Higher Education

“I, Wisdom/Sophia, give good advice and common sense. Because of my strength kings reign in power, I show the judges who is right and who is wrong. Rulers rule well with my help. I love all who love me. Those who search for me shall surely find me. Unending riches, honor, justice and righteousness are mine to distribute. My gifts are better than the purest gold or sterling silver! My paths are those of justice and right. Those who love and follow me are indeed wealthy. I fill their treasuries. The Lord formed me in the beginning, before He formed anything else. From ages past, I am. I existed before the earth began. I lived before the oceans were created, before the springs bubbled forth their waters onto the earth; before the mountains and the hills were made. yes, I was born before God made the earth and the fields, and high plateaus.” (Proverbs 8:14-26)

I love learning. Sometimes to a degree that I feel like I’ve become a Jill-of-all-trades, mistress of none. And yet, what I do isn’t usually shoddy. Again, I just love learning. And I don’t believe you can ever have too much of it.

Working at a living history museum, I am finding another aspect of this new career that suits me even better than all the other facets of this position–I’m learning something new everyday. And it’s not just some odd trivia or fact. I’m learning skills that are almost completely lost from most of society and yet, less than 200 years’ ago were known by most, if not all. As industrialization and then, automation evolved, hand skills were lost. While I can appreciate the efficiency and economy of being able churn out X-number of wing nuts per hour, I have a much deeper respect and appreciation for the craftsmanship involved with doing everything–or almost everything–by hand. I say “almost” because by the museum’s time period (1838-1840), textile mills were spread all over New England…and housewives started putting away their looms.

The enormous loom in one of the buildings is, for me, the ultimate goal. I’ve tried weaving before…brief introductions from friends and the occasional exhibitor at the local fair or craft show. It’s been enough to wet my appetite rather than the development of any skill. But that will come in time. In time, I hope to have my own loom so that I may practice at home. How cool to give someone a new shirt or skirt and know that, not only did I follow the pattern and stitch it together, but I hand-wove the fabric it was made from and set the dyes as well. Or perhaps I purchased a couple of antique chairs at an auction that needed new seats and was able to sand them, paint them and add new caned seats to them so they’re like new. Again, these are fast becoming lost arts. If I can learn some of them well enough, I can also offer workshops to teach others. And then maybe the arts won’t be lost…not entirely.

But I have to know kitchens in the 1830’s, to know how to tend the fire, to cook and to bake on a hearth before I can learn spinning and weaving. And I’m all for it.

Last week, I spent three out of four days learning cooking on a hearth, as well as the histories of two of the houses at the museum; both of them routinely have cooking demonstrations. I also milked Bonnie, one of the red Devon cows that calls the museum “home”, in the hopes of possibly becoming a milk maid. It will mean traveling in an hour earlier on the days that I’m scheduled to milk but I think I can handle it. There will be a slow training/introduction to it before they let me loose to be solely responsible for each of the cows. And, as we approach winter, they will be drying off the cows. Springtime they will calf and then the milking will begin anew. Though there isn’t a specific class or training for it, working in living history, you learn the rhythm of life that comes from working the land, working in close harmony to nature. You learn which chores are appropriate to perform in which seasons, how to schedule your day via the weather. I.e. you don’t work the earth when it’s pouring outside lest you compact the soil. And candle dipping is done in cooler months or the tapers will never harden (or firm up) in the high humidity of summer.

Sunday’s cooking lesson had me grating cheese to make potted cheese (delicious!), and mixing the spices via a mortar and pestle; kneading bread dough; tending a roast (yeah, I know…the pescetarian; I hear it was good) over an open flame; making mulled cider using a red-hot poker to carmelize the cider and spices together; heating a beehive oven and learning to test it for readiness for baking by how long one can keep their arm in it before the heat gets overbearing (this is, of course, after the fire has died down and the hot coals scooped out, the only heat being what’s given off by the bricks. I managed a full 13 seconds); fresh-squeezed lemonade and apple pie from scratch.

And, on Saturday, I sat with a group of artisans who set up an exhibit in one of the public areas and tried my hand at lace making. I also put a bug in another lead’s ear about learning how to do netting.

I’m thrilled.

And I’m itching to try my hand at everything at once. While I can appreciate my own enthusiasm, I also know I need to reign it in just a teensy bit. I don’t want to just try it. I want to achieve some proficiency at these skills so that, someday soon, I can apply them here at The Herbal Hare Homestead.

In short, along with the more “formal” education I am receiving through Southern New Hampshire University, as I earn my degree in Creative Writing with an emphasis on Fictional Writing and two minor concentrations in Environmental Science and Illustration, I am earning another sort of degree. A degree in life skills that can only serve me well for the rest of my days.

May God bless you & keep you!

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Violet Syrup

That name alone was enough to catch my attention last spring. I’ve heard of sugared violets before, for decorating cakes, but never violet syrup. But the blog I was reading and following added a post about gathering wild violets and making a syrup out of them. This young mother would make quite a number of quarts from them to be used on pancakes and waffles and such; her children loved it. I was intrigued.

Of course, by the time I’d read the post–perpetually always a few days to a week behind on my reading–the carpet of violets that cover a good portion of my property were out of bloom. I have been waiting patiently for this spring to gather some and give it a whirl.

And I almost missed them again.

Northeastern Connecticut has been inundated with rain. Rain. And more RAIN. I shouldn’t lament; my well is getting a good replenishing. But who wants to pick flowers in a deluge? Sure, and I could consider the adventure of it but, when the rain is pouring down like that, I’d rather curl up with a good book and a cup of tea. And I confess I’ve indulged that desire a bit over the last few days.

Today it was back to business as usual though. The sun is shining and the forecast is for upper-70’s to mid-80’s over the next few days. Suddenly, that “blah” feeling I tend to experience when it rains steady for too long, has gone away and I’m charged again.

So I picked some violets.

The recipe I have calls for 1 cup of the flower heads to 4 cups of sugar. But you have to brew the flowers in 4 cups of hot water for 30 minutes on up to 8 hours (or overnight) and then slowly melt the sugar into the heated violet “tea”. The recipe says it will not be the pretty purple you expect until you add a bit of lemon juice…a little bit at a time. Right now my “tea” is a lovely green. It even smells green…with a hint of violet. It is hard to imagine a few squirts of lemon will change that to a purple later on but we shall see…who am I to question the logic of chemistry? Or the allure of magick?

May God bless you & keep you!

Chive Talking

“And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the third day.” Genesis 1:11-13

I’ve been spending a little time each morning, building more raised beds, adding compost to the beds and, after mucking out chicken coops and rabbit cages and such, starting some new compost. Earlier this week, as I was transferring some of that compost into the new beds, I let out a “whoop!” that brought Mom to the door with a scowl!!??! Even when I explained my elation–the discovery of dozens of red wigglers in that compost pile–I could tell she didn’t quite “get it” as she shook her head and walked away. Even my assurance that worms in the compost bin are a very good thing didn’t convince her. She still thinks I’m addled. Worms aren’t her thing.

Oh, well. I refuse to let it daunt me.

Of course, some of the already established beds also got a dressing of this composted rabbit waste…with worms. I have a small bed about equal distance between the front and the side doors of the house. And my chives are up in it.

I love chives. I love the flavor they impart in cooking, as well as their aroma. They make a nice addition to salads. And I usually eat one raw coming out of the garden. Fresh like that, they really pack a punch. But my favorite use is in my favorite winter casserole: Spinach Mashed Potatoes. The recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of chives; mine are usually “heaping” tablespoons but it’s all good. Usually I buy them dried from a local herb store as I haven’t quite mastered the art of drying them with a food dehydrator–until Tuesday of this week. It took a couple of tries; the first batch I cut and spread on the screen turned brown and lifeless using the recommended drying time. So I cut the time in half and voila! I have a half-pint jar of chives and will be drying another half-pint this weekend. So I’m feeling a little victory here. And this is one that even Mom can relate to a bit.

As I love chives so much for cooking, the herbalist in me has never really looked into them as a potential medicine. But, before writing this blog entry, I did do some research in some of my herbals. Not much there either except in Juliette de Bairacli Levy’s “Herbal Handbook for the Farm and Stable”. She recommends sprinkling some cut up chives into animal feed for the “expulsion of worms.” (Good thing the chives are well away from that wormy compost pile…)

And, unlike many cooks, I have no aversion to sharing that recipe for Spinach Mashed Potatoes; good food is meant to be shared.

SPINACH MASHED POTATOES

6 large or 8 medium potatoes, peeled and diced (if using white potatoes; if red-skinned, may leave the skins on them).
1 10 ounce package (or equivalent from garden) of spinach
8 oz. package of shredded cheddar cheese (or, an 8 oz block of cheddar and shred it yourself; usually about 50 cents cheaper (eh, I am ever the frugal fanatic…))
1 stick of butter
1/4 cup of sour cream
2 tbsp. chives
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. dill
1/8 tsp. black pepper
pinch of salt, to taste

Boil potatoes until tender. Drain. Add stick of butter, sour cream, sugar, black pepper and pinch of salt; mash (will be very creamy) In large skillet saute spinach, chives and dill in olive oil until just wilted. Fold into mashed potatoes until well mixed then fold potato and spinach mixture into casserole dish. Sprinkle cheese over the top and back in the oven for 20 minutes at 400 degrees. Enjoy!

May God bless you & keep you!

References

De Bairacli Levy, J. (1952) “The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable.” Faber and Faber Limited, London,
England.