feed me

The Damsel done heard tell that some people who subscribed to the Old School feed haven’t yet switched over to the new feed. If you think this may be the case for you (the Damsel posts a few times a week, so if you haven’t gotten frequent feeds, this may be the case for you), then please do the following;

Visit the Old School at www.mynewoldschool.com.

Look for the tabs along the top and click “subscribe.”

Click the link that says “subscribe via email” and follow the instructions. This should get everything all as it should be. There are also links for subscribing in a blog reader as well as Facebook, Twitter, etc.

The Damsel misses you! Hope to see you soon.

old school recess

The Old School is getting ready for something exciting. It’s moving to its own domain! Yay!

The Damsel is working hard to make this a smooth transition, and there may be a slight delay before there are fresh posts. Think of it as recess! It won’t be too long, maybe a day or two. The Damsel thanks you for your patience…and hopefully soon, she’ll have the new schoolroom ready for you.

Have fun playing, but don’t step on a crack and break your mother’s back.

picking and ripening pears

It’s strange to think we need to be taught how to ripen pears. Don’t plants do this sort of thing on their own, without busybody humans getting into their business?

The thing is, pears are one of the only fruits that don’t ripen on the tree/vine. A tree-ripened pear is mealy and mushy. So pears are best picked green. Many folks have come to believe that pears are picked green in order to truck here and there around the country without bruising them. That’s true for many fruits but not so for pears. You gotta pick them mature but green.

So how can you tell if they are mature? Walk up to a suspect pear and tip it so it’s horizontal. If it’s ready, it should detach from the tree. Those pears on the ground might be perfectly fine to use, too, if they’re still hard.

The pears in this picture are all “green,” even the one on top, which got a “suntan” so it has a rosy spot. Despite this the pears are all pretty darn hard.

Fruit produces a natural ethylene gas, which causes it to ripen. The riper it gets, the more gas it gives off, which will cause the other fruit around it to ripen too. So to ripen pears faster, you should enclose them so this gas will be trapped around the fruit. A paper grocery sack works. (Don’t use plastic.) The Damsel is ashamed to admit there wasn’t a SINGLE PAPER BAG in the cottage so she put them in a basket and put a cloth over the top.

If you want to give it a little nudge in the ripe direction, put a banana in with the pears. Bananas give off a ton of that special gas. Ahem.

So now they’ve been in the gas bag a day or two. How do you tell if they are ripe? After all, they’ll still look pretty much the same as ever. Just gently press with a finger near the stem, on the pear’s “shoulder.” A ripe pear will give a little.

They say the best way to eat a ripe pear is naked in the bathtub, so the juice can drip down your chin with abandon. If you try this, the Damsel would prefer not to hear about it.

canning apricots

It is the Damsel’s wish that you know how to preserve food. It’s one of the basic skills of becoming more self-reliant.

When you put stuff in glass jars and seal it, it’s called “canning” or “bottling” or “putting up.” And the easiest thing to “put up,” in the Damsel’s humble opinion, is apricots. So if you’ve been cringing over there, wanting to know how but were too scared, come along. The Damsel’s here to hold your hand.

Canning does require equipment, and the dollars can add up. You might even feel it doesn’t make financial sense. But nearly everything can be bought second-hand (or borrowed, even) and can be used for years.

Here’s what you need:

  • waterbath canner with rack
  • jar lifter
  • canning jars with rings
  • canning lids
  • Things most people have in their kitchens: a large pan, measuring cups, timer, sugar

Canning supplies are commonly seen at yard sales, and often if you ask around, people will give you things. You see, it takes away their guilt if they think someone will actually use the stuff.

The most expensive part about canning is the fruit. So it really helps if you have one of these:

and it REALLY helps if you have one of these:

exhibit A: Sprog #1 utilizing his tallness

Apricots are the easiest thing to can because there’s not much prep, and they’re pretty hard to mess up.

First, put seven canning jars in the dishwasher, plus seven matching lids and rings, and get them going. (Along with other dishes.) Or, of course you can wash them by hand, but if you use a dishwasher, it’s handy because it keeps them hot and sterile. Take one jar out of the dishwasher at a time as you fill it, closing the door after taking each one out, and you’re good.

But don’t stress. Grandma did fine without, and these jars will get sterilized again later on.

In a large pot, make a sugar syrup. You can make light, medium, or heavy syrup according to your taste. The Damsel has made extra-light syrup before, and although it’s safe, the fruit lost some of its color and texture because sugar is a preservative. So, now the Damsel uses a medium syrup. For medium, add 3 1/4 cups sugar to 5 cups water and heat until the sugar dissolves.

At the same time, fill the water bath canner with water and get ‘er boiling. It takes a while. Most canners have a mark that shows how full it needs to be. The water level needs to be at least a couple of inches over the tops of the jars. But, if you fill the canner really full of water, and then start submerging jars, OH NO water spilling over oh no. Once you find out how full of water the canner needs to be, take note of that level. It will be the same for any waterbath canning project.

Wash the little darlings, in a colander or right in the sink.

Split the apricots in half with your fingers, remove the pit, and place into the jar. It’s traditional to layer them, face down and overlapping. Obviously this is easier with a wide-mouth canning jar. If you have narrow ones, you can fiddle them into position with a fork, or enlist a child. You can just dump them in willy-nilly if you want. Grandma isn’t looking. The Damsel actually tried it both ways, to see if more apricots fit in the jar if they were stacked, and was surprised to find out exactly the same number of apricots fit, either way. So you decide.

Fill the jar to roughly 1/2 inch from the top. Don’t stress, you don’t need to measure.

Pour the syrup over the apricots, once again leaving 1/2 inch headspace. If it looks like there are large air bubbles, release them by sticking a knife carefully down the side of the jar. Wipe the top of the jar with a damp paper towel to remove any syrup that may have dripped.

Grandma used to always boil the lids before putting them on the jars, but the now the thought is that boiling can damage them. So now just wash them in hot water (or dishwasher.) Set on top of the jar and screw on the ring, finger tight. Don’t overtighten.

Place each jar into the waterbath as soon as they are filled. Seven jars make a batch. When you’ve got those done, wait for the water to come to a boil, and start timing 30 minutes. If for some reason the water stops boiling, you have to start the timing over, so that you have 30 minutes of continuous boil.

When the time is up, use the jar lifter to take the jars from the canner and put on a dishtowel on your counter to cool. Over the next couple of hours, you should hear “plink, plink” as the jars form a seal. After they are cool, check the seals by pressing down on the center of the lid. If it pops up and down, it has not sealed. Either put them in the fridge to eat soon, or reprocess by putting on a new lid and doing the 30-minute waterbath again. Don’t cry. It’s really common for one or two jars to not seal. It’s not your fault. It’s the Canning Demon.

Write the year on the lid with a sharpie, if you’d like. Also, it’s normal for the apricots to float to the top of the jar after they are processed.

There’s something so satisfying about seeing these jars sitting on the counter. The Damsel has been known to leave them there for days before taking them down to the cellar.

blog hop

Today the Damsel is participating in a “blog hop” in which she is asked to introduce herself and her blog:

Welcome to Old School!
The Damsel in Dis Dress is your teacher for today. Her qualifications are that she is “old.” Old School is where you get to learn about some old skills and other thingies that Grandma used to know like the back of her age-spotted hand.
Why would you want to learn old stuff? Two reasons. 1. Last time the Damsel checked, the economy was still tanking. Some things you’ll learn in Old School will help save money. 2. Other things will help you be more self-reliant. You’ll learn how to do things that Grandma used to do all the time, but people have forgotten. But why, Damsel? Why? Because the day may come that we’ll need those skills, and it’s part of being prepared. Plus, the Damsel thinks it’s nice to keep those skills from being lost.

MckLinky Blog Hop

Click here to enter your link in the blog hop and view the entire list of entered links…

unraveling a sweater

The Damsel is bemused by the word “unravel.” So what’s “ravel” then? They seem to mean the same thing–to untwist, pull or rip out some yarn work. (by the way, the current term for pulling out knitting is “frogging” because you rip-it, rip-it, rip-it. Don’t be a hater. The Damsel did not make this up.)

Why would you want to unravel a sweater?

Grandma might have for a number of reasons. Maybe the sweater didn’t fit any more, and she wouldn’t want to waste the yarn. So she’d pull out all that hard work and re-knit it into something else. Waste not want not and so on. Maybe there was a man’s sweater that could become two kids’ sweaters. You get the idea.

Nowadays, three things have come together, like an alignment of the planets, to make unraveling a sweater something worth doing.

1. Yarn work has become more and more popular, even among young folks.

2.  Purchasing nice yarn is so expensive, but who wants to spend hours on a project that uses crappy yarn?

3. Sweaters made of expensive materials can be bought CHEAP at thrift stores.

When the Damsel first heard about doing this, she got excited because she loves yarn and it sounded easy. And it is easy, but there are a couple of tricks to it.

First, choose the right sweater. (of course it doesn’t have to be a sweater…any knitted/crocheted thingy) Look at the tag. If it’s made of 100% acrylic, it’s probably not worth it. You can buy that kind of yarn very cheaply, brand new. Is it made of a nice natural fiber (wools, cashmere, silk blends, alpaca, etc.) ? This kind of yarn can cost $20/skein and up, and there will be multiple skeins in one sweater. Good deal!

Now examine the seams. Are the pieces sewed together the way a hand knitter would, or are they serged? Here’s what that means:

With a regular seam, you’ll be able to part the two edges. This is the kind you’re looking for. This means the sweater was knit in individual pieces and then assembled, the way a hand-knitter would. That doesn’t mean the sweater was hand-knit, or that it needs to be. It means the yarn will unravel in one long piece.

This is a serged seam. The Damsel drew an arrow and little black lines over the serging hoping you could see it better on this crazy yarn. You’ve seen this stitching a hundred times on tee-shirts, etc.

Here’s how serging looks on a tee-shirt, so you can clearly see the kind of looping stitches we’re talking about. If the sweater is put together with this kind of stitching, you can’t unravel it, because it was made from one huge piece of knitted fabric and then serged together…a process that cuts and sews at the same time. If you try to unravel a serged sweater, you’ll end up with hundreds of pieces of yarn a couple of feet long. Not worth it.

Now once you have the right kind of sweater, you have to take the pieces apart. Pull the seam apart and look for the thread that was used to sew it together. It’s sometimes hard to see…often the exact color of the yarn…but usually thinner, more thread-like.

Cut this thread with a seam ripper, being careful not to cut the knitting itself. Take all the pieces apart, including any ribbing that has been sewed on, rather than knitted as part of the piece.

Once all the pieces are apart, the fun starts. Snip the yarn in a corner of one piece and see if the yarn will pull. If it simply knots, you are at the wrong end. Go to the opposite side and try again. Most sweaters are knit from the top down, so they will pull out from the top down in most cases.

Once you get the yarn pulling out freely, away you go. You can roll it into a ball as you go or loosely pile it and then roll. Pile method not recommended if there are sprog or pets about.

The yarn will be crinkly. That’s okay…the crinkles won’t show when it’s reknit. Many unravelers like to wrap it around upside-down chair rungs or something, make the yarn into hanks, and then wash it…and sometimes dye it. Washing the yarn after unraveling it will often make it nice and fluffy and non-crinkly. Warning: Wash the yarn the same way you’d wash something knitted from it. For example, don’t wash wool yarn in hot water with a lot of agitation; use cool water and gentle swishes.

If you’re interested in learning more about this, the Damsel highly recommends the Yahoo group Recycledyarn. The people there are very nice and knowledgeable about recycling yarn.

grinding flour

Old stuff done a new way. Our first lesson: Grinding wheat with an electric mill. Grandma would have loved one of these babies:

Grandma used a contraption that rubbed two flat millstones together. And it’s true, we should learn how to grind wheat without electricity, just in case. But that’s another day.

So here we go. This is how we grind the wheat, said the little red hen. Not every electric mill is just like this, but most have certain things in common. First you assemble it. This plastic cup snaps on to the base. The mill will grind without it, but it helps keep the flour from blowing everywhere. The Damsel really hates that.

Assemble the mill, and now we’ll put in the grain. Here the Damsel is using Hard White Winter Wheat. Types of wheat is a whole ‘nother can of weevils. We’ll talk about that later. Much later.

The Damsel loves sticking her fingers in the grain. Well, it’s better than sticking her fingers in the light socket.

Fill the hopper with grain and turn it on. Why is it called a hopper? No idea. It has nothing to do with hopping. The Damsel fills the hopper three times when she makes whole wheat bread. The mill pan can hold that much without dumping it, and it’s just about the right amount of flour for a batch of five loaves.

Now the Damsel presses her hands over her ears because it sounds like an airplane is taking off in her kitchen. Thankfully it doesn’t take long.

Take the thing apart again. The flour in that plastic cup is perfectly good to use…it’s best to take it off each time and dump the flour out.

The flour is nice and warm right now, so if you make bread with it immediately, it will raise faster. And someone told the Damsel that fresh ground flour has more B vitamins. (Freezing the flour at this point will retain the vitamins for later, if you’re not in the mood to bake bread Just This Minute.)

So there you have it. That took about ten minutes, and although the Damsel is now deaf she likes how quickly Grain becomes Flour.

Any questions for the teacher?