Bittersweet farmette: Swiss Chard Kimchi

It was a sweet, long summer here at the farmette, with some moments more bittersweet than others.  We've savored laughter from friends, with friends, from ducklings, chicks, and our dependable gaggling hens.  Even Rooster Rooster - our not-like-Big-Bird-who-attacked-me - rooster who lovingly (sometimes with a little "extra lovin") shepherds his girls around and doesn't so much as puff his auburn feathers at me, has contributed his fair share of joy with his confidently broken crow (ala teenage boy).  But as one might expect, there has also been some death on the farm, right alongside our own string of miscarriages. We're not so green anymore--to the challenges of starting a family or those related to raising animals, which, strangely have paralleled this past year.  For the most part, these unfortunate moments don't tear our heart strings as much as they used to.  They sit with us, indeed, and sometimes well up into a cocktail of unmanageable emotions that we drink as fast as possible until the tingle of oblivion sets in and we settle down, thankful to be alive, and living well on our little farm.  We have come full circle too many times for comfort, watching life come and go, each time feeling it differently.  To find the laughter in the absurd and painful has been our greatest challenge-- and one we relish, and hold onto with a vice grip when it's within our reach.  And so it is with this tale, which isn't funny until it is.

You might be surprised to learn that you can actually scare a chicken to death.  We learned this the hard way.  Now don't start thinking that I was the one who scared a chicken to death - not that I can't be scary - oh yes I can.  But my loving farm hand and man about the place has a much grander personality, and I can't blame a chicken for not knowing how to handle that.  Sometimes I don't myself.

It was a regular day on the farm with chickens scattered about the property - some under the porch, others perfuming themselves near the lavender plants, and the unlucky one doing its business a little too close to the man about the place's work bench.  So he yelled and swatted the little gal away, in classic man about the place fashion-- with full gusto and passion.  The bird scrambled fast and hard and sent itself in a tailspin, knocking itself against the side of the stable, and ran dinosaur style around the corner.  The next thing we knew, she was dead.   Scared to death.

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It's not easy being a farmer, and despite this quite deeply affecting the man about the place, we know this is nothing -- spilled milk-- and it comes with the territory.  You learn, and move on.  The girls aren't our pets, but they have endeared themselves to us.  Most recently, in the most personal of ways. We came home from Europe to one broody babe.  One of our Americanas, layer of sky-blue eggs, stopped laying, and started refusing to leave the next box.  She was sitting on quite a collection - six eggs - only one or two of them her own.

I had read about broody chickens - it is actually a condition wherein their hormones go nuts and they can't think about anything except hatching chicks.  Their bodies produce prolactin (the breastfeeding hormone), which ceases their egg production (aka ovulation, just like humans), and they puff up like a peacock if you try to move them and peck at you if you dare touch their eggs.  I can't say I didn't feel for the girl, admittedly suffering from broodiness myself.  But the rational, even keeled, side of me said we already had four new chickens this year and we didn't need anymore.  I swiftly removed her eggs, put them in my basket, and pushed her out of the box.  And then walked away.  Good luck with that babe, I muttered.  Think I don't want a chick?

All of five minutes passed - I had made it back to the house and was stacking the eggs in their tray- when it hit me.  I re-collected four eggs, and power walked back to the stable.  Broody was back in the empty nest, puffing her feathers away.  I gave her two blue eggs (her own), one light brown, and one dark brown, stroked her on the back, and wished her good luck.  I don't fuck with karma.

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22 days later she hatched two jumble colored fuzz balls who swiftly began running around the place like unkept toddlers.  When they hatched, unbeknownst to me, I was pregnant (yet again) and watching my hen's proud mothering swelled my heart.  I checked in on them one evening in the coop to find Broody comfortably perched on the stoop aside her 14 friends with one little one nestled beneath her and the other sitting on her back.  Adorable.  While this pregnancy ended as quickly as the last, I feel overwhelmed with gratitude when I see those chicks, now awkward teenagers, scrambling around the property, asserting their independence.  As easily as they came, they could not have come, and they could swiftly be taken away, by a bard owl, sickness, or simply a scary, loud, farmhand.

To say that it is strange being pregnant so many times without a child to show for it, is an understatement.  It is so many things.  But so is scaring a chicken to death, and hatching chicks just days before you harvest Pekin ducks for the dinner table.  They were beautiful, snow white, assertive fowl. But I eat duck. In fact, I love eating duck. I eat chickens, and thrive on their eggs. These eggs are the beginning of life.  It's absurd, it really is --all of it.  So I laugh half-heartedly when I think of a chicken dying of fear, and I laugh to think I could have had four children but don't.  Absurd, yes; sad, yes, worth a chuckle?  It has to be.  And a good, heavy, hearty one some day over my breakfast frittata and duck confit, one day all blitzed up in ice cube trays for my toddler to eat.  I have faith; and so did Broody.  She knew the odds (of scared chicken death, predators, and the dinner table) and fiercely insisted on reproducing anyway.  You go girl.

This recipe has nothing to do with anything except the fact it'll brighten up many a winter day when the glory of late summer is long gone, and everything seems absurd and dark.  Preparing now for a little lightness on the short winter days to come-- this is about as much as I can plan for.

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Swiss Chard Kimchi

Makes about 2 pint jars

Notes: If you've never lacto-fermented before- no fear ! It's really easy, delicious, and good for you.   You're basically using salt to control the good/bad bacteria balance and the result is so much more delicious than pickling with vinegar.  We used giant swiss chard that my generous friend Lila contributed from her garden, that clearly is on growth hormones.  You can use the little stuff.  If you don't have chard handy or growing prolifically, use any hardy green- kale, beet greens, whatever.  This works wonderfully in big batches - we did about 8 pounds between several quart jars.  

Ingredients

1lb swiss chard, leaves and rib separated, washed, and chopped into 1 inch pieces

Seasonings:

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons garlic, minced

1 tablespoon ginger, minced or sliced thinly

3 tablespoons gochugaru Korean red chili powder  (if you like it super hot, add a tablespoon or two more) 

Sterilize jars and set aside.  Combine chard with seasonings in a large bowl and massage for a minute or two with your hands until thoroughly coated (I recommend gloves here, but you could also use a spoon).

Pack the mixture into jars somewhat tightly as it will shrink considerably, but leave at least an inch headspace.  Lightly seal and allow to sit in a cool place for at least 24 hours - generally anywhere on the counter is fine, though not in direct sunlight.  Every few hours or whenever you walk by, give it a little shake (do this at least once a day).  You'll notice how the seasonings start to draw out the moisture in the vegetables and a little brine is created.  This is what you want.

After 24 hours, you can either pop the jar in the refrigerator where it will keep for months, or allow it to ferment longer.  You can combine the two jars into one at this stage, if space allows -- the mixture should have condensed quite a bit by now.  I highly recommend you be courageous and let it ferment longer.  I'm going on day 2 (update: now day 5) with mine on the counter because I want it to get a little funky aka pickled.  I'm aiming for at least a week as it keeps getting tastier each day.  Keep tasting it and when you like how it tastes, put it in the fridge.  I did a batch last year with turnips and bok choy and it sat out for at least a week before I put in the refrigerator.  I prefer the more complex taste that develops as the fermentation continues, but it's up to you.