Family & Home

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This morning, after chickens were let out and goats milked, in that post-breakfast hurrah we seem to have every morning that tends to fizzle out just before lunch, it was chore time. The boys were strangely excited to move large quantities of manure from the barn and surrounding pasture and into the garden. It appears as though my love of animal manure is beginning to rub off on them.

It was a baking morning, the sourdough starter still bubbly from last night’s feed and the bread bag empty for days. Usually I whip up a quick double batch of No-Knead and move onto the impending dishes but it was a cooler morning ripe for a bit of extra time in the kitchen, so we went into full sandwich bread mode.

I began mixing the dough on the table and Annabelle immediately put away her pens and papers and asked if she could add the flour. Then Ruthie pulled up her chair and started to mix. When the dough was too stiff for her little arms, mama finished it up in the bowl.

Ooh, can I knead?!” Annabelle asked with great enthusiasm. So I split the dough in two and floured up the table and away they went. Pull and fold and push and turn and repeat, we sang. Oh, and Joshie’s trying to eat it, Mama. Ten minutes later I had washed a couple of sink fulls of dishes, my bread dough was ready for the bulk fermentation, and these girls wanted to know why they had to stop.

The recipe is the high-rising Sourdough Sandwich Loaf in Traditionally Fermented Foods which we will shape and bake later today.


This scene got me thinking back to when I first began to learn to bake bread. It was nearly twenty years later than Ruthie is getting started and it was one of those first DIY skills that got me hooked. Why couldn’t I make our own bread, yogurt, butter, salad dressing, vegetables, meat, medicine… everything I began to ask myself? In theory it sure would lighten the burden on the pocket book and give us access to better food.

So I began going down the list of the things we consume and tried making it at home instead. Eventually I was fermenting anything I could get my hands on and growing what we could in a small suburban backyard. Ten years later we have more gardens and chickens and goats and cows (!) than I could have imagined back then.

But baking our own bread with real ingredients, feeling that dough change shape beneath my hands, that spurred me on to ask more questions and try to make and produce more of our family’s needs. Recently I shared three recipes over on the Attainable Sustainable blog that might be good for those first starting out in making their own bread:

Foolproof Homemade Sandwich Bread

Soft French Bread

Homemade Light & Fluffy Dinner Rolls

Happy baking!


Most mornings I meet these ladies somewhere in the kitchen. They stumble out, red hair a mess, asking if they can help mix up this or that even before they can keep their eyelids open. We talk about how we slept and Ruthie usually tells me that she was woken up either by Mabel Howard (her “baby”) or a blueberry animal.

In case you are worried, wearing jammies with pockets protects you from the latter.

It takes at least 30 minutes to locate clothes, break up the ensuing argument over who is wearing what, and make sure everyone made it to the potty on time. I try not to comb hair before coffee (for me) or breakfast (for them) – it’d just be asking for trouble.

When everyone has had eggies (Ruth) and pancakes (Annie), they help with chores or get out books or look up at Daddy with take-me-with-you little girl eyes as he heads outside. There is always a pause when these girls lock eyes with their Papa. And I know, having seen this moment so many times before, that unless Stewart is working off the land or doing something that would endanger them, they will nearly always get a yes. His face says it before he even gets the words out and I wonder if they realize just how rare and beautiful this is.


The rest of the day I get a lot of help from Annie and a little from Ruthie too. We make and cook and ferment stuff. We chase and feed and snuggle their baby brother. We hang laundry and bring eggshells to the compost. We do reading lessons and sing our ABCs. But what these girls really want to do – besides going with Daddy – is to bake.

So they help me mix bread dough and pour in sourdough starter. If I tell Ruthie we’re making muffins, she’ll declare (in front of everyone) “I’m not tellin’ nobody we’re making muppins!”. Surprise baking, you see, is far more exciting.

Pancakes and muffins and sourdough breads are nice, but the real desire of these girls’ hearts is that three letter word we all love to hear: pie.


Ruthie wants to make strawberry pie and Annabelle switches from pumpkin to chocolate to raspberry. The reality is that most days we don’t make pie; most weeks we don’t make pie. Not because we don’t all prefer it to just about every other dessert. It’s simply that Mama runs out of time and energy.

But one thing is for sure, on a daily basis, come rain or shine, whether Mama’s helping or not, these girls are making pies. They are telling me of their flour and fruit and sugar endeavors. They are bringing it inside, leaving a puddle of pie on the kitchen floor in their wake. They are giving you bites and putting them into ovens and sharing it with the neighborhood.

Most days with these girls involves hugs, some tears, and a whole lot of conflict resolution. But most days involve some really good pie too.