Thursday, March 29, 2012

Visiting a Neighboring Farm

A few weeks ago I was fortunate to have visited a farm near our home that was once a working farm.  The corn crib I wrote about in a previous post is part of that property, and it's just one of the many buildings on the farm.  With my curiosity piqued & a camera at the ready, I was taken around on a small tour by my friend Paul.  My first feelings toward the place were those of complete respect, appreciation & utter amazement for the farmer.  Every building & every road was taken into consideration when the layout of the buildings was established on the beautiful rolling landscape.  Although the actual construction of the various buildings spans several centuries, everything makes perfect sense.   

The original stone colonial home, which dates back to the very early 1700s, is now the private property of a family.  A bank barn dating to the early 1800s was my first stop.  Because of the stone barn that sits along our driveway, constructed during the same era, I was eager to compare the two; there were many differences between them as you will soon see.  The one on this farm is larger, with several additions to it.  Walking around the place, I got the sense that this was a farm that supported a lot of people.  Many hands had to work the land, tend the crops, clean the chicken coops (they're no longer standing), milk the cows, feed the livestock, thrash the wheat and cook the meals. 

Let's look at the former working farm near my home here in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.  

Constructed in 1825, the bank barn sits proudly against a sloping hill.  When you compare this barn to the one next to our house, you can immediately see the difference.  For one, the walls have been stuccoed (not original) and whitewashed.  This particular barn has no windows, except for the two over the large double doors leading into the main bays and a few on the lower, ground level. 

You can see how the slope meets the barn entrance.   A convenience for large equipment.

The other side of the barn shows small window slits at the top (for ventilation mostly) and lower windows on the 'basement' floor.

Completely reconstructed using the same measurements from the originals, the barn doors are large enough to let heavy farm equipment through.  The transom windows really brighten up the interior.

A man door is built into one of the barn doors.  This allowed the farmer & various workers to access the barn without having to open the heavy main doors. 

The walls were constructed using fieldstone from the property itself.  This was typical of barn construction in the area. 

The barn where we live has many windows along the bay walls, which floods it with daylight, while the barn on this farm does not.  It is now illuminated with electricity. 

The same type of roof construction from the early 1800s.  A testament to good construction is that it still stands after so many centuries.

The addition built around 1906 was meant to shed the equipment of a growing farm.  This is the second floor of that addition.  Milk cows were kept in the lower portion.

The doorway along the side of the addition is now used to access the modern farm equipment.  Notice the sloping ramp.

A milk house, also known as a buttery, is adjacent to the rear addition of the barn.  It is a perfectly square structure with a cupola-topped roof. 

On the left is the floor where dairy cows were kept (this is directly beneath the equipment barn).  All of the milking was done there by hand.

A Dutch door leading into the milk house is directly opposite from the door leading out of the cow stalls.  This made it convenient to move the milk for storage.

This is the door to the bottom floor of the barn.

Copper flashing on the shingled roof.  Way before modern refrigeration, milk houses were used to cool down milk in shallow pans or nappies, either by ice or by cool water from a nearby spring.  Once cool, the cream was then separated from the milk and turned into butter.  This particular milk house did not churn butter, however.  It sold the milk to a nearby dairy. 

The 10 acres behind the farm aren't used anymore for planting.  The area becomes a meadow in the spring & summer with paths carved out for walking.  It is then given a final mowing right before the fall.  I'm told by Paul that at one time, this property stretched all the way down to where we currently live.  That's 3 miles or so from here.  A large plot of land indeed.

The entrance to the area where the dairy cows were allowed to go out into the elements is enclosed by a large 6 ft. stone wall.  The original gate, as you can see, is no longer here.

This is the same area.  You can see the large double doors to the bottom of the barn.  The multi-storied structure in front of it is the bank barn itself. 

Paul tells me that passenger pigeons, which are now extinct, were kept in this area of the barn at the turn of the 20th century.  You can see the 4 cut outs allowing them access. 

I love this gigantic silver maple. 

A primitive colonial is but one of the several that sits on this property.  Its white walls give it a Shaker appearance.

This macintosh apple tree is lovingly cared for by Paul & his wife.

The workshop was used to build, restore & refurbish just about anything on the farm.  It is still used for such a purpose. 

The corn crib sits next to the workshop. 

Farms are an important element in our lives whether we're conscious about it or not.  Many of us are mindful when it comes to buying from local farms these days, which is definitely a good thing in my opinion.  By doing so we help sustain local agriculture while protecting the environment around us.  A hundred years or so ago, buying local would have been the only way.  Walking through the property I am also reminded of how the various animals would have been humanely raised on this farm & wish it were true for all present day animals on farms across the globe.  I feel lucky to have been allowed access to such historic structures and taken a look at our past.  I hope you enjoyed this just as much as I did.      

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Happy Birthday Audrey!

I want to wish my niece, Audrey, who's turning 3 today a very Happy Birthday!  I'm so thankful that she's a part of my life because she's a constant reminder to me not to take anything or anyone for granted.  You see, my little one has cancer.  She was diagnosed last August with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and has been in treatment ever since.  Although she's making great strides each & every day, her battle isn't quite over yet.  Her prognosis is good, however, so there is much hope for her.  At the end of the day, she's just a normal 3 year old child who likes to read, color, play with her toys, listen to music with her grandpa (she's a BIG Beatles fan because of him), dance, sing & yes, get into mischief!

I write & maintain a small, private blog for her & the entire family to keep everyone scattered around the country up to date on her progress.  I give her a voice through that blog by sharing stories, funny moments, anecdotes, likes & dislikes, photographs and many other things.  It's a pleasure for me to do this for her and I will continue doing so until my niece can have visitors without any restrictions; she will be going into her maintenance phase really soon, so we're all pretty excited about it!

One thing that has come out of this is that so many friends, well wishers & family have come together for our little one.  A dear nephew of mine established a team for a walk-a-thon last year in order to raise awareness for childhood cancers (thank you Elijah!).  Some have donated blood & platelets for my niece, while others have dedicated birthday parties in honor of Audrey.  Hundreds upon hundreds of people have offered their prayers & heartfelt well wishes for her, and I can certainly say it's touched every single one of us to have such an outpouring amount of support.  The entire family, including myself, appreciates it immensely.

Last year around this time, I wrote a small entry dedicated to Audrey, with a Halloween picture of her dressed up as Snow White (she hadn't turned 2 in that picture).  If you want to see it, click here.  I thought I'd share a few photographs of my sweetie pie with you since it is her special day. 

Audrey at her 2nd birthday party was queen for the day.

My little angel a few weeks prior to diagnosis.

This is my little one in the hospital at the time of diagnosis last summer. 

By Halloween last year, Audrey had already begun losing her hair as a result of her chemotherapy.  Nevertheless, she was the cutest kitty cat ever for the Halloween party at her hospital.

Guess who?  Uncle David & Audrey having fun at the Aquarium of the Pacific during the week of Christmas.  With no immune system to combat illness, Audrey's had to wear a mask whenever she goes out in public. 

Me & my little one.

Audrey at the playground making sand cakes only a few weeks ago!     

I'm proud to be an uncle to my only niece.  I can't imagine my life without her laughter, her smile, her little 'penguin dances' that she likes to do for uncle (she waddles while flapping her "flippers"), her inquisitive mind & her infinite love.  She is absolutely precious to me and she knows it.  There isn't a week that goes by without chatting on the phone with her about everything & anything.  She loves it whenever I send her care packages with my homemade goodies, because she knows they're so much better than store bought.  It's such a pleasure for me to spoil her this way; this year is no different.  A care package is in the mail as we speak full of Good Things for her (you have to include toys!) and I certainly hope she likes them.  

Happy Birthday Audrey!

Much Love,
Uncle David

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Pasta with Chickpeas & Pesto

I admit there are times when even I'm rushed to put something on the table for lunch or dinner that's both delicious and nutritious.  By now you must know that in my household, getting convenience food from a chain is never an option.  That doesn't mean, however, that I always have the time to indulge in a long recipe.  Although I'm no longer a strict vegetarian like I was many years ago, I still like to have meatless meals whenever I can.  Pasta is always a sure answer to putting something together in a matter of minutes that is filling & satisfying.  On its own, pasta is fine, but I'm always mindful of including some protein in a meal.  For vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike, chickpeas provide a protein along with much needed fiber.  When you combine them with pasta, a perfect meal is created.  

Pesto will forever be a favorite of mine, so what better sauce to add to chickpeas & pasta?  What's more, canned chickpeas are convenient and always delicious.  The entire meal, provided you have some homemade pesto already made (I always have some in the freezer portioned into ice cube trays), can be put together in less than 15 minutes.  This is probably one of the quickest things you can make for your family, so I hope you try it.  I never tire of this easy recipe.

Elbow macaroni with chickpeas & pesto.

The Ingredients
  • 8 oz. tubular pasta (I use elbow macaroni)
  • 3 tablespoons homemade pesto 
  • 15 oz. can chickpeas, drained & rinsed
  • Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese, freshly grated
  • salt & pepper
Yield: 4 servings

Bring a stockpot halfway filled with water to a boil and add 1 teaspoon salt to the rapidly boiling water.  Quickly add your pasta and cook according to package directions.  Meanwhile place the drained and rinsed chickpeas in a large serving bowl. 

Homemade pesto should be bright green, pungent and downright delicious.  When the pasta is al dente, drain it in a colander.  Quickly place it in your serving bowl along with the chickpeas and without a moment to lose, add the 3 tablespoons of pesto.  Toss to combine thoroughly and add salt & pepper to taste. 

Pasta waits for no one, so make sure your table is set, the wine is poured and everyone is seated. 

A closeup of a serving shows how wonderfully the pesto clings to the pasta and the chickpeas.  Don't forget to pass the freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese at the table. 

Treat yourself to this delicious dish for lunch or dinner over the weekend or on a weeknight when you just don't have the time to work over the stove.  I love serving this with a nice salad of romaine & escarole, tossed with my favorite vinaigrette (I have yet to share my recipe for that!).  A primitivo or Chianti classico would pair quite nicely with this pasta, but if you're feeling a bit adventurous, try having it with a glass of Pecorino.  This white wine from Italy which comes from the Pecorino grape, is bright & crisp, and works really well with light dishes such as my pasta with chickpeas & pesto.  Whatever you choose, remember, Buon Mangiare!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Antique Salt Cellars

There was a time when salt cellars played an important role on the dining table for the host or hostess.  As a result of it being such an expensive commodity several hundred years ago, salt was seen as a luxury and it was the well to do that made salt cellars quite fashionable & a status symbol for the home.  A single salt cellar usually sat at the head of the table and was passed around throughout the meal.  The closer one sat to the salt cellar, the more important one was deemed by the head of the household.  Smaller cellars that were more accessible and with an open top became a part of Victorian table settings.  Fast forward to the 20th century when salt was no longer a luxury and when anti caking agents were added to make salt free-flowing, and one begins to see salt cellars fall out of fashion.  Luckily for the collector and for those of us who like to set a table with Good Things, this can prove to be a boon.

Salt cellars for the table come in silver, porcelain, cut glass or crystal and are usually fashioned with or without a lid.  Glass salt cellars, known as salt dips to some collectors, can be found in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors.  Depression glass ones can be fun to collect if you have a penchant for this type of glass.  My small collection of salt cellars are both clear glass & crystal, with such beautifully cut designs on them. 

Depending on the food I'm serving and how many people will be at my table, I love varying the cellars I put out.  For my every day table, I usually fill the simplest of depression glass cellars with kosher salt along with one that contains ground pepper.  If I'm going to have something a bit more formal, I use those that will complement my glassware, china & silverware.  Cellars filled with pepper for guests to sprinkle on their food are always included.  I try very hard to make sure every place setting has salt & pepper cellars, but if I lack enough of them for this to be possible, I place a duo between two place settings.  This type of set up is more pleasing to the eye when entertaining, because large salt & pepper shakers don't have to distract one from the other arrangements on the table. 

I realize that salt cellars aren't for everyone, but I sure enjoy using them.  Keep an eye out for these little dishes the next time you're at an antique shop.  If you're lucky, you may even find the original spoons that go with them!

Although salt cellars are no longer used for every day table settings, I still love setting my table with antique cellars for lunch or dinner. 

These are inexpensive depression glass cellars that are easily found at antique stores and online auction sites.  I love their simple faceted design.
This quartet sparkles quite beautifully.  They have bottoms hand cut in a diamond pattern with petal shaped rims.  I love using these on the table.

Take a closer look at the bottom of one.  A sunburst pattern is elaborately hand cut with perfect precision.  Simply beautiful.

These oval shaped salt cellars are cut differently.  The bottom two are ridged and have a snowflake design at the bottom.  The top two have smooth rims & exteriors.

Here's a look at the snowflake design on the outside bottom.  

A plain ribbed oval bottom.

Among my favorite ones are these octagonal bucket shaped salt dips.  They have tiny feet on which they stand along with a sawtoothed rim.
 A scalloped rim adorns this hexagon faceted cellar.  The glass is quite thick.

This has a pretty sunburst pattern on the bottom.

 The shape of this duo reminds me of French jelly jars. 

 A trio of footed salt cellars that I cherish.  They get placed on the table for special occasions.

Spoons or 'shovels' are sometimes found as part of a set, but can also be purchased separately.  Don't pass them up if you ever come across any. 

These tiny open top vessels always elevate my table settings no matter how informal the meal may be, without making anything seem too fussy or formal.  


With more and more of us becoming savvy gourmands, salt is no longer the "it pours when it rains" item it was several decades ago.  Experimenting with salts from all over the world is de rigueur for the most discerning cook & host, and to my mind that is a very Good Thing.  Although salt mills & salt shakers will always have a place at the table and in the kitchen, I think it's safe to say that salt cellars can once again grace a dining table for guests. 

Many is the time I've come across a story or crafting project that takes one object and forms it into a salt cellar.  I have yet to make some out of eggs and sea shells or even hollowed out nut shells.  In the meantime I can access and use the antique ones I do own, and set a table that is as suitable today as it was a hundred years or more ago.  Happy Entertaining!

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Corn Crib

Corn cribs have fascinated me for a number of years now, so I was determined to capture images of one on a neighboring property.  I was told by a friend that this structure, which dates to around 1860, looked rickety and on the brink of falling over, but was quite sturdy and would probably stand for many more decades to come.

When I arrived at the farm I was greeted with a disheveled looking corn house constructed of wood that had seen better days.  I was in love!  I began asking my friend Paul all about the corn crib and its history.  Corn cribs were originally built on working farms to store & dry whole corn, still on the cob, with or without the husk.  Although the design of these structures varied from place to place, they all shared similar characteristics.  Slatted walls on all four sides were a must and all were elevated off the ground.  Although corn cribs are no longer needed, even for the gentleman farmer, it's nice to see the ones that are still standing on properties who care about history & conservation.  Have a look at my recent discovery.

This wooden corn crib is about 15 feet long, by 4 feet wide (at its widest point) and about 11 feet tall.  Painted white to match the workshop next door, the corn house stands proudly along the driveway to the farm.

 Walls which angle inward were a typical design element for this type of granary.  The slatted walls allowed for good air circulation around the entire structure, essential for drying out corn.  The entire corn crib was elevated to keep critters from getting into the corn and destroying it; every corn crib was designed this way.   

The two small 'access doors' at the very top allowed a farmer to drop in corn from the day's harvest without having to open the front door. 

The inside of the corn house, now being used to house some odds & ends, clearly shows how the walls angle inward.  It's amazing to me how this woodwork (all original) has survived since the 1860s. 

The roof itself is fairly new.  I'm told that it has to be replaced every 20-30 years or so in order to keep the entire structure intact.

Look at this doorway.  This entrance has seen better days, but to my mind, it is beautiful.

A giant pin oak tree standing along the driveway sits proudly at the entrance to the farm.  I'm not sure if it's been here since the 1800s (probably not), but it sure is beautiful to behold in all its splendid glory.  It must be at least 80 feet tall.

Corn cribs were an essential element of working farms in this country from colonial times through the early 20th century.  Early settlers learned how to properly store their corn from native Americans who had already been using this technique.  Corn crib granaries made it possible for farmers to feed their animals & grind the dried corn for meal.  It was up to the housewife to get many as many uses out of corn for the household.  She had to know how to properly separate the starch from the corn (soaking the kernels and letting the starch settle at the bottom of the bowl, then carefully removing it & letting the cakes dry completely) for kitchen use.  Although many corn cribs haven't survived the ravages of time, I'm glad I was able to explore one that has.  Corn cribs (also known as corn houses) are a part of this country's rich history.  I hope you enjoyed discovering this one with me.