Monday, April 27, 2009

Cheese Waxing

Our neighbor, Josie, mentioned one day that the local market was having a great sale on cheddar cheese. Dave suggested we buy several pounds to take advantage of the price. I include cheese in many of our meals but not enough to consume that much before it would start to go bad. Then during one of our community get-togethers, another neighbor, Danielle, mentioned that you can preserve cheese in wax. I had seen wax-covered cheese in the deli's and grocery stores all my life but had never thought much about it. I thought it was a marketing gimmick or something.

We decided to buy a five pound block of red cheese wax from New England Cheesemaking Supply Company, and it arrived in just a few days:

The instructions called for a double-boiler in order to not burn the wax, so I dutifully went out and bought one. That was my first mistake. They said you should have dedicated utensils and containers because working with wax pretty much ruins them for other uses. I then asked myself, "What was I thinking. Why would I want to ruin a brand new double boiler for this use??!" I decided to keep the double boiler because I didn't have one and it is an integral component of good kitchen utensils. So I ended up putting water in the bottom of the double boiler and setting in it an old stainless steel bowl which ended up working just as well. I hope to find a used large saucepan at a thrift store in which to put the steel bowl for a makeshift double boiler in any future cheese waxing:

I cut a small block of wax off of the large block and placed it in the bowl to start melting:

It really didn't take long for the wax to melt at a low heat:

At first I tried using tongs to hold the cheese as I dipped it, but that seemed to be a bit slippery, and the cheese ended up being dropped. Also, we had purchased a cheese wax brush to dip and brush the wax onto the cheese. That was my second mistake. The brush proved to be pretty useless because it didn't provide for a thorough coating, and the process was very time consuming. Dave suggested perhaps cutting the cheese (alright, enough snickering) into smaller sizes and dipping them in half at a time with clean hands, letting that dry, and then dipping the remaining half. That seemed to work really well:

The instructions called for two to three coats of wax, but since this was my first time, I wanted to coat them really well; so I ended up dipping them about four times. It took only seconds between each dipping for the coating to dry:

Here is the final product ready to be stored for several months!

We figured in storing the cheese it would be best to keep it as far away as possible from any potential mice, so we purchased a few inexpensive hanging baskets and hung them containing the cheese in our root cellar:

I have used a few blocks of the cheese so far, and the wax has proven to work beautifully. It comes off very easily and can be washed, melted and re-used. I highly recommend this method of cheese preservation and thank God for His continued provisions.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

On the Road to Agrarianism I Got a Fat Fire

In continuing on a path to the old ways, we are hoping to lessen our reliance upon electricity, which for us right now includes producing light. Typically in the old days light was generated by burning oil (Lev 24:2; Ex 39:37). Interestingly, one of the oils people would use was lard from animals. We have the rendered fat from our pigs that have been butchered; and so, I thought it might be interesting to see if using the lard might work for us.

I discovered that there are things that exist called "fat lamps", and so I purchased one from over the Internet that was a double, hanging lamp. These don't have a wick, but apparently a strings from a mop head can be used, a couple of which the Bunkers gave me. I put a large tablespoon worth of lard in the little "pan" of the lamp, took a mop string and put it in the lard so that it would be completely covered (the lard needs to be melted just enough to do this), put the lard-coated wick in the spout of the lamp, and lit it. It worked!...sort of -- it had a very small flame. I found that if I positioned the wick to stick up in the air a little like a candle, it worked much better. The lard melted as the wick burned; the wick became saturated; and with as much lard as we used, the flame lasted for about three hours.

Here are some pictures of it in action:

Here it is, set in its hanging partner lamp:

After the first test where all of the lard was used, I wanted to see if by just adding more lard the lamp would continue to work. And so, I took another bit of lard and put it in the lamp, trimmed the wick and repositioned it, and then lit it. It was soaked enough with the previous lard that it worked fine; and then as the new lard melted, the lamp continued to burn.

Here it is re-lit, and at night with the electric lights off:

We are thankful for the Lord showing us ways to do things that are fashioned from His direct provisions.

-- David

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Apple Cider Vinegar

Once again in an attempt to learn how to store food without canning or freezing so as to further separate from our dependence on the world, I thought it would be interesting to try to make apple cider vinegar, for the preserving method, for the health benefits, and since we have several apple trees in our orchard.

The recipes on the Internet basically said squeeze the apples for the juice, add a little already-made apple cider vinegar that has "the mother" in it, and let it sit for 3 to 4 weeks. Some said to add yeast, but I was trying to use as few outside ingredients letting creation and the yeast that is naturally in the air handle it. It apparently ferments and then turns to vinegar.

And so we purchased some apples and used our lard press on them. One apple cut in half with the halves face down seemed to press the best:

Here I am pressing:

And here are the results:

This is what was left after pressing:

(On a side note, sadly, the cast iron plate of the lard press cracked in half, I guess from tightening too hard; so, using it wasn't a great idea. I suppose we might have to try a cider press for future attempts.)

After we were done pressing, Sue poured the juice through a piece of paper towel (as a filter) into the non-metallic containers (because of the acid produced) where they would ferment, and so we used canning jars. The first time, it took about 6 pounds of apples to make two 2/3 pint jars full; the second time we got 5 pints from 9 pounds:

Sue then added a couple of table spoons of already-made apple cider vinegar to act as a "starter". From there they sat for several weeks. Each day I would tighten the caps, shake the jars and loosen the caps again to allow for any pressure out and some more air (with yeast hopefully) in.

After 6 weeks, the alcohol didn't seem to be dissipating very quickly, and Sue did a little more research, and she discovered we probably should have just covered the jars with cheese cloth or a towel. I had figured it didn't really matter much as long as some air was getting in there, but apparently it needs constant air availability.

And indeed it did what it was supposed to do: the apple juice is now vinegar!

We marvel at the Lord's workings in His creation and how He has included these things to help us in the temporal matters of sustenance, and we thank Him for these provisions.

-- David

Friday, April 3, 2009

Garden 2009 - Spring

Well, it's that time of year again, and the Lord has granted us provisions to be able to plant a garden. This year we've followed Michael's recommend- ations that he researched as to how to put together a good top soil, which was one part vermiculite, one part peat moss, and one part compost. While the vermiculite is rather pricey, it and the peat moss only need to be included in the first-year blend, with each year following only requiring compost.

In a hopefully further improvement, because our beds were sloped, I added raised barriers and leveled out each of them so the water wouldn't just run off the beds:

As you can see, I also put bark all around the outside of the raised beds to allow us to walk in those areas after any rains. Plus, after starting the project last year, I finished putting two-foot chicken wire around the garden area to help keep out rabbits and other such critters.

Jumping the Gun

We had a very mild Winter this year, and so I decided to plant soon after what is technically our last freeze date of April 15 or so. Well, a week to a week and a half after our planting, a couple of cold nights with heavy winds came along, the second night being a freeze watch or warning night. We covered our plants with thick, white plastic sheets, and left them on during the day time between the two nights because of the difficulty with the winds. That between-day was sunny and in the 50s-60s Fahrenheit, I believe. I don't know if it was the cold, the wind, the sun during the between-day, or a combination of them, but the day after the second night when we removed the plastic, just about all of the plants were wilted very badly, enough to where it looked like they all needed to be replanted. And so I went ahead and did just that; I'm just hoping now we don't have another freezing night. Also, given this experience and that we've had freezing days in early April in years past, we have decided that from now on we will probably make somewhere around April 15th each year our new, personal, last freeze date.

And so, the garden is mostly planted again now, and we are looking forward to the potential of God's provisions for us this year in the area of vegetables, according to His will.

-- David