White. It is the color of purity and innocence. Most say it isn’t a color, rather it is the combination of all colors. For our purposes, white is a color that compliments and opposes all other colors at the same time. It is clean and bright, and it brings to mind (at least for Farmgirls!) an image of crisp, beautiful linens flapping softly in a summers breeze. However, as the weather reports have shown us over the last few weeks, white takes on a whole new meaning in the winter months.
A farm in Norway, ca. 1910
I just Googled white, and, not surprisingly, the first option that popped up was a link to the Wikipedia article on “White.” The first sentence of the article is, “Fresh milk and snow are both the color white.” This is kind of a weird first sentence for a pseudo-encyclopedia entry, but I am willing to dismiss that. I find it interesting that the focus of this blog post is…drum roll please…fresh milk and snow! I swear, I did not glean this post from a Wikipedia article. It came to me while farm sitting a few weeks ago and we were blessed with nearly a gallon of farm fresh raw milk every day. The love of my life also surprised me with some white chocolate truffles the other day…that might have had something to do with it!
In Alaska, white is a sight we are very familiar with as the winter weather sticks around for more than half of the year. There are also plenty of spots near and far where we can find snow any day of the year. This is great for snow lovers (myself included), but it is considered a bother and a menace to many. Growing up in Minne-snow-ta, Ive heard my fair share of grumblings about the snow. I say if its going to be cold, there better be some darn snow!
Skiing with the pups
This brings us to the joys of farming in the winter. I do not consider myself a real farmer by any means. I do not own a farm and I have never been a principal farmer or farm manager and likely will not be for a while. However, I have some insight into the world of farming, and from what I know, winter is a good time for those that grow fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes and any other vegetative deliciousness. It is good because it provides much needed respite from the long, over worked and under paid days of the growing season. It is a time when both the soil and those that work the soil need a rest. But what about our feathered and furry farm friends?
Icicles on our chicken coop!
I was struck this summer by how easy animal chores seem to be compared to performing them in the winter. During the summer many animals are on pasture and don’t need very much supplemental feed. The chickens are outdoors without need of much bedding. The biggest part of tending animals during the summer months seems to be providing them with water–which is kind of fun when the weather is warm enough for a little spilling and spraying of said water.
This changes in the winter. While the animals live in closer quarters due to the fading of the once green pastures and the arrival of snow, ice and wind; the work load definitely increases. Hoses freeze, necessitating the hauling of water buckets (I farm sit on a fairly new farmstead!). The weather is cold, and the animals need a lot of calories to stay warm. The combination of snow and wind in our town provides us with seemingly never ending shoveling possibilities. The snow and wind also provides us with amazing snow drifts that are fun to navigate around. At least there is snow, though! There is something perfect about a barn in the snow.
It might not be a barn, but the yurt looks pretty pretty in the afternoon snowy sunshine!
There is also something perfect about milking a cow in the bitter cold. While the temperature during my last farm sitting stint was mild, I have had the pleasure of milking in negative twenty degree weather in the past–and I liked it! First off, the heat coming off of a cows udder feels really nice on cold hands. Secondly, milking is a workout for ones hands–it creates heat and gets the blood flowing into ones lovely digits. Finally, the smell of a cow munching on hay has a hint of summer in it…it might not be fresh grass, but it is grass (something not generally associated with white or winter).
Sasha the dairy cow!
A little aside here: I visited Nepal a couple of years ago, and I stayed in a Tibetan Buddhist ashram learning the basic tenets of Tibetan Buddhism. Most Buddhists are vegetarian, however in Tibet this is incredibly difficult due to how hard it is to grow sufficient crops at that altitude. The Tibetan Plateau can provide sustenance for dairy and meat animals, however, as it grows grasses and other small shrubs that these animals can eat. Surprisingly, before this I had never really thought about how meat and dairy are pretty much miraculously processed nutrient-rich grass and grains.
On a farm that has animals, the feeding of hay and grains to the animals is our link to summer and to warmer months. While most of our plant based foods can only last into the winter months through freezing, dehydrating or pickling, a dairy cow can take long dead grass and provide us with delicious, creamy, living milk. Its so cool. I love cows milk. As a kid, my family would easily go through a gallon of milk per day. I guess it could be my genes, but I have to this day only broken a toe when I am positive that I should have broken many other bones. I am sure our milk consumption kept us healthy and strong in more ways than I know. We didnt even drink the good stuff–the raw milk full of all of those amazingly good for you enzymes and live cultures!
Freshly made raw butter–Yum!
I mentioned in my last post all of the delicious creations we made with the abundance of milk and cream provided to us by the lovely dairy cow, Sasha. They included butter, ice cream, sweetened condensed milk, cheese and ghee. Did you know that it is pretty easy to make your own sweetened condensed milk? Doing this allows you to adjust the sugar level of the final product while avoiding some funky additives found in some brands. You can also avoid the debated steel can lining, if you are wary of such things. Plus, sweetened condensed milk made at home tastes freaking amazing! All you have to do is boil down milk and sugar until about half of it has evaporated. I also like to add some vanilla and a small pat of butter at the end for some flavor. This can be further cooked down to make some decadent dulce de leche. The dulce de leche can then be drizzled on home made ice cream!
Straining the freshly made sweetened condensed milk.
So here we have it: Milk is awesome. Snow is awesome. Do you know what could top all of this awesomeness? Enjoying delicious dairy products in the snow. Luckily, this is already a tradition in many places with sledding and hot cocoa. I was lucky enough to do this during a short ski tour at nearby Hatcher Pass. A couple of friends and myself skinned up a mountain and skied down the lovely, powdery, pillowy goodness of snow. At the summit of this mountain (with a lovely, memorable name like Peak #3046), we shared some hot coffee with sweetened condensed milk and fresh cream, and I had some rice prepared with milk solids leftover from preparing ghee (milk solids are tasty, they just need a better name).
The ride down from our pretty peak and tasty treat. That black dot is my friend, the little black dot is his dog
As this winter marches on and my already fair skin grows paler, I am reveling in the beauty and tastiness of some select white things! There are many gripes to be had about driving in the snow and shoveling it from our walkways, but it is a beautiful thing that can make the drabbest landscapes sparkle. There are also many naysayers when it comes to the dangers of milk. You know what? I dont want to hear it right now. There are also people who say wine and chocolate are bad. We can find evidence for or against pretty much any food out there. For now, Im sticking with milk, especially if it comes from a cow I know and trust.
Farmgirls, do you have a dairy cow? Do you have snow? Do you have a snowy dairy cow? Share your stories with me and the rest of the Farmgirls out there.
Until next time, enjoy your winter wonderlands and your daydreams of crisp white linens on the line.
Sending you peace and love,
Alex, the Rural Farmgirl
Sure did enjoy your whole article, The White Stuff! You know, I really never thought too much about the meat/dairy association. As I grew up, I was encouraged to drink almost a quart of (unprocessed)milk a day. As I aged I became so allergic (or food sensitive) to it that now my breathing is impaired if I consume ANY dairy. Sure hope all that early-child milk drinking did the trick. I really don’t believe that calcium supplements do much, do you?
We live in Montana, and while we’re in town and do NOT have a cow, we *love* raw milk when we can get it! But even the far-inferior storebought stuff makes darn good SNOW ICE CREAM! My kids adore it – I just made some this morning with a bowl of fresh, fluffy white snow from the back porch. Add vanilla, sugar and milk and stir it up – hard to beat a snowy ice cream treat!
Wow, what a coincidence! I just researched about how to make paneer. As you might know, it is a cheese product made in India. Basically boiled milk and lemon juice and the magic separation creates a lovely soft cheese. And THEN you can use it in many lovely dishes. A recipe for naan led me to the paneer! Must make both…
Thank you for the idea of making your own sweetened condensed milk. It is refreshing to hear you speak of dairy products with such a positive vibe!
Thank you so very much for your wonderful perspective on living close to the land with all its gifts. Even in the "white heart of winter", your words brighten my day and launch me on a journey to try out some new recipes with milk! In our family, my grandmother loved her little jersey brown cow as much as her own children. When you see it in the perspective of what a cow meant to a family during the great depression years, she meant health and food and obviously a lot of comfort to the woman who loved her. In my own journey to return to the land and finding my own center of self, your footsteps are easy for me to follow, especially, in the white snowfall of winter!
till next time, all the best wishes flying up your way like a springtime vee of geese.
Here in Maine we get a lot of snow, and can appreciate it….until about March, then we are wishing for Spring! However, we do like to take advantage of all of Winter’s offerings, and are always looking for more! Great post…really enjoyed it!
My husband and I both grew up on dairy farms so raw milk was an everyday thing that we didn’t give much thought to. When we got married, moved off our family’s farms and had to buy "store" milk, we realized what we were missing. Now, we’re back on a dairy farm and enjoying REAL milk again! My girls won’t drink anything but raw milk. A few weeks ago it was in the single digits here and when my girls and I went into the heifer barn to feed, we loved the frost on the windows, the soft glow of the barn lights, and just how content the heifers were as they quietly munched their hay. That is a stillness I will never forget. Tonight there is another kind of quiet stillness outside as the noreaster passes just to the east, the worst missing us(I’m in PA Dutch Country). I’ll be up late tonight staring out my window enjoying the beauty of the snow before it gets tracked up by the dog, the kids and the sleds!! Thanks for the idea for sweetened condensed milk, gotta try that!
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