Making bread is a part of every week for me, and has been for many years now, during that time I’ve made some good bread, and I’ve made some terrible bread, some loaves hard as rock, some with giant holes in the middle, tasteless, and overly salty. It’s disappointing to have something you’ve spent a couple of hours on go to waste, so I thought I would pass along a few tips I’ve learned the hard way.
One of the most important aspects to making bread, or pizza, or cookies, really anything that involves flour is producing the flour itself. I grind all of our flour right before I plan to use it. And lately I’ve been using Palouse Brand hard red wheat berries. These berries are non-GMO, and they can trace the bag of berries back to an exact field because they do everything from the growing, harvesting to the cleaning and shipping. You can learn more about them here.
I remember when a friend first introduced me to grinding my own flour by lending me her old electric grain mill. We were hooked immediately on this idea – it was essential to our hope of being as self-sufficient and self-sustaining as possible.
We initially purchased a GrainMaker grain mill from Montana, opting for the non-electric version with the option of adding a motor. (You can find them at grainmaker.com) For a few years I hand ground all of our flour, which was a bit of an upper body workout. Then one Christmas my husband surprised me with the motor and I’m not ashamed to say that I was relieved to no longer have to hand grind all of our flour. If you are interested in a grain mill, I highly recommend the GrainMaker because of its adaptability to both non-electric and electric situations, as well as it’s ability to grind both grains and nuts, including coffee beans! We have made flours, nut butters, and grind our coffee with our mill.
I also use a Bosch mixer at the recommendation of a friend who is a professional baker. The Bosch equipped with a metal dough hook has the power to knead enough dough to make four large loaves of bread for our family at a time. I previously had a kitchen aid, but soon burnt up the motor in it making dough.
You will need to experiment with bread recipes to find something that works for you and your family. My personal recipe is fairly simple.
I start with 4 cups of warm water, 1/4 cup of yeast, and 1/4 cup of maple syrup. I let this stand for at least five minutes, or until there is a nice foam top.
While the yeast is busy doing it’s thing. I add up to 8 cups of flour to my mixer bowl, 2 Tbsp salt, and 1/4 cup oil. I prefer a saltier bread, so if you are trying this recipe for yourself you may want to adjust the salt amount to your personal tastes. Also, the grain you use for your flour will impact the taste of your bread. I recently ordered my wheat berries from a small farm that mills it’s own grain. The grain is organic and non-gmo, and each bag comes with a tracking number that can be used to identify the field it came from. This wheat has a great nutty flavor and rich color. Ok, back to the recipe. I then add my yeast/water/maple syrup mix to the dry ingredients in my mixer, and turn it on. I let that mix for a while and then beginning adding flour slowly until I think the dough is the right consistency. As a general rule of thumb I watch for the dough to pull clean from the sides of the bowl. I then let the dough “knead” for about five minutes. Now, I’ve been using the proof function on my new gas range. I add a small bowl of water to the bottom rack, and then after turning my bread dough into a bowl with a light coating of oil, I add the bowl to the oven and set the proof setting on with a timer of 30 minutes.
When the thirty minutes is up I take the dough out, punch it down and shape it into four loaves by rolling it out with my rolling pin and then tightly rolling it up into a loaf shape. I then return these pans to the oven, set my proof for another thirty minutes, and wait. After the second rising, I take the loaves from the oven, preheat it to 350 and then add my loaves back for 30 minutes.
I’m certainly not a bread making expert, but this recipe has worked for our family to make sandwich loaf bread, and I hope it will work for yours too.
This year we are going to plant our own grains for harvesting and use. I’m very excited, and a little scared. I know that the harvesting, threshing, hulling, etc of grain will take time and labor on our part. Because we are just doing a small amount most of the work will need to be done by hand instead of by machine. I picked up a great book at Lehman’s hardware though to help us Home Grown Whole Grains by Sara Pitzer. And we have been looking on craigslist at seed cleaners and old farming equipment to help us on this new venture. I’m sure that I’ll have more to write about that later.
Our sow delivered right on time, and we were able to help her through what was a very difficult delivery.
I learned a few very important lessons this time. The first being that I need to slow down and read exactly what I write in my calendar. For instance, “Pigs due this week,” is significantly different than “Pig due today” . I would have saved myself several nights of getting up three or more times a night to bundle up and walk to the barn to check on her. And I would not have moved her into the farrowing room so soon. . . .
The second lesson we learned was to have more patience during the delivery. We could tell that this sow was having a hard time when she started. And after watching her struggle to push for what we felt was a significant amount of time, I went in to see if there were any problems. Sure enough, the first piglet felt very large and seemed to be having a hard time making it through her pelvis. There was no way to help pull the piglet at that point and we had to wait. And waiting can be very, very hard when you know that what they are going through is very difficult.
I will admit that helping our livestock through labor is usually difficult for me more so than my husband. Having had four children naturally without any pain medication and being one of those people who at the time needed to know all the biology of the process, I am acutely aware of what the mamas are going through. My husband on the other hand is a paramedic/firefighter and handles it much better. His experiences have given him a much different perspective.
The first piglet finally made it through the pelvis, only to somehow be pushed through the skin of her rectum, we had to push the baby back in and guide it out the right way. The piglet did tear her skin, and there was quite a bit of additional blood but after a few more babies were born that additional bleeding subsided. Three days later she seems to be doing ok, but this will be her last litter. There is too great a risk of complications for her and the resulting scar tissue from this event will most likely make it hard for her to be bred again.
The kids were there to help with most of the delivery, especially A. who was there for piglets 3-8, helping dry them off and guide them to a teat. Also A. was the principle photographer of many of these pictures.
For some reason this little one wanted to be nestled right up next to his mama’s jaw. They are three days old today and seem to be doing well. Last night we notched their ears and gave them iron shots. The kids are excited to take their first born, bred, and raised hogs to the fair this year!
While looking through our recent Countryside & Small Stock Journal I came across an article about vinegars which included instructions on how to make your own apple cider vinegar. I decided to give it a try yesterday, and in three to 6 weeks we should know how I did!
The instructions were simple, in two sterilized half gallon jars add your chunks of apple or peels, and cores until the jars are three quarters of the way full. You then add a sugar water mixture, which is approximately 1 tbsp. of sugar to 1 cup of water. Making sure that the sugar is fully dissolved before adding. Fill the jars until the apples are covered. The article suggested using a plastic zip lock bag filled with water to weight the apples down so that they remain submerged. I did that and then covered the jars with cheesecloth to keep out bugs. I then placed the jars in the hoosier cabinet in our pantry. I am supposed to check the jars every few days to make sure that no mold is developing, if it does you have to throw out the mixture and start over.
We really enjoy getting the Countryside and Small Stock Journal. In this issue the kids really enjoyed the articles on owls!
I want to spend more time in the new year actually sewing those quilts, making those clothes, and living a more simple life, than I do creating a virtual inspiration board of them.
This morning I read an article about how two of Apple’s largest investors are pressuring the company to address issues of phone/technology and social media addiction in kids. This is the second article on this issue that has caught my eye in the past week.
As parents we have chosen to not allow our children to have phones. A decision which has been lamented loudly by our oldest two children who are now in middle school. They are certain that they are the last two children left on the planet without smart phones and Facebook. You should see the eye rolling when I point out that our Amish friends don’t have those things either, so technically they are not the last children on earth to not have them.
We briefly dabbled in letting them have some hand me down iPhones that behaved like iPods with connectivity only when wifi was available. It didn’t take long to see the error of that choice. Being a parent in this tech age is not an easy thing. It feels almost impossible to protect your children when the internet is available to them. And the societal pressure to allow your children this access can feel overwhelming at times.
For instance, we have noticed that because all of our children’s friends have their own phones and prefer to text one another instead of calling to talk, and because our children do not have texting (unless they use my phone) they often do not hear from them. And, if I call into the school to give my kids a message it sometimes feels like the secretaries have forgotten that parents used to do that all the time.
The problems and situations I fear for my children with smart phones and social media are because I have either seen them in myself or experienced them myself. I grew up before cell phones were something anyone but the very wealthy had, when texting was passing notes in class, and no one had 24 hour access to everyone else’s business. Where children and adults were comfortable making a phone call and having a conversation. Now, I find myself opting to text someone rather than taking the time to make a phone call to them!
I’ve broken up with Facebook many times, including just this week. I got an account about 5 or 6 months ago because I found that all of the news and event updates for many of our kids organizations were only being communicated via Facebook. After missing out on a few things I broke down and signed up for it again. All was good for a while but then, like all addictive behaviors, checking Facebook began creeping into more and more of my day. I know that many people can handle having social media, I, myself cannot. I find that I end up feeling badly about my life and looking for ways to paint a prettier picture of it. I do have an Instagram account, and I love the amazing photos that people take and post there. Well and I guess I technically have a Facebook account for 13 more days until they delete it, but that is not the point here. The point is that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, whatever it is can suck me in and then I’ve spent so much time scrolling through other people’s lives that I have carpel tunnel and no idea what anyone in my actual real life house has been doing for the past two hours. I’m not a good parent or person when I’m answering, “uh-huh” or “just a minute” instead of being present for the little people around me who are quickly growing up into not so little people.
I’m not saying that smart phones and social media are inherently bad. I mean, it is pretty awesome to be able to access information the way that we can when we have a question or problem. But for myself and for my family I can see that they can be very damaging. So, in the new year I’ve come up with some boundaries.
The first is that my blogging/pinterest searching/Instagram gazing time happens early in the morning before anyone is up. I like to get up early, before anyone else in the house is awake and have some time to myself. I use that time to drink coffee in the quiet, spend some time with my Bible, and I’ve committed myself to an hour of writing every day. After that, when the kids and my husband are awake, those things are set aside. I’m really striving to be more present. To be fully engaged in the now, even if that now happens to be four kids with cabin fever making each other crazy (ier).
To accomplish this I’ve made a point of keeping my computer in the office, and I’ve made a phone basket where my smart phone gets placed when I’m in the house. So if you are trying to get ahold of me and there is no text response – the phone is probably in the basket and I’ve forgotten where I put it.
I love to look at Instagram and Pinterest and create visual inspiration boards. I enjoy being inspired by other people’s blogs, and learning from them. However, I want to spend more time in the new year actually sewing those quilts, making those clothes, and living a more simple life, than I do creating a virtual inspiration board of them. So I am making a commitment to myself to spend time making and doing and living the life I want and not just planning it.
It’s no surprise that I love old things: houses, barns, furniture, sewing machines, and especially kitchen tools! So you can imagine how excited I was to find this Reading 78 apple peeler on Craigslist last week.
I’ve been looking for an apple peeler to replace our apple peeler, corer, slicer for years. The apple multi tool we had just seemed to do too many things and none of them well. Often I would end up with the core being pushed through and then the peeler and slicer function would no longer work. It’s so frustrating to have a tool that is made to save you some steps actually force you to go backwards.
In my search for a better peeler I found that Lehman’s hardware had started reproducing the Reading 78 peeler in Kidron, Ohio. You can find Lehman’s peeler here they run around $200. However, they also sell all of the replacement parts so if you happen upon an older 78 at an antique store or on Craigslist, you can always order sharp blades or a new handle!
I went ahead and replaced the auxiliary blade on mine and ordered a replacement for the actual peeling blade. That cost around $10, so now I have a fully functioning peeler for $45.
The kids and I couldn’t wait for the new blades to arrive and we were surprised and happy to find that it worked really well, even on a soft apple! This Craigslist find happened just in time for us to put up some more applesauce and apple pie filling from the apples we have stored in the basement. Which is another great activity for days like the past week where temperatures are below zero without the wind chill figured in.