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

A DIFFERENT CADENCE

 

The heat broke. After what seemed an interminable spell of humidity and heat for us northern dwellers, the heat broke and a cool wave washed over the valley. Mid-fifties cool. I was jumping up and down for joy in our kitchen, literally, because cold weather energizes me in a way that always has me wondering if somewhere in me there is Scandinavian blood. If it seems like we write about the weather a lot, it's because A) as people managing a farm we spend a huge amount of the day analyzing radars and guessing what the sky will do, and B) weather is everything! To a farmer, at least. And to a pregnant woman, definitely. And I am both. Pregnant and farming; Farming and pregnant; With child; Expectant; and Moving Home.

We have a mere week left, more or less, of this cadence we've known and abided for as long as we can remember. Not quite two years on this farm, but all we can remember. We have lived, worked, slept, awoken, eaten, napped, and toiled together, every single day, for all these months. And for the last several months, we've done so alongside a growing human on the inside. This summer has been a beautiful season in our marriage and our hardest season on the farm. Balancing what I can no longer do physically on the outside with what I am physically doing on the inside has been a game of gratitude, patience, and grace. We are both bewildered with fascination and awe over something as miraculous as this—the creation of another human being, complete with fingernails and veins and and a beating heart—transpiring in our marriage. 

I am having a hard time smattering together a blog post that touches on our new reality of "parents-to-be who are leaving their jobs to move back to the Midwest so they can be near family and hopefully find fulfilling work until they buy a farm but if not then Oh Well because Life Is More Than Work." But, in my head, all I can think is: hot damn, sex created a human that is half-me, half-Mark!?!?! We movin' home! We don't have to milk at 5:30 in the morning and clean out barn floods anymore! We can focus on ourselves and our baby and our families and not the welfare of 200 animals, if only for a time! Our parents can cook us meals again! We can cook our parents meals again! And on and on. Despite the occasional worry that creeps in (you know, the What If This and How Will We That) I am not afraid for our uncertain future. I am cloaked in armor, especially if armor can be a soft washed linen quilt and a bouquet of wildflowers. I wear a breastplate of marital love that entwines itself more securely all the time. My helmet, a big family awaiting us in Ohio. My shield, unwavering faith in a God who I know has got this one in the bag. I am all good. Mark is all good. Baby is all good. 

Cheers to continuing on the journey that never halts. Like a little bumble in a field of dandies: Ever onward!


—S

A (WEDDING!) CAKE FOR JULY

 

Last summer when two of my closest friends got engaged here on the farm, I immediately started dreaming about making their wedding cake. Not because I had the wherewithal to do such a thing—more like, I love cake, and our little group of friends had all grown accustomed to mini cakes for special occasions, and I love cake. When I was actually invited to make a mini cake for what would be their gorgeous, down home farm wedding, I knew I needed to get practicing. Vermonters are a discerning bunch, especially when it comes to food. Thus, I started my Cake-A-Month project. I pored over cake recipes for the first few weeks of 2017. Then, in classic fashion, I got busy and thoughts of cakes left my mind entirely. In the end, despite my lackadaisical approach, the cake was baked and the bride and groom loved it.

The wedding itself was one of the most beautiful affairs I've ever been present for. Pete and Abi are remarkably un-extravagant and very special. Nothing was contrived and everything was authentic. Yes, they were married on an idyllic Vermont hay field called The Hogback, but Pete was the one who baled all of the hay. Abi was a vision in an ivory linen dress and a wildflower crown, but it was the same dress she wore to her high school graduation and the flower crown was whipped together an hour before the wedding. I was honored to bake a simple cake for two of my best friends. Cheers to baking mini cakes for everyone you love! Hooray! 

This was my second wedding cake. I baked a last minute funfetti mini cake for my sister's wedding. (By "last minute," I mean I flew home two nights before the wedding with a cake stand and sprinkles in my carry-on, put it all together the morning of the wedding, and scribbled a decorative rainbow pennant flag with crayons right beforehand. I told myself I was a good little sister for ensuring they would eat cake, but never again.) For Pete and Abi's wedding, I went with a lemon yellow cake that was super delicious and everything I love in a cake: dense, moist, not overwhelming. I topped each layer with Maine blueberry preserves, and decided to use American buttercream because it's simple, sturdy, and more stable than its lighter (and superior, in my opinion) cousins, Swiss and Italian. My main consideration with frosting was keeping it stable and un-melting, as it was going to sit outside on a hot summer day. A few things went awry as they are oft to do. Overall, I loved the process so much that I am almost willing to offer my unprofessional (dare I call it down home?) cake baking services for your next low key affair. Emphasis on low key. 


—S

CLOSURE

 

Last summer, still fresh to our farm roles, we took in four baby goats. If you've been reading our blog since then (and to that point, if you have: wow, and thank you), you know that we raised them for meat. You saw their faces, and maybe you felt something personally—positive or negative—about our decision. They were our pets for a time, but their roles in our lives always carried more weight. We have a catalog of memories to do with Satchmo, Smithers, Dill and Tuna — from bottle feeding each one while we renovated and outfitted a home on wheels, to weeping in each other's arms at midnight after petting and uttering words of consolation to Satchmo and Smithers as they died of illness. My fondest memories are of winter, when Dill and Tuna were fluffy with winter coats, and seemed to love nothing more than to show off their incredible jumping skills, going so far as to use our legs as catapulting props in their obstacle courses.

Winter was an imminent time, as soon their lives would end. We would shortly close the final chapter on this book—a book that taught us so much about love, farming, and how you must, must, must feel the first if you are to be any decent at the second. Processing Dill and Tuna was a very difficult day. We did everything ourselves; they never left the farm. We made an eleventh hour decision to cure their pelts and have them tanned so that we could truly use every single element of their precious bodies. We toured the tannery (the only environmentally responsible tannery in the country) and spoke of our desire to see their pelts treated with care. After six months away we have them back, and how glad I am that we made that eleventh hour decision. I am proud of us, and I am grateful to Dill and Tuna. Mark and I witnessed life and participated in death, and made ourselves a part of every step in between.

Their pelts are not objects of interior decoration; they are not show pieces to be mounted and admired; they are not luxurious furs. Their pelts are a reminder of what animals can and do provide for us every day; they are warmth for when it is needed; they are utilitarian and natural; they are here because they worked, and so did we, to symbiotically give and take from one another.

Mark and I have deeply appreciated the support, and even the opposition, we experienced during this first journey in raising animals for meat. This was a learning experience — and a deeply moving one — that we hope you were able to experience in some capacity alongside us. Whether you strongly agree or vehemently disagree with our approach to farming and our choice to eat meat, we hope you respect our transparency and our desire to steward both land and animal with dignity.


—S