reasons to homeschool

Red clover jelly: recipes and reviews

We have a field of red clover, otherwise known as a pasture, on our property. I’m sure the bees will love it when they get here. The goats as well. Everyone seems to love clover and if you’ve ever sucked on those little purple flowers on the flower head, you know why. If not, well, I’m afraid you may not have had an adequate upbringing. Take a moment to find some nice red clover, pull it apart and share it with your children.

Anyway, it’s a flower and it’s edible so of course I had to make jelly out of it.

red clover jelly

I wasn’t as sure of this one since clover has such a delicate flavor to begin with. It has neither the fragrance, nor the strength of lilac or black locust. That, and I had difficulty finding a recipe. If the jelly were all that good, it seems like it would be easier to find instructions on how to make it.

So I started out with the same basic infusion I used for lilac jelly, black locust blossom jelly and dandelion jelly.

For the clover infusion:

4 cups boiling water
4 cups clover flower heads (This part was way easier with clover. All parts of the plant are edible, and none of them particularly offensive. While it is beneficial to use only the actual flower head, a little green isn’t going to have a noticeable effect on the jelly.)

Place clover in a glass or stainless steel container, cover with boiling water and leave it steep overnight. Strain out flowers and squeeze out excess water, reserving liquid for the jelly.

For the clover jelly:

4 cups infusion (add water to replace what was lost in straining)
8 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 packages powdered pectin
8 cups sugar

Add lemon juice to the infusion, stir in pectin and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Add the sugar all at once and bring to a rolling boil. Boil for one minute, skim and pour into jelly jars. Process like you would any other jelly. Here’s a great tutorial from Owlhaven.

I was pleasantly surprised at the flavor. It was light, but very pleasant. I loved the color, and lamented that I don’t seem to have the whole bubble free jelly thing down, yet. I tried pouring it into the jars quickly, but I think the real issue was that the jelly was already setting before I got it into the jars. You’re not really supposed to double recipes when using powdered pectin, or so I’ve heard. Maybe this is why? Or maybe I’ll just figure it out in time. No one around here really cares, anyway, so long as it tastes good on bread. And it does.

Then I found another recipe for an infusion. And of course I had to try it. Both with the juice and with the wine.

For the clover infusion:

5 cups apple juice or white wine
2 cups clover in a glass or stainless steel dish

Bring juice or wine to a boil and pour over clover. Cover and let sit until cool. Or, uh, overnight if you get busy and sort of forget about it. Strain and reserve liquid for the jelly.

For the clover jelly:

4 cups clover infusion
8 cups sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
6 oz liquid pectin

Combine infusion, sugar and lemon juice. Bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as sugar has dissolved, stir in pectin. Return to a rolling boil for one minute. Remove from heat, skim foam and process like you would any other jelly in a hot water bath.

I was quite pleased with the results. The jelly was picture perfect. Clear, no bubbles and that perfect wiggle-on-your-spoon consistency. I don’t know if it was the liquid pectin (which is supposedly happier with the whole doubling thing), the juice/wine or just that I was more conscientious about skimming foam during the whole process rather than just at the end. Either way, the jelly was beautiful.

My daughter wants me to enter it in the fair.

The clover infusion made with apple juice ended up tasting like apple jelly. It was a good apple jelly, with a slight unidentifiable flavor that added more character than most apple jellies have, but it was still apple jelly. And all hints at character were mostly lost once you stopped licking the knife and tasted it on bread.

The infusion made with the wine, however, was quite interesting. Maybe it was just the wine, but it seemed to bring out the flavor of the clover and accent it well. And the interesting flavor carries over to the bread, as well, which is a nice bonus since I’m not in the habit of eating jelly by the spoon full.

A word of caution, however. That whole idea about alcohol burning off in cooking? It isn’t as true as you might like to believe. The jelly isn’t boiled long enough to be confident this is actually an alcohol free jelly. White cooking wine doesn’t have a particularly high alcohol content to begin with, but it is still good to keep in mind.

Note: If you go off in search of clover, remember to be sure it is clover that hasn’t been sprayed. Oh, and you can use any kind of clover. I just happen to have tons of red clover. If you don’t have tons, you can halve this recipe. It was doubled to begin with.

Happy jelly making!

reasons to homeschool

Of garbage and dreams

Sitting on the edge of my bed to put on my shoes, I grumble a bit in my spirit. I’m about to load the trunk of the minivan with a week’s worth of garbage. Smelly garbage because the mice have made a sudden, unwelcome return and there are a few mixed in with packaging and dirty diapers and junk mail. This isn’t exactly what I had in mind when we moved to the country, but we never thought to even inquire about trash service.

Who in the city really thinks about things like that? It never occurred to me that there might be places where the trash wasn’t picked up. The do-it-yourself country attitude already set our land on fire. Now it is filling my mini-van with garbage. For just $18.50 a month, we get to haul our own garbage into town to dump in the garbage man’s dumpsters.

What a deal. I never even knew how much I wanted a pick-up until now.

So I’m sitting on my bed, in no particular hurry to get my shoes on. It occurs to me that perhaps I should show a little more patience to the children in their dallying, for here I am. Dilly dallying. They’re all outside waiting on me.

I look out my window. At the green grass, the blue sky, the old barns and the farmland beyond. I smile. The view always does that for me. My husband and I are in agreement that someday, someday, when all the bills are paid, the improvements made, the projects finished, someday we’ll knock out this wall and make an enormous picture window.

And then, there’s my son. Just running. Running through knee deep grass, the wind in his face, joy beaming from his every move. Running, and jumping over stands of weeds. Running back to try it again. Running and prancing and shaking his head. Biting at an imaginary bit, he turns and runs and this time clears the weeds and trots around in a large, victorious circle.

It reminds me of when we first bought this property, but were still living at our old house.

“Mom, when we finally move, we probably aren’t going to be so interested in TV, anymore. There’s just too much to do.”

Indeed there is.

Funny how such small things can change your perspective and remind you of why you are where you are. I load the car with the garbage, make a face at the girls in the back seat as I ask if they want their windows open and call my young stallion to the car.

I leave feeling contentment and joy, even at the reality of driving my garbage in to town. It is such a small price to pay for a landscape on which to build our dreams.

reasons to homeschool

The joy of morning chores

The sun is barely breaking over the trees in the east and I’m standing in front of the coop, just watching. Watching the sun rise. Watching the dogs wrestle. Watching the chickens dart back and forth, eating our leftovers from the night before. They never just sit still and eat what is in front of them. Their little heads bob, this way and that. I used to think they were picking out their favorite bits, for they certainly do have their favorite morsels, but they behave the same way when the treats are all the same.

So now I know they’re just chickens and that’s just what chickens do.

The birds are relatively quiet. There is a call now and again. A jay squawks in the treeline. A bird I have not yet identified hides in a bush behind me and makes its “peep, prrreeep.” An entire murder of crows rises from the trees down by the river and flies silently overhead, just beginning to disperse on the other side of our property. I wonder for a moment if they are the reason I have not seen any hawks. And I am a little surprised at just how quiet the morning is.

Still, I just stand there. I’m not really sure how long it has been since I opened the coop door, but not the dogs are just standing in front of me, watching and waiting. They’ve already licked the bowl we use to store our leftovers clean, but they don’t know what to do next until I move. If I walk the property, they will romp off that direction. If I head toward the house, they will be waiting at the door when I get there.

Still, I just stand there. I’m not really thinking about anything. The chickens are almost finished with the tuna fish I pulled out of the back of the refrigerator and are moving on to the carrot peelings from the carrots I put in my husband’s cooler for his trip to Ravenna. The sleet turns to snow and I look up at the sky, asking the dogs if they think we really will get five inches.

I’m soaked, and decide it is probably time to get back to the house. It’s warm inside and the children are just beginning to wake, greeting me in their pajamas with sleep still in their eyes.

Where were you, mommy?

Just feeding the chickens.

reasons to homeschool

Late night visitors, or The attack of the coyotes

A little after midnight, both dogs leap at the window, growling furiously.  For a moment, I think Hunter (the lab mix) is going to go right through the glass.  I run to the kitchen to open the door and let them out before even checking to see what they are so upset about.

Wait.  Back up a bit.  It’s Friday evening and I come home to discover the chickens missing.  I look around with the flashlight and see no evidence of predators and start looking around the coop, in bushes and in trees.

Here, chickee chickee.  Here, chickee chickee.

Two appear from under the coop which I quickly catch and lock inside.  Kneeling down with a flashlight, I can see the feet of the other two, but they aren’t budging.

Do you know how many things there are out here that would love chicken for dinner?

Reasoning with them doesn’t work.  Even as I list the predators for them.

Weasels, mink, raccoons, foxes, dogs, coyotes, bobcats, cougars . . . and you know, I’m not so sure that the tracks all over around this coop aren’t bobcat.  You may have taken over her old home, you know.

They coo at my voice, but refuse to move.  I give up on catching them, but not on getting them through the night alive.  So I bring the dogs down and walk them around the coop several times.  The plan is to let the dogs out every time they bark, following with a flashlight.  They’re pretty much allowed out anytime they want, anyway, but now the stakes are a little higher.  We’ve only been here for a week, and all evidence suggests that the wild things that lived here before us have not yet ceded their territory.

Fast forward several hours.  They’ve already been out twice, chasing who knows what.  Maybe just barking for the pure joy of it for all I know, but if there is any chance of them getting to the chickens before something that would actually do them harm, I don’t mind.  Hunter is lunging at the window and I’m grabbing my jacket as my daughter says,

There’s something out there, mom.  I see something like a dog.

The dogs race to the door and push past me as they round the corner and take on the intruder at a full run.  Make that intruders.  Hunter is immediately on the heels of one coyote, chasing him across the road, across a cornfield, across another road and I finally lose him in a line of trees.  Copper is doing his best to keep up as the rest of the pack disperses.

Yes, pack.  A whole pack of coyotes (at least ten by my daughter’s count) had been lounging in my front yard only moments before.  Mouse watched them lope up to the yard, not twenty feet from the window.  Some sat and stared back at her, some sniffed around, some even lay down.  None were in the least concerned about us or the dogs lunging at the window.

Until they were released.

I heard Copper’s trail call every few minutes, each time further off in the distance.  I grew concerned at just how far they were running.  And while Hunter may give a single coyote a bit of a challenge, he is no match for a pack.  Not to mention the little beagle.  When would the coyotes decide they were on their own turf and ready to fight for it?  Once I could no longer hear the barking, my anxiety grew.  These coyotes were bold, unlike the ones I am familiar with from other places we have lived.  If it weren’t for the night time yipping, I’d never have known any were present at all.

But this pack was lounging in my yard, in the open and nowhere near cover.  When my daughter looked at them through the window, they just looked back.

Finally, Hunter comes trotting up our road, tail held high as he keeps pausing and looking behind him.  He is significantly faster than Copper, but he rarely goes far without him.  Copper, however, doesn’t appear.  Hunter trots to the top of the hill, turns and waits.  I haven’t heard Copper’s bugle in some time, but Hunter begins to prance and lowers his head in a play bow.  Out from behind a snow drift comes those flopping little beagle ears and both dogs bound to me, overwhelming me with affection.

They are keyed up, and unharmed.  They bear no evidence of anything but a hard run.  But they are excited.  Copper comes in with an energy that seems to set everything around him abuzz.  For the rest of the night, he alerts to everything, even the sound of the heater kicking on.  He is tracker dog extraordinaire.  After all, that little beagle just took on a pack of coyotes and won.

And the chickens made it through the night.  And I . . . well . . . I awoke with a little greater appreciation for the role of the family dog out here where he has a job to do, as well as for the wild things all around us.  There are all kinds of things I know are out here, passing through our property on their nightly hunts.  I know it even without the tell tale tracks in the snow.  But it is different to know something, or even to see evidence of something, than it is to see it for yourself, to confront it and to drive it back.

I think about them sometimes during the day, the coyotes which contribute to significant livestock losses out here, as well as the cougars which seem almost a thing of myth.  Everyone talks about them, and sightings, though rarely confirmed, occupy more than a few conversations over coffee.  Then one gets hit on I-80 in Gretna and you know.  You know. It isn’t just talk, like a rural version of the urban legend.  Because there is no way mountain lions are strolling along I-80 if they are not experiencing population pressure out here.

Sometimes the hair on the back of my neck goes up in the evening as I lock up the chickens.  It is almost as if I can feel something watching me from just beyond the shadows.  Hunter’s low growl as he presses himself protectively against my leg and watches the hedge on the property line makes me hold my feed bucket a little more like a weapon, but I stop to stare into the darkness.  Because these wild things that lurk in the shadows were as much a part of why I wanted to move out here as the ability to raise the chickens and goats I will have to work so diligently to protect from them.

reasons to homeschool

Instilling mindfulness in our homeschool

In his book New Pioneers, Jeffrey Jacob quotes a homesteader from Idaho’s description of the joy she has in the way of life her family has chosen:

There is so much more to say, and all I can start with is–this is a most beautiful way to live.  We feel joy in just watching a gate we built open and close. New Pioneers, The Back-to-the-Land Movement and the Search for a Sustainable Future, p. 84

With this, he introduces the concept of mindfulness, a “calm, yet focused, engagement with the present.”  (Ibid.)  He goes on to discuss the concept more in light of its Buddhist origins, but my thoughts focused on the satisfaction derived from accomplishment.  To set a goal, to invest yourself in realizing that goal and to sit back and appreciate the fruits of your labor.

In our culture today, we tend to undervalue manual labor.  Everyone knows you have to go to college to get a “good” job and if your job does not require a degree, it must not be all that good.  Sure, there are those few who drop out, buck the system and go on to do amazing things.  We like to tell their stories because it fits well with the story of ourselves, the one in which our hero picks himself up by his bootstraps and succeeds outside the confines of convention.

But we aren’t about to risk such things on our own children.  And our hero is only a hero if he succeeds according to that convention.  We don’t hold manual laborers in high regard.  Nor do we particularly esteem those who “throw away” their higher education and pursue other lines of work, or worse, voluntarily stay home to care for children.

Yet there is satisfaction in just watching a gate open and close, a gate you built, a gate that stands as a visual reminder of a need met, a challenge overcome, a goal accomplished.

It is a peculiar sense of satisfaction I want my children to know as well.  It is why I leave them time to build their fort in the windbreak while I’m working in the house.  But it is also tied in to some of our goals for homeschooling.  I want my children to be personally invested in their education.  I want them to see their progress as their accomplishment.  When they pull out a lapbook they’ve worked on, a story they’ve written or a model they’ve constructed, I want it to stand there like that swinging gate.

I want them to own their own efforts, and take the time to be satisfied with the result.  It takes effort, discipline and the ability to step back to let my children struggle with a task and perhaps even fail at it.  It means being careful with how I praise them, lest I rob them of their accomplishment by making it about external recognition.

Most of all, it means giving them time to pursue something with all their energy over the course of days and even weeks.