Archive for October, 2008

Reader’s Question: Can I render beef fat the same way pork lard is rendered?  If so, how do I store it once its rendered?

Phelan’s Answer: Cook the beef slowly in a medium heat oven. Do not add any flavoring to the beef. Allow it to cool a bit, then pour up to 1 cup of the tallow into a plastic zip-lock bag, push out as much air as possible. Lay flat (baking sheet will help) in the freezer. Then just break it off as needed.

Monica’s Answer: Pretty much all fat can be rendered. Though each can have a slightly different color and taste. Here’s how I do mine. Cook slowly in oven, with low to medium heat, until fat is melted and solids have sunk to bottom. Not all pieces will melt completely– you can squoosh them with a spoon to disperse more of their oil though (be careful of splatter) Complete melting takes a few hours at about 250 to 300 depending on pan size. Then either 1) let cool and pull off cleanest fat then remelt to poor into storage containers or 2) ladle only clear fat off top…being careful not to get solids or “dirty” fat from bottom of pan.  For storage I prefer canning jars, over plastic anything, which I put into freezer or fridge. You can line the jars up in a small rubbermaide container, snap lid on, and put in bottom of freezer if you worry about breaking. I have never had any break in my chest freezer though and basically just lay them in there. I dig around to find one when I need it.  When your fat cools it should be very close to white or completely white in color when using beef, pork, sheep, or goat.

Nita’s Answer: I do both tallow and lard the same.  In the oven at a low temperature like Monica. I always cut any visible meat chunks off before rendering, and it is helpful to score the fat in a grid to help it release the melted fat easier.  As it melts, I pour the liquid fat off, through a screen into my containers, which are placed on a thick layer of newpapers.  I do keep the leaf fat (from around the kidneys) separate for use in cooking.  Tallow for soap is poured into plastic containers I use for my soapmaking, and when it is solidified I unmold it and store it in a plastic bag in my freezer.  For lard I use for cooking, I pour it into wide mouth canning jars, and if the lard is for soap, I pour it into recycled cans.  Everything is labeled with date, intended use, and if it was rancid or not, and stored in the freezer.  The lard in canning jars just gets transferred to the fridge when I am ready to use it.  Pork fat is softer than beef fat so it can scorch, render lard at a lower temperature.  So just judge the process as you go, if it is browning your oven is too warm.  I never have had good results with the stovetop/water method.   Photo shows tallow on bottom for soap making and lard in the canning jar.

We welcome your questions and look forward to answering them every first and fifth Friday of the month.  If you have a question for our panel, please email it to mtkatiecakes@yahoo.com

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we had a lot of fun recently dying silks using plants. we chose 2 readily available items…poke berries and black walnuts. it took about 2 weeks total to do.

first, i filled 2 half gallon jars with each. then, i mushed the berries a bit in their jar (the walnut hulls i just broke up roughly & stuffed in. i added enough water to fill each jar to the top. i set them out in the sun for about a week, shaking every day.

the next week, we strained out the plants and added 1/4 teaspoon of alum to each jar. you can find alum in the spice section at the grocery store.

next, in go the silks. we bought ours from dharma trading. (the 35 x 35 make a great size).

push them in with a stick and make sure they are covered. let them sit for up to another week, shaking & stirring daily, turning them with a stick to get all areas evenly exposed.

the longer they sit, the darker they get. drain out the liquid and rinse with cool water until the water is clear.

black walnut rinsed and wet:

black walnut dry. can you see the leaf design??? that was a total accident caused by wrinkled fabric but a really nice one.

poke wet:

and dry:

now all that’s left to do is play with them!

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Possible conversation between neighbor couple next door, upon looking from their backyard down the swale and seeing this new development on our lot:

Him: Aw, Sheez, Lurlene, now  what did they put back there?

Her: Oh, no…surely not more plastic buckets?

Him: No, it’s something big, like a pile of something. A REALLY BIG pile. Maybe fill dirt…?

Her:  Oh, dear…I have a bad feeling about this…

Him:  That isn’t a pile, it’s its own landform!  It’s so big I can’t see over the top of it.  Am I going to have to look at that every day?  Well, look at the bright side…at least now we can’t see the buckets

Her:  I wonder what they’re up to this time?

Him:  Dunno, maybe they’re excavating to put in a pool.  Y’know, retaining wall, natural stone…

Her:  Um, Earl…I don’t think those are rocks in that pile

Him:  (realization dawning…)  GREAT SCOTT! IT’S A GI-NORMOUS MOUNTAIN OF POO  !!!

Her:  (after a long pause and a longer pull at her beer)  Hunh.  (scratching head) Ok, well let’s look at the bright side.  Whatever it’s for, that’s enough to last a long time.  They won’t need any more…EVER.

Him:  (under his breath)  Record cold year predicted or not, Michigan’s looking better and better.  Maybe we shouldn’t have come down for the Florida season this early… 

Her:  You can’t seriously mean that, Earl!  We just got here, and I’m NOT packing up those boxes again after I just got them UN-packed.   (Lurlene now stares fixedly at her CD collection with annoyance, and her foot begins tap-tap-tapping)


Meanwhile, back at the Back Forty…Robbyn and Jack staring at the same big pile…

Robbyn:  Did he have any problems getting that huge trailer back onto the road??

Jack:  No, apparently not…he just headed back home.

Robbyn:  (squealing uncontrollably, and pointing to The Big Pile of Poo)  It’s OURS, ALL OURRSSS!!

(both start dancing an unwieldy jig )

Robbyn:  Oh, my gosh, I’m so happy.  This isn’t just a big huge pile o’ poo, it’s the future of our garden!!  I’m feeling lightheaded…I’m actually seeing all pink and fuzzy right now.  This is one gorgeous bunch of horse hockey!  It’s a classic, a Degas, a Renoir, a Cezanne…we’ve hit the jackpot, Jack! 

Jack:  It’s a Matterhorn of Scat…a Scatterhorn!  If I weren’t a manly man, I’d weep openly…

Robbyn:  I had no idea your friend would bring so much of this stuff…WOW!

Jack:  Did you actually kiss the man?

Robbyn:    I can’t remember…I lost all vision for a second and heard angelic music…but I sure could kiss his horses!

Jack:  I’m envisioning so many things right now…NOW we can HAVE A GARDEN…well, one not completely in buckets, at least.  I see…(pause)   I see… (pause)       I see…

Robbyn:  …please don’t say “dead people”

Jack:  No, no…I see hundreds, no, thousands of square foot gardens!  It will start here, and then continue on down the road…they’ll fill the neighborhood, maybe the entire city limits…it’ll be revolutionary simplicity and bountiful and no one will go hungry.  I’ll be a regular Masanobu Fukuoka!

Robbyn:   …well, there’s no reason to use that kind of language…

Jack:  No…don’t you SEE??  We can HAVE A BIG GARDEN NOW!!  And guess what?  He’s going to bring MORE!!

Robbyn:  (feeling faint)   NO – wuh.    WAYY.

Jack:  YES WAY!  He even said we can come over and see his horses, like right now this afternoon!  I showed him a lot of the things we have growing in buckets, and he now refers to us as The People Who Grow the Weird Stuff

Robbyn:  Heh heh.  Oh wow, what’re we waiting for!  Let’s GO!  Oh, wait, I need to take them something to thank them. Hmmm, ah well, I’ll go pick them some fresh Weird Stuff.      Hey, did you see that?  Earl and Lurlene just drove by pulling a U-Haul…they didn’t even wave.  Wonder what’s up?

Jack:  Dunno, but I hope Lurlene’s not playing the Dixie Chicks again, in one of her moods…always makes Earl a little nervous on a road trip.


And now back to our regularly scheduled blog

Obviously we were given some great horse manure today!   We got it because we asked.  We’re shy, but starting with Jack, who’s less shy than I, we introduced ourselves.  It started with buckets of poo…they had too much, needed to give it to someone.  They filled and we’d pick up, and then Neighbor Friend said he could bring a trailer load over.  A BIG trailer!  After today’s load, he’s willing to bring them regularly.  I seriously could kiss all his horses.

We went over there today (you know I DID kiss the horses, yeah)…and I was in horse heaven.  There was a rescue horse there who sent out his horsey, brown-eyed Please Scratch Me Again Lady vibes to me, and I was a girl in love.

What’s this all about, posting about this?

I had started writing earlier today about limitations, my own, but also all of ours in general…limitations that keep us from believing that we can have something uniquely ours as far as homesteader mindset, lifestyle, skills…our Best Life…a return to things in our hearts but not in our mainstream culture, and that steep steep learning curve.

I was going to compare it to the situation today, about our economy, and about a population arriving at a precipice of realization, yet “stuck”…partially prepared at best, and with much unlearned.  Another steep learning curve of returning to a more practical way of life, of necessity, because of alarming crisis.

If necessity is the mother of invention, perhaps in our time we’re having to invent a way back…finding a way despite our limitations.  We’re not just “stuck” right now…we’ve been “stuck” for a good while now…yet making progress at the same time.

The ol’ “homesteading mentality/lifestyle” and its many diverse expressions finds itself in closer proximity to today’s confused and struggling mainstream that’s quickly shifting to adapt…backwards…in the truest sense of the word “revolution” whose root word is “revolve” –to circle back around to.

Our efforts to reduce, get out of debt, do the many things that fit into our idea of the life we want (grouped loosely under the term Homesteading) began before this economic downturn.  We’d had setbacks that convinced us of how fragile our own world could be, even while it was going well with most other folks.  Our own circumstances precipitated our changes, and the implementing of the processes that would serve these mutual goals and dreams.  We’re in the beginning stages yet, in most areas.

And I am intimidated by all the many women and men out here who have many of these things mastered, who do them on a continual basis as part of their everyday life, though it’s not glamorous and is often an endurance course.  I want to be them, I want to be all of you.  I struggle with feeling inadequacy as I attempt a single, tiny, skill, while others are crossing off entire reams of lists of their awesome and foundational accomplishments.  I’m amazed at the endurance and the know-how, and the wisdom.  I think there are other greenhorns in the same boat with me, wondering if they have what it takes to put those toes in the water for the very first time, while everyone else is diving.

Well, we gotta go in!

As we enjoyed reading up on the many skills we wished to have, we ran across a sentiment prevalent with some that promoted the idea that you must be strong, healthy, young, and fancy-free in order to be a “true homesteader.”  I’m not sure that’s the case, but it was discouraging for me to read those, as I am none of those things.  I hate the idea that I’m past a perceived “prime” and have missed my window of opportunity by twenty-three years.  My limitations are real, and we’re not getting any younger.

I find more hope in doing what is at hand, and embracing the blunders.  We don’t go blindly into this…we spend a great deal of time planning what we hope is the wisest course based on priorities, trying to preserve security in different areas, and trying to shift our current dependency on a vascillating and unpredictable Other and instead implement a simplicity basic enough to be supplied by Self.  We’re people of a certain faith, and we believe God helps us with these endeavors…so I’m not saying we’re “self-made”…but we shift the responsibility more squarely onto our own shoulders by realizing we are not easy victims (of economic downturns, job stresses, inflation, bad/good housing market, etc etc) if we exercise the choices we DO have despite our limitations.

This is not a pie in the sky Pollyanna idealism, if it’s deliberate, well thought out, and tackled with a plan that can be adapted to further changes.  And it’s not to say WE do it well, yet.  But I’m so so tired of the weariness and confusion and panic I hear on the news and other places. 

I’d like to encourage myself and others that we can do with what we have, and that includes our limitations.  Were the world dependent on only the young to go around, we’d lose the valuable resource of elders, the wisdom of those who have a lot of experience.  Theirs is the other half of the communal voice, and oftentimes is the missing half.  No matter what age, there are limitations.

Chronic illness, disabilities, debt or insolvency, family responsibilities (children, spouse, aging parents), educational issues, situational or mobility issues, age, social standing (and so many other things) …at some point one or more of these will be a factor in our lives.  I don’t think any of them have to bench us.

As life hits and hits hard, and that/those big limitation(s) manifest and just not go away, how do we respond?  We may even be a victim, for a time, but to not remain one, we exercise a powerful thing…Choice.  Unless we’ve lost all our mental faculties, we always have a choice…somehow.  It might not be the set of choices we want, but we’re not “stuck”…not permanently.  Is that a huge pile of stinking horse manure, or is it the ticket to a garden of possibilities?

Let’s not lose hope, and let’s acknowledge that limitations are a reality.  That makes me much more comfortable within this like-minded group of kindred spirits from every corner of the world who desire so many of the same things and share so many similarities.  I don’t have to know how to do ANY of it, to begin.  I don’t have to have special equipment to try at least a modified version of many necessary skills.  I can knead bread dough by hand if I don’t have a mixer and dough hook.  If I can’t physically knead, there are no-knead recipes.  And so on, and so on…

I’m not even saying let’s infuse some pumped-up optimism into a dismal situation.  Our situation might BE a big pile of dung, but we CAN DO SOMETHING…and in that, there is hope. 

A very good proverb states that in the abundance of counsel, there is victory.  I realize more and more every day how human connections are a tangible strength, if it’s with people headed on the same path.  Were it not for this neighbor who is generous enough to share something he doesn’t want…the horse manure…we’d be having to go another route with our planting this spring.  We’d do with less, and produce less.  Because of some (on our part shy!) over-the-fence conversations with a neighbor, possibilities present themselves.  And if our garden enjoys any success, that produce will be shared with him.

We had another family tragedy happen this weekend.  And we had this wonderful experience with our neighbor.  We are working with personal and circumstantial limitations, and don’t have the fancy tools, the physically-fit bodies (yet…just sore ones now!), and many of the other things we’d call “ideal” for what we want to do.  We’ll plan on the further limitations ahead, as we want to continue doing for ourselves as long as possible…yes, we’ll figure into anything else we build whatever we can think of that will make our later years a bit less of a chore (doorways, stairs, showers, finances, gardening, etc)…all these things will be adapted as much as possible NOW for later limitations to be as low-impact as possible.

In both these darker economic times, as well as in better days ahead, there are ways to retain choices and a steady implementation of our Best Life within our limitations.  We look for opportunity, and those shy ones of us can at least walk up to the fence and venture a friendly Hello.

You never know what can happen then!  Gifts sometimes come our way, depending on our persective.  We need each other, and to appreciate each other “as is,” even if just for the chat, the laugh, the shared confidences.

Sometimes, even in the midst of a lack of one thing, we’ll be given an abundance of another… it’s all in what we make of opportunities, or how we choose to view a situation. 

One horse’s poo IS another man’s treasure 🙂

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Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by Gina

There was a time in my young adult life when I wasn’t as focused on homesteading as I am now. In fact, I could barely focus on home. I wandered about for a few years, looking for a place that felt “right”. Around my mid-twenties, I decided on the mysterious and beautiful desert Southwest. I applied for a job on a whim, a long shot that I would even qualify, and lo and behold, I got the job. Soon, I had a trunk full of belongings and my beloved dog Isaac packed and was on the road to a place 7 states away, where cacti, scorpions and snakes grew in abundance.


This time of year is bittersweet for me. I moved to Tucson in September, the beginning of my favorite season, and eventually I would move back to Indiana in October (a few years later). The last time I was in Tucson was also late October, a trip that would forever seal in a broken heart as I broke off a marriage that was suppose to take place three months later. A decision that would forever change my life.


The desert itself was intoxicating, alluring. It was a place where beautiful, yet venomous creatures dabbled with strangely gorgeous, but sinister flora.  To the day I left, I never stopped being enchanted with the place. Even the people, the ones that truly defined what being a Native American means in a nation of immigrants, were captivating to me. I still remember visiting Little Mexico (a small town located inside Tucson) in the course of my job and visiting the traditional, extended family homes where a perpetual pot of pinto beans cooked all night on the stove, filling the house with a smell that made me want to move in and be a part of that ancient culture.


When I landed in the sea-less shores of Sonora, I could barely speak anything outside American English. When I left Tucson, I could roll “R’s” expertly and carry on a simple conversation in broken Spanish. One of my favorite words was ristra, a word that dropped off the tongue like honey.


Ristra is basically a string of chili peppers. They were made in late summer and early fall after the annual chili pepper harvest. Hanging the peppers is still a common method of dehydrating the peppers. The peppers are then used throughout the year to make chili pepper and seasonings. It is also a popular belief that by hanging a strand of peppers in your house will not only bring you good luck, but is also a symbol of welcome to visitors.


The first time I saw a ristra vendor standing on a busy corner in downtown Tucson, the bright red strings of chilies & festive hot pepper wreaths mesmerized me like blood. Soon after arriving, I stopped one day and in my terrible Spanish ordered four big strings still smelling sweetly of drying jalapenos from the tiny woman who more than likely lived in the area before Arizona was a part of the United States.


I sent those ristra through the mail to a friend, my siblings and my parents that year. I wanted to share a piece of all the magical things I was experiencing out in the desert. Later, my sister would call to tell me the ristra arrived intact, but rotten and full of fruit flies. She salvaged what she could and actually used them.


Years later, I now always grow hot peppers of various degrees of shape and heat. I freeze most of them to add to chili and soups throughout the year, however, I always save the last of the crop to string into my own version of a Midwest ristra. By spring, the peppers will wrinkle and shrink, turning from bright red to a dark crimson. Once they turn brittle, you can snip them off the strand and pulverize them into chili powder.


A ristra makes a great holiday gift. If you don’t live in the desert SW, you can make one with your own pepper harvest in the fall. Let a portion of your crop turn red for the prettiest ristras.



How to Make a Traditional Ristra


You’ll need:


Approx. 4 pounds of hot peppers (make sure they have good stems)

Cotton string or florist’s wire

Twine for the handle


  1. Hold three peppers by their stem and tie them together with a piece of string. Wrap the string several times around each stem and then all the stems.
  2. Loop the sting inside the pods and bring it back up to the stems. Make a half-hitch knot and pull it snuggly.
  3. Continue tying groups of three or four peppers along the string, keeping them at least 3-4 inches apart.
  4. Once you have enough peppers on the string, hang it up. Make a loop in the end to keep the chili peppers from falling off. Start to braid the peppers around the twine using the twine as one of the strands and the peppers as the other strand.
  5. As you braid, keep pushing the center down to ensure the string is tight. Spread the peppers around evenly. It’s similar to French braiding hair. Make the strand as long as you like (if the original string gets to heavy, just break it and start again attaching the new section. You can tie it into a wreath shape as well, but using a stronger wire (like a coat hanger) will make a better wreath.
  6. Keep the ristra in a drier area as the peppers can rot or mold. Direct sun is OK, but will last longer out of direct sunlight. Some cultures (namely the Cajun) add garlic to their strands.


Unfortunately, I had computer issues last night and couldn’t post pictures (same reason I am late posting this today). I’ll try to add those in later when I get my home computer working (hopefully tonight!) I found a great tutorial, however, and it explains in words and pictures what exactly a half-hitch is and how to braid those peppers around the string (plus, the site offers an intriging chili sauce recipe!)

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Last summer when gas prices started climbing the poll question of the day was “how high does gas need to go to affect your driving?” Recently they commented that gas prices had gotten high enough to affect American drivers. The media is myopic though…it isn’t just high gas prices but food prices, lay offs, job losses etc that have contributed over the past year not only to our driving less, but our overall lifestyle being changed. Some argue it’s bad, some argue it’s for the good. No matter how you see it, it was unexpected and we have had to make fast changes to keep up with the shifting environment of our economy.

Many people our now turning to blogs like ours here at Women Not Dabbling for advice in frugality, gardening, livestock, butchering and canning. They are trying to find ways to save money and make it through this downturn with the feeling that they can care for their selves and their family. Many have never gardened before, some not in a long while and some don’t even have any actual yard to call their own, but all are considering gardening to help reduce costs. They are just like many of us who are now trying to find ways to reduce expenditures in this environment of costly food, gas and uncertainty and the idea of a garden seems to make us feel more secure. We feel if we can put a bit of food on the table we at least will not starve.

As comments and emails show, more and more people are lamenting that they didn’t start sooner to get a garden ready for fall vegetables. And unfortunately the reality is that starting a garden at the last minute at the beginning of November is not going to feed your family with as many calories as they will need so I my first suggestion is that you buy some food in bulk and consider items that are easy to use and cook. Store it away in your pantry, under beds and at the top of closets—where ever you can find room. That will at least make you feel a bit better to start with. Foods that store well in bulk are usually cheaper cost foods with better nutrition anyway.

However, before you get depressed by what I said there is still hope…but hard work too. Now is the time to get your garden ready for early planting. Depending on where you live of course, and the methods you choose, even the coldest climates can start very early, maybe even by January, with just a bit of pre planning. Starting a garden isn’t just about tilling the soil. And though soil improvement is one big thing to work on, you also need to consider seed starting and cold extension/late frost protection. Starting your own seedling, and also season extension, will absolutely reduce your overall costs and allow you to tailor what you grow to the weather and your families eating style better than if you just buy from a local place selling pre started plants. In this article I am going to mention things you can do right now, cheaply, to get ready to start seeds, plant out early starts and to begin improve your soil.


First let’s get started on preparing your garden. Even when the economy does improve…and we all still find ourselves whole and hearty…having a garden is a wonderful thing. The most important thing to do is to get your soil ready. I know I frequently write about this one aspect. However it is one of the most important things you can do to be successful. We all like success, especially when it can save us money, and good soil in our garden is a sure fire way to success and good health. Healthy soil transfers good nutrients to your veggies — it’s a proven fact.

Leaves are falling, so now is the time to collect them for soil improvement or compost making. You don’t necessarily have to rake everyone’s yard for them. Instead you can watch for those that do it their selves along your driving routes and stop and pick up their bags of leaves for your use. Clean out your car trunk in anticipation if you don’t drive a truck so that you can shove as many bags as possible in there. Have leather seats? Shove them in there too—but not after a rain since the bags will be dripping with brown leaf water and worms that make their way into the bags. Carry a strap to tie down your trunk with so that you are prepared to pack it to the brim and beyond and maybe a towel to throw down onto your seats. You can wipe your leather seats out when you get home but the towel will reduce the need to.

Also, get newspapers from your neighbors and cardboard from your grocery store. The local printers and small town paper sometimes will give you “old stock”. Ask…it’s the only way to get free. After you get them, lay them out thick, wet them to help them lay down a bit better and then pile those leaves on top to keep them from blowing away (read books and on line sources about lasagna gardening if you haven’t yet). Laying them right over that nasty grass without digging it out is easier. In the future not only will you have a nice garden spot for low work, you will not have to expend money and time to cut the grass any longer either. (For all that American’s love their lawn’s very few of us picnic or play croquet in it)

If you don’t have enough leaves to cover the papers then rip them in strips and start a compost pile with them. Add leaves and other compostables to help it get started. Urine (I am speaking of human urine here because it’s awfully hard to get your sheep to pee in a bucket) will set those compost piles burning…in a good way I mean. Surround the pile by some old wood, discarded pallets, anything you can think of. A tarp will work fine too to keep the papers or leaves from blowing away if you pin it down at the edges and will keep out excessive amounts of rain that will leach away the nutrients. You want the pile moist but not sopping wet. One last thing…keep your mind open as you look around during travels. It’s amazing what people throw away that maybe isn’t as great as a Monet painting …but that your garden will LOVE.

Next, for use in our garden, we should be watching for used/old lumber, old windows (don’t just think wood frame here think 1970’s aluminum windows too), your neighbors juicy juice bottles (with lids) or similar, large glass jars in the dumpsters or at the recycle places, super cheap larger vases (clear), leftover rolls of wire, string, and baling twine, chicken wire, fencing panels and on and on. For seed starting we should look for cheap pie tins, baking sheets, muffin tins, plastic drawer dividers (for junk drawers), old fluorescent lights, leftover bulbs for these lights, cheap shelves to set all this stuff on or attach fluorescent lights to.

We should be looking, nay scouring, road sides, Tuesday morning trash piles, yard sales, flee markets, auctions, old homesteads with junk piles they are willing to sell, anyplace you can think of to find this stuff free or very cheap. In this economy we don’t have much extra cash but we have to remember that if you don’t have cash to spend you have to expend your time and ingenuity. Either way…you can win at this.

Another idea for free/low cost is to scour home building sites for free wood. No, don’t take those nicely stacked piles of wood. I know we would all like them but that is usually considered stealing 🙂 and they will definitely get mad. However, some of the sites, especially commercial building sites, have awesome pieces of very good wood and other goodies in their scrap piles. Most is usually not pressure treated which is a great thing for our food and if you ask (I always do ) they will usually let you dig through it. I have never been turned down yet. One commercial place had such great throw aways that we built a small, yet elegant two goat shed with attached chicken coop. It was about a 8×16 foot building for their shelter from the weather. We only had to purchase roofing, nails and hinges. We had beautiful discarded pieces of very wide tongue and groove ceiling boards still in long enough lengths to use for most of the siding and roof deck. Our goats where living the high life in that shed and in a small end section so were our chickens.

The main reason for acquiring these leftovers is not for your new goat shed (though if you can get one almost free like we did good for you!), but for your garden to build cold frames, compost enclosures and/or raised beds. My choice would be cold frames versus raised beds, but in some areas raised beds are almost a necessity. Even here we have one spot where bermuda grass is very thick. It’s very difficult to eradicate and a raised bed would be a bit easier to keep it out of the veggies.

However it is, try and think outside the box. Large vases for 25 cents each make excellent cloches and leftover chicken wire is great for peas. Baling twine at the local feed store is cheaper per foot than buying twine at Walmart for your peas and beans next year. Even better is when you find it at auction or a farm sale leftover. Old cookie sheets and similar items are great for carrying seedling back and forth, inside and out, or for ease of rotation under lights. Deeper baking pans are the most economical and reusable seed starters I know of. If you want to drill holes in them (I don’t but I am careful about watering) then you can put them on top of one of those salvaged cookie sheets. Newspapers too have a place here for making seed pots especially for plants that grow large quickly or that need more growing time – perennial plants/veggies especially work well in this application. It gives them longer time in a less hostile environment to grow big before being set out.

Most people, even in this economic downturn don’t want these things leftover and used….you do. You watch..there will be sales by the dozen as people try and sell off un needed things they have accumulated to make Christmas money or extra money so Johnny can still play ball this next spring. They will also be more open to “hey I noticed your old pile over there…will you take $5 for it?” This is your chance to help your family on the cheap. Food has become very expensive…gardening is a guaranteed way to not only feel secure but to also save money even if you choose not to can, dry or freeze it. My motto is (in this order): grow organic, eat local, learn to eat in season. Good Luck and remember practice makes perfect but no attempt is ever a complete failure because as Edison said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

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Pumpkin Butter

It’s that time of year when pumpkins are abundant and they’re worth so much more than the annual Jack-o-Latern.  This year why not try canning some up for pumpkin butter.

To cook pumpkin:  Cut your pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds and place the halves cut side down on a baking sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees until soft and easily pierced with a fork.  Scrape the flesh out of the skins and puree in a blender.  You can freeze the puree at this point for use in pumpkin pie, baked goods or pumpkin butter.

Pumpkin Butter
(makes 6 pints)

9 Cups pumpkin cooked & mashed
6 Cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan; stir well. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes until mixture is smooth and thickened. Pour into hot jars leaving 1/4″ headspace. Process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes.

Pumpkin butter is excellent on toast and pancakes.  It also makes a unique gift during the holidays.

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Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by emphelan

Robbyn’s post got me thinking about what was done, back in the day, that helped with stretching out foods. My father’s side of the family was not in the country during the Great Depression, my mother’s side was. But there were things that seem to carry over, not just from country to country, but generation to generation.

Fried Dough Balls

In a time when most people are worried about fat content in what they eat, the fried dough ball has gone by the wayside. Of course this might not sound appetizing put into the term of “Fried Dough Ball” Some of you may prefer doughnut, or loukoumades, or even hush-puppies. There are many different ways to make the fried dough ball.

Flour has increased in price within the last year, but it is still a relatively inexpensive item to have on hand. I realize that this post isn’t kosher for the people that want to stay away from processed foods, white foods, and oils/fats, don’t care. You want to learn how to live lean, do it by what you can stretch your dollar with and then going outside and do some manual labor. Hey it’s Saturday, very few people read on Saturday, so I can say what I want, ha! I digress. During the Great Depression, the dough ball was easy and sometimes the only food that many families had on hand. Simple water, flour and a lard or oil.

The easiest way to stretch a meal is to make the dough balls when you use a batter for your meats. Most of us use a dry batter, dunk the meat into an egg and milk mix, then dredge it through flour/corn meal seasoned mix, then fry, or bake. Then we look at the dredged flour and toss it because raw meat has touched it and it is now no good. Ah ha! There is were you went wrong my friends. Add a little savory ball to the dinner plate by simply adding your egg/milk mix to the flour, add water or more milk to turn it into a wet dough. Fashion up form balls and throw it into the frying pan until you have these puffy golden brown fried bread. There ya go, hush-puppies. Why do you think that, THAT one fast-food seafood restaurants hush-puppies taste just like their battered fish? Waste not want not.

Simple flour, sugar and water can be fried to make doughnut holes, just drizzle honey over them, for a sweet treat, or allow them to cool a bit before rolling them in powdered sugar. Stuffing the balls with shrimp, crab, or any meat can give you another meal all together. Filling and tasty. You can stuff either a savory or a sweet ball.

Fried dough balls can be made in hundreds or different ways, each country seems to have there own specialty. But as always, be creative with your own.

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Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by Howling Hill. 

This year I planted corn, beans, and squash traditionally: the Three Sisters Method. Jared Diamond called this method “the trinity” in his (phenomenal! Must read it!) book Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. This method of planting came together over a long period of time. That is, squash was domesticated independently of corn around “200 A.D. but remained a minor crop until around A.D. 900, and beans arrived a century or two later.” (page 109).

3 sisters planting method

Beans are nitrogen rich which helps the corn grow; in turn, the corn gives pole beans something to travel up. The squash’s big leaves shade the soil and blocks the growth of weeds. The key to this method is twofold. 1) have enough room for the squash to grow and 2) plant at the right time. I didn’t follow the planting directions which state one should plant the corn first then the beans when the corn is 4 inches high. What I did was plant all at the same time which means the beans outpaced the corn by almost double. Combine the mistimed planting with forty-five days of rain and cool temps and you get short corn which is weighted down by beans and about six squash. While I was disappointed in the short corn and lack of squash I was really pleased with how the beans produced. Believe me when I say I had beans coming out my ears! Had this summer been a typical New England summer of hot and humid days and nights I’m sure the Three Sisters would’ve had me swimming in vegetables.

It doesn’t seem to matter what kinds of corn, beans, and squash you plant. Regarding the corn, I planted ornamental because I don’t like corn nor does Wolf (does bad things to our colons). Beans must be pole beans though variety doesn’t seem to matter. I put a bunch of different varieties into the ground: red, cannanelli, black turtle, and maybe one or two more I don’t remember. The squash I planted was threefold: zucchini (I didn’t get any), summer (I got a small amount), and red kuri (I got two).

Absolutely I will plant this method again. I learned from my mistakes: I need to plant the corn and squash in containers in the house then transplant (unless one of my gardening friends here says corn doesn’t transplant well) to the garden. After about a week or so I will plant the beans. In my neck of the woods planting into the ground doesn’t happen until Memorial Day weekend as that’s the date one no longer has to worry about frost. I plan on putting most of the same seeds into the ground next year though I don’t think I have anymore red kuri so I’ll put some acorn in instead. We eat a lot of summer squash and zucchini here so definitely those seeds will go into Mother Earth and same with the ornamental corn. And, of course, I will be keeping Moon phase in mind something I will post about when it’s my turn to write again in about a month.

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last month, i wrote about oil making. in essence, it is part 1 of making salves. once you have an oil made, you can place it back into the double boiler and follow these steps to make a salve:

for every cup of oil, add about 1/4 cup of grated beeswax. i have a grater that is just for beeswax because it gets pretty gummed up. being lazy, i use a knife heated up on the gas burner to slice off shards instead.

add the wax to the hot oil and let it melt. once it’s melted, i test the ‘strength’ of the salve. this can be done in several ways. many people recommend putting a teaspoon of the salve in the fridge for a minute or so. i find that just drizzling it in a salve container to be effective. i let it set then rub my finger over it to see how hard it is. once it is at the consistency i like, i quit adding beeswax.

now it’s time to add any ‘goodies’ to the salve. turn off the burner and start with vitamin e oil to preserve the salve and to keep it from going rancid. i buy a jar of the capsules, 1000 IU and squeeze out about 1 per every 4-5 oz of oil.

then, add any essential oils you might want in it to scent it or to add to the healing properties. lavender is good for general healing. tea tree and rosemary are good for fungal salves. wintergreen, eucalyptus, thyme, rosemary and peppermint (sparingly) are good for respiratory (think vick’s vapo rub) and muscle rub salves.

now you’re ready to pour it into tins or jars. pimento jars make good salve jars as do garlic jars. anything with a wide mouth is sufficient. or, if you prefer more fancy, you can buys tins from specialty bottle.

let the salve set up. once it’s set, put the lids on and label the salve so you know what you’ve made and what’s in it. once you have 3-4 salves floating around, they all start looking similar.

for starters, here are some easy to make salves:

Cale-Comfrey Salve Ingredients: (this is a great all purpose salve)

1p. Calendula Flowers
1p. Comfrey Leaves
1p. Comfrey Roots

infuse the above with olive oil, strain and follow salve recipe.

Plantain Salve Ingredients: (great to help stop bleeding and stop itching from insect bites and stings)

Plantain Leaves

infuse the above with olive oil, strain and follow salve recipe.

Burn Salve Ingredients:

1p. St. John’s Wort
1p. Calendula Flowers
1p. Comfrey root

infuse the above with olive oil, strain and follow salve recipe. add 1/8 part Aloe Vera Powder, stir and pour into salve containers.

Vapor Balm:

1 p. Lobelia
1 p. Mullein Leaves
1p. Hops

infuse the above with olive oil, strain and follow salve recipe. add essential oils: 2p. wintergreen, 1p. camphor, 1/4 p. clove and 1/2 p. menthol. (generally, 1p = 1 dropper of oil or 30 drops).

Antiseptic Healing Salve: (good for fungal problems)

2 p. Black Walnut Leaves
1 p. Echinacea Root
1 p. Eucalyptus Leaves
1/2 p. Calendula
1/4 p. Golden Seal Root or Chaparral

infuse the above with olive oil, strain and follow salve recipe. add: 1p. Wintergreen Essential Oil

this is my favorite lip balm recipe. it makes a lot of balm so you’ll be set to gift it to all your friends and family. i can put it on and drink and it stays put:

1 oz almond oil or jojoba oil
1 oz shea butter or mango butter
1 oz beeswax
¼ teaspoon honey
1/8 tsp vitamin E
add any flavoring – mint, cherry, chocolate, grape

mix first 5 ingredients in a double boiler until melted. Add flavoring (essential oil or flavoring available from grocery store). Pour into lip balm pots or tubes.

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This modest, naked little piece of meat cooked in a skillet is the same sort prepared for my sister and me in our youth by our Grandma.  It’s what we call her Depression Burger. It is only good served hot, preferably on a bun with all the trimmings from the garden not the least of which is a thick juicy slice of acidic tomato grown in Mississippi red clay.  Mine will never be as good as Grandma’s, but my daughter doesn’t care.  When I make them, there are never any left!  (Thanks, Grandma!)

The burger has other things in it besides ground beef. As was the case with so many other things, Grandma could stretch a pound of ground beef till there was hardly any moo left, ha  🙂  It was her habit.

I’m now the heir(ess) of these partial memories, and of some of her habits, and they are coming to mind at just the right time.


Neither set of my grandparents ever talked that much about their youth, or about the Great Depression.  They never talked about the WW2 years, either.  I wish so much I had thought to ask them the questions that I have now…it’s more than curiosity, and I was plenty curious back then, but my maternal grandparents were naturally very reserved and private people.

And so I am left to fill in so many of the gaps, some of which will remain a mystery.

We were closest to my maternal grandparents, Grandma and Grandpa W.  They would probably be a bit bewildered at the mention of today’s Green or Simplicity or Frugality movements, since the way they lived was from necessity and was how their parents and grandparents had lived…without labels or a sense of it being out of the ordinary.  They re-used things, before the term “recyle” even was coined.  They just didn’t waste things.  They sewed, repaired, built, or grew what they needed, when able.  A family garden patch WAS their convenience store, as far as they were concerned.

I get more and more a sense that it was a normal part of not only their lives, but most people’s then, to not have everything you thought you wanted nor to think of indulging wants over needs on a daily basis. 

My grandparents’ idea of plenty was Having Enough.  Most of us can recall the maxim from those days…”Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do, Do without.”  I know I can…those words were part of a decorative cast iron trivet a relative kept on the wall in her kitchen.  Grandma W’s kitchen was basic, and her cooking skills were basic…she was not a gourmet, nor did she live to cook.  My other Grandmother K was the magical touch in the kitchen, and put out a spread three times a day that was unbelievable.  Since I spent more time with my Grandma W, I know her habits a bit better.  My already-spoiled palate as a child found Grandma’s fare to be pretty homespun, but satisfying.

It was not just the Great Depression that formed Grandma’s meal habits, it was an entire life…a life most folks today would consider somewhat deprived.  I never got the sense, though, Grandma felt deprived.  Overworked sometimes, yes.  Fulfilled, yes.

Though her history to me is mostly lost, I do know that as children, she and her sisters worked side-by-side with her parents at different points chopping cotton…a long, hot, back-aching job.  When asked by me if her parents made her help, she looked at me oddly and told me everyone did what was needed without being asked…it was what everyone did.  In fact, it was shameful if anyone did not pull their weight.  It was not long after that that we were taken on a trip to a neighbor’s cotton field to pick cotton, with my grandparents.  We didn’t last long, but we picked it long enough to feel the fatigue from the merciless sun, the cuts on our fingers as we picked it, and the realization of just how much had to be picked to fill a sack.  It was a valuable lesson.

There must have been some whiz-bang cooks in the family, because Grandma was one of many siblings, and a couple of her sisters had a reputation for their great eats.  SOMEbody had had to feed all those kids growing up…       Grandma herself had a few specialties, but most of her meals were common, servicable comfort food.  And every penny had been counted, every bit of the food used.

How did she save money?  What did she serve?  What were her habits in trying to stretch the meals?

Apparently, there was not always a particular lack of basic foods during the Depression, at least not everywhere, but there was a varying ability to afford much of it, and for other families used to having hired help in the kitchen (a common thing for many), it meant having to make the meals yourself, and make the ingredients stretch farther.

The Depression was followed by WW2, and during that time many women did dual duty at jobs vacated by the men called on to serve in the war.  My Grandma was pregnant with my mother at that point, later than most women her age who already had started their families, and the frugality of the war years was the environment in which my mom was raised.   I  know at some point, Grandma and Grandpa had a small dairy (hand-milked daily), and at another point they ended up back in the city for work. 

When I think of Grandma’s food, I think of things of things she made in the years far beyond the Depression or war with what was then considered “fast foods”…the innovations of Birdseye frozen peas, evaporated milk, canned tomato soup, canned pumpkin.  Cookbooks back then featured a trend towards these “innovations,” and food companies put out their own recipes and cookbooks (think Campbell’s, etc) to that end.  Grandma cooked chicken and rice, and when cream of mushroom soup came out, she adopted it as a “fast food” ingredient just as many other women did.  That’s actually something we’re having to undo now…go back farther beyond the beginnings of processed food…but it was part of that simple kitchen. 

Few things in her kitchen were processed then, compared to today’s kitchens, though.  Yes, there was cheap instant decaf coffee, there was Tang instant breakfast drink (only for when we visited), and a stash of inexpensive knockoff-brand Oreos (sandwich cookies).   But the bulk of the cooking was so very, very basic.  Breakfast was a poached or fried egg on toast.  Lunch was a sandwich, maybe with a piece of banana, or homemade pickle.  Dinner was a casserole or meat-with-rice, or other simple dish.  Fresh veggies from the garden rounded things out, and were the home-canned goods used as main ingredients in almost everything.

Some things bore witness to long-ago habits from days of shortages.  Grandma always ALWAYS used powdered milk.  We kids just never got used to the taste of it, but she used it anytime milk was called for…reconstituted and watery.  There was also the special status of the pickles and certain canned goods, which she did VERY well…she made all kinds of pickles, and saved them for the special occasions…church potlucks, special occasions, having company over.  Then she’d serve them in dishes with different compartments, an array of condiments.  There were bread and butter pickles, pickled beets, sweet pickles, garlicky dills, peppery dills, tiny gherkins, chow chow, chili sauce…etc.  And there were spiced peaches, mmmm!

She made wonderful pumpkin pies, and my father used to brag on them because he was not especially fond of pumpkin or sweet potato dishes but loved her pie.  She always smiled and quietly  went about her business as he wondered aloud what made her pumpkin pie so much better than the others he had tried.  It was funny the day we all realized that each year she faithfully made her pies from the Libby’s pumpkin label recipe.  That’s the way Grandma was.  She didn’t care…everyone liked it and so it got repeated.

Hers were the comfort foods of my youth…chicken and rice, baked chicken coated in crushed bran flakes or cornflakes, turkey and homemade cornbread dressing, cornbread and home-canned pink-eye purple hull peas (and fresh veggies from the garden).

Breakfast for us girls was hot cooked oatmeal, lunches were BLTs or fried baloney sandwiches (this is before I went kosher in my later life! :))  She also made a great meatloaf and a certain kind of hamburgers I’ve never had anywhere else.

We could have ice cubes at the dinner meal…they were the metal trays with the lift-out lids you had to partially melt under running water before cracking out the cubes, and there were only four trays since the tiny freezer compartment would only hold that many.  The comfort food was washed down with pitchers of iced tea.


In all these things, it’s only now I’m remembering some of the ways my Grandma made sure there was plenty by stretching what she had…not because she had to, but because that’s how she operated…always.   Meatloaf not only had breadcrumbs in it, it also had oatmeal…does that sound bad?  Well, I make it the same way today, and always get compliments.  Whenever I’m mixing it with my bare hands, it takes me back to those many times I stood by her as she mixed it with hers, kneading it till allthe ingredients became one.

The turkey was not just cooked, it was incorporated into many things.  The giblets went into gravy and chopped finely with celery and onion and cooked in some of the pan drippings, then went into the cornbread dressing.  What made her gravy wonderful?? It was made with the same ingredients, but thickened with chopped hardboiled eggs mashed fine and a little flour.   Hardboiled eggs found their way into a lot of things, now that I think of it.

She didnt peel  potatoes thickly…she got only the skin off, thinly.  She used every bit of onion, and chopped it very fine…even small leftover bits were saved.  She never threw away wormy apples or peaches…she cut around the offender and used what she could.  The rest went into the gallon plastic ice cream container beside the kitchen sink, for tossing into the compost pile later.  Fruit skins were used somehow in her canning…I wish I could remember how now, but it was most likely to up the pectin content in some of the jellies before straining them off.

Her cookware was adequate and spare.  She had what she needed, and I can remember the Corningware dishes to this day.  There was the aluminum cake cover, and the aluminum carrying thingamajig for transporting two pies at a time.  If we went on day trips, ALWAYS there was a thermos, the heavy duty working-person sort (think the sort men take down to the coal mines, ha!) and tiny glass jars of this and that…pickles included, of course!  Sandwiches were wrapped in waxed paper and taped with bits of masking tape…tuna, cold meatloaf, leftover turkey, pimento cheese, whatever…and arranged in neat stacks next to foil-wrapped slices of pound cake.  She’d always pack a meal for us to take on the road back home with us, or anywhere we traveled from her house.  Oh, how I miss those and miss her !

One of the foods Grandma fixed MUST have had its origins somewhere either in the Depression or the War years…though I’m not so sure they were called hamburgers so much back then.  Or perhaps when making hamburgers in later years, Grandma’s immediate instinct was the stretch it.  Ground beef (chuck) for many years was one of the affordable meats, and she made two dishes I know predate my sister’s and my arrival on the scene…..her hamburgers and  Slumgullion.

Slumgullion was my favorite comfort food, and first request if I were asked what I wanted for dinner.  I don’t have an exact recipe, and have never gotten mine to taste quite the way hers did.  But it was simple.  I know she used a can of homecanned tomato puree, and her tomato puree/sauce was more liquid than paste and still had some seeds in it.  Slumgullion was ground beef stretched with macaroni or pasta.   It was ground beef browned with onions (did it have green peppers in it?  I can’t decide, but I don’t think so), salt and pepper, and then with a homecanned jar of tomato sauce mixed in.  I’m not sure what else was in there, but it was simple, and I don’t even think she used garlic, or not much.  This was stirred into hot cooked plain macaroni noodles, and Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.  And then I’d salt and pepper it to death.  It was a plateful of comfort and we all loved it!

The hamburgers were made differently than any I’ve ever had elsewhere, but are simple.  She mixed the ground beef with shredded white potato, salt and pepper…and I’m not sure what else…I think minced onion…maybe an egg?  The proportions were at least 1 part potato to 2 parts ground beef, but may have even been half and half.  They were pattied thin and cooked in a skillet (she didnt have a grill) till cooked through, and served hot with fresh hamburger trimmings from the garden.

It may be just me, and maybe it was an acquired taste, but for my sister and me, these are still the favorite hamburgers of our memory.

My dad once tried to surprise us with his version of Grandma’s burgers.  He had added spices, thickened the meat to a nice thick patty, cooked it over the perfect grilling coals.

It just wasn’t the same.

I made these burgers for my daughter the other day…or the closest I could get them to what I remembered. 

I had one pound of ground chuck.

WWGD….What Would Grandma Do?

She would use what she had, and stretch it.

A potato, a small onion, and an egg later, I had 12 hamburgers from that one pound of meat.

These burgers cook up with the bits of potatoes and minced onions showing…they are “looser” than most hamburgers

 Here’s the plate of 12…well, 11 (after some taste-testing)

I had meat patties, but what else to go with them?  We didn’t have buns and fresh veggies. 

What would Grandma have done?  She would have looked around and used what she had.  I had cabbage, potatoes, milk.   I shredded and lightly steamed some cabbage.  I peeled and rough chopped the potatoes and cooked them in just a little bit of water till they were soft and starchy and a bit liquidy.  Added salt and pepper, touch of milk, handful of herbs I have drying in the corner.  Small pinch of flour to thicken the liquid to a gravy.   Served them over the cabbage.

I have no idea if it was as good as what Grandma would have made, but I’m like her in a lot of ways.  My kitchen doesnt always inspire me, and I like doing other things quite a bit.  But I like looking for ways to stretch things, and remembering my Grandma and her no-nonsense habits as she made the basics into something plain and wonderful. 

Do you have a family member who comes to mind in these times of stretching and being stretched?  What are some of the things from your family’s past that help you during challenging times, the things that bring you comfort?

The memories of my Grandma, her habits, and her comfort foods comfort me now in more ways than one.  It brings her memory close and ties me to an identity that is solid, a bit of my own history.  It also gives me comfort during times where my choices seem more limited and I find myself searching for solutions much closer to home.  Our predicament is not hopeless, it is an opportunity for some re-learning of some most basic skills, a different mindset, and stretching what we have into a bounty from practical means.

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