Homestead Heritage, Elm Mott, Texas
November 8 – 26, 2011
This narrative has been written over several days, and I have not re-read it to proofread it, so please overlook typos, stories told twice, etc.
I have created two photo albums from this trip, one with cheese making and the cheese cave; the other album with photos of the fairgrounds and booths set up with the handmade items, the Homestead Heritage buildings, and photos I took walking around. Here are links to several albums of photos I took. Album 1, Album 2, and I am adding a 2012 album of wildflowers since I’m updating this story in 2017 adding link to albums. Album 3.
I didn’t have Internet connection during this time, so here is the cummulative story of my time at Homestead Heritage:
I arrived in Elm Mott, Texas near Waco on November 8th and as I drove into Homestead Heritage/ Brazos da Dios I saw my friend Rebeccah Durkin walking so I stopped. She, and a few others have a wonderful, award winning cheese company, and Rebeccah was going inside the building where they make the cheese and she invited me to go with her.
I was so impressed with the facility and also how far they have come, making so many types of cheeses and winning international awards for some of them. I helped Rebeccah ship some orders and then we went to the cheese cave. This is a sight to experience.
We walked downstairs to the cheese cave which is 15 feet below ground level. The door is a large heavy thick wood door with a curved top, it looks like an old dungeon door and the key is about 10 inches long and looks like one of those keys you see in old movies where they open dungeon doors or jail cells. The key was made in the blacksmith shop on the premises.
There are lots of shelves where the cheeses are placed to age. Here is a link to see the story and some photos of the cheese cave: http://www.brazosvalleycheese.com/blog/. You can learn more about Homestead Heritage at their website: www.homesteadheritage.com.
After we finished with filling the cheese orders for the day we went to her family’s house where I saw the rest of the Durkin family and had a wonderful dinner and conversation with them. I had not seen them in over four years since my last visit. We turned off the kitchen light and ate dinner by oil lamp and it was really nice. For dessert we had the very special maple pecan ice cream which has always been my favorite ice cream when I visit here.
The entire Durkin family, Kevin and Kelly the parents, and Rebeccah, Shoshana, Ahavah, and Raveet have always made me feel so very welcome and treated me like a member of their family. I am staying in the guest house next to their house. This is an amazing building, it’s an old barn that has been built into a wonderful, warm and cozy house. It has hand hewn beams that are secured with wooden pegs. Even the floors and ceiling have old wooden boards.
There are chickens and turkeys in coops in the yard near the garden, and a few of them are going to be our Thanksgiving dinner. Outside my door in their yard are some gardens growing fresh vegetables. The large wire cage with the turkeys in it keeps getting moved. The turkeys love eating grass and within two days after they are in a new spot, the grass is chewed down to the dirt, so they get moved again. There are two compost piles near the chicken coops and the other day when Kevin was cleaning the chicken coops and I was watching and talking with him, we noticed that there is a large watermelon growing in one of the compost piles. We guess it started growing from a seed in the pile.
Almost every day I have been here, I have been helping in the cheese shop doing several things such as wrapping the Eden Cheese in fig leaves, turning cheeses, weighing and labeling cheeses, watching the cheese being made in the large vats and then being put into the molds that form the shapes. We have also been filling orders and packing them to ship to hotels, stores, etc. I’ve also been able to sample many of the cheeses, they are so good and all organic. I got to try the Horseradish Pecan Cheddar Cheese, I thought it would be hot because of the horseradish, but I found it to be mild and really have a wonderful flavor. As we are cutting the cheese wheels when needed for orders, we sample the various cheeses!!! Sometimes cheese and crackers is our lunch.
On the first Friday I was here, I walked to the cheese shop and on the way stopped by the fibercraft shop and saw the looms, yarns, and other items in the shop. I was so impressed by all the weaving looms and the beautiful things that were being made on them. I also stopped by the pottery shop. Many of you know how much I love pottery, so it took lots of restraint for me not to buy more pottery, especially when I see the pieces they have that are done with so many beautiful glaze colors.
In the blacksmith shop they were making nails. I had not seen nails made before and so I watched for a while. I was told this is how they were made in the old days. It was very interesting. As I passed by the woodworking shop, I went in and there was a class being taught on how to make a small end table. I’m guessing there were about a twenty men taking that class.
I then went into the two story barn which is more than 200 years old and it is the main gift shop. I saw some wonderful smelling candles and soaps, and some of the most beautiful handmade quilts. There was one done in small purple fabric squares that I absolutely fell in love with but I already had a purple quilt that I made. Mine is not as detailed as this one, but it serves the purpose.
I continued on and walked down the road to the cheese shop and in one of the pastures I saw the horses that are used to plow the fields, haul hay, etc. These are really large horses, I think they are Purcheron and Belgium.
When I got to the cheese shop they had the large vat filled with milk, enzymes, cultures, etc. to make cheddar cheese. I got to see it being cut and watching the curd and whey separate and during the course of the morning as the whey got drained, the cheese got cut into large pieces and kept getting turned every 15 minutes or so until it reached the proper PH and then it gets put into molds and pressed into shape. So far, I have seen blue cheese, gouda, eden, brie, cheddar, and pepper jack cheeses being made. When the peppers were added to the jack cheese, even though we were in the next room, I could tell they were using strong peppers… jalapeno, habanero, and another strong pepper. I think I will pass testing this one. Actually, when a cheese wheel was cut for an order, I tasted some, it was good, but I am not big on the heat from the hot peppers.
A friend of mine who is the city clerk in Waco came here at about lunchtime one day, so we went to the various shops so she could look around and then we went to the cafe for lunch and caught up on life. We had not seen each other or talked very often since I moved to Florida so it was nice to have this time together. The weather has been really nice and we are enjoying the temperatures which are a bit cool in the morning and evening, but in the 70s during the daytime.
There is lots of activity here now since everyone is getting ready for the Thanksgiving fair. I got to listen to the choir practice the other day and they sound really great. They were practicing in the community hall and now that the tent is up they are practicing there. Shoshana and Raveet Durkin who are in the choir said that the choir is having to modify their voices and loudness since the two venues they have been practicing in are so different. I told them it sounded great to me.
One day I worked most of the day in the cheese shop, then I went to the grist mill and helped get bags of orange maple granola packed to sell at the upcoming fair. I have been so blessed being here and seeing so many new things and also reconnecting with my friends here, and meeting people I did not know before. I worked one morning helping to make 3,000 hamburger rolls for the fair. It was interesting. Everything used here in this sustainable community, including flour, etc. is organic. Batches of the dough we made was 45 pounds, we separated it into batches, then rolled it out on a board and this machine called a rounder took the dough block and rolled it into balls that weighed 3.5 ounses each. All we had to do is put the dough on pans to rise, then when they rose we put egg wash and sesame seeds on them, let them rise again, then bake. We had a group of several women and we had a great time and wonderful conversation while we worked. Then I went and worked in the cheese shop again.
I have been invited to dinner at several peoples houses, some I know, and another family I didn’t know Steve and Jer who are friends of another lady named Bonnie that I met. Steve and Jer have horses on their property and I got to feed them apple pieces. Several days later they invited Bonnie and I for dinner again. What a surprise I had when we arrived!!! Steve has two old horse drawn buggies. He was hitching Dolly who is a Morgan horse to the larger of the buggies and we went for a ride for several miles just about as it was getting dark. Until tonight, I had not been in a horse drawn buggy/carriage. It was sensational!!! Dolly who is eight years of age was raised and trained to trot and she loves to trot. We could tell she was really enjoying herself and the cooler weather. She was raised in another state and then transported to Texas when Steve purchased her. Along the road we traveled by buggy, on one side of the road are some cows, bulls, etc. On the other are some donkeys. As we went by, one of the donkeys decided to run along the fence line with us, soon, the other three donkeys were also in pursuit. We had all four donkeys running along with us and it was a sight to see. As we got to the end of the street and turned the donkeys had to stop since they couldn’t go any further. When we came back by that corner, two of the donkeys started running with us again. It was really a great treat to have this special surprise, and then a wonderful dinner and conversation.
In addition to seeing friends I know here, and making new ones, I’m also seeing the next generation of children of friends. Marc and Rachel, and Ahavah and Jake each have a little boy and girl close in age. I went to Ahavah and Jakes wedding about four years ago, which is the last time I was here. So much has changed, new buildings and crafts added. I’m really enjoying my time here and as always, when I am here, I will be sad to leave.
I have been here almost two weeks now, and I have really been enjoying it. I’ve been invited to several homes for dinner, I’ve worked in the cheese shop, grist mill, and fibercraft shop. Everyone is so nice, friendly, and pleasant and I’ve enjoyed getting to have this time together and getting to know them. I have also been working and pulling my share of the tasks. I don’t lift heavy things, but there is so much to do, especially now with the Thanksgiving weekend fair rapidly approaching.
All the food we eat here is organic, and most of it raised and grown on the property. This is how food should taste, natural, no chemicals or preservatives. Everyone here really cares about each other and helps each other. It’s so nice to see and experience the harmony, friendship, caring, and sharing. If you ever get the chance to come here for a visit, please do. I’m guessing you will find it to be a wonderful experience.
Besides helping in the cheese shop, grist mill, and fibrecraft shop, and making spiced pecans, I got to help can jelly, set up the Homestead Farm booth with the various assortments of jellies, grist mill products, spiced nuts, etc. Since a few bags of the spiced pecans we made the other night we all had to snack on them while setting up the booth. There were about 8-10 of us and it was great fun. At about 10 p.m. It started raining really hard and it continued until the early morning hours.
On Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Kevin went to get the turkeys to slaughter them for our Thanksgiving meal. Two of his daughters went, and I got invited. I wasn’t keen on seeing this, but Kevin told me to come and I went to add a new experience to my life. It was really interesting, I didn’t like to see the turkey being killed, but it was done humanly and quickly. I won’t go into the details of how it was defeathered and cleaned, but it was done pretty quickly and afterwards it looked like the turkey you buy in the store. Only these turkeys are raised naturally and without chemicals.
I worked in the cheese shop some more and also got a call to go help put lids on jars being filled with jelly, I found out when I got there, that the jelly they were putting into bottles was jalepano and habernaro. The fumes were pretty strong, but once in the room for a while my body adapted to it. It’s nothing I want to try. However, I did get some of the prickly pear jelly and some cranberry pear preserves that I had for breakfast this morning on crackers with cheese. They were really good!!! I got a small jar of plum preserves and also Mustang grape to try another day.
I got lots of cheeses to bring back and I almost filled my little fridge with the cheeses, I only got the hard cheeses, not the brie and eden. I am now spoiled and don’t want to eat the two chunks of store bought cheddar I got before coming here… I may have to find them a new home when I get back to Florida. After eating organic cheese made here using raw cows milk, knowing how it is made and what it tastes like to be made naturally, I prefer this cheese over storebought. I have had so much fun working with everyone here and especially in the cheese shop. I’ve made new friends, and learned so much about the cheese making process.
Leaving here on Saturday is going to be sad for me, I really would love to stay here longer. I will have to plan another trip, perhaps in the spring.
Several nights after dinner everyone worked setting up their booths so they would be ready when the fair opened on Friday morning, the day after Thanksgiving. I helped Ahavah and Jake set up their Homestead Farms booth which has jelly, herbs, teas, pasta, spiced pecans, etc. I also helped Rebeccah and her crew to set up the cheese cases. I have definitely not been bored… I have had so much fun and I have gotten to do so many different things.
Here is a cute comment you might get a chuckle from: Ahavah and Jake have two children, Anne who is 3 years old and Kevin who is 14 months old. One night when we were setting up the booth, someone was going to walk the children and Kevin was in the stroller. Anne was asked if she wants to go in the stroller and her reply was “no, I want to walk, I need the exercise.” We all laughed.
Thanksgiving day, we went for a walk in the morning to check out the various buildings and booths, then came back, changed clothes and got ready for the big meal at 2 p.m. When Kevin, Kelly, and I went for the walk, we stopped at a homestead farm area and talked with Aaron who is one of the people who owns that plot of land. Aaron was telling us about solutions he is going to implement and build to help protect his crops from the wind, etc. Then he told us he is needing to find a way to keep the lizards in his crops since they help to eat the harmful insects. Kevin said if Aaron promises to do it, he will tell him the secret to keeping lizards in the garden… Aaron said he suspects this is a trick, but he agreed to do it. Kevin said the secret is to sing to them… we all chuckled.
There were about 20 adults and 4 children for dinner. Everyone brought dishes of food… what a feast we had!!! There was so much food, and of course the turkeys that were cooked to perfection!!! After we all ate too much food, Kevin announced that we are all going for a walk… so the entire group set off down the road for the walk… saw others had the same idea, they must have eaten lots of food as well.
It was really nice having this time together where I not only got to have time with the Durkin family that I have known for many years, but to also meet and get to know so many others. I feel like I have lots of new friends.
Friday morning, we all got up early and headed to the various booths to await the day and the visitors. I started in the cafe where the cheese booth and cheese making demonstrations were set up. Fresh milk was delivered and Rebeccah did her first demonstration on how to make cheese, she made gouda in an old whiskey barrel.
My friends Sue and Mark who live in Crowley, near Fort Worth, came about 10:15 a.m. I met them and we walked around to see the various demonstrations such as sheep sheering, listened to a seminar on gardening, and ate lunch. We walked around the grist mill, weaving shop, etc. and then when the choirs started to sing we went and listened. Everyone really enjoyed the choirs, there were different choirs based on age groups, every one of them performed in an outstanding and exceptional way. I know they have been practicing a lot and it showed. I got to listen to some of the practice sessions. In the evening, the adult choir and orchestra performed, they were absolutely sensational!!! I could hear and feel the passion when they performed, and I’m sure everyone else could too. The words of the songs really touched my spirit.
Saturday morning I got up and helped restock and rearrange one of the booths and walked around saying my goodbyes to everyone. It was really sad for me to do it, even though I would have liked to have another few weeks here, I needed to head back to Florida. I promised I would return again hopefully next year and spend more time there with everyone. I feel like I am part of the community and family and not that I am a visitor. I am taking so much of what I learned, how people care for each other, treat each other, and the kindness shown to each other with me. I hope that I can remember to keep this spirit of togetherness and being considerate of not only each other, but of my surroundings and the peacefulness with me as I continue the walk through life.
I left Elm Mott about 10:15 a.m. And started the drive to Florida. After about an hour and half of driving, it started to rain really hard. I kept driving thinking that it would let up or stop. No such luck. I took my time and when it got really bad I would stop for a little while and eat a snack or get gas. I stopped about 7:15 p.m. Because I was tired, and it was raining really hard and I slept for a few hours, then got up and drove further. On Sunday afternoon, when I was about halfway across the Florida panhandle, the rain finally stopped… thankfully… however, there were really strong crosswinds so I had to really keep a tight grip on the steering wheel since the camper blows around easily when driving in these winds. I realized that I would be able to get to Chambers Farm near Ocala about the time the Thanksgiving pow wow was wrapping up. I wanted to see my friends Ron Huntingbear and Albert Gray Eagle so I called and let them know I would be there about 4 p.m. That was about 5 hours from where I was when I called. It was only about a 30 minute detour off the interstate to make that stop. I arrived about 4 p.m. and got food to eat for dinner after saying hi to my friends there. I spent the night on the pow wow grounds. Since there were no lights, I could see all the stars shining brightly in the sky. I have really enjoyed seeing stars and listening to the sounds of nature on my trip.
Monday morning, November 28th, I left Chambers Farm and headed further south, I still found myself driving with crosswinds which is not fun. After driving for another 6 hours I arrived in Deerfield Beach at my condo. I figured I would unload some of my camper today, and then do it gradually over the next week or so. After I get it all unpacked, I am going to have it washed, waxed, and most definitely vacumned which it most definitely needs. Then I will have the tires rotated and balanced, checked out mechanically, etc. and get ready for some short trips in Florida and hopefully plan another long trip for next year.
I hope you have enjoyed my trip by reading my stories. If I do anything exciting here I will keep adding to my blog. I had to remember when I was in Texas, that even though I felt like I was “home” because I was on familiar ground and with my long time friends, that I needed to remember to continue sharing my stories as if I were still a tourist since many of you have not been to Fort Worth, Elm Mott, etc.
Thanks for sharing my journey with me, for giving me your love, support, and encouragement. You have all touched my heart and spirit and I am forever grateful.