Thursday, December 20, 2012


Hey y'all! There have been a lot of changes in my life in the last year but I have decided to re-open the Pastoral Symphony Farm blog again. See you there!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Community Cider Press

Today was our first apple pressing of the year. I had hoped that we would only have to go once, but things didn't work out that way. The press only runs on Thursdays which is the day of the livestock auction, hence the farmers are already in town. We took at least 4 different varieties of apples, cider is never as good when it's made from only 1 variety. Later apples make sweeter cider than early apples; so much so that we can taste the difference without having the jugs marked. The press runs until the week before Thanksgiving so we have plenty of time for more gathering and pressing.

In all our years of picking up windfalls at the orchard I've never seen a worse crop of apples. We gather them and then bring them home, then each apple is individually washed in soapy water and rinsed. This is not an organic orchard and windfalls can pick up soil borne pathogens. Better safe than sorry. There was so much worm damage and core rot, we probably threw out almost half of what we brought home, but if you want a decent end product you have to start with decent apples.
The apples are dumped into the holding area and then pushed into the chute which carries them up to the grinder.

The belt and pulley system that powers this machine.

The pumice is let down from that hanging bag and caught by big wooden trays lined with canvas. They are stacked layer upon layer until all of the apples are contained therein.

Once the stack of trays is full they are "driven" (see the wheels?) to the middle section.

The trays are lifted up until they hit the top and the squeezing begins.

The cider runs into a holding tank and then you fill your jugs from the spigots.

The spent pumice is dumped into this room after pressing, local farmers shovel it up and fatten hogs with it. The room had been recently cleaned out, but the pile still reached above my waist.

We got 21 gallons from 10 4 or 5 gallon buckets. That's a pretty typical yield.

The bill? $14.70, the lion's share of which was the cost of the jugs.

The 21 gallons comprise about 1/3 of the total we had last year so we'll be pressing again. We could, theoretically, buy cider but I admit that I'm spoiled. As with maple syrup I know exactly what went into the end product. I know the apples were free from dirt and bruises, I know they were fresh and I know no pasteurization was required to cover up the lack of quality. Obviously no commercial producer could or would take this much care (not in this day and age anyway) but there is no other way for us

Friday, September 30, 2011

Primitive Grain Bin

My birthday present came early this year. Mr. G and I were antiquing this week and were fortunate enough to find an 1860s walnut table to put in the livingroom. I've wanted a table in there forever for the children to do their schoolwork upon and now I have one! Still no chairs to go with it though...... But! while we were there I saw this gorgeous 1840s grain bin with original faux woodgraining, it is in wonderful condition and I *love* primitive painted furniture. It still has the original casters and everything, unfortunately it reeks like moth balls though. Any ideas on how to get that smell out?

I casually mentioned to Mr. G that if he wanted it he'd better get on the stick and go buy it before someone else did. He went the very next day and bought it for me! I will most likely use it as a blanket chest, but for right now it's still in the very overcrowded livingroom where I can smile at it every time I walk through. I can't imagine being happier with anything else he could have purchased. :-)

Friday, September 16, 2011

September happenings

I woke up this morning and it was cold! It got down to 38 last night, unseasonably chilly for mid-September. Yesterday we broke down and brought the old woodstove back in the house. We take it out in the Spring and bring it back in when we need to, this year however we hadn't planned to bring it back in at all. Our coal cookstove is almost ready to use, but we've had a delay in trying to find some replacement pieces; it dates to the early 1920s so parts aren't readily available. Anyway, a fire was definitely needed so the woodstove has again taken up residence in the living room. I had hoped that the boys would make a fire this morning but Aleks went straight out to milk instead, so I jumped out of bed and pulled warm clothes on myself and Asa and then went out to make the fire. I burned some paper and cardboard first to heat up the chimney, a warm chimney draws better than a cold one. We have an abundance of corncobs right now so I used those and some smaller twigs and then found what bigger pieces I could to get a nice fire going. We have very little firewood around as we had planned to be using coal. Levi helped with all that and then brought Asa's highchair in and placed it by the fire where he ate breakfast in relative warmth. We generally move the dining room table in by the fire for the coldest months for just this reason, it makes for a cramped but cosy living room.

We have some tomatoes to finish up and a batch or two of salsa, but the pressure has eased for the most part on the food preservation front. We're still shelling beans but we'll be doing that for quite some time. I want to put some beef in to corn later today, in about 2 weeks we'll be having corned beef hash or corned beef and cabbage! I found the most wonderful book about preserving meats without refrigeration "Cold Smoking and Salt Curing". I can finally learn to preserve hams etc. in a way that is consistent with my vision! I'm so excited!!! This book, unlike many how-to titles, instills confidence in my ability to be able to do this safely. For instance, when we first raised turkeys we bought 5 poults. I'd never raised anything like that before, but I just figured that I could do it successfully and I did. Then we bought the "raising turkeys" book and read how hard it is, all the diseases turkeys are subject to and all the equipment you need etc. We lost confidence and it took a while to get it back again. I hate self "help" books like that. My philosophy is that illiterate people have done XYZ for thousands of years, surely I can handle it. Maybe that's naive? I don't know, but it seems to garner its share of success. We seem to do a lot of things in ways that aren't considered "proper" today, especially with animals. You're never supposed to raise chickens and turkeys together, but we have for years with no problems. Broody chickens are set on turkey eggs which they hatch out and raise without difficulty. It sure beats trying to duplicate nature with an incubator!

We'll also be picking up black walnuts and shelling them soon and the apples are almost ready to be gathered in, I so look forward to the Autumn smells and tastes. We're going to brine and cold smoke our Thanksgiving turkey, a process that can take a month and a half so we'll be butchering it around the beginning of October. I'm excited about that too, life seems very satisfying right now. :-)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Jars Canned as of September 8, 2011

We ran out of quart jars today, I suppose there isn't exactly a convenient time for this to ever happen but today was definitely not it! The girls counted 39 partially filled boxes of pints, bail jars and wide mouth quarts, but none of those are what I need right now. Since we're at a canning standstill I decided to make an itemized list of how many jars of what we've already filled. The total is 565 jars so far, broken down like this:

15 quarts dark cherries
1 pint dark cherries
5 quarts light cherries
1 pint light cherries
6 quarts blueberries
10 pints blueberries
1 half pint blueberries
15 pints cowboy candy
29 quarts peaches
6 pints peaches
8 pints rhubarb
31 pints pineapple
65 quarts corn
1 pint corn
6 pints South Western corn
122 quarts green beans
8 pints black raspberries
3 pints mulberry/black raspberry jam
6 pints mulberry/apple jam
10 pints blueberry/candied ginger jam
1 half pint blueberry/candied ginger jam
9 pints peach jam
7 pints blackberries
1 half pint blackberries
33 quarts glazed carrots
22 quarts tomato sauce
4 pints tomato sauce
1 half pint tomato sauce
14 quarts plain carrots
7pints plain carrots
29 pints salsa
1 half pint salsa
7 quarts potatoes
7pints lemony sticky sour cherry jam
3 pints nectarines/plums
14 pints hot pepper rings
7 quarts spaghetti sauce
12 quarts vegetable broth
11 pints lime pickles
4 pints aubergine pickles
11 pints hot pepper pickles
4 pints zucchini relish
7 pints curried apple chutney

We have more carrots to do, pears and apples. After a while there will be cider, dry beans and some meat as well. I think we should have around 800 jars filled when we're done, I'm excited about that!


Monday, September 5, 2011

A Truth Universally Acknowledged

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of a large number of canning jars must be in want of a jelly cupboard. I already have a nifty little jelly cupboard that dates to 1855 but it’s used to store our medicinal herbs, books on health and herbalism, current knitting projects and ongoing genealogical research. I don’t think it has ever had the privilege of being the repository of canned goodness. We rapidly filled my one measly canning shelf and the three kitchen cupboards that we devote solely to home canning. The glut spills out onto the kitchen counters and even onto the dining room floor and that’s a good recipe for domestic discord. I saw and despised this new jelly cupboard for a year and a half at least, it was in the antique shop that I most like to frequent and I had bypassed it all that time because it was so god-awful ugly. It was dressed in hideous green high gloss enamel paint with cream trim.

I pride myself on being able to see the beauty in dilapidated houses and mistreated furniture, but even I couldn’t see any beauty in this thing. But suddenly one day I had an epiphany, I could strip it! I don’t know why that hadn’t occurred to me previous to this. We got it for a song due to its shameful appearance and Mr. G began to remove the paint layer by layer. It dates to the 1840s and has had a hard rough life, I believe that it had been stored in someone’s damp cellar due to the condition issues that it has. We repainted it with period correct milk paint, it is now a beautiful teal color that I created by mixing 4 parts Colonial Blue, 2 parts Tavern Green and 1 part Pitch Black. Though this cupboard will eventually house canned goods I didn’t want to fill it with them while it still sits in our livingroom. Once it goes to its permanent place I will transfer the jars then, until such a time it contains miscellaneous crocks and other kitchen belongings.

Furniture with this much history behind it really speaks to me, this cupboard is as close to the American Revolution era as we are today to the end of World War 2. That boggles my mind. I think that surrounding myself with craftsmanship from a bygone era is a way to keep the past alive, to honor the pioneer spirit and survivalist mentality that our ancestors were both proud of and took for granted. Many people feel that clinging to the diversified small family farming/self sufficient lifestyle with the myriad character traits embodied in such a notion is a sign of denial and social irrationality. “With mindless irresponsibility we chase some phantom utopia which has never even existed except in the nostalgic memories of a few….” But I believe that we’re capable and responsible for making the life that we dream of living.

No builder would set about building without a plan, a plank here a brick there, a little straw woven in now and then and yet expecting that something worthwhile could or would come of it, Yet life is often approached in just such a way, with no plan or forethought, just reactionary responses to the waves of life; a good way to drown. The things we spend/waste our time on, the way we spend our money, the things we talk about, all of it, all of it is shaping our lives and the legacy that we’re leaving behind. Antique houses and furniture strike a chord in most of us because they’re a tangible representation of a people who believed in building things to last, who believed in excellence, who worked harder than most of us could fathom and yet they were really living. They weren’t hiding behind a faceless internet anonymity writing about life while never really living it. And we’re drawn to it, maybe even in ways that we don’t realize in a small attempt to neutralize the effect that modern life has on us. The past is seen as an antidote against the crassness and shallowness that are the hallmarks of today. The peace and beauty of a well loved antique is a fitting presence in the home of people who are trying to live a life more common a century ago than today. They help ground us in our beliefs about work, family, community and history and continually call us to renew our commitment to strive toward a life worth living.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Weaving the Fabric

This post is a sort of continuation of my last post and an extension of some thoughts generated by some comments left.

I don’t intend to hammer away at people who own a food processor, Magic Bullet, vacuum cleaner or bread machine, but let me give you some sound reasons to put them away or use them less. We live in an age of unprecedented ease, never have such large amounts of people had to work as little as what we do. And yet, yet, we’re so unsatisfied. Something is missing from our lives; I touched on this in the post What Would You Give In Exchange? “Community” is a cry I’m hearing a lot, more people are waking up to the fact that truly no man is an island and they’re groping for a way to regain what was so carelessly tossed away by those of a generation or 2 ago. However, trying to rebuild community is putting the cart before the horse. Without the proper building blocks you can’t build anything that will last. The building block is the family and until the family is experiencing “community” you will never be able to replicate community on a larger scale. The best you’ll be able to do is to reenact it. Family community is built on need, Father and Mother need the children just as the child needs its parents and you can’t need somebody that you don’t know and never spend any time with. Let me present an example: we preserve a lot of food, right? :-) I’ve written about the tools that we use so you know that there isn’t a whole lot of mechanization being used here. Why would we choose to make it so hard on ourselves? Family community.

When we're making salsa somebody is washing tomatoes, Mr. G or Katie or Levi is cranking the Victorio Strainer, Elisabethe or Abigail is putting the tomatoes in the hopper, Aleks or I are dicing peppers, somebody else is cutting onions etc. We’re together, working to get an important job completed. It’s the same when we’re canning corn. Aleks picks it, Katie puts the water on to boil, Levi, Micah, Tabitha, Rebekah, Elisabethe and Abigail begin to husk it and remove the silk. Asa tastes the corn cobs to verify that they’re edible. And then Aleks, Katie and I cut it off the cob. Mechanization means not only noise that prohibits conversation, but it erases opportunities for us to work together. I need my children, we could not live this life without them and that needing them in turn grounds them to a real life. We're weaving more of the cloth that binds us together everytime we work together.

What kind of child abuse is it to turn a child loose to have their character shaped by their peer group? To substitute meaningful work for a virtual reality and passive existence: watching actors pretend to have relationships and act out immorality, listening to somebody else sing, watching other people play football, listening to somebody else read the Bible and explain their interpretation of it. Entire childhoods marked by passivity and then when they should be adults we wonder why they aren’t. We’ve set them up for failure by denying them a real childhood. “Fun” should be replaced by these two questions: is the task meaningful? and is it satisfying? Of course I’m not saying that we should never have fun, but it shouldn’t be a god that we worship. Enjoy spending time with your family, whatever your family happens to be; build that community first.

The two images shown are both of corn husking bees, the top image is a scene painted from the Island of Nantucket in 1876 and the bottom is a photograph taken at Hog's Jaw, a small community on the Cumberland River in lower Whitley County Kentucky about 1910. Friends and neighbors once gathered to help each other for such things as house raisings, quiltings, stir-offs, and bees. As it brought people together, it was considered as fun in those days and friends came from miles around. The work was often followed by a delicious meal and perhaps an evening of square dancing or games. Community building was happening all the time without there being any special effort to “create community”. Need compelled people to rely on each other, nobody was self sufficient but communities were to a large extent. If your very survival depended on your small town blacksmith, shop keeper, wagon maker, and midwife you would be much more careful to tend those relationships. We have so many more choices today that the “need” has been removed, or at least it appears so. But be not deceived, your survival still depends on others, they're just a nameless and faceless other that doesn't care about you as an individual. The Bible says that "My people perish for want of knowledge", you can apply that many ways to this situation, but it's not a stretch to say that God desires parents to work with and impart values to their children and also that He wants us to build communities.