linen dish cloth

When the countertops and cutting boards, the faucets and the sink are all wiped down with a good clean cloth, I’m quite content. Linen fibre is strongest when wet, so it makes an ideal dish cloth. I adore the texture and gloss of wet-spun linen, at once hardy plant fibre and fine silk, artless pastoral and opulence combined.

These cloths are a great little project to pick up and stitch when there are quieter moments in the day. All you need is some linen yarn and a crochet hook in your pocket, and the simple pattern, below.

linen-cloth-natural

The qualities of linen

Like rustic clothing, the difference between store-bought and handmade is often its strength. They’re certainly not cheaper than the imported cotton dishcloths we can easily buy, but then they last so long, and please me so much. In using natural linen we sidestep destructive farming practices, pesticides and toxic dyes. There are even folks experimenting with local flax production, and you can grow it easily yourself! To demonstrate the wonderful process of transforming flax to gold, there’s a an old bit of Canadiana on the subject, too.

linen-cloth-natural

Linen care

To care for these linen cloths, we just throw them in the wash as usual, cold or hot, with a drop of tea tree oil to kill any germs. I imagine it doesn’t get musty or stain as easily, but I might just take extra care to hang it to dry, because it’s handmade and beautiful. We hang them or lay them on a flat, waterproof surface like our countertops, and sometimes block them. Block them?

linen-cloth-pewter

Blocking is what you do to shape any knit, woven, crocheted piece, and is simply arranging it back into shape and allowing it to dry that way. You can get fancy with special pins and boards, if you were blocking pieces of a sweater before sewing it, so that it would fit perfectly together. But for the linen dish cloths, you’re just laying them flat while they’re wet or damp, and patting, pulling, shaping back to a square, then leaving them to dry. Shaping is ten-second task. No harm in skipping this part, either. It does please me to see them back in their fine shape.

linen-cloth-natural

Theme and variation

Crocheting linen fibre makes these pieces a little bit rustic, a little bit ornate, and thoroughly handmade. I love to use these cloths to experiment with variation in crochet patterns.

Linen dish cloth pattern

I like to use a heavier linen yarn like Euroflax, and a 4.5mm hook – aim to have the hook larger than what’s called for, to get that open weave.

Chain 27 stitches, and work into them half-double-crochet, double crochet, or triple crochet, repeating until you have a square.

I like to stitch the rows in hdc, and then finish with a restrained ruffled edge: chain 6, slipstitch to attach at every 5th stitch, and repeat to the row’s end. Then work back with 6 or 7 double crochets around that loop you’ve made, just enough that the ruffle lies flat, working a slip stitch into the previous slipstitches. Tie it off very firmly. Rinse the piece and block it!

linen-cloth-natural

Linen cloths make a nice accompaniment to a trusty stiff brush, and a stack of linen tea towels. Elegant tools make the work far easier, far more agreeable, I think. They encourage mindfulness in presence in everyday labours. We love these useful, perennial favourites.

linen-cloths-stacked

a short guide to foraging and preserving nettles

The old-timers would take bitters in early spring, and wild stinging nettles grow just at the moment when we really need some good greens. Nettle is good for all of us here on the farm, and can be used in many ways. In early spring we head out foraging.

sun-dried-nettles

Harvest the nettles

The moment to forage stinging nettles for fresh eating and preserving is a dry day in early spring, while the tops are young and fresh. Heavy gloves, long trousers and sleeves and great respect for the plants are required. I keep a bit of calendula or comfrey salve to hand for stings. We like to use a pair of snips and a burlap sack, and we just cut the top few leaves, plenty of them as they dry down to very little! Then we take them home to preserve.

Preserve the nettles

To preserve the nettles, I shake them out onto a cookie tray (to keep from getting stung), put my oven on its lowest temperature with the fan on, and pull them out when crispy-dry. They should crush to a powder. Once dried or cooked the sting is removed, happily. Or, if you catch a good warm, dry day, you can lay them out on a clean sheet and turn them now and then til they are crisp. Fresh or dry, or a combination of both, you can make them into a nettle tincture.

Store the nettles

I love to have a store of dried nettle and tinctures put away for the year. As a tincture they store indefinitely. Fully dry in a glass jar they will keep for a lot longer than any of them ever last at our house, certainly past the brief autumn harvest and through to the following spring.

Use the nettles

A friend on a nearby farm harvested some nettles to provide me with mineral-rich tisanes as I was convalescing after an illness, and later on we gathered a huge batch together. Infusions full of minerals are just the thing to give me strength and are particularly good to help counter my iron-deficiency. You can make fresh nettle soup, pestos, ravioli too.

Nettles for flora and fauna

When the nettles are older they’re no longer safe for teas and soups, but they are excellent for making a liquid fertiliser for the garden – simply cover with water, put a lid on it, and allow to decompose til liquid. Then dilute to use. Goats love to eat nettles fresh, and our ducks and chickens like them if we crush them first to remove the sting. How great to create fertilisers and fodder from the wild larder! Closing the loop on fertility and feed is a huge step toward greater community-reliance.

dried-nettles

Foraging and preserving nettles for high-mineral wild infusions, medicinal tisanes, fertilisers and fresh eating is a very old, trusted practice. It feels good to continue it.

gingerbread village

Having spotted a charming image of flat gingerbread houses carved in low relief and filled with powdered sugar, we just had to try it for ourselves.

A whole wintry afternoon was spent in great joyful making. We altered our gingerbread recipe with 1/2 light rye and 1/2 whole spelt, maple syrup and birch sugar. Not a problem. Before we baked the cookies, we used any implement we could find – metal straws, toothpicks, ornate silverware, fine knives – to carve and draw into the house-shapes.

We thoroughly enjoyed researching old buildings and borrowing their architectural details. When we lived in Europe we were particularly fond of shops at the street level and apartments above, along Dutch canals, along Parisian streets. My youngest made her own patisserie, complete with striped gabled awnings, and baked goods in the windows!

We set a cup of birch sugar zinging in the blender for a few minutes til it was thoroughly powdered. When rubbed into the grooves in the baked, cooled cookies it had a better result than bought icing sugar (and a little less sweetness for our holiday diet, too).

This way of decorating feels like printmaking, like rubbing ink into an etched plate. Such fun.

‘Tis a lovely thing to do with family and friends on a chilly winter’s day.

feta cheese

Some friends came round for a day of cheesemaking. Feta! We followed the recipe from Mary Karlin’s excellent Artisan Cheesemaking at Home, reprinted below with kind permission. Little by little I’m becoming accustomed to the basic steps in cheesemaking, and if you’re so inclined, I so encourage you to try it.

Cleaning and laying out tools. Raising the milk to temperature, adding the starter, whisking it up and down. Covering for a certain time to ripen until whey and curds separate and show a clean break. Cutting the curds to a certain size, depending on how much whey to release.

Stirring them, letting them rest. Lining a colander with damp butter muslin, filling it with curds, tying it up and hanging it to drain. These natural waiting times are just right for sitting down with the children to knit, preparing a meal, or going outside to play.

We were excited to go a step further than other cheeses we’ve tried at home, and move the sack to a mold, and flip it after an hour. Though a press isn’t required, the cheese acquires a very pleasing shape. A square mould would’ve been traditional, but do use what you have. There’s something wonderful that happens when you see it – a cheese! This familiar object! The children were as amazed as I.

They helped with it all. I love for them to know how this is done, that this is possible, even easy. This comfort with old skills is often absent from our lives, and I feel good when it is restored.

How gratifying it is to submerge the cheese in a light cold brine. Three weeks wait makes tasting the cheese all the more exciting. Ah. This feta is very pleasing, and we can’t help peeking into the fridge with pleasure, to gaze on our homemade cheese. We’ll make it again come summer with milk from the goats on the farm, to pair with our homegrown tomatoes, basil, peppers.

Here’s the recipe:

Recipes attributed to Mary Karlin (c), reprinted by permission from Artisan Cheese Making at Home, Ten Speed Press; artisancheesemakingathome.com and Mastering Fermentation, Ten Speed Press; masteringfermentation.com

Feta

Makes: 1 pound
Milk: Pasteurised or raw goat’s milk, or alternatively cow’s or sheep’s milk
Start to Finish: 4 to 26 days: 2 ½ hours to make the cheese; 4 hours to drain; 5 days to cure dry salted; 21 days to cure in brine (optional)

1 gallon goat’s milk
¼ teaspoon mild lipase powder diluted in ¼ cup cool non-cholorinated water 20 minutes before using (optional)
¼ teaspoon Aroma B powdered mesophilic starter culture
¼ teaspoon liquid calcium carbonate diluted in ¼ cup cool non-chlorinated water (omit of using raw milk)
½ teaspoon liquid rennet diluted in ¼ cup cool non-chlorinated water
2 to 4 tablespoons flake sea salt or kosher salt
Kosher salt or cheese salt for brining (optional)

1.Read through the recipe and review any terms and techniques you aren’t familiar with. Assemble your equipment, supplies and ingredients, including a dairy or kitchen thermometer; clean and sterilize your equipment as needed and lay it out on clean kitchen towels.

2.In a nonreactive, heavy 6-quart stockpot, combine the milk and the diluted lipase, if using, gently whisking the lipase into the milk using an up-and-down motion for 20 strokes. Place over low heat and slowly heat the milk to 86F. This should take 18 to 20 minutes. Turn off the heat.

3.When the milk is at temperature, sprinkle the starter over the milk and let rehydrate for 2 minutes. Whisk the starter into the milk to incorporate, using an up-and-sown motion for 20 strokes. Cover and, maintaining the temperature at 86F, let the milk ripen for 2 hour. (Refer to page 17 for tips on maintaining curds or milk at a steady temperature for a period of time.)

4.Add the diluted calcium chloride to the ripened milk and gently stir with a whisk using and up-and-down motion for 1 minute. Add the diluted rennet and incorporated in the same way Cover and maintain at 86F for 1 hour, or until the curds form a solid mass with light yellow whey floating on top and show a clean break (see page 18). If there is no clean break after 1 hour, test again in 15 minutes.

5.Cut the curds into ½-inch pieces (see page 19) Still maintaining a temperature of 86F, allow them to sit undisturbed for 10 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, gently stir the curds for 20 minutes to release more whey and keep the curds from matting. The curds will look more pillow-like at the end of this process. If you want a firmer curd, raise the temperature to 90F for this step. let the curds rest for 5 minutes, undisturbed, still at temperature. The curds will settle to the bottom of the pot.

6.Line a colander with clean damp cheesecloth or butter muslin and, using a slotted spoon, transfer the curds to the colander. Tie the corners of the cloth together to create a draining sack (see page 20) then let drain for 2 hours, or until the whey has stopped dripping. The curds should form a solid ass and feel firm; if not, let them dry for another hour. If you desire a more uniform shape, after ½ hour of draining in the colander, transfer the sack to a square cheese mold or plastic mesh tomato basket set over a draining rack. Line the mold with the sack curds, press the cheese out into the corners of the mold and finish draining. Remove the cheese from the cloth and flip it over every hour in this draining process to help even out the texture and firm up the cheese.

7.When it is drained, transfer the cheese to a bowl. Cut it into 1-inch-thick slices and then into 1-inch cubes. Sprinkle the chunks with flake sea salt, making sure all the surface are covered. Loosely cover the bowl with a lid or plastic wrap and allow to age in the salt for 5 days in the refrigerator. Check daily and pour off and expelled whey. The feta can be used at this point or stored in a brine. Or for a saltier flavor, dry salt and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours then transfer to alight brine (see page 24) to finish for another 21 days. If the finished cheese is too salty for your taste, soak the cheese in nonchlorinated water for 1 hour, then let drain before using. Feta can be stored for a few months in a brine.

Thanks ever so much, Mary. We adore your books.

ricotta cheese 

While it is true that one can extract a bit of ricotta cheese by cooking acidified whey leftover from yogurt or other dairying, I like to produce this simple cheese from a gallon of goat’s milk (from the goats we are tending now! That’s a story for another day.) Quite a lot of cheese is produced using this method, and it is the easiest and the quickest cheese I know. Let me show you how it’s done.

You’ll need a pot that easily holds a gallon of milk,
an acid like lemon, vinegar, or citric acid,
sea salt,
a thermometer,
a whisk,
some cheesecloth or butter muslin,
a colander,
a fine mesh strainer,
a slotted spoon,
and a bit of string just in case.

Make sure all of your tools are very clean. Cheesemaking books say to sterilise them – I use straight vinegar, well rinsed away, after hot, soapy water, and I scald my cheesecloth.

First, acidify the milk with lemon, vinegar, or citric acid – I use 1.5 teaspoons of the latter in our goat’s milk. In cow’s milk, use less.

Add a teaspoon of sea salt. Using a whisk and making up-and-down motions is a good habit to get into when cheesemaking.

ricotta

Raise the temperature very slowly, over a good ½ hour, to between 184 – 190F, stirring now and then to prevent burning on the bottom.

When you see the milk separate into curds and whey (chartreuse liquid), you’re done – take off the heat and cover the pot, let it sit for ten minutes.

Scoop out the whey into a clean cloth – I use butter muslin – over a strainer, first using a slotted spoon, and at the end, a fine mesh strainer.

IMG_0774.JPG

Gather the corners of the cloth and tie them securely, and then string this up to suspend the ricotta to drain for a quarter of an hour. Sometimes I put two tall milk bottles on either side of the bowl with a long wooden spoon holding the tie. The longer you drain it, the dryer. After that you could put a plate on top, and a weight of some kind over it, and you’d have paneer!

You’ll have a lot of whey left. If I cannot use it up in a couple of days, I freeze it or use it in my fermented chicken feed. However, you can add it to soup, to sourdough starter, in place of water in any baking recipe, in milk shakes. It’s really high protein.

Keep the ricotta in the fridge for up to a week – ours never lasts a day. Glorious in lasagne, desserts, on homemade crackers with some herbs.