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Matron of husbandry

April 15, 2008

That’s me – aka “Chief cook and bottle washer.”  The dictionary defines matron as one who is married, dignified, mature and in charge.  Several of those terms fit me:  I am married and I’m in charge. (at least that’s what I tell my husband) The other two, I’m not so sure.  The dictionary defines husbandry as the art of careful and thrifty management, livestock caretaker or crop raiser,  and one who is frugal.   I’ll take those definitions.

What am I in charge of?  Just about everything, it seems.  My husband calls it “woman craft” and I don’t take offense, because it is true.  If you look around you will see most farmwives have these skills or are trying to learn them.  So I take pride in being able to sew, quilt, knit, embroider, cook, garden,  keep the books, drive the tractor, make hay, drive the trucks, run the caterpillar, build fires, birth animals, butcher, shoot, inspect everybody’s poop, well, I think you get the idea. 

Our life is a continous circle, and I’m not sure where it begins or ends.  If I would venture a guess, I would say it starts with food and ends with poop.  There are so many things in this world I can’t control, things like how or where my rubber boots are made.  But, I can take charge of our, and our livestock’s food supply.  So for the last 10 years, we have been adjusting what we do on the farm and in our personal lives to make that happen.  Moving towards a more sustainable lifestyle.

One of my motivators, matron in training.

Washing salad greens for the farmers market.

All my life I have been around home-grown food, and people who were self-reliant and involved in the process of living.  I know everyone is living, but I mean people who saw their food as more than just fuel, and spent a major part of their days sowing, growing, harvesting, cooking and eating food that they had touched many times before this food had reached their mouths.  I think this is food for the soul.  A carrot to me isn’t just something sweet and crunchy, it is a summer afternoon spent with my daughter or husband, weeding and thinning and getting dirty and daydreaming.  Or, it is the sound of the baby ravens and crows and hawks, that use our farm as their safe (sometimes) haven.  I tell my daughter about her uncle (whom she never met) shooting a crow and putting it on a bean pole in my garden.  Now that is a scarecrow!  The crows do not come to the garden, they come to the edge, but they do not dig up corn anymore.  The crow mothers are telling their version of the story as well.   That’s what the food I grow means to me.  It is all entwined in our lives everyday.  Good and bad, no matter what your place is, in the food chain.

Now people in the mainstream of society are starting to take notice of food, because it is costing more, and cramping their style.  Just Another Day on the Prairie had an excellent post the other day about people staying home and gardening and cooking.  She got a lot of comments on that one.  The economy is tanking and food may be getting scarce.  I agree with JADOTP, basically, get off your butt, and grow some food, and quit crying.  Once in awhile some of our friends will casually mention that it must be nice, that big garden, that you inherited…  I could garden as well as you if…  Well the big garden I inherited was a worn-out, over rested pasture by the time I got to it, and if I didn’t spend a minimum of several hours a day now, it would go back to the same condition in about 2 years.  But, I love to grow vegetables, and even more than growing them, I love to eat them.  Fresh, unadulterated and whenever I feel like it.  I read in one of Joel Salatin’s articles somewhere, that if you raised your own food, provided for your own heat and water, you would be making the equivalent of a decent salary from a job in town.  These days, I think it is worth far more.  It isn’t just saving me money, it is saving my life. 

It has been a steep learning curve for my husband and I to learn more about alternative farming as adults. I had a hard time moving from a barbed wire type of mindset to carefree, moveable electric fencing.  For my daughter, it is second nature.  When I was sick last summer, she is the one who layed out the grazing plan for a week, while I was too feeble to crawl to the pasture.  My husband did the heavy work of moving the water trough, and minerals, but she did the important part.  I think if and when times get tough, it is going to be hard on adults to even know where to start.  Some of our friends and acquaintances think, ” how hard could it be to garden, you just throw some seeds out there, Right?”  We don’t say much, it wouldn’t do any good.  These are the same people that before Y2K were thinking of learning to shoe their horses.  That would be, so they could ride to town and get supplies.  We were thinking, there might not be a town and if there was, there probably wouldn’t be supplies, either.

But, I should end that rant.  Your either ready or your not, and I don’t think there will be some catastrophic event, it will be a gradual change over time.  So, you can be the guy who cheats in the traffic jam and goes to the front and takes cuts, or you can plod along like we have, gradually making changes that will stick.

Back to reality, and being the “keeper of food”, it is just another system to learn.  Just figure out what part you want to learn.  We are trying to raise almost all of our food.  That means, that a big part of my day, everyday, is spent assessing our food supplies.  This past weekend I consolidated 6 freezers down to 4.  That will save me money.  I sorted through our onions and potatoes and pulled out any soft or spoiled ones.  I’m down to two squash, and I am tired of winter squash.  I’ll make pie out of one and let the other sit, since I have chosen him/it to be my seed squash. This squash earned that title by keeping the longest, without getting rotten.  I have one cabbage left and it will probably go to the hens.  We’re wanting sauerkraut now, so that’s what we’ve been eating.  I have found a couple of jars of fruit that didn’t seal properly, so that is going in the compost.  During my spring cleaning frenzy I found two more boxes of apples on the porch.  They looked pretty good too, considering I had just thought I had a stack of empty boxes.   So, today since it is cold, I’m drying extra garlic in the wood stove oven and I will grind it as needed for garlic powder.  I’m also making chili for lunches.  I fix breakfast and dinner, but lunch is a fend for yourself kind of deal around here.

Here’s my chili recipe, of course the meat and seasonings are optional. I usually cook by the seat of my pants, using whatever I have in the fridge needing used up.  I don’t usually follow recipes very long, changing them to suit our tastes or to utilize my home canned foods.  I learned how to cook by scratch with whatever was on hand.  We always had a full pantry, and extra dinner guests didn’t faze my Mom one bit.  I honed my skills in High School home ec., I had a wonderful teacher who taught us terms like, mise en place, roux, and mirepoix.  Not bad for a little country high school.

Not so Spicy Chili con Carne   8 servings

2 c. dry beans, soaked and cooked following the directions in Nourishing Traditions. Starting a day before you want to eat the chili.
1 pt. salsa or 1 pt. roasted tomatoes, or 1 c. salsa and 1 c. tomato puree*
2 c. water
1 T. Celtic sea salt
1/2 t. black pepper
1 T. dry oregano
1/4 c. maple syrup
1/8 c. balsamic vinegar
3 – 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 lb. ground beef
Combine first 8 ingredients.  Saute garlic, onion and ground beef,  add to bean mixture.
Simmer on medium heat for at least an hour.  Let cool,  taste and adjust seasonings. I like my chili hotter than every one else, so I add hot chili sauce when I eat it, that way I don’t have to eat the whole batch.  I made a Tabasco- like sauce with Bulgarian Carrot Chile several years ago, and I think I have enough to last for at least 10 years.  It’s HOT!
* I use my home canned salsa and tomato products for lots of recipes, mixing and matching whatever I have leftover in the fridge.  Since I am usually using salsa in this recipe I rarely add chili powder.  We are trying to avoid all additives in our food, even small amounts give us a chemical hangover.  So I cook this way to avoid that, and because it connects me to our land and the food it produces.

Uncle John beans – our local dried bean.

This bean is like a pinto, and has been handed down in the community for over 100 years.  I have been saving seed from the plants that ripen almost all their beans by Labor Day.  The rest we eat.  Gradually, I’m getting more earlier ripening beans, that are acclimated to my micro climate.  When saving seed, select for the qualities you are looking for.
When assessing the plants, the qualities I’m looking for are productivity, taste, earliness, hardiness and ease of growing.  The same things I scan for when I’m reading seed catalogs.

2 cups dried beans.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 16, 2008 9:03 am

    You are so very right about your garden ground being an ongoing work. We used to live in town, while my husband’s folks lived on the farm. We commuted and did most of the work but…
    I had a small, but very fertile and productive garden down there in town, raised beds, great soil, it was very little work because I spent fifteen years making it that way.
    Then the old folks passed and we moved up here. Lots of land, but no garden and I was fifteen years older and lamer and slower than I was when I started that other one. Seven years later and I am still doing a lot of container gardening, but my son is helping me start some new beds. Sigh.

  2. April 16, 2008 12:14 pm

    Wonderful post, you say it so well! I think being self sufficient is becoming a dying art. I look at my parents (dad is 86) and they still have a tiny but great garden. It’s where I learned, there and from my grandparents.

  3. April 16, 2008 6:49 pm

    Spending entire days dealing with food is the main thing pulling me to homestead, LOL! I may have spent most of my life as a city girl, but I manage my (tiny) freezer and cook and bake from scratch, mostly using supplies from the farmers market and nearby farms.

    It’s been a few years since I’ve had a garden, and never have had one back in Michigan – but – I’ve got the rest of my life to figure it out and can’t think of a more interesting way to spend it.

    My gran put in a huge garden every year until from age 63 to 89, and I’ll be starting a few years earlier than she did, so – One shovelful at a time. I figure I’ll be ok.

  4. matronofhusbandry permalink*
    April 16, 2008 8:42 pm

    threecollie – I know what you mean, I’ve been fighting our new garden that is 6 years old, and I’m still not happy with the results. I’m still learning it’s ways.
    It’s nice for you that your kids are so helpful, they see how hard you work, and I’m sure these skills will carry on through them when they have families. Important skills you and your husband are passing on, Yeah for Family Farms!

    Linda – I bet that garden your parents have, is keeping them a younger 80 something. It’s so important to let older folks continue to do what they want. All those little secrets passed on make one continous thread of self-sufficiency. Thanks as always for the kind comments.

    Hayden – I’m sure you will be successful, where there is a will, there is a way. You know through your gran that it is doable, and you’re halfway there by living in town and still seeking out good food.

  5. February 12, 2009 9:54 am

    Hi there! My name is Monna McDiarmid. I am a Canadian teacher living in Barcelona, Spain.

    This is a quick note to let you know that I have written about your lovely blog in the newest edition of my blog project. Slow Blogs is a celebration of original blogs and their blog authors/photographers.You can find the blog at

    You might be interested in reading the Slow Blog Manifesto in the right sidebar… and the explanation of how I came to start this project in a post called “Read Slowly”.

    Please do link to Slow Blogs if you wish!

    Thanks for your beautiful blog.

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