Tag Archives: raw milk

Cooking The Old-Fashioned Way

Bread Pudding

Bread Pudding

Dear Reader:

I wanted to use some version of “The Ant and the Grasshopper” for my title because while I’d really like to be down at the canoe landing and staring out across the sparkly lake, I decided I had better make like an ant and work before I play. The grasshoppers have been buzzing in the grasses these late summer afternoons, and the sun has finally ripened a couple of my cherry tomatoes. One of the big beefsteaks was starting to turn color, but something took a big ol’ bite out of it. I suspected a creepy-crawly tomato worm but could find no trace of the sucker last evening. I threw out the two or three fruits he/she had sampled (why not eat the whole darn thing before moving on to the next, I’d like to know?) and decided that pests are simply a part of the big picture.

It’s easy to be philosophical when one’s parents have stopped in with a bag of free produce from their larger and much more productive garden.

I digress.

Summer weekends are a fabulous time to shop . . . in your neighbor’s yard. No, I’m not advocating late-night raids of the blueberry bushes and corn rows. I’m tallking about yard sales. Some readers may remember an earlier entry regarding old cookbooks and my quest for pre-World War II tomes. I scored one beauty at an antique store in nearby Cornish village a couple of months back. It is a musty, solid little book entitled LEFTOVERS MADE PALATABLE: HOW TO COOK ODDS AND ENDS OF FOOD INTO APPETIZING DISHES by Isabel Gordon Curtis.



This little jem was published in 1901 by the Orange Judd Company. The first chapter begins, “Do not throw away scraps of fat” and procedes to explain how to save all the bits of cooking fat and drippings and suet, to clarify them, and to use them for frying ala the ubiquitous vegetable shortening of today. “If only a teacup of fat is added to this supply once a week, it will save the buying of fat for frying purposes, even in a large family.” (pg.1)

The book goes on to give multiple recipes for using leftovers of every type: stale bread, cold coffee, cereals, sour milk, cold potatoes, vegetables, sauces, beef, veal, pork and ham, poultry, stale cake, cheese, and fruit. You know the recipes are old because each one lists only a few simple ingredients and absolutely no canned soup. Take Plain Cabbage Salad for instance: “2 cups shredded cabbage, 4 tbs. oil, 1 tsp. salt, 2 tbls. vinegar. Shred cabbage very fine and leave in ice water for an hour. Drain it and marinate with the dressing. This is a favorite supplement to fried oysters.” (pg. 75)

While the simplicity and lack of processed food products pleased me, I was dismayed by the frequent mention of refrigeration. Isabel Curtis must have been referring to old-fashioned ice-boxes, right? It got me wondering when the first refrigerator was invented. Off I went to cyberspace to find out.

I turned first to Wikipedia. (See here) According to the section on the history of the refrigerator, the first refrigerator coil which condensed aromatic vapours as a coolant was invented in the 11th century. The 11th century! Okay, I just about fell off my chair. Wasn’t that medieval times? The Dark Ages? And yet, in America at the turn of the 20th century, half the population used ice-boxes for cooling food while the other half just used the even more natural method of root-cellaring.

Home refrigerators did not become commonplace until 1927 with the General Electric Motor-top model, long after my 1901 cookbook was printed. Take a look at the frontispiece photograph of young ladies in floor-length dresses and long aprons and little white caps ranged ’round a table at the New England Cooking School of the Good Housekeeping Institute.

Lady cooks from 1901

Lady cooks from 1901

Thinking about refrigeration, or lack of it, one can certainly appreciate the important place of the family milk cow in 1901. At this stage in history, fresh milk meant that morning’s milk, not the stuff in the jug with this week’s date stamped on the side. However, clabbered milk and butter and cheese and sour cream had their place in the home cook’s repertoire. LEFTOVERS MADE PALATABLE includes thirty recipes for using up sour milk, including cottage cheese. (Those of you who read last week’s entry will appreciate this discovery.) “4 Quarts sour milk, 1 tsp. salt, dash white pepper, 4 tbls. cream. Put the sour milk in a large pan and into it pour four quarts of boiling water. Allow it to stand for five minutes, then turn it into a pointed muslin bag like a jelly bag. Hang this up at night over a pan and let it drain. In the morning it will be dry and ready to mix with the cream and seasonings.” (pg. 47)

One of these weeks I’ll order an extra gallon of milk from Downhome Farm and try to make cottage cheese. Maybe when the weather isn’t quite so warm. The old warnings about diptheria and whatnot are hard to purge from the deep, dark recesses of the brain, no matter how much I’ve read on the subject of the nutritive value of raw milk. Is nutritive a word?

Yes. A quick look at the old Webster’s Dictionary confirms it on the page with guide words nuciature – nux vomica. Nux vomica? Sounds just like what I was worried about, n’est ce pas? Or some spell from a Harry Potter book, one of Severus Snape’s conconctions, perhaps. In fact, it is only the latin word for a poisonous seed. See, you never know what you’ll find out here Outside the Box.

Anyway, on the same shelf as LEFTOVERS, I spied another book with the enticing title NEW ENGLAND FLAVOR. Unfortunately, this tome by Haydn S. Pearson turned out to be a charming memoir of a New Hampshire childhood and not the cookbook I was hoping it to be. Fortunately, I also like charming memoirs of New England persons, and so this well-preserved volume with pretty little pen and ink illustrations by Leonard Bosburgh came home with me, as well. It should make for some cozy reading this fall when I sit outside wrapped in the shawl my sister sent home from Venezia this summer and sip Earl Gray from my favorite Monroe Saltworks mug.

So what does this have to do with the formentioned yard sale? I’m getting there, trust me. This weekend on the way home from Parsonsfield to pick up my milk, I noticed a table loaded with cooking pans and decided to check out the yard sale as two of my Reverware lids have recently lost knobs, forcing me to gingerly pick lids off boiling pots with dishtowels in hand to prevent scalding myself at the stove. (Can you imagine trying to diagram that last sentence? Actually, it might be fun. Who needs Sudoku? We ought to turn our kids on to sentence diagrams.)

The Rumford book

The Rumford book

Not only did I find a nice set of stainless steel pots for $5, I also scored a pretty, tatted-edged table runner and a treasure-trove of cookbooks. There’s the RUMFORD COMPLETE COOKBOOK, copyright 1908 in its 43rd printing in 1948. In this book, consomme is made with a quart of defatted meat stock . . . not a bouillon cube. Excellent. The baking powder is, of course, Rumford, which makes me wonder about those Anne of Green Gables books. Was it Rumford baking powder that Ann wrote about? A quick search on the web tells me no. It was Rollins Reliable baking powder. However, I came across this interesting site which gives in great detail how to visit Prince Edward Island and find all kinds of places referenced in the Anne books. Take a look if you are interested in visiting the island.

I may have to revisit Green Gables from the comfort of my couch corner this winter. Funny how this entry on cookbooks into turning into an entry on books-I-want-to-read-this-winter. Must be the Ant in me.

Continuing onward in history, I also picked up Marjorie Standish’s cookbook, KEEP COOKING-THE MAINE WAY. Printed in 1973 by the Maine Sunday Telegram, this book also delivers lovely pen and ink drawings of a girl, eleven or twelve year’s old, I’d guess, stirring a pot, fishing from a pier, canning perserves, and eating cake under the watchful and envious eyes of a large cat. Mrs. Standish was well-known for her weekly recipe column in the SUNDAY TELEGRAM according to the note “About the Author” at the front of the book. At the time of the book’s printing, I was four years old. Here I discover the expected “cans of soup” ingredients . . . expecially cream of mushroom. Flipping through the pages, one encounters “packages of cream cheese” and “packaged stuffing” and even frozen packages of peas. Still, some of the recipes use authentic, whole ingredients, most noteably in the Fish and Shellfish section. The Fillet of Sole with Oysters looks particularly appealing with its quart of fresh mushrooms, sole, oysters, chicken broth, butter and lemon juice. (page 35).

Pennsylvania Dutch Cookbook

Pennsylvania Dutch Cookbook

Two other books I picked up but haven’t had much time to peruse were the PENNSYLVANIA DUTCH PEOPLE’S COOKBOOK with the charming bird graphic on the front. This one was published in 1978. Also, the WISCONSIN COUNTRY COOKBOOK AND JOURNAL by Edward Harris Heth with some beautiful woodcuts by Arlene Renken. What is it I like so much about these black and white illustrations and recipes mixed together?
Wisconsin  cookbook

Wisconsin cookbook

I guess they go together like, well, cabbage salad and oysters. This book was written in 1956, but I suspect the recipes may be older than the hills, passed down from one country cook to another before Edward Heth captured them for the printed page and posterity. I will review and share, maybe later this winter after I have tried out some of the Potato Pancakes, Dill Bean Roll Ups, Beef Goulash with Red Cabbage, and whatever Lupscush is. Am I becoming a foodie?

Maybe it has something to do with all this talk of impending peak oil doom, but I’m obsessed with food these days. Not so much the eating as the growing, storing, and cooking of it. I’m thrilled to see the yellow summer squash growing on the vines. Picking the prickly pickling cukes from my boxes is a thrill. I’m going out this afternoon and plant the old green bean squares with a late crop of lettuce. We ate the last of the green beans sauteed in a little olive oil and dried garlic with a splash of soy sauce. Delicious hot and even better cold the next day on top of a salad with some lettuce, onions, cherry tomatoes, and a bit more olive oil.

As for leftovers, a few weeks ago I found myself in possession of a half-loaf of homemade bread going stale,a few eggs from Sarah, and milk that needed to be used up. Remembering bread pudding from my childhood (in the 1970’s, but my mother knew a thing or two or three about real cooking), I hauled out the book of recipe cards she gave me at my wedding shower, and proceded to make a good, old-fashioned dessert. I will share it with you, my constant readers. Bon Appetit!

3 cups soft bread crumbs (okay, I took the bread, sliced it, and then cut it into cubes)
2 cups milk, scalded with 1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
14 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon or nutmeg
(raisins, 1/2 cup if you have them)

350 degree oven. Place bread crumbs in 1 1/2 quart baking dish. Blend in remaining ingredients. Place baking dish in pan of hot water 1 inch deep. Bake 40-45 minutes or until silver knife inserted 1 inch from edge comes out clean. Serve warm, with cream. (That you skimmed from the raw milk from the local farm, of course. SB)

Still much to do this summer–pickles and blueberry jam, cotton wrap skirts, and finishing my research on “the weed.” What have you been up to in August? What tasks lie ahead. Remember the story of the Ant and the Grasshopper, take the time to do the work necessary for a comfortable winter, but don’t forgo the grasshopper stuff altogether. Find an hour or two to sing and play in the summer sun. Make some bread pudding, or get an ice-cream maker and churn some homemade blueberry ice-cream. Check out the yard sales around town. Drop me a line anytime . . . Outside the Box.

Sarah’s Chickens

Here Chicky, Chicky, Chicky

Here Chicky, Chicky, Chicky

Dear Reader:

This week while I’m laid up with a broken foot (don’t ask), I thought I would write about chickens. Yes, chickens. Following is my own, personal chicken-appreciation timeline. Enjoy.

1970’s: When I was growing up on the last dirt road in Carmel, “Grammy” Murray had a chicken pen up at the big white farmhouse on the hill. I don’t remember much about these chickens except a vague alarm that they might escape the pen. Someone may have used the words “rooster” and “mean” in the same sentence. I was young. It’s all pretty vague and misty. What I do remember is the not unpleasant, dusty, barnyard smell near the chicken pen and the homey clucking of the hens. At some point, the chickens disappeared, and I never thought about them again until much later.

1997: My husband and I moved to the quaint, western-Maine town of Norway where we purchased a hundred-year-old house not far from the center of town. Norway is one of those old-time, traditional New England towns that evokes Norman-Rockwellian nostalgia of the very best sort. There is a busy Main Street with a variety of shops along the sidewalks, a clock tower, quiet residential streets laid out in a sensible grid, the public library, and a bunch of white-steepled churches. It’s a walkable town, though the grocery chain moved over to the more spawlish Rt. 26 in the neighboring town of Oxford. Not to worry, though. I heard that the local food co-op, The Fare Share Market has expanded now to a larger venue right on Main.

I liked Norway. Every nice day, I would load my child into her stroller, and we’d walk a big loop along a couple residential streets before hitting Main and circling back home again. Imagine my surprise when I discovered chicken coops and yards on a couple of in-town lots! I’d always thought chickens were for farms, and farms were out in the country down old dirt roads, but here were these cute little cluckers contentedly scratching around in someone’s back yard. Cool, I thought. But even then, it never occured to me that I might raise chickens on MY large backyard lot. I was more interested in planting some evergreens to hide the housing complex behind us and revamping the flower beds around the house.

2001: My husband was studying engineering at the University of Maine, and I had taken a job as a secretary in the Continuing Education Department. One day while looking at the Bangor Daily News, I saw a big, full-color photo of a chicken along with an accompanying article. For some reason, I was so drawn to that picture that I cut it out and stuck it up next to my computer monitor . . . much to the horror of one of my work colleagues whose unhappy memories of egg-gathering chores as a child gave her an abhorrence of anything to do with raising poultry. She asked why I liked the picture, and I could only shrug and say “who knows?” Maybe I was missing my home in Norway. Maybe it brought back memories of those carefree days of childhood on my old dirt road. Maybe I just liked the looks of that chicken.

2002: My husband graduated, got a job. We moved to southern Maine. I forgot about chickens. We bought a home in a subdivision, and I contented myself with the creation of a few cottage-style perennial beds, Girl Scout leadership, library work, and writing romance novels.

2008: I read Barbara Kingsolver’s ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE. The world shifted. I learned about slow food, local food. I began to think about farmer’s markets and growing vegetables in my front yard. One book led to another, and I read about the superiority of raw milk over homegenized. I found a local dairy farmer from whom I could buy milk. His son raised chickens, the farmer said. Did I want to buy eggs?

Eggs from Sarah's chickens--note the little ecru one?

Eggs from Sarah's chickens--note the little ecru one?

These eggs were so different from their tasteless-by-comparison counterparts in the grocery store that I resolved then and there to always buy local eggs whenever possible. As summer went on, the eggs grew to giant proportions. Then a bluish or khaki-colored egg woud show up in the carton, the product of some unusual breed of fowl. I was hooked.

2009: Now I get my eggs from my friend, Sarah, who lives right here in town. The yolks are dark yellow and large. The flavor is amazing. For awhile, I boiled an egg every day for an egg-salad sandwich, but I’ve had to cut back due to my expanding waistline. I suspect the eggs weren’t the problem so much as the mayonnaise I was mixing into them. I love the eggs. I don’t mind paying for them. However, I’m not totally content . . .

Because I want to raise my own chickens.

I know this poultry obsession is ridiculous. For one thing, I’m not allowed to have chickens in my homeowner’s association/subdivision. Bent on creating a rustic, private, lakeside community of vacation and weekend homes, the association’s original developers nixed the mixing of humans and livestock within the confines of the development. Can’t really blame them. They were designing this place in the late sixties, when the space age was revving up, technology was going to solve all our problems, and zoning conventions leaned toward the separation of industrial areas from retail areas from residential areas from agricultureal areas. We had cars. Who needed to live within walking distance of work, stores, or farmland? Besides, nobody was going to live here full-time. It was now supposed to be vacation-land , not farmland. It was what people wanted . . . in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Now, though, more and more people are coming to realize how important it is to support local agriculture and to grow and raise our own food. Chickens are making a comeback! In 2008, Falmouth, Maine–one of our state’s more upscale towns, by the way–changed its zoning ordinance to allow the raising of chickens for personal use. Read about it in this article from the Portland Press Herald.

Even Portland is looking into changing their zoning to allow backyard poultry. Check out this news report by NECN.

So, even if the zoning and/or association rules could be changed, does raising your own poultry even make economic sense? Raising your own chickens isn’t going to save you money in the short term. According to an article for Associated Content by C. Jeanne Heida, chicks costs between $2.00 to $5.00. Between supplies, food, heat lamps for the chicks, feed, materials for a chicken coop/wire pen, Heida figures a back-yard poultry farmer won’t recoup (grin) her initial outlay for at least three years. However, saving money in the short run isn’t really the point. The point is eating locally. The point is knowing that what you eat is safe and highly nutritious. The point is knowing where your food comes from. Where better than from your own back yard?

Knowledge, or lack of it, is another hurdle. How does one learn how to raise chickens, anyway? Here is a list compiled by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension of places you can purchase chicks and other poultry information and supplies. It is called Resources for Small-Scale Poultry Keepers. It is not a comprehensive list, but there’s lots of information there.

Besides cost and a learning curve, what are some other perceived drawbacks to back-yard chicken coops? Smell, I suppose. Raising any kind of animal means shouldering a certain amount of responsibility. Cleaning up the coop and composting the straw and manure would be necessary in a suburban setting.

Noise. Even the new zoning ordinances prohibit roosters as they are preceived as being loud and obnoxious. I suppose they are, but how much more obnoxious than the neighbors hunting beagles kept in outdoor pens throughout the entire year? For that matter, what about those doggy droppings left on your front lawn? I’d rather step in chicken poop, thank you very much.



When I visited Sarah’s backyard chicken coop, I did not notice any smell. The chicken yard was a few yards from her back door next to the raised garden beds. The soft chuckling cluckiness of the different breeds brought me right back to the Murray farm, much more pleasant than the baying of the hounds at three in the morning. In fact, the entire back yard felt like a little, cozy haven of domesticity.

eggs in one basket

eggs in one basket

Inspired by my visit, I came right home and boiled and egg and made myself a yummy egg-salad sandwich on my homemade rye bread. I might not be allowed to keep my own chickens, but I am grateful that I can at least enjoy the wonderful flavor of these local eggs. Maybe one day my association will realize we are not so grand. If Falmouth and Portland, South Portland and Cape Elizabeth, Gorham and Westbrook can allow backyard chickens, why not here? After all, we’re rural over here.

We have the dirt roads to prove it.

* * * * * * * * *

pretty, pretty peas?

pretty, pretty peas?

I may not be allowed to raise chickens, but I have carved out a spot in which to try to cultivate vegetables. Out in the garden, things were not looking good last week. Two weeks of all rain and no sun had leached the nutrients right out of my raised garden boxes. I went down to my local hardware store and asked if they had any organic fertilizer. Off course, they did!

Plummer’s Hardware always has just what I need, each and every time. The employees are knowledgeable and helpful. It’s amazing and the best of all arguments in favor of local business over big box retail stores where you can look for twenty minutes for an orange-aproned employee who may or may not know where anything is in the giant warehouse of a store.

Anyway, I purchased a small bag of organic blood-meal–high in nitrogen–figuring it couldn’t hurt to amend the soil a little and see if my spindly, pale plants could somehow revive. I’m pleased to report that a week (and quite a bit of sun) later, most of the plants look better if not exactly lush. When I hopped out on my crutches to look at the boxes, I discovered pea pods hanging beneath the twisty pea stems and pretty little white pea blossoms!

The cucumbers are trying to grow, the beans look as if they are about to blossom, the pumpkins and squash look vigorous if small. The carrots finally took off, and their feathery stalks are growing. I even have hot peppers on the most stunted little plants you’ve ever seen. Poor peppers. I may pull out every spare plastic pot I can find in the cellar and garage and plant them all with lettuce and other greens, just to see what happens.

I’m also going to make a real effort to hit some farmer’s markets and farmstands next week, so hopefully I’ll have pictures and stories to share as well as some good, fresh veggies for my table. I still want to put up some pickles and some jam, and I noticed today that the local pick-your-own blueberry operation has already opened for business. Now, if I can only figure out how to pick berries while on crutches . . .

Do you have a poultry passion? A chicken story? Share with other readers by posting a comment. As always, I love to hear from you.

A Raw Deal

Raw Milk After Skimming Cream

Raw Milk After Skimming Cream

Dear Reader:

The sun is out after what seems like days of rain (we had a sunny break on Saturday, but much rain the previous week), my rosa rugosas are beginning to bloom, the chives blossoms weigh down the stalks, and my husband and I chipped enough brush on Saturday to provide me with plenty of mulch for the flower beds, around the garden boxes, and prepping ground for some additional bulb and apple tree planting at the end of the season.

This morning, I threw together a batch of 5-Minute A Day bread dough, and it is sticky and stretchy and springy–hopefully perfect for the round boule of crusty, moist artisan bread I’ll bake on a stone this afternoon. A dish of freshly-made, naturally-yellow butter sits in my ‘fridge beside a carton of eggs from Sarah’s chickens. I feel as if I’m getting into a rhythm here with these few, basic local foods–bread, butter, eggs, milk. Soon there will be strawberries from the farm up the road, lettuce from my garden, maybe some early peas at a farm stand. Isn’t summer wonderful?

Speaking of milk, I thought this would be a good time to talk about why I’ve chosen to buy my milk from a local farm. This milk is raw . . . refrigerated and clean but unpasteurized. If you’d asked me two years ago if I’d ever consider serving unpasturized milk to my child, I would have given you the “are you CRAZY?” eye. What I’d always heard–and you, too, probably–is that Louis Pasteur singlehandedly saved humanity when he discovered that by heating foods we can kill the bacteria in those foods rendering them much safer and healthier to eat. The USDA strongly recommends pasteurization. I would be remiss if I didn’t state that here. Before you make any decisions, please do your own research. There were once (and maybe still are in some instances) good reasons for heating milk to boiling and killing off a good deal of the bacteria found in it.

According to a Cornell University website: The process of heating or boiling milk for health benefits has been recognized since the early 1800s and was used to reduce milkborne illness and mortality in infants in the late 1800s. As society industrialized around the turn of the 20th century, increased milk production and distribution led to outbreaks of milkborne diseases. Common milkborne illnesses during that time were typhoid fever, scarlet fever, septic sore throat, diptheria, and diarrheal diseases. These illnesses were virtually eliminated with the commercial implementation of pasteurization, in combination with improved management practices on dairy farms. In 1938, milk products were the source of 25% of all food and waterborne illnesses that were traced to sources, but now they account for far less than 1% of all food and waterborne illnesses.

Note the sentence I’ve highlighted with bold print? According to Cornell University, at least, milkborn illnesses were not a big problem throughout history but only after we embraced industrialization which led to increased milk production and distribution in the late 1800’s–before adequate refridgeration, in other words. When people began to move into crowded city conditions, the relationship between humans and their food sources changed. Where once each family had a milk cow or two, now milk was being brought into the cities from outlying farms. Rather than a cow-to-table time of a few minutes, you had a cow-to-table time of hours . . . much more time for nasty pathogens to be fruitful and multiply. Good for the bacteria, but bad for the poor humans who ended up with diptheria.

The National Academy of Sciences Press published this little gem, backing up what raw-milk activists have been saying about the “secret history of milk.” I encourage you to click on the link and read it for yourself. It is brief, only a paragraph, but one sentence in particular stands out. The author states that prior to the late 1800’s, food items, with the exception of flour, were locally produced and purchased. One can presume, then, that it was only when we ceased to buy local milk did we begin to have severe outbreaks of diseases which led to government intervention in our milk supply and production which led to pasteurization.

So, what’s wrong with pasteruized milk, anyway? There is much to debate on this issue, but the fact is that when you heat milk, you destroy the “good” bacteria” which aids in digestion along with the “bad” bacteria which can lead to disease. The Weston A. Price Foundation campaign for Real Milk provides the following information/opinion with references:

Pasteurization destroys enzymes, diminishes vitamin content, denatures fragile milk proteins, destroys vitamins C, B12 and B6, kills beneficial bacteria, promotes pathogens and is associated with allergies, increased tooth decay, colic in infants, growth problems in children, osteoporosis, arthritis, heart disease and cancer. Calves fed pasteurized milk do poorly and many die before maturity. Raw milk sours naturally but pasteurized milk turns putrid; processors must remove slime and pus from pasteurized milk by a process of centrifugal clarification. Inspection of dairy herds for disease is not required for pasteurized milk. Pasteurization was instituted in the 1920s to combat TB, infant diarrhea, undulant fever and other diseases caused by poor animal nutrition and dirty production methods. But times have changed and modern stainless steel tanks, milking machines, refrigerated trucks and inspection methods make pasteurization absolutely unnecessary for public protection. And pasteurization does not always kill the bacteria for Johne’s disease suspected of causing Crohn’s disease in humans with which most confinement cows are infected. Much commercial milk is now ultra-pasteurized to get rid of heat-resistant bacteria and give it a longer shelf life. Ultra-pasteurization is a violent process that takes milk from a chilled temperature to above the boiling point in less than two seconds. Clean raw milk from certified healthy cows is available commercially in several states and may be bought directly from the farm in many more. (Sources are listed on http://www.realmilk.com.) Click here to peruse the website yourself.

What led me to raw milk? Asthma and allergies. I visited a chiropractor in hopes of relieving some of my asthma symptoms, and the good doctor recommended I take a look at the Weston A. Price website. Learning that highly-processed milk can sometimes lead to allergies, especially in children, I decided to give raw milk a try. It wasn’t as if I’d never had raw milk before. My great-uncle ran a dairy farm for years, and my sister and I would often accompany my grandmother to “Unkies” farm to get a jar of milk from the big, square, steel cooler. Didn’t I love those little calves in their special room off to one side of the barn! And I distincly remember the big bull standing in his own pen with an actual metal ring through his nose. Amazing how peaceful and loving cows’ eyes are and how little and mean a bull’s!

For a little while my parents also bought milk from a farm. I remember hating the taste of that milk (having grown used to the blander stuff from the supermarket), so it was with trepidation that I sipped the raw milk from a nearby farm last summer. To my great amazement, the milk tasted wonderful! Rich, creamy . . . clean! My daughter loved it. Her friends who came to visit us loved it. I noticed a difference in my daughter’s digestive health almost immediately. I wasn’t so lucky with the asthma, but I still enjoyed the taste.

This milk was being produced and bottled by an organically certified farm in a town a thirty-minute drive from my home. The hours I could pick up my order were not convenient, and I wondered if the wastefulness of the gasoline could be justified. So, when I heard about a more local homesteader who was willing to sell her extra milk, I jumped at the chance. Laura and Nate run Down Home Farm in Parsonsfield, Maine. Check out their website here (I’ve also put it on the weblist over in the right-hand column for future reference).

Isabelle the Belmont Cow

Isabelle the Belmont Cow

Laura’s cows are small and brown and pretty. Even the bull is kinda’ cute. And the milk they produce is nothing short of a miracle. I skimmed the cream from this week’s jug and found I’d taken almost a fourth of the contents of my gallon! The resulting butter is naturally yellow. The cows are pastured so they can eat the grass that nature intended them to eat rather than grain silage that so often produces the rank smell of store-bought milk in winter.

The price of the milk is a little higher than the grocery store, but not by much, and I know I am paying not only for quality, but also for the support of a local farmer whose price is far above rubies. Where can you find local milk? Check this listing. Another good bet would be to go to a local, independent natural food store and ask. The proprietors of these establishments are a great resource for all things natural, organic, and local. If we seek out and support local farmers like Laura, we strengthen our local economy and preserve our local food supply. I envision a day when once again all our food except for extras like olive oil, coffee, spices, and other luxury items comes from our local farms. Talk about homeland security!

Fresh From The Oven

Fresh From The Oven

Well, the bread is out of the oven, the outdoors is calling me, and class is dismissed. Tune in next week to talk about strawberry jam . . . Outside the Box.

Local Progress

Crabapple TreeDear Reader:

It’s been over a month since I embarked on this journey into local living, and today I thought it would be a good idea to assess my successes and failures and to sit down with my calculator to figure out what effect living locally has had on my bottom line.

One of the biggest items in my budget is food, coming in third after the mortgage and gasoline. Since the beginning of April, I have managed to shop for groceries locally. I did fill one prescription at a chain grocery store owned by a large, multinational company, and my husband picked up a few extra food items there while retrieving my medication. I also shopped at the Whole Foods store in Portland one time . . . mostly because a friend was going, and I wanted to spend time with her. I was able to pick up some brown rice which is not available in my town (although I could have purchased it at One Earth Natural Food Store in Shapleigh, a lovely little store run by very nice women or by ordering it from a co-op) and a box of lotus-root tea which is supposed to be good for my asthmatic lungs.

Anyway, back to the money: comparing the grocery bills of April 2008 with April 2009, I was not too surprised to discover a $261 difference . . . in favor of the local supermarket! How can this be, you ask? Can’t those giant supermarkets offer better pricing because they are buying larger quantities from the suppliers?

Well, yes and no. The difference for me has been one of availability. While shopping at the chain retail supermarket, I indulged in the marvelous selection of organic produce and pre-packaged items like fruit leathers for lunchboxes, ricemilk, rice pastas, tortilla chips, chickpea spread, and recycled tiolet paper. These items aren’t available at my locally-owned grocery store. I’ve had to make-do or do without, and since those organic and specialty items are very expensive, I’ve managed to save quite a bit of cash shopping locally.

As for produce and the nice selection of organic greens (and reds and yellows and oranges) at the big chain store, there is some debate about the wisdom of buying organic produce if it is grown on immense farms in California and shipped all the way across the country to my little corner of Maine. Weighing the pros and cons, I decided that supporting the local store was more important than supporting organic agribusinesses in a state far removed from mine. When push comes to shove, who is going to be there for me if our food supply network is compromised? I’ll take my chances on my local owner. After all, he lives here, too.

Would I prefer locally-grown, organic produce? Sure. I’d love to see our town take some measures to encourage local agriculture–perhaps property-tax breaks for anyone growing food rather than subdividing land into house lots, for instance. In the summer, spinach and cucumbers grown by local farmers are often available at the store as well as a few farm stands scattered around the area. The market offers bags of Maine potatoes, a childhood food staple and one to which I’ve come back as they are filling, nutritious, Maine-grown, and inexpensive . . . and my kid likes them.

Not everyone will agree with me here. Another mom’s priority may be putting only organic food into her kids’ bodies over supporting local business. I’m cool with that. We each have to do what we feel is best in an imperfect world.

Obviously, I’m not following the 100-mile diet or the 200-mile diet or even the 1000-mile diet. Still, it feels pretty good to know I am supporting a local businessperson, the local people who run the cash registers and cut the meat and slice the deli cheese and stock the shelves, the local newspaper where the store advertises, and possibly such service-persons as accountants and bookkeepers and office-equipment repairers. While the big, national chains hire local people, advertising and bookkeeeping and personnel-related jobs and accounting and inventory and warehousing are usually done in an outside location, removing dollars from the local economy. How many CEO’s and CFO’s and other corporate-office executives of multinational companies live in the town where you buy your food? The money paid to them (the money out of your pocket) doesn’t come back in the form of property-taxes on their mulit-million dollar estates . . . at least not in your town, most likely.

There ARE some foods I buy from local producers, and I would (will) buy more if (when) it becomes available. I love the eggs from my friend, Sarah’s, chickens. Raw cow milk and goat cheese straight from a farm the next town over is delicious and nutritious. For two weeks now I’ve even made my own butter after skimming the thick layer of cream from the milk jug. I just put in an order for a quarter of a beef which will be munching on pasture two miles from my home all summer and fall until he ends up in my freezer. I have a lead on organic, local chicken. So, meat and dairy products aren’t an issue. It’s the vegetables and grains I’m looking for!


All in all, I’ve been pleased with the results of my local grocery shopping. My family is well-fed, I’m saving money, and I’m encouraging the growth and retention of local businesses and cottage industries. It’s been a good start to a year Outside the Box.