fresh sand from the local material supply house. Oh, our aching backs!

The change of season also means that we have been clearing the fields as well as the flower beds and save what we can for next year’s seeds. Our giant sunflowers (three varieties) are usually fodder for the squirrels but this year I snagged a bunch of giant heads (14-15 inches across) to save for future seeds and showed them to the CSA members, many of whom had no idea where sunflower seeds came from! IMG_3430The same goes for the myriad of zinnia seeds of all varieties that will dry in the garage this winter along with the elephant ears and banana tree roots. IMG_3435Our October had many layers of fun…including a visit with dear friend Kris from Massachusetts with the Ward family…IMG_3422and Halloween fun with the Coulter who found my trove of costumes one day and modeled a sampling of fun wigs with Gramps.IMG_3390We are also gearing up for the second Apple Butter Fest – slated for November 10th – with lots of friends and family participating. We have been harvesting our apples and have lots to peel and prepare for the big copper pot this year. All are welcome to join in as we will start at first light and serve goodies – including lunch and our favorite homemade cookies – as we stir, stir, stir the big copper kettle all day until we have a huge vat of apple butter to share with all! IMG_4587But, I saved the best for last as the hands down highlight of our October news was the wedding of son Peter and Stefanie Darnley. Congratulations to such a cute couple who will be visiting here for a fun celebration in their honor come December! IMG_0050