Thursday, October 2, 2008


I fear I may have spoken too soon in a recent post when I said I would try to find something other than food to write about. I spent last weekend dealing with late harvests from the garden, and with baking several loaves of bread. I went to the farmer's market and bought some local grass-fed beef, and I gleaned another 12 pounds or so of Bartlett pears from someone in my neighborhood who had a sign on the lawn for free pears. (Got a good pear recipe?) I also placed an order for 100 pounds of flour and 25 pounds of sugar at wholesale prices through a bakery I work for occasionally. I'm looking ahead to a lot of baking in the coming cold weather. And it doesn't hurt to feel like I'm hedging my bets, what with peak oil and our bleak economic outlook.

But I also found some time to tinker in the garage as the trailing edges of tropical storm Kyle dumped a few inches of rain on us. I have a couple of projects that I'm working on. After falling in love with apple wood smoked tomatoes, I'm more motivated than ever to hack together a proper smoker. We'd been talking about building one with a metal trash can and an old plug-in electric burner my husband has had since his dorm days. He's even used it in our Weber grill to smoke a few things. I finally went out and bought a few items to make a full-size trash can smoker a reality. Off to the hardware store I trudged with my discount coupon.

Right now I only need racks to hold tomatoes, peppers, or other lightweight things in the smoking chamber. So these very hacked together racks made from bent hangers will work fine. I just bent a bunch of hangers, bound them together with thin gauge bailing wire, trimmed the straightened out hooks, and then drilled holes in the side of the can where they needed to be. The racks can be removed and replaced as needed. Here I've got the smoker with two racks in place, and peppers on the lower rack. (Click for a better look.) Underneath is the burner with an aluminum tray full of apple wood chips on top. I'm also going to cut some dowels to fit across the top of the trash can so that we can hang meats or fish if we want to smoke these bigger and heavier items.

My total out of pocket budget for the smoker so far is just under $37, including the purchase of a special drill bit and mandrel which may or (let's be honest) may not ever come in handy again. Yes, I did ask around to see if friends or relatives already had one of these before I purchased. Finishing up the project with a few dowel hangers won't cost much at all. We already have wooden dowels. The only downside is that we're not getting much in the way of warm weather these days, so there's not much left to smoke at this point.

The other project I need to complete fairly soon is the marvelous $6 Chicken Plucker. This article was published a while ago, and I didn't have all the items on hand that the writer did. So our chicken plucker is going to come in around $19. That's still a pretty cheap solution. We'll be "retiring" our laying hens sometime in the next couple of months, probably just before we go away for Thanksgiving. The woman who I swapped chicken sitting services with eagerly volunteered to come and help us do this. I imagine she's looking forward to the time when she'll face the same solemn task. Our hens were actually due for "retirement" just before we got them this spring. We gave them a few happy months of life, and they gave us eggs. I don't really like euphemisms, especially not for death, so let's be honest here: we're going to slaughter them. That also means plucking them, and we'd rather not do that entirely by hand. This ingenious gadget is simple enough to make at home, and quick enough to easily handle the plucking of a small number of chickens.

I had to buy all the materials for this plucker except the drill itself. I've got the plucker started. When it's finished, I'll get some pictures up.

Then, just for fun, I spray painted some poppy heads and some garlic seed heads that I had saved from this year's garden with silver and copper metallic paints. Holiday wreath-making is a family activity on the day after Thanksgiving. I thought some of of the seed heads might look nice in an evergreen wreath. I haven't quite decided whether they will or not. I may have to wait and see them in a wreath before I decide if they're tacky or not.

I like tinkering with things. I don't really know what I'm doing with woodworking or mechanical stuff, but I like having tools and materials to mess around with. And I like building things fairly cheaply that will serve us well as tools. Making these sorts of things is far less intuitive to me than cooking or baking. But the results tend to last longer than the food does.

What useful things have you made in the DIY category? What clever hacks have you used or even invented? Please share your stories in the comments.


Anonymous said...

I miss this life living in New York. So, I'm glad to pass this video on to someone who's living it:

Kate said...

Anon, thanks for the video link. I had never seen it. I do have the plans and some of the materials for building the Whizbang chicken plucker and scalder. But I doubt I'll ever process more than a very few chickens in one day. And the whizbang is a fairly complicated machine. So the $6 chicken plucker suits me pretty well.