Former organic farmer Edith Maxwell writes the Local Foods Mysteries Under the pseudonym Tace Baker, she writes the Speaking of Mystery series and the historical Carriagetown Mysteries. She also writes award-winning short crime fiction. Learn more about Edith and her books at her website and blog.
Edith is currently running a contest for a hand-painted silk scarf. See her website for details.
On Keeping and Cooking Chickens
I’m delighted to be a guest again on Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers. I was an organic farmer about twenty years ago for a few years, and I love immersing myself in that world again as I write the Local Foods Mystery series. The second book in the series will be out later this month. As‘Til Dirt Do Us Part opens, farmer Cam Flaherty is hosting a fall farm-to-table dinner under a big tent, with chef Jake Ericsson cooking up food from her farm and several others to serve to eighty guests.
Later in the book, Cam gets rescue chickens. Two of her volunteers discover that another farmer in town is maltreating her hens, and the Board of Health is about to have them put down. The volunteers get permission to relocate the chickens to Cam’s farm. With Cam’s permission, they build a coop and tell her how to take care of them.
My son works on a local organic farm that raises hens for eggs, so he gave me a tour. I laughed out loud when I heard the funny noises they make. It’s almost a gargling sound. Several other friends also keep hens, so I’ve been picking up bits of information all over the place. The birds have personalities, and some are smarter than others.
So far, Cam hasn’t eaten any of the birds, but she might sometime soon! In Book Three, Farmed and Dangerous, some backyard hens are “donated” to her farm (without her pemission) because the owners hadn’t realized how much work it is to take care of them. Unfortunately, this is happening a lot these days. Chickens are also being dropped off at overcrowded pet shelters.
Here’s an easy and tasty chicken recipe you can make with fresh local ingredients. We get our chicken at a local farm so we know the birds have ranged outdoors and have been treated well.
Foil Pesto Chicken and Vegetables
4 tablespoons fruity olive oil
1/2 cup basil pesto
4 boneless chicken breasts
2 slender zucchini, sliced thinly crosswise
2 Asian eggplants, sliced thinly crosswise
1 pint gold cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
Salt and pepper
White wine, plus plenty for drinking
Heat an outdoor grill. Flatten the chicken breasts with a mallet or rolling pin. Place a fifteen-inch piece of heavy-duty foil on your work surface and lay one piece of chicken on that. Spread 2 tablespoons of pesto on the chicken. Layer a quarter of the zucchini and eggplant on top. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the top. Sprinkle salt and pepper on, and splash on some white wine. Fold the foil in and double-fold so the packet is sealed.
Repeat for remaining chicken. Put all packets on the grill and cook for ten minutes, then turn and cook for twenty more minutes. Remove from grill and let sit five minutes before serving.
Great served with a tossed green salad, fresh corn on the cob, and a nice cool glass of white wine.
'Til Dirt Do Us Part
Autumn has descended on Westbury, Massachusetts, but the mood at the Farm-to-Table Dinner in Cam's newly built barn is unseasonably chilly. Local entrepreneur Irene Burr made a lot of enemies with her plan to buy Westbury's Old Town Hall and replace it with a textile museum--enough enemies to fill out a list of suspects when the wealthy widow turns up dead on a neighboring farm.
Even an amateur detective like Cam can figure out that one of the resident locavores went loco-at least temporarily--and settled a score with Irene. But which one? With the fall harvest upon her, Cam must sift through a bushel full of possible killers that includes Irene's estranged stepson, her disgruntled auto mechanic, and a fellow CSA subscriber who seems suspiciously happy to have the dead woman out of the way. The closer she gets to weeding out the culprit, the more Cam feels like someone is out to cut her harvest short. But to keep her own body out of the compost pile, she'll have to wrap this case up quickly.