Saturday, September 13, 2014

Bake bread to stay clean, walk further, and get more cheese!

To most anyone living in the US today, I'm sure my title seems about as nonsensical as they come.  I can assure you, however, that these activities are all closely linked and dependent upon each other. I suspect that the people who built our house (circa 1870) could have easily recognized the links.

In today's consumer driven world, all we need to know anymore is how to earn money.  To our detriment, we've forgotten most everything else over the course of the last few generations as industrialization took hold. Anything bad resulting from our consumer purchases is hidden from view. So long as the money keeps flowing, all is well. Well... at least all appears well so long as you're not a "pessimist" who dares to peek behind the curtain too often.  We'd all be much happier if nobody looked back there anyway, right?

Baking bread?  But wait a minute you say...  David goes to the ER so they can unplug his swollen esophagus with an endoscope when he eats bread!  (yes, I have developed a very unfortunate allergic reaction to wheat).   As it turns out, Rachel's new spelt-flour sourdough causes no problems for me.  I'm not sure whether the difference is in the avoidance of our adulterated modern wheat or the fermentation involved in making sourdough, but I can eat it with no ill effects. Sourdough fermentation is another example of traditional methods having long forgotten benefits.

The all important ash drawer!
To be truthful though, it's not really bread that you have to bake to stay clean or walk further.  You could cook a roast, or fry scrambled eggs, or heat up some water for your daily dose of addictive drugs coffee.  All that matters is that you do your cooking (or heating) with wood, which produces ash.  But wood is so dirty and inconvenient, right? Perhaps, but it's much better than the alternative, or its side effects.


Tallow soap curing
Stay Clean!

So how does wood ash help you to stay clean? Aside from industrially produced methods, soaking it in water is the best way to make lye, which when combined with tallow or other fats makes soap. Not just for yourself, but for laundry or dishes as well.  As an added benefit, you'll realize that you no longer have to donate so much plastic to your local landfill when you make your own soap, or grow your own food.

Walk further!

The lye made by dissolving wood ash isn't just good for soap though. If you want to walk somewhere, you'll need shoes, and if you're going to have shoes, you need leather. Wood ash lye is also the best way to dehair hides for turning them into leather. You needed to butcher a cow for the tallow to make the soap anyway (or maybe even for hamburgers?), so you already had a hide to tan for leather .

Our stash of black-oak bark
Once you've soaked your hide in wood-ash solution for a few days until the hair falls out, you've got rawhide.  It's useful stuff -- you can boil it down to make glue, or form it into lightweight storage boxes as many of the native Americans did.   It's a lot like plastic, but without the ocean destroying side effects.

Partially tanned cowhide in oak bark tanning solution
But... perhaps you'd like your hide fully tanned into leather, so you can make shoes, belts, or harnesses for your horses (or yourself, now that Sears is no longer carrying those). As it turns out, baking your bread helps there as well.   If you're burning oak in your stove,  you have everything you need.  Strip the bark off an oak tree in the spring, and it'll come off in big sheets. Grind it up by smashing the bark with a hammer (this part makes me long for a good fossil-fueled cheater method, like using a wood chipper), soak it in a barrel full of water, and voila! You have leather tanning solution.  Soak your dehaired hides in this for a few months and you have leather. No chromium sulfate or other nasty tanning chemicals are necessary, thus negating the need to have other countries do your leather tanning and absorb the environmental costs of doing it the "modern way".

Eat more cheese!


Rachel's delicious smoked Gouda
Wood ash is the the original potash used on farms for supplying potassium (Nitrogen, Phosporous and Potassium -- often referred to as NPK -- are the most commonly lacking nutrients in agricultural soils). Potash is an important ammendment for growing alfalfa, which happens to be the most important hay crop for dairy cattle, from which you can make your cheese!

I think it's incredibly cool the way the real world is so interconnected.  Our ancestors figured out a lot of interesting stuff, and as the fossil fueled world starts to wane, we'll all do well to learn more of it.

1 comment:

Rachel Kopka said...

You guys sure do a lot of awesome things on your farm. You and your family must be incredibly gratified with all you produce and make to sustain yourselves! Just about everything you do is interesting and cool! Not to mention, your wife must be a saint.