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! 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Plugging Away At My Eulogy

 Autumn is having an impromptu meeting with Winter right now in my yard. The sky is pale faced and looks a bit sickly, as though it wishes to put this meeting off for a future date. But it is not to be, snow is hurtling to the ground, not in gentle flakes but in hard bits that sting.

      Today was a good day to make cranberry sauce, so that's what I did. We love homemade cranberry sauce so I'll make one more batch for a total of 14 pints or so. If you'd like to try it you combine 3 12 ounce bags of washed cranberries with 6 shredded Granny Smith apples, skins included but not seeds. Add 6 cups sugar and 4 1/2 cups water, boil for 15 minutes or until berries pop and it looks thick. Remove from heat and let cool, if it's thick enough to suit you then jar it up and process for 15 minutes, if it isn't thick enough then boil it a bit longer.

     Lately I've felt the need to make soap again so I've made 2 batches so far, the first was pine tar soap and this last batch was made with comfrey tea and a bit of cinnamon. I like soap making to be an economical venture so I tend not to use expensive oils or much fragrance, fresh soapy clean is perfume enough to satisfy me. I want to get a few more molds and then make enough soap to last until Spring, that's my goal anyway, unless life has other ideas.

    This is one of my canning shelves, the jams, pickles, fruits and sauces are all elsewhere. With the chili that I canned yesterday and the cranberry sauce today I have around 425 jars filled. I do have beans soaking now in preparation for canning them tomorrow and pickles are brining so we'll process those on Saturday..... that will give me about 443 jars. I still have applesauce to do and a few other little things, I think I'll get to 500 jars or thereabouts.

     I read a quote from an elderly lady written around the turn of the century and she said that if a woman saw all the dishes that she would have to wash in her lifetime she'd lay down and die right then. So much of a woman's work is used up, or eaten up, or goes unnoticed as anything extraordinary, but the quilts she had sewn were different. They would be kept and cherished as something that Aunt Jane had made. Aunt Jane was writing her eulogy, though I doubt she thought of it that way. I think of that. What will my children remember about me? That I spent a lot of time on facebook? That I valued forgotten skills? That I sewed their clothes and mended socks? Or that I couldn't make crisp pickles to save my life? Everything I spend time on tattles on what I really value, both good and bad.

     It's so easy to get caught up in comparisons, to think that somebody else's life is perfect or pretty close. And it's easy to think "well, I'd do thus and so if only..." I'd like to encourage not to wait one more day to start writing the eulogy that you want remembered. You probably can't jump right into your dream life, I know that I didn't, but begin to build it one baby step at a time. Your dream life won't be mine, but the important thing is that it be what you want it to be. Perfection is overrated, allow yourself the privilege of learning and doing and making mistakes. Life is but a vapor and passes so quickly, to be able to die well with as few regrets as possible takes effort. Monumental effort, for nothing worthwhile is ever easy. If I've ever encouraged you or influenced you, let it be in that.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Beneficial Barter

I grew up in the grape country of Western New York and though I've been away for a long while, my family still lives there. Where I live is moonshine country and after sending my almost 90 year old father a jar of Maraschino Cherries Stewed in Moonshine we decided to swap 'shine for grapes. My sister boxed up 35 pounds of Concord and Catawba grapes for me and shipped them down (incidentally, for less cost than what I could buy them for locally.) They arrived on Thursday last and by Friday we had them all jarred.
Steam Juicing the Grapes

35 pounds yielded 12 quarts of grape juice concentrate, 7 pints of grape jam, and 2 grape pies.

We are soaking the grape seeds and pulp in cider vinegar to extract the many benefits.

 A bit about grape seeds:
Although not particularly tasty, whole grape seeds are completely edible, and scientific evidence suggests that they are good for you, too. Packed with essential fatty acids, amino acids, and powerful flavonoids (such as proanthocyanidins), these little bitter seeds have been associated with a whole slew of health benefits. Eating grape seeds on a regular basis may, for example, improve cardiovascular health, reduce leg swelling and varicose veins, provide some protection against certain types of cancer, offer weight loss benefits, treat depression, and even fight yeast infections caused by Candida.
In addition, thanks to their remarkably strong antioxidant properties, grape seeds might (at least in theory) help fight certain skin conditions – such as inflammatory acne, psoriasis, and premature wrinkling of the skin – and some more serious health complications such as asthma, joint inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis patients, and problems related to eye health.
Whole grape seeds are naturally rich in flavonoids including gallic acid, catechin, epicatechin, gallocatechin, epigallocatechin, epicatechin 3-O-gallate, and perhaps most importantly, oligomeric proanthocyanidins. According to research, the antioxidant capacity of proanthocyanidins is 20 times greater than vitamin E and 50 times greater than vitamin C.
In addition, proanthocyanidins have beenshown to enhance the effectiveness of other antioxidants. As a result of the remarkably strong antioxidant power of proanthocyanidins, it is not surprising that supplement manufacturers have began to process grape seeds into pills and capsules.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Autumn in a Jar

I just canned this:
It might be called Apple Pumpkin Butter by some, but I think the picture sums it up better.

Here is the recipe if you'd like to try it. Beware the smell as it cooks, if drifts everywhere and makes your home smell like a scented candle.

You will need:

  • I used one pretty good sized pie pumpkin, cut it in half, scraped the seeds & strings out, cut it into 2"x4" slices and shredded on my cheese shredder. This worked a lot better than trying to chunk it up. 
  • I added 3 Granny Smith apples, shredded. 
  • 2T vinegar
  • 1/2t salt
  • 1t nutmeg
  • 1T each, cinnamon and ginger
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 cups water and more if needed. 
Cook until done, adding more water if needed. My yield was 3 pints of very thick butter. 

The smell was divine, the taste was even better. I got the idea to make some from a book I'm reading, it's the Foxfire book detailing the life and interviews with Aunt Arie. She mentioned that they would make pumpkin butter in HUGE quantities and store it in multiple 5 gallon crocks. I find that mind boggling, my little batch was quite a bit of work, but to make gallons is nothing short of amazing. 

Happy Autumn!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Conservo Steam Oven

I've been looking for a Conservo for a little while, scouring eBay and local antiques shops to no avail. There are always a few on eBay, but for more than I wanted to pay relative to their condition. Using auction zip I found one being sold at an auction in Georgia, bid on it and won!

Made by the Toledo Cooker Company and patented in 1907 it is made with a tin body and copper bottom. The bottom, filled with water, generates the steam that bakes the items within. A nifty, low tech kitchen "appliance", my present to myself for my birthday.

It came today and I wanted to try it out immediately, but I couldn't think of anything to bake. I mused a bit and decided to use up a jar of our homemade peach pie filling and make a cobbler. I had to bake it in two bread pans because the Conservo can't hold a regular size cake pan.

I knew from a friend's experience with hers that anything baked with one will be very moist, but a cobbler should bake up just fine, right?

YES! Light, fluffy, moist, steamy goodness. Perfection.