Thursday, February 26, 2009

It's syrup season!

Today marks the official beginning of Spring for our family, a day that has been eagerly awaited and much anticipated throughout the chill of Winter. Spring might not be here for you, but it begins for us when we tap the Maple trees. Daytime temperatures above freezing and nighttime temperatures dipping below freezing mean that the sap has begun to rise in the trees, before you know it they will be budding! We put in around 55 taps which is a far cry from the 550 that my Dad helped with when he was a boy! We drill ours the same way that they did though, with a bit and brace. After the hole is drilled the younger children race to plaster their mouths to the hole to drink the sap. It is only slightly sweet and not really that tasty, but they think it's great. After Mr. G pries them off the hole, he puts the taps in and hangs the buckets. The musical plink plink plink of the sap hitting the bucket begins.

They put the lids on to keep out the rain and squirrel "presents" and then off to the next tree. Last year some of our buckets didn't have lids and every morning we would find corn in the bottom of the bucket. They finally discovered that a squirrel was nesting above the bucket in the tree and would come down to drink the sap and leave corn behind. Payment maybe? ;-)

Every year previously we would boil it down in the house, but this year Aleks wanted to do it differently. He wants to boil it in the woods instead of walking all the sap the half mile back home. I can't blame him, hauling 20 5-gallon buckets full of sap every day for a month must get tiresome. A sugar house with an evaporator would have been great, but they're so expensive. So, we bought a 20-gallon cast iron kettle and they are going to hang it from a sturdy branch in the woods. We found this wonderful couple from South Carolina who specialize in antique cast iron and we bought it from them. Aleks has been chopping wood for weeks in anticipation, all the boys are excited about it and they've made a lovely, primitive sugar camp. We will still finish it off in the house, but the lion's share of boiling will be outside of the kitchen. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup so that's a lot of evaporation!

All of which brings me to my next point. I'm having my first blogger give-away and the prize is a pint of Maple syrup! All you have to do is leave a comment on my blog and mention it on your blog. I'm not going to check up on you, we'll just use the honor system. I'll draw a winner toward the end of March, good luck!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

I love Weck

I have an infatuation for Weck jars; all shapes, all sizes. I love Weck. We went to Lehman's again today, primarily because they have a "bargain room" where the returned or defective stuff is deeply discounted. It's further discounted on Saturdays, hence our trip today. And in the bargain room to what should my wondering eyes appear? But 2 Weck jars! One was a dollar and the other 2 dollars. I have some of the juice jars that I canned maple syrup in last year and some of the ones above in the biggest size. I wish they weren't so expensive (why is everything that I like so pricey?) but they're re-usable for years so the cost is somewhat offset.

My other purpose for going was to get another set of the yellow splatter/spatterware dishes that we use. I bought ours years ago and I like it so much better than speckleware/grannyware that is more common. Not only has Lehman's upped the price, but they're all made in China! Ugh, I guess I'll have to find something else. Their speckleware is made in Mexico, so I suppose that's better but by how much I don't know. I was pretty disappointed; breakable dishes just don't hold up here, so my options are really limited. I won't use melamine or plastic, so that's out too. I think I'm down to two options, pewter or treenware. Lehman's ought to rename themselves "China Mart" since so much of what they sell comes from there. It really is possible to purchase goods without resorting to Chinese made junk; it takes more effort, but at least you can avoid the garbage that they add to cut costs. Of course, if they're never punished for poisoning baby formula, pet food, or children's toys, then why should they stop? They have ZERO respect for human life (theirs or ours) and unfortunately Americans are too greedy for cheap stuff to effectively boycott them.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Self sufficiency how-to

This is the post where I will try to answer your questions and give you recipes etc. I think for ease (mine!) I'm just going to do this as a bulleted list and then I won't have to worry about grammar and proper sentence structure. ;-)

  • We grow open pollinated seeds. We've used "Heirloom Seeds Company" before but there are many others that specialize in non-GMO seeds.

  • I have had a smaller round dehydrator for years and it's mostly what I dry my herbs in. This past summer I found an Excalibur dehydrator on Craig's List that I snapped up, it has a lot more space, so for fruits and vegetables it makes more sense for me to run it. I dried strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, pears and apples. For vegetables I did corn, green beans, broccoli, squash, zucchini and tomatoes. The advantages of drying are that it doesn't destroy enzymes like canning (and especially pressure canning) and doesn't require the use of fossil fuels to keep it preserved like freezing does. As to the taste, well, I think the taste is superb! There was no loss of quality to anything except the strawberries. They discolored, perhaps I should have used "fruitfresh" but I wasn't sure.

  • Homemade cleaners. OK, I want to be totally honest, I don't always use homemade! Sometimes I think bleach is really handy to have, like for sanitizing after the flu. I do scrub pots with salt for cleanser and use tea tree oil in a squirt bottle (diluted of course) to wipe sinks and toilets. I've never made homemade detergent that I like but I do like Charlie's Soap for laundry. They have a very informative website, go read it!

  • Toothpaste recipe. We don't buy store-bought toothpaste because of the fluoride and because they have artificial sweetener in them, most of which are carcinogenic. The recipe is *roughly* 1 cup of baking soda (freshens breath), 1/4 cup salt (kills bacteria), 4-10 drops of oil of cloves (cavity fighter) and enough water to make it spreadable. If you're used to hyper-sweet store bought, well, be prepared! You will learn to like it and I guarantee your mouth will never have felt so clean, but it does take getting used to. Just resolve that you're GOING to do it and don't look back!

  • I had a cloth diaper business a few years back, I wish I could access my web pages because it had a plethora of information. Cloth diapers, like maxi-pads are super absorbent because they are loaded with chemicals. When you switch to cloth you will find that you are changing diapers every hour for little babies, they need to be changed *way* more often. So when you think about it that way, it really makes you realize how long and often babies are soaking their tender parts in a urine/chemical cocktail with disposables. Pads are the same way except that there is anecdotal evidence that throw-away pads make you bleed more; the "super absorbency" chemicals actually promote blood flow. Once I switched over, I found that to be true, I bleed a lot less and for fewer days with cloth. As with diapers, they do need to be changed more often. Mine were made by a friend and I'm not sure she's doing it any more but do a search on "mama pads" and you should get a zillion hits. I think they are more comfortable though they do shift somewhat, I like wings personally.

  • A couple of things that Zebu asked: I buy organic raw milk now that we sold our goats and I trust the farmer that the milk is wholesome. I think that's the key, to know who you're buying from! That's the same for the eggs, farm fresh *can* be better but not if the farmer is feeding them GMO soybeans, for instance. BTW, I am totally against soybeans, they contain crazy high amounts of phyto-estrogens and wreak havoc with the hormone balance in humans and animals. Read "Nourishing Traditions" by Sally Fallon, it will really open your eyes about how and what you eat. I can't recommend it enough!

  • About growing herbs and using them medicinally. My article in the spring issue of Farming Magazine is about beginning the transition from traditional, allopathic medicine to home-based herbalism. For those of you who don't subscribe (and you should!) I will copy the article in its entirety here. If I've missed anything or not answered your questions please let me know!

The Backyard Herbalist
Paris-Lynne Graham

Many people are becoming interested in taking charge of their health through the use of herbalism, but are unsure of where to begin. This month’s “herbal primer” is written with them in mind as a gentle introduction to the wonderful benefits gained from simple natural herbs that are already in use in your kitchen. Using herbs that are already familiar to you will make the transition from allopathic-thinking to natural-thinking an easier bridge to cross. Here are some tried and true natural tonics and remedies to start you down that road.

Thyme: Thyme is an antiseptic, antispasmodic, tonic, and carminative. It is an old-fashioned remedy for whooping cough and is still employed today for sore throat and catarrh. Thyme tea is useful in cases of colic or gas and it helps in promoting perspiration at the onset of a cold.

Basil: Basil tea is useful for relieving nausea and vomiting. It is also a remedy for mild nervous disorders and rheumatic pains.

Rosemary: This herb is a tonic, astringent, diaphoretic, and stimulant. Rosemary tea is useful for headache, colic, colds and nervous diseases. Combined with sage and honey it makes for one of the best cold and congestion remedies I know.

Cinnamon: The properties of cinnamon are carminative, astringent, stimulant, and antiseptic. Generally combined with other herbs it is used for vomiting, flatulence and diarrhea. Combines well thyme and basil.

Cloves: Oil of cloves is one of the most important elements in homemade toothpaste; it is a cavity preventer and works wonders when dabbed on a painful tooth due to its anesthetic properties. Straight from your cupboard, it is useful for indigestion and dyspepsia when brewed into tea. It is also a strong germicide and antiseptic and can be used to soak wounds.

Sage: Sage is a stimulant, astringent, tonic and carminative. What is viewed by most people today as a condiment was formerly used as a cure for dyspepsia. Brewed into an infusion it is useful for mouth wounds, bleeding gums and abscesses and as a gargle for sore throats. Made into a tea it is valued for reducing fever, as a tonic for slowed digestion, and for headaches and pains in the joints.

Fennel: Fennel is an old-fashioned remedy that was formerly used as the main ingredient in “gripe water.” Fennel tea was combined with baking soda and honey and used to treat gas pains; made without the baking soda it was employed to treat chronic coughs. The smell is said to be disliked by fleas and can be sprinkled in kennels and stables to drive them away.

You now have seven gentle herbs that you can use to treat your family. As with any new or unfamiliar treatment, begin slowly! Start with a cup or two of tea sipped slowly and observe the effect; when the desired result has been reached you can note how quickly the treatment took to work. This is useful information for you to keep track of as it helps you to remember dosages and times that memory alone might forget.