Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Care and Feeding of Saw Horses

Thanks to a recently awarded Arts Presentation Grant from the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism, Motherhouse had Joe Brien, Lost Arts Workshops, lead a day long workshop on building saw horses. Seventeen people attended and nine pairs of sawhorses were built. Each building team had their own set of hand tools, materials, and a workbench. We learned woodworking skills, enjoyed a wholesome pot luck lunch, and had a few laughs! The grant, which supports Motherhouse's Old Style Life Skills Series, also allows Joe to teach two more workshops - one on building a cow stanchion and the second on building a milking stool. Read more about these workshops on the Motherhouse web site.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Potholders Available

At the Yes We Can Can workshop, a few people asked about buying the beautiful potholders we used. They are available through Christy, who was at the workshop, and whose mom makes them. Send Christine Ciesielski an email, if you are interested.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Yes We Can Can

A group of 20 of us gathered at Local Farm for the Old Style Life Skill's Yes We CAN Can Workshop on Saturday. Such a large group meant many hands! Led by Wyatt Whiteman, who demonstrated methods of preserving food in glass jars, we canned over 100 jars of tomatoes, dilly beans, pickled beets, and peaches. Everyone went home with a few jars of the summer's harvest. We'll be eating local all winter long!

We worked in a summer kitchen that Debra Tyler had set up at Local Farm. Summer kitchens were once a part of just about any home and usually were a one-room building behind the house furnished only with a stove and chimney, table, and some generous-size pots and pans and stirring utensils. Having a summer kitchen kept the cooking heat and steam out of the main living space and was convenient for the big undertakings rarely taken on at home today. Our summer kitchen was outdoors. We had a dry, pleasant day for putting food by and a lot of group can-do comraderie.

We followed Wyatt's own 1760 Farm House, LLC, Fairfield, CT recipe for Pickled Beets. We layered onions and beets with garlic into jars. We boiled sugar, cider vinegar, water, and some Penzey's Pickling Spices and added to each jar. These beets should be eaten within 2 - 3 days and when the beets are gone, Wyatt suggests adding hard boiled eggs to the remaining liquid to make pickled eggs.

Wyatt recommends getting a copy of the Ball Blue Book of Preserving. He says it is the Bible of canning. It is available to order online at You will find some recipes and step by step tutorials there as well.

Canned tomatoes are ideal for using in soups, stews, casseroles and sauces. To prepare the tomatoes for canning, we put them in boiling water until their skins split.

Then, we peeled the skins off and cut out the bad spots, before carefully packing the tomatoes, with their juice, in the jars.

We added lemon juice to each jar of tomatoes. The lemon juice makes the tomatoes that much more acidic and also Wyatt added, helps preserve the beautiful color. We filled the jars up to the neck, leaving some space at top. We also put a wooden spoon into the jar and slowly turned the jar to release trapped air bubbles. Wyatt checked the jars, telling us if they were filled too high or not, and then after wiping the rim and threads of the jars with a damp cloth, we put the lids on, but not too tightly.

Tomatoes and peaches are examples of high acid foods which can be safely canned using the boiling water bath method. Properly pickled vegetables can also be preserved using this method. In this method, glass jars of food are heated completely covered with boiling water and cooked for a specified amount of time. At the workshop, for example, the tomatoes were in the boiling water bath for 50 minutes. The boiling water bath method is safe for tomatoes, fruits, jams, jellies, pickles and other preserves.

The other method of preserving food is the pressure canner method. Pressure canning is the only safe way of preserving vegetables, meats, poultry, and seafood. We canned the dilly beans at the workshop using a pressure canner. In this method, the jars are placed in 2 to 3 inches of water in a special pressure cooker which is heated to a temperature of at least 240 degrees F, higher than boiling water. A microorganism called Clostridium botuilinum is the main reason why pressure processing is necessary. Though the bacterial cells are killed at boiling temperatures, they can form spores that can withstand these temperatures. The spores grow well in low acid foods, in the absence of air, such as in canned low acidic foods like meats and vegetables. The spores can not withstand the higher temperatures of pressure cooking.

You can order water bath canners and pressure canners online from Lehman's. In fact, Lehman's carries a complete selection of Canning and Preserving supplies, including a Beginner's Home Canning Kit which comes with the Ball Blue Book Wyatt recommends. Or, as Wyatt suggested at the workshop, go to your local Agway or Tag Sales.

At the very end of the workshop, while waiting for the peaches in the boiling water bath, a few of us canned Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Mix, adding the dry ingredients, layer by layer, to a 1 quart glass jar.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Summer We'd Walk

On this hot Summer day, Joe Brien of Lost Art Workshops led us on a Weed Walk looking for common plants that can be used for fiber production. We learned that many plants growing around us can be processed by hand to extract bast fiber which then can be twisted into string or rope and eventually woven into fabric.

Along the way, we found some Chicory growing by the road. Chicory has blue-purple flowers and while it isn't used for cordage, we stopped as Joe pulled one up so we could examine the root. The root is long and thick, like the tap-root of the dandelion. When dried, roasted and ground, it makes an excellent substitute for coffee, with no caffeine!

Here is the Dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum) we were looking for! Dogbane is excellent for making cordage. It is also known as "Indian hemp", probably because local Native American tribes showed the early colonists how to use the plant to make cordage.

And near by, we found some of last year's dried stalks, in perfect condition for making cordage.

After stripping the "bark" or "skin", we each made a short length of cordage by reverse-wrapping the Dogbane fibers.

Adding a few beads makes a beautiful and strong anklet!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Summer Full Moon Gathering

Nancy hosted a full-moon gathering at her home on Great HIll July 17. We hung the red tent in her family's Sukkat arbor. Elsie (with her face painted like a round slice of watermelon) cut our bright yellow napkins into moon-shaped rounds. Nancy prepared the ingredients for making our own round sushi rice rolls. Rachel make a round broccoli ring. Nita brought cherries and salad in a round bowl. Margaret and Debra made round shortcakes and whipped cream to go with fresh berries that Margaret and Elsie picked. Some of us tried sleeping out under the full moon but the mosquitoes were too intent on rounding their bellies with our blood so we retreated to various places a-round the Moche's home. --- Debra