Archives January 2021

Meeting Miss Charlotte Mason

Posted by Mom on April 13, 2016

When I started to consider educating our children at home rather than sending them to school, I was overwhelmed with the array of methods and philosophies surrounding homeschool. A continuum of homeschooling styles, from school-at-home to unschooling, passed into my consciousness. One style however stood out from the rest; one that was named after a person: the Charlotte Mason Method.

Miss Charlotte Mason (1842-1923) spent her adult life educating children and developing a philosophy of education. Her philosophy has been dubbed The Gentle Art of Learning by Karen Andreola. Why? Because Miss Mason studied children and founded her philosophy upon some basic truths about children. Here is a sampling of some of these truths:

Charlotte Mason (Frederic Yates,
  1. Children are persons with individual needs for knowledge and training and their minds and personalities should be respected
  2. Children can sustain attention for only a short duration, and as such, lessons should be short and the subjects varied daily
  3. Children’s minds are most attentive and receptive in the morning and lessons should occur in the morning hours
  4. Children are intensely curious about the world around them and their schooling for the first six years of life should be informal and steeped in nature exploration and living books
  5. Children learn by forming relationships, therefore, present to them inspiring stories, biographies and concepts
  6. Children also learn by telling back what they have heard or seen and this re-telling is a natural and spontaneous inclination

These foundational concepts, combined with other principles, set the Charlotte Mason Method apart from other forms of education; they guide a child toward a lifelong pursuit of knowledge by developing a habit of self-education. A lifelong love of education and the pursuit of knowledge is just what I want my children to acquire.

According to Miss Mason, books and literature are the best tool to impart knowledge. Her method emphasizes the humanities rather than the more empirical approach of the natural sciences. She proposed that children should learn by listening, and later reading, what she called, living books. Living books, as opposed to textbooks, are written by authors who care deeply about their subject. These authors present the material as a narrative that engages the listeners and sparks their imagination. Furthermore, living books contain literary language and not simplified vocabulary (i.e., twaddle) which disregards the intellect of the child. Living books provide the stimulus to gently enliven a child’s appreciation in history, geography, literature, nature study, and science.

Unlike traditional methods for education, Miss Mason did not believe that teaching and then testing for comprehension was the proper method to educate a person. And she is right! When you cram for a test, you only retain what you need to pass the test, and then forget what it is that you learned because you no longer need to recall it or because what you learned was never something you truly owned as your own. Miss Mason proposed an ingenious notion for making knowledge personal, and its acquisition, gentle: Narration.

For children, telling back something that engages their imagination or inspires them is natural. The taking in, the processing, and then the composing of a cohesive re-telling is how a child personalizes knowledge. Children begin narration by telling back, and as they mature, through written composition. In addition, because the information is obtained from living books, children also gently expand their vocabulary, improve their spelling, and practice their grammar.

Miss Charlotte Mason, and her revolutionary Gentle Art of Learning, was something that spoke to my soul; it was something I needed to understand further. Fortunately, Miss Mason established a school where her method was applied, tested, and honed. Based upon her experiences and her observations she formulated her pedagogy. She was a prolific writer and her six-volume compendium is a source of inspiration for modern homeschoolers looking for an inspirational and gentler approach to education.

Dabbling with Ducks

We have a large laying flock of chickens. We tried our hand at raising Thanksgiving turkeys. “Why not try ducks?” we asked ourselves. We’ve wanted to add ducks to our farm ever since we learned that they feast upon mosquito larvae. Since we are tormented by mosquitos and will not use any chemical controls, ducks sounded like our saviours. So last spring we tested the waters, so to speak, and became the owners of three ducklings. We did a bit of research into duck husbandry before we started, but mostly we learned as we went along.

First lesson to learn: ducks are not chickens. One cannot care for ducks as one would chickens. Chickens detest getting wet. Ducks love it! Chickens drink water by scooping water into their bills and tipping their heads back to pour it down their throats. Ducks put their entire bill into the water and shake it back and forth, splashing water all over. No dainty tea party manners for them! Chickens don’t need to get their food wet to eat it. Ducks do, and cause a slimy, soggy mess in and around their waterers. Chickens make a mess by scratching but ducks by splashing water everywhere.

Second lesson: chickens dust bathe, ducks bathe with water. Ducks love water, any sort of water, and are not turned off by mud or slime. I think they are happiest when they can splash around and dunk themselves under the water. As evidence or this, when I bring buckets of water to refill their mini plastic pond, they start quacking away and can’t stand still they are so excited. As soon as I leave it’s a shoving match to see who gets to go in first. And due to their propensity to get wet and grub about in the mud, the mini pond needs fresh water daily. Chickens, on the other hand, only like water to drink it. Their idea of keeping clean is to scratch themselves into a hole of dust and flick it all over their bodies. The sand particles work through the feathers and shed pesky fleas and mites. Flying sand from bathing chickens and splashing water from bathing ducks is a recipe for unhealthy 

Third lesson: you can herd ducks, you can’t herd chickens. Ducks have a strong instinct to stay in a flock. With chickens, it’s every girl for herself (unless there is a rooster to keep them under control). But even with a rooster, good luck getting them to go where you want! It is not a one person job. It takes forethought and strategy. Sticks help too. With the ducks, so long as you are behind them and driving them forward, (sticks helps here, too) they will waddle in a cluster and end up where you want them to be. If one gets separated, it makes every effort to get back to the others. We’ve even heard of people who can train ducks to obey voice commands.

Fourth lesson, ducks are creatures of habit and do not do well with change. When our ducklings were large enough to leave the brooder and heat lamp behind, we put them into the same run as our chickens in an effort to keep things simple. This was fine while the weather was warm and summery and the ducks spent their days free ranging outside. As winter descended upon us, it was evident that the chickens and ducks could not stay together. Chickens will do fine in cold weather, so long as they stay dry. That wasn’t going to happen with the ducks as roommates. As the ducks were outnumbered 80 to three, they had to move out. 

Within their new digs the ducks seemed to always be anxious as they paced along the fence and repeatedly tried to force their way out. If they did become free, they made a beeline for the chicken run, walked in through the open door and proceeded to make themselves comfortable and the chicken run a soggy mess. The ducks became increasingly adept at breaking out that we knew we needed to change something. After some thought, we determined that the ducks might just be lonely for the chickens’ company? When they did escape and the door into the chicken run was closed, they would settle down nearby where they could at least still hear the chickens. Letting them back into the chicken run was not an option, but what if we brought a couple chickens to them? We gave it a try and had instant success. Problem solved! Now our ducks are content to remain behind the fence with their chicken pals. 

Suffice it to say. We’ve been pleased with our duck trial. We learned some valuable lessons through our first year of owning ducks and are better prepared when more arrive. And more are coming, we’re planning on adding six more this spring. Our flock will spend its time in our orchard and earn their keep as lawn mowers and pest managers. They won’t scratch and make a mess like the chickens, but we will have to bring them fresh water daily for bathing. At least they’ll let us know how much they appreciate it.

Peach Pie: Crust and Filling

In the midst of an unseasonably cold stretch of weather in early January I happened to be looking into our pantry and spied some jars of peach pie filling I had “put up” way back in August; that time of year when baskets of ripe peaches abounded and I sweltered away in the kitchen while preserving the bounty. Now that work is a minor blip in my memory as I stare at the pie filling and imagine the taste of a homemade peach pie.

The recipe I use for my pie crusts is from a Mennonite cookbook. It’s delicious and the dough is easy enough to work with that I’m motivated to continuing improving upon my pie making abilities. As it is, each time I make a pie my techniques is a little better and I have less filling leaking out. Practice makes perfect, I guess. Though my family and I do enjoy eating each practice pie, regardless of how pretty they look.

In the end, the peach pie turned out just as I hoped: a scrumptious slice of summer, something to remind us of what we can look forward to while enduring a cold, dark winter. As we were enjoying our peach pie, my four year old son leaned over and told me he could eat pie everyday for dessert.

Recipe for Peach Pie Filling
(This is taken from Bernardin Complete Book of Home Preserving (2006)). It makes about four pint (500mL) jars.

1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
2 tsp whole cloves
12 cups sliced peaches
2 cups finely chopped cored and peeled apples
2 ⅔ cups granulated sugar
1 cup golden raisins
2 tbsp grated lemon zest
½ cup lemon juice
¼ white vinegar
½ tsp ground nutmeg

Tie cinnamon pieces and cloves into a square of cheese cloth to create a spice bag.

In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine peaches, apples, sugar, raisins, lemon zest and juice, vinegar, nutmeg, and spice bag. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently.

Reduce heat, cover, and boil gently, stirring occasionally, until thickened.

Prepare canner, jars, and lids (here is a great reference for the why and how of preparing jars and lids for canning).

Ladle hot pie filling into hot jars, leaving 1 inch headspace. Remove any air bubbles and adjust headspace, if necessary by adding hot filling. Wipe rim. Centre lid on jar and screw down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip tight.

Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 15 minutes. Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, them remove jars, cool, and store.

N.B. While this recipe did not call for a thickening agent, other pie filling recipes do, so I mixed into the filling before putting it into the pie crust 3 tbsp of flour and 3 tbsp Tapioca Powder. It worked wonderfully; we didn’t have any oozing filling.

Recipe for One Double Crust Pie
(This is copied from my Mennonite Girls Can Cook (2011) cookbook. The page for this recipe is my most visited recipe and the book naturally falls open to the page).

1 ⅔ cup flour
¾ tsp salt
⅔ cup lard
4 tbsp cold water

Combine flour, salt, and lard. With a pastry blender, cut lard into flour until the size of large peas.

Sprinkle the mixture with water and stir with a fork in circular motion until there are no more loose crumbs. It may seem too dry at first, but keep stirring.  

Shape the dough into a ball with hands and divide in half.Turn onto a floured surface and use hands to form into a circular shape. Roll the dough out until it’s a little larger than the pie plate, adding small amounts of flour if it sticks (I find it easier to put the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper – it’s a lot easier to pick up the rolled dough and transfer it into the pie plate. After the dough is rolled out, you peel off the top layer, pick up the crust from the bottom and turn it over so that it falls into the pie plate. Peel off the remaining plastic wrap). Trim excess crust.

Roll the dough (if you did not use plastic wrap or wax paper) onto the rolling pin and carefully unroll it into the pie plate.

Brush the unbaked bottom crust with a slightly beaten egg white to keep it from getting soggy.

Fill with fruit filling.

Roll out the second crust a little larger than the pie plate, centre over the filling and trim the edges so you can fold the top crust over the bottom crust. Pinch the two layers together.

Brush top crust with beaten egg white and make several small cuts into the crust for steam to vent while baking.

Bake at 400℉ for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350℉ and bake for another 50 – 60 minutes or until the juice bubbles through the slits.


Kingray, J. And L. Devine (eds.), 2006. Complete Book of Home Canning: 400 Delicious and Creative Recipes for Today. Toronto: Robert Rose Inc.

Schellenberg, L. et al., 2011. Mennonite Girls Can Cook. Waterloo: Herald Press.

Creamy Rhubarb Tart

A friend of mine was looking to pare back her rhubarb patch at the same time that I was looking to expand mine. What a stroke of luck!

We dug up all the roots we could find. In the end, I took home a 65 litre tub full of rhubarb roots. The new home for this rhubarb is a perennial garden bed in the reclaimed filed. The rhubarb is the new neighbour of our other perennial crops – asparagus and strawberries.

I enjoy rhubarb, especially for baking. My all time favourite pie is strawberry-rhubarb. In addition to pies, we also use rhubarb in jams, muffins, loaves and tarts, as well as in a cordial, and even in savoury sauces for main dishes.

A few years ago I discovered yet another recipe for rhubarb – a dessert tart. The tart is one I like to make when fresh rhubarb is abundant. In this recipe, rhubarb does not have to share the stage with any sweet fruit, like strawberry. Instead, rhubarb takes centre stage.

You begin by mixing the crust and spreading it onto the bottom and up the sides of a springform pan.

Next you beat together cream cheese and sugar; and then beat in the egg and vanilla. Spread this mixture over the crust.

Now it’s time for the rhubarb! The chopped stems are mixed with some sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Into the oven it goes to bake and the delicious aroma of cinnamon and nutmeg fills the kitchen.

After the tart has cooled, and just prior to serving, dust some icing sugar on top. Enjoy! We sure do.

Prep Time: 20 min.
Total Time: 1 hr  10 min.
Makes: 12 servings


½ cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar, divided
1 cup flour
1 pkg. (250 g) cream cheese, softened
1 egg
½ tsp. vanilla
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. Ground nutmeg
½ lb. (225 g) fresh rhubarb, cut into ½ in. lengths
1 tsp. Icing sugar

Preheat oven to 425℉.

Make the crust: beat butter and ⅓ cup of sugar until light and fluffy. Add flour and mix well. Spread onto bottom and up the sides of a of 9-inch springform pan.

Make the filling: beat cream cheese and ⅓ cup of sugar until blended. Add egg and vanilla and mix well. Spread over crust. In a large bowl, combine remaining ⅓ cup sugar with spices and toss with rhubarb. Spoon over cream cheese mixture.

Bake for 10 min. Reduce heat to 375℉ and bake for another 40 min. or until centre is almost set. Cool completely. Run knife around rim of pan to loosen tart. Sift icing sugar over tart and serve.

Original recipe published by Kraft and available at

Butternut Squash Loaf

We grew some hefty Butternut Squash this summer. Six of the squashes topped 6 lbs. All of that delicious squash couldn’t be wasted! We cooked some up into a soup and then began the process of storing the rest. We froze both roasted, pureed squash and cubed squash. We also pressure canned eight quart jars.

Grandma presented me with a recipe for Pumpkin Loaf and I’ve seen recipes with pumpkin and Butternut Squash substituted for each other. Why not try baking with Butternut Squash? I grated the squash and used it in place of pumpkin in the recipe (see below).

The result was a dense, moist loaf that tasted delicious on its own or topped with butter. My girls preferred to spread strawberry butter on their pieces. Although the loaf was more on the savory than the sweet side, I consider it a success since the little ones pulled it out and snacked on it without me trying to sell it to them first. I think I’ll use this recipe as a seasonal treat and pull it out again next October when the garden offers up its plump, delicious Butternuts.

I’m not sure where Grandma first found this recipe, but I’ll pass it along if you want to try it too. Enjoy!

Prep Time: 15 min.
Total Time: 1 hr  30 min.
Makes: 1 loaf


½ cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
⅓ cup water
1 cup grated Butternut Squash
1¾  flour
1½ cup sugar
¾ tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350℉.

In a large bowl, mix together the oil, eggs, water and squash. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and spices. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet and stir well to combine. Pour the mixture into a greased loaf pan.

Bake for 75 to 80 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out dry. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan and allowing to cool on a wire rack.

Dad’s Quick EggNog

The same daughter who has a taste for sage, also has a taste for eggnog – not the store-bought kind. Oh no, she likes it freshly made on the stove and served hot. Thankfully, we have a ready supply of fresh eggs for experimenting with and a Dad who likes to cook up tasty creations. Lucky for her and her siblings, Dad can whip up a quick batch of eggnog anytime of the year… even months after eggnog cartons disappear from the grocery store shelves.

Dad likes to up the fun factor of eggnog by serving it with cinnamon sticks so the little ones can use them as straws to slurp up their warm eggnog. We wash these “straws” for future eggnog slurping. If not, we’d be going through cinnamon sticks at too wasteful a rate. We like to enjoy our eggnog during the cold, dark evenings of winter; the tastes of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves just seem to fit that somber atmosphere.


4 cups milk
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
4 whole cloves
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ almond extract
¼ cup sugar
3 egg yolks
Cinnamon sticks (optional)

Pour milk into medium-sized saucepan and begin to warm over medium heat. Add the spices to the saucepan and steep for 5 – 10 minutes to blend the flavours, stirring regularly.

In a separate measuring cup, mix ¼ cup sugar with 3 egg yolks. Temper this sugar-egg mix by slowly adding 4 ladlefuls of warmed, steeped milk and whisking constantly*.

Add this tempered egg mixture to the saucepan and whisk constantly until combined. Allow to sit and thicken for 2 minutes.

Serve with cinnamon straws (or not) and enjoy.    

*You want to temper the eggs so it will combine smoothly into your steamed milk. By slowly adding a small amount of warmed milk, and whisking it with the egg, you’ll gradually warm the egg mixture until it is steamy and ready to be added to the warmed saucepan. Failing to temper properly will result in clumps of unappetizing egg floating in your beverage. 

Sage and Brown Butter Soufflé

One of our daughters has a real love of fresh sage. She will go to the garden, pluck a handful of sage and come in with a fragrant bouquet and ask us to make her something. If we can’t fit the sage into our meal, she’ll ask for us to fry it in brown butter and will then eat the crispy, butter-fried leaves as if they were potato chips.

On one occasion Dad responded to her request by pulling out an egg carton and creating a new dish. The result was an airy, sage infused soufflé. A single soufflé was enough to feed our family of 5.

Sage and Brown Butter Soufflé 

The following will fill a 12 inch fry pan. If you wish, you can add slices of pre-cooked chorizo, bacon, or peameal bacon. You can also toss in some vegetables – be careful with water-filled vegetables, like tomatoes, that can add too much moisture.

Prep Time: 15 min.
Total Time: 35 min.
Makes: 8 servings


2 Tbsp butter
10 sage leaves, fresh
1 cup milk
3 Tbsp flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
⅛ – ¼ tsp Worcestershire Sauce
½ – 1 cup salsa
6 eggs
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

In a 12 inch frying pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the sage leaves and cook for 4-5 minutes or until the butter is brown and bubbling.

Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, add the milk, flour, baking soda, salt, Worcestershire Sauce, salsa, and eggs and whisk to combine. Pour mixture into the pan with the sage and brown butter. If you wish to add any other veggies or pre-cooked sausage or bacon, put them in now. Turn heat to medium low and place a lid over the pan. Continue to cook for 10-12 minutes

Preheat broiler to 400℉. Before placing the pan under the broiler, remove lid and sprinkle liberally with parmesan cheese. Cook, uncovered, until cheese browns and eggs are firm, about 3-5 minutes.

Let site a few minutes to cool, then serve and enjoy while still warm. We “slice” our soufflé in the pan with a plastic flipper and then lift them out of the pan and onto the plates.

Rosemary Maple Pork Chops

This is a pork dish our little ones devour with gusto, asking us for “more meat, please.” Dad created this dish himself for dinner one night, and after a few tweaks, he’s satisfied with the recipe – so are we. Yum!

Prep Time: 15 min.
Total Time: 50 min.
Makes: 4 servings


3 or 4 bone-in or boneless pork chops
1 tsp sea salt (smoked sea salt, if you have it)
¾ tsp cane sugar
3 Tbsp butter, bacon fat, oil, or a combination of the three
1 tsp dried rosemary
3 – 4 Tbsp maple syrup
2 Tbsp flour
½ – 1 cup chicken stock and/or white wine

Mix the sea salt and sugar together and sprinkle on both sides of the pork chops. Place on a wire rack resting over a baking pan and marinate in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

Remove from refrigerator and place wire rack and pan into a 250℉ oven for 35 minutes.

With 5 minutes left, melt butter in a large skillet over on medium heat. Add rosemary and stir to combine with melted butter. Sear pork chops until both sides are golden brown, about 2-3 minutes per side. Add maple syrup and heat until bubbling. Remove pork chops to a cutting board. Add flour to the pan and whisk to blend the flour into the cooking liquid to create a roux. Next, add enough chicken stock (or white wine) to achieve a gravy-like consistency and stir to combine. Scrape off any bits (a.k.a. The Flavour) stuck to the bottom of the pan so it, too, becomes part of the gravy.

Meanwhile, slice the pork chops into thin strips, place in a shallow bowl, or on a serving platter, and pour the gravy over the pork. Alternatively, put the sliced meat back to the pan and stew it for a minute or two prior to placing the pork in a bowl.

Be sure to bring a spoon when you serve the pork chops so you can add more sauce to your plate!