Felted Wool Dryer Ball DIY!

Okay, I’m going to say something that you may find sort of shocking.

Our grandmothers didn’t use fabric softener—–and we shouldn’t either.

While I love the results of fabric softener and fabric sheets—the beautiful scent, the static free clothing–I have to say that I worry from time to time about using them.  They smell wonderful and they do a fabulous job—BUT—I wonder if the cons outweigh the pros in this circumstance.   Softeners are expensive, they coat our dryer vents creating a potential for fire and they often contain potent chemicals like acetone (the active ingredient in nail polish remover).  Our children are wearing clothes that are potentially laced with paint thinner…that’s crazy!  But thankfully, there are other options.  Vinegar added to the rinse helps reduce odors and stiffness in the fabric, and homemade wool dryer balls will absolutely help eliminate static in the drying cycle!

Benefits of Wool Dryer Balls

Why should you make and use dryer balls instead of fabric softener??

  1. They save time.  The wool balls bouncing around in the dryer help to keep clothes separated and shorten the drying time.
  2. They save money.  Dryer balls can be used hundreds of times before they’ll need replaced.  Isn’t that better than running out to buy softener every week or two?
  3. They soften naturally.  Dryer balls rub against the fiber of the wet clothes softening the clothes naturally.
  4. Don’t affect absorbency.  Dryer balls soften without affecting the absorbency of of towels and lofty fabrics.
  5. Don’t affect air circulation.  The same waxes and chemicals that reduce absorbency in your towels also hinder air circulating through the fabric, which can mean you sweat more!

Here’s what you need to make your own!

To make homemade dryer balls you only need 2-3 items:  an old knee high or panty hose, wool and essential oils (optional).  For the wool, you need 100% all natural wool; no synthetic blends, thanks!  You can use 2-3 skeins of wool yarn such as Lion Brand Yarn 620-152 Wool-Ease Yarn or you can upcycle an old wool sweater by cutting it into strips of “yarn”.  Either way works and either will yield 5-10 dryer balls.

Here’s how you do it!

If you’re recycling an old sweater, cut off the arms and using sharp scissors, cut a 1/2 inch strip of “yarn”, beginning at the cuff and spiraling around all the way to the top.  Do the same thing with the body of the sweater til you have a lovely pile of wool yarn.
Using either your yarn or your upcycled sweater strips, you need to begin rolling the fiber into a ball.  Start by winding it around 2 fingers 10-15 times til you have the beginning of a ball.  Remove the fibers from your finger then begin alternately winding the yarn in opposite directions until that lumpy egg-looking wad of yarn begins to resemble a ball.  Keep winding until you have a ball about the size of a baseball.

Now using a crochet hook, paint can tool or any other item with a hook, pull the end of the string under several layers of yarn.  Pull up and repeat several times to “lock” the yarn into place.

Tuck the ball into the toe of your hose and tie a tight knot.  Repeat for the length of the hose.  Now throw the ball of yarn into the washer and dryer on hot settings with a load of laundry.

Do this several times and you’ll end up with a dense, felted wool ball.  If you’d like to scent the wool balls, simply drop a few drops of your favorite essential oils and replenish as needed.

To use!

Simply toss them in your dryer with wet clothes and dry as usual.  6-8 wool balls seem to be the optimal number, but experiment and see what results in the shortest drying time and least amount of static.  You may need more or you may need less, so experiment and see what works for you.

Now isn’t that just the easiest DIY project ever?  Not only does it remove potentially hazardous chemicals from our home, it also shortens drying time which saves us money.  Nothing wrong with that!  I hope you give felted wool dryer balls and try and let me know what you think about this time, money and chemical saving project!  Til next time!

 

Posted to the Simple Life Mom Homestead Blog Hop!

The Ins and Outs of Gleaning – Why, Where and How!

Today my mama and I went gleaning, one of my favorite fall activities!  (Keep your Beggar’s Night, football games and pumpkin-spice everything…just give me some empty bags and permission to hunt!)   This morning, a local, family-run apple orchard posted on Facebook that their orchard was open for end-of-season “clean up” and invited their followers to come out and take what was left.  Pickings were easy and we left with approximately 5 bushels of beautiful Rome and Granny Smith “first” apples; apples that would have rotted had this generous farmer not opened his orchard to his community.   Over the next few days those 5 bushels will be canned in syrup, dehydrated into “chips”, turned into fruit leathers, jammed and sauced and my family will reap the benefits of those apples til next autumn.

Pardon the blurry picture! We gleaned in the rain today!

 

So what’s gleaning all about? 

Gleaning is the age-old practice of gathering leftover grains or produce after the farmer or landowner has completed the harvest and it’s no longer profitable to harvest the remnants of the crop.  It goes back as far as the Hebrew Bible, where we read the story of Ruth the Gleaner who went to the fields of Boaz to follow his harvesters and collect grain to feed herself and Naomi in the Book of Ruth.   It became a legally-enforced right of the poor in a number of Christian kingdoms, that was enforced even into modern times.   Now it goes by many different names–trash picking and dumpster diving—and is actually punishable in some regions.  Which is crazy, if you ask me.  But if you’re interested in learning the whys, wheres and hows of good gleaning, keep on reading!

Why?

Why is obvious, I think.  Gleaning food can be an enormous boon to a household economy.  Those 5 bushels of apples would have sold for close to $150 in some markets and who has that sort of disposable income laying around?  Just one bushel of apples is enough to make 15 (or more) quarts of applesauce or around 15 apple pies. If you eat one apple a day, a bushel will last you nearly three months!  Now multiply that and think of the considerable savings for a family who is able to glean and preserve several bushels of fruit each year!   Gleaning also serves to reduce food waste in the form of produce that isn’t going to drop and rot on the ground or be thrown out.  The statistics are shocking:  40% of food produced in America goes to waste before it makes it to the grocery store.  That simply astounds me.  Gleaning is a great way to cut that waste at the source, provided you have a willing farmer.

Where?

Depending on your location (rural vs urban) this may be the most difficult part of gleaning:  finding a local farm with an owner willing to allow people on his land.  Understandably, some are nervous due to legalities.  One slip and fall and he could lose his business to a lawsuit.   Others are concerned about people respecting their land and property – which is their livelihood!   The best place to start the search is rural/suburban fruit stands, family-run stores and farmer’s markets.  Start shopping there and begin to know your neighborhood farmers so they begin to know you!  Follow them on Facebook so you’re on top of what’s going on and as the end of the season approaches, ask if they’d consider allowing you to glean.  You’ll find they’re far more inclined to allow you to glean if they know you.  If you absolutely do not know where to start looking, check out sites such as Pickyourown.org , U-Pick Farm Locator or Orange Pippen Orchard Directory that can help you to connect with nearby farms.  Under no circumstances should you EVER help yourself to a farmer’s crop without his permission.  Just so you know.

How?

If a farmer is generous enough to allow you to glean in his fields or orchards, show your appreciation with a smile and a thanks.  Treat his property with the utmost respect and don’t presume to use his equipment or drive in his fields just because he’s opened them to you.  Bring your own bags or baskets; while the fruit may be perennials and regrow, plastic bags are not.   And for Pete’s sake, if he still has products for sale, buy something.  A pie, a pumpkin, some apple cider, honey from his hives, squash, maple syrup.  Just buy something, no matter how big or small.  Gleaning is fine, but he’s entitled to make a living too!  Reciprocate the generosity by returning with a finished product: apple butter, a fruit pie, homemade candy, homebrewed wine or whatever your specialty may happen to be.  Everyone loves to know that their generosity is appreciated and a humble fruit pie is a simple way to show it!

In many areas of the northern hemisphere, we’re in prime gleaning season; nuts, pumpkins, squash and apples are all available but their season will be coming to an end soon! Now is the perfect opportunity to fill those pantries by way of gleaned food.  Are you willing to give it a try?!

 

Posted to the Simple Life Mom Homestead Blog Hop.

The Book Post!

Admittedly, I’m a total nerd.  I love books and as the weather begins to turn, I would rather spend an evening curled up in a recliner with a book than going out.  I enjoy a large collection of pre-WWII cookbooks, receipt and home ec books that I read frequently because there’s so much you can learn about our changing culture by reading old books!  That’s also how I began learning many of the heirloom skills that I practice; skills such as cooking from scratch, building a pantry, homemade remedies and cleaners, sewing and fiber arts.  I dont mind downloaded books or youtube videos, but I learn much more efficiently from actual books!

Anyway, wintertime is the perfect time to begin researching projects and skills for the next season and I’d like to share some of my very favorite books; books that I’ve found invaluable in the amount of practical information that you can glean from them!

Topping my list of books every wannabe homesteader, DIYer and home cook should own:

 

Blue Book Guide to Preserving (by Jarden Home Brands)– Simply put, this book has no competition.  There are a LOT of great canning books out there, but the Ball Blue Book is the grandmother of them all.  It covers the basics to home canning in great detail, with full-color pictures, step-by-step instructions and fully-tested recipes.  If you’re even considering learning home food preservation, this should be the very first book you buy.

Jam On: The Craft of Canning Fruit – Jam On by Laena McCarthy picks up where the Ball Blue Book left off with exciting recipes for  jams and jellies, chutneys, fruit pickles, shrubs, butters, syrups, simple cheeses and ideas for serving the finished products.  Again, the book features beautiful full-color pictures with step-by-step directions.  This is the book I go to when I want to do small-batch, off-season canning for gifts.

 

Canning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry – This is NOT your granny’s canning book!  Divided into chapters according to seasons, Liana Krissof takes plain simple recipes such as classic strawberry preserves and then kicks it up a notch with interesting flavor combinations like strawberry-lemon preserves and strawberry-lavender jam.  While there are few pictures included, it’s easy to read and full to the brim with interesting recipes.

Homemade: A Surprisingly Easy Guide to Making Hundreds of Everyday Products You Would Otherwise Buy – This is a funky little book that I picked up before my children were born and it has proven invaluable time and time again.  It has literally hundreds of knock-off recipes for everything from household cleaners and toiletries to baking mixes and dog treats.  Want to make homemade Ranch dressing?  Or your own cold cream, oatmeal bread, anti-anxiety tea, wallpaper stripper or furniture polish?  It’s all in there along with hundreds of other recipes.  It’s a great book to help you reduce the amount of toxic chemicals and processed, packaged food in your home.

 

The Beekeeper’s Bible: Bees, Honey, Recipes & Other Home Uses – I picked this book up when we were first entertaining the thought of keeping bees and it’s an interesting read.  It gives a history of beekeeping as we know it, an overview of what’s involved, what to expect and interesting historical and modern-day drawings and photos.  There’s also a ton of recipes for using honey and wax in the home.

 

Gene Logsdon’s Practical Skills: A Revival of Forgotten Crafts, Techniques, and Traditions – Anything by Gene Logsdon is worth reading, but Practical Skills covers everything from home maintenance to land management.  He’s my go-to guy for anything related to gardening, composting, animal husbandry, culinary arts and anything else related to home and farm.  He’s not a fancy writer…you won’t find elaborate sentence structure and elaborate vocabulary, but plain old wisdom in simple words.

The Sweet Magnolias Cookbook: More Than 100 Favorite Southern Recipes – This book makes me so happy.  It’s a taste of my childhood, full of the recipes my mom and mamaw made as I was growing up.  The food isn’t fancy necessarily, but rough, hearty, delicious:  Sunday ham with red-eye gravy, fresh apple cake, navy bean soup, cheddar corn muffins, fried catfish, corn chowder and a hundred other amazing recipes.  This is the book I go to when the pains of being away from the coast get to be too much!

 

Better Homes and Gardens: New Cook Book, 16th Edition – This is my everyday, go-to, used til the pages are sticking together- cookbook.  The standard for cookbooks for nearly 100 years, it covers everything from drinks and desserts to meats and vegetarian dishes.  Nothing gourmet here, just plain, basic, cooked from scratch meals that your whole family will love.  I’m still using the one my mamaw bought for me in 1994…it’s a real treasure to me for several reasons!

Basic Soap Making: All the Skills and Tools You Need to Get Started (How To Basics) – Basic Soap Making was the first book I purchased when I began dabbling in soap making.  She covers everything from start to finish, including the saponification process, making molds, adding natural colorants and essential oils, plus many recipes including goat milk soap.  The pictures are full color and the instructions are step-by-step.

Eat the Yolks – This book is a little different than the other books listed, but it was a game-changer for me so I feel compelled to include it.  Several years ago, just as I had turned 40, I felt bad.  Sluggish.  Overweight.  My thyroid had gone south.  My joints ached.  And then this book challenged me to re-think everything I knew about nutrition:  that red meat is bad, grains are good and whatever you do, DON’T eat the egg yolks!  I don’t follow a strict Paleo diet…I gotta have my cheese!…but the health results I’ve experienced speak for themselves.  40# lighter, cholesterol is down, thyroid is much happier, joints don’t crunch anymore!   If you order nothing else from this list, spend the $4 and read this book.  It’s a real lifesaver!

What would you add to the book list?

Waste Not – Soup Broth

Let’s continue in our “Waste Not” series with one of the simplest, most nutritious items you can possibly make in your kitchen…soup stock!  Homemade soup broth is the ultimate in resourcefulness, nutrition and flavor, if you ask my opinion…and when you read how incredibly easy it is to make it at home, well, you’ll never buy that bland boxed stuff again, I promise you.

Here are the some of the benefits of making your own:

  1. It’s free.  Consider the veggie peels, cores and tops that you throw away every time you cook.  Consider those beautiful meaty bones and the flavorful fat you remove from cuts of meat and toss in the trash.  That’s free nutrition, my friends.  They may not seem like much, but trust me, it adds up quickly if you make an effort to save it.
  2. It’s nutritious.  When you simmer those veggie peels, fats and bones for hours (or use an Instant Pot LUX60 V3 6 Qt 6-in-1 Muti-Use Programmable Pressure Cooker, Slow Cooker, Rice Cooker, Sauté, Steamer, and Warmer) you are leaching every possible bit of vitamins, minerals and beneficial fats that you can from what would be scrap.  In previous generations, simple soup broth was a home remedy for every kind of tummy trouble and weakness following an illness or childbirth.  And it’s an easy way to add a boost of nutrition to soups, stews, cooked grains.
  3. It’s delicious!  There is a huge difference between homemade broth and the stuff you buy in the boxes at Walmart.  In simple dishes like chicken soup, the taste difference is remarkable.  It adds a layer of flavor, creating that “old-fashioned” flavor that we recall so fondly from our grandmother’s cooking, a flavor that you simply cannot achieve with boxed broth or bouillon cubes.
  4. It’s easy.  While the simmering of the broth takes a good long while, the labor involved is pretty much nill.  I keep gallon-sized ziplock bags in the freezer ready to receive scraps and when that bag is full, I make broth.

 

Here’s how you do it!

To make a simple veggie broth, all you need is a good quantity of veggie scraps.  (Approximately 1-to-4 ratio is best; 1 cup of scraps to 4 cups of water.)  Carrot peels and tops, onion peels, celery leaves and stems, garlic peels, bell pepper cores and stems, the green tops from leeks, lettuce leaves, kale stems and herbs like parsley, bay leaves and chives.  Pretty much anything can go into broth, but you’ll want to avoid starchy veggies (potatoes) as they’ll make your broth cloudy and strong-flavored veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts) as they can be overpowering in the stock.  Following the 1-to-4 ratio, simmer the scraps, herbs and water for about an hour or til the veggies are absolutely limp.  Allow it to cool and then carefully pour the broth through a strainer into quart freezer bags and lay them in the freezer flat to freeze.

 

Quality meat/bone broth from scrap is just as simple, though it takes a bit longer.   I use the carcasses from roasted chickens or turkeys, or the bones from steaks, ribs and roasts to make broth.  (If you don’t use cuts of meat that result in a large quantity of bones, that’s okay!  Simply drizzle several pounds of chicken wings, beef knuckles, ox tails, ribs or any other inexpensive boney meat with olive oil and roast at 400 degrees til very brown, approximately 1 hour.)  Now, take those beautiful roasted bones and add them to your stock pot with onion peels and a couple “glugs” of apple cider and water to cover.  Simmer the bones for several hours.  You’ll notice that thinner bones like chicken wings will begin to be pliable and rubbery (that’s good!) and that much of the marrow will have cooked out of the beef bones (that’s good too!).  Don’t rush this step; the longer the broth cooks, the better the flavor and more nutritious it will be.  Alternately, you can pressure cook the broth in an Instant Pot for an hour or on a low setting in a crock pot for 12-18 hours.  When the broth has simmered for the appropriate amount of time, allow it to cool, pour through a strainer and freeze flat in quart-sized freezer bags.  You can also freeze the bits of meat that cook off the bones; they make great additions to soups!

To use:

When you’re ready to use your homemade stock, simply thaw it, season to taste with salt and pepper  and use it as you would commercially prepared stock.  Use it as a base for soups and stews, use it to replace water when cooking rice, barley or potatoes or simply season and enjoy it in a mug to sooth a head cold, queasy tummy or sore throat.  It’s also a delicious tea or coffee replacement when you need a mug of something warm but don’t want the caffeine.

BONUS!

As a total bonus, homemade veggie and bone broth can also be pressure canned to be made shelf-stable and ready in your pantry in a moment’s notice!  For the veggie broth, simply pour the finished broth into prepared Mason jars, leaving 1 inch of headspace and process at 10# of pressure for 20 minutes/pints or 25 minutes/quarts.  For the bone broth, you need to allow the broth to cool completely so that the fat congeals on the top.  Remove the congealed fat, heat the broth to a boil then pour into prepared Mason jars leaving 1 inch of head space.  Process at 10# of pressure for 20 minutes/pints or 25 minutes/quarts.  Gotta love those bonuses, my friends!

I hope you’ll try your hand at making homemade soup broth.  As I’ve shown you, it’s simple, nutritious, delicious and FREE!  Don’t throw those scraps away!  Reap every bit of nutrition you can out of the food you paid good money for—-Ma Ingalls would approve!!  Til next time, my friends!

 

Posted to the Simple Life Mom Homestead Blog Hop

 

Transitioning Into Winter & A Simple DIY Project

Well my friends, now that we’re nearing November and the growing season is over, it’s time to transition out of the garden and into the home.   Everything has its season, and as the days get short, dark and cold, it’s time to move inside and enjoy the warmth of home and family.  Typically, late fall and early winter is when I begin fiber work, making homemade soaps, sewing, crafting, quilting and DIY so in that spirit, it’s time to transition this blog to winter as well.   We’re going to continue with the “Waste Not! ” series (as I believe reducing kitchen waste is worth our time, attention and effort) and there will be a scattering of a few of our favorite recipes here and there, but I think it’s time to settle down and begin working on some simple, wintertime projects.

Over the coming dark months, I plan on tackling DIYs that I think you’ll love.  We’ll use this time to rediscover simple heirloom skills that will nurture your home and family, starting today with homemade lotion bars.

 

I discovered these fun little lotion bars a few weeks ago purely on accident.  I wanted to use the beeswax we cleaned out of our hives to make some non-toxic scented melts for our home.  I melted coconut oil, beeswax and essential oils into muffin tins and ended up with pretty wonderful-smelling wax…but it wasn’t til my mama was fussing about her chapped cheeks that I had an epiphany.  Not only did our wax melts smell amazing, they would be very soothing on her skin as well.   She tried it and called early the next morning to let me know that her skin had healed overnight and was smooth as a baby’s butt!  Can’t get a better endorsement than your mama’s, right?

Now here’s the thing:  I’ve only begun dabbling in EOs quite recently and I can’t answer whether or not they’ll be a life changer for you.  I don’t know if there’s actual measureable science behind the various claims or whether it’s all snake oil.  What I CAN tell you is that any opportunity we have to use all natural products and purge toxic ones from our homes, well, there’s no reason not to pursue that!  These are the same products that have been used for hundreds or thousands of years to naturally light our homes, soften and protect our skin, preserve food and treat illnesses, so why not use them in our homes too? Let’s get started now!

Here’s what you need for lotion bars!

  1. Natural beeswax such as  Beesworks® BEESWAX PELLETS, YELLOW, 1lb-Pesticide Free-Chemical Free-Cosmetic Grade-Must Have For Many Different Projects.  You need something that isn’t laden with pesticides or bleached and the pellets will make the measuring and melting process much easier for you!  The beeswax will give your lotion bar “body” and help it to set up firm.
  2. Coconut oil such as Garden of Life Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil – Unrefined Cold Pressed Coconut Oil for Hair, Skin and Cooking, 14 Ounce.  Coconut oil will provide a bit of natural fragrance and will melt almost immediately on your skin.
  3. Essential oils.  You have a whole range of options here, both brand and scent, so I’ll just say that I’m loving Plant Therapy EOs.  They’re reasonably priced, pure and smell amazing!  This one sounds like autumn in a bottle to me: Plant Therapy Holiday Season Synergy Essential Oil Blend. 100% Pure, Undiluted, Therapeutic Grade. Blend of: Sweet Orange, Cinnamon Bark, Ginger and Nutmeg. 10 mL (1/3 Ounce).
  4. Something to mold the wax in like Freshware SL-118RD 8-Cavity Silicone Mold – Oval, ice cube trays or mini-muffin liners such as Fox Run 4997 White Bake Cups, Petit Four, 100 Cups.
  5. A double boiler or clean tin cans

Here’s how you do it!

To make a batch of these bars, add 1 ounce of beeswax and a scant half cup of coconut oil to your double boiler or clean tin cans and set over a simmering pot of water.  (Be careful and don’t give yourself a steam burn here!)  The coconut oil will melt immediately, but the beeswax will take a bit of time.

Stir frequently with a disposable spoon til the wax is melted; remove from heat.  Carefully add up to 40 drops of essential oil to the melted wax/oil; this may vary according to the strength of the oils that you’re using.  Judge accordingly.  Stir to incorporate the oils and wax.  Using a pot holder, slowly pour the mixture into the mold of your choice and allow to cool.

When the wax is completely cooled, remove from the mold and store in a cool, dry place in an airtight package.  When you’re ready to use, simply hold it in your hands for a moment or two til the wax begins to soften and melt.  Gently rub the oils into your skin and enjoy the amazing fragrance!

BONUS!

Like I stated earlier, these bars are also fantastic in a wax warmer!  The beeswax and coconut oil provide a naturally “sweet” aroma and are perfect carriers for the EO of your choosing.  As they’re completely non-toxic, you don’t have to worry about odd chemicals polluting your home air quality.  And what I really love is that you can tailor the fragrance to your mood; lavender to relax at bedtime, peppermint to pick you up in the morning, delicious seasonal scents like cinnamon and nutmeg to help you enjoy the autumn, rosemary and citrus for savory winter fragrances.  Love that!  Personally, I prefer the plug-in wax warmers like this Candle Warmers Etc. Pluggable Fragrance Warmer, Mason Jar because I can plug it into a high outlet that the children and pets are less likely to reach.  And it’s a Mason jar, so…..!

I hope you enjoyed this little DIY!  It may be the GenX in me, but I love projects like these bars that are ready to go in 20 minutes!  There’s a time and place for long, elaborate projects, but there’s great satisfaction in holding a finished product in your hand in a short period of time.  I’m already mulling over the next quick DIY….can’t wait to share it with you!  Til next time!

 

Posted to Simple Life Mom Homestead Blog Hop!

5 Seasonal Foods & A Fabulous Recipe To Enjoy Them!

The growing season has officially ended for many states in our region with our first killing frost, but that doesn’t mean the opportunity for seasonal eating is over!  As late as mid-November, you’ll find local foods in season and typically at a greatly reduced price as orchards and markets are eager to close up for the season.   In the American Midwest, Plains, New England and Tidewater states, there are 5 crops that you should be able to harvest, forage for or purchase readily and inexpensively.

  1. Pumpkins, of course!  The day after Beggar’s night, pie pumpkins will be dramatically reduced in price as markets and orchards attempt to purge their fall and Halloween stock to prepare for winter and Christmas items.   Look for small pumpkins that seem heavy for their size, with a 2 inch stem and no damage to the skin.  Pumpkins will store for many months in a cool, dark place like a cellar or garage, though you do want to protect them from freezing temperatures.  Check them every couple of weeks for moldy spots and use or discard immediately if you find they’re beginning to go south.   Pumpkin can be roasted for soups or stews, dehydrated, candied, canned,  and made into delicious pumpkin butter with little effort.
  2. Winter squash.  Along with pumpkins, winter squash should be ready to store for winter.  Look for heavy, blemish-free squash with short stems and be mindful of the variety you choose.  Varieties such as butternut, acorn and hubbard will keep for many months (up to 6) in a cool, dark place while other varieties like cushaws will not keep terribly long.  Storage squash are delicious roasted with butter and maple syrup, pureed into soup, can be pressure-canned, dehydrated and frozen.
  3. Late-season apples.  Apples that ripen in late October typically have a very long storage life if kept under proper conditions.  Look for blemish free apples with their stems attached.  They need a spot that is very cool, but not freezing, dark and slightly humid.  An old Igloo cooler kept in the garage with a slightly damp paper towel on top works well and can keep apples fresh til January or February.  It’s crucial that you check the apples weekly for spoilage as one bad apple spoils the whole crop, as they say.  Great varieties to look for include Braeburn, Pippins, Fuji, Idared, Mutsu and Melrose.  For an even longer shelf-life, apples can be sauced, canned in syrup, buttered or dehydrated. 
  4. Nuts.   Now is a great time to forage for nuts!  Butternuts, hickory and walnuts are ripe and abundant during late October and early November.  Watch your neighborhood for nut trees and I can promise you someone will bless your heart for cleaning up the drops in their yard.  There is a little legwork involved when it comes to harvesting nuts, but with black walnuts running  $8-10/lb, it can definitely be worth your time to gather them.  They’ll be a delicious addition to your Christmas baking, are scrumptious in holiday candies and look beautiful on the side of a cheese plate.  The simplest way to preserve nuts is to shell them, lightly roast them and store them in the freezer.   They’ll keep almost indefinitely under those conditions.
  5. Cranberries.   As we get closer to the end of November,  you should be able to find cranberries for a pittance,  depending on your region.  Even here in Central Ohio, cranberries can be purchased for as little as $.50/# in November and December .  To store fresh cranberries, simply toss the whole bag straight into the freezer and thaw them when you’re ready to use them.  There are also many simple ways to use fresh cranberries, from simple sauces to fruit leathers, so take advantage of the great prices and pick up several bags! 

As we discussed a few months ago in my post “Eating Seasonally“, winter IS the more difficult time to eat seasonally and locally as so few fresh, seasonal, local products are available, but let me encourage you—it’s not an all or nothing prospect!  By taking advantage of the opportunities to forage, harvest and purchase at great prices, you’ll find that it’s not so difficult to add seasonal dishes to your diet.  Let me close this post with one of my very favorite fall/winter dishes…Roasted butternut squash with apples and cranberries!

  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 (1- 3/4) pound butternut squash, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 medium apple, cubed
  • 1/2 cup cranberries
  • 1/4 t cinnamon
  • 1/4 t nutmeg
  • 2T brown sugar or maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Combine all the ingredients in a 2 quart baking dish.  Cover and bake for 3o minutes.  Remove the cover and bake for an additional 15 minutes or until the squash is tender and begins to brown just a bit.  Serve alongside chicken, turkey or a pork roast.

Isn’t that a delicious, quick, easy, nutritious and fabulously seasonal dish?  It’s one of my high-carb favorites!  Hope you try it and love it!  Til next time!

 

Posted to Simple Life Mom Homestead Blog Hop!

Holiday Wishbook 2017 – A List Of Useful Items For The Homestead!

For my younger readers who never experienced it, I can’t fully describe what it was like when the Sears-Roebuck Wishbook arrived each autumn.  Let me just say it was a big, big deal.  It was like Amazon Prime Day, Black Friday and December 26th clearance shopping all rolled into one thick, beautiful catalog.  When it finally arrived at the end of October, you’d anxiously rip off that clear plastic covering and spend your Saturday morning pouring over the pages, hunting for the best new toy and avidly reading the colorful descriptions.  Sigh.

I’m sorry you missed that experience, but as we’re quickly approaching the holiday season,  I’d like to give you a Wishbook of sorts!  Every heirloom skill and working homestead requires certain essential tools and I want to share a few of my favorites with you. Though I am an Amazon affiliate, I have no connection to any of these companies beyond the fact that I have used these particular products for many years and have found them useful, convenient and reliable….so when I say I love them it’s because I love them!  I may do a Dirty Dozen list later on…of products I shipped back or threw in the dumpster, but not today!  These are the keepers!  Here we go!

L’Equip Food Dehydrator

I’ve been using this dehydrator for 7 or 8 years and it’s still running like a champ.  It comes with fine screens for small foods like herbs, adjustable heat settings, sized to fit in a standard cabinet, has a 10 year warranty and runs silently.  You can also buy additional trays, screens and fruit leather inserts to expand the amount you can dry at once.  It’s a real workhorse! L’EQUIP 528 6 Tray Food Dehydrator, 500-watt

      

Ball Enamel Water Bath Canner and Utensils

– When you begin preserving your own food, water bath canning is typically the first step.  What I love about the enamel canner is that after 10 years, the finish is as beautiful as when it was new.  No stains, marks or scratches unlike some of the models on the market.  The wire rack and lifter tool prevents shattered jars and burned fingers and are absolute necessities. Ball Enamel Water Bath Canner, Including Chrome-Plated Rack and 4-Piece Utensil Set

Ball Blue Book

-There are a million canning books out there, but this has been the standard bearer for several generations.  This book includes full-color pictures, step-by-step how-tos and hundreds of recipes that have been tested for safety and flavor.  In my opinion, this should be required reading for all new home-canners Blue Book Guide to Preserving (by Jarden Home Brands).

Instant Pot

-Though this is a fairly new (5 years) product on the market, I’ve used mine enough to excitedly recommend it to dozens of my close friends and family members!  The Instant Pot cooks quick, nutritious food with little mess and replaces a dozen other small appliances like yogurt makers, rice cookers, egg cooker, crock pots, steamers.  I love the set-it-and-forget-it programs and the automatic keep-warm setting.  I’m serious when I say this product has revolutionized how I prepare food for my family Instant Pot DUO60 6 Qt 7-in-1 Multi-Use Programmable Pressure Cooker, Slow Cooker, Rice Cooker, Steamer, Sauté, Yogurt Maker and Warmer 

White Wizard Stain Remover

This may seem like a strange Wishbook recommendation, but let me tell you, homesteading is dirty, dirty work.  Throw in a couple active kids and rambunctious dogs and you end up with stains that are total nightmares.  White Wizard successfully removed chocolate syrup + ketchup + iced tea from Petunia’s white cotton Sunday dress, so I’m confident it will remove pretty much any stain from any fabric.  And it smells nice too White Wizard WW010 All Purpose Stain Remover – 10 fl. oz.

Lodge Cast Iron

-Another homestead standard, my Lodge cast iron has given me many years of service with minimal work.  Scrub with oil and salt to clean, dry and wipe with oil and you’ll have a reliable pan for decades to come.  And the silicon handle is a lifesaver! Lodge Cast Iron Skillet with Red Silicone Hot Handle Holder, 12-inch

Ecofan

-We love heating with firewood, but hated the noise from the built-in fan in the woodstove, so this was a real find for us!  It’s completely non-electric and requires no installation!  You simply set the fan on the rear of the stove and as the base heats, it creates its own power and runs silently.  It’s quite small but does it ever move air!  We love it! Ecofan 810CAKBX UltrAir Mid-Size Heat Powered Wood Stove Fan, Made in Canada, Nickel 

Victorio Food Mill

-Plainly put, no other food mill, strainer, blender, juicer or processor compares to a Victorio food mill.  If you’re going to preserve your own sauces, salsas, butters and purees, you’re either going to HAVE a Victorio food mill or NEED a Victorio food mill.  It’s a real workhorse, easily grinding through tomatoes, onions, grapes, apples and discharging the seeds, cores and peels.  I cannot recommend this tool enough! Deluxe Food Strainer and Sauce Maker by VICTORIO VKP250

Garden Claw

-This is perfect for breaking ground in small areas like raised beds and for loosening and aerating soil between close plantings.    They also work well in tough, clay, packed soil…they’re so useful, we have 2! Garden Weasel 91316 Garden Claw

Push/Pull Hoe

-This tool was a game-changer for us.  Using this hoe, I can weed our entire garden (3000+ sf) in under an hour.  And the real plus to this tool is the push/pull “mopping” motion is far more gentle on the arms and shoulders than the “hacking” movement of a traditional hoe. Push Pull Hoe

Perfect Pickler

-I found this gadget at Lehman’s in Amish country many years ago and have thoroughly enjoyed using it.  I like to incorporate lacto-fermented food into our diet as often as possible because of the health benefits but a) who has time to wait months for kraut and b) who wants a 5 gallon crock of kraut anyway?!  The Perfect Pickler ferments small batches of veggies in under 10 days using only a Mason jar and salt. Perfect Pickler Fermentation Value PackageSo there’s the 2017 Legacy Wishbook!  I have a few more products to recommend, but that will have to wait til next year, my friends!  So what am I missing?  What other useful products would you add to my Wishbook?

Preserving Cranberries 3 Ways

So let’s continue in our “3 Ways” series and try our hand at preserving cranberries!  Unlike most berries that ripen in late spring or early summer, cranberries don’t come into season til late fall, generally between Thanksgiving and Christmas; that’s why the ubiquitous cranberry jelly is a must have on most everyone’s holiday table.  Like other fruits, cranberries are a high-acid food which makes preserving them a breeze and allows for a good bit of variation.  As always, when preserving cranberries or any other fruit, stick to tried recipes, safe canning techniques, even if your granny did it differently.  Today, we’re going to can fresh cranberries in a heavy syrup, can cranberry sauce and make cranberry fruit leathers.  Start your clocks, friends, because this is going to be finished and on the pantry shelves in no time!

Okay, first up, preserving cranberries in a heavy syrup.

Wash and stem your berries, then boil them in a heavy syrup for 3 minutes.  Pack the hot cranberries into pint or quart jars and cover them with the boiling heavy syrup, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace.  Cap the jars with 2-piece lids and then process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes or as indicated in the instructions here.  That’s it.  Isn’t that crazy easy?!  Now to mix things up, you can add some delicious flavors such as cinnamon, vanilla, orange zest or use brown sugar in lieu of white sugar in the syrup.  Just be sure to use the same ratios and don’t add low-acid ingredients such as nuts or onions to the recipe.  I don’t know why you’d add onions to cranberries, but I just want to put that out there.

There's nothing as simple or delicious as preserving cranberries!

 

Alright, canned cranberries are done, so let’s move on to cranberry sauce.  I don’t know about your house, but cranberry sauce HAS to be on the table for the holidays.  Even if no one eats it, it has to be there.  Because.  So to make the thick, jelled cranberry sauce, you simmer 4 cups of cranberries in 1 cup of water til they soften and begin to burst.  Carefully put the hot berries through a sieve or food mill to achieve the desired texture.  Return the berries to the pan and add 2 cups of sugar, boil for 3 minutes, then ladle into hot jars, cap and process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes.  If you’d rather have whole berry sauce, simply omit the sieve step and carry on with the sugar and boiling.  Complete instructions can be found here!  Again, in this instance, it’s perfectly acceptable to add a small amount of spice such as ginger or orange zest to your cranberry sauce.

2 products down, 1 to go!  You’ll not find cranberry fruit leathers at the grocery store, but they are so delicious!  Sweet, tart, chewy and they make a great dessert after a heavy meal.  To make fruit leathers, use a portion of the cranberry sauce you just made and pour onto a baking pan or dehydrator drying sheet lined with plastic wrap or parchment paper.  You need to spread the sauce out til it’s approximately 1/8 of an inch thick and even throughout the pan to prevent under/overdehydrating.  Dehydrate at 140 degrees til the sauce is pliable but not squishy anywhere; this could take anywhere from 6-12 hours, so keep checking.  When it’s finished, cut into strips and store in the fridge or freezer in plastic containers.  You can find this recipe and others at the Home Preserving Bible.

If you love preserving cranberries as much as I do, don’t stop there!  Cranberries can be dehydrated, frozen, candied, pickled, made into salsa, chutney, jam, mustard, and about a hundred other possibilities.  So when you see cranberries on sale for $.50/bag in the next few weeks, grab 10 of them and get them preserved and in your pantry!  Til next time!

http://simplelifemom.com/2017/10/17/homestead-blog-hop-157/

 

My Favorite Biscuits Ever!

My Favorite Biscuits Ever” is perhaps a bit misleading as I live a low-carb lifestyle and typically don’t indulge; they are, however, my kid’s favorite so we’re going to run with it!  Now that back-to-school is here, warm, nutritious breakfasts are always in the foremost of my mind.  I’m not a fan of boxed cereal and cereal bars and I make no apologies for that fact.  As I stated in my post on school lunches :

 My personal conviction (perhaps it’s the French in me?) is that food should do more than just supply nutrients to your body, but should feed the eyes and comfort the spirit as well.

On a cool, crisp morning, nothing is as delicious as a pan of warm flaky biscuits straight from the oven to wake sleepy bodies and chase away the chill.  Depending on the time available and appetite, the kids will slather theirs with strawberry jam or apple butter, make breakfast sandwiches with an egg and a piece of bacon or eat them as a side with some buttery fried apples or stewed berries.  They even like them tucked into a lunchbox as a side with a Thermos of soup.  And the fantastic thing about this recipe is it’s easy to double and freeze for those rushed mornings.  Just set them out the night before or thaw them in the microwave for a quick, warm breakfast.  So let’s skip the chatter and talk ingredients and technique.

Ingredients For The Best Biscuits Ever!

These biscuits require 3 ingredients: 2 cups of self-rising flour, 5 tablespoons of butter and 1 cup (give or take) of whole milk.  If you don’t like to use white flour, you can make your own self-rising wheat/whole grain flour by adding 3 teaspoons of baking powder and 1 teaspoon of salt to the 2 cups of flour.  Stir it really well to ensure the ingredients are thoroughly combined.  The butter should be straight-from-the-fridge cold as should the milk.  The temperature of the products really do make a difference when you’re making quick breads, so be diligent!

Technique

There are a couple of tricks you need to know to ensure flaky, tender biscuits every time.

  1. Do not overwork the dough.  You stir the dough just enough to combine the solids with the liquids.  The dough is going to look lumpy, shaggy and irregular and that’s just fine.  You knead the dough very gently and just long enough to produce a dough you can handle.  This is not like kneading bread that requires some serious muscle; biscuits and other quick breads require a delicate hand.
  2. Do not add all the flour the recipe calls for.  Anytime I’m making a pastry that is going to require kneading or rolling, I omit up to 25% of the flour and use that flour to do the kneading.  If you use all the flour called-for and then additional flour to knead, you’ll end up with a product resembling a clay target.  Better for skeet shooting than eating!  For these biscuits, I use 1&1/2 cups of flour for mixing and use the remaining 1/2 cup to knead and roll the biscuits.  This is the same technique I use on pasta, pie crusts and sugar cookie cut outs—and it works well every single time.
  3. As tedious as it is, you HAVE to cut the butter uniformly into the flour.  You need those pebble-sized chunks of butter spread evenly through out the dough for flavor, proper layers as well as to aid the leavening process.  So take your time with the step of cutting in the butter.  It really does make a difference.  The best way to do this is to use either a pastry blender (pictured) or a food processor.  I use the pastry cutter because I’m lazy and hate taking the food processor apart to wash it.


Winco 5 Blade Pastry Blender, Stainless Steel

So let’s do this!  Measure out 1 1/2 cups of flour into a large bowl and add 5 tablespoons of cold butter.  Using a pastry cutter or food processor, blend the butter into the flour until the resulting product looks crumbly with small, pebble-sized bits of butter throughout the flour.  See the bumpy bits in my hand, there?  Perfect.

 

Now, we’re going to add cold milk, approximately 3/4-1 cup.  Depending on the flour you’re using and the humidity on the day you’re baking, it may take more or less.  Just start with the 3/4 and adjust as necessary.  What you want is a sloppy dough, with a consistency thicker than pancake batter but thinner than cookie dough.  Something along the lines of a dropped dough/mashed potato consistency.  Make sense?  Anyway, mix just til the flour and milk are combined.

Take the remaining 1/2 cup of flour and dump it onto a large, clean surface for kneading.  I use an old dough board, my mom dumps it straight onto her kitchen counters.  Whatever works for you is fine by me!  Carefully spoon the dough into the center of the flour and using both hands, flip the dough over so both sides are floured. 

Sprinkle a bit of the flour onto the top of the dough and carefully fold the dough in half and turn one-quarter turn. Pat it down gently, sprinkle with some more flour, fold it in half and turn one-quarter turn again.  You’re going to repeat this process 5-6 times til the dough is manageable and the majority of flour has been worked in.  (If there’s some left on your surface, don’t stress.)  It’s the repeated flouring, folding, patting and turning that creates those fluffy layers, so don’t neglect this step!

At this point, your dough is still going to look and feel rough and bumpy and you’ll notice blobs of butter sort of protruding out of the dough—that’s perfect!  Using a rolling pin, gently roll the dough to approximately 1 inch thick and perhaps 4inches wide by 10inches tall.

Cut the dough into servings using a sharp knife or a biscuit cutter.  (I typically end up with 8 biscuits from this recipe.) 

I like to round mine off a little; you can just shape them as you place them in the dish, but that’s up to you.

Place the cut biscuits into a heavy baking dish with the sides slightly touching to prevent overbaking.  You can use a cookie sheet, but personally I think the baking dish yields better results.   Now you’ll bake your pastries in a 425 degree oven for 15 minutes, til the tops and bottoms are slightly golden and the centers are set.

 

See the beautiful layers?!  These are absolutely best served steaming hot, so don’t dawdle!  Top them with honey, butter, jam, sorghum or your favorite topping and enjoy!  Can’t wait to hear how much you love them!

 

http://simplelifemom.com/2017/10/17/homestead-blog-hop-157/

 

Waste Not – Bread Pudding

If there’s one quality that is common to our Greatest Generation and the amazing generations that preceded it, that quality would have to be resourcefulness.  In their homes, gardens and kitchens, our grandmothers were able to work what was nothing short of miracles, especially during wartime, rationing and depression.  Their collective resolve that nothing would go to waste meant that their families were able to survive and thrive when others didn’t fare so well.  They side-to-middling-ed their sheets, wallpapered their homes with newspapers and sewed underpants from flour sacks.  And in the culinary realm, they used everything, from snout to tail, as they say, in an effort to waste not.  Leftover bits of meat were added to limp veggies to create filling soups, stews and casseroles.  Leftover potatoes were turned into tatty cakes.  Veggie peels, bones and cheese rinds were simmered into luscious broths.  Food was a finite resource and as a result, every effort was made to be sure that resource wasn’t wasted.  So following in that vein, today is the first in a series I’m calling “Waste Not!”….all about reducing the amount of good food that goes directly into the garbage.  Today, let’s talk about bread….and specifically, bread pudding!

A history of bread pudding-

The long and short of it is that bread pudding was created to make use of stale bread.  Cooks from numerous cultures throughout history have put together stale bread, eggs, milk and savory or sweet spices to avoid throwing out food (and money!) that they simply could not afford to waste.  What we know as bread pudding today is far more elaborate than what our grannies made, using artisan breads, expensive cheeses, nuts or spices, but the concept remains the same:  to nourish family with comforting food and avoid waste at every turn.  As food waste is still an issue in many homes, recipes like bread pudding are a simple way to use our resources wisely, reduce waste and provide a nutritious dish that will be loved by all.  Save those stale rolls and dry bread in a ziplock bag in the freezer and when you’ve amassed enough, bake up a dish of authentic southern bread pudding!

  Classic New Orleans Bread Pudding with a Bourbon Sauce:

 Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup Bourbon
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 8 slices day-old French bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)

  • Ingredients for Kentucky Bourbon Sauce

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons bourbon

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350ºF and grease a 6-cup (9 1/4 by 5 1/4 by 2 3/4-inch) loaf pan with the butter.

BREAD PUDDING: Whisk the eggs, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and bourbon together in a large mixing bowl until very smooth. Add the half-and-half and mix well. Add the bread  and let the mixture sit for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Pour mixture into the prepared pan. Bake until the pudding is set in the center, about 55 minutes. Let cool for at least 5 minutes before serving.

KENTUCKY BOURBON SAUCE: Heat the cream, half-and-half, vanilla and sugar in a saucepan over high heat, whisking, for 3 minutes. Dissolve the cornstarch in the bourbon. When bubbles form around the edges of the cream, whisk in the bourbon mixture. As the cream boils up, remove the pot from the heat and continue whisking vigorously until thoroughly blended and slightly thickened. Place over low heat and simmer for 1 minute. (This is not a thick cream sauce; it’s meant to be fairly thin.)

Yield: 2 cups

To serve, cut the pudding into 1-inch thick slices. Lay each slice in the center of a serving plate. Spoon some of the Bourbon Sauce over the pudding and top with whipped cream or ice cream.

(Recipe courtesy of Emeril LaGasse)

N.O. Bread Pudding with Kentucky Bourbon Sauce

Isn’t that simple and delicious!?  There is simply nothing as soothing and delicious on a cool fall evening than a big dish of bread pudding….and this recipes allows almost infinite flexibility in terms of adding flavors.  As long as the egg-milk-bread ratio stays the same, feel free to add dried fruit, nuts, use artisan breads and favorite liquors, top with stewed fruit. Use what you have on hand to make something your family will enjoy!  I hope you try it and I hope you LOVE it!  Til next time!

http://simplelifemom.com/2017/10/17/homestead-blog-hop-157/

Homestead Blog Hop 157