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

 

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!

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/

 

Dehydrating Fresh Mint

With only a few more weeks left in the Ohio growing season, I’m scrambling to put up anything that’s left in our garden and right now, the mint patch outside the kitchen door is thriving!  While it can and will grow in almost any soil and conditions, it’s LOVING this cooler, damp weather and has probably doubled in size in the past month.  Now mint isn’t MY favorite herb, but my sweet Petunia loves a hot mug of mint tea just before bedtime, so I’m running the dehydrator overtime trying to dry as much “tea” as possible before the first hard freeze.

If you’ve never grown mint before, you need to know that it’s a bit of a mixed blessing.  As I stated, it can and will grow anywhere—-and it has no respect for boundaries!  Mint roots run horizontally just under the surface of the soil and will take over a bed in no time if you don’t contain it somehow.  When I planted mint this spring, I took an old galvanized bucket with the bottom missing, dug a hole large enough to accommodate the bucket and deep enough that the lip of the bucket protruded aboveground just a few inches.  I planted the mint inside the bucket and based on this year’s results, it’s quite happy there.  The bucket will provide adequate room to grow but will prevent the roots from spreading laterally and taking over the entire bed.  Clever, eh?  But back to tea….

Dehydrating mint is about the easiest thing ever.  You simply cut the stems early in the morning, rinse with cool water and then lay singly on your dehydrating screens.  On low heat, dehydrate the mint for several days until the leaves are quite papery, then carefully strip them from the stems and place them in an air-tight container.  Try to avoid crushing the leaves if you can as that releases those wonderful, volatile oils and aromas—-you want those in your tea cup, not the air!

When it comes time to make your tea, simply crush approximately a teaspoon of the tea leaves into an infuser like this one (FORLIFE Brew-in-Mug Extra-Fine Tea Infuser with Lid), allow to steep for up to 5 minutes, then remove the leaves and sweeten with a bit of honey.  It’s equally delicious served iced with a handful of fresh raspberries, watermelon cubes or lemon slices.  You can also sprinkle a bit of the dehydrated mint into a fresh fruit salad for an extra layer of flavor.  The mint will impart a freshness and ‘brightness’ to any dish you add it to, so be creative and think outside the tea cup!

 

 

 

Preserving Pumpkin 3 Ways

 

Freshly picked pie pumpkins

Okay, I got some pretty positive feedback from Preserving Apples 3 Ways, so let’s continue in that vein with preserving  pumpkins, as they’re just beginning to come into season now .  When preserving pumpkins, you’re a little more limited in how you can preserve them simply because they’re a low-acid food but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take advantage of the cheap, cheap prices and pick up several to enjoy over the winter.   So let’s talk varieties!  When you’re picking out your pumpkins, you want to avoid carving pumpkins.  While they’re fantastic for carving, so they’re not so great for eating.  They tend to have a very dry, stringy, flavorless flesh as opposed to pie pumpkins that are sweet, moist and perfect for eating.  Pick smaller pumpkins that feels very heavy for their size and check to be sure there are no gashes or mars on the pumpkin’s skin.  Last, try to choose pumpkins with nice 2-3 inch stems…that will reduce the chances of finding a spoiled pumpkin when you cut it open.  Now that you’ve picked your pumpkin, let’s make canned pumpkin, pumpkin butter and candied pumpkin.  Here we go!

The hardest part of preserving pumpkin (or squash!) is simply slicing the sucker open without cutting a finger.   You need a large cutting board and a very sharp knife to pierce that hide.  Carefully cut the pumpkin in half or quarters so that you have a manageable size to work with.  Remove the seeds and stringy parts then flip it over and cautiously peel away the skin.  Notice I keep reiterating caution:  pumpkin skin can be incredibly tough, and it’s easy for a knife to slip and end up with a dreadful cut.  Be careful my friends!   Now chop the pumpkin quarters into 1inch by 1inch chunks and we’ll get started on our first preservation method.

Canning pumpkin requires very little prepwork, but it does require a pressure canner.  Simply add the peeled, chopped pumpkin cubes to a pan of water and boil for 2 minutes.  Add the boiled pumpkin to hot jars and cover with boiling water, leaving 1 inch of headspace in the jars.  Cap with a 2 piece lid and process in a pressure canner for 55 mins/pints or 90mins/qts.  When you’re ready to use the pumpkin, just drain it, mash it and use it as you’d use store-bought puree.  It’ll make fabulous breads, soups, pies or cookies, though you must be diligent in draining it well!

Before you ask, no, you cannot can pumpkin puree.  Due to the density of the puree and the lack of acid, there is no home-canning technique that Ball, the NCHFP, Food In Jars, Grow Your Own, USDA or any other reputable food preservation entities will approve of.  I hope I don’t get nasty private messages over this, because so-and-so’s granny canned pureed pumpkin for 50 years and no one died.  Well, praise God for that!  My granny gave babies whiskey for colic and smoked Catalpa beans and no one died, but that doesn’t mean it was safe or smart.  Science changes and as more information is available, techniques change as well.  I know what you’re going to ask next and let me answer it now:  companies like Libby’s CAN safely can pumpkin puree because they have approved means of regulating consistency and equipment that reaches much higher temperatures than our home pressure canners.  So friends, if you insist on canned pumpkin puree, buy it at Walmart because there’s no safe way of preserving pumpkin puree at home.

Okay, so we’ve successfully canned cubed pumpkin for pies and bread.  What else can we do with that pumpkin?  Pumpkin butter!   Take those delicious cubes of raw peeled pumpkin and microwave, steam or pressure cook til the flesh is soft, gloppy and cooked thoroughly.  Puree it with an immersion blender or food mill til it’s smooth.  Carefully measure out the puree and add it to a crock pot along with sugar and spices and allow to cook down til it’s reduced by 50%.  That may take 8-10 hours or even longer, so don’t be impatient!  When your pumpkin butter passes the spoon test, allow it to cool and then ladle into freezer containers or bags and freeze for up to 1 year.  That’s some super easy pumpkin butter!  Here’s exact directions from Pick Your Own.

Candied pumpkin

One more recipe to go!  Candied pumpkin!  This may be a little outside your comfort zone, but it’s a fun little treat if you have a bit of pumpkin left over and you can feel good giving it to children because there’s at least a little nutrition under all that sugar.  To make candied pumpkin you need raw pumpkin sliced into 1-inch cubes, brown sugar (1 cup) and water (2 cups).  Boil the pumpkin cubes in water for 20 minutes til fork tender then drain them, reserving 1.5 cups of the cooking water in a pan.  Add 1 cup of brown sugar to the reserved water, bring to a boil for 5 minutes and then add the pumpkin back in and simmer on low heat for 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow the pumpkin to steep in the syrup over night.  The following morning, remove the pumpkin cubes from the  syrup, drain on a rack over the sink and when they’re dry but tacky, roll them in additional sugar.  Cinnamon sugar is really nice!  You’ll want to store these in the fridge or freezer, but they probably won’t last too long!  They’re like little chewy bites of pumpkin pie!

How easy was that?  Delicious preserved pumpkin 3 ways, starting with the same raw cubed pumpkin!  Now if you find yourself blessed with an abundance of winter squash or even sweet potatoes, you can use them interchangeably in these recipes with nearly the same results.  Friends, if you haven’t enjoyed a fresh sweet potato pie, you haven’t lived!  Try it sometime!  Anyway,  I hope you try these techniques and let me know what you think about them!  Til next time!

Preserving Seasonal Fruits

Preserving fruits is one of my favorite kitchen hobbies.  When it comes to home-canning, so much of what you do is an *exact* science.  Green beans HAVE to be processed for a certain amount of time at a specific pressure point.  Corn too.  Quick pickles HAVE to be brined with a certain percentage of salt or vinegar.  Tomatoes also fall into that category.  There is no guess work and no room for experimentation with veggies and low acid foods.  Fruits, on the other hand, allow for much more creativity.  Now that doesn’t mean you can play fast and loose with safety issues, like cleanliness, proper canning technique, etc, but beyond that, the possibilities are endless.  Let’s talk about the different means of preserving fruit and the flexibility within those methods.

By far, the most common method for preserving fruit is simply canning it.  It involves bringing fresh fruit to a boil in either a simple syrup or fruit juice (such as pineapple juice), pouring it into a Mason jar, capping it with a screw-on lid and processing it in a boiling water bath for a short period of time.  The natural acid in the fruit combined with the preservative qualities of the sugar results in a pleasantly sweet, brilliantly colored fruit that is delicious straight from the jar, baked into a pie, or topping ice cream or cake.  Berries, apples, peaches, pears, plums all taste amazing when preserved by this technique.   Each fall,  I put up a bushel of apples in a sweet, cinnamon-y syrup for wintertime breakfasts;  warmed and topped with some cream and served alongside a fresh biscuit or as a topping for pancakes, waffles or French toast, canned apple slices can’t be beat.   Here’s an example for you to follow.

Jellying or jamming is also a delicious means of preserving fruit to last through the year.  Only slightly more difficult than straight canning, you simply bring fruit to a boil, adding precise quantities of sugar and either commercial pectin or bitter fruit as a thickener.  Everyone loves the ubiquitous pb&j using Concord grape jelly, but the possibilities are nearly endless here!  From spiced tomato jam to corncob jelly there’s almost no food you can’t jam or jelly.  There ARE some exceptions to that rule and it’s important that you use tried and true recipes, but you can find reliable information as well as proven recipes at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.  Think of their files as the Holy Grail of canning.

Candying is another favorite fruit preservation for us!  The concept is simple and ages old:  you soak fresh fruit pieces in heavy syrup until the fruit’s moisture is removed and replaced by sugar.  You can pretty much candy *anything* though we particularly enjoy candied orange slices, pumpkin cubes and ginger pieces.  And as a total bonus, the fruit flavors the heavy syrup, so after you’ve candied the fruit, you’re left with a delicious fruity-sweet syrup that you can use on pancakes, in drinks or any number of uses.  Love those bonuses!  Here’s a recipe from Martha Stewart for making candied citrus peels–for a real treat, dip them in dark chocolate!!

If you have a dehydrator, drying fruit is so incredibly simple!  Most fruit requires nothing more than being sliced, dipped in salt water or lemon water (to preserve color) and dried for 1-2 days on a med-low setting.  My great-granny in eastern Kentucky used old window screens covered in cheese cloth in an enclosed porch to dry apple slices and oh-my-word, were they ever delicious!  I was always so excited to go see her—to see if I was finally taller than she was and to come home with a big old bag of dried apple slices!  Here’s a link that provides ideas, recipes and guidelines for you.  Dried fruit is one of the children’s favorite lunchbox treats and I feel good offering it to them because there’s so many vitamins packed into those little sweet packages!preserving fruits

But fruit preservation doesn’t stop there!    Fresh seasonal fruit can be preserved in brandy or other spirits, fermented with honey, frozen, pickled, made into cider, wine or vinegar….the options are really endless with fruit and for the most part, your imagination is the only limit.  Try your favorite combination of berries for a triple berry jam.  Or mix your favorite stone fruits with brandy for a delicious cake topping.  Puree and dehydrate apples for fruit leathers.

What is your favorite tried and true way to preserve summer’s bounty?

 

 

Preserving Apples 3 Ways

 

Several of you have expressed interest in learning to preserve seasonal produce, so I thought I’d do a quick post on preserving apples 3 ways.  This will be quick, easy and oh-my-word, the satisfaction you’ll feel when you’ve taken a bag of apples and turned it into 3 amazing treats in a day’s time!  So let’s dive right into this with a quick primer on apple varieties.  The best option for a newby to canning is to find a nice all-purpose apple.  Some apples cook down to mush, which is fine if you’re committed to making a LOT of applesauce.  Some apples stay firm when they’re cooked, which is fine if all you’re doing is making pies.  If you can locate an all-purpose apple, it will allow for several different options when you get it home.  All purpose apples can be made into sauce, salads or pies and are good eaten straight out of the bag.  Varieties will vary according to your region and the season, so it’s best to ask a local orchard for recommendations, but some common all-purpose apple varieties may include Honeycrisp, Gravenstein, Empires, Ida Reds, Johnathons and MacIntoshes.  So now that you’ve picked an apple variety let’s get to work preserving apples by making applesauce, apple butter and apple leathers.

 

By far, the peeling, coring and slicing will take longer than any other aspect of this job, so if you have a countertop peeler/slicer, BY ALL MEANS use it!  If not, I find bribery is quite effective.
I use this one and have found it extremely effective:  Prepworks by Progressive Apple Peeler and Corer Machine

Peel, core and slice your apples and place them in a deep stock pot with just enough water to cover the bottom of the pot to prevent scorching.  You’ll need to pay close attention to this; if they boil dry, the natural sugars will scorch in 2 shakes of a lamb’s tail.  Set your stock pot over a med-low heat and let it come to a slow simmer. This step takes time, my friends, so don’t try to rush it.  Stirring frequently, let the apples cook til they’re tender and translucent.  Depending on the variety you chose, they’ll probably retain their shape, but will mush up easily when you smash them with the back of the spoon.  Using either a food mill or blender, puree the cooked apples in small batches and return them to your stock pot over a low heat.  You’ve just made applesauce.  At this point you can sweeten with sugar and flavor to taste (we love a little ginger in ours!), return to a simmer, ladle into hot canning jars, add 2 piece lids and process in a boiling water bath (15 mins/pts, 20 mins/qts).  Done! How easy was that?!  Here’s a very detailed set of instructions for you to follow.

Preserving Apples: Apple Butter

Okay, so you’ve followed the instructions and you have a big lovely pot of pureed apples but you don’t want to can plain old applesauce.  No problem!  We’ll take this a few steps farther and by the time the day is through, you’ll have a finished batch of apple butter.    You simply measure out your pureed apples, add sugar, tons of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves or allspice and slowly cook it down til it’s reduced by 50% or more.  You can do this on the stove top, which is quick but more apt to scorch, or you can put it in a crock pot and let it cook down slow over the course of many hours.  Either way will yield the same results.  So how do you know when it’s cooked down adequately?  The spoon test!  Carefully (watch for steam and splatters!) scoop up a rounded spoonful of apple butter and hold it at eye-level.  If the apple butter remains mounded up on the spoon, it’s ready to go!  If the apple butter flattens out into the bowl of the spoon, it needs to cook down a little longer.  (This is the art, not the science, of food preservation!) Once you’ve determined that your sauce has indeed cooked down into butter, ladle it into hot jars, add your 2 piece lid and process according to directions, typically 10 mins for pints and 15 for quarts.

So now you have oodles of apple butter and you’re not sure you’ll actually eat it all before next fall….here’s what you do!  Fruit leathers!  This is one of my favorite means of preserving apples!  You have a couple options for drying your fruit leathers, but I’d be lying to you if I told you I do anything but use a dehydrator.  I’ve been using a L’equip model dehydrator for nearly 10 years and have nothing but good to say about it!
(This is the model I use!  L’EQUIP 528 6 Tray Food Dehydrator, 500-watt )

Using either an oven or dehydrator, you pour your fruit puree onto a sheet of plastic wrap (or parchment paper, my preference) in a thin layer of perhaps 1/8th of an inch thick.  Smooth it out so that it’s as even as you can make it…this will prevent underdrying/overdrying, especially if you’re doing a large batch.  Dehydrate the puree at 140 degrees for 8 hours in a dehydrator, up to 18 hours in the oven or until the center of the puree is no longer squishy (technical term there).  Once it’s dried, you roll it up and wrap it in plastic wrap.  These typically don’t last long if you have children around!  Precise, step-by-step directions can be found here.

How cool was that?  You begin with one bag of apples and end up with 3 entirely different finished products.  You’ll find in the world of food preservation, you can use that step-by-step method we just used preserving apples with several different varieties of fruits and veggies.  Tomatoes chopped, simmered and put through a food mill will yield tomato juice.  Cook down the juice for 30 minutes or so, and you have a delicious tomato sauce.  Cook down further and you have tomato paste.  All of which can be water-bathed and in the pantry or fridge in a day’s time.  If you find this type of post helpful, let me know and I’ll be sure to follow up with some more “3 Ways” posts in the coming seasons!  Til next time, my friends!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8 Ways To Become A Producer

Amish country is one of my favorite family day trips.  I absolutely love seeing their big, beautiful market gardens, their Clydesdales working in the fields and the family-run stores dotting the landscape.   What I admire most about the Amish is their culture of production rather than consumption.   I love that they build their own homes, sew their own clothes, educate their own children, grow their own food.  It’s hard to imagine, but only a few generations ago, America largely resembled the Amish in many respects.  We were a nation of producers.

America’s economy for its first 200-300 years was largely based on tangible, useful items produced in family-owned small businesses.  Yes, there were a few giant corporations out there but in large, skills were specialized,  handed down and produced goods that provided fair livings.  Businesses aside, homes were in the business of production too.  Families utilized skills to produce what they needed and sold and traded within their community to other families producing other goods.  Even the smallest city homes frequently had chicken coops, small gardens, and made income by selling handmade items or providing services such as sewing.  Man alive, how different we live now!   Even if we can’t go back to the days of family businesses and localized trading, we CAN shift the emphasis of our own family’s culture from consumption to production…and we can get started TODAY!  Here are 8 simple things you can do to become a producer!

Gardening is a key skill for producers!

  1. Raise your own food.  This can be as simple as a patio garden or as elaborate as large raised beds, fruit trees, berry bushes and raising livestock.  You don’t have to grow acres and acres of crops in order for raising food to be worth your while.  It’s possible to grow herbs, lettuces and greens in planters 8 months or more a year and their taste is incomparable to anything you’ll find at the grocery store.
  2. Learn to cook from scratch.  I know this is a more difficult idea for many people, but think baby steps.  Can you use fresh veggies instead of canned?  Can you attempt a loaf of bread, a pie or a batch of biscuits instead of buying them from Walmart?  Maybe try your hand at homemade condiments and salad dressings?  Just think simple; it doesn’t have to be fancy!
  3. Make your own cleaning supplies.  Vinegar, essential oils and baking soda are very effective cleaners, both non-toxic and inexpensive.  Give it a try!   
  4. Learn to fish.  You know the old saying…if you give a man a fish, he eats for a day….but I want you to eat for a lifetime!  It doesn’t take much equipment or skill to catch a fish, but it can enable you to provide your family with fresh, non-farmed protein that’s practically free after the initial investment in a fishing pole.
  5. If you’ve learned to garden, try your hand at seed saving.  When you begin to practice seed-to-seed gardening, you effectively close the consumption loop.  It’s entirely possible that you’ll never have to buy seed or plants again and that’s a valuable goal to pursue!
  6. Learn food preservation.  Again, think baby steps.  I know not everyone has the time or inclination to take up canning.  That’s fair.  But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t look into freezing seasonal produce.  I have a freezer full of blackberries to turn into blackberry mead and jam later this winter.  There are bags full of herbs, sliced green tomatoes to fry up, chopped up bell peppers…and most of this produce requires nothing beyond cleaning and chopping.  Bonus!
  7. Line dry your clothes.  Take advantage of a breezy day by hanging out those items that take forever in the dryer (denim, heavy knits, towels).  They’ll smell wonderful, save hours of drying time and cut way down on electric consumption.
  8. Learn the art of foraging.  This one takes time and expert help is a huge bonus…but foraging enables you to find the freshest, in-season, wild produce….and it will cost you nothing but your time.  Depending on your location, you can find produce growing from March through November in the form of wild herbs, nuts, berries, fruits and roots.   Freeze it for later and you have a skill that will continue to provide all year long.

Becoming a producer is nothing more than a change in mindset.  I don’t expect I’ll ever reach the place where I can produce everything I need and I don’t expect you will either…but when you change your thinking about production and consumption, something funny happens:  you’ll find yourself LOOKING for more opportunities to produce.  Initially, you’ll find yourself satisfied with merely growing lettuce, but then you’ll decide it’s a real shame to dump store-bought dressing on your lovely greens so you’ll attempt a simple vinaigrette.  When that’s a success, you’ll begin to investigate other areas in the home and kitchen that you can DIY, grow yourself, repair yourself, produce yourself.  It snowballs, my sweet friends so be prepared!  If you’re a producer, I’d love to know what you produce…and if you’re a consumer, what’s the first item you’d like to learn to produce yourself?  Til next time!

Making Yogurt Demystified and Simplified

People around the world have been making yogurt and otherwise culturing dairy for thousands upon thousands of years.  Anywhere you find cultures that use cows or goats for dairy, you’ll find they developed simple methods of preservation for dairy including yogurt, cheese and kefir.  Those things are sort of mysteries to us now;  it seems beyond the pale that we can take a gallon of milk, add a bit of bacteria and end up with luscious yogurt, bubbly kefir or a nice sharp cheese.  But our foreparents did it for eons with only the most rudimentary of equipment and it’s something I think you’d enjoy doing too!

I remember *exactly* the moment I decided that I was done with store-bought and started making yogurt at home..  The year was 2009 and 5 year old Angus’s favorite show was How It’s Made.  That particular episode showed how strawberry yogurt was produced and the junk they used to produce it.  I was okay with it til they mentioned using Carmine (or Cochineal) to make the strawberries a brilliant red.  I’d never heard of Carmine, so I googled it.    Want to see what Carmine is?

I know, right?  To be fair, it’s not just used in making yogurt bright pink and pretty.  Carmine is used to color ice cream, juices, candies, snacks and anything else that requires “natural” food coloring label.  Yeah, it was quite the eye-opener for me too.

So I was done with Yoplait et al and decided making yogurt was a priority; and surprisingly enough, it was fairly simple.  As far as ingredients, you only need 2:  milk and a starter culture.   So here’s the general science behind making your own yogurt.  You take a gallon (or whatever amount) of the freshest milk you can find, heat it, cool it and add a small amount of bacteria.  The bacteria “eats” the sugar, turning it into lactic acid, producing that tart flavor we all enjoy.  Pretty easy stuff.  Yes, there are a few more bits to it, but not much.  We’ll cover that in detail at the end of the post.

Now as far as equipment, what you need is something that will keep the milk at a constant 100+/- degrees for 8-10 hours and there’s several ways you can go about that.

Making yogurt in individual serving cups

  • Use a yogurt maker.  They run in the $30-50 range and most of them come with cute little cups for individual servings of yogurt.  I had one.  (Past tense.)  It worked well enough, but we ate way too much yogurt for cute little 6oz serving cups, so it was sold in a yard sale many, many years ago.
  • Use a large Thermos.  That’s what I did for many, many years.  You simply warm the Thermos with hot water while you’re heating the milk, then dump the water, pour the cultured milk into the Thermos and let it sit for 8-10 hours.  Really very easy and effective.  Thermoses also run in the $30 range at Wal-mart, but they’re so useful that it’s worth the investment.  If I had to do it over again, I’d skip the yogurt maker entirely and just buy the Thermos.
  • Instant Pot!  You know I’m enamored of my IP and homemade yogurt is just another reason to love it.  You heat the milk in the pot, let it cool, add your culture and then set the timer.  That’s it.  You come back 8 hours later and you have the thickest, most delicious yogurt ever.  So worth the investment!

So you’ll need to decide which route you’re taking as far as equipment, but the rest of the process is pretty cut and dry.  Let’s go through the steps 1 at a time.

  1.  Heat the milk to 180 degrees.  Some people skip the step, but the heating denatures the milk somehow and it makes for a much thicker yogurt.  Don’t guess…use a thermometer.
  2. Allow the milk to cool to 100-110 degrees.  You can allow it to air-cool or set the pot of milk in a ice bath.  Either way is fine, just don’t add the starter til it cools to that range or you’ll cook the starter bacteria.
  3. When the milk is cooled, you add starter.  You can use plain, unsweetened yogurt like Chobani from the grocery store or you can buy freeze-dried cultures from stores such as Leeners or Cultures for Health.  They’re a little expensive, but I think I get better results this way.  And I’ll tell you how to recoop that money later.  Add your starter (2T yogurt or 1/8t powdered culture/or per directions) and mix well.  Put your milk in the incubator of your choice: the yogurt maker, Thermos or IP.
  4. Set the IP/yogurt maker program or just set the Thermos back and allow the milk to ferment for 8-10 hours.
  5. When you check at the end of the 8-10 hours, you should have thickened, tart yogurt.  If you want it more tart, allow it to ferment for a couple hours longer.
  6. Refrigerate your yogurt OR, if you want super thick yogurt, strain it through a towel-lined colander til it reaches the desired consistency.  After it’s cold, it will thicken a bit more, so don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t seem as thick as you like it immediately.
  7. At this point you’ll want to take a few sandwich baggies, add 2T of yogurt to each bag and freeze it.  This is the starter for your next batch of yogurt so you don’t have to buy more yogurt starter or freeze dried cultures.   See how that works?!  Once you’ve removed your starter for the next batches,  you can sweeten or flavor your yogurt as you’d like.  My husband loves his yogurt topped with strawberry or raspberry jam.  Angus likes his sweetened with granola.  I eat mine plain or with a few pecans on top.

Your yogurt will last approximately 1-2 weeks in the fridge before it begins to have a bitter,  off flavor.  That’s the bacteria dying, my friends.  Yogurt bacteria has a relatively short shelf-life, so enjoy it while it’s fresh.

So that’s yogurt-making 101.  Isn’t that simple?  I hope this post demystifies the process and has you in the kitchen making fresh yogurt!  Tell me what you think!  Til next time!


 

 

 

 

 

 

Stocking The Deep Larder – Or- Food Storage For Real People

Food storage as it used to be.

I want to talk to you pretty frankly about building a “deep larder”, or food storage, as it’s more commonly referred to in farming and homesteading circles today.  I’ve only touched on this topic a time or two because of the stereotypes that go along with it.  I’ll confess that when I hear the phrase “food storage”, I automatically picture some paranoid, anti-social survivalist with camo clothes, a painted face and year’s worth of freeze-dried MREs hiding out in a bunker. Not a pretty sight.

But THAT shouldn’t be our impression of food storage at all. My sweet little Granny in eastern Kentucky practiced storing basic food long before survivalists and conspiracy theorists hijacked it in the Y2K era. She grew her garden, preserved the harvest and kept basic, bulk supplies in the summer kitchen, just feet from the back door.  She used to tell stories of leaving her summer kitchen door unlocked at night during the Great Depression for her neighbors who didn’t plan ahead and were starving but were too proud to ask for help. She said they never took more than they needed and always returned her clean Mason jars to the back porch. My granny survived 2 World Wars, rationing, joblessness and the Depression by practicing what people had practiced for eons before her: planning ahead during times of abundance for when the times of shortage came.

A generation or two farther back in time, Laura Ingalls’ family was practicing the same useful skill of storing food for lean times.

The garden behind the little house had been growing all summer. It was so near the house that the deer did not jump the fence and eat the vegetables in the daytime, and at night Jack kept them away. Sometimes in the morning there were little hoof-prints among the carrots and the cabbages. But Jack’s tracks were there, too, and the deer had jumped right out again.

Now the potatoes and carrots, the beets and turnips and cabbages were gathered and stored in the cellar, for freezing nights had come.

Onions were made into long ropes, braided together by their tops, and then were hung in the attic beside wreaths of red peppers strung on threads. The pumpkins and the squashes were piled in orange and yellow and green heaps in the attic’s corners.

The barrels of salted fish were in the pantry, and yellow cheeses were stacked on the pantry shelves.

– Little House In The Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1932

That changed abruptly in Post-WWII America with the advent of the supermarket.  Suddenly, the food disappeared from cellars, pantries, summer kitchens and backyard gardens.  As highways began to criss-cross America and refrigeration became more affordable and obtainable, families no longer depended on their larder/food storage.   Now, it’s unusual to find more than a few day’s worth of food in any given house on any given day.  Friends, I believe that needs to change.  While I’m very thankful for the prosperity that America has enjoyed for decades, we can’t allow prosperity to lull us into a sense of complacency.

I don’t consider myself a conspiracy theorist, but I know things happen.  Blizzards.  Job loss.  Power outages.  Divorce.  Hacked bank accounts.  Things happen.  Back in September of 2008, Ohio was side-swiped by the remnants of Hurricane Ike.  Ohio.  Experiencing a hurricane.  Go figure.  We anticipated a good soaking rainfall, but what no one saw coming was the Category 1 winds that knocked out power to millions in our area.  For nearly a week, we were without lights, hot water, communication or utilities.  Roads were blocked by fallen trees.  Grocery stores were closed.  ATMs were out of order.  And because we were in a very rural area, we were very low on the list of priorities.   Let me tell you, it was quite the rough week and a pantry full of canned soups, veggies and meats sure came in handy.  Beyond Hurricane Ike, having a stocked larder has proved invaluable to my family during extended lay-offs, extreme winter weather, feeding unexpected guests and as a means to bless others experiencing hardship.  I believe whole-heartedly that a well-stocked larder should be a priority to us just as it has been in generations past.

Let me just pause here and say that I don’t want you to pursue a deep larder out of a sense of fear, but of prudence.  I’ve seen so many sites that use fear to prompt huge, unnecessary purchases and that’s not at all what I want for you.  I want you to think ahead like our grannies did and create a necessary, useful cushion for our families.  The Bible promises us that bad times WILL come and admonishes us to think ahead (Eccl 11:2, Prov 6:6-9, Prov 13:16, Prov 31:21) and be ready for when the good times end.  We need to be like the ant, my friends!

Stocking your larder doesn’t have to be expensive, and it doesn’t have to mean storing MREs and powdered milk, because ~GAG~.  The only hard and fast rule for stocking up is to buy food that you KNOW you will use.   If your family doesn’t eat dried beans, for the love of Mike, don’t buy a 50# bag of dried beans because a survivalist told you to!!  Tailor your pantry to the needs and palates of your family members.   An easy way to begin the process is to spend a week or two journaling what you eat each day and look for trends.  Are there items on your “menu” that you eat consistently and frequently?  THOSE would be  smart purchases.  After you have a rough idea of what your family eats in a typical week, begin the process of stocking up on those familiar items.   Still unsure where to start?  How about:

Canned beans
Canned soups and stews
Canned fruits and veggies
Canned/packaged fish and meats
Oats and grains
Rice
Pasta
Sugar/honey/maple syrup
Salt
Dehydrated fruit
Oil
Flours
Evaporated/condensed/instant/shelf-stable milk  and other fluids such as bottled water, sports drinks and juices.

Most of these foods have a shelf-life of several years, many can be eaten as-is in an emergency, and nearly all cost less than $2, especially if you shop at Aldi or another discount store. It isn’t beyond anyone’s budget to throw an extra box of pasta or a couple cans of soup in the shopping buggy each week. And believe me, those extra packages add up quickly.  If you live in a rural region or close to a farmer’s market, I suggest you take advantage of the fact we’re in peak food-production season and buy fresh, inexpensive produce that you can can, dry, freeze, pickle or otherwise preserve.  That’s a simple way to stock your larder quickly.

I’m hesitant to provide links to food-storage plans because they can be absolutely overwhelming, and while they can provide valuable information, they often use fear to incentivize huge purchases. We don’t want to act out of a spirit of fear, but wisdom—and wisdom would say buying something we can’t afford and won’t eat isn’t wise at all! I found only one article I thought would be helpful—addressing what they called “Home Food Resilience“, or the ability to withstand shocks to our budget, environment or lifestyle. They include suggestions for building a “deep pantry”, as we discussed above, as well as freeze dried “emergency” food. Read it with a grain of salt and see what you can glean from it. And as always, feel free to ask questions!!  Til next time!