Snow lambs

Essex Farm Note

Week 7, 2014

I got three new lambs for Valentine’s day – a pair of twins born to a veteran ewe, and a singleton to a first time mama. The twins were nice and dry this morning, and looked like they had been diligently cleaned and fussed over. Their mouths were warm inside, and they had that air of satisfaction and contentment that says they probably nursed not long ago. Good sized boys, both of them. The single boy was a bit on the small side, and looked hungry. The ewe bleated at him, but seemed confused about her duties, and flustered by his attempts to nurse. I got a towel from the house and rubbed him dry, then pinned the ewe against the side of the jug with one knee, and reached under to feel the udder. Sometimes there is a plug of wax stuck in a teat, or the hard, hot feeling of mastitis, or no milk at all. This ewe seemed fine, except for her lack of experience. I scooped up the lamb, and, while holding the mama still, guided his eager little mouth to the source of life. I couldn’t see what he was doing, but I could feel it, and his tail began to flick back and forth happily. The ewe held still, thinking. He nursed all the milk from one side of the udder and then I left them, the ewe a little wiser, the lamb a little more firmly connected to our world.

Miranda was sick all week so I took advantage of the enforced home time by finally doing the two project I’ve been meaning to get to since our beautiful soybean harvest in the fall. On Tuesday night I put up my first batch of miso paste. Miso is a mixture of mashed, cooked soybeans and special rice (or another grain or bean), called koji, that has been inoculated with an aspergillus culture. It’s possible to make koji at home but it is fussy, so I ordered mine instead from South River Miso. You mix the koji, salt, and soybeans together, then pack it tightly into a bucket or crock, and let it ferment for, for this type of miso, between seven months and three years. It is traditionally made in winter, and its age measured in summers. I am going to move the crock to the basement so I’m less tempted to mess with it. Yesterday, in need of more immediate gratification, I made a few pounds of tempeh, a fermented soy product that originated in Indonesian. To make it, you soak and partially cook the soybeans, then rub them together to loosen the hulls and break up the beans. That part was tedious, and next time I’ll try running them through a mill first so I won’t have to do it by hand. When the beans are mostly dry and have cooled down, they are mixed with a little bit of vinegar and the culture, then incubated at 88 degrees, to trick them into thinking they are back home in Indonesia. I used a Styrofoam cooler with a 20 watt light bulb in it. When I checked this morning, the soy was covered by a white web of mycelium, and was generating so much heat on its own it no longer needed the light. It should be ready by tonight. If you are interested in making tempeh yourself, you can get the culture (and many other interesting ones) at Gem Cultures. Next stop for me: soy sauce. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this we-love-winter 7th week of 2014.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

PS Here is the tempeh project in the incubator last night, and the finished product, which came out perfectly and tastes better than the store kind. A surprise hit with the kids.

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