Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Crazy like a fox...or more appropriately...the joys of a cream separator!

Okay, call me crazy (and by now I'm sure most people think I am!), but I've been having the time of my life these past few months re-learning some old things and trying out some new "old" things, most of which involve a little bit of intensive work! Illness and diagnosis' has a tendency to do one of two things: make you change your way of thinking or make you want to give up. I don't care much for giving up, so the changing was just a no brainer for me. Now obviously, not everyone would go to quite the extreme in the changing as I'm attempting to do, but like I said, I find it all fun and sometimes the biggest boost to a person's health is just all in how you mentally perceive it! I do believe there is a lot of truth in the statement "laughter is the best medicine"...I think it goes hand in hand with "there is joy in the doing". I've just been pretty "joyful" here lately!! ;)

In a previous post I wrote about my excitement in getting enough cream from my goat's milk to produce was heaven...seriously!  That led to me thinking (which can sometimes be dangerous!)...if I had one of those cream separators how much more cream could I get? And being the sometimes extremely frugal person that I am, that followed with the brain blips of cost effectiveness. I'm not one to just go buy something just has to have a reason and a purpose and most of those reasons involve dollars and cents! ;) If I can't make it profitable (in terms of use for my family) then it doesn't happen, no matter how much I may want to try it. So in order to determine that profitability, I started on a search to find out....and that's what I've been doing for the past two weeks...finding out!

I did the usual internet search...Google, Amazon, Ebay, ect. Read various blogs of those who have gone before me, some who use a separator, some who don't, and weighed out the pros and cons. The first thing I learned was that separators are NOT cheap, however, there are foreign companies who do make and sell  fairly reasonable models. Having no experience whatsoever in the area of cream separating though, I wasn't sold on the idea of a foreign model, even though there were many who recommended them. So my reading and research continued throughout the days and I had pretty much come to the conclusion it wasn't going to be within my reach...more so that I didn't want to take the chance of having wasted money! And then came a miracle....okay, so it wasn't miraculous, but it WAS a very joyful moment!!!!

When picking up my milk a couple weeks ago I was relating my thoughts to my "milk lady" about trying to retrieve the cream, getting my first round of goat butter, and all my excitement in that. While I know all of this news was old hat to her, she had the patience of a saint listening to me rattle on about my experience. And then, with the hint of a smile beginning to form, she says to me, "did you know my husband is the cream separator man of the world?" What??!! Noooo!! She places my poured milk back into the cooler and goes off in search of her husband! A new adventure was about to begin!!

'...In the world of long ago, man made a machine that would separate cream from milk, and he determined it was good...' From that first machine, came others, the manual crank type, to the manual/electric, to the all electric. There were floor models and table tops, ones for major production, and ones for the lowly one cow farmstead and thankfully...some of those are still around today! And one of those has now made it's way to my kitchen!

Bless these folks with their patience and endurance, along with their willingness to let me trial this thing to see if it was even something I wanted to get in to. With only a crash course in operation, I loaded my separator into the car, along with my weekly two gallons of milk, and headed home ready to "play"! I couldn't have been happier! Once home, I waited impatiently for the hubs to get there after work in order to bolt this thing down to may be considered a table top model but this thing was going to require some steadfastness with that cast iron base! Enter my trestle sewing machine table, turned plant stand! It also has a cast iron base...perfect!! Hubs bolts it down, I put my parts all together, warm my milk, and pour it in! Since the hubs gets almost as excited as I do over these things (yeah, we're weird that way!), he wanted to be the cranker! ;) So he's cranking away, building up the speed, and I turn the valve. I get all giddy watching as the milk begins to run out the spout and into the bowl and turn my attention to the cream spout...and then...I feel it....splatters on my foot!! We both look down at the same time to see milk running out the side onto the kitchen floor....WHOA!!! That's not supposed to happen!! Hubs quits cranking, I'm grabbing towels, and we're both trying to figure out what we have close at hand to stop up the hole this stuff is running out of! I stand with my finger jammed against the hole, while he runs to the shop to find a plug...nothing fits that stops the incessant dripping! So we switch places...he plugs the hole with his finger while I quickly ladle the milk out of the bowl....strike one!!

A quick call to my separator man reveals I have a faulty O-ring, easily fixed...not to fear, all is well! Two days later, with O-ring replaced and water run through so as not to lose  more milk, I have a working separator! Once again I warm the milk, pour it in the bowl and begin to crank...I was on my own this time because I was too impatient to wait for hubs and he was otherwise in engaged! ;) Milk begins to run and I wait for the cream...and then I wait some more...and wait some more...where's my cream? I see a slight trickle start, watch it last a few seconds, and then stop...ohhhhh the disappointment.....strike two!! Not really knowing whether I should do this or not, I run the milk back through...get a little more trickle and stop. I stop, not only in frustration, but because my arm has give out with all that cranking and I've worked up a good sweat!! I determine it is not wise to keep running the milk back through and begin the process of taking the thing apart for clean up. As I remove the top portion and reveal the cream spout I see, wonder of all wonders...CREAM!! Heavy, THICK, thick and heavy in fact it couldn't go through the spout! It is about this time I get a call from my separator man to find out how things are going and I tell him my dilemma. This voice of experience tells me..."you're cranking too fast"!! Well, that would certainly explain the loss of the use of my arm for about 15 minutes!! Apparently, in my over exuberance to pull that cream out, my speed was such that I was practically on the verge of butter!

And once again, bless their hearts, they tell me to come get more milk and try it again! While there getting my milk they've set me up a demonstration with their own machine, so I can "see" the process and what to look for and expect...these are good people! They send me off with two more gallons of milk and the understanding they will continue to supply me with milk at no cost until I can get it figured out, we argue that fact, and I lost the argument...again....very good people!!!!

It is with much happiness that I can relate in this post, I finally got my cream!! Not as much as I had hoped for, but certainly more than I could have possibly skimmed and I have no doubts, with a little more playing, I will actually increase that amount...ohhh the joy! The picture is not an indicator of my amount, this was actually what I got off of what was left of our drinking gallon in the fridge and the pan full of milk is what was waiting to go in. From my newest two gallons I basically got a full cup of cream per gallon, which is not bad for a first full try...I have hopes I will be able to produce pretty close to a full quart with a little more experimenting. This should equate to about a pound of butter and at $4 a pound for store bought "so called real" butter, and even more if a person was to buy organic and/or Amish butter, I'm starting to see the financial benefits. Adding to that is the milk left to drink, which is also $4 a gallon for store bought and then there's the cheese that can be made from the extras, also running pretty close to $4 a pound depending on the type. By my calculations I'm ahead $4 already, since I pay that amount per gallon of goat milk! With the cost of my separator being only $75 I feel like it's not only justifiable, but it will be more than profitable for our eating habits.

Is it work? Yep, sure is...not only in the cranking, but in the clean up afterwards, however, it's the joy in the doing that is just priceless! I realize not everyone would find this type of experimenting fun...not too many would even care to go to all the trouble it's taken me to get to the end result of butter, but it's seriously enjoyment for me. I've always liked to learn new things and I've always been curious as to how things work or how they're done, so just the trying makes it fun for me. But you can't help but get a sense of accomplishment in setting down to a meal at your table knowing that everything you're about to consume was grown, made, and/or produced by your own two hands! Whether doing any of those things makes a difference to anyone else, doesn't matter...whether it makes a difference to you DOES! It's been a long standing theme of this modern society we live in that we should "do whatever makes you happy"...well, these are the things that make me happy! Some folks might call you crazy, but crazy or not, you might just find a little..."joy in the doing"!! :)


Saturday, June 21, 2014

The guilt free art of making vanilla...

Early last Fall I ran across several blog articles about making vanilla at home. It caught my attention and I decided I wanted to give it a try. First thing you have to have in making your vanilla of course, is vanilla beans. Vanilla beans are NOT cheap, well, not if you try to buy one in a grocery store, however, I found several places online where you can buy beans in bulk that pretty much get your bean costs to about a dollar or less per bean...I was okay with that! The second thing you have to have in making your own vanilla is....alcohol...most generally...Vodka!

Now, I am certainly no stranger to alcohol. In my younger days (MUCH younger!), I tried several of the various forms of alcohol, but thankfully, I never acquired a taste for it! Having family members that have regularly imbibed over the years certainly did nothing to lend to my appreciation of said liquors, and to be quite honest? Having seen the effects of it...I have no use for it! And until a few short months ago, you wouldn't have found alcohol in my home. Whether good or bad, the discovery of homemade vanilla has changed that outcome! ;)

I decided to start small with my first batch. I had the idea to do a "homemade Christmas" last year and vanilla was going to be one of the items on the gift list. So, I ordered my beans, bought a small bottle of vodka, and set to brewing. I started this about September, figuring it would give it enough time to distill with plenty of flavor in time for the holidays. I corked/lidded my bottle, set it in the pantry where it's dark, and shook it every few days throughout the season. When I pulled it out to get it ready for gift bottling, it smelt wonderful, so I stuck my finger in and gave it a taste test.....oooohhhhh YUCK!! I couldn't taste vanilla (or very little), all I could taste was the booze! I was seriously disappointed, figuring money wasted for something that wasn't going to be fit to use, but I bottled the stupid stuff anyway, since I'd already shopped the various thrift stores for cute little glass containers to put it in. I spent a day or two making up my label to go on them, filled the bottles, attached the label, and let them set. Of course, the girls thought it was all cool and great to get several homemade items, but I warned them in advance that I didn't really think the vanilla was fit to use.

My own bottle set in the pantry for several weeks after the holidays...I couldn't bring myself to just pour it out, but my fear of the taste kept me from using it. One weekend, when it was snowy and cold, I decided to make some sugar cookies. When I reached into my cabinet for my store bought vanilla, I realized I had an empty bottle...what to do now? Against my better judgement, I brought out the brewed stuff and added a teaspoon to the mix and baked up the cookies. I wasn't concerned about the alcohol itself since I knew the content would "cook out", but the flavor was what had me worried. While the cookies were still warm I took a tentative bite...ooohhh my goodness!!! Those were best tasting sugar cookies I'd ever made!! The next morning I decided to make pancakes and added a teaspoon of that vanilla...heavenly!! I could not believe the vanilla was rich and intense...and very delicious! I stared at my home brew with a new-found appreciation and decided right then and there I was making another batch! ;) I also called my girls and told them to try the vanilla in their next round of baking as I thought they were going to be pleasantly surprised...they were! They've since informed me their supply is getting low and they want more!!! :)

Now then...the cheapest place in our area for me to buy alcohol is at our local Walmart...I can get a large jug of cheap end vodka for a little less than $10 and I've been on the lookout for it for the past several weeks. Every time I would go to get a jug the shelf was always empty. I don't know if there are a lot of alcoholics in this area, or just a large group of cheap drunks, but time after time, that particular brand was sold out. Having received my large pack of vanilla beans I was getting a little frustrated in acquiring my alcohol. The beans arrive vacuum sealed, but with the heat and humidity for the past several days I did not want them laying around for very long.

Now, you have to understand...I live in a small town rural area, one of those where everybody knows everybody and since I've lived in this same area most of my life, it would be safe to say that a lot of people know me. So to see me in Walmart perusing the alcohol isle could most definitely set some tongues to wagging! ;) However, through experience, I've come to know that tongues will wag whether there's really anything to be worthy of wagging about, so with a clear conscience, and after the fifth trip in and shelf STILL empty, I decided it was time to start inquiring. I headed to the service desk where a well known employee was stationed and asked if I could speak to someone in grocery. With a smile beginning to form she replies, "Ohhh sure...hang on and I'll call someone...was there a particular area you needed?" To which I immediately answered, "Well, yes...I need something in the alcohol department." Smile freezes, finger pauses over the call button and a confused look begins to form beneath the eye lids..."Alcohol?"

Okay, so maybe I'm beginning to enjoy the moment, maybe that little guy with horns starts to prod me into playing this up...perhaps I see an opportunity to be a little, shall we say, ornery??!! My mother would say that was just "the Stevenson coming out in me", but as deadpan as possible I reply, "Well, I've made umpteen trips in here to get a big jug of vodka and there's never any on the shelf, so I wanted to find out when and if it's going to be stocked and how soon I can expect to get some...." The employee's smile then fades to nothingness and the call goes went something like this: "yeah, uhhh...I've got a customer up here that's wanting to know about vodka and why there isn't any!" The rest of the conversation becomes mumbled and I'm thinking my reputation has just become very cloudy indeed! I'm not sure if the person she was talking to was expecting an irate drunk or what, but you could see the wariness as they were approaching the service desk, eyes darting around, looking for this alcohol searching customer...again, another employee who knows me. Since I'm the only person standing there, they do a once over, dismiss the idea that it could possibly be ME who has asked this question, and then turns to the service desk to inquire where the "customer" was. With a very dismissive flick of the wrist, I am pointed out!

I will give the other employee credit...there was only a slight widening to the pupils when they turned to face me, but again, the "shock" was there! I explain my dilemma, no I did not mention the manufacturing of least not at this point, and then inquire as to whether there could possibly be any bottles in the back. With an overly bright smile, and only a slight stammer, the employee tells me they'll have to check, so off we head to the back of the store. She runs her scan of the bar code that tells her there is indeed some bottles in back and off she goes while I wait patiently next to the Jim Beam/Kentucky Bourbon bottles and try my best to look nonchalant!! ;) I might add that the "beer man" was already there stocking the shelves. I know he is the beer man because I had already inquired of him earlier as to why there was no vodka...he told me, "I'm just the beer man..." hmmmm?! So he's stocking, I'm waiting, and pretty soon the employee returns with an entire BOX of vodka...she carefully places the box on the floor, looks up at me and asks tentatively, "Soooo, uh, how many do you want?" ONE...I just need one! As she hands me up the jug and I place my grubby little hands around the neck of the bottle I exclaim without thinking, "Ooohhhh halleluiah...FINALLY!" I hear the beer man begin to chuckle and the employee starts to we three have now become co-conspirators in a booze fest about to start!

Okay, I admit...I was rather embarrassed after making that comment...I mean, "halleluiah" and "vodka" really shouldn't be used within the same context, but hey! I WAS glad to finally get it and to know my beans weren't going to be lost in the waiting. As I set my jug down in the cart I turned to both of them and said, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that...I just want you both to know my intentions are not to DRINK this stuff. I'm actually making vanilla and I need it to make a big batch.." They pass a look between them and continue to chuckle as I head off down the isle. I'm pretty sure they didn't believe a word of what I told them and probably had several more laughs once I was out of ear range. I could just see them discussing the fact that "they've heard it all" when it comes to someone needing alcohol...but making vanilla? I bet they've never heard THAT one before!!! ;)

I managed to make it through the rest of the store and the checkout line without running into anyone else I knew. Thankfully none of my church ladies happened to be shopping in there that day, as I don't know if I could have explained it quite as unflappably to them as I had done previously! But as you can see by the pictures I posted (proof of my innocence!) I did indeed go home and make vanilla! I actually had enough left over in my jug at the bottom that I decided to try my hand at lemon extract as well, so all drops, sips, and drips went into glass jars! Both jars are now quietly resting in the darkened pantry working their magic to arrive at flavors to be enjoyed to their fullest in about 4 months.

I have told myself I will try to be a little more circumspect the next time I am in need of some alcohol and hopefully whatever thoughts the grocery employee had about my intentions, will at least keep the shelf stocked and not require any further inquiry into supply and demand! Even with five of us using this marvelous brew, I should have no need for further purchases for at least another year and by then perhaps all memories will be erased! ;) But I have a notion I will be carefully "watched" from now on when shopping the local store, as such is the way of small town America and our town is no different! And yes, I could have went out of town to make my purchase, saved myself some gossiping, but to me that would imply I was somehow guilty of something, and you can bet I would have run into someone I knew, also shopping out of town, that would have made my particular purchase appear more guilt infused! As I said, people will believe what they want to believe and at my age, if my strength of character hasn't proved anything by now, no amount of explaining will! I will continue to buy locally and cart my jug to the front of the store with no qualms whatsoever, because the proof "will be in the puddin"....or in my case...the cookies, cakes, and pancakes!!


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Chicken Pluckin' at it's finest...

Part of our family spent the day yesterday in our (somewhat) first venture in raising and butchering chickens. It's been many years since I, myself, have been involved in the butchering of chickens, and thankful I am for a good memory that I could remember most of how it was done! My children remember their grandma and I butchering, but like my own grandkids did yesterday, they spent those days playing and not involved in the actual process, so the "hands on" was a first for our youngest daughter and the d-n-l  (although the d-n-l and son, as well as the s-n-l, have processed a wild turkey). Our oldest daughter and her husband raise commercial chickens and while at their farm last year I got in on their "fat testing", which in turn led me to start thinking about raising some for our own use.

Hubs and I had discussed the idea in the early part of this year and we determined we wanted to try it, but on a small more than 6-8 birds. I determined there would be no killing field until school was out for summer break and I had more time on my hands, so with that in mind we calculated a date as to when we'd need to begin the process. We also tried to determine whether or not this little venture would even be cost effective, after all, chicken is still reasonably priced in the store...well, the parts of chicken are at least, but trying to be more "food conscious" we believed our birds would have healthier meat being farm raised, so that also went in to our equation.

We still hadn't made a full decision when were given 8 culls from the local hatchery...decision was made!! ;) We figured with free birds we could hardly go wrong on the cost department! Our chicks were indeed meat birds, white cornish cross, and the first thing we noted above all else, was the fact all they do is EAT!! Unlike our layers that run around the pen, catching bugs and picking grass, the older these chicks became the less they moved! I likened them to the old saying of "like hogs at a trough"...they literally laid around the feed pan and done nothing but eat...or drank!! It was full time job just making sure the feed pan and waterer was full at all times. Still, we tried to keep them in a grassy enclosure in order to give them a little bit of variance in their diet, but I can tell you...unless the grass was right under their beak, they didn't bother to roam much to get at it!

Again, to try and keep the meat as healthy as possible, we used non-medicated starter and grower, eventually mixing in a little hen scratch as they grew. Our first "shock" was at the cost of non-medicated feed, which is NOT cheap by no means, which in my book also equates to "not cost effective", but we continued on with that decision. It was not "organic" feed...I don't know that we could have gotten that locally without special order and at the cost of what I've seen online, there was no way I could justify raising million dollar birds! And while I've read a few articles on making your own organic type feed, again, I didn't have the time, the dollars, or the inclination to go to all that trouble! So ours got commercial feed, with whatever kitchen scraps I had to add to their diet.

Butchering day arrived with (thankfully!) lots of sunshine and all our tools were assembled and ready to go. I have to say here that hubs and I weren't expecting the help, but both these girls let us know in advance they would be a part of the helping! Thank you girls!! :)  Like a well oiled machine (with only a few squeaks!), the s-n-l readied the scalding pot, hubs manned the decapitation stump, I started the scalding process, and girls grabbed a bird and began plucking! We ended up with a total of 9 birds, so we decided to process in groups of 3. Since it was my job (and I knew the where-with-all) to do the gutting, I would scald, hand off a bird to each girl, and hubs got the third. Once the main plucking was done, I inspected the birds for any lingering feathers and then began the removing of the entrails.
In the midst of this were a few "teaching" lessons as to how to safely remove the livers, hearts, and gizzards and the grandkids wanted to "view" the guts!! One viewing seemed to satisfy them and they were off and running again! ;) After that, I handed the birds back to the girls,  with the d-n-l removing the feet and the daughter then going over the entire bird for a final feather inspection! Since the daughter claims serious signs of OCD she made a good final feather inspector! ;) After that they went in to a cooler filled with ice and water to rapidly chill and then we started the process all over again with the next three birds. 

Once the final bird went in to the cooler we took a much needed rest on our backs, grilled burgers and brats for supper, and then started our final stage. Throughout this section of the kill, the s-n-l was doing the outside cleaning up, washing pots and tools, emptying and removing the scalder, and then helping the hubs take off the remains. Oh, and I might add here that he also washed my feet for me...he's a good man!! ;) With supper over, we moved inside and began the baggin' and taggin'. I ended up only cutting up three of the birds for parts...mainly because we had some really NICE roasters! I didn't think to weigh the birds, but lets just say they were BIG...and meaty! I was also getting tired, so my thought leaned toward the idea we could bag them whole and if I wanted a fryer I could cut it up later...worked for me! ;)

We had a little trouble with the new food definitely sucks any and all liquid from your bag, making it very difficult to vacuum seal. I was a little disappointed in this, but we finally decided to "dry" the birds as best we could, vacuum seal, and then double heat-seal the bags just to make sure nothing came loose during freezer time. The daughter and I had a sink each, doing one more final inspection and cleaning, then we handed over to the d-n-l for the bagging and sealing. We started this whole process around 2:30 in the afternoon and ended just about 8:30 that night...don't know if that was good or bad, but that's how it turned out for us. Then began the table discussion as to whether this was all worth it or not.

It was mutually agreed that we wouldn't have wanted to do a larger amount of birds, at least not without some type of conveyance to help in the plucking. Said plucker will be our son's department as he's the mechanical builder of the group! It was also determined that whole chickens take up a LOT of freezer space. As to cost of feed...well, that could almost make the whole thing pointless, unless you're willing to buy cheaper feed, or you figure the cost of buying a whole chicken. Obviously you can buy leg quarters cheap, you can also buy skinless chicken breasts by the bag at a fairly decent price and those two things have been the bulk of our chicken eating for the last few years. As to a whole chicken? Those are not cheap...just recently at a Save-A-Lot store I pointed out to the girls a whole chicken was running a little over $7. Mind you, my thought on this is coming from past memories of being able to buy a whole chicken for a buck fifty!! ;) And honestly, I guess $7 is not a bad price for a family meal, because you can usually get more than one meal out of a whole chicken. If I had to roughly guess-timate our costs in all this (without the labor), it would run pretty close to that dollar mark. The advantage is we KNOW what went in to the meat, and the processing of, which we can't honestly say that with a store bought chicken. If you were attempting to do all of this organically, I think the costs are going to be really high. If you're attempting to buy already processed organic birds, then doing it at home, organically raised or otherwise, may well be cheaper....but again, I can't afford to go completely organic, nor justify the costs in doing so, so that doesn't figure in to my cost effectiveness at all.

The real winner in all of this though, was the time spent with family in the doing! You can't put a price tag on the antics and laughter that went into all of this! The deadpan jokes, the dancing chicken carcasses, the itch that needs scratching in the middle of the messiest pair of hands you'll ever see, or the less than perfect feet removals that elicit even more jokes and laughter! The unwillingness of your daughter to "touch the butt feathers", the most definite unwillingness of the s-n-l to hold said chicken as the hubs was wielding the axe!! The ummmm...expletive from the d-n-l when she accidentally cut the bile gland trying to remove it from the liver, or the grandkids many "eeewww's", yet curious questions about the digestive workings of a just can't figure any of that into your costs...those things are just...well...priceless!

Will we attempt this again? Maybe...I think we'll determine the answer to that question once we've taste tested our finished product. The women of this outfit are envisioning golden brown, roasted chicken in the early days of the upcoming fall...the men will determine it by how well those same chickens go with a side of mashed potatoes and gravy. Either way, it seriously was a fun-filled adventure for all parties involved...and if you really want to determine the strength of your family.... just butcher some chickens together! :)


Monday, June 9, 2014

Butter from goat cream...a new favorite!!

I got the most desirable surprise of my life this evening when I decided to try what little goat cream I had managed to skim off my milk and turn it into butter! Using barely a half a quart of cream I got twice the amount of butter I had been managing to get from my cows milk that was at least a quart or more of cream.

With the pancreatic issues I started having I was determined to switch out my store bought milk to cows FRESH cows milk, and had thought I had a reliable source when I started. With that cows milk came the cream that settled to the top, which I dutifully skimmed off just as I remembered my mother always doing. However, being that it was a Holstein cow it was still lacking somewhat in content, but I was happy just to get the cream and turn it into butter....I had not had fresh cream butter since I was a kid!

We had a milk cow when I was growing up, but only for a short time as my dad could never seem to remember he needed to be home in time to milk her in the evenings. Mom and I would take turns but neither of use were very good at milking...we got milk, but it took us a lot longer than it did my dad! Mom felt sorry for the cow and told my dad to sell her. Later on she found a lady up the highway who sold milk and she started buying it from started out at .50 a gallon...yeah!! FIFTY CENTS!! Over the course of the years it eventually climbed to a whopping $1.50 but by then Mom was just buying from the store.

Anyway, we'd stop and pick up a gallon, sometimes two, and Mom would bring it home and immediately run it through an old tea towel to strain it. Where we bought the milk was clean, but she just liked knowing it was extra clean! ;) She'd pour it into a large bowl, cover it, and set it in the fridge to let the cream rise to the top. Later she'd skim off the cream into a quart jar and set it back in the fridge until she gathered enough to make butter.

We didn't own a butter churn, ours was the simple "jar and shake" method and I seriously loved doing that. I had the ability back then to set still for longer periods of time so I didn't mind shaking that jar and watching for the butter curds to start forming. Through the whole process Mom was telling me the hows and whys of butter stuck! When it was ready she'd strain off the buttermilk for my dad to drink later and then run that butter through cold water, working it this way and that until it was where she wanted it and all the milk product was out...then she'd salt it down, mix it a little more, swipe the spoon and hand it to me! There was nothing better than fresh butter straight off the spoon!

Thankfully, after all those years, I still remembered Mom's teachings and couldn't wait to get my first batch of butter, which I did, but in a lot smaller amount than I remember. Still, I was happy to have what I got and I limited my fresh eating to just a dip or two of my finger! ;) I thought I was happily on my way to having at least enough real butter to slather on toast or a biscuit, but then my source got erratic! One week I'd have milk and the next week I didn't...then it would be two weeks before I got it, so my dreams of drinking fresh milk and eating fresh butter began to falter by the wayside until some old friends of ours stopped by the hub's store and he told them about my bout of illness. The next day they came in packing a gallon of goat milk to send home for me to try...well...I fell in LOVE with it!!

My only round of goat milk tasting was a very small stint I attempted back years ago while raising goats. I bought an "elderly" nubian nanny who was about to kid and after she did I was determined to milk her as well. I wasn't impressed and my kids weren't either. I've since come to realize that just like a cow, a goat's milk is largely determined by what she eats...ours was eating scrub brush!! Really, that's why we bought them in the first place, to help clear out the brush on our new property. Needless to say the milk was not that great, so I eventually left it for the babies she had and called it quits. But this milk that was delivered to me? Oh man!! Was it ever good...the creamiest, richest tasting milk I've ever drank...I was hooked!

I had one slight problem though, I was already committed to buying the cow milk and knew there was no way, just the two of us, could use that much milk in a week, so I tried to alternate and basically let the goat milk fill in when the cow milk didn't show up. After going through a 3 week stint of no cow milk and no explanation why there was none, I talked to our goat folks and asked them if I could just start buying on a weekly basis from them and I've been happily buying regularly for the last several weeks (funny, after 4 weeks went by and us telling them to just not worry about it, a gallon of cow milk showed up, still with no explanation for all the missing weeks, but wanting to know if we were going to continue buying it...uh no!!).

Now I also had one problem with the goat milk...not enough cream to make butter, but I decided I'd just relinquish those thoughts and turn instead to making cheese. Goats milk is naturally homogenized, so while they do in fact have cream, it doesn't run to the top as easily as cow cream does, therefore, without a separator, it's kind of pointless to try and skim it just don't get much. But this week I'd let my gallon jugs set a couple days in the frig and could easily see what looked to be about a 1/4 inch layer of cream on the top of my gallon...I decided to take it off. The first thing I noticed was how thick it reminded me more of the Jersey cream we got when I was a kid...very thick, very creamy...nothing like that watered down,thin stuff I had gotten off the cow milk. But I didn't get a whole lot, maybe a quarter of quart jar and wasn't real sure how much of that had milk mixed in. My other gallon was already in the drinking jar in the fridge and there was definitely cream on top of it, so I just kept siphoning off through my spigot and letting the cream slide right on down to the bottom of the jar. Tonight I added that cream to my quart jar...I had almost a half a quart.

My personal preference is fresh cream butter...I can do the cultured, but it's just not as much to my liking, so rather than have my cream ripen on me waiting on more, I thought, "well why not try it and see?". I hooked up my small blender cup and poured in the cream...hit the blend button and let her run (I can't set still long enough now to do the jar shake thing!). I don't think it took even 5 mins til I had globs whirling around and banging the sides of my container. I pulled the lid off and....OMG!! The thing was FULL of butter!! I began hoopin' and hollerin' for the hubs to come look at what I had...yeah, it don't take much to excite me these days!! ;) But seriously, I was totally astounded at the amount of butter that little dab of cream had made and happily elated to know that my buttering days were not going to end after all!

One of these days I may just invest in a cream separator (I'm already checking prices!), because now that I've seen what a little skimming will do, I can only imagine what I could get off of two gallons with a separator...and yeah, I think it would be worth it! I've yet to figure out just what skimming the milk will do to my cheese making endeavors, but I think I'd be willing to forgo the cheese in order to have the butter...after all we eat butter on pretty much a daily basis and cheese we don't! But I can always grab some of that erratic cow milk now and then to make cheese with! ;) Or maybe I'll start checking prices on a Nubian milk goat too and then I'd have a steady and full supply for both!! But for now, I'll enjoy my little dabs of home made goat butter on a fresh slice of home made can bet I will set still long enough for that!


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The forays of down home....

I've been on a few "adventures" here lately...most of which have all taken place in the kitchen! Oh, there's been the usual gardening preps and all the things that go with it now that growing season has fully kicked in, but in between times I've been playing with other things. I have a list of even more things I hope to get accomplished while I'm off for the many of those will actually get done is another thing altogether!

What has started most of my adventures actually began with some health issues back in the winter. With the diagnosis came my search through the wonderful world of internet and looking up things I could do for myself that didn't require a medical expert or a vast array of medications. All that looking led me to various blogs and other folks doing basically what I wanted to do, or have dreamed of doing. I started out reading up on healthy foods and those blogs led to other blogs, which in turn led to even more blogs and all that reading then led me to searching for things that made me question, "hmmm...wonder if?"'s been interesting to say the least! And for those purposes...the internet is fabulous (although, you must remember not to believe everything you read!).

Because of switching out my store bought milk to real cow/goat milk I began playing with the idea of attempting cheese making. I have discovered that making cheese is not hard, time consuming yes, but not difficult at all. I began first in making a soft cheese with my milk kefir, think sour cream taste with a cream cheese consistency. It's very much like the EXTREMELY small (and expensive!) logs of goat cheese you find for sale in stores. I then moved on to trying my hand at cottage cheese and we loved it! No, it doesn't taste like "store bought", but it comes pretty darn close when you add sour cream to your curds after you're finished.
During these two processes I decided I wanted to go back to my dream of several years ago and try making hard cheddar. We love cheese, but my blood pressure rises every time I go to the store because the price just continues to go up and the packaging becomes smaller. Not having an abundance of milk on hand and dependent upon those friends of ours whom we now get our goat milk from to drink, I knew I wouldn't have a lot of extra to just play with, so I've read, and read some more, and determined the hows of making smaller batches of said cheese. I was rewarded the other day with my first pound of cheddar!
Now my only problem will be is the waiting on to see whether or not the finished product does in fact taste like cheddar cheese. This little round is currently air drying and when that's done it will be waxed and moved to my cellar where I will allow it to "age". Hopefully, in about 3 months I will find out how my efforts turned out. In the meantime, I plan to make a few more rounds to wax and age, with the thoughts that come fall we have will something to enjoy. I want to try smoking some as well, but that is going to be dependent upon the hubs and whether or not he'll be able to come up with me a cold smoker!

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the abilities of my son to provide me with a cheese press. After looking online and discovering the costs of owning a cheese press I hit up my talented, woodworking, youngest child to make me one...and wow!! did he ever come through with the prize! Using walnut and a little oak this is what he presented me's a beauty...and I can attest to the fact that it works and works well! I loved how he added the name "Down Home on the 40" to it, although he told me he was disappointed in how his wood burning efforts turned out...I was not disappointed in it at all! Having made vanilla over last fall and gifting it to my "girls", I had produced a label with a rooster and "Down Home" title that I added to the bottles and of course, it's also the title to this blog. While I have no thoughts of marketing anything I produce, I rather enjoy the idea of having my own "signature" product!! :)

Among other things I've been playing with has been hard lotion bars, body butter, and a bug bite reliever...all of which have turned out well and the fun in doing all this has been well worth the efforts. The bug bite reliever also doubles as a clay facial mask and my girls have been having a hey day in playing with all of it! My youngest daughter has already let me know that her supply of clay is dwindling fast and she's putting in her next order...NOW!! Then last week I decided to have a go at homemade mustard. I decided to try a spicy honey blend, which probably should have been allowed to mellow a little more, but it was used in dipping ribs into over the weekend and I tried it out on a ham sandwich and found it pretty darn tasty where it's at! ;) My plans are to try a couple more varieties in the next few days, something slightly milder in taste the grandkids can handle.

While I am certainly in the learning process of many things right now, what I do know is that I am having a ball in the learning and the adding to of many of the things I'm already familiar with. In my own little corner of dreamland I would love to be totally self-sufficient and "off grid" so to speak, but reality tells me often that may not ever be possible. Still, I've always been one to love trying new things, adding my own perspective to those things, and then waiting to see where it all leads me next! Most assuredly I will continue in my reading and research and living my life vicariously through others blogs. Right now though, it's time to head back to the kitchen and decide which adventure I'm starting on next! :)