Friday, May 27, 2016

Traditional Yeast Making from Potatoes

Blog entry by Dan Silfies

Some of the potato yeast breads baked in the bake oven
Hello from the Tavern. So far, I've been busy this spring baking away in the bake oven every Friday. This year I decided not to use store bought yeast and to grow it traditionally. For this, I boiled about 2 pounds of diced and peeled potatoes in water. Once soft, I mashed them and added enough of the water that the potatoes were cooked in to bring the mixture to a cream like consistency. Next, I added approximately 2 tablespoons of molasses and mixed. After waiting for the mixture to cool down, I added a little yeast to get the process moving and set it aside for a few days. Adding a little yeast is not necessary but definitely helpful.

As I have never made yeast before, I was uncertain of what my results would be. Keeping this in mind, I used a basic white bread recipe that I knew well. I substituted one cup water for one cup of the potato yeast and added no additional yeast.

The resulting dough didn't rise as much as it did with store bought yeast. However, after punching it down and forming into 2 loaves, letting rise again and baking, I was surprised. The finished bread, although slightly denser, rose to make wonderful bread with just a hint of potato.

The recipe claims that it will last several weeks so I saved the remaining yeast and used it a week later; although it smelled sour, the bread had no sourness to it.

The yeast recipe that I used can be found in the Landis Valley Cookbook, along with other variations on making yeast.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Baby Bees & Trees

Blog entry by Shayla Carey
Don with rootstocks awaiting grafting
Last week, with the help of Don Zeigler, co-founder of the Backyard Fruit Growers, Landis Valley welcomed 150 baby bees and 20 new baby trees to its horticultural family.

It was an easy delivery:  Don grafted 20 scion wood to rootstock and farm manager Joe Schott attached two new bee boxes to fence posts in the herb garden and behind the Heirloom Seed House.  Don and Joe then inserted tubes filled with mason bee eggs into the boxes.  After that, the waiting began...

What will be exciting is watching the new additions grow.

The moment of truth:
when scion meets rootstock
While we do not grow the apples to sell, we do grow them to keep the genetics going, which is a core mission of the Heirloom Seed Project.  Some of the apple scions (living twigs from mature trees) are from existing trees on Landis Valley property, which are getting rather old and will need to be removed within a few years.  15 others are heritage varieties from the Backyard Fruit Growers’ woodbank, a collection of fruit trees grown by BYFG members that are shared among them.  Our new orchard is currently residing in buckets outside of the greenhouses, but will be permanently located towards the rear of the site and, once they are planted, visitors who wander to the Collections Gallery or to the Maple Grove Schoolhouse can hike a little further up the old Kissel Hill Road and see them.  Honeybees, which are in danger of decline due to CCD, will join the site in April and will eventually assist the mason bees in pollinating the new orchard.  The apples will be used for demonstration purposes.

In a few weeks, the mason bees will emerge from the holes in the boxes (pictured at right), pollinating various plants around the site.  They hatch about 3-4 weeks before honeybees do and they will die at the end of the year after laying more eggs in the boxes in August.  Because of their short lifespan, they do not produce honey, but they are prolific pollinators.  They do not form colonies, so are not subject to colony collapse disorder (CCD).  They are smaller than honeybees, are native to North America, and do not have a stinger, either, which makes this writer like them a lot.

The bees are part of a working relationship that Landis Valley is developing with insects to help bring up productivity of plants around the site.  Because we need all of the seeds we can get from every plant we grow, pollination is hugely important.  Ladybugs, parasitic wasps, and mites also assist plant production in our greenhouses, keeping pests at bay without the need for chemical insecticides.

Apple trees and mason bees – here’s to the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Museum Store Upgrade

Guest blog entry by Museum Store manager Terry Kreider

New displays are being created at the Landis Valley Museum Store
January and February are traditionally slow months in the store and we are taking advantage of the reduced traffic to do a major over haul of the first floor.  The main reasons for the changes are to make space on the first floor for all our handcrafted merchandise currently displayed on the second floor (assuring our best merchandise is accessible to all our visitors) and to improve the Museum Book Store sales area.

The museum store's new book nook
First project was to move the register counter toward the front door by 4 feet.  This also required moving the electric and running computer wires under the floor.  This small shift made the back corner open to our customers; previously they had to ask permission to see items displayed behind the register.

The most involved job is the Museum Book Store.  More display shelves are being added and book cases being rearranged to create an open area with more light.  We moved the stage from the middle of the store to the back corner of the book area to create a place to spotlight our children’s books as well as space for book signings and presentations. 

Several displays are being transported from the second floor to the first.  Blacksmith Mike Reinard, who built the blacksmith display, is relocating it from the back corner of the second floor.  Framed artwork display pallets will also be moved. 

Blacksmith-created pieces front and center
I am thankful to carpenter Mike Wagner and Kyle Hake from our maintenance staff.  They took my ideas and made them work.  Thank you to the winter store staff, Kenney Brunning and Liz Miller, who with volunteers Brad Potts and Lin Forney have contributed ideas, constructive feedback and hard work! We have been having fun trying to figure out what displays will work where.  There’s been a lot of trial and error!  A final thank you goes to Site Administrator Jim Lewers for green lighting the project and providing feedback and support.

The most enjoyable part of all this for me is communicating with many local artists and working to bring our customers the highest quality handmade items to fill the Museum Store when the renovations are done!

The goal is to have everything completed and stocked for Charter Day (Sunday, March 13).  Feel free to stop in, watch our progress, and shop from all the new merchandise we are getting in on a daily basis!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Fine art of Finely Made Sauerkraut

Blog Post by Dan Silfies

I always say homemade sauerkraut is better than store bought sauerkraut. Today many don’t take the time to make it and don’t realize the stronger flavor of homemade sauerkraut.
If you have a clean crock, that will work great but, if you’re like me, you don’t have a crock. Instead, I went to my local deli and asked for a food safe bucket to make my sauerkraut in.
When making sauerkraut, you don’t want your cabbage to rot, but you don’t want to preserve it in a salt bath either. What you want is a happy mix of salt and cabbage that will control the cabbage’s fermentation without stopping it.  I use 3 tablespoons of pickling or kosher salt for every 5 lbs.  of shredded cabbage. Note that we are not using any water at this point, the salt should be able to pull enough out of the cabbage for our needs.

To prepare the cabbage, you want to remove the inner core, then using a cabbage shredder shred the cabbage. I don’t own a cabbage shredder, but I find a good sharp chef knife works.  It will take longer, as you need to cut the cabbage into about 1/8 inch to ¼ inch slices.

Sauerkraut making at Harvest Days
I put the cabbage into a large mixing bowl and add the salt. Toss and stir until the salt is evenly dispersed.

Next, I put the salted cabbage in the crock/bucket in layers about 2 inches thick. The reason for the layers is to make sure that each layer gets packed tight as we don’t want large pockets of air to become trapped.

Once all the salted cabbage is in the crock/bucket, add a weight to keep the cabbage packed. Over the next few days, the salt will leach the water out of the cabbage and the weight will keep the cabbage submerged. If it is not all submerged, add a salt water solution until the cabbage is all covered. About 3 teaspoons for every 2 cups of water will give you a proper salt solution.

For the weight, I usually use a large plate with zip lock bags full of water to hold down the cabbage. The bags give an added benefit to the mixture, as it keeps a tight barrier around the inside of the crock/bucket, reducing what may be exposed to the air.

Put the crock in a cool place out of the way and cover with a towel for 6 weeks. Checking every few days to ensure the cabbage is still submerged. If not add more salt water solution. I usually keep mine in the basement.

After  the six weeks have passed, your cabbage should now be sauerkraut. Remove any off-colored sauerkraut that may be on the top, usually the top 1 ½ inched to 2 inches as this will have an off flavor.

I will usually heat up my sauerkraut then place it in zip lock bags and freeze until I’m ready for it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Preserving the Fortna Family’s Pumpkin Pie

Blog entry by Joanne Ranck-Dirks
A pair of Fortna White pumpkins
The Heirloom Seed Project is committed to seed preservation.  One piece of the program that brings us joy is sharing these garden heirlooms with others and also knowing that sometimes we’re saving more than seeds!

Last April, a seed order arrived for just one packet of seeds – the Fortna White Pumpkin.  The shipping charge was higher than the price of that one packet of seeds so I pondered how I could increase the value of those seeds to the customer so that she wouldn’t mind paying more in postage that she did for the seeds!  Perhaps sharing the history of the pumpkin could add some value.

Every seed donated to the Heirloom Seed Project is documented in an old card file.  I went digging into the file to learn more of the history of the Fortna While Pumpkin.  It had been donated 25 years ago in 1990 and had been grown by the Fortna families in Franklin and Adams Counties.  It is an unusual white, pear-shaped pumpkin and creamy yellow on the inside.  To my amazement, I saw that it had been donated by the same person who was now ordering the seed!

I sent Sue a quick email and said, “This is your family’s pumpkin!”  She replied, “I am not the farmer my dad was, by any means!!”  I did grow one pumpkin last year and didn’t let the seeds dry as long as I should have, and the seeds molded.”

“So I am extremely grateful that you do the hard work of keeping these heritage seeds alive – if you hadn’t had the seed, it would surely have died out with my generation. (Not to mention that all the extended family would have been so disappointed to not have a Fortna Pumpkin Pie at Thanksgiving – we all still think it’s the best for pies!)”

Happy Thanksgiving to the Fortna Family.  We hope you enjoy your pie!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Darkness and Innocence: Learning About Floral Symbolism from Dr. Irwin Richman

Blog entry by Shayla Carey

Working at Landis Valley is always a learning experience, but rarely more so than when Dr. Irwin Richman is sitting next to me.  He and I share a cubicle wall, the same ringtone on our landline phones (which has led to many a cheerful hello to dismal dial tone by yours truly), and a passion for writing.

Every other day, he comes around the cubicle wall and shares some of the informative and witty snippets that will, eventually, go into his books.  Sometimes I even get to edit some of his work (although his wife, Susan, does the bulk of the editing during the first read-through).  When I have a press release that needs another set of eyes, I can often count on his insight to help me polish my work.  It’s like being part of a writing club and is one of the perks of my job.

During my four-year tenure here, Dr. Richman has finished at least three books and is working on another one now with our museum educator, Michael Emery.  Titled Roses and Ray Flowers, it promises to be a real feast for the eyes with fascinating information thrown in.  He’ll cover roses, daisies and other members of the mum family, zinnias, and wild ray flowers such as black eyed Susans and purple coneflowers.  Here are some interesting tidbits for use with illustrations, which led to further research for the book.

The Black Rose

“The black rose is a legend.  All available “black roses” found in nature are actually a deep red.  This artist’s version of a black rose is done in watercolor and was painted circa 1950 for use in an advertisement.”  The black color can be achieved by dying a lighter flower, much as carnations are dyed by florists.  A step by step process is recorded in “3 Easy Techniques to Create Black Flowers” by Gina Kellogg.  It is interesting to note that the printing process for this particular illustrated bloom started with a black rose and added pink half-tone to the flower and blue half-tone to the stem (not pictured).

Black roses have many different meanings:  death, mourning, mystery, etc., but they also have a political meaning as well, as evidenced by the song “Róisín Dubh,” or “Dark Little Rose,” a song sung in Irish that was covered by artists such as Sinead O’Connor and Cherish the Ladies, among others.  In the James Clarence Mangan version of the song (“Dark Rosaleen”), Ireland is the black rose and the singer willingly martyrs himself for her, as described in the book, Seamus Heaney and the Emblems of Hope, by Karen Marguerite Moloney.  A copy of the poem can be found in the book, The Song Lore of Ireland: Erin's Story in Music and Verse by Redfern Mason.

In an interesting twist, black roses and other dark flowers are becoming popular as bridal bouquets—despite their traditional meaning as the death of a relationship—and the meaning is changing to represent the birth of something new, according to the blog post, “The Meaning of the Color of Roses,” by color expert Kate Smith.

The search for a perfect black rose continues, with cultivars like Black Baccara and Black Jade coming close but requiring close monitoring and patience to achieve their darkest potential.  Wiki How has a nice article on growing dark roses, for those who want to cross over into the dark side of gardening.


“Lots of Daisies here, ready to be picked.  A postcard circa 1910 in the Alice Marshall collection at Penn State Harrisburg in Middletown, PA.  In the early years of the 20th century, ‘Daisy’ was a common girl’s name popularized by the song ‘Daisy Bell,’ written by English song writer Harry Dacre in 1892.  Everyone could sing the forward,

‘Daisy, Daisy, give me your heart to do
I'm half crazy, hopeful in love with you
It won't be a stylish marriage
I can't afford the carriage
But you look sweet upon the street
On a bicycle built for two’”

While the name never became as popular as Rose was during the early two decades of the 20th century, it held its own until the 1920’s, when it dropped off the list of top 200 names given to babies in America, according to the Social Security Administration.  It is one of those enduring floral names used in literature, though.  Symbolizing innocence and gentleness—who ever thinks of a hard and bitter nature when imagining a daisy flower?—the name has graced such literary characters as Daisy Miller, a bright and naïve young American lady in Henry James’ novella by the same name; Disney’s sweet and sassy Daisy Duck; little Daisy Armstrong, the true victim in Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express; and Daisy Buchannan, a hard and selfish woman who proved to be Jay Gatsby’s downfall in The Great Gatsby (a great study in symbolism and the expectations of modern society).  More recently, Jessica Tandy became Daisy Werthan in the Oscar winning movie, “Driving Miss Daisy,” and Sophie McShera stars as kitchen maid Daisy Robinson Mason in the popular British drama, “Downton Abbey.”  Just thinking about the symbolism attached to the name brings depth to each of these characters, whether it's because they epitomize innocence or because they are the opposite.

Will Daisy ever top the charts of baby names?  Probably not in my lifetime, but I believe it will continue to adorn little girls throughout America as long as we believe in hope, innocence, and peace.

For more of Dr. Richman’s writing, pick up a copy of his newest book with Michael Emery, Living Crafts, Historic Tools, at the Landis Valley Museum Store.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Bringing in the Harvest

Blog entry by Joanne Ranck-Dirks

As summer comes to an end and fall begins, the Heirloom Seed Project volunteers are gathering a bountiful harvest of heirloom vegetables.  From numerous Landis Valley gardens we have gathered ten different varieties of tomatoes, half a dozen different kinds of beans, as well as peas, peppers, kale, cabbage, cucumbers, watermelons, squash and corn. 

From these vegetables we are now harvesting seeds.  After slicing open the vegetables to remove the seeds, the chopped up tomatoes and peppers go home with volunteers and into the soup pot. There are as many variations of tomato soup and sauce as volunteers.  Trays of drying seeds fill the Seed House and there will still be beans to shell for several weeks.

We worked for this harvest!  We pulled weeds even when it was hot, gave the tomatoes and melons thick mulches of straw and trained the pole beans onto trellises.  We chased the geese out of the garden even as the groundhogs nipped off peas and beans and the horse knocked down the fence to plunder the corn!  So we shared our harvest grudgingly but there is still enough.
HSP volunteers Mary Holovack (l) and Mickey Blefko (r)
In several trial plots in the garden are varieties of heirloom vegetables that we haven’t grown before.  With a vote of confidence from volunteers, we will add several to our selection of plants to sell at the Herb and Garden Faire next spring and package seed to sell in the Museum Store.
As shelves in the Seed House are lined with jars filled with the harvest of seeds from our summer’s work, a sense of great accomplishment and satisfaction is the reward for our labors.  Soon it will be time to let the geese penned up in the horse pasture go free to glean the few green tomatoes left in the garden!