The Joyful, Simple Life of a Frugal Housewife

I have a little book that was written by Mrs. Child in 1832.  The American Frugal Housewife is surely just as useful today in many senses.  The author almost lost me when she noted that coffee was not economical and could be avoided.  Oh, she’s a strict one, that Mrs. Child.  Her prose is clear and concise and the book is ever fun to read.  Going on two hundred years old, it is a bit of history rolled into a gentle reminder that not that much has changed.

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If you make a dollar, only spend eighty cents.  If you make fifty cents, only spend forty.  The original Dave Ramsey.  Why do all the girls these days need the new bonnets from France when clean, proper dresses and a ribbon will do?  Girls have no home education these days!  In this book she covers everything from cuts of meat (she would wonder about me and my vegetarianism), to how to make custard, and Indian pudding.  She discusses herbs for cooking and all their medicinal values as well.  A new onion will take the pain out of a wasp sting.  Every housekeeping gem that we housewives- even in the twenty-first century- could ever need are in this book.  She would tisk-tisk me for sure.  But in this time and age, I am not too bad.  But there is always room for improvement.  A simple, frugal life is a life of peace.

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The gents installing the meters for the solar panels on our homestead were surprised at how little electricity we use.  Now it can all be generated from the sun.  When you walk through our gate, past the Pumpkin Hollow Farm sign, you will find yourself in a large yard.  Under snow, it looks ordinary, but this spring you will find dozens, upon dozens, and dozens of medicinal and culinary herbs.  This year, enough produce growing to last us eight+ months.

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When you come in there is a wood stove and nice wood floors that are easy to clean.  Plants and aloes and seed starts fill my home.  We read by candlelight and oil lamps.  Twinkly lights are the electric lights.  Piles of books to read, board games, and a tuned piano supply entertainment. We rarely watch television.  In the warmer months we will sit on the porch or go for a walk, all free things.  And blessed time together.

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In the kitchen, home cooked meals are made.  I am finally getting used to not cooking for  all the children.  Just me and Pa and some left for the puppy.  Our root cellar is dwindling but there are still over a hundred jars of produce put up.  There are fresh eggs from the coop.  Cups of herb tea steaming on the counter.

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You will almost always find me in an apron.  They are so practical and keep my long skirts clean.  I make all of our own medicine, prepare our meals, create much of what we need.  I can sew a quilt, make our own soap, brew some meade, put up green beans, bake sourdough bread, make antibiotics, save seeds, use the library, ride my bike, and if I make fifty cents then I shall save ten!  More likely five cents, but we’ll get there.

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Such a good life indeed.

The Evolution of a Homestead and the Original Carryall

20180711_105459Five and a half years of writing about farming and homesteading.  Almost a thousand readers.  Full circle.  I am peaceful as I write this.  The sun is behind the large walnut tree, filtering its light through the dense branches highlighting the herbs and flowers on the medicine gardens.  My front porch rocker is comfortable and my coffee is hot.

We started with chickens, a garden, some dreams.  Moved towards alpacas, goats, and sheep, and bigger, simpler; somehow tripped and found ourselves in an apartment.  Yet, we gardened at a community plot and hung a calendar of farm animals in the kitchen.  Now we own a home of our own in a good sized city skirted by farms and friendly people.  “This is not a farm,” I said.  But I was wrong.  Because being a farmgirl and having a homestead heart does not die.  It just gets more creative.

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So we have started with chickens, a garden, some dreams.  Our house is similar to the one we started in.  We have a third of an acre of urban space to dream and build.  More raised beds, hoop houses, a greenhouse.  We have a root cellar, a wood stove, and fruit trees, and a place to settle and be.  By god, this is the urban farm we have read about.  Every year it will grow, and get better, and right now it is perfect and warm, and as the cars zoom by to get to work, the hummingbirds drink from the geraniums and honeybees buzz in the pumpkin flowers.  The Pumpkin Hollow Farm sign sits proudly on the porch.  It would be easy to dream of an off grid homestead, but the challenge and dream will be to see how sustainable we can get right here on this humble plot of land.

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A dear, young woman is living with us right now with her little, baby farmboy.  I inadvertently see through her eyes what we have here and I am grateful.  I have been on a little book tour with my newest book (http://authorkatiesanders.com) but we had time to put up ten quarts of corn broth and a dozen jars of corn yesterday.  It is really warm here and the climate whispers of year round gardening with a little wisdom.  The chickens frolic, the farm dog barks, the kitties mouse, and all is well in our little house.

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20180711_155417So, the original carryall is an apron.  Y’all know my great love of aprons!  This one carried dozens of corn cobs to the porch to be shucked, to the kitchen to be canned, to the chickens as treats.  Don your aprons, Friends, our urban homestead adventures continue…

To Grow and Forage One’s Own Food

home 4Soon.  Soon now the dark greens of earth will peek through the moistened soil and seek the sun.  Dandelions will unexpectedly be dancing through the grasses.  The mulberries, black and velvet, will stain my fingers as I gather them.  Perhaps the squirrels will leave some walnuts for me.  And this is the year for the plum tree to fruit.

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To forage for food gives a great satisfaction to the spirit but to forage amongst one’s own gardens and land is spectacular.  I can already taste the cleansing lamb’s quarters, the tangy purslane, the scrumptious dandelions interspersed with sweet butter lettuce fresh from the garden.  Just dressed with good olive oil and sea salt, the tastes of spring come forth and fill my body with nutrients after winter’s rest.  Soon.  Soon now.

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I am reading a beautiful book called, “A Year in the Village of Eternity” by Tracey Lawson.  It takes place in Italy, in the village of Campodimele, one of the Blue Zones, where the most active and healthy elders live.

Cibo genuino. Real Food.  Roba nostra.  Our own things.  I let the many Italian words roll off my tongue and take their lessons.  Real food.  Our own things.  Grow an orto, a garden.  In this village they forage or grow nearly everything they consume.  Is it possible?  Last year on our own little third of an acre in town, in soil fit for a driveway, we grew all of our own produce for the summer.  Our first season here with little time or money.  Now we have eggs from our chickens.  We have planted many fruit and nut trees (if I can just keep the puppy from thinking they are sticks to play with!), we are recognizing more and more wild foods, and are growing many more vegetables this year in better soil.  Contadino.  Farmer or gardener who produces their own food.

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I cannot wait to feel the soil in my fingers.  Soon.  Soon.  The season comes earlier where we live now and in three short weeks I will be folding spring crops into the cool ground.  What preserves shall we do this year?  I imagine lilac and lavender jam, stewed tomatoes, crisp fire roasted corn.  We are enjoying our larder these winter months.

To live like this is to be ready at all times, for what you seek or what you want to “put up” may not be there tomorrow.  Herbs must be harvested when ready.  Fruit may be eaten by birds at dawn.  Piles of corn need shucking.  Ah, but I enjoy the work.  I love our evening walks after dinner in the sunlight.  I love the sound of water covering plants and the crisp sound of the pea pod being opened.  Ogni cosa ha il sua momento.  Everything has its moment.

For now I have winter preserving to do so that it is done once the busy season starts.  In my cucina this week dozens and dozens of jars of beans will be put up.  Vegetable broth too.  I still have beans from the garden to shell.  I will check on my vinegars and my kombucha.  I have been resting and a tad neglectful.  But now as each day falls closer to spring, I awaken, don my apron, and get to work.  In campagna, c’ e sempre da fare! In the countryside (or city as the case may be) there is always something to do!

 

 

Homestead Gardens and Winter Rest

20180103_073048The first seed catalogue arrived in the mail the other day.  My four year old granddaughter, Maryjane, took a sharpie and circled everything we need to order.  Instead of toys, she circles plants in seed catalogues.  She is one of us.

It is impossible, I believe, for a homesteader to not think of the garden at all times of the year.  I am creating a new space, roughly 500 square feet of ground.  A square, fenced in, next to the chicken coop, three feet from the porch turned greenhouse we are planning, and ten feet from the compost.  I dream of the colorful rows of fresh produce, the front yard of fruit trees and medicinal herbs, the patches of volunteer vegetables and wild foods.  But, these gardens, of course, cost money.  Fencing, glass, extra compost, and seeds do not come cheap.  I know it will all come together wonderfully and before I know it, I will be sitting here next year pondering the next season’s garden!

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I do love January, even if it is not my favorite month in the least.  It makes me rest.  We homesteaders aren’t much for rest.  We are a lot less anxious with our hands dirty, faces in the sun, planning, harvesting, moving.  The ground is asleep.  My fingernails are clean.  And I can dream, and January brings that lovely reflective sense of peace and accomplishment.  We dine like kings on everything we stored in the root cellar, freezers, and pantry from this last season.  We remark how beautiful our house is and our yard is coming together and in just short of one year’s time, we have transformed it into a working homestead.  Our hearts are overwhelmed with gratitude.

Hawks swirl and the large lake is out our south windows and the city bus rumbles by out the north panes proving you can homestead anywhere.  I write on my list that I need lamp fluid for the oil lamps and more tea candles.  Wood is chopped and piled by the stove.  The chickens are waiting to be let out.  The farm dog sleeps and I need another cup of coffee and a sharpie so I can start circling items in the seed catalogue and create dreams for spring.

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My Homestead Kitchen and Root Cellar

 

20170927_161036This is always a happily busy time of you year in my homestead kitchen.  There are lots of things being canned, lots of frozen items, lots of dried items, lots of staples.  Colorful eggs decorate the counter.

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We could walk to the grocery store.  Everything I need is already canned and frozen there.  We went from five plus people to just two of us here, why so much food?  Potential weather disasters, power outages, sh*t hits the fan, just in case, lots of reasons, but my grocery bill was only $36 this week, and that’s pretty great.

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I also love to cook.  I am rarely happy with restaurant meals or packaged foods.  I like my own sauces.  I love creating my own pickles, red chile sauce, sauerkraut, but also having lots of really fresh vegetables canned swiftly in glass containers.  No preservatives.  No Monsanto.

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We are busy folks.  It is nice to come home and have everything at the ready to make an amazing meal.  I enjoy the methodical time putting up the food and the pride I feel looking at my humble root cellar.  215 canned items.  I still have a bit more to do.  I will just leave the pressure canner upstairs this year.  That way I can quickly can more broth, beans, or soups as I go.  There is no real “end of the season”, homemaking pleasures continue through the year.

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If you had walked through my warm homestead kitchen this last week you would have smelled the cinnamon apples being canned, watched the apple cider vinegar and kombucha brewing.  Thick halves of pumpkins baking to be put up, their seeds washed and drying on the counter to plant next year.  A wheel of farmhouse cheddar was being waxed.  Sauerkraut fermenting.  Frozen meat from friends’ ranches.  Lots of beans and whole grains and spices.  Just need more flour, sugar, and coffee.  Lots of coffee.

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There is still much more in the garden.  I was pleased to unearth a sweet potato, something I haven’t been able to grow in higher climates.  More tomatoes, winter beans, burdock, carrots, beets, kale, zucchini, peppers, cabbage, spinach, lettuce, radishes, potatoes all await our autumn meals.

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Donning a cute apron and working quietly in one’s own homestead kitchen brings a peace I cannot even describe.  Food security, health, and peace of mind permeates the air along with the smells of chilies and pumpkins.  This is the life for me.

Canning Soup for Instant Winter Lunches

I am terrible when it comes to lunch inspiration.  I despise sandwiches, don’t like wraps, not really into salads as main courses, don’t want processed foods, and have little time to make anything the night before or morning of.  My husband leaves at six in the morning and needs a packed lunch.  Sometimes I just have to feed myself, sometimes I feed three or four girls when I work at my shop.  I need lunch solutions!

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Enter the beautiful pot of soup.

I generally make at least one soup a week for a meal.  It doesn’t take much energy to make it a bigger batch.  I serve a delicious soup with homemade bread and vegetables from the garden for dinner then the next morning I can the rest of the soup in wide mouth pint jars.  Instant lunches through the winter.  Choose a soup, take it to work!  I always have bread made and with a side of fruit or canned applesauce, maybe some crackers, or carrots and dip, this is a great lunch.

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So long as the soup doesn’t have dairy or rice in it, this will work.  Pour soup into large mouth pint jars leaving an inch head space.  Make sure rim is clean and replace lid.  Put three inches of water into pressure canner.  Put jars in.  Secure lid and turn on heat on high.  Listen for lovely ticking sound from the shaker, turn down heat a little, and pressure can (10 lbs of pressure for most folks, all the weights all the time for us high altitudes) for 1 hour.  Anything with seafood goes 1 hour and 40 minutes.  Let steam release naturally.  Then remove from pot and let cool on towel on counter.  When the jars are cool and the you know the seals are set, label, date, and add to root cellar shelves.

Enjoy instant homemade lunch all winter.  I love this homesteading life.

 

 

Desperately Seeking Fresh Vegetables (and a fine Brussels recipe)

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I stared at the dusty jars lining the warped shelves in the basement.  They still feel like a blessing but at the moment were seeming more and more like a curse.  I swear if I have to eat one more jar of green beans…or peas…or corn…or beets…or…

I understand that hunger doesn’t care.  If I lived before grocery stores, out on an old homestead, or if I didn’t have a hundred bucks to spare, that food would be tasting real good right now.  But it is late February, too early for anything fresh, and my mind was dreaming of food that has not even been planted yet!

We have been fabulous at eating seasonally.  We ate almost all the potatoes, lots of carrots, onions, jar after jar of items I preserved, frozen vegetables and fruits.  I have been creative.  I have added fresh herbs from the windowsill.  We ate all but one pumpkin.  I need a radish.

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We picked up Maryjane and Emily (You know your life has changed when going to the health food store in town is the highlight of the week.) and off we went to Vitamin Cottage.  The pretty rows of product lulled us into a sense of summer and freshness.  I caught sight of the Brussels sprouts, as large as two golf balls side by side, and giggled like Gollum finding his Precious as I loaded up a bag.  I did a little jig in front of the ruby red orbs of radishes.  Maryjane held a piece of broccoli she had snagged as her mother walked by the green trees (what my kids used to call broccoli).  Emily pointed out various mouthwatering vegetables as we told the baby how she is going to love vegetables.  Doug walked over with crisp apples.  We put kale in our basket, Roma tomatoes, boxes of salad.  Large grapes for fresh chicken salad.  Long, elegant leeks to go into humble potato soup.  We felt like royalty.  Everything was organic, but I do not know where it was grown.  Certainly not around here.

I woke up yesterday and cut up two radishes even before the coffee was made.  I sprinkled them with a bit of smoked sea salt and popped them in my mouth.  I smothered a few with butter.  They held the crisp edge I was looking for.  They are not near as good as the earthy, spicy radishes that will come out of my garden beds in a few month’s time, but they were very suitable for a long winter of mushy green beans.  (Which tasted amazing, by the way, all through the cold winter months.)  Last night we had salad with homemade croutons and the melt in your mouth giant Brussels spouts.

Soon we will be back to frozen eggplant, and gelatinous peas (which tasted amazing, by the way, all through the cold winter months.  I need to repeat that so y’all aren’t tempted to not start canning.  It is great, and it is really fun going to the grocery store in the basement.)  I just needed a taste of spring.  I’ll be saving up for a green house!

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Melt in Your Mouth Brussels Sprouts

This recipe was adapted from a recipe in the “Vegan Soul Kitchen” by the great Bryant Terry.  He would be disappointed in me for the addition of bacon.

Fry up two slices of bacon, drain on paper towel and when cool, break into small pieces.

Drizzle pan with a few tablespoons of olive oil and a tablespoon of bacon drippings.

Trim off the end and cut in half a bunch of Brussels sprouts, enough to fill your skillet with a single layer of halves face down.  About a pound.

Sear for four minutes or so until nice and slightly blackened.

Add 1 cup of rich broth.

Cover tightly and braise over medium high heat for 12 minutes.

Add 1/4 cup of white wine (I like Chardonnay) and a few tablespoons of lemon or regular thyme, fresh preferably.

Continue braising for five minutes.  Taste and add salt and pepper if desired.  Top with bacon.

I would show you a picture but we ate them too fast.  Sorry.

The Great Corn Experiment Results (and enemies of the root cellar)

Drum roll, please!  The results are in for the Great Corn Experiment! (click title to see original post)

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About a month after drying the corn, I pulled off the kernels with the side of a knife from one of the cobs and placed them in the air popper.  It took a long time but some of the kernels turned into tiny popcorn.  Most of the kernels had too much moisture content and after awhile I decided not to set the popcorn maker on fire.  The popcorn that did pop was nutty, satisfying, delicious.  I was excited to see what would happen when all the corn was sufficiently dried.

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I began to notice lines of corn kernels missing.  I was worried that the kernels were be so dry they are falling off the cob through the slats of the open container that held them and into the oblivion of the root cellar.  I moved the crate on top of the box of onions so that the kernels could fall into the box.

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Remember the cartoons where, I believe it was Mickey Mouse, would eat corn like a typewriter?  One row. Ding!  Next row.  Ding!  It looked like Mickey Mouse was in the root cellar.  I did not think that mice would eat such perfect rows before moving to the next row.  Then Eliza Doolittle caught a mouse.

This year the mouse population has exploded.  We have (surprisingly) not had many mice before now here.  First I noticed they had taken up residence in the garage and the chicken coop.  Then the front porch near the bird feeders.

At least one out of the eight cats considers herself a mouser.  Eliza is a beautiful lynx point Siamese, calico mix.  She is the youngest (5 years old) and quite lithe.  She went running by with a mouse and Shyanne hot on her heels.  It really doesn’t help me to have even one mouser when I have St. Francis living over here.  Shyanne rescued the mouse from Eliza’s grasp.  “It’s a baby!” she cooed.  She walked it around the house in her hands comforting and loving it.  Then put it outside.  Where I have no doubts it found it’s way back towards the root cellar!

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We didn’t see any mouse droppings so we brought the corn into the kitchen and decided last night test it out.  The mice had only eaten the heirloom sweet(ish) corn and had left the old varieties of Indian corn alone.  I used a lightly wet paper towel and wiped down one of the cobs and tried a knife to release the kernels.  They began to fly everywhere upon release.  Emily came and twisted one of the cobs.  Tons of beautiful multi-colored kernels showered down.  Then we smelled it.

If you have ever lived in a house that mice love, you will know just what I am talking about.  Mouse urine.  Pungent.  Doug couldn’t smell it.  But it was enough for Emily and I to abandon our project.  The chickens will love their new treat.

I know that the kernels would have made fulfilling, nutty morsels of popcorn and delicious hand ground cornmeal, but we will have to test this theory at the end of this year.

Let’s see $9 for the heirloom seeds.  Approximately four and a half months of daily watering, tending, weeding, and harvesting.  Shucking, drying, waiting.  All gone.

Being a farmer guarantees a certain amount of crop loss, however.  Sometimes while in storage!

The Entertaining Farmgirl-Christmas Time

I used to be known for my Christmas party.  I had one every year.  Hundreds of dollars spent on food.  Friends from all facets of our life were invited.  Each year I spent so much time in the kitchen, serving, cleaning up, trying to talk to everyone, that I actually didn’t get to spend any time with my friends.  I was more of the roaming, stressed hostess.  The last time we had a party, I hired someone to come do the dishes and help serve.  I had more time to talk to a few friends  before I noticed that all the food was gone and some of the guests were so drunk and obnoxious that they started offending and scaring off the other guests.  We needed to change something.  (Not the friends, I love those goofy guys.)

The only good thing about those parties was my ice breaker.  People talked about it and looked forward to it all year.  I split the guests into groups of unaffiliated couples.  They were given a sheet of paper with all of our animals’ names on it and told to tell what movie each name came from.  Back then we only had eight cats and one or two dogs.  It would be a hoot to do it now with sixteen chickens, two goats, two alpacas, along with eight cats, and two dogs!

We decided to have individual dinners with each group of friends.  I could be more present and really enjoy my friends.  We often go to a restaurant with Monte and Erik to exchange presents and celebrate our friendship and the year.  Toast the year ahead.  We’ll meet Margie and her family tonight at the wine bar.  Rodney, Pat, Kat, Rod, and Mark will come over Christmas night.  Last night we hosted Nancy and her crew.  Farmgirls reunited.  We made it through a treacherous summer of farmer’s markets.  Didn’t kill each other and came out stronger.  I was delighted to have her and her husband, daughter and boyfriend, and Nancy’s nephew who was home on leave from the Marines over for dinner.  My girls were here, the twinkly lights, candle lights, and oil lamp seems to shine brighter and sweeter with friends over.

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Here are some tips for putting together a seamless holiday dinner.  Everything is done in advance.  Don’t choose a day you work or will be running around to host ten people for dinner.

1. Clean the house during the day or the day before.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  Candlelight and friends are forgiving.

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2. Set the table hours in advance.  Shoo cats off the table for the rest of the day.

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3. Prepare coffee pot and place after dinner cups on a tray.

4. Choose the menu a good week before and make sure you have the ingredients for it.  Let friends bring things.  They truly don’t mind (after all, their house is staying clean!).  Drinks, or an appetizer, or dessert could be taken care of if you only ask.

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5. Get creative with table settings.  I used an old lace curtain, topped with a round lace tablecloth, topped with a large, vintage doily.  Candles along the table.  Mix matched Christmas china…..let’s stop there.  I know that it is tempting to use Christmas paper plates but it is so much prettier and makes people feel special if you go all out with presentation.  I had everyone wash just their plate and I have considerably less dishes to do this morning.  Or Doug does anyway.  A canning jar acted as a water cup with a wine glass next to it.  Instead of cloth napkins, I threw in a bit of humor with cocktail napkins with funny sayings.  People started laughing immediately upon arrival as soon as they saw them.

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6. Back to the meal.  I always choose something like soup or pasta that can be made and sit in a pot on warm in the oven until ready to serve.  No more cooking while folks are over.  I made goulash last night in a cast iron pot and placed it in the oven.  A jar of sauerkraut, a jar of apple and pear sauces, and Nancy’s crisp salad rounded out the meal.  (It sure is nice having a full root cellar of canned food.  It is like having a grocery store in the basement.)

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7. Open up the wine and have a glass.  ‘Tis the time of year to celebrate!

Let’s see how you fare on the ice breaker.  Reply with your answers.  They are characters from a movie, play, or commercial.

Bumble-

Windsor Wizzer-

Snuggles Sheer Khan-

Ichabod Crane-

Zuzu’s Petals

Frankie and Louie (from a commercial)-

Clara Belle-

Mr. Boogedy Boo (Boo boo)-

Eliza Doolittle-

Hibernation for the Pressure Canner (and the farmer!)

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524.  Final count of canned items.  The last was this week’s potatoes.  Twenty jars of ready to cook potatoes joined the ranks of winter and spring food.  The canners are going into hibernation now.  Hurray!  As much as I enjoy the salsa dancing sound of the pressure cooker, I am ready to just settle down and eat my way through the root cellar.

I planned out early how much I needed to can of each thing.  Rough estimates for sure.  Let’s see, green beans once a week until May….Tomatoes and sauce twice a week….Had too much of this last year left over….not enough of that.  A hopeful sketch emerged and the root cellar checklist I made will  head downstairs on a clipboard.  I’ll be even more efficient next year.

The potatoes are in their wire crates.  The butternut squash is too.  The onions in a box.  The corn is drying.  The carrots are in a five gallon bucket emerged in slightly damp sand.  There is a large bag of sugar, a fifty pound of flour on order, buckets of whole grains to grind.  There is the surrounding air of deep satisfaction and peace.