So, seriously. Ask anyone who knows me, my grandparents’ farm in Somerset was one of my favorite places in my childhood. I really loved that place. And my love of history got me into heirloom gardening, which I had no idea existed until I learned about it in the early 1990s. And that led to a renewed interest in all sorts of other things related to farming, including livestock, barns, smokehouses, orchards, root cellars, ponds, beehives, you name it. I guess that sort of thing appeals to me on several levels. Self-sufficiency? Check. History stuff? Check. Being outdoors? Check. Working with my hands in a way that is also intellectually stimulating? Check and check.
So when someone I know manages to actually do a lot of the things that I only wish I could do, I try to pay attention.
A friend of Kelly’s has a farm in Virginia where she raises goats and chickens, among other things. And apparently her goats produce a ridiculous amount of milk, so she makes lotions and soaps (you can see them for herself at her Etsy shop). But she also talks at great length about the trials and tribulations of trying to raise animals. Kelly reads some of the posts about her animals to me and I find a lot of that to be really interesting, because most – not all, but most – of my livestock knowledge has been academic, learned from books. I have some experience with livestock but it is fairly limited. My grandparents had already gotten rid of the animals on their farm by the time I was born. Apparently Somerset passed a law that said you could not have livestock in the town limits sometime around 1960, but they “grandfathered” in a lot of the local farmers or something. It didn’t matter though, because once my great-grandfather died in the 1950s there was no one around to really work on taking care of the animals anymore. Both of my grandparents were working, and so they did not have as much time as livestock require. My grandfather had his hands full with his job at Brown & Sharpe and taking care of the vineyard and fruit trees. My grandmother had her job, plus the vegetable garden. Not to mention all the regular household stuff and taking care of my dad, my aunt, and my great-grandmother.
Anyway, the gardening part I have a lot more experience, and the few times I have been able to plant as much as I wanted I was in heaven. I had my own little cornfield, with pole beans and Connecticut Field pumpkins mixed in (classic three sisters). I also had tomatoes, five different kinds of hot peppers, another small field of New England sugar pumpkins, Moon and Star watermelons, four kinds of lettuce, strawberries, blueberries, and a huge herb garden. Man, what fun I had. That year I had so many pumpkins I made pumpkin pies for everyone I knew. And I had enough of the big field pumpkins to make a Jack-O-Lantern for myself and give some to family for the same. I look forward to the day I get to do that sort of thing again… and then some. I want my own apple trees!
I even made my own hot sauces and pickled vegetables. Mostly I made bread-and-butter and kosher dill pickled cukes, but I also pickled some of the peppers (especially some of the larger chili peppers), some cauliflower (pickled cauliflower is very Portuguese and I love it anyway), and occasionally some tomatoes.
Even though I do not have a big garden of my own anymore, I still try to do what I can, including doing some cooking with fresh veggies. This weekend I made a really nice winter vegetable soup in the crockpot, based on a recipe from the Old Sturbridge Village cookbook. It simmered a really long time and the only correction I had to do was add some salt. I like it when my culinary experimentation actually results in something good to eat.