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Archive for October, 2008

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
chickweed

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.

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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.

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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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Indian Acorn

Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by Gina

  Leaching the tannin out of acorns

When I was a child, I used to play beneath a giant red oak in our backyard. I loved this tree. I would climb up in it’s branches, build horse stables for my Barbies around it’s trunk and I would gather the acorns and pretend I was of another era, foraging for my tribe. I loved that old tree: it seemed stong and wise.

Some interesting things about oak trees is that they can be found on nearly all earthly continents, especially America. We, as Euell Gibbons* proclaimed, are extremely blessed with several species of Quercus. Speaking of Native Americans, the early American cultures also knew the true value of the oak tree and especially it’s nutritious nut, but then so did Europeans and Asians as well. In fact, it has been said, overall, humans the world over have ate more pounds of acorns than grains.

Somehow, through the hourglass of time, Americans have lost the affinity for acorns. Koreans, on the other hand, still enjoy several dishes made from acorns. We have, in recent history, traded in this high-protien, high-mineral food source for GMO corn and soybeans!

Nutrition Facts-Acorns
Serving Size: (100 grams)


Amount Per Serving
Calories: 387


% Daily Value*


Total Fat 24g 36%
   Saturated Fat 3g 15%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 0mg 0%
Total Carboydrates 41g 13%
   Dietary Fiber 0g ~
   Sugars 0g ~
Protein 6g 12%

Vitamin A 0%   Vitamin C 0%
Iron 4%   Calcium 4%

*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs

Acorns are quite varied in taste. If you live on the western side of the Mississippi, you may be so lucky to find Post or Live Oaks. Some say you can eat this nut raw (and some even find it tasty!;)) Oaks are ubiquitous in every Continental state in the US.  They can be divided into three broad categories: the black, red and white oaks. All have tannin, a bitter chemical, but the black and red oaks have just a minute amount more than the white (chestnut and live both fall under white), enough to render it completely unpalatable in its raw stage. I can eat a raw white oak acorn, but I even prefer to process the tannin out of them as well. Another major difference between the black/red oaks and the white oaks are the time span for bearing their fruits. Black/red oaks take two years to bear a ripe crop, whereas white bear every fall. For the most part, it takes an oak 20 years to bear its first batch of nuts.

I am going to veer off topic just for a second, if you are truly interested in tree foraging, I want to make a suggestion to help you learn to identify the trees in your area. Remember those leaf collections we had to put together in…was it 6th or 9th grade? Make a new one. Go out and gather leaves, press them, and mount them complete with notes on scientific and common names, habitat, life history and it’s usefulness. This way, if you study it or take it in the field with you, you have a real specimen to match up against a real tree.

OK, back to oaks. The white oak is easy to identify from the red or black. Look at a leaf and notice if the edges are rounded on the lobes or if their edges are pointy with bristly “hairs”, if the latter then you have a red or black oak. Just to throw you completely off, if you find an oak without bristles on the ends and yet the lobes are barely defined, you probably have a chestnut oak. You will find much variation depending on where you reside (i.e. East or West of the Mississippi).

Here are some examples:

Red or Black oak leaf

White oak leaf

Chestnutoak (or chiquapin-has good acorn)

A good local tree book should help you find your area’s unique oak trees.

How to process acorns

1. Determine type you have cached. Remember to check leaves when gathering, however, if you are picking up nuts in a mixed species area you may have both. Separate them by size (white oaks typically have smaller nuts). I always have leaves mixed in with my acorns because I either sweep them up (if on the patio) or rake them up and put them in a basket. You’ll have to pick through and pick out the nuts, but it is easier than just picking up nuts off the ground.

2. The shells are soft and easy to crack (and they often crack upon impact with the ground). Now, if you are really serious about this homesteading/self-sufficiency stuff, you just have to get over insect larva squeamishness. You are going to find acorns full of the white larva of the acorn weevil or moth (and just so you know this bug girl isn’t invincible, as I was preparing the acorns for this post, I opened one and out tumbled two of the little guys and, let’s just say, the acorn was flung across the kitchen!) Place all the good ones in a separate dish. Some may have discolored flesh, but they are still OK. You want to purge any moldy ones and ones that are dried out (it will look like sawdust when you open it).

3. Now, depending on your type, you are going to boil them. Some people grind the raw nuts up first (and I would recommend this if you are dealing with red or black oak acorns). Thankfully, I was able to gather a bunch of white oak acorns at the in-laws and so I left mine in the halves. Cover the nuts with water and start them to boil. Keep a tea kettle of water going as well and it will decrease the time spent between water changes. I generally taste a raw nut first (just a nibble!) to see how bitter it is. The ones I found were really not that bad, but still needed a bit of processing. In the first picture, you can see the water turning a brownish color. This is the tannins leaching from the acorns. As I said, red or black oak acorns are going to take a long time to leach (I tried a big batch of red oak acorns last year and it was a very long ordeal). This is why I prefer the white oak acorns better. Unfortunately, the white are also a favorite of the squirrel, deer, chipmunks, mice, moths, weevils…)

3. Boil and change water a couple of times and then start to taste the nuts. If the water is still really dark or the nut tastes bitter, keep boiling, changing water, boiling…eventually, the color of the water starts to lighten up some. When the taste is somewhat palatable (it will get better after roasting, I promise!), rinse your nuts under cold running water until water runs clear (the white oak acorns only took a minute). I, then, drain them well.

 Acorns after leaching process

4. After acorns are drained, spread them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Put this into oven (I had these at 350, but you could roast them at a lower temperature as well). Periodically, stir them with a wooden spoon. They will start to turn a lovely shade of chocolate and the smell will begin to resemble carob (to me anyway). You have to watch them because ovens vary. Just taste one now and again-you’ll know when you like the taste. As they roast, the nut will harden.

 Roasted acorns-they look a lot like coffee beans, don’t they?

5. Once they are roasted, the fun begins! There are so many ways to use acorns. They can be used as a coffee/chai substitute (just grind and brew) or made into flour (this is what I did). They can be chopped and used as any chopped nut would be in muffins, cookies or bread. Euell Gibbons makes a candied acorn (sort of like a praline). if you haven’t explore Prodigal Gardens website, now is the time. She has so many great things to make out of acorns and other wild foods (thanks to Tansy for turning me onto this site years ago).

 This time around, I used my coffee grinder to make my flour and plan to use a small amount to supplement some bread this weekend. I could have also used my hand grinder (or you can use a flat surface and pounding tool like our fore-bearers). Acorns (as well as the bark of the tree) have medicinal properties as well, but that’s a whole other post.

It does take some time to process the acorn into something you might want to eat, but it is well worth it. if you are lucky enough to live in areas with some of the more palatable raw acorn trees, please don’t rub it in! 🙂

 

 

*Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons

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I have to admit…I rarely write down recipes for my posts. The reason for this is that there are millions of cook books (literally), online sites including epicurious.com (one of my favorites) , family , friends and so many other places to find them at that I kind of feel like I am yelling against the wind.

However, today I am breaking my silence on recipes with this jewel that I have made for many many years now.

This soup recipe originally drew me in because of it’s inclusion of Italian sausage –one of my all time favorite meats. I think I have eaten, and liked, spicy Italian sausage all my life. I don’t remember a time I haven’t loved Italian sausage (but as I wrote in my pepper love post—please leave the green peppers off my grilled dog). And now that the weather is cooling down it is the perfect time to pull this recipe back out….though I have even been know to make it in the summer. Yum.

And, though I think this recipe is great just as it is, I would like to point out it is also an excellent jumping off point to develop your own sausage/bean/green item soup. So here goes:

Italian Sausage and Bean Soup

Take 4 Cups of chicken stock (or beef if you prefer) and add:

One can diced tomatoes —Italian style if you prefer

1/3 cup red dry red wine (which you can omit but it does add a little something to the overall flavor)

1 clove garlic minced

1 medium onion diced equally about 1/2 cup

1 tsp dried italian seasoning. I usually add a bit more seasoning than this as I add each individually not as a mix. Personal preference here.

1 pound Italian Sausage links —you can slice these first (before cooking) but I do it after the links cook and are about half way done so that they are firmer for slicing ease and also don’t fall apart.

Cook the above until the Italian sausage is done all the way through.

When the sausage is done add and bring to a light boil (just enough to warm them up):

4 cans drained white beans —more is nice I think. Great northern are recommended, I have also used cannelloni. If you use a different sausage change the beans to match (chorizo and black beans, bratwurst and??) . You can of course pre cook your own beans instead of using canned. Start with at least 1 and 1/2 cup dried at the minimum.

Then after the beans are warmed up, add some greens:

The recommended is a 10 ounce package of frozen spinach, thaw and drained. I don’t use frozen spinach (ick) so I add a very large bunch of fresh spinach or kale. You could use turnip, chard, beet greens etc. Whatever you want.

Cook just until greens are cooked. Your idea of cooked is fine. I like mine a bit less floppy than some people, my husband doesn’t mind his spinach very well dead.

Yum. I usually double the main ingredients, adding extra beans, sausage and greens since I like a “hearty” soup and besides that: my son digs out all the goodies leaving the broth behind. Brat 😀

In the summer you can add less beans and more veggies like zucchini (very good), yellow sausage or whatever you want.

Though this is a “recipe” — it is also a jumping off point. Cooking is not about following a recipe as much as it is making food that tastes good to you. And boy… do I think this tastes good to me! Right now I have fresh kale ready to go in the garden and a sheep about to be fresh Italian sausage in the next week or so. How much better can it get? 😀

Have a warm week everyone.

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Whole Grain Crackers

Fall is soup weather, there’s something so comforting about homemade soup on a chilly, windy day.  Generally, we eat homemade bread with our soup, but there are times when we get the urge for some crackers with our soup.  Like most things around here, when we get the urge we make our own.

Kathie’s Whole Grain Crackers
  • 1/2 C unbleached flour
  • 1/4 C rye flour
  • 1/4 C whole wheat flour
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 Tablespoons butter
  • 3-4 Tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix together the dry ingredients. Cut in the butter until it’s fine (use pastry blender or fork). Stir in milk a little at a time until it forms a stiff dough. Roll dough out very thin and cut into desired shapes. (Use a pizza cutter to cut into square crackers, if so desired)  Place crackers onto ungreased cookie sheet. Prick each cracker with a fork. Bake 5-6 minutes until lightly browned, if you roll the dough out thick it will take longer to cook. Cool on rack.

Note: You can easily switch the flour varieties, if you don’t like rye use buckwheat, etc.

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Training and Milking Your Cow

Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by emphelan

Cow Bra

Cow Bra


Not recommending the bra, just thought it was too funny.

Cows are creatures of habit. A lot like dogs in their intellect, training your new cow shouldn’t be a big struggle. Treats are your key to teats.

I have mentioned before that my ladies were breeders for beef when I bought them. They had never been touched, down there, by a human before. The downside to buying a breeder, is that you might not have a record of if she has ever suffered from mastitis. With my ladies, training was different than it would have been with a hand milked cow. But when you are looking at prices, don’t forget the breeders.

Our oldest cow has attitude. I have read many articles about how you should stay away from any cow with attitude. I could care less what they say. We dealt with it and now she is a perfectly respectable milker. If you end up dealing with a lady with attitude, remember not to use sticks or anything like that to harm her. If she has a bad experience in where you wish to milk her, you may never get her in the stanchion again. First things first however, getting them into the stanchion.

Head in stanchion

Head in stanchion


We grass feed our ladies, the only time they get any grain is when we want to milk. The first thing is to get a bucket, the only one you will be using to tempt them. Take the bucket with some grain out to them. Shake it and call the name of the cow you want. They will all come to you, only allow the lady that you called to have a peak and a treat. You might have to push the other’s off of you. Don’t be scared to do this. My ladies have horns, and have only used them once on me, but I will talk about that one in a bit. Once you girl has her nose in the bucket, back up a bit, shake the bucket and call her name. Have her follow you to your stanchion. Pour the grain into the feed bucket of your stanchion, and she should go in. If not, close the stanchion and come back later that evening and do it again. Do not reward them if they do not go into the stanchion.

There in! Now what? If she has never been milked before, don’t just go grabbing things. Think about it, would you allow some other woman to walk up to you while behind bars and grab your boob? Ok, so some of you might say yes to that, kinky girls, but the answer is no. It should only take a few days to get your cow trained to enter a stanchion. I do not lock the heads down on my ladies as many homesteaders say to do, instead I give them enough grain to keep them busy while I milk. Luckily Dexters only take about 40 minutes to milk out. Ok, we got her in, now she has to accept us. For a cow to allow you to start your tuggin’, she has to accept you as her calf. With out that, she’s gonna kick the poop out of you. Just ask my husband.

Grab a brush, and start brushing their back. Talk to them, sing to them, anything, just so that they know your voice and that you belong there. Slowly start brushing out the tops of her legs, and carefully move to the under belly. Next grab your hot water and wash cloth, and gently tough the teat with it. If she doesn’t kick, try rubbing harder, then scrub it good and dry. If she hasn’t kick you yet, you are golden, for now.

Learning your cows body languages is a good thing. She will warn you when she is going to brush you off, not really a kick, or she needs to go potty. Learning these signs will save you a lot of milk. They will shift their weight on their hind legs, giving you a clue about what is going to happen. If she raises her rump, then she is going to pee on you.

Ok she isn’t kicking you, now you can start milking. First you need to prime her a bit more. Using your thumb and index finger, strip a little milk from each teat into a small cup, you want to clean out any bacteria inside of the nipple, never drink your first squirt. Look a the stripping, unhealthy milk lumps like cottage cheese amid a watery substance, it can also be a yellow or dirty brown color. If you see this, she needs treatment. If you have the all clear, place your bucket own, remember to watch for signs of kicking, and fill your bucket. If you don’t have the all clear, go ahead and milk her out, discard the milk somewhere where another animals will not be able to get it, and call your co-op or vet.

Repeat this routine every 12 hours. after a time you will be able to milk without a stanchion if you must. It took 3 days for me to train my ladies to go into the stanchion when called.

Now the attitude. I like horns, they are so useful. I have 2 polled calves, and two horned Dams. Disciplining the Dams is a whole lot easier. After the training was accomplished, a few months after the fact, my oldest lady decided that I was too old to still be nursing, she pushed me down. She has always threatened me, and I would just push her off between her horns. She would shake her head at me, but nothing more. She is bossy and a bully. I wasn’t as quick on my game as I should have been, and she got me. I feel right on my butt, my husband jumped in between us, grabbed her horns, and pushed her nose toward the ground. She tried to pull back, but my husband didn’t let up until she stop resisting. A lot like working with a horse, put the pressure on and only release once they did right. After that day, she hasn’t pushed me down since. Now my polled calf is another story. I am having to find other ways to get my point across, but she is determined to be just like her Mama. ~sigh~ we will see.

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