Today is the first anniversary of my blog. I had set a goal to keep it going for at least a year. I have enjoyed learning about the species that live at Halcyon, sharing what I learn with you, and honing my writing skills. I hope to keep it going, but I also hope to increase the time that I spend on other writing projects, so we’ll see how it goes. Your feedback and encouragement have been a big help in keeping me inspired. However, if you recall my first post (http://www.halcyonnature.com/2012/08/18/aldo-leopold-or-don-juan-de-marco/ ), I also wanted to accomplish something I called quasi-homesteading. So I thought this anniversary post should detail some of the ways that I fed my pioneer spirit over the past year.
Do-it-yourself (DIY) is a misnomer in my humble opinion. I have had to acquire (doing my part to help the economy) quite a number of tools and gadgets in order to do things myself. I have also needed help whether it came in the form of advice from friends, old wisdom from a book, reinvented wisdom from the Internet, or many-hands strength from my husband and children. For example, I cannot move the DIY chicken coop by myself, I could not eat homemade soups – we have almost eliminated canned goods – without the help of my amazing All American Pressure Cooker/Canner, and I will not get much food from my garden without the help of our $660.00 investment in an electric fence. I remember reading a book about farming life in the early 1900s and being amazed at all the tools they needed to survive their homesteading life.
Oh, wait! I don’t need to do this to survive. I am, by accident of birth and through decisions I’ve made for myself and with my husband, thriving as a middle class American. I can drive to stores, farmer’s markets, shop on the Internet and get 2-day free delivery. I have worked in much less physically demanding jobs, and could do so again. So why am I grunting, groaning, and nursing sore muscles and pulled tendons? Why am I fighting the elements, the deer, the voles, and the toxic juglone exuding from our plethora of walnuts? This is not easy to answer. It’s true I have a pioneer spirit that needs nurturing. It’s true that I want to eat healthier and not give my dollars to big agribusinesses that don’t care about our health or the environment. But I think there are reasons less tangible, even to me right now, but related to the cliché of feeling most satisfied with a life of hard work and playing in the dirt. Another reason has to do with just wanting to know if I can live this way.
My chickens were a year old August 1st! I am happy to say they are alive and thriving. Well, mostly (http://www.halcyonnature.com/2013/01/06/chicken-matters/). I might get a few more at some point, but I’m not keen on building another coop right now. Perhaps just two or three more could all fit nice and snuggly.
Besides the large-scale projects like chickens and the garden, I have enjoyed dabbling with many smaller projects. I am dry curing a ham in order to try to capture some memories of Spain. I’ve done this before and though this pig did not eat acorns in the forest, I think the Jamón Serrano will indeed bring back the flavors and good times we had in Spain.
I am curing bacon now. It is fantastic. The only drawback being that we are finding it very hard to eat store-bought bacon now.
I’ve made a demi-glaze following the instructions in December 2008 issue of Saveur Magazine. I froze it in ice cube trays to have ready-to-use portions. It is wonderful to add to soups or stews, and to make gravy.
I’ve eaten dandelion greens and made dandelion wine. The wine was surprisingly tolerable, maybe even good. It was also easy to make. However, I only make two bottles and since I still have some left, I suspect that it is not quite good enough to spend time doing every year.
We love to eat soup in the winter. I have made canned chicken soup, split pea soup, and black bean soup. I have also canned chick peas (so they are ready to use and not from a can), peach jam, autumn olive jam (http://www.halcyonnature.com/2012/10/21/autumn-olive/ ), cherries, peaches, applesauce, plum preserves, tomato sauce, salsa, and homemade baked beans. These are all worth it. It does take time, but I know what ingredients I am eating. It is all real food.
I have fermented pickles and cabbage. This is also easy, tastes good, and works 75% of the time. The rest of the time I get molds that I am not willing to rinse off. I cultured too many bad things from foodstuff back in college. I guess my gut is not as much of a pioneer wannabe as my spirit. Then there’s that notion that I don’t need to eat this food to survive like families did in the past, so I just end up composting it, mold and all, when this happens.
I have played with being able to make a good loaf of bread. I know I have succeeded because my husband likes it! I am using wheat berries and grinding them myself. I am continuing to experiment with other breads now too.
I made my own vanilla with fresh vanilla beans and vodka. This is much cheaper than buying the little vials in the store. I made cranberry liquor for Christmas gifts this year. They were a big hit. Ever have homemade tonic? After being frustrated from a quest to find tonic without high fructose corn syrup – this is possible, but very expensive – I decided to make it myself. I know, why do I worry about the corn syrup and still drink the gin? I don’t have a good answer for that either, but I am enjoying my gin and tonics. You can find recipes on the Internet, but I’d be happy to share my trials and errors with anyone interested.
So I want to keep doing most of what I’ve tried. I want to learn more about past techniques and balance such knowledge with present day science and technology. I have a lot to learn. The cycling of seasons gives me ample chances to learn from my mistakes and to try again. I am thankful for my husband who is supportive of these endeavors. One day all the tomatoes I can will come from my garden and not farmer’s markets. One day I’ll have okra to add to my soups, and beans to put up, and lots of other things that the deer took this year (http://www.halcyonnature.com/2013/07/29/dear-deer/ ). I want to figure out how to easily process all the black walnuts we have on our property because I fondly remember the walnut sauce we put on ice cream when we were kids. And I am dreaming, just maybe, of goats. Or bees. Or both.
I’m spending a day next week helping a friend who really is homesteading. She raises goats for milk and meat and enough chickens to not need to buy them from the grocery. She loves and respects her animals. She gardens and cans and makes bread and cheese. I suspect she works a lot harder than I do every day. I also suspect she goes to bed each night filled with a lot of that personal satisfaction of a job well done. I’m looking forward to how a day working with her will inspire me.