Consecration Acres

"If ye labor with all your might, I will consecrate that spot that it shall be made holy."

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Freezer-Clearing and Christmas Treats

December is when life is crazy busy, but there’s not much to write about. Every year I want to get the shopping done early, but every year there is something that prevents that from happening. I love giving gifts, but I hate shopping. Maybe it will all be nicer on that mythical day when I “have more time” and I can make more and buy less.   Anyhow, that’s done, the last 30 lbs of apples are being cooked into butter as I type and I’m finally getting to bake!

First up was pumpkin fruitcake. When we cleared out the freezers to make room for chickens (and we still don’t have the space!) I had to pull a batch of pumpkin butter out of there. Pumpkin butter is on the no-can list and it was only a mediocre recipe, so I decided to use that in place of canned pumpkin in the fruitcake. It was fabulous. I’ve used three pints so far and have two or three more to go. It’s a good thing we like it. I’d like to try making pumpkin butter again when we have the freezer space for it. This last recipe was too citrusy—I prefer my pumpkin earthy. I’m planning on cooking the squash to the right consistency and then adding the spices from my mom’s pumpkin pie recipe to an equivalent amount of butter.

Sometimes I feel like Winnie-the-Pooh coming up with an idea and then Owl evaluating it, “well, that sounds like a sensible idea…” Like my recent idea to see if I could make mango syrup from the pits and peels of the mangoes I dried. That turned out not to be so sensible an idea. Hopefully, my pumpkin butter idea is better.

I decided to mix it up a little this year and do a little candymaking. We are usually a pretty low-sugar family. On Christmas we let loose for a couple of days, but then we feel it horribly afterwards, so we made reduced-sugar marzipan, peanut butter cups and almond joys, in hopes that we can have our treats and good health as well. They turned out well and I have had to go to great lengths to make them fairly inaccessible so that we will still have some left on Christmas Day.

We are getting awesome amounts of rain and are very grateful! The pond is still very small and muddy, but growing. The grass is all green and the streams flowing and we are having to shift laundry days around to accommodate precipitation.   Last week we got more rain than we average for entire month of December! Bethel was saying that it didn’t feel very Christmassy without any snow—I continue to be delighted with what we are getting.

We are seasonably wet, but we have yet to freeze, so we ate cucumbers and tomatoes from the garden this week. We also have jalapenos out there. I suppose I ought to get brave and do something about them before they die. The peas are all hanging on to each other for support—not our intention, but it’s working ok for now. Most of the garlic came up, very little of the lettuce came up, and very little of the chard came up. Growth seems to have slowed with the lower temps, but the hardy stuff should pick up again in late February or March. Our seedbed needs improvement…among a vast array of other things that could and should be improved.

We are trying to eat down our meat freezer to make room for our remaining birds. I cooked up a couple chickens from the last batch. What a wildly different experience from a grocery store bird! First, they were actually roasted rather than stewed in the copious amount of liquid that a store bird exudes during cooking. We ended up with less than ½” nicely carmelized drippings at the end. Second, I made stock from the carcasses. It gelled up perfectly and there was no fat to skim at the end! The whole raising our own meat thing has been a mixed bag along the way, but I’m pretty pleased with the end result.

I just made my first batch of yogurt from frozen milk. It is really liquidy and smells a little different. I don’t know if it’s due to the milk, or just my starter being old. Further experiments required.

The goat situation makes me want to cry sometimes. Isaiah saw signs that Ella was in heat last week and neglected to tell anyone, Elijah wasn’t checking with the buck rag…yay…. I need to call the vet. Penny is a little early to find heart tones via ultrasound , so we might require two housecalls since we still don’t have a trailer….ugh, ugh, ugh and ugh again.

Elijah built a forge out of stones in the backyard and he and Isaiah have been whacking pieces of hot metal with hammers this week. Isaiah also recently completed an ear-warmer (top-less hat) that he proudly wears about. He spun the wool/mohair and then knit it himself. Bethel is getting books for Christmas as she complains she has read “everything” in the house and Jordan is just on the edge of the whole reading thing coming together. I utterly love homeschooling these people.

There is a young man with some significant disabilities who usually sits in the pew in front of us at Church. He sits and listens fairly quietly, and then he reaches his hand out to his father who shares the pew with him. His father reaches back, their fingertips touch briefly and the young man happily goes back to watching and listening. This repeats every few minutes over the course of the meeting. I recognize that I also play this role in the lives of my children. The frequency varies according to their needs, and sometimes it is verbal rather than physical, but they still all stop occasionally to make sure that I am “still there” along the way. It may not be very glamorous or exciting, but I’ve learned to find joy in being a fixed and stable point in their world. As I strive to become more consistent and reliable, I hope that this will make me more like my Heavenly Father—He whose hand is stretched out still, the same yesterday, today and forever.

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Cranapple butter and crises

We are getting rain and things are turning GREEN! White Christmas, no, but I’ll merrily take a soggy & green one over the mid-70’s & still-tan one of last year.  I want to get out there and try broadcasting some pasture seed, now that conditions are right for growing such stuff, but I haven’t been able to do so yet.

Last Sunday the occasional propane whiff under the stove had become a full-blown leak and my husband and Isaiah tracked it down and fixed it. I kept thinking that I should have one of them go check the tank level, but it was dark by the time they finished and I’d forgotten about it by morning. Monday was busy. Elijah and I still weren’t feeling too great that afternoon, but I had cranapple butter that had to be canned, so I asked him to heft the canner full of water onto the stove and get it heating while I put Joseph down. Then I remembered and sent Isaiah out to check on the propane. He came in waving his arms and miming big zeroes with his hands. I mimed back “call Daddy!” and finished putting the baby down. When I came out, the kids told me that we were out of both propane and telephone—due to a miscommunication neither my husband nor I had paid the bill last month.

And what a glorious moment that was.

I got online to try to figure out how to contact the propane company (nope), or how to reactivate an expired GoPhone we have (nope, again) and then I decided to check the phone to see if perhaps my husband had noticed his phone was dead and had paid the bill. The call didn’t go through, but I got a recorded message from the phone company giving me the option to pay my bill over the phone. I completed the transaction at 5:03, called the propane company immediately and was informed that everyone had just gone home. And so…. I had Isaiah light the wood stove and we canned Cranapple Butter I (The Spicy Version) that way. I don’t know if there are techniques I am not aware of, or if a stove for heating a room is simply a different beast from a stove for cooking, but I have not been very successful cooking anything on a wood stove. It took four hours to get half a canning kettle of water up to a boil, and by the time we go there it was 78F upstairs! My husband asked me whether we could cook on the thing in a pinch. I answered that, yes, we could, but we would need to live somewhere else. And so I continue to dream of a summer kitchen outfitted with a real wood cookstove.

Tuesday we dealt with another crisis while canning Cranapple Butter II (The Tangy Version). I put the jars into the canner to process and asked Isaiah to come out with me to do a little freezer reorganization to make room for the chickens. Sigh. We dug down into the meat freezer and I discovered all of the milk that the boys had frozen in gallon-sized bags underneath the poorly wrapped salmon that my husband bought. Many of the bags had been damaged when they were moved and the fish were visibly drippy. We pulled all the milk out, marked those with visible damage, threw out a couple with large cracks, and put all but five into a different freezer. Those five went into the house where they were rinsed in the bags, cut out of the bags, rinsed again and then cooked thoroughly into rice pudding and evaporated milk. Cranapple Butter II processed the whole time we were dealing with the freezer—far in excess of the 15 I had planned. Following this excitement I got to run out in the dark and rain to buy hay as ours had gotten wet and molded.   We need a better hay storage set-up.

All I want for Christmas is to be caught up enough that I don’t feel like I’m going from crisis to crisis. I don’t think I will get it. Ok, whine over.

Notes on Cranapple Butter: The Spicy Version (Cranapple Butter I) is not very spicy, but tasty. I added one pound of cranberries, 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, ½ teaspoon ground star anise, a couple dashes of salt and a little vanilla to about 1 gallon of butter. The cranberries tasted fruity in it, but not distinctive, and if I’m putting cranberries in something, I want to taste them. The Tangy version (Cranapple Butter II) was fresher tasting and more like what I want in a cranberry butter. I added the zest from one orange and the juice from half to the same quantity. The orange flavor battles a little with the cranberries, so I plan to use lime next time. I think I will also add all the cranberries near the end of cooking for better color and flavor retention and hope to achieve cranberry butter perfection.

We’ve kept the dehydrator going pretty well this week. Mangoes were on sale, so we dehydrated a batch of those and then did a batch of apples when they were done. I’ve told the kids that we can’t start using it until Christmas (I want it still to be exciting and not all gone at that point) and so we are getting a good shelf-full. I recently read about a family in Canada who spent November eating entirely off their stores. The kids snacked through all their dried fruit in one month. I believe it. In other exciting dehydrator news (where else will you read that phrase?) we finally used some of the mixed vegetables I dehydrated before our last move. They were great! Knowing that makes me less excited about paying an arm and a leg for the freeze-dried stuff. In fact, I even let a Black Friday sale go past without adding to our stash. It’s probably a good sign when I can’t come up with a bunch of things that we still need.

I’m still trying to get the jars boxed up so they can be moved out of the kitchen. The new boxes that canning jars come in are lousy—no dividers and no lids—and so I end up making my own out of the steady stream of boxes we always have coming into the house. The new disposable metal lids are also noticeably thinner and they recommend only storing them for “up to one year”. It makes me glad to have reusable lids available. Just as long as they don’t make the jars cheap and awful I can live with cost-cutting on the rest.

The boys got through another batch of chickens yesterday afternoon. One more session should do it. They want to save a big, even-tempered Delaware rooster for our flock sire and retire our rumpless Red. This is probably a good idea, although I’ll need to do some research into crosses involving Delaware roos. I was excited about the possibility of getting Red Sex-links from a Rhode Island roo and Delaware hen. Oh well, we’re probably still a bit away from hatching anyhow. We still need to figure out how to keep a broody hen broody when we decide she ought to be!

And to conclude the post with more weather… they are expecting a massive storm to roll in Wednesday night with a lot of rain and 60 mph gusts of wind. We need to make sure we have everything we need in case of a power outage, make sure the laundry is done early, that everyone is bathed and we should probably practice lighting the stove manually.  Another systems test!