Syrup Time

We have had our Maple trees tapped for a couple of weeks now but the weather has been so variable that we have not collected a full barrel yet to begin boiling.  Today however, it is not supposed to rain, snow, freeze or be so windy that we refuse to be out there!  So today we start boiling.  I can’t wait!  We are using up our last cup of syrup from last year and I can’t wait to have more.  This coming week should be a good week for sap.  The temperatures are supposed to be warmer.  It would help to have some sun to go with the warmer weather but sap should run without it.  We will see!  We  have a good system for making syrup.  We learned from an old guy that did syrup for years, that if you put a piece of clear hose on the taps that run into the bucket it directs the sap and keeps it from missing the hole in the lid.  We collect the sap in a large 55 gallon barrel.  Once the barrel is nearly full we set up our wood burning stove.  This stove is an old cast iron wood boiler furnace that the top has been taken off of.  The sap pan sets on the top of it.  The stove pipe coming out of the back keeps the smoke directed away from the syrup.  The fire is all enclosed with the use of the door on the front of the stove.  Once the sap is boiled down and turning a caramel color as well as beginning to thicken, we poor the sap into a large pot and finish it off on a camp stove so it can be more easily controlled.  Once the syrup is reduced to the consistency of our liking it can then be poured through a filter and into clean hot canning jars for storage.  During the whole process, I like to filter the sap at different stages.  I have a large milk strainer that works well for straining the sap when it is first poured into the vat for boiling.  This removes bark, pine needles, etc. so that they are not boiled with the sap.  The milk filters work well for this.  I have also found that they can be rinsed out and used several times which helps cut down on the cost of them.  A tea towel works too.  We then filter the hot sap that has been boiled down, as we poor it into the large canning pot to be finished on the camp stove, then once again as I fill the canning jars with finished syrup.  We never get all of the sediment or “sugar sand” removed but it is not a problem since it really isn’t  sand.  In fact I use the sugar sand in bread or other baked goods.  No need to throw it out!

Stay tuned for a follow up.  Happy sapping!



One Fine Cow

I am very impressed.  This morning we went out to do the usual milking routine.  When I brought Genny in, she was so dirty that I had decided I wouldn’t even keep the milk.  There was no way I would get her clean enough for my satisfaction.  Hubby suggested that we take her back out and hose her off!  Immediately I visualized a very strong dancing cow pulling one of us around the muddy barnyard, trying to get away from the spraying water.  The one being dragged around was not going to be me so hubby held her while I gently turned the sprayer on.  Absolutely amazing; she didn’t even flinch.  In fact she only acted like it tickled a couple of times.  I was so impressed.  I don’t know if it’s because she’s a Jersey or if most cows would act like that but needless to say she had a nice cold shower and was an amazing girl.  In fact, I’m thinking I will shower her more often!  I have never seen her that dirty before but at least now we know we can hose her down.  And thanks to whom ever invented Dawn dish soap!

I am stepping out.  Yesterday I started making Brie Cheese.  It has to set in a cheese form for at least 24 hours so today I will finish it.  I use a vegetable spinner for a cheese form.  Often you can pick them up at resale stores and they come in different sizes.  Mine is a large one which is fine for this cheese but I’m thinking I will get a smaller one next time I see one.  There is really no reason to buy expensive cheese equipment.  I am encouraged by David Asher’s book, “The Art of Natural Cheesemaking”.  He comes from the same thinking that I do; what did people do years ago when they couldn’t go on line and buy cultures and equipment?  He has the answers and the book is well worth the price.  There are all kinds of things we can use and ways to make cheeses.

Time to get at finishing the cheese on this sunny Monday.  Four sisters and I have already had our coffee conversation and have motivated each other to get the day going.  Press on!


Gluten Free Biscuits

1 cup oat flour (grind rolled oats in a blender till fine)

2/3 cup ground golden flax seed

3 tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

1/4 cup butter, softened

3/4 cup milk approximately

Mix dry ingredients together.  Cut in butter till crumbly.  Gradually add enough of the milk just until the dough holds together.  Don’t over work the dough.  Drop spoonfuls of dough onto cookie sheet and bake at 425 degrees, approximately 8-10 minutes or until they start to brown.  Enjoy!


With the week starting out so cold, I feel as though I wasn’t motivated to get much done and now here it is Saturday!  Time still flies by too fast.  Monday I watched two of the grandkids while Mommy went to an OB appointment.  She was hoping to possibly find out what they are having but no news yet.  While she was gone, I let three year old brother help me prime a milk crate.  Toddlers are so much fun.  Just trying to sort out the marbles in their mouths is a riot when it comes to understanding their language.  I have figured out why they are so cute and so funny.  Because they are soooo much work, their humor takes the edge off  and keeps things light.  Having only girls when hubby and I were young, we are now enjoying a whole new species of children!  BOYS!!!  We were always around our nephews but really weren’t in as deep as when it’s your own flesh and blood.  It is a very fun season for us.  The six grandsons are  outnumbered by the eight granddaughters.  Each and everyone of the kids has their own little characteristics that makes them so special.  One of the best parts about being Papa and “Monny”, (the name one of the boys tagged me with) is being able to be an important part of their lives while still being able to sit back just a little to take in all that goes on.  We are able to discern mountains from mole hills a little easier now than when we were the parents carrying all the responsibilities.  Fortunately, every one of our daughters and husbands are doing a good job at not taking little things too seriously but rather enjoying the season they are in.  Toddlers are one of the most fun stages and it seems it all goes by so quickly.  We have 14 grand kids, 14 years old and under so at this point there’s hardly any age that we don’t have covered!  The three year old, after being informed that he should not get the primer on him, managed to get just a little bit on one finger.  After wiping it off he was quiet for a minute or so.  Then with his marble mouth language he said, “I diddunt know dare wass faint (paint) on dare;  I reedy reedy sarrdy Monny; accidents happen.”   What a kid!

Since learning more about gluten and the effects it has on our systems and our health, we ladies of Four Sisters Farm are open to Gluten Free recipes.  Daughter #3 shared a biscuit recipe that she came up with since her children were asking for Sausage Gravy and Biscuits for breakfast and she didn’t have any flour on hand. Check it out under the Recipe category and give it a try!  If you care to learn more about gluten and your health, check out some of the YouTube videos by Dr. Tom O’Bryan.  It is quite informative.

The Bee Keeping meeting was interesting Thursday evening.  We learned how to capture colonies that may have swarmed and left to find a place in the wild.  I always learn something amazing from these gatherings.  This time it was how bees will scout out, measure a prospective area and report back to the hive.  A different group will then go scout out the same area, measure the prospective home and return to the hive with another additional report.  This may happen a few times before they swarm and leave the existing hive to inhabit the new hive.  Who knew that bees carried little tiny tape measures and could read numbers!!  They are truly fascinating creatures.

Here’s hoping you are enjoying your weekend!


Sunshine Thursday

We have had many a cloudy day this winter, so much so that when the sun comes out it is blinding, much like walking around in the dark and having someone flip the light on!  We are supposed to get more sun for the remainder of the week which will be great help and motivation to get some things done.  It’s amazing what sunshine does to the soul.  It has been so cold the maple sap hasn’t been running consistently.  In fact, there are little frozen falls coming out of many of the taps.  It will be running now with temps warming up for the remainder of the week.  Since we are on our very last bottle of syrup we are really hoping for a good year.

Hubby ordered our bees.  Last years hives did not survive.  As we have been learning in our bee keeping guild the Varroa Mites are a major reason for the loss of bees.  We will be going to our monthly meeting tonight and learning more about the ways to deal with the mites.  We often think that bees die because of cold temperatures but we have personally seen years that were very cold when the hives survived, as well as years where the temperatures were more mild and they didn’t survive.  The average temperature in the hive when bees are in their cluster keeping warm is 90 degrees, give or take a couple degrees.  They are able to keep warm but a greater problem is if there is too much moisture in the hive.  This is why it is important to have air circulation.  It is quite amazing that these little creatures can produce such heat in such a small area even in bitter cold temperatures.  There is so much to learn from bees.

Short post this morning but not the last!  Have a sunny Thursday.





Just a Cup

IMG_1166Now and then I pull out my Grandmother’s coffee cup that I feel so privileged to have. I remember as a little girl, going to her house and watching the adults sit around her little table, having a cup of coffee.  Grandma would pour everyone’s coffee and then she would pour herself a cup.  She would grab the can of Carnation’s evaporated milk, poor some in and stir it until it was a very creamy caramel color.  Even as a little girl, it looked so good.  It’s an honor to drink from the same cup as Grandma since she was such a giving and loving person.  She never had two nickels to rub together but she always had love to give and most always had Grandma Cookies in the cookie jar.  They were the best cookies and to this day are one of my favorites.   Looking at Grandma’s coffee cup, you can see the old Fire King mug is worn from use.  I sometimes wonder how many times a spoon rubbed the inside of that cup to make the scratches that are there.  And it even leans a little!  Could it have been used so much that the heat would eventually cause it to lean or was it flawed from the factory?  Many would assume it was flawed but I have personally witnessed antique windows that have been in sunlight for so many years, the glass actually drooped enough to cause the window frame to separate!   I could hardly believe it.  So, I like to think the coffee cup was used for so long  that in time it leaned.  It’s rather amazing to me.  Little did I know as I watched Grandma stir her coffee, someday that cup would be mine and be one of the few physical things I would have left of one so special in my life.  If I make half the impression on my grandkids that she made on me, I will be happy.  Thank you Grandma.  You are missed.

Just a memory to pass on.  Thanks for reading!


No, I’m not taking a picture, but it isn’t any wonder why we tell the kids to say cheese when we want smiles to appear.  It’s even more understandable when you think of fresh cheese made with real, fresh unprocessed whole milk.  It’s a “real” food, complete with all the nutrition we were intended to get from it.  And, with this milk being A2 milk, even our granddaughters can enjoy it without the stomach pain which can follow after conventional dairy.   Mmmm, the squeak of the fresh curds brings back memories.  When I was growing up, we had a Cheese Factory in town and it was a real treat when Mom and Dad would take us there to see the big vats of milk being made into fresh cheese.  The best part was getting a sample and buying a bag of cheese curds to bring home.  I enjoy making cheese.  Right now I am continuing to make what I hope will be a cheddar cheese after it has aged.  There are several recipes that call it Farm Cheese.  Technically “Cheddaring” is the process of pressing and aging the cheese for the desired amount of time which then determines the sharpness of the flavor.  The longer it is aged, the sharper the flavor.  Yesterday, I used two gallons of milk.  I pressed one wheel of cheese to be waxed and cheddared and the remainder I will press for a short time and break it up again into fresh curds.  It is important to get much of the moisture out of the cheese or it will sour more quickly.  So far, curds are eaten up too quickly around here to sour.  I like the cheese press I purchased on Amazon but like most things, it isn’t until you use something that you begin to wish you could design your own and tweak things a little.  Over all, this one works well.  You’ll notice in the picture that I am using a nylon vegetable bag rather than cheesecloth to hold the cheese in the press.  I don’t like having to buy cheesecloth just to throw away when I’m done, so I decided to use something I can wash and reuse.  I have tried washing cheesecloth by hand and reusing it but it is very hard to keep it from holding the smell of the cheese.  The vegetable bags wash well, dry quickly and don’t hold smells.  In my dream world, if I had someone doing my housekeeping, laundry and everyday household chores, I’d have made some homemade crackers to serve cheese on!  Oh, I would also need someone to clean up the mess as well!

Have a productive day!


Back at It

What a fast week!  Since last posting, I spent three days at one daughters home, helping to paint a bedroom, another day catching up from being gone, an evening going to the movie “The Shack”,  a large portion of a day going to a wedding, and another day visiting extended family who lost a sixteen year old son.  The week held many different kinds of emotions, everything from joy, excitement, fun, happiness, thankfulness, sadness, concern and much more.  Life is full; full of things we like and things we don’t like.  It is full of things we can control and things we can’t control.  In all of life we are only able live one day at a time.  We can plan, we can dream, we can worry, we can hope, we can wrestle one day in the pit of despair and sore on clouds the next.  One day we can be lonely, the next we can wish we were alone.  In all of it, we tend to only see what is right in front of “us”, what affects “us”.  While it is normal to see, feel and be most concerned about “us”, a huge challenge in life is to do what we can to look at those around us and put ourselves in the place of others,  seeing them through the eyes of compassion.  I marvel at how simplistic this should be to live out, yet how easy it is to lose sight of this very life giving challenge.  When asked, Jesus’ greatest commandment was to “love God with all our heart and love our neighbor as ourselves.  In this day and age the ease of knowing more people can make our sphere of influence seem very large.  It can be a little overwhelming at times but no matter how big or small our sphere is, the only thing that will matter in the end is how we loved.  “The Shack” is a movie that is well done and touches on many things that we face in life.  I highly recommend seeing it.  I found it encouraging.  I was reminded that sometimes its the littlest things we do that mean the most and that everything we do for others is indeed important.

I shall return but for now I must get the sap barrel ready for emptying buckets into.   As the weather is supposed to be warmer we hope the sap will run.

Keep Calm and Love On!