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Musings by Leah Jorgensen

Archive for June, 2009

Bantam Banter…

I never knew much about chickens.  Least of all Bantam chickens.  I do know a good deal about books.  And I have read plenty of grand titles published by Bantam Books, in particular.  In my literary-focused world, that’s what Bantam has meant to me.  The likes of Louis L’Amour and John Steinback – two great American frontier writers were published by Bantam.  Bantam also published the original “Choose Your Own Adventure” book series for children.  But, I digress…

I sit here at my writing desk, staring out at the old Douglas Fir tree and the quiet country road the Farmer and I live on, and I hear the constant, meditative cluck of two Bantam hens running free on the open range of our organic farm.  It’s different.

Our Bantams are wild birds.  We salvaged them from a farm in Mulino belonging to a family that is sadly losing it all.  I don’t pretend to write the sentiments of Steinback, who by virtue of timing and experience, became one of the most powerful, prolific voices of the American Great Depression.  Nevertheless, I am living in rural America and I’m seeing the harsh reality of our economy’s tired, desperate fists.  Truth is, we’re seeing more and more farms foreclosing and it makes me worry.  Oregon is second to Michigan in its unemployment rate.  I am one of those people on unemployment, and I can only hope the Farmer and I will be able to stay afloat.  There are no guarantees and, I suspect, we have a lot to learn from our wild Bantam friends.

Leah with chix

Here I am on the day we brought the Bantams home

For one, our Bantams live freely off our land.  They walk or run around for a good part of the day, plucking worms and bugs from the ground, feasting straight from the earth.  When they sense danger, they open their wings, hop a little and then kick into rocky flight up into the limbs of our apple, black walnut and fir trees.   The trees are their sanctuary. Sooner or later, they come back down and resume their activity on the ground.  Sometimes, they sneak back into the barn and flutter up to the nesting boxes for a nap and, hopefully, to lay an egg or two.  Sometimes, they jump up on top of an old, decrepit bunny hutch left over from the previous residents, to chill out while the Farmer is out in the fields on his tractor, or I’m in my garden combating slugs.  The Bantams seem to respect our space, thus far.  They have not meandered into the farm fields or my gardening nooks.  They haven’t been pooping out of control, either.  They happily fly up to the tree branches at dusk, nest for the night, and then come back down at dawn. 

What I love most about the Bantams is their instinct of flight.  I had never seen flying chickens before, only ones with clipped wings kept in covered coops.  I like that they know freedom, that they instinctively steer clear from our cats and anything else that could be predatory.  I like that they spend their days busily taking care of business, and by business I mean eating, pooping and sleeping.  It’s a simple way of life, but I get it.

Hens

The day we picked up the Bantams was a little slice of comedic heaven.  I thought we would arrive in Mulino to find a cage neatly filled with the five or so hens and twenty chicks we were to bring home.  Only, the small cage housed just two caught hens.  The Farmer and the owner’s teen aged son spent the next two and a half hours chasing hens and chicks.  Two flew up into the trees.  The two men ran around with nets.  At one point, five hens were finally in the cage, but, because it wasn’t correctly clasped, they all got out just as we were about to leave.  I wished to God I had brought a video camera with me to document the unfolding pandemonium.

The Farmer and I have a good sense of humor.  In this world, you need one.  I often call my suburban and city friends with horrific stories of cat prey left on our nice rugs, or a half-eaten beheaded chicken corpse from our neighbor’s coop that got dragged onto our front porch by the huge, neighborhood skunk, who then met his untimely fate by the wheel of a car or truck on our quiet, little one lane country road.  Yes, I spotted bits of stinky skunk tufts on the side of the road while I was driving the John Deere to our neighbor’s house to move some logs.  It was beyond a reasonable doubt the very same stinker who stole chickens on our street.  Country life is amusing, at times.  And often ironic.

Back to our Bantams.  They are pretty birds.  There’s a book all about them, which I intend to pick up, called Bantam Chickens by Fred P. Jeffrey, which was published by the American Bantam Association.  Which, I had no idea there was even an association.  Perhaps I may join…  I don’t know how into these chickens I envision myself becoming.  I could be that crazy lady down the road with her swooped up straw hat with mini, feathery chicken dolls adorning the rim, bantering all about the history, breeding, behavior, management and exhibition of American Bantams.

I am more likely to play mother hen to my Bantams, and simply take care of them with little to no handling.  These Bantams are pretty independent creatures.  Scoop a little organic feed into their feeders each day, make sure they have fresh, clean water, and the rest is pretty much up to them.

I remain a bird watcher, a humble witness to these wild, wonderful Avis beauties.  When I’m lucky, I get to see them lift off and land safely into the arms of our sturdy, rugged trees.  It really is a marvel if you’ve never seen a chicken fly before.  I let them keep me grounded, aware of the potential danger out there, cognizant of the steady role nature plays in our lives, and fully grateful for the simple beauty of eating, pooping and sleeping.  It means we are alive, we are well, and we are blessed.

hen in barn

Pearful Planning

The Farmer and I love apple and pear brandy.  In fact, I introduced him to Oregon’s very own Clear Creek Distillery’s Eaux de Vie William’s Pear Brandy on the night we met. 

While he has been planning his organic farm out here in Colton, Oregon, he has had his eye on a few prizes that are already thriving in the rocky soils of our property – – a wild and random orchard of apple and pear trees.  He plans to pluck the fruit this fall and start mashing them for distillation.  We’re going to try our hand at distilling our very own orchard fruit brandy.

pear_tree_webPear tree in the middle of our organic veggie field

My interest in apple and fruit brandies goes back a few years, when I was working for a wine wholesaler in Washington, DC.  We had a handful of magnificent French brandies in our portfolio, including G.E. Massenez from Alsace.  I still use the Kirschwasser brandy for cooking.  But, what excited me the most was the Massenez Williams Poire Brandy.  And, what excited me even more was the luminous and mysteriously beautiful Massenez Pear in the Bottle Eaux de Vie.  I learned that the producer placed the decorative bottles on the branches of their pear trees and – voila! – the pears would grow in the bottle.  Tres manifique! 

When I moved out to Oregon five years ago to work in the wine industry, I discovered Clear Creek Distillery.  I learned that proprietor Stephen R. McCarthy not only made a wonderful selection of intriguing brandies and distilled spirits, including a Doug Fir Eaux de Vie inspired by an obscure Alsatian distillate called Eaux de Vie de Bourgeons de Sapin (a tree spirit), but, he had his lovely clear bottles gracing the lovely limbs of his lovely trees – making Oregon’s very own apple and pear in the bottle brandies.  I had my Christmas gift list figured out for the next five years!

The other night I picked up a bottle of the Williams Pear Brandy, and the Farmer and I each enjoyed our own drink.  He added his to a shaker with ice and served it cold, straight up, in a brandy sifter for indulgent sipping.  I, on the other hand, enjoyed mine poured over ice in a cut-crystal highball glass, topped with organic ginger ale, finished with a slice of lime, otherwise known as a Lennart cocktail.  It was divine.

Clear Creek has become an inspiration for the Farmer and me.  We are planning a visit on August 1st for their Orchard Open House.   We intend to tour their facility – which includes their gleaming, traditional European pot stills.  And, by then, the fruit should be fully grown, perfect to see the pears and apples growing in bottles in the orchard.

Meantime, we are watching the flowers cap off into tiny pear and apple fruit.  It’s exciting!  We’re about to learn what varieties of fruit we’ve got growing.

pear_limb_web

 

 

 

 

 

 pear_fruit_web

La Vie de Ferme has exceeded my expectations.  There is a simple joy to living in a rustic way, with nature all around and the generous abundance of vegetation from lush hard-worked crops, to the delight of perfect, picturesque orchard trees that promise delicious spirit in the not too distant future.  There’s nothing like returning to the source.

And, we want it all!  Hearty, organic crops, lush grape vines to make our own wine, and the savored pear and apple brandies to keep us warm, happy and ever grateful well into the next fruit harvest.

We intend to share the fruits of our labor – whether selling the Farmer’s veggies in a CSA and to local chefs, having friends over to enjoy a few bottles of wine (well, that won’t happen for at least 4 years), or spending the holidays with the people we love while sipping on our home-grown brandies, we can’t wait to share what we’ve accomplished with our friends and future customers – our soon-to-be extended family.

Cheers!