Grit Blogs >

House on the Hill WV

Going Home to Mother Earth News Fair

Heidi NawrockiI love the changing of the seasons. As summer winds down and the crickets start their chirping in early evening, I look forward to the explosion of color on the trees. Another thing I've grown to look forward to over the past few years is the Mother Earth News Fair.

The fair is such a fun, exciting, and HUGE event. It also means going home to me. The September fair is held at Seven Springs Mountain Resort. Springs, as the locals call it, is a 20-minute drive from my home. One of the ballrooms used during the event is where my high school proms were held. It was only fitting that my dad met me there on Sunday morning, the only day I was able to get away. I was kid and husband free! As we walked through the rear gates, my dad was automatically drawn to the portable sawmills. There were several and they were all warming up for the day. As a rule, my dad and I tend to be super early for everything. We got there at 9 a.m., even though the first workshop didn't start until 10 (sans the poultry processing demo).

We stood and chatted with one of the vendors and watched as a log was rolled up onto the cutting table and sawed into nice boards. My dad inquired how thin the boards could be cut and challenged the men running the mill to cut a board to veneer thickness. The particular log that they were cutting was too dry to cut quite that thin, but we were nonetheless impressed.

There were quite a few vendors, inside and out. We saw a small walk-behind round baler. It seemed like just something we would need on our farm once we get more livestock. There were Yanmar tractors, a wide selection of garden tools, books, herbal remedies, soaps, garlic, knives, essential oils, yarns, even a gadget that allows women to pee standing up. One of the many times I passed their booth, a group of teenage boys stood in awe at the simple piece of plastic. I secretly wished I would have had one for when we built our house!

There was also a tent for the The Livestock Conservancy. In the tent were alpacas, sheep, pigs and cows. A local farmer I knew was there with her wool. The pigs were adorable – they are known as IPPs (Idaho Pasture Pigs). I was told by the farmer that while they are cute, they made good bacon as well. But, one of the things I was very drawn to was the Kerry cattle stall. In the stall was a calf named Morning. I spent a good deal of time talking with the president of the American Kerry Cattle Association on the group's efforts to try to save the original “house cow.” Kerry cattle are listed as critical on the Livestock Conservancy site. I plan to do a whole different post on these cattle as their story is pretty fascinating to me. It has me thinking that perhaps we should pursue getting a family milk cow instead of a herd of goats!

Morning Kerry calf

As I seemed to be on the milk cow kick, I attended a talk by Faith from Misty Morning Farm in Virginia. She and her husband, Adam, raise what they coin the “once-a-day milk cow.” They breed small Jersey cattle that are suited for a family milk cow. I was enamored with the talk – Faith discussed various considerations in feed and amount of milk produced. She also touched on A1 vs A2 milk. It is quite fascinating to me, and I plan to read much more on it. I left her talk feeling enthusiastic for our future with a family milk cow, even if we choose to help save the Kerry breed.

While I did pack my lunch, I couldn't help but treat myself to a hot apple dumpling with vanilla ice cream. And I picked up some maple cotton candy for my kids. Maple syrup is HUGE in my home county, and I was a “maple princess” in high school. It goes without saying that I can be a bit of a syrup snob. There are worse things to be picky about, I suppose.

The fairs have become so popular that Mother Earth News now holds four fairs around the country. If you get the chance, you really should try to get out to visit one. You'll come away feeling inspired and with renewed enthusiasm for whatever endeavors you may have in your journey. I really wish I could have gone more than one day – there were so many talks that were interesting. Maybe next year! Check out my blog for more photographs from the fair and to follow along on our journey!

Growing Beans

Heidi NawrockiBeans, beans the musical fruit .... We love beans. We try to eat meatless several times a week and so it just made sense for us to grow dried beans. We grew five different varieties last year, and we fell in love with the ease of it. Plant some seeds, watch them grow, watch them wither away, and harvest the beans. We enjoyed them all winter, mainly in Mexican-esque dishes: black bean burritos and heirloom bean soft tacos.

This year we chose to grow just three varieties: Calypso, Hidasta Red, and Hidasta Shield Figure. Our garden isn't doing so hot this year. Mainly thanks to the chickens. We also have a terrible time growing peppers. But beans we can do. And we love them! My husband and I use the time we shell them as a "date night." We enjoy a glass of wine or beer (homemade or home brewed!) and catch up on our favorite podcasts. We're simple folks to keep happy!

Calypso beans

Be sure to check out House on the Hill WV where I update on the crazy antics of living on 53 acres with two children, a husband, 20 chickens, two cats, and a dog.

Preserving Memories

Heidi NawrockiAs my husband and I were out weeding in the garden the other evening, we realized that we will soon need to increase the output of our garden. Our kids' appetites are growing with them, and they love fresh fruit and vegetables. We have plans for an orchard in the spring, a vineyard, kiwi, and berry bushes. We love growing vegetables and are drawn toward heirloom varieties. And along with growing our food, we have a new-found love of preserving our food.

My early memories of canning aren't exactly happy ones. I remember being forced (or so it seemed at the time) to sit for what seemed like hours snapping green beans with my mom and grandma to prepare for the pressure cooker. Or the tomatoes. Oh, the tomatoes! The food mill was always attached to the banister on the deck, and we took our turns pushing them through to squeeze out as much juice as we could. But, that's generally where my participation ended. While I enjoyed the fruits of my parents' labor, I wasn't keen on learning too much about the process.

Fast forward 15 years or so, and now here I am with my own children and garden. My husband and I have plans to grow as much food as possible so food preservation is something we are excited about. A few years ago, we got beets for weeks on end from our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). We had no idea what to do with them at the time, other than cooking them in a balsamic/sugar glaze. While it was wonderful, we grew tired of the same thing. Now that we have grown our own beets, and have fallen in love with their earthy flavor, we have been enjoying preparing them in different ways. One of our favorite things to do is pickle them. It's so fun popping open a jar of beets in the middle of winter. The smell and taste transport us back in time to warmer weather and fun in the garden.

Pickled Beets

But, for us, preservation isn't just canning. We also freeze as much as we can. So far this summer, we have frozen a gallon each of strawberries, black raspberries and blueberries. I'm going to pick more blueberries tomorrow so we can can some jam or pie filling. We also prefer to freeze our green beans. Last summer, my daughter's first food was a green bean. We gave it to her to play with during dinner one night and the next thing we knew, she was eating it.

And we also enjoy keeping things in our root cellar that don't need much work at all – winter squash and potatoes. Other than the picking, that is! And we also love dried beans. We joke and say that beans are the lazy gardener's best friend. Plant some seeds, watch the plants grow, watch the plants wither, and harvest the beans.

Our hope is that our children will grow and appreciate growing our own food. And I look forward to the day when we grab something out of the freezer, pantry or root cellar, and one of our kids say, “I remember when we picked this!”

A Commitment to Local Meat

Heidi NawrockiWe've become foodies. We make pasta from scratch. My husband has been making wine. We love growing our own food so that we can try out new and exciting varieties not found in the grocery store. And we love a good steak. As long as it's local!

We've changed our eating habits over the years. Reading books like “The Omnivore's Dilemma” and “Animal Vegetable Miracle” and watching documentaries like “Food, Inc” and “Frankensteer” have motivated us on our journey and made us keenly aware of our food and where it comes from. We aren't like typical Americans in our meat consumption. Once we made the pledge to only buy local meat, meat soon became a complement to our meals instead of the star. And we are fortunate to have a plethora of local farmers' markets to buy our meat from – West Virginia recently ranked 14th in the local foods movement!

A lot of local farmers utilize email, Facebook and other social media to reach customers. Earlier this spring, we got an email from one of our farmer friends for a program they were calling “Beef Partners.” They had one beef to take to be processed, but unfortunately the costs for processing just one cow can be huge. In an effort to help offset the costs, they offered two spots for customers to receive a variety pack of meat. They raise cattle, pork, and chickens on their farm, so the 40-pound packages contained a nice mix. We do like beef and a number of people offer bulk beef at a discount, but we were attracted to the variety. And we signed up.

I went for a visit before picking up our meat to see the farm. That's one of the things I love about getting to know our local farmers. We can visit their farms to see exactly where and how our food is raised. When we arrived, the first thing I noticed was their flock of free-ranging Red Ranger meat birds. They explained it was their brood stock. They have one rooster and 17 hens and hatch all of their own eggs. Once the eggs are hatched and the chicks get to be about 4 weeks old, they are put out to pasture following the cows around. Since the Red Rangers don't grow as fast as the Cornish cross birds do, they are processed at 12 weeks of age. Because of the volume they process (approximately 60 every two weeks), they have their own inspected butchering area. I got a tour of the area and found it actually quite interesting. And I absolutely love the fact that they have a self-sustaining flock. Their incubator is constantly running.

They also raise their own turkeys and have a brooder house with the hens and tom. As we walked around the farm, chickens and turkeys were ranging all around. They plan to raise a number of heritage turkeys for Thanksgiving and are starting to dabble with guineas as well. I have bought turkey eggs from them at the market and they are super to bake with!

Beef Partners share

And we loved the variety of meat we received. We got whole chickens, steak, pork chops, pork sausage, hamburger, hoagie meat (thinly sliced steaks – great for fajitas!), and even some bones for beef stock. It's been almost 10 weeks since we got the meat and we still have well over a third left. While the Red Rangers don't get the large breasts like the Cornish, the flavor is much deeper.

If you don't raise your own meat, be sure to check with local farmers first! And be sure to check out our blog to see our homesteading adventures as well as our love for local food.

A Very Berry Start to Summer

Heidi NawrockiSummer is finally here! Local pools are open, the garden is chugging along, tomatoes are starting to show up at the Farmers' Market, and best of all, our wild berries are ripening! When we bought our property five years ago, we were thrilled to find an abundance of wild blackberry canes. And last year, we stumbled upon black raspberries. They are delicious! They seem to start ripening around the solstice and, for us, mark the start of summer.

We ventured out yesterday morning to beat the heat and see what we could find. Maybe it's because we were hungry for berries or maybe our eyes are just a little more keen on finding the berry canes, but we came home with 2  1/2 pounds of black raspberries. My husband cleared some paths for us so we could find them a little more easily. And it seemed as though the kids were eating them as quickly as we were picking them – which is a good thing!

Wild black raspberries

While we were at it, my husband also did some clearing below one of the old apple trees we've found. We're going to start a small orchard next year, but last fall we found some apple trees we didn't even know we had! We got a bushel of apples last year and hope to find more this year. It's so exciting to find all of this “free” food! Do you have any wild berries on your farm? What's your favorite berry?

Be sure to check out the tour of our kitchen on the blog and follow us on Facebook for even more fun!

Hardboiled Fresh Eggs

Heidi NawrockiWe love hardboiled eggs in our family. I tend to get stuck with the yolks while my kids enjoy the whites, but I do what I can to make sure they eat a healthy diet. We are even more thrilled that the eggs come from our flock of backyard hens. We recently “adopted” 10 1-year-old hens from a family that is moving across the country. Since they've settled in, they've become egg machines. Two days in a row last week, each hen laid an egg every day!

I've always read and heard that older eggs make the best hardboiled eggs. And there are so many ways out there that are the “best” for achieving the best hardboiled egg: baking, steaming, and pressure cooking. The list goes on. My mom always told me that a splash of red wine vinegar in the pot would ensure an easy-to-peel hardboiled eggs. I decided to put it to the test last week with day-old eggs.

I cover the eggs with water and add the splash of vinegar. We have an induction range, so I put the power on high to start a rapid boil (in as quick as 90 seconds!) and then drop down to a slow boil. I set a kitchen timer for 10 minutes and go about my business, which is usually breaking up a fight between my 4-year-old son and his 16-month-old sister. He loves to play farm with his tractors, with his machines in a particular order. She, on the other hand, likes to terrorize and mess up his arrangement. Chaos generally ensues.

Where was I? Oh, yes, the timer has gone off. I simply turn the burner off and allow the eggs to come to room temperature. I had no problems peeling the eggs, and the kids gave me their burps of approval!

easy to remove shell

Do you have a tried and true method for hardboiled eggs? Hop on over to House on the Hill and let me know!

Live The Good Life with GRIT!

Grit JulAug 2016At GRIT, we have a tradition of respecting the land that sustains rural America. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing to GRIT through our automatic renewal savings plan. By paying now with a credit card, you save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of GRIT for only $16.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and send me one year of GRIT for just $22.95!

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters