Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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New Seasonings

Lately I've been making some new seasonings. I started an herb garden when I came to the farm, and I really enjoy cooking with things I've grown. Fresh herbs are, of course, the most flavorful, and you just can't beat the flavor of something that was cut and then brought immediately into the kitchen. But every night this time of year brings the chance of the first frost (we've had lows of 34 already!) and so I like to plan on different ways to ensure I have delicious herbs all through the winter. I use the dehydrator a lot, and then place the dried herbs into glass jars. Another great way is to simply freeze herbs; many retain more of their flavor that way, although the texture is lost.

I have what some might call a “cookbook problem”. I collect them. I have subscriptions to multiple cooking magazines and never throw any out. I justify this by telling myself that I probably use them more than most people. I cook, from scratch, pretty much daily. I send out recipes in my monthly farm newsletter. I love reading about or adapting recipes to make the best use of whatever is in season. When folks ask me where I get the ideas for all the things I process and offer for sale at the stand, saying “I buy a LOT of cookbooks” really is no lie. One great idea I found recently was for basil salt. It's pretty simple and makes great use of the basil that is so bountiful now, and is a great way to keep that flavor around beyond the first frost. It involves chopping up the basil in a food processor, adding salt and blending it together, then drying it briefly in the oven and chopping it again. The recipe recommended sprinkling it on fresh tomatoes, but I'm thinking up lots of other great ideas, too...for instance, I'm planning on making homemade pizza soon just so I can try adding it to the crust! And since it worked so well with basil, and I'm overrun with sage right now, I made some sage salt too. It's already a winner in my book as a rub for meats! So that has been a fun success recently, and I've made enough to have some for sale at the stand as well.

Another project I wanted to try this year was making my own paprika. Did you know that paprika is simply a type of pepper, which is then dried & ground? It's great for adding color, but most of the store-bought stuff doesn't give a dish much flavor, in my opinion. So, in the winter when I poured over seed catalogs and planned this year's garden, I was intrigued by the thought of growing a few paprika plants. Like the rest of my pepper seeds, I started them out in the sprout house in mid-February, nurtured the seedlings and eventually planted them out in the garden in late May. It took until mid-September to get some red, ripe peppers from the plants. I picked them, cut them up, and put them in the dehydrator. They were good and dry today, so I tossed the pepper bits into the processor and began to pulse them until the small chunks of peppers became a rusty red powder in the inside of the glass. I carefully poured the resulting powder into some small herb jars I have, and was plesently surprised at the yield. I'm excited to do more, and if I end up with enough, I may sell some, but first I want to stock my own pantry. Just for fun, I compared my newly-ground seasoning to the container of store-bought paprika in my kitchen. My freshly ground paprika has an aroma of peppery spice, with a smidge of heat, and is fresh and colorful. In comparison, the other stuff smells like dust and is more brown than red. There's no debate about the winner of this taste test, and I'm anxious to feature it in a dish, maybe even tonight.

It took about eight months to go from pretty seed package to useable spice, but I've learned to savor the rewards of being patient. There is little opportunity for instant gratification on a farm. Time, patience and loving care are the main ingredients in pretty much all I cook (or sell), from the veggies to the meats to canned goods and, as you can see, even the seasonings. Still, I've yet to find anything that tastes better.


I Love Old Stuff

Readers of this blog and farm visitors may have guessed this by now, but Dan and I love old stuff. Honestly, when I look at a list of events for a “living history” festival, usually the only activity I haven't tried my hand at is spinning wool (although I would love a spinning's on the buy-it-someday list!) I guess it's because we truly live history every day here at the kind of comes with the territory when you choose to work horses. But in addition to that, we just love being as self-sufficient as possible, and that frequently means doing things the old-fashioned way, whether it means making gate latches in the blacksmith shop or preserving food the way our grandmothers would have.

Many times, the best tools are the old ones. So, not surprisingly, we would much rather shop at an auction or flea market than the mall or Wal-Mart. Besides the utility, the old stuff has character. They are things that were made to last, made with pride by real American craftsmen (and women!), not disposable junk from some sweatshop overseas. Preserving this stuff, along with the knowledge of how to use it, is an incredible honor. A few weeks ago, we spent the day at a rather large area flea market. Dan was looking for specific items for the blacksmith shop, like vices and hammers. I had some cash in my pocket just for whatever we might come across. I was excited to find some glass beads that looked like they had been taken off an old chandelier, as I have a stained glass project I'd like to try which calls for them. Then I came across a very reasonably priced trunk. For some reason, I have a weakness for old trunks, and picked this one up. I'd like to try my hand at restoring it over the winter, cleaning up the metal parts and replacing the dry-rotted leather straps and handles. Dan found some tools, and we had a fun day, but had seen most of what was being offered and were heading back to the car with our treasures.

As we were walking back, we walked by a booth that had lots of horse stuff- saddles, saddle pads, bridles. I need more of that like I need a hole in the head, as I already have eight saddles in the tack room, and only four horses in the barn! But I can't resist looking, and something caught my eye immediately. It was a large, English-type saddle, but with what looked like two horns at the front. It was obviously old and in need of repair work before it would ever be usable, but you could tell it was well made. I had never seen a saddle like this in person before. I asked Dan if he knew what it was, and after giving it some thought, he admitted he was stumped. I knew that what we were looking at was an antique ladies' sidesaddle, the kind women riders would use before it was OK for women to wear pants! I just had to ask what the woman wanted for it. She replied “Make me an offer.” I threw out a pretty low figure, not knowing if she put any value on this old saddle, obviously in unusable condition. “I've had far higher offers than that!” she replied. She went on to say that she knew the woman whom the saddle had been made for, that she had gotten it after the woman's death, and that it was over 100 years old. She went on to tell me what she thought she could get for it on eBay, which was far more than I had to spend on a whim.

But then she said how that, more than the money, she just wanted it to go to someone who would appreciate it, who would treasure it, and would care for it like the piece of history that it is. I replied that I understood, as we farm with horses and antique machinery, and that our team is a pair of girls that both were born right here on our farm. “Then you know” she said. “I farm with horses, too. So you obviously know what it means to give something a forever home. That's what I want for this saddle- a forever home with someone who will take care of it.” And then she let me have it for about a quarter of what she thought she could get for it on eBay.

I've never ridden sidesaddle, so part of me wanted to take it home and just sit on it, just for a minute, just to see what it felt like. But with the hole Sara's passing has left in the barn, it wasn't possible. Dixie and Dolly are just too tall, it would have touched the ground on Ponyboy, and I wasn't putting it on Montana, since he isn't broke to ride yet. Although he is a sweetheart and likely wouldn't have minded, I'm not ready to trust him with an irreplaceable antique just yet. Regardless, it is something I treasure. I hope to get it professionally restored someday and try it out. It has a stirrup on the left side only, the right leg is placed between the two horns in the front. The seat and the place between the horns was once upholstered.  It has billet straps underneath to accommodate an English-type girth. The only thing I'm a bit unsure of are the two straps, the one on the left being just behind the stirrup, and in the same spot on the other side even though there is no stirrup on that side. There are no holes in this strap, but I thought perhaps it held some sort of overgirth, to keep the flaps tight to the horse's body, keeping the woman's dress from getting under the flaps and getting full of sweat & horsehair. But if that were the case, I would expect to see wear marks where the strap would have attached. There are none. My next guess is that they might be for mounting. Getting on a sidesaddle has to be a bit more complicated, so perhaps the one on the left is like a handle for the lady mounting, and the one on the off side would be for a stable hand or riding partner to hold while she got up, so the saddle wouldn't slip off-center. Or maybe they're just decorative, I really don't know. Feel free to leave a comment here if you know more than I about this! 


Isn't it a beautiful piece of history?  I just love old stuff!


What does a Blacksmith do?


After posting about our newest building, a blacksmith shop, I was suprised at the number of comments made to me about the new horse building.  In fact, our new shop really doesn't have anything to do with the horses, and I realized it was my fault for not clearing up what I mean by "blacksmith", so I wanted to remedy that with this post.

 Although the word blacksmith may make folks think of the guy putting shoes on a horse, the actual name of that profession is farrier.  Years ago, it was common for farriers to make horseshoes out of hot metal to custom fit the horse, but today most farriers' vehicles are stocked with a variety of sizes of premade horseshoes.  Very few do custom work with hot metal.

The term blacksmith, however, is used to describe a person who works with metal.  The traditional way to do this craft is to heat a piece of metal in a coal fire and then shape it using an anvil and a variety of hammers, tongs and other tools.   Years ago, many farmers were amateur smiths, and would make lots of different items for the like rakes and shovels, blades including knives and axes, hardware like hinges and door pulls, plus fire pokers, pot racks, hooks for hanging things and more.  Most blacksmiths made many of their own tools, and were able to use their craft to repair  or recreate parts for the machinery around the farm.  Those with more skill or interest would refine their craft, sometimes generating extra income for the farm with their metal work.  When you think of wrought iron, the twists and scrolls are good examples of what a skilled blacksmith can do with a piece of raw metal.

I find it absolutely fascinating to watch Dan working at this ancient craft.  To watch as a straight piece of square metal is twisted and worked into a fancy fire poker or other item amazes me every time.  There is real skill involved, much of it learned simply through practice.  You must be able to tell how hot the metal is simply by the color it turns in the fire...too cold and it won't shape properly, too hot and it will melt and be ruined.  Different tools create different shapes and textures.  The forge can be used to harden metal, or to weld as well.  It truly is an art, and one that truly fits our farm, with our desire to preserve old skills that increase our self-sufficiency.   I'm also really excited about my own workspace there. I've already moved my jewelry making supplies there, and the internet tracking code says my stained glass supplies should arrive today.  While I'm anxious to get started with that, between butchering a pig today, picking up a coffee order, and setting up the stand for tomorrow, not to mention running the stand and attending a wedding tomorrow, I'll have to wait a few days at least.  But as the days grow cooler and the garden wraps up for the year, I think we'll be spending plenty of time in our new workspace!

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