Tuesday, March 17, 2020

St. Patrick's Day Sneak Peek

It seems a bit frivolous, in these difficult times, to wish you a Happy St. Patrick's Day--we're all far more worried about our loved ones' health and our own, and if we have groceries in the cupboard, than the way all the St. Paddy's celebrations have been cancelled.

This week, I'm working on a gardening guide, which, given the potential of food shortages, seems far more important these days, instead of plunking around with my Irish stories. But if you're game for a little distraction of the Irish kind, I offer you a look at the cover of my upcoming novel: the first book of my new Fairy Cottage mini-series, part of my Irish Village of Ballydara series.

The Fairy Cottage books are warm and tender stories about searching for love and home and family in the most unlikely of places. Look for The Little Irish Gift Shop in July!

I plan to have my new gardening guide ready in another week...until then, be well, stay safe, and I'm wishing you all the Irish blessings you can hold.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Homestead Time Management: First in a Series

Whether homesteading is your job, your hobby, or your passion, I should put this out there right away: Folks, there’s no such thing as time management on your homestead.

As someone who writes for a living, I’ve always been fascinated by ways to carve out time/create time/manage time to get more writing done. Convinced you can “take control of the clock,” I figured there was a "special sauce" for the whole idea. So I devoured articles, attended workshops, and created schedules about how to fit writing into a busy life—and if they included special tips, charts or spreadsheets, all the better!

But really, all that effort was for nothing. Because despite a gazillion strategies, there was no getting around  the truth: writing fills the time you allot to it and then some, and you never get as much done as you think you will.

I’ve learned the same about homesteading chores. I’m an optimistic person, but no matter what you’re doing: weeding the beds, chopping wood, caring for chickens, processing your harvest, I have learned every task takes three times as long as you think it will. Sure, you can take that with a grain of salt, and maybe I’m just inefficient or using the wrong techniques. Still, I give you Exhibit A:

The Cider Press Experiment

With 17 apples trees on our acreage, John and I planned for years to get a cider press. Finally, after an insane harvest a couple of years ago, we had come up with the funds and really, we couldn’t hold out any longer! So…what kind of press to buy?

Committed to the “slow life,” we are big on doing things by hand. In the kitchen, we forgo a blender or food processor to chop fruits and veggies or grind nuts with a chef’s knife. Despite my sister’s repeated urgings to get a bread machine, “they’re so easy!” I like to knead bread by hand. We’ve thought about buying a countertop flour mill, and had come across readers in Mother Earth News recommending electric models. The general consensus was that a manual model is far more work than you want.

Still, after pricing cider presses, electric ones seemed way out of our price range. So John bought us a small, manual model: made of a lovely light wood, it was very attractive and old-fashioned-looking, with a tub designed like a fruit barrel. We could hardly wait to put it to use.

So one day at harvest time, with many piles of apples to process, we finally gave our new press a whirl. After washing and chopping dozens of apples, washing the necessary press components,  and filling the tub, I figured we’d devote a couple of hours to our cider project. All that was left was turning the handle!

I tried it first and got exactly nowhere. “John,” I said, “maybe you could get things started.”

John’s a strong guy. He can hand-split massive logs, and harvests almost all our trees with a hand saw. But even he could hardly budge the handle. We took turns pushing and pulling on that dratted handle, but produced only the merest trickle of cider. “The apple chunks are too big,” John concluded.

So we squeezed what we could from the fruit in the tub, and started over with a fresh batch of apples. This time, we cut them up as finely as we could and started in again. Then we did it a third time. We got a tiny bit more traction trying to turn the press handle, and a few more ounces of cider, but even after a couple more hours of hard labor, not making much more progress. Finally, my arms throbbing from exertion, I suggested, “Let’s call it a day.” With both of us really putting our backs to it, just trying to turn the handle had taken all afternoon.

Now, all we had to do was disassemble the press, wash all the parts, soak the cheesecloth filter, pasteurize the cider and sterilize a jar for it. As dusk fell, when all was said and done, we had about 3 cups of cider to show for our day.

How about a Cost-Benefit Analysis? 

To sum up: $150 plus shipping to buy the press, about 7 hours of work, to make less than a quart of fresh, homemade apple cider.

Worst of all: we didn’t drink it. The jar of cider is still sitting in our freezer.

If you have some tips for success with a manual cider press, I hope you’ll share them here!

P.S. For the last three months, I've spent every spare moment working like mad on my latest novel--more news on that soon--but I will be posting here regularly again. Next time: another DIY project that got overwhelming really fast!