Life in a 14 foot trailer can get very interesting. Especially when you’re trying to eat fresh, whole foods and your refrigerator will hold about enough for one day. Our fridge is about the size of a large cooler. Just try getting a gallon of raw milk, a half gallon of carrot juice, a quart of green juice, condiments, cheese, meats, salad fixin’s and enough other veggies and fruits in there for a week. Enter a new way of thinking about food storage.
Milk and juices get poured into pint canning jars with leakproof lids and they manage to squeeze in. Homemade yogurt and cheese are stored the same way. A small amount of meat fits in the freezer, along with the ice jugs for the cooler we use for extra produce. Eggs go in little tiny bins that fit in the door. I have always been big on canning homemade foods, but I am less inclined to want the extra sugar and salt these days. I want to know how they did it before canning kettles and pressure canners. For this reason, I have been reading up on fermented foods.
Fermenting foods is really a simple process, though it is time-consuming in the respect that you have to wait for the chemical reaction to take place before eating. The salt water brine reacts with the acids in the food and creates lactic acid, which preserves the food and creates the interesting flavors associated with fermented foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, yogurt and sourdough bread. Now I want to learn to ferment more foods on a regular basis. Especially since I am tired of the digestive upset I get with most conventional processed foods. I have made sourdough bread from my own starter. My sauerkraut was a big hit with my family a few years ago. This past year I fermented cucumbers and horseradish I picked up at the farmer’s markets I patronized every week. I made yogurt and cottage cheese from raw milk I got from my cow share program. I am feeling so much better since adding more fermented foods to my diet.
Why all this interest in fermenting? Other than the storage and preservation issues, I have found that eating fermented foods (homemade) every day has helped eliminate the problems I was having with my digestive tract. I also avoid store bought processed foods. Fermenting retains more of the nutrients in the foods being fermented, in addition to producing beneficial bacteria for the digestive tract. Think about the beneficial bacteria in yogurt – that’s what we’re talking about here. Fermented foods are also recommended as a daily addition to a diet designed to prevent and heal tooth decay.
There are a number of articles and websites about fermenting foods. One book I found helpful recently is Wild Fermentation, By Sandor Ellix Katz. In it, Katz recalls his grandmother’s fermented foods and explores the fermented foods of other cultures (no pun intended). He shares recipes in each category: dairy, vegetables, bread and several other types of food and beverage. He also offers general tips for fermenting, making starters and testing for readiness to eat. Another book I’m reading, Cure Tooth Decay, by Ramiel Nagy, includes detailed info on fermenting grains and legumes to remove the phytic acid and make them safer for eating. I think I’m going to pass on all that complicated process and just get good sourdough, but if you’re interested, it’s there. Numerous websites also offer recipes and tips on fermenting. Now I think I’m ready to make some yogurt.
That’s easy, don’t let it get sick! Aaarrgh! Bad soapmaker joke. Seriously, though, it’s one thing to pull out the folding table and make a batch of soap, but once the soap sets up and gets cut, it needs to sit around for about 5 weeks to completely neutralize the action of the lye and oils and evaporate some of the water so that the bars get nice and hard.
So maybe I’m giving away trade secrets, here. But really, anybody can look this up in about 5 seconds, anyway. My aim is to figure out how I’m going to store several batches of soap (I’m on a soapmaking spree), with adequate air flow, to properly cure into nice, hard, suds-making, creamy, soothing, gentle, cleansing cakes of goodness.
Keeping in mind that I am now living in a 14-foot trailer with an 11-year-old boy and our dog, matters get even more complicated. Last winter, we stayed in the RV and let the soap cure on the kitchen counters in the trailer. Now it needs to be out of the way, yet protected from dirt and damage, with plenty of air circulation. Hmm. We have a nice, big space on top of the fridge, which works for the first week or so until I get the next batch made. Then I have to get creative.
Under the beds, we have plenty of storage room. We keep working at getting rid of stuff we’re not using, so the area is becoming fairly organized and clutter free. At least on my end. On top of my tool box is just enough room for some flattish shoe box size containers of soap. Bars go in boxes, lids off, sit in storage as long as necessary to cure. Protected from elements, dirt, damage and in a climate controlled environment.
I love using my gentle, handmade, whole milk soaps. I would love to have you give them a try, too, and tell me what you think.
How nice it is to turn a knob and be warm. How expensive! How grateful we are to have finally installed a woodstove at the homestead. Our first several years here were all about keeping the thermostat low and bundling up. Admittedly, heating with wood can be a lot of work, especially when you cut your own firewood. But there is nothing else that takes the chill off like a toasty fire in the stove or fireplace. An added bonus is that the teapot placed on top of the hot stove will stay warm.
Wood heating is most practical if you have a wood lot, live near the forest, or have another nearby source of wood. We live near the forest, so the heating season starts in April or May. As soon as wood permits go on sale. We make a trip to the Ranger Station and buy our permit, which runs about $5 a cord. A cord is a neatly stacked pile of wood measuring 4x4x8 feet. We then tune up and sharpen the chain saw, gas up the truck and head out to the woods. There are limitations here as to what we can cut, we usually just go for trees that are dead and down. We get a lot of cedar and juniper this way and enough pine to get it started burning. Cedar and juniper are good, hard firewood choices as they tend to burn hot and for a long time compared to pine, which is very soft and burns fast, which is good for starting the fire.
We go woodcutting throughout the spring, summer, and fall. It’s a great excuse for a day in the forest and keeps us in shape. There is nothing like watching a young boy let loose his natural wildness and imagination in the woods. While mom loads the truck, her Indian scout prowls the perimeter, keeping away dragons, tigers, and bears. Some trees provide a lookout to watch for enemy soldiers. Others bridge raging rivers, while small, close stands of trees offer a hideout from bad guys. While we usually try to go wood gathering on the days the teddy bears have their picnic, we have yet to catch them at it. We keep trying, I think maybe they’ll invite us to join them when we do.
When winter comes we cover as much of the wood as we can to keep it dry and ready to burn. We bring several days’ supply into the house and stack it by the stove with plenty of dry kindling and newspaper. We make sure the chimney’s clean. Then begins the routine of starting the evening fire and banking it before bed. Scooping out ashes, stirring up the coals in the morning, adding more kindling and logs to warm the house. Sometimes it seems like a lot of work. But when we’re snuggled up in front of the fire with a good book and a hot drink, it’s all worth it.
Sometimes the weather just does what you want it to do around here. It rained Monday night most of the night and stayed nice and cool all day Tuesday. We propped the gutters up to drain into the buckets and they all got filled. Yeah! Our city well water (which we haul out to the homestead) is so hard, the plants eventually seem to stop responding to it. So having that rainwater really is a boost to the garden.
Mrs. D has her wood permit now, so we’ll start bringing in our fuelwood tomorrow. Mrs. D, being the delicate female that she is (tongue in cheek), can only handle a couple hours of cutting at a time, so this project will take until the forest closes to woodcutting in December. This will make for many hours of romping through the woods with L’il Homesteader, as well as numerous Teddy Bear Picnics. Such a good life it is!