How to Be a Homesteader- Canning

The smell of wet soil fills the morning air as the droplets of rain drip from leaves of trees.  The mulberries are formed and will be ready to eat warm off the tree in a few weeks.  The peas have flowers that will turn into pods and the potato plants have the prettiest flowers of all.  It is lovely snipping leaves of arugula and romaine.  The baby ice berg leaves are crisp and delicious.  Snips of herbs bring life to salads and soups.

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There are more than three dozen tomato plants set out from seed in the gardens.  Eggplant and lots of red chilies.  We eat fabulously in late spring, summer, and fall, but what about the rest of year?  Today we will talk about canning!

Walking downstairs into our “grocery store” is beyond satisfying.  Rows of garnet, green, and golden jars of captured summer line shelves.  I can a few hundred jars of produce a year.  When the kids were home, I canned three times that!

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You will need a water bath canner and a pressure canner.  Acidic foods, like tomatoes and fruit, only need to be canned in the simple boiling water canner.  Foods like green beans, broth, and corn need the pressure canner.  Never fear!  The pressure canners of today are not your grandmother’s canner (the cause of many a bean explosion across the ceiling).  The new ones do not explode.  Everything is super easy to use once you get the hang of it.

You will need a canning book.  Bell puts out one regularly and there are lots of unique canning books available in book stores and online.  I still love my old, old ones.  I had a annoying housewife tell me that I would poison myself with it, but I haven’t had any issues, and if it was good enough for the old folks, it’s good enough for me.

You will need canning accessories.  They make life amazing!  I used to use wooden spoons haphazardly to try and pull jars from the boiling water cause I like to do things the hard way.  A funnel, proper jar lifting tongs, and a cool magnetic wand to pick up lids out of boiling water are all included in the box for cheap.

You don’t need to boil the jars.  They can come hot out of a dishwasher or simply line them in the sink and pour boiling water over and in them.  The idea is to make sure they are clean and hot so the hot liquids and boiling water in the canner doesn’t shock the bottom off the jar.  You can reuse jars.  Just get a box of new lids.  I have noted that the third time I use the jars for canning is usually the time one of the bottoms breaks off.

Try to bring in help.  I rarely have help but when I do get a few people together with a stack of corn and a bottle of wine, it all goes super fast and is a lot of fun.  Many hands make light work was definitely quoted by a homesteader.

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The loveliest part of the whole process is hearing that glorious pop-pop-pop of lids sealing their contents as they sit on a towel after you remove them from the pot.  Lining them up on shelves is also fun.  Stepping back and watching your own grocery store fill is really great.  And not going out in a snow storm because you preserved all of your own (or a nearby farm’s) produce for winter is really nice.  It is time to bring back this incredibly important art.

I have zillions of recipes on this blog for canning.  I think I have covered everything from pinto beans to beets to corn to broth, tomatoes…  Just type in the search “canning ____” and see what pulls up.  Happy canning!

 

Where Did the Time Go?

That was probably the most common question asked in my grandparent’s home.  Where did the time go? They would be telling a story about a friend who used to live there, or the neighbor and her daughter, or look at how tall we had gotten and shake their heads and utter the question.  This continued on through my children growing up, and even still, with Grandma gone, Grandpa shakes his head and says it again.  Where did the time go?

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I found myself the other day, as my youngest daughter had her wedding dress tailored, muttering under my breath the same words.  It’s really all so beautiful, this life.

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I have an amazing relationship with my children that I do not take for granted.  Emily and I (and our men) have been talking about going in together on a family farm for some time now.  I have learned better than to force it or hurry it up before the doors naturally open, but we are actively planning what we need to do to achieve this goal.  All of my hair brained schemes (new businesses, new career ideas, etc.) are essentially routes to the farm.  In my heart all I really want to do is homestead.

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I cannot believe that my granddaughter, Maryjane, is six years old!

Emily and I talked yesterday on the phone about how much money we could save by staying home and working our family farm.  We would be growing our own food (right now I grow four months worth of our produce (hopefully eight months worth this year), we are talking about chickens, goats, and I want to learn to fish.  She went on to say how incredible it would be for her children to learn homesteading skills while being homeschooled and being so close to their grandparents.  Growing up on a farm.  This is what all of us have always wanted. For four years we lived that dream.  We are ready to get back to it.

 

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My granddaughter, Ayla Mae, is 6 months old and growing fast!

I love my little urban farm here.  Solar powered, chickens, huge gardens, a farm dog, it’s good livin’ here.  I am very grateful.  I love donning an apron in the mornings.  I love feeding the chickens, and gathering eggs, and watering the extensive beds, and harvesting weeds for salad.  I love seeing everything grow, and the stack of wood on the porch, and the fruit trees leaf out.  I love the look of colorful jars cooling after being processed in boiling water and listening to the pop-pop of the lids sealing the contents of summer within.  I love going down to the cellar to bring up corn or tomatoes or jam or dandelion wine.

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Gandalf is ready for a farm.

So, we plan to eat out less, put more money towards debt, start saving, keep an eye out for properties coming up, continue to dream.  Whether it is here in this beautiful house in the city on a third of an acre, or on a larger family farm, this is the only life for me.  And if I am going to shake my head and wonder where the time has gone, it may as well be in my rocking chair in front of a fire with a grandbaby on my lap on a family farm.

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

The Joyful, Simple Life of a Frugal Housewife

I have a little book that was written by Mrs. Child in 1832.  The American Frugal Housewife is surely just as useful today in many senses.  The author almost lost me when she noted that coffee was not economical and could be avoided.  Oh, she’s a strict one, that Mrs. Child.  Her prose is clear and concise and the book is ever fun to read.  Going on two hundred years old, it is a bit of history rolled into a gentle reminder that not that much has changed.

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If you make a dollar, only spend eighty cents.  If you make fifty cents, only spend forty.  The original Dave Ramsey.  Why do all the girls these days need the new bonnets from France when clean, proper dresses and a ribbon will do?  Girls have no home education these days!  In this book she covers everything from cuts of meat (she would wonder about me and my vegetarianism), to how to make custard, and Indian pudding.  She discusses herbs for cooking and all their medicinal values as well.  A new onion will take the pain out of a wasp sting.  Every housekeeping gem that we housewives- even in the twenty-first century- could ever need are in this book.  She would tisk-tisk me for sure.  But in this time and age, I am not too bad.  But there is always room for improvement.  A simple, frugal life is a life of peace.

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The gents installing the meters for the solar panels on our homestead were surprised at how little electricity we use.  Now it can all be generated from the sun.  When you walk through our gate, past the Pumpkin Hollow Farm sign, you will find yourself in a large yard.  Under snow, it looks ordinary, but this spring you will find dozens, upon dozens, and dozens of medicinal and culinary herbs.  This year, enough produce growing to last us eight+ months.

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When you come in there is a wood stove and nice wood floors that are easy to clean.  Plants and aloes and seed starts fill my home.  We read by candlelight and oil lamps.  Twinkly lights are the electric lights.  Piles of books to read, board games, and a tuned piano supply entertainment. We rarely watch television.  In the warmer months we will sit on the porch or go for a walk, all free things.  And blessed time together.

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In the kitchen, home cooked meals are made.  I am finally getting used to not cooking for  all the children.  Just me and Pa and some left for the puppy.  Our root cellar is dwindling but there are still over a hundred jars of produce put up.  There are fresh eggs from the coop.  Cups of herb tea steaming on the counter.

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You will almost always find me in an apron.  They are so practical and keep my long skirts clean.  I make all of our own medicine, prepare our meals, create much of what we need.  I can sew a quilt, make our own soap, brew some meade, put up green beans, bake sourdough bread, make antibiotics, save seeds, use the library, ride my bike, and if I make fifty cents then I shall save ten!  More likely five cents, but we’ll get there.

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Such a good life indeed.

The Evolution of a Homestead and the Original Carryall

20180711_105459Five and a half years of writing about farming and homesteading.  Almost a thousand readers.  Full circle.  I am peaceful as I write this.  The sun is behind the large walnut tree, filtering its light through the dense branches highlighting the herbs and flowers on the medicine gardens.  My front porch rocker is comfortable and my coffee is hot.

We started with chickens, a garden, some dreams.  Moved towards alpacas, goats, and sheep, and bigger, simpler; somehow tripped and found ourselves in an apartment.  Yet, we gardened at a community plot and hung a calendar of farm animals in the kitchen.  Now we own a home of our own in a good sized city skirted by farms and friendly people.  “This is not a farm,” I said.  But I was wrong.  Because being a farmgirl and having a homestead heart does not die.  It just gets more creative.

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So we have started with chickens, a garden, some dreams.  Our house is similar to the one we started in.  We have a third of an acre of urban space to dream and build.  More raised beds, hoop houses, a greenhouse.  We have a root cellar, a wood stove, and fruit trees, and a place to settle and be.  By god, this is the urban farm we have read about.  Every year it will grow, and get better, and right now it is perfect and warm, and as the cars zoom by to get to work, the hummingbirds drink from the geraniums and honeybees buzz in the pumpkin flowers.  The Pumpkin Hollow Farm sign sits proudly on the porch.  It would be easy to dream of an off grid homestead, but the challenge and dream will be to see how sustainable we can get right here on this humble plot of land.

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A dear, young woman is living with us right now with her little, baby farmboy.  I inadvertently see through her eyes what we have here and I am grateful.  I have been on a little book tour with my newest book (http://authorkatiesanders.com) but we had time to put up ten quarts of corn broth and a dozen jars of corn yesterday.  It is really warm here and the climate whispers of year round gardening with a little wisdom.  The chickens frolic, the farm dog barks, the kitties mouse, and all is well in our little house.

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20180711_155417So, the original carryall is an apron.  Y’all know my great love of aprons!  This one carried dozens of corn cobs to the porch to be shucked, to the kitchen to be canned, to the chickens as treats.  Don your aprons, Friends, our urban homestead adventures continue…

To Grow and Forage One’s Own Food

home 4Soon.  Soon now the dark greens of earth will peek through the moistened soil and seek the sun.  Dandelions will unexpectedly be dancing through the grasses.  The mulberries, black and velvet, will stain my fingers as I gather them.  Perhaps the squirrels will leave some walnuts for me.  And this is the year for the plum tree to fruit.

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To forage for food gives a great satisfaction to the spirit but to forage amongst one’s own gardens and land is spectacular.  I can already taste the cleansing lamb’s quarters, the tangy purslane, the scrumptious dandelions interspersed with sweet butter lettuce fresh from the garden.  Just dressed with good olive oil and sea salt, the tastes of spring come forth and fill my body with nutrients after winter’s rest.  Soon.  Soon now.

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I am reading a beautiful book called, “A Year in the Village of Eternity” by Tracey Lawson.  It takes place in Italy, in the village of Campodimele, one of the Blue Zones, where the most active and healthy elders live.

Cibo genuino. Real Food.  Roba nostra.  Our own things.  I let the many Italian words roll off my tongue and take their lessons.  Real food.  Our own things.  Grow an orto, a garden.  In this village they forage or grow nearly everything they consume.  Is it possible?  Last year on our own little third of an acre in town, in soil fit for a driveway, we grew all of our own produce for the summer.  Our first season here with little time or money.  Now we have eggs from our chickens.  We have planted many fruit and nut trees (if I can just keep the puppy from thinking they are sticks to play with!), we are recognizing more and more wild foods, and are growing many more vegetables this year in better soil.  Contadino.  Farmer or gardener who produces their own food.

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I cannot wait to feel the soil in my fingers.  Soon.  Soon.  The season comes earlier where we live now and in three short weeks I will be folding spring crops into the cool ground.  What preserves shall we do this year?  I imagine lilac and lavender jam, stewed tomatoes, crisp fire roasted corn.  We are enjoying our larder these winter months.

To live like this is to be ready at all times, for what you seek or what you want to “put up” may not be there tomorrow.  Herbs must be harvested when ready.  Fruit may be eaten by birds at dawn.  Piles of corn need shucking.  Ah, but I enjoy the work.  I love our evening walks after dinner in the sunlight.  I love the sound of water covering plants and the crisp sound of the pea pod being opened.  Ogni cosa ha il sua momento.  Everything has its moment.

For now I have winter preserving to do so that it is done once the busy season starts.  In my cucina this week dozens and dozens of jars of beans will be put up.  Vegetable broth too.  I still have beans from the garden to shell.  I will check on my vinegars and my kombucha.  I have been resting and a tad neglectful.  But now as each day falls closer to spring, I awaken, don my apron, and get to work.  In campagna, c’ e sempre da fare! In the countryside (or city as the case may be) there is always something to do!

 

 

Homestead Gardens and Winter Rest

20180103_073048The first seed catalogue arrived in the mail the other day.  My four year old granddaughter, Maryjane, took a sharpie and circled everything we need to order.  Instead of toys, she circles plants in seed catalogues.  She is one of us.

It is impossible, I believe, for a homesteader to not think of the garden at all times of the year.  I am creating a new space, roughly 500 square feet of ground.  A square, fenced in, next to the chicken coop, three feet from the porch turned greenhouse we are planning, and ten feet from the compost.  I dream of the colorful rows of fresh produce, the front yard of fruit trees and medicinal herbs, the patches of volunteer vegetables and wild foods.  But, these gardens, of course, cost money.  Fencing, glass, extra compost, and seeds do not come cheap.  I know it will all come together wonderfully and before I know it, I will be sitting here next year pondering the next season’s garden!

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I do love January, even if it is not my favorite month in the least.  It makes me rest.  We homesteaders aren’t much for rest.  We are a lot less anxious with our hands dirty, faces in the sun, planning, harvesting, moving.  The ground is asleep.  My fingernails are clean.  And I can dream, and January brings that lovely reflective sense of peace and accomplishment.  We dine like kings on everything we stored in the root cellar, freezers, and pantry from this last season.  We remark how beautiful our house is and our yard is coming together and in just short of one year’s time, we have transformed it into a working homestead.  Our hearts are overwhelmed with gratitude.

Hawks swirl and the large lake is out our south windows and the city bus rumbles by out the north panes proving you can homestead anywhere.  I write on my list that I need lamp fluid for the oil lamps and more tea candles.  Wood is chopped and piled by the stove.  The chickens are waiting to be let out.  The farm dog sleeps and I need another cup of coffee and a sharpie so I can start circling items in the seed catalogue and create dreams for spring.

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My Homestead Kitchen and Root Cellar

 

20170927_161036This is always a happily busy time of you year in my homestead kitchen.  There are lots of things being canned, lots of frozen items, lots of dried items, lots of staples.  Colorful eggs decorate the counter.

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We could walk to the grocery store.  Everything I need is already canned and frozen there.  We went from five plus people to just two of us here, why so much food?  Potential weather disasters, power outages, sh*t hits the fan, just in case, lots of reasons, but my grocery bill was only $36 this week, and that’s pretty great.

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I also love to cook.  I am rarely happy with restaurant meals or packaged foods.  I like my own sauces.  I love creating my own pickles, red chile sauce, sauerkraut, but also having lots of really fresh vegetables canned swiftly in glass containers.  No preservatives.  No Monsanto.

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We are busy folks.  It is nice to come home and have everything at the ready to make an amazing meal.  I enjoy the methodical time putting up the food and the pride I feel looking at my humble root cellar.  215 canned items.  I still have a bit more to do.  I will just leave the pressure canner upstairs this year.  That way I can quickly can more broth, beans, or soups as I go.  There is no real “end of the season”, homemaking pleasures continue through the year.

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If you had walked through my warm homestead kitchen this last week you would have smelled the cinnamon apples being canned, watched the apple cider vinegar and kombucha brewing.  Thick halves of pumpkins baking to be put up, their seeds washed and drying on the counter to plant next year.  A wheel of farmhouse cheddar was being waxed.  Sauerkraut fermenting.  Frozen meat from friends’ ranches.  Lots of beans and whole grains and spices.  Just need more flour, sugar, and coffee.  Lots of coffee.

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There is still much more in the garden.  I was pleased to unearth a sweet potato, something I haven’t been able to grow in higher climates.  More tomatoes, winter beans, burdock, carrots, beets, kale, zucchini, peppers, cabbage, spinach, lettuce, radishes, potatoes all await our autumn meals.

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Donning a cute apron and working quietly in one’s own homestead kitchen brings a peace I cannot even describe.  Food security, health, and peace of mind permeates the air along with the smells of chilies and pumpkins.  This is the life for me.

Canning Soup for Instant Winter Lunches

I am terrible when it comes to lunch inspiration.  I despise sandwiches, don’t like wraps, not really into salads as main courses, don’t want processed foods, and have little time to make anything the night before or morning of.  My husband leaves at six in the morning and needs a packed lunch.  Sometimes I just have to feed myself, sometimes I feed three or four girls when I work at my shop.  I need lunch solutions!

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Enter the beautiful pot of soup.

I generally make at least one soup a week for a meal.  It doesn’t take much energy to make it a bigger batch.  I serve a delicious soup with homemade bread and vegetables from the garden for dinner then the next morning I can the rest of the soup in wide mouth pint jars.  Instant lunches through the winter.  Choose a soup, take it to work!  I always have bread made and with a side of fruit or canned applesauce, maybe some crackers, or carrots and dip, this is a great lunch.

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So long as the soup doesn’t have dairy or rice in it, this will work.  Pour soup into large mouth pint jars leaving an inch head space.  Make sure rim is clean and replace lid.  Put three inches of water into pressure canner.  Put jars in.  Secure lid and turn on heat on high.  Listen for lovely ticking sound from the shaker, turn down heat a little, and pressure can (10 lbs of pressure for most folks, all the weights all the time for us high altitudes) for 1 hour.  Anything with seafood goes 1 hour and 40 minutes.  Let steam release naturally.  Then remove from pot and let cool on towel on counter.  When the jars are cool and the you know the seals are set, label, date, and add to root cellar shelves.

Enjoy instant homemade lunch all winter.  I love this homesteading life.

 

 

Desperately Seeking Fresh Vegetables (and a fine Brussels recipe)

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I stared at the dusty jars lining the warped shelves in the basement.  They still feel like a blessing but at the moment were seeming more and more like a curse.  I swear if I have to eat one more jar of green beans…or peas…or corn…or beets…or…

I understand that hunger doesn’t care.  If I lived before grocery stores, out on an old homestead, or if I didn’t have a hundred bucks to spare, that food would be tasting real good right now.  But it is late February, too early for anything fresh, and my mind was dreaming of food that has not even been planted yet!

We have been fabulous at eating seasonally.  We ate almost all the potatoes, lots of carrots, onions, jar after jar of items I preserved, frozen vegetables and fruits.  I have been creative.  I have added fresh herbs from the windowsill.  We ate all but one pumpkin.  I need a radish.

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We picked up Maryjane and Emily (You know your life has changed when going to the health food store in town is the highlight of the week.) and off we went to Vitamin Cottage.  The pretty rows of product lulled us into a sense of summer and freshness.  I caught sight of the Brussels sprouts, as large as two golf balls side by side, and giggled like Gollum finding his Precious as I loaded up a bag.  I did a little jig in front of the ruby red orbs of radishes.  Maryjane held a piece of broccoli she had snagged as her mother walked by the green trees (what my kids used to call broccoli).  Emily pointed out various mouthwatering vegetables as we told the baby how she is going to love vegetables.  Doug walked over with crisp apples.  We put kale in our basket, Roma tomatoes, boxes of salad.  Large grapes for fresh chicken salad.  Long, elegant leeks to go into humble potato soup.  We felt like royalty.  Everything was organic, but I do not know where it was grown.  Certainly not around here.

I woke up yesterday and cut up two radishes even before the coffee was made.  I sprinkled them with a bit of smoked sea salt and popped them in my mouth.  I smothered a few with butter.  They held the crisp edge I was looking for.  They are not near as good as the earthy, spicy radishes that will come out of my garden beds in a few month’s time, but they were very suitable for a long winter of mushy green beans.  (Which tasted amazing, by the way, all through the cold winter months.)  Last night we had salad with homemade croutons and the melt in your mouth giant Brussels spouts.

Soon we will be back to frozen eggplant, and gelatinous peas (which tasted amazing, by the way, all through the cold winter months.  I need to repeat that so y’all aren’t tempted to not start canning.  It is great, and it is really fun going to the grocery store in the basement.)  I just needed a taste of spring.  I’ll be saving up for a green house!

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Melt in Your Mouth Brussels Sprouts

This recipe was adapted from a recipe in the “Vegan Soul Kitchen” by the great Bryant Terry.  He would be disappointed in me for the addition of bacon.

Fry up two slices of bacon, drain on paper towel and when cool, break into small pieces.

Drizzle pan with a few tablespoons of olive oil and a tablespoon of bacon drippings.

Trim off the end and cut in half a bunch of Brussels sprouts, enough to fill your skillet with a single layer of halves face down.  About a pound.

Sear for four minutes or so until nice and slightly blackened.

Add 1 cup of rich broth.

Cover tightly and braise over medium high heat for 12 minutes.

Add 1/4 cup of white wine (I like Chardonnay) and a few tablespoons of lemon or regular thyme, fresh preferably.

Continue braising for five minutes.  Taste and add salt and pepper if desired.  Top with bacon.

I would show you a picture but we ate them too fast.  Sorry.