Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Smoke House

If you have been following the Reluctant Homesteaders for a while, you know that a rundown, falling down building doesn't scare me. Take the Hay House for instance. The only thing that was holding it up when we started working on it was a 4x4 I had shoved under a truss the year before.

In the end we saved a piece of family history and gained a hay barn that would hold 8 ton of hay with room to spare. We used a lot of salvaged materials and elbow grease and saved ourselves a lot of money in the process.

Then there was the Micro Guest House, The Art Shack. Which had only a little history as an 8' x 12' granary but I got it in my head to use it for housing. Now it's one sweet place to stay and hang out and cost very little per square foot which came out to about $5500.00 for 388 sf. which comes to $14 a square foot. That includes the whole shebang, all materials and the hired help.

There is an old and proper house on the property that we are working on to get it habitable but that is taking a lot more money and time, so I keep myself sane and happy by doing these little projects on the side.

I won't lie, they tend to turn into bigger projects than I think they will be, but the results are so gratifying, I can't help doing another one. Enter: The Smoke House, circa 1900.





As a child I heard the tales of it's many uses before I was born. It was originally a Smoke House for the Homestead, where meats would be preserved. It served that function until freezers came to be available. My family could not afford one, but we had a "locker", which was a small rented space in a walk-in freezer room, at a small store in town.

When my dad was about 12, the house they were living in on the Homestead caught fire from the cook stove chimney and the only thing they got out with were their lives, the clothes on their backs and the wringer washer on the front porch, which my grandfather kicked off the porch and it rolled down the hill as they ran for their lives.

That winter the neighbors gave what little they could spare and my grandparents and their 5 children lived in an old army tent and this Smoke House until spring came. By then, enough money could be saved and favors called in to bring a portable sawmill up and cut the timber on the Homestead into lumber enough to build a small house. They built that house with the help of friends, neighbors and family in 3 days, and the family moved in, grateful for a space bigger and warmer than this 10x12 building. So that's how it got it's window holes.

Just in my own lifetime this building has had many uses. Chicken house, granary, hay shed, tack room and fort. It has been falling down for as long as I have been alive. When I was a teenager I did my best to patch it together and keep laying hens in it. But I was no carpenter.

And it continued to settle into the ground, but never fell over.
The first thing I want to say is that all the structural work was done by our friend and carpenter Hank. Three years ago Hank cut a deal with me. He would use another outbuilding for storage and when he got the time he would save the Smoke House from falling down.

One day last October he suddenly showed up and started the project. He had a lot of fun doing it, I think. For him it was one of those simple and fast projects.


Of course, when he got to this point I couldn't stop myself. I suddenly wanted to make it a "Bunk House", to which he laughed and started to dig into the project details.

Mouse proof was the first criteria.

Safety was the second.

I wanted a place for friends to "camp" without worrying about the rain or having to sleep on the ground. And so that's the direction we have gone.

More to come in the near future.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


Apparently we planted plenty of green beans this year. 
Phoebe and I have canned three batches of dilly beans so far. I think this is going to be it, but the bushes have been pumping out the beans, so we'll see.
We have not made pickled beans in years, not since that Christmas party when she brought a jar of them for the gift exchange. They became the hottest item of the night. No particular reason we hadn't made them. They are a little labor intensive, but sooo yummy.

Last year was the first time I ever made pickles. (The recipes in the links are not quite what we did but close.)

We have some food allergies in our family, including garlic, which means no conventional pickles. I grew cukes last year and made pretty decent pickles. I tried again this year, with good results. They sat in brine on the counter for 8 days. I did 13lbs in the first two batches. It was hard to keep up with the garden so some of the cukes were on the larger side. But they taste great.
When I was pulling them out of the crock to put in jars, I found a funny thing. I had accidentally put a zucchini in with the cucumbers. 
I sliced it up to try it, and it was quite good. So today I started my third crock, this time half cukes and half zukes. I am excited to see how they are.
All this fermentation made me think it was a good time to check in on my sourdough starter. (Sourdough is a bit of a misnomer, as you may know. Natural yeast is a better term. You can have naturally yeasted breads that are not very sour, depending on your starter.)

I started this starter 5.5 years ago. I was in a period of low employment, to put it nicely, and Phoebe reminded me that I always enjoyed making bread and that she always enjoyed eating fresh bread. I found a great site, and started learning how to make authentic bread.

My starter has survived some neglect over the years, but was never as ugly as what I saw when I opened the jar I keep in the fridge.
It was super nasty! Foul smelling, dried out, black on top. I was surprised, because I had refreshed it just 4 months ago. It has gone longer than that that before without such a dire result.

I don't keep a lot in reserve, so once I scraped through the muck, there was not a lot of clean starter underneath. I took about a tablespoon out, and fed and loved it for about a week. Now it is healthy and ready to go.
I don't usually bake much bread in the summer, as running the oven at 550 for an hour or two doesn't work so well in our un-airconditioned house. But since I went through the trouble of getting the starter refreshed I figured I might as well.

The cuke/zuke pickles were a flop, at least on the zuke side. Super squishy, fall apart in your hand mushy. Not sure what the difference was. It was much hotter that week, so they may have fermented faster. Maybe only one zuke in the crock reacts differently than 50/50. Whatever the case, yuck.

On the bread front, much more success.

A pretty good result for me: nice crust, not too dense, spunky sourdough flavor. Took it up to the homestead where Phoebe and some hard working young women were an appreciative audience.