September 2011 Chickens in the Road Newsletter

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*Feature: What Made You Decide

*Kitchen Extra: Spiced Winter Squash Butter

*My Favorite Thing Right Now: My New Excal

*Recent Highlights: Stumpers, Groundwork, Side & Seasoning Mixes, and More

*Sneak Peek: Carolina-Bound

*Farm Bell Recipes: The Good, the Bad, the Preserved

*Blast from the Past: An Unfortunate Affair

*Feature: What Made You Decide

Self-sufficiency, according to one of its several definitions, is being capable of providing for one’s own needs. When I started a farm, my goal wasn’t to the extreme of living off the grid, though I wanted to know how to live off the grid if and when I should need to do so, at least for temporary periods. Soon enough, I experienced enough extended power outages to test my abilities, but in the beginning I was focused on one baby step at a time and couldn’t even imagine all the leaps and bounds ahead of me.

Both of my parents grew up on farms (my mother in Oklahoma, my father a stone’s throw from my new farm), and they both escaped the hard labor of life on a farm as soon as they could. Like many of their generation who left rural areas for the cities and suburbs of a new America after World War II, they were only too eager to embrace the miracles of modern suburban living.

Life on a farm still includes hard work today, but it’s tempered by modern conveniences that allow you to pick and choose at least some of those labors. You don’t have to milk a cow, scrub clothes on a washboard, churn butter, clean every last dish by hand, sew all your dresses, and hoe the garden all in the same day. (No wonder people ran away from farms.)

You don’t, in fact, even have to live on a farm to enjoy the satisfaction of providing for yourself. Wherever you live, you can preserve food, make cheese, spin wool, and bake your own bread. Self-sufficiency doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition, and it’s not entirely dependent on place.

I’ve been exploring this subject recently for a project I’m working on, and I opened a topic on the CITR forum to ask what made people decide to pursue a more self-sufficient life. The answers have been fascinating and inspiring, and I want to share a few snippets with you here.

Pete: “For us it is a necessity in the winter when the electricity stays off for days or even weeks at a time. We must have ready to eat stuff around, and lots of choices about how to do things. We also remain homebound due to weather conditions a lot all year around. Neither of us is young any more, and we simply don’t drive the roads any more than is absolutely necessary even on good days. Plus we like wholesome foods. Our “self-sufficiency” is sort of limited, but we have wonderful neighbors who do things for us that we no longer can do, and we furnish them with eggs, canned goods and other things while they work full time.”

lizzie: “I have always had a dream to live like my Granny did on a farm. In 1999 we moved to Grass Valley and were able to purchase this house with almost two acres. I really wanted my kids to experience a small town and it was a dream come true! We have wild blackberries, an apple tree, a peach tree, and chickens. We have dreams of planting more fruit trees and more raised garden beds. The freedom to buy milk from a farm, make butter, like my granny did! I always loved her childhood stories about the farm and now I feel a bit closer to it. It’s amazing what you can do with a little tiny bit of land, even if you don’t have a lot of money.”

mamajoseph: “There is real satisfaction in being able to say, “I made that myself.” I started to say it was out of necessity as we live in a place where lots of things aren’t available. But that isn’t it because you could surely live your life without cheese or homemade bread, etc. Not that any of us would want to! The necessity part, for me, is that I want to eat healthy, teach my son about healthy, “real” living and I need something to satisfy my creative spirit. Next, I’ll start canning, maybe dehydrating. We’re learning how to garden. I grew up in the suburbs with lots of people/things around to entertain me. I now live in remote, darkest Africa. Learning about and practicing sustainable living keeps me engaged, stimulated and interested. It’s a mental, physical and emotional exercise that keeps me challenged. I never dreamed I would enjoy it so much.”

kellyb: “As a child all the family would gather at my grandparents’ house and “do” whatever happened to be in season at the time. They had several acres at their place with a huge garden, berries, fruit trees etc. They also lived in the middle of orchard country so drops were always available. The men and children would harvest and prep the food. The woman would preserve it. Everyone was expected to help. Even though we were working hard it was a lot of fun. I have wonderful memories of spending time shelling lima beans while swinging on the porch swing at my Grammy’s house. Sneaking into the kitchen and grabbing a hot ear of corn to eat before one of the aunts would tell us to scat. Five years ago I remarried to someone eager and willing to learn and help preserve what was growing in our garden. He expanded the garden and I expanded my skills. I started pressure canning and that opened a huge new world of sustainability. I am now teaching my step-daughters how to can and dehydrate. I’m passing on the tradition to a new generation.”

justdeborah2002: “I live in an apartment in the Nation’s Capitol. Self-sustainability is my goal, and it came from the increasing politicalization of food and food policies of government and big commercial agriculture. I am a professional chef, and it still brings me joy to cook and create at home. I have begun growing my own food in containers on balconies. Sourcing organic farm eggs through church ladies. Sourcing raw milk through dairy farmer friends. Seeking out organic grains for flour at one of our local Farmer’s Markets. I’m known far and wide as the woman who scrounges. Give me your wild grapes from your backyard and I will return grape jelly to you. Share with me your basil plant and pesto comes back at you. If you have honey, I will trade bread for a jar. My co-workers laugh at me, but they also bring me produce from their parents’ gardens.”

Blyss: “Since both my parents were only children, and the Grands lived across the country, there wasn’t a lot of family or traditions or “excitement” unless it was a 4-H club meeting, and I was learning “FLYSS” will make bread (Flour, Liquid, Yeast, Sugar and Salt.) or how to garden, sew, water bath can, knit, run a meeting according to Robert’s Rules of Order, cook, care for animals, etc. When I was newly married, money was TIGHT. I was able to apply some of my learning to keeping good food on the table, or sewing a new outfit, or how to do simple veterinary care on a sick animal. People often commented on how they were impressed I could “make something wonderful out of nothing” and it almost became a challenge to make do, reuse, create homemade, and overall still keep it above store quality, but at a much cheaper cost. With all the modern conveniences, most of all the internet, I was able to learn more and branch out. I discovered rendering lard, making soap, making magical mozzarella, and ways to improve on the skills I already had. Now I do it because it has been a part of my life for so many years that I can’t imagine doing it any other way and store-bought isn’t the quality I want to pay money for when I could do it better and/or cheaper myself.”

Laur: “I want to make what goes into my family meaningful. I want the history behind the food. And I want a relationship with the work that goes into our daily lives. The memory of that 100 degree day and canning 40 quarts of tomatoes. NOW I understand why they had summer OUTDOOR kitchens! I still see the water just running down those walls and I had a sachet tied around my nose with a bandanna because I was just a little pregnant with number 3 and queasy from any tomato anything. Or the juice running down your arms while you are peeling the peaches after they’ve been dipped. The magic of unwrapping the leaves around that big cauliflower head I got to before the bugs did, or the fragrance of our growing basil and mint when you just brushed it in passing. The heavenly sprays of lavender hanging in my pantry. I just want to know the secrets of living closer to what we can grow, and forming the connections with other people who think like I do. It’s a matter of pushing through the barriers of meaningless white noise and making your life’s work mean something. I wake up in the morning with great ideas for my time, and that is a great blessing. There are never enough hours in a day.”

Sonia: “This way of life has become a passion of the heart for me. It is more than necessity or tradition, it is both and more, combined with the satisfaction of learning to rely on what I am able to provide for myself, family and friends. As more and more unhealthy products are introduced into our foods, the more I feel that it is necessary to go back to the way things used to be done, such as canning and preserving nature’s bountiful harvest, to take the best of our modern world and then combine it with the best from our past.”

This newsletter isn’t big enough for me to include all the quotes I wish I could include. You can read all the inspiring stories in the forum topic here: What Made You Decide and I encourage you to reply to the topic and post your own story!

*Kitchen Extra: Spiced Winter Squash Butter

There is already a chill in the air in the mornings. Fog swamps the hills. I long for some pumpkin butter on warm, buttered toast, but I don’t want to cut my pumpkins yet. I make delicious pies with other winter squash, so why not “pumpkin” butter, too? (See my cushaw squash pie recipe.) I used a mix of butternut squash and some others that I couldn’t even identify other than winter squash of some kind. Here is my new recipe!

How to make Spiced Winter Squash Butter:

2 cups fresh mashed winter squash
1/3 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Combine ingredients in a medium-size saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer for 30 minutes, stirring every few minutes. Let cool. Spoon into jars and keep refrigerated, or freeze in freezer containers. Makes approximately 3 half-pints.

Like pumpkin butter! Only better! Use as you would any butter (such as apple butter or pear butter).

NOTE: Home canning pumpkin butter or any mashed winter squash is not recommended. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make it! You can refrigerate it to use within a week or two, or freeze it for longer storage.

Get the printable recipe on Farm Bell Recipes here.

*My Favorite Thing Right Now: My New Excal

Dehydrating cucumber slices to grind for dips and dressings:

There’s always something going on in the What Are You Dehydrating Today topic on the CITR forum, and the thread is chockfull of delicious and surprising tips and tricks in dehydrating. I’m also pretty sure it’s entirely behind my driving need to buy an Excalibur, the prized king of dehydrators. And I’m not the least bit sorry! If you’re thinking of purchasing a dehydrator, the benefits of the Excal include the separate door that allows you to remove shelves to dry items that aren’t necessarily flat (such as corn husks) and also use the dehydrator for a myriad of other uses from drying out a wet cell phone to proofing bread and setting yogurt. Also, the shelves are square, with no center hole, which makes laying out sheets of parchment paper for delicate items that might stick (like tomatoes) easier. I’m a convert!

*Recent Highlights: Stumpers, Groundwork, Side & Seasoning Mixes, and More

Barn: It’s been all about cows lately with The Bad Baby Has a Birthday and Is She or Isn’t She and Other Stumpers–but what can I say, they do make Material for the Blog! ‎ Find all my farm animal stories here.

Cooking: Read the recap of my Biggest Cheese Challenge of All, teaching cheesemaking classes, and check out my method for Making Homemade Side & Seasonings Mixes. Don’t miss a thing in my kitchen! Get all my recipes.

Country Living: It was a busy month at Stringtown Rising Farm! Browse all the photos in The Party on the Farm 2011 Report and The CITR Retreat 2011 Report. See all my country living stories.

House & Garden: See the detailed photos of The Downstairs Art and the end of the garden in Groundwork. Browse all my posts in house & garden.

*Sneak Peak: Carolina-Bound

I’m heading back to Charleston (the other Charleston) in October.

Over a year ago, I went to Great Lakes, Illinois, for Ross’s Navy boot camp graduation. This past spring, we visited him in South Carolina where he went to A School and was about to start Power School. Now I’m going back for his Power School graduation. Prototype will follow (in South Carolina) and the next step after that will be assignment to a submarine!

*Farm Bell Recipes: The Good, the Bad, the Preserved

Community member Mrs. Fuzz wrote about her up and down experiences using her new preserving skills in dehydrating and pressure canning. She had a great result canning beans, which had been one of the items taught at the CITR retreat, but not so great an experience dehydrating watermelon.

I’ve had trouble canning beans, so that must mean I would have a great experience dehydrating watermelon! I’m trying that next. There’s lots to learn from sharing experiences, and we’d love to see a post from you with yours! See Mrs. Fuzz’s post here: A Failure and a Triumph.

To submit a blog post and enter to win the latest contributor giveaway, go here. The September contributor giveaway winner was Kathi N.

September 2011 Farm Bell Recipes blog contributors:

CindyP — Our Life Simplified
Dede ~ wvhomecanner — Yahoo’s Canning2
Kathi N — Granddad’s Corner
Kellyb — Yahoo’s Canning2
Kerrie — City Girl Farming
LauraP — The Land of Moo
Rachel — The Henway
Robin from Rurification — Rurification
Sheri Blanchard
Sheryl – Runningtrails — Providence Acres Farm

THANK YOU! Please give them a visit!

*Blast from the Past: An Unfortunate Affair

Little dog, big dream.


“Rat Dog” is no longer with us, but when he was, he made for one of my favorite stories as he attempted to pursue his love for Coco (before she was spayed). See An Unfortunate Affair.


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What are you fixing for supper tonight? Browse the goodness at Farm Bell Recipes — your cooking community!

*I’m giving away a Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving about once a week so don’t forget to watch the blog for The Ball Blue Book Project days.

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