Tuesday, August 28, 2012

DIY Cider Press

Summer is almost over and the rain of Gravensteins has come to an end.  The shelves are stocked with quarts of apple sauce for winter. This year we really wanted to try our hand at pressing some of the remaining fruit into sweet cidery goodness.  So the crafty men of the house came up with this cider press which I think is quite impressive.  

Some scrap wood, bolts, screws, a car jack, a bar for the crank, a spare five gallon bucket, and an old cookie sheet make up the materials for the press.  The apples need to be crushed before they get pressed, we used a mallet covered with a plastic bag.  The process works best if the bucket is full of crushed apples when you start.

A heavy block of wood and a tree round cut and put through the planer to make them smooth are the main pressing agents.  

The crank forces the blocks of wood to tighten down around the crushed apples which pushes the cider through the drilled holes in the bucket.  

For the first few gallons of cider we just poured the juice off of the cookie sheet into jars but have now found a round stainless steel plate with a lip into which we will drill a hole so the juice can run down into a jar below the press.  The bucket worked surprisingly well and there was very little pulp in the juice.  

We have been enjoying this last bit of summer sweetness every morning in our smoothies and in the evening warmed with spices.  It doesn't seem like we will have much for the freezer the way the kids have been guzzling it down.  The taste of fresh pressed cider is one of the seasonal experiences a happy childhood is made of.   

Friday, August 17, 2012

Preserving The Bounty

When it rains it pours.  For the last few weeks we have been working like crazy people, putting up the bounty of fruit and vegis produced here. The shelves are stocked with many varieties of apples, pears, plums, summer squash, winter squash, tomatoes, raw honey, and cheese from all the milk our doe is producing.  This years favorite ways of preserving the bounty are roasted red and yellow tomato salsa, raw pack plums with a hint of honey, Gravenstein apple sauce, as well as, green and yellow zucchini chips.  

After getting some inspiration from one of my favorite blogs, we have been transforming gallons of milk into raw goat cheese labneh balls preserved in extra virgin olive oil (with a bit of rosemary and sun dried tomatoes!).  We used to make labneh regularly years ago, and I had forgotten how incredibly yummy it is.  The best thing about making the cheese this way is that it is shelf stable.  

Good old plum jam is a winter staple in our house.  Sour and sweet, the color brightens any shelf and tastes wonderful on freshly buttered toast.  

Even though we recently lost one of our hives to ants and yellow jackets, the latest honey harvest was a success. Our little kitchen has been such a busy place!  We are still trying to decide what to do with these top bars which are left after the honey processing.  No matter how many times we do this it never gets any less amazing.  

All of the work involved in processing the food we produce here makes us long for many more hands and a better network of helpers, especially since we try to waste as little as possible.  We have learned that taking it all in small batches, with smiles and some good music really works for us.  It is a satisfying and rewarding feeling to see the fruits from a year of labor filling our pantry.  Continuously giving thanks!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Homemade Food Co-op

Four Agreements:
Take Nothing Personally
Make No Assumptions
Keep Agreements
Always give your best
-Don Miguel Ruiz

This weekend we met for the first trade of our new, local, homemade food co-op.  We are five women who love to make our food from scratch and are committed to feeding ourselves and our families with the highest quality foods available to us.  We have come together to meet once monthly and share the production of homemade foods.  A key point in creating this group was to lighten the burden for those of us who try to do everything ourselves.  Yes, we are all superwomen but there is only so much time in the day, right?  

Our group is generally based on the Weston A. Price nutritional philosophy.  Each of us has chosen to prepare with love and the best organic ingredients, one type of food or house hold item in hopes we can each become an artisan in that field of production.  
The categories agreed upon for our first trade were...
-Lacto ferments
-Bread and granola
-Herbal body products
-Natural laundry soap

The specific items produced were dill pickles, fresh goat cheese balls immersed in extra virgin olive oil, sourdough  bread with whole sprouted grains baked in the cob oven, honey maple granola, rabbit adobo and pot pie filling humanly raised and hand slaughtered, chamomile lavender deodorant, and laundry detergent made from natural soap bars, washing soda, and essential oils.

We had an initial meeting in July to brainstorm and determine the wants/needs of the group and to see what we were all able to offer. During this recent meeting we shared our challenges and failures, as well as, developed understanding around potential situations that could arise.  There is so much pleasure in creating something from scratch that you know will not only nourish your family but others as well.  It feels deeply satisfying to come together in community in this small way to form sustainable systems that benefit each other. Definitely feels like permaculture in action.  

Next months items will be sprouted dehydrated crackers, properly prepared beans pressure canned in quart jars so they will be shelf stable, feta cheese made from raw goat milk, kale chips, ferments, and the one I'm most looking forward to-chocolate chip cookie dough.

We are excited to expand our group in the future but for now we want to get a good rhythm going.  This is a model that can easily be replicated by folks in any area.  You can adjust the items produced to your individual needs.  And it's so much fun!  

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Wet Felting With Raw Wool

After spending a good many hours getting acquainted with the new stash of Navajo-Churro wool, there was enough carded to experiment with my first project wet felting the raw wool.  I have done a fair amount of wet felting with roving purchased online but this would be my first experience with the freshly sheered, raw, unwashed fleece.  Since a large, flat, water resistant work surface was needed, I set up a tarp outside on my driveway.  A tote bag was a simple enough project to start with and I basically needed to felt a large rectangle.  So I started by layering thin wispy pieces of the darker wool into a crude shape, all going in one direction.  

For the second layer I repeated the same step but going in the opposite direction.   
With each piece I was making sure not to make the wool too thick.  

After I had a few layers of darker wool, I added several layers of lighter wool in hopes that the inside and outside of my bag would be contrasting colors.  With each layer I was still taking care to change directions as I applied the pieces of wool.  

Finally I had about 5-6 layers.  My goal was a nicely shaped rectangle made of evenly layered wool where none of the tarp was showing through.  

My next step was to very gently apply hot soapy water so that all the layers were saturated.  I poured the water over my hand, pressing and allowing it to soak into the wool.  

Once completely saturated, I started pressing and patting the wool.  If you have never done any wet felting before it is difficult to describe, but after several minutes of gently pressing, the wool begins to felt and you can start adding more pressure and friction.  At that point I used force to rub the fabric for about 10-15 minutes adding more hot soapy water and then alternating with cold water.  The temperature change shocks the wool into felting.  

When my fabric was felted enough to flip over easily, I worked the other side then rolled it into the tarp.  Using my arms I massaged the tarp back and forth many times, unrolled the fabric and repeated in the opposite direction.  

I then had a piece of clean, felted wool fabric.
 A close up view shows how the fibers have joined together.  

 It was then time to dry in the sun for a couple of hours.

The result was a very cushy fabric much like a plush rug.  A bit hairy, but I guess that is a characteristic of this particular type of wool.

Each side successfully felted in a different color.  

I hand sewed my bag together by folding in half and there it is, ready to add some leather handles.  

The end product is a rustic wool bag that is a sturdy, easy project to try for your first wet felting adventure