Pickling!

Two summers ago I went to a fermentation workshop at Blooming Glen Farm in Bucks County, PA with Amanda O’Brien of Phickle.com. I really enjoyed the workshop and learned a ton. I left feeling inspired and determined to eat only fermented veg from then on. But I ended up killing everything I tried! My cabbage kraut got dry and moldy and my whey-pickled carrots were just gross. I enjoyed the pickled beets we made during the workshop, but since I had been keeping them in the microwave {uncovered}, the jar ended up overflowing and pink pickle juice was everywhere. I started to think pickling wasn’t right for me.

But this summer I was determined to try again. I attended another fermentation workshop in February, this time hosted by the local chapter of the National Ladies Homestead Gathering, and something about hearing some simple recipes and tricks from women just like me made it seem 100 times more doable.

Bormioli Rocco Fido Hermetic Jars

The most important thing I learned that night was to use the swing-top, Fido brand jars for everything. The rubber gasket allows built-up CO2 to escape, and that positive pressure means no air {or mold} can enter the crock. This summer I have made at least 8 batches of pickles in my Fido jars with zero mold. I did a test batch in a regular mouth mason jar with an airlock {like this} with the same results.

Cabbage Kraut JuiceThe second most important thing I learned: If you’re mashing up some cabbage, and you don’t have quite enough water squeezing out to cover the cabbage {even after you’ve added a weight}, you can add more salted water and still have positive results. It seems pretty obvious to me now, but my very first attempt at sauerkraut, way back in 2012, was such a dry, dismal disaster I threw it out and swore I was done with homemade sauerkraut. That’s three summers of no fresh kraut. But my kids decided they love sauerkraut, so I had to give it another try. For my first batch of the season I had such an old head of cabbage, I didn’t think any amount of mashing would yield enough liquid. So after mashing and squeezing as much as I could, I just topped it off with salty water everything turned out just fine.

IMG_5164I’ve been using the Sour Pickles recipe from Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz. He calls for “2 to 3 heads garlic, peeled,” but even with my “epic” garlic harvest this year {approximately 60 heads}, I don’t have enough to do that, so I usually end up doing 5-6 cloves, and 3 Tbsp. dill seeds, plus a “handful” of oak leaves {supposed to keep ’em crunchy}. I fill a half gallon mason jar with water and 6 Tbsp. of salt and shake to dissolve. Once my crocks are packed with veggies I pour the salty brine over everything. Sometimes I need to mix up a little more, but if I have extra I just save it until the next batch. I’ve used the same recipe for pickling cucumbers, beets {peeled and sliced}, and green beans {raw} all with delicious results. {Read here about why a cloudy brine is OK.}

Overall, I’ve been really excited to get pickling this summer and encourage you to give it a try!

{OvO}

Puppy Update: 1 year

The “puppies” turned one this week! Here are some of the highlights of their first year:

Both collies participated in a Herding Instinct Test in April and performed very well. While we have not had a chance to get any more formal training, we brought home two new lambs that weren’t keen on going to the barn at night, so we started letting the collies help us get the sheep into the barn. Both dogs were eager to help, and were quick to pick up on what we were asking them to do. Unfortunately, their eagerness means they often over-run the sheep. Both dogs in the pen at the same time seems a recipe for disaster, but even having the not-working dog outside the pen seems to increase the energy level too much for my comfort, so we’re going with one at a time for now.

Kep & Findlay have shown a great interest in “helping” with the chickens as well. They do not seem inclined to harm the birds, but their energy can get out of control and has, on more than one occasion, led to the “rolling” of a hen. I have deliberately asked each dog for help with the chickens from inside the pen one time. For a while few of our birds insisted on “roosting” under the chicken house instead of inside it and since we needed to move the house the following morning, I needed all the birds inside. I was able to get three of the four inside by myself, and Kep helped me catch up the straggler. He was definitely excited but really seemed to be listening to me. On a second occasion, after a chicken refused to cooperate following a chicken-house-move, I took Finn by the collar and walked with him behind her, saying “Easy, easy..” His presence alone was enough to gently encourage the wayward hen to return to the flock.

After losing a few chickens late last summer, presumably to airborne predators, we have not lost another since the boys have been on full-time duty. We did have an accidental chicken death in the fall when one of our younger hens left the pen and ran into the barn. All the dogs chased her and she got squeezed between some old barn boards and the stone wall. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but it was our 12-year-old dog, Hickory, who had the last contact with her. After getting Hickory out, I was able to send Finn into the tight space and encouraged him to “get the chicken.” He brought her out just far enough so I could grab her and I asked him to give her to me. He dropped her at my feet. While Kep & Finn are probably too old to be considered for full-time chicken guardian duty, they have done an exceptional job keeping our chickens safe from outside the pen.

The collies have separately or as a team, killed, retrieved, scared off or otherwise annoyed: 5+ moles, 1 groundhog, 1 squirrel, skunks, coyote {twice}, deer, hawks, crows, vultures, bears {suspected}, owls {much to my chagrin} and 1 tom cat. They have proven to be useless against mice, so far.😦

Kep & Findlay have been wonderful with our dogs and our children. They are still a little too interested in our two outside cats, but don’t bother the indoor cats at all. Finn is the more sensitive one, reacting like his feelings are hurt when I’ve reprimanded him. He also doesn’t like to be touched from behind. He’ll ask for space and hasn’t shown any true aggression, but he really, really doesn’t like to be brushed or have his nails trimmed. In fact, he’ll put his mouth around my hand {or the comb I’m using} to dissuade me from grooming him. Unfortunately, his very, very thick coat tends to get matted and is constantly full of burrs so we’re working on it a little at a time, trying to make it a positive experience for him… Kep, on the other hand, lets me comb his entire body and trim his nails. Finn’s coat is also much thicker than Kep’s, and I do prefer Kep’s easier-to-maintain coat.

Kep is more biddable, probably because he has bonded more closely to me. Findlay is not nearly as willing and in fact can be a bit of a bad influence – he is much harder to recall and tends to run off {a bad habit he learned from our older dog, I am sure}. While I know focused training could help with some things, Finn often looks right at me when he’s disobeying, as though daring me to get angry. He just doesn’t have the instinct to “help” that Kep has. Fortunately, we have a lot of space, so when Finn runs off he’s usually still on the farm, but he does chase the car off the farm {I have to put him in his kennel now when we leave} and has recently started going next door to bark at my neighbor’s penned hunting dogs. Kep chased us for a while – I could tell he wanted to stay put but was persuaded by his brother to disobey – but seems to have grown out of it. Kep almost never misbehaves if Finn is not around.

Findlay is an absolute love when you’re not messing with his fur or feet. He “hugs” and is an incredibly gentle “kisser,” just barely touching you with his nose, and always with a closed mouth {unlike Kep who is an exuberant and toothy kisser}. Finn has never met a stranger, which makes him a great greeter on the farm. In fact, one of our biggest challenges has been keeping him away from our rental cottage – he keeps an eye on the doors and makes a beeline whenever he sees someone step outside. Finn will run up and waggle all over the guests while his brother is barking his head off. It’s a bizarre scene to be sure…

Bottom Line: We have decided to neuter Findlay and leave Kep intact. It was always our plan to choose one of the pups to breed, and I think Kep is a more complete package – at least for what I’m looking for in a farm collie.

Our plan for the next year: 1) Get more sheepherding training and practice and 2) Find a female to start a family with😉 We’ll definitely have our hands full!

{OvO}

Two pups on one rock

Two pups on one rock

Kep {2 Months} and C

Kep {2 Months} and C

Puppies {2 months } and Hickory

Puppies {2 months } and Hickory

Two Puppies at the Bonfire {3 Months}

Two Puppies at the Bonfire {3 Months}

Finn {4 Months} and O

Finn {4 Months} and O

Kep {7 Months}

Kep {7 Months}

Kep & Findlay {8 Months}

Kep & Findlay {8 Months}

Finally sewing again…

It’s been about a week, but I was so proud of the dress I made for O’s birthday this year, I just had to share it. For her 5th birthday, she wanted a new birthday dress. I don’t know, maybe the last one I made is getting a little small…?

O's Birthday Dress (2yrs)

O’s First Birthday Dress (2 yrs)

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Still going strong 3 years later…

Anyway, I was happy to oblige. As you know, I’m a huge fan of Amanda Blake Soule and her blog, SouleMama. Trust me when I tell you: a craftier, more thoughtful-gift-giving mama you will never find. In need of the perfect crafty gift for my little one, I headed straight over for a bit of inspiration. I was drawn to a pattern very similar to the one I made in 2012: Geranium by Made by Rae. I like that the pattern comes in 18 months all the way to size 12 and has a few variations {sleeve options, gathers or pleats, etc.} which means I can essentially sew the same dress for the next 6 or 7 years! I’d say it was totally worth the price.

I stopped in at The Stitchin’ Post to inquire about where to find the best fabrics for sewing such a dress, and the proprietress, Erin, directed me to The Quiltery in nearby Fairfield, VA. The Quiltery is fully-stocked with so much fabric your jaw will drop. They have a huge selection of Civil War reprints, at least 100 different batiks, plus doo-dads and what-nots enough to sew anything your heart desires. They have sewing clubs and quilting competitions and all kinds of great things happening all the time. After about an hour, I picked out a few options, coming back again and again to the 1930s reprints in the back room, and finally settling on the very first fabric I’d picked up.

You know a dress was meant to be when you get home and, realizing you need four matching buttons, you reach for your grandma’s old jar of {almost completely white and ivory} buttons and find FOUR vintage purple buttons that are a) just the right size and b) exactly the right shade of lavender. Good looking out, Gurn.🙂

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IMG_5371

Now, Amanda has, at least once, made two of these dresses {TWO} in one day {in ONE day}, but it took me two and a half days – I cut everything out during the kids rests on Day One, and sewed it all together on Day Two then re-vistited The Stichin’ Post for a quick tutorial in button-hole-making and sewed on the buttons on Day Three. In my defense – the dress was meant to be a surprise so I could only work on it during kid-free {read: sleeping} time. I was up very, very late the night before O’s big day, but I think it was well worth it. Don’t you?

The birthday girl!

The birthday girl!

PS – waiting a week to post this means I can tell you that she did in fact wear the dress for 4 days straight.❤

{OvO}

Event Update :: Blue Moon Bonfire

We are really looking forward to our Blue Moon Bonfire on Friday, July 31! With just under 2 weeks to go, we are putting the final touches on the “plan” for the day. If you’re going to be in the area and would like to attend we would love to have you! Call, email, or click here to RSVP.

We are planning to have some live music and will be encouraging audience participation, so be prepared to play and/or sing along!🙂

We hope you’ll join us for a great time on the farm!

Guests are encouraged to bring:

A dish to share
{dinner, side or dessert}

A comfy chair
{or blanket}

A tent
{if you want to spend the night}

Friends and family

Guitar, Mandolin, Harmonica, Banjo, Ukulele,
Pennywhistle, Spoons, Bones, Saw, Washboard, Voice…

Moonshine
{for a little tasting}

Please do not bring:

Your dog

Cigarettes

Rain!

blumoon

Recipe: Zucchini Muffins

‘Tis the season of the Zucchini….. Here’s a great recipe we made this week as a special birthday treat. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did! And here’s a quick link to another of our favorite zucchini recipes…in case you’re as covered up as we are.

Don’t forget: If your garden is growing faster than you can eat it, consider donating some items to your local food pantry or community kitchen! I’m taking some zucchini to The Community Table this week!

Zucchini Muffins :: A great birthday breakfast!

Zucchini Muffins :: A great birthday breakfast!

Zucchini Muffins

Ingredients
3 C. grated fresh zucchini
2/3 C. coconut oil
1-1/3 C. coconut sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. baking soda
3 C. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
Pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl combine the coconut oil, coconut oil, eggs, and vanilla. Stir in the grated zucchini.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt. Stir these dry ingredients into the zucchini mixture. {Optional: Add 1 cup of nuts and/or 1 cup of raisins or cranberries for a little umph!}
  3. Coat each muffin cup in your muffin pan with a little butter or coconut oil. Use a spoon to distribute the muffin dough among the cups, filling them completely.
  4. Bake on the middle rack until muffins are golden brown, and the top of the muffins bounce back when you press them; about 25 to 30 minutes. Test with a toothpick or bamboo skewer to make sure the centers are done.
  5. Allow to cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove muffins from muffin pan and allow to cool another 20 minutes.

*Note: If you are adding walnuts or dried fruit you are likely to have more batter than what is needed for 12 muffins.

Ladies Homestead Gathering THIS WEEK!

The Rockbridge County Chapter of the National Ladies Homestead Gathering is getting together THIS WEEK at OUR FARM to discuss water bath and pressure canning! The group will be preparing some canned peaches to take home, so if you plan to join us, make sure you bring a 16oz Ball brand canning jar with a NEW lid and a ring. The chapter will provide the peaches, the canners, etc.

Please come whether you have canning experience or not! We’d love to have you!

Thursday, July 16
Meet & Greet at 6:30pm

Discussion and Canning Demo 7pm

Come early for a tour of the farm!

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