Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The price of being an omnivore...

Harvest comes in many forms.  For most of us, harvest refers to the picking of the final product of our fruits and vegetables.  Conversely, many enjoy the disconnect between the farm animal and the food upon the plate.  Unfortunately, part of having animals is that occasionally they do not fit into the homestead and become dinner...come read the saga of the Easter Chicks...

Easter was coming and W. started talking about getting chicks.  We thought up the idea that we'd get chicks with the idea that if any were roosters we'd tell the kiddos that the Easter Bunny needed to take them back (good cover story ehh?)  Well, for the last week, the "hens" were doing un-hen like things  (I'll spare you the details, but we don't want to find a baby chick in our breakfast.)  As a current city dweller, I hoped to turn a blind eye to it all, but I knew the two were roosters for quite a while in my heart.  We had decided that we wanted to not waste all the investment that we had put into them (feed, initial cost, brooding, effort etc.) so we'd harvest any roosters.  We cannot have roosters due to noise ordinances, as well as a law against "fighting cocks."  To make sure, Husband took pictures and emailed them to Country Sister, who ascertained that the mean looking ones were roosters. 

Not a Hen
I will spare you the details, for you who have done this, I commend you, and you understand what I went through.  For you who have not done this deed, I wish to preserve your innocence.  Our next door neighbor happened to put her dog out in the middle of the processing.  She said "hi" and then asked what we were doing.  I mearly replied, "Harvesting two roosters."  She told me she grew up on a farm and went back in with her dog.
As Fresh as it Gets

I just present you with one request.  Thank your butcher, slaughterhouse, farmer, etc.  They provide a service that is very difficult to do.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Country Homestead Tour #2: The Family Cow

Meet Daisy

Daisy right before loading
This weekend we brought home our 3 month old heifer (girl) calf whom the girls promptly named Daisy.  How perfect.  Why the cow?  So after milking a dairy goat for a season (goat intro to come) we decided that we have a house full of chevre lovers(and oh how we loved the pounds of fresh homemade cheese) but truth be told we all really prefer cow milk for drinking and whatnot.  So, we endeavored to find a dairy cow that would fit our needs as well as our land.  Enter the Irish Dexter.  The Dexter is the triple threat of the cow world, good for dairy, meat and teamwork.  It is a miniature breed so it naturally produces less milk (2 gallons per day versus 4-6 gallons like a Jersey cow) than a full sized dairy cow.  Perfect--we are only a family of 4 and we have day jobs so can't be tied up in the kitchen processing milk for hours a day.  It needs less pasture since it is smaller.  Ding Ding again--since we only have about 2 acres of quality pasture to graze right now.  And the real deal sealer for the minority leader of the house was that we can breed her with a beef style Dexter and have a beefy offspring for the freezer and still get quality butterfatty milk from mama moo.  This is a rarity since most dairy cows aren't the best for beef and most beef cows don't make very decent milk.

daisy: adjusting to her new barn..and the camera flash
So...trick #1 will be to halter train her really well.  Get her to walk with us, follow us around, and be OK with us scratching and snuggling and eventually, milking, her.  We learned our lesson the hard way with our little goat kid who is now a major social misfit.  We let her go the "natural" "attachment parenting" route. Just left her with mom.  The "other way" of raising is to pull the kids away from mom after they are born and bottle feed them.  Ack!  I mean, what an injustice to pull a little goat kid away from her mama.  And since I nursed my own human kids to 3 1/2, you can bet there was no way this lactivist was going to get between that kid and that udder (except to steal some milk every day for my precious cheese addiction) Well guess what--big surprise--the only thing she attached to was her mama goat.  So now we have two lovely alpine dairy goats (whom we bought and bottle fed from 2 days old) and one unruly free range crazy alpine goat that we can hardly touch.  This will not happen again!  Daisy thankfully had 3 lovely months of mama's milk and now it's time for her to "attach" to us.  Fingers crossed!

So here is Daisy.  She's about to get a ton of lovin' and if all goes well she'll be making us milk (and yogurt and cheese) in just 2 short years!

Saturday, August 28, 2010


I finally got around to preserving the massive amount of sweet red peppers I bought at the farmer's market.  C. loves hummus almost as much as W. loves dilly beans.  Her favorite flavor happens to be roasted red pepper.  I was able to make about 2 pints of roasted red peppers and here's how:

First, wash and cut the peppers into thin strips. 
Step One

Then place the peppers on a cookie sheet that has a thin layer of olive oil on it.  Drizzle more olive oil on top.
Slightly Toasty
Then place them in a 300 degree oven for one hour stirring every 15 minutes until slightly blackened.
Last pack them into sterilized jars leaving about an inch for head space.  Then slowly pour olive oil in.  Wait for the oil to filter through and make sure all the peppers are covered adding more as needed.  Place in the freezer (and maybe a jar in the fridge.)  In the freezer they should last a year (if they are still not gobbled up) and in the refrigerator about three months.  Before using, you should let them marinate for about a week so that the oil becomes flavored...then the oil can be used for marinades and hummus as well as a million other things.

All Done

I also preserved some tomatoes that we grew in the garden.  I dehydrated them.

Nice and Dry
And then I packed them in olive oil just like the peppers.

Packed Away

Bon Appetit

Friday, August 27, 2010

Gleaning by the sea...

A bit back City Sister posted about her unique jamming experience with rose hips.  It was really quite an epic jam tale.  The hips were originally gleaned on Muscongus Bay.  We then divided them and she toted her stash 700 miles home...unpacked from a 3 week vacation and somehow managed to pull off a jamming event. 

I, on the other hand, brought my gleaned hips home.  15 mile trip.  And on the same weekend that we processed 110 chickens from field to freezer and threshed wheat and also played hard with the visiting inlaws and cousins--I began to jam.  I picked stems with my sister in law, I boiled down juice, I strained the juice, put juice in the fridge.  Uhhhhhhhh.  I put juice in the fridge.  Uhhhhhh.

I won't post a picture of the current status of the juice.  Suffice to say--when you have too many irons in the fire, eventually one goes untended.  Or gets a skim of mold across the top and takes on a strange odor.  And City Sister can attest that my fridge is one place in my house where wierd things tend to happen.  I attribute it to an abundance of fresh veggies and foods lacking any preservative.  Yup, thats it.

So the Jam-off, taste test is a wash.  We'll have to change course.  I do love course changes.  They almost always end you up in a pleasently unexpected destination.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Washing a ton

We have used All Free and Clear for years (since the kiddos were little and dreft was very expensive.)  Recently, I was reading Soulemama's blog and under tutorials, she had a recipe for laundry soap.  Wow I thought, this is a great idea.  It is cheap, easy, and we basically already use most of the ingredients!  I modified it so that I use 2 whole bars of Dr. Bronner's soap to reduce the need to store grated soap for later.  In order to get this excellent price, I buy it by the case from our local organic farm food catalog, Frankferd Farms Foods, Inc. but more on them on a later date.
Homemade Laundry Powder
(Makes approximately 7 cups using 1/8 cup for a load)

2 bars (finely) grated Dr. Bronner's castile soap
(we use peppermint or lavender)
1.25 cups borax
1.25 cups baking soda
1.25 cups washing soda

I grated the bar soap with my food processor.  Then I poured in all the other items in after switching to the cutting blade.  This made the chunky bits of soap become small and worked in with the other powders.  It took me all of 5 minutes once I had all of the ingredients compiled.
Grinding up Soap

 Let's look at the cost effectiveness of this simple endeavor:

2 bars soap ($4.38)
1.25 cups borax (76 oz/$4.29 or $0.60/ 1.25 cups)
1.25 cups baking soda (192 oz/$21.25 or $1.10/1.25 cups)
1.25 cups washing soda (55 oz/$2.99 or $0.50/1.25 cups)

for a grand total of 56 loads for $6.58
$0.12 per load

whereas our regular detergent is 72 loads for $13.81
$0.19 per load


Save $0.07 per load for spending 5 minutes making a batch of detergent.
So much like the eggs...do it yourself for less and it is better for you!

The Finished Product
It's a no-brainer.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Life is a bowl of cherries

Yesterday was Monday...farmer's market day just down the road.  With our current circumstances we were unable to plant as much as we wished this year.  We are waiting until spring to plant fruit trees and then we will have to wait a few years until they are fruitful.  Therefore, the farmer's market (singular as there is only one farm selling at this one) is our best option for fresh fruit and vegetables.  We bought beets, red peppers, and cherries.

In order to have some fruit come winter, I am trying to put up as much fruit as possible.  I have quart upon quart of rhubarb from our garden.  I also have a few strawberries frozen as well as turned into jam from our garden.  The cherries added up to about a pint and a half after they were washed and pitted.  In order to make it a child friendly experience we bought a "cherry chomper"  from the local grocery store. 

Life is better with cherries.
We couldn't resist.  I know there are many more than one and a half pints in the bowl...the kiddos were ready for breakfast, and what is better than some nice dark fruit.

One side note about the cherry chomper...the cherry juice runs a little out the mouth and the bottom fills with pits and juice.  It can look a bit gruesome.  A quick dump of the base and rinse makes all the difference. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Country Homestead Tour #1: Hens

breakfast in the #14

Well isn't this timely. We are in the midst of a half a BILLION egg recall in this country. Seriously. Something is terribly wrong. And I think most of us know what that is.

I thought, as we started this blog that it would be fun to periodically give a "tour" of the parts and pieces that make up our homesteads. Here in the Country we have a diverse range of animals and vegetables (weeds) and other random things that make life here what it is, and what we love. So, to kick things off, lets start with the very thing that got us started on our path. The simple, lovely, and oh so tasty egg.

Years ago we started out with a half dozen hens. Somewhere in the middle we got up to about 60 hens. Now we are happy with our 8 hens. Things are constantly evolving here!
So here's the deal. We eat eggs. We eat our own hen's eggs. We eat fresh eggs. And after that--all other eggs seem pretty...well, pale in comparison. If you have hens, you know what I am talking about. Having a few hens in your yard is a no brainer. Its easy, inexpensive and a wonderful lesson for the kids on everything from care of animals to reproduction to responsibility. The birds are good for pest control and, properly managed, offer fertilizer in return for being well fed.

Lets look at some Eggonomics, just in case you are on the fence about whether to bring feathered friends into your life. A dozen organic, pasture raised eggs (organic feed and grass and sun) costs $5.00 retail around here. A dozen of the same eggs from your own back yard will add up like this:

$7.00 pullet will lay about 60 doz eggs over her 2 year laying life. So she costs about 12 cents a dozen. A good layer (RI red, Golden Comet, Barred Rocks) will eat about 5 pounds of feed for every dozen laid. That 5 pounds of organic grain will cost you about $2.20 around here. So your cost per dozen is $2.32! Using non-organic feed you can cut the feed cost in about half.
Of course, there is some up front cost for housing, fencing and whatnot. Some people go crazy .
We go with the more "homebrew" set up involving yard scrap lumber and free tarps. But we have no neighbors to offend, and we take advantage of that.

So now if you are not totally numb bored from me taking you to egg school, you can enjoy a few pics of our ladies and their lovely accomodations. No egg recall worries at this house. We encourage everyone to do the same!

Toasty warm in the winter inside their hoophouse
Summer living, easy, with their mobile range house and fencing

Sunday, August 22, 2010


An so it begins...the sweetest part of the year.  When the brambles begin to bring forth their fruit.  I ended up picking a large handful on this glorious day, but alas, by the time I entered the door, all the delicious raspberries were gone.  Fruit is nature's candy, and do my children have sweet teeth. 

I also began researching fall planted bramble fruit.  We live in zone 6A, which affords us the luxury of planting brambles and blueberries in the fall, letting them get established, and then having fruit available the next year rather than sacrificing that precious first year.  I have found several local mail order nurseries that have raspberries, blackberries and blueberries.  For this area, the planting golden time is September 20th.  This gives me just under a month to make some beds and order some bareroots. 

It is one of our goals to expand the fruit production on our quarter acre haven.  Currently, we hope to within the next few years, be able to put up enough fruit, by canning and freezing, to keep our family in jam, jelly, baked goods and plain old fruit all year long. 

I can't wait for raspberry rhubarb crisp, that is, if I can ever get though the door with a raspberry.

Friday, August 20, 2010

"But I will miss you..."

...she says. And so begins the heartbreak of this Country Sister as I prepare to shuffle my two wonderful little girls off to school. The truth is that they both love their little Monterssori school, as do we. But it still doesn't change the fact that we, with the exception of dad (the consummate extrovert) are three home-lovin' home bodies and this time of year is really bittersweet (mostly bitter) for us. I mean, honestly, there isn't much not to love. With not a car or road in sight in our little slice of heaven, and surrounded by wild and domesticated animals, the possibilites are endless. Our days this summer have been full of unstructured, unorganized, unscheduled goodness. That is something that none of us can get enough of. It is the blank canvas that draws us out of bed in the morning--well that and 120 or so hungry critters--and it is the incredible creation that we stand back and reflect on as we tuck in at night. Sure there is plenty of girl drama and sibling chaos woven in. A splash of intensity. We are normal.

And so I a broke out the chalk board today and wrote out the days of the week (so we can each keep track of our responsibilites and bags to pack), and I orchestrated a family meeting around our new chores schedules and morning and night routines. And I felt the tapping finger on shoulder, the lurking question that haunts me regularly, the same question that my children don't even hold back asking, "Mama, why can't we just homeschool".

The stock answer for the question is that, its not that we can't...we just aren't right now. Because Montessori school is great, because it is an incredible, caring and intimate learning environment. And, well...that is where I get all hedgey...and say "I'll miss you too."

Bottom line, I will miss them when they go, miss our amazing days spent together. And for now I live vicariously through City Sister and all of our homeschooling friends and the different questions and struggles they face as they too break out the chalk boards and calendars.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Day NOT Wasted...

As our City Children are still young, most of the home school work has to be done in the morning. Otherwise you run into the napping/resting/grumpy/"I'm NOT napping" time of day.  I only realized that I had to go into work this morning for an hour at 9:00 last night.  This work time was going to be during the few golden hours where everyone is happy, open to more structured learning and peaceful.  So today tested my resolve to get what needed to get done, done.

First, we baked muffins (life skills)

Then the kiddos took a bath (science)
We experimented with volume displacement

When I got home, we had to go to physical therapy (gym class)

Next was calendar

Last we saw that friends were coming over!


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Little Red Hen: Part 1

It is that time of year. Time to pull down a couple big harvests here on the homestead. Saturday we began the long process of hand threshing our Wheat crop. We were thankfully hosting my brother and sister in law. No one gets to sit idle while "vacationing" on the farm. And really, no one wants to. Aren't we lucky!

We grew a small crop this year, about 40' x 100' area of Barrie Organic Winter Wheat. The Wheat was planted last year in October. It grew just a few inches tall before being stunted by the hard frost here in November. The goal is to get it to a 4 leaf stage called vernalization before it sleeps for the winter under a heavy blanket of snow. In the Spring, at first melting, it takes off growing again. Hopefully charging ahead of the weeds and choking them out. We had good luck this year. We harvested with a borrowed sickle bar mower which was pretty slick. We are too small for a combine for sure but a machete was slow work. Thank you modern machinery! And thank you Eliot!

We then let the wheat sheaves dry in the barn for a couple weeks. That brought us to this weekend.

Hand threshing and winnowing involves this:

a sheave of wheat

and this:

nice brother-in-law using ergo-corrrect threshing technique

and this:

winnowing with nice fan from the dump...love the dump

and finally you get....

Voila! Wheat berries.

To be continued...

When Life Gives You Lemons...

Occasionally I work as a waitress where they put lemons on the edge of drinks.  Last night was a night where I had to cut lemons for drinks.  Typically the ends of lemons are discarded, which seems very wasteful to me, so I had an idea.

 I took the lemon ends home and carefully washed the lemons, cut off the stem and blossom ends, and then sliced them thinly.  I arranged them on the dehydrator in a single layer.

After they became dry and crisp, I put them away for storage.  They will make lovely tea along with the rose hips I dehydrated when I made the rose hip jelly.

What do you think Country Sister?  Are you ready for a tea competition as well?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Taste of Math...YUM

Banana bread was our main lesson today.  W., age 5, enjoyed reading the recipe and working on the quantities.  C., age 2, was into using banana as hair gel and narrating the process. 

Not Granny's Loaf Pan
This banana bread is the best, moist and rich, yet lower in fat than one would think.  It was developed by Marjorie Standish, author of Cooking Down East.  I have fond memories of creating it with my grandmother in her big yellow milk glass bowl and then pouring it into her metal loaf pan with the pink enamel lining to bake.  After making it she would slice a big slab of it off the loaf and smear it with butter (NOT MARGARINE...occasionally she would go into stories about growing up on the farm and how much better butter was then.) She would also make tea for herself and cambric tea for me (as you should be over 12 to drink real tea.)  Still it made me feel grown up.

Mostly Gone
The bread is still delicious.

Monday, August 16, 2010

School Daze

Tomorrow begins a new phase at our household.  While we have been informally homeschooling for the past five years, as many parents are apt to do, we are beginning our more formal quest for knowledge. While on vacation, we stopped at a wonderful second hand book store and bought a few books (okay so most people don't call a laundry basket full of books a few) including several enrichment books and books to make sure that we are on track as Pennsylvania has very rigid educational laws. 
The Caterpillar
My son is beginning to read and is very proud of the caterpillar that he can read.  We have also been playing what he calls "the grocery store game."  This is a game where he writes the numbers 1-10 with cent signs after each.  He picks out ten items from the cupboard and assigns values to each item.  I give him about 10 cents and then he goes "shopping."  I like the game because it teaches him about numbers, budgeting and encourages him make some decisions.  One time while playing the game, he said "I like the noodles, but I don't like cheese...I love my sister so much I'm going to buy mac and cheese for her...can you make it for her lunch...oh she's so cute." 

It is the lessons you don't teach that are the most important.

We have purchased the Saxon Math and Saxon Phonics programs for the Kindergarten level.  We also spend a lot of time outside studying...What do the chickens like to eat?  What do they not like to eat? How are tomato plants and rhubarb similar and different?  I love the natural curiosity children have at this age.  They thirst for knowledge.

Right now I feel like I should be buying pencils.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

While the Gardener is away...

One Spectacular Weed
While on vacation, our chicken sitter did a great job keeping the girls (hens) alive and well.  The area suffered sweltering heat accompanied by little rain and so he watered the garden.  Thus, the weeds took off.  The girls were pleased to receive lots of green leafy treats.  I guess that's what you get when you go for two weeks without weeding! 
Despite the neglect the garden suffered, I got our first good mini harvest.

My First Mini-Harvest
We had a torrential downpour last night and one of my little baby bell peppers suffered an early separation from the plant...oh well it will still taste wonderful.  I love this time of year when the harvests can just be incorporated into meals...I'm just not ready to can the sauce yet.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


While visiting Country Sister in Maine, we went to the beach with our families.  The children gorged themselves on wild, sour blackberries while us adults pondered the beach rose hips and their ability to be foraged. One night we came up with the idea of this blog.  We also decided to make rose jelly together, but due to the busy vacation schedule and lack of potable water, we were unable to.  Instead we picked four gallons of rose hips and divided them to be made into jelly.  We also discussed the possibility of bringing our jellies together at a later date to be sampled in a blind taste test.

Upon my return to Pennsylvania and the suburban homestead, I began the task of creating jelly.  The usable ratio of rose hip to rose hip fruit is quite low.  Not knowing this, I began removing the seeds in a quest for fruit for jam (as well as to avoid what some call "itchy bottom disease.")  One hour later, I had just begun work on the second gallon bag of hips that Country Sister and I harvested with the hubbies and children in tow. 

Ulu and the Rose Hips

The fruit was then boiled, mashed, and strained over the course of the day until it was time to jam it up. After putting it into jars, I had a few teaspoons to taste.  It was thick and cloyingly sweet, almost like apple flavored honey.
Asks the hubby, "Was it worth it?" 
The jury is still out...it is divine, yet it does take quite a little bit of effort to produce.

At Last
2 quarts rose hips, ends and seeds removed
1.5 quarts water
.5 cups lemon juice
1 package pectin
.25 teaspoons butter
3.5 cups sugar

Place hips and water in a pot and boil.  Reduce to a simmer for about 1 hour.  Mash the rose hips in the water.  Strain this mixture in a jelly bag for at least an hour.  I had to add more boiling water through the bag to make 3 cups of rose juice.  Then put the juice in a large pan with the lemon juice and pectin.  In the meantime prepare the jelly jars (makes 5-6 half pints) according to the package directions. Boil the juice mixture.  When it boils, add the sugar.  When the sugar is incorporated, add the butter and stir.  Bring this mixture to a hard boil (that cannot be stirred down) for at least one minute (I boiled mine a little longer.)  Put into the prepared jars leaving .25 inches head space.  Place the lids on and place in the canner covered with one inch of water.  Process the jelly for 10 minutes once it begins to boil.  Remove from the canner and wait for those little pops!