Sunday, March 24, 2013

Another Week

For years when the kids were small I used to buy them gold foil wrapped chocolate coins for St. Patrick's Day.  Then, after we moved to Wisconsin I was unable to find any chocolate coins at the store -- until this year.   Lara had been lamenting that the Leprechauns hadn't brought her any gold for a long time.  I told her that maybe our territorial gnome that lives in the chicken coop ran the Leprechauns off whenever they tried to come, but that we would try to entice one to sneak past the gnome.  So, we made some Irish Soda bread. We thought he might like it better if we gave him some gold, too, so we added golden raisins to the dough.  Our ploy worked and Lara (and Ed) were very happy to eat their Leprechaun gold!

Tom was at the butcher in Phillips this week replenishing his kishka stash (I hate stinky blood sausage and refuse to cook it) and while he was gabbing with the butcher, somehow the conversation turned to lard.  Now I had just been griping that when I went to the grocery store there wasn't any lard anywhere to be found.  Tom mentioned this to the butcher who asked if Tom would like some pork fat.  He said that when most people buy an animal for their freezer, they don't want the fat because it has to be rendered.  So Tom bought home a garbage bag full of ground up pork fat for me. 

If anyone tells you that you can render fat inside your house and it won't smell, don't believe them.  Have some scented candles on hand to light after you are done rendering.

Anyway, rendering pork fat into lard is really easy.  This is how I did it:

First I pulled out my little roaster.  It's a bit bigger than my crock pot and you can control the temperature, which is great.  I set the temperature on 250°F.  Then I put a cup of water in the bottom of the roasting pan and added some of the pork fat till the pan was about 2/3 filled.  The water gets hot and starts the fat melting without burning it on the bottom of the pan.  After a while the water evaporates and the fat melts leaving little browned pieces of meat or cartilage.

Strain out the browned bits and ladle the hot lard into clean, dry and hot canning jars.  Cover the jars quickly with heated lids and bands and the jars will self-seal.  Each batch took about 2 hours, and after the better part of one day I bottled 8 beautiful quarts of lard.  (The chickens got the browned bits.) See how the lard turns a beautiful white as it cools.

It was really fun doing this and I'm glad to have learned another skill!

Till next time, be safe and well!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Back to Work

Well, we've had around another foot of snow here since I last posted.  We had 6" one night, then 4" another night, and about 3" last night.  I've shoveled out my various snow paths twice.  It has also gotten colder and the trees appear to have frozen back up because the temperatures have not been getting high enough during the day to get the sap running.  I spoke with a friend of mine who makes maple syrup to sell at the farmers market every year, and she told me that her husband had only just tapped their maple trees so I think I tapped mine a bit early.  I also mentioned that I built a rocket stove to boil my sap down this year, but I forgot that many of you may not know what a rocket stove is so here is a link to how to build a basic rocket stove.  I like this video because it is simple and clearly understandable. There is much more information available on You Tube about building variations of rocket stoves for different applications.  I think I am going to build another one using smaller bricks to heat the greenhouse. is a great site to give you some ideas. 

Lara and I went to the farmers market meeting for the Park Falls farmers market this past Wednesday.  It was great to see our vendor friends from the Phillips market and meet new ones.  This market has a lot more financial backing than our Phillips market.  I expect it will out grow its current location in the small park across from the Marshfield Clinic before too long.  There are several established farm business vendors, and that is really great for a market because you need those kinds of marketers to bring a regular supply of produce to a market.  Then there are small producers like Lara and I who just want to sell their extras.  Everyone gives food to the local food pantry, too, which is wonderful.  I found out at the meeting that our market area is considered a food desert.  The percentage of the population receiving food stamps is awful.  Here are some statistics for Price, Ashland, and Iron Counties. (Scroll down to find the counties).  (I believe this data is several years old but I couldn't find anything more recent so current figures are probably higher.)  Anyway, the first market day will be Wednesday, June 5th, from 2:00 p.m. to around 5:00 p.m., or so.  This year the market will experiment having a Saturday market on a few Saturdays to collect data on whether customers would be interested in going to a regular Saturday market.   That, of course, bothers me because the Phillips market is on Saturday mornings, and I am committed to the Phillips market. 

I went to the Builders Supply as I said I would and ta-da! --

one new Spring seed starting shelf unit strong enough to store winter squash on in the fall.  The unit took  6-2"x4"x 6's, 12-2"x6"x6's, and a bunch of good wood screws to build. (I already had the lights.)  Cost was just under $100.  Best of all, the only pieces I had to cut were the cross supports for the shelves so the whole unit took me just a couple of hours to put together. It's also not too heavy for me to move by myself if I had to move it.  Shelves are 20" deep.

I'm still studying for my General level ham license and learn Morse code, and still am trying to decide what kind of radio I want to buy.  What fun!

Talk to you soon.  Take care!

Friday, March 08, 2013

Is It Spring Yet?

Well, after fighting off some sort of virus for most of February, I am back on my feet. Yeah! And just in time, too, because the sap is starting to run in the maple trees here.  Hopefully we are finished with the sub-zero temperatures. I am tired of being cooped up in the house.

 I dug a path out to where I wanted to build a rocket stove and where I could easily reach a wood pile, then had to dig a path out to the greenhouse to get some of the cement blocks there to build the rocket stove because the blocks I had stacked behind the wood pile last fall were frozen solid in the snow.  Eventually I set up the stove and  tapped five trees, so I am ready to make some syrup! I'm looking forward to seeing how well that rocket stove works.  Maybe I'll try boiling some venison sausage in a little maple sap . . . .

The new moon is on the 11th and I will begin starting seeds in the basement then.  The metal shelf unit we used to set seed flats on collapsed under the weight of the winter squash we stored on it, so I disassembled it and now have to run to the building supply to get some boards to build a new one.  It seems like these days in order to have reliable furniture that lasts you have to build it yourself.  I am dreaming of lots of tomatoes this year. I think I'll experiment with planting some in the forest garden.  The peppers did well in the greenhouse last year, so we will keep them there again this year. 

And speaking of dreaming, well, winter's not over yet.