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