Saturday, January 16, 2010

Things we Learned in '09

I know that the majority of my posts lately have been on hiking, so this post will be more in line with this site’s original intention of self-sufficiency. What I would like to do is review things that we have learned and improved upon in the last year. This will be broken up into subjects that hopefully I can expand upon later with individual postings.

Wood Cook Stove- We bought this new in the fall of 2008, so we spent most of last winter and spring just learning how to use it for heating the house and not as much for cooking or baking as we would have liked. This season we have been able to devote more time to that. We have the cook top nice and seasoned and now we can make tortillas, pancakes and things of that nature quickly and in quantity right on top. I think my next blog will probably be about this, talking about how we got it, features that it has and the many things we do with it.

Pet Food- in our household we have a great medium sized dog and three cats. Back in the spring after much research by Dawn we decided to start them on a raw diet, consisting of raw meat, (deer, elk beef and chicken,) mixed with pureed raw veggies. It has seemed to make a definite improvement in their energy and their coats are much healthier. Now easy it is not. There has been some backsliding but it is our preferred way of feeding them, and actually it is what they favor as well.

Yogurt- This is something we have been making off and on for a couple of years now, but the last few months we have got it to be a process with the right results every time, instead of hoping with each batch that it works. Using the wood cook stove to slowly heat the milk was a big improvement and we can now make it without the use of a thermometer. This is something that I hope to share soon, posting the whole process with pictures, with the desire for more people to try this.

Buttermilk-Making this is something that Dawn takes care of almost exclusively, but her process has also improved with time. This is something that I will collaborate on for posting in the future.

Wild Game- While we did not do any hunting or fishing this year, between others sharing parts of their animals and picking up road kills we were well blessed. My butchering skills improve each time, but we still desire to learn more about using the whole animal.

Mushrooms-Here in Pagosa Country it was a poor mushroom year. Early in the season we found a few inedibles (see previous posts). We had planned on going Morel hunting down in the lower country but that never happened. The rest of the season consisted of us going out a lot but not finding much of anything. Usually we come home with bagfuls, almost more than we can reasonably process, drying them so we can enjoy the bounty all year, so we are constantly missing them this winter.

Apples-If it was a poor mushroom year, for apples it was completely opposite. Our spring was unseasonably warm, letting all the apple blossoms set into fruit. Before last year we knew of a few trees we could pick from, mostly near the Chimney Rock area, but this year we saw apples everywhere we drove. We identified scores of new trees, all of which we had driven by for years without a single apple upon them, that were now covered with fruit. And not just apples. A wild peach tree we knew of was just loaded, although most of them were picked by someone else before they were ripe. We were given peaches and we even got a great deal on buying a couple bushels from Chimney Rock Farms. (And for those of you who know me I still don’t like the nasty fruit, but we can’t deprive the family, eh?) While picking apples one day I noticed some large berry looking things on some bushes nearby. A closer inspection revealed wild plums! We ended up with a lot of them, plus my in-laws plum tree was so heavily laden that we were invited to pick from it multiple times. All in all we process at least three quarters of our apples and we still have buckets of them under our house.

Berries- Strawberries and raspberries were found, although not in their usual profusion. Bilberries seemed to suffer the same fate as the mushrooms, in fact I only found a small handful s worth. But the hawthorns and chokecherries were everywhere. In our quest to pick less from roadsides we were in search of new areas to pick from, and I assure you, we found them. They were big and happy this year and our only problem was making sure to avoid encounters with bears. This was a fall where every bear surely was able to pack on the winter pounds.

Mead- We have been making mead for a number of years now but it always seems like we are learning something about it. I am planning a detailed series of posts soon on mead making from start to finish.

Beer- There has only been two times that we have ever tried making beer, and while they were not the best in the world it is a pretty neat experience and something that I am sure we can improve upon. Our first attempt was a ginger ale that we let go a little too long leaving it a bit flat but with a nice flavor. Our next try was from a malt that we made ourselves that was pretty tasty, but could be a lot better.

Hard Apple Cider- In previous years we have made one gallon batches, but with the apple harvest we had this year…, well lets just say that after seven gallons we got a bit burnt out on juicing. But there are still all those apples under the house. If we do start making more with these then I will get some photos of the process and do a post devoted to nothing but cider.

Books- There were quite a few books added to our collection this year that are directly related to self-sufficiency, learning how to do things in the home , or on identifying. This list does stretch back to Christmas of 2008. Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora. The bible of North American mushrooms, we had been drooling over this book a long time till I finally ordered a copy late last winter. All That the Rain Promises by the same David Arora. A gift, this is a collection of the best edibles and stories of people who love them. Mushrooms of Colorado by Vera Evanson. A gift, this contains the most common mushrooms found here along with some that are more area specific. Guide to Colorado WildfowersVolumes I&II by G.K. Guennel. These are books the kids got for Dawn’s birthday. While not containing anything about uses, these are some of the best books for identification in our area. The encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery. A gift to Dawn, this is THE book on doing things yourself. The New Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency by John Seymor. A prolific writer on the subject with an English point of view, this book was a gift along with The New Self Sufficient Gardener and Forgotten Household Crafts, both by the same late John Seymor. A greener Life by Clarissa Dickson Wright. A gift to Dawn, this is another take on English do-it-yourself living, Clarissa is one half of the wonderful Two Fat Ladies cooking show from the nineties. The Rainbow beneath My Feet by Arleen Bessette. A guide for using mushrooms as dyes. A Natural Year by Grace Firth. A book on harvesting and preserving naturally. In Praise of Apples by Mark Rosenstein. Just as the name says, this is everything about apples. Sacred and Healing Herbal Beers by Stephen Buhner and The Complete Meadmaker by Ken Schramm. Two books on brewing, these were gifts to Dawn. Medicinal Mushrooms by Christopher Hobbs. As the name implies this is the medicinal uses of certain mushrooms and the research behind it.


Ian Vance said...

ye gods, the amount of work...!
at least you can tell your kids you were givers, not just takers...

Geno said...

Yes, the work was pretty intensive at times, but in the end it was all worthwhile.

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