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Saturday, September 13, 2008


The bug and I went to see a man about some chickens yesterday. I was hemming and hawing about which of the Ameraucana hens to get, and felt I was taking too long, so I quickly said I'd take that one and that one . . . and one of those black ones over there. He snatched up a black one and stuck it in our box. I learned upon opening the box when we got home that the black one was a rooster. So we have two Ameraucana hens (or more likely a mixed Easter Egger breed) and a Black Australorp rooster. They've settled into the chicken tractor nicely, and the dogs have been exceptionally well behaved, barking at them only intermittently from behind their own fence.

This afternoon we found the first egg in the nesting box. It was very light blue, a bit oddly shaped and large but lightweight for its size, with a bright orange yolk and a sort of thin albumin. Tasted like . . . egg. (All that back-breaking labor is starting to pay off, ha ha.)

Whenever I reminded the bug to hold the egg carefully, she'd gently and slowly uncurl her fingers so that it was just balancing on her palm.

The bug likes tossing the chickens scratch, and we've given them pear and apple trimmings and cores, and some grapes (the latter of which went uneaten except by fire ants) in addition to crushed pellet laying feed. She also likes counting the chickens. She counts everything now, including, the other day, all the apples in a three-pound bag: twelve!

Our chickens do not have names (yet). My first thought, before I knew that one was a rooster, was that they could be Nancy, Bess, and George, but now that may be too cute by a third.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Cold Smoking

In August—no, wait: September. In Georgia. That's the kind of thing the Chalmerses do. Here's the rig we rigged up, and I have to say it's kind of genius, and much easier on the back than my original plan to build a freestanding smokehouse with bricks and wood, and clay pipelines buried in the yard. (Not to say that that might not happen someday, but just that it'll be after the adobe pizza oven has been completed. Priorities!)

Styrofoam cooler, into which an old wire cooling rack fit perfectly on the little built-in ledge. Hole cut out of the side. Flexible duct pipe inserted. Ice (not visible) and rock salt in bottom of cooler.

Salmon on the rack. Mr. Chalmers used a cure of, I think, sugar, brown sugar, salt, and orange zest and put it under weight in the fridge for maybe 24 hours? Indoor-outdoor thermometer wire running into cooler so we can read the interior temperature. The idea is to keep the environment as cool as possible (ideally around 54 degrees) while pumping smoke into it. Outside temperature was around 85 degrees; Mr. Chalmers managed to keep the cooler at 65 to 70 for, I think, about 4 or 5 hours. (Can you tell I was a little out of it this weekend?) Note beer can in the background.

The other end of the duct fit snugly over the smokestack of our Char-Griller smoker (after the swivel cover was removed). The Mr. built a charcoal fire in the side firebox on the right, and topped it with hickory chips wrapped in a foil packet that he punctured a bunch of times to let the smoke out.

Back view, with smoke.

We didn't think we'd be able to keep the temperature low enough, but what we got was remarkably close to real cold-smoked salmon, and we now believe it will be possible, with a few adjustments (including to the calendar, and to the cure and to the wood used for smoking [needs to be subtler, like a fruit wood]), to make actual lox. I'm going to revisit the bagel technique I started working on last winter.

I have no pictures of the finished salmon. It looked, you know, kinda like the salmon you see in the picture above, except sliced.