Hey, everybody-

After three years and something over 50 workshops, I am stepping down from heading Preserving Traditions. The last two last workshops currently planned are July 23 (Intro to pickling) and  Aug 27 (Intro to Canning), both at the Chelsea Library from 7-8pm.

What’s next for PT? I’m glad you asked, because the answer is largely up to you! The Pittsfield Grange is very interested in seeing Preserving Traditions continue, and has expressed strong support for the project. But what form should it take? Should PT retain its focus on food, or expand to other traditions, such as handicrafts like spinning, weaving, sewing, carving, soapmaking, etc.? How should PT relate to groups such as the Grange’s Junior Makers program (where kids learn basics of woodworking, electronics, and carpentry) and the ReSkilling Festival (which teaches all sorts of “people-powered” crafts from canning to beekeeping to permaculture)? How often should events be held? Should we do more demos, or more work days? What kinds of online resources would be helpful?

And perhaps most importantly – who will keep the group going? I tended to take a “do all the organizing and most of the teaching” approach, but it need not continue on that way.  There will probably be room for a number of volunteers and time commitments ranging from a few hours on one day to jobs spread out over seasons.

If you would like to be part of the discussion, please contact Joan Hellmann c/o the Pittsfield Grange Facebook page, or via e-mail ( There will be a one-time strategy and planning meeting to brainstorm ideas for moving forward. Coming to the meeting doesn’t commit you to any further participation, though of course we’d love to have people volunteer to teach, organize, or otherwise support Preserving Traditions with time.

In the tradition of good food and good friends,


Grange Lecturer Dave Wilson reports on the program at the November meeting

Cottage Food Bill meeting at the Grange

Frank Gublo, of MSU’s Product Center for Agriculture and Natural Resources gave a talk explaining Michigan’s new Cottage Foods Act, under which it is now legal for private parties to prepare and market certain foods. The topic obviously was of great interest, as we had 45 people in attendance and Frank fielded an enormous number of questions during the course of his presentation.

Frank’s job with the Product Center for Agriculture and Natural Resources is to help people start up food-related businesses—to get good food ideas out of the kitchen and into the marketplace. Michigan’s Cottage Foods Act is right up his alley, as its purpose is to encourage local food systems and entrepreneurship. He spent most of his talk explaining the practical details of the act such as what home-prepared foods can be sold, where can they be prepared, who can prepare them, how can they be sold, hygiene and sanitation requirements, and what labeling must be used.

Basically, only shelf-stable foods are permitted—foods with low risk for food-borne illness. These include dried herbs, dried pasta, popcorn, chocolate-covered items, cakes, dry bulk items, jams and jellies, breads, cookies, fruit pies, vinegars, coated and uncoated nuts. Foods that are out of bounds include all meats (which are regulated by the USDA), dairy foods (including all cheeses), canned fruits and vegetables, sauerkraut, pickles, and perishables generally.

Foods acceptable under the act must be prepared in single-family kitchens (in homes, apartments, condos); foods made in our Grange hall kitchen would NOT be acceptable, nor would foods prepared in any sort of group community kitchen or in a kitchen in an outbuilding. The act stresses the importance of cleanliness and good hygiene at all stages of food preparation, handling, and marketing, although there is no requirement for periodic official inspections. The cooking area must be free of insects, rodents, and other pests; pets
must be excluded from the area during food processing and handling, proven food processes must be used, and vehicles used for transporting the foods must be clean.

Foods must be prepared by an individual or by members of a family living in the dwelling in which the food is prepared. You cannot invite a few friends over for a session baking cookies or making jellies and sell these items under this act.

Each individual package of food must be labeled with the following information: Name of product; all ingredients; net weight or volume; name and address of business; allergen labeling; and the following statement: “Made in a home kitchen that has not been inspected by the Michigan Department of Agriculture.”

Foods must be sold by the maker directly to the buyer; there can be no middleman. It is not legal for a group of several food makers to assign the job of sales to one of their members. Only in-person sales are permitted. An annual gross sales limit of $15,000 is imposed by the act. And one must comply with all local zoning ordinances and regulations. Frank also advised that people planning to do business under the Cottage Foods Act would be well advised to discuss the liability ramifications with their insurance agent to make sure that they are adequately covered.

For further information, see, or the Michigan Department of  Agriculture at, or MSU’s Extension Service Washtenaw office at

Thanks so much, Frank, for a most interesting and relevant program.

And thanks, Dave, for writing up the program!

National Grange LogoThe National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry (“the Grange”) recognizes seven degrees of membership. The first four degrees are conferred at the local level by one’s home Grange. The fifth degree is administered by the regional, or Pomona, Grange; the sixth, by the State Grange; and the seventh, by the National Grange.

At induction to each level, the Grange imparts various teachings and exhortations about the Grange and the Granger’s duties, as well as explanations of the Grange’s symbolic objects, hand signs, and yes, even the secret handshake. But I can’t tell you about them, or I’d lose the respect of my fellow Grangers and be expelled from the Grange. So you’ll forgive me if I speak only in broad terms!

I was initiated into the fifth and sixth degrees at the state Grange meeting in mid-October. What were the ceremonies like? In a word, awesome. And I mean that in both the “wow, cool!” sense and in the sense of being humbling and awe-inspiring.

Now, I’m fairly susceptible to good ritual. I like the sense of tradition, of rites handed down generation after generation. I appreciate good symbolism, especially tangible, physical, kinesthetic symbolism: walking on a ritual journey, bestowing meaningful objects, and that coveted secret hand gesture.  And I confess to enjoying a bit of theatre – costumes and pageantry, set dressing and lighting effects, shared songs and speeches a bit on the highfalutin’ side of the everyday. It all works together to impress upon one that this is not ordinary time; something special is going on here, and whether or not we  believe all the bits, we’re happy to play along for the joy it brings, and the messages it conveys.

If you grew up celebrating the typical American Santa-centered Christmas, you know all about these aspects of ritual: the fur-trimmed red suit, the twinkling lights, snow and reindeer (real or cartoony), singing “Up on the Housetop,” and the ever-important ritual question, “Have you been good this year?”  Only the youngest believe Santa is a real person with the power to grant wishes, but for those few moments, we indulgently play along. We enjoy the pageantry, remember our own memories of whispered wishes on Santa’s knee, and renew our pledges to try to be very very good this year in the hopes of good returns.

With no young kids in my life these days, I no longer really celebrate “Santamas,” and with it goes one of the last time-honored group traditions from my household.  And you know what? I miss it. I miss feeling like part of something bigger than myself.  I miss the comfort of knowing all the words (even if I don’t totally believe them) and the tune and the “right” clothes to wear.  I march to my own drummer most of the time…but I also miss the Little Drummer Boy.

So the degree conferral satisfied my hankering for spectacular ceremony. But beyond this aesthetic appreciation for the ceremonies, I found – somewhat to my surprise – that these rites really mattered to me. I feel different now, about the Grange, about my place within the Grange, and even a bit different about how I see myself. I admit that before the degree work, I was concerned about the way some of my opinions differ from the prevailing opinions of the National Grange. But after the ceremonies, and after meeting Grangers from across the state, I know for certain that the Grange is a great place for me. Yes, I differ on some points of politics and religion, but I find that I really do agree with the more fundamental issues of growing and preparing of food.  And I see myself as really belonging to this tradition of growers and makers, of sowers and sewers: of Patrons of Husbandry.  It feels really, really good to belong to a group of people who deeply appreciate what I do, in the garden and the kitchen and the Grange hall. And I really like the Grangers I met. They’re just good folks.

Would you find as good a fit within the Grange? If you enjoy bringing food forth from the soil, be it in a garden, on a farm, in an orchard, or on that mythical “back forty” you hope to have someday, you very well may.  If you take pride in the work of your hands, such as needlework, spinning, weaving, or even nature photography, you just might.  If you enjoy shopping at the farmers’ market and turning that bounty into nourishing meals, and appreciate the work that went into coaxing that food from the soil, I bet you would.

Maybe I’ll see you next year, and hand you an apple.  And you’ll understand, and smile just as hugely as I did.

grange logoIf you’ve been enjoying Preserving Traditions events, you might consider joining the Grange! The Grange is full of folks who are interested in old-fashioned food and friendship…it’s part of the reason Preserving Traditions has been such a great fit.

As a member of the Grange, you’ll attend all Preserving Traditions events for free and get first chance to sign up for our most popular (and space-limited) events, like canning work days and farm visits. As a member of the Grange, you’ll have be able to participate in monthly potlucks and hear interesting presenters. There’s also a discount on the Grange’s family dances, and membership in the national Grange organization, as well, giving you a voice in local, state, and national Grange business. (And yes, there is actually a secret handshake!)

Annual membership is $40 (or $70 for the whole family), but we’re running a “special” this year: if you sign up before December, we’ll extend your membership through December 2010. You can download an application and mail it to our membership director, Joan Hellmann (info is on the application).

Apple tastingSept. 26th was Apple Day at the Grange.* This is an annual event that features all things apple. Inside, we had an apple-themed bake sale. Apple-rhubarb pie, a variety of apple cakes, apple baklava, and any number of cakes and cookies with applesauce in them. There was also an apple tasting – 15 or so varieties of apples, both fresh and dried crispy, many of which I’d never heard of before. And finally, some craft activities and displays (including one on food preservation methods that I set up).

*We’re talking the real Grange here, the Pittsfield Union Grange, not the new restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor.

Making apple sauce and butterOutside was where the real action was happening: a demo of making apple sauce and apple butter, and the make-your-own-cider activity. The apple sauce was made in batches throughout the day and doled out in paper cups to anyone who wanted them. We probably sauced 50 pounds of apples for sampling. Follow the cut for a visual tour of how to make your own apple cider! (more…)