April 20th – Is this what “nesting” is? This driving need to make sure everything is clean and ready for the baby? Isn’t it a little early to be feeling this? Maybe not. The few people I’ve mentioned it to make it seem like it is some cute, temporary insanity all pregnant women go through. It makes me feel like they are patting me on the head and humoring me and that drives me up the wall even in the best of times. And these aren’t the best of times.
Despite all of my promises to myself not to worry things to death, it looks like maybe I’ve had good reason to worry … well, if not worry at least to be concerned. We heard this morning that raids have started up again along the river. No one is for sure if it is the same group because the methods of attack are different. It might not even be river pirates but people trying to make it look like river pirates or land raiders using the river as a temporary refuge to get them from point A to point B. No one knows … because no survivors of any of the attacks have been found.
People look like they are missing but because of how badly burned over some of the small homesteads and towns are the missing are either unidentifiable from the remains that are found or there is simply too much ground to cover to see if someone ran off or crawled off and died in the undergrowth.
I try not and dwell on it but the only way I can get away from it is to try and get my chores done. The weather has been really nice so it has actually be good to work outside. The best thing that came out of the garden today was my first sweet Spanish onions. For dinner I actually made sausage dogs with all the onions and peppers we could handle … and I’m paying for it. That’s what I’m doing sitting up here at the kitchen table with the solar lamp while Rand and Austin are asleep.
Trying to keep my mind off of the terrible indigestion I gave myself from pigging out I’ve been making a list of what I have in the garden and what I can expect out of the orchard. Last month I planted bush beans, pole beans, lima beans, cantaloupes, carrots, collard greens, sweet corn, cucumbers, eggplant, endive, lettuce, romaine, kohlrabi, mustard greens, okra, green onions, English peas, black eyed peas, peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, radish, summer squash, winter squash, tomatoes, turnips, and watermelon. I planted more of the same for successive harvests. The greens I harvest daily and the peppers are really coming in now too … bell to sweet to hot, seems you can never have too many peppers.
I planted too much cabbage. The heads this season are huge and if I have to smell cooking cabbage one more time I think I’m gonna hurl. I’ve made as much sauerkraut and I can stand to make. I’ve dried it until it looks like confetti. I’ve canned a ton of slaw. I’ve shredded the stuff and tried to hide it in some of the casseroles I’ve made. I’m just plain tired of looking at cabbage. I know I’m being ungrateful but this Sunday for the dinner on the grounds I’m making a huge bowl of cole slaw to try and “bless” some other folks with the bounty God’s dumped on us.
The mayhaws will be coming in soon and I can’t wait. The next sorghum crop needs to be planted before the end of the month and I hope to get my gladiolus bulbs in the ground in the next day or so too. Whoops, Rand is looking for me so looks like it is off to bed whether I can stand it or not. If I don’t go, he’ll want to sit with me and I won’t do that to him.
April 21st – Today was baking day and I’ve decided to write down the whole process for posterity … or at least for the baby’s memory book. First off, you have to have the wheat to grind. I’m still using some that was in Rand’s feed barrels. We’re using the older stuff before we start using the grain that we grew ourselves. Rand calls it FIFO … first in, first out.
According to one of Momma’s books on the subject of baking, the whole wheat kernel or berry is made up of distinct parts, all of which contribute to the high quality nutritional value of the wheat. The wheat has high amounts of vitamins A, E and B. Wheat berries found in the tombs of the pharaohs in Egypt and examined still contained the full range of 26 vitamins and minerals, over 2000 years after it had been harvested; you have to admit that is something amazing. The outside of the kernel is called the bran. Bran is good for the fiber that the body needs as well as helping to regulate cholesterol. It helps to detoxify the body which is an important function in our society where toxins assault us from every angle. The wheat germ is the part of the kernel that sprouts. It holds the life of the wheat, the ability to produce plants like itself. It has the highest density of vitamins B and E in the wheat. This is where wheat germ oil is found, a healthy oil that helps the body absorb vitamins that are not water soluble. Finally, the endosperm is the part of the wheat berry that holds the starch. This is the only part left in white flour. It is only the starch which breaks down into sugar in the body, and is meant as a food source for the plant as it grows, before the leaves come out and photosynthesis begins.
I know I need to teach Austin this stuff too and I keep making notes but by the time I’ve thought about something and bring it up Austin will generally say, “I know, Rand told me.” I’m not sure if that makes me feel useless or not. I’m glad that Rand is teaching Austin but, I thought I was supposed to have a hand in it someplace too.
Anyway, about making bread from scratch, now that I’ve got the structure of the wheat out of the way the next part of the equation is the grinder. There used to be all sorts of grinders on the market. Looking at Momma’s books and at the old magazines in Daddy’s files makes me think that some folks sure had it easy. I have a couple of different grinders but mostly I have to use the hand powered ones though Rand has said that when he gets more deep cycle batteries he is going to set the kitchen up so that I can use some of the old “convenience appliances” like the blender, food processor, and electric grinder on a regular basis.
The first hand grinder I have is for small batches. It bolts onto the table, you feed the grain into the hopper, and then you turn the crank handle and the flour is spit out into a bowl I have strategically placed below the grinding area. I like this grinder when I’m only doing a small amount of flour or when I want cracked wheat instead of flour or I’m making flour or meal out of harder grains like corn or legumes.
The other grinder I have is a Country Living Grain Mill. This is the grinder I use when I need to make larger batches of flour. The wheel on this mill is really big and Rand has set it up so that a belt can be placed on the large wheel and run to a bicycle wheel and peddling the bicycle powers the grinder. Now that my backside is too wide for the seat, Austin has to help first thing on Baking Day to make sure I have enough flour for everything I plan to do on those days.
First thing you want to do is keep your grain on the cool side as it is ground, that’s why I do mine first thing in the morning. If the grain gets too warm, or the resulting flour, it kind of develops this rancid odor and the flour has an off taste that can’t be baked out. It is also a good habit to never grind any more grain than what you need in a single day. I’ve goofed, or gotten distracted doing other things, so sometimes I have to bag it and put it in the cooler but not too many people have that advantage so stick with just making what you need each day.
According to one of Momma’s books, the first loaves of bread were made of loosely ground grains mixed with water and then flattened out and dried in the sun. I can’t really see trying to pass that off at the dinner table these days. But you don’t just treat fresh ground whole wheat flour the way you would the bleached white stuff that you used to get at the grocery store either. It is a different texture and has the whole grain in it, not just the starchy part.
This is how I make one of my favorite loaves of whole wheat bread. You start with one and a half cups of water. The water should be lukewarm (body temperature) to help dissolve one quarter cup of honey and support the growth of the packet of dry yeast. Honey is for flavor and also food for the yeast. Adding a quarter cup of vegetable oil makes for a cake-like texture and helps the bread stay moist. And the two tablespoons of salt brings out the taste of all the ingredients.
Combine the ingredients, including three and one-half cups of whole wheat flour, one at a time, in a large bowl – starting with the liquids and ending with the flour one cup at a time and keeping a half cup aside until the dough is ready to knead on the table top.
Blend everything with a spoon and/or your hands until it begins to form a lump. Then lightly dust the table top with some of the remaining flour, turn the mound out of the bowl, and let it rest for 10 minutes. According to the notes in the margin of Momma’s recipe book this is so the flour can more fully absorb the water.
Next, dust your hands with a little of the extra flour and begin kneading as follows: (1) gently push the dough away from you so that it flattens out, (2) give it a quarter turn and (3) fold it in half toward you. Think of it as push, turn, and fold. Repeat the process as many as 100 times, dusting your hands and the table to prevent the dough from sticking. The key here is to make sure the dough stays moist and soft – so add just enough flour during the kneading to keep the dough from becoming stiff and dry. When the kneading is done, the dough will be soft and tender like the lobe of your ear which sounds stupid but is really true if you’ve ever stopped to compare the two..
Pour a little oil into the mixing bowl, and roll the kneaded dough inside the bowl so that it is coated with the oil. Cover the bowl with a dishcloth and let it double in size in a corner of the kitchen where there are no drafts. After about an hour, punch it down in the bowl to release the bubbles made by the yeast. Turn it back onto the table top and knead it another 25 to 50 times. Shape the dough into a ball, and press it into a greased bread pan (8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inches). Cover it with a cloth, and let it rise until it’s about a half inch over the brim of the pan. Bake it at 350 degrees F for 45 to 60 minutes. To know if it is done, remove it from the pan and tap the bottom. A clear hollow sound means it’s fully baked. Set it on a wire rack and let it cool. It is actually still baking until it reaches room temperature. But in this case, temptation has its rewards and it is a true temptation for me not to sit down and eat slice after slice with fresh butter or jam.
April 22nd – No swap meet this week. Feels like forever since I’ve been to one. I’ll be going to the next one, or at least I plant to. Need to be a little more careful about putting the cart before the horse. You never know what kind of curve ball life is going to throw at you.
I’ve been a little sad today. We didn’t know one of the does was pregnant. She always looked all poked out on the sides like she ate better than good. When Rand and Austin went to feed the animals Austin came in afterwards looking like he’d been crying and walked straight to his room without a word. I looked at Rand who’d come in behind him looking grim.
“That doe, the one with the really soft ears that Austin has made a bet of a pet out of, she gave birth to twins and one of them didn’t make it.”
“I didn’t know she was …”
“I didn’t either. I think the doe is going to be all right. For all she is so dainty she’s a touch one. But I’m not sure about the remaining kid. It’s a doelet and a lot smaller than she should be. The bucklet that died was twice her size.”
With no vet we have to rely on books and experience when it comes to the animals but sometimes that isn’t enough. You can’t always save them. Heck, sometimes you don’t even know they are sick until it is too late. The other day one of my original hens was just pecked to death by the other chickens. I still don’t know why. Rand said she could have been sick but there wasn’t any obvious sign of it. She was a good layer too so it is really weird.
Tonight before we locked up the house Austin was in a better mood when Rand said the doelet is doing better but her size makes him wonder if he should counter her out of the future breeding pool in case she has some kind of genetic damage. She is a sweet looking little thing but its hard to keep animals only as pets and Austin knows that. I see him resisting the urge to get attached … because if she isn’t a breeder she is food. As harsh as that is, it is only a reflection of the world we live in.
April 23rd – “It only takes a spark to get a fire going,
The soon all those around can warm up to its glowing.”
Those are the first two lines of an old church camp song I remember my Mom singing to me when I was little. Could have been the song those cultist were singing for all I know as they sat around their campfire in the woods. Or maybe it was Kum-ba-yah or who knows what. Probably doesn’t matter but their carelessness led to the agonizing deaths of three-quarters of their members not to mention the deaths of two families of migrants holed up at an abandoned farm in O’Brien.
Ken – pastor, doctor, counselor, arbitrator, mediator, news correspondent. Events that happen in the community get relayed to the rest of us, sometimes via the pulpit, and this time with a reminder that there is a VFD any longer. We can save ourselves best by taking simple precautions to prevent catastrophes like fires. The sermon went along with his admonitions coming from Proverbs 9.
The slaw was a big hit. So were the hush puppies, fish, and cradaddies that were cooked up fresh right there thanks to one of our new families. The girl that died in childbirth not too long ago was their daughter in law.
Rand thinks I’m imagining things but I swear I’m not. And I think that Uncle George is guiding things along. Laurabeth was sitting on a blanket in the shade with Freddie. Men kept coming over to say hello … women too but mostly unattached men from my observations. I didn’t think anything of it at first, the Crenshaws are a popular family and well liked and people are happy to see Laurabeth getting better. She is most definitely better but she’s been touched for life. There are lines at the corner of her eyes ten years before there should have, her grief maturing her physically as well as emotionally. Well, it looked like Ron Harbinger could only stand to stay apart from this for so long. He started hovering around Laurabeth. Rand said he was just being protective because of Freddie but to me it looked like more than that.
Then Ron was looking at Laurabeth and he gets this funny look on his face and then it went blank. He backed up two steps … right into Uncle George who was grinning like he had a secret. Uncle George clapped him on the should and suggested that both Laurabeth and Freddie could use a walk. Ron’s mouth opens and closes a couple of times but Uncle George just keeps that smile on his face and tells Ron to go on and that some of the daffodils were still blooming in the old park nature trail and that Laurabeth was fond of them. Eventually Ron gave in but you could see he was a bit reluctant … not reluctant because he didn’t want to but reluctant ‘cause he was a little scared maybe.
I’m pretty sure that Laurabeth is oblivious to it. I’m not sure what I think. For one thing it’s none of my doggone business but on the other hand I feel I’ve got a bond with Laurabeth that wasn’t there before. I guess it is just creeping me out a little bit to see her life being manipulated from the sidelines like that. I know I wouldn’t like it being done to me but Laurabeth is a different person. Do I say something or do I keep my nose out of it?
I’ve decided that I’m going to keep my nose out of it … at least temporarily. Maybe I’ll ask Ron, but from the look on his face he might bolt if I do say something. I could ask Uncle George but he could tell me to mind my own business. I could say something to Missy but then she might say something thoughtless … though she isn’t as bad about that as she pretends to be. I don’t know, guess I’ll just have to wait and see how things turn out.
When we got home we were full as a family of ticks and Rand said not to bother cooking which was a nice break for me. We try and keep work light on Sundays but that doesn’t mean all we do is rest. The animals still have to be tended to, so does the garden, and sometimes I have a little preserving or sewing to do … but by and large we didn’t have any problems today.
I made popped wheat today and I can’t say that it is something that I would want to eat every day but it is fun for a change of pace. I had cooked up some wheat this morning but it didn’t all get eaten for breakfast so tonight I took the cooked wheat and “puffed” it in hot oil. The oil needs to be about 375 degrees F and you fry the cooked wheat for about two minutes before removing and draining really well. A lot of people salt them but I put a little cinnamon and sugar on mine and it was really good.
Austin and Rand were a little hungrier than they had thought they were going to be so I fixed them a garden salad and gave them a slice of bread, butter, and jam and that filled their empty spots. And now I’m just about all done in so I’m going to bed and I hope I get to sleep through the night this time. I swear seems like no matter what I do I have to get up a time or two in the night and go to the bathroom. Luckily we don’t have an outhouse or this would be no fun at all.
April 24th – Started harvesting the mayhaws today. You do not want to eat those things raw … ew, shiver, gak, spit. But the mayhaw jelly I made today was incredible. Crazy how something so icky turned into something so delicious I had to hide the jelly jars behind the lima beans in the pantry to keep Rand and Austin out of them.
Mayhaws aren’t very big, maybe half an inch to an inch in diameter. According to Momma’s book on the subject they are a type of Hawthorne native to the US. I had to throw a bird net over the tree because as soon as the birds saw what I was doing they came flying in. Woofer and Fraidy (now able to leave her kittens a little more) helped with some of the blackbirds but the smaller birds escaped them. But with birds in the garden I have noticed I haven’t had as many problems with locusts as some of the neighbors are reporting. The geese get their fair share of the insects as well and I’ve watched them drive off birds they think are invading their turf.
I wound up having to call Austin to help get the nets on the trees. I probably lost a couple of pounds to the birds but I still managed to pick about fifteen pounds from the trees and there is a lot of fruit still ripening. For the mayhaw jelly I took three pounds of washed berries and added four cups of water and brought it to a boil and then covered and simmered for about ten minutes. Then I ran the resulting water and pulp through cheese cloth to collect the juice. I added the pectin to that juice and brought it to a full rolling boil and then added five and a half cups of sugar and continued stirring until it returned to a hard boil again. At that point I set the timer and cooked, stirring constantly, for another full minute and then took it off of the heat source. I had foam on only one of my batches so I skimmed it off and then bottled it and ran it in the boiling water canner. The jelly sure was pretty with the sun shining through it.
April 25th – Momma O and Mrs. Withrow came by today visiting. They caught me taking a cat nap in the rocking chair on the porch. I was pretty embarrassed but at least I could tell them it was because I’d planted several more rows of dried beans in my bean gardens. They were in Momma O’s buggy but they were driven by that boy that lives with Mrs. Withrow. I set out cookies and cool apple juice in dishes that I keep for company and the boy wouldn’t touch the plates. When I told him he could have his on a napkin if he’d rather he finally relaxed and sat on the porch steps just as happy as a lark. He was so enthralled watching a ladybug that Mrs. W had to remind him to eat.
Mostly they seem to have come by just to exchange gossip but I think they were also pumping me for information on when Rand is going to have the incline machine finished and hooked up to the grinder. I told them that Rand said he wants to have everything read for ust to take to the next swap meet. I hope I didn’t speak out of turn because I have a feeling that the news is going to be all over the tri-county area within a few days.
April 26th – Rand laughed at me last night when I told him about telling Mrs. W and Momma O about the incline and grinder. He said not to worry, that all I had done was save him some work on the advertising end of things. I really need to watch that gossiping habit I’ve fallen into. I know I don’t like people talking about me behind my back, whether for good or ill, and I’m turning into a hypocrite by doing it to other people. That’s really not nice. It’s a fine line between getting news and gossiping like an old hen and I need to remember what the difference is before I get myself in trouble.
April 27th – Planted more beans again today. I think Rand is humoring me about the beans. I think they’ll come in handy and I know he likes when I thicken gravy using bean flour instead of plain flour. As a matter of fact I made some more bean flour today by taking some of the dried beans I have that are getting really hard and grinding them up into a fine powder.
Now I could use a pressure cooker to cook really old dried beans and they are just about as good as fresh but at the same time it isn’t always worth my while to do that. I’ve been supplying some beans to Ram to take and trade on his infernal trading route and he’s never made it very far before they are all gone. If Rand is going to be an “investor” in that blasted Company of Rogues that Ram has going the least I can do is support him. He’s put up with enough of my crazy ideas. Missy just reminded me to keep some of my more unusual heirloom varieties for seeds so that I can use them at the Trade Shack.
Today was supposed to be cleaning day but I was too busy getting ready for a whole passle of people that will be coming tomorrow. Rand had two new fields opened up and he is planting them all in sorghum. Mr. Coffey is also helping us to build our own sorghum mill. I wondered why he’d want to give away something that he could corner the market on and Rand told me it wasn’t like that at all.
“Babe, Mr. Coffey knows he isn’t getting any younger and to be honest he isn’t sure if his grandson is going to keep the farm up after he goes. He’s not a farmer, he’s a contraption builder and that is what he is most talented at. He knows that we value his experience and wisdom. He also knows that we want to replicate what he knows, not to run him over now that he is slowing down, but as a way to imitate the best parts of his knowledge and perfect them before he’s not around to be a mentor anymore.”
“Uh, in other words he’s flattered that we want him to teach us?”
Rand laughed and said, “Yeah, basically.”
You know, sometimes I wonder where all my education went. I could stand up and talk rings around some of my opponents in debate but these days I’m just happy to be able to string some words together that my sense and get my point across. Every once in a while I’ll catch myself writing in my journal the way I used to talk but it “sounds” funny when I read it back to myself.
I worry about what I might be teaching Austin who is more comfortable saying “hither, thither, and yonder” than “here, there, and over there.” Actually, you know who I sound like? My mother! I just realized … oh my goodness. I haven’t forgotten her voice! I haven’t!! I can always hear Daddy’s voice … always … in all the rules and stuff that I have I can hear him saying them like he is standing beside me but I was losing the memory of Momma’s voice only … only … only I didn’t lose it, it was here all the time, inside me.
April 28th – Company all day long, as a matter of fact still have the boys asleep on the floor in Austin’s room. Woofer is right in the middle and it is like a puppy fest in there. Uncle George was fine with them staying over and then coming to the swap meet with us in the morning.
I’m so tired I almost can’t see straight and I won’t be up much longer. Just waiting for the last pot to finish soaking so that I can finish washing it and go to bed. Cooked three meals for over a dozen men and boys and I was the only female there though the boys did help me get the cooked food to the table.
But I won’t complain, the sorghum is all planted – two five-acre plots of it – and now we just have to trust in God for the rest of it. Even doubling our acres planted in sorghum we still have plenty of grain left. We also have a lot of sorghum molasses left so I decided to make pecan pies for dessert to use up some of the pecans from last season that won’t last much longer.
First you pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Roughly chop the pecans -- you don't want them crushed – until you have about a cup and a half of nut meats. Combine one-third of a cup of brown sugar and three eggs in a large mixing bowl and stir to combine. Add one tablespoon of cornstarch and one-quarter teaspoon of salt. Melt four tablespoons of butter and stir it in to the sugar-eggs-cornstarch mess. Add the nuts and three-quarter cup of sorghum and mix one last time. Pour everything into a prepared pie crust and tilt the dish around to make sure it's evenly distributed. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the center is firmed up bit still a bit jiggly. (Yes, that's the official cooking term: "jiggly".) Then let the pie sit for 15 minutes before cutting.
I made four pies and I swear the men could have eat three times that many. I almost didn’t have to wash the plates. I guess that means that liked it.
April 29th – We had to be up so early today to move the incline and grinder to a special spot that Mr. Henderson had set aside for us at the field. And boy, we were so busy I almost didn’t get a chance to look around. Rand and the boys were so busy running the equipment that I had to stay to help with the paper work of taking in so much weight and returning so much.
The incline is sort of like a treadmill and we use the donkey’s to run it. No matter what reinforcing Rand has tried the antique equipment just isn’t up to Bud and Lou’s weight and none of the horses want to have anything to do with the clackety old thing. The little donkeys though just plod along and are happy to get their carrot when they do a job for so long.
The incline treadmill turns the shaft that rotates the gears that in turn run the grinding wheels. Mr. Coffey helped Rand to set some different wheels up – wheat or rye, corn, and then an adjustable one. I’m not sure how the millers did it in times past but all Rand is asking as a “toll” is for every bushel of wheat that someone wants ground we get to keep five pounds of the pre-ground grain.
The scales we used were recalibrated every hour while everyone watched but there was still some grumbling. Guess people thought they were going to get something for nothing. But most people were OK with it and said they’d been worried about Rand asking for a much higher toll than what he is.
Rand says one of the reasons why he is diversifying our income sources like he is is so that he doesn’t have to charge so high a price on any single item or service. I think he is underselling himself but he says that you have to have a balance. I guess that is true. I feel funny sometimes when I know how much Missy is getting for the mixes and stuff that I made for her.
Today I brought her cake mixes … spice cake, carrot cake, apple coffee cake, and chocolate cake. The chocolate cake got bid up ridiculously and even Missy felt bad and said that she’d only take so much and that if others really were interested they could put their names down on a waiting list. I’ve got almost two dozen orders for chocolate cake mixes for the next swap meet. Good thing I’m not much of a chocoholic and don’t mind parting with some of the cocoa in those giant tubs of the stuff I have.
It took Rand most of the day to get everything ground that people wanted ground. We came home with a lot more than I expected we would. But finally Rand decided to shut up shop about two hours before the swap meet was over and said that if enough people could get together on a given day, and if he could schedule it out far enough in advance, he’d pull the milling equipment to a central location and work things out.
Mr. Henderson told Rand, rather than hauling the milling equipment all over the place, if he wanted to set up in the empty lot across from the ranch he’d provide security … for shares of course. I like Mr. Henderson but I’m under no illusion that he isn’t out to make his ranch as successful as possible.
Saw Cassie today, she seemed … something. I don’t know if it is sad or just what. When I mentioned it to Rand he said that Mitch was “walking out” with a young woman he’d dated in highschool for a while.
“Uh oh. Is there going to be trouble?”
“No, don’t think so. Mr. Henderson seems happy with the changes in Cassie … she’s grown up the last couple of months I guess … but he is under no illusion that she’d be easy to get along with in marriage. And he likes Mitch enough that he wants to see him happy. He would have liked to tie things up neat and tidy with Mitch and Cassie making it a go of it together but he’s realist to know you can’t dictate stuff like that just because that is how you want it to turn out.”
I suppose that is true. Seems like all of the fairy tales are getting kind of thin. Laurabeth’s Prince Charming dying in battle leaving her childless and alone. Cassie and Mitch going their separate ways. Villains not renouncing their evil ways and reforming and learning to live happily ever after like the rest of us. Lots of other things like that seem to be happening recently. Doggone depressing if you think about it.
April 30th – Heard that there was another large raid by the pirates or whoever is causing these problems. Another migrant family was completely wiped out except for a little boy. Bradley’s aunt and uncle have taken him in temporarily.
Rand is on me about disappearing into the woods where he can’t find me. I told him I left a note on the kitchen counter and that it wasn’t my fault he sat his hat on top of it and didn’t see it and then got worried and cantankerous. We both wound up laughing in the end because it was silly but at the same time I know he is serious about me being more careful and not going off on my own. I suppose he as a point. Last thing I need to do is get out in the woods and turn an ankle or something. As big a round as I am now no telling what would happen.