We've been living in the Alaskan Interior for eleven years . . . two teaching in the bush country and riding around on dogsleds, the other nine near Fairbanks, where we are now. This year we've gotten into animals for the first tune and keeping quail, guinea hens, bantams, chickens, geese, a goat and a pig or two has made things poetry lively for us.
The quail have turned out to be very good homestead birds (they're small and gentle enough for some of you city folks to keep too). The eggs they lay are great, and we've stumbled onto a fantastic way to fix them. Are you ready for this... PICKLED QUAIL EGGS !
How to Pickle Quail Eggs
First boil the eggs for five minutes, then soak them in vinegar for at least an hour to soften the membranes (quail eggs are mighty tough). The spotted shell coloring floats off in the vinegar—don't worry about it—and after soaking, the membranes can be removed by gently squeezing the eggs and peeling.
Now marinate the quail fruit in your favorite pickle juice for two to three weeks in a cool place. Or make your own special pickling juice . . . the possibilities are limitless. We particularly favor beet juice and vinegar spiced up with small whole onions, fresh garlic, dill, a few peppercorns, a pinch of sugar and a clove or two. The color's wild and the flavor's delicious.
You could put your eggs in jars when they're done and sell them, I guess. They'd make a real delicacy for bazaars, the co-op or your local delicatessen, I've no idea what price they'd bring, though, as our pickled quail eggs never get past the cabin door.
Quail are good layers, beginning six to eight weeks after mating, and the eggs are relatively large for the birds' size. (Buy your quail before they start to lay . . . they cost less then.) We got at least three eggs a day—sometimes as many as six—from our farm producing hens, The Wildlife Management Institute in Washington, D.C., says quail lay an average of about four eggs a week (although ours are doing better than that) so with 16 or 17 hens you should harvest a dozen or more eggs a day.
We keep our quail, along with eight guinea hens and four bantam hens, in a pen made from double airplane dog cages left over from our dogteam days. The birds all seem to coexist darn happily. We haven't had the guineas long enough to turn them loose yet, but we've heard great things about their "watchdog" abilities.
We feed the whole group wild bird ration composed of natural foods. Ask your feedstore man what he recommends for quail if natural wild bird ration isn't available in your area. (While you're at the feedstore be sure to price the grouts and brown rice . . . even up here we're able to buy rice for 10-15¢ per lb. in 100-lb. lots, and grouts are less. The kids love groatmeal cookies!)
Quail eggs aren't the only warm season goodies we have in Alaska. After a wicked winter which broke many records for snowfall and cold weather, it's hard to believe the summer could be so hot and lush. We're enjoying the first harvest of fireweed honey, and it's lovely. The garden's about to burst forth . . . believe it or not, corn grows here! A special strain has been developed for Interior Alaska.
Unfortunately, though, it's already time to get serious about the next long winter. We'll be butchering our pigs this September (late fall comes early here), and hope to be able to write later about all the pork procedures. We're going to got into the whole thing. . . rendering lard, smoking meat, making headcheese and, possibly, tanning a pigskin. With two hogs, 100 fryers, three geese, the yearly moose (which dresses out at about 800 lbs.) and a dozen or so fresh salmon, our winter protein supply will be ample. Usually, we take advantage of the great terms on subsistence fishing licenses here and net salmon ourselves. This summer, however, we haven't been able to leave the animals long enough for a fishing trip . . . so we'll buy our salmon at an Indian fishwheel for $1 apiece.
We'll also buy 200 lbs. of spuds, which are very inexpensive if you buy seconds ("seconds" means they'll still have dirt clinging to them). Potatoes are a successful farming venture here and don't have to be imported. We hope to get into building a root cellar for storing the potatoes and our other foodstuffs.
Lastly, we're in the process of constructing a shelter for the animals. it'll be crude but warm, the exterior walls constructed of free slab wood from a nearby lumber mill. We'll use it to winter the birds and our dairy goat, who's going to kid in January.
Well, I've digressed considerably since the quail eggs. Got to go now, but hope to write again soon and share some ramblings about berries, mushrooms, jerky, winter clothing; the art of running a vehicle at - 50 degrees, how we treated our goat when she had a chewed up udder, and more of our experiences in the middle of Alaska.