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. 

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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. 

backyard chickens, chickens, duck eggs, ducks, farming, gardening, raising ducks, raising turkeys, turkeys

Beginning Homesteading Its All About The Birds

When we first moved to our first and only home 23 years ago the first thing we did was plant a garden. We always loved to grow things and as time went by the garden expanded, but something was still missing.  One day while visiting a friend, we realized what was missing.  He had a beautiful flock of laying hens free ranging in his yard.  As we talked with him they scratched and ate, he even gave us a few eggs to take home and try.  When we cracked them open for breakfast the next morning,and saw the beautiful yolks, we knew it was time for us to take the leap into chickens and homesteading. img_1077

Laying hens are an inexpensive and easy way to raise your own food, even in a small space.  We converted part of our shed into a coop, and built a run made of wire that we salvaged from a friends junk pile. The inside of the coop was 4’x8′ which was plenty of room for 6 birds, nesting boxes and a roost.  The run was 8’x8′. Predators are always an issue so we were sure to bury a few boards along the edge of the run.  Now comes the fun part, ordering chicks!!!  We chose various breeds that were all good brown egg layers.  We ordered them through our local feed store, this limited our variety, but saved us on shipping, which can run as high as 35 dollars.  Ordering straight run chicks is like playing craps so be sure to order chicks that are already sexed, so you do not end up with roosters. When the chicks arrive they will need to be put in a brooder, which is really just an enclosed space with a heat lamp.  When you pick up your chicks the bonding will begin immediately.

 

We found ourselves spending lots of time with them.  Sometimes we would even hold them while we watched T.V. We put our first set of chicks in a brooder in our sons room to keep them safe.  This was a huge mistake, although they were safe they began to smell, and made a lot of dust .  This was not our best parenting moment, we knew when our son started sleeping on the couch that it was time for them to go to the garage.  After about 8 weeks, we moved them to the coop with a heat lamp.  It takes 20 weeks for most hens to start laying eggs, which is an eternity when you are a new homesteader.  We would run out and check for eggs every morning like kids on Easter morning. Finally we were rewarded with one tiny egg, and then another, and another.   Soon our whole flock was laying and we were now raising our own protein for the first time.

 

In the beginning we ate egg after egg, but over time we couldn’t keep up with our girls .  So we started giving eggs to family and friends.  Our chickens provided us with so many lessons and adventures.  One sunny summer afternoon we finally let the ladies out to free range under our watchful eyes, and with a glass or two of wine we watched them scratch and eat bugs just as we had always wanted.  As the sun set the girls put themselves to bed. IMG_9777 I remember Tracy calling me at work to say the chickens were in the garden.  I came home to her in a pair of welding gloves trying to pick up chickens.  Or when we decided to have a rooster and she was fighting it off with a rake. (if you read her previous blog, “Adventures in Homesteading, a not-so-country girl’s perspective, you learned that she is not a bird person!) IMG_6183 (1)

From this simple beginning our homestead grew and we eventually built the girls a new coop, that was a beautiful addition to our yard.

They say chickens are a gateway animal, and they are right.  Most birds are similar to raise and soon after the chickens we ventured into ducks.  If watching chickens is like reading a good book, then watching ducks is like tuning into a NASCAR race.  They are so full of sounds and energy.  They lay more eggs than a chicken.  We love to herd the ducks back into the coop at night, its as if they share one brain and move more like a school of fish than a flock of ducks. Plus who doesn’t love a “duckface” selfie.

 

After ducks the next logical step was turkeys.  How could we resist raising our own thanksgiving dinner?  We raised the turkeys separate from the chicken, but it wasn’t long before we realized that even the fattest turkey can fly.

 

The turkeys loved to escape and feed with the chickens.  Seeing a 20 lb bird walking in your yard can only make you smile.  Tucking a turkey under your arm is a little different than doing the same with a chicken, whether you have welding gloves on or not.  Raising birds has so many benefits eggs, meat,  entertainment, tick control, and don’t forget all that manure for the garden.  We couldn’t imagine our homestead without the birds and their noises.  Our homestead adventure started with a simple visit to a friends house.  Who knows where yours will start, but when it does don’t forget the birds.

 

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.

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

Homestead Harvesting, When the Real Work Begins

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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.

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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.

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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.