Our Philosophy

Festina lente
-make haste...slowly

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Pot au Feu - Winter is Approaching

Check out the new wide plank pine floor we laid in September.  It feels so much better underfoot than the old 2x6 decking ever did.  A lot warmer too...oh, and fewer scorpions paying us a visit through the cracks in the floor.
We moved to the lower Appalachian bioregion to escape the hot summers of south and middle Georgia.  This was our second summer without air conditioning, and the mountain climate made it a lot more tolerable than it was in Tifton last year.  We had a four-day stretch in late June with 100+ temps, rare for this region, which made AC-free living a bit miserable, but then, did I mention it was only four days?  Besides, my mother came for a visit at just the right time, bless her soul, and kept the children at the hotel with her.  We basically took those four days off, ate, drank, and watched TV in the air-co, and cooled our heels in the hotel pool.  Other than that, days were warm and busy, and nights quite pleasant.  It was the rare dawn that didn't have us all under the comforter.

But it IS the mountains, and cooler summers are generally followed by cooler winters, so when September rolled around we knew it was time to start preparing the tent for winter.  Closing up the floor and installing the wood stove were the first items on our to-do list.

First we moved the east side of the house to the west side, rolled out an overlapping layer of red rosin paper, then laid a 3/4 inch thick, 10" wide pine plank floor sourced from our bioregion. 

Then we slid everything back to the east side and did the same for the west half.  Thank you sister Julie for your assistance on this day!  What a mess!

Next we laid a tile hearth and installed a small cast-iron wood stove.  You can see that I've lined it with fire brick on the stove floor to add some thermal mass and make it a little cooler underneath.

With the house in disarray, we ate out too much during these 4 days, but as these baskets show, the garden and forest kept offering their bounty nonetheless.  In the right basket is about 3 pounds of September chanterelles (Cantherellus cibarius and C. lateritius) and another pound of hedgehogs (Hydnum repandum).  We ate what we could and sold the rest at the farmers market for $10/pint, about $30/lb.

About this time we also ran out of the lard stash we brought north with us, so it was time to render another round.  This is fat from pastured pork produced by Mountain Valley Farm, which is less than 8 miles from our place.  Even this good stuff is very cheap; I think we paid 40 cents a pound maybe, bartered for our herbal products.

In September we also got our rabbit operation moving again.  The old triplex tractor is no longer sad and vacant.  We have three New Zealands, two does - Clover and Helena Handbasket, who has partially lop "helicopter" ears, as my dad calls them - and a buck named Br'er Fox in Socks, after a couple of favorite children's stories.  Fox chewed his way out one day and picked up a tick that paralyzed his back legs, but a steady regimen of comfrey, self-heal, yarrow, and sassafras has him on the mend.  I think we're just about ready to breed now.
And ready to add some delicious rabbit meat to that pot au feu the title alludes to!  It's been chilly the last few days, and we've been transitioning to cooking on the wood stove inside full time.  The process of cooking a meal from start to finish on wood is slow, very slow, but it doesn't need to be watched all that closely - nothing ever burns - and the taste!!  My god, the food is incredible.  "Pot au feu", for those who don't know, is a traditional French dish, usually based on a cut of beef that requires extended cooking.  What makes it stand out is the fact that it is usually left on the stove and added to for several days, developing a complexity of flavor that peaks around the 3rd or 4th day.  Our first pot au feu is on the stove now, based on some local apple-wood-smoked beef kielbasa we got from Riverview Farms, instead of beef roast.  We started with the "holy trinity" - onions, carrots, and celery - in butter, then added the sausage about an hour later, then chicken stock from the pantry another hour later, along with barley and navy beans.  Another three-ish hours and that new pine floor was covered with the drool of four desperately hungry slow food junkies.  What an aroma!  And taste to match. 

In our admittedly limited experience, extended cooking in cast iron over fire tends to pull a dash of flavor from every meal previously cooked in that vessel.  The night before we started the pot au feu, we slow-cooked (as if there were a choice;) sweet peppers, onions, and Italian sausage for dinner.  We swore we could taste hints of French toast, bacon, chanterelles, and grilled tomato, basil, and cheddar sandwiches, all combining to make an amazing, close-your-eyes-and-moan kind of dish.  We gave up the microwave 4 years ago, then the toaster, the electric range this past spring, and now my wife is talking about down-grading the propane stove to bathwater- and dishwater-heating duty only. 

Won't wood be hot for summer cooking, dear?  We'll figure it out, she says...and I believe her.  And the best part is, she's really into this wood stove cooking, taking on a significant portion of the fire tending in the process.  Which I'm totally OK with;o)

Yeah, we sure are missing all those modern conveniences!  Wow, we should have done this sooner.   Wood stove cooking will be a permanent fixture in our household from now on, whatever happens to the world around us, and open hearth cooking is no doubt on the horizon, once we have a nice big fireplace with wrought-iron boom, in some future kitchen.

Soon on the list for our home comfort is the possibility of excavating under the tent platform and loading up 10-20 yards of wood chip mulch in the 16'x20' space below.  I'm thinking that if we enclose the deck with some sort of skirt, buried slightly in the soil below, around the mass of composting forest waste, that the heat of decomposition might be able to keep that new pine floor toasty warm, and reduce our need for constant fire in the fall and spring.

My wife is obviously questioning the need to go to all that trouble...


  1. I have been reading your blog for a little while now, and am amazed at what you have been doing. Your winter quarters look very cosy.
    I have a herb question you may be able to answer for me. I am hoping to make some infused calendula oil, and find some sources use dried and some fresh petals. What would you do?

    1. Hi, Jo! One aspect of my life that really isn't on the increase these days is my connectivity! Sheesh, how long can a modern American go, without logging onto the internet?? My guess is, longer than I can...question is, are they still modern Americans at that point? I just sat down to write a piece that has a lot more to say about that question actually.

      In the meantime, herb questions are always good questions, though, unfortunately, I have no solid answer to this one; you will simply have to mark me and my wife down in the "Uses Dry" column. And we use a lot of it.


  2. Down on my to make/to buy list is a rocket stove. The Kelly Kettle in particular looks like it is faster at boiling water than a microwave, and it basically uses twigs as fuel. I just think it is an interesting option to have, although, it hasn't been high enough of a priority for me to buy one yet.

    1. Lots to say on this subject, JDW, but for now suffice it to say that Jess and are still very interested in building a small thermally-massive, passive solar cottage, complete with rocket mass stove, in the living area, and possibly in the sleeping areas, too. Anyone who wants to see some really inspiring, and very affordable, houses of the future should check out Ianto Evans' book, "The Hand-Sculpted House." Nothing short of artwork, for the eye and the soul.

      Never thought about trying a rocket stove in the tent, though. Thanks for the idea.