Homestead Happenings

Never a dull moment on the wee homestead. Since our last update we’ve got limping dogs, goat rodeo, weather whiplash, a huge harvest of sweet potatoes, new cheeses and old ferments.

If it’s the cooler temps or longer nights or more critters creeping around, we can’t say, but our dogs have been doing a lot of midnight galavanting. First they got into skunks, and that was bad enough. Now we go out first thing in the morning to find them wet and limping and exhausted. We’ve started taking them for walks during the day trying to tire them out and make sure they get enough gentle exercise, because we’re worried they’re going to get themselves into some real trouble. It’s working out very well for our barn cat, Skittles, who now roams wherever she wants without fear of attack.

Milking just three goats twice a day is proving to be quite the chore considering with the two first-fresheners it’s a constant battle of wills. It seems every day they learn a new trick trying to get free treats. First it was bucking and kicking, then squatting making milking impossible, now one has graduated to full refusal, getting up on the milk stand only to lay down flat. It takes both of us, Hubby to hold legs and supply food, me to grasp the bucket with one hand and milk with one hand, each with our reflexes on full alert to shift, draw, grab in the split second it takes a hoof to swipe, spill, crush. It’s really not fun. At all. I have to remind us both that it takes patience and to stay focused on the rewards.

Cheese!

In garden news we got a very early frost and then the temps shot right back up to the high 80s. It’s cooled down a bit since then again and we got a whole 1/2 inch of rain, woohoo! It hardly made a difference, but maybe my fall seeds have a better chance now of germinating.

We harvested loads of sweet potatoes and still have more to go. The vines can’t handle even a light frost, like the basil, so we got all we could manage beforehand though the tomatoes and peppers survived, so that was a pleasant surprise.

I continue to experiment with fermenting all kinds of veggies and they are coming out so delicious. I moved them from the aging fridge to make room for the cheeses, but they kept great in there all summer. We’ve got all kinds of goodies—cucumbers, basil, peppers, okra, carrots, cabbage—and soon I’ll be tying sweet potatoes.

A whole world of deliciousness I’ve only really embarked on seriously starting this year, and thanks to this excellent book.

P.S. Sorry for all the sideways photos and if you get a crink in your neck trying to view them you can thank WordPress for that. I spent an hour trying to correct them, and it’s not working. My WordPress experience is getting worse and worse, which is why the days of this blog will be over soon as it’s just become too annoying to continue it. It’s gone steadily downhill since they forced the Block Editor on everyone. They continually make changes that only make it harder and more time-consuming to post. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted!

In the meantime, thanks for stopping by!

Homestead Happenings

I’ve got some complaining to do today, but there are some rays of sunshine, too, fear not!

Let’s get the crap out of the way first, don’t you think?

In the mornin’, in the evenin’, ain’t we got fun?!

“Climate change”— aka Geoengineering/Weather Modification — continues to haunt us. That is, in droughting us out, mercilessly. I have little hope for the fall garden. I’ve had very poor germination in some crops, none at all in others. That could be the high soil temperature, the still scorching sun and heat even now into October, or perhaps it’s all that crap in the atmosphere.

The pastures are so parched, which means, as I mentioned last time, more sheep than we’d wanted to will go to freezer camp.

The upside is, we are eating very well these days. We’d slowed down on meat consumption over the summer because the freezers were low. The hens had really slowed down laying too in the heat. Now we’ve got meat and egg surplus and we’ve been indulging accordingly.

That also means tallow, which is like white gold to me!

Hubby also pressure canned us some lamb and broth. Yum!

They want a pretty penny for this stuff, which makes sense considering all the costs and effort involved. A basic tallow balm will set you back $15/ounce! I’ve already made one hand balm with rather erotic-scented essential oils that’s got the thumb’s up from my sole customer. 🤗

On to the garden . . .

The purple Czech hot pepper is still my season favorite. It’s still doing beautifully (under shade cloth) and is a lovely little plant I’ll try to over-winter indoors. Hubby is making hot sauce in the fermentation crock that I’m sure will be top-notch.

Pictured: the purple Czechs in the center back, Thai basil to its left, sweet basil upfront—so it is protected from full sun in every direction except from the east.
Even under shade cloth and screening the fall crops are not germinating. Luckily I was able to start a few indoors under grow lights.
Tomatoes also started indoors mid-summer under grow lights, now looking pretty good transplanted outside last month. Fingers crossed it doesn’t frost too early and we’ll get the rare fall harvest of plump red tomatoes. Dare to dream!

We’ve finally fully weened the kids and it’s been a very loud few days! I’ve got enough milk again to make some good cheeses, which is just about my favorite thing to do in the world. Or, I just really missed it all summer and I’m really sick of the garden.

The kids will be fine without their mamas, they just don’t know it yet. 😆

I’ve got to get practicing my cheeses again, because the interest in homesteading has really been growing around here. A nearby group has formed and asked us to share some knowledge, which we are pleased to do. Hubby will be lending a hand in the butchery department and I will be offering my fermentation wisdom— in kombucha, soft cheeses and sourdough—for now, hopefully moving on to more advanced skills if interests persist. It’s been a very long time since I’ve done any teaching and I’m already nervous! But, I’m so pleased folks are really starting to see the value in more self-reliant living.

Whether it’s out of necessity or innate interest, I’m thrilled more folks are choosing a more natural lifestyle.

And . . .I think the more the big shit stinks, the more we should be celebrating the small stuff.

And . . .Just in time for Halloween . . .a visit from a black widow!

Trial & Many Errors

There’s the good kind of failures—like those you are able to remedy; And the bad kind—like those you can’t control; And the worst kind—like those you could control, if only you could figure out what went wrong.

We have a collage of all 3 today!

Failed cheeses, failed fruits, and sun scorch.

Penicillium roqueforti has dominated my Little Turds and now we have little blue turds, which is a big fat failure.

This is the most aggressive cheese fungus and once the spores get started it’s extremely difficult to correct the issue. As much as I love blue cheese, this is not the process for making it. As a surface mold it does not taste good, it’s the veining of the blue cheese that brings out the nice flavors. I don’t make blue cheese, because in order to make other cheeses you must exclude the blue to get the white (geotrichum candidum),or any others, to dominate.

Even a hobbyist will quickly learn that you need a separate space, equipment and unique aging fridge just for the blues. This particular invasion happened very quickly, in just 2 days, because a beverage fridge does not make a very good aging fridge for cheeses. But, it’s all I’ve got. The temperature varies unexpectedly and you can’t control the humidity. Sure, a lot of cheese makers out there claim there are certain tricks for modifying the humidity levels of the mini-fridge, but they just don’t work, or they are far too high maintenance for me.

The fridge got too cold by just a few degrees, and this was the result. The two without any blue are from an older experiment, also failed, because their white fungal coat is not thick enough. I’m hoping a snug fig wrapping will magically transform the problem. But, I doubt it.

Wrapped in fig leaves (with a bit of sage on one too, to cover the naked parts) back into their Tuperware-fashioned high-humidity space, and back into the aging fridge.

As for the little blue turds, I’m going for maximum shock treatment, just to continue the experiment at this point, because I think they are beyond repair. I have them at room temperature now and I might even try spraying on some geotrichum candidum, just to see what happens.

The orchard is a continual string of failures, the nectarines being just the latest one. We’ve planted so many fruit trees in there we’ve lost track. We planted a couple of plums, one that actually produced for a couple of years, then both suddenly died. The grapes are looking terrible this year, the apples hardly ever bloom and never produce any fruit, the peaches die a year or two after planting, and now we finally got some nectarines and they look like this. The worst part is, once you cut out all the bad parts, the few nibbles of good fruit you have left are absolutely delicious.

Oozing and pock-marked and tiny. ☹️

We’ve got one reliable pear tree, another two that get a great crop about every 3 years. And the figs, my favorite, that are on some boom-bust mystery cycle we haven’t figured out.

Hubby is beyond frustrated with the fruit trees, so he’s got a mini-project filling up the orchard now, his own hog feed production line.

I think he’s trying to teach those miserable fruit trees a lesson by planting a thriving row of squashes between the rows as feed for the pigs. The cost of feed is getting crazy! And of course, we’d much rather feed the pigs off the land. Trombetta and chayote squashes, and luffa, are growing great and will soon make for some happy pigs.

Luckily we at least have some giant blackberries to soothe our disappointments a bit.

While the garden is still hanging in there despite intense heat and very little rain, the signs of stress have already started. Even heat lovers like the turmeric are getting sun scald. The leaves of the tomatoes and tomatillos are looking equally sad. I’ve covered what I can with shade cloth and screening, and I’ve got my fingers crossed, and that’s about all I can do about that.

Sir Turmeric has a sunburn and Trombetta’s leaves are looking sad.

If the melons disappoint me again this year, at least I can feel better knowing the bees were very pleased. That is, except for the little bitch who stung me on the middle finger while I was harvesting cucumbers. The simplest of all these problems to solve—must wear gloves now while harvesting.

The Noir des Carnes cantaloupes alive with so many buzzing bees!

Oh, and last but not least, the shallots never bulbed. No idea why. I bet Bubba knows, but he’s not talking.

Forbidden Cheeses: Little Turd & Wetnurse Breast

I ran out of attention span last post before I got to talking about cheese. Now that we have three mamas in milk I’ll be having a ball experimenting with new cheeses, which along with kombucha experimenting, is my favorite homesteady sort of thing to do.

Gardening and cooking being not far behind, to be sure!

Aged chèvre (goat cheese) in the French tradition is made of the highest craft and care, even when they are whimsically-named, like Crottin (Little Turd) and Sein de NouNou (Wetnurse breast).

But here in the U.S., Land of the FreeTM, Velveeta is ‘safe’ for consumers and aged goat cheeses, ideal for homestead creation, are completely illegal.

Because they care so very much, right?

“Chèvre evolved in frugal farming households of the sort that continue to make it today. It is a cheese that’s very economical, in both time and ingredients; made on the family farm, where there are many chores to take care of and livestock to feed, a cheese that didn’t need much attention or many costly ingredients fit right in.”

That is in Central France and other locations where it’s not illegal to sell. These are cheeses that require few inputs and no regular purchases—you don’t need a cheese press, or any expensive cultures, or even rennet. Fig sap (or other coagulants like nettles) can easily be substituted for rennet as only a few drops are used to set a gallon of milk.

These are also cheeses suitable to make in warm climates, similar to the more well-known goat cheeses like Feta or a fresh goat cheese. What makes the aged chèvre so unique is that it can only be made with raw milk. You may find hard raw milk cheeses in your grocery store or farmer’s market, like Gouda or Cheddar, these are pressed cheeses aged over two months, which are legal to sell with all the proper licensing. (I have NO interest in that!)

Feta, aged in salted whey for 2 weeks, some still soaking for a sharper flavor and others now drying for packaging in Foodsaver bags for longer storage.

These illegal aged goat cheeses sit at room temperature for about four days.

Imagine the horror the germophobes have with that!

You most certainly can’t do that with pasteurized milk. These cheeses were invented before pasteurization and before refrigeration and aged for a month or two in caves.

Mine will be aged in Tupperware bins inside a small beverage fridge I use for aging cheeses. (I would prefer not to use plastics at all, but they work just fine and I don’t have other options at the moment.).

I use natural cultures, not store-bought or freeze-dried, developed from previous cheeses, and stored in the freezer. Once the cheeses develop their fungal coat after a couple of weeks, they will be wrapped and aged for about a month.

Traditionally wrapping for these cheeses include leaves, like grape and fig, and even hornet’s nests. A few will also be coated with ash, instead of wrapping, like the traditional Sein de NouNou.

It is positively amazing how differently the cheeses will taste based on just a few variables in the process!

“Relatively unknown in North America, this class of cheeses includes some of France’s most famous fromages: ash-coated and pyramid-shaped Valencay; Sainte Maure—pierced with a blade of straw (the industrial version of Sainte Maure features plastic straws!); and small, moldy Crottin are all aged chèvre cheeses. Perhaps the only well-known North American aged chèvre is Humboldt Fog, a creamy, ash-ripened goats’ milk cheese from Humboldt County, California.”

(I’ve not looked into why or how the Humboldt Fog is legal to mass produce and sell. I plan to dig into that, but my initial guess is they’ve been able to either find a way to use pasteurized goat milk or they have a state-of-the-art affinage ‘cave’ where they can age it over two months without losing the creamy texture.)

“Goats are a belligerent species that have rejected the rigorous production regime thrust upon their bovine cousins. Unlike cows, who contentedly chew their cud in confinement and produce enormous quantities of milk year-round, goats refuse to be cogs in the machine of industrialized dairying.”

On left: Cutting into the last Kensho cheese experiment, aged two months, a washed-rind cheese similar to something between a Muenster and Gouda.
Result: Delicious Success!

A most excellent resource, and the source of the above quotes:

Goats, a belligerent species? HA!
The perfectly adorable non-conformists more like!

The latest and last addition to the herd this year (in the foreground) yet to be named, and already twice the size of our wee Athena (in the background, about 5 days old), formerly Zena, we decided we prefer the former.
Any name suggestions on our newest? We are at a loss so far with this big girl who is sure to be a lifetime keeper! She came out huge and most active and ready to suckle immediately and play within 1 day!

Cheese Day & Big Mamas

I LOVE cheese day and it’s been a very long while.

It’s been several months since I’ve been milking our ‘old’ goat, Summer, and it will be a few months more before I start milking her again, along with Phoebe and Chestnut, intending that all will go well with their first kidding, and I will be able to train them on the milkstand, which will be as new to me as it is for them. Big intentions!

I’m not too worried about Phoebe, she’s much more tame and mellow and loves to be petted. Chestnut darts off as soon as you try to touch her and is even skittish when hand feeding.

The first lamb of the season has just arrived! Now that Handy Hubby is ‘retired’ he gets to handle all the stressful parts while I pop in for the awes and photo ops. Big win for me! It’s not that things are constantly going wrong, but it does take preparation and attention and concern, because sometimes things do go wrong.

But not this time! While Hubby runs around, making sure the little lamb latches on in due time, gets the feed and stalls prepped and ready for a bunch more births, I make cheese.

It’s a very slow process, traditional mozzarella, it takes all day. Yesterday I experimented with a new cheese of my own invention, which is just about my favorite thing to do in the world. I would bore you with the details, but I fear you’d be really bored.*

Another new Hubby project has been the ultra-high security broody fortress. Walls within walls. He’d finished the Tajma-coop and hoped our predator problems were solved. He’d planned for practically every type of previous invader—raccoons, hawks, possums, coyotes—with the exception of snakes. He’d hoped between one cat, 4 dogs and constant hoof traffic the reptilian raiders would retreat. No such luck. We lost lots of chicks and Bantams to snakes.

Surely this will be the ultimate solution?

Hubby sporting his wild side, which I much prefer to his straight-laced pilot persona. Though of course I have deep gratitude for his professional efforts too, not just the relieving of them, or we’d never be where we are now. (Thanks, Brandon?! And, where else shall I send the thank-you notes??)

I used to have regular cheese days. I would drive four hours round-trip for the only raw milk available in the vicinity and get up to 20 gallons and have a cheese-making marathon for four days straight. It was perhaps a bit obsessive.

That was a few years ago, now it’s a real luxury. Since then the cost per gallon of raw milk at that farm has gone from $6 to $9. Add to that the cost of gas and time (and my personal waning energy), we really can’t afford it anymore.

Instead I’ll be milking goats and making mostly small batch cheeses, including all my favorites, which is pretty much all of them, especially Camembert, Muenster, and traditional styles of aged chèvre. I do believe I’ll be very satisfied with my new arrangement!

This time I got 10 gallons and a friend did the pick up, another win for me. She, like me, started making cheese and bread mostly out of snobbery—we are ‘foodies’ (I prefer the French term ‘gourmands’) and the selection of these staples in these parts was akin to an inner-city food desert. Industrially-produced, plastic-wrapped crap only, of the lowest quality.

Like I said, it’s a luxury at that cost, but from it we will get better cheeses, yogurt and buttermilk than money can buy.** Not only do we get the cheeses, but the whey goes to great use too, for ricotta, for soaking grains, and for the critters at just the time they are in need of extra nutrition.

Incidentally, mozzarella is not a raw milk cheese. Still, the flavor of the traditional home-made style is far superior to those which are industrially-produced, including the ‘fast mozzarella’ that most home cheese-makers prefer, since it takes about an hour versus all day. That version is also delicious, and I make it sometimes too, but the flavor and texture between the two is very different.

Our semi-feral cat, Skittles, comes around regularly now that our house dogs are no longer a constant threat. She’s getting her day in the sun at last, enjoying her curds and whey.

As there is a lot of kitchen downtime with traditional cheese-making methods, I make sourdough bread and pizza dough between steps.*** Or sometimes pestos, or condiments, or Kombucha (my latest fantastic flavor is pine needle), or soups and salads. Before I know it, an entire day in the kitchen has swooped by, me barefoot and content, and still in my pajamas.

And very happily not pregnant!

*Actually, I’d be happy to bore you in the comments section if you have any cheesey comments or questions.

**Sorry to say, but the raw milk cheeses you think you are buying at the grocery store are actually semi-pasteurized, they just changed the definition. As per usual.

***While listening to podcasts, usually. Richie Allen was on the list today, a good choice as it was a call-in show on the subject of prepping. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-richie-allen-show/id1090284266?i=1000553479020
I don’t identify as a prepper myself, necessarily, even though pretty much any American who looked at our lifestyle would say we are. The third caller on the show is a self-identified ‘doomsday prepper’ in Alaska. She was great, shared lots of good info and talked about how she grew up that way, as did her parents. I don’t really consider that ‘doomsday prepping’ either. This is a lifestyle to me, one that deserves to be continued through the generations, not just during precarious times, and I’m sure she would agree. Being prepared is important and I think everyone should make a concerted effort on that front, especially in times such as these. But I see this lifestyle is a special sort of calling and it’s not going to appeal to many folks, and it doesn’t have to. It’s enough for those so inclined to preserve it and to treasure it and to keep that flame of living intimately with nature alive. It sets an example that is much needed these days as it is not in the modern Western way of a recreational relationship with nature or the profit-driven exploitive relationship with it, but a real, old-fashioned, hands-in-the-dirt sort of cooperation. You’ve gotta really love it, really want it, or it will never work for you.

But, what a blessing it’s been for us!

Homestead Happenings

Sanity still reigns on the wee homestead and I thought maybe a few of y’all might need a decent dose of it during these crazy dog days of summer amidst continued global chicanery.

The garden looks more like a jungle, but there is a method to the madness. Mostly it’s called ‘too hot to bother’. Still, it looks better than it ever has this time of year (which is saying very little) so I’m proud of a few things worth sharing.

The pigs are eating well off the luffa, which does so well here it actually out-competes the grasses. I wish we liked to eat it too, but I do use the sponges. It’s widely consumed in some cultures, so I might keep trying recipes to see if anything can improve its very bland taste. Plus, the bees love it, so it’s definitely a keeper.

We’re pretty limited on the veggie harvest this time of year, which means eating okra almost daily. I’m really not a big fan and it’s not even a fun one to harvest. It’s prickly and the fire ants scout every inch of it waiting to fall into your gloves or onto your thighs as you cut the spears. Its only redeeming qualities, if you ask me, are that it thrives in the heat and the flowers are pretty.

It’s our first harvest of scuppernong grapes and I’ll soon be making some wine and jelly. I’m kind of sick of canning, after all the pickles and having tried several new canning recipes this year, but I must find the grit somewhere and get back to it. For my latest experiments we’ll soon be tasting pickled watermelon rind, melon butter, and some exotically flavored cucumbers. That’s in addition to all our usual staples of pickles and salsas and sauces.

Green scuppernongs, yum!

I’ve also made poke wine! It tastes pretty weird, but is supposed to be an excellent medicinal, so I thought it would be good to have on hand this winter. Despite popular hype, poke berries are not poisonous. Well, not exactly anyway. The seeds inside the berry are poisonous if chewed. You must extract the juice or swallow the berries whole.

Buttercup decorated with Poke berry splotches 🙂

Our pear harvest was quite small this year, but those will be processed soon too, into cider and preserves. My favorite, figs, have been doing better after a couple years of total failure. Too bad we eat them too fast to preserve them!

I’ve settled into a nice routine with milking our goat Summer and am extremely pleased with the cheeses I’ve been making. It took some getting used to, fitting it all into a workable new plan, after making mostly large-batch cheeses for several years. I’m using only traditional methods now too, so no more expensive cheese cultures to purchase.

Organizing seeds and preparing the fall plantings are also in high gear. It’s a real challenge in 90+ degree temps to be considering the cool season crops. I’ve got some started indoors under lights and my direct sow method amounts to throwing a variety of seeds in the ground every week, waterIng liberally, and keeping fingers crossed. Usually, eventually, some seedlings get brave and make an appearance and if we’re lucky, will produce something before the first frost.

Handy Hubby’s still rockin’ the new utility room and it’s already looking fabulous! It’s been a 100% DIY project for him and he never fails to impress. Once done I’ll give him a proper staging and big kudos post.

Well, that’s all folks, thanks for visiting!

Food Matters

Can you tell who your ancestors were from the sorts of foods you like?

Folks say you develop a taste for the foods you grew up with and keep a sort of inner-scent nostalgia from childhood, like when Proust describes his semi-conscious love affair with Madeleines.

I’d say that’s only the surface layer of the story. The first time I smelled beans cooking from scratch, as in not coming from a can, I felt I was wafting on scented dreams that could not possibly have come from my own limited lifetime.

We didn’t eat sourdough or sauerkraut either growing up. We ate Oreos, McDonalds, KFC, TV dinners, mac & cheese, and we loved them. All the way through university I lived on mostly fast food and had little clue what cooking from scratch actually meant.

So, considering I was well-adapted to such convenience foods growing up and had developed such a taste for them that I craved them after moving to areas where they were not available, what gives?

Hubby had a much more traditional outlook from his childhood than I did. More than any other single influence in my move toward better nutrition, he was my inspiration. He introduced our household to fermented foods, and now I’m primarily the one who nurtures those crafts. His folks had already been gardening in his youth and still had a ‘subsistence’ mindset, and by that I mean they still ‘put up’ food, something that was unheard of to me growing up.

Do you eat to live or live to eat?

Breaking bread together still means something in our country, I think, but barely. Somehow even the traditional ‘pot luck’ is hardly lucky anymore when food sensitivities reign and diet dictocrats menace and folks’ general health is so poor who knows what will set them off the deep end.

New film: Like Beans for Beef? I don’t think so!

Sensual, comforting, beautiful, sublime, simple, food is far more than sustenance, just as depicted in a popular and a most favorite film of mine, Like Water for Chocolate. Can your mood affect your meal? Can your meal affect your mood? Any true cook or gourmand knows, indeed, it can, and often does. That is ‘the weather’ both inside and out, tempers the dish, for better or worse, and that’s a fact I’ll swear by.

Which came first: the cheese, the beer, the wine, the bread, the kraut or the Kombucha?

In Czech they say their beer is liquid bread. Fermentation is a key miracle of life that I had no idea existed until I was nearly 40. I’d visited caves in France where Champagne is aged and others where Roquefort is crafted and been to festivals where the ‘new wine’ and liters of beer were copiously enjoyed and obviously had eaten pickles in my lifetime, but none of these experiences cemented the notion of fermentation in my mind.

“In all raw whole foods, the food plays host to beneficial bacteria that are particularly suited to devouring it. These native cultures also help to transform the basic foodstuff into traditionally fermented foods: Cabbage contains all the bacteria it needs to become sauerkraut, wheat has all the bacteria and yeasts it needs to become bread (or beer), and grapes have all the culture they need to become wine. Milk is no exception: The native biodiversity of raw milk provides microorganisms that help infants digest their mothers’ milk (and cause the milk to decay if it is spilt); these microorganisms are all that the milk needs to become the many different styles of cheese.” The Art of Natural Cheesemaking: Using Traditional, Non-Industrial Methods and Raw Ingredients to Make the World’s Best Cheeses by David Asher

The first time I tasted Camembert with onions was in Germany, partnered with great beer, and it was instantly a favorite meal. At home I bought an American-imported version of both, but they were not the same. Once I started to make cheese myself I realized why, and also realized, I’d become a bonafide cheese snob. A freeze-dried culture is very different from a ‘territoire’ cultivated culture—as different as Velveeta is from the homemade ‘Mexican queso’ it’s supposed to imitate.

Generations upon generations of traditional cheese makers evolved the diverse methods of making cheese while carefully practicing their art. All classes of cheese were discovered by cheese makers long before they had a scientific understanding of the microbiological and chemical forces at play in its creation. Industry and science hijacked cheers making from the artisans and farmers some 150 years ago, and since then new new styles of cheese have been created; yet during that time hundreds, possibly thousands, of unique cheeses have been lost.” (Asher)

These cheeses were made from my own fungal cultures and have a far superior taste compared to the cheeses made with the typical freeze-dried cultures:
brevibacterium linens, geotrichum candidum, penicillin roqueforti

I know how bizarre this will sound to many, because that’s how it sounds to me, now. I didn’t even know vegetables had seasons and I’d never tasted cheese that wasn’t processed and wrapped in plastic, but I assure you, for a girl raised in the American suburbs this was/is typical.

I remember the first time a visiting Czech friend tasted an American beer, he remarked, “That’s an interesting beverage, not bad, but it’s not beer.” It was Budweiser, the ‘beer’ that was originally from Plzen, called Budvar. Even then, already as a ‘worldly’ adult, I didn’t fully grasp his meaning.

Now I understand he was noticing the obvious lack of real fermentation. Like breads made from instant yeast instead of natural yeast, or cheese made from freeze-dried cultures instead of natural cultures, there is most definitely a difference and once you are sensitized to it you cannot even refer to this difference as subtle. It’s glaringly elementary, yet it’s pitifully difficult to describe.

We grew up with artificial sodas like Coke, but we don’t drink them now, because once you master your own favorite Kombucha flavors, artificial flavors become unpalatable. Ditto on the artificial condiments—ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, Tabasco—these all fared from real and healthy foods that once kept our ancestors thriving for centuries before science learned how to mimic them, but not in nutrition, only in taste, and even then, only sort of.

It’s similar to the modern rose that is hardly a rose but in looks alone. And even then, only sort of. Do modern cultivars creating the equivalent of fake boobs recall that roses, like boobs, once had a nutritive purpose that surpassed mere vulgar voluptuousness?

It would appear that no, they do not, because even here in the ‘rose capital’ of Tyler, Texas, boasting a very popular annual festival with a Queen and everything, I’d never have fathomed roses were once cultivated primarily for their hips.

Selective breeding and shortcuts require compromises that are most often not worth it once you develop refinement and can truly appreciate how unsurpassed is the luxury of time. Two days for decent bread, two days prep plus six months aging for a great Alpine cheese, a year for a drinkable wine, a century of painstakingly crafted cultivation for a beautiful yet still nutritious rose—when you nurture the sensitivity of your palate and your gut, you realize there really is a hierarchy of taste and fake is never going to be an adequate substitute.

I’ve set goals all my life, many of them I’ve achieved and many more I’ve not and many more still I decided were not worthy of achieving once within the goal posts. But there is always remaining this matter of food, and it always fits. Not the short-term convenience foods I grew up with, but a much wider tradition that settled into our lives rather organically and that reflects the ancestral wisdom I believe my own ancestors were mistaken to leave behind, which I feel very fortunate to have the time and inclination to revive and cultivate.

With Handy Hubby perfecting another lost art—growing, slaughtering and butchering all on-site—perhaps we should up our game goals? ‘Luddite Power Couple’ is that a thing? 😉

Celebrating Small Steps

Late summer here is my personal version of hell and I bitch about it every year.

What better time to take a break from my current reality where I feel like an indoor prisoner and wake up daily wanting to lash out at all the idiotic Geoengineering causing drought here and weather chaos all around the globe.

I even want to take a break from my last post pondering passivity and violence and just notice for a day, or so, all the little things and little ways we have improved upon since I last felt this level of droughtrage.

I know I am just a bit more blessed this year than last, mostly by my own sheer will and resilience, and that of Hubby as well, no doubt, and that of some inspiring neighbors and cyber-friends, and perhaps if I dwell on that fact just a bit, next year will be just a bit more blessed in turn.

Last year’s late summer garden vs this year’s, not great, but still better!

A new young friend who loves plants as much as I do helps me identify the hardy, native heat-lovers of our area, and diligently and graciously watched our wee homestead so I could join my extended family at a reunion in July.  I look forward to returning the favor when her family vacations in October.  This is the sort of small steps a resilient community is made of, not the top-down control of Rockefeller’s ‘Resilient Cities’, because it’s the neighborly reliance that brings real hope and treasures and peace of mind.

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Collective Border Control, naturally 😉

I still don’t like okra, but I’m harvesting it anyway for the pigs and neighbors!  Every once in a while I throw a few into a meal, along with other traditional Southern favorites we didn’t grow up with, but are learning to appreciate, like collards and Southern peas, eggplant and jalapenos, all which have survived the heat, but would not be here now without regular irrigation.

It’s very hard to keep up with the constant weeding and mulching requirements in such circumstances, but these plants, along with the sweet potatoes, are actually successfully competing with the grasses in some cases.  Amazing!

I won’t mention the melons, because I’m hell-bent on keeping this post positive. So let’s mention instead the ‘mouse melons’, aka sanditas, or, Mexican Sour Gherkins.  🙂

Instead, let’s mention the fact that the young sweet potato vines and okra leaves are edible and quite tasty!

And the fantastic find this summer which I’m most excited to expand next year considerably, the Mexican Sour Gherkin.

Crop of the year, in my humble opinion!

mexican-sour-gherkin_LRG

Even in the dead of summer, of brutal heat and no rain, we enjoy meals raised primarily on this land.  As an added bonus now my raw milk source is 5 minutes away, whereas last year at this time it was 5 hours round-trip!

The aging fridge is full of cheeses we will enjoy all winter: Cheddars, Goudas, a Parmesan and an Alpine, several Brie almost ripe, a Muenster even!  YUM!  Last week I taught a couple of neighbor ladies to make 30-minute mozzarella and we had such a nice time.

Next they will teach me skills they’ve acquired—spinning, dying, soap-making–a few more small steps in our agorism adventures.  Skill-sharing has been such a crucial aspect of our most successful ancestors and I would be challenged to express how rewarding it is for me still, at 50 next month, to be learning so much that is new for me.  It is indeed a sort of middle-age renaissance!

I also foraged for elderberries, mustang grapes and peppervine berries, dried some and made some syrups and preserves.

peppervine

 

And, Another 400 pounds of pears, or so!

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I do believe still that’s thanks to our bees.  For several years we thought it was a weather issue, late frosts, whatever, but I am beginning to suspect it was a pollinator issue all along.

We will see, that’s just a hypothesis so far.  And in any case we continue for another year to benefit from the cider, the preserves, the cobblers, and the pigs are getting their fill, too!

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The Datura remains an absolute favorite of mine, blooming in crazy heat and exhaling the most exquisite fragrance into the evening air.  The thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano are gracefully resilient as well, I appreciate all y’all!

datura

And our dear Tori, who just as I was typing this post chased an enormous coyote off our chickens!

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Tori, 2 weeks old

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Tori today!  Rewarded Homestead Guard of the Year 2018

The blessings are very close at hand, the frustrations a million miles away.  I vow to maintain that truthful balance deep in my heart as I brave the coming days.

Peace and love to y’all, dear friends.

 

Cheese-making: Science and Sensuality

Cheeses currently in our aging fridge, which is nothing more than a cheap beverage model sadly impersonating a cave in Switzerland: Swiss (of course), Tomme (another Alpine cheese), Munster, Camembert (wrapped in fig leaves), Pepper Jack,  Farmhouse Cheddar (cloth-wrapped), Gouda, Dill Havarti, Mozzarella (the old-fashioned way), Ricotta.  Plus, in the kitchen fridge: yogurt, kefir, Mexican queso, and chocolate ice cream–all homemade with the freshest Grade A, raw milk from small farm, grass-fed cows available for purchase in East Texas.

These are the kind of cheeses one has a tough time finding where to legally buy, or sell, not only in America, but in quite a few other Western countries as well.  In most of the countries who consider themselves ‘free’ as far as I’m aware, acquiring licensing for everything dairy under the Federal sun will still not grant you the right to sell such cheeses.  Big Brother is so very worried about our health, after all.
http://theplate.nationalgeographic.com/2015/09/30/some-like-it-raw-the-state-of-unpasteurized-cheese-in-the-u-s/

Some of these are cheeses the way our ancestors made them–even using fig sap as rennet and kefir as starter culture.  Others of them have been made possible only with the help of modern science–freeze-dried cultures in order to create the holes and flavor of Swiss, for example, or the orange-rinded stinky varieties like Munster or Limburger, or the blue veins of the pungent Roquefort, the reliable white mold of a Camembert–which make it possible to imitate, with a reasonable degree of success, the most famous of region-specific cheeses we’ve come to know and love over the generations.

The first time I tasted cheese that did not come wrapped in plastic I was a teenager in France.  It was also the first time I tasted milk straight from the cow.  I was stunned to realize these products, considered the same from my own home to my host family’s home, had almost nothing in common.  To the eye they appeared congruent, but to the other senses they were not even distant cousins.

But it’s one thing to harness an appreciation for the depth and subtitles of a finely- crafted cheese, it’s quite another to think you can make one.  In Texas.  In an ‘aging fridge’ from Wal-mart.  With $7/gallon milk you drive 3 hours to acquire and sometimes using cultures manufactured in a lab.

Is it just for the love of cheese?  It’s true, while doubtless they can’t compete with their cave-aged predecessors, still available in their natural state to only a precious few, I’ve made some of the best cheeses I’ve tasted available in this neck of the Piney Woods.

Handy Hubby appreciates my rather expensive and quite time-consuming hobby, but that’s just a bonus.  I think these old skills and crafts are crucial to maintain and pass along to future generations, that’s for sure.  But none of these good reasons would be enough, even all together, if it weren’t for the pleasure of the process.

The sensuality of cheese-making cannot be over-stated and to describe it would take poetry far superior than is my capacity to create.  This is a hobby that touches, demands, cultivates every one of our senses and a fair amount of intellect as well.  A whole-minded approach is crucial for success, because process alone will only get you so far.

You may scoff and think a cheese is a cheese, it’s a matter of taste alone, and they mostly taste the same.  If so, you poor, poor dear.

“Those . . . from whom nature has withheld the legacy of taste, have long faces, and long eyes and noses, whatever their height there is something elongated in their proportions.  Their hair is dark and unglossy, and they are never plump, it was they who invented trousers.”

Anthelme Brillat-Savarin The Physiology of Taste quoted in A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman

You may laugh and say . . . “sound?”  If cheese-making requires a subtle practice of every sense than that includes sound . . . how silly.

Someday I will make the case for sound in good cheese-making, because I think there’s a case to be made.  In addition to my own experimentation, I suspect I need search no further than the many monasteries made famous for their cheeses for more supporting evidence.

Cheese is still more pleasure than exudes the senses in the thrill of retrieving and treasuring a fading art, and in marrying the inevitable couple of progress and tradition.

“We are all served more and more by factory machines, maybe inevitably, and by schedules, even our own, and in time, as has often been pointed out, we come to serve them.  Some of us are becoming chafed by it all.  We seek to reaffirm ourselves, to do and make for ourselves, to find new ways to do so–many of them admittedly old ways, but new and revitalizing ones to us and our friends.  We want to find out how the basic components of our lives are made and come to us to use.  We seek to become part once more of the processes, and possessors once more of the details of our own existence.”

The Cheeses and Wines of England and France, with Notes on Irish Whiskey

by John Ehle

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A few favorite references and a favorite resource:

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The Promiseland Farm

If you want to start somewhere, this is a super easy cheese even a picky American kid would surely like, think Velveeta, only healthy.  http://thepromiselandfarm.com/queso-cheese-spread-dip/

 

Homestead Updates & Resources

After several grave posts it seems an upbeat update, some good news and great resources are in order. So, I will for a moment ignore that it’s still sweltering here and in the 90s with no decent rain for far too many weeks.

Normally we’d have flourishing fall crops by now, but many are struggling with the daytime heat. Two decorative/medicinal favorites that keep my spirits up with their beauty and endurance when so much is brown or perished are Datura and Castor Bean.

 

 

datura
Datura Inoxia at dusk emits a sensual lemony fragrance

These old timers are highly under-rated in the garden, in my opinion. They are useful, rugged and gorgeous and so misunderstood in our modern culture as science labels them “poisonous” and horticulturists scare folks away from them simply because if your pets or children eat a handful of their seeds they’ll most likely vomit.  Should they choke down entire sections of these plants, they could die.

Interestingly, there are very few documented cases of such stupidity.  Our chickens scratch and peck all around under these plants and don’t get sick. And our Great Dane-Mastiff loves to sniff the just opened flowers at dusk, as do I, and our bees!

beearugula

The bees also enjoy the arugula blossoms, which is another favorite heat-loving plant and my favorite lettuce. I have a great many books on plants, but two favs are: The Herbal Lore of Wise Women and Wortcunners by Wolf D. Storl and Witchcraft Medicine: Healing Arts, Shamanic Practices, and Forbidden Plants by Claudia Muller-Eberling, Christian Ratsch, and Wolf-Dieter Storl.

Speaking of our bees, the feral hive that was relocated from an old steel drum in the spring is still hanging in there.  After some concern for their slow growth I was able to locate the queen. My first queen-spotting–it was a proud moment–it’s pretty tricky for us newbees!

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Feral hive relocated to our top bar hives

I’ve been experimenting with companion planting and it’s true, carrots really do love tomatoes and roses do love garlic. Not all of the companions or incompatibles from these books have proven correct for me, but those two definitely do. Roses Love Garlic and Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte.

tomcarrot

New favorite dish: duck confit–duck legs and thighs slow-cooked while submerged in duck fat, then fried in the fat before serving. For all those who might be thinking this sounds like a cholesterol nightmare, I say, don’t knock it until you read the research of The Weston A. Price Foundation.

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Duck confit in the works–so delish!

Best resource this year: The Art of Natural Cheesemaking: Using Traditonal, Non-Industrial Methods and Raw Ingredients to Make the World’s Best Cheeses by David Asher. A shout out to the fantastic website Little Green Cheese for introducing me to it, it has absolutely been an eye-opener. I’ve been making cheese for a couple years now, and this is the book I should’ve read from day one.

This, in my humble opinion, is the way cheese was meant to be made. Most of the recipes use kefir, who knew, kefir as a cheese culture! Clabber cheese has become a new standby, which is really ironic, because it was a staple for so many of our ancestors. It’s basically raw milk spoiling on the counter-top.

Handy Hubby had to taste it to alleviate his automatic doubt and skeptical disgust. I learned a new expression from the famed Michael Pollan in his fascinating new series Cooked! He calls the miracle of cultures and molds and so forth,The erotics of disgust.”

Unfortunately, for most folks’ health, their disgust-threshold is disastrously low.

By the way, the Clabber cheese got the thumbs up from Handy Hubby! 🙂

Another by the way, the above rose is La Duchesse de Brabant, another fav who fares well in the heat.

 

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