cooking, gardening, homemade, homesteading, sauerkraut

Making Sauerkraut Simple Deliciousness

IMG_3473There are few foods more polarizing than sauerkraut.  Some people love it and some people hate it.  It is no different here on the homestead.  One year we had an abundance of cabbage, and wanted to preserve it.  When the subject of making our own kraut arose it was met with mixed emotions.  I believe the word “yuck” was used.  We had picked up a nice 5 gal crock at a yard sale so we had the perfect vessel.  So we took our abundance of cabbage and went to work. IMG_0260

We were immediately amazed by the list of  ingredients, cabbage and kosher salt, that was it.  We started by taking our cabbages (5 pounds) and removed the outer leaves, we then washed any dirt from the head. img_3650

We quartered the heads and removed the stem, setting it aside.  Next we shredded the cabbage by cutting thinly with a sharp knife.

 

 

After the cabbage is shredded we placed 1/3 of in the crock and sprinkled 1 tbs of salt over it, and then mashed it with a big wood dowel (which, to be honest, was the cut off end of a closet rod). img_3654.jpg

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We mashed until we didn’t hear and more crunching, we then did the same with the other thirds.  We also add in the stems, which make a tasty snack.  Once the cabbage was salted and mashed we covered it with a clean dish towel and let it sit over night.  The next day we looked to see how much water had been drawn from the cabbage,  we were looking for enough water to cover all the cabbage.img_3662

We wanted to have at least 3″ of water over the cabbage.  If there is not enough water you can make your own brine by combining 1 tbs of salt with 1 qt of water.  When you have enough brine covering the cabbage, you simply take a plate and put it over the cabbage being careful not to trap any air under the plate. Then add a weight to hold it down. Our favorite method for this is a sterilized mason jar full of water. Finally, skim any stray cabbage from the surface.img_3663

We cover the crock with the dish towel, place in a cool location, and wait for the magic to happen. img_3659

The magic is fermentation. Sauerkraut is a fermented food and wonderful for your gut.  We check on our kraut every week and skim any mold that forms on the surface of the water.  There will be an interesting aroma that rises from the crock and you may be accused of flatulence if you are standing near it.  After a month or so we taste the kraut to see if it is tangy enough, if not we wait another week. IMG_3269

When the kraut flavor is to our liking, we remove it from the crock, and since it has been such a long wait we have no choice but to cook up our favorite kielbasa and try it out. img_3708

This is when our “yuck” was turned into a “wow”.  Any extra kraut is canned (process 20 min/qts) and saved for another day.IMG_3473

Home made sauerkraut is totally different from what you get in a store.  It is fresh, mild, and the perfect compliment to a homegrown meal.  It is not often that you find a simple recipe that works so perfectly.  Home made sauerkraut is two simple ingredients and some help from mother nature.  Making home made sauerkraut is exactly what homesteading is about, getting back to basics.

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cooking, farming, gardening, Herbs

Dehydrating Herbs Pays Dividends All Year Long

If you are anything like us, you are always looking for ways to add more growing space.  A few years ago we found a great way to add growing space and beautify our outdoor living space at the same time.  We started using containers on our deck and in our pool area.  We can grow almost anything in containers, but our favorites are herbs. Growing herbs in containers allows us to have fresh herbs for cooking right outside our back door.

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It is amazing how productive even a small pot of herbs can be.  It is important to have good soil and water often.  Every night we clip a few leaves for dinner.  It was not long before we realized that these little marvels produced more than we needed.  It was time to learn a new skill, preserving herbs.  After some research and weighing the pros and cons of each, we settled on dehydration.  This method was quick, simple, and easy.  We already owned a dehydrator so the investment was zero, and this method used much less space than hanging them to dry.

We waited for our basil and oregano plants to have an abundance of leaves, which would allow us to harvest and still leave enough leaves for the plant to flourish.  We then harvested the largest leaves of basil with a scissor.  We also used scissors to snip the longest stems and leaves of the oregano, sort of like giving it a haircut.

We then placed the leaves on the trays of our dehydrator in a single layer keeping the leaves from touching to allow for good air circulation.

img_3288 The basil lays out nicelyimg_3285

The oregano is a bit unruly

 

We then set the dehydrator to 105 degrees Fahrenheit, and let the dehydrate for 24 hours.  Our house smelled faintly like an Italian restaurant and we waited patiently for the results.  It is important to let the herbs fully dry or they will not keep, so this is a step that cannot be rushed.  The should feel kind of like tissue paper and fall apart easily when crushed.

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The dried herbs were then placed into a bowl and then crushed.  We removed the stems from the oregano before crushing.

img_3296 The last step was to put the herbs into a mason jar for safe keeping.

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Herbs preserved in this way will last for more than a year, and there is something about a mason jar full of anything that appeals to us.  Opening the jar in the middle of winter and inhaling that amazing aroma takes you back to warmer days and excites you about the upcoming spring, even if it is months away.

Preserving herbs in this manor was one of the easiest things we have ever done on the homestead.  We are able to dehydrate pesticide and herbicide free herbs every other week from just 6 pots on our deck.  We make so many big plans on the homestead, but sometimes it’s the littlest ones that pay the biggest dividends.

cooking, farming, gardening, homemade, homesteading, kale, recipes

Freezing Kale, The Test of a Marriage

Why would freezing kale for the winter be a test of a marriage? Let us explain….

We live in the Northeast and our winters can be very long, and for an anxious gardener, it can be tough mentally. So as soon as possible, we like to get our hands dirty and get our cold weather crops in the ground, those that can tolerate a cold spring and even a little frost, such as spinach, collards, broccoli, some lettuces and of course, kale.

We jumped on the kale bandwagon a few years ago. We were curious about this proclaimed “super food”. We already loved spinach and all the ways it can be used, so why not try kale? It was love at first bite. We use kale in many ways, sautéed with a little garlic and olive oil, raw in salads, creamed kale, used to stuff pork loin and venison roasts (see our recipe for Kale and Sausage Stuffed Venison), mixed in our morning eggs, the list goes on and on.

Back to the marriage thing. Kale is just one of the vegetables that grows in abundance and gives you more than you think one little plant could. So, on an early June day, the question came, “Do you have anything I can put all this kale in?” I was a little frightened, but I suggested one of our large coolers as we have used a big cooler in the past to clean kale. So happily my husband went about his business picking kale and not one, but two, coolers arrived on our back deck and were full to the top!

Uh-oh, now the work of preserving begins, and the test of our marriage. We have a very traditional marriage here on the homestead, and not because we think each other has a place, but because we both enjoy our responsibilities and do them well. He loves everything outdoors and she loves to cook, preserve food, and take care of the house. It just works. But, an overwhelming amount of kale can be stressful to anyone!

The first step is to fill the coolers (sink or large bowl, whatever your cleaning vessel is) with enough water so that the kale floats. Give the kale a little agitation with your hands and leave it alone for at least 10 minutes. What happens is that any dirt, which is heavier than the kale, will fall to the bottom of the cooler. This trick also works for lettuce, broccoli, etc.

After the dirt has settled, the cleaning and stripping process begins. Get yourself set up with three large bowls. One for the un-cleaned kale, one for the leaves and one for the stems. You will see later that nothing goes to waste on a homestead.

Grab the kale stem by where it was removed from the plant and slide your other hand down the stem. The leaves will come off easily. For some of the bigger leaves, there is a secondary thick stem-like vein that will run through the leaves that we also remove.

Because of the overwhelming amount in this kale harvest, we decided to process it in small batches. It helps with keeping one from going “kale blind”. Once your cleaned kale bowl is full, it’s time to move to the kitchen. We were lucky, it was a beautiful June day so all of the cleaning could be done outside.

On your stovetop, bring a large pot of water to a boil and on your counter have a large bowl of ice water, a slotted spoon (or our favorite tool for this job is a spider, which is used for frying) and a colander for straining excess water.

Once the water is boiling, drop about two large handfuls of kale in the water and push it down with your spoon to immerse. In about five seconds, yes only five, the kale will wilt and become the most stunning shade of green. That’s your cue to remove it with your slotted spoon or spider and put it immediately in the ice water. This method is called “shocking”, which stops the cooking process and keeps that beautiful green color.

Once ice cold, transfer the kale to the colander and our trick here is to weigh it down with a small, but mighty, cast iron pan to aid in removing any excess water as we are not trying to make kale ice cubes here. Additionally, once the excess water is strained in the colander, we also hand squeeze bunches of kale to remove any remaining water.

The kale is then transferred to a large cookie sheet lined with wax paper, placed in one layer. Put the cookie sheet in the freezer for about 30 minutes to just set the kale enough to put in a zip top freezer bag or vacuum sealer bag. The pre-freezing helps with not making that giant kale cube. Trust us on this one, that mistake has been made. Label your bag, put in your slightly frozen kale, and before sealing, press out any excess air to keep away that dreaded freezer burn. Whenever you need, just grab a bag out of your freezer and take out a handful.

Remember all of those stems……fellow homesteaders know, nothing ever goes to waste!

It’s that easy, just time consuming, and hopefully, once you have spent your entire day processing two large coolers full of kale, you will still be married, and love your spouse for all his or her hard work. I know we do, especially next winter when we are enjoying the fruits, or vegetables in this case, of our labor!

gardening, Home Brewing, homemade, homesteading

The Best Father’s Day Gift Ever, Hops!!

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Many years ago on Father’s day, I received one very special gift.  It was a gift that would keep on giving.  No it wasn’t a membership in the “jelly of the month club”, it was a small Columbia hop plant.  I had brewed beer for years and always fantasized about growing my own hops.  I say that it was the gift that kept on giving because hops are perennial and come back every year.  I began to do some research and soon found out that hops can grow more than 20′ tall in a year. I would definitely need to build a hop trellis, and I also had to pick a location where they could grow year after year.  Hops are also deadly to dogs and cats, so I needed to keep them away from our pets.  I constructed a trellis from landscaping timbers and secured it to the ground with guide wires.  The wires would also serve as the place where the hops could climb.  I prepared the soil with peat moss and composted manure and planted my hops. IMG_5781

I was amazed at how fast the vine grew, sometimes more than a foot a day.  It curled its way up the wire and reached the top of my 16′ trellis quickly.IMG_6100

The vine then began to branch out and formed the beginnings of hop cones.  We stripped the leaves from the bottom few feet of the vine to prevent mold growth.  As the cones formed, I began to contemplate all of the delicious beer I would be brewing.IMG_6772

When the cones are fully formed, they will be full of lupulin inside.  It is a sticky yellow substance.  As I checked for ripeness, I smelled that familiar aroma.  Hops are ready to be picked when they sound like tissue paper being crushed.  We picked our hops and dried them on a screen, turning them twice a day. IMG_3139

After a few days we packed them in vacuum bags and put them in the freezer for future use.  Harvesting hops is a joyous occasion and it is customary to drink a beer when harvesting.  Hops have become a fun addition to the homestead and because they do not require replanting each year, they cost us almost no money to grow, just like our apple trees and vineyard.  We usually brew beer in the winter and adding our own hops to a recipe gives us a wonderful sense of satisfaction. Picking up a handful of your own hops and sniffing them makes you feel like a master brewer for a day.  Growing these hops will always remind me of that Father’s day, and I hope that bine(what the hop vine is called) and memory lasts as long as I do. So if you are a dad, drop a hint. If you have a dad, you now have a gift idea.  And when you brew your first batch of beer be sure to send one my way.

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cooking, farming, gardening, homemade, homesteading, recipes, salsa

Pork Empanadas with Primo and Mary’s Black Bean and Corn Salsa

As our fellow homesteaders are aware, the barter system is still alive and well. We have traded many things such as pickles, vegetables and honey for many other things, including the fertilized egg that gave us Mr. Wing (remember him?).

But, a new trade came about recently that was a little unconventional. Eggs and maple syrup for salsa. Yes, salsa. We have many of your basic pantry ingredients like flour, sugar, salt and spices, the usual suspects. We don’t buy or eat many pre-packaged foods, but this is the exception, and one we like to keep in the pantry. We have all heard the term, “if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it”, and there are some very scary labels out there, but not this one! It is Primo and Mary’s All Natural Salsa (primoandmarys.com). We know, seems like a shameless plug, but we assure you, it is not, and you won’t regret it.

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So, back to the trade…we had an abundance of chicken eggs for sale as well as some maple syrup and an old high school friend contacted us, the owner and founder of Primo and Mary’s. She wanted to buy both eggs and syrup. Now, we have had her salsa before, and loved it, so we knew that we had to at least try to arrange a trade since her products are not readily available to us locally. So a meeting was made, and of all places, in our Church parking lot one Sunday morning after services. So our proposition was to trade the maple syrup and eggs for some salsa and in return we would also create a recipe using her product and share it with all of you.

Pork Empanadas with Primo and Mary’s Black Bean and Corn Salsa

Empanada Dough

1 ½ c flour

1/2 tsp salt

2 tbsp shortening (Crisco)

3/4 c ice water

Empanada Filling

2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 lb ground pork (feel free to substitute ground beef or venison)

1/2 lime, juiced

1/3 c Primo and Mary’s Black Bean and Corn Salsa

1/2 avocado, diced

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1 egg white mixed with 1 tbsp cold water

To make the empanada “shells”, using a hand or stand mixer, combine the flour and salt, add the shortening and mix until the mixture looks like coarse sandy crumbs. With the mixer on, slowly add the water until the dough sticks together and cleans the side of the bowl. Gather in a ball, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

While the dough is resting, prepare the filling. In a cast iron pan, heat the olive oil on med high heat. Add the meat and cook until browned and no longer pink. Turn heat to low and add the salsa, avocado and cayenne pepper and the juice of the 1/2 lime. Stir to combine. Remove from heat.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Now the fun part! Grab about 1/4 of the dough and roll out to about 1/8th inch thickness on a well-floured board.  Using a 4” round cutter, or in our case a 4” round plastic container (homesteaders are great at improvising!) cut out the shells and set aside for filling. Gather the extra pieces and by hand, mix back in with the remaining dough.

Lay each shell out flat and in the center place about 2 tablespoons of the filling, we use our trusty 2 inch cookie dough scoop. Fold over the shell to create a half moon shape and using a floured fork, press the seam together to seal. Set on a greased baking sheet and repeat with the remaining filling and shells.

Mix together the egg white and water. Brush the tops of each empanada with the egg wash. Bake at 350 F for about 25 minutes or until the tops are golden brown. Serve with a side of the salsa for dipping and a black bean, corn and avocado salad dressed with a little lime juice and a sprinkle of cilantro. Enjoy!

There are lots of variations on the empanada, some are baked, some are fried, and they are all filled with an abundance of different ingredients. Use what you have in your pantry, and get yourself some of this amazing salsa!

We are blessed on the homestead with delicious fresh food, and bartering some of our surplus has become a great way to get more from our harvest than just the food itself.  Bartering allows you to make new connections and see old friends.  And it seems like every time we do it everyone leaves smiling.