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Thursday, March 23, 2023

Small Scale Maple Sugaring and Other Thrifty Doings

 Hello dear friends!  Happy Springtime!  Several of you have written and told me that you have had problems with subscribing and commenting on my blog.  I'm sorry about that, unfortunately, I am the least techie person on the planet, bordering on full-on Luddite status, so I cannot fix those problems, but I do appreciate you making an effort to let me know. I truly do appreciate all feedback, even the negative as long as it doesn't get abusive.  Anyway, with that out of the way, here's what springtime looks like in my neck of the woods:

Not the prettiest season.  No forsythias, no daffodils, no green grass, those things won't come until May, just mud and the remainder of the snow. It always looks so bad this time of year.  So that is the reality of living "up North".  But on a happier note, the robins have returned, and the morning was greeted with a cheerful chorus of birdsong.  They are surviving on the wild grapes and crabapples left on the trees until the ground thaws and they can get at their worms. 

Small-scale Maple Sugaring

I just read a news article that this year has been one of the best maple sugaring seasons Michigan has had in a long time.  We are gathering a gallon of sap a day from the one tap on the maple tree in our front yard the past few days. We already boiled down enough to make a quart and a half of syrup. This year was just an experiment to see how we could do this efficiently, but next year we will tap more trees and put more than a single tap in each.  Here's how our tap looks:

We inserted some tubing into the tap and then into a pop bottle, then Ran rigged up some wire to attach the bottle to the tap. Then when the bottle is three-quarters full, we put the sap in an enamel-lined pot and put it atop our woodstove, where it evaporates down to one-tenth of its volume. This way we are not wasting any energy, as the stove is being used to heat the house anyway.  After that, Ran takes the evaporated sap out and finishes the evaporating process on our rocket stove.
You can get all fancy-schmancy and measure the temperature of the sap to see if it is at the syrup stage, but we just eyeball it.  When it is the right consistency to run off of a spoon slowly and it's that maple-syrupy color, we bottle it.  I will probably "can" the syrup for long-term storage in pint jars.  I use the term "can" but it more like bottling the jars.  Sterilize you jars in a 275-degree oven for ten minutes, .  (Normally I do not recommend sterilizing jars this way, but you want the jars to be dry inside, so that the syrup doesn't mold.)  Heat you syrup to the boiling point, pour the hot syrup into the hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace.  Place a lid that has been simmered and then wiped dry atop each jar and the screw the band on tightly, none of this fingertip tight business here, really jam the rings on.  Place the jars upside down on a soft dishtowel.  This should seal the jars. After the jars have cooled, turn them upright and check to see if the jars have sealed.  Any that haven't should be stored in the refrigerator for up to six months. I'm sure there's many articles on exactly how to do this out on the internet, if you want to do a bit of research, but it really isn't rocket science. Speaking of rockets, these rocket stoves are a wonder.  They take very little energy to get a large pot of water up to the boiling point.  We just use twigs we find in the yard and scrap lumber.  We've used our countless times when we have lost electricity for the umpteenth time every year. This is a purchased one, but again, there's lot of information on the internet on how to make one.  They are definitely a valuable tool to have on hand.

Taking Stock

March is the month that we take stock here at Sweetbriar Cottage.  We go through all our canned goods and see what we need to grow and preserve for the coming year.  More tomatoes for catsup and salsa but we are good on beets and carrots. (I'm still having nightmares about having the flu while canning those bushels and bushels of carrots.) And we definitely need to make more sauerkraut this year.  All the oddball canned goods and those that are reaching their expiration dates are put into a basket to be used for meals this month.  It makes for some interesting meals; I can vouch for that.  And we try to eat down our freezer, in anticipation of the coming fishing season.  My goal is to use only the freezer compartment of the refrigerator and not even use the small upright freezer we have (a goal I have yet to achieve). 

 It is finally warm enough to go up into the attic and straighten things up.  I can truthfully say, I needn't buy another skein of yarn or scrap of fabric for the rest of my life.  I will need to live to be a hundred just to use what I have, and that is after donating bags and boxes of yarn and bolts of fabric to the local thrift store.  I also go through my winter wardrobe and donate all the clothes that I have never worn all season and the ones that do not suit my lifestyle any longer.  There's no point in having pretty clothes that are not practical, I never go anywhere to get dressed up.  They are just taking up space and in a small home space is more valued than hanging onto things for sentimental value.  My thoughts on the whole matter are that it is better to pass on these pretties on to someone who might enjoy them, then it is to have them sitting in drawers going to waste.  Taking stock from time to time is a thrifty thing to do. After seeing all that I have, I can honestly say "enough is enough"!

But yet....

I say all that, but yet, it didn't keep me from taking a jog through the thrift store yesterday when I dropped off some donations. Ha!  I had this beautiful piece of an old overshot coverlet that I wanted to frame, so I was looking for a frame to cut down to fit the piece. And there it was!  For $5, less than what I'd pay just to have the glass cut.  I was going to paint the frame, but I thought the color brought out the golden browns in the fabric.  It took less than a quarter hour, for Ran to have it framed and hung.  

Even the mat worked out (it appears more bluish here than it actually is).  The only other thing I bought was a twiggy wreath for my door.  I toss my wreaths at the end of the seasons.  Usually, they look the worst for wear after a couple of months being battered about by the wind and the thrift stores always have more.  The one I bought cost 75 cents.  Speaking of twiggy wreaths, here's a woolen candle mat I made from some of my big box of wool scraps:
That was a fun one-day project.  And here's a penny rug I finished this month:

I am through with making those woolen tongues for a long while.  In March I decorate in a lamb and lion theme.  I don't decorate for Easter; all those bunnies and chicks are too cutesy for me. And I am not fond of pastels.  Besides, the lion and lamb have a Biblical connotation. Or so I thought.  I had a real Mandela-effect experience when I discovered that the Bible actually says, "The wolf will lie down with the lamb".  I thought it might be some modern interpretation, but I checked my grandmother's Bible that was published in 1911, and yep, it says wolf there too.

March Sales

March is a wonderful time to stock up on some items.  They've had great buys on corned beef.  At Aldi's I bought the cheaper cut for $2.99 a pound.  I would have bought some to can, when you can your meat it tenderizes the cheaper cuts, so don't be afraid to buy them for this purpose, but I still had plenty in my pantry from the previous year, so I didn't.  But I did buy two roasts, one we ate on St. Patrick's Day, and the other I roasted and cut into slice for sandwiches.  I still see corned beef on sale at Walmart.  

I saw lamb for less than $4 a pound at Meijers.  Unheard of price for lamb!  If I weren't being so lazy, I would buy some to can for stew.  Lamb is a rarity in this house.  I used to grind it and make gyro meat which I sliced and froze.  So nice when the cucumbers and dill are ripe for tzatziki sauce.  Oh, oh!  I'm talking myself into a chore!

And of course, ham and eggs are usually on sale this time of year.  I haven't checked the prices, but just a quick glance, I have noticed that the prices on eggs are going down. You can really make a ham stretch.  One of our favorite ways is with this ham and egg pie. Then there's always ways to use it in soups and omelets. Take all the little scraps and grind them up add some onion, mayo, and dill relish and make a sandwich spread.  And when you get down to the soup bone there's always a nice old-fashioned boiled dinner (with lots of cabbage which is on sale this month).  Goodness!  A family could survive an entire month on one bargain Easter ham!

A Question Posed

Recently, someone posed the question is self-sufficiency and preparedness Biblical?   This is usually followed by the verse about the lilies of the field.  I'd say, yes, while we depend on God to provide for us, He also give us knowledge and discernment.  I can point to just as many verses and parables about preparedness. We all read the news about bank closures and interest rate hikes; they should be telling you something about where the economy is heading.  It would be foolhardy to not watch your pennies a little more closely, in my opinion.  My attitude is not to go at preparing for hard times in a fearful manner, by going to grocery store and hoarding up enough food and making your home into a bunker, but it won't hurt to have some extra things put aside.  These days, no one can be truly self-sufficient.  Even centuries back, people were still dependent on others; millers to help grind the grain, neighbors to help shuck the corn, threshing teams at harvest time, not to mention most had large families that pulled together.  I dare say that a lot of those "preppers" I see on YouTube will find that all their well-laid plans are just that, when they have to grow enough feed for all that livestock and harvest it with a scythe because fuel and parts are not available for their tractors. Or if they have to haul buckets of water from a stream for that herd of cows.  They'll be downsizing their gardens when they have to turn over the soil with a shovel and till it by hand.  And what does one do when a drought occurs?  Or a flood wipes out your crops?  Then I dare say, we are not as self-sufficient as we thought, so we needn't be so smug about it.  Self-sufficiency is a goal, but I'd say we still need to have God's blessings to ever achieve any facsimile of it. Yet, I still say it is better to at least try attempt to live as independently as possible, rather than to rely on the good graces of others, or worse yet, the government, to provide for you, realizing that every tomato you pick, every piece of firewood you stack, every drop of water you drink, is a blessing and should be treasured and not wasted. What say you on the subject?

So anyway, that's it for this month's Thrift Thursday at the old Zempel boarding house.  Dear Regina, I hope this helps, and thank you for urging me to write a post!