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. 

 

Advertisements
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. 

backyard chickens, chickens, farming, homesteading, pigs

Adventures in Homesteading, a not-so-country girl’s perspective

cropped-img_9639.jpg

Often when we blog, it’s a joint effort, we both share our thoughts collectively. But, in this particular blog, I am going to give you the perspective of some of the adventures in homesteading from a girl who in no way, shape or form, grew up country or as a farm girl. In fact, I am a product of suburbia. I grew up in a nice house with a neatly manicured lawn on a tree-lined street, everything you might envision a suburb to be.

Fast-forward almost 27 years and here I am, on a small homestead helping to grow and raise our own food. I use the word “help” because I am definitely not the brains of the operation, I can’t even keep a house plant alive. However, I can blanch, freeze, preserve, can and cook just about anything you can imagine, often with rave reviews. Any good employer would tell you that the work team is only as good as its weakest link. And, until last week, I really felt like a pretty weak link. Then I had one of those “adventures in homesteading”.

If you follow us regularly, you know that here on our homestead we raise chickens and pigs. I have certainly experienced the occasional “chicken in the garden”, and anyone who knows me, knows I absolutely hate birds. My way of corralling them is usually with a gentle push from a plastic garden rake and if I have to, and only if I have to, I have been known to use oven mitts or my husband’s welding gloves to pick up a chicken and relocate it to where it belongs. (Just envision Ace Ventura in “When Nature Calls” returning that disgusting bat to its cave.) But, last week’s adventure was way beyond an escapee chicken.IMG_0301

I was pulling in the driveway after a long day, (these things always happen when you are maxed out!), talking to my husband on the phone when I said to him, “Oh my gosh, there is a bear in the yard!”. Now this is not really an unusual occurrence because we have seen bears on many occasions in our yard and on trail cameras not far from our home. But on second look, I quickly realized that it was not a black bear but our almost 300 lb black pig, Olive (named so because of her resemblance to a black olive as a piglet) in the yard, out of her pen! Then suddenly, her co- conspirators, “Pinky and Spot”, came to greet me at the car. Now what? Remember I told you that I was speaking to my husband, the brains of this homestead, on the phone? He was on his way home from work, but still nearly an hour away and instructed me to go get some food to try and lure them back into the pen.

So, time to dig deep. I am certainly not afraid of the pigs. They are sweet, loving, smart animals. But all three at nearly 300 lbs scared me a little because I am no match for a pig that size. If one them leaned on my legs, I would be knocked over in a second. Here is the ironic part, and you just can’t make this stuff up, all three were scheduled to go to the butcher the following morning. Somehow, I feel like they must have known and decided to escape.

Back to the luring. I quickly ran to get the food, and of course, as things happen, I needed to open a new feed bag. I opened the first one I saw and filled about half of a 5 lb bucket, ran back to the front yard and fortunately, we do sell a bit of what we grow, and the rascals, I mean pigs, found a pile of ornamental corn that we had for sale. Ok, this is good, they are all in one place.

img_1492

We live on a pretty quiet street that a lot of people walk, run and bike on. A lovely couple passed by as the pigs were annihilating the ornamental corn, and just like it was perfectly normal to see 1000 lbs of pigs in someone’s front yard, they commented on how beautiful they are. I tried my best to smile and thanked them, but you can only imagine what was going through my mind. Back to the wrangling. I grabbed some of the corn and put it in the feed bucket. I made a “trail of corn cobs” towards the pig pen. At one point, “Pinky” desperately wanted the corn in the bucket and she went whole head in. I finally lured Pinky into the pen, and knowing their eating habits, I poured out the contents of the bucket and the other two slowly followed.

Keep in mind, my husband is still on the phone, I am sure feeling helpless and laughing quietly at the same time. (I don’t frequently use foul language, but I needed to wash my mouth out with soap later that night.) He instructed me to try and find how the pigs got out. I surveyed the fence but could not find anything on first glance. After my 45 minute adventure to get them back in, there was no way in you-know-what, that I was leaving them un-attended until the brains got home. So I watched, and waited until….

Pinky bolted, and I mean bolted, for a lower part of the fence. I truly had no idea that pigs could run that fast. (not a country girl, remember?) Fortunately, I followed her and got there first. She lead me right to where they got under the fence. I was able to hold the fence down with my foot and when she realized she was not going to win, she went and laid down for a nap, which I also needed. This was about the time that my better-late-than-never husband arrived. The first thing he said when he saw the food pile, “you gave them chicken food!” We laughed and at the same time, I was exhausted from yet another “adventure in homesteading”.

When I lay my head down every night, I often survey my day and I always hope that I accomplished something. On this particular day, I went to sleep pretty proud of myself for being able to get those pigs back in their pen on my own. I still don’t consider myself a farm or country girl, and I am not ashamed to admit that I paint my nails and get my hair done every month. But on this day, I definitely graduated to a “Homestead Momma”. And oddly, I smiled a bit knowing that not only did I have another “adventure in homesteading”, but I was able to share it with those pigs who were off to freezer camp the next morning. Thank you, girls.

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.