Homemade Christmas Presents (planning now!)

I know no one likes to speak of Christmas before Halloween, y’all, but for us that like to make homemade presents, there is a bit of panic in the air. How close are we to Christmas? Nine and a half weeks! That may seem like a long time and there is still plenty of time to pick out costumes and plan Thanksgiving dinner, but I am wondering how I got so far behind! (Oh yea, I moved.)

The sewing machine has taken up residence on the dining room table and will probably stay there on up to Yule. There are lists of yarn and fabric still to get. Things to create. People to make presents for! And as you all know, nine weeks goes pretty darn fast.

My grandmother made many homemade gifts. She made this doll for Shyanne that year.

It is easy to go pick up something from Walmart, wrap it up, and say, “Here ya go!” But said item may inevitably break, homestead budget rarely allows for elaborate and multiple gifts, and a homemade gift speaks volumes. Wrapped in a homemade gift is poetry and love songs and a recipient can feel the affection from the giver (too romanticized?). A homemade gift is usually useful and deliberate.

So, what can you make?

Do you sew? You can make any number of things, from quilts to aprons. Maybe cloth napkins or place mats.

Do you crochet? You can make shawls, scarves, blankets, candle or cup cozies.

Do you paint? You could paint a wooden box for keepsakes or a painting of a favorite pet.

Do you weld? My daughter’s boyfriend welded together car parts to make me the most charming snowman I have ever seen.

Do you wood work? Crates and boxes and furniture are all amazing gifts.

Do you cook/bake/preserve? Jars of preserves, homemade wine, and bread are wonderful to receive.

Christmas shopping is kind of fun, so maybe get someone cast iron. Cloth napkins with good wooden spoons. Candles or an oil lamp. Antiques that are still useful. Or if all else fails, no one will balk at a gift card to Lehman’s!

I will be thinking of what I am going to dress up as for my friends’ Halloween party but I will also be busy creating gifts. What great gifts do you like to create?

Starting a Farm and Homestead (Pumpkin Hollow Farm adventures continue)

“And just like that, we are homesteading again!” Doug said as he walked into the house after work. Two pressure canners were sputtering on the stove, twelve quarts of homemade chicken broth within. The house smelled wonderful. I was in the process of making cheese. We ate tortellini en brodo alfresco while pointing out where we should put our Pumpkin Hollow Farm sign. Yes, just like that, we will be farming again too.

The first real homestead we had was gradual; first a garden, then chickens, then goats, we learned one thing at a time. The next thing we knew we were practically living off grid and cooking on a wood cook stove! We have learned a lot over the past decade. I waited to see if Doug wanted to homestead and farm. I didn’t want to just jump into it. After all, it is an expensive adventure to start and it is a lot of work. He keeps talking about breeds of goats, and wethered sheep, and plotting the grazing section and where to put our vineyard…we went and picked up fencing for goats and sheep. We’re in. Homesteading isn’t just a job or a lifestyle, it becomes a very part of you.

I couldn’t remember how much it cost to have farm animals (besides chickens), it has been four years since we have had goats and sheep (that is how long it has taken us to get back to the country). This blog holds, not only my memoir within it, but so much information that I constantly resort back to. I looked up “How Much Does it Cost to Have A Farm Animal” from the first year I started this blog. I was pleasantly surprised to see that prices have only increased about 20%. I did expect higher. We should still be well in our budget to feed some more furry kids that give milk and fiber.

I have been visiting local vineyards. Grapes grow very well here and I would love to start my own winery. Even if it is just for me and my friends to start. A lot of folks focus on one thing, maybe beef, or chickens, or vegetables. They aren’t all over the map like I am. I want to have a vineyard, use my own plants to dye my own fiber from my sheep, create beautiful crocheted and sewn pieces to sell, have a huge pumpkin patch, a large garden, have milking goats, and still leave land to be wild and a safe place for bunnies. (Gandalf loves bunnies. They are as delicious as the chickens, apparently.) I love to have variety. That way, I always have what we need and my creative expressions can change as well. I am not going to get burnt out having sheep if I only have two!

When plotting your homestead, first write out what you would like. Garden? Chickens? Ducks? Remember that poultry will consume everything in their path, so they have to be separate from the garden. Goats? They will eat trees down to nothing so the orchard (did you want an orchard?) has to be fenced away from the cute ruminants. Do you have a niche you want to focus on? Don’t think of money while you are writing down your list. What do you want to do? Then draw out your land (even if it is a quarter acre or in the city) and sketch in where you will put everything. Decide on priorities based on money and time to get things started.

Then note where you might make extra money from your homesteading adventures but always have a back up plan. That is the most valuable lesson we learned over the past ten years. Pumpkin Hollow Farm continues on! Our family is excited.

Where are you at in your homesteading adventures? My granddaughter, Maryjane, has loved our farms and has made so many memories. I want to have Grammie and Pa’s farm for her and her sister. So, it’s not all serious here. Homesteading and farming should be fun.

The Lost Bottle of Chokecherry Wine

I came across it while moving. It was hiding amongst the vinegar bottles that look the same. A precious bottle of sparkling, party dress red colored Chokecherry wine.

My blog post on How to Make Chokecherry Wine from nearly five years ago has been my overwhelmingly most popular article. It has had well over five thousand views. I haven’t seen any chokecherries growing in southern Colorado so haven’t made any since. It was fun to open that old memory filled bottle.

Back in my kitchen in Kiowa, about five years ago this week, I poured the half gallon jars of dark, tart chokecherries into a large pot. My tiny one and a half year old granddaughter, Maryjane, had assisted me in picking the chokecherries from the numerous bushes around our old rented farmhouse.

I poured a little wine into a glass so I could see the color. The red had tiny glimmers of orange, denoting age. The aroma was of summer berries. Hints of strawberry came through the chokecherry in the flavor with just a hint of bitter and sweet. And it was hot! I don’t mean temperature, I mean alcohol! I don’t have anything to test it with, but Doug said it was probably the same as rum or other spirits.

In two ounces of chokecherry wine, I added 3 ounces of cold white wine, and 2 ounces of fresh apple cider. It was a delicious fall cocktail. It was quite fun finding the lost bottle of chokecherry wine. I hope you are busy preserving. This weekend I think I will try my hand at making apple wine!

How to Make Dandelion Wine (and any other you can think of!)

“Honey, you want to harvest these dandelions before I mow?” my husband called out.  Why, I didn’t even know the dandelions were here yet, and there they were in lovely carpets of gold; their lion manes of spring feeding the bees and dotting the yard with color.  I love dandelions.

Using my thumbnail, I simply pop off the tops of the flowers.  Like a little bee myself, I flit from flower to flower.  I filled a quart jar and a half and still left some in the garden beds for the honey gatherers.  The next thing you want to do is to pour the golden flowers into a paper bag and leave it on the porch on its side.  This allows the stragglers to escape.  No one wants ant wine.

20190420_162605

Wine is, in its essence, fermented sweet tea or juice with yeast that feeds off the sugars turning it into a delightful and medicinal drink.

20190420_170031

Bring flowers, one peeled orange, and 16 cups (1 gallon) of water to boil.  Turn off heat and cover with lid and let sit for 15 minutes.

20190420_170530

Strain into a gallon container used for wine making.  Leave a few inches headspace. You will have some tea left over.  Add 4 cups of sugar (I prefer organic, unbleached, raw sugar) and 2 cups of brown sugar (molasses is what makes it brown).  Stir to dissolve.

Dandelions taste particularly good with orange and caramel notes.  I like to add orange extract and butterscotch extracts when making dandelion jelly.  In this case, we are using fresh orange and brown sugar to create those notes.

20190420_170625

Let cool to 90 degrees then add 1/4 teaspoon of white wine yeast.  Stir.  Replace lid and carboy.  Pour a smidge of vodka into carboy to specified lines.  Let sit in a cool corner and bubble away.  It will bubble (the yeast is eating the sugar) for 10 days to 3 weeks depending on what kind of wine you are making.

15559399271091362704678

When the bubbling stops then it is time to siphon the wine (all but the bottom 1/2 inch of sediment) into super clean bottles.  Place in root cellar for 6 months to a year or more.

You can use any fruit or herb to make wine.  If there is enough juice and sugars in the fruit (like in grapes) then you just add yeast to the juice.  Most things will be made into a strong tea like the above recipe as well as my chokecherry wine and rosehip/lavender mead.  Have fun and experiment.  Use 4-8 cups of sugar.  Use 1/4 or 1/5 of a teaspoon of wine yeast, red or white.

My chokecherry wine was pretty dang strong after a year, but after two years, lord it was smooth, and I highly wished that I hadn’t given away all of the bottles!

Sunday Morning on the Farm

We need to bring in more wood.  I shall find some more kindling.  Empty the ash into the compost.   A wood fire is far more warming than the furnace.  And delightful as well.

The grandfather clock chimes and the morning is still.  Blue jays call in the distance.  Steam rises from my coffee cup as my husband sips his beside me.  A quiet Sunday morning save for sounds of the homestead.

Blur….upp, the sound the honey wine makes while fermenting.

The busy whir of the sewing machine as I work on Yuletide gifts.

20181104_080951

Gentle snoring from the farm dog who reclines comfortably on the sofa after a cool night outdoors keeping watch over the urban farm.  He loves his work and does it well, coming in to rest then opting to go outside again late morning.

20181104_081010

This life, this home, it balms, sweetens, and simplifies.  This homestead life.

Root vegetables- sunchokes, parsnips, and potatoes- harvested from the garden beds will be roasted for brunch alongside fresh eggs from the coop.

The chickens dig around in the leaves and the golden light of autumn cascades over the sleeping beds.  I jot down ideas for a preservation garden.  I will need more fencing.

20181104_080810

Dreams, and the gentle lilt of every day life pervades me and I smile, and take another sip.

Results of Making Chokecherry Wine

Drum roll please…..

IMG_1985

Well, it’s been about a year since I brewed the chokecherry wine. It needed to sit for a year and I have patiently waited for the final product.  I was nervous because choke cherries are named that for a reason, they are puckeringly sour and a smidge bitter without two tons of sugar.

Friends, those old timers that wrote that recipe knew a thing or two about turning ordinary wild berries into wine to keep the spirits warm for winter.

The initial scent was of yeast and fruit, sweet berries, and summer.  A taste proved similar to meade with a hint of bitter on the end.  Not too shabby, Folks.  Not too shabby.

For the recipe, see my initial blog post here for making Chokecherry Wine.

(Note: Six months after writing this post we served another bottle and it was smoother and more delicious.)

A Walk in the Vineyards (visiting Napa)

IMG_1042

Is wine just another drink?  A snobby, pretentious one?  An expensive bottle of grape juice?  It is more than that, of course, as I have written in Wine 101 and Wine 200.  The puzzle of finding out where the grapes were grown, in what kind of soil, surrounded by what, in what climate, on old or new vines.  These can all be answered in a glance, smell, sip.  I love that one can find so many complexities and aromas in a simple glass of…well….grape juice.

IMG_1057

And behind all that, the fancy restaurants, the food pairings, the bottles snug in the cellar, is the farmer.  A farmer, workers, wine makers, all making this journey through dinner sensational.

IMG_1052

Homesteaders have been making their own wine for many, many centuries.  Fermenting grapes was a way to preserve the bounty and provided safer refreshment than water at many times.  It is a preservation method, a return on the farmer’s time and energies growing this humble fruit.

Following the vineyard tour of Pine Crest in Napa, I took to memory everything the guide said about the growing of the grapes.  Hillside, sun, distance from the ground, sugar content, days on the vine.  I kept asking questions.  I must grow grapes.  A sad shake of the head met me.  140 days on the vine.

“Oh, I can do that.  I have a four and a half months to grow.”  That is a hundred and forty days after the fruit is visible, after flowering, after Spring, 140 days.

“Oh wait, that is my entire growing season!”  Oh, Kiowa, you high desert land, you’re killing me as a farmer over here!

But you know me, if someone tells me in Napa Valley, where they know grapes and wine, that I can’t grow grapes, I’ll be shopping for Sangiovese and Petite Sirah grapes the second my plane lands back in Colorado.  There has got to be a way for me to grow good grapes.  I will research areas similar to my climate and see what they grow.  Surely along the equatorial line Colorado matches up with somewhere like France across the globe.

Six dollar wines with cute animals on them or fancy Italian words used to be my wine of choice.  Now, you can find a darn good wine at twelve bucks, but I used to think the Costco style wines, in all their bulk glory and appealing labels, were the best wines.  Then I started enjoying red blends, their smooth, creamy textures, albeit void of intense complexity, seemed fitting for any occasion (and still can be).  Though I love a good puzzle.  And the puzzle can only be found in single vineyard wines.

Single vineyard is how you know the grapes came from the same place.  That wine will give you more uniqueness, as it will whisper to you notes about its soil constitution, how far its roots traveled, how much sun it received, how old the vines are.  Its own place on the planet written out in a bottle.

Estate grown means that it is grown on the vineyard owner’s properties, but their vineyards could be miles apart.

Reserve means that it was grown in a particular patch of vineyard, a more expensive wine generally, but a more concentrated memory of where it was grown.  The best area of the vineyard.

IMG_1063

We walked through the vast vineyards.  Watched as row upon row clung to the hillside taking in the glorious sun.  Smelled the sacrificial roses.  They are there to attract insects.  The destructive bugs will hopefully go to the roses instead of eating the precious fruit.

IMG_1070

IMG_1065

We walked through the warehouse-looking area where thirty feet high there were stacked newly harvested and resting wine hovering in French oak barrels.  Enormous steel tanks held bubbling early fermentations of wine.  We walked into the cave.  Several miles of caves exist under the buildings.  Rows and rows of oak line the walls filled with their proud vintage.  We tasted a sample right out of the barrel.  It was delicious.  Creamy, interesting, smooth, filled with berries, molasses, spice, and vanilla.  We walked further down the cool caves (incidentally only three degrees cooler than my basement…I can do this!) and came upon a beautiful round table with three dozen shimmering glasses and small plates of cheese.  We went through three tastes of wines, each delightful with its chosen cheese, and savored the romantic cave atmosphere.

IMG_1077

IMG_1075

Next Google search; zone 4 grape vines and an oak barrel.