November 16, 2011

'Farm Anatomy' brought back memories of early life

SUSAN TOBIAS, Pinch of Time

---- — A variety of books come across the editors' desks at the Press-Republican. One demanded a second look.

"Farm Anatomy: The Curious Parts & Pieces of Country Life" by Julia Rothman (Storey Publishing) at first glance seemed like a useless book of facts.

Illustrated with simple drawings, great color and a unique layout, one would think it was created for children only, more like a book for story time. However, serious information is contained in chapters such as "Breaking Ground," about crop rotation and composting; "Raised in a Barn," barn styles and construction methods; "Separating the Sheep from the Goats," including information on ducks, geese, turkeys, chickens and pigs; and "Spinning a Yarn," everything you ever wanted to know about carding, spinning, natural dyes and more.

Each chapter brought back memories of my own childhood on the family farm in Westville, wonderful memories of egg collecting, playing in the hay mow and riding the tractor. I also remember, with a bit more horror, days when my father would cut the chickens' heads off and let them fly around the yard like possessed orbs. After they came to rest, he would hang them upside down on a line. I'd slowly creep up for a closer look, thinking all the time, "What if they come back to life and fly at me in revenge?"

Rothman's book surprised me with how many breeds of chickens there are. "Farm Anatomy" names Ancona (large white eggs), leghorn (one of the most popular breeds), Minorca (lays extra-large, chalky white eggs), Austral (Australia's national breed), Cornish (developed in Cornwall, England), New Hampshire (great meat), Plymouth Rock (docile disposition), Rhode Island Red (large, brown eggs) and Orrington (great disposition).

Guess which breed you choose to raise depends on if you want great omelets or a friendly chicken.

The book also reveals the secret to one of my most frustrating chores: how to tell a fresh egg, other than pulling it out from under the chicken. Buying eggs at a large grocery store can sometimes make you wonder how long it's been since it left the nest.

Did you know: When placed in water, an old egg will float because it has more air cells? Or, when fresh, it will lay on its side at the bottom of the pan; at one week old, slightly angled; and at two or three weeks old, it will stand on end? Also, when broken into a pan, a fresh egg yolk will rise above the white, an old one lays flat. Now, if only there were a fail-safe way to peel eggs after they're hard-boiled. Any suggestions?

Another chapter, called "Country Wining and Dining," is a favorite of mine. It has illustrations of implements used in an old country kitchen, one of my loves. I have collected primitive and 1950s kitchen utensils for decades. (I've moved on to a "clutter-free" kitchen, however; call it a "new season" in life — downsizing.)

One of my special utensils was a potato ricer. The first time I made riced potatoes, one of my kids (Todd) looked at me and said, "What's this?" It took some talking to convince him it was only potatoes in a different shape.

The same chapter includes a recipe for dandelion wine and real shepherd's pie, names edible flowers, shares the basics of making bread and cheese, and shows pressure canning and root cellaring, among other topics.

I don't want to sound like a personal agent for Rothman (and no kick-backs have been accepted), but this book is amazing for child or adult, young farmer or the "farmer wannabe." I loved it just for the nostalgic trip down memory lane. I have to confess, if I were 20 years younger, I'd be looking for a small farm to try out some of the information in this book — better make that 30 years younger. The last few days of stacking wood and doing fall yard work have left me with sore muscles and turned me into a couch potato after supper.

One last thought, as always, please be kind to each other. The world needs more kindness.

Susan Tobias lives in Plattsburgh with her husband, Toby. She has been a Press-Republican newsroom employee since 1977. The Tobiases have six children, 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. They enjoy traveling to Maine and Colorado, and in her spare time, Susan loves to research local history and genealogy. Reach her by email at