"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Friday, October 14, 2011

Filling Up the Freezer (Great Grapes!)

It was an insanely beautiful day today - much nicer than late October has any right to be. The sun was out in full glory, and I could feel the heat on my shoulders all day long as I completed various fall chores. This has not been a good year for leaves, and so even though the sky was a bright, washed blue, I did miss the sharp contrast of the yellow, gold, and red leaves against it.

That's an awfully petty complaint, though, isn't it?

I had a productive day. This morning, I went and cut a whole lot of grapes. A neighbor woman was advertising on Craigslist that she had a nearly unlimited amount of concorde grapes, and would sell them for $5 the five gallon bucket. That was the first thing I did this morning - cut grapes. It's a fine task - searching through the thick leaves, just beginning to wither and yellow, for the dark blue bunches. Her elderly pit-bull bitch followed me around the vineyard, occasionally pushing her wet nose into the back on my knee. It took me some twenty minutes to fill the bucket.

When I got home, I washed and sorted the grapes. I soon learned that only the very ripest and blackest of the grapes were sweet enough to eat out of hand. The majority of the grapes were dark red, but still sour. Not knowing quite what to do with them.I decided to juice them and boil down the juice (with added sugar) into a concentrated syrup that I could can and use throughout the winter to make grape juice. I saved out the sweetest for table grapes, and spent the next couple of hours juicing grapes and boiling down the resulting juice. I have to say, I'm not very happy with it. It isn't clear and claret-colored like store grape juice - it's kind of thick and brownish, and not very good looking. It tastes delicious, but I doubt it will make an attractive table beverage. Oh well.

Other freezer-related developments: we butchered the last two baby goats, and I put one of them into the freezer in the form of small, carefully wrapped packages of raw meat. The other was, as usual, steamed for several hours and consumed in the form of tacos. My family, my sister's family, and our friend C. the butcher's family all ate heartily, and there was enough leftover to send C. home with several pounds of shredded, cooked meat; to send my my brother-in-law home with a couple of pounds, and to put a couple of pounds in the freezer as well. According to my calculations, one medium-small seven month old goat can feed twelve adults and eight children, three times over. Or, I guess, thirty-six adults and twenty-four children. That is, of course, with side dishes, tortillas, beans, etc.

Lastly, we bought a side of beef. In years past, we have always bought a side of beef jointly with my sister's family - a quarter for each of us. That has always been plenty of beef. In fact, I think I just cooked the very last roast from last year's quarter last week. We didn't choose to get a whole beef because we wanted more meat. We did it because the farmer (a neighbor) couldn't find anyone to buy the other half of this small steer. Rather than lose the beef, I said we would take the whole thing. My sister's family is splitting their half with various relatives, but we haven't made any plans here. I seriously doubt we can use an entire half, so I'm going to have to look for somebody to share our half with.

Hey - if you live nearby - this is excellent beef, 100% grass raised and grass finished. We've bought from the same folks for four years running and I have never tasted such good beef in my life. I can see the cows out my front window and can personally vouch for the fact that they live happy, natural lives and that the land is beautifully cared for. You can get in touch with me through the blog if you are interested. I figure I have about a 100 pounds of beef to sell, in the form of hamburger, roasts, steaks, and ribs.


Anonymous said...

I have been asked if I'd like to go in on the purchase of a cow. My husband says half would be way to much for us for us to eat. I am still interested and am thinking of asking someone to purchase half of our half which would leave us a quarter. We are your average eating family of 4.

I have no clue what to inquire about about this beef. I know grass fed would be great but what else? What if it's not grass fed? What is the 2nd best? I don't need to be any kind of an expert but I'd prefer to at least have a clue.

Can you give a couple of city girls turned suburban housewives a clue? Or give me some good sites to check out? The meat would most likely coming from the eastern shore of MD if that means anything at all.

Thank you for any advise you can give.

Aimee said...

Dear Anon - I can't advise you on local sources, because you are far from me, but I can tell you the right questions to ask! Check out Craigslist farm and garden section and search for Beef. When you contact someone, you can ask -

1) is it grass fed? Grass finished? Grass finished means fed only grass until the day of slaughter. Some beef is grass fed but grain finished, which means taken to a holding facility and fed corn for the last month or two to fatten it up. It's up to you if that's acceptable to you or not - certainly it is still better than your basic CAFO beef.

2) breed of cow? Most beef cattle around here are either hereford (the brown and white cows) or angus. Of course all cattle are edible but you don't want a dairy breed - that means an older animal slaughtered after being used as a milk cow, most likely. You can easily look up which are dairy breeds and which are beef breeds.

3) are you paying live weight, hanging weight, or what? The usual way around here is to pay by the pound for hanging weight - the weight of the animal after it is slaughtered and cleaned. Again, I don't know prices in your area, but this year I am paying $1.85. On top of that, I will pay 55 cents a pound to the butcher for cut and wrap fees. It's possible that your farmer might be doing his own cut and wrap, I don't know. You can expect to get back about 60% of your hanging weight in cut, wrapped meat. The rest is waste - although feel free to ask for it if you want it. Some people like the bones for their dogs, etc.

3) what facility do you use? Is it certified and inspected? Laws surely vary according to state, but here in WA I believe that meat either has to be sold live (Which is what we do with our goats) or processed in a USDA inspected facility. There may be only one choice in your area - here in my town there are two choices, and one has a much better reputation that the other one as far as customer service and the quality of their treated products like bacon and ham. It's worth it to inquire.

I agree with your husband that a half is WAY too much. A quarter was plenty for us and there are five in our family. But, if you have the freezer space, buying meat this way is a great deal. I end up paying about $3.75 a pound, when all is said and done, for a product that is FAR superior to anything I can even find in the grocery store. And if I could find it, it would cost three times as much.

Good luck! I'd love to know how it turns out!

Anonymous said...

If you do grapes again, letting grape juice drip through cloth *without squeezing* is supposed to help keep the juice clear.