Sunday was our regular pick-up of meat from the Crown S CSA, as well as a lengthy planning meeting. We had new faces - people who joined after the initial deadline had passed - so we spent a couple of hours discussing what has and hasn't worked. We also had tasty food that members had brought. Because of the size of the meeting and the typical Seattle weather, we held the meeting at a neighborhood community center.
Crown S Ranch proprietors Louis and Jennifer were very interested to know how we felt about about the cuts and amounts of meat received, something I appreciated quite a bit. Several of us admitted that we weren't accustomed to dealing with all-frozen meat and that we had to change our habits. Good advice was offered by other members. Make a list of what is in the freezer and cross off items as you use them. I would not have "lost" and "rediscovered" sausages had I followed this advice. Another person recommended taking meat out of the freezer periodically to thaw in the fridge; you then have two days to figure out what to do with the meat.
The Butter Bitch and I are not big beef eaters, but I realize that is partly because we eat our hamburgers at one of the local pubs that features locally sourced beef. We haven't changed our habits to making our hamburgers at home, which is why I have packages of very good ground beef stacking up in my freezer.
One challenge is that we are dealing with unfamiliar cuts of meat, a problem helped by The Joy of Cooking and the Internet. Another problem is that some of the cuts are rather large for two people. The rib steaks were great, but the package had twice what we would eat, leading to big leftover portions. The arm roast looks about as big as, well, my arm, and is a bone-in slab cut from the animal's leg.
We enjoy the challenges of new cuts, and the bonus of getting soup bones for broth. I had a good conversation with Louis about bone marrow, which can be spread like butter after the bones are cooked. I knew little about marrow until a steak lunch with a group of co-workers in California. A co-worker who hailed from Houston, Texas, was disappointed that "this place calls itself a steakhouse but doesn't know what a marrow spoon is." It's a spoon for digging out the marrow, of course, but I didn't know that at the time.
The ranchers face challenges of their own that aren't immediately obvious to us. The number of certain cuts from a cow - flank steak and brisket, for example - are limited. If a cow is divided eight ways, not everyone will get brisket or flank steak. We all get prime cuts and hamburger, and seeking balance is somewhat of a Zen practice. If we aren't happy with the amount of hamburger we get, then we need to let the ranch know.
Crown S Ranch also slaughters cows through a USDA facility, for sale through local markets and farmers markets in Methow Valley. The meat still is organic, but this is another channel through which they support themselves. As I talk to more and more small farms, I realize that they need to run a lot of channels to survive. Their plan to sell duck eggs was foiled by local horned owls. The duck enclosure was designed so the ducks could enter and leave by swimming under the edge , limiting access from predators. Once, the owls banged on the top of the duck enclosure to scare the ducks out, they had easy prey.
The upshot of the USDA processed meat is that, if we want extra rib steaks or a brisket, we can request them from Crown S. Something rare, like tongue or oxtail, does require a special order.
Another challenge faced by the ranchers is finding a good butcher. A butcher has to make guesses about how to divide cuts, especially when the cow is to be cut into eight shares. The butcher may turn all of the brisket to ground beef, or may make cuts that are too big to divide. Our most recent delivery included many small cuts, so small that I thought I was getting a smaller share (Louis assured me that the weight was right, and I'm sorry I doubted him).
The Crown S folks have been working out kinks, taking some of our emailed feedback, and improving the process. They are committed to the CSA and also open to suggestions, including changes to the delivery schedule. Deliveries consist of seven drop-offs spread over 10 months, which result in 5-8 lbs of beef and add-ons. For some people 5-8 lbs isn't enough - a few people talked of doubling their shares - while others are adjusting to a new style of cooking. The Butter Bitch and I had to adjust to a weekly influx of vegetables, and now we are adjusting to regular delivery of beef.
I should note that pork, poultry, and eggs, herbed vinegars and heirloom grains are current add-ons, but that we chose to get only eggs. The details on lamb are being worked out, and there is talk of adding other black-boned chicken breeds and heirloom turkeys.
Heirloom turkey is the type of bird that Benjamin Franklin thought should be the national bird, unlike the current Anna Nicole Smiths of the turkey world. The breasts are smaller on heirloom birds. As one of our readers noted, the turkeys that grace the Thanksgiving dinner table have been bred for extremely large breasts. There are reports that modern turkeys are so large, they have trouble staying upright.
The frequency of deliveries is based on the total amount of meat to be delivered. We're still working out details, but might increase the number of deliveries to ten per year. Mountain passes are closed or treacherous during December and January. Louis and Jennifer had to take a detour on their way to Seattle, due to a sinkhole blocking their main route. They left Sunday to return home, unsure whether the passes were open, but I received an invoice this morning for the herbed vinegar, emmer flour, rye flour, flax seed, and spices that I ordered, so I trust they reached home safely.
Emmer, also known as farro, was one of the first domesticated grains and makes hearty bread.
I do have to brag a little about their eggs. We are accustomed to local, free-range eggs that have bright orange yolks, but not all eggs are alike. Some of the eggs that we have bought from other ranches don't have bright orange yolks, or the yolks seem to fade over time.
See the yolks below? That picture is from our first egg and meat delivery in September.
Every egg has had the same bright yolks, even the eggs that were not eaten until a month after delivery. I'm accustomed to using store-bought eggs within the first month. Mom of La Muncha once advised me that you can smell when an egg goes bad, and store-bought eggs go bad by the end of their first month.
Due to travels and quirks of cooking, our first delivery of eggs wasn't used until the six-week mark, but they still were bright orange and in good shape. The Crown S Ranch eggs are lasting longer than store-bought eggs, a trend I'd already noticed in farm fresh vegetables. I don't recommend that you get their eggs and leave them in the fridge for weeks. The good taste of an egg does fade a little over a month. Enjoy them while they are fresh.