cast iron collecting, cast iron cooking, cooking, homesteading

Cooking, Collecting, and Connecting to Cast Iron

Vollrath #3

When you put so much energy into growing your own food you want to make sure it tastes great when you cook it.  We discovered long ago that all foods taste better when cooked in cast iron.  Whether its a skillet, dutch oven, or a griddle, cast iron always gives that food a little extra flavor, and is even a great weight.

We started our journey into cast iron in the way that most do.  We purchased a brand new Lodge skillet and brought it home, with the intent to recreate all of the dishes on the cover of mother earth news.  We learned quickly that cast iron cooking is a different animal.  Skillets need to be seasoned prior to use, and it takes much longer to get them to temperature.  Seasoning is a very straight forward process.  We get the pan warm in the oven and then apply a very thin coat of crisco to the pan.  We wipe the excess oil off and place the pan upside down in the oven at 350 for 30 min. After 30 min we wipe the excess oil off again and then bake for an additional 30 min.  After that, we shut the oven down and let the pan cool inside.  More recently we have started to use lard from our home-raised pigs to season our pans and it works great.  This is a more traditional oil to use and it makes us happy to use another product from our homestead.  We also learned that cast iron may take a long time to heat up, but once it does it maintains a wonderful even heat.  The more we cook with our pans the more the seasoning builds up and the better they work.  Our cast iron pot has never made a bad meal.

When I come in from the cold and see it simmering away on the stove I know I’m in for a treat.  Soups, stews, and chili all are kicked up a notch when they are cooked in the cast iron pot.  The pot is also wonderful for deep frying hand cut french fries, onion rings, and my personal favorite, Tostones. (we have a blog in the archives on making these)

More recently we added a biscuit pan that makes the flakiest and most evenly cooked biscuits you ever tasted.  We know that our cast iron cookware will be around long after we are gone.

After the fall harvest and hunting season, when the days grow short a secret danger lurks on the homestead.  That danger is boredom and online estate auctions.  Recently we purchased a few antique cast iron pans from the estate of a 104 year old WWII veteran.  We purchased 3 pans and one griddle for $40, with the expectation of using them to cook.

Little did we know that there was a whole world of antique cast iron collecting out there.  As soon as we picked up our pans, the research began.  If you love solving a good mystery as much as I do, you will love trying to find the origins of your pan.  After a lot of searching and a few messages exchanged with a cast iron guru, we found that we had  Wagner, Vollrath, and Griswold pans.  The griddle is still a bit of a mystery . img_4641

We even were told about a cast iron collectors group on facebook.  We set out to strip and restore our pans.  Again there is a lot of varying info out there so we asked the guru and have been using http://www.castironcollector.com for a reference.  We started out by cleaning our pans with oven cleaner, some pans responded well, others did not. img_4686

Next we made and electrolysis tub using a battery charger, this worked great for removing rust and is doing a decent job on getting the baked on gunk off of the pans.img_4680

Once the pans are stripped, we season them.  Once seasoned, the vintage pans are so beautiful you almost don’t want to cook with them, almost. img_4660

It is interesting that the older pans are much thinner and lighter than today’s pans.  Our Griswold pan appears to be not only the most recognizable, but also the most valuable.  I dare say we may have now been bit by the collecting bug, but time will tell.  The journey we have taken into cast iron seems to have taken us to the same place that all of our other journeys take us, to the past.   It is visions of the past and a simpler life that  attracted us to homesteading, and it is that vision which also pushes us forward.  Cast iron cookware is so durable and long lasting that it has allowed us to actually touch the past, as there is something special about cooking in old cast iron pan.  Our meals are now connected to all of the meals these pans have cooked.  We are happy to carry on the tradition of cast iron cooking. 

 

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cooking, farming, gardening, homemade, homesteading, pigs, raising turkeys, recipes, turkeys

Our Homestead Thanksgiving, also known as “Satsgiving”

We have certainly all heard of Thanksgiving, and even “Friendsgiving”, but let me introduce you to “Satsgiving”. I can’t really tell you exactly when Satsgiving started, but I can tell you that it all started from a love of food and cooking, even at an early age.

I was fortunate enough to have grown up in what some might describe as a traditional household. My dad worked and my mom was a stay at home mom, the toughest job any parent can have. With that came a home cooked meal just about every night. My mom is a great cook and I am sure that my love of food started there. I was always the adventurous one (out of four children),often sharing a meal of liver and onions with my dad or nibbling on a chicken neck or some other “parts”. I suppose I was what is now called a “foodie”, but I did not know it at the time.

When I became a mom, I always tried to put a home cooked meal on the table every night. It was not an easy task because I also worked full time. We ate a lot of meals made with that iconic red and white can tossed with some sort of pasta, meat and veggies. It was quick, easy, and certainly affordable for a young family. A few years passed and then the best addiction of my life came along, the Food Network. Yes, I admit, I have a problem. I can hear my husband’s voice now…”if I have to watch another cooking show….” But, seeing what I could easily create in my own kitchen without boxed, processed food intrigued me.

And so it began, my true love of cooking. My husband will tell you that his happy place is in the garden or the greenhouse, mine is in the kitchen, a match made in heaven. He grows it, I cook it. I even find myself thinking all day about what I have in the freezer and what deliciousness I can create from it when I get home from work. Like I told you, I am addicted.

So for many years the Super Bowl of all cooking events, Thanksgiving, came and went at relatives houses. I was always appreciative, getting to spend time with our families year after year, but I really felt like something was missing.  I wanted to make my own “Thanksgiving” and so became the evolution of “Satsgiving”. It’s our Thanksgiving meal that I cook and we serve to family and friends on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, hence the name “Satsgiving”. It is a more relaxed version of the holiday, my boys are often out hunting during the day and I just do my thing in my happy place.

This year’s Satsgiving was a particularly special meal because it was the first year that I cooked one of our homestead raised turkeys along with home grown corn, beans, potatoes and squash. And don’t forget the ham, from our happy, healthy pigs. (if you need a laugh, see my pig blog, “Adventures in Homesteading, A Not So Country Girl’s Perspective) We even ended the meal with a pumpkin pie, and you guessed it, no canned pumpkin in that pie! 
I have never had such a sense of accomplishment to be able to serve my family a true homestead meal.

So give it a try, create your own holiday,  and surround yourself with those you love. It’s not just about the food, but also the people around the table that make it the most special. 

farming, gardening, homemade, Homestead Rescue, homesteading, recipes

The Key To Homesteading Success is Closer Than You Think

When we think of homesteading, our thoughts often turn to chickens, pigs and huge gardens full of vegetables. But there is one main ingredient that is always overlooked. The most productive and important things on the homestead are the people.  Your homestead is always limited by how much work you and your family is willing and able to do. Homesteading can be a test of a marriage, or your relationship with your children. Long days of hard work can end in yelling and screaming, or with the whole family enjoying each others company on the back porch.  Learning to say thank you and listen to others ideas is just as important as learning to butcher a chicken.  The homestead is always a work in progress, and so are we.     We have been blessed with two boys, Gary and Lucas.

The boys grew with the homestead.  When they were little, they would pick beans or help weed. There is nothing like being in the garden with kids, you just can’t get upset when plants get trampled.  When they were a little older, they could feed chickens, stack firewood, or hand you tools.  Life is good when you have someone to hold the other end of the board you are nailing.  Once the boys became teenagers, they could do everything a man could do.  Gary is particularly good at fixing things.  He is an excellent planner.  He also has a great ability to be calm in tough situations, and has a tireless work ethic.

Lucas on the other hand is an excellent hunter and fisherman. He provides  a lot of food for the family, and he can pick up most anything. Luke also always reminds us to have some fun.  His guitar playing is often heard on the back porch after the sun goes down on warm summer nights as well as chilly spring and fall evenings. 

Our homestead would never be as productive as it is without these two young men, and we hope that the homestead has taught them skills and lessons that they can apply later in life.  They both know that dirty hands make a happy heart.  The core of the homestead is my wife, Tracy. 

Not only does she turn what we grow and harvest into delicious meals, she also makes sure everyone is where they belong and on time.  If you look through the blogs on our site you will see some of her beautiful culinary creations. She is our constant cheerleader, when things are getting tough she is the positive voice that we all need to hear.  It’s sometimes hard to believe that a “Jersey Girl” can cook venison so well.  Her cooking and preserving ability has grown over the years, and I think she appreciates the harvest more than we do.  If she was not on board, our homestead dream could never happen.  The long nights of blanching and canning can put strain on our marriage, but if we have learned one thing it is that wine helps.  It turns canning or sausage making into date night.   Then there is myself. 

I have all the big ideas.  I am the one who takes the plunges.  When I get an idea in my head I cannot rest until I see it through.  What I lack in planning I try to make up for in hard work.  I love to split wood by hand and am fascinated with the old ways of doing things.  I am happiest when I work until dark and then sit on the porch with a cold beer, completely drained, and dirty. Together we are much greater than the sum of our parts.  We can accomplish almost any goal.  As you can see on the homestead, the people are the most important tool.  Each one has his or her strengths and purposes.  We could never have our homestead without each other.  Doing work together brings us closer and it forces us to interact with each other to work towards a common goal.  I also believe that after working with me, my boys could work for anyone. 
We are often so caught up with the things on the homestead  that we forget about why we do it in the first place, for our family. Just like your garden, you must nurture the people on your homestead, because they are more important than any tool or animal. 

cooking, farming, gardening, garlic, homemade, homesteading, how to make garlic powder

Make Your Own Garlic Powder

Years ago we were gifted several heads of delicious garlic by our dear friend.  She was even kind enough to give us lots of tips on growing it.img_4270

Those few heads have now become over 100 heads per year.  Besides selling garlic we were looking for a use for all of our extra heads. IMG_0091

We hate to waste anything, so we researched a bit and came up with the simplest method we could to make garlic powder.  Like most things we do here, making garlic powder is a simple, yet time consuming task.  I would dare say that our ancestors would definitely not have time for twitter, instagram, or candy crush. Their lives were filled with shelling, drying, smoking, and a litany of other tasks.  Life was simply about living, not watching other people live, we have quickly discovered.

We started out making our garlic powder by taking cloves and slicing them into 1/8″ slices.  This is the time consuming part, like many other tasks it is much more pleasant with a glass of wine.  We sat sipping, slicing, and chatting and before you knew it, we were done.  We laid the slices out on a dehydrator rack, but you could also dry them on a screen in the sun. img_4173

Next we placed the racks of garlic into the dehydrator at 135 degrees.  We let them dehydrate overnight and the next morning we had nice dry garlic nuggets. And trust us, we kept all of the vampires away that night!

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The next step was almost as easy.  We took our dehydrated garlic and placed it into a spice grinder.  img_4179

After several bursts in the grinder we knew we were on the right track.  We had made rough garlic powder.img_4180

We then sifted it through a fine mesh strainer.  We would return the pieces that were too large to the grinder.img_4182

What we were left with was beautiful delicious homemade garlic powder.  It was probably the first garlic powder we ever tasted that didn’t have any pesticides or herbicides in it. And just like anything else we make from our own hands, it just tastes better.img_4183

Of course it went directly into a Ball Jar for safe keeping.

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We are always happy to have home grown ingredients to cook with, and garlic is in so many of our meals.  We learned a few things while making garlic powder.  For example,  it takes a lot of garlic to make just a small amount of garlic powder.  It took ten heads to make what you see in this pint jar, so we will never look at those big jars in the store the same.  We also learned that a good slicing buddy and a good bottle of wine make the task seem a lot less like work, and while you are slicing garlic you can’t check your FB status or respond to emails.  The only thing you can do is talk , and that is probably even more valuable than the garlic in the jar.

backyard chickens, cooking, farming, homemade, homesteading, raising turkeys, turkeys

Raising Your Own Thanksgiving Dinner

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When we decided to raise our own turkeys it seemed like something we should have been doing already.  Thoughts of a huge Thanksgiving dinner complete with our own bird ran through our minds.  We had several years of knowledge with other types of poultry,  so we dove right in.  Once we started our research, we found that we would need to order our turkeys fairly early and that a local farm store would be a better option than mail order.  Mail order required a 6 bird minimum and shipping was very expensive.  Because room is at a premium on our homestead we opted for the farm store, their price per bird was less, and they only had a 4 bird minimum, perfect for our needs. We also chose broad breasted whites, due to the fact that they had the best feed conversion (2:1), and grew the quickest.  Now that the birds were ordered, we jumped in with both feet.  Chickens can spread disease to turkeys, so they would need to be kept separate from our chickens.  We understand that there are varying theories on this, but since it was our first experience, we opted for the separation method. We would need to build a separate coop and run.  We settled on an 8×8 coop to give the birds plenty of inside room. And, as we are sure any homesteader will agree, it could also offer us possible future animal or storage space. A 20×20 run with 3′ fencing was also constructed.  We covered the building of the coop in a previous blog, so if you are interested check it out. IMG_3157

When we picked the birds up from the feed store, they peeped the whole 30 minute ride home in the car unless music was playing.  Once home, we settled them into the brooder in the garage we normally use for chickens.  The brooder had a heat lamp to keep them warm and cozy.  They also loved food.

It wasn’t long before we learned our first lesson about turkeys,  they can fly.  They also liked to be outside the brooder.

You know you are a homesteader when you come into your garage and find turkeys scratching, pecking, and pooping in the middle of the floor.  Moments like these always make us smile and remind us that we are not the ones in control.  After several days of the turkeys going rogue , we knew it was time to be moved out to their coop. IMG_3233

They were so happy with all the new space, but most of all they loved the roost.  We also kept a heat lamp in the coop until they had all of their feathers.  Once they were in the coop for a week we started letting them into the run.

At first they were timid, but they soon found their favorite spots to scratch and lay.  As they grew a bit more, we learned more turkey lessons, how they like to roost outside and a 3′ fence is not high enough to keep them in.  At dusk the toms would fly up and roost on the tallest point they could find just outside the fence.  Every night we would have to pick them up and put them inside.  This became more and more difficult as they pushed over 20 lbs.  On occasion they would all decide to fly over the fence and forage in the lawn, they never went far and just like when they escaped in the garage, it made us smile. Walking in the yard and finding a small flock of white turkeys enjoying their life and gobbling is something we became accustomed to.  After 4 months it was time for the turkeys to go to freezer camp. img_4057

We had processed chickens before, so we were confident we could handle the job.  Dispatching a 23 lb turkey is a 2 man job, you will also need a much bigger scalding pot than the one you use for chickens, so plan accordingly.  Lesson learned. The butchering went well and was much easier than we imagined.  The turkeys dressed out at 23 lbs each. img_4058

We used shrink bags and froze 3 turkeys for future use.  This also required a bigger pot than we were used to. Again, lesson learned.

We decided to cook one right away as we had never had a fresh turkey in our lives.  The beautiful bird was brined and placed in the smoker, it was a tight fit but we made it work. img_4159

We also were able to smoke it over apple wood , that we had saved from pruning our apple trees.  After 8 hours of smoking our turkey was done. img_1417

We were amazed by the juiciness, and how different the texture of the meat was compared to ones we had bought from the store.  Because this first bird came out so well, we are confident that this year’s Thanksgiving bird will be amazing.  When we place it on the table surrounded by our family, it will be the fulfillment of a dream that is American as apple pie, and another reminder that learning on the homestead should never stop.  We will never be connected to the meal on our plate more than this Thanksgiving.  And when someone asks us to pass the turkey, we will know exactly what we are feeding our family, and that our food was raised happy and healthy right on our own small, but mighty, Homestead.