Sunday, September 30, 2012

No Dryer

We chose to not have a dryer when we moved in here. We had experimented with this from time to time, but this house is so tightly configured that the space that might hold a dryer was quickly occupied by other necessaries.

It's been over three year; we've made it three winters. Actually the winters are not even the most difficult season. Since we run the wood stove throughout the winter, the house is relatively dry and laundry dries pretty well. I can set a drying rack in front of the stove loaded with laundry before bed, and it's all dry in the morning.

Today's weather presents the real difficulty. It has rained pretty steadily since we've been back from Maine, and there was a lot of laundry to wash when we got home. So, with steady shuffling and a fan, I've gotten most of it washed and the last "catch up" load is hanging in the laundry room.

We talked about taking it to the laundrymat, but the dryers there smell burned. We are tired of hearing the fan running, but it seems like a pretty good compromise.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Another Good Use of Electricity

Back when we weaned Gusto, we suddenly were overwhelmed with milk. It seemed a fine time to learn to make butter. The children and I have made butter in a jar, shaking and shaking and shaking the jar until finally some globs separate. It was tedious and long, and I really do not think my children learned much from it. My friend has made butter in her daisy churn; she was unimpressed with the "convenience", but she believes it's a good alternative if she ever has to make butter without electricity. I have also made butter using a food processor, but the results were less than thrilling. Faced with all this milk, I needed to choose a method of butter making.

I did what many homesteaders do these days, at least the ones lacking knowledgeable elders, I turned to the internet. These first method I found different from those already listed was to use an upright mixer. Some of you may be wiser or more farsighted or more experienced than I am and you may already know what happened. For those of you lacking these traits that I lack, I will tell you- it was an unholy mess. There was cream on the cupboard doors and cream in the drawers and cream on the stove and cream on the floor and cream on me and really just cream everywhere. To top it off, it took FOREVER to whip into butter, maybe as long as 45 minutes. I went back to the drawing board and pondered the lovely convenience of the tidy sticks of butter one buys at the grocery store.

I decided to try the food processor again with a little phone support from a friend who makes all the butter they use. It is perhaps the very best reason for owning one of these noisy machines. After ten minutes, I had butter floating in butter milk.

I think the reason the food processor did not work when I tried it before had to do with the temperature of the cream. It was in Texas and I did have a toddler and preschooler "helping", and I am not sure the butter did not go too long or that the ten minutes it takes seemed more like 45 with two children under foot.

So, this information is already widely available on the internet, but to keep you from looking further, here's what you do. Allow the cream to separate from the milk; this only works with raw, unhomogenized  milk. If your milk has traveled much, it may not separate very well. When you can clearly see the line between the milk and the cream, skim the cream off the top of the jar (this is a bad time to have milk in a jug) and put it into another jar or straight into the food processor. The cream is much easier to skim and make into butter if it is chilled.

 Now, put the cream into the food processor with the spinning blade thing that sits in the bottom and turn it on. Sometimes the butter will make in under five minutes and sometimes it might take fifteen. The trick is to pay some attention because if it goes too long and gets too warm, you have to chill it and start again.
 The sound will change, and you might open it to see something like whipped cream. Let it keep going. You might open it again and see something like whipped butter; let it go just a little longer.
What you should see when you open it should look clearly like butter floating in milk.

So, gently pour off the milk- ideally not down the pipes as it will some day cause you untold sorrow. Run a little cold water into the food processor and pulse the butter. Drain it again. Add the cold water and pulse again. Drain.

Now is a good time for a wooden bowl. I do not work the butter much in this bowl, but I do give it a couple of turns to get a bit more of the buttermilk out of it. The butter will keep longer the more free of buttermilk it is. We freeze our butter, so this is less of an issue.

Put it into jars that do not have shoulders, seal them up (not canned), and put them into the freezer.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Eating with Gusto

Last November, Violet had a little bull calf. He was much prettier than Chappy, aka Clover, ever was. He was also less shy of people. Still, the fate of male calves in a setup like ours is pretty much the same- he was table bound.

Gusto was quite different from Chappy. He would nurse when I was milking, for example, which seemed pretty great at first. Violet would let down her milk much more vigorously than when I was just milking. Also, he wasn't taking even half the milk, so we had plenty. As he got bigger, he took more of the milk, and we did begin separating him the same way we had done Chappy. He was also harder on Violet than Chappy had been; her teats kept getting little scrapes and cuts from his nursing. Finally, we decided to wean him.

What we learned at that point is that Violet is a much easier milk cow when she does not have a nursing calf. She relaxes more, and milking is a pleasanter task. We got a surprising amount of milk once we weaned the calf and more cream. There are definite advantages to weaning a calf instead of waiting for Violet to do it.

Another thing I learned from Gusto is that banding a calf requires a little more focus on the task at hand. It seems that even though I banded him, I still had a little bull calf. This was not much of a problem until he got to be about ten months old and wanted very much for Jason to stay clear of the pasture. The braggadocio of a bull calf is comical until you remember that he outweighs you by a few hundred pounds.

That means we now have beef in the freezer and this on the stove. Because we now own a pressure canner, it makes sense to get the bones all turned into broth and out of the freezer. I'm giddy! Even my canning book calls broth a convenience food.

I'll simmer these for a couple of days, then can them in pint jars, and I'll have a beautiful ingredient for pretty much any sauce or soup.

This also all means Violet is alone again. I really want her to have another cow all the time, but at the moment, we cannot make that happen. The good news is that she did not exhibit as much stress as she did when we killed Chappy. Her next calf is due in April, and if that one is a heifer, we'll keep her to train into a milk cow.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


The world at her feet.
Jason had a booth at Common Ground, so we all trekked to Maine in two cars and spent a pretty incredible week getting to know another family, seeing the fair for the first time, and just enjoying Maine in all its late summer glory. The problem is that I am terrible about taking pictures, and I get worse when I think I ought to. Still, here are the children enjoying a beach near where we spent the vacation part of our time in Maine.
The way the beach makes us feel.

Note that only one person has shoes on.

She is very good at finding treasures.

It was a blustery day for the beach.


Comfortable alone.
And I am back at my computer  almost a year since my last post. I have tossed this around and around in my head and my heart, and I've decided there are a few people who read this and feel connected to us, and that's important to me. Then, I regularly troll the internet when I'm having a problem that really deserves the advice of an elder that I do not seem to know. I lack the hubris to see myself as an "elder", but I can be completely frank about mistakes we have made that might help someone else.