Announcing our Guide to Portland Restaurants that use Sustainably Raised Meat

Good eats & good meat
Yummy breakfast goods at Pine State Biscuits on NE Alberta.

At long last, we’ve compiled a guide to Portland restaurants that source their meats from farms and suppliers who use humane and sustainable practices. We’re posting it as a “page,” and it will have a permanent link at the top of the blog.

This guide has been a long time coming (about a year of slowly pecking at it) and even longer stewing in our heads. We were very much inspired by Seattle’s Cook Local blog, who did the same thing for Seattle a while back.

The guide is necessarily a work in progress. We’ll continue to add restaurants, and to update entries, as often as we can. We’ll also work to update the listings with links to the farms themselves.

I hope you enjoy it and find it useful.



Posted in Farms., Food., Restaurants., Sustainability. | 1 Comment

People I bought something from at the last farmers’ market of the season, 2009

Better late than never: On December 19, 2009, I made a photograph of everyone at the PSU farmers’ market from whom I bought something. Here are some of my favorites. Click on any of them to see the entire set.

Everyone I bought something from at the last farmers market of 2009

Jeff from Persephone Farm. 50 lbs of storage onions, 5 lbs of white garlic, and a bunch of shallots. Some beets, too, later on.

Everyone I bought something from at the last farmers market of 2009

Shane from Gala Springs Orchards. Some Cameo apples.

Everyone I bought something from at the last farmers market of 2009

Jessica. Northwest Heritage Pork. A pound of bacon.

Everyone I bought something from at the last farmers market of 2009

Ann. Gathering Together Farm. Two kinds of kale, turnips, and some salad mix.

To be continued . . .

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What we talk about when we talk about green chile

chiles at the farmers market
Fresh chiles at the Westwind Gardens stand

Growing up in the Southwest, I took green chile for granted. I didn’t even really know what it was, other than a ubiquitous, delicious, spicy stew that was served in a bowl with tortillas on the side, over eggs, over a burrito, or countless other ways. The dish is sometimes mild and unctuous, sometimes possessed of a searing chile burn. There were also the green chiles themselves, which I also took for granted, and which are served in all kinds of ways, all over Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona.

In my mid-20s, I taught myself how to cook Mexican food from cookbooks. Good Mexican food was one of the things I really missed from home and couldn’t find in Seattle. But what I learned from Elizabeth Lambert-Ortiz and Diana Kennedy was regional Mexican cooking, not the Southwesternized Tex-Mex that I’d grown up eating. Nevertheless, I loved the cooking I was learning, and was fascinated by the threads that connected classical Mexican cooking to the food served in taquerias and Mexican restaurants all over the country.

As I learned more about cooking Mexican food, I often wished I could make the green chile of my childhood, but I had no idea where to start. I assumed it was Mexican in origin, so every time I found a recipe for something green (mole verde, chile verde, verde de Oaxaca), I’d try it, hoping that I’d found the authentic green chile recipe. The results were often delicious, but they were never anything like New Mexico green chile.

A few years back I was talking to my friend Eben, who still lives in Colorado and who shares my enthusiasm for green chile. He said he thought the chiles themselves, the particular green chiles of New Mexico, were central to the flavor of the dish. It made sense to me, but where to get some? (I lived in Oakland, California at the time.) Later that year Eben surprised us with a Fedexed, dry-iced package full of the chiles we needed, blackened from fire-roasting and packed into labeled bags. A few experimental rounds with a very basic recipe procured from the internet proved that it was the chiles that we’d been missing. Holly quickly became a devotee of the dish, as well, and over time we’ve perfected our recipe.

I’ve since learned that the chiles needed for this recipe are very particular indeed. Any kind of chile, roasted and peeled, has a wonderful, deep flavor. But the New Mexico–type green chiles have a distinct flavor of their own, and the green chile we make with them exists primarily as a vehicle for that flavor.

The chiles in question were developed in the early 20th century by a horticulturist at New Mexico State University named Fabián Garcia,1 in an effort to produce a chile variety that would better resist common diseases and provide abundant and consistent fruit. In doing so, Garcia developed what is now known as the New Mexico pod type. Called “NuMex” to indicate its origin at NMSU, the type comprises a host of varieties, including Big Jim, Joe Parker, Sandia, and Española.2 The Jim and Joe varieties are milder, and the Sandia and Española hotter and spicier. They all have the same deep, fruity, rich flavor, with a fleeting but powerful heat. The NuMex varieties are dependable, grow well in various climates, and provide us transplants with a sturdy and delicious treat. I suspect that folks living in the Southwest also have their own favorites among the heirloom chile varieties, too, which seems a subject worth further exploration.

The chiles Eben sent lasted us a couple years, carefully doled out from the deep freeze. They even came with us to Portland in 2005. But the chile situation still looked pretty barren out here, until one day in 2007 when we walked into the PSU farmers market and caught the unmistakable aroma of roasting chile flesh. We followed our noses and discovered the Westwind Gardens stand, where they sell an amazing variety of chiles — including, God bless them, four varieties of New Mexico chiles — all grown organically in nearby Forest Grove. They bring their chiles to market and fire-roast the chiles right there in front of you in big gas-fired rotating drums.

chiles at the farmers market

chiles at the farmers market

chiles at the farmers market

We go through ten or fifteen pounds each winter. This summer they ran out of the milder NuMex varieties: partly due to increased enthusiasm, one presumes, from similar transplanted Southwesterners who have finally found their manna; and partly due to timing and the way they planted their rows. I managed to squeeze in an order for their last 20 pounds of Joe Parkers and am safely past the fear of a winter without green chile.

Last year I decided to make a pot of New Mexico green chile for my entry into my friends Cora and Craig’s annual Chili Rumble. The event’s focus is on Texas-style chili, of course (note the different spelling, very important), and thus my crock-pot sat on the Non-Traditional table. I knew it was a good batch, but I was surprised when my chile not only won in the Non-Traditional category but also received the most votes overall.

As we begin thinking about what to cook up for 2010’s Chili Rumble, I thought it’d be nice to offer our (award-winning!) recipe for New Mexico green chile. The following recipe replicates my memory of green chile from Colorado and New Mexico. It does require New Mexico-type chiles, which can be hard to find if you don’t live in the Southwest or are lucky enough to have a nearby grower specializing in this precious fruit. Do look around at local farmers markets in late summer to see if there might be a nearby grower. When we visited Seattle’s University District, we noticed at least two vendors roasting chiles on site, some of which were labeled “Hatch-type” and were indeed NuMex varieties such as Big Jim and Sandia.

New Mexico chiles are often called “Hatch” or “Hatch-type” because the town of Hatch, New Mexico, is the center of a major chile-growing area. Hatch processes and packs their chiles for distribution, as well, so you may be able to go to the grocery store right now and buy a can of Hatch green chile, already roasted, peeled, seeded, and chopped. However, for the purposes of this post, I purchased and sampled a can and found the chiles to be rather insipid and acidic, presumably from the heat and additives — citric acid, calcium chloride — used in the canning process. Fresh or frozen are definitely the way to go with these chiles.

If you really want to make the leap, you can always buy chiles online from various sources, although it can get expensive fast. If you have a decent-sized garden and a good growing season, you can always grow your own.

You can cook this dish with other kinds of roasted green chiles that are more available to you — poblano, for example, with a few jalapeños to provide heat. It won’t have the same New Mexico flavor, but it’ll be good, and probably better than using the canned version of the genuine article.

Beyond the chiles themselves, the other ingredients are fairly flexible, so long as you fill the various roles necessary for the flavor of the dish. The roux is crucial to the texture of the finished dish, though I’ve seen recipes that use a masa harina thickener instead. The potatoes provide a flavor contrast to the intensity of the chiles; some folks add white beans at the end, but you can leave out potatoes/beans entirely if you want.

The meat and stock provide body to the dish. Here we use pork as the meat (which is traditional) but you could also use chicken or, I suppose, beef. To make this dish vegetarian you’d need a vegetable stock with some real depth and body, and beans or potatoes, or perhaps cooked hominy. In fact, the cooking water from hominy would make a good starter for a tasty vegetable stock.

You will notice that the quantity is rather large. This is a party-sized pot of chile. You could easily feed ten or twelve people, or more, depending on appetites and whether you accompany the chile with rice and black beans, or just serve corn tortillas. You can also cut the quantity in half.

Leftover green chile freezes well, and can be used as a sauce over other Mexican dishes such as enchiladas, burritos or sopes. Our favorite thing to do with leftover green chile is to smother a cheese omelet with it. Once you get hooked, the chiles themselves will start sneaking into all corners of your cooking. Of course, you can use them in recipes wherever you’d use jalapeños, chipotles, or poblanos. We also use them in waffles, scones, muffins, cornbread, bread, and last year we even made green chile ice cream, which was just beautiful — delicate and piquant.

Green Chile

This recipe needs at least two days to properly develop its flavor. I have outlined a three-day process below, which is how I often do it because each day’s task is kept fairly simple; I do “day one” at night, then pick up the recipe the next day. But the first two days of work can easily be combined into one day’s cooking. Most of the cooking time is spent simmering unattended, but you will need to check the heat and stir the chile to keep it from sticking to the pot, especially after you add the roux at the end. A slow-cooker would be ideal for the long simmering, provided it is large enough for the quantity you’re making.

ALWAYS WEAR GLOVES when you are working with hot chiles of any kind. No, washing your hands is not enough. Really. Ignore at your peril. I use dishwashing gloves to peel and seed these chiles.


2.5 lbs pork shoulder, country style ribs, or other good stewing cut, trimmed of sinew and hard fat and cut into 2–inch chunks
2.5 lbs peeled, seeded and chopped NuMex Joe Parker, Big Jim, or other mild chiles
8 oz peeled, seeded and chopped NuMex Sandia, Española, or other hotter chiles
1 onion, peeled and quartered
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup dry white wine or water

2 quarts chicken, pork, or vegetable stock, or a combination
1 tsp dried Mexican oregano (see note)

1 pound potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/2-inch dice
6 Tb butter
1/2 cup flour
2 tsp salt plus additional salt and pepper to taste
Chopped cilantro leaves, optional


Day One

Preheat oven to 375°F. Place the pork, onion, and garlic in a heavy roasting pan. Season with a little salt and pepper. Roast, turning once or twice, for 30-45 minutes or until pork is nicely browned and sizzling. Remove the contents of the roasting pan to a mixing bowl. Chop the onions and garlic into small pieces and return to bowl. Put the roasting pan on the stove over high heat and deglaze the pan with white wine or water, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan to collect all the browned bits. Pour the resulting liquid into the mixing bowl with the meat and onions.

Either place the contents of the mixing bowl into a container with a lid and refrigerate overnight, or continue with Day Two below.

Day Two

Place the meat, onions, garlic, and deglazing liquid from Day One into an 8-quart stockpot or slow cooker. Add all of the stock, the Mexican oregano, 2 teaspoons salt, and all of the green chiles except a pound or so of the mild chiles. Set aside the remaining chiles for Day Three.

Bring the contents of the pot to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer slowly, covered, for two to four hours. Check the chile now and then to ensure that it is just barely simmering, not sticking to the pot, and not reducing in volume too much.

Remove the pot from the heat, allow to cool slightly, and taste for seasoning. Adjust seasoning if necessary; cool completely, then place the entire pot, covered, in the refrigerator overnight.

Day Three

Remove the pot from the refrigerator. Scrape the fat from the top of the chile and discard. Put the pot on high heat and as soon as it is warm, remove the pork pieces and the onion pieces with a slotted spoon. (It may be easier to pour the contents of the pot through a colander into another pot, and pick the pork and onion pieces out of the colander.) Trim any excess fat from the pork and chop the meat into smaller, bite-size pieces. Return the meat to the pot. Add the chiles you reserved on Day Two, potatoes, and a big pinch of chopped cilantro. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, for two to three hours. Taste the chile now and then to ensure that it is well seasoned with salt and pepper; it should be rather salty and taste powerfully of the green chiles themselves.

A half-hour before serving, prepare a roux in a small saucepan or high-sided skillet. Heat the butter over medium heat until it melts, then whisk in the flour. Cook the flour in the butter for three minutes, whisking constantly and thoroughly, then add one cup of broth from the chile pot and whisk until completely mixed. Add another three cups or so of broth and mix completely. Then add the contents of the saucepan to the chile, and mix thoroughly to blend the thickened broth into the chile.

Cook for another 30 minutes or so. Taste for seasoning.

Serve in bowls with hot corn tortillas on the side. Garnish with additional chopped cilantro if you like.

Rice and black beans are a nice addition but entirely optional; the only essential accompaniment is the tortillas.


Mexican oregano is not an oregano at all; rather, it is a type of verbena. It is generally available dried; I have never seen it sold fresh. It can be hard to find. I ordered a rather large (3 oz) container from Angelina’s Gourmet via the internet, and I think I will be set for a couple years, or until the herb loses flavor. I have been trying to find a plant for a few years now, with no success.


 1. Presilla, Maricel E., “A World of Peppers,” Saveur 122, September 2009: 31.

 2. New Mexico State University Chile Pepper Institute, “The Story of Chile Peppers,” Further information on New Mexico-type chile cultivars is provided in another NMSU document, Research Report 763, available at

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Yes, we can

Blanch peel seed quarter

A couple Sundays ago (Sunday, September 13, to be precise), Holly and Anastasia and I got together with some of our friends and shared the work of processing and canning 130 pounds of gorgeous tomatoes.

Last year we started the tradition of an annual Tomato ExtravaCanza so that we could all put up enough tomatoes to last us until next summer. A few years ago, I was fine with canning a bunch of tomatoes and then filling in the blanks with Muir Glen when we ran out in the spring. But then we found out that Muir Glen is owned by General Mills, and, well, not to assume that all super-huge mega-corps are evil (well, why not?), but we thought we would try to put our money where it mattered — in this case, Oregon family farms. And there are plenty of small farms around Portland that are happy to sell as many tomatoes as we can blanch/peel/seed/hot-pack. It’s up to us to put up enough to last until next harvest season. We’ll see if we did it.

Setup and first batch in

We canned three varieties of tomatoes, all Roma or paste varieties, and I did a small batch of sauce from another variety later in the week. Some notes on the various types:

Roma (exact variety unknown), from Deep Roots. This was 100 of the 130 pounds we canned. They give a price break with the bulk and so we only paid .85 per pound. I don’t know the exact variety of these but they are a basic Roma. They were easy to peel and seed, and having eaten them all last winter I can testify to their fine flavor.

San Marzano, from Square Peg. We bought 30 pounds total from Square Peg, a mix of the San Marzano and the below-described Amish Paste. San Marzanos are one of my favorite canning tomatoes. They are a slender, shapely Roma type. They are very easy to work with, have good thick flesh, and taste great. They are a little smaller than the basic Roma, so there is a little more work involved but I think they are worth it.

Amish Paste, from Square Peg. These look like overweight Romas, wide and plump and heavy. I had high hopes for this type because of their size and heft, but they were a bear to work with. The skins didn’t come off very easily, and the core was big and woody. Most of these got pretty mauled in the peeling/seeding process. I didn’t get a taste of them, though I’m told they have a good flavor. But next year we’ll avoid them because of their poor workability.

Costoluto Genovese, from Square Peg. I got a few pounds of these beautiful tomatoes to try out. They are squat and deeply ridged, like a pimiento pepper, and it looked like they would be nothing but trouble to peel due to the ridges. I kept them aside to do separately at home, so that I could taste them as well as assess their workability. It turns out that they peel very easily, but like the Amish Paste, their cores present a problem in that they are large and hard to remove without a bit of a mess. I made a pint of tomato coulis, which was very good indeed, but working with this variety is too time-consuming for canning.

Just for the record (because last year we lost this data, so I am putting it everywhere I can think of), the 130 pounds of tomatoes yielded 94 pints, or about 1.4 pounds of tomatoes per pint. Holly and I are taking 28 of those pints for our pantry. Will it be enough? Only time will tell.

tomato prep

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Harvest season musings and a chile pickle

Chile pickle in the sun
Chiles pickling in the late summer sun

A lot has changed in our lives since we started this blog in 2004. For one thing, the term “urban homesteader” has become a lot more common. For another, we’re not really doing much in the way of urban homesteading, lately. At least not in the sense that we originally meant. We don’t have any land, or even a yard. Our gardening consists of several pots of herbs and a small plot full of sunchokes at a nearby, temporary community garden. We don’t keep any chickens, and this was our last year as managers of the Eastside Egg Co-op, so as of a few weeks ago, we don’t even share ownership or care of any poultry at this point.1

Yet somehow, as we hit the peak of the harvest season, we are still pleasantly overwhelmed with food processing and preserving. We’ve had a busy summer of work and family life, but we’ve managed to hit most of the high points of my canning and pickling goals.

I’ve put up some good fermented dill cucumber pickles twice this summer, concocting a technique that is a combination of Euell Gibbon’s classic dill crock method and my favorite spicy-sour fermented cucumber pickle recipe from the fabulous Quick Pickles book. The first batch was a mix of green beans and cucumbers in late July, which I brought to my friends Cora and Craig‘s wedding as part of their potluck meal. And in early September, my friend Laleña and I put together a second batch of dills, along with a tasty batch of cucumber kimchi.

Later that week, Holly and I got together with Holly’s mom, our friends Craig and Amy, and fellow pedal-powered parent/preserving friend Sarah Gilbert, and over the course of a perfectly overcast Sunday we canned 130 pounds of beautiful Roma-type tomatoes from Deep Roots and Square Peg farms.

Perhaps the most exciting harvest achievement for me this year is that I’ve managed to put together nearly a gallon of my favorite hot chile treatment, an Indian-style achaar, or oil-pickle, which is cured in the sunlight. This is a tricky pickle to pull off in the Pacific Northwest, where our relatively cool summers mean a late-summer hot-chile harvest that dovetails nicely with the rainy season. My preferred chile for the pickle is the serrano, and it takes some careful timing and a lot of luck to line everything up so that I can buy a couple of pounds of serranos at their peak, pack them in the oil and seasonings, and still have a good month of sunlight. If the pickle doesn’t get enough sunlight, it is still tasty, but the chiles have a raw taste, and gradually the pickle starts to ferment, taking on a fizzy acidity. This is not ruinous — I can still use the chiles for cooking — but the precious, elusive, and totally addictive full intense flavor of this pickle only happens when it’s received a good three or four weeks of bright, clear sunlight. (Once Holly and I made a batch in late fall, in Seattle, with serranos we bought in San Francisco over Thanksgiving. We finished the sun-curing on the dashboard of our car as we drove across the West to Colorado for the winter holidays. We had the perfectly-sunned pickle as a condiment for an unusual Indian-flavored Christmas breakfast at Dad’s house.)

I put together this year’s batch on August 30th. So far it’s been a few weeks of perfect achaar-aging weather, including some 90°F temps and lots of sun, and a taste of a representative chile chunk demonstrated that it is doing very well indeed.

Another trick to this pickle is the mustard oil. It’s a key ingredient, but it can be hard to find. We had to go all the way to Beaverton to find an Indian grocery well-stocked enough to fill our needs. (If you don’t have a similar shop nearby, you might ask at a local Indian restaurant.) Hunting down mustard oil is worth the effort: I’ve tried this recipe with canola oil and other mild oils and it doesn’t quite work. My guess is that it’s the high erucic acid content that gives mustard oil its intense flavor, and that the presence of the acid, or the preheating (or both!), helps to keep the pickle from going rancid.

It’s odd that mustard oil is so hard to find, since one of North America’s biggest crops is simply a form of mustard that has been cultivated for a milder taste and lower erucic acid content: Canola oil (which stands for Canadian oil, low acid). So, dear Canola farmer, maybe you could plant a few fields of ordinary mustard, and produce some domestic mustard oil? I’d buy a few quarts each year, and I’m sure all the Indian restaurants on the continent would be happy to buy it from you as well.

I promised this recipe to an old friend in Colorado when I was making it. Here it is, hopefully not too late, for Greg and anyone else who either has a sunny autumn and a southern-facing window, or wants to bookmark it for next year.

Hot Chiles Pickled in Oil

Adapted from Cyrus Todiwala’s Café Spice Namaste cookbook.


1 lb small hot chiles: serrano, jalapeno, or your preference, but they should be as hot as possible
1 pt mustard oil
2 tb coarse-grain mustard
2 tb salt
1 tsp turmeric powder
1/4 tsp asafoetida
1 head of garlic, cloves smashed and peeled
2 tb lemon juice


Rinse the chiles well, and let them dry on a towel in the sun. When they are completely dry, cut off the stalks and cut the chiles into 1/2-inch pieces.

Heat the mustard oil to the smoking point in a heavy pan or stockpot. Due to the strong odors it will release, this is best done outdoors on a camping stove or butane burner. When the oil begins to smoke, turn off the heat.

Keeping in mind that the oil in the pan is still extremely hot, season the oil with the garlic: Put the garlic into a long-handled metal strainer or tea ball. Lower the garlic into the oil and let it sizzle. Gently shake the strainer to keep the garlic from sticking together. When the garlic is slightly browned and fragrant, lift it out of the oil, and carefully shake the strainer to drain excess oil back into the pan. (You can discard the garlic at this point, or save it to use in a stir-fry, soup, or something else.)

Let the oil cool in the pan until it is about 100°F.

Put the chiles and the mustard, spices, and lemon juice into a large mixing bowl and combine well with a spatula. Add the oil and mix gently and thoroughly.

Transfer the mixture to a scalded canning jar. Fasten a bit of cheesecloth or a linen tea-towel over the top of the jar with a rubber band and let the pickle air out for a day or two. Then cap the jar and leave it on a windowsill in the sun. I usually allow the mixture to pickle in the sun for at least a month. If you have a sunny deck or porch, you can leave it outside to get more sunlight, but bring the jar in at night.

There should be plenty of oil to cover the chiles. The pickle will keep for months at room temperature, and indefinitely in the refrigerator (though in my experience, it never lasts “indefinitely”; we eat it too quickly for that). Wipe the rim of the jar after removing chiles, to keep the jar closure clean and free of oil.

This pickle is a classic condiment on curries or chili. Try mincing some of the chiles and adding them to a blue cheese dressing or tuna salad. I sometimes use the pickle as an emergency chile supply for cooking.

The chiles also make a nice canapé, served on a tortilla chip atop a thin slice of sharp cheddar.

The leftover mustard oil can be used for cooking or seasoning.

This recipe can be multiplied with success.

 1. For the purposes of actually finishing this post, I am leaving a lot out of this paragraph: moved to Portland, had a baby, etc, etc. Gotta focus!

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Nettle soup: The taste of spring

Nettle soup

I’ve recently decided that spring is my favorite season for food. There’s something so exciting and delicious about all of the greens and sprouts and shoots that arrive with the last of the rains. Everything has an earthy flavor along with a mild vegetal sweetness; a lovely balance to take us out of the deeper flavors of winter.

Nettles are an emblematic spring food. The plants continue to grow through the summer, but the best time to cook with them is in spring, when the tender young shoots have just sprouted from the root network.

The foragers among you have your secret spots; I prefer to gather mine at the farmers market, from the Springwater Farm table, where they also sell piles and piles of beautiful mushrooms (a few of which make an appearance in the following recipe).

This recipe is adapted from the one provided by Springwater Farm.


1 lb potatoes, diced into 1/2″ cubes
1/2 lb young nettles
1/2 lb mushrooms, a combination of shiitake, crimini, and maitake if possible, cleaned, shiitakes stemmed, and chopped
2-4 tb butter
1 qt chicken or vegetable stock
1 tsp salt, plus more and pepper to taste
1/4 c crème fraîche or sour cream, plus more for serving


Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 10 min. Put the chicken stock on to heat to a simmer.

Wearing gloves, put the nettles in a large bowl or pot. Drain the potatoes, pouring the water over the nettles to wilt them (this renders the nettles stingless).

Drain the nettles and chop roughly.

Melt 2 tb butter in the soup pot, add the nettles and stew gently for a few minutes. If the mixture gets dry, add a little chicken stock.

Add the potatoes and stock to the soup pot, bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Puree the soup, either in batches in a blender, or using an immersion blender stick. Return pureed soup to the pot and taste for seasoning; start with a tsp of salt and add pepper and more salt as desired to bring up the flavors.

While the soup is simmering, put the mushrooms, 2 tb butter, and a pinch of salt into a saucepan and cook, covered, over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until the mushrooms are tender.

Add the mushrooms and crème fraîche to the soup, reserving a few mushrooms for garnish if you like.

Serve the soup in bowls, drizzled with additional crème fraîche and topped with the reserved mushrooms.

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A Changing of the Guard

Bye Bye, Birdie

When our egg co-op got its start in 2007, we were able to jump-start egg production by buying a flock of 10-month-old hens. They were fully in to their peak laying period, and their delicious eggs, available to the first shift of volunteers the morning after we got them, certainly made for a sense of immediate gratification. We knew, however, that buying full-grown hens would not be a sustainable method of flock replenishment, nor were we planning to keep hens past their laying prime. We would need, sooner or later, to come up with a flock rotation method.

Rotating a flock involves two steps: Acquiring new birds, and getting rid of the old birds. As of December 7, we have one working method for each step.

Acquiring new birds

Eastside Egg: The new generation

After much debate, the co-op decided that the best way to get new birds on to the farm was to raise our own chicks from day-old birds from a hatchery. We would have co-op members raise the chicks in batches in their own homes, for the first six to eight weeks while the chicks are still very fragile beings. After the chicks got their feathers, we would move them to the farm into a pullet house, where they would spend their days until they were old enough to lay (around six months of age). At that time they would be integrated into the main laying flock.

In early October we held a chick-care training workshop with the families who had volunteered to be chick tenders. At that workshop we distributed feeders, waterers, bedding and chick starter feed to all the chick tenders. The volunteers all generously agreed to provide their own chick housing and heat lamps.

In late October, we were the excited postal recipients of a box of fifty peeping chicks.

Over the course of a rather thrilling day, all of the volunteer families came to our house and took home their batches of chicks. We had eight families volunteer for chick care, with each family taking from six to ten birds.

During the month of November, while the chicks ate and grew, a few of us engaged in some fevered chick-house construction. The weather was too unpredictable to plan any formal work parties, but when we saw a good weekend, we grabbed it.

Chick House building

With the help of Craig and Amy Clark and Craig Giffen, we hammered together the basic structure while enjoying some fall sunshine. We improvised a design around the structure afforded by a piece of cattle fencing, which we manipulated to form a kind of hoop house. Around this form we added a wooden exoskeleton and a skin of tarping and hardware cloth.

Chick house frame
Hoop house of cattle fencing, framed by wood.

We had initially planned on the chicks staying with the chick tenders until they were around 8 weeks old, but we were getting regular calls from folks noting that the chicks were getting too big to keep in their basements and garages. We knew we needed to wrap up the pullet house, and get the chicks on the farm.

We set a date for final construction and chick delivery on December 7. In an example of perfect timing, in early December we got a chance to buy a passel of young hens, who had just started to lay. This was an opportunity to get some fresh layers into the rotation; in effect, it was like doing the whole chick-raising thing back in April. But in order to take delivery of twenty new hens, we had to figure out how to get rid of some of our older hens — and a little sooner than we’d anticipated.

Getting rid of the old birds

The traditional thing to do with spent laying hens is to slaughter and butcher them for the stewpot. We asked our co-op members if they would like to learn how to do this, and if they thought this was an appropriate final destination for our birds. The answer to both questions was a resounding “yes.”

Our flagship flock of forty hens will be fully replaced by new birds by the time we launch into our third year on Summer Solstice, 2009. We will butcher some of them ourselves, and we will teach our co-op members the ways of this crucial practice. Eventually, as our expertise and facility allows, we will offer classes on home poultry butchering to the general public.

But for now, we needed to get rid of some older hens quickly. I had heard of a nearby family who was interested in buying old hens to butcher and sell as stewing hens. Over the course of a day of phone calls we managed to contact the family and make arrangements for them to pick up some of our old layers. We also contacted the farmer who had the laying hens to sell, and arranged for the delivery of them. We timed it all to happen on the same day that we would have the volunteers bring the chicks out to the farm — and kept our fingers crossed.

The big day

The big day arrived — rainy, of course! We had everything slotted for a four hour window, and weren’t really sure how it would all fit, but we got out there early to wrap up the construction on the pullet house and were joined over the next couple of hours by one household of chick tenders after another.

The coop had some construction to complete, including the door and securing the tarp. We got most of the sawing and drilling done before the rain started in earnest.

Finishing up

Two folks from the local butcher operation came by and picked up 20 of our older hens. A group of volunteers peeled off to help catch chickens in the field and load them into the truck.

Pretty soon after that, the young layers arrived, and we carted them out to the field in the transport cage and set them loose in their new home. At this point, the feathers were truly flying.

New birds

We were happy that a lot of the families raising chicks had brought their kids, to help see their pullets in to their new home. They had a great time running around between the chickens in the field, the barn and the pullet house, and helped out by tagging all of the new pullets with leg rings to help identify them when they are integrated in to the larger flock.

Poulet Chalet inspectors
Chick house inspection

We moved the coop into position next to the barn, and a couple of volunteers raced to put in the roost bars, while others got bedding, feed and water into place. By this time, it was really raining, and we called everyone together and started piling bin after bin of pullets into their now cozy new home. After all had had a chance to peek in and assure ourselves that the pullets were happily eating, drinking, scratching and exploring, we wrapped up the work and repaired to the farmhouse for a post-chick-raising feedback meeting and some pizza.

The Poulet Chalet
The poulet chalet

It’s now nearly a month later. The chicks are growing up quickly and we’re now focused on getting their fencing procured and set up, so that we can have them out and about during the day, just like the layers. Thanks to the diligence and dedication of our volunteers and the folks at Zenger, all of the chickens, and all of us, survived Snowpocalypse 2008. We learned a few things from that time of crisis, and will be making some preparations for next time.

2009 looks like a good year for our co-op. We plan to further fine-tune our efforts, continue maintain a healthy and productive flock, and explore ways to utilize the co-op as a platform for education and urban-agriculture advocacy.

Happy new year to you and yours, and see you around the farm.


Patrick and Holly

Posted in Eastside Egg. | 3 Comments