Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Day In The Life Of Maggie

     Several years ago my friend Amy made up the most adorable dress based on an image dated 1848. She recently sent the dress to me in hopes that Maggie could now wear it and I've waited several days for the chance to get some action shots. Amy's original post is here.

    For reasons best known to herself it didn't happen to suit Maggie to pose for pictures, she is pretty hacked off in most of them. Still, the dress is beautiful and these pictures do capture her as she actually is.  :)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Know Your Beekeeper

     This spring we began working with bees again for the first time since moving South. We placed the hive in the back corner of the yard facing East, close enough to keep an eye on it, but not too close. We always feed bees a 1:1 ratio of sugar water in the spring if there aren't many flowers in bloom for the bees to work, it prevents starvation and I know of no beekeeper who doesn't use this emergency measure.

A sugar water feeder similar to ours

     I'm not crazy about the fact that white sugar generally comes from Monsanto's GMO sugar beets; how ironic to feed bees with a product that is made by a company who is largely responsible for massive bee die off. I'm not really aware of any viable alternative though.

A swarm that didn't settle inside a hollow tree, but hanging from a branch

     We bought our bees from a local beekeeper, a mutt strain that we thought would be already adapted to our particular climate/altitude etc. While in his bee yard, located in the suburbs and containing 50+ hives I noticed feeders on every hive. I asked if there were enough sources of nectar locally for his bees to survive and was met with an astounding answer. He said that he feeds his bees year round as a matter of course. B-b-but then, my mind is racing, all of the honey you sell is garbage, it's all junk food made from GMO sugar and would have NO health benefits at all. You probably would never know what you were actually buying.

     In the years when we didn't keep bees we have found local beekeepers to buy honey from as it greatly improves Mr. G's allergies. But never again will I buy honey without asking some gentle questions about what these bees have access to. There is no point in paying $5+ per pint for pseudo honey. Bees are such an easy thing to keep, I'm so glad we have our own again!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

What happens when you put on your makeup.......

     Asa, who is 5, came to give me a picture and tell me the story that he "wrote". It goes a little like this:
"One day she was putting on her makeup when she accidentally lit something on fire and cut her head open."
     End of story and he runs out to play. I've appropriately captioned the picture so you can enjoy this too.  :D

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Spring RUSH

"The year's at the spring,
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hill-side's dew-pearled;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in his Heaven— 
All's right with the world!"

 Robert Browning, The Year's at the Spring

     Spring comes with a pounce here, unlike other places we've lived where it slowly, almost shyly meanders in. One week it's winter and the next the temperatures soar into the 60s and 70s. We got our first sickness of the season right about the time that oh, everything had to get planted or transplanted. We put in blueberry bushes last year (or was it the year before?) that needed a more suitable spot to live in, so we transplanted them and acidified the soil to make them happier. The 2 blackberry bushes that are coming will be planted close by them later this week. I finally, FINALLY got to plant strawberries; long looked for come at last. 25 plants now and another 25 this fall. We built a raised bed following hugelkultur principles and will do the same with the other bed that we build later on. At the end of the strawberry bed we put in some sugar snap peas and set out 60ish red onions. The garlic is growing great guns, the rhubarb and comfrey are shooting up, daffodils are blooming everywhere and the peepers are singing. How can one be unhappy in the spring when the hope of everything is new? 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Blackberry and Blood Orange Marmalade

     We have a glut and I mean a glut (in excess of 40 pounds) of citrus fruit here. The children are eating 2 or 3 oranges a day plus an occasional grapefruit and still the fruit lies in piles on the table. I decided to make more marmalade and even after 12 jars were on the shelf there was still plenty of fruit. I wanted to try something different, I get so tired of the same old stuff year in and year out. But what? So I made up a batch (and then another because it was so stinking tasty) of Blackberry and Blood Orange Marmalade.

      The recipe is super easy and really worth the effort. Peel 6 Blood Oranges removing as much pith as possible. Shred 1 whole lemon- peel and all, but discarding the seeds. Add 6 ounces of blackberries, 2 cups of sugar and 3 cups of water. Boil until lemon pieces are tender and it begins to jell. Marmalade is a deceptive thing, by the time it looks cooked down enough it will actually have the consistency of road tar when it's room temperature. Aim for under cooked and see how it looks as it cools down, you can always cook it more if needed. Jar it and process for 10 minutes. We use most of our marmalade as a meat glaze, it pairs wonderfully with chicken and pork; but this stuff is too high class for that. I'm thinking this will be best eaten directly off the spoon late at night when the children can't see.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Rest In Peace, Dad

    William M. Near, age 90, passed away peacefully at his home, February 20, 2014 with family and his beloved dog, Zoey by his side.
    Born in North East, Pennsylvania to the late Winfred and Julia (Schultz) Near on January 19, 1925, he grew up on a dairy farm in Sherman, New York, where they farmed with horses and logged with oxen.
    Bill married Norriel (Nonie) Lanphere April 28, 1950 and they were married for 62 years before she passed away in 2012.  They lived in Ripley, New York where they raised five children.
    In his younger years Bill went to all the barn dances in the area as well as local square dances where he loved to dance the ladies around the floor. Always a gentleman, he never missed an opportunity to compliment a waitress, nurse or store clerk and make them smile.
When he returned home, he worked on the Nickel Plate railroad, and then became an over-the-road truck driver. Always mechanically inclined, he used his skills as an auto and truck mechanic for many years. He drove school bus in Ripley for several years and he worked as a custodian at BOCES, in Lakewood, NY, then as a security guard for Mogen David Winery in Westfield, then  North East Marina, North East, PA.
    Bill loved music and listened to Molly B’s Polka Party faithfully for years. Besides polka music he loved to listen to bagpipes. In his later years he decided to teach himself various instruments to “keep his mind sharp.” He learned to play the concertina, mountain dulcimer and autoharp and while never proficient at any of them, he enjoyed the learning process and practiced them throughout the years.

    At the age of 17 he enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II and served in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater, aboard the USS Izard and USS Ross, taking part in the Philippine’s Liberation including the battles of Leyte Gulf and Lingayen Gulf as well as the battles of Iwo Jima and Truck Island among others, earning 13 battle stars in all.
    Discharged in 1945 from the Navy, Bill and a friend worked their way across the country, doing odd jobs.  Upon his return, he enlisted in the Navy Reserves in 1950 and was called up for the Korean Conflict and served on the USS Lioba until 1952.
    Over the years, Bill adopted several dogs, but especially loved his Basset Hound, Herky, and his Dobermans, Sabrina and Sydney. He loved feeding the birds and watching them at the feeder, through his living room window.
    As well as his wife and parents, Bill was preceded in death by his sisters Alice Rogers of Erie, PA and Audrey Rowe of Corning, NY.
    He is survived by his children Robyn (Bob) Albright of Ripley; Shelley Near (Peter Boesch) of Erie, PA; Dawn (Ted) Rickenbrode of Ripley, NY; William Jr. (Aileen) of Orchard Park, NY; and Paris (Gill) Graham of Knoxville, Tennessee; twenty-one grandchildren, as well as six great-grandchildren; sisters Dorothy Johnson of Mesa, AZ and Betty Richardson of Berwyn, IL; a brother Gerald Near of California; as well as many nieces and nephews.
    Visitation will be at Mathews Funeral Home in Ripley, NY, services by Michael Fantauzzi of Fredonia, from noon until 2 p.m. on February 28, 2015. A private memorial service will be held at a later date. “Flowers are for the living,” Bill said. Please make a donation to the organization or charity of your choice in his name.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Mandarin Oranges

     I've been canning mandarin oranges this last little while; since their season doesn't generally coincide with when we think of canning it does seem a bit odd to have the canning supplies out again. Canning season for me generally runs from May through October, unless I have a glut of meat which then gets canned in the winter. However, you must can when the season dictates and mandarin orange season has been running for a few months and is about to wind down.

     A mandarin orange is actually a tangerine, you've probably noticed the prepackaged bags of "cuties" in your store. To can citrus you peel the fruit and then remove as much of the pith as possible. Most of the cuties have a string running up the outside that is easily removable with your thumb nail and a larger amount of pith along the inside curve.
Fruit in the jar before adding liquid

   I prefer a blend of citrus, but couldn't find blood oranges or any other good deals, so I settled for grapefruit. I used the ratio of 1 pink grapefruit per 3 lbs of tangerines. The grapefruit isn't as cooperative and most of my pieces were shredded trying to remove the tough inner skin. Add sugar if you wish, I used a scant half cup. Place the fruit in a clean jar and boil your jar rubbers for a few minutes (or wash your metal lids if you prefer. :)  ) Leave about an inch headspace and fill with orange juice, or pineapple juice or sugar syrup if that's what floats your boat. Final headspace should be 1/2", remove air bubbles and process for 10 minutes in a boiling waterbath.
Jars filled with orange juice. Not quite so pretty.  :(

     A had a gal ask me once if I liked to can. The answer is no, no I don't. I can because it's an economic necessity, it has literally kept us alive when we had little else. I can because I have definite ideas about how people (and children especially) should eat and so I need to buy fruit in season and set it back against the time when fresh fruit choices are limited. I can because I believe that it's the epitome of hubris to think that God is going to step in and provide when I'm not willing to work for it. I like the feeling of satisfaction from seeing the shelves fill up with jars, I like feeling proud of myself and I like that our children are learning to appreciate this way of life, but I don't jump up and down and think "Oh goody, I get to process fruit and jar it. Woot!Woot!"  I'm like that about many things: sewing, knitting, spinning, canning, cheese making, butchering......... I like a job well done and I'm glad to do it, but I don't do it for kicks and grins. We must be careful to guard against the mindset that we should only do what we love, we should do what needs to be done cheerfully and thank God for the ability to do so. That's what I'm striving for.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Friday's Breakfast Is Loving & Giving


We have a breakfast schedule here:

  • Monday is Levi's turn
  • Tuesday is Micah's
  • Wednesday is Tabitha's
  • Thursday is Rebekah's
  • And every other day gets argued over by Bep, Abby & Asa for the privilege of making breakfast.  :)
     The little girls wanted to make fry pies, so we did that this evening. It was a community effort and went by quickly. Even Maggie "helped" and no, I didn't mind at all. It reminded me of years ago when I let the older ones dump cornstarch on the wood floors to "ice skate" on. Time sure flies. 

     We used our own Old Fashioned Peach Jam as the filling and fried them in lard. Abby sprinkled the powdered sugar on them after she transferred each to the cookie sheet. In the morning we'll warm them up and then breakfast is served. Perfection!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

We Shall Have To Begin To Think Very Differently

   A blog that I read had a recent discussion revolving around whether they (or me or you) had enough canning jar lids. The consensus was that, no indeed, they did not have enough lids stockpiled. People commented that they bought a box or two every time they went to the store and though they had 4,562 lids purchased that wouldn't see them through the apocalypse (OK I just made that part up, but you get the idea.) Let me tell you what our philosophy is and you can decide which approach you think will work the best for your family.

     My thought is that you can never, never, NEVER accumulate all of the lids that you will need to continue canning hundreds of jars of food for the rest of your life. The very thought exhausts me. Should a collapse happen I will immediately scale back what I can, not increase it. I will no longer can green beans or carrots or indeed any low acid food; if it can't be jammed or pickled then I probably won't can it. All of the jam that I make is with homemade pectin, you might want to consider learning to make jam the old fashioned way, by cooking until the jelling point rather than the faster sure-gel way. As an aside, jam made this way doesn't even have to be sealed, the sugar acts as a preservative and the jam won't spoil. I may can some fruit, but dehydrating just makes more sense for most things. Root crops will be stored in a clamp, green beans will be dried in a solar dehydrator as will sweet corn. Eating seasonally will become de rigueur for us here as it already is in many parts of the world.

     As I've mentioned before, I use a lot of bail jars but since most folks just don't have a ready supply of those I'd recommend one of two things. Either invest in Weck jars or Tattler lids. There is a learning curve to using any of these methods, but so too is there for modern bands and lids. Some people have begun reusing jar flats citing that the old timers did it. Well, that may be so, but jar flats 40 years ago were designed differently, they were a lot beefier and had a much thicker gasket. Jar lids are designed today to be single use, on purpose.

     Meat will either be eaten fresh or we'll dry that too. Traditionally, hams were smoked to preserve them and they were stored after they were very dry. That's why old cook books usually mention boiling ham and not baking it like we do today. We have these old fashioned hams here locally, Clifty Farms has the closest thing to farm preserved ham that I've ever bought. Another option is potting meat, Granny Miller talks about that here, so I won't repeat it. And though I've posted a picture of a loverly old crock, beware using antiques as they can have lead in the glaze. Stick with new ones unless you're certain.

     In order to meet our family's caloric requirements we will have to learn some old methods and some new ones as well. As with most things, the time to work out the kinks is now, not when you have hungry little ones hanging off your skirt.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Rye Bread For Haters

     I loathe rye bread, it's right up there with store bought whole wheat bread for unpalatability. However, as with many things made at home, I love my own rye bread. If you're a rye bread lover, this recipe probably isn't for you, but if you think you're no fan of rye then give this a try.

     Begin by grinding some rye berries until you have a cup and a half (more or less) of fine rye flour. Mix in a half cup of plain Greek yogurt (or buttermilk if you'd prefer) and as much warm water as needed to form a thick dough. Allow to rest overnight at room temperature. For the specifics of soaking grains see this.

     The next morning in a separate bowl combine 1/2 cup warm water, 1T molasses and 2T yeast. Let rest until bubbly. Combine with 1t salt and soaked rye (which may look grayish on top, this is fine) and a pat or two or three of butter, coconut oil, olive oil, mayo, applesauce, or whatever. Begin adding white flour until dough reaches proper consistency. Allow to rise until doubled. Punch down and form into 2 round loaves, cut 2 deep slits in the top.

     Micah made me 2 round cardboard bread "molds", they're approximately 5" high and 5" across, I line them with parchment paper and place them on a greased cookie sheet. Then gently place the loaves inside.

     Allow to double again in size and then bake in a 350-375 degree oven. Dust with flour after baking. We'll finish off both loaves tonight with sausage links, sharp cheddar and fruit. Yummy homemade goodness at its best!

     As you can see, the only real difference between mine and other rye recipes (other than the soaking step) is that my recipe lacks caraway seeds. It is solely the caraway seeds that account for the yuckiness factor in traditional rye bread. Now you know.  :)

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Economics of Laundry

     Washing laundry at home is a significant use of water, accounting for up to 40% of total household water consumption. This is partially due to the incredible water demands that a typical top loader uses, 40-50 gallons per load! After a year spent going to the laundromat and being increasingly disgusted by the cost and how poor a job the "high efficiency" washers did (after all, how high is the efficiency when the machine doesn't do the job it was designed to do?) we have returned to using a wringer washer. I spent our early married years using a wringer, we've also washed clothes by hand with a plunger and scrub brush- which is hands down the cleanest our clothes have ever gotten.

     The wringer washer takes 16 gallons to fill, in that water I wash at least 3 loads in succession beginning with the lightest/least soiled clothes and progressing to dirtier/darker clothing. As each load is wrung it is put in a bucket or basket, after the 3-4 loads are washed the tub is refilled with rinse water, each load is rinsed, wrung and then hung. The rinse water then becomes the wash water and the cycle starts again. To fill my particular clothesline I can wash 6 loads, so water consumption for me equals 48 gallons (16 gallons to wash, 16 gallons to rinse which is also the next 3 load's wash water, and 16 more gallons to rinse.) That works out to 8 gallons per load of laundry.

     To my rinse water I add a splash of vinegar, we don't like our clothes coated with synthetically scented petrochemicals, then we line dry. In the Winter (which here is mostly rain) we use lines strung on the porches, drying racks indoors and/or lines strung through the living room. It takes around 12 hours for jeans to dry, but that's balanced by increasing humidity in the house and the fact that my kilowatt usage is zero.

     I like that our laundry method leaves a gentler impact on our planet, but I like the cost savings even more. We were spending around $30/week at the laundromat. Should we want to take our laundry system off grid this washer could be converted to bicycle power in about an hour. I found one of my wringer washers on Craig's List and the other at an auction, I paid $75 and $125 for mine. I can't image a laundry system that I'd be more pleased with than this, it has everything: clean clothes, low energy use, and very low water consumption!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Increasing Tilth


     The holiday season is past and our minds immediately turn to garden plans and other Spring endeavors. We are blessed to have relatively fertile soil for the area we live in, so much of the land here is burned out due to ignorance about soil amendments and crop rotation. Our soil is clay loam and we began increasing tilth as soon as the garden was turned for the first time. Improving soil obviously benefits the gardener by increased sizes and yields and it is an easy labor. The first thing to understand is how essential nitrogen levels are, nitrogen is the building block of plant structure, having a deficiency in this area with give you stunted, yellowish plants. Some of the organic methods we've used to raise nitrogen levels are:

  1.  The addition of  composted manure (we use composted horse manure from the stable where our daughter rides).
  2. Growing plants that boost nitrogen such as beans and peas. We will avoid planting corn especially because it depletes the soil rapidly. We tried a test plot of corn last year and the results were disappointing.
  3. Adding coffee grounds, either composted first or washed grounds directly. Washing first ensures that you aren't changing the pH and making your soil more acidic, obviously if you want to change the pH then don't wash the grounds first. 
  4. Plant borage, I haven't tried this one but it would work for a cover crop (as would oats or rye) that you till back into the soil.
     Improving soil organically is a process, not an event. Every year you will see soil improvement, changing from a clay color to the deeper richer black the denotes optimum fertility.

     In more immediate news, the sap will begin rising shortly and we'll be tapping again! Though we have more taps to put in this year than we did last year, it will still fall dismally short of what we used to do. You can read about that here and here, but it's a skill that we value and want to keep alive for the children. Because we won't have the quantity that we're used to my thought is to store the sap in the freezer until we have enough to fill the cast iron pot and then boil it down outside and finish in the house. That's the tentative plan anyway. Immediately on the heels of syrup season will be a brief window and then early garden things can be planted. My garlic is doing well and I think I'm going to divide my comfrey into 3 plants instead of the behemoth it currently is. I'm excited to begin the life cycle all over again, it never grows old. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Elisabethe in the 1830s

     Just a few pictures of Elisabethe's new 1830s dress that I mentioned in my last post. It was sewn by her big sister, Kate, out of a pima cotton check that we had from a previous project of mine that went awry. Though I detest sewing pima (and she did too) it does make a nice crisp skirt with lots of natural oomph. Coupled with a few petticoats to give it a nice bell shape and the look is perfectly lovely!

     She is thrilled with it, naturally, and would wear it daily if we let her. I love that about her, she loves and appreciates beautiful things just as she should. :)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Dress in the 1830s Style

      Canning season is mostly over, I ended up with about 50 less jars than I thought I would since I never made applesauce, so we totaled out around 450 jars. After the weight of preserving is lifted then the I-Need-To-Sew-Clothes-Again urge hits, and off we go.

    The girls do keep a running list of whose turn it is to have a dress sewn next and as Elisabethe had her turn skipped a while back it was her turn. Katie took it upon herself to sew an 1830s masterpiece for her, replete with uber puffed sleeves, I couldn't be happier with it. One evening a week or so ago I began to think of all of the dresses that I've sewn through the years for the 6 girls and so we sat down one evening and tallied the number, we ended up at over 90 and are still occasionally adding to the list as our memory gets jogged. But we also noticed that some of the girls have fewer dresses still in their possession than others, I'm trying to remedy that as nobody wants to be the lone girl with 3 dresses when her sisters have 3x that number.

     I've had this fabric for years and have loved it since I bought it, but as it was only 4 yards my options were limited. After ruminating for a while it decided that it wanted to be a fan front, I promptly messed that up and it quickly decided that it would rather be styled into an 1830s bit of loveliness. 

     After her dress was complete I made up a bodiced petticoat based on this illustration from an 1860s Peterson's Magazine. The bodice and yoke are a light weight cotton and the skirt is a much heavier cotton that I hemmed with a "fancy" machine stitch. It gives a nice oomph to her skirts which I love. I basted some 100% cotton lace into the neckline as I love the look that gives; it wouldn't be terribly practical if she were to wear this garment everyday as the lace couldn't take the frequent washings required, but for this project it was perfect. 

     The only thing remaining was to whip up a diminutive pair of pantalettes. I put 3 half-inch tucks in each leg for pretty and truly the sight of them peeking out from beneath her skirts makes me smile. This is such a beautiful, elegant way for a little girl to dress!

     I've decided to begin a new tradition of having a 5x7 framed and hung on the wall every time one of the girls gets a new dress. I wish I had begun this years ago, but since I didn't I will start today. The picture above is the one that I chose to commemorate Magdalena's Thanksgiving Dress for 2014. 

     Too much cuteness is tiring, apparently. 

     Happiest of Thanksgivings from our family to yours!