FibreTown Follows up on Jacob Roving

Emily Estrada of FibreTown, follows up on her January 30, 2013 about Meduseld’s Jacob roving.  She demonstrates the yarn and the wool hat that she has made out of the roving.   You see it in this podcast:

 FibreTown Podcast February 13, 2013

Emily discusses an upcoming prize give-away she will have when she reaches 100 members.  The prize will be Meduseld yarn.  Sincere thanks to Emily for telling everyone about our farm!

You can visit Emily’s blog at: http://fibretown.blogspot.com/, and you can find her on ravelry as chainoffools.

Here’s her St. Valentine’s Day greeting…

 

Chainoffools St. Valentine's Day Greeting

Chainoffools St. Valentine’s Day Greeting

We have added some more Romney roving to the store, as well as some 100 percent Romney in worsted weight.  These are soft, shiny, 200 yard skeins that weigh   3.5 oz (approx 100g) each, and are priced at only $15.00 per skein.  If you want to buy more than three skeins, please email and I will take off $1.50 per skein.  Click on the Meduseld Farm Store link to the right.

 

Romney yarn - 200 yard skeins

Romney yarn – 200 yard skeins

A few weeks ago, I showed everyone how to dye wool using Cushing Perfection Dyes.  One of the colors I used was a brilliant canary yellow, although they had it called “chartreuse.”  I had visions in my head of carding it with an aquamarine that I had done last year, and I thought that triple plying those would create a beautiful, springlike effect.  Well, no more….

My yarn!  Ahhhh!

My yarn! Ahhhh!

Yes!  My dog, Beowulf, had other ideas.  He took the bag of fleece off the front porch and dragged it out into the yard to play with!  Bad doggy! 

 Happy St. Valentine’s Day to everyone!

 

Meduseld Jacob Roving Featured in Fibretown

logo_meduseld150B

 

We were thrilled (and grateful) to learn that Meduseld’s Jacob wool was recently covered in Emily Estrada’s blog, Fibretown.  I remember Emily at the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival and I think there’s another bottle of maple syrup in her future:)  She discusses the roving and even our maple syrup at about minute 13:00.   Watch until she talks about the maple syrup!

FibreTown Video

Emily is a serious fiber artist with many skills and she profiles projects and different kinds of yarn and roving that she uses in her knitting, weaving, and spinning projects. 

She is also on Ravelry.com where she has a strong following.   On Ravelry, look for chainoffools in people or fibre town podcast in groups.

And here is a link to her blog.  http://fibretown.blogspot.com/

We still have some roving available in our store.  This particular roving was a mix of two lavender grey jacobs we have.  These two Jacobs  are also the source for Meduseld’s pale grey Jacob yarn.  Click on the link to the Meduseld Farm Store to to your right.  In the next few days, you can also find the maple syrup :)

Meduseld Yarn – Friesian and Dorset Down

We are going to discuss the two breeds, East Friesian and Dorset Down, together since their fibres are similar and we combine them to make Meduseld’s soft wool.  

The East Friesian Sheep are relative newcomers to this country, having only been imported to this continent in 1994.  They come from north Germany where they were bred as dual, and arguably, tri-purpose sheep.  These sheep are known as dairy sheep and produce much of the fine milk in Europe for sheep milk cheese such as Romano.  They are used for meat as well, and if you are fortunate to have animals with good fleeces, they make good yarn.   They have short hair on their heads and distinctive hairless tails.  If bred with other breeds, they usually increase the amount of lambs the ewes will produce.   

East Friesian Ram

East Friesian Ram

The Dorset Downs are also rare sheep in this country, and usually when I mention the word “Dorset” people think about the large white meat sheep.  I usually have to explain that this is not the meat breed.  These are sheep specifically bred for their baby-soft wool.  Like the other Dorsets, they originate from Dorset, England.  Their fleece has more resemblance to a Merino than a Dorset meat sheep and that is what makes such  soft yarn.  You can hold this against your neck and feel no itch.  Dorset Downs have brown faces and are polled (hornless).

Dorset Down ewe

Dorset Down ewe

 

In the picture below, I have placed samples of the washed fleeces of Friesian (right) and Dorset Down (left) side by side.  The wool is finely crimped, the Dorset having a less defined crimp.  Both resemble cotton.

 freisian fleece

Since the fiber is a finer micron (the measure of the thickness of each strand) the yarn that these sheep combined yield is soft and more closely resembles a springy cotton than a wool.  This is a yarn that can be used directly on the skin.  It is ideal for baby apparel, and for items that touch your skin, like scarves and hat.  It holds its shape very well and it perfect for Fair Isle type knitting and children’s sweaters.  Meduseld’s Friesian/Dorset yarn is a triple ply worsted and we have it in several colors in our store.

Meduseld Friesian Yarn

Meduseld Friesian Yarn

 

This wool does felt easily.  If you are trying to make felted items this is ideal.  If not however, care instructions for your finished garment are extremely important.  Absolutely no machine washing or drying.  Clean the garment in cool water with a delicate laundry soap.  Rinse and wring gently.  You can roll it up in a towel to extract more water, and lay the garment flat to dry.

Call or email for a free yarn sample card!

First Lamb of 2013!

Today, on the Feast of St. Romuald, we welcome our first lamb of the 2013 lambing cycle.  He is a darling boy out of Lisl, a pure bred Jacob, and Samson, a Romney ram.  Say hi to Hans!

 gretel

 

 

Rendering Lard

Waste not, want not.  Timeless advice we adhere to.  In this case, we have purchased a butchered pig from our butcher.  We are using the layers of fat next to the skin and throughout in order to render it into lard for cooking for the next several months.  This also makes it possible to use everything except the oink.

We had a lovely snowy day, and the large soft flakes made the world look like a giant snowglobe.

 snowglobe

We learned to render lard about fifteen years ago from neighbors we had at a previous farm.  They were true locals having been born and raised in that area.  When we first met them their farm did not have an indoor bathroom and they used the outhouse.  They butchered several hogs each year, and cured their own meat in a curing shed built specifically for that purpose.  It was an incredible learning experience, to help them on butchering day, and the camaraderie and joviality of the day always made it something to look forward to.

It may be difficult for some to see this the same way, and I understand.  However, one thing that stood out to me was that in these old-fashioned butcherings, there was absolutely no waste.   From the head, which they boiled to make Head Cheese, all the way to the tail which went in the lard rendering, every portion of the animal was used. 

It is a good idea to do the cooking outside, since boiling fat can generate a lot of splattering grease.  But we are going to start indoors in order to cut the meat.  We are starting with the pork scraps provided by the butcher.  In addition to all the nice cuts of meat and sausage, we also received all the belly fat and skin pieces, which have lots of fat attached to them.  Those are the parts you can buy in the grocery store as “pork rinds” those fluffy salty bits of pork.  These scraps have a long way to go to look like that.

pork scraps

 

The smaller you cut the pieces, the faster and more thoroughly they will render.   We cut them into approximately one-inch (2.25 cm) pieces.   The fat is easiest to cut if it is still quite cold and firm. 

 

pork diced

 

Then we move outside to boil and reduce these pieces.  This demands constant supervision, since the goal is to have the boil hot enough to extract the fat from the pieces, but not to burn the fat.  There is also the risk of fire so its best to keep a close eye on this process.  When cooked long enough, the skin pieces will start to “puff” like the store rinds.

pork cooking

When the pieces are a deep golden brown and starting to puff, they are removed and placed in a lard press.   These presses are getting harder to come by, but there are still some suppliers that carry them.   The lard press can also be used for making apple cider, so it is a handy dual purpose machine to have around.  The press exerts considerable pressure to the cooked pieces and extracts the fat out which pours into a large pot.  In the picture below, you can in the bowl see the pressed rinds in the shape of a disk. 

 pork press

 

Finally we filter and put the rendered lard into containers.   Some farmer supply stores sell tins made specifically for this.  They are usually large and cumbersome, so we have found that cookie tins work very well.  If you decide to use cookie tins, make sure that the container is not leaking as you pour in the hot fat.  We pour the fat through a cheese cloth in order to filter out the last bits of rind.  These are the coveted “cracklings’ that made the Ingalls children so happy in the Laura Ingalls series of books.  We put the containers outside again to cool quickly, and we are left with beautiful white cooking and baking lard.

 lard done

If I get a chance in the next several days, I’ll provide my lard-based pie crust recipe.  Any questions?  Email!

EU addresses bee problems

Einstein is popularly quoted as saying that if bees disappear, humans will follow shortly after.  Considering the vast numbers of trees and plants that exist that need pollination to produce their fruits and seeds, this is not an exaggeration.

Unfortunately, in this country special interests dominate much of the decision making and usually, there is a direct relationship between the size of the organization and its influence.  In Europe, they have displayed some impartiality to the special interests of big-agra, and many countries of Europe had banned GMOs, rGBH (a GMO growth hormone used to increase the production of milk in cows) and now the latest –  Stepping up to the bat in protecting bees, the EU has called for the restriction of pesticides that are harmful to bees.

 

beehive

While our own government agencies such as the USDA and EPA have not called for a ban or restriction on pesticides, each of us can still do our part to reduce their use in this country.  Find alternative ways to handle pests, encourage beneficial insects,  make habitats more acceptable for birds who can eat their weight in insects, and buy organic produce to encourage more and more farmers to join the pesticide-free lifestyle.

The full article is here on the BBC.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-21277933

 

Sheep Breeds and Yarns – Romney

Over the next few weeks, we are going to go into more technical detail about specific sheep breeds and the yarns their wool yields. 

There are hundreds of breeds of sheep in the world, and through deliberate and sometimes natural breeding, such as on isolated islands in Ireland, they have developed very specific breed traits.  These are manifested in their confirmation, the shape of their heads, and their wool.  Some sheep have horns and some don’t.   They also develop differences in resilience to disease and parasites.  There are some breeds that seem to tolerate crowded conditions and some that are weak and susceptible to health problems. 

While wool is the most important issue for a fiber/textile operation, the shape of their heads also has a big impact.  For one breeding cycle here, we used a large Romney ram as sire.  Since some of our ewes are Romneys, we were seeking good pure breed genes.  And, since cross-breeding often improves other breeds, we hoped that this would add size and fiber quality to some of the Jacobs.   Unfortunately, this ram had an enormous head, which by Romney sheep breeder standards was a perfect head.  The poor girls had such difficulty birthing in the spring, though, that I had to literally pull 21 baby lambs during birthing.  They all survived, but doing that as a going concern was not going to be good for my ewes.  It explained why at the farm where we got the ram, many of their ewes were being delivered by c-section.  Yes, c-section.  Not good for the ewes, and a very expensive way to get yarn.

Ever since, we have selected rams with narrow heads, and the ewes are able to birth without help.

Today, we are going to discuss the Romney breed and its fiber in detail.

Romney ewe and lambs

 

Romneys are a breed that originated in Romney, England.  They developed into this specific breed without human intervention and are a large dual purpose (meaning both meat and wool) sheep that has a long fiber.  They come in both white and black, and white sheep can carry the black gene, as seen in the photo above.  Since they are such a good breed, they are often used to cross with other breeds to improve those.  For example, the Coopworth breed enjoys having Romney in its parentage and you can see it in their large confirmation and long wool. 

Romney wool usually has a long loose crimp and often have “sheen,” the quality that gives the yarn its luster.  When we selected our first Romneys, I deliberately sought the ones with the most sheen, and you can see it easily in pictures. 

The first photograph is of a bulky yarn, the next a worsted, and then a fingerling weight.

 bulky luster

 Meduseld bulky yarn

 

worsted luster

Meduseld worsted weight yarn

 Fingerling Romney yarn

 Meduseld Romney Fingerling/Lace weight yarn

They also make a lot of yarn.  For several years we had an almost two-hundred pound Romney who created 14 pounds of wool each year.  Once it was processed, his fleece still yielded 8 pounds of yarn, an amazing achievement for one animal.  I wish I had cloned him:)

Romney yarn, due to its smooth cuticle (what gives it its luster) and loose crimp (the curls) tends to drape very well.  It is excellent for loose flowing garments, such as shawls and draping sweaters.  The yarn also makes beautiful, warm hats and scarves.  It would not be good for garment that needs lots of structure as it responds to gravity and drops or pulls from the top.   There are Romney yarns made from a tighter crimp fleece that won’t do this. 

Another factor to consider is the scale that measures from course to fine.  Yarns can be lab tested for microns, or the width of each strand.  Where a specific yarn falls on this scale indicates how comfortable that particular yarn will be next to your skin.  Our Dorset Downs (not to be confused with the meat sheep Dorsets) with their ultra fine fibres, provide a baby-soft yarn.  A Romney’s yarn is more course, making it good for sweaters and outer garments.  Which is good – who would want to cover up that sheen :>)

 

Meals at Meduseld – Country Eggs Benedict

Food is an important part of life here at Meduseld.  It’s why growing natural healthy food is such a priority.  And, it tastes better.  The lamb just tastes GOOD.  The children are gnawing fresh-picked carrots and talking about how sweet and juicy they are.  The vegetables look and taste so wholesome.sunflower

 

 Today, we are going to cover another breakfast that is one of our favorites here, Country Eggs Benedict.

  Country Eggs Benedict

If you are following paleo guidelines, you can omit the bread from this recipe.  Otherwise, charge forward! For some of the ingredients I won’t list an amount, because it will depend on how many people you are cooking for.  This applies in particular to bacon and bread.

Ingredients:

  • Bacon
  • Eggs
  • Juice of one/half lemon
  • Butter – 4 tablespoons cold, and 6 tablespoons melted
  • Large tomato
  • Generous bunch basil or other greens.
  • Vinegar
  • Bread (homemade spelt used here – use your favorite)
  • Olive oil
  • Seasonings

 This was homemade spelt bread, toasted in a skillet with olive oil.

Fry the bacon – reserve in warm oven.

To make the tomato mix:

Chop one large tomato.  Chop basil (or spinach, arugula, or other greens of your choice).  Saute in skillet with olive oil.  Salt, pepper and garlic to taste.  Add about one tablespoon balsamic vinegar.   Once heated through, turn off heat and keep in warm place.

To make the Hollandaise:

Some recipes recommend a double boiler and I think this is the reason more people don’t make this delightful sauce.  Let be honest, any mention of the double boiler and people think “this is going to be complicated” and that’d the end of it.  I don’t use a double boiler and you don’t have to.  I use a thick bottomed pot and the lowest heat.

 Over low heat, stir 3 egg yolks with juice from one/half lemon.  Cut cold butter into pieces and as pan starts to warm, gradually add pieces of cold butter.  Stir frequently.  Don’t add another piece until the previous one is incorporated into the yolks.  Most recipes call for unsalted butter, but we use Amish roll butter which is salted.  I know its some culinary sin that would get me kicked out of Le Cordon Bleu, but you use what you have, right?  The sauce will begin to thicken and once you can see the bottom of the pan, like this, turn off the heat.

saucethicken

Take the melted butter and add one tablesoon at a time into the sauce.  Stir well to incorporate each spoonful.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

To poach the eggs:

Take a pan with a large surface area.  Fill to only about 1/2 to 3/4 inch with water and add two tablespoons vinegar and one teaspoon salt.  Bring to a simmer.  If you boil the water, the eggs will break apart.  What you need is simmering hot water so that the water is not disturbed.  

Break an egg in a small cup and gently pour it into the simmering water.  The slower you are the more intact the egg will remain.  allow the egg to start forming firm edges.  Once it has, you can start ladling some hot water over the egg, and this will firm up its surface.  Cook until there are no clear parts left of the egg white. 

 poachedegg

 My apologies this photo is not clearer, but the lense kept steaming up from the simmering water.

Now, assemble.  Take reserved toast, bacon and place on plate.  Ladle a hot poached egg onto the bacon.  Place a couple spoonfuls of Hollandaise on the egg, and to top it off, a spoonful of the tomato-basil mix.  Serve!

 

Catching Up

There has been all sorts of activity at Meduseld these last few days, so it is time to catch up.

With the burst of warm weather last week, some of the maples are starting to give sap.  The best weather pattern for sap is freezing nights with above freezing temperature days.  Once this cold snap moves through, we may be heading into ideal syrup weather.  Stay tuned.

Tomorrow should see some new items in the store.  I have been wrapping up (pun intended) two shoulder shawls (wraps) to sell, and there will be a little more wool.  Also, last week a large box of dyed wool went off to the fiber mill. 

A hint of an item going in the store…

 

blueshawlback

We also butchered some older hens over the weekend, and continue to see progress in the chickens’ health since we added fermented feed to their diets.  These stew hens were filled with the rich golden fat that makes such wonderful broths.

We also had friends come to visit.  During one of the visits our friend was sampling all the diverse lacto-fermented items we make here.  The idea came up for a lacto-fermentation workshop.  If you live in the area and are interested, please email me and we’ll try to set up a date.  For those who live further away, I will try to cover this topic thoroughly in a future blog.

 

 

Wattle Fences and Frontier Culture Museum

This weekend the weather was gorgeous.  Highs in the 60’s with sunshine.  It seemed a perfect time to start a project we had been discussing for some time, making a wattle fence.

Here you can see a picture of the fence that had been in place.  Functional, yes, attractive, NO!  However, with all the feathered friends that run around this property, it is important that we close some areas off to them, otherwise, no vegetables for us.

 gardenbeforewattle

 

 Our garden used to be in rows, but last year we went to permaculture inspired “key-hole” beds.  The garden is divided into sections and the interior of each section is accessed by a small path called a keyhole.  The garden will not be tilled, and the soil is not compacted by walking on it.   It has it pros and cons.  One of the benefits is that while with row gardens, fifty percent of the garden is walked on, with Key-hole gardening, about 70 percent of the garden is plantable space.  The stones are my hose guides.

Back to fencing…

There were several reasons that we choose wattle fencing.  By placing a more solid type of fencing on the north side of the garden, we are hoping to create a micro climate in the garden.  The fence will protect the garden from the wind, and hopefully hold in more heat from the sunlight.  We also chose the wattle fence because it uses available resources without us having to purchase fencing.  This fence will be a great deal more work, but there is no expense involved.  Another benefit is that we are thinning the saplings and branches and creating areas where the remaining trees will not have to compete as much for nutrients and sunlight.

There are actually technical terms for the parts of a wattle fence.  The uprights are called “sales” and the horizontal branches are called “weavers.”  The sales can be a bit sturdy, but the weavers need to be thin (less than an inch in diameter) green, (fresh woods bends more easily) and long, as long as you can find them. 

Here we have started setting the sales.  At each end of this section we have placed locust wood posts.  Locust wood does not breakdown quickly like pine, and so these posts should be around for a while – hopefully ten years or more.  Between the posts, we have placed the sales at approximately one foot intervals using a tape measure.   We forced the sales into the ground using one of two methods, “drilling” holes with a cordless drill with a massive bit, or with a post hole digger.  Post hole diggers can be bought at hardware stores.   The sales should be firmly in the ground for the integrity of the fence.

 

fencesales

Now we can start with the weavers.  Starting at one side, gradually work a trimmed branch between the sales.  Make sure that the branch extends slightly beyond the post.  When the weaver is used, start with another weaver around the same sale and proceed across the row until reaching the other posts, and leave the excess there.  Now return across the row you have just made, making sure that you alternate which side of the sales you are weaving through. 

Historically, wattle fences were also made into “hurdles,” short eight to nine foot sections of fencing built into logs or boards about the size of railroad tracks instead of into the ground.  These sections were used as moveable fencing for sheep for pasture rotation.  With hurdles, the ends of the weavers were not left as we describe above, but were twisted and turned to wrap back around the post into the sales again.  This makes a very durable hurdle, but in our case, we need the posts to hold our gates, and so we cannot wrap the weavers or we won’t be able to mount the gate hinges. 

We have now done several rows of weaving.  This is forming a strong fence – each row of weavers is making it more durable. 

fencestarted

Here is how it stands today.  It is a work in progress with a deadline.  This fence must be done before the seeds are planted in the spring!

 If memory serves correctly, the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, Virginia had a wattle fence surrounding their German homesteader garden.  This living museum is a wonderful place to acquire old time skills and we recommend this place heartily!  There are docents in period costume showing old world skills, and they often invite the children to participate.  It is very family and children friendly, and if someone in your group cannot walk the entire tour, the Museum rents family-sized golf carts for touring the farms.   Here is their website.  http://www.frontiermuseum.org/index.html

In addition to touring the grounds, you can attend diverse classes and there are even homeschool events.  This is one of the best and most educational opportunities in the Shenandoah region, and it is engrossing for the children as well.

 Noon update:  Since posting this morning, I was delighted to get this email from Alex Tillen at the Frontier Culture Museum (FCM). 

“This spring the Museum once again will build a wattle fence on the Irish farm out of ash, willow, and any sapling we can find on the wooded areas of the Museum.  This time we are going to use locust saplings as the post to see if they will last longer then a few years.  We also plan to make some wattle hurdle fence sections on the Irish farm.”

He also provided these photographs of wattle fences the FCM had had in the past.  Sincere thanks to the Frontier Culture Museum!

frontierwattlecowfrontierhurdle