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!