Monday, January 30, 2012

Wild Edible and Medicinal: Watercress

Returning home last night I found that all my sprouts on the kitchen counter were looking suspiciously brown, so I tossed them and started a new batch this morning.  That left me craving my greens though.  For a person who eat seasonally, the winter months sometimes means I can't quite get all the greens I want.  Yes, I grow sprouts and yes, the new batch of spinach will be ready for harvest in another week or so, but winter is more of a time for root crops and meat, foods that store well in a root cellar or in a freezing huts.  But our bodies still will crave greens.

 In the ol' days granny women would go out on the first warm days of spring and make a tonic out of many of the newly sprouted greens; nettles, chickweed, cleavers, etc...  After months of living on heavy foods, many people needed these spring tonics to jump start their digestive tracts.

We have one wild green though that stays with us through all but the coldest winters.  That is watercress.  If you have a free flowing spring in your area, watercress can be your saving grace when it comes to keeping your digestive tract working. 

Watercress is so highly nutritional that it has been used for years before chemically made vitamins to cure almost any vitamin deficiency diseases such as scurvy, rickets, or pellagra.  Many old time secret remedies had watercress as a key ingredient.  It is still the background flavor of V8 Juice, having been used in the original formula to keep people healthy after the harvest was done.  Watercress, when rubbed raw onto age spots will help lighten the skin while giving it nutrients.  Juiced with carrots (my favorite) will help revitalize the system and give you all the nutrients you will need for the day.  As a poultice, with the whole plant crushed, it is often put on abscesses or open infections to help them heal.  It is often used in natural 'stop smoking' cures because it helps heal the pathways to the blood and brain that coming off of nicotine can cause. 

If you've never eaten watercress, it is a very peppery flavored plant, some people don't like it raw.   Juiced with carrot or put in a salad it gives a nice bite to the sweetness of what it is paired with.  The plant is small, with a  square stem.  The leaves are longer than they are wide, especially in older plants.  It likes its feet wet.  Look for it is shallow waters and it is best if taken from a free flowing spring.  Here in Wisconsin you can find a nice spring full of watercress almost everywhere.  Follow a stream or river along, looking for springs bubbling right out of the ground at the base of hills or in valleys.  I have over 100 on my farm alone, so they're pretty common in a state so full of water.

If you harvest watercress from something besides a free flowing spring soak it in a 10% vinegar solution for 15 minutes or so.  This is a must for your safety because livestock, especially sheep, can carry liver fluke.  If they eliminate near the water source where your watercress is growing the watercress can have the liver fluke eggs on it.  Liver fluke can be fatal if not caught in time.  So to be safe soak any cress not gathered in a free flowing spring and you'll be safe.

This morning I want down to White Stone Spring, a sacred spring that bubbles out of a hillside on my farm, and gathered myself up some watercress.  The walk itself help bring me back to myself after working away from the farm for a few days and the cress is a delicious wild edible to add to my breakfast eggs and my lunch sandwich.  This hardy herb is not only a welcome flavor for these long winter months, but it is good for me too.  Nature is very good at providing for us if we know what we're looking for.

Thank goodness that I come from a large farm family.  I certainly would not be able to do both the job I love and run the farm and the choice would be hard as to which one I would have to cut back on.  But the nephews like getting away from their parents for a few days and they take care of the farm when I get a case.  Five days of being a forensic meteorologist and now I get to be a homesteader again.  Life is good.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Taramosalata recipe

Northern in the Sink

Today really got away from me.  I had a friend buy a new loom and wanted an expert to help her set it up.  Since there wasn't one around I was the next best thing.  lol   She's all set up and I loaned her one of my warping boards to get her started.  It looks like she's picking up the skill pretty quick.  She only had one lose warp which is great for a newbie.  I wish I was that talented when I got started. 

Anyway, back home I finally got the taramosalata going and in the fridge.  Taramosalata is a spread that is usually served in fancy Greek restaurants and people pay big bucks for a few pieces of toast bread with it spread on.  The funny thing is if you fish and garden more than likely you can make a better one than the stuff they serve in the restaurants.

You'll need:
Around 2/3 cup of the mock caviar you made
1 cup crumbed white bread with the crust removed
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
2 or so teaspoons of grated onion
a couple pinches of sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
a shake or two of hot sauce to taste (if you don't like hot sauce, don't use it)
A splash of lemon juice to taste (again, don't add if you don't want to)

Rinse your mock caviar under cold water in a cheese cloth filled sieve.  Let drain
In a separate bowl soak your bread crumbs in just enough water to cover
Squeeze out excess water out of bread and combine in a food processor with garlic, onion, and sugar.
Gentle press out any extra water out of the mock caviar and add to the food processor
Mix very briefly in food processor, then, as the processor is running SLOWLY drizzle in the olive oil
When blended it should have the consistency of mayo
Season with the hot sauce and/or lemon juice if you want to
Chill for at least 24 hours
Serve on crackers, toast, toasted pita (traditional), sliced cucumbers, other veggies
If you want to look fancy top with a good slice of black olive from oil

This may be a fancy person's appetizer now but at one time it was what the poor fishermen and their families ate.  They sold the fish meat at the market and ate taramosalata at home.  Then the fancy people found out the poor families could make better food with less than what they were eating and suddenly roe in all it's forms became very sought after.  So much so now that caviar can sell for more than what most of us pay for food in a six month period of time.  And here all the time we can make it at home from just the fish we caught on the pond while spending a day with the kids. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Mock Caviar

We woke up this morning to really nasty weather.  An ice fog had made the roads horrible, then it began to rain, which quickly froze everything solid, and then the temperature dropped and the rain turned to snow.  Fun, fun fun. lol  My nephews were here before I even had my morning chores done telling me they had a SNOW DAY!  The favorite two words for school age children this time of year.  I told them if it stopped raining ice I would take them ice fishing down on the ponds.  The farm rule is that no one under 16 can ice fish without supervision (I've had a couple close calls with going through the ice).

Well, of course the second the rain turned to snow my nephews were once again pounding on my door, this time carrying their ice fishing equipment because, after all I promised to take them.

Needless to say I did nothing on cleaning my basement, the chore I had on my list to do today.  But we all had a great time and we caught 4 legal northerns, two of which had a good amount of roe (eggs). 
Here's the row from one of the northerns.
So I spent the early evening filleting two of the fish and making dinner, the other two were canned, and the row we started for taramosalata which is wonderful spread from fish roe.  First though we have to make a mock caviar with the roe. which can take a bit of work.  Here's the recipe for caviar:

You'll need;
Fresh fish roe (true caviar is made with sturgeon roe but since that fish is endangered most of us don't get them while ice fishing)
2 cups cold water
1/2 cup of non-iodized salt

The equipment you use is a bit odd for the kitchen but this is the easiest way.  Once you make caviar, you'll know why the stuff is so darn expensive.

You'll need a study piece of 1/4 inch wire mesh (hardware cloth on a frame will do) and a fine sieve.

Put the wire mesh over a bowl.  Break up the fish eggs, loosening them from the membrane that holds them.Then  rub them gently across the mesh, careful not to break the eggs or to break up the membrane so it falls through.  If it does, you'll just have to pick it out later.  Even doing it this way you may have to rub some of the eggs off the membrane by hand.  They will stick to your fingers though and it becomes a comedy of errors to see someone trying to get fish eggs off their fingers.

Measure the eggs.  For around every cup make a brine of two cups cold water with 1/2 cup non-iodized salt.  Add the eggs and stir gently.  Let the eggs sit in the brine for 15 to 30 minutes.  They are much saltier the longer they sit.  gently swirl the eggs every now and then to see if there is any membrane that may have made it through the sieve.  The membranes take a bit longer to settle than the eggs.

Gently pour the eggs/salt water through a fine meshed sieve and let them drain in the fridge for about an hour.  Then pack into a scalded and cooled jar and let set in the fridge for at least 12 hours before eating.  If it is too salty you can rinse the caviar in cold water and then let drain again.  This will keep in a tightly covered jar in the fridge for about a month-though we will turn around and make taramosalata out of it tomorrow and eat it on bread.  It will be gone in a couple days.

Many of the fancy foods of today were simply our ancestors not letting anything go to waste.  We often found that the "waste" part of the foods were the best tasting parts.  Fish eggs to the modern person sounds gross, but salt or cream them, give them a fancy sounding name, and people gobble them down without a second thought. 

I'll dig out my recipe for taramosalata tomorrow.  Now I'm going to thaw out with a warm cup of tea in front of the fire.

White Pine Medicine

In northern Wisconsin, white pine is the king of the old growth forests.  This was the tree that was logged after the United States Civil War to build homes across the northern plain states where trees were so rare.  Many of our out buildings and cabins are still built out of this tree because it grows so straight and makes great lumber.  The white pine is used here for medicinal purposes as well.  It's needles are high in vitamin C and it's inner bark gives enough calories to justify it's gathering on frigid winter days. 

The tree has a smooth greenish bark when it is young but as it grows older it gets the vertical crackly bark that set the giant apart from other pines in the forest.  It also has medium length needles, about 2 to 3 inches long that grow in clumps or bracts of five.  The easiest way to remember this is the remember that it's first name, 'white', has five letters in it and it's needles grow in bracts of five.
The white pine oils are anti-microbial, meaning it helps destroy the "germs" that can make us sick.  If you have to 'do your business' out in the woods, tearing off a handful of white pine needles and rubbing them over your hands is as good as using antibacterial soap back at home.

These needles are also high in vitamin C.  Many of the old granny women healers of the north often put white pine needles into their healing teas as we all know that vitamin C helps boost the immune system.

We make a vinegar tincture from the needles for this and other uses.  If anyone makes their own apple cider or buys it unpasteurized from someone who does they know just how short of a shelf life it has.  Apple cider that is made early in the season usually turns to vinegar quite fast (while late season cider goes hard just as fast, yum).  Using this high acid cider vinegar, usually higher in acid than you can buy in the store, is a great way to extract the medicinal properties of the white pine needles.  Simply cut off the bracts (the little sheath that holds the needles together) and stuff the needles into a clean glass jar.  Pour the apple cider vinegar over the needles, cover the jar, and shake.  Keep it out of direct sunlight for a month, shaking it a couple times a day.  At the end of the month strain out the needles and put them on the compost pile.  They'll add a bit of acid to your compost.  The remaining vinegar can be taken a tablespoon at a time several times a day if you feel a cold coming on or to shorten one you already have.

What you have just made is not only a healing tincture but a wonderful cooking vinegar as well.  It is basically a mock balsamic vinegar, with the same flavor bite that a store bought balsamic gives you.  Mix this with oil for a nice salad dressing to dress the greens from your own garden.  No need to rely on someone else to flavor your food.

If you boil the needles in water on a low simmer for an hour or so and then strain out the needles (again into the compost pile with them), add equal amounts honey to the pine infused water, you have a good cough medicine and it helps to kill off any bacteria that may be in your system.

Another thing we do with the white pine is take the inner bark and simmer it on VERY low heat in a cooking oil of some sort.  We usually use olive oil.  Keep this heating for an hour or two but don't let the oil smoke.  Turn off the heat and let it set covered if the oil gets too hot.  After an hour or two carefully strain out the bark (this makes good fire starter now) and put the oil back into the clean pan.  Shave off equal part beeswax as what you have oil and mix them together, heating just enough so that the wax melts into the oil.  Quickly pour off this new salve into a heat proof container and let cool. 

While on it's own, white pine bark salve is not a healing salve (you would need to add comfrey or chickweed to if for that), the antimicrobial effect helps keep any damaged skin free of infection.  Pine tar use to be used the same way in days gone by, but I find that the skin feels better when a oil/beeswax mixture is used instead.

The inner bark of the white pine can be eaten as well, but for me it is a survival food at best.  It does have calories but it tastes and feels in your mouth like you are eating a pine tree.  Not my favorite food.  But the name Adirondack means bark eater and the bark these people ate for winter fare was the inner bark of the white pine tree.  It would take whole villages through the winter.  So I guess it would be good if you had very little else to eat.

If you want to try white pine bark to eat, this is a good time of the year to do it.  The bark separates from the tree much easier in the winter than it does in the summer months.  Now, forget all you may have read about boiling the bark up like spaghetti.  Yes, if you take long strips of bark off the tree it does kind of look like spaghetti, but if you boil up white pine bark all you'll get is a big pot of tree fibers.  It's really gross.  The best and only way I know of to make it palatable is to roast the bark on either a hot rock or better yet in a dry cast iron skillet until the bark becomes crispy.  It then feels kind of like you are eating a potato chip.  It's not what it tastes like but if you flavored it with some sort of dip you MIGHT be able to forget you are eating a tree.  I, myself, never have but you can give it a go.  Whole tribes of people thought it was good enough to eat.

I'll stick with my mock balsamic vinegar and the occasional needle tea as my wild edible from this tree.  As a medicinal though it is one of winter's best and most used plants.  The majestic white pine helped build a nation and still keeps us well as we shiver through the dark time of the year.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Tale of Being Prepared

A picture of the road into our valley during the floods.  The Wisconsin River backed up into Rocky Arbor Creek flooding the road.

Last year in September we were going through our normal late summer dry spell when a very slow moving front went just to the north of us and dumped hour after hour of torrential rain on the Wisconsin Rapid's area, flooding the Wisconsin River.  To save the upriver cities the corp of engineers opened the spillways of the big dams along the Wisconsin and sent that water hurtling down river, into farmland and countryside.

I received a call at work that the flood waters were coming and more than likely the road into my valley would be closed to traffic.  I had two hours to get home.  It's a 45 minute drive for me and I had no need to stop at any stores because I was well stocked back on the farm.  I flew home to get my cattle out of their normal late summer low pasture before the waters hit.

On my way home I took a few calls from friends.  Alliant Energy was going to be shutting down the power grid and since I was off grid did I mind them coming to stay at the farm.  My off grid system is set up for a family of five but it can easily take the use of a couple more people and if we conserve several more people.  I told them yes, as long as they were willing to give up a few of their electrical creature comforts.

To step out of the story, I thought I would explain an off grid electrical system.  Mine runs on solar, wind and in a pinch LP.  They are NOT like flipping a switch in a normal home where the power plant just makes extra and sends it down the line as long as the person is willing to pay for it.  You have to be aware of how much electricity is being created, used and stored.  At no time should your batteries ever go below 50% power or else you have destroyed the more expensive and sensitive part of your electrical system.  Many people who are so use to just hitting a switch and always having power at their fingertips (as long as the grid is up) just don't understand that concept.  The simple fact is you can only use as much power as you create, there is no more after that.  Back to the story.

Just as I was crossing rocky arbor creek and entering into my valley yet another friend called me and wanted to come out to stay where there would be electricity.  I told her sure, as long as she didn't want to use too much electricity.  She then said she didn't want to use TOO much but she had not done laundry in a bit over a week and would need to use my washer.  I told her there would not be enough power for that.  She came as was or she stayed home.  If one person used that much power then everyone else would have to cut back too much.  She decided to see if she could get a load of laundry done at her home and try and beat the flood waters back into the valley.  She couldn't make it.  While she was perfectly safe in her home, she was there for six days with no electricity, something she did not like.  The flood waters crossed the road and no one could get into or out of the valley I live in.

This brings me to the point of this story.  Being prepared is more than having plenty of food and water.  It's more than having a back up heat source or even a generator.  Being prepared means that you do not fall behind on your day to day chores.  You know, the boring ones that you'll get to tomorrow.  If my friend had kept up with her laundry she could have joined the lot of us that spent the flood in relative ease with power that the rest of the area didn't have for almost a week.

If a disaster hits or is about to hit, the last thing you need to worry about is the pile of dirty dishes in the sink or the laundry that kept being put off.  Water becomes a precious resource when the taps stop working or when their use becomes limited.  You certainly don't want to waste that precious resource on something that should have been done before.  A dirty, unorganized house makes survival just that much harder, not to mention in day to day living it can end up costing you more than you need to spend.  Often when things are left undone or unorganized they get broken, destroyed or misplaced, forcing us to buy more, waste our money on things we didn't need to.

So if being prepared is important to anyone, they should look at their daily chores as just another line of defense against any approaching disaster.  The minute you have a full load of laundry, get it washed, dried and put away, ready to go at a moment's notice.  After you are done with a meal, wash up all the dishes and get them put away.  Keep all you supplies organized, not just stuffed where ever they will fit. 

Knowing that some disasters come without warning and others come with a very short window of warning, we learn that everything we do in our lives, down to the boring laundry, is just another way of being ready for what might come.

Yeast From Trees

Bread is the staff of life, or so some say, but let's say a person runs out of the yeast that makes bread rise.  Do they live their life with unleavened bread?  Well, as most people know, yeast is around us almost every day.  It floats in the air, grows on many fruits such as apples and grapes, and many plant actually have their own yeast farms.

Such is the case in the aspen or other light skinned trees such as paper birch.   A lighter colored tree has one of the same problems that lighter colored skinned people do.  It can be affected by the sun in bad ways.  Now, these trees don't get sunburned per say, but if they get too hot too early in the spring their sap will start rising only to freeze and kill the tree if winter isn't quite over.  So what these trees do is grow yeast on their bark, especially on the side of the tree that gets the most sun.  Here in the north it is usually on the south side of the tree.  This yeast is a light colored protective powder that keeps the tree from heating up too fast in late winter or early spring. 

We can use it in a similar way.  Rub your fingers down the smooth bark of an aspen tree on the side that gets the most sun.  A gray or white power should show up on your fingers.  You can spread this yeast across your cheek bones or over your nose to help protect you from getting a sun burn.  It's not SPF 15 but it does a pretty good job of blocking the suns rays.

Of course you can use it for what yeast is most used for by humans and that is to cook with.  Many a moonshiners would start their mash or beere with a little scraping of birch yeast.  Wine made with tree yeast can be used to drink, in tinctures or even let go to vinegar to do so many things with.  Scrape an aspen tree and put these scrapings into a flour/water mixture with maybe a pinch of sugar to feed the yeast and you're well on your way to making bread.   If you use it right away it is simple yeast.  Let it set for a few days while feeding it flour and water and it will ripen into a delicious sour dough.

So the next time you are out in an aspen forest or walking by a paper birch tree on a cold winter's day, check out this most useful of wild edibles.  If bread is the staff of life, yeast is the tree the staff was cut from.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Few Definitions

Often when we talk on the Internet it is easy to misunderstand what a person means or says.  This is probably because we humans often watch each other's faces when speaking to each other and that is really hard to do when the other person is simply words on a page. 

So I thought I would put out a few definitions for the way I see things.  These may not be everyone else's definitions but then again, I was never big on letting even a dictionary tell me how to think.  LOL   These are just how I see some of the different topics I may talk about from time to time.

First would be the difference between homesteaders, preppers, and survivalists.

Homesteaders are people who are living a life that is more self sufficient than most.  They raise much of their own food and medicine, have many skills that take care of their loved ones and themselves, don't rely on stores for much, and if the world changes around them they can take or leave those changes.  Basically these are people who are living a chosen lifestyle of self reliance.  They may or may not be doing this because they worry about the future.  Most don't worry as much about the future as the general population because they already know how to take care of themselves.

A prepper is a regular person with a regular job and a regular house that feels that something in the future may turn out badly.  They put aside extras for emergencies and set up many things so if something bad happens they are ready for it as best possible.  They do this all while living like most other people do.  Instead of buying a big screen TV though they may put up extra food stores or buy a generator.  These people are usually not caught off guard by a natural disaster or any disturbance in the man made infrastructure.

A survivalist is a person who believes that something has or will be happening for the very worst.  They often do not stop with simple natural disasters but believe that it is possible that the whole of civilization could collapse.  For these people off grid living is just the beginning.  They are learning or know skills that will let them disappear into the wilds as society is falling apart at the seems.  These are people who are comfortable living separated TOTALLY from society.  They aren't thinking of growing their own food but of hunting and gathering it.

For me I think many people have some of all these qualities in them.  Such as I live the life now as a homesteader, but I also prepare for any natural or man made disaster that might come.  While I never want to live totally away from society, I was raised gathering a great deal of my food and medicine from the wilds.  I am more t home in a canoe on a hidden river than I am in a car on the interstate.  We all kind of mix and match these three concepts to what makes us feel comfortable.  Many people are not comfortable in moving out to the country away from their jobs, family and friends but they enjoy a more urban homesteading life.  Everyone does what they feel is best for their family and themselves.

The other two terms I use are pagan and pantheist and I may not fit into what most people think of as the first. 

Pagan to me is anyone who's spirituality is outside of the Abrahamic religions usually I see them as nature or earth centered.  Some people feel that pagan means a person must worship multiple gods.  This is not my definition as I do not believe in any gods though I respect those that do.  I always say I was just not born with the "belief" gene.  I'm just ornery enough not to believe in anything I can not confirm with my senses.  LOL

A pantheist is a person who believes that the universe is what is sacred.  These people find all things to be sacred even the things that they may not like.  This doesn't mean they have to accept all things passively.  I can find another's person need to steal my stuff as their sacred need, however, I don't need to accept it and I plan on blowing their head off if they break into my house.  After all, I have my sacred needs as well and I plan on protecting them.

I may add to this list as I realize that my definitions may not be the same as everyone elses.  This way maybe I won't be quite so confusing when I write.  It's always best when we try to communicate to each other that we actually do communicate.  If we don't, why even bother putting out the energy?

Highbush Cranberry or Fruit of Crampbark

In the harsh, cold weather of January we often dream of harvests from the garden or from the wilds.  We picture green leaves and short sleeves.  But there is one fruit that is best harvested in the coldest months.  That is highbush cranberry, a fruit that is better the colder it gets. 

First let's give a brief description.  Highbush cranberry is considered to be a small tree or large bush.  It is mostly found in open woods or edges of fields.  The more sun you have, the more berries will be found on each bush.  In the winter the fruit hang off of clusters.  The big clue is that it hangs, meaning if you find fruit sitting upright on a branch in a bunch it is NOT highbush cranberry.  The fruit can be different shades but this time of the year it is usually a reddish color, though some bushes are more orange and others more maroon.  The branches and leaves (which you can only see the scars of this time of year) come off opposite of each other.  If you were to see the tree before the leaves fall off they have a distinctly maple like look to them, with three lobes that are sharply pointed

Here is a picture of a highbush cranberry tree from October when the fruit was just ripening.

Now, to say this is my favorite wild edible fresh off the tree would be a huge lie.  Eating it fresh off the tree, no matter how many freezes, is not the most pleasant of experiences.  Even in January it will be sour with a hint of bitterness.  If you pick it when it is ripe in October it will be almost unbearably bitter.  The bitterness mellows with the freezing.  The longer you can let it stay on the tree (some people call it a bush) in freezing weather the better it tastes.  There are a couple problems with leaving it too long on the tree.  First, many woodland birds and animals eat it in the cold months too.  Wait too long and you'll come out to a stripped tree.  Second is if you wait until spring, the fruit may begin to ferment, and while it makes an excellent wine, fermented fruits don't do well in jellies and fruit mixes.  So on some of the coldest days in January is when you find most people gathering up this northern wild edible and medicinal.

Why highbush cranberry is not most people's favorite fruit is because in its raw state it is a medicinal, not so much an edible.  The bitter flavor in it is viburnin which is one of the best anti-spasmodic on either nature's shelves or a stores shelves.  If your muscles are sore or cramping do to over exertions, menstrual pains, or diarrhea, a hot mug of tea made from the berries will help relax the pain away.  There is much more viburnin in the inner bark however and that is what most people use for medicine, which is where it gets the name "cramp bark" from.  But as wonderful of a medicinal the fruit is, most people don't like the bitter taste.  Not to fear, when cooked the bitter flavor is muted so much so most people can't taste it.  When cooked it has a similar flavor to bog or lowbush cranberries and that is how most people use it.

The three things I use it for is wine, jelly, and sauce (usually mixed with apples). 

The wine is easy to make, in fact if you leave the berries sitting in water in a warm place it will probably make itself.  For a bit more control we boil up a gallon of berries in a gallon of water.  This gets all the juices out of the berries and kills off any unwanted yeast that may make your wine a bit funky in flavor.  Then we strain out the berries and toss them to the chickens or back out into the woods for the deer to eat.  Of course we have saves the juice to which we add about 2 pounds of sugar or equivalent.  My favorite is adding a quart or a bit more of maple syrup.  In fact spring's maple syrup seemed to be made to go with highbush cranberries.  Heat this just until the sugar is mixed in.  Let cool to body temperature or just a wee bit higher.  Yeast works well at about 100 degrees F.  Sprinkle on your favorite yeast.  I'm cheap so I use a heaping tablespoon of my brick of bread yeast.  If you are a wine fanatic though that thought probably makes you flinch.  Feel free to add your favorite wine yeast.  Cover and let set until the bubbling slows down.  Then put it into whatever carboy you've scrounged up (a cleaned out liter wine jug works well).  Put a balloon over the top of the jug and let it set for a month or until there is no more bubbling.  Rack or pour this into mason jars and let set on the shelves for at least 6 months.  Open one up and enjoy.

Here's a good recipe for jelly made from the highbush cranberry:

4 cups highbush cranberries
6 cups water
Additional water (as needed)
7 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. margarine or butter
1 pouch liquid pectin (Certo)

Bring the berries and water to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Crush the
berries or put through a food mill. Strain the juice in a cheesecloth-lined
sieve. Add any additional water if need to bring the juice up to 5 cups.

Bring the juice and sugar up to a boil. Add the margarine, then the liquid
pectin. Bring back to a boil, stirring constantly boil hard for 1 minute.
Remove from heat. Skim foam from surface and pour into sterile pint jars and
seal. Process in boiling water bath for 5 minutes.

This is great on game meats or used in stuffings.

Then there is simple highbush cranberry sauce.

Cook up a couple cups of de-stemmed highbush cranberries.  Mash them through a sieve.  Put the juice back on the stove and heat slowly (throw the leftover berry bits to the deer) to thicken.  Meanwhile chop up really fine a couple of apples, sweet if you have them, and put either ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg or a combination into the apples.  When the highbush cranberry has thickened a bit put the apples and spices into the pot and pour over around 1/2 cup of maple syrup.  Mix this well and cook until thick enough for you.  You can eat this warm on a cold winter's day or freeze it or use it over pork or wild game meat. 

So while your neighbors are all huddled in their houses dreaming of getting back into nature on a warm spring day, you can bundle up and go out and gather this winter's treasure.  Don't eat it fresh off the tree (it won't kill you but it will make you make a face), but bring it home and cook it up.  You'll find that nature doesn't forget about us when the snow is deep.  And knowing that even though the garden is resting and the chickens have slowed down on their laying, there is still food to be had without have to rely on someone getting it to the store shelves.

Highbush cranberries or cramp bark, one of the best muscle medicines out there and during the cold months, one of our edibles from the wilds.

The First Post

This blog is my writing about living as a pagan homesteader on a 652 acre farm along the Wisconsin River. 

I was born into a family that was land rich and money poor, raised for my first 9 years without electricity or running water.  People are surprised to learn that while I am only 46 years old I went to school in a one room school house for my first 5 years of school, I didn't have my first telephone until I went to college, and that I am just as, if not more, comfortable living out of a canoe as I am living out of my house.  My mother's family have been farming in this valley for over 150 years.  My father was a swamp rat, living off the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers until he married my mother in his late 20s. 

When I was 13 years old my older uncle had a heart attack and I moved in with him and my aunt to help to take care of their farm until I left for college when I was 17.  I once again lived with no electricity or running water because my aunt and uncle were true free spirits.  They would not own a monthly bill to ANYONE.  LOL  My aunt was a healer and my uncle was a farmer and provider from the forests and swamps of the area. 

At age 17 I fulfilled my father's dream and was the first of my four siblings to go to college.  But even though I greatly enjoyed learning new things and LOVE, LOVE, LOVE my job as a forensic meteorologist, I truly missed the life I had been raised in.  When my aunt passed away in 1987 I inherited her farm and my then husband and I moved back home.  While he had a hard time living such a simple life I finally realized this was the life I couldn't live without.  It took several year and a great deal of work but I made my uncle and aunt's farm into my home. 

I do still live off grid but instead of having no electricity, I work with solar and wind.  I raise Scottish highlander cattle for both meat and milk.  Actually besides olive oil, salt and sugar (and the occasional cup of coffee LOL) I raise most of my own food.  I raise all my animal food and I do so in what people now call the "organic" way.  For those of us whole live cheaply it just means not giving my money to the big chemical companies and instead using the free stuff that nature provides.  But that would be a really long title so I say "organic". 

My religion is of the pantheist/pagan way.  It often seems odd to others that a pagan is into homesteading and survivalism but if we go to true paganism, most of the original gatherings and ceremonies were about surviving.  If we actually follow the Old Ways then we would need to feel close the the earth by taking our nourishment from Her.  Of course most pagans are New Age pagans instead of Old Way pagans and this is why it seems strange to some. 

While I do not intend to use this blog as a religious site, I am a pantheist pagan and sometimes some of that comes out in my writing.  I just want people to be prepared for that.  I also would like other pagans who feel similar to I do but can't find many in the pagan mainstream that agree with them to know that they are not alone.  Not every pagan is about buying crystals and wearing black and not every homesteader is looking to Jesus to save them. 

For politics, I am neither a conservative nor a liberal.  What I am is an American.  I believe we need people of both ways of thinking and if we lean one way or another we lose a bit of ourselves.  I also will not be brain washed by either side.  Each side has wonderful gifts to bring to the table and each side can be dumb as a fence post from time to time.  I simply will not be told how to think and for that I am neither and both at the same time.  I am an American, from Wisconsin, from a little valley on the Wisconsin River, from a tight knit farm family, from myself and my way of thinking. 

So, off I go on my new blog.  I hope you enjoy and share what you have to teach me.