Mice have delightfully soft fur. They are also prolific, easy to catch, and easy to skin. The first time I ever even heard of mouse use for hides was last summer at the Echoes in Time skills gathering. One of the basket girls had a tiny mouse hide bag. I thought it was a wonderfully creative and adorable idea, and, being a maker, I wanted to try making one myself. Mouse hides are the perfect size for amulet bags.
The first part was the mouse hides. Mice are generally trapped anyway because they are often a nuisance, so instead of disposing of the mice from the traps as usual, I threw them in a bag in the freezer. When I had a few I decided to try skinning them. It was much easier than I thought it would be. I thawed them just enough, so that the innards were still mostly solid, but the skin was supple. The skins are very thin and therefore delicate, but they peel right off. The most difficult part was figuring out where to cut the ears and the lips to get the face off intact. I discovered that a cut right under the ears will bring them off nicely, and a pre-cut along the edges of the mouth makes the whole face much easier to deal with. It took me three tries to get a good one with the whole face and no holes (the one pictured).
I then soaked the hides in Earl Grey tea for a few days. Tea contains tannic acid which treats the hide and because the hides were so small, it was much easier to use tea than bark. This is essentially bark tanning. I do not know much about bark tanning, but I find braintan.com‘s section on bark tanning very informative. It’s a highly interesting process. I then rubbed oil (walnut oil mixed with beeswax to be exact because that’s what I had at the time) to soften the hide.
To make the bag, I folded the back end of the hide up to the ears and whip stitched the sides closed. I then sewed a piece of buckskin lace under the fold of the flap (on the backside of the ears). To make the fold nice, I left the bag with the flap folded down under a book for a while.
“Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…” – Clement Clarke Moore, A Visit From St. Nicolas
Pear sauce is exactly what it sounds like; apple sauce, but made with pears. One of the wonderful things about living in a place where there is an excellent growing climate is the surplus of delicious fresh food. We harvested a couple hundred pounds of pears from two pear trees whose owners only kept the trees for decoration. There was no way we could have eaten that many before they went bad, so hence the canning. They weren’t the most beautiful pears to look at, but they were delicious and pesticide free. The owners saw us as doing them a favor by picking the pears so that they wouldn’t have to deal with cleaning up the rotten fruit at the end of the season. We saw it as them doing us a favor by giving us their pears. It was a good trade.
If they’d been sprayed or handled by anyone else we probably would have washed them, but since they came fresh from the tree and were getting cooked anyway, we decided not to worry about it. The first thing was coring.
It doesn’t matter how (or really even if) you core because it’s all personal taste. However, I think the easiest way to core (and it also gives the opportunity to notice and remove any worms or other invaders) is to cut the pear just off center barely missing the core leaving a pear (with the core still intact) missing almost half and the almost half. Then repeat on all sides, until only the core is left. Really it doesn’t matter how you core as long as no seeds or stems end up in the sauce, although it wouldn’t be a big deal if they did. The pear flesh can then be placed into a steaming pot (basically a colander inside of a sauce pot, the pears could also be cooked down with some water in a sauce pot, but it takes longer and requires more stirring), and the cores can be taken to compost, fed to chickens, or whatever else seems good.
Once the colander is filled, it’s time to steam. This requires the colander to be placed into the sauce pot which should be filled with enough water to provide steam, but not enough to actually touch the pears more than minimally because it dilutes the flavor. It is very important to monitor the amount of water in the pot because dry boiling is very bad indeed for the pot and the safety of the kitchen. The pears are done when they are soft to the the touch. Use a fork, not fingers to test, using fingers is a bad idea (how would I possibly know that?). After the pears have been taken out, the bottom of the pot that was filled with water is now filled with pear juice. It is tasty and refreshing once cool.
The next part is the actual sauce making. I like this part, it’s fun and slightly calming process. At this point the pears became sauce by being squished through a colander. The colander does the double duty of removing the skins. The skins (shown in the lower right above) are distinctly un-apetizing, even the chickens were not interested. Its possible to grate the skins through the colander and integrate them into the sauce, but it gives the sauce a grainy texture and can be slightly bitter. We had a colander designed for this purpose but any colander would work, even just hands in a pinch would work fine too.
Canning requires some time, but is not too difficult. The pear sauce should be poured into the jars while hot (it can be heated on the stove top or in the oven), and then water bathed (with water covering the tops) for twenty minutes. Luckily, all of our jars sealed the first time.
It took us many batches to use all two hundred weight of pears. Luckily not all the pears came ripe at the exact same time. We didn’t add any spices. I think it’s delicious the way it is, but a little cinnamon or nutmeg added upon serving can be a nice touch. I have also discovered that pear sauce its really tasty when warm as well as cold.
“The old methods survive not just for practicality but for unsurpassed flavor.” – Back To Basics (Third Edition)
Yucca fiber processing is an ancient art. I first became interested in yucca fiber in my time at The Clovis Site (an important archaeological site on the high plains of New Mexico). People have used yucca for ages past in every form. From raw leaves, to finely spun yucca yarn, the leaves have been used in every form. The book Treading in the Past: Sandals of the Anasazi showcases many excellent examples of yucca fiber in all forms as used in sandals. Yucca is also used for cordage, bags, nets, and really anything fiber related.
I start by chopping down a yucca plant. I happen to have access to narrow leaf yucca. All I use is an ax. The difficulty with yucca is the pointed tips, so I begin by gathering the leaves up, holding them up with one hand, leaving the base of the plant exposed. With the other hand, I chop the plant down as if it was a small tree.
After the yucca is cut, I peel the leaves away from the main body so that each leaf is separate.
From here there are three options that I have heard of to liberate the fiber. One is to beat the leaf with a rock, stick, or hammer pulverizing the flesh and leaving the fiber. The next is to allow the leaves to soak in a bucket of water for several weeks until the flesh of the plant begins to rot off, and then scrape off the remnants of the flesh. The third is to boil the yucca in a pot of water for several hours until the flesh becomes soft, and then scrape the flesh off. The last method is my favorite. The first method is more manual labor, and I have a tendency to pound the leaves too much and damage the fiber. The second is all to easy to allow the yucca to rot too much, also damaging the fiber. But, I think that which way is best is a matter of personal taste.
After the fiber has been liberated, it’s nice to wash off any remaining flesh. The fibers will become a whitish color when clean. The longer the fibers are scraped and peeled apart, the finer they become. Dried yucca fibers will preserve for a long time, so it’s no hurry to used processed yucca fiber. To work the fibers into something, I first soak them in water until they become soft again. My skirt contains about one and a half narrow leaf yucca plants.
The skirt is made in two pieces. I think of it as two opposing aprons. To make the skirt I took a buckskin lace and folded a small bundle of fiber over the top, tying it in by weaving through the bundles at the top. I repeated this until the skirt was as wide as my hips. I then repeated this for the back. I then came back and added another layer of weaving a few inches down to hold the fibers together.