Thursday, September 26, 2013

Hay in the Barn

Right now I am enjoying the feeling of security that few things in life can bring.  The one that has brought this contentment and safety to me at the moment, is having hay in the barn.

My second cut is finally done.  Late again this year, and wondrously, thankfully, yielding almost twice as much as last September's second cut. It is beautiful hay.

September hay is a gamble.  Nights are cool.  Mornings are foggy and wet.  Rain comes and sits for a while, usually in relation to whatever tropical storm or hurricane is hitting the Atlantic coast.  You can cut hay, sure, but getting it to dry in a timely fashion is another story.

We got lucky.  Hay was cut on Sunday, and despite nights in the 30's with frost (every one of 'em) and foggy mornings (every one of 'em), the blue skies held and temperatures climbed near 70 during the daytime. My hay was dry enough to bale on Wednesday afternoon.

Now it is in the barn, 147 bales (or, not quite 30 bales per acre, a far cry from the guaranteed 100 per acre I get year after year for 1st cutting, yet much better than last year's droughty second cutting hay which only yielded 15 bales an acre).

147 lovely, soft, delicious smelling bales.  A year's supply of hay for Old Man, who at 29 years old doesn't eat the coarser textured first cutting so well any more.

Hay in the barn.  Security.  Contentment.  Happiness.

the barn

the loft

inside the loft

Apparently one of our cats feels secure with all this hay too.  Because when I went to take pictures of the hay this morning, I found these nestled in the chaff:

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Cooking. . . Because I Want To

I like to cook.  No, really, I do like to cook.  That fondness for spending hours in the kitchen has, through the years, gotten me varied comments from admiration, to amazement, to downright aggression.  There have actually been some people who act like I should not be happy toiling for my family's food.  After all, women are liberated these days.  Grocery stores full of heat-and-eat meals abound.  Not to mention the number of restaurants and fast food establishments there to take the burden off of me.  Just pull in, order whatever my heart desires, wait two minutes, and have food handed to me, hot and ready to eat.

Except for one major thing.  My heart desires good food.  Not just good tasting, but actual honest-to-goodness good-for-you food.  My system seems to be pretty sensitive to intrusive ingredients hiding in most of the conventional fare calling itself 'food' these days.  Artificial sweeteners kick off headaches and even migraines, depending on which sweetener it is.  Certain oils give me immediate gastric distress (usually the ones you look on the ingredients list and say "What the heck is that?!?  Whatever happened to corn oil?"  Other things are more sneaky, waiting a while after ingestion to make me feel not up to par.  And let's not even mention my eczema, which hasn't hardly bothered me at all since I went to scratch cooking and organic gardening.  'Nuff said.

So I don't want to be liberated from my kitchen.  I don't want to have 'more important things' to do.  I want to cook.

Unfortunately I have found that somehow, as this year has gone by, I have been separated from my kitchen more and more often.  Oh, I do spend eight to ten hours a week in it creating all my farmers market baked goods, but I have not spent much time daily creating good food for my family's meals.

I don't do boxed stuff, no matter how time crunched.  Frozen and microwaved are not allowed here.  (Heck, I don't consider the microwave a real way to prepare food, as I strongly suspect the food isn't as nutritious once it leaves the microwave as it was when it went in.)  For me, time crunched means one of my quickie "30 minutes to cook" menu items.

Which are all fine and dandy once in a while.  But when quickie fixes become five days a week, week after week, month after month, well, that is not fine and dandy with me.  I don't like it.  I feel stressed.  I feel like something has been taken from me--something tasty, as well as something I have a sense of joy in the creating.

Today, after fulfilling my work-away-from-home duties at the horse farm at one p.m., I decided I was going to cook.  Cook because I want to.  And boy, have I cooked!  A batch of granola, the first I've made to eat myself instead of sell at the market, since June began.  Two loaves of bread, because it's time to bake my weekly bread for the family.  Two loaves of french bread also, because I want some garlic bread with the dinner I have planned for tonight.  (One loaf will be for with dinner today, the second will go in the freezer for accompanying a future lasagna.)

Not started yet, but soon to begin, spaghetti for dinner.  With homemade sauce.  Using tomatoes, peppers, onions, basil and oregano from the garden.  Sauce that takes quite a bit longer to make than the few minutes of heating sauce from a jar requires.  Sauce that will be not just tastier, not just free of suspicious sounding ingredients, but sauce that will bring contentment and the satisfaction of doing what I want to do.  Cooking because I want to.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Neighborhood "Watch"

So, it's mid September, heading into late September.  In my neck of the woods (pun intended--you'll get it in a minute), that means every guy and a lot of the girls you meet asks pretty much the same question:

"How's the deer out by you?"

Or, the variation:

"Seeing any horns?"

Now, we're well aware that whitetail deer have antlers, not horns.  But 'horns' is the local colloquial  for bucks.  So, the question isn't really about horns (OK, antlers) themselves, but about the number of bucks in the area.

I confess to having this conversation myself, just last week, when the blacksmith came to trim the horses' feet.  He hunts.  I hunt.  We often talk about deer while tending to the horses' regularly scheduled pedicures.  He lives in the neighborhood--about three miles away, but out here, that's still the neighborhood.  There might be twenty houses in that three miles, but most likely not.  Mostly fields.  And woods.  And deer.

He hadn't at that point, seen any 'horns'.  Just does and fawns.  I had just recently started to see small bucks showing up in my field and the field north of me. DH had also just hung the game cam back out in the woods, and we hadn't yet retrieved the SD card to see what was moving out there.

This week, however, is a different story.  The big guys have appeared.  Now DH and I are seeing, almost nightly, numerous bucks.  One night we counted six in the north field.  A couple sets of little guys (fork horns and six points) sparring.  Then we spotted some more massive bucks standing closer to the woods, keeping an eye on things.

It's almost hunting season.  The neighborhood watch is in full force. We're taking pictures for evidence.  And compiling our own Most Wanted list.  :0)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Their Time Has Come

The broilers, that is.  I had actually been planning to butcher them over Labor Day weekend, but ended up doing a marathon tomato canning session instead.  Meanwhile, the broilers kept eating, and growing, and pooping, and I kept hauling them water and feed and moving their pen daily to fresh grazing.

Until today.  This morning I decided that I was going to bite the bullet and just get those darn birds killed.

Why such an attitude?  Well, because I had decided last year that if I raised more meat chickens, I was going to do the butchering myself instead of taking them to the local processor.

Not that it wasn't handy to take them in, it was.  Not that the processor didn't do a good job, they had.  It was just that it was so darn expensive:  $3 per bird to kill, gut, and shrink wrap.  And if you didn't want your birds whole, it was $1 per "cut": $1 to cut in half, plus an additional dollar to cut into quarters, plus an additional dollar to cut into parts. . .

I think you can see how this could get kind of pricey if you didn't want all your birds back as roasters.  Which DH did not.  After 24 whole birds from the last batch we had raised and paid to have processed, DH said he liked it better when we had butchered them ourselves and then packaged into the cuts we wanted.  Such as bags of chicken wings (handy for Super Bowl time!!), packages of leg quarters, packages of boneless skinless breasts, packages of whole chickens cut into frying or barbecue pieces. . .

So, going into my broiler chicken endeavor this year I knew who would be doing the processing.  Me.  Hopefully with some additional help, but most likely not.  DH hates butchering chickens.  And with his long work days bringing home the figurative bacon, I can't really expect him to cheerfully assist in chicken termination.  Both of our daughters are in school full time, with homework to do after class, DD1 works a 15-hour work week on top of college classes, and DD2 is knee-deep in football cheer season.  Not to mention their reluctance to help with eviscerating fowl.

So, me it was.

It was with this knowledge that I faced the task in front of me this morning.  Thankfully not twenty-four chickens, but only a dozen.  It seems that the minimum number of birds for live shipping from the hatcheries has gone down this year.  So I got a much smaller number of broilers.

Yet, a dozen chickens is a lot to take on by yourself.  There's the killing, the plucking, the gutting, the washing, the parting out, the packaging.  And let's not forget the clean-up afterward.

Seven hours after I began, it is all done.  The killing.  The plucking.  The gutting.  The washing.  The parting out.  The packaging. And yes, the clean-up.  Including cleaning up me with a long hot shower so I don't smell like dead chicken.

broilers enjoying their last meal,
 not knowing what the next day would bring

stump and hatchet ready

the chicken holding nails

hanging to bleed

Here our pictorial ends.  It is rather difficult to take pictures of yourself taking a chicken through all the stages from cluelessly letting themselves be caught (at least, the first few were easy to catch; after they left the pen and didn't come back, the rest got rather suspicious of me), to headless, to featherless, to removal of feet and wingtips, to gutting, to  cut and wrapped for the freezer.  It's a messy process, and I really didn't want to get my camera smeared with poultry 'products'.  I also just wanted to keep cruising through the process and get it over and done with as quickly as possible.

Now that it's over, I have come to a few conclusions.

--I don't want to do this again by myself.  My hands ache from the plucking and gutting.

--I still don't want to rely on the store for my chicken.  It's just not the same.

--For next year's chicken, I need to find someone willing to process it and package it into cuts for me without costing as much as the local processing plant.

--Or maybe I'll just stop dealing with raising broilers and find someone local who raises pastured chickens and offers them for sale.  Support small scale agriculture :0)

Yeah, it was that bad.  I've been there, done that, with the meat birds for about ten years now.  I still want my healthy, naturally raised chicken to eat.  But I don't think I can take processing them all by myself any more.  My hands are needed for too many other things to go on forced sabbatical because of chicken processing damage.  The last time I processed birds, it took three days for my hands to return to normal and pain-free.  I'm too young to feel like my hands are stricken with arthritis.

As an added point in coming to this conclusion, the concluding of my broiler processing endeavor, my ten-year-old butchering stump is shot.  It's really punky.  The nails popped out after chicken number five, and I had to keep monkeying with trying to pound them into a solid spot with the back of the hatchet.  No stump, no chicken-head chopping.  Decision made.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Let's Play a Game

This post is inspired by an assignment DD2 had the other night for her AP Environmental Science class.  She had from the time she got home from school, until the time she went back to school the next morning (so, after cheer practice which ended about 5:30 p.m. until about 7:20 a.m. when the school bus picked her up again, minus the seven or eight hours she slept and not counting the time she spent working on homework for other classes. . .) to list all the poultry products she could find in her home.

So, now I challenge you to take a few minutes (because we both know you're not going to wait until tomorrow morning to come back and read the rest of this post) to think how many poultry products you have at your house.  We'll include indoors and out, because, well, that is what DD2 did.

Ready, set, go!

(Imagine Final Jeopardy music playing here)

Okay, time's up!  How many did you come up with?  At this little place here, DD2 came up with 13 items, which ended up being about three times as many as her classmates.  She was rather proud of that, even though some of our items were considered, well, odd.

Here's what we have:
  1. Laying hens
  2. eggs from the laying hens
  3. broilers
  4. packaged chicken in the freezer 
  5. a turkey in the freezer
  6. chicken bouillon in the kitchen cupboard
  7. canning jars of frozen chicken broth in the freezer (for future soup stock)
  8. jars of chicken dinner mix in my farmers market stuff
  9. a down coat
  10. feather pillows
  11. cat food ("poultry by-product" listed in the ingredients)
  12. several wishbones lined up on the windowsill behind the kitchen sink
  13. chicken litter (ie. the floor of the chicken coop currently, meaning the mix of sawdust and chicken manure)
When the teacher commented on the chicken litter, DD2 said "At our house, we try to use everything.  Chicken litter makes good fertilizer."

That assignment got me to thinking.  How aware are we of what resources we have in our homes?  Do we use as many of them as we could?  I know all too often I don't make full use of what is around me.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Yesterday we received a phone call from the high school. DD2 was not in trouble ;0).  No, it was one of those automatic-dialed, pre-recorded calls that they use nowadays to get information out to parents.

Even so, after listening to it, I immediately felt inner turmoil.  I'll try to sum up the call.

Basically, it was informing all us parents that the high school this year is joining up with some organized thing sort of like a food bank.  They are having a food drive--to last all school year--and the items collected will be divvied up between needy families in our school district.

That is all well and good.  Yes, I would like to help the needy in my community.  It is a small community, and there seems to be, from what I have observed through my ten years here, a large percentage of low income and poverty-level families.  So of course I'd like to help my fellow citizens who are struggling.

Except, and here's where the turmoil comes in, the food drive is only for non-perishable food items, and the phone call informed me that specifically macaroni and cheese, Ramen noodles, breakfast bars, instant oatmeal packets, granola bars, family sized cans of soup are desired.  The goal is to, on a weekly basis, provide each needy family with 3 days of dinner and breakfasts on the weekends.

Hmm.  I don't buy that stuff for my own family.  Ramen noodles I wouldn't eat if I was starving (tried them once, and they will never pass my lips again).  Mac and cheese boxes don't go very far, not nearly as far as a box of elbow macaroni and a jar of cheese sauce, which together cost only about double what the name brand box of mac and cheese goes for, but makes at least four times as many servings.

So, while I would love to feed all the hungry children of my school district, I don't want to feed them that stuff.  I'd much rather donate pasta, jars of sauce, the dinner mixes that I make and sell at the farmers market, homemade oatmeal packets, the same dry soup mixes (just add water) that I make for use at home instead of buying cans of creamed soups. . .   But that stuff is not what is wanted.  That stuff is a) questionable because it didn't come from a store and factory sealed, and b) takes too much effort to cook.

I'm torn.  I can't quite bring myself to go to the store and purchase the requested items.  Not just because I know there are cheaper alternatives.  Not just because I know there are healthier alternatives.  Not just because I know that scooping out a 1/2 cup of powdered soup mix and adding water then heating doesn't take much more effort and time than opening a can of soup, adding water and heating.

Yet, my help is not wanted if I instead donate all the homemade equivalents to those items.  And I don't want my donation to be tossed into the trash instead of being eaten by the hungry.

I'm torn.

What I wish could happen is that I could be partnered with a family in need.  That I could deliver to them some of the fresh bounty from my garden on a week to week basis.  That I could mentor the parent (or even middle school and up aged children, maybe it is even more important to mentor the children) on meal preparation.  That I could show them that cooking isn't a burden.  That all food doesn't have to be taken from a box and put into the microwave in order to have a quick meal when you are short on time.  To teach them to prioritize their time and that a half hour spent cooking is much more important than a half hour in front of the television.  To give them my homemade maple syrup in the spring and share my pancake recipe with them (I'd even provide the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and vegetable oil for it too). To give them fresh eggs when I have them coming out my ears in the spring and early summer.  To give them asparagus in May when we are eating it almost daily.  To give them fresh chicken when I butcher my broilers, and fresh venison in November.

Lest I be accused of not knowing what it feels like to be in the shoes of a parent who works at minimum wage all week and comes home exhausted, not having time to cook a good meal, let me say "Yes, I do."  I have been there, and then some. And what I learned was cooking from scratch.  What I learned was that feeding myself and my kids was just as important as bringing home the paycheck that bought the food, and certainly more important than the time to watch one more tv show.  I learned that planning ahead doesn't take much time or effort, and whipping up a casserole the night before and putting it in the fridge to cook the next day when I have a shift that runs later isn't as much of a burden as getting off work and wondering if I have enough cash to pick up a drive-through dinner for my family on my way home.  I learned that fancy haircuts were not important compared to feeding my kids.  I learned that going to a movie was a want, not a need.

Okay, I'll stop now because I can feel this quickly turning into a rant on how many people spend their money instead of on food for their family.  I'll just add that when there was $45 in the budget to buy a weeks worth of groceries for five of us, my family did not eat out, we didn't order pizza, and DH did not buy beer even though he really would have loved to have beer after a long day's work.  We bought ingredients, and cooked them.  And our family was nourished, no child in my house ever went hungry, and every child drank milk.

So, I'm torn.  I want to help.  But the way in which I know there will be the most benefit is not how the help is being accepted.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Want Your Kids To Do Well In School? Cook With Them!

Do you want your children to do well in school?  Of course you do.  Every parent does.  I've never met one parent who said "I don't care if my kid gets good grades.  I don't care if my kid struggles in school.  I don't care if my kid learns anything."

So, let me ask you this.  When was the last time you cooked with your child?

No, really.  This is a post about kids doing well in school, and I am asking a question about cooking.

How does school success relate to cooking with your kids?

Well, numero uno is that if you cook with your kids (which, I admit, when you are time-strapped and starving, can be a big pain in the a**), you are obviously involved with them.  If you take the time to cook with them, to teach them about food and food safety, and feeding themselves, you are more involved with them than the parent who doesn't.  And, IMHO, a major key to having kids that are successful at anything is having a parent (or other significant adult) who is involved.

A second way that cooking with your kids helps them in school is that they learn to pay attention to details.  How does a carrot differ from a piece of bread?  From a slice of cheese?  From a can of soup?  Well, a carrot doesn't melt on the counter on a summer day like a slice of cheese will.  You can't ball it up in your fist like you can a slice of bread.  You can cut it and it doesn't run all over the place, like if you open that can of soup and tip it sideways.  A carrot is a solid, it's very firm, and it's shape is not much affected by temperature changes. On the flip side, all those items are like a carrot in some way.  They are all edible (well, the soup is, not so much the can).  They can all be cut (the can, not so much the soup).  Cheese can be orange like a carrot.  Cheese and bread can both be grated like a carrot.  If you heat the bread too long, it turns black, and so will a carrot if heated too long.   So, cooking can be a way to teach lots of observational principals, as well as many science topics.

Cooking can teach and/or improve counting skills.  I need 8 cups of sliced apples to make a pie.  My little kids can count each cup as I slice enough apples to fill it, then dump the cup into the bowl where the sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg wait in preparation of becoming pie filling with the apple slices.  They can learn addition skills, and even multiplication, if I use the 4-cup measure instead of the 1-cup:  4 cups plus another 4 cups makes the 8 cups needed for the pie; we fill the 4 cup measure twice, and we have enough apple slices, so 4 times 2 equals 8.  Math that is tangible, math without tears.

Cooking can also teach fractions.  Slice a sandwich in half at lunch time.  Then, in half again for four equal sections.  Viola, quarters!  And mini sandwiches that small children will think are just too cool for words.  :0)  Older children, who recognize fractions, can practice multiplying and dividing them by making a recipe bigger or smaller, thus needing to change 3/4 cup of milk in the pancake recipe to 1 1/2 cups for a double batch of pancakes, or  1 1/3 cups sugar in the 9" x 13" pan size recipe of peanut butter swirl brownies to 2/3 cup sugar for a recipe that will fit into an 8" x 8" pan.  (I realize the brownie example is unrealistic: nobody ever wants less peanut butter swirl brownies.  In my defense, I sell them at the farmers market in 8" x 8" pans, hence the need to sometimes halve the recipe.)

Cooking teaches measuring skills.  How are solids measured?  How are liquids measured?  When measuring something, do you look up at it?  Down at it?  Sideways at it?  Or do you adjust to be at eye-level with the thing you are measuring?  This is something DD2 commented to me last week on her second day of school--her junior year of high school--when she was telling me about an activity her Chemistry class had done, and how she was one of the few people in the class who knew how to properly measure a liquid.  She incredulously asked her classmates:  "Do none of you cook?!?" because that is where she learned to measure liquids, in the kitchen helping her mother cook.

Cooking teaches a lot of science.  Heating causes chemical reactions that change the physical properties of many foods.  Hence an egg, which is pretty liquid once you remove the shell, becomes a solid when you hard boil it, fry it, scramble it. . .   Butter, a solid, becomes a liquid when you heat it.  And if you heat it at too high a heat for too long, it goes from a pale yellow to a brown or even black color.  What about if you mix baking soda and vinegar?  What happens?  Gas is released: a chemical change made visible when foaming occurs at the point that the two substances mix and react.

Cooking also teaches reading.  How can you try a new recipe if you don't know how to read the words in the cookbook?  And how well does the recipe turn out if you don't read the words in the proper order?  Or if you read 'bake 30 minutes' as 'broil 30 minutes'?  Not going to get the same results broiling as you would baking.

Cooking teaches patience.  Not always do we get what we want when we want it.  I might want a chocolate chip cookie, but if I eat one straight out of the oven things aren't going to turn out all that well.  Most likely I'll remember the blisters on my tongue and roof of my mouth made by the 375 degree molten chocolate more than I'll remember how that cookie tasted.  I must wait for the cookie to cool before I can eat it.

Cooking teaches that things come with effort.  You have to put in some time, some effort, sometimes even some muscle (ever kneaded bread dough by hand?), to get a meal.  It doesn't just magically appear on the table at scheduled times.  Back to that apple pie with the 8 cups of sliced apples. . . have you ever made a pie completely from scratch?  Have you pared and cored and sliced the apples?  How long did that take?  Have you measured and mixed the filling ingredients?  Have you made the crust yourself--and how long did it take, how many frustrating attempts, before you got the hang of rolling out the dough for the pie crust into a nice even circle?  An apple pie takes nearly an hour to bake.  Then longer, even, than that to cool enough to be able to be eaten.  Talk about effort, patience, perseverance (rolling that darn pie crust just right) and the concept of delayed gratification!

Hmm.  Effort.  Patience.  Perseverance.  Delayed gratification.  Aren't those some very real things that are required for success in school?  Success in life?

Cook with your kids.  It will do them a world of good.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Tasting the Wild

In our woods, from the mid-way point north and south, scattered from east to west and especially prevalent all along the line where the field meets the woods, are apple trees.  Dozens of apple trees.  Some, guessing by the size, are older than DH and I.  Others are smaller in diameter, maybe closer to 30 years old.  All of them were established trees when we bought this little place here, trees that were overgrown and wild, their apples fodder for the deer, the turkey, the squirrels.  On the north fence line, the dividing point between our field and the neighbor's 60 or 70 acres, there are another handful more feral apple trees.

In the past, we made little more than passing notice of them.  Occasionally grabbing an apple if we happened to be walking by when the ones on that particular tree next to us were ripe.  One year, when DH was out putting up tree stands, he brought me in about a peck of apples he'd collected in the woods, and I made a pie with them.  Usually, though, they just went to the wildlife.

A few winters ago, we started a project of reclaiming them.  In January and February, we'd spent a few hours on each of several weekends, and prune apple trees.  First, out came the dead branches, then any that looked sickly or damaged.  After that, we stepped back, looked at the shape of the tree and if the branches were too concentrated in any particular area, then we'd take up our pruners (and often, the chainsaw!) and do more selective trimming.  Often, trees needed to be thinned on one side or another, to let more light into the center of the canopy, and to alleviate being weighted more to one side or the other.  Sometimes we decided to top a tree, lopping off the leader to bring the tree back to a more manageable height and rounder shape.

Last year, late frosts hit all the fruit trees in this part of the state.  None of mine bore any fruit, and many of the orchards within an hour or more drive had no fruit, either.  It was a sad year.

This spring, the weather was perfect, and all the trees blossomed heavily.  Apparently, they also got pollinated heavily.  My orchard is loaded.  The wild trees in the fence line and the woods are also loaded.  It is a great year for apples.

Recently, DH and I jumped on the tractor and went for a ride.  We were on a mission to observe the apple trees; to try to document how many different varieties of apples we had growing at this little place here, determine when each tree became ripe, and to see which apples were good for us to eat, and which ones were better left for the deer and other critters.

We were off to taste the wild!

What we found, were several trees that are definitely crab apples.  Good as pollinators, and if I ever want to get into making crab apple jelly or something along that line.  But not something you'd want as a snack.  We also found that we have, as we decided to call them trees of "Delicious" type (not our favorite, being kind of bland and not all that crisp), trees of "McIntosh" type (my favorite for pies), trees of "Granny Smith" type (DH's favorite for snacking), along with a few others that we couldn't quite classify but were very tasty.  Some are yellow, some are green blushed with red, some are russeted, some are all red, and some are green (as in Granny Smith green, not as in unripe green).  Quite a variety.

This tasting endeavor took us several hours, believe it or not.  Our girls, when we got back to the house, and told them what we'd been up to, couldn't believe it.  They thought we were nuts.

Nuts or not, it was an enjoyable time, riding on the tractor with my hubby, stopping at every apple tree, picking two apples, each of us taking one and biting into it.  Then a moment of silence as we chewed, and savored, or bit and spit, depending on how tasty or repugnant the particular apples were from that tree.  After each tasting, at each tree, a brief discussion and critique of the apples.  Then, moving along to the next tree, we repeated the process.

Some of the apples we ate in entirety before moving on to the next tree. Those trees will definitely get more attention in the future, not just pruning, but also thinning the fruits so that they grow to a size more like the apples of the grocery store instead of midway between a golf ball and a baseball.

I also would like to get pictures of each apple tree, and see if I can figure out if any of them are actually heirloom apples.  There is a section of the woods where the apple trees are approximately all the same size, and if you use your imagination to erase the oak and ash trees between them, trees that are obviously younger, it almost looks like they may have been planted in rows once upon a time.  DH thinks that the oldest trees may have once been some past landowner's young orchard.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Making Butter

I got my hands on some raw milk.  I wish I could share the whole story of how that raw milk came into my possession, but well, I plead the fifth.  It feels like what I imagine taking part in a drug deal must be like.  Maybe someone should lobby for the State of Michigan to implement Medical Milk cards for those of us who wish to consume raw milk. . .

Anyway, I got my hands on some raw milk.  It sat overnight in my fridge, and the next morning the bottles (glass 1/2 gallons) had the most beautiful layers of cream on them. Cream that begged to be made into butter.

Well, actually I had a few ideas for the cream and DH said "Make butter."  DH's sudden involvement in this raw milk thing is rather entertaining to me.  For years I've talked about cows and raw milk and our family, and he ranged from skeptical to uninterested to downright negative ("I don't want to be tied down to a cow.")  But when the phone rang that particular night, it was him who was hustling me into the car under cover of darkness. . . Oops, I'm supposed to be pleading the fifth!

Back to the butter.

The cream separated from the milk and rose to the top in the milk bottles (as shown by the red arrow in the picture)

 and I employed a turkey baster to draw it off.  About two cups worth from a gallon of milk.

This I put into a quart canning jar, screwed the lid on tight, and proceeded to shake.  Shake it up, oooh oooh!  Shake it up, oooh oooh!  (My apologies to The Cars. . . you were one of my favorite groups in elementary and middle school and apparently, in my forties, I have not forgotten the lyrics yet.)

So, I shook the jar of cream for a while.  Half hour?  Don't remember for sure.  I was talking with DH while shaking, so the time went quickly and I didn't think to look at the clock.  As I shook the jar, the cream changed from a thick consistency with a yellowish tint, to a watery consistency with a white milky color.  Yellow blobs began to appear floating in the liquid.

When DH and I determined that all the butter had been extracted from the cream, now buttermilk, I drained off the liquid (the buttermilk; which is awesome in banana bread or just cold in a glass as a beverage).

The way I drained it was to place a piece of muslin over the measuring cup, and then slowly pour out the contents of the jar.

When the liquid had all drained through the muslin, or so I thought, I carefully gathered up the muslin around the butter globs and gave a gentle squeeze.  More buttermilk ran out.

So I kept squeezing, wanting to get as much liquid out of the butter as possible.  Unfortunately, I must have squeezed a bit too long--the butter began to come out too!

I stopped squeezing, dumped the glob of butter back into the jar, and carefully used a spoon to scrape up the butter than had been forced through the muslin.  That went into the jar too.

Then I added some water to the jar and used the spoon to mash on the butter, "washing" the butter by turning and mashing the glob with the spoon until the water turned milky. 

Several changes of water later, I could no longer get the water to turn whitish while manipulating the butter through it.  The butter was now done!

At this point, if I wanted salted butter, I could have worked a little salt into it using my spoon, but I decided to leave it unsalted.  I spooned it into a small container so that I could store it.

my beautiful homemade butter!

For kicks, I set it on the counter next to a stick of butter from the store and took a picture, to show how the raw butter differs in color from the 'store butter', which was made from pasteurized milk that had come from cows that most likely had only seen light coming in from the doors and windows of the barn during their lactation, never from above as they roamed in the field.  Unlike my sunny yellow butter, which had been made from unpasteurized milk that had come from pastured cows who had known both sunshine and green grass.

I continue to be a raw milk advocate.  Finally, DH is seeing the light (or, should I say, the yellow), and talking raw milk too.

Friday, September 6, 2013


This is the time of year when the sandhill cranes start to form flocks again in preparation for their fall migration.  So, at this little place here, we've been seeing and hearing more of them lately.

I didn't expect, however, to nearly hit the kitchen ceiling the other morning when this pair started bugling from about 30' on the other side of the wall!!  They snuck up on me silently, whether by walking up the driveway or flying in then landing in the front yard, I don't know.  But suddenly they were there, and they were LOUD!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Canning Beans With Grandma

When I was in my just-turned-double-digits-but-not-yet-a-teen years, I would spend a couple weeks each summer living with my paternal grandparents.  They had retired and moved from Michigan to Southeastern Ohio, on a two acre plot we referred to as "Grandpa's Farm."

I loved going to Grandpa's Farm.  It wasn't a farm in the sense of owning livestock (although there was a small dairy farm next door), and it wasn't a farm in the sense of growing crops for sale.  Grandpa's Farm was just a chunk of land in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, on a winding road with few other houses around.  To a girl who was pretty much a city kid, Grandpa's two acres seemed like a farm.  Grandpa and Grandma did grow a large garden, which provided the majority of their vegetables each year.  Hence, it was a farm.

These days, I have my own 'farm'.  It does not produce livestock commercially.  It does not produce grain crops (well, I don't grow grain crops on it.  We do rent out a large portion to a local farmer who does grow grain crops on my land.)  What it does, is produce a large portion of the food we eat at this little place here.

This time of year, I am canning beans.  Canning beans always takes me back to those summer weeks down in Ohio at Grandpa's Farm.

The two weeks I spent there each summer always coincided with the annual bean glut in their garden.  Several mornings of each of those two weeks, Grandma and I would go to the garden right after breakfast, and pick beans.  We carried 5-gallon buckets to put the beans in, and we usually had at least one of those buckets filled by the time we'd inspected each row of beans for the ripe ones.

The morning would continue with washing the beans.  Then topping and tailing them (pinching off either end of each bean).  Then, while Grandma readied the canning jars and boiled the water to top them off with, I would snap beans.  If my brother or one of my cousins was there (sometimes I shared my time at Grandpa's Farm with my year-older cousin and my brother went to my aunt and uncle's house to visit our cousin who was a year-younger than my brother), they also did the snapping.  We came up with ways to make the work faster:  if a bean was long enough, we'd weave it through our fingers, down around the knuckles, and make a fist, breaking the bean into sections all at once.  Thinking back, it probably took us longer to wind each bean just so for snapping than it did to break it off one piece at a time.  But we were having fun, and it didn't seem like work to have to snap five gallons of beans.

Once all those beans were snapped, we would pack them into canning jars.  I don't remember Grandma ever using anything other than quart-sized jars for her beans.  When us kids had filled the jars to within an inch of the rim, Grandma would ladle in boiling water and top off each jar with a teaspoon of canning salt.  Then the lids would go on, and she would load the jars into her big pressure canner.

That was when I got to go outside, to the mid-day sun, which felt cooler than the air in the kitchen by then.  Grandma stayed inside, to keep an eye on the canner and make sure the pressure stayed at the correct measurement, until all the jars had been canned.  Right about that time, she would declare that it was hot, and that we all needed a popsicle. We would sit under the ancient spreading arms of the apple tree that grew next to Grandpa and Grandma's trailer, and we would all enjoy a popsicle, or maybe even two, depending on how many were left in the box and how many days us kids had left at Grandpa's Farm.

These are the things I think of these days when I'm canning beans.  And it makes the work go faster and not seem like work, to reminisce about days gone by, about a farm sold out of the family two decades ago, about my grandparents who have also passed on.