BREWING + CANNING | A HOMEMADE LIFE

 
DSC01001.jpg

A few years ago, we approached an extremely talented artist about crafting a logo for our new blog, the concept of which boiled down to this: A Homemade Life. It was an ideal we aspired to, which inspired us. We'd traveled a good bit, ventured out of our respective comfort zones, and met a lot of cool, very cool people doing & creating cool, very cool things. That is to say, they were spending their lives not so much as consumers, but as producers (who also enjoyed the distinct pleasure of consuming the wonderful things they were producing). We wanted a piece of that pie. And starting a blog (this blog) would allow us to document our journey, while surely keeping us honest along the way. 

The final illustration that landed in our inboxes was a pure manifestation of what we were reaching for: ingredients fresh from the field, and a well-loved cast iron for cooking them; an abundant honey harvest to enjoy with homemade bread; jars, jars, many mason jars; and, of course, home-brewed beer. It really is a lovely image, and fortunately enough, one that represents many of the experiences we've enjoyed over the past few years. Still, in the interest of keeping it honest, it's important to admit that those experiences don't just happen everyday. For instance, we hadn't canned any tomatoes for two years despite our frequent vows to do so. As for home brewing, that had only happened three times in two years.

DSC00993.jpg
DSC00989.jpg
DSC00986.jpg

...until last Friday! Sometimes you get an opening to Make Things Happen, and Make Things we did. The reality, we've found, is that such self-reliant tasks often need a bit of outside help to actually happen. Like when your boss at the vegetable farm generously allows you to take home two crates of tomato seconds, free of charge; and when your parents let you invade both their kitchen and garage for the day, filling the air with the swirling aromas of tomatoes simmering & hops thrown into the brew kettle. 

So, Sam cranked the hours away with The Squeeze-O — an incredible, old-fashioned tool lent to us by the same generous veggie farmer mentioned above. I settled into the familiar routine of cleaning, sanitizing, brewing, and then cleaning & sanitizing some more. It was a wonderful day devoted to All Things Homemade, right down to the lovingly-knit wool cap that I wore all day (thank you, Sam!). Now, there is tomato sauce put up in the cupboard for winter; there's beer, too, just waiting to be bottled. 

DSC00995.jpg
DSC00997.jpg
DSC00999.jpg

—M

AFTER THOUGHTS + APRICOT BREAD

 
DSC00976.jpg
DSC00982.jpg
DSC00964.jpg

Between moving, leaving our jobs, and becoming pregnant, we have veritably Kicked Up the Dust.  If our hearts are a home, we picked up the dirty rugs, beat 'em real good, swept the floor and carried on (rugs in tow . . . I would never leave the rugs). Ever a fan of the metaphor. But we did literally make that move, not just metaphorically. And now the dust is settling. There is much left to discover and even more to discern, but I can say with a good solid amount of clarity that Mark, baby and I are charting the right course. I do not know how to explain how a house can take care of someone—repair someone, even—but this is quietly, very quietly, happening.

We moved back to Ohio and into my grandma's house two months after she died. This was not the plan. The plan was to move in with her. I felt collapsing sorrow when she died despite knowing she is imprinted on my soul + lives, without suffering, brightly in my memory. But to know me is to know how much I cherish the women who raised me. Long before we had any notion of moving back to Ohio, when we imagined farming in Vermont for years and raising babies in the green mountains, my grandma sent us a piece of mail entitled "after thoughts" which was a pros and cons list of moving in with her. Pros included things like "running hot water" (a luxury we did not have at the time); cons such as "old woman hard of hearing" (ha!). A year later, she's gone and I'm sitting in her kitchen; my kitchen. At the top of the stairs lives "after thoughts", framed and hung with prominence. It is something of a tangible reminder that opportunities can be subtle, can be sweet, can be written with shaky cursive on a scrap piece of paper (in the case of "after thoughts"). It gives me reason to suspect that even when we're not open to them, opportunities might just come back around. And I love this. 

DSC00978.jpg
DSC00968.jpg

As for the house, it is imbued with my grandma, the kitchen most of all. The thick plaster walls are home to some of her best paintings—like the mama goose and her gosling (pictured above; It is a particularly poignant painting for me, because Mark calls me Goose and we both call the baby our Gosling. It feels as though she made that painting to encourage my own journey into motherhood. I hold firmly that these things are not coincidental.), or the wood-burned peg rack of a paddling of ducks that has hung in the same spot my entire life. When she died, I was gifted her great-grandmother's 100-year-old quilt and her recipe book. Both are treasures worth more than gold. I christened her oven by baking a recipe from her book that I had never tasted: apricot fruit bread. I did not alter a single ingredient, which means I used shortening in lieu of butter or oil. And you should too, if you give it a try. And you should give it a try, because recipes only make it into grandmother's cookbooks if they are time-tested and Very Delicious.

DSC00974.jpg
DSC00965.jpg
DSC00983.jpg

MARIELLEN'S APRICOT BREAD
makes two 9x5 loaves or one 9x5 loaf if halved

INGREDIENTS
1 c. dried + diced apricots
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. vegetable shortening
4 eggs
4 c. sifted flour
2 T. baking powder
1 t. salt
2 c. milk
1 c. pitted + diced prunes or raisins or currants (optional)
1/2 c. chopped walnuts or pecans

STEPS
—Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
—Cover apricots and prunes (raisins, etc) with hot water and let sit for 5 minutes; drain and set aside.
—Cream together the sugar and shortening for 3-5 minutes.
—Add eggs and beat until light in color.
—Sift the dry ingredients together and add to the eggs alternately with the milk.
—Stir in the fruit and nuts.
—Pour into greased and floured 9x5 pans and bake 60-65 minutes.
—Cool in pans for 10 minutes before removing to a cooling rack.
 

PEAKS ISLAND, MAINE + A WHIRLWIND MONTH

 
DSC00813.jpg
DSC00837.jpg
DSC00843.jpg
DSC00855.jpg
DSC00890.jpg

In the last four weeks, we have participated in no shortage of self-induced upheaval, insomuch as we went from having Very Routine Lives to routine-less, travel-heavy existences in far flung spots on the map. This was a month that saw our toes in the frigid Atlantic and laughing at seals while aboard a fishing boat named Dasakamo; a month that watched us move out of Vermont and into a two-story brick house in our home state; a month that had us pouring Austrian beers at a resort biergarten not two days after weeding a dahlia patch on a friend's produce + flowers farm in the middle of nowhere. Nothing has felt routine save the baby in Sam's belly kick, kick, kicking. Which, as it were, occurred for the first time at the beginning of this whirlwind month during a magical trip to Peaks Island, Maine . . .

As vacations are concerned, this one was especially memorable. The five of us stayed with a positively inspiring couple in their oceanfront home on Peaks Island. Not a bad place to conduct our final hurrah. There was a lobster dinner with the day's catch, cooked in ocean water. There were sauna sessions followed by a mad dash into the numbing waters of the Ocean. Morning walks around the island ushered in our days; a late night movie capped them. And a few hours before traveling home, we were treated to an impromptu, breathtaking tour of Casco Bay by way of our host's boat. We rode by pairs of mega-athletes tethered to one another, swimming from island to island (excuse me?) on our way to Chebeague Island, a rural fishing island that was inexplicably home to mouthwatering breakfast sandwiches and pastries. We purchased Robert McCloskey's One Morning In Maine for our baby because, you know. A month later we're missing our friends to be sure, but relishing what was a perfect coda to our time in the Northeast, lived alongside some very special people.

DSC00848.jpg
DSC00794.jpg
DSC00950.jpg
DSC00923.jpg
DSC00925.jpg
DSC00939.jpg
DSC00943.jpg
DSC00919.jpg
DSC00914.jpg
DSC00790.jpg
DSC00805.jpg

—M&S

DOWN HOMEBREW | DANDELION SAISON

 

The tale of the Dandelion Saison started peacefully enough. I woke up early on brew day, and though it was a rare day off from the farm, I pulled on my boots and walked out to pasture. It was mid-May and the fields were painted yellow with dandelions, as far as the eye could see. With a canvas tote slung over my shoulder, I set about harvesting the flowers. I watched as a bumblebee drifted from plant to plant, busying itself by my side. The sun rose over the mountains, greeting a new day. True serenity.

Cut to seven hours later.

I walked down the barn stairs to the milking parlor, where Sam was working in my absence. Slouched over and flush from the 90-degree heat, I was dejected. Mere minutes before the end of the brew, my glass thermometer had broken in the kettle, spilling lord-knows-what into the batch. Sam tried to talk me down, but I was having none of it. The batch was ruined. All of that meticulous recipe planning, the hand-selected ingredients, the hours of research on brewing techniques for a more perfect beverage: all of it, down the drain. Because of a thermometer.

Alas! After contacting the manufacturer, I learned that the thermometer was, of course, food-grade: No mercury, no lead, no poisoned beer! And to make matters even better, the broken glass could be strained out before bottling. A beer without glass shards is highly preferable, no doubt. I patiently waited as the French Saison yeast worked its magic in the fermenter. The weeks rolled by, milking & pasture season ramped up, the dandelions in the field went to seed and blew away with the wind. All the while, a faint *bloop* *bloop* could be heard in the corner of our one-room house: yeast, busy at work. Finally, as the calendar turned to July, the Dandelion Saison reached maturity and made it into bottles: free of any glass or poison. This trouble child creation of mine was finally coming to fruition.

Cut to one week later.

The patience I had so gracefully exhibited during fermentation ran out. I had just walked in the door after a long day on the farm. A long week, really: the barn had flooded, there were wagons full of hay to unload, new employees to train in the milking parlor. A post-work beverage sounded nice, and though I knew it took three weeks or so for beer to carbonate in the bottle, it couldn't hurt to test one early—right? Worst case scenario, a flat beer. So I grabbed a swing-top bottle off the shelf and popped it open . . .

*POP!* *PSSSHHHHHHHH!* 

What followed can be described with a whole lot of onomatopoeia, but just one actual word will suffice: Geyser. The second the bottle was opened, beer sprayed everywhere, and with vigor—we have the ceiling stains to prove it! So, of course my split-second reaction was to stick it in my mouth . . .

*GURGLE *

That didn't last long. I ran to the shower, leaving a shower of saison in my wake. . . Good news, though: the beer tasted great! In the end, I learned three things: 1) Those extra weeks in the bottle give time for the carbon dioxide within to dissolve into the beer. Open the bottle too early and that gas will all be stuck in the head space, giving you a rare glimpse of "Old Faithful" far, far away from Yellowstone. 2) My wife is an incredibly good sport. Faced with the grim reality of a homebrew-drenched house, all she did was laugh and help me clean up the mess I'd made. 3) This is my favorite beer that I've brewed to date. Historically, saisons were brewed by farmers in the French-speaking region of Belgium, primarily for the consumption of their seasonal farmhands, or saisonniers. This beer follows that tradition: it is dry and refreshing, ever so slightly tart, and has a much lower alcohol content than modern saisons. It is a beer fit for a farmer, brewed by a farmer. 

Cheers!


Dandelion Saison

Appearance: Cloudy, pale gold; capped with a big ol' fluffy head.

Aroma: Rising bread dough, with maybe a hint of dandelion petal.

Taste: Floral, fruity yeast flavor, and pleasantly tart. 

Mouthfeel: Lively carbonation, low bitterness, finishes dry.

Style: Saison

ABV: 5.0%

Hops: Saaz.

Malt: Pilsner, Vienna, Flaked Wheat.

Overall: For a beer that was anything but easy to brew, it sure drinks easy after a day spent in the field, under the sun!


—M