Thursday, August 26, 2010

Gail Damerow: Local Eggs Are Safe Eggs

In the face of the recent massive recall of salmonella-tainted eggs, backyard chicken keepers are asking whether it’s safe to eat eggs from their own hens. Let’s look at the facts.

Evidence suggests that 75 percent of all chickens are infected with one or more kinds of salmonella bacteria at some time in their lives. But no one says how the survey was conducted or what chickens were included. It’s a pretty good bet that backyard layers were not in the study group.

Salmonella can create a serious problem for egg producers because chickens that seem perfectly healthy are often carriers. An outbreak can be triggered at any time by stress due to crowding, molting, feed deprivation, drug treatment, or simply being transported.

The disease spreads to healthy chickens that come into contact with infected chickens or other infected animals (including humans). It spreads by means of contaminated droppings in litter, drinking water, and damp soil around waterers. It is spread mechanically by flies, rodents, wild birds, used equipment, shoes, truck tires, and the like. Salmonella may also be present in rations containing contaminated meat by-products.

Back in the old days, the bacteria typically got into an egg through a shell that was contaminated by chicken droppings. Bacteria on an eggshell penetrate the shell and multiply within the egg.

With the advent of industrialized egg production, eggs are more typically contaminated by bacteria in a hen’s ovaries. Why or how that came about, no one is really certain, but these days contamination within an industrially produced egg most likely occurred as the egg was being formed in the body of an infected hen.

Can backyard hens carry salmonella? Certainly.

Are eggs from backyard hens likely to make you sick? Probably not.

For one thing, industrialized hens are overcrowded and overstressed, leading to reduced resistance to disease. Presumably your backyard hens have room to roam, are maintained in a cleaner environment, are handled gently, and in general live relatively stress-free lives.

Another big factor in the recent recall is that the eggs involved were packaged and repackaged by different distributors under different brand names. Centralized food production has many problems, including more handling of food, longer travel times, and the possibility of inconsistent refrigeration. All of this gives any salmonella that might be present in an egg plenty of time to proliferate.

Eggs from your backyard typically go directly from a clean nest into either the frying pan or the fridge. When you produce your own food, you have a pretty good incentive to make sure it’s handled safely.

And finally, all of the hens involved in the egg recall came from the same source. And all of the rations they were fed came from the same source. Whether the hens were contaminated, or the feed was contaminated, or both, has yet to be determined. But it’s safe to say that neither hens nor rations from that source will find their way to any backyard flocks.

Industrial producers have, on the one hand, long maintained that eggs infected with salmonella are rare. On the other hand, they hedge their bets by advising that to be on the safe side all eggs and egg dishes should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. If you remain concerned, despite the minimal risk that your homegrown eggs are contaminated with salmonella, heating your eggs to 160 degrees Fahrenheit will eliminate all possibility of danger.

Gail Damerow is the author of Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, The Chicken Health Handbook, Draft Horses and Mules, Fences for Pasture and Garden, The Perfect Pumpkin, Your Goats, and Your Chickens for Storey Publishing. She is a regular contributor to Backyard Poultry magazine and former editor of Rural Heritage magazine. Her work has appeared in more than 40 other publications, including Acres USA, Back Home, Dairy Goat Journal, Mother Earth News, and Small Farm Today. She and her husband operate a family farm in Tennessee where they raise chickens, guinea fowl, turkeys, rabbits, and dairy goats.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

It's Been a Long, Hot Summer

We recently got a call at home telling us that our city is enacting water restrictions because of the lack of rainfall this summer. No irrigation systems for lawns and gardens; no hosing down driveways, cars, or home exteriors; and hand-held hose watering is confined to 5:00 p.m. or later. Our lawn is brown and crunchy, and we've restricted our son to only watering the transplanted hydroponics with a teaspoon under the light of the moon. Oddly enough, commercial car washes are good to go. My husband and I are bonding over a daily reporting of which neighbors are breaking the rules and letting their sprinkler systems water the lawn (we sneer at them righteously).

It did make me think about climates where this kind of restriction is the norm, and I remembered a book I worked on when I first came to Storey, Gwen Kelaidis's lovely Hardy Succulents. Although this is really a book about how to grow succulents even in a damp zone, succulents somehow seem more at home when it's dry and warm. Succulents are defined as plants that hold water in their tissues, and Gwen calls them "thick, turgid, and fleshy," which sounds unbearably dirty but accurate. Many can live for months without rainfall, and most can thrive in colder climates as well.

While a lawn made of succulents might not be the best solution for western Massachusetts, I can't help but think that walking outside to get the paper and looking at this every morning might just make up for a lawn that crunches underfoot:

From page 65 of Hardy Succulents: Leaf shape is almost the only hint that the cultivar ‘Tricolor’ is also a Sedum spurium. It shows more pink in early spring and in late autumn; the summer’s heat turns the foliage to green and white.

Water responsibly, and enjoy these last fleeting days of summer.

— Amy Greeman, Publicity Director

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Win a Free Copy of Woodland Style! is giving away a copy of our newly released book Woodland Style by Marlene Hurley Marshall. Their review calls the book "delicious" and "chock full of fabulous ideas for your home using responsibly collected bits of nature."

"Photographer Sabine Vollmer von Falken captures the combination of nature’s beauty and Marlene’s creative talent and turns them into pure eye candy. The photographs in this book are breathtaking and show us projects as simple as an acorn wreath and as unusual as a moss covered garden table," they write.

Click here to browse through some pages from Woodland Style.
Click here to enter CraftGossip's book give-away (now through August 31)!

Heather Smith Thomas: Notes from Sky Range Ranch – An Exceptional Family Milk Cow – Part One

When my husband, Lynn, and I were married in March 1966, we dreamed about having a cattle ranch, since we’d both grown up on ranches. Our first goal and challenge was to get a start toward that dream. At that time, the easiest way for a young person to borrow money to get started in agriculture was to go into dairying. At the time we got married, Lynn had already put together a herd of dairy cows and was leasing a small farm near Gooding, in southeastern Idaho--the heart of dairy country in Idaho. So after our wedding we went “home” to that farm to milk the cows. You can’t explain a honeymoon to a cow, so that was our honeymoon—taking care of and milking the cows.

Soon after we were married, we purchased two springer (ready to calve) Holstein heifers from a well-known dairyman in that area who raised exceptionally good milk cows. One of these 2-year-old heifers was solid black except for her feet, her udder, and a white star in her forehead. She was a very smart, gentle individual; Lynn began calling her “Baby Doll,” and the name stuck. The other heifer was black and white. She was nervous, hot-headed, flighty, and insecure, and she wasn’t very manageable unless she was with her buddy. She was Baby Doll’s “friend,” so her name became Friend.

Baby Doll at 6 years old, a few years after we moved to our ranch

Both heifers calved within a few weeks after we bought them. Baby Doll became part of the milking herd. Friend, who was more nervous and difficult to train to the milking machine, but also very maternal and motherly--loving every baby calf she saw--simply raised both of their calves that summer.

In the fall, when we dispersed our dairy herd and moved back to our hometown of Salmon, Idaho, to start leasing/buying a cattle ranch near my parents’ ranch, we brought Baby Doll and Friend with us. Baby Doll had become our favorite young cow, and we wanted to keep her as our family milk cow. Friend’s career in life seem best suited to raising extra calves. Every summer after that, Friend raised four calves—her own and Baby Doll’s, plus a couple of purchased calves or orphans from our beef herd.

Calves being led from their pasture to the barn to nurse Friend for their morning milk

There was an old milk barn on the ranch with several stanchions, and we made a pen nearby for the extra calves. Morning and evenings, we brought the two cows to the barn from their pasture and let the “barn calves” in to nurse Friend while one of us milked Baby Doll. She gave more milk than our family could use, so for many years we had a neighborhood dairy service, delivering milk in gallon bottles to a few families nearby.

Baby Doll was trusting and gentle, and our kids grew up helping take care of the barn calves and learning to milk Baby Doll. Our son Michael was out in the barn even before he could walk. Probably the first time he “helped” do chores was when my younger sister was babysitting him while Lynn and I were riding range, moving cattle. It turned out to be an all-day job, and we were late getting home. When it got past chore time, my sister took baby Michael out to the barn with her in his backpack carrier and hung him on a nail on the log wall—safely out of the way—while she let the cows and calves into the barn. From his birds-eye view, he enjoyed watching her milk Baby Doll and seeing the four calves nursing Friend.

When Michael got older, he and his little sister Andrea often did the barn chores themselves, doing the milking and supervising the barn calves. For several years we had two nurse cows—Friend and Seven (a young cow with a perfect 7 as her face marking)—and they each raised extra calves. Our kids didn’t mind doing the barn chores, and years later they confessed to us that they often played “rodeo” and took turns riding the barn calves as they let them back out to their pasture.

Seven as a yearling heifer. We brought her as a calf when we moved from the dairy farm to our cattle ranch, and she grew up to be a nurse cow to raise extra calves.

With the needs of our animals taking precedence in our lives, we rarely went anywhere that would keep us gone for more than the time between morning and evening chores. So in 1973 when we all went to Hamilton, Montana, for a 2-day competitive trail ride (with Lynn as “pit crew” for me and my horse, and my parents coming along to help take care of our young children), we had some friends do our chores—feeding the horses and doing the milking. We explained the barn procedure in detail, how much grain to give the cows when they came in to be locked in their stanchions, and about milking Baby Doll and letting the calves into the barn to nurse Friend.

Friend and Seven eating their grain in the barn while feeding the extra babies

When we got back, our friends said that everything went well, but they mentioned that the milk cow had been nervous. After closer questioning, we discovered that they’d gotten the cows mixed up; they’d allowed the boisterous barn calves to nurse Baby Doll and had milked Friend—who hadn’t been milked in her entire life! We were amazed that she hadn’t kicked our friend’s head off, and he was very proud to find out that he’d gotten the job done and survived, milking the “killer cow.” Perhaps she’d tolerated him because he matter-of-factly and innocently went about it, assuming she was the gentle milk cow.

Lynn milking 18-year-old Baby Doll out in the barnyard

In later years when we no longer had Friend, we didn’t bother bringing Baby Doll to the barn at chore time, since we could milk her anywhere--out in a pasture or barnyard or wherever she happened to be grazing. We left her grain tub and milk stool out there, and simply carried the milk bucket and a coffee can full of grain out to the pasture to milk her. She was always very cooperative, trusting us completely. She was the perfect family milk cow.

Heather Smith Thomas raises horses and cattle on her family ranch in Salmon, Idaho. She writes for numerous horse magazines and is the author of several books on horses and cattle farming, including Storey’s Guide to Raising Horses, Storey's Guide to Training Horses, Stable Smarts, The Horse Conformation Handbook, Your Calf, Getting Started with Beef and Dairy Cattle, Storey's Guide to Raising Beef Cattle, Essential Guide to Calving, and The Cattle Health Handbook. You can read all her Notes from Sky Range Ranch posts here.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Nature Sighting

On my way to the Pittsfield State Forest on Saturday I saw this adorable fawn prancing around. This young deer was leaping, twitching his/her tail, and munching on grass in the roadside meadow.

— Kristy L. Rustay, Marketing Manager

Friday, August 20, 2010

Sue Weaver: The Long, Hot Summer

Another hot, red sun sets as viewed from our ridge

Ozark natives are quick to tell sweltering newcomers that summer’s hottest temperatures take place during the last two weeks in July and the first two in August—the rest of the summer is a piece of cake.

Not so. Summer--real, shirt-soaking, stifling Ozark summer--started in early June this year and still has us in its clutches.

Our first taste of what was to come occurred on Sunday, June 13, when the thermometer registered 100.5 F (with 93% humidity to make things nastier still). Mid-afternoon, the sheep were panting like freight trains. Even the goats were badly stressed, and it takes a lot to make a Boer pant. I was in the kitchen throwing together a bloat drench for my extremely heat-stressed ewe, Baatiste, when John came in to say that she was gone, leaving her not-quite five-week-old lamb alone in this world.

Baatiste just before shearing in April

We penned the lamb (Sam, the little white ram who was born on my birthday) in an airy pen with Cordelia, the tamest of the lambs from Ohio, and then moved the fan we’d trained on Baatiste up to cool her son and his friend.

Next morning, after Sam had time to work up an appetite, we began teach him to drink lamb milk replacer from a bottle (Bon Bon couldn’t make enough milk for her three kids as well as Sam). Fact: It’s almost impossible to bottle-train older, dam-raised lambs and kids. They recognize the real thing, and that’s all they want. Fortunately, John has a knack for cajoling bottle babies to nurse (we don’t call him The Lamb Whisperer for nothing) and after a few false starts, Sam complied.

Sam is thriving on his milk replacer diet.

But that was only the tip of the iceberg. It got hotter and hotter and hotter every day. One especially agonizing day two weeks ago, it was 112 F with a 126 heat index!

The animals, mercifully, adapted. So did we—after a fashion.

These days my day begins at 5:30 a.m. when John gets up for work. I feed the animals and milk my goat, then hurry the sheep and goats out to pasture because they have to be back in by noon to loll in the shade and pant. Then, at two-hour intervals throughout the day, I dump water containers (the liquid they hold is hot—not warm, hot—by then) and re-fill them with cool water. We have a lot of water containers. This does not make for a productive writing day.

And, we’re under drought conditions, with a county-wide burning ban and crispy grass in area pastures--wherever grass remains.

But we're not alone. The news is full of the Russian heat wave (the worst in recorded history) and wildfires. Approximately 24.7 million acres had already burned by August 10, and hundreds of fires are still raging out of control, mostly near Moscow and eastern Siberia but including the region where the Kostroma Moose Farm is located. Was it imperiled? I wanted to know. So I emailed Dr. Minaev at the email address listed on the moose farm Web site. Less than a day later, I had this reply:

“Dear Sue Weaver!

Thank you for good words!

The farm is ok though it has some problems with moose foraging because of an extremely dry summer. No fires around the farm occurred up to date. But I live in Moscow, work in the Institute of Ecology and Evolution and have more problems with fires in Bryansk and Rasan' regions. For instance, I have another place to worry about:
MODIS shows new fires in the heart of the Oksky biosphere natural reserve — near the Kalnoye Lake (54°44.9'N, 40°43.2E) A number of new fires also appeared this morning near the border of the reserve at 54°49.2N, 40°40.1E. I am afraid these are incendiary fires because they appeared this morning at the same time.

Alexander Minaev

So it could be worse. At least we’re not besieged by fire. But I’m ready for fall to arrive this year, and so are my animal friends. Yesterday’s high was 92 degrees; we all agreed it felt downright balmy.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Berkshires in The New York Times

Photo: Jennifer May for The New York Times

Our beautiful region and the bounty of locally grown food available here were enthusiastically touted in a New York Times article yesterday ("In the Berkshires, Dinner's Not Far Away").

Mark Vanhoenacker, author of the piece, writes "It's hard to dismiss the current locavore boom in the Berkshires as mere fashion. In fact, the national enthusiasm for eating farm-to-table has roots in western Massachusetts. The nation’s first agricultural fair was held in Berkshire County in the early 19th century, and in 1986, when the country’s first two community-supported agriculture farms were established, one was in the southern Berkshires."

Such farms, which offer a share of their harvest in exchange for a seasonal financial commitment, are now a mainstay of the farm-to-table movement. But it’s no surprise that the idea found such fertile ground in the Berkshires, said Barbara Zheutlin, director of Berkshire Grown, an organization dedicated to the region’s agriculture. Her group is another legacy of the vibrant, community-oriented food activism that was well under way by the mid-1980s."

Read the full article here.

Babysitting a Herd

While our friends are vacationing in Maine this week, my boyfriend and I have been babysitting their herd of 13 Highland cattle--keeping the pasture spring running; refilling the water troughs; hauling hay; and making sure all 12 cows (and one giant, black bull) are still securely in the field and not traipsing along the road or feasting in the neighbor's apple orchard.

My knowledge of livestock is limited, to say the least, but one doesn't have to be a farmer to appreciate the simple pleasure of standing in a field at sunset while animals gather and sigh and munch with unadulterated appreciation for hay you've wrestled over to their favorite dining spot.

Having cute babies around doesn't hurt either. This fuzzy gray calf wasn't ready for hay last week, but last night I watched him carefully pick up a strand or two and ruminate a while.

According to Storey's Illustrated Guide to Sheep, Goats, Cattle and Pigs, the Highland is a very old breed of cattle; some historians consider it to be the oldest and purest British breed. Developed on the rugged, treeless mountains of the Scottish Highlands, the breed is known for its hardiness, thriftiness, and of course its beautiful curly locks, a heavy hair coat that helps protect it from both the elements and insects. As a result of this long, warm coat, Highlands put on less fat then other breeds, making the meat they're raised for extremely lean.

As a vegetarian, I guess I'd make a very impractical livestock farmer. Getting to babysit a herd, on the other hand, gives me a little glimpse of the romance involved in living closer to the land.

The Pasture
I'm going out to clean the pasture spring;
I'll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I shan't be gone long. You come too.

I'm going out to fetch the little calf
That's standing by the mother. It's so young,
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I shan't be gone long. You come too.

— Robert Frost

— Melanie Jolicoeur, Associate Director of Marketing

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Nature Detectives Wanted!

Back in March when spring was still teasing us, we at Storey filmed our very first book trailer with the help of TurnHere video; author, naturalist, and artist Clare Walker Leslie; and a group of enthusiastic nature detectives ready and willing to brave mud and drizzle in search of nature outside their classroom.

The Nature Connection is an interactive workbook filled with dozens of fun things for kids to do in every season: write a poem; make a sketch; tell a story; record daily sunrise and sunset times for a month; draw a local map and mark the locations of trees, rocks, animals, and other sights; keep a moon journal; learn about the constellations; or collect leaves and bring them home to sketch and identify.

Look for it at your favorite bookstore!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Bloom Day, August 2010

We missed bloom day yesterday. In celebration of a missed bloom day (and lack of planning to get others involved), I took some pics of flowers in my yard this morning.

I am more of a vegetable gardener than a flower gardener, and I don't think I know the names of any of these flowers. Please help me identify them.

What's blooming in your yard?

Cosmos in the vegetable garden

and a vase full of sunflowers at Melanie's house. Happy Belated Bloom Day!

Canning with Granny Shirley

Kelly Bowen, Senior Publicist at Algonquin Books, one of Storey's sister publishers, gave canning peaches a try — with help from her Granny, of course. If your Granny isn't available for canning consultations, you can learn yourself by using Storey's book Put 'em Up!.

Read Kelly's post on Algonquin's blog — she includes a fabulous dinner recipe to use up some of your canned peaches: Bourbon-Laced Tipsy Chicken with Peaches. I think I'm going to have to give this one a try!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Sue Weaver: The History of Goat Cheese

Swiss girls milk a goat circa 1908

Ten thousand years ago, before any other livestock species had been tamed, villagers at Ganj Dareh high in the Zagros Mountains of what is now Iran made a pact with wild goats. They would tame, feed, and protect the goats; in exchange, the goats would provide their human caretakers with meat, milk, hides, hair, horn, bones, sinew, and dung for fuel. It’s been a marriage made in heaven ever since.

Soon after, also in the Middle East, humans domesticated sheep. With animals to carry their packs, fiber to fashion warm clothing, and a walking food supply, Stone Age man and woman set out to populate the world.

Humans have been domesticating and raising goats for dairy for
thousands of years.
Storey's Guide to Raising Dairy Goats, 4th Edition is
due out this Fall. This book has all the information you need to raise
goats and produce, market, and sell their milk and cheese.

For ancient races, goats and sheep were life. Bride prices and dowries were paid in goats and sheep. Lambs and kids were sacrifices to the people’s gods. In some cases goats were the people’s gods, or their gods had goaty attributes, such as goats’ legs and horns. Wealth was reckoned in sheep and goats — sometimes hundreds and thousands of sheep and goats.

Milk byproducts found in Stone Age pottery from Turkey indicate that processed milk — cheese — was consumed as early as 6500 B.C., thousands of years before adult humans evolved the ability to digest raw, fluid milk. Similar residues were unearthed at British archaeological digs dating to 4500 B.C.

According to Greek myth, the pastoral god Aristaeus invented goat cheese. Greek historian Xenophon, born in 349 B.C., wrote about goat’s cheese that had been eaten for centuries in Peloponnesus. In The Odyssey, Homer writes of the Cyclops, Polyphemus, crafting sheep and goat cheese: “We soon reached his cave, but he was out shepherding, so we went inside and took stock of all that we could see. His cheese-racks were loaded with cheeses, and he had more lambs and kids than his pens could hold... he sat down and milked his ewes and goats, all in due course, and then let each of them have her own young. He curdled half the milk and set it aside in wicker strainers.”

Maltese boy milks goat circa 1910

Goats have long been called the poor man’s cow because they are browsers, not grazers, and they survive, even thrive, on rough land that couldn’t support the hardiest cow. Because of this and the ease of crafting basic goat cheeses, goat cheese has long been considered peasant’s fare.

The Moors brought goats to the Loire Valley and Poitou in the 8th century A.D., where scores of French goat cheeses, chรจvres, evolved. Catalans in Spain developed matรณ made with milk from goats or cows. The Greeks created feta, mizithra, and anthotyros cheeses made from a blend of goat and ewe milk. Italy has caparino of many kinds. Brunost (brown cheese) from Norway is made of goat’s milk. Pant-ysgawn and gevrick are Welsh and Cornish goat-milk cheeses. But goat cheese isn’t peasant fare any longer. A delicately spicy Dutch goat cheese, Bettine Grand Cru, was chosen Best Cheese of the World out of 2140 contestants in the 2006 Nantwich International Cheese Show in England. Le Cendrillon, a soft-ripening, ash-covered goat cheese from Quebec beat nearly 2,500 cheeses from 34 countries to win the grand prize at the International Cheese Awards festival last year. Everyone is eating goat cheese. You should try it too.

A French goat girl with a favorite goat

To learn about raising your own goats for milk and cheese, see Storey's Guide to Raising Dairy Goats. And, if you are interested in making goat cheese from your own goat's milk or from purchased goat's milk, Storey's books The Home Creamery and Home Cheese Making have wonderful (and easy) recipes. Additionally, many of our cookbooks have recipes using goat cheese. See Tuesday's post Roasted Eggplant with Goat Cheese, for a goat cheese recipe from Dishing Up Maryland.

Sue Weaver sold her first freelance article in 1969. Since then her work has appeared in major horse periodicals, including The Western Horseman, Horse Illustrated, Chronicle of the Horse, Flying Changes, Horseman’s Market, Arabian Horse Times, The Appaloosa News, The Quarter Horse Journal, Horse’N Around, and The Brayer. She has written, among other books, Storey’s Guide to Raising Miniature Livestock, The Donkey Companion, and Get Your Goat! to be published in 2010. Sue is based in the southern Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Gene Spaziani: Wine Blending Suggestions

I am convinced that in many cases blending wine enhances it. By blending you are adding additional flavors to the primary wine. Traditional European winemakers have been blending wine for centuries, and now winemakers in the USA are finally discovering the many advantages of blending. And there are no limits (usually), as the only restrictions are the ones we place on ourselves. The Australians have shown us many blending partners that we never would have considered: e.g., Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz; Semillon and Chardonnay; Shiraz and Merlot. All have been successful and helped to create new and delightful wines.

Some blending I’ve done in recent years includes Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, in two forms. In the first form Chardonnay is the primary wine (at 65 to 70 percent) and Pinot Grigio (at 30 to 35 percent) is the secondary wine. This wine I call Chargrigio. Then I take the 65 to 70 percent of Pinot Grigio and blend it with the 30 to 35 percent of the Chardonnay, and we have a wine called Grigonnay.

I’ve done that with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc; Chardonnay and Riesling; Chenin Blanc and French Columbard; Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc; Gewรผrztraminer and Riesling and a wine that won a gold medal in Connecticut’s Annual Amateur Wine Competition — a blend of Muscat and Riesling that we called Muscaling.

The blending of red wines can be just as much fun, with positive results. Another one of my blends that won a medal recently was a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. It was about 60 percent Syrah and 20 percent each of the two Cabernets. The wine was called Syrahbernet.

Every year for the past 35 years or so, I have been blending several red wines into a wine I call Viniferoni for Macaroni. And I use a very scientific procedure in making this always very popular wine. I blend whatever I have left from my red batches into one batch, and sometimes I even put in some leftover white wines I might have hanging around. As long as the wines are sound, you will most likely get positive results and a wide range of different flavors. I make this wine in honor of my grandfather, Igino Spaziani, who encouraged me to become a winemaker.

You can also make pink or blush wines by adding a bottle or two of a spicy Zinfandel or Merlot to 5 gallons of French Columbard, Chenin Blanc, or other white wines. Considering that 20 percent of all wines sold in this country are pink wines, according to the Wine Business Monthly, a highly respected California publication, you might like having some in your cellar.

Have you ever made a blend of wine at home? Or a favorite blend you enjoy drinking? We'd love to hear our readers' top blended-wine picks!

Gene Spaziani is the author of The Home Winemaker’s Companion by Storey Publishing, a retired college educator, and an award-winning home winemaker who lives in Mystic, Connecticut. He can be reached by e-mail at

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Jeff Cox: Wine by the Numbers

Contemplating growing some grapes and making some wine? Have I got a book for you! From Vines to Wines has become the standard work on how to do it at home. But before you start reading how to do it, you need to do some figuring.

Let’s say you have an acre you’d like to devote to grapes. If you have only half an acre, just divide these figures in half, and if you want to put in just a quarter acre, divide by four. But for the sake of convenience, let’s see what you get with an acre.

Modern vine concentrations are about a thousand vines per acre. There are a little over 40,000 square feet in an acre, so each vine gets about 4 square feet. You could set up your acre of vines so you have 25 rows 8 feet apart, with 40 vines spaced 5 feet apart in the rows.

Now, you can figure that a healthy vineyard will produce about 5 tons of grapes an acre, or 10 pounds of grapes per vine. That’s fairly heavy cropping. You could reduce the number of vines, or you could cut off grape clusters as they form if you want to curtail production, but 5 tons per acre from vigorous vines where summer rain is common is a standard figure.

To learn about growing grapes in your backyard,
the types of grapes that grow best in your region,
and how to best calculate the size vineyard for your needs,
check out
The Backyard Homestead.

Five tons of grapes is a lot of fruit. The wine will fill 13.5 sixty-gallon barrels. But again, reducing the vineyard to half an acre will make enough wine to fill just seven barrels. That’s a lot of wine. If you only plant a quarter acre, you can put your wine in three wooden barrels and a bunch of 5-gallon glass carboys. Still a lot.

One 60-gallon barrel will yield 24.6 cases of wine. That may be all you’d need or want, in which case your vineyard could be as small as 74 vines. That’s how many vines I planted in my Pennsylvania vineyard, and I was swimming in wine. Another way to figure out how many vines to plant for your needs is to note that 30 pounds of grapes — the yield from three vines — will result in one case (12 bottles) of wine. Put still another way, one bottle of wine comes from just under 2-1/2 pounds of grapes.

If you make just one barrel of wine each year, your 24.6 cases will give you 295 bottles of wine — that’s 1,180 glasses, enough for three a day. If you go the full 5-ton route, you’ll end up with 332 cases a year. Better have a temperature-controlled warehouse ready, because in a few years you’ll have over a thousand cases of wine. Just sayin’.

Jeff Cox, author of From Vines to Wines

Jeff Cox is the author of 17 books on food, wine, and gardening. He's been the host of two television series, Your Organic Garden on PBS and Grow It! on HGTV. He's a contributing editor to The Art of Eating and The Wine News magazines and is a frequent contributor to Decanter, an English wine magazine. Jeff is a member of the James Beard Foundation and a regional judge for the organization's culinary awards and in the past has been the managing editor of Organic Gardening magazine, a weekly columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, and director of electronic publishing for Rodale Press. He lives in Kenwood, California.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Roasted Eggplant with Goat Cheese

To help celebrate our wine & cheese week at Inside Storey here's a simple summer recipe for Roasted Eggplant with Goat Cheese from the pages of Dishing Up Maryland. Creamy and slightly tart, this is a wonderful appetizer for a late summer or fall harvest party, and would pair well with a nice glass of Maryland red wine, like Calvert County's Running Hare Vineyard's award-winning Malbec.

Makes 4-6 servings.

2 large eggplants
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
3 ounces of goat cheese (local is best - if you're in Maryland the author recommends Firefly Farms)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the eggplants in half, pierce them in several spots, and put them on a parchment-lined baking sheet, flesh side up. Brush the eggplant with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and sprinkle with the garlic and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Roast for 45 minutes, until the eggplant flesh is soft.

2. Scoop out the roasted eggplant flesh and discard the skins. Put the eggplant and goat cheese into a food processor and pulse for 5 seconds. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and the salt an pulse again to combine. Sprinkle parsley over the dip and serve with vegetables, pita chips, toasted baguette rounds, or crackers.

Timber Press and Workman Publishing are also celebrating wine and cheese this week on their blogs, so check them out here: Workman's Blog and Timber's Blog. And stay tuned to Storey's Blog all week long. We have Jeff Cox, author of From Vines to Wines tomorrow; Gene Spaziani, author of The Home Winemaker's Companion on Thursday; and Sue Weaver giving us the history of goat cheese on Friday.

Come celebrate cheese and wine with Storey!

Heather Smith Thomas, Notes from Sky Range Ranch: Typical Range Ride

The lower part of our ranch, nestled in the valley along the creek—
below the mountains where our cattle go to summer range.

Today I’ll slip back in time again — and share with you some thoughts and memories inspired by notes in an old journal, written about 15 years ago. I’ll describe a typical day checking cattle on our range. I’ll take you along with me, in my remembrance and imagination.

Our cattle ranch lies at the foot of the mountains where our cows spend the summer. At that point in time, I was riding almost every day to check the cattle, make sure gates stayed shut, and see if all the water troughs were working. We live in very dry country, and our cattle depend on a few small streams for water and many water troughs. There are a number of springs and seeps that we’ve piped into troughs. Sometimes a spring box gets plugged with mud from a summer thundershower and needs to be cleaned out.

Our cattle spend the summer in the mountains behind our ranch;
here a group of cattle is herded toward the next range pasture.

Sometimes gates get left open and cows wander onto the wrong range — and must be located and herded back to their proper pastures. Sometimes a cow or calf gets sick and develops foot rot or pinkeye and needs to be brought home for medical treatment. If we ride out there often, we know what's going on and can attend to any problems.

Each ride is a unique experience. On a typical day I head up the steep trail through tall sagebrush across the road from our house. The smell of dewy sage fills my nostrils as my horse brushes the shrubs along the trail, and a horned lark flits up from her nest on the ground as we go by. A grouse bursts into the air and does her broken-wing act (as she would do to lead a predator away from her babies — who are hurriedly scattering through the grass).

Heading out from the ranch to ride range; in this photo our daughter Andrea
and daughter-in-law Carolyn are climbing up the hill above the ranch.

My mare breathes deeply as she climbs the crest of the hill, then pauses, snorting, as a group of antelope leap to their feet from the swale where they were bedded and bolt across our path. She snorts again as she inhales their strong, musky scent. They disappear over the hill in a puff of dust, and we continue along the trail.

We soon head down into Baker Creek canyon, approaching a brushy draw where a small trough collects spring water. A herd of cow elk and their calves have been drinking there, and they mill about for a moment when they see me — talking to one another with their high-pitched “eeep-eeep.” Then they stick their heads in the air and march up out of the draw, disgusted at having their morning interrupted.

We descend into Baker Creek and up the rocky trail into the timber, dodging overhanging fir branches. A golden eagle soars above the canyon, and a pine squirrel scolds from the tree overhead, knocking fir cones down into the trail. Colorful Indian paintbrush (red, orange, pale cream) and blue lupine dot the grassy clearing ahead. We reach the wire gate in the range crossfence, and I get off to open it and lead my mare through.

Some of our cattle lounging around in Baker Creek

In the meadow beyond, some of our cattle are bedded down, chewing their cuds. They are very accustomed to seeing my horse and don't bother to get up as I ride through them, weaving my way between napping calves. One calf is nursing his mother, slurping noisily at the udder. I make sure they are all healthy; then my horse and I continue up the trail to check another water trough.

The day is warm, and my horse takes a long, grateful drink while I fix the overflow pipe that’s been obstructed with fir needles. This spring comes directly out of the rocky canyon wall, and the water is icy cold — and more pure and clean than the boggy springs where elk like to wallow, so I quench my thirst from the in-pipe.

It's a steep climb to the next little creek drainage, but we wend our way in a roundabout fashion, stopping at each group of cows to check them. When we get over the mountain and head down the other side, there’s another trough in a grassy clearing, and here I let my horse graze for a moment as I eat a sandwich from my jacket pocket. My jacket, tied to the back of my saddle, holds not only my lunch but also a pocketful of baling twine for emergency fence repairs (I can always tie a broken wire back together or tie wires to a post if the elk have knocked the staples out) and small binoculars for checking cattle a long way away.

After this quick “lunch,” my horse and I travel through more timber, startling two mule deer bucks who leap gracefully over the fence and out of sight. We go around the mountain through an outcropping of shale rock, my horse carefully picking her way in the precarious footing. A family of rock chucks chirp and scold before disappearing into their holes.

One of the wire gates in the range crossfence. In this photo
my granddaughter is opening it and leading her young horse through it.

Cattle lounging on a bedground. One of the calves is
nursing his mother, slurping noisily at the udder.

I go another mile to check a gate in the fence between our range and the Forest Service allotment. A jeep track comes up that side of the mountain and into our range, and I check this gate often; sometimes folks neglect to shut it after driving through. While on the back side of the mountain, I find a group of yearling heifers — several miles from where I saw them yesterday. This is the “wandering” age group. They won't have calves till next year, so they are footloose and fancy free. Like a group of teenagers, they are always interested in seeing what's beyond the horizon, not wanting to miss out on anything exciting.

One of our troughs that collects piped spring water. In this photo our
grandson and granddaughter pause on a range ride to let their horses drink.

I am glad to find Boogie Woogie (daughter of Shimmy, sister of Tango; yes, all our cattle are named!) because I need to check her eye. She had early symptoms of pinkeye the last time I saw her, but today the eye looks better, so I won't have to bring her home for treatment. I'd rather not have to bring her home; bringing an unwilling critter home from the range can be a challenge even with a good horse. Yearlings are sassy and inexperienced in being herded. About the only way to get one of them home is to take a “babysitter” cow, too. The older cow is more likely to be somewhat cooperative (with more respect for the horse, not trying to outrun us and hide in the brush), and the yearling tends to stay with the cow. Yearlings are true “groupies”; they never like to be by themselves.

Calves enjoying the shade in a grassy clearing

I head back along the fence to check a gate in the timber and find a freshly knocked-down (broken off) post where a herd of elk went through. They usually jump the fences, but sometimes they’re lazy and knock them over. I'm glad I discovered this “hole” in the fence before the heifers did, or they'd be in the neighbors' range! Sometimes it can take days or weeks of riding to find cattle when they stray into the wrong range, so we like to make sure the fences stay in good shape. I prop the post back up and splice the broken top wire with my handy baling twine. This will hold the fence together until my husband can bring a new post up the ridge on his four-wheeler — and then carry it a quarter mile down the steep hill through the timber, to the fence.

Our daughter riding range, traveling around a slippery
mountainside through loose gravel and shale

It's hot by the time we start back to lower country, and my horse's feet stir up little clouds of dust. The sweet smell of syringa (the blooming bushes along the creek — Idaho's state flower) mixes delightfully with the smell of horse sweat as we cross the little stream; then my mare spooks as a coyote pup sticks his head up over an old log to look at us. Once my mare realizes what he is, she relaxes and continues on down the trail, quickening her pace as she thinks about home. Both of us are pleased with our ride. She's happy to be heading back to her pasture buddies, and I have enjoyed this peaceful interlude with nature — and pleased that we found no serious emergencies to deal with.

Riding one of my young horses, checking cattle, marking off
a heifer's number in my cow book. We mark off every
individual we see, each time we ride range
Heather Smith Thomas raises horses and cattle on her family ranch in Salmon, Idaho. She writes for numerous horse magazines and is the author of several books on horses and cattle farming, including Storey’s Guide to Raising Horses, Storey's Guide to Training Horses, Stable Smarts, The Horse Conformation Handbook, Your Calf, Getting Started with Beef and Dairy Cattle, Storey's Guide to Raising Beef Cattle, Essential Guide to Calving, and The Cattle Health Handbook. You can read all her Notes from Sky Range Ranch posts here.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Celebration of Cheese and Wine

I am dedicating this week to wine and cheese in honor of the just-released books by our sister publisher (Timber Press): The Guide to West Coast Cheese: More than 300 Cheeses Handcrafted in California, Oregon, and Washington and Essential Wines and Wineries of the Pacific Northwest. We, Storey Publishing, are located about 3,000 miles away from Timber on the East Coast. And though we don't have any books chronicling the cheeses in our region, we do have books on making cheeses, and our Dishing Up series features many local cheeses from the states of Vermont, Maine, and Maryland, along with great recipes that use them. We also publish several books on wine and wine making. So cheese is right up our alley, as is its best pairing partner, wine.

To celebrate cheese and wine week, I decided to explore some local cheeses in our area and tell you about them.

A wall hanging at Brix Wine Bar

I planned a night at Brix, a European-style wine bar and bistro in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. They trend toward using local ingredients but not solely — they use foods from other U.S. regions and imported foods as well. I was hoping for the best (meaning more local cheese than not) when I planned the night out.

My husband, Ryan; my coworker, Alee; and Alee's boyfriend, Bill, accompanied me to this “working” dinner to sample local wine and cheese.

Our entire experience at Brix was wonderful. We started with a cheese and charcuterie plate with a bottle of Coturri Zinfandel (2003) from Glen Ellen, California — not so local, I know, but it went well with the variety of tastes on our plate. The plate included very thinly sliced cured meat, duck mousse, salami, truffle honey, spicy mustard, fig jelly, sliced baguette, and three cheeses.

The cheese and charcuterie plate at Brix

Two of the cheeses were from overseas and one was from the eastern United States. We had Valdeon, a Spanish blue cheese; Dutch Gouda; and, the most interesting of them all, a cheese called Kunik from Nettle Meadow Farm in Warrensburg, New York. We had all thought it was a very soft brie cheese — it spread like butter but had the appearance of Brie. When I inquired about the cheese, our server told us that the cheese was made from a combination of cow and goat milk. It was delicious!

The cheese in the back right is the Kunik from Nettle Meadow Farm.

Our meals were fabulous as well. Alee and Ryan had flounder wrapped around a basil-pesto, summer squash ratatouille, drizzled with cream sauce and served over a dark brown wild rice. I had Lamb & Parmesan Quiche served with mixed baby greens tossed in vinaigrette. And Bill had the Croque Madame — a French ham and cheese sandwich topped with fried egg. Bill's entrรฉe was also served with the mixed greens and vinaigrette. We complemented our dinners with Puerto Infinito Malbec from Argentina.

We passed on dessert when asked by our server. But despite our good intentions, we were given a sampling of desserts and dessert wines by a friend and colleague of my husband: Lavender Crรจme Brรปlรฉe, vanilla Crรจme Brรปlรฉe, and a dark Chocolate Mousse. The desserts were served with dessert wines: two glasses of a dark lavender-colored dessert wine (hints of chocolate and espresso with a sweet honey-vanilla after-note), and two glasses of a blush-colored dessert wine (sweet and complex with a fruit after-note — I thought I was tasting pear; Alee thought plum, yet turned out to be dried apricot). Specifically, the dark wine (which was very similar to a port) was Vinedo de los Vientos ‘Alcyone’ dessert wine and the blush-colored dessert wine was Donnafugata Ben Ryรฉ Passito di Pantelleria (2006).

The dark portlike wine is Vinedo de los Vientos ‘Alcyone’ and the blush-colored
dessert wine is Donnafugata Ben Ryรฉ Passito di Pantelleria (2006).

The food, the wine, and the experience were amazing. It was a celebration of cheese and wine — just not local cheese and wine.

Although we were unable to sample a variety of local fare that evening, the East Coast does produce many local cheese and wines. I love all the local cheeses I have tried, and I intend on sampling more. I recommend taking a road trip through New England, stopping at farm stands, local grocers, and country stores along the way and trying their cheeses. The fall is coming up, and it’s a great time of year for seeing the Northeast. Maybe some day Storey or Timber can chronicle the cheeses of the East Coast?!

Grafton Cheddar Cheese (recipes in Dishing Up Vermont use this cheese)
and Cabot Chipotle Cheddar. I made a mini cheese and charcuterie plate at
home using these two cheeses and a Vermont Apple Wine Summer Sausage
from North Country Smokehouse in Claremont, New Hampshire.

Timber Press and Workman Publishing are also celebrating wine and cheese this week on their blogs, so check them out here: Workman's Blog and Timber's Blog. And stay tuned to Storey's Blog all week long. We have Jeff Cox, author of From Vines to Wines on Wednesday; Gene Spaziani, author of The Home Winemaker's Companion on Thursday; and Sue Weaver giving us the history of goat cheese on Friday.

Come celebrate cheese and wine with Storey!

— Kristy L. Rustay, Marketing Manager

Friday, August 6, 2010

Sue Weaver: Being Someone Else

When I was young I was shy. Painfully shy. So shy that speaking up was excruciatingly painful for me.

The year I turned 30, John and I moved from our birthplace in Indiana to east-central Minnesota, and I vowed to start over in this place where no one knew me; I vowed to stop being a wimp. I devoured Dr. Wayne Dyers’s Pulling Your Own Strings and Your Erroneous Zones, several times in fact, and started speaking up for myself. Still, it was hard. Very, very hard. Then I became Suzanne Bouche.

A few months after moving north, we visited the Minnesota Historical Society’s North West Company Fur Post near Pine City. The site is an authentic, log-for-log reconstruction of a fur trading post on the Snake River that was maintained by the Canadian North West Company during the winter of 1804–1805. Costumed guides interpret the lives of John Sayer, Yankee company shareholder and trader; his crew of French-Canadian voyageurs; and their Ojibwe and Mรฉtis (mixed blood) wives. To say I was enthralled is an understatement — and on that first visit I dared to think, “I’d like to work here sometime.”

Next spring the historical society’s help wanted ad appeared in the local paper. Could I do it? Could I stand up in front of crowds and talk? I wasn’t sure. But I wrote up a rรฉsumรฉ and sent it in. Amazingly, I was hired.

Our site manager, Jacques Deseve (known in the mundane world as Dennis Hoffa), handed me a pile of resources, including the 2-inch-thick archaeological site report, a copy of the journal Mr. Sayer kept during his winter stay on the Snake River, costuming materials, and a copy of Many Tender Ties; Women in Fur-Trade Society, 1670–1870. With that I was off and running.

I didn’t have a sewing machine and wouldn’t have known how to use one if I did, so I researched period hand-sewing techniques. When the site opened for the year, I owned a hand-sewn, appliquรฉd Ojibwe strap dress and leggings, hand-sewn moccasins, a period shirt to wear under my dress on chilly days, and red wool strips to wrap my hair.

I adopted the name Suzanne Bouche, Mรฉtis wife of Bouche, one of Mr. Sayer’s voyageurs. I listened to the other guides (all with many years of experience under their belts) give tours for a week and then, too soon, came my turn. It was awful. I lost my nerve and stuttered and shook. Afterward, I cried. I couldn’t do this! I couldn’t I couldn’t I couldn’t.

Suzanne Bouche

Then one of the guides, and I bless her heart to this day, took me aside and said, “You have to become Suzanne. Tell about this place through her eyes. Try it. You’ll be okay.”

So I did. And I got better. Before long I was thinking like Suzanne, weaving a backstory of my early life as a trader’s mixed-blood daughter, based on the stories in Many Tender Ties. “Mama was Mรฉtis also,” I told visitors. “I’m three-quarters white; that’s why I have blonde hair. I grew up at trading posts like this one; then Papa sent me to Miss Price’s School for Young Ladies in Montreal. Like my friends, who were also traders’ Mรฉtis daughters, I learned to play the pianoforte and to have nice manners. Then I came back to the country and married Bouche.”

It came easier and easier. With the help of my new Ojibwe friends, I learned the things Suzanne would know, like gathering birch bark and making baskets, cooking over a fire, and gathering wild food and herbs on site. I also learned that before the white traders’ coming, Ojibwe women were very powerful indeed. I gradually put together my trademark “fur trade feminist” program to give to Native American groups and to mostly female tourist groups. When I gave it to a group headed by Nina Archebal, then director of the Minnesota Historical Society, she proclaimed it one of the best presentations she’d ever seen. I was so thrilled, my moccasins hardly touched the ground.

Later, when Jacques left to manage a privately owned but similar site occupied around 1820, I became Margaret Sayer, also known as Shawinigiizhiigokwae or South Sky Woman, daughter of old John Sayer and his Mรฉtis wife, Nancy, a.k.a. Obiimowanokwa, or Woman in Charge of Things.

During the 7 years I portrayed these women’s lives, I learned the joy of being someone else. I stepped inside those women’s skins and looked out through their eyes, leaving my shy, retiring self behind. What freedom! What joy! And then, when the second site abruptly closed, sadly, it was over.

I still wanted to be someone else. What happened next is beyond extraordinary. One day, while discussing Margaret with a close friend, I bemoaned the loss of courage I felt when I put her persona aside. My friend sagely nodded. “You should become a Klingon,” she said.

A Klingon? I was a Star Trek fan — but how does one become a Klingon? I borrowed my friend’s Star Trek reference book and wrote to an address I found inside. The contact person, Sue Frank, is a remarkable rabbi from Philadelphia who at the time published a Klingon fanzine called The Agonizer. She and I quickly became friends. One thing led to another, and I, who am just about the last person on earth to become involved with any sort of fandom (we haven’t even owned a television for the past 9 years), became Major K’tura Doqro, head of the Imperial Mounted Guard on planet Kraaxi. A highly detailed persona set within its own Star Trek universe soon emerged, along with a hand-sewn costume for me and my horse (we wore it on the sly around the farm, not to Star Trek conventions) and a vast amount of fanfic, much of which today makes me cringe. But it was fun, really, really fun, being K’Tura.

K'Tura and Mikki

So here I am, years later, remembering it all with a smile on my face. I’m ready to be someone else again, to sew another costume and look out from another person’s eyes. But whose? I don’t know! I’ll let you know when I find out.

Sue Weaver sold her first freelance article in 1969. Since then her work has appeared in major horse periodicals, including The Western Horseman, Horse Illustrated, Chronicle of the Horse, Flying Changes, Horseman’s Market, Arabian Horse Times, The Appaloosa News, The Quarter Horse Journal, Horse’N Around, and The Brayer. She has written, among other books, Storey’s Guide to Raising Miniature Livestock, The Donkey Companion, and Get Your Goat! to be published in 2010. Sue is based in the southern Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.

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