Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Makin' Granola while the Sun Shines

The weather this spring has been so erratic, one never knows if it's safe to plant those summer plants that are susceptible to frost.  We finally set out our vulnerable peppers and tomatoes, only to learn it's supposed to hit the 30s Thursday night.  On the bright side, it's always a good time to take advantage of a sunny day to make granola.
While this can be done in the oven, using the sun's heat is more environmentally friendly.  We build a solar dehydrator, which works great as a low-temp oven for baking granola and granola bars.  You could easily stick a cookie sheet in your car as well, which is not only "green", but also clearly the most inexpensive option; and some folks find that ingenuity irresistable. 

I mixed oats, local honey, a little oil, local pecans, and local peaches that I dried last year together with some spices and other goodies to yield a gallon of goodness for only a full day in the sun and pennies per serving compared to store-bought granola.  Let your imagination and taste buds lead a solar cooking adventure in your backyard, or sedan...

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Meet and Meat Block Party

Warning: graphic pictures to follow!
A few years ago we bought a couple of bottle calves: one for us, and one for Stan, who lives on adjoining land.  Stan was hoping his two brothers would follow him to Oklahoma for a stint.  Much to his dismay, one got married and moved with his wife to Romania to live in one of the few places in the world where traditional subsistence farming village life is still the mainstay (check them out at http://www.provisiontransylvania.com/.  His other brother decided to study in Norway rather that at NSU at the last minute, thus leaving Stan, one man, with an entire steer to himself.  Hmmm. 
We butchered our 18 month old steer in December of 2011.  Stan's steer stayed with us and kept on getting bigger, and bigger, until...
Stan doesn't live here full-time, but rather comes in bursts.  During his current visit, he decided to finally take care of his giant steer.  As much as I appreciate learning and doing all the hands-on work of feeding myself that I practically can, I have already had the pleasure of taking part in butching cattle for meat at the home - twice!  I figured this was plenty.  And, we still have plenty of beef in the freezer from our own butchering 16 months ago.  But, I was alone in urging Stan to take his animal to the slaughterhouse.  And in true Stan fashion, he invited all the neighbors who have not gotten together for a gathering of this magnitude or duration - well, not since we moved here in 2009, at least. 
Johnny tied up the steer.  Mike Brown showed up with the firearms, a 9mm, and shot the steer.  Curly lifted the animal with his tractor, where we proceeded to dump all his internal organs in to the back of Stan's pickup truck.  And believe me, we needed the pickup bed to contain them all.  I started to worry there wouldn't be much meat after all upon seeing the gigantic pile of guts.  HA!

 Next, Curly carried the carcass over to Stan's place where the rest of the butchering took place.  All hands were on deck to skin the animal.  And all were full of valuable advice on the best way to tie off the bung, amongst other tricky tasks. 
 The animal hung outside overnight in the gloriously low-30's temperature to cure until the next day. 

The group worked steady cutting the meat off the carcass into managable sized chunks - following the natural muscle groups.  The meat was freed from it's tough outer silver skin, tendons were removed, and the meat was cut into steaks, stew beef, roasts, or ground using Curly's electric grinder.  Genevieve and Calvin put the meat into packages using Curly's vacuum sealer. Johnny kept busy sharpening knives in between cutting meat.  Mike Thelander showed up on the third day with a delicious stew he made from the meat to nourish us through the final day of butchering and processing.  Jack Gandy, a cattle rancher, even showed up to share stories and photos about hog hunting and bachelor buck groups grazing on his rye field.  It was a big time had by all, and I learned a valuable lesson:  many hands really does make short work.  Not only that, but it isn't work when everyone is hanging out and visiting; sharing stories and getting reaquainted.  And much good eating will follow for everyone who helped, thanks to Stan, for nourishing our bellies and our souls. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

No whining about winnowing

As our last post of long ago mentioned, we harvested all our winter wheat last summer.  Here it is April, and we're still processing wheat, an activity we do in bursts as needed.  And since we do still shop at the grocery store, I don't NEED to thresh and winnow wheat every week, as I planned to do. 
Despite the day-long chore of many hands that is harvesting wheat, threshing and winnowing is an even more labor-intensive chore.  I used to think the word combine (pronounced COM-bine when, in this case, referring to that huge piece of agricultural equipment) was synonymous with all the evils of conventional, large-scale industrial monocropping agribusiness.  That is, until I learned that what a COMbine is: a machine that combines the tasks of harvesting and threshing and winnowing grain.  Hey, what a novel idea!  HA!  But for the home gardener, this is not only prohibitively expensive, but also all-around unnecessary.  Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of options for the modern back-to-the-lander.  But, by some lucky happenstance, I married an incredibly inventive man.  Check out this apparatus: 
So, we still thresh the wheat.  This means getting the wheat berries loose from the hulls.  First, we take a shock of wheat (see next to the barn), put it in a pillow case, and beat it repeatedly for a few minutes.  This breaks off the seed heads, and ideally you're left with just wheat straw.  Next, you twist the pillowcase closed, and rub your hands together vigorously with the wheat seeds between your hands.  This loosens many berries from the hulls.  Then you pour these into the contraption you see at your right (or a modified 55-gallon drum), insert your leaf blower, and simply sit back and wait.  The chaff blows out while the wheat berries are simply tossed around in circles inside. 
After it's all said and done, we really don't need to even use the bucket method to let the wind blow away the last little bits of chaff.  We do two bundles of wheat at a time, which will yield about a quart of wheat berries; more than a quart of flour.