Week 51, 2019 | Kristin Kimball | Dec 23, 2019

Forgive the long break between farm notes, all. My father died November 30 after a long battle with leukemia and I have found it difficult to sit down and write. Words seem like flimsy things that can’t quite hold all the feelings and still be, what? Good. But I know, deeper, that words are actually the only things that can hold the big feelings, so why not put some down?

The end of year comes clear and cold, on the heels of some messy snow and ice, so the animal team is fighting the annual battle against solidification of water. We have a lot of beasts wintering too far from electricity to keep water heaters going, which means the team spends time and energy either breaking ice or carrying water. This is tiring, and often uncomfortable, because it leaves hands and arms and sometimes pants wet for the day. So we weigh all that against the cost of running new power lines, or adding a dedicated solar array, or a new generator of some kind, or of rearranging animal groups to minimize the effort. There’s no simple answer, but we’ll keep making improvements.

Animal team reduced their responsibilities by one animal group this month, after slaughtering the old layer flock. I’m so glad. And also grateful, because I know how difficult the job of cleaning them is. It’s much harder than with the broiler chickens, which have larger cavities, and are easier to pluck. But what a payoff! Not just for the simplification of daily work, but because these chickens, which are over two years old, and spent their lives on pasture, are the very best in the world for making chicken stock, and I’d wager there is no grocery store in America where you can buy one like them. If you try to roast one, or even braise it, you’ll be comically disappointed, because you’ll end up with something very like a rubber chicken. But for stock, and as the base of a soup, they are unrivaled. And what better time of year for that? In winter, I could easily become a soupitarian. I sip broth all day, and at least half our family meals this include a soup or stew, often as the main course. My method, with a stew bird, is to pressure cook it for an hour and a half with just a few vegetables — a leek or half an onion, maybe a quarter carrot, a bit of celeriac, some herbs, salt and pepper. I used to use more aromatics, but I’ve come down to believing in the flexibility of pure chicken flavor, to which more flavors can be added, if desired, when you use the stock for soup. After the hour and a half pressure cooking I set my electric pot to slow cook and let it go for another 24 hours or more, taking out stock and pulling off chicken meat as I want it. At this point, the bones are crumbling and all the flavor has been transferred to the soup. When it’s finally time to pull the plug, I strain and jar the stock, then chill the jars in cold water before putting them in the fridge or freezer. I find that the fast chilling keeps the flavors pure and helps keep the stock fresh for a long time in the fridge.

Mark sends word from the butcher shop that he purposely left extra fat on this week’s ground lamb, pork and beef. (These are the packages wrapped in paper. The plastic packages of ground beef from Tritown are very lean, in contrast.) You’ll want to drain it off after cooking but then use it – for toast, for eggs, for tortillas, for frying potatoes, or any other way that adds rich flavor and crisp texture to your holiday meals. Happy holidays to everyone! We have 2020 member agreements coming your way this coming week. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this winter solstice week of 2019. You can find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, on insta and the web, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball