Grinding Wheat for The Long Winter

The Long Winter

 

The Long Winter was so long, I barely blogged through it.

 

OK, maybe I didn’t blog at all.

I have several posts in the drafts, but didn’t get around to it.

All ten of my homeschool blog readers are missing me, I’m pretty sure.

It was a long, long, long winter. Maybe I didn’t like this book very much because I lived about half my life in North Dakota, where every winter was a long winter.

(My friend, Tandis, is having a Long Winter in Wisconsin.  You can read her funny blog at Life as We Ski It.)

When I had five kids and my husband was a Road Warrior (traveling for business),  I spent the Longest Winter ever on a farmstead out in the country.  We had a record of 117 inches of snow, the interstates shut down 14 times, a record of two days of early spring melting, followed by two days of harsh rain, followed by another freeze, and another thaw, followed by the Red River flood of a lifetime.  The trees and telephone poles were so laden with snow, they snapped off all the way across the eastern border of the state like a stack of dominoes.

At the time, I really didn’t mind.  I was young, strong, loved adventure, and loved being home with my five kids.  Even the weeks when I was stormed in for days alone. As long as we had milk and diapers, we were good. We baked a lot to keep the house toasty and cozy, we read and played. We built forts inside with the extra sheets.  When it warmed up to zero degrees, the kids were allowed to play outside.


(More of Wisconsin snow. I have to tease Tandis, that’s nothing to brag about, they can still see the swing set!)

The snow piled up higher than our swing set, the old-fashioned, big and dangerous kind from a public school.  The kids would climb to the top of the half-circle Quonset, the metal buildings you store combines and tractors in, and slide down the rippled sides. Sometimes I would bundle up, go outside with my kids and sit on this special branch that was high above the swing set and perfectly shaped to sit on.  I’d lean back against the main branch and talk on my cell phone to my homeschooling momma-of-many friend, Kirsti, who lived in town. When the snow melted, my  branch was so high in the air, I couldn’t dream of reaching it with any of the ladders we owned.

Looking back now, I’m amazed at what we survived.

So, reading The Long Winter wasn’t that fun, I don’t see blizzards and starvation as exciting adventures, like I did when I was younger.

The Ingalls, like everyone else in town, were running out of food.  Because they had no flour, they were grinding it in their coffee mill.

I sprang to action.  You know that Amazing Homeschool Mommy moment when the stars line up just right and you have the time, ambition and elements to do something wonderful for school? 

We had one of those moments. It was a rare moment, but we had one.

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I had some hard red spring wheat from North Dakota farmers, Michelle and Matt.  I was visiting my wonderful, amazing and talented sister in law, Susan,  a few summers ago and shared my desire to go all domestic and healthy again, and make my own bread and grind my own flax. She drove me to a friend’s house.  Michelle gave me coffee, welcomed me like a relative, then she and her husband filled an 18 gallon Rubbermaid with wheat. “Cuz that’s just how people from North Dakota are.

I’m on my last smidgeon, I’ve been saving it for something special.

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Isn’t it beautiful?

The Ingalls were experiencing their Long Winter.  The people and the stores were almost out of food. Ma had no flour to bake with, and Banker Ruth bought the last sack of flour for $50.  Pa had the last bag of wheat from the wilder boys’ stock.

p. 193, “It’s a pity there isn’t a grist mill in town,” Pa said.

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p. 194, “We have a mill,” Ma replied.  She reached to the top of the cupboard and took down the coffee mill.

Ma set the little brown wooden box on the table.  The black iron hopper in the top of the mill held half a cupful of the grain.

 

This antique coffee grinder was a gift from another SIL, Nita.  She is the amazing, talented one that knits and tats and once made a baby sweater with one arm.  Seriously!  But I can’t tease too much, because I can’t knit at all.  Check out her blog and see the beautiful sweaters she knit with two arms. She also sells her creations on Etsy.

 

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“The mill gave out its grinding noise.”

It was a hard start, but the adventure was on.  We pretended we were starving.

I’ve really learned that school is more fun and the lessons last in their heart when you DO instead of just READ.  It was a blast trying to grind wheat.

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“Wheat will grind just like coffee,” Ma said.

My grandson loves this coffee grinder, but he puts all kinds of amazing things in it. Read about Bubba’s Coffee Bean Business if ya’ wanna’ see his adorable Pirate Face.

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She looked into the little drawer.  The broken bits of wheat were crushed out flat.

 

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“Can you make bread of that?” Pa asked.

“Of course I can,” Ma replied. “But we must keep the mill grinding if I’m to have enough to make a loaf for dinner.”

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We didn’t have all day to grind with the coffee grinder, so we switched over to the Nutrimill. I bought it from Urban Homemaker. 

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Lame Wheat Grinding Video

Do you hate hearing your own voice?  Listening to this video I was not happy to hear that I STILL sound like I grew up in the Midwest. Oh, fur shur, ya’ know, I’m trying hard tu talk like du dickshunaree, ya’ know, fur Pete’s sake.

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p. 196, The brown bread that Ma had made from the ground wheat was very good. It had a fresh, nutty flavor that seemed almost to take the place of butter.

Coffee grinder on the left.  Electric mill on the right. Not bad for a vintage coffee grinder that isn’t used to grind coffee anymore, huh?

 

 

When the stars line up again for a perfect homeschool day, we plan to make bread from this book by Melissa K. Norris. She has a tutorial on her blog sidebar for a bread you can make in 5 minutes per day.  She also offers some freebies. I’m not Ma Ingalls.  I can’t grind wheat AND make bread all in the same week, let alone the same day.

But for now, we’re just thankful that The Long Winter is over.

Drying Fruit For Regularity

 

On the Banks of Plum Creek

Chapter 9

“When they came to a plum thicket they set down their big pails. They filled their little pails with plums and emptied them into the big pails till they were full.  Then they carried the big pails back to the roof of the dugout.  On the clean grass Ma spread clean cloths, and Laura and Mary laid the plums on the cloths, to dry in the sun.  Next winter they would have dried plums to eat.”  p. 63

We were to discuss food preservation with our students because Ma and the girls were drying plums. In other words, they were making prunes.  I learned the California Plum Board made a bold name change because they felt prune had a negative image.  Ya’ think?  Anybody else out there suddenly thinking about irregularity?  The FDA approved their name change, so we need to get with the times.  Or rather, get back to the pioneer roots when they were dried plums and not prunes.

When you read the above link about plums, you discover they had great nutritional value.  I wonder if Ma knew this, or if they were busy just trying to make sure they had food for the winter.

Anyhoo, instead of just waxing eloquent about food preservation, I remembered something. Years ago, when I didn’t live in the Apple State of Washington and everybody had apple trees in their yards because we weren’t worried about apple maggots and we rarely paid over $1 per pound for apples, I used to make a lot of dried apples and applesauce.  It was a yearly fall tradition.

Then we moved to the apple state and could no longer afford to cut up apples that cost at least $1 each just to shrivel up in my dehydrator and eat in a few bites.

But, we had a few on sale for $1.67 apples that were getting a little mushy, and Beka had never participated in  the fall tradition, so we pulled out my tools.

 

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An apple peeler/corer is amazing. Of course, it took me awhile to remember how to use it, and I had to tighten the screws before I could get back into that Becky-Home-ecky groove.

 

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Kids tend to be more helpful when cool and/or dangerous tools are involved.

I remembered to not tell Beka this was “school” so she would think it was still fun.  Oh, the mind games we sometimes have to play!

I’ve also been known to use the Tom Sawyer trick, where I really “enjoy” a work project until they ask to help.  Moms can be so devious smart sometimes!

 

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I’ve owned this dehydrator for over two decades, and was a super cheapy one to begin with.  My hubby was a teacher at a private Christian school, so were were living on love and faith. I used coupons and rebates  to buy most personal things for the home.  I had been saving my rebate money for awhile when this went on sale for around $20 at the Pamida store in Valley Center, KS.

I’ll never forget the feeling of walking out of the store with this in my arms.  I felt rich.  I owned a dehydrator. 

You know why the Lord answers prayer and provides for His people?  It evokes praise!  Years later, I look at this cheapy little dehydrator, and I am STILL thankful to the Lord for His provision.

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For many years, we dehydrated apples and pineapples (cans of rings, well drained)  for gifts for other people, so we were able to pass on the blessing. That’s another reason the Lord blesses us, so we will pass on blessing to others.

Drying in my little guy took only about 24 hours, and we quickly ate them all and had to make another batch.  To keep your apples from turning brown, dip them in lemon juice or pineapple juice.  I prefer pineapple juice because of the sweetness.

In The Little House Cookbook by Barbara M. Walker, she  gives instructions for drying apples without a dehydrator. You simple slice apples in 1/8 inch disks and slip them onto string or rods.  Hang them in a warm, dry place like a furnace room or sun porch.  She said you can even use curtain rods over a sunny window or a laundry rack near a radiator. (p. 129)  In other words, you use that pioneer spirit to figure out what works best for your living situation.

She said to use fresh, tart apples and to peel them only if the skins are tough.  Hard times calls for different rules.  I always thought it was a great way to not waste apples that were getting mushy because you were going to make them mushy, anyway.

 

whistleberries

This book by Edward B. Reynolds and Michael Kennedy has added some fun dimension to my passion to learn about the Wild West. (Published by Falcon Publishing, Inc. 2000 in Helena, MT)

 

plum pudding

This recipe was on p. 83 and was considered a specialty from Utah. I read this and realized why pioneer women were always so tired.  First, this batch is HUGE.  I think she was cooking for a threshing crew.  Next, it would take almost all day. 

This would be my recipe:

Set one good book and a handful of prunes on the couch.
Leave the eggs for breakfast in case you read too late into the night.
Save the sugar for cookies, they taste better.
Sprinkle cinnamon, allspice and cloves on the counter so the house smells good and people who walk in think you’re productive.
Go back to the couch and read the whole book, while nibbling on a few prunes.

 

I have great childhood memories of picking chokecherries, asparagus, currents and rosehips in Montana, then watching my mom busy in the kitchen. There was such a satisfaction in lining the shelves with brightly hued jellies and syrups.

 

Sometimes I feel bad asking my kids to do chores, this generation is much more kid-centric. Some of my kids’ friends don’t have any chores.   Instead of spending our days in tasks for survival, the average modern parents spend their days fulfilling their children with play-dates, various lessons and sports.  These things are good in moderation, but as I read through Little House books, I am once again reminded of the most valuable thing my parents passed onto me.

It wasn’t land.

It wasn’t riches.

It wasn’t valuable family heirlooms.

It was a great work ethic, along with the knowledge and experience to accomplish anything and everything I needed to do as a wife a mother.  I would be a fool to not pass on this most valuable heritage to my own children.

That’s why some days, we cast aside the books and the worksheets, pull out the tools and work together.  I am determined to pass on the most valuable heritage, just like my Mom and Ma Ingalls did.