March 18th, 2009
The news these days is chock full of dramatized street theater as the “haves” fight about ridiculous things like super-bonuses for AIG grifters, amazing world-class ponzi money-laundering schemes, and how we on the low end of the totem pole get to pay through the nose (as usual) to bail these crooks out. At this point it’s not even a partisan fight, it’s just rich versus poor. As usual. We who have been actually harmed by these interminable games of economic Risk are just trying to survive with the basics – food, clothing and shelter.
While I hope that anyone who regularly reads this blog has already bought their seeds and planted their ‘taters, there are things we usually have to purchase – or trade for – because we don’t produce our own at home. Sure, it doesn’t take more than a quarter acre of yard to keep a fresh milk goat or half a dozen chickens who give us eggs for free, but often people will be unable to even do that much. Keeping that goat fresh requires breeding once a year, and then you’ve got to either deal with a smelly billy goat or transport to where the smelly billy goat is standing stud. And what about the kid? That’s something my family could never quite conscience (these youngsters, if not also female, are usually slaughtered for meat). And don’t let anybody fool you. Those chickens CAN fly (sorta). At least to get over the fence into your neighbor’s yard.
If you are lucky enough to still have a roof over your family’s heads, there are ways to save a great deal on foods you can’t produce in your garden but need to keep everyone healthy and satisfied. Nothing makes us feel wealthier than a truly fine and healthy diet. Plus, that alone can save us multi-thousands in chronic diseases we really don’t have to get in the first place. The first of these is to join a local CSA. With this membership, which is critical to purchase right now if you can, you get a portion of the crops and products of local farmers near your home. Even if you garden, this can help fill out the take so you’ve got more to work with. Buying local directly supports your local farmers, and helps them to purchase the seeds and equipment they need to keep on producing.
Even better, many CSAs also keep bees for honey, cows and/or goats for dairy, chickens for free range eggs plus poultry, and some even raise pigs and steers for later slaughter so you can purchase a “share” of those as well. When I was young – it was a large family – my mother always purchased a half a steer every year to freeze in the chest freezer, along with as many chickens as she could get locally. Not only are these animals raised humanely and fed on pasture and hay that they’re naturally designed to consume for maximum health, they were always locally slaughtered so that even the ground beef came from just those steers raised on that farm. Nowadays when ground meat from the supermarket may contain the remains of as many as 100 animals, some of whom were no doubt very sick when they went in, this is vastly preferable.
But what I want to talk about in this post is dairy. Not just milk, but also cheese, yogurt, butter, sour cream and other dairy products we use on an almost daily basis to add protein to our diets and keep the kids happy. The reason to avoid store-bought dairy is more than just the fact that big dairy farms often pollute their milk with genetically engineered hormones and such, it also avoids the mass mixing of milk from farms far and wide that must be mass-pasteurized and have much of its useful ingredients neutralized. So that you end up paying $4 or more for a pound of butter, $2 or more for a few ounces of yogurt or sour cream, etc. We can save a great deal of money – and learn a lot about how food works – if we do this sort of thing for ourselves.
If you’ve a CSA with a dairy division, or a local dairy farm, you can often purchase raw milk on the sly (the government is trying hard to close this loophole). This gives you the raw material to work with to produce your own high-protein and full-fat food ingredients. My family once had a friend up the road who got a fresh goat in payment of a debt, a guy who didn’t drink much milk. That goat gave 2 gallons a day, so I did the calligraphy for his craft catalog in exchange for a gallon a day of fresh goats milk. Which he delivered! Now, you need a mechanical separator to get cream out of naturally homogenized goat milk, and I didn’t have one, so we just drank it. Cow’s milk is much easier to work with…
Raw cow’s milk naturally separates just by being left to separate. Cream rises to the top, the regular milk settles below. You should always pasteurize what you have, meaning that before you drink or use it, go ahead and boil for 5 full minutes. This can destroy some of the natural caesins in the milk or cream, but is definitely worth it to avoid any sicknesses that might result from raw. Just separate the cream first, and what’s left after pasteurization makes fine butter, sour cream and rich cheese. If you’re working with goat’s milk and don’t have a separator, make the butter first since this will serve to separate. Just keep it refrigerated or frozen for longer term storage.
To make butter, just fill a sterilized quart jar half full of whole milk or cream and shake it. This will take some time, but is definitely worth it. The cream component will tend to coagulate and this is what you want. It also floats atop whole milk so is easily scooped out. Accumulate a pound or so of this thick butter, fold in a little salt, and it can be used immediately or frozen in wax and plastic for later. It won’t be yellow, but that’s just another coal-tar dye. Who needs it?
To make yogurt, a spoonful of ‘live’ yogurt is added to a jar of milk and well-shaken, allow it to set overnight (shaking occasionally). By morning it should be thick, stir again and refrigerate. Add sugar, honey, spices, flavorings, whatever, and spoon in liberally on your burritos or use it as dip for pita (which is also easy to make). Yogurt is a bit like sourdough, in that your refrigerated starter can last for years. A single purchase, you can turn it into whatever you like! It freezes fairly well, so you can make a lot when you get your local milk and it’ll last a long time.
Cheese is a bit more labor intensive, but worth it if your family gets most of its animal protein from milk products. There are both natural and genetically engineered rennets on the market, go for the natural if you can. These can also be salvaged from commercial, natural cheeses and added. Cream makes the best strong cheeses, but this takes some time. The internet has sources for the necessary ingredients, or perhaps your CSA can help you with that as well. Be choosy – local food is a growing movement as things in the dollar-based global economy fall apart, be on the forefront of making sure you can do as much for yourself as possible!
This sort of knowledge – how to grow, preserve, obtain and stretch food for your family – is not knowledge that ever really “goes out of style.” Who knows what will happen to those jet-setters and politicians who whine endlessly about pieces of paper or mere bits and bytes of information that grant their wealth – so much greater than We the People who are just trying to survive? Do we really care? If we can do for ourselves, they don’t seem so important anymore, and our personal worlds expand locally to include all the things we really need.
Perhaps in the end that would be the greatest lesson any of us could ever teach our children as well as our erstwhile ‘masters’. We’ll be okay, thanks. When you’re hungry, we’ll talk about it…
So get busy, folks! Find out where your CSAs are, start making some friends in the farming community, see if you can turn that shed into a goat barn, and figure out how many chickens you can host in your back yard without compromising the garden. We can live through this, maybe come out the other side more confident than ever that we’ll never be helpless again!