Posted in Homestead

Hooked on Homesteading

6:30 am: The wind howled at fifty miles an hour all night, folding pieces of the greenhouse and threatening loose objects. My wwoofer, Maycee, and I rapidly pick green tomatoes, filling two large canning pots, saving all we can. The tarp and blankets only cover 15×4 feet of tomato plants. We cover the zucchini and bid farewell to everything else in the gardens. All of the beautiful flowers at their peak. The beans nearly ready, but not quite. The squash and watermelons and peppers and dozens of other vegetables that won’t make it through the sudden cold front that is upon us. Tonight the freeze starts and the snow will come, heavy and suffocating. And cleansing. The fires here in Colorado have been awful and the dense moisture will lower the smoke, clean the air, and usher us into another season.

I mourn the plants I am not ready to see fold back into the earth. This freeze is a good month earlier than expected. Autumn has been sneaking up slowly though. We watched the corn change to crisp seemingly overnight. And birds in masses gathering frantically. The grapes brought in to the winery for crush a month early, as are the pumpkins we brought in the other day. Yes, the seasons change in our lives without us being ready and all we can do is flow.

My husband’s photo of our squash bounty!

8:30 am: My friend Annie that used to live with me (the one who grew up with my children and comes to help me can on the weekends, the one who is now hooked on homesteading after living with me!), she sends me a photo of her new pressure canner with excitement. This lifestyle is captivating. It is addictive and satisfying in a way that is hard to explain. The young people are often just now being introduced to it. And that is good. Our world needs more self sufficient people. More homestead/community minded folks.

10:30 am: The fire is stoked and the heat carries through the house. It seemed strange to be hauling wood in yesterday. It was nearly a hundred degrees outside. The clouds float towards us over the mountains. I look brightly at my shelves, filled with well over three hundred jars of vegetables and preserves for winter. Our friends came to visit us yesterday and stayed for lunch. They brought us a lot of frozen wild meat. We don’t often eat meat because we despise the factory farms of the world. But these items along with what other friends have gifted us, feel like bundles of sustenance, waiting for the dutch oven upon the wood stove. They feel like amazing gifts for winter.

Our pantry wall looks like the finest art installation!

11:30: A large basket of beans was brought in to further dry and to shell in the week ahead. The tomatoes will be set out to turn red. We are full from Kleinur (Icelandic beignets) that I fried this morning. Hot cups of coffee warmed us after scurrying around the farm gathering vegetables and unhooking hoses, checking on the animals, and we are now settled by the fire.

Cherokee black beans will be shelled for soups and many dishes in the coming winter.

The children are coming for a harvest festival here on Saturday. It will be gloriously autumnal by the end of the week with temperatures in the seventies and eighties. We will still have a lot of work to do- with cleaning up the farm, setting up the trellising and posts for the vineyard, fixing the greenhouse, cleaning up garden beds, and canning the rest of the tomatoes, potatoes, and pumpkins. There is sauerkraut on the counter that will be ready to can next week as well. The season comes to an end then we will be vacationing in Colorado wine country and visiting friends.

The new shawl I made on my loom with my favorite colors!

I will then settle in with my loom and create new pieces. Work at the winery on weekends. Enjoy the fruits of our labor of summer. Bid farewell to wwoofers and intense heat, and welcome in fall. Everything has a season.

Posted in So You Want to Be a Homesteader Series

Preserving Food- Freezing

Freezing food is a practical and easy way to save the abundance of produce that flows into the kitchen and from farmer’s markets all season.  Freezing has its cons, for sure.  All one has to consider is the great possibility of power outage or malfunctioning freezer to remember a time that you opened the door of one to find melted, smelly food languishing in the musty interior.  Freezing is not my main form of preserving, but I still utilize in many ways because I find it very helpful on a homestead.

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There are some vegetables and fruits that are better frozen.  Eggplant and peas, for example, become mushy when canned.  Green peppers and chilies are easy to scoop out into a pot for soups.  Greens can be successfully frozen in plastic bags without becoming soggy.  And of course meat can be canned but it is easier to separate and freeze in individual bags for suppers.

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My granddaughter is here for a few days enjoying the farm.  We had fifteen chicks arrive chirping in the mail yesterday and she made sure to snuggle each one.  She also helped me harvest mulberries.  Berries are delicious as is, straight off the tree still warm, or in cereal, ice cream, or made into jam, or wine, or pie.  I will make all of those things and may still have some to preserve for winter.  It is lovely to pull out mulberries in December, or rhubarb or raspberries for that matter!  Freeze them on cookie sheets first, then pour into bags.  They will stay separate and easy to measure out.

I have a confession; I don’t typically blanch the vegetables before freezing.  I haven’t seen the point as of yet.  We eat them fairly quickly through the winter and they haven’t been bad at all.

I did blanch the peas once and it was easy enough.  Throw vegetables into boiling water for a few minutes then transfer to a bowl of ice water.  Lay out on cookie sheets, freeze, then pour into bags.

At the end of the summer, I like to have Doug throw peppers, chilies, and eggplant onto the grill.  Then I slice them into cubes and freeze on a cookie sheet.  Then pour into individual bags for pizza fixings all winter.

Here is the trick for fresh greens all winter.  Cut greens, like kale, chard, and spinach, and stuff into freezer bags.  Push out air and seal.  Then put in freezer.  When it is frozen, quickly crush the contents through the bag with your hand.  Don’t let it start to thaw.  You can easily pour out frozen, crisp greens into your soups and sautes all winter.

Cheese, milk, and eggs can be frozen, but it changes their consistency quite a bit.  I don’t freeze broth because I will never remember to take it out in time and big containers take up too much room.

Pile the remaining tomatoes after you are tired of canning into freezer bags and pull them out as needed and put them into the crock pot with soup, or bake on top of rice, or cook down for sauce and use an immersion blender to blend.

Shred zucchini and drain.  Then stuff  1 cup of zucchini into muffin tins and freeze.  Pop them out and into bags when solid.  These make great zucchini fritters, additions to soup, or zucchini bread during the winter and spring.

I am a bit adverse to even the slightest hint of freezer burn so I don’t let anything stay around for more than a year.  I start working my way through the freezer in the spring and any burned vegetables left go to the chickens.  I think one of those food sealers would be a good investment.

You can freeze juice concentrates, and nuts and seeds from your gardens, or fruit, and vegetables, scraps to make broth, meat, and bread.  That makes the freezer (and extra freezer) a good addition to a homestead.  Should the freezer break or be out of power for an extended time, you can rely on your root cellar and pantry.  But for many things, like fresh greens, peas, and chicken, (and mulberries) a freezer is great!

Homestead Anywhere and How to Preserve Rhubarb

Shelling, Preserving, Freezing Peas (an all day venture, bring friends)

Freezing Produce (it’s not too late to preserve!)

Posted in Food/Wine (and preserving)

Two Pressure Canners (and inventorying the freezer and root cellar)

When I closed my shops, everything went into my basement.  I am slowly swimming my way out of it.  I set up a homestead shelf in the root cellar and organized the things I had brought home from my not-so-popular homestead shop.  With this lifestyle, I will use them or use them up at some point.  Soap making supplies, extra boxes of canning supplies, cheese presses, and loads of candles are carefully organized on shelves so that I can see what I have.  I now have two canners and two pressure canners, which really came in handy yesterday.

Now is a good time to empty your freezer and take stock of what you have and what has been lingering for years and what needs to be replenished this gardening season.  Out went several bags of way-too-spicy peppers and half opened this and thats.  Into the ginormous soup pot went all the frozen veggies and odds and ends that I had saved; wilted celery, a few carrots, ends of onions, and all the bags of frozen veggies I thought we would eat; eggplant, Brussels sprouts, green peppers.  Some things are better fresh.  Some herbs and salt and pepper and two hours of simmering later, I had a beautiful vegetable broth waiting to be canned.

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20 pint jars of aromatic liquid were put up.  Usually I would take all day to wait for the canner to come to pressure, can the jars, wait for the pressure to come down, and then do it all again.  With two canners, it was done so fast that I am looking forward to canning season!  I really boosted my production while saving time with just one more pot.  The extra six cups of broth from the pot went into the fridge to use in recipes this week.  A pressure canner fits 10 pint jars or 9 quart jars.  I never freeze broth.  It takes up too much room and I will never remember to take it out in time for supper.

This is a great time to start your canning.  Get some stocks and beans done now on rainy days and before the rush of summer veggies and fruits.  While you are at it, take stock of your root cellar items too.  Start eating some of those canned foods and make room for new ones.  A full cellar is a thing of great comfort and joy!  And it turns out, a second canner is too.

How to Make Broth (and for the record, we have thus far failed at eating roosters and Bob is quite safe here.)

How to Can Beans

Posted in Food/Wine (and preserving)

Freezing Goat’s Milk

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This has been the year of experimentation.  Our practice farm, we have been calling it.  We have taken on a “let’s see what happens?” attitude.  We were told a few times that this idea wouldn’t work.

Since we don’t have a milking goat (yet), we needed to try to preserve the milk.  We bought two gallons a week of delicious, frothy goat’s milk from our friend.  We drank a gallon a week in the form of chocolate milk; a vice that could not be resolved until a few weeks ago.  (Remember, we were vegan for years until recently.  We are making up for lost time.)  The other gallon we froze.

First we froze them by the half gallon in freezer bags and stacked them in the freezer.  Then I ran out of room for the freezer bags and resorted to freezing them in canning jars and storing them in the freezer door.  Make sure to leave a two inch head space so that the milk can freeze and don’t secure the lid until it has.  After the freezer was filled to capacity with everything I wanted in there, we stopped preserving the milk.  Just as Jill sold her goats.

Earlier in the season we had a sneak peek at what the milk would be like.  A half gallon froze solid in the back of the refrigerator.  When it defrosted, I poured myself a cup and choked down the little coagulated cream pieces that turned more into plastic than butter.  Uh oh, I thought.

But when it was time to pull the milk from the freezer, I simply popped a canning jar of frozen milk into the fridge and let it defrost.  Or, I start defrosting the freezer bags in water and when they are half defrosted (but still icy) I transfer them to a canning jar to store in the fridge.  I shake it well and pour it into Doug’s coffee.  We can use it to make cheese, in recipes, in hot drinks, ’tis fine.  Straight….well I need a milking goat.  And chocolate milk will have to be a seasonal treat!

Posted in Food/Wine (and preserving)

What the Freezer Holds

Remember when I wrote What the Root Cellar Holds and I used a picture off the internet of beautiful jeweled jars of product meticulously lined up in rows because my root cellar is dark and dusty?  Well, I am going to pull a picture off of the internet of a freezer too.  This time of year, it ain’t looking so good!  The freezer has its pros and cons for preserving food but I think it is worth the effort.

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I like to can.  I spend a full day once a week all summer and fall, and perhaps more this year, in the hundred plus degree kitchen (we are making an outdoor kitchen this year) just to make sure that all winter we have some pretty great vegetable dishes that taste fresh out of the garden…even during snow storms.  But some things don’t can so well.

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Eggplant for instance.  Imagine that sucker canned.  Soaked in water.  Gag.  Okay, now imagine it sliced thinly, pulled from the freezer, dredged in fresh egg and cornmeal with lots of spices and baked until crisp.  Drool.  So, no canning eggplant.  Freezing is the only way to go.  Simply slice up the eggplant, place pieces on a cookie sheet and freeze.  Then transfer frozen slices into a freezer bag labeled.  We are out, sadly.  I will freeze more this year.

tomato

The freezer is overflowing with tomatoes.  I brought tons home with very good intentions of canning yet another dozen or more jars (we are currently out of canned diced tomatoes.  Quite tragic.) and ran out of time.  So into bags they went and were placed in the freezer with more intentions to can them…sometime.  They are great though.  Pop three of them into a crockpot with half a chopped onion, six cloves of garlic, two cups of pinto beans, six cups of water or broth and some taco seasoning.  Put that baby on high for six hours and enjoy the world’s easiest and mouthwatering dinner.  They simply dissolve into a gorgeous broth.

mushroom

Mushrooms get frozen around here because mushrooms canned are a tad slimy for our liking.  They go from freezer to batter to fried in no time or added to pasta sauce or stew.  Out of those too.

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Peppers are particularly fun because all you have to do is cut them in half into little boats, take out the seeds ,and line them up on a cookie sheet, freeze, and layer into a freezer bag.  Enjoy stuffed peppers all winter long.  Once you cook them, they collapse a little and absorb the juices from the filling.  Since my family doesn’t care for stuffed peppers, they are saved for get-togethers.  I still have a ton.

zucchini

One year, I grilled slices of eggplant, peppers, zucchini, and onions.  I chopped them up and placed into sandwich bags.  They came out of the freezer as ready-made pizza toppings.  We went through them pretty quickly.  Last year, out of time, I took all the vegetables off of the grill and placed them all into bags.  I did not cut them up.  They are still in the freezer waiting to become some fabulous dish.  But alas, I will probably never defrost them and cut them up.  Prepping in the summer may seem to be a pain when one is already short on time, but so worth it when it comes to leisurely eating all winter!

Frozen zucchini slices are still sitting in the freezer.  Soggy zucchini doesn’t appeal to me.  I probably should wait until they are fresh again.  Anything that turns soggy, like greens, upon defrosting doesn’t make it into the freezer.

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Corn can be shucked and four ears can be placed in a gallon freezer bag.  Simply take out, throw into boiling water for five minutes, butter and salt and enjoy summertime eating in January.

Lastly, any leftover soups or beans are placed in the freezer for later use.  Sometimes we don’t get to that big pot of soup (I am still having trouble figuring out how much to cook) in the next week and it morphs into something entirely different in the back of the fridge.  The chickens love when that happens.  But, if I place it in a freezer bag, mark what it is, and put  in the freezer, I can pop it out, place it in the stock pot, bag and all, and by the time I am ready to make dinner, I just pour it out and heat it up.  Homestead fast food.

What I did though was place bags of screwed up food in there.  I made beans, way too many beans, and put way too much pepper in them.  No one ate them.  I couldn’t bring myself to waste them so I froze them thinking I could “fix” them on the next meal.  Every time I see them in there I turn up my nose.  The chickies are about to have a feast coming up soon.  I need to clean out the freezer.

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The main con is the electricity use.  I have an energy saving model but it doesn’t do me any good when the electricity goes out.  I opened the door to a swimming mess of juices a few weeks ago.  Denial is my friend so I just closed the door and walked away.  I will probably have to tend to that this week!  I don’t eat meat so I don’t worry about half defrosted green pepper halves harming me.  It just irritates me that my ice cream melted.

The freezer can be your friend.  One more homesteading helper to preserve that delicious harvest, whether it be out of your garden or from a local farm’s.  Not having to grocery shop for vegetables mid-winter and the pride of having fed yourself and your family is a pretty great thing!

By the way, I do not blanche any of the above items.  They all keep just fine and if I had to take the time to blanche them, they wouldn’t ever make it to the freezer!  Happy Preserving!

Posted in Food/Wine (and preserving)

Easy Baking Day

baking day

Farmer’s wives before us had Ironing Day, Washing Day, Mending Day, Cleaning Day, and Baking Day.  I see why!  I had designated Tuesdays for baking day.  In the six hours I was home, between laundry and cleaning, I was able to get two loaves of delicious, fresh baked bread done, flour tortillas, corn tortillas, and scrumptious biscuits made.  Plus some red chile to dip into for the week.  I sliced the breads, placed them into freezer bags and popped them in the freezer for use all week.  Take a piece out, toast it, instant breakfast!  I took out the tortillas as needed, same with the biscuits.

Come the next Tuesday I still had a half a loaf of bread, and a bag of tortillas.  I figured I was good for the week, but when Friday came around and there were no staples to be found, my whole plan was foiled.  Out to eat we went.  Because when Friday comes, I have worked the shop, been in the garden all week, and have taken care of everything else, but baking.  I don’t have time any other day of the week for baking day.  I think….maybe I just need better planning.

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I need to stick with a schedule or my farmstead will be in chaos (more than usual)!  Baking Day can be split up cleverly though so that one always has a loaf of bread in the freezer or on the stove.

If you are having a super busy farming week, place bread dough to rise overnight.  Then finish it in the morning.

If you have a good part of the morning you can whip up some tortillas in between.  Biscuits don’t take much time…but they are hard to save.  My goodness, I love biscuits!

You can make as many batches as your mixing bowls and hours allow then simply freeze them until you are ready to use them.  You can also make pasta this way.  Pre-make it and let it dry over a large pot.  You can place 2 cups of beans in 6 cups of water with some onion and garlic and place in the crock pot overnight on low.  Transfer to the refrigerator and for five days you have ready-made beans.  You can also freeze them.  Make mayonnaise, red chile, mustard, or any other condiments and sauces, even gravy, to eat during the week.  That way, when you are tired and need fast food, your fast food is healthy, homemade and delicious.  And you can brag all the way through dinner!

Corn, Lemon Thyme, and Honey Bread

2 cups of white flour (unbleached, organic)

1 cup of cornmeal

1 T yeast

1 t salt

2 T honey

A few sprigs of torn lemon thyme leaves (or basil, or rosemary, or…)

1 1/2 cups of warm water.  Blend well.  Let sit for 2 hours to overnight.

Top with 1/2 cup of flour, blend, knead 15 times, let sit another hour.

Plop into greased bread pan and bake in hot oven for 40  minutes.

You can find these recipes under the Food/Wine category.