The upside of downtime

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This past summer and fall, I may have worked harder than I ever have. There were the turkeys, the chickens, and the bees. There was fishing, lobstering, and hunting. We tended a garden, built a hoophouse, and got an oyster farm off the ground. And, in between, there was writing. Tens of thousands of words of it.

Our backyard, mid-nor'easter.

I was looking forward to the downtime of winter, when the turkeys have been dispatched, the garden decommissioned, the lobster pots pulled, the oysters stored, and the deadlines met. There’s nothing to be done but make sure the chickens have water that isn’t frozen, and there’s enough wood split to keep us warm. And that second one is optional; we have a behemoth of an oil burner in the basement.

I’m enjoying it. I caught up on eight months’ worth of New Yorkers. I’ve been reading the Wall Street Journal, the only newspaper we still get delivered. I think about interesting things to cook.

While it wouldn’t be accurate to say that I miss the chores, I do miss the activity. I can’t go outside to see if there are any ripe tomatoes. There’s no point in checking the water conditions because there’s no fishing to be done. There are no mushrooms, either wild or cultivated. Deer season is over.

There are a few winter activities. I’ll be shellfishing when weather permits, and if we get a good freeze on the pond we’ll be ice fishing. I may have a chance to go duck hunting. We have to plan next year’s garden, design the smokehouse that we’ll be building in the spring, and decide, once and for all, whether we’ll have pigs next year.

That won’t keep us occupied until March, though, so I have one other winter project planned. I still have fifteen pounds of frozen grapes from my friend Melissa’s arbor, and they’ve got grappa written all over them.

I’m going to build a still.

The devil does indeed make work for idle hands.

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Comments

  1. > […] build a still.

    Sounds capital-a Awesome!

    We tried to build a still once when we were teenagers. There was no internets back then (OMFG! NO Internet! … Yes kids, no internet). So we have to make it up as we went along. We weren’t after alcohol for drinking, oh no – but for *burning*. In our minds a much higher purpose.

    Thinking about it now, our set-up was very basic, but it probably would have worked. Except we could have probably sprung 10 cents for some yeast, rather than trying to culture wild yeast off sultanas (which is what we did to make ginger beer). The garden-hose cooling ring was a bit low-tech, but the only thing available.

    We only “distilled” our ferment once – we didn’t know that you should re-distil over and over. But lost interest anyway. We started burning sulphur instead … it produced great billowing amounts of yellow smoke. Sure you couldn’t turn it into a flame thrower, but that smoke ran *down* the table. Way cool.

  2. Dolly Freed in her Possum Living book described a still that she and her father made using a pressure cooker and a long metal tube around which was wrapped another tube through which cold water ran while the still was doing its thing. They sealed the distilling tube on to the top vent of the pressure cooker by use of a flour and water paste, which cooked on. The ferment was from plain old yeast in sugar water- they were only making a pretty rudimentary alcohol, but I thought the use of the pressure cooker and flour paste and soldered tube was brilliant.

    In our neck of the country, distilling alcohol is illegal, but I’ve yet to see a local brew store not carry a still for distilling ‘essences’.

    For that matter, bongs are called ‘water pipes’ in all the local head shops….

  3. a smokehouse (WHICH i’ll be renting space in, for sure), a pizza oven, a still, the outdoor grill…. are you opening for business or do you ever plan to leave the plantation again?

  4. Wow…a smokehouse and a still. Party on!

  5. I dabbled in distillation a couple years back. Like most hobbies I embark on the fun was in the design and building of the equipment and not so much the product created by the endeavor. So I researched for months, taught myself how to solder copper, designed and built stainless steel boiler kettles out of beer kegs with electric elements made from water heater elements. The kettles have two removable head units one for pot distilling (wiskey, rum, etc.) and one for column distilling (vodka, everclear, etc.) And after the designing and building was complete and functional the equipment sits and collect dust. LOL A fun site for information is homedistiller.org. I may yet still fire it up in the future to hone skills with rum and corn likker. However, this spring will be busy with expanding garden yet again, adding a couple more hives, and building a coop (assuming my town passes the city hen ordinance). I think this is the year i’ll add some shitake logs too.

  6. Check out last Wednesday’s NYT dining section if you haven’t seen it. There’s a piece on what I suppose you might call “artisanal” stills, which I barely flashed on, but which may be of interest.

  7. Oh no, I hope Hank doesn’t read this. He’ll get ideas about a still himself!

    What an amazing thing, to have the opportunity to catch up on reading! I usually restort to tossing magazines when the stacks can no longer stand. I think I get 15 or so.

  8. Glad to see I’ve got some readers experienced in the distilling department. I’ll be enlisting expert help all around — we’re lucky enough to be friends with our local brewer, and he’s ready to ferment anything that isn’t tied down.

    Paula — That’s the second reference to Possum Living I’ve seen today. I guess I need to read it.

    NorCal, I too, hope Hank doesn’t read this, but only because I don’t want to be one-upped yet again. I’ll be so proud of myself for making some Concord grape rotgut and then Hank’ll come in with some fancy-pants quince eau de vie or something. So we’ll let this be our little secret.

  9. Definitely get the pigs! They are amazingly clever animals, and superbly delicious to eat when you know what you feed them. We breed them for our own use, and our tongan family’s use, and they eat them young. So far none we have held back for meat have got that far -= foolishly we tried to keep four females and they ended up preggers! Pigs are friendly, love a good scratch, know their names and turn over a good garden. Two years on we’re still working on bacon, we still have hope though.