Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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My Personal Cooking Challenge

The first week of December sure has been a snowy one here!  It seems it's been coming down steadily for a week now, with a foot or so on the ground here on the farm and road conditions that make me happy I can stay home instead of travelling.  

Maybe it's the allure of a warm oven, or maybe it's the Christmas spirit, but I've been  baking this week.  While I love to be in the kitchen, cooking and canning and making vinegar and mustards and all kinds of other things, the truth is I am a miserable baker.  I can screw up brownies from a box mix.  I bought a bread machine thinking I could surprise Dan with homemade bread, which he loves, from time to time, but it almost invariably fell and turned into something so rock hard I was afraid even the pigs would have trouble swallowing it!  I don't know exactly why I have so much trouble with this form of cooking, since everything else comes fairly naturally.  Maybe it's because I love creating my own spin on things and rarely follow a recipe without adjusting it a bit?  No, that can't be it...canning is very similar in regard to substitutions and I have no problems there.  Maybe it's because of the living yeasts that make things rise?  Well, as a farmer, I'm so used to living things, raising animals tending plants, and I've even had success making cheese (using living enzymes) and vinegar (using living mother of vinegar) so I'm sure I can learn to get along with my little yeasty friends.  

A mental block?  Probably.  For years have I told myself and others that I can't bake, I don't like to bake, and I won't bake.  Add to that total strangers demanding it of me for the past year and a half, and there is probably something to this idea.  For years, our farm was locally famous for Betty's homemade pies, breads, sticky buns, pumpkin get the picture.  I've been asked, cajoled and have even been given rude demands to take some baking lessons from my mother in law and begin to offer these goodies for public sale again.  Now, we get along really well, and I'm sure she'd be happy to share her recipes with me, but the truth is, I just know if I had to do it weekly I would certainly hate it.  I like to can and enjoy doing it, so that's what I concentrate on making for sale, along with the veggies, meats, chicks, eggs, field work, weeding, stall cleaning, the list of responsibilities around here never ends and I'm hesitant to add anything major onto it!  

However, there is something about a warm kitchen on a cold, snowy winter's day.  In the summer, I run my sauce tomatoes though a food mill and freeze them, saving the squished result in the freezer until right about this time of year to spend hours boiling it down to make my own spaghetti & chili sauces. I took care of that last week.  I have more than enough jellies and pickles to both give as presents for friends and family and to last us through the winter, so I really don't need to be making any more of it at the moment.  I was stuck in the house and low on bread though, and the newest issue of Mother Earth News had a cover story about easy, practically no-knead bread, so I figured I could give it a try.  Plus, using only flour, milk, egg, yeast and salt, it has to be so much healthier than the store bought stuff that contains preservatives and HFCS.  It was...not a total disaster.  Not as fluffy as I'd hoped and a bit on the chewy side, but definitely edible.  Dan loved it.  While I wouldn't call it a huge success, it had a glimmer of hope to it.  For me, part of the enjoyment of the long winters here is to challenge myself to learn something new.  Last year, I really became comfortable cooking with cast iron, and even made some meals by simmering them on the woodstove.  This year I had planned my goal to be to teach myself how to play guitar, but the winter is certainly long enough to allow for more than one project.  So I mixed up another bowl of dough this morning and am letting it rise as I type.  I really love learning skills that allow us to be more self-sufficient and many of them have lots of practical uses on the farm or result in a new product to sell.  But sometimes it's necessary to do something just because you want to, not because you have to or for any financial reason.  So I'm going to continue to see how this goes...they say practice makes perfect! 

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