Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Home Economics

My last post got rather lengthy and so I left out what we did when we got home from the auction. The day had been very warm and we were so thirsty for a refreshing drink that we decided to make lemonade. Here is our recipe if you'd like to see what the real deal tastes like. Fair Day Lemonade

  • 8 lemons

  • 2 cups white sugar

  • ice

Place lemons in a mixing bowl and cover with boiling water. This removes the wax that lemons are coated with to keep them from drying out. Let sit in water for 2-3 minutes then drain water and wipe out bowl. Place lemons on a towel and roll firmly back and forth to dry them off and to make juicier. Slice lemons thinly and place 1 layer in bottom of bowl followed by a sprinkling of sugar. Slice lemons on a plate so as not to lose any juice. Slice all lemons and use all sugar layer by layer then let it rest for a half hour. Press firmly with a beetle, don't worry if you break the pulp. Place all contents in a glass pitcher, add 3 quarts of cold water, stir well, and serve over ice cubes for your picnic luncheon at the Fair. Because of the peels, this lemonade will get bitter if left overnight and is best consumed fresh.

Also on the menu were homemade crackers. This recipe is exceedingly simple and very hardy. They hold up well in soups and are great for dipping, the recipe is so versatile that I never tire of it.

Cottage Crackers

  • 3 cups flour

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1 cup warm water

  • 1/3 cup olive oil

Mix flour and salt together thoroughly and then add water and oil. Knead until all the flour is incorporated and dough has an even consistency. Tear dough into 12 fairly even balls and coat each lightly with oil, then place on a plate and allow to rest covered with a towel for 45 minutes. Heat oven to 450 and roll each ball into a rectangle then cut into strips (these can be rolled out without using flour, the oil coating makes them not stick). Place on floured cookie sheet, poke with fork holes and add garnish. These crackers are really bland plain, our favorite toppings are garlic powder, salt and parmesan cheese. Divine! For a sweeter cracker use sugar and cinnamon. Bake for 10-13 minutes or until edges lightly brown and curl. They will have more snap if allowed to cool before eating. The first time I made these I cut them into circles but the dough doesn't like to be handled too much (it will get tough) so the strips seem to work best. Enjoy!!!

Today the children dug 300-400 leeks and brought them home to be preserved. We love wild leeks, they really add zip to soups and casseroles.

Below are Elisabethe and Abigail, they were in charge of washing the stems before they got diced up.

Rebekah was washing the bulbs and placing them on a tray to be dehydrated. Tabitha, in the background, is chopping up stems.

Levi, Aleks and Micah were trimming roots off, chopping stems and placing on trays.

We will dehydrate these for a day or two and then store them in gallon size glass jars. If it appears to be an insufficient quantity, then we will try to get another batch harvested before the fields get plowed and they all are plowed under. We also made 2 batches of butter today, which never lasts long. I can't hope to put any back with the way the children eat it. ;-) I fed the buttermilk to the baby chicks, usually I use it in biscuits or pancakes or something but not today. We are also freezing at least 1 gallon of milk a day so that when Tansy is dry we won't have to resort to buying milk. I think that's all the news from the home front for now, I hope you have a lovely Wednesday evening!

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Country Auction

Have you ever been to a country auction? The kind of auction where all manner of things are sold: from real estate to automobiles, farm equipment to rocking chairs, antiques to bubble gum card collections. Often they take place to settle an estate and you never know what might come up for bid, the items in the auction notices that are listed in the newspaper are scanty at best, as only the most valuable items are generally listed. They want to draw the biggest crowd in hopes of driving the bids as high as possible. Still, there are deals to be had at an auction; we bought our wood stove for $25 at a farm auction 4 years ago, for instance. When you arrive you can feel the carnival-like atmosphere as you thread your way through the throngs of people to look over the items and dig through the boxes in hopes that a treasure lies beneath the junk. There is almost always a food vendor or two in attendance selling the typical over-priced fare that one might indeed buy at a carnival. You will at some point wait in line to register for your bidder number, unless it's an Amish auction where they will sometimes just use your name instead of assigning a number. Some auctions take place in a tent where you need to furnish your own chair, at other times the auction crowd walks along with the auctioneer as the items go up for bid. As you look over the items you are careful not to seem overly interested in anything whilst keeping an eye on anyone else who takes too great an interest in the offerings that you've decided to bid on. If you are wise you will have decided what the maximum amount is that you're willing to spend on each piece, it's far too easy to get swept along in the excitement of the moment and overbid. I've observed people pay more at an auction than the item would have cost them brand new.

I've been going to auctions since I was a little girl, but I've never been to an auction quite like the one we attended Saturday, and I never expect to see another one like it in my lifetime. The newspaper listed a Copperclad wood cook stove and since this is one of the items that we need, we wanted to attend. I spoke with the auctioneer and he said that I could come look at the stove on Thursday forenoon. When I arrived, after traversing a mile long driveway that resembled a cowpath more than anything else, I looked the stove over and decided that so hideously ugly a contraption couldn't possibly reside with us. However, also listed were some cast iron cauldrons and a copper cauldron, so I went to look at those. The elderly lady then showed me through the house and that's when I learned the unique history of this farm. The farm has been in her husband's family since the first decade of the 1800's when Christian Zurcher immigrated from Switzerland. When he bought the farm the house was already standing, though it was only a log cabin then. Karl, who is 82, is one of 4 people who jointly own the farm today; he is only the third generation since the original Christian first bought it. That does work out, but only if fathers were still siring children when fairly old. ;-) So, the farm has been in the same family for 200 hundred years; apparently somewhere around 1940 the family decided that enough progress had come and they never updated the house afterwards. One of Karl's sisters had lived in the house until her death 2 years ago, she was still canning on a wood stove. By the way, these weren't Amish people or of any religious persuasion that might account for the details that I am going to relate.

the farmhouse

Now, for the most interesting part. I have never, ever, seen a farm with so many original tools and artifacts. When they quit farming with horses, they hung the harness in the tack room, and there it still was on sale day. When feed stopped arriving in burlap sacks with the elevator's name printed on the side, they bundled them together in the granary and there they still were on sale day. When they quit molding their own candles they put the candlemold safely away, along with crocks of all descriptions, cast iron, copper kettles, the original dry sink, Hoosier cupboard, wash stands.......... This family seemingly knew the value, not the cost but the value, that these items had. You've heard of people that know the cost of everything and the value of nothing, I presume? This family was the antithesis of that belief. They didn't hoard junk but only treasured artifacts. Now, if my possessions were to be auctioned there are a fair number of antiques, but only because they were acquired, they haven't been passed to me intact through 200 years of family history.

2 nail kegs- ignore the camera date ;-)

All of the original buildings were there: along with the bank barn, chicken house, pig barn, sheep barn, honey house, tool shed, harness room, and granary, were the smokehouse, icehouse and backhouse. There was farm machinery that hasn't been in common usage for a hundred years, tools that I've never seen outside of a museum.

3 cast iron kettles and a copper one on the left

You could have purchased the farm with all the furnishings and tools and opened a museum. However, the auction attracted a lot of antique dealers and that generally means high prices, there were very few deals to be found. The cast iron kettles went for $350 - $450 a piece, considerably more than we paid for ours that was in better condition. The copper one went for $285. Karl told me that when he was a boy the cast iron kettles were used for butchering and the copper kettle was used for apple butter. A sausage stuffer went for $200 with an Amish farmer finally outbidding an antique dealer. It adds an extra burden for people who will actually use the items to have to outbid a dealer with ready cash. I wanted one of the cauldrons but I just can't compete there.

80 gallon barrel with original red paint and lid

The Zurcher family had reserved seats in the front row of the tent to watch the items as they sold. Mrs. Zurcher (the one who showed me the house) cried as certain items were sold. When the wash stand and baby crib were carried away, she didn't look. 200 years of heritage gone in the space of 5 hours. Whatever history those pieces had is now forgotten, whatever stories could be told now won't be. The majority will sit in antique shops in anonymity, with nothing unique to distinguish them from anything else around it. Aleks said it's one of the saddest things he has ever seen. It reminds me of one of the final stanzas in the poem The House With Nobody In It.

Now a new house standing empty,

with staring window and door,

Looks idle perhaps and foolish,

like a hat in its block in the store.

There's nothing mournful about it,

it cannot be sad and lone,

For the lack of something in it,

that it has never known.

But a house that has done what a house should do,

a house that has sheltered life,

That's put it's loving wooden arms

around a Man and his Wife.

A house that has echoed a baby's laugh

and held up his stumbling feet,

Is the saddest sight when it's left alone

that ever your eyes could meet.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Henry and the Great Society

I want to give you another book recommendation since it ties in so well with what we were discussing in the last post. The book is Henry and the Great Society by H.L. Roush. If I were to list my top ten books that influenced or revolutionized my thinking, this book would make the list. It's the kind of thought provoking book that ought to be re-read occasionally to remind you afresh of the truthfulness it contains. It is the story of a farm family who are at peace with themselves and God and what happens to them once progress comes into their life. It is not a book that pushes a "no change" agenda nor does its message consist of "electricity is evil" type rhetoric. It is meant to sound an alarm for those who would hear about the need to understand, really understand, what contentment is, what peace is, and what progress really is. You will probably see yourself in Henry, I know I did and that's troublesome only if you choose to go back to sleep. Since I have an extra copy of the book, I will loan it to anybody who would like to read it. If more than one would like to borrow it we will just send it around until everybody has had a chance to read it. BTW, it's a short book and can easily be read in an evening.