Monday, March 12, 2018

Spinning linen

It is 2018, March, and I am getting that feeling I get every year that I should be hanging out with sheep at some shearing day. My cotton plants are blooming and making squares. But I am devoted to a project that has been in progress for 10 years.
In 2008, I went to Black Sheep Gathering in Oregon and took a class on spinning cotton and linen- bast fibers. I got so excited about it that I came home and bought a full pound of Irish linen/flax from an on-line seller. I had a few small bags that I had picked up at the gathering. It all went into the pile because as much as I like spinning it, I was not sure what to do with the yarn.
2010-Then I took up weaving. I was told that weaving linen was tricky so I needed to practice a lot on other stuff first. Ok. I finally got enough experience to weave linen and I found that it was really easy and not the problems I had been told about- 2012. Hmm. It was time to find those bags and start working through the flax stash.
Unfortunately, life is complicated and there were a lot of events and time consuming activities happening. It is now 2018 and I have spun through 1/2 pound of my box full of stuff. I have enough yarn for the warp on something. But what loom shall I use. Ok, part of that busy time was accumulating looms and weaving other things. But I have successfully woven linen now and want to finish off this box of stuff. There is bast bamboo in there, too.
I started spinning this batch of linen in October 2017, but had to put my wheel away while I had extended house guest. I was able to start spinning again in March 2018. I managed to finish about 6 ounces of the 8 ounce bag within a week. I now have a full 8 ounces of spun linen. One bag down. I will start the next bag soon, but need to do a little house work first.
At some point I will warp up the loom and weave this as hand spun warp and weft.
I have joined a Yarn Moratorium group with the promise not to buy yarn for 12 months. Easy, peasy. But making my own yarn adds to the stash so I need to weave more to get this stash down.
There is no time for housework now. I just want to spin and weave until my piles are manageable fabric. Then we can look at the sewing room and see what must be done.
Linen is pretty easy to spin. I use a wet method so my fingers are damp most of the spinning. When it is cold out, this is not as much fun. We have had a fire in the fireplace for the last few days and it had made the spinning go very quickly. I don't have to stop to warm my fingers. I am hoping this will be a trend and that I can get through all the linen in a couple of months. Yea, right.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Sausage Day

Over a period of time, usually months, I collect pork on sale and freeze it. the goal is to find time to make sausage. Last year, I made some Medister for my darling husband. We fell in love with this sausage while on vacation and can seem to find it for sale anywhere. So we decided to learn how to make it ourselves.
The first batch, last year, was really tasty. This batch is even better. And I made more. 14 pounds (almost 7 kilos).
Sausage is an all day event. It starts with cleaning out the refrigerator so there is room for the frozen pork to thaw. Then, on the actual day of sausage making, there is a bunch of fussy sterilization of tools. I have a large industrial grinder/stuffing machine, and all the parts have to be sterilized before use. I make sure it is really clean before putting it away, but I often wash all the parts again before I sterilize. I use a boiling water bath to sterilize so this take a bit of time (1 hour).
While the pot is boiling with the tools, I am getting the meat ready. Everything is cut into 1" wide strips so that it is easy to feed to the grinder. 11 1/2 pounds of lean pork, 2 pounds of salt pork, 1 pound of lard. This is now ready for grinding.
Onions- I use fresh onion about 3 pounds for this batch. After trimming them, I cut them into smaller pieces and use my Food Processor to chop them very fine. Then with a couple of tablespoons of butter, I saute the onions until they are starting to sweat and become transparent. Not too long. When the onions are cooled a bit, I put the spices into the onions- 2 tablespoons fresh ground cardamom, 1 tablespoon fresh ground pepper, 2 teaspoons ground cloves. Then 2 tablespoons salt. The onion mix is set next to the bowl of meat.
After grinding all the meat the first pass, I add the onions and lard and mix by hand. This goes through the grinder again (second pass). I like to stop at 2 passes on the large grinding blade because I like a bit more texture.
Now for the Casings. I purchase my casings from 99Ranch market here. They are frozen in a small bundle and I have no idea how many there are or how long. The first bundle I made about 7 pounds and had more than half the bundle left. I stored it buried in salt until the next use. I thawed the casings when I thawed the meat and set them to soak for two hours while the tools were sterilizing. There is a second soak in warmer water. They went in while I was grinding the meat on first pass.
It took E and I a long time to figure out how to slide the casings onto the stuffing tool, but we worked it out doing this in water in a pan. We got pretty good at it after about 4 casings.
Stuffing- it took us about 2 1/2 hours to stuff all the mix into the casings. The remaining casings were again packed in salt until the next sausage day. And the beautiful sausages were waiting for steaming. I like to steam them cooked then store them in vacuum bags and freeze them. I don't have to worry about spoilage that way. But they do lose a bit of fresh flavor.
It is not time wise to try to make a small batch of sausage. And we tend to eat all of them within a couple of months. So for me, 14 pounds of sausage is a good day. Now I need to make more pickled cabbage. We ate the last of that last week.
The kitchen never stops.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Learnings from the Internet

I often try different things in my garden based on curiosity and sometimes impracticality. I will grow things that don't really do well here just to see if I can. When I started growing cotton, I knew the area would be good for it with some water, a warm place in the garden and the right kind of seeds. And it does well. I have planted wheat, oats, and other items that need lots of space just to see what they look like and how they are processed. Sometimes I find seed on the internet and some of the growing instructions as well.
Learning how to grow something from information on the internet is precarious. The information is scattered about different sites and it is hard to accumulate all of it in one sitting. Sometimes it takes several growing seasons to find out what is wrong.
Potatoes and sweet potatoes are a good example. You can find information about growing potatoes. They are cool weather roots, need fertilizer and lots of water. They will grow deeply if the ground is soft enough. You can sprout a potato from the store. But then you read about storing the potatoes and you have to age them a little to get the sugars to set. I have never needed that information. I just dig them up when it is time to use them. There are never so many that I have some to store.
Sweet potatoes are a warm weather crop. They like warm ground, fertilize one time in the spring, water deeply weekly, long time until harvest, vines run like crazy and run over other items so plant them in their own bed, roots grow deeply and slowly. And then, after you manage to get a harvest, it has to rest for a couple of weeks to get the sugar to form. Otherwise the sweet potato is starchy and dull. This information has been gleaned over a couple of years as I find things not working well from the original sparse information.
There are many other examples of incomplete information on the internet. Knitting patterns, sewing patterns, cooking recipes, weaving instructions, product assembly... the list goes on. I am sure many other readers have found problems in getting a full rounded education on a subject from the internet.
But I am grateful for the internet and its scrambled information. I have been able to try so many different items in my garden, select trees for fruits, make preserves and jams, cook lovely meals...all because the internet has lots of really good ideas and information.
But it is necessary to caution about the sources. I have spent many hours looking and many articles to gather enough information to make a good choice and to make that choice work well. It is not instant gratification. There is work to be done there.
I have learned about myself as well. I may be very optimistic about my abilities and the environment, but you can't make something grow where it just can't grow. Learning to recognize a potential failure in the garden has been a big challenge for me. I have dug up many trees that just could not do well here. I have failed to keep some plants well watered while I was on vacation. I have neglected plants that are heavy feeders. I have ignored insect damage too long. If there is a garden no-no I have probably done it more than once.
I have no machinery, like a tiller, so everything is done by hand and shovel. As I grow older, I am less able to keep up with the physical demands of the garden and see myself looking for ways to maximize energy and leverage. I will probably look into hydroponics at some point. And I am sure the Internet will have all the information I need, somewhere.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Eating Seasonally

Part of my blog and world is my garden. I have experiments, collect seeds, plant strange things out of season. But mostly, I have regular stuff for us to eat.
Here in So.Cal. we don't have normal seasons. We don't really have any appreciable rain, either. When you need heat, it is cold. When you need cold, it is warm. It is a confusing place to have a garden.
I have low chill hour fruit trees, but some of them don't get enough chill. The temperature has to drop below 45f to create chill. When a tree needs 400 chill hours, it needs to be below 45f for 400 hours. Sometimes, the nights get down that low for a few hours, but it would need a real winter child for several days to get close to chill hours. Many low chill trees need 200 hours or less.
Our apricot tree is supposed to be low chill. It has not made any fruit for the last 3 years and before that it had one good year. We think there may be some other reason why it fails to produce fruit, but weather is an important contributor.
On the other hand, the peach tree is a constant producer of large fruit in great quantity. It is about 20 years old now and still going strong.
So, this blog is about growing things in season and eating things grown in their season. Where I live, there is an abundance of seasonal produce and quite a lot of imported out of season produce. I also have the mystery seasons that make growing things possible at times when other areas cannot produce them. I am going to limit my blog to growing things in my own weird seasonal area and not talk about those short seasons to the north or the desert areas to the east.
What grows here and when?  This has taken me years to figure out and every year it is a little different. The summers have been scorching hot. Corn, peppers and tomatoes are just about the only reliable plants lately. And you have to water them with a precious resource. Corn takes a lot of water so I try to water at night when there is less evaporation. This time of the year means no root crops, no lettuce, no strawberries, no tender greens or peas, very limited selection. Most of the spring stuff is long over. This summer we had lots of overcast days that were still warm. We could grow squash, peas, beans, potatoes, kale and chard into July. Good variety.
I had snow peas and kale in abundance, but the overcast thing killed all the garlic and after a short time the squash started getting mildew. The ground was not warm enough. The tomatoes and peppers didn't do well.
In my grandmother's time, gardeners would grow a couple of acres of different things. I am limited to 4 8ftx4ft boxes. I have to select my plants and seeds carefully to maximize my planting area and I often will grow intensively. Every couple of years I empty the large compost boxes and chop up the compost, then space it into the garden beds. I try to do this between seasons. My grandmother grew lots of greens under a tree and potatoes, corn and other heat loving things in the sunny area. When she had too much of one item she would swap with another neighbor for other stuff. I don't have any neighbors who produce anything, so swapping is out.
This now brings us to the real issue of eating within a season- boredom. When you get snow peas for days on end, it becomes difficult to find new recipes. I have about 5 good recipes for snow peas. At the peak of the productions, we would have to rotate these recipes every 5 days for about 3 weeks. My husband just won't eat like that. Snow peas are not his favorite, but he will eat a few at a time- like in a salad or soup. Eating a whole dinner loaded with snow peas is not a happy thing for him. And tomatoes are O.U.T. out unless it is tomato sauce.
I did a lot of preserving and pickling. If you eat preserved fruit and vegetables are you cheating the eating in the season thing?
Back to the garden. I decided to skip planting a hot weather garden this year- no corn or tomatoes. I went on a vacation and came back to some scorching heat. When September started, I planted some half summer half spring items- radish, lettuce, spinach, pumpkin, kale, onions, green beans. All of them are doing just fine right now. Nights have been around 60f or warmer. Fog, yes, no rain, yes, but not destructively hot during the day. Things are looking good.
If you grow things out of the normal season, does it cancel your eat within the seasons efforts?
I have all these questions and no real answers- but if it grows where you are, when you are growing it, then it is in its season. So if I get strawberries this month, they are in season. And the items I pickled are in season as well. And the fruit I froze is in season as well. As the lines blur from season to season, it is not difficult to see that something from south America is very close to being in season in south United States. It doesn't seem to make any difference if you eat items from other countries.
I eat fresh when ever possible. I pickle, freeze and preserve excess since I can't trade with anyone.
To me the idea of Eating Seasonally is not well thought out. And probably not practical.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

A Year of Spinning Cotton

I started this a year ago. I typed nothing. It is harvest time again.
In November 2016, I had managed to finish spinning the 2015 cotton while collecting the 2016 cotton. Whew! it was a lot of work.
Guess what? It is October 2017 and I have 8 more bags of 2016 cotton to spin and I have lots of 2017 cotton happening.
If I were a slave or peasant from Turkey, this would be my life- spin, pick, water, spin, spin, weave. A never ending stream of cotton, cotton seeds, and cotton spinning.  We are talking about the 1800s maybe in some parts of the world.
So why do I grow cotton. I often ask myself. I even took out some plants this last winter so there would be less. I think the answer is that I can't have sheep, it is too warm to wear wool here, it is too warm and dry to grow flax and process linen, and I like the idea of having something homegrown to spin.
But I have to say that I have not had as much time for spinning, weaving or knitting as I once had. And this is causing a yarn pile up.
I have decided that 2017/2018 is the year to weave out. I may not get the 2016 cotton spun before the 2018 harvest, but that is what happens. I only have so much time and so many hands.
But just so you know, I still love cotton.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Which came first? Beer or Bread

We have gone down this road before. I grew wheat and realized that wheat was not the staff of life. So I decided to try  hull less oats. The package came with about 30 seeds. I prepared the bed and planted in the fall- like for winter wheat. WRONG.
Oats are a spring crop. Warm and wet is what they want. So eventually they did grow because it is not so cold here, and the did go to seed. And I did harvest several bowls full from my 20 or so plants.
As plants, each seed makes a large clump of grass about the size of a small dessert plate. It grows at different speeds so some parts are going to seed while others are still growing and go to seed later. This will mean your harvest is several stages if you are harvesting by hand, which I did.
As the plant starts to go to seed, the first few stalks of flowers (I am not sure what these parts are called on oats) are mostly for making pollen. The plants seems to need gravity to pollinate although I did see some bee activity and some other bugs. This might also be a wind type of pollination. Which ever it is, the lower parts get pollinated better than the first top ones.
Now for the tricky part- competition and harvesting.
The literature I read said to harvest in the Dough stage, when the seed is still soft. If you wait until it is hard, it will fall out while harvesting. There was no discussion about insects or birds. Birds love this stuff. They attack the seeds even in the milk stage. The insects love this stuff also. They attack the whole plant. Big and small, insects were causing lots of seed damage at all stages.
When the harvest was in, I let the seed pods dry in bowls and watched little bugs run all over. Then it was time for the fun part- getting the good seed out of the pod or husk.
About 1/3 of the seed was not Hull Less. what a surprise! I got to see how both types work. Here again, with rustic tools, probably what pre-civilized man could make, I attempted to extract the seeds from the hulls. Extremely time consuming. Yet, the process, like with wheat, is perfectly suited to a birds beak.
Now a cow can eat the whole plant down to the ground. The cow can digest the grass, hull and seed. The birds are there for the seeds and maybe will use some of the grass to build a nest. They might also enjoy a few of the bugs.
So this brings me to the original question- what came first? Beer or bread? And I say it was beer. This is because you can sprout the grain for the enzymes needed to convert the starch to sugar, then ferment the sugar, without having to remove the seed from the hull. Just ferment the whole thing. There is a pounding that happens after the seed is sprouted, but this can be done in a rock bowl with a heavy stick. After fermenting, the liquid is strained through a woven basket and the residue is fed to the cows, chickens and other grazing animals.
It is possible to pound some grain out of this for human consumption, but to get enough to make bread would take a week of hard labor. I would rather have beer and steak and skip the bread altogether.
If I were to try this on a large scale, I would grow the grain and feed it to chickens, then eat eggs and chickens. If I have large fields, I would have cows for milk, cheese and meat. There are much better things to eat than grains. Maize is pretty easy to grow and eat. Potatoes are lovely. And all fruits and vegetables seem to be great for  growing and easy harvest. So I am content to let the grains feed the animals. I have collected a bowl full of oats. I might make some oat meal later on, but for  the most part, grains are a  modern food.
Final numbers- The oats produced 4 ounces of grain. The wheat produced about 1 pound and the corn (maize) was the real winner. If I have to grow grain, it will be maize/corn. Easy to harvest, easy to extract seed, easy to prepare (polenta). Next year, a bigger corn crop. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Garden to Kitchen Experiments

Last spring (2016), I planted some lovely corn. Some of it was a purplish large corn like and Inca corn. Some was very tiny little red Strawberry Corn. And some was a kind of multi-color small corn. It was supposed to be some kind of popping corn, but none of it was suitable for eating fresh. After harvesting, drying and popping, I found that the corn was not consistent enough to get a good popping going. This left me with about a quart of kernels and no real idea of what to do with them.
Today I decided to grind them with my grain grinder to make polenta. This turned out to be a pretty good plan. The corn ground up nicely. I mixed it all together so that the big fat corn was in with the tiny red corn. All seemed fine and happy.
I started using some of this ground corn to make a polenta to see how it did. What I found was the home grown corn did not have as much starch as commercial ground corn. And the skin, which had all the color, was pretty tough. It took about 1/2 cup of my corn, 2 cups of water, some salt and about a tablespoon of regular ground corn to make a decent polenta texture.
After cooking and letting it set, the mass was kind of soft but you could cut it with a knife into portions. I was mostly disappointed in the flavor. No corn taste. Very bland. Lots of fiber from the skin, though. This made it kind of chewy.
I boosted the flavor with a little bit of duck fat from our Thanksgiving dinner and a bit more salt. Not as healthy, but made it worthy of eating it.
So in the final analysis, I have to say that growing the little Strawberry corn was fun and pretty but kind of useless. We are back to the MaryAnn and Ginger comparisons. The really pretty stuff is not very useful. There are breeds of corn that are specific for popping, there are hulless varieties and corn that is good for eating right off the plant. There are some that are best for grinding into flour or meal. I definitely had fun, but will not plant these again.
Now I have to figure out what to do with a quart of ground corn. Birdseed? I don't have chickens right now, but I think they would have loved it.