Family Fresh

It’s been hot – has it not?  The summer days are rolling steadily through our little valley, bringing nothing less than the humidity and the heat of a Pennsylvania summer.  Here, we say it like this: “August is coming …”  July and August are no doubt the hottest you can be here, and by the creek we get humidity to make you feel like you’re under a wet blanket.  Needless to say, we – of anyone, understand the woes of cooking and baking during the summer.

Our house is as old as the mill – 300 years for your information.  We don’t have an attic, so there’s no way to air condition the place other than one or two window units for the elite of the household. Me. I have an air conditioner.  Other than that, the kitchen is blazing hot, so cooking is not an option.  I’ll say it up front.  This blog is dedicated to those things that you eat cold.

Our berries make fantastic summer salads, our oatmeal is great as a cold cereal, our pasta is fire as a cold pasta salad, and our corn products make some corn pudding you won’t want to see the end of.  Some of my fondest memories are from the dinner table.

My mom is an incredible cook, and she lives a lawless life of no recipes.  “They’re ~suggestions~ “ she says.  Endless arms, hands, and shouting across the table as our family somehow holds 8 conversations among 7 people.  A family of 5 and usually 2 friends or so.  Everyone eats, everyone loves it. 

Table-scapes are my mom’s art medium.  Candles, fancy (or not) plates, table runners and salads that look like they came off the cover of Good Housekeeping – but better.

For dessert, we could have fresh corn pudding or tomato-basil on top of mozzarella slices ( my personal favorite).  Our products are so much more than bread.  Don’t think of bread when you think of us, think of fresh.  Think alive. Think family, and think real.  Because that is what we are. We are real, we are family, and we make real. Good. Food.  And it is good.

By Liesel Fischer

Oasis

Working and living at Castle Valley, you learn to be ever-encroached upon, and encroaching on, nature. In the mill, it’s cave crickets in the basement. Outside, it’s Northern Water Snakes, turtles, Wolf Spiders, and recently, it turns out, a Brown Recluse. The joys certainly balance out the (less joyful) run-ins with things we’d rather leave alone.

Our mill mascot’s name is Eric. Years ago, the son of a family friend would come fishing almost every day during the summer. From boy to man, he grew up spending summers fishing off a little island below the dam. His name was Eric. A few years after Eric grew up and stopped coming so often, we started seeing a Great Blue Heron fishing off the same island. Of course, we named him Eric. We now see “Eric” fishing off the island multiple times a day, in the same patient fashion as his namesake. We’re pretty sure we harbor a lot more than just one Heron – considering the fact that we’ve had Eric for about 8 years now – but as far as we’re concerned, they’re all Eric.

Eric the Heron

Unless they’re in danger where they are, we let them be. The other ones hang out on the banks of the creek and on muddy slopes along the Lower Meadow. They share their world with their neighbor, who tends to be either in the way or completely absent- there is no in between. Enter, the Northern Water Snake.

At any point in the summer, you can look out the packing room window and see what I like to call a “turtle party”. On the rock that protrudes out from by the dam, literal piles of snapper and leatherback turtles can be seen. Their main term of business: straight hangin’.

Turtles don’t have many natural predators in the Neshaminy Creek, so they thrive within the fresh-water duckweed in the bed of the water. It’s an amphibian oasis. Each spring we find baby snapping turtles, either as a pile of eggs, or freshly hatched out and finding their way to the water.

These guys are a huge part of my childhood. Growing up here, of all places, you have to learn a little coexistence lesson with the wildlife. This includes snakes. Our friends can grow up to 5 feet long, shed wherever they want, and love playing hide and snake in the stacks of our *very nice* wooden pallets.

Around July two or three years ago, we erected “Snake Hotel”. A stack of old and damaged pallets sat by our woodshed, and the snakes took over. Mark then took the opportunity to boost the star rating and added some rocks, more pallets, and changed the location slightly so they would be in a more slither- friendly area, out of the way of the mowing route or high-traffic parts of the lawn.

Snake Hotel stands to this day, and turtle parties are a daily occurrence. Owning, restoring, and operating a 300 year-old mill means accepting the fact that some *residents* have been here much longer than we have. So, rather than plow over the growth of nature in our path, we choose to share it. Snake Hotel keeps our friends out of the well pipes (yes, they actually once clogged the pipes). Turtle parties never fail to put a smile on my face when I peek out the window during the workday. From feathers to shells to scales, nature thrives on and in our creek, and we are elated to share it.

Unless you’re a Brown Recluse, in which case, please follow the tractor treads to the exit.

By Liesel FIscher

A Castle In A Storm

As all know, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a resounding effect on the restaurant business and the food industry as a whole.  From food shortages, plant closures, and the complete shut-down of public restaurants country-wide, Castle Valley Mill’s future was uncertain.  Pre-pandemic, our main business flourished among large-scale distributors, restaurants, and the distilling industry. 

When the quarantine began snuffing out businesses, we braced ourselves and prepared for a hard fall both in income and work.  We watched as our shipments halted, product was returned, and our millstones silenced because they had no reason to spin.

Then, on day four or five, our online store began to pick up some weird, unexpected forecast.  The daily orders went from 3, to 5, to 15.  

Roughly a week and a half after our scariest moment, our shipping orders were printing in stack of 150.  That’s 150 people ordering our product. Whether this was to make cookies, bread, muffins, grits, oatmeal- real food, for real people, in a very real situation.  Stores are terrifying, and shelves are empty anyway.  Large mills aren’t fast enough to snap into a retail business model.

Castle Valley Mill had a staff of three: My father, my mother, and me.  Before this, I was studying abroad in Berlin.  I caught a last-minute ticket out on March 15th.  A day later, the U.S went into lockdown.  Nearly three months later, we are supplying distilleries for hand sanitizer, distributors for small grocery stores, and individual homes for their dinner plates.  We have been pleasantly blind-sided and thrown head-first into being a rock in a storm.  Rather, a castle.  

Welcome to our blog, and welcome to our castle.  Thanks to you, these stones gather no moss.  Our doors are open.

By Liesel Fischer