About cpthegreat

Connie (aka Spinning Grandma) lives on Ash Lane Farm in southwest Minnesota. She is an expert on spinning, weaving and knitting and a former history interpreter.

Oodles of Noodles: Make Your Own!


An old-fashioned clothes dryer is a great tool to dry those homemade noodles!

Today was the day I chose to make my Swedish Meatballs but discovered I was out of noodles. So, today was also noodle-making day.

Homemade egg noodles are so much better tasting (and better for you) than store-bought noodles. Who knows what is put into the noodles in the factories? I KNOW what is in my noodles: nothing but fresh stuff!

Our homemade egg noodles are made by a small family business near us, using a "secret Amish recipe." At Lehmans.com and our store in Kidron, Ohio.

Our homemade egg noodles are made by a small family business near us, using a “secret Amish recipe.” At Lehmans.com and our store in Kidron, Ohio.

The noodle dough is very simple. My favorite one is about one cup of flour to one egg, a plop of olive oil, a pinch of salt and water to make the dough stiff but not sticky. I use farm-fresh eggs, which gives the noodles a lovely yellow color. (Store-bought eggs are fine, too.) I also use organic unbleached white flour from the local co-op. Many people use whole wheat, but I chose white as the flour of my choice. Sea salt and filtered water; good virgin olive oil — all the stuff fit for kings and peasants alike. Start with as much flour as you like, and then add the rest of the ingredients to match. Continue reading

“I LOVE My Steam Juicer!”

Great Grapes Storey Books pamphlet

Learn how to grow your own tasty grapes! In stock now at Lehmans.com or at Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio.

As the days speed into winter and fall’s mildness is becoming a memory here in the Upper Midwest, many of us are frantically trying to get everything “put by” for winter. I’ve become quite close to my steam juicer.

We here at Ash Lane Farm have a lovely vine of concord grapes and two heritage apple trees that I try to get into juice every year.

I am allergic to bees so I have to depend on the kindness of my husband, Norm, to take time from his busy life to pick the grapes and the apples.  But once they come inside, they are mine to do as I wish.

We like apple butter, apple sauce and grape jelly, and unsweetened gape and apple juices.  Plus, I make a wonderful apple brandy to give as gifts each year as well as have some for us. We also got elderberries from my sister to make into syrups for colds and coughs. Continue reading

Re-enactors Camp In Style With Help From Lehman’s!

With a riveted bail and 'helper handle', our Enamelware Kettle is ideal for frontier portrayals. At Lehmans.com or Lehman's in Kidron, Ohio.

With a riveted bail and ‘helper handle’, our Enamelware Kettle is ideal for frontier portrayals. At Lehmans.com or Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio.

My husband and I are living historians and demonstrate our “old time” crafts at historical rendezvouses.  We also used to work for Three Rivers Park District (formerly Historical Murphy’s Landing), a living history museum.  We have been trained to present ourselves as people living in the past and try to get there as closely as possible.

It’s challenging to keep up a “period correct” portrayal. But for us, it’s easy too!  The difficult part is the research to make SURE that what we use is accurate in every detail.  The easy part for us is  that Lehman’s has many items that are necessary to carry off the illusion of living “back then.”  We do not have to scrounge around in antique shops, hoping to find something rare and expensive to use. 

Our chosen time period is the 1870s.  In that time period, enamelware was common so I can use some lovely enamelware pots for cooking.

I also use water pitchers, hand basins and wash basins in enamel. I prefer the black or grey, but blue is acceptable. What I do NOT use is enamelware cups for hot liquids.  You will soon find that you cannot hold a hot cup!

I mostly cook with cast iron.  I have several frying pans in several sizes.

Husband Norm fusses that I have so much weight for us to haul around, but how can you fry an egg in a 10″ frying pan?  Oh, no!  I use a size 3 for that!  I also have two Dutch ovens; one for my soups and stews and the other for desserts.

Many people, when visiting our site to watch Norm carve spoons or to watch me spinning or weaving, ask “Do you actually SLEEP here?”  As if sleeping in a tent (or camper) is not done.  Our tent is set up to look like it came from the 1870s but it also is very comfortable.  After all, people wanted to be warm and comfortable then too!

Our tent is made of canvas, which actually is more waterproof and warmer than a nylon pop-up tent that most modern campers have.  It is about 12 feet by 14 feet which gives us room for spreading out.  We have a double bed.  The frame is an antique bedstead but under the hand-tied quilt and wool blankets rests a foam mattress, not a straw tick.  A straw tick is very comfortable but difficult to pack.  We don’t show under the blankets and flannel sheets so we are comfortable but look correct.

Blue Enamelware Water Pitcher

Perfect for the dinner table, this blue enamelware pitcher makes serving water or other cold beverages easy.

I have curtains made with reproduction material and behind the curtain is a reproduction commode (old-fashioned porta-potty) that is VERY handy on rainy nights.  I also have a washstand with an enamel wash basin and pitcher for washing up.  Showers aren’t necessary if you know how to take a “spit bath.”  Even washing hair is not hard with a basin of hot water.

We have a lovely 4-dog stove to keep us warm on cold nights.  The trappers and mountain men would judge the temperature of the night by how many dogs on the bed it took to keep them warm.  The stoves that are used in our tents are sized by dog-size.  A 4-dog stove keeps our place nice and cozy warm; we have had water freezing outside and been toasty inside.  The stove breaks down to a small rectangle with the legs and stovepipe stored inside; great for travel.  It has a flat top so that I can have hot water and coffee cooking in the morning (enamel coffee pot, of course) and can even cook inside if it’s too cold to go out.

Tripod with Chain for Cast Iron Cookware over an open fire

Tripod with Chain for Cast Iron Cookware over an open fire

Outside, I have a brazier; this is a long rectangular box of metal that has legs and stands up tall enough for me to cook on so that I don’t have to bend over an open fire pit on the ground.  This, like all of my cooking supplies, is totally correct.  It tears down to carry the legs and grate inside the box.  I do cook over an open fire, but it’s just not on the ground. Some folks use a tripod, and suspend their Dutch ovens from it for cooking.

I also have a kitchen box and an ice box.  The ice box is insulated, inside, with a high density foam and holds ice for about 3 days, unless it’s very hot.  I can keep my perishables in this, although I’m careful not to open the box when there are “outlanders” (non-rendezvousers) around, as the foam is not period correct.  This lovely box was made by my talented husband.  My kitchen box holds non-perishables but these are stored in the correct type of storage tins and jars so that I can keep the box open if I want.

For cooking utensils, I have wooden spoons and wooden spatulas (also made by Mr. Talent!).  We have eating utensils that are either silverware (not stainless steel like our modern tableware) or pewter.  My favorite spoons are pewter, as they are lighter weight than the heavy silver.

Dishes are ironstone or pottery; so are the cups.  I have some flowery ones but most of them are plain, as I worry about breaking the pretty ones.

Of course we wear clothing like the ones that our ancestors wore in the 1870s.  A lot of research has gone into the clothing of the different time periods.  It would not do to wear a dress that was worn in 1812, for example, or a dress that was worn in the 1890s.  Fashions changed then as well as they change now-a-days.

The men can get by with a lot because a working man in any time period wore nearly the same styles.  Most guests to our area would not know the difference, but other living historians would, and I would get a “look,” if not an actual scolding for trying to pass myself off in the wrong clothing!  I have made all of my clothing and most of Norm’s.  It impresses people when they see me in all my “regalia” as I tell them, “Yes, I made this myself!”

As I said, we try very hard to keep ourselves correct for our time period.  If I had a plastic spoon on my table or a “Hello Kitty” tablecloth, most people wouldn’t notice, but I would know.  Besides, if everything isn’t correct, it’s almost like lying to the public, pretending that something modern was actually around in the past.

With all my “modern” conveniences of the 1870s, I am quite comfortable.  I keep my husband fed and warm as well.  We have lived in this set-up for over a week at a time and could go longer if we had the need.

And I have places like Lehman’s to thank for making my search for good, period-correct items much easier!

Editor’s Note: As someone involved in historical portrayals too, I can agree that it’s great to have a resource like Lehman’s to turn to when something’s hard to find. Many re-enactors and cosplay enthusiasts have found Lehman’s in Kidron and Lehmans.com a great source for all kinds of things from utensils to wheelbarrows to throwing knives to wool socks. If you’re a re-enactor, cosplayer or LARP fan, check out what we have to offer. You’ll be surprised.                                   –Karen Johnson, Editor, Country Life

“Angelic” Dill Pickles Bring Sweet Memories


When your cukes, garlic and dills are completely fresh, your pickles will be perfect! Click here to see a popular reference from Lehman’s!

I don’t make dill pickles anymore! I used to, for years. And when I did make them, many in my family like them and feel that the recipe I use is a great one.  But in the past few years, I have not made anymore.  Let me take you back to explain why, and share my pickle recipe with you.

In 2004, husband Norm and I bought our “forever home” in southwest Minnesota.  In October of 2005, we retired from Historic Murphy’s Landing in Shakopee, Minnesota, and moved down here.  Norm got a job and I stayed home, planning to start retirement in January.

On November 22, 2005, Norm fell and hurt his neck.  He had only been working for about 6 weeks, so had no insurance at work.  I took him to the VA in Sioux Falls, where they discovered that his neck was broken.  He spent a week in the hospital, getting a “halo” to hold his neck still so that it could heal, as surgery was not an option. Continue reading

Ring In The New Year With Tasty, Easy Cherry Bread

Serve up your Cherry Bread on an Epicurean Cutting Board! Learn more at Lehmans.com or at Lehman's in Kidron, Ohio.

Serve up your Cherry Bread on an Epicurean Cutting Board! Learn more at Lehmans.com or at Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio.

One of my favorite must haves for the holiday season is Cherry Bread. This has been on my family table since I first remember having special foods for the holidays. The bread is much like a banana bread–a super easy quick bread, but with a punch.

Instead of bananas (of course), you use maraschino cherries and cherry juice.  The color is a beautiful pink with the red cherries peeping through. You can use walnut if you like the crunchiness in the bread.  I, personally, do not; since I started making the bread, I have not put the walnuts in.  My daughters don’t miss them as they have had my recipe since they were little.  My husband prefers the walnuts but since I haven’t put them in forever, I think he’s forgotten they should be in the bread!

Breads bake up evenly and brown beautifully in Lehman's enamelware loaf pan. Available now at Lehmans.com or Lehman's in Kidron, Ohio.

Breads bake up evenly and brown beautifully in Lehman’s enamelware loaf pan. Available now at Lehmans.com or Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio.

My bread has become a tradition for gifts. Many people expect a loaf of Cherry Bread in their gift boxes. I even have a friend who lives in Oregon who talks about my bread often. I think I should probably send her a loaf this winter, if it stays cold enough!

Excuse me …. I have to go cut myself a slice of bread, as talking about it makes me hungry for it. My favorite way is a nice slice with butter on it. You eat it anyway you like and enjoy the New Year with a great new recipe!

Cherry Nut Bread

½ cup shortening or butter
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 small bottle of maraschino cherries, chopped
½ cup of cherry juice
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup walnuts, chopped

Mix shortening (butter), eggs and sugar. Add cherry juice and mix. Add flour and dry ingredients and mix. Add vanilla. Mix all well. Add chopped cherries and walnuts, mix lightly. Bake in bread or loaf pan at 350° for 45-50 minutes. Check with toothpick to see if done.

mini loaf pansThis can be made in a bread loaf pan or in 4 mini-loaf pans. If you do like I do and buy a large jar of cherries, then use between ½ and 1 cup of chopped cherries instead of the small bottle.

How to Make Basic Lye Soap

I have been a soap maker on and off for many years. I enjoy making lye soap of all kinds, and I have several books and recipes for this wonderful craft. Although I have lard, lye and all the necessary tools for making soap on hand, I have not made soap for years–until recently.

It is all due to my daughter, Joy. She wanted to learn to make soap. When she visited earlier in the year, she brought more lye and insisted I show her the process. I had forgotten how pleasant a task soapmaking is, and have included it in my schedule – I will now make soap more often!

Simple lye soap is simple to make. There are recipes all over, but the one I use is this:

  • One 12 oz. can of 100% lye
  • 21-1/2 oz. distilled water or rainwater
  • 5 lb., 7-1/3 oz. lard

It’s “easy as pie” to make soap with these three ingredients. You can change the liquid to add powdered milk, fresh cow milk, goat milk, sheep milk or any exotic milk you can get your hands on. You can adjust the lard to any kind of fat – vegetable oils, almond oil, shortening, coconut oil. Think of an oil, a fat, and you can use it. The recipe is very forgiving. Continue reading

Handmade and From The Heart: Christmas Gifts

Christmastime, while a wonderful time to celebrate, can also be a very hard time for people with financial woes.  You want to give the “best” gift ever to everyone you love and you want to spend as much money as you can on this “best” gift, but you can’t afford it.  Is it any wonder that Christmas is a depressing time of year for many people?

The solution is easy: homemade gifts!  Now, in the recent past, homemade gifts were looked upon as cheap, tacky and a “buy-out” to the proper gifts that cost a lot of money.  Fortunately for those of us who enjoy making gifts for our loved ones, this mindset is no longer as prevalent.

Gifts made with skill and love are now accepted with excitement and gratitude.  I have found that gifts that I make are treasured items in the lives of my friends and loved ones.  For many years in the past, I have tried to make a lot of my gifts; this year my goal is to make the majority of the Christmas presents by hand.  A few will need the help of my handy husband, but most will be fiber related.
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A REALLY Old-Fashioned Weekend

Norm and I are “Living Historians,” which means that we demonstrate life in the past.  Our time period of choice is the 1870s.  This means that when we are demonstrating our skills, we are dressed in clothing of the 1870s and use tools that were used back then.

When we go away for a weekend or longer for special events or educational events, we live in that time period, for the most part.

We recently returned from Pepin, Wisconsin, which is the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Now Laura, as many people know, was the author of the “Little House” books, a story of her life and her family as she grew up in Wisconsin, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa and South Dakota.  She was born in 1867 and lived until she was almost 90, dying in 1957.  Her books have served as research material for me in my learning my character and learning about my chosen time period.  If she mentioned it, it happened.  If she didn’t mention it, more research was needed to see if what I wanted to do was “period correct.” Continue reading

Four dozen ears frozen in two hours!

I am not a very fast worker, so when I get produce for freezing or canning, I prefer to get a little bit at a time and process it before going on to more. I froze a dozen ears of sweet corn last week and it took me most of the afternoon.

This week my two granddaughters are here, and we got four dozen ears which were quickly put in the freezer with their help.

Since we don’t have corn in our garden we purchase it locally at the Farmer’s Market in town.  And the window for good sweet corner is nearly closed, so we have to get as much as we can possibly handle now.

Now, the best way, in my mind, to freeze corn is the easy way.  Blanche, cut off the cob, throw in bags and throw in the freezer.

I sent the girls outside and they husked all four dozen ears and brought them in a little at a time.  I had hot water boiling in a large pan that held about six cobs.  (When you put the cobs in, the temperature drops and the water has to reach boiling again before you start timing it.)
Continue reading