September 2010


Here’s what’s up around Barefoot Farm. I spent Saturday harvesting wild grapes, apples and mushrooms and racking the dandelion wine with my good friend, Leni. I also scored a HUGE bag of red peppers that need to be preserved. I hoped to get that yesterday but we were scheduled to work in the Bee Booth at the Franklin County Fair.  I was making candles with kids and Bruce answered bee questions and sold honey and honey products. This is a wonderful fair with gorgeous exhibits. I got inspired to pick up my quilting again after looking the amazing quilts on display. That won’t happen this month as I’m still preparing for my preservation classes. I am also getting ready to have Dimitry Orlov come to speak to our sustainability group. That means getting the press releases out, posters up and the space reserved as well getting the permit for parking. None of this is hard work but it’s time-consuming and I have som else to do. The garden is needing attention and it’s time to button up the house for winter.

In the midst of this, we found a farm! We have been dreaming about a place just a bit more private and with a barn and fireplaces and we found one. It’s only a couple of minutes from where we live now. The price is a bit high but not too bad really. The house has a real cooking fireplace int the kitchen with the beehive oven. There are fireplaces in each bedroom and in the living room. I really want to take a  look but I’m afraid of falling in love. Moving would be such a hassle. Then there’s the greenhouse and perennial food plants and the to orchard and Phoebe’s play yard. But the farm has barn!!! And it’s on a quiet dirt road bordered by beautiful maple trees. The neighbors are lovely and we would still be just a few miles from the Creamery. The down side is that it is not walking distance. It’s up a couple of steep hills and three miles is not walking distance in the winter around here. I know I should just forget about it but I can’t,

Bruce has Men’s Group meeting at our house tonight and I need to get the house cleaned and the food ready. Even with both of us working, it’s a big job because of all the food preserving going on. Everything is sticky and there are bottles and jars and equipment everywhere. I have piles of cookbooks and preservation books on every flat surface as well as my notes for my workshops and we are definitely not quest ready. At least having a lot to do will keep my mind off a pretty little 200-year-old house, sitting snug under a canopy of golden maples with a well in the front yard and dear little red barn across the road. But really. It couldn’t hurt to just look, could it?

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I have been catching up on questions that need answering. It’s a good thing as it gives me a ready-made topic when my brain is so otherwise occupied I couldn’t come up with anything.

About the oil press: the website, Homestead.com, has a review of the press with a link to the company website. In contacting them you can get a bulk price of $69.00 each if you buy 6 of them. That’s a great price but the press is only useful if you have an oil source like sunflowers or walnuts.

About depression era books: I loved The Worst Hard Time, We Hd Everything But Money and Stories and Recipes of the Great Depression of the 1930’s. I have read many more but the titles would have to be retrieved from the aforementioned preoccupied brain. Maybe you can help me out here and send in your favorite titles. We did this with doomer novels and I had a great time catching up on books I had missed.

It’s the time of the year when I could work all day and not catch up. The tomatoes are coming by the bushel. (Thanks Chicky-bit-run. Your Black Plum toms won the taste test at my permaculture meeting. I have lots of people willing to swap with me for seeds). I have been gathering grapes and making wine like a mad woman. I had a friend over and we made double batches of grape, dandelion and goldenrod wines using recipes we found in Making Wild Wines and Meads. My DH is getting used to eating at one end of the table as the other is filled with jugs of fermenting glop. I picked apples with a dedicated reader yesterday and now I have bushels of apples to turn into sauce and cider. I’m also planning for my food preservation workshops here and in PA at the Mother Earth News Sustainable Living Fair. I’m scheduled to help Bruce at the Franklin County Fair this weekend, making candles at the Bee Booth. I have a book signing and a couple of neighborhood parties and I think my brain might explode.

But in a few weeks the rush will be over. The leaves will turn color and it will be time to hunker down. To be honest, I just can’t wait.

I got a very nice comment from my post on electric assist from a woman who had learned much from her grandparents’ experience living through the great depression. It brings up such an interesting point about buying new stuff to solve the problems we created by relying so much on new stuff. I make a point of going for the non-electric, non-fussy model of anything I buy whenever I can.  There are some notable exceptions. I bought an electric grain mill because I found the hand crank model so difficult to use that I didn’t grind as much as I should. The problem is that the thing sound like a jet taking off in the kitchen. In retrospect, I would have spent much less money and had what I wanted if I had gotten the slightly more expensive hand-mill that’s a lot easier to use and convertible to a bike assist quite easily. Penny wise as they say. Some time ago I bought an electric juicer. It is a very cool juicer and make fabulous apple/juice without precooking the fruits and vegetables. It too sounds that jet in my kitchen and I rarely use it. What I use far more is the cider press for hard fruit and my Squeezo for soft fruit, Neither takes electricity. Both are fairly easy to clean, multi purpose and made in the USA.

For a while now, I have been thinking about getting a Vitamix. Bad idea!!!! It is amazing how easy it is to get carried away by the glitz of advertising, even when you know better. I have a blender. The Vitamix is a better blender but how much better? $300.00 better? Of course not. Even the good blender I have is limited in its usefulness. It makes a good smoothie and crushes ice. Could I live without smoothies and crushed ice? I’ve crushed ice with a hammer and a stone counter. The blenderI use most is a none-electric model. It works well for most small jobs and costs less than $40.00 several years ago.

As most of you have probably figured out, I am not optimistic about our ability to continue on the path we are currently skipping down without running into big trouble with the three E’s, energy, economy, and environment becoming huge problems, dwarfing what we are dealing with today. I am not sure that any of the small steps we take as individuals have the potential to change much. What they do have the power to change is us, our way of looking at the world and approaching challenges. I need to carry stuff. Do I buy a designer bag, a store issued reusable bag or make one out of fabric that was destined for the landfill? The anser may determine the next question. What am I putting in the bag? Something I need or something I want? Something that supports my local economy or something that exploits people I never have to look at? Something that respects the planet or something that depletes that which can’t be regenerated.

These are difficult questions although they seem easy on the surface. The right answer is usually the more expensive answer and money is tight for a lot of us. The right answer is sometimes a lot more work and lot less convenient and time is also tight. The right answer is sometimes the wrong answer when you dig a bit deeper.

I have a bunch of books written about life in the depression and many about families that homesteaded in the 1800’s. I love these books. They give me a model for solving problems with ingenuity and intelligence rather than money and technology. Way back when may be what’s circling around us. It behooves us to pay attention.

As the air chills and the canner boils, the time is ripe for reviewing our garden successes and failures. We need this information before we can decide on our next seed order. I always think I’ll remember which variety fo pepper produced prolific and which broccoli was a bust but I never do. They only thing that works for me is to write it down. I also keep track of things like frost dates. All of this won’t matter much if you are just doing a couple of pots of tomatoes on your patio but when you plan to get most of your calories from your backyard, notes like this can spell the difference between good eating and supermarket food.

Actually, reviewing success is a good idea for many things. As most of you know, I am part of a sustainability group. We have had tremendous success with our bag share, our permaculture group, our sewing center and our film series. The library continues to provide residents with access to the best books on all subjects relating to living lightly. Lots of things have worked well but the monthly meetings were falling by the wayside. To revitalize them, the format has been changed to provide a bi-monthly topic tp be explored by a few members with expertise. I spoke on food security last month while another member talked about permaculture as it relates to it. A third member, (the Peak Shrink) gave us a brief overview of her upcoming Northwest speaking tour. It was a lively meeting and generated great discussion. In October, my DH is going to do a talk on what it takes to get started in bee keeping. Other topics may include hilltown transportation options and maybe a segment on heating with wood.

I am no spring chicken so when thinking about getting around should we not have access to gas or should it becomes too expensive for us to purchase, I get a little nervous. I walk a lot and I have always had a bicycle but we live in the hills and there is no way I can get far. So I was delighted to spend yesterday with my family at a bike clinic. I got to try our an electric assist bike. It was way cool! I could zip up hills that would have defeated me without the little kick. The couple who put on the clinic are amazing and real bike experts. On of their projects was to connect with our transfer station. They put up a notice asking for bike donations. They then refurbish the good bikes and give them out. In this way, Phoebe was able to upgrade from her little bike to a real 7 speed mountain bike. She got enough lessons to now be able to use the hand breaks and to shift. Not bad for her first day. There were other neat things. One couple had a tandem bike and there was a very neat bike trailer, large enough to haul a few bales of hay and some buckets. I am getting all sorts of ideas about a small trailer that would let me get bigger Creamery orders home without using the car.

I know that such small steps from a few people will not alter the course of history but they might alter the course of my history and that’s the point. If I can get around my town with a bike that can be recharged with a solar array, that will mean a lot. It pleases me no end to see Phoebe see her bike as a resource, especially as it cost nothing but the labor and used something that was otherwise headed for the landfill or was going to rust away in some forgotten corner.

The next thing my group needs to explore is barter. I feel as though our bike expert is giving freely of his time and he should be compensated for it but I know taking money is not what he want to do. But I know I could get him to accept some pork chops of a dozen eggs or some honey, all things that I have. It’s a new world we are imagining here, complicated by our return to simplicity. We have to learn to establish ties based on mutual need and sharing, things that have been long neglected.

Food preservation is in high gear. A friend called yesterday with a bushel of peaches to get rid of. When I got there, she added cucumbers to the basket so now I have to do a load of pickles too. Then, on the way home I spotted a tree full of grape vines ready for harvest. Thank goodness, I always travel with a sack and my snippers. Now I realize that the apples are ready too, at least the early saucing apples are. In the midst of all this canning, I am putting the finishing touches on the workshops I’m presenting in the next month.

I am doing an all day preservation training in Northampton on the 18th. If any of you are that local, I would love to see you in the group. We will be making catsup, putting up a jardineire, drying some kale and using the food saver on the finished and making and pressure canning a big pot of chicken soup. The cost is $50.00. If I can get some jars at cost and come up with free produce, I will be sending everyone home with something. Participants will get to try out my Squeezo and get really, hands-on time with all of my other equipment so they can decide what will be a good investment for them. I get an awful lot of great equipment from tag sales because people buy things that they don’t know how to use and give up when they can’t find a mentor to help them the first few times. Bad for them, good for me.

I will be in PA the following weekend at the Mother Earth News Sustainable living fair doing workshops on root cellaring, dehydrating, food security through preservation and, finally, pressure canning. I wasn’t scheduled to do that one but the original presenter backed out and I was next in line. I love pressure canning but I do  have my issues with it. It’s energy and water intensive but the finished product is excellent (unless you can green beans). I am taking a class on lacto fermentation this fall. I want to know more about the intricacies of this low energy method of preserving the harvest.

So today, after I get myself together, I will be making grape juice and getting the peaches canned. If the rain holds off (and I fear it will) I will also be picking the first apples. Cider and sauce, here I come!

Well, that may be stretching it. It’s more like the late middle as the tomatoes are just reaching peak and the new crop of lettuce is just up but things are definitely in the processing rather than rapid growth phase. The days are still hot but the nights much cooler. Fall is fast approaching and I feel that nesting instinct. I love to see my shelves fill with jars in assorted colors. I love the smell of wood smoke and cider. Fall is always busy but the work is easier as the temperature drops.

 The kids are heading off to school this week. I’m anxious about my little school. We have only 9 kids in kindergarten and we are always battling TPTB who would love a reason to close us down and ship our children 20 miles away to the regional school. That happens when they get to the middle school anyway and I don’t like it then but I won’t send Phoebe if it happens any sooner. That means either home schooling or shelling out the money for the little private school in the next town. It’s parent run and inexpensive by today’s standards but $2000.00 is $2000.00 and I would rather Phoebe get to spend her elementary years in our little school. It’s a quick 5 minute walk away and the classes are so small, it’s like private school now.  I e enjoyed homeschooling but Phoebe has special needs along with the attention span of a flea.I’m not sure I could keep up with her. I would be needing to work on her math lesson and she would want to be playing dress  up.

Like Scarlett O’Hara. I will think about that tomorrow. Right now, I will think about pickles. A new reader asked about my pickle recipe.

First, walk around your garden. Notice the hidden colors; that bit of red pepper and the gold of carrot’s shoulder. Snow white cauliflower and bright green broccoli contrast with a yellow bean. Don’t overlook some baby Pattypans or zucchini. Pick a bit of this and a bunch of that. An onion is nice and a clove of garlic too. Now bring everything in and pour a glass of cider. This is for sipping, not the Jardiniere. For that you’ll need:

5 cloves of garlic

1.5 teaspoons peppercorns

20 allspice berries

some tarragon sprigs

2 3/4 cups white wine vinegar

2 cups water

1 tablespoon pickling salt

Wash all of the veges and cut any large things up into small pieces. Get 5 pint jars and wash well. I usually fill then with boiling water and let them sit for a few minutes, then pour the hot water into the canning pot. Now put a sprig of tarragon, some peppercorns and allspice berries and a clove of garlic into each jar. Bring the water, vinegar and salt to a boil in a non-reactive sauce pan. Pour the hot liquid over the veges, cap with hot lids and process in a boiling water bath for twenty minutes. Then store for at least 3 weeks before eating.

I usually do a much bigger batch than this as we eat this stuff by the quart rather than the pint. Then you need to process for 25 minutes. If you have some leftover, just put it, unprocessed in the refrigerator.

Someone asked about olive trees. We will never grow olives here. I put olives in the same category as coffee, tea and citrus. I try for a local diet but what I can’t grow, I can buy as a treat. Get the good stuff, responsibly grown and harvested and don’t overindulge. We will ship maple syrup down south and they can send us oranges for the occasional indulgence.  It is a vastly different thing than eating iceberg lettuce in January.

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