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. 

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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!

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.

backyard chickens, cooking, duck eggs, ducks, farming, homemade, homesteading, raising ducks, recipes

Maple Bourbon Smoked Duck, what “farm to table” means to us

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The term “farm to table” is another one of those terms, in our opinion, that is way over used and frankly, not even used properly. If we were to define our way of homesteading, we would say that the term, “farm to table” applies. On our homestead, we have ducks and chickens. (Our ducks were introduced to you in an earlier blog, so look that up if you did not see it) In all farm or homesteading life, most of the animals serve a purpose, such as eggs from the hens and ducks as well as their meat.  Last fall, we hatched 14 ducklings and ended up with a total of 7 males and 7 females.

As in life and nature, too many boys are not a good thing! Frequent fights and domination can cause quite a ruckus in a flock of ducks. So the tough decision has to be made, it was time to thin the flock. We have a friend that already had a female duck that mentioned that they wanted to get another duck for a mate. So of course, we offered one of our boys and they gratefully took it off our hands. As for three other males, we carefully, and as respectfully as possible, butchered them. No other details necessary here. They went into the freezer for a later meal.

Easter was fast approaching and in thinking of what we had in the freezer for our Easter dinner, we remembered the ducks. One of our favorite ways to have any of our fish or meat is brined and smoked. We have yet to perfect our home-built smoker, so in the meantime we use one that is a part of our gas grill. The wood we use for smoking is apple wood, and yup, you guessed it, from our small orchard of apple trees.

Maple Bourbon Glazed Smoked Duck

1 duck, 2-3 lbs

Cracked black pepper

The Brine (also great for chicken and pork)

4 cups of cold water

¼ cup of kosher salt

¼ cup maple syrup

1 oz of bourbon

1 tsp cracked black pepper

The Glaze

¼ cup maple syrup

1 tbsp bourbon

Whisk together the brine ingredients until the salt is dissolved. Pour over the duck in a large bowl. If you don’t have enough brine to cover the duck, don’t panic, just add a little more water. We also use a trick here that we learned from making sauerkraut. Place a small plate over the duck in the brine and it helps to keep it immersed and to keep it from “floating”. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours.

About an hour before cooking, soak the apple wood chips in warm water.

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After 6 hours, remove the duck from the brine and rinse the duck inside and out thoroughly with cold water. Place the duck on the smoker rack, and season simply with a sprinkle of black pepper. (let the smoke do the seasoning for you!) Smoke the duck according to your smoker’s directions with the wood chips that you have been soaking. We smoke ours at about 225 degrees for 2 hours or until the internal temp reaches 165 degrees. (There are varying degrees of duck “doneness”, this is just our preference.)

After the first hour of smoking, mix the glaze ingredients. Brush the glaze over the duck, then brush again every 15 minutes. After the agonizing wait for your duck to be done, remove from the smoker and enjoy!

So there it is, the epitome of “farm to table”, or in our case, “homestead to table”. We strongly believe in treating our animals, which also become our food, with dignity and respect from their births all the way to nourishing our tired bodies from the homestead life. It’s not any easy life, but the rewards are countless. A meal in our house never goes by without thanking the animals for giving their lives for us, or thanking each other for the time spent caring for the animals, gardening, canning, freezing or preserving, and cooking the meal.

cooking, cooking venison, cooking wild game, homemade, homesteading, recipes

How to Make Corned Venison Move Over Corned Beef

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Every Year when St. Patrick’s Day rolls around everyone thinks of corned beef, but here on the homestead we do it a little different.  We make corned venison and it has now become sort of a tradition, which we love.  We have no illusion that this is some sort of  long lost traditional Irish meal. Much like Rome was not built in a day, neither is corned venison.  Planning for this dish starts when we are butchering the deer in the fall.  We always set aside the roast that looks most like brisket for our corned beef and be sure to label it as such.  About a week before we defrost the roast, and then the magic happens.

Corned Venison 

1 venison brisket, about 3-4 lbs (feel free to substitute beef, also delicious!)

2 garlic cloves, cut in half

The Brine

1 quart of water

1/2 cup kosher salt

1/4 cup white vinegar

2 tbsp sugar

2 bay leaves

1/2 tsp whole peppercorns

1/4 tsp mustard seeds

In a sauce pot, combine all the brine ingredients and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Once dissolved, set aside to cool. I am kind of impatient, so I use a little trick I learned from my grandma, pour the hot brine into a heat proof glass measuring cup, then put the measuring cup in a metal bowl of ice water. Stir occasionally and your mix will be cool in no time.

 

 

 

Place your brisket and garlic in a large gallon size freezer bag and pour the brine over it. Seal the bag, place the bag in a baking dish and refrigerate for 6-7 days, turning once each day.

 

 

 

After those very long days, remove your brisket (don’t be alarmed by its color, the “cooking” process has already started from the vinegar and salt) and thoroughly wash off the brine under cold water.

 

 

 

Place the brisket in a large pot, add one beer and enough cold water to fully immerse the brisket and cover. Bring the liquid/brisket to a boil, turn down to a simmer and allow to cook, covered for about 2 hours, or until the brisket is cooked through. In the last 20 minutes or so, add cut up potatoes, cabbage and carrots.

 

 

 

Just for comparison, the sliced meat on the top of the plate (darker in color) on the left is the corned venison, the other is a flat cut store-bought corned beef. The venison is much leaner and you won’t believe how great it tastes, you may never go back to that store bought one!   Whenever we treat venison like other meats we are pleasantly surprised with the results.  Having so many delicious recipes for venison allows us to make full use of our yearly harvests, and having another versatile source of protein makes us more self sufficient, even on St. Patrick’s Day.