Sand Holler Farm

Aug

06
2013

Usual busy week

Marissa     Farm Happenings         3

This week was kind of the usual farm bustle. We were nursing a sick goat – he had urinary calculi (bladder stones) – and things were rough. It is not easy to treat in male goats and we did end up losing Beau. Willa spent a lot of time next to the “hospital pen” in her little yellow chair. When we weren’t out there, they was usually one of Beau’s buddies laying down next to him keeping him company. Seems like everybody loved Beau. Sometimes the circle of life sucks.

Speaking of which, the bobcat is back! Several weeks ago 2 of our nearly 70 ducks didn’t come home to be put up for the night. We searched but to no avail. We thought it was a freak occurrence but it happened again Saturday night. Very strange that they were disappearing in twos. The next day Leslie caught a bobcat with a guinea in his claws! She chased it and the bobcat fled, leaving the guinea missing a few feathers but no worse for the wear. Sigh. It starts again!

In more pleasant news, I’ve started working in the cheese kitchen more this past month. It’s been quite a while since I was the regular dairy maid on the farm. We took cheese classes at Homestead Heritage years ago and I’ve worked on developing my own recipes that are particular to goat milk and the supplies we have readily available. But then I handed off much of the cheese making to others while I was busy having kids. But I missed it and now I’m getting back to it. I’ve already put up my feta recipe, which I’ve made several times this summer. But this weekend I went for the sweet stuff – cajeta! That’s Mexican caramel made from goat milk in case you haven’t heard of it. And if you haven’t, find yourself some cajeta and try it! Delicious. So I spent several hours turning this:

Into this:

So good! I’ve not been as good lately about taking pictures since I’ve usually got one kid balanced on a hip while working but I’ll get a recipe up sometime. There were occasions when I had both hands free though. Mexia loves to help and wanted to do the dishes with me!

While I’ve been busy in the cheese kitchen, the garden has been taking a beating from the heat. Most of the tomatoes and cucumbers have stopped producing. But eggplant, okra and cowpeas are going bonanza! I’m learning new ways to prepare all three. I’ve got lots of tasty recipes in store for you guys…and most of it is fried, so you know it’s good!

3 comments

Jul

29
2013

Roselle Jam

Marissa     Eats and Drinks         1

I’ve always enjoyed a glass of Jamaica tea. That’s “ha-my-ka” as in flor de Jamaica, the Spanish name for a type of Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa). About 10 years ago, I started seeing it more and more in restaurants in the US under the more generic name Hibiscus tea. I’ve also seen it called roselle, or rosella when used as foodstuff in Australia and other countries.

A few years ago, my mom decided to grow some at the farm. It was an experiment and a bit of a novelty. We dried it and used it as tea as always. Then last year, she grew TONS of it. Faced with a mountain of the stuff, we decided to branch out and see what else we could do with it.

Roselle grows into a quite a bush, sometimes topping 6 feet tall and about that in diameter. The bush has a rather demure bloom compared to what most people think of for hibiscus (the bloom looks more like okra if you ask me). After the flower is pollinated, it dries and the seedpod forms with a thick fleshy calyx around it. Er, what’s a calyx? The calyx (or, the collection of sepals) around the petals of a flower are typically a cup-shaped green part. Think of a carnation with that perfect little green cup holding all the petals together. In most flowers, its role ends when the flower wilts and dries up. But in some plants, like the roselle, the calyx continues to grow after the flower dies and forms a thick encasing around the seedpod.

We started harvesting our roselle last September and the dehydrator was working overtime to turn all the fleshy sea creature pods into a storable commodity for our winter tea supply. But one weekend in October, I ventured out of our normal routine.

I couldn’t find an exact recipe for roselle jam (i.e. 2 lbs roselle, 1 cup water, etc). Instead, I found just some basic guidelines. Even though I’ve been making jam/jelly and canning for about 6 years, I haven’t made all that many batches so I like to follow a recipe to the letter. But that just wasn’t going to happen this time. So I just went with it.

Mom cored a “bucket” of roselle (one recipe did specifically call for “one bucket”) saving both the calyx and the seedpods. When we make dried roselle for tea, it’s just the calyx part. I took the goods home and began my adventure.

First, I put all the seedpods in a big stockpot and covered them with cool water. Brought that to a boil and simmered for 15 minutes  – the seedpods were starting to look somewhat cooked at that point.

I strained the seedpods and discarded them. Our ducks weren’t interested but they won’t even eat bread, so the seedpods went on the compost pile. The leftover water is full of pectin – the agent that helps jams and jellies set up and thicken.  I was surprised at how red the water was! I guess just the small coloring on the stem ends is enough.

To this water, I added all the calyxes. At first I wasn’t sure this looked right. It seemed like far too much fruit and not enough water.

But the calyxes are big hollow constructions so within a few minutes, they had softened and began to fall apart. Soon, everything was under the liquid. At this point, I measured the fruit pulp – I had 7 cups.

Most recipes I found called for an equal volume of sugar to fruit. I don’t like super sweet so I figured on using 6 cups of sweetener. And for fun, I used 5 cups of sugar and 1 cup of honey. I added this to the pulp and cooked over very gentle heat until it boiled. It probably took about 10 minutes to boil and then I boiled for 15 minutes until the jam started to look like it was setting on a saucer from the freezer. I’m no good at doing any of the tests for gelling – I’m so worried I’m going to overcook it that I don’t think I’ve ever achieved proper set. Sigh. But on the second batch, I nailed it! Boiling for 25 minutes with about the same amount of pulp made it set up nicely.

The jam has the same flavor as the hibiscus tea (somewhat tart but sweet) and you can taste just a touch of honey. There is also an underlying earthy tone that I had noticed before in the tea until  trying the jam. But now I can recognize it in the tea – it’s somehow amplified in the jam.

I love using the jam for anything. We substituted it for cranberry relish at Thanksgiving and got plenty of compliments. One of our family traidtions is kolache cookies for Christmas filled with various fruit preserves. Last year I did roselle jam and jalepeno jelly. Wonderful!

But my favorite thing to do is just simply eat it with cream cheese on a scone. Perfect treat any time of the day.

We ran out of the jam by springtime but we still have plenty of dried tea left. We won’t be harvesting roselle for a few more months but I plan to make much more jam this year. Can’t wait!

1 comments

Jul

23
2013

13 months later

Marissa     Farm Happenings, General         3

Well folks, it’s been a long time since I’ve been active on the blog. For those of you who may just be tuning in for the first time, let me introduce myself a bit. I’m Marissa, the daughter of Scott and Stephanie who own Sand Holler Farm. While I live in Austin (with my husband and two girls, 1 and 3), I spend a lot of my free time on the farm, doing farm business from home, or cooking with farm food. So I started this blog to keep our customers informed about the fun happenings around the farm. While we no longer have our CSA running, I do hope there are still folks interested in the place. So I hope to get back into things and have some regular posts!

So what has happened in the last year since I posted? Last year we bought the land next door. The original owner of our land actually had both pieces and he subdivided. The new owner next door had never improved the land, just pastured his horses there. So we purchased it and have been fixing it up. The front few acres are grass but the rest is woods, with one big “tank” (that’s Texas talk for a pond). It’s not in great shape, but we have been digging it out when it goes dry.

Another fun part about owning that land is that the horses stayed! They aren’t our horses. So we get to give them treats and pet them but don’t have to worry about any of their care or maintenance. It’s a great deal if you ask me. Doc and Red have grown quite accustomed to us and always come over to see if we’ve brought them anything.

Last fall I finally experimented with making jelly from the hibiscus plants. I have a whole post ready and waiting for that one, so I’ll just tease you with a picture of the final product. Delicious!

For Thanksgiving, we had a huge supper at the farm. I believe we had 30 people. I made a pledge to use ALL local products and we managed to stick to that. All the veggies and meat came either from our farm or nearby places. It was a wonderful feeling and a scrumptious meal. The “cranberry” relish was actually hibiscus. Perfect substitute!

Unfortunately, not all went smoothly over the last year. A bobcat moved into the area. Or rather, he had probably been there for a while – I’ve read they can have a HUGE range – and only discovered our ‘easy pickings’ when wild food became scarce. We had a mobile chicken coop that moved around the front pastures. The number of chickens kept dwindling but we couldn’t figure out what was going on because it was happening during the day and very few predators come out then. But Jeremy watched as a bobcat waltzed across the field and snatched a chicken, racing back to the woods once Jeremy started yelling and chasing. We spent a lot of time trying to prevent more attacks – cutting the grass and bushes back so the bobcat couldn’t hide, moving the mobile chickens into the permanent chicken coop which is farther from the “bobcat forest” as we began to call that side of the farm. But the chickens continued to frequent the compost piles which were practically under the trees. We lost our dear rooster Percy one afternoon and finally had enough.

The front pasture is entirely fenced from the woods and most of the fence line is away from the trees. The bobcat could easily scale the fence, it’s just that there is no cover in the pasture. But by the compost pile, there are trees on the pasture side of the fence. So we had to erect more fences to keep the chickens from going back there. Don’t worry, they now have their own small compost pile of food scraps in the coop! I think we lost nearly a dozen chickens before the bobcat was deterred enough to find easier hunting grounds.

We transitioned to another onsite farm couple. We have live-in managers that take care of the place and usually do the business side of things so they can earn an income. We have a new wonderful couple at the farm – Kevin and Leslie. They are quickly learning the ropes and the garden is producing some yummy vegetables.

I’ll be around to post more on things that happened earlier this year as well as what we are currently doing. It’s good to be back! And just so you don’t think I’ve been taking the last year off just because I wasn’t blogging, here’s the typical scene in my house these days. Sigh.

3 comments

Jun

22
2012

Angora goats!

Marissa     Farm Happenings         1

We have some more new critters on the farm. We traded one of our Alpine doelings for two woolly angoras! Angora goats produce the fiber called mohair (unlike Angora rabbits which produce…angora!). The two new girls are about the same age as our other goat kids but they are tanks – completely different build than the delicate dairy goats.

Astrid and Tess have adjusted well to their new surroundings. In fact, our oldest kid Chris has a definite crush on Astrid.

I’m convinced it’s her baby blue eyes…check them out!

We’ll shear these goats like we do the sheep and process the fiber into yarn. Eventually. I still have bags and bags of fleece from the last few shearings!

1 comments

Jun

14
2012

Been a bit distracted…

Marissa     Farm Happenings         4

Sorry for the lack of posts around here lately but I’ve been otherwise occupied! Last week, I gave birth to my second child – another girl! We didn’t find out beforehand but Chad had a feeling he was doomed to be vastly outnumbered in the household. The birth was much easier than my first (thank goodness…) and I’ve been relaxing at home with the little one. Willa loves her new baby sister – so far it’s been a great transition and there don’t seem to be any hard feelings. Whew. So without further ado, let me introduce you to the newest member of the household, Mexia. Her name is pronounced Ma-HEYA, like the town in Texas. We have family roots in the area and it was a bit of a tradition on that side of the family to name people after places. Here’s the little critter shortly after she was born at the Austin Area Birthing Center.

I’d also like to remind/invite everyone out to the farm on Saturday June 23rd from 2-8 PM for our annual Summer Solstice party. Come squeeze baby goats, meet the farmers and generally have a good time. We’ll have some drinks and snacks. Feel free to BYOB! Hope to see you there!

 

4 comments