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.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Domestic Economy

Summer is slowly, almost imperceptibly winding down; I can feel the change in the air though the workload is still as heavy as it ever was. We finally finished canning green beans, but the corn and carrots are far from done. We try to do a few canner loads every day and that way it isn't overwhelming and the jars do add up little by little. I'm thankful for the ease and convenience of having home canned foods on the shelf, meals can be made in a hurry and I know they're wholesome. I want to can some corn with red and green peppers in it, we'll add that to cornbread sometimes and we really like it that way. I also want to make a batch of salsa using all Green Zebra tomatoes, green salsa will be different and I do get tired of the same old things all the time. Home canning is a relatively recent invention, at least canning as we understand it today is- though people have been preserving food for later use since time immemorial. Our understanding of cooking has also undergone a radical change in the last hundred years. It’s rare today to find a woman who cooks meals for her family at home, much less a woman who has the knowledge of how to cook from scratch. We’ve gone from a nation of self reliant women to a nation of women who don’t cook or can’t cook anything more involved than Shake-n-Bake chicken and Stovetop stuffing. Obviously there are multiple nutritional benefits to cooking wholesome food from scratch, but there is also the satisfaction of knowing that you aren’t relying on Proctor & Gamble or SaraLee to decide what your family ought to eat.

By the same token, relying on a lot of "labor saving" devices might prove unwise if you are unable to cook without them. My "modern"kitchen equipment consists of a blender and a Victorio Strainer (we just got the Victorio this summer). That’s it. All of the canning/preserving we do is done with those 2 tools, we dice all fruits and vegetables by hand and cut corn from the cob with a knife. We've canned 430 jars this summer so it is feasible to do all this without a lot of extra gadgets. Our philosophy has been to learn to do jobs the old fashioned way with the least sophisticated equipment and only then switch to more modern methods/equipment. If nothing else this certainly makes us appreciate how easy we have it!
I think that it's a beneficial exercise to study old cookbooks and try to cook sometimes using these receipts and ingredients that our Foremothers would have used. Maybe we will never find ourselves in the position of needing to rely on these books and methods, but it's certainly better to be prepared and never need the knowledge than to find ourselves in a desperate situation with "if only" on our lips. Several receipt books that I enjoy perusing are Miss Beecher's Domestic Receipt Book 1850, The Great Western Cookbook 1857, The Frugal Housewife 1830 and The New England Economical Housekeeper 1845 . In addition to the usual recipes you will find directions for cutting up and preserving meat, keeping flies out of your house, remedies for illness, how to choose a domestic servant and other quaint advice. My plan is to print these books out and put them in pages protectors in a 3 ring binder, I prefer browsing through an actual printed book rather than on a computer screen. Today is the day to turn our energies toward acquiring useful skills that will serve our families whether it be canning or cookery, sewing or knitting, animal husbandry or gardening.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Sumac Lemonade

So Gentle Reader we find ourselves again prepared for another exciting installment of "Everything You Never Knew You Could Eat". That's right, Mrs. G- connoisseur of boring historical minutiae and purveyor of the same, is ready to conduct you on the first leg of your tour of edible weeds and scrub bushes.

I'm assuming that at least for those of you in the Eastern U.S. that the several varieties of Sumac are easily identifiable, yes? If not, stop right here and get some good field guides or do some internet research and before you eat anything be positive of what you're consuming. If you're bright enough to get yourself dressed and use a computer then you're intelligent enough to learn to positively identify Sumac. Poison Sumac tends to get all the press leaving its humbler cousins in obscurity, but differentiating between the poison and non-poison varieties is very easy. Smooth Sumac and Staghorn Sumac both have red berries, whereas Poison Sumac has white berries, simple. You can use both the Smooth and the Staghorn varieties pretty interchangeably but you should be aware that the Staghorn has more vitamin C than the Smooth. For this recipe I used Smooth Sumac because it is what was growing at the side of the road, "hey that's Sumac STOP THE TRUCK!" and Mr. G dutifully jumps out and twists off 6 berry clusters for me. Some sort of clippers or trimmers would have made the job easier by the way.

You will need to remove the berries as the stems give a bitter taste if you don't. The outer berries will come off easily but the inner ones don't, you can dehydrate the clusters to make removal easier and to store berries for the Winter. Because Sumac berries are high in vitamin C, higher than oranges even, you should keep plenty in reserve to combat colds this Winter. The Native Americans used Sumac extensively for this purpose.

You then boil 1 quart of water and pour it over 1 cup of berries and allow to steep for 15 minutes. Strain the tea through a cloth to remove all debris, sweeten with up to 1 cup of sugar and enjoy. If you've never imbibed Sumac before go easily at first as some people allegedly have a mild allergic reaction to it. The tea can also be combined with elderberry or red raspberries to make a jelly though I've never tried it.

As an aside, many folks on the survivalist forums recommend on stocking up on Vitamin C, but these people's idea of survival tends to involve generators and fossil fuels etc all in the attempt to maintain their current comsumer lifestyle. Our family's plan tends to center around learning to live without or learning to make our own reasonable substitutes and if you share that philosophy then Sumac meshes in nicely with that.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Taste of the Genuine

Everybody loves sweet corn, it's the quintessential summertime vegetable. Preserving corn was one of the very first foods that I learned to put up. Back then we froze our corn, which is the way that most home preservation families still do it; even among families who can they will still freeze their corn. Frozen corn tastes almost exactly like fresh off the cob, definitely worth the trouble. However, I no longer freeze corn. Once we made the decision that we wanted to move away from reliance on electricity and freezers we needed to come up with a different variety of corn to grow. Almost without exception the corn you buy at a grocery store or Farmer's Market is one of the modern super sweet hybrid varieties with the sugar enhancement gene. These types, Incredible being the most common one grown here, don't lend themselves to home canning as the sugar content caramelizes when canned resulting in brown corn. We finally settled on Country Gentleman, a late 19th century shoepeg variety.

The kernels aren't in rows but are placed hodge podge all over the cob. The taste is different than what I'm used to but we knew that going into it, we are exchanging hyper-sweet for a more realistic corn taste. Because the sugar in any corn begins to turn into starch the minute the corn is picked we strive to get our corn into the canning jars within an hour of being picked. I try to have the exact number of cobs picked to fill the 7 jars. Today it was 46. The children immediately begin to husk it and pick the silk off (we save the silk too). Then the kernels are cut off with a knife, there are specialized tools for this but I've not found any that I thought were worth the money and hassle.

For each 4 cups of corn I mix in 1 teaspoon of salt and then the corn goes into the quart jar to be immediately covered with boiling water. So we go, jar by jar, until the 7 are done. They are then pressure canned for 85 minutes at 10 pounds pressure.

When I open the jars I will sometimes add 1 tablespoon of brown sugar to each quart, this is completely unnecessary but I think it will help ease the transition to this more humble repast. I think we'll get about 70 quarts of corn this year, interspersed with corn we are still canning carrots, both plain and candied. Though I realize that canning corn isn't something that you're going to sit up at night fantasizing about, you might want to file this information away so if/when the day comes that you do need to try it you'll know how to go about it.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Shazam! It's 1770

Time travel has never really been an interest of mine, I'm mostly content to seek after a quiet life, living by the work of my hands. However we all understand that since history repeats itself and the foolish don't study history, we all get to relive turbulent times anew. So here we are in 1770 with an oppressive government that neither represents nor cares about the people that it governs. We are being taxed to death, forced to support endless wars and having commerce put out of business in order to tip the scales toward another country's gain, all just as it was in 1770.

We're all familiar with the story of the Declaration of Independence and can recognize John Hancock's signature, but we need to meditate on the fact that by publicly signing this document these men went on record as traitors to King George's government, a crime punishable by hanging. Since we know how the story ended we tend to discount the huge risk these men took in order to stand for what was right and the fate of many of the original signers has faded from common memory. They were risking everything and they knew it, hence the meaning of the last sentence; "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."

Some facts that you may not know about the signers:

Nine of the 56 died during the Revolution, and never tasted American independence.

Five were captured by the British.

Eighteen had their homes -- great estates, some of them - looted or burnt by the enemy.

Some lost everything they owned.

Two were wounded in battle.

Two others were the fathers of sons killed or captured during the war.

Lewis Morris of New York, for example, must have known when he signed the Declaration that he was signing away his fortune. Within weeks, the British ravaged his estate, destroyed his vast woodlands, butchered his cattle, and sent his family fleeing for their lives.

Another New Yorker, William Floyd, was also forced to flee when the British plundered his property. He and his family lived as refugees for seven years without income. The strain told on his wife; she died two years before the war ended.

Carter Braxton of Virginia, an aristocratic planter who had invested heavily in shipping, saw most of his vessels captured by the British navy. His estates were largely ruined, and by the end of his life he was a pauper.

The home of William Ellery, a Rhode Island delegate, was burned to the ground during the occupation of Newport.

Thomas Heyward Jr., Edward Rutledge, and Arthur Middleton, three members of the South Carolina delegation, all suffered the destruction or vandalizing of their homes at the hands of enemy troops. All three were captured when Charleston fell in 1780, and spent a year in a British prison.

Thomas Nelson Jr. of Virginia raised $2 million for the patriots' cause on his own personal credit. The government never reimbursed him, and repaying the loans wiped out his entire estate. During the battle of Yorktown, his house, which had been seized by the British, was occupied by General Cornwallis. Nelson quietly urged the gunners to fire on his own home. They did so, destroying it. He was never again a man of wealth. He died bankrupt and was buried in an unmarked grave.

Richard Stockton, a judge on New Jersey's supreme court, was betrayed by loyalist neighbors. He was dragged from his bed and thrown in prison, where he was brutally beaten and starved. His lands were devastated, his horses stolen, his library burnt. He was freed in 1777, but his health had so deteriorated that he died within five years. His family lived on charity for the rest of their lives.

In the British assault on New York, Francis Lewis's home and property were pillaged. His wife was captured and imprisoned; so harshly was she treated that she died soon after her release. Lewis spent the remainder of his days in relative poverty.

And then there was John Hart. The speaker of the New Jersey Assembly, he was forced to flee in the winter of 1776, at the age of 65, from his dying wife's bedside. While he hid in forests and caves, his home was demolished, his fields and mill laid waste, and his 13 children put to flight. When it was finally safe for him to return, he found his wife dead, his children missing, and his property decimated. He never saw any of his family again and died, a shattered man, in 1779.

Today we have the world imploding around us and we are again being divided into Tories and Patriots/Traitors. The Tories are supportive of our government's policies, methodology and war mongering. They have very real ideas about social engineering, ethnic cleansing and firm, oppressive government to control the people. Fear and terror are their favorite weapons, they encourage the youth to rebel against their parents and neighbors to report neighbors. All kinds of behaviors earn a place on the Domestic Terrorist lists today: gun ownership, home schooling, Ron Paul supporters, flying the Gadsdon flag, subscriptions to certain magazines, espousing any "Founding Fathers" rhetoric, hording food or precious metals, paying with cash and now the purchase of MREs makes you a potential terrorist.

The pot is beginning to boil and you need to know where you stand and why. I believe that the majority of Americans are good, honest people. There are decent people within the Republican camp, decent people within the Democrat camp and decent people that maintain no alliaance to either party. I believe that the folks on the Domestic Terrorist list will eventually number more people than those that support the destruction of our country and I believe that when the dust settles we will pick up the pieces and rebuild this country. The Founding Fathers knew this was going to happen and I hope you know it too. Freedom never comes without a cost though and there can be no fence sitting, Ben Franklin said that they should all hang together or they would surely hang separately. We need to build the relationships that will sustain us and fortify us as we face an uncertain future. We all know how this ends, but none of us know how long the trip will take or who will be lost along the way. Tell your children to keep their eyes open, we're living through historical times that generations in the future will read about. Be someone that you can be proud of.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

What Would You Give In Exchange?

It's been a week of news and excitement around here, some good and some not so good. The gardens are producing abundantly and we are adding to the canning pantry shelves almost daily. I need to get a new seal for my pressure canner but Lehman's was sold out of them. The gal said that she could sell 24 seals each week but management insists on only ordering 6, supplying local people with what they truly need is not the goal of Lehman's unfortunately. So in the meantime we're limping along with the old seal and hoping it doesn't give up the ghost before the new one arrives.

The main news in the neighborhood is that Irvin, brother of the man who keeps his heifers here, was gored by a bull. The bull was known to be aggressive and they were getting ready to ship him, either to the livestock auction or to the butcher, I'm not sure which. The bull was in with the cows in the holding pen and Irvin went to bring another group of cows into the parlor when the bull got him. It smashed into him driving/throwing him backward where he broke a 2x6 with his face and neck. When he came to he saw that his cell phone was destroyed and his calls for help were unanswered so he unsteadily had to make his way through the cows to try to reenter the parlor. Which is where he was when the bull got him again. This time the bull gored his leg, threw him through the air and over a gate which, providentially, saved his life. He is recovering and will survive, farm people are made of tough stuff.

We also found out that our landlord is going to sell off the wooded portion of the farm we live on. This was fairly catastrophic news for us. We rely on the woodlot to heat our home, the boys hunt in it and we tap the sugar maples in the spring. Our days were numbered here anyway so we're trying to see this as good news in a roundabout way, but it's hard. So the search begins for a new place to hang our hat.

Our lawnmower blade broke a few weeks ago and the lawn has taken advantage of the situation to the utmost. The yard more closely resembled a hayfield than it did a yard but some neighbors showed up yesterday evening and mowed it for us. It was a beautiful sight this morning to see it looking all neat and trim! This weekend we're going to help other neighbors to clean up an old junkpile in the woods, many hands will make rapid work of an otherwise depressing job. So I've been thinking about community of late and how important it is to us. When I discover that I'm out of mustard seed, I know that my neighbor will have some that I can borrow because she cans too. When a different neighbor needs some men to help unload hay he knows that he can call us. If my neighbor has an abundance of pears she will drop them off here and likewise I will take her a peck of hot peppers when ours are in full swing. Where would we be without good neighbors? We buy our flour and sugar from a locally owned Amish bulk food store, we shop at a local hardware, buy workboots from an Amish shoe store and press our apples into cider at a community cider press. I can't imagine a better life than the one we lead, a place where you're known and people still make face to face relationships. I understand, in an abstract way at best, that city life and "anonymity" is attractive to some people, but what are they giving up in exchange? What is the true cost of being able to do as you please and nobody cares about your business if those same people could watch you beaten to death outside your door and wouldn't even call 9-1-1?

People were better off I believe when there was less mechanization and they had to rely on each other. The industrial age has freed men from much of the work necessary to maintain life, we work less hours and at easier jobs than ever before in history and yet we're so unsatisfied. We feel the need to escape from a life that somehow lacks a point and purpose. Lack of meaningful work means a lack of purpose; if my only point in life is to wake up and go to my meaningless job so that I can exchange *life* for money, what am I gaining? The yearly vacation, "getting away from it all", is what keeps them going year after year. And I can't help but look on that with sadness, that can't be the purpose of life, can it? I believe that it's a symptom of what happens when we lose touch with what God intended for man, which is a life of hard meaningful work and neighbors to care about us and to help each other. I would like to encourage everyone to build relationships where you are, whether it be in the city or country. Be important to enough people that when you die your absence will be a loss. It's easy to romanticize the past and wish we could have what they had, but I truly believe that with effort we can still move closer to that ideal. It's an exchange though, "what I want when I want" must be replaced by "is this for the good of everyone or just me?" It's a completely different mindset than the one most of us grew up with but I believe the exchange is a good one.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mother's Kitchen

Hello friends, I've been rather neglectful of this blog lately. Summer is a very hectic time for us and leaves little time for virtual reality when concrete reality in the form of produce makes faces at me everyday begging to be put in jars. We're complying at a breakneck pace but still, some days it feels like drowning. Things will settle down around October and then I can engage in other pursuits like sewing and knitting. On especially stressful days I try to remind myself to be doubly thankful for so much food and for the ability to preserve it. Some people just aren't able to put the harvest by and have to rely on grocery stores. That's a picture of my canning shelf (square nailed and mustard milk paint, Tiff :D) it's loaded with: blueberries, dark sweet cherries, light sweet cherries, peaches, rhubarb, Cowboy Candy, mulberry/black raspberry jam, blackberries, pineapple, mulberry/apple jam, black raspberries, peach jam, Lemony Sticky Sour Cherry Jam and blueberry/candied ginger jam. It's only a fraction of what we have canned and an even smaller fraction of what we will can. All of the canned dry beans, corn, green beans, carrots and most pickled things are stored elsewhere. I look at it and I feel rich. :-) I know that we will eat well this winter regardless of what happens with the economy and that gives me a peace.
We have many things that grow wild here and I feel obligated to preserve them since God has provided them. We have an abundance of mulberry products because we have mulberry trees, the black raspberries grow wild as well so they get put in jam, we will have chokecherries that will become waffle syrup and maple trees to tap in the spring. If I would neglect to take care of what has provided for us for free, then how could I ever complain about God's provision for us? If it's here and I'm able, then it goes in a jar.
I saw a yahoo headline about how downgrading of the U.S. debt is inevitable, for those with eyes to see that's old news but I was surprised that it's now on the mainstream media. Despite what some are saying it will have a big impact on you and I and now is the time to tuck a little away to have for later. Our Forefathers understood this principle, that we must labor in season to provide for ourselves out of season. Modern dwellers have become accustomed to relying on an outside entity to maintain life, that's risky business in this day and age. On the preparedness front I came across this site. I have never done business with them but the idea of having a supply of antibiotics really appeals to me. I can't remember the last time any of us needed an antibiotic, but in an emergency situation the ability to save somebody else's life would make it worth having a supply layed in.
Take care, I hope you're enjoying your summer!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Candied Ginger Blueberry Jam

We'll have a new culinary experience this winter when we finally get to eat the Candied Ginger Blueberry Jam that I made last week. I've never really liked blueberry jam, most recipes call for too much sugar for my taste, but since I tweaked this recipe extensively I think that I might actually enjoy it! Here's the recipe if you'd like to try it, this yields 7 half pints.

4 heaping cups smashed blueberries

2 cups sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Combine ingredients and allow to set for 1-2 hours
Add a heaping half cup of diced candied ginger

Heat slowly on stove until very hot but not boiling

Set aside and in a different kettle bring 1 cup sugar, 1 box sure-jell lite and 1 cup water to a brisk boil.

Add contents of sure-jell kettle to the blueberry kettle

Bring to a boil stirring constantly
Remove from heat and place in jars

Can in a boiling water bath canner for 15 minutes

I made 2 batches of this jam and then we canned the rest of the blueberries like I wrote about in the Canning 101 post. I think we got 11 quarts and 11 pints. We are also in the thick of canning peaches which came right on the tail of cherries. Aleks told me that the peppers are almost ready, they will become salsa and Cowboy Candy *and* we've got green beans coming! I think this is why most farm families (those who can anyway) really look forward to winter. :-) The pace is crazy all through summer and autumn, but oh is it worth it!
My one canning shelf still needs to be taken outside and scrubbed and then it's getting a fresh coat of paint. Until then there are jars of food completely filling 2 cupboards and much of the counter space. I feel rich!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Home Canned Fruit 101

If you're interested in learning to preserve food at home, canned fruit is the perfect place to start. Canning fruit is easy to learn and requires the least specialized equipment, perfect for the beginner! An excellent resource for all things canned is the Ball Blue Book, they walk you step by step through canning peaches; however, my method is slightly different than theirs and yields a vastly superior product. Generally fruit today is canned using a sugar/water syrup the proportions of sugar making either a light, medium or heavy syrup. Canning fruit with water necessitates adding more sugar since you're in effect making "fruit soup"; the overall effect is a watered down, super sugary, vaguely fruit tasting product. My method is easy to implement and I think you'll be pleased with the result.

1. Wash fruit to remove pesticide, bugs and unripe/overripe fruit.

2. Peel and slice fruit if needed (such as peaches) most berries can be left whole.

3. Layer fruit and sugar in a mixing bowl or bucket. I use 1/3 cup sugar per pineapple and 1/2 cup sugar per quart of Black Raspberries for instance. The amount of sugar is a personal preference and some things, like rhubarb, need more sugar.

4. Cover and allow to set at room temperature for 12-18 hours. Fruit doesn't juice up well in a refrigerator or other cold environment.

5. Place fruit in jars with a slotted spoon and top off jars with reserved juice.

6. Affix lids and can for the amount of time specified in the Ball Blue Book.

That's it! If you're used to canning fruit using the syrup method you won't find switching over to be difficult at all. Allowing fruit to make its own juice really makes sense when you think about it!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Asa's Green Gown

I think that I mentioned getting Asa's image taken this Fall to commemorate his 2nd birthday; I decided that I wanted a gown that looked quasi-military inspired, decidedly boyish in cut and trim, and in a color that would hide dirt.

My taste in historic fashion tends to run toward loud and gaudy, two things that don't appeal to me in modern clothes. I chose a hideously garish shade of green with diarrhea yellow stylized flowers. Perfect. The trim is 100% cotton twill tape that I dyed bright yellow, it is sewn on with a running stitch and is easily removed if need be.

The bodice is flat lined with a light weight cotton and the sleeves are set in without much fullness at all. I also chose to pleat the skirt because it looks more manly than gathers, I think.

His chemise and strapped petticoat were sewn by the lovely and talented Brooke Whitaker. She did a fabulous job!

I have two of the four buttonholes sewn, I get bogged down at the end and just want to quit looking at the thing that I've been laboring on. :-( For buttons I'm using china ringers, the ring being black, it really looks well with the print.

Now hopefully he won't have outgrown this gown by September!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Song of the Needle

Methinks it is a token of healthy and gentle characteristics, when women of high thoughts and accomplishments love to sew; especially as they are never more at home with their own hearts than while so occupied. ~Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun, 1859

After an 8 month hiatus I have returned to the sewing machine. It all started innocently enough, I was thinking about Zoar and who will be there this year and then I thought about the daguerreotype that we had taken of Asa and Katie. And then I thought about having another taken this year to commemorate him turning 2 and became more and more enthralled with the idea of childhood milestones marked by wet plate images. However, having a wet plate image of all of the children really, really appealed to me and now boom! I'm back sewing. We had our own version of The Great Try-On and I found that Aleks and Levi have trowsers and vests, but no shirts and Micah has nothing. Katie is all set but the other 4 girls need dresses as does Asa. I've ordered Asa's fabric and will begin on his when it arrives but in the meantime I've begun a gown for Abigail.
I had the bodice and sleeves already cut for somebody, but I can't remember who. Elisabethe maybe? So I rewashed the pieces and trimmed some bodice length off for Abbie. I finished the neckline this afternoon and want to cut new sleeves out this evening. Hopefully it will be finished before the new fabric arrives. It feels good to have a needle in my hand again, I think I must have missed it. I have approximately three and a half months to get everybody ready and that seems somewhat daunting, but I keep thinking of the image that will preserve the memory. I'm thinking a full plate will be necessary, maybe a 3/4 plate? I don't know, that's nine people to fit in. I'm full of anticipation.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Best of Times

We had a very enjoyable Memorial Day weekend, Gill's brother came on Sunday and we had a cookout. Uncle Pat is a superstar here. :-) On Monday we visited a little lonely country graveyard called Union Cemetery. It's tucked way back in with the tiniest little sign, if you didn't know it was there you'd drive right past. There were tons of veterans there, more per capita than any other cemetery that I think I've ever visited. And children, lots of children. There is something gut wrenching to think of little ones lying there, forgotten by everybody who knew them. One small stone marked the grave of Rosina, she died in 1845 at the age of 2. I wish stones told how people died. Was she sick? A farm accident? A fire? I wonder about her, not just how she died but what her life was like. Ohio was fairly wild in the 1840s. History becomes more and more interesting to me the older I get.

Today, however, it Katie's 18th birthday. EIGHTEEN! We're not celebrating today, trying to get her to ask for anything is like pulling teeth. She says her trip to Tennessee was the best present she could have had. :-) We'll celebrate this coming weekend which gives me a few more days to figure out what to get for a girl that's satisfied with what she already has. I can't believe that she's all grown up, it tempts me to say some cliche' like "where did the time go?" So, I'll spare you that and just say that I'm so proud of her, I couldn't ask for a better daughter than what she is. She's industrious, accomplished, friendly, witty and enthusiastic about a simple country life. What more could any parent want? So, Happy Birthday Katie! I love you!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

While I'm On The Subject

I found a short essay on why some Southerners are ashamed of their heritage. Though I'm sure there are many reasons for why people do what they do I think this is a very well written essay and holds a lot of truth. You can read it here.

Enoch Hooper Cook Jr., private 38th Alabama Infantry

Unreconstructed Rebel or I'm A Good Old Rebel

Originally printed in 1914 in Collier's Weekly. The words are by Major Innes Randolph, a member of J.E.B. Stuart's staff.

Oh, I'm a good old Rebel

Now that's just what I am

For this fair land of freedom

I do not care a damn.

I'm glad I fought against it

I only wish we'd won.

And I don't want no pardon

For anything I've done.

I hates the Constitution

This great Republic too

I hates the Freedmen's Bureau

In uniforms of blue.

I hates the nasty eagle

With all his brag and fuss

But the lyin', thievin' Yankees

I hates' em worse and worse

Three hundred thousand Yankees

Lies still in Southern dust

We got three hundred thousand

Before they conquered us

They died of Southern fever

And Southern steel and shot

I wish they was three million

Instead of what we got.

I can't take up my musket

And fight' em now no more

But I ain't a-goin' to love' em

Now that is certain sure

And I don't want no pardon

For what I was and am

And I won't be reconstructed

And I do not give a damn.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Your past shapes your present

I have an ancestor, William Traylor, who owned a 3,000 acre plantation on the Appomattox River. He was born in 1674 in Hampton Parish, England and had immigrated to Virginia at some point, land was patented to him in 1702 so he arrived before that date at least. His plantation called Oakhurst was probably located across the river from Namozine in Amelia county because William was contracted to run the Namozine Ferry and received 600 pounds of tobacco as annual payment for this service. He was a slave owner and deeded the majority of his holdings to his oldest son but in 1753 he reserved "one girl Sall about eight years old now in the possession of my son John, and save my old negro fellow, Jack, which I give to my son Humphrey Traylor after my decease."
William had six sons, the second of which, George, was born in 1706. George married Elizabeth Gill in an interesting twist of fate. "Gill" is Mr. G's first name, the surname of a not-too-distant relative of his, meaning that he and I are possibly relatives. :-) In 1771 George dated his will and bequeathed the plantation that he lived on to his son Field Traylor along with one slave. George doesn't appear to have the wealth his father did, but he was a second son which helps explain this.
Field Traylor married a woman known only as "Sandal" around the year 1779, he too was a slave owner and fathered 12 children, including 7 sons. His 10th child was Bedford Traylor, whom we named our last child for, Asa Bedford. Bedford was an overseer but not a slave owner as far as I can tell though he worked for a slave owning relative. Bedford's wife was Airy Blankenship.
One of Bedford's sons was Edward who fought with the 14th Virginia. He was a P.O.W at Five Forks on April 1, 1865. He swore the Oath of Allegiance and was released on June 20 of that year. He fathered seven children including my direct ancestor Alice Rebecca. Alice married a Northerner, George Northrup and so from this point on my ancestry becomes Northern.
I'm proud of my Southern heritage, there isn't any of it with which I look to with shame or embarrassment. My ancestors were slave owners, they held other people in bondage which is something that we in the 21st century view with a very different lens than they did in that era. I don't condone slavery, I don't think blacks deserve to be held as less than whites, but I also refuse to judge actions of people long dead against a standard that was unrecognized in the era they lived in. The past is what it is, like it or not, and as history it deserves to be preserved untainted by modern sensibilities. So I'll celebrate that I come from a long line of wealthy Southern stock and teach my children that who and what they are today is at least in part derived from who their family was. We all have a heritage that we can be proud of. If I were black and had ancestors that were slaves I would be in awe that a people who suffered so much still survived, I'd be proud of who they were and who I was.
I dislike the term "Lost Cause", it tends to trivialize and mock beliefs that are still strong 150 years after that war ceased. I believe that the majority of what the South stood for was absolutely right; I believe in State's Rights and smaller limited government. I believe that your average Southern soldier was fighting for the right of self determination, the right not to told what to do by a serpentine Federal government. Slavery was a vestige of a by-gone era and would have been short lived in the South even if they had won. Enough leaders saw the evils in it, I believe. If the South's only goal was to perpetuate slavery then the best way to accomplish that would have been to stay in the Union where slavery was legal. No person is going to go to war to secure a right to something that's already legal, there had to be more to it then that. I believe that they rebelled against being forced, on unequal terms, to capitulate to the will of Northern industrialists and that was what the conflict was really about; which explains why so many people are still drawn to the Southern viewpoint. It resonates with us today, a beleaguered minority fighting against a tyrannical majority, we love an underdog. I also dislike the "you lost, get over it" mentality. Try that with a Jewish concentration camp survivor, the logic is the same isn't it? Jews lost big time in WW2, they got slaughtered, so give up an ideals about survival or "never again". Admit you were wrong, accept your defeat, and graciously live with the humiliation. Somehow, that sounds a little, oh I don't know, WRONG to suggest that, doesn't it? The principles that motivated the South are the same principles that motivate many people today and there isn't anything wrong about revering a people who had the moral courage to stand up and be counted. I'm proud of that and you should be too.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

College Education: Largest Scam in U.S. History

I didn't write this article but I agree with it 110%. We have never pushed college for our children and thankfully they see the system for what it is. What was once an investment is now the equivalent of indentured servitude. I personally know far too many people with worthless degrees, tons of student loan debt and unable to get a job.

College Education: The Largest Scam in U.S. History

College education is big business, and with easy Federal loans, prices for everything from tuition to text books is going through the roof. Once degreed, the majority of college grads are ill-equipped to handle the current marketplace. Many of those who entered college just five years ago simply can’t find work in a 21st century economy that’s imploding on all sides. What college grads are left with are massive loans that can’t be repaid and a room in mom and dad’s basement.

This latest video from the National Inflation Association should be viewed by parents and potential college students alike.

At one time, college was an investment. Today, it’s become, as one interviewee in the documentary suggests, indentured servitude.

For parents and teens looking at colleges, we suggest taking a close look at the amount of money that will need to be spent and borrowed, compared to the benefits that will come out of the degree pursued. Thirty years ago, a bachelor of business would have been a desired degree to hold. In an economy with over 20% unemployed, one must ask: how many business administration and management jobs will there be four or five years from now, especially if we continue to lose production capacity to cheap foreign labor.

If you’re dead set on sending your kids to college, or you yourself are preparing to enter higher education, look at the future to determine what you should be learning. China will be the leading economy by the end of the decade – perhaps consider becoming fluent in Chinese. Seen the prices of commodities lately? With monetary printing, a growing global population, and the possibility of major weather changes (natural or man made) we suggest take a close look at careers in resource-based (food, energy, water) industries.

Most importantly, prepare your mind for a post-college environment where, rather than finding a job for someone else, you are able to invent your own.

For those who have chosen to avoid college, perhaps the best route to take is some type of modern-day apprenticeship in a field that will thrive during a recession or depression. Learn to farm, to purify and treat water, carpentry, metal works, and other jobs that produce physical goods needed by society. You may not end up being rich (but you might), however, you’ll be much better off than the guy in the basement with no idea about what to do with a degree an employer couldn't care less about.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Wow, it quit raining

Asa had the most terrifying experience today. We went to the car wash and.......vacuumed the truck. He cried hysterically, in all of his almost 20 months he has never heard anything as frightening as that. Poor baby. We don't own a vacuum cleaner so he's never heard one before. :-)

We came home and Katie took him outside, his favorite place to be.

Chicks dig Asa, he's scared of the Momma though. We have turkey poults too, but they're in a different shed.

Dirt is a nice playground for little boys.

What happens after you spend the morning racing around outside, come in and eat lunch, get cleaned up and changed, and then rocked to sleep.

The gardens are still not tilled. We had record breaking rainfall here for the past month so it will be a late start this year. Things will hopefully get planted in the next week, it's so nice to see the sun again.