Maybe Not All Things

October 6, 2014 § 4 Comments


I’ll be at the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick tomorrow night at 7:00 reading from Home Grown and blabbing about all things learning and life. Well, maybe not all things. But you get the idea.

Ad Hoc Medicine

October 1, 2014 § 21 Comments


A couple of folks asked about fire cider, and since I’m not feeling particularly thoughtful today, I figured I’d satisfy some curiosity.

Fire cider is a traditional folk remedy in use since September 2, 1673. That’s a joke; I have no idea when it was invented, but it’s safe to say it was a heck of a long time ago, though the name “fire cider” has become common only in the past few decades, since the herbalist Rosemary Gladstar coined it in the 70’s. It’s considered an immune-stimulating cold and flu preventative, as well as an aid to digestion and circulation. I’ve read that it makes short people taller, but I’m not entirely sure I believe that one.


There are countless variations, but the main ingredients are fresh horseradish, garlic, onion, hot pepper, and ginger infused in raw apple cider vinegar. Often, raw honey is added. You know, ’cause it’s honey.

We use the above recipe and throw in any other immune boosting and anti-inflammatory/bacterial/viral ingredients we have on hand. For example, we might include Echinacea root, calendula flowers, yarrow leaves and flowers, sage, thyme, rosemary, rosehips, turmeric, and lemon balm. Or we might not; it really depends on what we have in the garden and/or pantry.


As per our usual style, there are no “correct” amounts of these various ingredients. Very roughly, we use equal parts of horseradish, garlic, and onions – maybe two cups each, for those of you desiring precision. We’ll throw in one cup of ginger and handfuls of the remaining goodies. One of the beauties of this concoction is that ginger is the only boughten ingredient; the rest we have on hand,u unless we don’t, in which case we simply vary the recipe to utilize what we’ve got. It’s ad hoc medicine.


So, the process. We grate the horseradish (and be careful, this is some wicked strong stuff, people have actually passed out food processing it, which is why we stick to grating by hand in the great outdoors. Too, we have the boys do it, because of one of them loses consciousness, they have less far to fall) and chop the rest, being darn well sure not to touch our eyes after handling the hot peppers. We throw it all in bowl and cover with the raw apple cider vinegar, stir it around, and ladle into jars. We let it sit for two months before straining.


Fire cider can be taken as a preventative during cold/flu season in 1 – 2 tablespoon doses. If you actually have symptoms, take a shot every 4 hours or so. You can also mix with hot water and honey to make a tea, use it in place of vinegar in salad dressing, or drizzle on cooked veggies and/or rice. Heck, we’ve even added it to marinades and soups.


By-the-by, there’s a brewhaha over the recent trademarking of the name “Fire Cider” by a small Massachusetts company. I don’t know all the details, so I probably ought keep my trap shut, but in general trademarking the name of a common folk remedy sounds like a load of bullocks to me. So there.

That Was a Nice Day

September 30, 2014 § 24 Comments



We went down to Martin’s place to pick wild apples this morning. Actually, I bet they’re not entirely wild; I bet someone planted those trees, or at least some of them. It would’ve been before I was born. It probably would’ve been before any of you were born, and I know some of you got a few years on me. Maybe even a few decades.

We drove out through Martin’s hayfield and into the back pasture, where his heifers are grazing the last of the sward. The grass has stopped growing; whatever’s on the ground now is all there’ll be until sometime next May. It catches me by surprise every year, just how fast the pasture goes into decline. And now this: Another two weeks of grazing, then seven months of grasslessness. Seven months of throwing bales and busting through iced-over water troughs. I don’t mind. I look forward to it, actually.



The boys weren’t in a great mood this morning and I can’t say why. It happens, I guess. They bickered and wrestled a bit more aggressively than strictly necessary, while Penny and I tried to ignore them. We did a pretty good job of it, too. They didn’t help much but we still let Fin drive back across Martin’s pasture and Rye got behind the wheel for the trip down our quarter-mile driveway, and this seemed to cheer them up considerably.

It’s been an amazing fall thus far. Warm. Dry. The foliage is as fine as I can remember. You stand at the height of our land and you look across the valley and you think it can’t get any better than this. Then one afternoon you’re driving Melvin’s cows down for evening milking and you see his big black and while Holsteins etched against the all that crimson and orange and you realize you were wrong before. Truth is, it can’t get any better than this. Two mornings later, you’re climbing into an old apple tree to shake the fruit down (and sure, the boys are grumpy but screw ‘em) and Martin’s heifers are gathered around, waiting for errant bounces. And then you realize you were wrong that time in Melvin’s field, too, because this is the moment that crystallizes fall. This is the moment you’ll remember in 35 years, when you’re no longer able to climb apple trees to shake the high branches, the ones that stubbornly hold the sweetest fruit. You know what’s funny? I first wrote “truth” instead of “fruit.” I meant to write “fruit” but maybe “truth” works, too.



Nah, I’m smarter than that. I bet I won’t remember this morning, climbing that tree, the sour boys, the gathered heifers, the branch-scratch on my forearm oozing beaded blood. Or if I do remember, it’ll be in some hazy, generalized way, how the four of us used to gather apples every fall and I can almost recall that one September morning, the nicest start to autumn we’d had in years and didn’t Fin drive us back through the pasture?

Yes. Yes. That was a nice day.

Why My Friend Tried to Stab Me

September 29, 2014 § 10 Comments

A friend sent me an email last week to say she’d had a dream in which she and I were eating lunch at a diner and I was blathering on about something in my usual way and she raised her fork at me in a fashion she claims was not menacing and said “No! You listen TO ME!” Because otherwise, she couldn’t get a word in edgewise.

This may mean nothing. On the other hand, I think it’s sort of telling that she didn’t have a dream in which she was trying to get me to speak up.

With that, I present to you my second consecutive nearly-wordless post. Unless you’re one of those deluded sorts who thinks a picture is worth a 1,000 words. I mean, really: 1,000 words? Do you know how friggin’ hard I have to work for 1,000 words?

Eh, never mind. Because now I’m closing in on my fourth paragraph about how maybe I don’t spend enough time with my yap shut.

Damn. I can almost understand why my friend tried to stab me.

Taking the cows down for afternoon milking

Taking the cows down for afternoon milking





Making fire cider

Making fire cider

Surf n' turf

Surf n’ turf


That Time of Year

September 26, 2014 § 25 Comments

The ride home

The ride home

More 'taters. Ridiculous crop this year

More ‘taters. Ridiculous crop this year



Lacto-fermented salsa. A standby

Lacto-fermented salsa. A standby

Survive This

September 25, 2014 § 9 Comments


I had a really fun and wide-ranging conversation with Jack Spirko of The Survival Podcast yesterday. The episode went up this afternoon. I was a little leery of the “survivalist” angle, based mostly on my own ill-informed preconceptions, but Jack proved to be a great shit shootin’ partner. Go ahead and listen for yerownbadselves.

Merely A Choice

September 25, 2014 § 10 Comments


Last night while Penny read to the boys, I cleared a spot in the midst of the kitchen counter chaos (basket of tomatoes, pile of onion peels, jar of sourdough starter, dirtied utensil miscellany, a few things I probably shouldn’t mention, and so on) and churned up a mess of butter. I’ve been on a bit of a butter-making bender; both Apple’s and Pip’s calves are fully weaned, and the volume of milk emerging from our humble little pole barn is awesome to behold. We don’t generally milk two cows concurrently, but this year we’re feeling particularly Taker-ish, and my churning ritual has become a daily affair.

Our butter-making technique is about as low-tech as it gets in this day and age, an almost Luddite-ian process that begins with hand milking and ends with an old hand-crank churn I snagged of Ebay a while back. Prior to the churn, I used our electric food processor and that worked fine, but the noise of the thing set all of us on edge. Truth is, the hand crank model is almost as fast, and  other than the fact that I’ve had to cut all my shirts to accommodate my churn-honed right triceps muscle, there’s little downside to it. And what with the bulging triceps, my “I heart Ozzy” tatt is really something to behold, so there’s that.

To separate the cream, we simply filter the milk into large pots and let them sit overnight in the fridge. I skim it once in the morning and then let it sit again until evening, when I snag a second skim. This works because we milk once-per-day; if we milked 2x/daily, there’d simply be too many cream separating vessels to fit in the fridge, though I suppose the basement is cool enough to suffice. But truth is, 1x/day milking works just fine for us, and as anyone who’s followed a similar protocol knows, cutting the milkings in half results in only a 20-30% decline in the total volume of milk. We’re fortunate to have animals who tolerate 1x/day milking, in part because they’re modest producers to begin with and in part because we don’t push production with grain. Right now, we’re getting somewhere around 4-and-a-half or 5 gallons a day from our two girls combined.

We’ve been milking now for 10 years. We take a three month break every year in the months before our girls are due to calve (“freshen” in dairy farmin’ speak); most commercial farms give their milkers a two month rest period, and ours are robust enough that we could probably do the same, but frankly, a break at the end of winter isn’t the worst thing. It’s not the cold that we mind; it’s that no matter how much bedding we use, the cows are inevitably dirtier in winter than in summer, when they doze on clean, green pasture grass. Because we don’t pasteurize our milk, there’s a particular impetus to keep the ladies clean, and it’s not uncommon for us to spend as much time cleaning as milking.

One of the things I’m just beginning to understand (me being the slow learner I am) is that so many of my favorite tasks on this piece of land involve transforming raw materials into something else. Cream into butter. Trees into lumber and then to shelter. Sap and fire into syrup. Grass into hay. Firewood into heat. Seeds into tomatoes. These are the tasks I almost never tire of, maybe because they never cease to imbue me with the sense that no matter how complicated and convoluted we all try to make our lives, all that complication and convolution is merely a choice.

We just don’t seem inclined to recognize it as such.



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