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!

img_4178

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.

 img_4184

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.

Advertisements
canning, farming, gardening, garlic, glass gem corn, growing corn, homesteading, kale, peas

Homestead Harvesting, When the Real Work Begins

img_3833

As summer begins to wind down and the warm days of August begin to get shorter, we are blessed with the fruits of our hard labor. Plans made in February have now come to fruition. If we are lucky, large bags of produce begin to come in from the garden.  In some years we have failed crops, which have turned into lessons.  This time of year is a busy time and it is easy to see why our forefathers would have a party or festival after harvest time ends.  A few times of year will test your resolve as much as harvest season, that is why it is important to not only have a plan, but to posses the skills needed to make the most of your harvest.  Another consideration is space for your freshly grown food.  Early on we would often run out of freezer space and/or mason jars.  This is why it is important to think about the harvest early as you would when planning your garden. img_4011

Over the years we have learned how much food we really needed for the winter, we found it best to package our food so that we know how many meals are in each freezer bag.  Too many years we were down to only beans by February. There is one of those lessons learned!

 

 

Early on in the summer, kale, spinach and lettuce begin to come into the house.  We blanch and freeze the kale and spinach (see our previous blog on freezing kale).  We try to keep it in meal sized bags because it can be hard to break apart once frozen.  Sometimes we freeze it in ice cube trays in order to make smaller servings, each cube is perfect for an omelette in the morning.

 

 

Later, onions and garlic are harvested they are laid in the sun for a day or two, then hung in a cool place to cure.  It is important to have good airflow so an oscillating fan on a low speed can really help.  This year we braided the onions which not only helped them dry but made a beautiful display in our kitchen.

 

Next up are the squash and cucumbers.  These guys come in by the bucket load.  They can overwhelm you quickly.  We make lots of pickles and can them with a hot water bath canner.  They are very easy to make.  The squash becomes bread, dinners, and this year we pre-breaded and froze some.  Even with all of these uses we can not use up what we grow.  We came up with a great idea to build a small farm stand when our boys were little.

 

It encouraged them to help in the garden, and taught them a little bit about money.  As they got older and had jobs we took over the stand and use it as a means to offset our ever growing feed and seed costs.  It is fun to design the chalkboard that lists the prices.  And our neighbors are always happy when it is full.

 

In mid August, the tomatoes will start to ripen and it is time to put your nose to the grindstone.  Skinning, seeding, and canning every night can test even the best marriage. We know that there are food mills and products out there to aid in the process, but we find that hand skinning and seeding works best for us and has the highest yield. Plus, getting so up close and personal with your food just makes you appreciate it a little more.

Wave after wave of beautiful fruit will have you seeing tomatoes in your sleep, but you will be happy in December when you pop open a fresh jar from your own garden. A glass of wine while working makes the task seem less like chore, and if your are smart you buy your wife’s favorite vintage.  We can the tomatoes using a water bath canner as well.  If you are getting into homesteading this will be one of the first harvest tools you will need. You will never look at a can of tomatoes in the store the same again.

 

As the tomatoes slow down the peppers will speed up these are easily processed.  You can freeze smaller hot peppers whole.  We like to slice the bell peppers before freezing to save space. We also pickle some of the hot ones for sandwiches.  Along with peppers we harvest corn which we blanch on the cob and then cut off and freeze to save space.

img_3975

It is important to freeze in a thin layer on wax paper and then put it in a freezer bag.  If you don’t  you will have one big corn cube.

 

Throughout the summer and fall there are many other vegetables that get harvested such as peas, pumpkins, turnips, beets, beans, carrots and hops.

img_3926

Sometimes it seems like the harvest never ends and It can be overwhelming.  The real key is to put something up every night.  When your kitchen table is full of produce you need to attack it the way you attack a dirty room.  Start in one corner and work your way around.  Harvest time can seem glamorous and who doesn’t love to post their harvest pictures on instagram or facebook.  Never forget that these pictures are just a snapshot of hours of hard work and planning.  So the next time you bring in a bag of tomatoes and say “honey we have to can tomatoes tonight” make sure you stopped for that bottle of Chardonnay first.  Happy harvesting.

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

img_3653img_3655img_3658

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.

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.

img_3224

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.

img_0943

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.

img_3297

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!