Americans Don’t Know What Mushrooms Taste Like

Ok, so a few Americans do. Maybe a third. If you push it.

The rest of America doesn’t even know there is more than one type of mushroom! To them, a mushroom is either a dry tastelessy fungusy bit of foam rubber, or a slimy gray fungusy flavored bit of rubbery silicone. If they are particularly adventurous, they may know that Portobellos and Crimini mushrooms exist. A few very exotic individuals also know there is something called a Shiitake out there that people are reputed to actually eat.

That is most of America! I used to be one of them! It is no wonder I HATED mushrooms. Nasty things, only barely edible if you could chop them small and hide them where you did not have to actually TASTE them, or feel the slippery gooshy feel on your tongue or teeth.

The world outside of America understands that a mushroom is not just a mushroom. That the white button mushroom is the WORST of the mushroom clan, and that there exists an entire WORLD of mushrooms that are actually worth putting on the plate.

Portobello and Crimini mushrooms taste pretty much like a white button – unless they are grown without chlorine, in which the flavor is fuller, and more complex (a little fruitier and more savory). But to me, pretty much just another “hide them wherever you can” mushroom.

Shiitakes are reputed to have a “smoky flavor”. I can’t taste it. They are just a mushroom. Fresh ones disappear into mixed dishes. Canned ones are just nasty slimy things that look like canned leaches. Dried ones are easy to snip up with a pair of scissors into any dish that has a water or broth base, and they’ll reconstitute as the rest of the meal cooks. But I can’t really identify anything spectacular about the flavor, they just taste like a mushroom to me, and I do not like them.

The first mushroom I tasted that I did not hate was a King Trumpet Oyster Mushroom. A fat stemmed oyster mushroom with a little brown cap on top, and tiny gills running barely down the stem. It has a slightly sweet flavor. I didn’t hate it because the mildness of the flavor makes it easy to hide it in pretty much ANYTHING and not have to dwell on the fact that it is still, when all is said and done, a mushroom.

Then I tried Chanterelles. Ok, so I am still not sure what all the fuss is about where Chanterelles are concerned. While I do not hate them, and I find that they have a slippery texture but not the gooshy sliminess of the white button (a more firm bite), they still taste like a mushroom – sort of fruity, but fungusy. It is the fungusy part I have never appreciated in mushrooms, so I failed to become a fan of the Chanterelle – but I do not actively dislike them either.

White Oyster mushrooms do not seem to have any flavor at all to me once they are cooked and added to a dish. If I chop them finely, I do not even know they are there. Another mushroom I do not hate. But I cannot say I like it either. Later, when I tried Angel Wing Oysters, they seemed pretty much the same – I simply cannot taste them in a finished dish.

Then I tried Paddy Straw mushrooms. Oh, not the slimy flavorless canned ones. Dried Straw Mushrooms. I made a simple gravy with them. They knocked it out of the park! A full, dark, almost meaty flavor. WOW. A mushroom I actually LIKED. I don’t love them. But I actually like them!

Russulas fell into the “I can’t taste them” camp. Of course, you must understand I NEVER feature mushrooms in a dish that is just mushrooms. Just can’t make myself go there! Cut them up, cook them in butter, toss them into something that I hope will complement them. Or at least which won’t end up with a clash of flavors that ruins dinner entirely – and the Russulas that taste sweet raw have such a mild flavor that they disappear completely. Russulas do not offend me!

Various Agaricus species were not any different than Portobellos, when prepared fresh. When dried though, they developed a more savory flavor. Almost like the Paddy Straw. Except the Almond scented ones. Some of them retained some of the almond flavor and let it into the dish. Flavor good. Texture unappealing to me – too mushroomy.

Slippery Jacks are also fairly tasteless to me. I cannot tell if they are a good mushroom or not, because I honestly cannot taste the flavor. They sort of lose themselves in whatever we put them into.

Maitake has a sort of spicy apple smell and flavor. Like a fungusy spiced apple with a faintly nauseating undertone. Very odd. We put it into a meatloaf which was baked in a pumpkin. It was good. But I am still uncertain whether I liked the Maitake or not!

Gold Cap Stropharia (Stropharia Ambigua) smells just like the bottom of a forest floor. That deep rich moldy dirt smell that rises up right after a rain. They taste about the same. I cannot say this is a mushroom that I like, but I did not hate it either. I am still working on flavor combinations to see if there is a dish that I’d actually love to use it in. It is such an earthy flavor that it can easily overpower whatever you add them to.

And Blewits – they just taste like a mushroom to me! Maybe a stronger more rubust flavor than white buttons, but just a mushroom. I manage to eat them without hating them. I’ve used them fresh and dried, and they are a usable food either way.

I think I might eventually learn to like Porcini. I cannot describe the flavor, because there is nothing to compare it with. Hints of savory, with the classic mushroom flavor, but an edge of something else too – almost but not quite buttery. It seemed to taste better in a chicken and rice dish than it did in a dish with red sauce and beef. The texture is also more palatable than other mushrooms, when cooked it has a firm texture that is less slippery and gooshy than the detested mushrooms.

Part of the problem with mushrooms for me is that the essential thing about mushrooms that every mushroom lover raves over, is the very thing that repels me. The fungusy element. The thing that reaches into your nose and tickles your brain saying, “I am MUSHROOM!”. That thing. That is the part I do not like! So the less pronounced that is, the more I like a mushroom.

It has been disappointing – being mycologically challenged like this. Because I read descriptions of mushrooms all the time. They describe the appearance, the odor, and the flavor. I get all excited when I read the descriptions, because they make them sound SOOO INCREDIBLY YUMMY!

I’ve always had somewhat of an encyclopedic mind, so much so that I can recognize many mushrooms and identify them accurately the first time I see them. So those descriptions stick in my head. And they’ve been responsible for some amazing disappointments!

“Fragrant”, “Pleasant”, “Fruity”, and other words are used to describe an odor which, when held to my nose, simply says, “FUNGUS!”. I really wanted it to smell like the description, and it doesn’t. It just smells like laundry left in the washer one too many days during the winter in a damp climate.

Same with the flavor. I really WANT to taste a mushroom that really does taste amazingly delicious. But in the end, they always end up tasting like mushrooms – some have an edge of savory or wonderful flavor, but the mushroom still lurks and takes away the peak of enthusiasm.

The one odor that did not disappoint, is “Almond”. I’ve smelled about three or four different kinds of Agaricus mushrooms which smelled of almond, and let me tell you they smell LIKE ALMOND! Sweetly nutty and fruity, they smell absolutely wonderful. The flavor is less enticing, being only lightly almondy, and still possessing the rubbery fungus texture and flavor of other Agaricus mushrooms. But the gorgeous smell makes up for it to me!

One day, perhaps I’ll meet the perfect mushroom. One that actually tastes as delicious as the description. But until then, I’ll keep eating them – because they make a huge difference to my health – and I’ll keep growing them and hunting them and learning about them, because the effort to do so has been utterly fascinating, and may shortly prove very lucrative.

So if you are a mycophile (mushroom lover), go try some new mushrooms and find some new flavor sensations. If you are a mushroom hater, then go try some new ones anyway! You may just find that you don’t hate all mushrooms. And one or two might just surprise you.

Pornography – The Wildfire Outside Your Door

Burning trash was legal, and there was a burn pit in the yard, beside the house. So I carted the burnables out, and lit a fire. It burned for about an hour, while I watched it, going back and forth to the house to make sure nothing got out of the rock enclosure. I had been taught as a child to not leave a fire unattended unless I was sure of the safety of the enclosure.

A month later, I headed out to use the burn pit again. The ground was drier and it was a warmer day. I had a bit more trash this time, but not that much more. I tossed it in, and lit it. The performance seemed to be repeating itself, so I ran inside to do something quick indoors.

When I came back out, not more than a moment or two later, a small patch of grass was burning outside the pit. I ran over and started stomping, just in time to see another patch light up beside it. The slightly drier ground and the slightly hotter fire had heated the rocks, and the grass that was in the nooks and crannies around the rocks caught fire. I stomped out the first and ran frantically to the second one just as the first popped to life again, and a third began on the opposite side of the pit.

I still thought I could stop it myself, and ran for the kitchen to fill a bucket. When I came back, the fire was twice the size in each patch, and another little patch was sparking to life. The bucket of water squashed two patches! I was going to get this under control, and no one would know, and I’d be able to just go on and never have to confess my embarrassment.

I ran for another bucket. When I got back, the two bits I had squashed were burning merrily again, and the other two sections had grown again, and were spreading toward the houses – mine, and a neighbor. I realized at that point that it was not going to concede to my wishes of not involving anyone else.

I ran for the neighbors, who stuck their heads out and said, “Well, what do you want US to do?”. I ran for the bucket again, hollering, “Call the fire department! And grab a bucket!”. They grumbled, and wandered around outside, mumbling something about where to find a bucket. I tossed one at them and ran back inside. Two more neighbors came to help, while I called the fire department myself. We got a hose going, and managed to keep the fire away from the houses, but by the time the fire department arrived, it had consumed most of the yard, and was about 5 feet from our house on one side, had reached the road on another side, and was a few feet from the property line on the other. The firemen pulled out a hose, sprayed fire retardant on the flames, and they died a sizzling death as though on command.

They did in 5 minutes what I had been gasping with for far longer, and which I could not vanquish even with the help of several neighbors – of course, they had good protective gear, and the right equipment to fight it. The firemen stayed for a while to watch the ground to ensure that no sparks relit in areas that may not have been sufficiently quenched. I heard sizzling sounds in the lawn for many hours afterward, and kept looking out to see whisps of smoke trailing up from under this or that charred bush.

It occurs to me that Pornography is much like that fire. Only bigger. One little bit, nothing serious. But it spreads. And it pops up where you do not expect it to. The addiction can consume a home before someone is aware that it is the culprit, it may spread from one home to another. And neighbors may just be content to let your home burn – even the help of well-meaning friends may not be enough. Neighbors may even be content to let the fire go until it consumes their own home, oblivious to the danger even as it engulfs them! Once the right actions are taken, you need to be watchful to make sure it does not spark to life again.

This was a small yard fire. The flames of Pornography are more like a wildfire, out of control, creating a wind and a roar, and sweeping everything in its path. Inviting it into your home is the equivalent of building a bonfire in your livingroom just because you got bored, and hoping that the fire you started with not do more than warm your toes or let you roast some marshmallows.

Pornography, like the fire in my yard, or like a forest fire, will grow if left unchecked, until it has consumed every life in its path. It will not get tired and just wear itself out in an individual. It will grow and grow until all the good in a person is destroyed. This is what it does. There are no exceptions. It always gets worse if it is not first stopped, and then held at bay.

The progression is inevitable – it is important that this is understood. It may progress slowly, or quickly, but it WILL progress, and it always ends with the same horrors. In earlier eras when it was harder to access and there was less social acceptance of it, the progression took far longer, but in this day when it is on every street corner, accessible in every private cubby, and considered by so many to be nothing shameful, it gallops through a person’s life at an astonishing speed. Generally the further the progression, the less likely a person is to recover, and the more damage they will do to other people around them. Pornography never stays confined to a single person, it spills over and pulls in young people who see the example of the addict, and poisons marriages, families, and friendships as the addict gives to the addiction what they should be giving to real people.

Porn may be assessed on a scale of 1-5 for severity. A person may progress from one phase to another in as little as six months (far less in certain environments), or they may take years – but in our day, it is uncommon for it to take more than two years to progress from one stage to the next.

Stage 1Bikini/Underwear shots progressing to nudity. At this stage, confession (to spouse, parents, and anyone harmed by the addict), and help from family (and clergy where available) may be sufficient to help an individual gain control, and revise the standards and behaviors in their life. The individual viewing porn will begin to detach from close relationships, and will generally become more irritable and prone to fault-finding, or temper tantrums.

Stage 2Porn involving Straight and Gay Sex (with or without a progression from one to the other), with progression from couples to groups. This stage may begin with straight sex only, but always ends with both categories, and the progression may follow one of several patterns. This stage may include either visual or auditory media, and text only books. Drug abuse generally begins well into this stage also (the link between drug addictions and pornography addictions is inseparable – generally the drug abuse does not actually involve the porn, rather it is used as a coping mechanism for a life that is going up in flames). At this stage outside help is more likely to be needed, and confession to someone outside the home is essential (clergy or a counselor who is supportive of recovery are most appropriate).  A 12 Step Addiction Recovery Program is recommended for recovery for this stage and all subsequent stages.

Recovery is dependent upon the support and aid of those close to them, especially the spouse [or parents for youth], AND upon the efforts of the addict [until they start to try, nothing is effective]. If the spouse is NOT supportive, recovery likelihood is LESS than 20% by the middle of Stage 2.

If the spouse (or parents) IS supportive and helpful, with a commitment and expression of love toward the addict, AND the addict makes a sincere effort, the likelihood of recovery is approximately 85% through the middle of stage 2.

Stage 3 - Sex combined with Violence. This is one of the critical barriers – when a person crosses it, things begin to pick up speed. When sex alone ceases to provide a thrill, this is the next step. Porn encourages an individual to view sex as a purely selfish thing, and when that tendency is magnified, it grows into the intentional desire to harm, and not just the desire to selfishly exploit. The fire is OUT OF CONTROL – it CANNOT be handled quietly inside the privacy of a marriage, or by parents alone attempting to help a child. There may be legal concerns developing through this stage.

Somewhere in this stage, the chance that a person will ever rehabilitate drops to less than 1%, regardless of spousal support of the effort, abuse toward the spouse escalates dramatically, and physical abuse of children may begin if it was not previously present (sexual abuse of the children by the addict is still out of bounds for them – that barrier has not yet been eroded sufficiently).

Stage 4Sexual aberrations (Bestiality, Pedophilia, Extreme Drug Enhancement of sexual experience, extreme violence, torture, and other indescribable horrors). The addict has sated themselves, and is now desperate for any variation that will provide the fix.

At this point, a family is NOT safe with the person in the house – abuse further escalates, and typically children in the home WILL become sexual abuse victims.

Stage 5Sex combined with Murder (First they view, then they do.) This stage begins with Snuff films, and ends with acting them out. When asked how he came to be a mass murderer, Ted Bundy is reported to have said that he found a porn magazine in his stepfather’s closet as a child. Left unchecked, porn leads to murder, in a trail of progression that is known to every prison psychiatrist.

 

This is not an exaggeration, nor an attempt to scare people away from porn. It is just exactly this dangerous. I am calm, confident, and absolutely dead serious as I list these phases and the progression of porn. The harm simply cannot be overstated.

So now we know… DON’T IGNORE IT THINKING IT WILL JUST GO AWAY!

To survive in this modern environment where it Porn is EVERYWHERE, one must wear good protective gear, and build good firebreaks, just as one would in fighting a wildfire.

 

Protective Gear

Protective gear for Pornography is one way to keep it from consuming an individual. Eye protection is especially important, but ear protection can also really help!

So what kinds of protective gear can you don that will help you to keep the harm of Pornography out of yourself, as an individual?

  • The company of like-minded people. Hang out with people who have the same goal of avoiding it. Befriend those with good ideals, who understand WHY you want to avoid it. Choose dates who get it, and respect the goals. Life sometimes requires you to be around people who will bring this into your world. You may not be able to escape them – but if you choose good companions when you DO have the choice, it is easier to be strong when you DON’T have the choice. Online, associate with good people, block those who would introduce this harm into your life.
  • Create a set of personal standards, and stick to it. This would include things like avoiding entertainment with nudity and sexual content, avoiding music and audio tracks that refer to the same, making sure you maintain good moral standards for yourself, being at home by a reasonable hour in the evening, and avoiding situations where you might be overly tempted to lower your standards. It also includes ACTING on intentions to make a hasty retreat, when things are occurring which are not in line with your standards. It is easy to say you will leave if the movie gets raunchy, but much harder to stand up in the middle of a group of people, and draw attention to yourself as you walk out. But every time you do it, it gets easier.
  • Engage in wholesome and uplifting activities. Every GOOD thing you do, from helping a neighbor to attending a clean alcohol-free party, increases your personal strength and helps you build good patterns for living. Every time you laugh at a clean joke, get chills from an absolutely amazing song, or view entertainment that leaves you feeling lifted up and wanting to be better, you build strength. Every time you do something unselfish, choose to do what is right even when it is hard, or bite your tongue and refrain from being cruel, you strengthen that part of yourself that has the power to resist Pornography – because porn is all about selfishness.
  • Increase the spiritual activities in your life. These are things that affect you positively, both by helping you WANT to be better, and by exposing you to the influence of Good, and it has far more power than the average person realizes. This is especially helpful for teens – it is perhaps the EASIEST way to become a kinder and morally stronger person. Just be there – where things are all about good, and let it work its magic on you.
  • Keep an emergency song on hand. Good and evil cannot exist in the same space at the same time. A song with good lyrics will drive bad thoughts or images out of your head. This strategy can be used to avoid temptation, to get disturbing images out of your head (after accidental exposure), and to keep your thoughts from drifting into areas where they would better not go.
  • Don’t go there. Not even once. Never let curiosity overcome your better judgment in this regard. Just once DOES HURT. Every addict started with “Just Once”.

 

Firebreaks

One of the time honored methods for stopping a wildfire is to create a firebreak. It is a barrier, such as a path of bare earth where there is no fuel for the fire, or a moat filled with water, or some other surface that the fire cannot cross. A firebreak must be sufficiently wide to stop the fire under the current circumstances – this means that when there is no wind, with a small fire, a small firebreak will do. When the fire is large and raging, and driven by a wind, the firebreak must be far wider.

In our day, the fire is monstrous, and raging with immense intensity. It is driven by hard winds and whipped up by ignorant people who stand on the sidelines encouraging you to feel the heat and look at the pretty flames.

To survive this, we must create firebreaks in our lives. They may need to be constructed at home, and at work or at school. They are one of the ways in which parents can help children avoid Pornography and teach them skills to choose to avoid it for themselves.

These firebreaks may involve changing our environment, or they may involve rules or standards for safety. Typically they involve groups of people or environments, and extend outside of the individual. They can include strategies such as:

  • A home where computers are only used in public rooms in the home, when other people are home.
  • Requiring children and teens to “check out” a computer or cell phone when needed, and check it back in either at night, or when the need has passed. For example, a phone might be checked out for an outing, and checked back in afterward. In either case, keeping computers and cell phones checked in at night helps ensure that kids are not online or texting inappropriately after parents are in bed (this is the number one time at home, when kids will access porn in a home where it is forbidden).
  • Eating dinner with the family each night, at the table. This is an immense tool for strengthening a family, and helps develop stronger parent-child relationships.
  • Engage in religious observances together with others in your home (family or otherwise). This helps all work together to create a harmonious environment. People who worship together are more likely to support one another in choosing good.
  • Strengthen your family in any way you can. This article on the LDS.org site, called The Family: A Proclamation to the World, gives great descriptions to help a family become stronger. It sets a VERY high standard. Don’t worry if you don’t meet the standard. Just pick a thing to work on and build strength in your family. And don’t worry if you are (for example) a single parent, or if other circumstances do not meet the ideal. Just work on what YOU can control. These are also the things a parent can do to help teens have the desire to make good choices – because teens with a strong family support network make better choices.

You may feel safe and think that this all has nothing to do with you. I promise you, you are wrong. It has everything to do with you, and it will sneak in and work its devastation upon some facet of your life at least once – whether it be the divorce of someone close to you, the abuse of someone you love, or the anger and storms of your own teenager, or within your own marriage.

No one is immune. The only ones who are to any degree safe from it are those who make it a thoughtful daily practice to be safe, and to stay safe.

For more resources for combatting pornography, you may visit overcomingpornography.org, or the PornographyHarms Group on FaceBook.

Common Disappointing Finds for Mushroom Hunters

When you head out for Chanterelles and find only Blewits, many mushroom hunters are disappointed. When you go out hoping to find anything edible at all, and there are only broad patches of Sropharia Ambigua, other mushroom hunters are disgusted (even though they have never actually tried them). And of course, when you go out and find nothing, that is the biggest disappointment of all.

Around the common disappointing finds though, there are a host of proliferating species which no one ever actually names. They are frequently encountered by mushroom hunters, as well as hikers and campers, and may even be seen in suburbia, or in downtown urban areas.

So I am taking the time to create this easy reference for many of those finds which deceive the eye until you are right on top of them. It is my hope that this reference will allow you to accurately identify these common, but lesser known species.

  1. Aquafinis plasticus. A broad transparent stipe, topped with a very small blue cap (or sometimes white cap). This species has only become noticed in the last two decades, and is now considered an invasive species in many areas. It is a very loosely rooted species unless it is well aged, in which case it may be several inches deep in soil, and may have toppled to one side. We recommend removal of the fruiting bodies, which may be discarded in the nearest trash can. It will not stop the random proliferation of the species, but it does help keep other hunters from experiencing the same misdirection.
  2. Aluminatus canicus. Found less often that it was before the proliferation of Aquafinis plasticus, this species thrives and springs up around warm campfires and is often found along trails in the woods. It is a cylindrical form, which generally has touches of metallic silver. It makes a robust crunching sound when you step on it, which helps you clinch the ID. Removal and disposal is also recommended for this species, for the same reasons as for Aquafinis plasticus.
  3. Avianacea Fecealus. This species is usually found on other items – often on leaves, fence posts, tree branches, and downed limbs, but may also be found on the ground, and occasionally appears suddenly without notice upon the clothing of unsuspecting mushroom hunters and hikers. It is predominantly white, with touches of gray or gray-brown, and may be either flat and elongated, or it may appear in raised lumps. We do not recommend removal, unless this species has fruited on your personal belongings.
  4. Arboreatus Autumnal Dropiloides. Known as “The Great Deceiver”. Probably the most prevalent of all disappointing finds, AAD is a species that is extremely rare in the spring, but begins to show toward the end of summer, and increases in frequency through the beginning of winter. Occurring in various shades of orange, yellow, pale green, brown, or gray brown, or even a blackish brown, and having a wide variety of sizes and shapes (most of them flat and ovoid), some possessing neatly organized patterns of ribbing, this species is probably responsible for more false raised hopes than any other disappointing species. It may mimic virtually ANY mushroom species. This species is too numerous to control, and with practice, one learns to better distinguish it from legitimate finds, though some fruiting bodies of this species will always look deceptively like Blewits, Chanterelles, Porcini, and even Horse Mushrooms from a distance, and there is just no way to avoid that step closer before you realize you’ve been deceived.
  5. Golferina Ballinus. First discovered in Scotland, this small white puffball-like species has a consistent size of about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, is evenly spherical, and has evenly spaced depressions covering the surface. It is a very loosely rooted species, and will roll easily if kicked, or hit with a stick. More solid than the average fungus, they can travel long distances when firmly whacked with a solid object. They appear more frequently on lawns, and rarely in the woods, and cluster at the bottom of ponds in some areas. Hitting this species and attempting to knock it into a hole in the ground is apparently such fun that many sporting goods stores sell a specially made long handled mallet just for this purpose.

These species account for untold dashed hopes, and no doubt for a fair amount of cursing from dedicated or even casual mushroom hunters. They may also be disappointing for other wildcrafters and harvesters.

So I challenge you to identify these species the next time you are on the trail, or off the trail, or even randomly in surburbia or downtown urban areas.

I Know What Truffles Smell Like

A truffle crossed my path yesterday. A ripe White Oregon Truffle. Perhaps an overripe one… Maybe an underripe one (though the color was developed as it is supposed to be). I do not know at this point. I am not a lover of fungus and had never seen, much less smelled a truffle, before yesterday. But as the question of describing the smell of truffles is one that is asked over and over, I thought I’d have a go at describing the odor, for anyone who wonders what a truffle smells like.

I cannot speak for ALL truffles, of course. But this is an approximation of the smell of this one.

Take 1 pair of old gym socks which have been worn by a teenager who has been wearing his shoes without socks for at least three weeks and then decided to put on a pair of socks and sweat in them for four days.

 

Dip the toe in vodka.

 

Wrap it around a piece of meat that has been left out to age until it is overripe and then halfway roasted.

 

Put it in your fridge and close the door.

 

Open the fridge door again, and breathe deeply.

This is what truffles smell like.

Sharply revolting.

I do not know what they taste like. But the smell of them does enlighten me as to why truffles are used sparingly. Smelly gym socks dashed with vodka with side notes of gamey beef is a scent combination that is likely to translate into flavors that SHOULD be used sparingly!

Of course, I am NOT a lover of mushrooms. So my opinion on the matter may be completely irrelevant. I have discovered a few mushrooms that I can tolerate, and one or two that I actually LIKE as far as flavor is concerned. The texture still grosses me out. But the smell of a truffle is not in any way appetizing to me. Underneath all those nasty smells, lurks an odor that holds the promise of having associated with something NOT revolting, at least briefly. But I am not sure if that is what might rise as the memorable flavor or not.

Historically, female pigs were used to find truffles. The truffle, it is said, has an odor that is reminiscent of male pig pheromones, which makes the female pig hone in on it, dig it up, and consume it with delight. Not so sure what that says about how a sow treats a boar… But anyway, I think it says a lot about the odor of a truffle. A boar in rut is probably not the most pleasant smelling thing in the world. After smelling a truffle, I am thinking it is something akin to the smell of that coyote that rolled under the car after I hit it on Highway 30 in Wyoming… RANKLY OFFENSIVE. If you stuff one up inside the venting of someone’s car, that would prove a good practical joke – they’d be at the mechanic demanding that he find whatever died in there!

It does make one wonder why they are so valuable and so sought after. Even if the truffle I smelled was one side or other of ripeness, I am not enamored of the idea of smelling it when the scent is “fully developed”. Nevertheless, I’ll be watching for the opportunity to see whether there is a point where a truffle does NOT smell quite that bad. I’ll update if I find it.

In the mean time I AM enjoying the savory anise scent of an unidentified brown Agaricus Mushroom, that I found to be a much more pleasant aroma to contemplate building a meal around.

Tealight Room Heater Reviewed

“Heat an entire room for 8 pence a day!” says the title of a video making the rounds on social media. After watching the video, I could already see some problems with this claim. But the heater looked useful, so I decided to try it out, and see what it COULD do.

A link to the original blog post with the video that I watched is at the end of this article.

The setup consists of a bread pan, two clay pots (one large, one small), and four tealights. The tealights are placed in the bread pan, and lit. The small clay pot is placed upsidedown over the tea lights, balanced on the edges of the bread pan. The larger pot is balanced in the same manner over the top of the first one.

The first problem I had, was with the design of the setup. It looked like a fire waiting to happen. Tea lights, in a bread pan, sitting on a magazine. Tea lights get hot when they burn down. Probably not hot enough to light a magazine on fire, but to me, a child raised in a home with wood heat and taught by her father to respect fire, too much of a risk.

So I purchased a clay pot tray, and turned it upsidedown for a fire-proof base. I had to improvise some of the other elements a little also, but the end result was equally efficient, with one major difference:

My setup held only three tealights, not four. It does not significantly change any of the aspects which I am reporting on – I did not try to heat a large space, and the number of candles does not affect any of the other numbers, since I used his original numbers as a baseline.

These are the problems I found with the system:

1. The room the Brit heats in the video is a VERY small room. It is also generally a fairly WARM room. So the amount of heat he required was fairly minor. A toaster oven used to heat his noon meal would have produced sufficient heat for an hour or two in a room that size. Just pointing that out, because “an entire room” in this case, wasn’t much at all. By comparison, we are talking about a bathroom, or a bedroom in a 1970s singlewide trailer (you know, those little bitty bedrooms).

2. He lists the price of tea lights at about 1 pence each. This converts to anywhere between 1 and 2 pennies USD, depending on the exchange rate. This price is found NOWHERE for tea lights. At least, nowhere I can access that actually ends up BEING that low a price by the time the costs are tallied. The lowest I found was 4 cents each. I paid 6 cents each for mine. While this is only pennies we are talking about, the cost doubles, or triples when the actual cost is calculated. That is very significant. His 8 pence a day now becomes 16 or 24 pence – or 32 to 48 cents.

3. He claims that the tealights burn for “about 4 hours”. This, again, is rather an exaggeration. Mine burned for 2 and a half hours. Perhaps tealights are larger in Britain, but I doubt it. Perhaps they are made of a different type of wax – but if it burns longer, it also burns cooler, so there is a trade-off. Since mine burned for just 2 1/2 hours, I have to base my calculations on that. Our costs just increased by 50% again, if we have to do three burns instead of two for the same heat. We are now up to 48 to 72 cents per day.

4. Some people with whom I discussed this suggested that “residual heat” in the clay pots would compensate some for the shorter burn times. The pots cooled fairly quickly, retaining radiant heat for only a short time, and being completely cooled within half an hour. This means that they’d only have useful residual heat for about 20 minutes. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll call the burn and heat time, combined, about 3 hours. We still have to do three burns for anywhere close to 8 hours of heat (based on his original concept of 8 hours equaling a day).

5. Because he only counts a day as 8 hours of heat, you still have 16 hours unaccounted for. To truly heat for a day, you’d have to again triple your cost. This brings the cost of heating a tiny room up to somewhere between $1.44, and $2.16 for an actual full day. Now, I realize people are NOT going to try to use this to heat a home, but we have to calculate it in that manner in order to see how it compares with other heat forms. If you can heat an entire 3 bedroom house for about $200 a month, in SEVERE cold (yes, we did so in Wyoming – an 1800 sq foot home), then it works out to about $6.66 per day to heat the whole house. The room in the video was about 8X12 ft, so that works out to about $.36 per day to heat that space using gas or electric, for a full 24 hour time period. Here, in the south where we live now, it is half that amount. For any amount of real heating, the tealight heater is simply NOT economical. I point that out, because his main claim is that it is cheap heat. It is not. It is actually very expensive heat.

So is this little thing good for anything? Turns out, that when you take it for what it IS, and not for what it is NOT, it is actually good for something!

1. Spot heating. When you need a little extra heat in a single area, for a short period of time – this kind of heating is ALWAYS more costly than whole house heat, on a square foot basis. What makes it economical is being able to heat just a single small area rather than having to increase the heat throughout the house. I am using mine to rapid-cure silicone. In the summer, our silicone for our Fermenta Cap products cures in about 4-5 hours. In the winter, even with the heat on in the house, it can take 24 hours, sometimes more, to cure. This slows our production to the point of getting us seriously behind in order fulfillment. I can pour my silicone, light three tealights in the burner, and walk away – the heater is safe to leave unattended as long as there are no pets or children in the room (my heater is also safe ONLY because I have tested it and know it to be safe). The burner puts out just enough extra heat in that one small area, to cure my silicone within 4-6 hours. MUCH faster. That is worth 18 cents per day to me! If I need to leave the house, and the burner has only been lit a while, I can blow it out, and place the clay pots over the tops of the silicone molds, where the residual heat works on them, safely, while I’m gone. This has been a benefit to us, and a good method of heating this tiny area.

2. A cozy alternative to a fireplace. The warmth of an open flame just has more romantic appeal on a cold winter evening. A candle powered heater, and a warm mug of hot chocolate, and a good story to read with the family could make any evening special.

3. Emergency heat. It is likely that the heater would get hot enough on top to at least heat water, and in an emergency, a little heat is better than none. Because it is off-grid heat, all you need is to be sure you have SOME ventilation if you light more than one, and be sure you have matches on hand.

There are some safety issues if you decide to experiment with this type of heater. The issue with heat from the bottom is only one potential issue. Since this is an open flame, standard cautions regarding candles and fires apply.

1. When you have tealights concentrated together, they create more heat than a single candle. The wax in each tin will quickly reach the melting point all the way through, since you have a covering over the lights that make the candles heat up more. Liquid wax tends to wick out over the edges of the tin, so that whatever surface you have them on can become covered in a thin film of melted wax. Under the right (or wrong) conditions, this can be a fire hazard. Make sure that you have them in a fire proof dish or container, and that the bottom is insulated from heat build-up so it does not overheat the surface the assembly is sitting on.

2. The clay pots need to be placed over the candles, at a great enough height to avoid a flash fire on the surface of the candles. Since the wax becomes liquid fairly rapidly, a build-up of heat on the surface of the tealights can cause the entire surface to ignite – this only happens when there is sufficient heat to maintain the fire without needing a wick. If this happens, you’ll hear the sound of the flames (a quiet roaring), and black smoke will billow out of the hole in the pots, and around the edges. This may not exactly be a fire hazard, but it produces so much smoke that the smoke alone could be deadly. The fire is also very difficult to put out  – you’ll need to find a way to smother all of the candles at once or they’ll re-ignite. To avoid a surface flash fire, make sure the inner pot is at least 2″ above the surface of the candles. Depending on how you have your larger pot set up, it may need to be more. Also make sure that you have not closed off the sides around the candles in a way that concentrates heat back into the center of the candle group – give it a place to radiate OUT, as well as UP. Test the setup thoroughly before leaving it unattended, and test it again if you make any modifications, no matter how small. It is probable that the original setup with the tealights in a bread pan is also at risk for flash fires, and that what looks like a simple setup may not be so simple. Variations in the size or shape of the pan can make what is safe for one person, very unsafe for another. Test carefully, and be prepared to put out a surface fire if needed – a second bread pan to turn upside-down over the top of the first one would work well to put out the candles, or you could use a cooking pot, by using the flat bottom to smother the candles if they are in a different arrangement.

3. To generate additional heat, some people close the hole in the smaller pot. If you do so, make sure that whatever you use to close or block the hole can withstand very high heat. The greatest heat build-up is right at the top of that smallest pot, and it can be far hotter than you think.

4. Make sure you have hot mitts close by, in case you need to blow out the heater. You have to remove the pots – you’ll need a safe place to set them also. Think about this BEFORE you have to do it, and things go more smoothly.

5. Keep it away from kids and pets. This thing gets HOT on the surface. It is designed to trap and radiate heat, and it does just that. It will get blisteringly hot on the surface of those pots. If you don’t like such risks in your home, don’t use this kind of heater.

My conclusion is that the video circulating is inaccurate, and even somewhat careless in how it presents the options for this type of heater. But I also feel that it CAN be useful, if you understand what you are dealing with, and the actual potentials for use.

I will be assembling some of these, and testing various setups, so I can include a few in my emergency supplies. I think they CAN be a help in a power outage, and in some other unique situations.

http://www.naturalcuresnotmedicine.com/2013/11/heat-your-room-for-15-cents-day.html

Uses for RAW Sour Milk

We are conditioned to think that sour milk is a harmful thing. If you are talking about pasteurized milk, it can be. Sour pasteurized milk can have some really nasty opportunistic pathogens in it.

Raw milk, on the other hand, is a different thing entirely. When it sours, it develops a wide range of microbial growth, including many helpful probiotics. It DOES contain some bacteria and fungi that would be considered to be harmful pathogens when in higher concentrations, but they are balanced and neutralized by the much more plentiful helpful microbes.

So why is pasteurized milk so risky when it is soured?

If you kill all the good bacteria and yeasts, then the milk is completely lifeless – for all of about half a millisecond, until it comes in contact with air again (or the inside of a milk jug, sterilized or not, or equipment, etc). It becomes a fertile environment that happily cultures any opportunistic bacteria or fungi that come along – the fast growing nasties are able to thrive, breed, and multiply without restraint. There are no natural inhibiting “enemy” or “competitor” strains to slow it down or to mitigate the effect. The ones that grow fast are likely to be fairly harmful, and they are likely to grow in very high concentrations. The fact that commercial pasteurized dairy products are stored for long periods of time in production, transit, and then on the grocery store shelves means that there is ample time for them to grow to very high levels. Levels NOT seen in fresh raw milk.

Raw milk, on the other hand, is chock full of a full complement of bacteria and fungi. If you leave it out at room temperature without ever putting it in the fridge, it will develop into buttermilk. Buttermilk is just old fashioned “sour milk” which old recipes call for (they are not asking for that nasty stuff that pasteurized milk turns into when it gets too old).

Refrigeration does affect it some. It will develop a different complement of microbes at higher temperatures than it does at low temperatures, but they are generally equally healthy.

So, when your raw milk turns a little off, what can you do with it? Turns out you have a lot of options!

NOTE: It is still healthy enough to drink. You can drink it as long as you do not mind the flavor. There is no need to worry that you have to “catch” it before it goes the least bit off to save your kids from being harmed, or to avoid ingesting something dangerous. It is just milk, with a little more probiotic benefit.

  1. Make Biscuits. Southern buttermilk biscuits are a natural for sour raw milk, and so are buttermilk pancakes. You can also use it in any other recipe calling for milk, depending on how far off the flavor is, including things such as custards, milk gravies, and even home made macaroni and cheese or alfredo sauce. All of these cooked options will kill both the beneficial and harmful bacteria and fungi.
  2. Make Smoothies. If you usually use yogurt or kefir in smoothies, sour raw milk is a good substitute. Bet nobody even notices! Microbes are kept intact.
  3. Make Cheese. Let it sour a bit more, out at room temp for a day or so. Dump it in a pot, and heat until curds form and separate – to the point where you cannot touch the side of the pot at the level of the milk without it stinging. Strain, and either use as fresh cheese or press to make a hard cheese. You can also substitute it in any cheese recipe for buttermilk. Cooked cheeses result in a pasteurized product. You can also simply strain it without cooking if it has curdled, and use it as a soft cheese. It will be VERY full of microbes.
  4. Pasteurize it and make yogurt or kefir from it. You CAN do either one without doing so – they are, after all, just variations on sour milk! This process kills anything that might be lurking in your milk, and replaces the microbial assortment with a cultured assortment (which isn’t that different in kefir than it is in ordinary sour raw milk, by the way!).

There does come a point where it is too far gone – but that is quite a bit further along than most people think! Milk that should NOT be used will be discolored (more than just a little yellowing), it will have mold on it, or a very unpleasant smell. You won’t generally mistake if it is too far gone.

Sour milk is actually one of the benefits of using raw milk. Our ancestors knew this, and had uses for fresh sweet milk, and uses for aged sour milk.

The more I use it, the braver I get. I started with just using it in baked goods and cheeses, but we now use it in many other ways. My favorite is probably smoothies – my probiotic smoothies have single-handedly healed a number of annoying health issues for me.

NOTE: Because of the rabid “sterilize everything” Nazis, and various government entities which subscribe to the theory that killing everything must be better than retaining any kind of natural balance, I am compelled to leave a disclaimer. This is my opinion. It is based on broad research and experience, but it is still my personal view, provided for informational or entertainment purposes (making buttermilk biscuits is great fun). Use it as you see fit AT YOUR OWN RISK. I am not recommending this to heal or treat any disease, and am not a medical professional, nor a health or nutritional professional.

A Mormon Making Fermenting Products

Mormons don’t drink alcohol. At least, they all know they aren’t SUPPOSED to (doing so is considered to be fairly serious). The word “ferment” for a Mormon typically has only ONE meaning – that of making alcoholic drinks (intentionally, or unintentionally). And yet, I sell fermenting products, and fully believe that the products we sell were inspired of the Lord.

In the trendy world of the foodies, the word “ferment” is often preceded by the prefix “lacto-”. But when foodies get lazy, they drop the prefix and go with “fermenting”, and assume that everyone they are talking to knows what they are discussing. “Lacto-fermenting” refers to any process of fermentation which produces lactobacillus – a healthy form of bacteria. And there are several forms of fermenting which produce this kind of bacteria – alcoholic beverage production is only one form.

Most avid lacto-fermenters are not terribly concerned about the alcohol content. Oh, every once in a while someone will question it, with specific fermented items, but everyone else is quick to shut them up with reassurances that while no one has actually MEASURED it accurately, they are all CERTAIN that it is safe, and to go ahead and consume it as a health drink, give it to your kids, etc. This is in spite of a vast body of anecdotal evidence that clearly shows that SOME lacto-fermented foods ARE in fact alcoholic – with enough alcohol content to intoxicate (as in, raise the blood alcohol level as measured by blood tests). As a rule, pretty much ANY food with sugar (including tomatoes) will go ALCOHOLIC when fermented. This includes water kefir, soda pops, sweet teas, and many others. If it has sugar, has been fermented, and tastes bubbly, the alcohol content is questionable at best.

I don’t make those foods. Ok, so I once made a batch of salsa, which after fermentation was so boozy I had to heat it in the skillet to evaporate the alcohol before using it! We gave up on water kefir, because it smelled boozy.

I refuse to take chances. I KNOW what alcohol smells like, and if that smell is there, it is not something I am willing to take a chance with, for myself or my family. I just won’t go there. Because I am a Mormon… and I not only LIVE it, I BELIEVE it. I have seen enough evidence in my personal life for the efficacy and wisdom of the Word Of Wisdom (the guideline for what we eat and drink that forbids “strong drink”, meaning alcoholic beverages), that I do not need to be further persuaded. I simply will not argue the guideline into a lesser observance. I know too much to even try. I will walk on the safe side. I have no desire to do otherwise.

So why do I sell products for “fermenting”? Because of all the OTHER stuff that you can do with them!

They are good for pickles, salsa without tomatoes, condiments, sourdough, kraut, and other good wholesome foods. These foods do not have significant sugar, and do not develop the alcohol that sugary foods develop. They do develop a lot of tasty probiotic microbes though. Good living food that helps the body compensate for the chemical exposure of modern life. And these products are created through a process of fermentation, without the resulting alcohol that many people associate with the word.

Do some people use my products to make things that I would disapprove of? Undoubtedly! But my God is a God of Agency – granting the choice for good or evil to each person. I sell products and provide information for making healthy foods. If people use my products for unhealthy things, that is their choice, and I am not responsible for that. No more than if I sold televisions or computers and they chose to use them to view harmful media.

The process of developing this business persuades me that it was indeed inspired. I am not creative enough on my own to have conceived of our airlock jar caps, nor the even more complex process of creating the prototype, developing a mold for it, and then a process for making more molds. I haven’t that kind of brilliance in me, and some of the aspects to it all are truly brilliant.

But it does put me in an awkward position sometimes… I no longer introduce my business by the name (FermentaCap) to other Mormons. Instead, I just say that I make a lid for making Old Fashioned Brined Pickles. Most nod, with that look on their face which clearly says, “I have NO idea what you are talking about!”. A few hear “pickles” and wonder what in the world would make you need a special lid for THAT. Still fewer nod enthusiastically and ask for my website URL – but they are the ones who understand that “fermenting” does not just mean alcohol.

Nothing tastes as fresh and flavorful as old fashioned brined foods. Kraut that has not been canned has a complex flavor and crunchy texture – it is not limp and sulfurous (my husband, a confirmed kraut hater, will even eat it mixed in tuna salad). Dill pickles are firm, dilly, and garlicky, with a pleasant bite of vinegary flavor (even though they have no vinegar in them). Salsa is pickly and spicy. Good food, that is still alive and bursting with nutrition.

And THAT is why I, a diehard Mormon, manufacture and sell fermenting products.

Cottage Industry and Manufacturing Consulting

Is there a limit to what a sole proprietor can earn through cottage industry? Can a cottage product or service business realize the potential of unlimited earnings?

Firelight Heritage Farm is launching a new service which answers these questions, and which offers a full range of services to guide businesses, large or small, through the process of starting or converting to a home based business.

This can be done with many types of businesses – a good number of them are businesses which people do not think CAN be converted to home based. They can be operated in the home, on the farm, or in a shop at home. It offers so many financial benefits, in reducing operational costs, keeping profits with the manufacturer instead of being spread across a supply and distribution chain, and of reducing regulatory and tax burdens to the least possible requirements. It makes possible Point of Production Distribution, which increases profits dramatically. And business does not get greener than this! Equipment is small and energy efficient, factories are eliminated, transport pollution is dramatically reduced, and each producer is free to act on their own convictions for stewardship of our environment instead of being bound by the rules of an employer.

In case you don’t realize, Firelight Heritage Farm is owned by the Frumpy Haus Frau herself, Laura, and her husband, Kevin. We developed a business model for cottage industry, including cottage manufacturing, which allows almost unlimited growth and income potentials, with NO employees. The model includes methods and policies for expanding through a network of subcontractors, and includes logical process controls and a range of choices for controls over proprietary information or designs.

Our business experience has been varied, and broad, and has developed over the course of almost thirty years. This line of services brings together all of that experience to provide a service for anyone from a work at home mom or dad, to a corporation needing to find affordable and sustainable ways to grow in a challenging economy.

We will also be offering a full range of product potential assessment, product development, manufacturing process development, instructional literature writing, and marketing and small business consulting services. Cottage industries can be reproduced in a way that looks similar to, but is distinctly different than the Direct Sales or Multi-Level Marketing model, and we will be able to guide business owners through the creation of a sustainable multi-business expansion.

If cottage industry is in your future, chances are, you don’t know what you don’t know!

Cottage industry is as old as the earth, but must be adapted to our contemporary world. We will be launching a new website in a few days which will feature the services available for starting a cottage industry, growing a cottage industry, creating and selling cottage industry packages, and for converting a corporation to a subcontractor based cottage industry.

Move past the limits!

Cottage industry is the answer for the future.

Check out our new Cottage Industry Consulting and Development services at CottageIndustrialRevolution.com.

Not So Rough After All

“You’ll need a four wheel drive to get up there.” she said. “The road in is pretty rough.” We had no 4X. “We’ve got what we’ve got.” I said, gesturing to our well-used sedan.

On the way in, I kept looking for the road to get bad. The pavement got a little rougher, but no worse than the road we drove home each day (better in most respects than the Indian Nation Turnpike – a hazard which they CHARGE you to drive upon!). In fact, it was better than many of the roads I’d seen in Oklahoma. When it eventually gave way to gravel, it was well-graded gravel, no potholes (which was more than could be said of the pavement). Overall, a very driveable road, just a few holes to dance around. It helps to be a logger’s daughter, gives you perspective on such things. But then, I’d also lived in Wyoming for 15 years.

Interestingly, I’ve seen more bad paved roads in Oklahoma than I’d ever seen in Wyoming. For some reason, people don’t complain about them in Oklahoma – as long as there is pavement, it is considered a drivable road, no matter how many open potholes, melted dips, overlayered rough patches, or heat buckles in the surface. Gravel, though, is considered “rough”.

“Rough roads” in Wyoming mean REALLY rough roads, and they DO take a 4X with extra clearance underneath to drive. Overall, Wyoming takes much better care of their roads than does Oklahoma. There are more miles of road per capita in Wyoming than in Oklahoma, and a larger percentage of gravel roads – but roads are more valued in Wyoming as well, and they are better kept. There, they are a lifeline. So when someone mentions a rough road, it is pretty much all angles, gullied ruts, boulders, and mud. A paved road with potholes doesn’t even count – you can drive around those!

The other thing we kept hearing about the planned trip was, “That’s a long drive – Pretty though.” It wasn’t a long drive. Just under 2 hours. Less than the distance we used to go to do our shopping. Less than the distance Kevin commuted for two years. Their idea of pretty was different than mine too – I like taller trees, grassy meadows, streams, and whitecapped peaks. This was all fluffy short trees covering rolling hills. Green, yes. Not so sure about pretty.

Many other things mean something different in Oklahoma than what they mean in Wyoming. “Small town” for example. It means 300 people in Wyoming. It means 10,000 people in Oklahoma. There’s a VAST difference between a town of 300, and a town of 10,000.

“There’s NOTHING there!” she insisted, about the last town on the way. “I mean NOTHING… No grocery stores, no fast food, no services, NOTHING!”. It was an awful lot of nothing. A small grocery store, a number of motels, gas stations, convenience stores, local restaurants. In all, a thriving community several times the size of some we’d been in.

“Warm day” also means something different. Anything above 50 in Wyoming is a warm day. In Oklahoma, it has to get up to 80 to earn that distinction. In Wyoming, your biggest bills come from heating in the winter. In Oklahoma, they come from cooling in the summer.

“Stiff wind” is something that does not translate. In Oklahoma, you get gusty winds now and again, and when a storm goes through, you’ll get an hour or two of winds that try to bat your car around on the road (the shiftless, unpredictable winds that accompany a storm with tornado warnings). But people constantly say that it is a windy place to live – and I think they must be people who have not lived anywhere with real wind. The Wyoming breeze blew through on a daily basis, fairly consistent (and the Wyoming definition of “breeze” is a good stiff wind anywhere else). Very little gustiness, mostly a steady solid stream of air from west to east, with enough force to ruin all but the most stiffly sprayed hairstyle. When it got REALLY windy, it could (and did) knock down small children, pull roofs apart, shove cars off the road completely, and even tip over semis, and it didn’t do that for a few hours, it would do it for days at a time. Oklahoma wind is a capricious teenage prankster who occasionally goes too far. Wyoming wind is a practiced, constantly relentless bully, intent on making sure you know who is boss.

There have been many other issues where the words being used meant something different to the speaker than they did to me. So much so that I wondered why they were even commenting upon the issue, it seemed so much like a NON-issue. Just a matter of being used to extremes, I guess.

Many small and large cultural differences as well, and some attitudes that are noticeably different.

Once you’ve lived in Wyoming though, the lack of a nearby McDonald’s or Wal-Mart really isn’t the harbinger of isolation that many people think it is. In fact, it becomes more of a welcome condition. Something that feels a little more like… home.

Making Butter at Home

It was the color of daffodils. Cream the color of most butter, skimmed off the top 2 inches of the jar, put into a smaller jar, and shaken by hand for about 20 minutes while we chatted and watched a video, produced butter of a strong yellow color, the exact shade of spring daffodils and buttercups (there’s a reason they called them “buttercups”). The color you never see in grocery stores, except from egg yolks.

Butter is easy to make, and there are several ways, from low tech, to mechanized. Shaking it in a jar is one of the traditional methods. As a child, we made it in a Kitchenaid Mixer. You can also use a hand mixer, or food processor.

Cream from milk from any animal works to make butter. It is made around the world from cow, goat, sheep, even horse, camel, and llama milk. There are probably a few other oddball animals in there somewhere too.

When milk is let set, the cream rises to the top. At least it does with some kinds of milk, like cow’s milk. Other types, like goat and sheep milk, are naturally homogenized, and the cream stays more suspended in the milk, with just a thin layer separating (a cream separator can pull out a large amount though, and goat and sheep milk often have very high butterfat in spite of appearances).

The cream can range in color from pure white, to a soft yellow. The color depends a lot on the breed of animal, and the diet of the animal. The resulting butter can also range in color, from pure white, all the way through a very intense yellow.

Cream is skimmed off the top, usually using a spoon or a flatish ladle (we have a deep gravy ladle that works nicely). You can’t really get it all without a cream separator, but that’s ok. Leaving a little cream in your milk is a good thing.

The cream is then put into whatever contraption you use to make butter – a jar, a butter churn, or the bowl of your particular appliance. According to some sources, the naturally homogenized milk types work best if the cream is shaken, not beaten to make butter.

The goal is to stir or shake it until the butterfat clumps together. This means you spend 95% of the time just stirring, shaking, or beating the cream.

Make sure you allow it a generous sized bowl, or a jar that is only half full, because it will generally expand in volume during the process. It will then reduce in volume and suddenly clump together into visible lumps of butter. Beat it a bit more, and it will clump mostly into a single mass. Be aware that if you are doing this with an open bowl and a mixer of some kind, it will probably start to splash wildly when it turns.

Pour off the milk (it is just skimmed milk, nothing special about it unless you cultured it first). You can stir the milk back into the rest of your regular milk if you want.

Now, what you have is butter, with lots of little bubbles filled with milk. If you want the butter to keep well (or to keep out of the fridge), you need to get that milk out of it.

The butter may be VERY soft by now – especially in warm weather. You may need to pop it in the fridge for a bit before proceeding. When it is cold enough to work without sticking too much to the spoon or paddle, go forward.

Use a butter paddle, or the back of a spoon, press down on the butter to squeeze out milk drops. Periodically rinse it under cold water – you can keep it under the cold water stream if it is cold enough to chill the butter, but if you live where your cold water warms up in the summer time, you will need to just rinse periodically.

Keep pressing the butter and working it to get the milk out, until it doesn’t come out white anymore. Then remove it from the water, and press the water drops out.

Add salt if you want salted butter, and work the salt through it. Since you are never going to be exactly certain how much butter you have, you really have to salt to taste every time.

Once the salt is blended in, you can put it into a butter pot, or mold it, chill it, and then remove it from the mold.

So what about that Buttermilk stuff? Why does buttermilk taste like sour cottage cheese if it is just milk that has had the fat removed?

Well, cream is actually easier to skim off the top of cultured milk. By “cultured” we mean fresh raw milk (not more than 24 to 48 hours old if it has been refrigerated, after that the microbe balance can be off), which has been left at room temperature to “sour”. You know those old recipes that call for Sour Milk? They aren’t talking about that nasty stuff that you get when your pasteurized milk stays out too long, or is too long in the fridge. No, they aren’t talking about that AT ALL.

Pasteurized milk goes nasty because all the healthy and friendly bacteria have been killed in the heat processes. So it is just wide open for contamination by opportunistic nasties.

Fresh raw milk though, has a complement of healthy bacteria, and when left out of the fridge for 1-3 days, will sour in a pleasant way – more like cottage cheese in smell and flavor. It will sour and thicken within about 24 hours, and that is when you want to skim the cream for butter. After a couple of days, it will start to separate, with curds on top, and whey on the bottom. At that point, it is really good for making no-rennet cheese.

When you culture the milk first, you end up with classic buttermilk, and cultured butter. In other words, expensive butter.

Now, you CAN make butter from cream that you buy at the store. Put it into a container so that the container is only halfway full, cap it tightly, and shake it if you don’t have any equipment to process it in another way. You’ll end up with fairly white butter. It will still taste like butter.

Making butter is one of those old skills that is so simple, that pretty much anyone can try it. It is fun, and gives you the feeling of experiencing a little history if you are not the kind of person that is into adopting it as part of a lifestyle. Personally, I really like knowing what is in my food and where it came from, so making butter is just part of the whole package.

And making butter leads naturally to making a loaf of homemade bread. Because there is nothing better than fresh, warm bread, and homemade butter!

Milling Wheat at Home

I love being able to have any kind of fresh flour that I want – white wheat for all purpose flour, durum for pasta, soft white for pastries, rye for breads and crackers. Ok, so I’m a wheat flour sort of person. A home mill can also make rice flour, bean flour, or flour from other grains or legumes. In general, it cannot mill oily seeds, such as sunflower seed, or nuts, such as almond.

I have used many kinds of flour mills. The worst, was a Wonder Mill (very poor design, multiple problems), the best and most reliable has been a K-tec (Blend-tec), which, although it has some awkward features, has produced the most consistently fine flour, and the best and most troublefree operation. I used one heavily for more than 10 years and only had to replace a filter. It died after being dropped, for the second time.

Something about mills – there is no such thing as an “easy clean” flour mill. They are all pretty much a hassle to clean. We used a brush to brush out the flour from the milling area, and washed the bin and intake cup. You can’t get absolutely all the flour off the mill – it will never be as pristine as new, after you get it home. Just use it regularly and you won’t have a problem. If you leave it sitting where bugs can get at it, it may attract weevils if you don’t use it for a period of a few months.

Milling large batches at one time can help with the cleaning hassle. Mill enough to make it worth the time it takes to clean it. Extra flour can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 months, or in the freezer for far longer. Otherwise, it should be used within 2 weeks if left at room temperature.

Fresh flour is something special. Oh, you probably won’t notice a huge difference in flavor. That isn’t where the real magic lies. Nutritionally, it is amazing stuff. The wheat germ and oils are intact, and the nutrients have not degraded. It supplies a far more complex and usable variety of nutrients. It is also devoid of the preservatives and anti-caking agents so common to commercial flours.

Commercial flours are not truly “whole” anything. The wheat germ is separated off, and not included in the flour – the oil in the germ shortens the shelf-life, and commercial flour producers don’t like that. So you aren’t getting true whole wheat in the first place.

Flours from the grocery store shelf are also old. You didn’t think they removed that germ for YOUR benefit, did you? By the time you get it, it is already many months old, and the older it is, the more the nutrients have degraded. It is a poor shadow of what it should be.

A good mill will produce fine whole wheat flour that is a pleasure to use. None of that chunky bran stuff that gets in the way of making light cakes and biscuits, or making a smooth gravy.

I love having the right flour for the job. I tend to use more common grains, and have not branched out into triticale, spelt, einkorn, or kamut, though they mill nicely in a home mill.

Hard Red Wheat – the standard “brown bread” flour. It has a very whole wheaty flavor, and dark color. Fine milling helps to lessen it a bit, but it is a stronger flavored wheat.

Hard White Wheat – a good all purpose whole wheat. Produces a lighter colored and flavored flour. In many foods, families do not notice the substitution. It makes gravies and sauces without significantly changing the flavor, and produces bread that acts like half white half whole wheat. It is higher in gluten than Hard Red wheat, so it rises better. This is my favorite wheat, and the one I use for almost everything. If your family is having a hard time making the adjustment, try this wheat.

Soft White Wheat – makes pastry flour, with lower gluten. Does not work well for bread, but is perfect for pie crusts, tortillas, biscuits, and other foods that get rubbery if worked too much. Using a low gluten flour keeps them flaky and less sensitive to being worked too long.

Durum Wheat – the classic pasta wheat. Has a somewhat rubbery texture when cooked. The nice thing is, when you make pasta that is half whole durum, and half hard white wheat, you come out with a nice golden pasta that is only slightly darker than most commercial pastas. All durum produces a fairly golden pasta that holds together well without getting gluey. This flour can be substituted for anything calling for “semolina”. Interestingly, using whole fresh milled semolina flour gives you a yellowy pasta, NOT a brown pasta. Commercial whole wheat pastas most likely have bran added to the flour – for some reason they seem to think people will not believe it is what it is unless they alter it with chunks of nasty tasting bran. Your homemade whole wheat pasta tastes much better.

Rye – rye grain can often be purchased where wheat is sold. Fresh whole rye grain is also very nutritious, and makes a terrific bread or cracker.

If you have special dietary requirements, a home wheat mill is a wonderful asset to help you reduce the cost of specialty flours. A bag of brown rice is far less expensive than the same quantity of rice flour – and you can be certain it is both fresh, and cleanly produced.

When you mill grain, it produces quite a lot of heat, and the flour will be warm when it exits the mill. Fresh milled flour is also higher in moisture than flour that has aged a few hours. This may make it more difficult to work with, especially in bread. Freshly milled flour will rise faster, and requires less water in the recipe, by 1-2 Tablespoons per loaf. It can also sour in about half the time, so watch it carefully.

It takes about 10-15 minutes to mill a good sized batch of flour in the average mill (about 12-16 cups), including cleaning the mill and packaging the flour.

There have been times when I did not have a wheat mill, and was unable to get fresh flour. My body notices the difference, and my health improves when I am able to use fresh wheat flour instead of just partial whole wheat that is months old.

Fresh milled wheat is one of the things that helped me heal from Crohn’s. I also just really love a good fine milled light wheat flour, so I’m hooked on milling my own.

If you love good food, and have the time to mill your own periodically, a good wheat mill will prove an asset to your kitchen, and the flour it produces will provide a healthful addition to your meals.

Food Supply Blinders

 “Go to the store, and buy some vegetables.” If given this instruction, chances are, 90% of America would return with one of two things:

1. A can of corn, a can of green beans, and a can of peas, or perhaps the frozen versions of them.

2. A head of iceberg lettuce (or Romaine if they are particularly adventurous), a bag of carrots, and a bag of celery. Perhaps a head of broccoli.

If asked to get fruit, they would return with canned peaches and pears, or with a bag of apples, oranges, or a bunch of bananas.

Meats consist of beef, chicken, and pork, and seafood is a limited range of fish and shrimp.

These are the foods that commercial agriculture has determined that we need to have in abundance on our grocery store shelves, so we are conditioned to think of them as being the only things available. Sure, you think of onions, parsley, cabbage, or other similar foods that are also available, but this is still an EXTREMELY limited range!

The other day I saw a post on “What to do with the strange vegetables that come in your CSA box”. Those “strange vegetables” aren’t really strange at all! They are traditional herbs and vegetables that have been served up on the tables in regions around the world since time immemorial.

While there is some difference in regional availability of some items, our stores do not carry the wide wealth of cultural heritage that our ancestors knew. Since the industrialization of food, so many foods have disappeared from the collective memory.

Does anyone else remember eating ground cherries? I still remember the flavor. So completely unique there has been nothing else that even compares. I remember huckleberry jam. Eating smelt, fried in cornmeal. Parsnips in the soup. And the flavor of Jerusalem Artichokes – another unforgettably distinctive flavor that I can recall to mind even though I’ve not had them for more than 30 years.

Now, in a completely different cultural region from where I grew up, I am finding that the grocery store is pretty much the same here as anywhere else. But the garden potential is not!

Strangely, the gardens here tend to grow the same things as gardens elsewhere, even though there are many plants that grow here, exceptionally well, and produce better. Again, industrial agriculture has sanitized the individuality from the seed catalogs – that is, until recently. Within the last 10 years, the availability of regional foods is once again being promoted in seed catalogs, and there is an absolute wealth of foods which your grocer never heard of!

One of the great strengths of eating local is that some local farms are now returning to providing a wider variety of regionally appropriate foods. This means farmer’s markets, CSAs, co-ops, and on-farm purchasing provide access to some pretty amazing stuff.

We’ve also been conditioned to think of many things as “weeds”, when in times past, they were valuable forage crops for people. Some of them come up and produce long before your garden is ready to hand you a salad. Chickweed is a great example. It makes a very nice salad, grows prolifically, produces very early in the spring (often coming up before the snow is completely gone), and insists on growing whether you want it to or not. It is healthy and delicious. Instead of trying to exterminate it (this is the commercial ag solution – which feeds the coffers of the chemical companies, and makes you buy vegetables instead of eating the chickweed), we should be eating it! There are no problem weeds if we are eating them! And a surprising number of the most pernicious weeds are edible!

Locally, you may also be able to find duck, rabbit, pigeon, crawdad, freshwater shrimp, and other meats that you would not find in the grocery store. You may find grass-fed liver, marrow bones, and other good foods.

Look beyond the blinders of the grocery store food supply. Consider food in a new way. Look for sources for the old and traditional foods. Many of them provide the health benefits to compensate for the modern life, and hold the keys to preventing avoidable diseases. You don’t have to use them medicinally – you just have to eat a wider variety of foods!

Conditioning is a powerful thing, but breaking out of it is a wonderfully liberating feeling. We are told over and over that industrial agriculture is the key to “cheap food”, but in fact, opening our eyes and seeing what is already here, free, and discovering the things that grow best in our area with the least effort is the real key to affordable food. Small local farms, and backyard gardens can achieve this far better than large and impersonal “rule by popularity” industrial farms.

Take a look around, and see what you can find that you didn’t see before. Give it a try. There’s some amazing stuff out there, right in plain sight!

Grow a Garden!

Gardening doesn't have to be that hard! No matter where you live, no matter how difficult your circumstances, you CAN grow a successful garden.

Life from the Garden: Grow Your Own Food AnywherePractical and low cost options for container gardening, sprouting, small yards, edible landscaping, winter gardening, shady yards, and help for people who are getting started too late. Plenty of tips to simplify, save on work and expense.