For the Love of Chickens by Mary Jo Wallace

Our dear friends Blane and Mary Jo Wallace, live in a big red barn nestled into a quiet corner of Calloway County. There is no place more peaceful than their front porch swing, surrounded by the gentle hills of Wallace Pack Farm. If you’re looking for a place to board your horses or want to meet their chickens, visit their facebook page.

Blane and Mary Jo Wallace own Wallace Pack Farm where they have horses, chickens, and a ill-tempered donkey with wanderlust.

My first career goal in life was to be a farmer’s wife.  It was the early seventies and everyone was talking about ERA, but the news hadn’t hit my small town yet. So it never occurred to me that I could be a farmer in my own right.  (I spent most of my young childhood looking for a farm boy that I could marry.)

Aunt Sarah was my role model and I spent summers with her.  It was here that I learned about all kinds of farm animals, but it was the chickens that really caught my eye.  I fed them and collected eggs several times a day.  All this was overkill, but Aunt Sarah loved the passion with which I pursued such things, so she indulged me.

My husband never liked chickens, much preferring the company of mules.  At the tender age of fifteen he was flogged by a rooster.  He ran to get away from him and attempted to jump an unlatched gate.  The gate swung open and Blane lay on the ground, trying to get the breath to return to his lungs.  At this point he tried to buy the chicken from its owner.  The owner informed him that he could never part with his prize chicken.  Blane assured him he only need a few minutes alone with the creature and would return him when he was done with him.

Seven years ago when we moved to our farm I had to beg Blane for some chickens.  He gave in and his Uncle from Dover, TN brought us five hens and two roosters, one of the roosters was a bannie (a smaller breed of chickens.)  We named the hens for my aunties on my mother’s side because they did enjoy a good hen party.  Edna, Louisa, Eloise, Sarah and Bessie proved to be good mothers.  Soon our little flock had risen to 25 feathered friends.  We did nothing special, no incubators or brooders; we just let nature take its course.  Every chicken hatched on the place has stayed here until it crossed chilly Jordan…sometimes with the help of a coyote or a chicken hawk we suspect.

Blane loves sitting on the front porch swing, feeding grain to the chickens.

So, Uncle Dewey  brought us these new chickens.  Blane kept calling them my chickens, but I noticed how he would speak lovingly to them when he thought I was not around.  He began to instruct me in their care and feeding.  Our Internet history was filled with all kinds of chicken sites that I had not visited.  He counted the chickens everyday and would grieve when one came up missing.  Blane had crossed over.  He had become a chicken lover.

My husband and I are not gardeners. (I’m sure the Medlocks are secretly disappointed by this. Lol.)  Even if we were, I am sure the abundance of wildlife on the place would interfere with our efforts.  I can’t stand the thought of raising pigs or cattle and sending them to slaughter.  I am too soft hearted and don’t want to know my food that intimately.  For now, our meat comes from the freezer section of Kroger.  Our vegetables come from Kroger, the farmer’s market and friends.  Our eggs, however, are fresh.

There is nothing I like more than cracking open one of those country eggs and seeing that deep, dark yellow.  I could eat eggs for every meal. No longer am I satisfied with the weak, pale yellows of city eggs.  I want my country eggs and all their eggy goodness.  I like them fried, boiled, poached or scrambled.  They’re good alone or with toast, biscuits croissants, bacon, ham…

There are so many ways that you can enjoy eggs.  If you get bored with the same old fried eggs try them scrambled with cheese and salsa or green peppers and wrap them up in a burrito.  Another great idea is an egg with bacon on a grilled cheese sandwich.  In a hurry, try the scramble and cooked in the microwave.  Add any of your favorite ingredients and you will have yourself a delicious, puffy omelet in just a matter of minutes.

Some anti-egg activists, and I use that term loosely, would have you to believe that eggs are not good for you.  How dare they!  Eggs are only seventy calories, and you get your money’s worth for those seventy calories.  They are a source of high quality protein, unsaturated fats and antioxidants.  Further more, they are a natural source of thirteen essential vitamins and minerals.

Anyone who suffers from a vitamin D deficiency, like me, should give eggs a second and third thought.  If for some reason, you are unable to spend time in the sun there are other sources of vitamin D such as artificial sunlight, cod liver oil, store-bought vitamins, beef liver, or cheerios.  Better, more natural choices include eggs and milk.  Now which would you rather try?

Eggs are wonderful because a chicken doesn’t have to die to put food on your plate.  Maybe this is why a hen crows so loudly when she lays an egg.  Perhaps this is her way of saying, “Come and get it.  Look what I’ve done for you.  There’s more where that came from.”

Speaking of the sounds a chicken makes, get rid of that romantic notion that a rooster wakes you up at dawn by crowing a beautiful tune.  Sometimes they wake you at the crack of midnight.  They get confused during the full moon or sometimes they just can’t sleep.  Our current rooster, Chanticleer, ensures that if he cannot sleep, no one will.  Sometimes, especially when a rooster is very young, the crow is more like an off key saxophone or a squeaky set of bagpipes than a full-bodied trumpet.

Do I sound like I’m complaining?  I don’t mean to.  I love every obnoxious sound the little critters make.  I half believe they are one of God’s little jokes.  What looks more ridiculous than a a flock of chickens running from a small child or a cat?  The squawking noises and running amass like…well like chickens with their heads cut off. Attempting to soar like eagles and then reaching only six foot in the air but sticking their breasts out in a proud gesture as though they penetrated the first layer of the stratosphere.

The best is when they come running for their feed all anxious that they might miss out on something.  If a grain of corn should happen to land of a chicken instead of the ground, he’ll take off running like the sky is falling.  There’s a reason they are called chickens.

Red the Rooster

Not all chickens are chicken.  One time Blane’s favorite rooster, Red, failed to report to the roost one evening.  We assumed he had fell prey to one of a chicken’s natural predators.  Two weeks went by and we saw him limping up the driveway.  He was quite a sight.  Raw skin showed through places the feathers were missing.  Blane ran to him and he limped to his arms.  I’m not kidding either.  I know it sounds like poetic license, but it really happened.

Something interesting we found out about vets:  most vets will not treat individual chickens.  That’s because in vet school chickens are treated like livestock rather than pets.  It’s not that they don’t want to treat them as individuals; they don’t know how.  They’re used to treating them by adding a certain number of cc’s to each gallon of water.  Blane found this out after calling every vet in a twenty-five mile radius.  So, seeing there was no other hope, Blane gathered Red up in his arms, made him a special bed in the barn and lovingly fed and watered him twice a day all the while talking to him in soothing, cooing noises.  Red recovered.

There’s something special about living on a farm and the intimacies you share with the animals.  I love all my animals, but the chickens are special.  They were the first farm animals I ever loved.  They make me think of my childhood and simpler times.  They remind me of Aunt Sarah and her cooking fresh eggs for my breakfast.  They remind me of my first love–farm life.

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Gardening, Canning, and a few Bloody Marys by Melinda Wall

Our next Tomatopalooza submission was from our friend Melinda Wall whose husband Russ, is an avid gardener, canner, and mixes a mean Bloody Mary.

Bloody Mary mix wait patiently for festive tailgate parties.

We’ve been married for 30 years.  For 29 of those years, my husband Russ has grown a garden. His first garden was a pretty big project, considering he was teaching, taking graduate classes, and coaching three sports. He grew tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and green beans. We were living in Frankfort, Kentucky, at the time. We rented a small house with a big yard, so the garden grew larger during the years we lived there.

We purchased our first home in 1986. Russ was thrilled with the size of the yard. It was perfect for a garden. And as an added bonus, the house had a root cellar in the basement. I could literally see visions of canning dancing ’round in his head. I, on the other hand, hoped that I would be working on canning days.

Soon after we bought the house, we found out we were expecting. With the baby due in late July, you would think that Russ would reconsider his plans for a big garden.  After all, with a new born to occupy our time, there wouldn’t be much available for gardening or canning.  But no, that summer he made the garden even bigger which meant mega canning.  After our son was born, my mother came to help.  When she left, I think she was glad to escape the chaos going on in our kitchen.  Russ canned everything that year– tomato juice, tomatoes, pickles, and green beans. He filled that root cellar up fast.

The night before our son was born, we had a whole crowd of friends show up to check up on us. I fed everyone dinner from our garden: green beans, tomatoes, fried squash, okra, and cucumbers in vinegar. We even had green onions that year.

We moved to Murray in 1989. We bought a house, and wouldn’t you know it, it had a big back yard with plenty of room for a garden. No longer satisfied to just grow the vegetables, Russ began starting his own tomato plants. Each spring, our dining room table would be covered with baby plants with a grow light hung on the light fixture.

Over the years the gardens have not been as large and the canning not as extensive, but Russ still manages to preserve a little of his tomato bounty. We have canned them, frozen them, juiced them, made salsa, soups, and sauces with them. I will admit I’m ready to quit dealing with them. Russ on the other hand, is always willing to do something when the big crop comes in. This past weekend, he made a batch of Bloody Mary mix (complete with vodka). His Bloody Mary mix always makes it to UK football games and to the SEC Basketball Tournament. If his Uncle Charles has a bumper year of corn, Russ will make a trek to Trigg County and pick up a truck full. That processing job is another story!

This year we are down to 13 tomato plants and nothing else. I guess we are downsizing after all these years!

Preserving a Slice of Today for Tomorrow Using Yesterday’s Methods by Gwen Taylor

Our fourth submission for Tomatopalooza was from Gwen Taylor of Paducah, Kentucky. She is one of the sweetest ladies I know. Her story touched my heart, as I often feel the spirit of my mother and grandmothers when I’m canning.

My friend Gwen Taylor with the many beautiful jars of tomatoes that she and her daughter Holly preserved together.

My daughter Holly called about at week ago and asked if we could set some time aside to can tomato juice.

“Just the way Memaw did because I want to learn this tradition,” she said.

While I don’t have a garden, but my sister does. So I called her and found out that she does not enough tomatoes for canning yet. I also learned that she still has plenty of tomato juice and tomatoes from the year before my mom passed away.

I reflected a bit on why I would even be hesitant. After all, every summer for as long as I can remember, I spent several days– long days in the kitchen with mom and her mom canning and freezing vegetables from the garden. Oh, how I miss those ladies who influenced my character so much!

When the big day arrives, my best friend, Lisa Grief co-owner of Wurth Farms, arranged for 60 lbs of tomatoes to be ready for me. The boxes were beautiful!

At noon, Holly and I begin our adventure into the world of canning! One approach, very different from mom and grandma’s approach, was taking things a little slower and embellishing it. That evening, I left for two hours to attend a meeting. When I came home, there was my bouncing baby girl still cooking away. She was on to the Salsa now;  apron on, knife in hand, and old country music songs playing in the background. I could feel my mom just as if she was standing in the kitchen with us. These were songs that she used to sing along to from Conway, Merle, and the Oak Ridge Boys.

I am so proud to have a daughter who wanted to continue our family tradition, reminiscing about all that my grandma and mom had taught me and some of the great times we had in the kitchen. We worked very hard and were very tired, but the satisfaction that comes from seeing the “pretty jars” of tomatoes that we had preserved made it all worthwhile!

This “preserving” is not only ensuring that we have tomatoes all year long, but it is also about remembering and honoring those strong women who came before us and passing that heritage on to the strong women who come after us.

Memories are made in the kitchen folks!

A Blessed Weekend by Denise Adams

Our third Tomatopalooza submission came from Denise Adams, a dear friend who got the chance to pass on her canning knowledge to her daughters.

Alexa proudly shows off the lovely jars that she, her sister, and her mother prepared.

My middle child, Alexa, came home from Lexington for a visit with a purpose of canning for our first time!  My mother is smiling down on us from heaven I am sure, as we are having an awesome time in the kitchen.  We both prepared with lots of reading and researching lots of home canning blogs and websites and the preparation paid off.  It is music to the ears listening to the little “pops”.  We are forever hooked and bonded over the heat and luscious smells we have created…even baking biscuits and eating our leftovers at midnight last night. Thus far:  10 pints of spaghetti sauce, 10 pints of peach preserves and 9 pints of plum jelly.

An afternoon siesta and then back to the kitchen 🙂

The spaghetti sauce Denise refers to is the Roasted Tomato and Garlic Soup that I often refer to in other posts, a recipe I learned from Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen.

Roasted Tomato and Garlic Soup
Click for recipe.

Pickles Anyone? By Rita Grace

The second Other Voices submission was from my sister, Rita Grace.  She is my rock, my expert, and she is a good sport about anything I drag her into.

A couple of years ago, my sister gave her husband an antique tractor for his birthday. It suppose to be for their ‘big garden’ on the farm. We all know its a toy.

It’s a bright Saturday morning and my dear sister has invited our cousins to MY house in a couple of weeks for a pickling party!  She has forgotten that that we’re about to start remodeling. I haven’t thoroughly cleaned the house for months– its a wreck!  I look around and decide cleaning can wait. There are cucumbers and tomatoes, fresh from our garden lying on the kitchen counter.  And they’re calling my name!

As I enter my kitchen, I realize just how much I harvested earlier that morning.  Frankly, I didn’t want to deal with any of it.  The past couple of weeks have been wonderful. With just enough vegetables to eat and not enough to preserve, we’ve relaxed and simply enjoyed life.  I am one relaxed lady and now there is a lot of work waiting for me. As I think about the fun my husband and I have had, I begin straightening up the kitchen, ignoring the vegetables.  Simply putting away all the unnecessary tools, ie, toaster, vacuum sealer, etc., improved things!

Then I stare at the cucumbers again.  My husband loves homemade pickles — he won’t hardly touch a store bought one. Knowing that cucumbers would soon be coming in with a vengeance, I begin to hunt for his favorite dill pickle recipe.  When I can’t find it, I recruit him to help me.  Together, we search the whole house and finally find the right cook book with the correct recipe.

With one eye on the cucumbers, I get out the ingredients for the dill pickle recipe and start measuring.  (I guess I’m making dill pickles today after all.)  Then I get the jars heating, along with their rings and lids.  Finally, I wash and trim cukes. Unlike my sister who considers a recipe as a suggestion, I follow the instructions to the letter.  Well, almost.  As I start filling the jars, I realize that I need more juice.  So I stop and make more liquid.  Within an hour, I have four pints of dill pickles, sealed, and ready for eating. More importantly, my kitchen is clean, and I feel a sense of success. Then I see the tomatoes…

The cousins are still coming, the house is still a wreck, but who cares?  We will be making memories and have pickles for our efforts!  I can’t wait!!

Dill Pickles
4 lbs (4″) pickling cucumbers
6 Tablespoon salt
3 cups vinegar ( I use apple vinegar)
3 cups water
1 cup dill seeds
21 peppercorns whole

Wash cucumbers; cut in lengthwise halves (I make slices, but lengthwise). Combine salt, vinegar and water. Heat to boiling. Pack cucumbers into clean hot pint jars. Add about 2 Tablespoons dill seeds and 3 peppercorns to each jar. Fil with pickling syrup to within 1/2 of jar top. Immediately adjust lids. Process in boiling water bath (212 degrees) 15 minutes. Remove jars from canner. Makes 7 pints.
Dill seeds do the seasoning

Freezing and Canning Cookbook by Farm Journal, Revised Edition, Prized Recipes from the Farms of America, Copywright 1973

Rita Grace is a retired foster care specialist. She began her career as a home economics teacher for the Hopkins County Board of Education before becoming an cooperative extension agent for the University of Illinois, then Purdue University. She and her husband enjoy gardening, preserving, and serve as technical advisers to Despite Everything. I can’t do anything without them.

One Decent Tomato by Rebecca Reynolds

Our first guest post was received from long-time friend Rebecca Reynolds, a Kentucky girl now living in Michigan. The post below was first featured in Michigan Blue Magazine.

As spring gardening approaches, my thoughts turn to you, Barbara Kingsolver. No, you don’t know me, but I have a bone to pick. You’ve set the bar too high. Not only did you and your family grow all your own food, but you also documented the entire year in your bestselling memoir Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, complete with agricultural and environmental tips. Did I mention recipes included?

Except for olive oil and grains, if you didn’t grow it, can it, freeze it, dry it, raise it, or buy it locally, you didn’t eat it. Then, in your spare time, you and your husband bred and “harvested” Bourbon Red turkeys. Your college-age daughter tested all the recipes. Heck, even your grade-schooler raised chickens and sold eggs. Puh-leeze.

Oh, sure, I’m jealous of your successful year of sustainable living. But that’s not what annoys me. It’s your tomatoes. See, while you had a tomato crop approaching 400 pounds, I’ve spent a decade trying to grow one decent tomato. One. Decent. Tomato.

When Jim and I moved up north from tomato-growing heaven in Kentucky, we settled a mile and a half north of the 45th Parallel, on shady Main Street. Two words should immediately alert any serious tomato gardener: north and shady. See, tomatoes originally came from hot, sunny Mexico and Central America. And that’s exactly what they like: heat and sun.

My first few springs I started my plants from seeds. But in only filtered house light, these poor leggy seedlings listed pitifully toward the illusion of sun. I took to moving them from room to room, but to no avail. When I planted 6-packs from the garden center, I was again thwarted. My plants grew fine, but with only three hours of sun per day, nary a fruit ripened. And not even I can eat that many fried green tomatoes.

Next year found me with one perfect tomato plant in a wagon. So began the great Tomato Tour: two hours of a.m. sun in the front yard, three hours on the side, and a half hour of western sun in our backyard. Jim and I dutifully pulled the wagon back and forth. That is when we were home…when we remembered. It didn’t work. Finally I took to inviting southern friends up to visit. Y’all come. And, please, bring tomatoes.

So, whereas you, Barbara Kingsolver, had so many tomatoes you were literally seeing red, I’ve yet to see pale orange. But this spring’s different. Gal pal Susan has an organic garden on a sunny hill two miles south of the 45th Parallel, and Jim and I are joining her in working it. Yes, indeed, come September, I, too, will be canning and drying just like you, Barbara Kingsolver. Because, we both know, it’s just like Guy Clark sang: “Only two things that money can’t buy…true love & homegrown tomatoes.”

Recipe: Pull one decent tomato off the vine, rinse under tap water, roll up sleeves, and enjoy! Salt and pepper optional.

To learn more about Rebecca Reynolds, visit her website