There may be no more spiritually satisfying rendition of this meal than a from-scratch version, which, practically speaking, would be to use eggs from your own chickens, grow your own herbs (the best way to have chervil on hand as it’s so delicate), and make your own bread. For the challenge of it, I would also add, make your own butter from cream that has not been homogenized. If you live on a farm with cows, you’re golden. The uber from-scratcher will of course attempt homemade bubbly, but that’s going a bit far even for me.
To raise your own laying hens:
I have always relied on the kindness of neighbors who raise chickens (thanks,
When I spoke to her about beginning to raise chickens, the first thing she said was, “Find out what the ordinances are where you live. Know what you’re allowed to do.” So, the first step is to check online or call your city hall.
The next necessity is to provide a safe place for your hens. You’ll need to buy or build a proper coop so that they are protected from dogs and other animals. Many people are able to retrofit an existing shed. Safety is the key issue here, not temperature. “People raise chickens in Alaska, after all,” Drake said. She reminded me that chickens originated as jungle birds and still do like to roost.
Which brings up the third primary decision you need to make: What breeds thrive best in your climate?
Start with these online guides: backyardchickens.com, a large online forum; tillysnest.com, by
But before you do any of this, be sure to know why you want to raise chickens. Hold a grown chicken, Drake advised. “They’re fidgety and can freak people out,” she said. You never know.
And one last important note: Once you’ve committed to raising chickens, it’s a good idea to let your neighbors in on it. Some may object (and most certainly will if you try to raise a rooster). Most neighbor problems go away if you’re generous with the eggs!
To grow your own lettuces and herbs
Herbs are easy to grow and are a wonderful ingredient to have on hand all season long. Start them from seed in early spring in a flowerpot on your windowsill or fire escape, or buy them already started and tend them in your own garden. My favorite herbs to grow are tarragon, chervil (great but temperamental if not tended carefully), flat-leaf parsley, and chives. And I also love to grow hard herbs, those with woody inedible stems: thyme, oregano, and rosemary. The hard herbs are great to overgrow at the end of the summer and set out to dry to use all winter on roast chicken and in stews and braises.
Lettuces, too, are very easy to grow in season. If anything, I’ve found that the hardest part of growing them is picking them fast enough. They grow so quickly that they can easily get too big. But if you plant a variety of lettuces and stagger the planting, you can have lettuce all summer long. It’s in the category of foods you really can’t buy: baby lettuces picked just before serving.
Want lettuce and herbs all year round, even in a colder climate? The two key factors are light and temperature. Lettuces need about fourteen hours a day of light. Here in New England, we get only about nine hours of light in the winter. So even if you have a big, warm loft that gets tons of light, you may still have trouble with lettuces. And the area in front of windows tends to be too cold in winter—or there’s a radiator that gets too hot. But, thanks to the burgeoning marijuana industry, grow lights and stands and mini greenhouses are now plentiful and affordable. You can get rolling for well under $100.
To make your own butter:
It’s simple to make your own butter, but we have so much good butter available at grocery stores, it’s not worth the effort unless you have access to really good cream. Whipping cream in a standing mixer or food processor will eventually cause the fat to separate from the water. Once the fat and water have separated, strain the fat (save the liquid, the buttermilk; it’s refreshing to drink or to use as flavorful acidic liquid in cooking). Now you must knead any remaining water out of the butter. This is the fun part. To give it flavor, add 0.5 to 1 percent of its weight in fine sea salt or flaky salt. The salt also preserves the butter. Then toast a good piece of bread or an English muffin and slather it with your homemade butter, and you’ll know what fresh butter is all about.
If you are a yogurt maker and have a dairy-friendly culture, making cultured butter is definitely worth the effort. Add some of your culture to the cream and let it sit in a warm place (110°F/43°C is optimal) for 12 to 18 hours—in summer I set a covered pot of milk and culture in the sun; in winter, I put it in a warm oven. You can do the same for cream to make butter. Taste for the amount of flavor you’re after, then proceed with the whipping and kneading process.
It doesn’t take much imagination to picture how satisfying such a from-scratch meal could be: to gather your own eggs (or beg some from a friend—in summertime please, when eggs are plentiful, not in spare winter), and to cut the herbs from your garden, and to spread your own cultured butter on toast from bread you baked. It’s enormously satisfying because it connects us so deeply to our food.
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