Monthly Archives: November 2008


Alas, I’m not reunited with my family this Thanksgiving weekend. My mom is up in the Pacific Northwest, and I’m sure had a great supper at our dear friend Jean Moore’s house. My cousin, aunt, and uncles are vacationing in Australia. My sister is probably hunting pheasants and mushroom in France. Dad is in Wickenberg, AZ. Bill and I went to Max and Nina’s house, and brought a smoked turkey (it was pretty good–tasted like candy coated bacon, a little dry, though).

But, then who in my family is reunited this Thanksgiving? Why, Bebe and Orla with their goat family in Lake County!! Bill and I drove up north on Sunday, the goats in this very folksy home-made cage.

We got lots of honks and whistles driving through Berkeley before we got on the highway. The goats liked being in the back, kind of like dogs. Three hours later, we arrived to the farm where I bought a pregnant Bebe almost a year ago. Bebe let out one bleat of excitment, then played it cool as all the other goats from the farm circled the car and sniffed. Orla and her sister Georgina (now known as Goldy) touched noses. They didn’t seem *that* excited, to see each other. I don’t know what I was expecting. It made me have a deeper love of dogs, who are so willing to love on each other.

But there was love in the air. One reason we had taken the goats up north was for, um, stud service. Wee, getting my girls laid! Leah the goat lady gave me a tour of the available bucks. I selected a black and white spotted La Mancha for Bebe (mini-Manchas!) and a cute, twerpy Nigerian dwarf for Orla. Babies will be popping in mid-April, if all goes well.

Enjoy your reunions!

Teaching turkey

In 2005 I killed my first Thanksgiving turkey.

Since then I’ve killed quite a few more, written articles about it, even took part in a turkey harvesting photo shoot (I’ll never do that again, though I loved the photographer, when he asked me to step to the left just before I cut the turkey’s throat, I realized art and practice sometimes shouldn’t meet…) My experience raising a turkey takes up a whole section of my memoir about urban farming. Turkeys–because they are part of Thanksgiving and our American heritage– make great metaphors.

This year was very special in that I got to share the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the last three years with some students. Did you know there’s an urban agriculture class at Berkeley? Lucky undergrads get to grow their own vegetables, learn about international urban ag, and visit local farms. I gave a lecture/presentation to the class one day and then had them come out for visits over the past two weekends.

The first weekend, my friend J graciously offered us three roosters. The neighbors had complained and she called me out of desperation: “can you kill these roosters?” she asked. I walked her through how to do it herself. She listened patiently and then asked again: “can you kill them?” I forget how hard it is the first time.

So she brought the handsome fellows over and the class, with my help, dispatched them. We used the loper method, which I think is fast and humane. Of course we burned a little incense and said our thanks to the birds. The students were great. None of them had ever killed an animal before (on purpose at least) but most of them ate meat and so they wanted to face it. One of the most curious and best entrail cleaner was a vegan! He wants to become a veterianarian, so this was like a lab for him. Awesome. While I showed the students how to kill, pluck, and clean a rooster, I thought of all the people before me who shared this knowledge with me. It felt great to share in an experience I find very anxiety-producing yet full of life and love at the same time.

J took one plucked and cleaned rooster home and gave me the other two. I braised mine. Delicious in a rooster pot pie made with a wee bit of leftover lard in the pie crusts.

The next weekend, just yesterday in fact, it was time to say goodbye to Archie 2 and Edith. The class came out again (different students this time) to assist. Killing a turkey is a bigger deal than the roosters. They’re big. They’re full of life-force. Their feathers are so large, their bodies are so warm. The males have some special parts like the beard and the snood which add some level of mystery to the birds. I hadn’t realized how fat Archie #2 had gotten. He must have weighed 25 pounds! Edith was much smaller, only a bit bigger than the roosters from the previous weekend.

The students gathered in the garden. I had set up workstations: the plucking table, the cleaning table, the dipping area. We stood near the killing area, which featured a pair of enormous lopers, incense, and a bucket. I retrieved Edith from the backyard first. We burned incense and I described her life, which was going on two years. She never did hatch out any baby turkey poults, and for that I was sad. But she had a good run, enjoyed bossing the chickens and Archie around. But now it was time for her to go. I gave her a kiss, then a student loped her head off. It’s nice to have someone around who didn’t *know* the turkey. We plucked her and cleaned her entrails. Her gizzard was happy and full of rocks and grains. She ate well, that’s for sure.

Next came Archie#2. Enormous. My arms ached carrying him from the backyard to the front. We usually have heritage breeds but Archie looked to be just a Standard White. He had grown so so fast. After some kind words (but not too many, he was heavy!) the Berkeley instructor held the turkey’s feet, I hugged the turkey’s wings, and a student loped the head off. As the life-force drained out of the turkey, I accidentally let go of his wings which caused (I later found out) a horrible jolt to the groin of the instructor. Oops! It’s dangerous out here on GhostTown Farm, I reckon. Sorry N! The plucking and cleaning proceeded as normal. Archie had a gizzard the size of a softball and a crop the size of a football. No wonder the chickens are always hungry competing with that guy!

The students lingered in the garden after all was said and done. It was a sunny late November day. The bees were out, the greens were so bright. It was hard to tear ourselves away from the moment, when things felt so real. I felt a little proud that I could show someone something I knew how to do. That finally, I have some knowledge that can be passed on, remembered, used, and hear stories about where that knowldege led other people once they knew too.

I brined Archie and Edith. I think I’m going to deep-fry Archie. Edith, as her age dictates, will be braised.

Late afternoon addition: Can’t find anyone to deep fry the turkey. So I’m turning to Chef Edwards and he will be smoking the turkeys all day long tomorrow!

Canning tomatoes

My friend W is taking classes to become a Waldorf teacher. It’s an amazing curriculum based on Rudolf Steiner’s philosophies about childhood development. For kindergartners, Waldorf teaching emphasizes learning by doing seasonal activities–this teaches the kids that life is a cycle and humans have developed rituals to connect them to the seasons. Children at that age like to feel like there is a plan, that there is a consistent thing going on.

I can’t help but to feel the same way about canning tomatoes. Going on three years now, Bill and I make our pilgrimage to the lovely Blue House Farm, where our friends Ned and Ryan grow the best dry-farmed tomatoes ever. Since the tomatoes aren’t watered during the summer, the flesh is quite sturdy and the fruit taste is concentrated. Once canned, the tomatoes remain whole and, dare I say it? taste better than the fresh fruit. It’s some kind of alchemy, canning.

This year, Bill went to Pescadero solo (I had to work) in October and picked several buckets and boxes of tomatoes. Enough to share with our friends even. And so I began the ritual, once again, of putting up a year’s worth of tomatoes (about 52 jars, one for every week). This year was different in that I used the pressure canner for about half of the jars. My friend W came over and we processed tomatoes late into the night. She even stayed up until 2am and ended up sleeping in our guest room.

Usually I do water bath canning. I sterilize the jars in the oven, then pack as many raw tomatoes into the jar as possible. I top off the jars with leftover jars of already processed tomatoes from the year before, or make a tomato juice by putting a bunch of the less than perfect tomatoes into the blender. Then I add lemon juice to the tomatoes (just to make sure they are acid enough and to retain color), screw on the lids, and process for an hour and a half. Yes, that takes forever. Even with a huge canning cauldron, I can only fit 9 jars.

Enter the pressure canner. Same exact process with the jars, except I don’t *have* to add the lemon juice. The temperature gets to 250 degrees, so any botulism is killed by this high temp. I closed the lid to the pressure canner, let it vent steam for about 10 minutes, then put on the stopper and process for 15 minutes. Then another 15 minutes to let the canner lose pressure. So, effectively, the p.c. cuts the processing time in half. And it gives me peace of mind.

But how do the tomatoes taste? you ask.

Bill and I did a blind taste test and found that…drum roll…the p.c. canned tomatoes taste better, more tomatoe-y, richer, and more perky. Of course the water bath toms are great too. The canned tomatoes are wonderful pantry items to use in soups and stews, pasta sauces, pizza sauce.

But the real show-stealer this year was some slow-roasted tomatoes from our garden. I picked all those pesky cherry tomatoes–the sungolds, the currants, the volunteers–drizzled olive oil over them, then stuck them in a slow oven (230) to cook for a few hours. The result is a candy-sweet, smoky tomato paste. Some people might call it a confit. This I jarred up and canned as well. It works great to add a small jar of the oven-roasted tomatoes to a regular jar of tomatoes to make pasta sauce. As a pizza sauce, these slow-roasted cherry tomatoes are the best thing ever. Next year I plan to roast the dry-farmed tomatoes as well. Every year, the tomato canning process is being perfected. It is wonderful to learn something new while keeping the ritual intact.