In addition to planting and general “getting the farm prepared for Spring” things, the 1900 Farm has already started to see 4-5 classes of school children a week. These classes come out for 3 hours to be “hired hands” on the farm and find out a little bit about life and, as they say, “do things like they used to do.” Last week was filled with fifth graders, but this week and the next we will see several groups of second graders.
Seeing the farm through the eyes of a second-grader brings a whole new sense of wonder to this job because to an eight year old, 111 years ago might as well be a millennium. I often ask them what they would miss the most about living back then. Video games and television sets usually rank high on the list, but enterprising youngsters will know to extend that thought to electricity and encompass a lot more. It is interesting, how many of them would rather have electricity than plumbing, but then they may have never had to heat the water for their bathtub or use an outhouse in January. Some of the more interesting answers I’ve heard this week include transportation (cars mainly), cell phones (because life didn’t exist without them), and one fifth grade girl who would miss wearing pants!
No matter how they view it, the lessons these classrooms take away stay with them. I’ve had several university students come back on summer break and say they still remember baking biscuits and pumping water as a second grader. Through the course of their time here, the kids pick up new information, like where in the world salt comes from, how butter is made, and what makes a draft horse different from a regular horse. They practice math and science and reading, all while talking about history.
No matter how many batches of biscuits I bake (usually 3 per class, 5 classes a week…..you can practice your math), I will still see the value of scooping the five same ingredients into the bowl time after time. Because what we send home with the students after three hours isn’t about the buttered biscuits or a bit of mud or manure on their shoes, it’s the knowledge that lard comes from pigs and makes soap and pastries; and that learning can be fun.
The classes that come out make biscuits from scratch baked on the wood burning stove. Next time you want biscuits, try mixing them yourself, instead of popping open a can. The recipe we use is basic and yields about 15 biscuits, depending on size. Check back later on how to make butter at home. In the meantime some of our favorite toppings are jam, apple butter, and gravy.
Yield: 15 Biscuits
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
6 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup lard
1 1/2 cup milk (buttermilk is good too!)
Cut shortening into dry ingredients, then add milk. Turn onto floured board and roll 1/4 inch thick. Cut into biscuits and bake until tops are golden brown.
For the Modern Kitchen:
Like I tell the kids, baking is not an exact science, it is more of an experiment. Experiment with different types of fat (vegetable shortening, butter, etc.) or even different flours. As for mixing the biscuits; I tell the kids that cutting the shortening works well when you use 2 butter knives, but use them kind of like scissors and pull the shortening apart (a pastry knife will work as well!). After you add the milk you can stir with a wooden spoon and make the dough into a ball with your hands, but don’t work it too much or you’ll lose their light fluffiness. When we bake on the wood stove we don’t really use a time or a temperature, but it is safe to say that the oven most days is about 325 – 350 degrees and takes 15 minutes. If they don’t absolutely brown, but still feel done, they probably are. Just use your best judgment (and your nose!)
If you have any questions, let us know, or otherwise, happy biscuit baking!