To begin, I found the title misleading; it has nothing to do with the fruit-filled, flaky-crusted, sugar-sprinkled dessert. Instead the chapter title refers to the profession of making shoes. While sewing a pair of cozy house slippers and lining them with alpaca fleece is on my to-do list, I will not be making said slippers for this LH project.
In chapter 23, Almanzo and his siblings have outgrown their shoes. Almanzo’s moccasins have been worn to rags and they no longer keep his feet warm; the older children have no choice but to start their new school in old shoes that no longer fit because the cobbler has been delayed.
To prepare the older children for school mother has been working her fingers to the bone with what we refer to as “crafts”. After spinning her merino wool into yarn she hand-wove it into cloth that is now being cut to sew a new suit for Royal and new dresses for Eliza Jane and Alice. In the evenings mother knit new stockings for everyone; it is written, “She knitted so fast that the needles got hot from rubbing together.” I have been known to wear out my knitting needles making socks, but I have never had cause to knit so fast that I became a Cody Lundin fire-starter.
Eliza Jane and Alice have been set to the task of ripping the seams of their old dresses out and sewing them inside-out to look new. If you sent a kid to school today with clothes that had been sewn inside out they would burst into flames from the heat in their face caused by humiliation.
Eliza Jane and Alice’s task of sewing their old dresses inside out reminded me of a project I completed when I was learning how to sew. The price of fabric can be expensive, especially to a beginner whose end product is destined to be ill fit or not fit to wear. While browsing my church yard sale I found a queen size Ralph Lauren flat sheet and used it to make pajama pants. I fancy innovation- the end.
Chapter 22: Fall of the Year
When the bitter cold came to stay the Wilder family butchered the hogs, the fat pork was packed in salt, the sausage meat went into the woodshed attic, and the fat was used to make tallow.
This summer we had the grandest time foraging for wild herbs growing around the property. Among these herbs was mullein, also known as Aaron’s Rod; mullein adds height and makes a beautiful addition to any flower arrangement. It has narcotic properties when used as an herbal tea and I have read that the ends were once covered in tallow and used as a torch.
The picture in this blog has dried mullein, the tip looks like cattail, when it’s fresh it is green with yellow blossoms. Below is a link to view more information about mullein.
Chapter 21: County Fair
The Wilder’s set out early in the morning for the county fair. Eliza-Jane and Alice are showing jellies, pickled preserves, and wool-work embroidery. While Almanzo is entering his milk-fed pumpkin. The pumpkin had grown so large it had to be taken to the fairgrounds separately because it was too big for the buggy.
Once there, Almanzo and his father look at the thorough-bred horses and sheep. Father looks at the merinos with their short, fine wool and compares them to the Cotswold sheep with their long, course wool. Father decides that he would rather raise less wool with finer quality.
When I was considering raising my own wool the obvious choice was sheep. After doing a little research I discovered the alpaca which was first imported into the US in the early 1980’s; importing alpacas into the US today is currently prohibited. Why do the benefits of raising alpaca outweigh that of raising sheep? We had a limited amount of money to start a farm and the price of land can be…well, let’s be honest, outrageously expensive. An alpaca is more earth friendly than sheep; the bottom of their feet are padded like a dog so they don’t tear up the ground with hooves. Another plus, alpacas are “potty-trained” so to speak; they create dung piles and keep their big P’s and little P’s within a designated area. Ultimately this gives them more grazing space; have you ever looked out across a cow or horse pasture and noticed how it is littered with excrement?
As for their fleece, our alpacas produce around 5 lbs. of fiber per animal; alpaca fleece is one of the softest animal fibers known to man, and is touted to be hypo-allergenic. If you are in the market for alpaca fiber you can find us on Etsy under the shop name Alpacas on Dogwood Hill.
Chapter 20: Late Harvest
During the late harvest the Wilder’s are storing away pumpkins, apples, beets, turnips, parsnips, and onions in the cellar. The perfect apples are carefully picked and put away for pies and preserves. The rest are shaken from the trees and thrown into the wagon for father to take to the cider mill. Carrots were pulled from the ground and everyone had to work fast to pull up the potatoes; if the ground froze before the potatoes were pulled, all their hard work would be wasted.
At Alpacas on Dogwood Hill we had a nice crop of pumpkins in 2013; so far we have used them to make thai pumpkin coconut soup, pumpkin and white bean stew, pumpkin hummus, and pumpkin pie. This Thanksgiving my sister and I were questioning whether cutting, cleaning, peeling, and steaming a pumpkin was worth the couple of dollars you save on a few cans of pureed pumpkin. At the time, I really didn’t see the benefit, now that I look at all of things I have made from our pumpkins I can see the money we’ve saved, the trash we have eliminated, and they’re pretty!
Chapter 19: Early Harvest
During early harvest it is “haying-time”. From sun-up to sun-down the Wilder’s are in the hay field; putting up hay is hard, back-breaking work that requires helping hands. Luckily, Alpacas on Dogwood Hill is a small enough operation that the cost of equipment to put up hay outweighs the cost of purchasing hay from a local farmer.
Currently our five alpacas only require 1 square bale of hay per week. Our biggest burden in supplying hay is borrowing a truck to haul it. We currently have a house on half an acre that we are putting on the market; to cut back on the cost of hay I boxed up the fresh-cut grass at our old house and brought it back to the farm for the alpacas. Keep in mind that our yard in the suburbs is fertilizer and insecticide free. Once I got the grass clippings back to the farm they had to be emptied onto the ground and lightly spread out to allow heat and moisture to escape, otherwise the clippings would become moldy.
I owe a special thanks to all my grandpas that let me ride along on the tractor while they were cutting, raking, and baling. I never thought I would put that knowledge to use.
Almanzo’s mother and father are going to Uncle Andrew’s (10 miles away) for a week and they are leaving the children on the farm. I am a firm believer in leaving the children home alone for a few hours; it establishes trust, gives them a sense of responsibility, and boosts self-esteem. Leaving them alone for a week is a little much and may lead to a visit from child services these days.
While mother and father are away the children will play…and eat cake, ice cream, watermelon, and candy. Once the children have their fill of ripe watermelon, Almanzo intends on feeding the rinds to his pig Lucy. Eliza Jane tells him not to waste the rinds on a pig; she’ll make watermelon rind preserves. I know watermelon rind doesn’t sound appetizing but if you give it a chance you’ll find it’s a sweet treat to offer guests during special occasions.
The green part of the rind is peeled off and thrown away leaving the white portion of the rind. This is preserved in a syrup that is infused with cloves and cinnamon sticks. It is a lengthy process but completely worth it.
At the end of the week the cildren come together as a team to do a week’s worth of chores in one day before mother and father come home. Mother is so pleased that the house isn’t burned down she overlooks the empty sugar barrel.
Chapter 17 is full of great ideas, it is titled Summer-Time, and chores are not so pressing during this season. Almanzo’s learns how to “feed” a pumpkin milk so that he can grow a super-sized pumpkin for the county fair. Almanzo weeds and hoes the garden, goes swimming, and on rainy days he and father go fishing. The cows are give so much milk that churning is done twice a week.
This year the Myles family moved from a 1700 sq. ft. house with a basement to an 800 sq. ft. cabin with one room. By one room I mean a bathroom. I’ve learned that you don’t have to give up decorating during the holidays just because you no longer have storage space for those Made in China decorations. The trick is to decorate with the natural things that are available to you. In the end you save money, save space, and cut back on consumerism.
On Independence Day the Wilder family goes to Malone to celebrate. The sidewalks were crowded, flags hung everywhere, and a band played “Yankee Doodle”. For a nickel you could get a glass of pink lemonade. At the end of the festivities cannons were fired.
The most notable part of this chapter was a conversation between Mr. Wilder and Mr. Paddock, the wagon maker. After the cannons are fired, Mr. Paddock says, “That’s the noise that made the Redcoats run.” Almanzo’s father agrees, “Maybe, but it was muskets that won the Revolution. And don’t forget it was axes and plows that made this country.”
Later Almanzo asks his father what he meant. He replies, “We fought for independence, son, but all the land our forefathers had was a little strip of country, here between the mountains and the ocean. All the way from here west was Indian country, and Spanish and French country. It was farmers that took all that country and made it America…it was the farmers that went over the mountains, and cleared the land, and settled it, and farmed it, and hung on to their farms.”
Recently we discovered that sumac drupes have a lemon taste; we have ground the drupes to create our own za’atar spice. Choosing something more closely related to this chapter, we are about to pour off our first ever jar of sumac-lemonade.
A cold snap, as explained in the book, is a cold, late spring. After the spring work was finished Almanzo had to go back to school; only small children returned to school in the spring so Almanzo was not accompanied by Royal, Eliza Jane, or Alice.
Father took the merino wool to the carding machine and brought it home for mother to spin and dye. Eliza Jane and Alice were gathering roots and barks in the woods and Royal was building bonfires in the yard. They boiled the roots and barks over the fires and dipped skeins of yarn in the cauldron to dye it.
Over the winter months the stove ashes had been saved in a barrel and water was poured over them so mother can make lye for soap. I have purchased sodium hydroxide online to make my own lye soap but now that we live in a cabin with a wood stove I may give this a try next spring to cut back on my online shopping.
We used to spend $15 a month, easily, on Yogi Brand tea. A few weeks ago we decided to forage the property for sassafras trees to help reduce some of that cost. Traditionally, sassafras roots are collected in the spring when the root is said to have sap but the roots we gathered are still quite flavorful. Sassafras colored yarn sounds good too.
I remember when I read this chapter last year; I searched and searched for ideas that could help me cut out my consumerism but came up empty handed. Today I am the proud owner of 5 alpacas. The sheep-shearing that takes place in Farmer Boy is a little different than the alpaca shearing I experienced in the spring.
With the help of neighbors, Almanzo washes the sheep before they are sheared. It sounds as if they were washing the sheep to remove dirt and debris. I have been told that wool must be washed before it is spun into yarn because it contains lanolin. In the spring we accompanied our Alpaca mentor in the shearing of her alpacas and ours. The wool was not cleaned of debris beforehand and alpaca fiber contains no lanolin so it can be spun straight from the fleece in some cases. For the best yarn, vegetative matter and guard hair should be removed, and then the fiber is sorted according to length and microns. This process can be overwhelming to a beginning spinner/alpaca owner which is why we sent 3 fleeces to the mill to be processed and kept two to practice with.
Alpacas offer 3 different crops: one fleece per year, one cria (baby) per year, and garden fertilizer constantly. Alpaca feces are pH 7 so it can be used immediately without burning up your plants. Our alpacas will reduce the amount of mass produced yarn I purchase, add to my herd size, and fertilize my garden.