Wednesday, April 29, 2009

This is for you, Mom!

This post is mostly written for my Mom since I promised I'd post pictures of Katie's cakes and kind of, um, forgot. ;-) Katie has been learning cake decorating from a local lady and these are her first 2 cakes. Below the rainbow would be the birthday child's name, but since this was only for practice she left the name off. And this is the cake she did today, it looked very lovely in person, the pictures don't do it justice. She is certainly enjoying learning this art and I will gladly hand the cake decorating reins over to her!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Home Economics

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

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

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

Cottage Crackers

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1/3 cup olive oil

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Country Auction

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

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

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

2 nail kegs- ignore the camera date ;-)

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

3 cast iron kettles and a copper one on the left
You could have purchased the farm with all the furnishings and tools and opened a museum. However, the auction attracted a lot of antique dealers and that generally means high prices, there were very few deals to be found. The cast iron kettles went for $350 - $450 a piece, considerably more than we paid for ours that was in better condition. The copper one went for $285. Karl told me that when he was a boy the cast iron kettles were used for butchering and the copper kettle was used for apple butter. A sausage stuffer went for $200 with an Amish farmer finally outbidding an antique dealer. It adds an extra burden for people who will actually use the items to have to outbid a dealer with ready cash. I wanted one of the cauldrons but I just can't compete there.
80 gallon barrel with original red paint and lid
The Zurcher family had reserved seats in the front row of the tent to watch the items as they sold. Mrs. Zurcher (the one who showed me the house) cried as certain items were sold. When the wash stand and baby crib were carried away, she didn't look. 200 years of heritage gone in the space of 5 hours. Whatever history those pieces had is now forgotten, whatever stories could be told now won't be. The majority will sit in antique shops in anonymity, with nothing unique to distinguish them from anything else around it. Aleks said it's one of the saddest things he has ever seen. It reminds me of one of the final stanzas in the poem The House With Nobody In It.
Now a new house standing empty,
with staring window and door,
Looks idle perhaps and foolish,
like a hat in its block in the store.
There's nothing mournful about it,
it cannot be sad and lone,
For the lack of something in it,
that it has never known.
But a house that has done what a house should do,
a house that has sheltered life,
That's put it's loving wooden arms
around a Man and his Wife.
A house that has echoed a baby's laugh
and held up his stumbling feet,
Is the saddest sight when it's left alone
that ever your eyes could meet.

Monday, April 13, 2009


I ordered some Pima cotton with Lissa a while back with the intention of making gowns for the baby's first infancy. First infancy is the period from birth through 4-6 months or when the baby starts creeping. These gowns can be plain or embellished and are long, anywhere from just covering the feet to a foot longer than that. Once they reach the second infancy and start to be mobile then the gowns are shortened to facilitate their efforts to crawl. For some really nice examples of mid-1860's baby clothes check out Amy's blog (A day in 1862). I have one original baby gown that I really prize but don't have any pictures to share of it. :-( I'm getting more in the mood to sew after just recovering from my 3 month bout of near-comatoseness. I don't get morning sickness but I do get ridiculously tired and very, very hungry. I'm not complaining, truly I'm not, but the near continual bouts of low blood sugar do get tiring. Anyway, that's past and I can begin to be me again instead of the weird woman who was inhabiting my body.

The baby has begun to make its presence known with the small kicks and nudges that are so comforting. I haven't been to see anybody, Doctor or Midwife, so I haven't heard the heartbeat or had any of the modern proceedures that give the "proof" of a baby. I wanted to just wait like women used to for the "quickening", so it was very welcome when it finally happened. I usually notice something around 15 weeks and it was the same way this time.
Have you ever noticed that the older you get the more like yourself you become? I had a friend who phrased it that way, just another way of saying that we become set in our ways as we get older. I have become more and more convinced as I've gotten older that this season is meant to be a sacred special thing and modern medicine can be very degrading to that notion. I can't reconcile the Scripture about babies being knit in secret with blood tests, dopplers and especially ultrasounds. There is no secret in any of that. Now, I want to hasten to say that I'm not condemning anybody who chooses differently. All of us have to do as we think best, and I understand that the medical proceedures can be very comforting to women. It's reassuring to see the baby alive and well on an ultrasound, I understand that perfectly and I'm not posting this as a "how to be perfectly pregnant" post. BTW, I really dislike the word "pregnant", I don't know why but it seems trashy to me, but I digress....... I'm just sharing with you how I feel at this moment in time, I'm not engraving anything in stone. I will see someone eventually but the longer I can put off what I know I'm not going to agree with, the better. Did you know, for instance, that 80-90% of amniocentesis' are performed solely because a woman is over 35? That's a risky proceedure, an OB told me that whenever they do one they have a surgical team standing by in case something goes wrong. They do these in case you're carrying a Down's Syndrome baby and might like to kill it. Only 10% of Down's babies are ever born. Just one example of Modern Medicine being grossly out of whack.

So for now I'll take comfort in the fact that my body knows what it's doing and just trust it. Maybe that's part of the problem, that we just don't trust ourselves anymore and find solace in having an expert to tell us whether we're OK or not. I don't know, but it's food for thought anyway! I hope everybody had a blessed Resurrection Day!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Thoughts on poultry

What an eventful week! After my "Spring is surely here" post we got 3 days of snow storms, that meant that Tansy couldn't be turned out to graze so she was in a flounce the entire time. Poor sulking beast! The mama banty only hatched out the 2 babies that I already mentioned, the other eggs were duds; apparently the rooster has failed to grasp the full import of his duties. I would be happy to dispense with a rooster altogether, but Mr. G thinks one vital to the mental well being of the hens. I think that he only chases and torments them endlessly and they would be calmer without him. But, either way, fertile eggs are lower in cholesterol than non-fertile eggs so I guess he will get a stay of execution for now.

The chicks that we ordered from the hatchery came at 8 AM Monday morning. It was a scramble to get everything assembled for them but we managed and got them safely settled in their temporary quarters. Once their box is set up I take each chick and dip their beak in their water dish which contains about a teaspoon of jello powder mixed in the water. The sugar gives them energy which is sorely needed after their travels through the mail. I have always made the food that our baby poultry eat since I think it gives them a better start. It is also better for them because I don't feed them anything that I wouldn't eat. Commercial chick starters, with the exception of organic starters, are all medicated and filled with nasty by-products. I have never needed to give antibiotics to any poultry and certainly never to chicks. My recipe is as follows:

  • 3 cups coarse ground cornmeal

  • 2 cups coarse ground wheat

  • large handful of rolled oats

  • 1 tablespoon baking powder

  • smaller handful dry molasses (can use 1/4 cup liquid molasses)

  • 2 big pinches dried alfalfa

  • same amount red raspberry leaf

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 6 farm fresh eggs

  • enough milk to make it really moist

Mix dry ingredients then add eggs and milk. Bake on a cookie sheet at 300 until done. Let cool and then crumble. This batch I had neither alfalfa or red raspberry so we used plantain and dandelion instead. I have observed what chickens actually eat when on pasture and the greater majority is bugs and seeds, that means that they are ingesting a great deal more protein than even a 40% starter would have. My recipe contains huge amounts of protein due to the wheat, eggs and milk and I feel that they grow better this way. We rarely lose any. Obviously though, this is by no means a cheaper way to raise poultry, it's much more expensive and probably wouldn't even be possible on a commercial basis. However, I feel that for the 50 or so chicks that we have at any given time, it is the best way. Chicks also need grit but I use "kitchen economics" here also and don't buy any. I dig a cereal bowl sized clump of dirt and grass which they will scratch in thereby ingesting minerals and seeds while also getting the needed grit.

It's always exciting to see the new life in the Spring, to be reminded afresh of the annual renewal. I always wanted children in April, May, September and October. I succeeded on all counts except the April baby that never happened. Katie was born in May but she's my only Spring baby, we tend toward Autumn babies. Rebekah, Levi and Micah in August, Aleks in September, Tabitha in October, Abigail in November, and Elisabethe in December. And, the new arrival due in September! We're very excited (you'd think this doesn't happen with a fairly regular frequency!) and full of plans. All of my children were born on odd days: 23, 31, 29, 29, 21, 3, 21, 25. As you can see I'm missing a 27, so we'll root for that. ;-)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Signs of Spring

Signs of Spring are everywhere these days. It smells like Spring and it certainly looks like Spring. The children came home yesterday with armfuls of Spring Beauties to make into bouquets and fill most available jars. Katie said that the Bloodroot is blooming as is the Coltsfoot in the raised bed. We planted sugar peas last Tuesday which is another sign that warmer weather is here to stay. I guess I'm convinced. And as if that's not enough, one of the Mama banties decided to set a few weeks ago and now has 2 bitty babies hatched out completely and another 5 to go. She's camera shy at present so no pictures.

Our laying hens and meat chickens should be arriving Tuesday or Wednesday and we look forward to fresh meat and a greater quantity of eggs than we're getting right now. Also, Aleks put 35 Narragansett turkey eggs in one of the incubators so in 28 days there should be enough poultry on the place to satisfy everyone!

Sing a song of seasons,
Something bright in all.
Flowers in the Springtime,
Fires in the Fall!