Eat What is Put Before You

So many things go wrong in stories when someone craves something they cannot have. Adam and Eve; Rapunzel’s mother; Aphrodite’s golden apples. (Even that forbidden radish – Rapunzel means radish – is round and red.)

roast potato wedges and stuffed squash

We have a surfeit of apples. We have plenty of turnips (rutabagas if you prefer), onions, potatoes and carrots. All are local. I have beans, beans, and more beans in the freezer, and a few pickled. I had enough radishes at the end of the season to make radish relish. Local food, and while some of it wasn’t magazine photo pretty, there is lots of it. The apples were bought in 30-40 pound bags for $10 a bag, labelled “deer apples,” which are people apples, cooked, and the not so nice ones are goat apples, and a little treat for the chickens to peck at. There is lettuce and tomatoes and oranges, melons and pineapples and celery in the markets, but they have flown in from far away places, and are as expensive and delicate as peacocks at the north pole.

Local supermarkets advertise massive bags of produce from New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia as incentives for us to come and buy not only the cheap raw vegetables, but linger long enough for the bakery products, the tiny cups of convenience fruit, the steamed mashed, extruded and lard-coated novelty oven fries. I load the buggy with the raw goods, lots of them, and after paying a pittance compared to the name brand boutique food, heft them into the bed of the pick-up. I sort through them at home, cooking, canning, freezing, saving. My refrigerator is mostly winter produce and flour.

If we ate the way advertised on television or in magazines, we would have no money left for rent. As it is, we get by each month by judicious planning and cooking from scratch. Real scratchy cooking – with the dirt still on. I don’t remember when I filled a grocery buggy (cart or trolley, if you prefer) with the brightly coloured plastic wrapped convenience or gourmet foods. Our generic brands in the biggest supermarket chain are in bright yellow wrappers with black lettering, and that’s as colourful as it gets when I am buying oatmeal or flour.

We eat baked beans and lentil soup, made  out of the jars of dried legumes I keep. Our bread is baked in-house, and often in the wood-burning stove. It’s also the best place for baked beans in the stoneware pot, slowly steamed in their molassy sauce. We don’t get take-out or eat in restaurants; both the budget and my dietary restrictions prohibit that. I don’t miss it, and my taste is for much less salt than is used in commercial cooking.

I used to think that locavore, slow-food eating would be way too expensive – and it was when I had to have fresh cherry tomatoes in January, and lettuce for a salad. That had to come from greenhouses, heated and cosseted, and shipped by special truck to special stores. What did my ancestors eat all winter? Potatoes, turnips, dried beans and oatmeal. Cabbage. Apples.

Sometimes it seems monotonous, especially when it’s toward the end of the month, the bills are paid, and the bank account rattles when shaken with the few coins left. The sustaining part is that we do have food, and we are willing to be satisfied with it. Yes, the last couple of days before the next cheque, we have eggs, potatoes and carrots for a couple of meals, or the closest thing to meat we can manage is some frozen broth heated with a potato and some beans, augmented with homemade noodles, but it is satisfyingly real food.

vegetable meal

Things Accomplished

Amish Doll Clothes from Missouri

I am making Amish dolls. I have orders for four and I am now more than half way done. It would go faster if I didn’t have so many other things to do at this time of the year.

The garden is slowly getting put to bed. I still have pumpkins and squash coming, with the hope that they will not rot in all this rain. I have pulled most of the bean plants, feeding them as fodder to the goats, after removing the dried pods. They would eat the pods, but I am trying to save the seed.

Wood is getting stacked and split; the barn has been mucked out. We either have a small leak in the roof or the goats have amused themselves by drinking lots of water. I’m sure bean plants aren’t that diuretic. I usually muck out every couple of days, but when we have four or five rainy days, it is less than a pleasant task – and it is no one’s favourite. There is also the problem of mooring the goats to something while working in the barn on a rainy day.

We are getting one or two eggs a day, but never three. I suspect the girls are taking turns laying, and they all like the same nest box. The chickens had a bit of a scare the other day. They were out scratching around in the garden while I watched from an upper floor window. Suddenly they all ran for cover behind the trash bin, the rooster sounding an alarm. A bald eagle passed above, headed for the river. I had wondered if they had enough instinct about eagles and hawks to get out of the way. They don’t panic over crows, though, although some of our crows are almost eagle sized. they stayed in hiding for several minutes, too.

We lost the last of the little silkies, leaving us with three bantam sized birds who are doing well. She just didn’t grow; Nicholas found her hunkered down and drowsy in the barn, so he put her in the hay box under the lamp. When I went in an hour later to feed them, she was dead. All I can think of is that the little ones that died had some sort of deficiency similar to what calves and lambs have when they develop white muscle disease.

I have discovered that I am reacting to a large number of foods, especially high-histamine foods like tomatoes. So I am on a low-histamine, low salicylate diet, which means a very limited repertoire. It is largely vegetarian, low on fruit (except peeled apples) and fairly bland. I am tapering off coffee and have given up tea. I miss the tea more than anything. Lightly toasted bread and butter are now my favourite snack, as not much else is left!

So I am in the midst of making applesauce, starting by peeling the apples, a tedious job. I bought a huge bag, about 30 pounds, of apples for $10. They are called deer apples here. I buy them, make applesauce or apple butter, feed the cores and peels to the goats and chickens, and feel satisfied that I did not spend $1.30 a pound on apples in the store.

Crofting: Sunny Skies, Stormy Skies

We had several days of rough weather, with rain and wind. Goats and chicks had to stay indoors, which was not what they favoured. We had the goats out on picket and when the first storm came up in the late afternoon, Bucky would have nothing to do with it, and pulled himself loose. He wedged his tether under the lilac though, and he stood there and bawled like a toddler until I rescued him.

The smallest chick suffered an injury to her face last night. I suspect that things got a bit rough around the feed dish, and she took a beak to the noggin. One eyelid is swollen. She seems fine otherwise, eating and drinking, even chirping and beginning to roost on the edge of the dish. We will see how that goes. I checked her frequently today to make sure she isn’t getting bullied, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Silkies are famous for their good temperaments. I do remember a bit of a squeak from the crate last night, so that may have been the moment of conflict. When I went in to check, all was settled.

Nicholas has the hen pen almost finished. We have made some changes to reinforce it, so that goats can’t rampage through the wire. I’m hoping that these almost fledged chicks will soon be barn residents. Nicholas keeps their crate immaculate, but pine chips and chick chow seem to dribble out. I cleaned the barn today, after goats had been penned for two days. That’s about as long as I will let it go. It’s bad enough that this is housefly season. We have been chasing and smacking flies for three days, but there always seem to be two or three who are clever and get away. The barn gets a bit nasty with them after a few wet days, and I had to use a kennel spray to keep down the population. It is safe for animal bedding, and it works well. I don’t spray the whole barn, just the worst spots, and pen the goats away from the spray for 24 hours. I’m being overly cautious, but they can take some peculiar ideas into their hard little skulls, and I don’t want them tasting the walls.

Would you trust that face? I don't.

We are eating peas, beans, lettuce, radishes and onions from the garden. The tomato plants are setting fruit, so I am anticipating a good crop. Plenty more beans coming along, a few sunflowers, and cucumber and squash are wending through the wild yarrow. All my herbs are doing well, too.

Today was one of those perfect Canadian summer days. The sky was clear as a cold water spring, the breeze was sweet and not too stiff. The air sparkled like a diamond. We reminisced about perfect summer days when we were young. In August, about this time, my sisters and I would spend all the time we could outdoors, riding our bikes, walking in the woods, helping in the garden. (I also spent hours in the kitchen turning the food mill as that produce got canned, but that’s another story.) Nicholas remembered a day like this, late August, when school had just started. He was sixteen. The bus pulled to the curb; he and his good friend Tom got on. They had their brown bag lunches with them.

They looked out the window at the little white clouds scudding by, off Lake Ontario. “Come on,” Nicholas said. “I’m not wasting today.”

“Where are we going?” Tom wanted to know.

“The lake.” They got off the bus, hiked over to the waterfront, and rigged Nicholas’s OK dinghy. They sailed all day, getting sunburned, heading home late. There were consequences, but as Nicholas still says, “It was worth the lecture.”

“Was your dad angry?” I asked. “No,” he said. “It was more that he was jealous.”

via daily mail


Crofting: Coping with Setbacks

Croft cottage on Harris

We seem to have had a fair share of setbacks this year, probably enough for two or three years. It is hard to not be discouraged, but losing heart doesn’t get anyone anywhere.

I have had continuing illness which doesn’t seem to be resolved by the usual means, either allopathic or naturopathic. I am mostly resigned to riding it out. I’m of the opinion that metaphysically, my whole being is rejecting modern life. My allergies are centred on the refined mould byproduct called penicillin, a common antibiotic used for humans and animals. We are all aware that antibiotics are regularly added to commercial animal feed to make meat animals grow faster and to wipe out any insidious bacterial infections. The end result of that is hypersensitivity in some people (me) and penicillin resistant bacteria permeating our human ecology. That’s not a good thing. Worse, many common chemicals mimic penicillin, including preservatives and plastics. I am always in danger of fatal anaphylactic shock from common substances, such as sunscreen and commercially prepared foods. I can no longer treat pain with common over-the-counter medications such as aspirin, NSAIDs, or acetaminophen. I cannot use cleaning products with fragrances in them. I can’t use most personal care products, from antiperspirants to shampoos, and have had to find more expensive natural alternatives. Usually plain soap and vinegar is all I need for both household cleaning and personal care, but I am discouraged by the growing list of “don’t-touch” products.

The illness, though, has been expensive when I needed acute care. It has cost me energy and ambition to get things done as I planned.

Bad weather and my lack of good health have put our garden projects seriously in danger. We have been able to recover a little from that, but the majority of the major work is delayed until this fall and next spring. We will see some food, but not as much as I hoped. The gardens look pretty weedy, too, but I expect that the first year. Since we were unable to completely work the second garden plot, I am going to drop in some onion sets and broadcast sow some lentils to at least break the soil and perhaps furnish something of a crop. I have some kale to put in, and some late cabbages, and along with late root crops, we should have a post-frost harvest into October. I am looking for a way to make row covers and hot caps, if we can’t afford them. My backup plan is to buy in quantity at the farmers’ markets, and can that.

A major decision to make is whether to sell the truck. Right now, I have it on offer as a trade for a horse and buggy and a smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicle. I can’t really afford to sell it without a back-up plan for transportation. It isn’t worth a great deal, but it would be helpful to have cheaper transportation.

I am looking at freelance writing. I have had a few low-paying assignments this week, but they make little difference in the overall scheme of things. It does give me some practice and the opportunity to become familiar with new aspects of online publishing, so I’m not knocking it too hard. Still, I couldn’t make a living from it.

I am still praying and hoping for work in the church. I have yet to hear from the bishop’s office, but I did say I could wait for an appointment, with a tentative suggestion of meeting before the end of July. After that, I am going to assume I am not wanted, or not being heard, or something. There are procedures for pursuing this beyond that date, but I am reluctant to take them.

The world has changed. It is much more difficult to lead a rural life, since in the past it has depended on the cooperation of neighbours. Our neighbours are people who do not live a rural life. They live a suburban life in a rural setting. Older farmers are retired and have sold their equipment. There are no young farmers except for a handful who will inherit family farms. It makes me wonder how people expect to get fed as food costs rise because of high transportation costs.

Crofting – Seed Starting

Tomorrow's project

We have such a short growing season here that many plants must be started indoors. We have both late spring and early autumn frost, so the garden needs a good headstart in order to produce. I have collected all kinds of recyclable growing containers, but with both of us feeling ill and tired, I gave us a bit of a break by picking up a few premade planting items. The trays have coir pots in them – coconut fibre – replacing the previously common peat pots. I bought vermiculite and soil rather than peat moss, which is not really available anymore. And a good thing – in my view. Peat bogs are part of our ecosystem here in New Brunswick and an important factor in wildlife habitat and water renewal. We really don’t need to be cutting them up as we have a limited supply! That may be hard on the peat producers, but better all round for our environment. Peat does renew itself eventually, but in our climate it takes a long time. The coconut fibre would just go to waste after the processing of the fruit, so it is of great benefit to find a good, biodegradable use for it. I realize that coconut plantations are also a problem, but since these are already harvested, I guess I will settle for it as the lesser of evils.

Our kitchen has two big west-facing windows and is the warmest room in the house. The tables I salvaged to use for the seedlings are right over heat ducts. I guess I won’t need heated mats under them. Once they have their little heads out of the soil, I will get grow lights since our days are still so short. I was coveting some lovely grow stands from Vesey’s, the venerable Prince Edward Island nursery, but they were a bit spendy for our budget. I found an old typing table out in the shed, and there was an ancient and battered handmade table in the basement which just seemed to want to be useful again. The carpenters had used it as workbench. If I need an additional table, there are a couple of old potato barrels and some boards. It all looks very rustic and is rather pleasing, especially because it costs so much less than the elegant light table!

So I am sorting out and grouping which seeds need to be started first – and I don’t anticipate that anything tender can go in the ground until the end of May! We will get the field plowed and manured, and the hardy seeds in before that, but I am mindful that one year, I lost half my seed starts to a bottlefed lamb who found she could pull the plant pots off the table, and then the rest in a cold frame when we had a frost in June. I lived farther north than I do now, and although the Bay of Chaleur is supposed to be “warm” we still had some really “cold” nights that spring!

there is something so satisfying and primal in getting some seeds into some dirt. Horticulture has been an art for at least 10,000 years. I grew up in a gardening family, and my parents were always excited every year about what would go in the garden, what new things to try, when to start seedlings for transplanting. My father did build an big grow table in the basement, with suspended lights over it. Before that, the seedlings were in the dining room on improvised tables. We were a big family, without a lot of money coming in, and the garden was necessary for our good nutrition. Both sets of grandparents had gardens, tended diligently and with great love. Canning was a never-forgotten practice in my family, and I am grateful that I grew up with that experience.

Homesteading – Vintage Cookbooks

Amish cookbooks

I ordered these two vintage cookbooks a couple of weeks ago via eBay. They arrived this week sometime, but I hadn’t checked the mailbox since Monday. I am quite pleased with them. The one on the left is from 1992, by Abe and Edna Miller, From the Rolling Hills of Holmes County – Down Home Cooking and the one on the right is from 1960, no author given, but from Conestoga Crafts, L.E. Smith Company, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and is titled Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking, Recipes for Traditional Pennsylvania Dutch Dishes.

The older one has more authentic old-time recipes, using the basic produce of Pennsylvania – lots of pork, potatoes, noodles, cabbage and cakes. The preserves recipes are  old style, mostly ending with “seal in hot jars.” It has charming illustrations, line drawings of bake ovens, farmers’ markets, and barn raisings.  The style of dress indicates a Lancaster Amish slant.

“Down Home Cookin'” is self-published, and has numerous recipes that could be found in most church cookbooks – turtle cake, m&m cookies, taco salad, party mix. Jello, mayonnaise and velveeta are some of the ingredients used, which means it is a cookbook adapted to people who shop in supermarkets. Still, there are enough old-style recipes for angel food cake, chocolate gobs (whoopie pies), pies, and preserves to make it worth keeping. It includes homespun verses on farm and kitchen work, probably by the authors.

I’m not a cookbook collector. I buy very judiciously. There are few books I will use regularly, and I’m not a foodie. These two are a good addition to the basic ones I use now on British, Mediterranean and Scottish cooking, as well as my tried and true texts on canning. Soon to arrive, and much anticipated: Edna Staebler’s classic Mennonite cookbook, Food That Really Schmecks.


Homesteading – Those Seed Catalogs…

We plow the seeds and scatter the good seed on the land/But it is fed and watered by God’s Almighty hand…seed choices.

First, though, we need the seed. That means, for us, buying seed. I have none to swap, none saved. And buying seed means seed catalogs. They used to come in the mail about now, thick books, some full of photos of luscious tomatoes, bright green lettuce, glossy onions. My father would let me choose a packet or two to try. My next door neighbour and I at the age of ten would argue the merits of our choices.

The reward for the packet of Big Boy or Early Girl tomatoes and oakleaf lettuce was hours and hours of weeding and picking.

Seed catalogs are online now, and I am spending hours poring over them – lured by “29 packets of non-GMO seeds for only $1.80!!!!” And “Early and BIG!!!!” In the end, I will order from one of the companies I’ve used in the past – Vesey’s, Johnny’s or Shepherd’s.

I ordered seeds one year, right after returning to Maine, had a little garden plot the size of a bed quilt, and found it was quite weedy. I cleared and cleared before putting in my transplants. My then-husband, whom we shall call Dennis since that is not his name, mentioned the problem to a friend at work. “You need a cover crop,” the friend said, misled by descriptions that this was a field, not just a wee bit of unturfed ex-pasture. He gave Dennis a bag – about three POUNDS of buckwheat. Yes, buckwheat, the grain that grows anywhere and with great vigour. It was the poor man’s wheat in our part of Maine. One morning, unknown to me, Dennis put down the buckwheat on my garden. All three pounds of it.

Aroostook County, Maine, has fertile soil. It supports potatoes and giant spruce trees. Anything will germinate in the rich, moist earth. It may get frost killed, but it will burst forth and put down roots. You can’t leave a wooden-handled axe leaning against a tree overnight for fear it will sprout.

I had a lovely crop of buckwheat. I had some tomatoes and peppers, some beans, and lots of buckwheat, which I pulled out by the handfuls every other day.

This year we are planning a big garden. We are in agricultural zone three – sub-arctic. The land hasn’t been opened in perhaps a decade. I may be able to get it certified organic. Any advice? Good crops to plant for keeping, canning, and marketing? Where are you buying seeds?