Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Trials and Tribulations of the Tasmanian Clothesline

I don't know about you guys, but we only have a washing machine here, so we have to hang our clothes to dry. Now, there are numerous of reasons for hanging your clothes on the line: less electricity used by dryer appliances, the fresh clean smell of air dried laundry (and no need for expensive and overly perfumed dryer sheets), no static electricity involved, and the sun acts a natural disinfectant of a sort. I'm sure everyone has other reasons for choosing to line dry their clothes. Those are certainly mine. 

However, I live in Tasmania. Normally that would be a proud statement, but they have a saying here: "If you don't like the weather, wait 20 minutes".

For the line dryer, that's a MAJOR pain in the rear. 

I am forever looking at the sky thinking "Hm, clouds... do I risk the washing, or should I wait for it to clear?"

This can go one of several ways: 

-The sky stays cloudy, and I decide not to wash, and then the weather is bad for the rest of the week/end. 
-The sky clears, I do the washing, and the moment the machine starts the final spin cycle, the clouds come back and stay in for the day, extending their drying time. 
-It'll be breezy in the moment I decide to start the machine (the ideal condition) and then go utterly still by the time I get everything hung out, and be that way for the rest of the day, regardless of whether or not it's sunny.
-It'll be brilliantly sunny outside, I hang the washing, it stays brilliantly sunny for an hour, then the clouds blow in in an instant and it pours down rain, soaking my laundry if I don't catch it in time.

My world is filled with cries of frustration over the weather! Winter is simply the worst time to have to dry laundry, especially since we're trying to have key items clean, dry, folded and packed for our trip to California, coming up in a week.

I can't wait for summer; the best drying weather is when the sun is blazing, the wind blowing, and the paving stoves under the clothesline are baking hot and radiating that heat upwards into the clothes. They will usually dry in the few hours then.

Until then though, I will just have to persevere through the funky weather. :P

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Processing Poultry: Where Your Chicken Comes From

Warning: This blog contains pictures of what some would consider a "graphic" nature. If you can't handle blood, guts, the learning of new skills and experience, self sufficiency, or just want to keep your head in the sand regarding the origins of your food, move along now. There's nothing to see here.

On Friday, July 20, I killed and processed two chickens for our freezer. I had never, until that point, dispatched an animal, though I have been present and watching closely while others did. Chickens were also a new type of animal processing for me; I had watched and assisted with deer, pigs and rabbits, but not poultry.

After much time spent studying and researching, I knew that my next step was to 'do'.

This is my processing area: A melamine topped board on two portable sawhorses, a gut bucket (red) with a hefty bag in it, and a scalding bucket, filled with water that's been heated to around 75C.

As you can tell by all the feathers, I had already scalded and plucked the birds.

Now for the birds themselves. I'm rather sorry I hadn't gotten a picture of the living animals, as they were very pretty birds, but that's the way of things.

The plucking was mostly easy, except for the pinion feathers at the wing tips. Those were quite hard, and I opted to cut the wing tips off one bird, while their owner, Monique, helped to pluck them from the other bird.

You may wonder how I dispatched the birds. It was a method I'd seen and heard described by various sources. I chose to hold them by their feet until they went still (they go to sleep if held upside down) and then snapped their necks with a quick jerk of my other hand. I then wrapped them in a raggy towel, held them over the gut bucket, and cut the veins in their necks to let them bleed out, which took a couple minutes. After their throes finished, I set them on the table, ready to scald.

Other methods include using a killing cone, a hatchet and a chopping block, and simply bleeding the chicken out before snapping it's neck, but I thought that these might be a little more messy and traumatic than I was willing to handle.

Bird #1: I know, not a brilliant plucking job, but I made it better later.
Bird #2: Better plucked than the last one.

The next step is the real processing.

I cut off the heads, removed the skin, esophagus, wind pipe and other associated parts of the neck until I had just the column of bone and muscle, removed the wingtips (of this bird) and cut off the feet at the ankles (those would be saved for later).

Now, of course, comes the job of gutting the bird. It's very hard to make me squeamish, but I wasn't sure how this would have me feeling. Turns out, it doesn't smell near as bad as people might have you believe. Yes, it's a bit smelly, and I can't really describe the smell (as Monique said, it smells like dead chicken), but if you don't work with the bird directly under your nose, you'll be just fine.

The trick though is to make an opening big enough to get your hand inside, because you have to scoop around with your fingers to sever the thin transparent membranes that hold all the organs and fat in place. Remember to also loosen the trachea and esophagus from the neck hole, so you can pull the lot out when you've got it free.

I must admit I was probably very slow at this step, as I was afraid to accidentally cut the the guts, which would spill their contents and contaminate the meat and make, generally, a nasty mess. Turns out I need not have worried too much, as they proved tougher than I thought.

Once you've freed the innards, cut free the anus and remove the lot.

As you can also see, I am wearing latex gloves. This made the ick factor much, much less, and went a long way to making me feel more comfortable with this process. I used three pairs, one pair for the dispatching and bleeding, one pair for the scalding and plucking, and one pair for the gutting. I highly recommend them for first timers.

As you can see here, these are the chicken innards. I tried to respect the animals as much as possible by using as much of it as I could, so I saved the hearts, livers, gizzards and feet (seen the background).

To process chicken feet: Pour scalding water (I used freshly boiled) over the feet, and let sit a moment or two. When you can peel the yellow outer skin off, they're ready. Peel off the skin, give the toenails a twist (they come right off) and rinse well in cold water. Use to make chicken stock (I'm told it makes a great stock that, when cold, can actually be sliced; that's how much gelatin the feet impart to the stock).

Also note that these animals were very healthy indeed. Just look at those livers! Not a scrap of fat on them. Monique told me they were free range, grass fed (you could tell by the contents in their crops), and were given the occasional handful of wheat, as well as some oats they've eaten out of her guinea pig feed, and perhaps a few seeds from here and there.

In contrast, corn fed chickens (as many often are) usually have grossly swollen and anemic looking livers coated with fat, as well as a huge amount of body fat. Ew. :/

Because these chickens are male (roosters) these are their testicles. We remarked on them, because we hadn't realized they were so far up in the body cavity. We had both heard of capons, which are neutered roosters, and we figured that you had to come in from the side to remove the testicles.

I've heard it said that done right, you'd have a capon, done wrong, you'd have dinner.

You can see the vas deferens tubes there by my fingers (the thin white lines).

We are still puzzling over why we couldn't find the kidneys or lungs. After further study, i realized that what I was previously thinking of chest wall was really the backs of the lungs. It's a simple matter to scoop them out with your fingers. They are light, fluffy, pink organs, and are deeply grooved to fit the ribs. The kidneys are also located tight to the back as well, on either side of the back bone. left in, they become that yummy dark, rich meat you get in the store bought roast chickens. I chose to leave them in, because I love those.

This is the gizzard. It's basically a large muscle, and great for use in stocks. The chicken will swallow small hard objects (I say objects, because it could be anything it thinks suitable, including pebbles, pieces of plastic, and even bits of safety glass!) and stores those objects in it's gizzard. When they eat, the food enters the gizzard, the organ contracts, and uses those items to grind and crush their food. It's a good way to see what the birds have been eating: in this case, there was some well ground grass and perhaps a sunflower seed or two.

The gizzard has a yellow lining. If you want to use the gizzard for cooking, once you've sliced it open, all you have to do is peel the thin membrane away from the muscled part, and discard it. Then rinse the organ well and use immediately, or freeze it. As you can see here: the peeled gizzard, and the yellow lining (and a couple testicles too).

The processed carcasses. They aren't the prettiest looking jobs, but I cleaned them up a bit, and they look good. One of my books said that poultry should be chilled in the fridge for at least 12 hours to ensure maximum tenderness, so these (this was taken last night) are going straight into the fridge.

When I had finished gutting them and everything, I had taken them in and rinsed them well with cold water, and removed the last stubborn feathers, the thin hairs, and any remaining congealed blood.

One thing you will notice about these birds that's different from the pictures of the store bought chicken I cut up later in the album, is these birds are very yellow. They have yellow skin, they have rich yellow fat, and, in my opinion, this is how chickens should look. It's perfectly natural and normal.

You'll also notice that these birds have very little breast meat, and very large legs. They were free range animals, not barn raised or factory farmed, and not pumped full of hormones and antibiotics. Suits me fine anyway; I'll always choose the leg over the breast.

So, overall, that experience wasn't nearly as bad as I might have thought it would be. I'm glad that I got to learn something new. And now, tonight? Chicken is on the menu.

Have a great evening folks!