28 November 2008

The Naked-Seeded Pumpkin

The story of a pumpkin. In 2007 I grew pie pumpkins, because I love pumpkin pie, and other pumpkin related deserts. When I saw the Naked-Seeded Pumpkin in a seed catalogue in the spring of this year, I was delighted. There are no nut-trees on our property, and sunflower seeds are difficult to hull, if you can beat the birds to the harvest, so we have little in the way of nuts and seeds in our diet. I really only miss them in dessert recipes that call for walnuts or almonds. I figured I could substitute pumpkin seeds, and seeing as they are easy to grow, and easy to harvest, along with the benefit of using the flesh as well as the seed, I knew this was a pumpkin variety for our garden.

We started our seedlings indoors, in late April, and transplanted 10 pumpkin seedlings into the garden June 7th. The plants grew vigorously, and resisted powdery mildew, despite the moderately high numbers of cucumber beetles (who transmit the mildew). Each plant only put out about two fruit, that had a chance of making it in our short season. But they were also planted in new ground, and had too much weed competition for their liking. In well-tended ground, the yeild would be double. But the pumpkins were large, and while the butternut and curry squash were ripening, they were still green and growing. I had to pick them green, late one evening with a heavy frost settling.
But of course I was anxious to try them, and open one up to see what kind of seed harvest I could expect. Even green, the flesh was tasty, not something I would eat mashed as a vegetable, but great in desserts.
The seeds were easy to seperate out of the pulp. Washed and weighed raw, one pumpkin yeilded 150g of seed (just over 1/4lb). And the seeds were delicious. Once dried for storage they lost about half of their weight. Each pumpkin has yeilded between 75-100g of dried pumpkin seed. So five or six pumpkins would yeild a pound of dried seeds. Along with about 8lbs of flesh on each pumpkin. From ten plants I harvested 150 lbs of pumpkin flesh and will probably get about 2 1/2 lbs dried seed.
The pumpkins ripened in the curing process, and are storing very well, even better than the butternut squash. I roast a whole pumpkin, cuting it open first to collect the seeds, wash and let the seeds dry in a warmish dry place (same as for seed saving) for about a week. Then I scrape out the cooked flesh, mash it with a potato masher, and store it in jars in the refriderator (or cooler in my case), until I use it all up, and cook another. I am hooked on pumpkin cookies and cakes. And until the goats have their kids, we are without milk, hence without pumpkin pie. Organic rice milk doesn't really cut it as a substitute! But these pumpkin cookies have been our power bars, giving us that extra energy for a bike ride home.

Here's my recipe:
mix together
2 cups cooked mashed pumpkin
1/2 to 1 cup sugar or honey (depending on your taste, I tend to like less sweet than too sweet)
1 or 2 eggs (depending on the hens)
1/2 cup if 2 eggs, 3/4 cup if 1 egg, oil or butter

mix seperately
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats (optional)
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2-4 tbsp ground pumpkin seed (either mixed in, or as topping--see below)
cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom (mix and match to your taste)

Stir dry ingredients into pumpkin mixture. Drop by spoonful onto greased cookie sheets, or pour into greased and floured cake pan. Bake 15-20 min at 325-350 for cookies. Bake 30-40 min at 325-350 for cake.

So far I have about a pound of dried pumpkin seeds. I have put them into bread, as well as cookies and deserts. They make a good snack, and are delicious in granola or oatmeal. They would make a nice addition to cracker recipes, and could be used in pasta sauces or other dishes. Let me know if you think of a good way to enjoy pumpkin seeds.

I thought I would show a picture of my roller mill. This is what I use mostly to grind anything from flour to oats to pumpkin seeds. It has different settings, and is geared, for easy grinding. I took the picture with the hopper off to show the stainless steel rollers.

Here's one of the pumpkin cakes, I made them short to bake quickly. The pumpkin seed topping is made with 2 tbsp ground pumpkin seed, 2 tbsp sugar or honey, and enough olive oil (or butter) to grease it up. Sprinkle on top of unbaked cake.

Winter delights

Penelope and Juniper are looking quite pregnant. The books say that most of the development happens in the last two months of prengancy, and they are due anytime between 6-8 weeks from now. The previous owner did not write down the breeding dates, so we have to watch them closely. One tip I read is that the careful goatherder will be able to observe when the first kid moves into the birth canal, by a slight slimming on the right side. This gives about a 12 hour notice before labor. The kids are carried on the right, the rumen on the left. Overall I am happy with their condition, we have been feeding them our homegrown grains to bring their condition up to snuff before they kid, and they are doing a great job picking off the heads and digesting the whole grain. The chickens do a great job at it too.

Winter has certainly arrived, we got about a foot of snow on Saturday. This is our winter road. Mr. Fritillary did some maintenance on the bikes, pumped up the tires and greased everything well, to resist rusting from salty winter roads. In the summer our 15 mile round trip commute down to the internet access center takes about 15 minutes each way, but slick winter roads can slow us down a bit. Although cold usually doesn't deter us from making our way down here about twice a week, wind and snow can. I wear quilted overalls, a down coat, and my treasured handknit long underwear, and wool bra, along with copious scarves, hats, gloves and a few pairs of socks. I barely feel the cold, even when it gets down to -20C. Haha, I look like a marshmallow, but I can still pedal!

But I have quite a number of blogs that I want to write, and two a week hasn't been covering it, so I am going to post a couple of blogs when I am down here, to make up for not having daily internet access.

Our driveway does not get cleared until spring, we pack a trail over the snow with snowshoes, and our occasional visitors park up on the road, and walk in. The dogs have to leap to get through the snow on our morning walk, as we head out to road for a good stretch.

Winter has beauties that rival summer blooms and breezes. Icicles hang off our rough-cut porch roof. The light reflecting off the snow on a clear day is dazzling. The solar panel collects nearly as much energy from a short winter day, as a long summer day, with the added boost of reflection.

The south-facing kitchen window always forms these fan shaped intricate ice crystals.

And the north-facing windows form sharp angular ice crystals, quite beautiful really.

Brussels Sprouts are practically designed to withstand frost and snow. The leaves protect the little cabbages along the stalk. They have finished growing, but I am still harvesting bits of green. The winterbore kale is doing very well, I am still harvesting a pound a week, but will probably get one last harvest or two. As long as we still have some greens from the garden, I can put off opening my canned green beans and peas, our only greens except sprouts and sauerkraut, until spring.

The last of my green tomatoes are ripening well, they have stored, and slowly ripened over six weeks in the cold room. Again, the longer I can use these, the longer I can put off using up the canned tomato sauce in the pantry. Afterall, it has to last until next August!

24 November 2008

Sweater socks: Part 2

Sweaters that make the best socks are XL men's knit, with a tight stitch. Round neck or turtle neck are better than V-neck. I am also experimenting with fleece pull-overs as sock material. In the winter we often wear two layers of socks. The knit wool sock close to the skin would draw moisture, and the fleece sock over top would provide more insulation.

This is an XL men's wool knit, measuring 23 inches across the body. Excuse the poor quality image. This is an ideal sweater to make two pairs of knee-hi socks from the body, and one mid-calf pair from the sleeves. These are simple straight tube socks. Take a calf measurment for your own custom socks, and use that as your starting point. I have found that 11" works great for both of us. I would call that a medium.

The red yarn in this blurry picture *oops* marks out where I will cut. The best and most straignt forward sock comes from the middle 11" strip. Front and back will match up as one pair. The side cuts are a little funny because of the armholes. Measuring just above the waistband, I cut these at 6" from the seam, both front and back, leaving the seam in place. I make these "flank" cuts a little wider to compensate for the narrowing along the armhole. Starting at the waist band, cut straight up to the shoulder seam, cut along the shoulder seam, and down along the inside of the armhole seam. Do this front and back. Cut off the neck band. You should have something like this. A pair of flank socks.

An easy pair of tube socks.
And a pair of sleeve socks.

Remember that the waist band and wrist bands of the sweater are going to be the calf bands on the sock, and the shoulders are going to be the toes. If you are dealing with a V-neck, then your middle socks will be shorter, either mid-calf or ankle length depending on the sweater. Cut the back strip to match the front.

Now that you have your sock material cut, fold them inside out, and start sewing the seam from the calf band, down to the toe. Start with the strips from the middle of the sweater, they are the easiest pair. I make a narrow seam, only 1/4", so that the seam is not bulky. A bulky seam could be uncomfortable in the toes of tight fitting shoes. I sew the seam twice over, with a tight stitch to prevent the seam from pulling out.

Round the toe, then try the sock on, inside out, to see if it fits. You may want to make the ankles narrower if they sag, or you may find that the calf needs to be tighter. You can always make them tighter, until you get your own measurments worked out.

When you are happy with your first pair, tackle the funky armhole socks. For this pair, remember that I had cut them at 6" from either side of the seam, because the sweater was wide enough. So I started my seam at the calf, a 1/2" from the edge to maintain an 11" calf measurment. When I got to where the armhole narrows, I returned to a 1/4" seam following the contour of the fabric, rounded the toe, and continued around back to the body seam. I tried the sock on, and found that the ankle was baggy, and took it in until I was happy with the fit.

Now for the sleeves, they usually taper down to the wrist. The wrist band will usually fit nicely just below the calf. Make a mark where the sleeve gets wider than your basic width measurment (that's 5 1/2" for me or half of 11"). If you look back to the sleeve picture, the tape measure marks out where the sleeve reaches 5 1/2" wide, and the red yarn marks out where I will make my seam. Start the seam at your marker, and round out your toe as usual. Try it on before you cut the material, depending on the sweater you may need to make an adjustment.

When you are pleased with the fit, trim off the excess fabric, turn the sock right side out, and try it on again. The seam at the toe and running along either side of the calf has never bothered me.

Narrower sweaters may not allow room for three pairs. In that case I would take the middle strip from front and back to make one pair, and the sleeves to make one other pair. Women's and children's sweaters will make great short summer socks or kid's winter socks. Don't throw out those turtlenecks either, they make great neck warmers, especially for doing barnwork where a dangling scarf might get in the way. I have tried making gloves out of sweater fabric as well. Experiment and have fun!

18 November 2008

Some of the little things

We do the best we can to live according to our conscience, here on our homestead. And living within limited means dictates some of our less-than-ideal choices. We are always making choices, and usually making small sacrifices, to find a way to live conscientiously: to responsibly manage our time, our physical and mental energy, the natural resources on our homestead and in our community, and of course, our limited cashflow. We set priorities for the necessities, and make long term plans to meet wider goals. Most everything our society takes for granted is largely destructive at it's root: our electric grid, food system, transportation, and production/consumption cycle. We have made those large lifestyle changes to address the bulwark of our concerns, reducing our power consumption to a level we could affordably produce with renewable energy, growing most of our food, living car-free out in the country by sharing rides and organizing monthly town trips, and for the rest either going without or buying responsibly.

For most things, we prefer to buy second hand, for small appliances often times older models have higher quality manufacturing. I picked up this table top sewing machine for $5, in great condition. All of our clothes are second hand, there's just too much used clothing out there, in perfect condition, and with a sewing machine just about anything can be made to fit. I also love to knit, and am a novice spinner, so our hats, gloves, scarves, and even undergarments, are homemade. And will one day, be made from homegrown fiber.
But I don't knit socks anymore. It's not that I don't like to, it is just that they ware out too fast for the amount of time I put into knitting them, and the cost of the wool. A hand-knit pair of socks costs $3 and about 3 hours, and usually only last a month. But store bought socks, or the pitiful collection of thin cotton socks in the second hand bin, just don't cut it for our winters. And my dear husband certainly deserves good winter socks, he is the one usually doing any unpleasant work outside in cold weather, while I am inside the warm house baking and well, knitting. So I would knit socks regardless, if we hadn't come up with an acceptable alternative.

Our local second hand clothing shop has an under-utilized abundant resource of out-of-fashion wool ski sweaters. These sweaters are tightly knit and make a very durable and warm fabric, perfect for socks. One large man's sweater will make about three pairs of knee-high socks, costing maybe 25 cents and 10 minutes a pair, and lasting about six months. Use the waist and wrist edges as the top of the sock, depending on the particular sweater, either cut out two strips between 5-6 inches wide, the full length of the sweater, or one 10-12 inch block. With the fabric inside out, sew up the seam or seams on the sides of the sock, rounding the toe. The sleeves usually make a shorter pair of socks.

Make your seams thin, and go over it twice with a small stitch to reinforce the seam, or if you have a machine that reinforces edges, use the appropriate stitch.

And voila! Great winter socks.

12 November 2008

Homegrown Popcorn!

In our garden this year we planted about 20 row feet of popcorn. Not being a necessary crop I demoted it to the newly turned ground with just enough composted cow's manure to give it a try. We had to be careful with our precious compost this year, and make sure that the food crops we really rely on would yield enough to feed us for the year. So the popcorn came up, but it never got too high, only about 3 feet tall. But they put out tassels, and eventally small ears. Again, not being high on my priority list, I did not give them the attention they deserve, and never checked the ears for worms. In fact, I really didn't think there would be much of a harvest there. But after the first frost, as I harvested all of the squash and other frost tender crops, I checked one of the popcorn ears to see if there was anything worth salvaging. I was pleasantly surprised with these diminutive cobs, only about 3 inches long, and many of them damaged by corn earworms, but none the less golden popcorn kernels.
The kernels were already hardened on the cobs, but I let them dry inside for a couple of weeks. Then on a rainy day I shelled the corn, and sorted out the damaged kernels. I also saved the best, undamaged cobs for seed next year.
And of course, I had to try popping the corn! I have a favorite popcorn pot because it has a tight fitting lid, covered the bottom with olive oil (when I have ghee on hand, that is even better), heated the oil and threw in about 1/4 cup of popcorn kernels. Then goes the lid, and the pot sits atop the hottest part of the cookstove with a roaring fire going. These kernels started popping almost right away, the ones from the bulk store take a minute or two to pop, but fresh must be best. Tastes great too, with sea salt and dried basil, a good rainy afternoon movie snack. We watched "Fiddler on the Roof".

10 November 2008

A Goat's Economy

This is what we get these days. We no longer get showers. When it rains, it really rains. Twice we have gotten a wheelbarrow of water in 24 hours, at least 5 inches of rain, only ten days apart. The Climate Change models for our area are proving true. I am not sure how much this would be, if it were snow instead of rain! But the forecast both times predicted 1/2 to 1 inch of rain, not 5 inches, which is I think, the result of funding cuts to local weather stations.

This kind of rain keeps me pretty close to the house, and I have been reading up on goats. Our goat-tending neighbor down the road dropped off his goat library, five titles in all, touching on all issues related to goat care and farming. One book in particular has caught my interest, Goat Husbandry by David Mackenzie. In the first few chapters he details the reasons why goats have never fit well with industrialized farming. Goats have always been the cornerstone of subsistence farming, especially those pushed to marginal farmland. I was amazed to read our story echoed in his pages, a story centuries old, of subsistence farmers who tried to raise a family milk cow on marginal land, as a way to try and feed the family as well as raise a supplemental income. More often than not, the needs of the cow would push them into debt, and the needs of milk on the table and cream for income, would deprive the calf of the only protein rich food available, stunting the calf, and further jeprodizing the family's ability to get out of debt.

So I am exploring what it means to be a subsistence farmer, and how subsistence farming works within a community. Our ideals of farming have changed dramatically since we began our adventure. We used to think of our ideal farmstock as consisting of cows, pigs and chickens, with heavy draft horse breeds providing for the extensive amount of grain cultivation and hay necessary to maintain the stock. These animals in particular fit well into industrial or market economies. We are now transitioning to goats, sheep, rabbits and ducks, using only standard horse breeds or possibly draft ponies for the relatively small grain and cultivation needs. Goats, rabbits and ducks (with the exception of sheep), have never fit well into the traditional market farm economy, but are relics of a still older, and perhaps more stable, subsistence farm economy.

03 November 2008

Viva la Kraut!

Thanks to Paul at A posse ad esse, I was encouraged to try my hand at making saurkraut. I have been a reader of Weston Price material, and know that fermented food is great for health, I am a fan of yogurt, but like Paul, had never incorporated saurkraut in my diet. But I did put in a few cabbages this spring with the intention of trying a batch.

Like the apple cider vinegar, turning cabbages to saurkraut is really quite simple. I used the ratio I have seen in many blogs and books: 5lbs shreaded cabbage to 3 Tbsp salt. I had 7lbs of cabbage, cored, and sliced as thin as I could with a large knife. The cabbage is Early Jersey Wakefield, it's a summer cabbage dating back to the 1700's, and it is one of the only open pollinated varieties I can find up here in Canada. The heads will not store over the winter unless they are fermented.I tossed it with the salt, mixing it well, and packed it into a gallon jar, tamping it down with my fist until the juice started to run and fill most of the air pockets between the shreaded cabbage. Then to seal the cabbage from the air, and to keep it below the brine, a clean plastic bag filled with brine sits atop. Thanks Paul, for sharing that great tip!
It's alive! Within 24 hours my batch of saurkraut started bubbling and fermenting. I set it next to the fermenting apple juice, behind the stove. I'm not sure if the same micro-critters colonize the briny cabbage, but it's caught the fermentation fever. So now all I do is remove and rinse the bag once every week, and wait about 4 weeks for the taste test.