Sunday, December 14, 2008

Serious Dough

We learned how to bake bread at Motherhouse's Old Style Life Skills Serious Dough Workshop on Saturday. It was a nourishing experience in many ways - Bread feeds us, unites us, and comforts us.

The first thing we did at the workshop was grind hard red wheat berries into flour. Each family needed enough whole wheat flour to make Basic Bread and Frankie's Irish Soda Bread. As you can see, it was a joint effort!

This Serious Dough workshop was the third bread baking workshop offered since Motherhouse began it's Old Style Life Skills Series in 2006. One of the attendees at the first workshop has been baking bread ever since! She returned to this workshop to demonstrate how she uses a Grain Mill Attachment on her Kitchen Aid.

With freshly ground flour in hand, each family paired up with another family. We warmed up some Local Farm milk and stirred in salt and honey. We mixed and worked in the flour. Our teacher and the founder of Motherhouse, Debra Tyler, told us our measurements didn't have to be exact. Every time we make bread it will be different, she said.

Debra had cubes of yeast as well as packages of dry yeast for the Basic Bread. Debra explained that yeast is a living organism and it would feed on the sugars in the flour and grow. As it grows, it gives off carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide from the yeast fills thousands of balloon-like bubbles in the dough and this is how yeasted bread rises. This is also what gives a loaf of bread it's airy texture, once baked.

Kneading the dough is one of the most fun and important steps in bread baking. To knead: Turn the dough out on a clean, floured work surface and flour your hands, as well. Using the heel of your hands, compress and push the dough away from you, then fold it back over itself. Give the dough a little turn and repeat this. You will get into a rhythm with these motions. Keep folding over and compressing the dough until it becomes smooth and slightly shiny. The most common test for "doneness" is to press it with your finger. If it springs back, it's ready for rising. Debra said that kneaded bread dough has been likened to a baby's bottom.

Time is as essential an ingredient as flour is in making bread - time for the dough to rise naturally. While making bread is an all day process, it doesn't take all day, Debra said. It just requires being attentive to it. If Debra is not going to be at home, she takes the bread she has started with her in the car, so that she can punch it down after rising. Everyone at the workshop took their Basic Bread dough home to let it rise for the second time and then bake.

We also made a quick bread - Frankie's Irish Soda Bread. Quick breads are quick in two ways, Debra explained. They do not contain yeast, so you don't have to set the dough aside to rise. They are also quick in how you handle them - mix just enough to combine the flour and other ingredients. If you handle quick bread too much it will be tough.

The Tassajara Bread Book is what got Debra, and many others, started baking bread. It was first published in the late 1960's and written by Edward Espe Brown, then a young Zen student who lived and worked at a Zen retreat named Tassajara, in Monterey County, Calif. Everyone at the Serious Dough Workshop went home with a copy of the 25th Anniversary Edition.

In a 2003 New York Times Magazine article, Flour Power, about Edward Espe Brown and his book, he says: ''When I was growing up, nobody could show me how to bake bread -- and it's only gotten worse. It seems such a shame that as a culture we don't teach our children about the basic things in life -- bread making, gardening, sewing -- and the value of work. At some point, all these things got to be beneath our dignity. If you can't work with your hands, you lose the richness of your life and the sense of being productive.''

He continues: ''In my book, I wanted in a small way to share the fact that you could actually learn skills in your life that would help you become able to take care of yourself. It's so simple. It's such a clear vision. People have the capacity to cook and garden and farm, and we don't use it. It's very sad to me that it's come to this."

Find resources and more details on Motherhouse Market for: the beautiful mixing bowls which were lent to Motherhouse by Cornwall Bridge Pottery for the workshop; the hard red wheat berries from Al Earnhart's Lightening Tree Farm; Hand-Turned Grain Mills; Celtic Sea Salt; Local Farm Milk; the Tassajara Bread Book; and recipes for Basic Bread and Frankie's Irish Soda Bread.

Before the flour, the grain.
Before the grain, the mill.
Before the mill, the earth,
the sun, the beauty of God's will.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mother Daughter Retreat

At the Mother Daughter Retreat last Saturday, we had a relaxing day of quiet activities for mothers and daughters to share. We put our hair in a do, made gifts in a jar, and ate lunch in a pocket!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Blood and Guts

For thousands of years, people have been coming together to slaughter animals, prepare the various meats, and eat a meal. Although not common now a days, this is exactly what happened in the November Old Style Life Skills Workshop - Blood and Guts. Chris Hopkins and Francisco Alves led this workshop with gratitude for how animals nourish us. The emphasis was on how to use all the parts of an animal. A full report, with recipes, will be published soon on the Local Farm web site.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

What's In A Pickle?

It's just over a week since the OSLSS What's In a Pickle Workshop and I'm drinking the Beet Kvass we made that day. It is bubbly and tangy and I've grown to love it! I brought it home and let it sit on the counter to ferment. I shook it every day for a week before I began hearing it fizz. This, I learned at the workshop, meant that it was fermenting.

Jill Oneglia led the What's In a Pickle Workshop for Motherhouse and she explained what pickling is - a process of preserving food by fermentation in brine, to produce lactic acid. She referred to the cookbook Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. In addition to many recipes, Nourishing Traditions contains information about how pickling not only preserves food, but unlike modern preservation methods, the process of lacto-fermentation makes nutrients in foods more available, and supplies the intestinal tract with health-promoting lactic acid and lactic-acid-producing bacteria.

Nourishing Traditions is based on research done by a dentist, Dr. Weston Price, who studied the health and eating habits of isolated traditional societies. He found that, almost universally, all these peoples allowed grains, milk products and often vegetables, fruits and meats to ferment or pickle before they were eaten.

At the workshop Jill had us get started coring, chopping, and shredding cabbage for sauerkraut. We started with 1 medium cabbage; because the cabbages were so big, we cut them in half. The cabbages and other vegetables were from Chubby Bunny Farm.

In a large bowl, we mixed the shredded cabbage with 1 Tblsp of caraway seeds, 1 Tblsp of sea salt, and 4 Tblsp of whey.

We used wooden pounders Debra Tyler made to release the juices from the cabbage. Then we packed wide mouth quart jars with the cabbage and pressed down firmly with the pounder until the juices came to the top of the cabbage. The top of cabbage should be at least 1 inch below the top of the jar. We covered the jars tightly and brought them home to keep at room temperature for about 3 days, Jill said better for 7 to 10 days, before storing in the refrigerator or cold storage. The Sauerkraut may be eaten immediately, but it improves with age.

At the workshop we also made Lactic Acid Fermented Butternut Squash with Lemons and Spice, Ginger Carrots, Fermented Red Cabbage, and the Beet Kvass that I already mentioned and am especially taken with. What is trully marvelous about pickling is neither refrigeration nor pasteurization is required; it is an ancient way (i.e. Old Style Life Skill) of preserving food that also improves health and makes delicious foods and drinks.

We enjoyed a pot-luck lunch together after all the chopping, shredding, and packing. At lunch time we sampled some jars of sauerkraut Jill had brought with her for us to try. She said she has two refrigerators at home, her husband bought her a second one for all of her experiments. Everything was delicious!

Jill gave us some tips for pickling: Use well or spring water, not chlorinated water, for all pickling; Date your jars; When you've drunk most of the Beet Kvass, you may fill up the jar with water and keep on the counter, at room temperature, for a few more days. This second batch will not be as strong as the first, but still good. After the second time, discard the beets and start again; Try to use fresh whey made from raw milk, if not available add another Tblsp of salt; Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon is a great resource to have.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Wreath Making Workshop

knotty! knotty!
all tied up
a balient effort
knot at all abrading
tangled up
all together
blessed be the tie that binds - Debra

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Autumn We'd Walk

A small group of women took an Autumn We'd Walk around Local Farm today. We'd Walks, in all seasons, are part of the Old Style Life Skills Series offered by Motherhouse. Founder Debra Tyler says it is especially important, she feels, for mothers to connect with the mother (earth) and she offers these walks as times to do so.

This We'd Walk had the extra distinction of being part of the CT History Hunt. Visit for more information about this program.

Our fearless leader, Alicia North of Northstar Botanicals, arrived with a car full of goodies and offered us each a cup of Holy Basil tea she had just made. Holy Basil or Tulsi is an herb native to India and revered for it's amazing healing power. Alicia said many people use Holy Basil to help counteract the effects of stress.

One of the first plants we encountered on our walk was a type of Plantain and Alicia told us we could eat the seeds at this time of year.

We dug up two types of Burdock roots. Debra is holding a Yellow Burdock plant above. The roots of these biennial plants can be harvested and eaten as a root vegetable. These plants have burrs in their second year, it is best to harvest the roots from first year plants and Fall is the time of year to do this. Alicia recommended roasting them with Dandelion and Chicory roots and also gave us a Burdock Pickle recipe.

We sampled some Rose hips from this wild rose bush just outside of the pasture. The cows had eaten all of the Rose hips on other bushes we passed. Rose hips are particularly high in Vitamin C. Alicia said the best time to collect Rose hips is after the first frost.

These Cattails growing in the culvert by the road are one of the most common wild foods, with a variety of uses at different times of the year. The early heads can be eaten like corn on the cob and the roots can be ground into flour. It was a staple for the American Indians, they put Cattail fluff into soups.

Near the end of our walk we passed Coltswood and Horsetails growing along the road. Herbalists have recommended Horsetail for joint pain and it was interesting to see that Horsetails themselves have joints. Alicia referred to a system known as the Doctrine of Signatures that Herbalists can use. By careful observation one can learn the healing properties of a plant from some aspect of it or where it is growing.

After our walk we gathered for a pot-luck lunch and tasted some Carrot HorseRadish Salad Alicia had made. I found that taking the time to see what is growing around me was fascinating and nourishing.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Pie in the Sky

The Motherhouse Old Style Life Skills Pie in the Sky Workshop was described as follows: Celebrate harvest season with a homegrown pie. Pluck a ripe squash, collect eggs, make maple syrup, grind flour, and render lard to make a delicious “pumpkin” pie from scratch...

But as we gathered around the table in the milking room at Local Farm, Debra Tyler, founder of Motherhouse, handed us each a Pumpkin Pie recipe and told us she had gone shopping - to two supermarkets - and here were the ingredients for a pie. Were these ingredients really the makings of the Pie in the Sky? We wondered... Then we talked about each ingredient.... and how we could make the pie, from scratch, with what we had available around us... It was beginning to sound like Pie in the Sky....

The recipe called for 2 1/2 cups of pumpkin. Because there was butternut squash growing in the pasture at Local Farm, Debra said we could substitute squash for the pumpkin and off we went to the patch. Each of us picked a rosy colored squash to bring home. We left the greenish ones to ripen on the vine.

The next ingredient called for was 1 cup of sugar. Sugar comes from sugar beets and we didn't have any growing here. So instead we used local maple syrup. September isn't the time of year for collecting sap and boiling it to make the syrup, that time is in the early Spring when the night time temperatures are still below freezing but the days warm up. However, Margaret, Debra's daughter, demonstrated how a tree is tapped and the sap collected.

And lucky for us, Debra had some sap from last Spring, so we each tasted it.

We started the sap boiling early on in the workshop so that we could see how much syrup we would end up with. It takes some time. Because we were using a liquid sweetener in place of the white sugar, we substituted 1/2 cup maple syrup for the 1 cup of sugar.

The recipe also called for 1 can evaporated milk for the filling and 1/3 cup of butter for the crust. We could use milk from the Jerseys at Local Farm in place of the evaporated milk. Jersey milk is notoriously rich - rich in protein, fat, and minerals.

In order to make the butter, we needed cream, and to have the cream, we needed to get the milk and to get the milk, we needed to call a cow. Debra called for Lovely and in she came. Many hands tried milking Lovely, who is a very patient and beautiful Jersey.

Then we learned how to take the cream off of the milk, it is more of a sliding off then scooping motion. We took turns churning the butter.

We needed flour, 2 t. in the filling and 1 3/4 cup for the crust. We are fortunate to have locally grown wheat available from: Lightning Tree Farm in Millbrook, NY, 914-677-9507.

We learned about different types of mills and we took turns grinding the wheat berries, using two different types of grinders.

Along with the butter, the recipe called for 1/3 cup of lard to make the crust. Debra told us that lard makes the very best pastry, making it flaky, and butter is best for taste, so that is why we used both. We learned about the two types of fat from a slaughtered pig and we learned how to render the lard.

The recipe called for 4 eggs and since there are some laying hens at Local Farm we collected eggs from the nesting boxes.

There were a number of ingredients - salt, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, vanilla that are not available locally. Debra described their sources.

The butternut squash can be prepared in two different ways - cut up into cubes and cooked on the top of the stove or baked in the oven. Debra prefers baking it, as the flavor is preserved.

Here is a Pie in the Sky which we each sampled, made from scratch, following this recipe:

2 1/2 cup pumpkin (we used butternut squash)
1 cup sugar (we used maple syrup)
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. ginger
2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. cloves
2 t. flour

4 eggs
I can evaporated milk (we used Jersey milk)
4 t. water (we did not add because we used the liquid maple syrup)
1 t. vanilla

Pour into crust. Bake at 400 degrees for 45 - 50 minutes.

1 3/4 cup flour
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup lard
1 tsp salt

Mix 'til like cornmeal. Add cold water by the Tblsp.