Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hillbilly Ingenuity: Hooch

Moonshine. Corn Liquor. White Lightning. Hooch.

Whatever you want to call it, homemade distilled liquor is an Appalachian tradition nearly as old as Appalachians.

The process for making 'shine is a basic set of steps, with a few variations for strength and flavor. Corn, yeast and water are mixed together and encouraged to ferment, the "wash" (liquid result of the fermenting process) is distilled, and (optionally) flavors are added or the liquor is aged for flavor. Of course the production of liquor is regulated everywhere you go, and downright illegal without licences and so on in other places. Mr. Farmer has some ideas about the process, however, that some might find interesting.

Sugar feeds the fermentation process. It is literally the food that yeast consumes, causing it to grow, reproduce, and die: letting off the carbon dioxide that is the fermentation process. Adding white or brown sugar to the corn will speed up this process. So will malting (partially sprouting) the corn, or adding molasses. Any combination of the changes to the sugar content would change the fermentation times and also the flavor of the end product.

Smoking corn just after malting would add another facet to the flavor of the end product as well. It would be a lot more subtle than aging in a charred barrel, of course, but the green (unaged) product would have just a hint of woody flavor, without actual contact with wood.

With some copper pipe, gauges, and a heat source, building a homemade still would be easy for anyone who is handy with plumbing (I made one myself in freshman chemistry in high school for crying out loud). I guess that's why they had so much trouble keeping those moonshiners under control during Prohibition...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Life Is Good: Fall Cleaning

Things are a little different when you live in a tiny house. When it is nice outside, you do outside things. After all, it is small inside, and it is big outside- even on my little plot of land. We really don't see much of the inside of the house in the summertime, and late summer harvest time is so busy that life moves at an extremely fast pace. When that is done, fall begins an we recognize the mess we have made of the house all summer, so rather than Spring Cleaning, we do Fall Cleaning.

We make a mess of the house for 2 or 3 months each year as we clean up the yard for Outside Season. All the summer projects result in parts from this and that finding their way into the corners of the house. Furniture gets rearranged to accommodate stuff rather than people. Things get thrown into storage quickly and without thought when there is threat of company that might want a sit-down dinner instead of a barbeque. Tools for house projects like hanging curtains and fixing broken walls are still in the house waiting to be returned to the shed. On the first chilly evening we bring in wood for the wood-stove and realize we do not have sufficient clearance around it to safely make a fire, nor can we get to the outlet to plug in the circulator fan. That is usually the signal that fall cleanup time is upon us.

There is no stopping the cycle of fall cleanup. I spend my weekends acquiring my first sinus infection of the year by reorganizing stuff into plastic bins rather than the dusty, mold-filled, crumbling cardboard boxes that previously held our precious treasures. Mr. Farmer reorganizes his Man Cave to put away his tools for the winter in such a way that he can still access them for unexpected projects. Young Master Farmer cuts, splits, stacks and hauls firewood for the house. Little Miss Farmer gathers kindling, dusts along side her mother, and goes through that box of clothes we put away for the season, AGAIN, and decides what she can and cannot wear through winter.  And we all vacuum the living room carpet in vain, over and over again, in hopes of keeping ahead of the dust, wood chips, and leaves from the wood-stove (as well as the dirt and mud tracked in by hard-working younger and older men).

Fall is a busy season. We harvest; we clean; we lay in food and supplies for winter. Bread-baking and soup-making begin for the cooler weather. The endless chore of firewood preparation kicks into full speed. Is it any wonder why I look forward to the quiet, do-nothing days of winter: sitting in front of the TV with a cup of tea and nothing to do but wonder if we'll be able to use the snow as an excuse to stay home from work tomorrow and make pancakes and bacon for breakfast?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hillbilly Ingenuity: The Barter System

The barter system is not new. Trade has always been trade: the exchange of something of value for something else of equal value. This thing called "cash" is convenient for those who have it, and certainly simplifies things when you start talking about international trade or even a trip to the grocery store. Between neighbors, craftsmen, and specialty folk in general, however, the barter system still makes a lot of sense- especially when you have more of something than you need- and so does your neighbor.

The Rules

Value is in the eye of the buyer- and the seller. What impacts value? If you are trading food items for food items, you are on fairly level ground: One meal's worth of venison is worth one meal's worth of pork, if both of you have only one or the other. The same is true of vegetables for vegetables (if your neighbors happen to be badly off enough to need something in trade for vegetables, which is sad), and even milk/eggs/other unprocessed goods for cheese/bread/other processed goods. Things start to get interesting when you are trading skills or equipment for food. That's when you have to remember...

Be generous- what goes around comes around. What is the value of a large, walk-in refrigerator? Ask the hunter/butcher who does not have one, and must field dress, haul home, and immediately butcher and pack a large animal in the kitchen immediately after spending many hours in the freezing cold to track said animal. He would surely rather let it hang and age (ask any butcher how important this is to flavor), and come back in a day or two, well rested, and complete the job instead. If this same hunter lives off the land primarily, then the value of his neighbor's meat grinder and pork scraps for sausage so he doesn't have to hear "Chili, AGAIN!?!?!" from the kids is high value as well. So, in these cases, it isn't that he could not feed his family without the barter, but he couldn't feed them as well. Therefore, he not going to compensate the owner of the equipment with an equal amount of venison for the pork he used in his sausage, or a single meal worth of venison for use of the fridge: he is going to give several meals worth of meat, and have the family over for a big dinner near the holidays.

Give it away if you can spare it- this is called "marketing" in the real world. How about an example this time? While visiting his brother the other day, Mr. Farmer chatted with another Stealth-Farming neighbor of his brother's who happened to be a bee-keeper. He had just finished a run of 60 pounds of honey, so naturally when Mr. Farmer mentioned that I LOVE honey, he was given a little half-pint to take home to me, along with the information that $3 will get us a whole pound of it. Naturally, this is the darkest, most amazing smelling honey I have ever seen, and it is cheaper than the grocery store's personality-free honey. This automatically makes it worth buying when honey is usually something I consider as a "treat" not a "staple" like white & brown sugar or molasses. So I'm hooked. There is a customer for life gained for the sake of a 50 cent mason jar and a quarter cup of honey.

More Examples

  • The use of our butcher knife set has resulted in us receiving the best cut of a lovely deer.
  • The payment for smoking a dozen salmon fillets was 6 fillets.
  • A summer of bringing the homemade pickles to BBQ's and parties was repaid in the fall with a full meal of lamb, potatoes and corn (when a very large roast was found in the back of the freezer by our friend up the road).
  • Smoking a single turkey (gratis) for a friend of ours whose wife loves smoked turkey has resulted in not one, but TWO job offers this month to smoke chickens and turkeys for specialty meat markets.

The return of this old-timey way of doing things has saved me a lot of cash, and formed a lot of bonds with neighbors and friends. It also reinforced some friendships that were getting a little tense. We have a variety of food, plenty of diversion, and some of the best local goods available thanks to our willingness to trade. Life is good!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cooking: Pickled Eggs - Italian Style

Pickled eggs are the stuff of legend. Some call them bar food. Some call them Amish/PA Dutch food. But almost everyone who has tried one has a strong opinion on them one way or the other. For those like myself who don't care for the pink, rubbery, beet variety, a friend of our ours recommended a variation something like this:

  • 18 Hard Boiled Eggs, Peeled
  • 1 Small Onion, quartered and sliced thinly
  • 1/2 cup Vinegar
  • 1/4 cup White Sugar
  • 1 cup Water
  • 1 tbsp Salt
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and scored
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp whole peppercorns

Place 18 peeled, hard-boiled eggs in a 1/2 gallon jar (I keep old pickle jars). IMPORTANT UPDATE: ONLY USE GLASS JARS! TRUST ME! Add sliced onion.

In a pot, place vinegar, sugar, water, salt, spices, and garlic. Bring to a boil and allow to boil for a full minute, stirring at least occasionally, until the salt and sugar are dissolved.

Pour hot liquid over eggs until half full. Shake the jar to mix, then top off with the rest of the hot liquid and cap.

Allow the jar to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 3 days.

Now- Isn't that much better than those freakish pink-purple eggs?

Pickled Egg Options