Thursday, April 24, 2014

From the Beginning to the End

Part of homesteading, trying to "do-it-yourself", or even trying to eat healthier, less processed foods require learning to start from the beginning and taking it to the very end.  Here's an example.  We've always loved pesto and make container after container of the stuff, freeze it, and eat it all throughout the year.  It is delicious over pasta or eaten as a dip.  Here is the link from a previous post that shows you how to make it: How to Harvest Basil and Make Pesto.

Now you can purchase pesto from the store, or you can purchase basil to make your pesto, or you can purchase basil seeds and grow your own.  While there is nothing wrong with the former, we prefer the latter. Then you can save the basil seeds and grow basil every year thereafter.  The stuff grows quicker than weeds or our Federal Deficit.  I have a number of basil seedlings that are popping up right now in some containers. Once they put on their true leaves, I'll transplant them into the garden. The seedlings you see below are the beginning.  The end result will be pesto or seasoning for pizza, spaghetti, and other Italian dishes.

The Beginning
As the link above showed you how to harvest basil and make pesto, you still have to serve it over pasta. Prior to last year, we had always bought pasta by the box or in the bag, but we found out that making pasta is super easy.  We use spelt flour, but you can use any flour, I would assume.  All you need is 2 cups of spelt flour, 3 eggs at room temperature, a little salt, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Stir all ingredients and knead until it all comes together.  Voila!  Pasta Dough!

Pasta Deaux
We don't have a fancy schmancy pasta maker.  Tricia picked this one up on clearance from a discount store. It gets the job done.  Essentially, you run the dough through the rollers to stretch it out.  Then you run it through again using a different roller to make different sized pasta.  Today, we're making regular spaghetti pasta.
We're rolling in the dough!
When you crank it through the device after removing the rollers, it cuts the pasta dough into whatever type pasta you want to make.  You'd think this might take a long time, but it doesn't.  From flour to pasta in just a few minutes.
From dough to spaghetti
Then we move it right into a pot on the stove top full of water and cook like you normally would pasta.

Homemade pasta in the pot
Add a little salt and check on it from time to time, but it won't be long until your homemade pasta is done and you can pour it into a colander to drain off the water.

It's done!
Then we grab a bowl and heap mounds of pesto on top of the freshly made pasta, which serves as a delivery mechanism for getting the pasta to your mouth.  Since our basil plants are just seedlings right now, we thawed out a container of frozen pesto from last summer and warmed it on the stove top.

Fresh pasta and pesto 
I mix it up real good to get the pesto flavors all commingled with the pasta and we thank the Good Lord for His provisions...

A nice, easy, delicious meal
And Supper's on!  From beginning to end, this is an easy, delicious meal containing mostly ingredients either grown and/or processed right here on the farm or in Tricia's kitchen. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Making Sassafras Tea

After church on Resurrection Sunday,we journeyed 30 miles north to Kinder to eat a fine meal at Mom & Dad's house and spend a leisurely afternoon visiting.  My sister and brother-in-law and her passel of kids were there as well.  Benjamin always looks forward to visiting with them and they create their own adventures every time they get together.  Imagine boys running around in the woods with machetes, frogs, crawfish, eels, and mud.  They have so much fun.

Once the meal was over, I led the boys into the woods to show them something that we always did when I was younger - make sassafras tea.  As a kid, me, my brother and our neighborhood crew would often go into the woods and dig up the roots of a sassafras tree to make sassafras tea.  The smell brings back great memories and reminds me of the summers of my childhood.  The first thing you have to do is identify the sassafras tree.  This is a very easy thing that I learned in a tree identification class from both Boy Scouts and 4-H club.  The sassafras tree can be identified because it has a regular looking leaf, a bilobed leaf (looks like a mitten), and a trilobed leaf (looks like Casper the ghost).  They grow like weeds in the piney woods of Southwest Louisiana.

Showing the guys how to identify sassafras
I liked the way the light filtered through the leaves of the sassafras tree, silhouetting the leaves that I just described.  There are numerous trees like this scattered on my parents' 5 acres.  Once we found one we were looking for, we went to work digging around the base of it with shovels.

The diameter of the tree was a little shy of 3 inches and it didn't really have a tap root, just a root that angled off to the side.  It didn't take long to bring the tree down.  The minute we broke into the root, the rich smell of sassafras permeated the air and all the boys started talking about how much it smelled like root beer.

Getting down to the root cause
Benjamin got his machete out and chopped away at the sassafras root until he had uncovered all of it and pulled it from the soil.

Pulling on the root to remove it from the soil
We took the root near the water hose and washed all the dirt off and then split the roots into pieces with Benjamin's machete.

Cleaning/Splitting the roots
Then I got a big magnalite pot, added the cut up roots along with enough water to cover them and started boiling the water.

Starting to apply heat to the roots & water
I would be remiss if I didn't show pictures of the Sassafras Posse armed with machetes and enough energy to power up the electrical grids of the better part of the State.

The Sassafras Tea Party
They had a blast finding something growing in the wild that they could identify, harvest, and actually drink and they all took turns smelling the great smelling sassafras roots again and again.

Boys being boys
Pretty soon we had a rolling boil going in the pot and the roots began to leach out a reddish-brown tint into the water.  We allowed it to boil for a while.  The entire kitchen smelled really nice.

Water turning to tea
Before long the tea was done and the fire could be turned off.  I assume that you can drink the tea hot or cold, but we always added sugar and drank it over ice - just like root beer.

It's done
Only one thing left to do and that is to strain the tea as little flecks of bark (and probably dirt), still floated in the tea.  We poured it through a sieve and into a pitcher so that we wouldn't be drinking any of the solids or sediment.

Pouring through a sieve
And finally...  It's Tea Time.  After we added sugar, stirred and poured over ice, it was time to let the tea party taste the fruits of their labors.  Here's T-boy taking the first sip...

A Spot of Tea, old chap?
The boys liked it - although I think they liked the idea of it more than the taste. Although it tastes good, there is a strong finish to it.  I had several glasses of it and it was like taking a sip of my childhood.

Sassafras Tea
Mom later reminded me that sassafras tea was discovered to be a carcinogen back in the 1960's. Specifically the oil of the sassafras tree, called safrole, caused liver cancer in mice and so it was banned by the FDA. Now root beer is flavored by artificial means or by the birch tree.  Wow, great job, Kyle!  Get the boys all together and give them carcinogens!  Actually, after researching it more I learned that in moderation, it is not bad and that a cup of sassafras is 1/14 as carcinogenic as a cup of beer. Hmmm...  So why'd they ban root beer but not beer?  I certainly didn't give all my little nephews beer and we drink sassafras tea so infrequently that I'm sure no one was hurt by it.

The roots, leaves and bark were first used for medicinal purposes by the American Indians and they taught the Europeans of its many useful properties. One other neat factoid about sassafras trees: Sassafras leaves are dried and ground to a fine powder called Gumbo file' that is used as a thickening agent and flavoring for gumbo. Benjamin saved some leaves from the tree we cut down and we'll make our own gumbo file.  I'll likely show you that process in a month or so. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Cheap Things

Reading Herrick Kimball's Deliberate Agrarian blog, I discovered the writings of Mr. E. P. Roe.  He was a Christian Agrarian writer in the 1800's who penned the following quote in 1886 the "The Home Acre":

"I am often told, "It is cheaper to buy fruits and vegetables than to raise them." I have nothing to say in reply. There are many cheap things we can have. Experience has proved that one of the best things we can have is a garden, either to work in or to visit daily when the season permits. We have but one life to live here, and to get the cheapest things out of it is rather poor ambition."

This quote made me do some thinking.  I'm a thrifty person and we tend to live very frugal lives, stretching a dollar about as far as we can make it stretch.  We're always looking for the best deal, primarily because with a single income, necessity dictates that you are thoughtful about how you spend your money.  But we were discussing the other day the fact that lowest price is not always best.  In fact, with food, the opposite is mostly true.

A couple of examples I can think of right offhand are strawberries and tomatoes.  If you go into the grocery store, you'll see red strawberries that are as plump as a spinning top just begging you to purchase them. They'll be priced to move, too.  When you get home, wash them and take a bite, nine times out of ten, you'll be disappointed.  That beautiful strawberry that was shipped across the country, while nice to look at, is white on the inside and tasteless.  What a disappointment!  The local strawberries, while smaller and generally a little more expensive, are sweet and red and delicious.

Similarly, with tomatoes - you'll see perfectly shaped, uniformly colored, blemish-free tomatoes in the produce section.  Take one of those home and slice it and it is light pink on the inside, grainy, dry, and tasteless.  This product compares in no shape or form to a home grown tomato.  In fact, most of the store-bought stuff shouldn't be allowed to be labeled as tomatoes.

Growing your own
Cheap things.  How can they grow this stuff, truck it across the country or fly it in from foreign lands and sell it so cheaply?  We made a conscious decision years ago to try to grow a lot of our own food.  Sure, we buy food at the grocery store from time to time, but if we can, we're growing it ourselves.  We keep very detailed records on production expenses and sometimes, for vegetables, meat, eggs, and milk, we scratch our heads and wonder how big producers/stores can sell food so cheaply (BELOW OUR PRODUCTION COST!) and remain profitable.  Even with economies of scale, it is hard to fathom how it can be done.

Squash, Cucumber, and Melon seedlings
Actually, we're only partially concerned with the answer to that question, for you see, we're comparing different products.  The final analysis, which let's be honest, takes place at the end of your fork, will underscore the fact that quality is worth paying for - either paying more money for it by supporting local farmers/producers or paying more in terms of growing it yourself, putting in the work (sweat equity) and time necessary to produce food you can savor and be proud of.   

Sometimes the bottom line has to have more factored in than outlay of a certain amount of nickels and dimes. The epidemic of diabetes and obesity in America, I think, is exhibit A of the deleterious effects of the availability of 'cheap food.'  I agree with Mr. Roe.  There is a time and place for purchasing and consuming cheap things. Food, however, is not one of them.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Getting the Squash Seedlings in the Ground

We had a scare last week with temperatures dipping into the 30's and I'll have to admit I was worried about the tomatoes, beans, watermelons and other items that I have planted in the garden.  Some show some slight effects of the cold weather in terms of 'burned' edges of the leaves due to the cold, but I think they'll all recover nicely, especially with temperatures hitting the low 80's all this week.  We ought to see some good growth - both in the vegetables in the garden and the the grass in the pasture.

With the threat of cold weather hopefully in the rear-view mirror, it was time to get some squash in the ground.  I had planted several types of yellow squash (straight neck & crookneck), several types of zucchini squash (Black Beauty & Gray), and a couple winter squash (Spaghetti & Butternut) into seed pots a few weeks ago and they've been growing on top of the cold frame on the patio.  The leaves were turning yellow and their root system was eager to get out of the little containers and spread out in the ground.  Let's get after it.

Benjamin helped me as I used my hoe to pull the decomposing leaves and organic matter that filled the valley between the rows up onto the top of the rows.  It smelled musty and was teeming with earthworms - a nice growing medium for healthy vegetables.

Pulling fertile soil up onto the tops of the rows.
While you can still make out the shapes of leaves in the compost, if you crumble a handful, it just becomes dirt.

Composted leaves and hay
Just to give the squash a good start, I dumped a bucketful of some organic garden soil on top at each three foot measurement where I'll be planting squash.  Admittedly, this is probably the same stuff that I showed you in the previous picture just composted longer and ground fine.  I asked Tricia to purchase this and this step is probably unnecessary, but I want to give the plants the best possible start.  This also made a mound that will lift the squash plants out of the lower part of the garden where the squash will be planted.  Rainfall on the southern end of the garden can damage crops since the beds aren't raised as high as on the northern end.

Organic Garden Soil
Then I simply use a plastic fork to remove the squash seedling from the seed pot and plant in the soil.  You can see the yellowish tint to the leaves.  They need some nutrients in the good soil to give them a kick-start.

Squash Seedling
The next thing I do is very important.  I go out to the hay bale in the pasture and scoop up lots of hay that the cows would otherwise waste and I bring it back to the row and completely encircle the seedling.  This provides mulch that will help retain soil moisture and inhibit weed growth.  I also find that it helps when the squash begin producing.  Sometimes squash that comes in contact with the ground will rot.  The hay acts as a cushion to protect the squash from excess moisture on the soil that causes rot.

Hay used as a mulch around the squash plant
Now all we need to do is give the squash a little drink of water and then we'll just sit back and let it grow.

A little drink
And now we're back where we started in the first picture.  I wanted to show you that I'll fill in the valley between each row with chopped up leaves that will serve as the walkway and will turn into next year's dirt/organic matter.  You can see three rows of squash planted to the left of the row I'm currently planting to give you an idea of the leaves and hay that I use to provide a good growing environment and to keep the soil covered.

Using leaves and straw as a soil covering
Now I've just got to get the cucumbers seedlings planted, along with some sweet corn. I also have some Birdhouse gourd and Loofah gourd seedlings that I need to get out of the seed pots and into the ground. Times 'a tickin'...

Sunday, April 20, 2014

He Is Risen!

Happy Resurrection Day!
Image Credit
"He is not here, but He has risenRemember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again."  - Luke 24: 6-7

Saturday, April 19, 2014

American Gothic

American Gothic is the name of a famous painting by Grant Wood.  As he was driving around Iowa, he saw an interesting house and endeavored to paint a picture of not only the house, but the people he envisioned might live in it.  The painting is now in the Art Institute of Chicago.  To me it is a very odd painting.  The upstairs window does not seem to go with the house.  Furthermore, the people look so gloomy, sad, and long-faced.  The man with the pitchfork represents the mid-west work ethic and the woman models a prim and proper farmer's wife or daughter.

Man and woman with stern expession stand side-by-side. The man hold a pitch fork.
Image Credit
Tricia and I decided to have some fun.  We're not from the Mid-west and I don't have a 3 pronged pitchfork, but we do have a manure-scooping pitchfork, and my Mom just bought me some new overalls, so we decided to do our own American Gothic.  

But we couldn't be serious for long.  We do want to be hard-working and resolute, but we want to have fun and laugh and find humor in all situations as well.

While hopefully we don't look like the characters in the original painting, we do hope that we have the traditional rural values that the subjects in the painting.  Yeehaw!

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Old Oak Tree

by: Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)
 THINK that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.


Joyce Kilmer wrote a simple poem that most everyone knows that perfectly describes trees.  What most people don't know is that Joyce was a man.  I can't say that I've ever heard of another guy named Joyce.  I was thinking that Joyce must have been a tough fellow to have grown up being named Joyce.  I can only imagine the teasing and ridicule he received on the playground.

Turns out, if you read here you can learn that he was indeed a man.  A hero, in fact. Joyce died at the young age of 31 in France in World War 1:

During the Second Battle of Marne there was heavy fighting throughout the last days of July 1918. On 30 July 1918, Kilmer volunteered to accompany Major William "Wild Bill" Donovan (later, in World War II, the founder of theOffice of Strategic Services, forerunner to the Central Intelligence Agency) when Donovan's battalion (1–165th Infantry) was sent to lead the day's attack.
During the course of the day, Kilmer led a scouting party to find the position of a German machine gun. When his comrades found him, some time later, they thought at first that he was peering over the edge of a little hill, where he had crawled for a better view. When he did not answer their call, they ran to him and found him dead. According to Father Francis P. Duffy: “A bullet had pierced his brain. His body was carried in and buried by the side of Ames. God rest his dear and gallant soul.” A sniper's bullet likely killed him immediately. According to military records, Kilmer died on the battlefield near Muercy Farm, beside the Ourcq River near the village of Seringes-et-Nesles, in France, on 30 July 1918 at the age of 31. For his valor, Kilmer was posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre (War Cross) by the French Republic.
Kilmer was buried in the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery and Memorial, near Fere-en-Tardenois, AisnePicardy, France. A cenotaph erected to his memory is located on the Kilmer family plot in Elmwood Cemetery, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. A memorial mass was held at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan on 14 October 1918.
The reason I started thinking about Mr. Kilmer's poem is regarding a story I'm going to tell you about an old live oak tree at the farm in Oberlin.  Here is a picture of it:

The Old Oak at Durio Cemetery
The old oak's limbs hang low and provide shade for the cows in the pasture as well as being a back rub for them.  The live oak is a fixture in the Southwest corner of the family cemetery and has been there for a couple hundred years, I'm sure.

The Old Live Oak at Durio Cemetery in Oberlin
It's limbs stretch out heaven-ward and birds and squirrels nest in them and raise their young.  Since Durio Cemetery is on a secluded back road, many kisses have been shared beneath those branches on Friday and Saturday nights.

The branches of the old oak
But our story today isn't all happy and romantic.  There is trouble in paradise.  The tree has split down the middle.  If you click on this link: Weathering the storms of life you can read (and see photos) about how we were successful in saving the big live oak at our house that had a similar, albeit not as serious, problem.  This tree's prognosis isn't as bright & cheery.  Unfortunately, it's going to have to come down.

Terminal tree trouble
You see, the heavy limbs of the tree have fallen on some of the older graves that lie beneath its sheltering limbs, damaging the old graves by the sheer weight.  Although the live oak tree is still alive, it is sickly and shows signs of rot and as the situation worsens, the entire east side of the tree threatens to come crashing down.

A grave situation
Dad and the Cemetery Commission met to discuss ways of salvaging the old oak and sadly, there's no saving it.  It will have to be cut down and moved to the pasture where we'll limb it, cut it up, and split it.  The limbs whose shade has provided shade and a respite from the heat for generations of the past will now be used to provide warmth for generations in the future.  Interesting how things change.

The Old Rugged Cross and Old Glory beneath the Old Oak
You can click the link here and read the names and see the graves and learn about the people buried here at Durio Cemetery. Most are my ancestors.  Some were born way back in the early 1800's and several tombstones mark the grave sites of soldiers in the Louisiana Infantry back in the Civil War.  It's a peaceful place of rest and it is quite sad that the shade you see in the photos above and below will no longer be providing a covering for the tombstones.  Some of the tombstones are old and crumbling.  Some of them are 'homemade' with names and dates scrawled into the wet cement before it dried.

A final place of rest
Sort of a sad and somber post, but I wanted to capture it in pictures and words before its gone.  Oh, we'll plant another tree there, but I don't have 200 years to see the glory of the replacement tree, and like Joyce Kilmer says, "Only God can make a tree."  

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