I am by turns touched, enlightened, inspired and amused by your wonderful responses to my posts. I do read every one but I don’t always have time to reply as I would like. As I am no longer posting on the weekends, I thought it would be a good idea to take Saturday morning and reply to all of them at once. It will require less brain power than coming up with a new idea but still let me be connected.

The solar charger for the bee enclosure gave out two days ago. This was the second one to fail in a year and, as they are dreadfully expensive, we were not happy. As this is prime time for bear problems, we had to get it repaired or replaced. Bruce went to the manufacturer’s web site and found someone who repaired them in Vermont, only about a 45 minute drive from our place. We could have mailed it there but we had no idea how long we would wait for it to be returned nor how reliable the repairman was so we decided to drive it there ourselves and get a feel for the work quality before committing.

As we are now in the habit of doing, we traveled with a couple of big sacks, my small saw and our apple picker. The day was lovely. It was a bit overcast, damp and cold, but the foliage is just peaking in Vermont and we took a windy back road the whole way. What can I say. We hit pay dirt. We weren’t on the road for 20 minutes when we found an enormous flush of oyster mushrooms, They were huge and really fresh. It took about a minute to harvest a full sack, probably ten pounds, of great shrooms. We were able to find the house we were looking for without one wrong turn. The place was amazing! The guy had a small orchard, bees, a wonderful workshop and a windmill. We had obviously found a kindred spirit. In fact, if I had not insisted we go for a ride so the gentleman could take a look at the chargers Bruce would still be there talking. We went into town to get some lunch and on the way found a fabulous row of apple trees. They were right on the side of the road on state land. We were able to harvest a couple of sacks. I read recently that millions of pounds of apples go unharvested every year and I believe it. We find ignored trees all of the time. I have not bought and apple in years. The ones I get are not perfect but they make great sauce, wine, cider and dried apple bits. They are often older varieties with amazing, complex flavors. The apple we got were a sweet variety. With the tart ones we got last weekend, we should get delicious cider.

We had a very nice lunch at a local diner. I love those little restaurants with names like Miss Flo’s and Dot’s. The soup is home-made and the pies topped with real whipped cream. We always leave a good tip as we know that nobody there is getting rich.

We headed back to check on the status of the solar charger, fully expecting that we would be facing a hefty bill. We found this fellow had repaired both chargers, discovered that one was still under warranty, outlined what we were doing that caused the system to fail and charged us….$9.00! What a day! We met an honest, competent tradesman, harvested many pounds of fabulous food, feasted on wholesome food, had our spirits lifted by the beautiful colors and spent time together without the interruption fo chores or telephone. Perfect!

While the apples will be fine in the root cellar, the shrooms had to be processed. I thought about canning them but went with freezing as it was late when I got to it. I have a bunch dried already so I went with freezing. The process is really easy. I fried the mushrooms up in some butter and tamari and bagged them up in one pound packages. I ended up with seven pounds. Quite a haul.

Advertisements

I had to take one of my girls in for some minor toe surgery yesterday. I was sitting in the office, chatting with the podiatrist when I happened to glance down at my hands. The fingernails were grubby all around and the nails themselves broken off. I always think I am going to wear my gloves when I work outside but I never do. I think I will be just picking a couple of beans for dinner when I end up pulling all the weeds in the beet patch. The nest thing I know I am up to my wrists in dirt. Real farmer’s don’t get manicures.

At my last doctor’s appointment, my physician asked me if I got any exercise, especially weight bearing. Have you ever lifted a full canning kettle. I will have to weigh one some day. Then there’s the pig food and the buckets of compost. I tote and carry all day. Cardio? Bruce and I spent the morning pulling off the potato tops and stuffing them into black plastic bags. It took 3 hours with a couple of breaks for running back and forth to the house to refill the water jug. I was up and down the cellar stair 6 times, back and forth to the pigs and the garden and up and down the house stairs with laundry. Real farmers don’t join gyms.

My doc also had questions about my diet. She hoped I was watching my consumption of eggs, bacon and cheese and bread. Sure. I raise pigs, have great, local free range eggs, make my own cheese from local whole milk and bake bread. Of course I don’t eat any of that. I eat nothing but lettuce and tomatoes. Oh wait a minute. I DON’T HAVE ANY TOMATOES. I guess that means I will have to eat the pork. Real farmers love great food.

My pants all have dirt stains on the knees. I know the value of a broad brimmed hat. I watch the weather forcast religiously but have no idea what’s going on in the lives of celebrities. My kids know better than to complain over beets for dinner.

I am actually not much of a farmer. I have a small place, less than three acres. I grow a lot but by no means all or even most of what we eat. But, after this week, I am feeling like a farmer in a community of farmers. That we are all interested in preparedness and none to optimistic about the economic future of our country is often lost in the forest of our love for our land and our food. We have commiserated in our misery, given freely of support and information. I have mourned with you. I have said this often. The reason I don’t keep my preparedness private is that I could not eat while my neighbors were hungry. If there is that silver lining to dark cloud of blight it is this. We are in this together. Our extra produce gets sent to our food share. If one of use has just put up apple sauce, there will be sauce to share as well as store. There are plans to get to a local orchard this weekend to pick peaches. I hope we will share in the canning of those peaches and in the joy of the cobbler this winter. We are strong. We are invincible. We are together. We are farmers.

I have gotten a couple of private emails directing me to an article that is linked at the survivalblog website about a family on unemployment in Elkhart, Indiana. I suppose it could make you angry (it did a lot of people) because this family is losing their rental home while still purchasing beer, soda and cigarettes but it just made me sad. These guys thought they had a contract with America for a specific kind of life and somebody broke the contract. Pointing fingers won’t help.

This got me to thinking about a couple of other emails I have received asking where I thought families should begin in starting a preparedness program. These were people less concerned with big disasters and more concerned with recession depriving them of their livelihood. Yesterday, I spent some time looking over what I have and trying to prioritize  in terms of real usefulness. For instance, I have a bottle capper because I like to make soda but I would not give that a high rating. Making soda is fun but not necessary for survival. What follows is my “gotta have it list” for preparing to live on less.

Water bath canner: I start here because water bath canning allows you to glean and gather fruit and process it with very little effort. You can buy a couple of bushels of tomatoes and put up quarts and quarts of sauce. If you have some land, and by some I mean ripping out the roses if necessary, you can grow tomatoes and your sauce will be nearly free.

Pressure canner: Meat in bulk is a lot less expensive but you need to be able to preserve it. Freezers and electricity cost a lot more than a quality canner and the meat is there, able to be turned into easy, stove top or outdoor cooked meals. I would start by learning to can hamburger, chicken and stew beef.

Dehydrator: Today, I am buying bags of frozen vegetables at the big box store and drying them for long term storage. They are cheap right now and I want to avoid buying another freezer so drying is the way to go. Drying herbs and fruit is easy and requires less electricity than any other method of preservation.

Food Saver: Having a vacuum sealer makes it possible to keep dried food in optimal condition. I dry larger vegetables and grind them up for soup base.

Canning jars: You can never have too many. Check out yard sales and Craig’s List for the best buys but if you must pay cash, consider them an investment.

Weather proofing: check out every program that is available to help you reduce your energy consumption. Sell the big screen TV to buy insulation.

One good, basic cookbook: You need to know how to prepare real food. Every time you are tempted to buy fast food, put those dollars away and make biscuits and gravy and a simple vegetable dish. Follow up with a fruit cobbler.

Community: Got friends? If you have friends, you have people to share expenses with and people to learn with. That canner is less expensive if you buy it with your sister or your best friend. You half the cost and double the fun. Instead of spending money going out to eat or to the movies, pick a couple of bushels of apples and put up apple sauce. You will have so much fun and be eating great food in January when the stuff in stores is expensive and shipped in from Chili

Land: By land, I mean garden space. Maybe your church or synagogue will put in a garden if you get the ball rolling. We have a garden on our school grounds this summer. Families are taking turns caring for it. Go to the library and check out books on self sufficiency on small spaces. There are lots to chose from and they are full of ideas. Check out books on thrifty living. The Tightwad Gazette books are a good place to start. I have all of them and read them often for inspiration.

This recession is far from over. The people in Elkhart would call it a depression. If only they had prepared for this time, there lives would be so much better, so much healthier. We all need to be preparing for a life of less. It is up to us to make decisions now that will keep our families healthy and happy, no matter the economy does.

It is the time of the year when there is so much food to preserve that it seems the dehydrator and the canner are going full tilt every day. Yesterday, it was apples. The first local, wild apple are out. I gathered two bushels and put up 8 quarts of sauce. As the canner only holds seven quarts, I kept one in the refrigerator for use this week. It is such a treat after weeks without sauce. I consider foods like home made applesauce and pickles to be great meal stretchers. Not only do they save me considerable amounts of money over store bought but, in a crisis, they provide necessary calories, vitamins and minerals, as well as a sense of familiarity that is so important for morale.

We gave our new lanterns a run through. It was a good idea as these required some tweaking with the wicks. The time to try out new equipment is when the sun is shining. My new stove is due to be delivered on Thursday morning. One of the first things I will do is try out the stove top oven my DH gave me for Christmas last year. The stove top will work without electricity but the oven won’t. We have arranged to have the gas company look over our storage tanks while they are here. We want a much larger tank (1000 gallons). This will give us a nice cushion of heat and cooking time during a crisis while we switch over to full wood use.

We had another crisis meal last night. I made a chicken curry with a couple of handfuls of dried veggies tossed into the sauce. The nice thing about dried summer squash, onions and peppers is that they soak up the extra water in a thin sauce. I could only make the dish because I found one more jar of sauce in the back of storage cabinet. Our new tomatoes are still hard and green so this was a treat too. I still think I will probably have to buy tomatoes this year. It is unlikely enough will ripen to provide me with the makings for 75 quarts of sauce, catsup and salsa that I need to put up.

I painted up that little cabinet that I got from the tag sale. I looks pretty cute. I really need more storage space and will begin to search out this kind of inexpensive solution at tag sales this month. The rain has prevented many sales from happening so a weekend of good weather will have them springing up like mushrooms.

I can hardly believe the sun is shining again. We have not had 2 consecutive days of sun all summer. That means off  to work for me. I would like to add that I believe that the fall will see dramatic increases in the price of food and energy. I hope you are all well prepared for that. Now, while food is plentiful and relatively inexpensive, buy it harvest it, gather and preserve it. You want to be the ant, not the grasshopper in this volatile economy.

I headed back to the tag sale yesterday to pick up a couple of things my DH decided we needed and returned home with 20 wooden baskets for storing potatoes ad apples, a pan for watering our bees and a dandy little cabinet that is just right for storing my jars of pickles and jams. It needs a good sanding and a coat of rustoleum to be as as good as new. I paid $4.oo for that. The seller also threw in the wringer for a washing machine. As I have a wash tub and plan to order a washing plunger I found in Emergency Essentials, I will have everything I need to do my wash without electricity. Don’t get me wrong. I have no intention of switching to non-electric washing unless circumstances force me to but I do like to be prepared.

I spent most of yesterday in the kitchen. I got a load of beets pickled and, as I had a lot of leftover sweet brine and space in the canner I did a a few jars of pickled red cabbage. I have no idea whether this will be tasty or not but I thought it was worth the effort. I also did a 1/2 gallon of pickled cauliflower with red cabbage and started a batch of ginger ale. The first of the summer squash was ready. Heather and Tom were coming over for dinner so I made a very good squash casserole. The recipe is simple. I cut up three good sized squash and mixed them with some canned, diced tomatoes, bit of garlic  and basil and topped with a mixture of bread crumbs, Italian seasonings, butter and Parmesan cheese, then baked it at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. The squash still had some tooth to it which is how we like it.

Bruce checked the hives and we are full of honey. This will be our first big harvest. I am delighted as I know  how much effort Bruce has put into these bees. Let no one tell you that the bees do all the work. We started with our first 2 hives last year. DH has taken 10 bee classes, attends a bee club each month, and gone to a bee conference. He has spent hundreds of dollars on bee equipment, built a solar powered bee enclosure and endured dozens of stings working with the bees. They are checked every week which involves suiting up and smoking them to get a good look. He has also captured 8 swarms and built new frames and boxes for each one. Bees are livestock. They may be little but they require as much time and attention as any animal but pay you back good care with a valuable product.

I am getting ready for teaching a workshop on preserving food. It is sponsored by NOFA, the Northeast Organic Farmers Association. If you live in Western Mass, check out the NOFA website and come join us. Other food preservation workshops will be taking place around the state. I see a real interest emerging in this subject. I think people are sick of  worrying about what’s in the food they are eating and are really beginning to think about food security. I hope folks realize that they don’t need to have the land to raise food to benefit from preserving it. U-Pick places, farmer’s markets and local farms are all sources of terrific organic produce that you can buy in bulk and preserve at home. Our berry bushes are not producing many blueberries yet but I pick about 20 pounds a summer and put them up in jam, sauce and frozen for muffins.

We have been fiddling with a name for our mini farm for a while and finally settled on Barefoot Farm. My daught-in-law, Maggie, designed the logo for us. I wish I knew how to post it. Maybe Heather can come over today and show me.

I have been working on coming up with a set of good recipes that can be made with food I raise, purchase locally or buy in bulk. This  had to be food that everyone enjoys and also easy on the pocketbook. I have foud that looking to traditional peasant cooking is a good place to start. Last night, We had Golumpki. ( I am probably misspelling this) I got the recipe from Heather, my neighbor both on this blog and in life. She is an excellent Polish cook. I steamed some cabbage leaves to soften, cut out the thick ribs and stuffed them with a mixture of cooked rice, leftover, ground steak, onions, peppers and diced tomatoes. I made a sauce out of the last two jars of home canned tomato juice that was simmered with a bit of sugar to thicken. It was a terrific meal. I am thinking that if I didn’t have the beef, I could substitute black beans or marinated and sauteed oyster mushrooms. We followed this meal with a cobbler of home canned cherries and sweet biscuits. Nothing was purchased from a supermarket as I bulk purchase all of the baking ingredients and the rice. This will definitely go in my preparedness recipe journal.

Heather came by yesterday and said something we laughed at but it is really true. It is expensive to be a peasant. We were talking about buying crocks. I needed a couple of good size crocks for making kraut and pickles but they are dreadfully expensive, as in $200.00 for a locally made, hand crafted crock. Old ones have become collector’s items and are hard to find. I found some huge, glass jars that will do for what I need for only $13.oo so I bought a couple of them. It seems like a lot of us received things when we got married like fondue pots and panini makers, bread machines and espresso machines. What we needed were the basics, crocks and ceramic bowls, cast iron cookware and gardening tools. Now a lot of us have to build a homesteading life from scratch. I sure didn’t inherit that stuff from my parents. We got boxes of knick knacks and murder mysteries. I wish they had not been so anxious to dismiss their peasant roots for the life of cosmopolitan retirees. Of course, they had no way of knowing that the stuff they threw in the dump would be the very thing I would crave a generation later.

My plan today is to spend some time doing an inventory on my bulk grains, flour, rice and sugar supplies. I am afraid I am getting low on a few things. I also plan to look for a new stove. I bought a new stove several years ago and it is the worst piece of junk I ever bought. It has a glass cook top that is not supposed to be used for canning and the burners blow out on a regular basis. The temperature is hard to maintain and it is a pain to clean. I want a gas range. The cook top will work without electricity which is a real selling point and I can use my canning equipment without fearing I will break the top. I hate buy it but my stove is a tool and I need one that works for me.

Yesterday was a very good day, food wise, for me. I consider any day a good day when we eat very well and very cheaply, primarily from our garden and what we can forage locally.

I started with breakfast. I had a bowl of my daughter’s homemade granola topped with a local maple yogurt and raspberries from my patch. Then I put in a hard day of drying peas, making sauerkraut, freezing broccoli, pulling out the snap peas and just trying to catch up after a couple of weeks under the weather. Late in the afternoon, my friend, Leni, came by and we went off to harvest a truly remarkable bunch of oyster mushrooms. It was the largest flush I have ever seen, running from the base of the tree all the way to neatly the to, a good 3 feet or so. We cut down a six gallon bucket of shrooms, took them home and divided them up. I had already taken a bunch earlier in the day so I had a lot of mushrooms to preserve. Most will be dried, some frozen in butter sauce but the rest ended up as dinner. I made some pasta (a lot of work but so worth it) with a white wine, butter, fresh peas and mushroom sauce and served it with some garlic bread. It was amazing.

I tried to figure out how much this meal had cost me but gave up in short order. I had better things to do like sit on the deck and watch the sunset, read for a while, help Karen make cookies and take a late swim. At some point I do need to sit down and figure out some basic things like the price of bulk purchased flour per cup. It pays to be aware of information like that, especially if you are trying to live debt free, eat well and prepare for coming hard times. I had it all computed at one time but prices have gone up since then.

I have a birthday coming up and, as usual, have a list of books I want. There is a new home dairy book that looks good and an old one about being independent on five acres. Other than that, I have nothing I crave other than more kitchen equipment but I am starting to feel like an addict in that department. I may have to go cold turkey and just not buy anything new for a while.