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.

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

Sausage and Kale Stuffed Venison

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At any given time, if you ask us what is in our freezer right now, we can give you a pretty accurate inventory. For those of you who live a similar lifestyle to us, you understand that it is essential to know what you have, what you are running out of, what needs to be used ASAP, and what you might need.

That being said, we have to figure out daily, the answer to “what’s for dinner?”, in a different way. Today while thinking of what was in the freezer, we decided it would be a venison night (we eat venison at least once a week, if not more). Then comes the inventory….what else do we have to make a simple venison roast spectacular and how are we going to prepare it?

The answer came in the form of a Sausage and Kale Stuffed Venison with an Onion Dijon Mustard Sauce. Who ever said homestead eating was boring???

The Recipe

Venison Roast (2-3 lb.)

1/2 lb bulk Italian sausage, sweet or hot

1/4 cup frozen cooked kale

1 small onion, chopped

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

1/3 cup Vermouth or white wine for de-glazing pan

1 cup chicken stock

Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper

Butcher’s twine

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a cast iron pan lightly coated in olive oil, over med/high heat, brown the sausage. Once browned, toss in the kale and stir to combine. Remove from heat and set aside.

Using a very sharp knife, butterfly the roast. Slice the roast in half as if you were going to filet it, but do not go all the way through. Open the roast like a book. Then on the left side, working from the middle crease, filet the roast again, also not going all the way through, open the flap you just created, then repeat on the right side. (I will confess here, I learned this technique years ago from a youtube video, so feel free to look that up) You will end up with a relatively flat quadruple sized roast. Lay a gallon sized freezer bag over the meat and pound out to about 1/2 inch uniform thickness.

Using about an 18″ piece of butchers twine, make a loop in one end and slide under the roast as shown. Spoon the sausage/kale mixture over the meat and spread out leaving about 1/2 around the edge. Set your cast iron pan aside as you will use it for the sauce.

Now the fun part. Start to roll up the roast as tight as you can, rolling away from you and keeping the twine underneath. Once rolled, place the seam side down. Grab the loose end of the twine and feed it through the loop. Wrap the twine around the roast and when you come back around, feed your loose end under the twine and repeat until you get to the end of the roast. Tie off in a knot and cut off any excess.

Season the outside with salt and pepper and roast on an olive oil coated rack on a baking sheet. 60 minutes for med rare, adding additional time for more well done meat.

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While the venison is roasting, add a drizzle of olive oil to the cast iron pan you cooked the sausage in, and heat to medium. Once heated, add the onion and cook until the onion is caramelized and yummy. Remove the pan from the heat and add the vermouth or wine. Return the pan to the heat and stir with a whisk, picking up all of the leftover sausage bits. Once all of the bits are off the pan and combined, and the vermouth is reduced by about 1/2, add the mustard and chicken stock. Stir to combine and heat through. Turn the heat off.

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After the roast is cooked to your liking, remove it to a cutting board. Let the roast rest for 10 minutes. Carefully cut and remove the twine and slice your stuffed roast. I like to cut it on a bit of an angle, it just looks so pretty! Arrange the slices on a plate, quickly heat the sauce and pour over the sliced roast. Enjoy!!!

NOTE: This recipe also works great for pork loin, or beef roast. Feel free to substitute spinach for the kale. Also, if you are not a fan of cooking with alcohol, simply go straight to the chicken stock. Which, by the way is  another item always in the freezer since all of our roast chicken (homestead raised, of course!) meals end in a beautiful stock for future for soups, sauces and gravy.