homesteading

Grilled Lemon-Garlic Rabbit Wrapped in Bacon with Acorn Squash and Peas

Grilled Lemon-Garlic Rabbit Wrapped in Bacon

We have been experiencing some unseasonably warm temperatures in Eastern PA, with the high reaching 68°F just last weekend.  It’s amazing!!  The past few winters have been really rough so this is a nice break and we are trying our best to take full advantage of the mild weather.  This past weekend, we went for a family hike on the trails at South Mountain in Emmaus and then grilled some of our home-grown rabbit meat for dinner.  The last time we had this meal was in the summer and I didn’t expect to be able to break it out again until next summer.  But since we just harvested the last of our rabbits for the year, I thought I would take this chance to marinate two of them, wrap them in bacon, and grill them up.  Yum! 

 

For those of you who don’t know, we raise meat rabbits on our little homestead.  We started two seasons ago and have averaged about 12 rabbits – or 35-40lbs of meat – per season each of those years.  We’ve had a lot of learning experiences over this period and hope to be able to yield even more next year.  For example, a fun fact…I learned that a female rabbit actually has two uteruses (or uteri?) and…get this…she can be pregnant with a full kit (which usually yields about 6-8 baby bunnies) and then get pregnant AGAIN – as in AT THE SAME TIME – using the second uterus!  Crazy!  Talk about a Super Mom!  So it’s true what they say about “reproducing like rabbits”.  These things are nuts.  We have never made use of this back-up uterus because, first of all, it seems a little bit cruel and, also, we’re working on getting good at single uterus production first.  One thing at a time, please.  Even so, the same Mama rabbit can get pregnant, deliver the bunnies, and then go through the whole process again in the same season and all of the bunnies will still be full grown by harvest time in the fall.  So, we could potentially get 12 rabbits or more from each of our two female rabbits in a season.  Like I said, we’re working our way up to this…hopefully next year.  We currently have one male and two female rabbits and these are considered our breeding rabbits.  We keep these around from year to year.  We breed them in the very early spring to try and time the delivery around mid-to-late April when the temperatures are starting to warm up.  The mommies are pregnant for 30-31 days.  When the bunnies are born, their eyes are closed and they don’t have much fur to speak of so they just sort of huddle together in a big clump in the nesting box for a week or so.  In the beginning, they nurse from their mother.  Eventually, they will start to eat on their own and grow like crazy.  In just 14-16 weeks, they will be full grown and ready to harvest.  (You can continue to keep and feed them after this point and they will gain a little more weight but will also consume a lot more feed at a lower conversion ratio.)  Since we raise meat rabbits, their full grown weight will be around 5-7lbs at harvest time and will yield about 2-4lbs of meat each.  Our biggest rabbit was around 5lbs dressed, but that was an 18-month old male who we thought was a female and bit Joe’s finger when he tried to separate it from another male, earning it a one-way ticket to the freezer!

 

Here are some other fun facts (or “learning experiences”, as we like to call them) that came to light during our first two seasons of breeding and raising rabbits for meat:

 

  1. You should carefully monitor and limit the amount of breeding action, if you will, that a male rabbit experiences in a single day. Case in point…our very first attempt at breeding involved giving one of our Daddy rabbits a chance to spend some time with each of the Mama rabbits in a homemade mobile pen out in the yard.  Keep in mind that rabbits don’t care much for wooing and flowers and chocolates and making a girl feel special.  They just get right down to business and go at it over and over again for as long as you will let it continue.  So after many rounds of this breeding procedure that we came up with, we put the rabbits back into their separated sections of the main rabbit hutch.  Later that same night, the Daddy rabbit had a heart attack and died.  Whoops!  A little too much action for the big guy!  Lesson learned. 
  2. It is REALLY difficult to tell male and female rabbits apart. As young bunnies, it is nearly impossible.  But even after being full grown, it is still really hard to tell one from the other.  We had one case where we thought we had the male and female rabbits separated into their respective factions only to find that one of the “Daddy” rabbits turned up pregnant!  So either we got a really special rabbit or we messed up the sexing. 
  3. Rabbits can have a false pregnancy where they put on weight and pull out their fur to make a nest, just like they would if they were actually pregnant. But, alas, no bunnies will appear. 
  4. It’s not good to deliver babies in January, but rabbits don’t know that and will mate if you put them in the same cage in the greenhouse when trying to protect them from a -15°F polar vortex.
  5. As mentioned above, it is hard to tell male rabbits from female rabbits, and when you get that wrong and try to mate boy rabbits with other boy rabbits, they play what looks like a funny game of chase the tail, but really they are trying to castrate each other.  Yikes! They also bite really hard when you try to break them up (drawing blood through a leather glove).  And once you do break them up, they hold a grudge and will rip through wire mesh to get to their new nemesis.  Boys!  They cause such trouble!
  6. Their manure is like brown gold…full of nutrients and does not require any composting prior to adding to garden beds (unlike chicken manure, which is too “hot” with nitrogen to be directly added and requires “resting” prior to using as a fertilizer).  Also, their manure is apparently like candies to dogs…we are pretty sure this made up our dog’s primary diet for most of the summer.  Yuck.

 

So there…I hope I just told you all that you wanted (or didn’t even know that you wanted) to know about raising meat rabbits!  And, if you ever find yourself with some rabbit meat, here is our favorite way to prepare it…

 

ingredients for grilled lemon-garlic rabbit marinade marinade for lemon-garlic rabbitrabbit pieces in lemon-garlic marinade 

 

Grilled Lemon-Garlic Rabbit Wrapped in Bacon
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Ingredients
  1. 2 medium rabbits, cut into pieces (ours were about 3 lbs each)
  2. 1 handful fresh thyme and rosemary leaves
  3. 6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  4. Olive oil
  5. 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  6. 1 teaspoon honey
  7. 3/4 lb bacon
Instructions
  1. Using a mortar and pestle (because it’s fun) or a small food processor, grind up the fresh herbs with the garlic and lemon zest.
  2. Transfer to a small bowl and whisk in the olive oil, lemon juice, and honey.
  3. Place the rabbit pieces in a glass dish and pour the marinade over top. Cover and refrigerate all day (or as long as you have until dinner).
  4. About an hour before dinner, fire up the grill on medium heat and take the meat out of the refrigerator and remove from the marinade.
  5. Wrap one or two slices of bacon around as many pieces as you can and secure them with toothpicks. Try to at least wrap up the loin and back leg pieces. The front legs are very small and the belly doesn’t need it because it’s considered “rabbit bacon” all on its own.
  6. Grill over medium heat for about 10-20 minutes, turning often and removing the smaller pieces first as they are cooked through. The belly and front legs will cook rather quickly and the thicker pieces with bones will take a bit longer.
  7. Serve with your favorite seasonal veggies. (We used roasted acorn squash from our local CSA and some peas from a bag in the freezer section of our grocery store. Hey, we do our best but we sure love green peas and haven’t found a good way to buy, harvest, or preserve peas from a local source. It was our 4-year old’s idea to serve the peas inside of the acorn squash halves and everyone loved it!)
Notes
  1. You could also prepare this recipe in the oven at 400°F by roasting for the same amount of time. Be sure to keep an eye on the meat so that it doesn’t get overcooked. You may want to turn it a couple of times during the roasting process and you could even baste the meat with the leftover marinade.
  2. Serves: 6-8
Life From Scratch http://lifefromscratch.com/

P.S…you can find excellent instructions on how to cut up a rabbit here, if you find yourself in such a situation…

http://honest-food.net/2010/05/19/how-to-cut-up-a-rabbit/

 

Free-Range Boys

Free-Range Boys

Over the past two summers, our boys have been at an age where all three of them were mobile and active and had a lot of energy to burn on those long summer days. Even the youngest one at age two was ripping around the yard on a balance bike or climbing up into the “fort” at the top of our reclaimed swing set in an effort to keep up with his older brothers. Since Joe and I are trying our best to be good little homesteaders, our summer days are very busy with taking care of the animals, tending to the garden, preparing fresh food, putting up food for the winter, and everything else that comes along with running a household. In the interest of letting the kids get out their energy while we still have a chance at getting something done, we decided to institute the “free-range” policy for our children. Maybe you’ve heard of free-range chickens or guinea hens? This allows the birds to get some exercise and have access to fresh greens and bugs all day long. Why not for boys? They need fresh greens and bugs too, right? Just kidding, sort of 🙂 Now, please don’t judge. Or, at least, before you do, sit down and ask your grandparents or great-grandparents what their children did on those long summer days when they were growing up? And the simple reality is that you can’t be with all three of them at all times. So when one of the boys says to me, “Can I play outside?”, my response is usually, “Sure!”

 

The end result is usually some ridiculously dirty clothes (or naked boys and missing clothes), a lot of messes to clean up around the yard and the house, equal parts yelling at each other and working together as a team, a few narrow misses where we almost went to the ER, and some of the most creative ideas that the boys have ever come up with – for better or for worse. I love to peek out of the windows when they think I am not watching and see what they are up to. It is easy to imagine them all grown up as a team of engineers working together on a construction project, or an environmental research team out on an expedition to collect nature samples, or a group of scientists conducting an experiment. Here are some examples of what these crazy boys have come up with during their adventures together:

 

  • After harvesting ripe, round tomatoes from the garden, bringing them inside and creating a game of “tomato bowling” across the new wooden floors. They liked the way that the tomatoes went “splat” at the end of their quick trip across the room.

 

  • Borrowing Daddy’s bungee cords from the garage tool bench (you know, the ones that you would use to secure something in the bed of a truck or on top of the car roof, perhaps?) and stringing them up from a tree branch above the wood pile and attempting to go bungee jumping off the top of the wobbly pile of rotting logs. (Luckily, I intercepted this extreme sport adventure before anyone actually became airborne. And it’s a good thing because the tree branch they had selected wasn’t big enough to hold the weight of a squirrel, let alone a small child! However, I must give them some credit because they were all wearing bike helmets…safety first!)

 

  • Digging a hole together and filling it with water from the garden hose to see what would happen. When the dirt inevitably turned to mud, they called it “mud soup” and proceeded to add other ingredients, such as sand, leaves, and grass, to see what would happen next. In the end, they decided that they had created a “mucky mess” and this is still one of their favorite games to play outside. And why not? One mucky mess is never the same as the last one! My favorite part of this operation was how they worked together to decide what to do next and everyone had a role to play in the creation of their recipe.

 

  • Finding bits of unused rope around the property and tying them together and then somehow stringing it up and around the swing set to fashion their very own homemade rope swing. Along these same lines, I have to say that I don’t remember spending much time teaching either of the older two boys how to tie a knot. They learned it out of necessity while working on projects such as this one where they didn’t want Mom and Dad to know what was happening so they couldn’t ask us for help. It’s amazing what they can do when they know that no one else is going to help them figure it out!

 

  • Eating a pokeweed berry. Yikes! That was a scary one. One cool thing about having so many edible plants on our property is that the boys can harvest their own food while playing outside without bothering us about “what can I eat?” or “when is it going to be snack time?” or “I’m so hungry!” Mostly, this means various berries, herbs, veggies from the garden, and handfuls of mint or basil to freshen their breath and flavor their drinks of water. But one day, our youngest, who was two at the time, saw clumps of ripe, round, bluish-purple berries growing on a bush right next to the chicken coop and decided to try them out. As far as we can tell, he only had one or two of them before coming inside and complaining about his belly hurting. Thank goodness! And then he was able to take me out and show me where he got the berry and I quickly used the wonderful internet to google my way to an identification of the berry and a decision about whether or not he needed emergency treatment. Luckily, you would need to ingest a much larger quantity before it becomes dangerous but the pokeweed berry is indeed toxic to humans. So this year we were able to cut down all of the purplish-green stalks of the pokeweed bush as soon as they started to appear. And every time we see a pokeweed bush on the edge of a trail or elsewhere in nature, the boys are quick to point out “that’s the poisonous one that Matt ate and got sick!” Lesson learned, I hope!

 

  • Setting up a “worm farming” operation. This involved, among other things, setting up a pulley system with a rope and a 5-gallon bucket. Our 7-yr old, Ben, would stand up in the fort at the top of the swing set and let down the bucket for the other two boys to fill with worms that they had dug up and extracted from the dirt around the swing set. Ben would then add the worms to another bucket up in the fort that was already filled with dirt. Then he would send the empty bucket back down to be filled up again.  The boys keep reminding us that they are ready to go fishing whenever we are ready to take them!

 

  • Opening a farm stand at their grandparents’ house in town. The boys harvested, cleaned, and bagged kale from the garden. Then they created signs to advertise their farm stand and the prices of the different sizes of bags of kale that they were selling. In the end, I think the older two boys made about $10 from kale sales and our youngest made another $10 in sales of homemade cookies. Who doesn’t love a cookie and a bag of fresh kale on a summer morning?

 

Homegrown and Homemade Farm Stand

 

 

As you can see, when left to their own devices, the boys can be both a creative and dangerous team. My hope is that all of this unstructured and partially unsupervised play time in nature will allow them to explore new ideas, learn things that I cannot teach them and they will not learn in a book, and form a bond between brothers that can never be broken.

 

(I wish that I had more pictures to share of these magical moments but I am still learning to take a deep breath (and grab the camera!) when I come upon these brotherly creations instead of shouting something that I will later regret!)