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Winemaking: Plum

plums

When we moved into our house on 4th of July four years ago we had three cultivated plum trees and two peach. That first spring living there we had a late winter freeze followed that summer with a severe drought. Our trees were badly damaged and we actually lost one of the peach trees. The next spring a late frost hit the blossoms. The third summer brought us no peaches, but tons of plums – all spoiled with worms. Which brings us to this year. We had the perfect spring, thousands of blossoms, lots of fruit … until the Japanese beetles created lace out of the leaves, stressing the trees so that they dropped every single fruit.

Fortunately we have many wild plums of the Chickasaw variety. The fruits are small, about the size of a grape with an almond-sized seed inside. They’re ripe when they start turning orange, and they have a sweet and pungent flavor. Even our dog would get excited when we’d start harvesting because he’d pick up the fruits we’d drop on the ground! The small plums aren’t much for more than snacking on, but they should make a tasty summer wine.

Even if you don’t have access to wild plums, you can use a cultivated variety for wine making. You may find, however, that you’ll want to add some citric acid to balance the flavors out a bit since cultivated plums aren’t quite as tart.

Country Wine: Equipment and Ingredients

It is possible to make wine with minimum equipment and purchases. The bare necessities (in my humble experience) that you’ll want include:

  • Food-grade bucket, preferably 5-gallon. Check with a local bakery or deli.
  • A large strainer or sieve plus some cheesecloth.
  • About 4-5 feet of food-grade tubing. Look in the plumbing section of a hardware store.
  • Gallon-sized glass carboys or 5-gallon collapsible water cubes. Carboys can be saved from juice purchases. The water cubes are fantastic for making odd-sized batches of wine and can be found at camping supply stores.
  • Balloons and cotton balls, or  airlocks.
  • Yeast. You can use regular baking yeast, but if you want a better flavor you can opt for different “wine” strains of yeast found at winemaking/brewing stores. I’ve used Montrachet as it’s recommended to balance the flavors of berry wines.
  • Bottles and Corks. I save all my bottles from other purchases like wine, vinegar, juice, and so on. I purchased “mushroom” corks since they don’t require a tool to insert them into the bottles.

Optional:

  • Campden tablets to sterilize equipment, remove stray yeast and bacteria (highly recommended unless you have problems with sulfites).
  • Tannin, citric acid, or Earl Grey tea for flavor balance in sweeter wines.
  • Extra sugar or wine conditioner to sweeten and brighten finished wine.
  • Pectic acid for removing extra pectin and “clarify” wine.
  • Yeast nutrient to feed yeast. Recipes without nutrient require extra sugar.

You can purchase all of these items from a wine and beer making supplier or spend a little more energy and locate many things locally. I purchased my airlock, water cube, yeast, campden tablets, and corks from E.C. Kraus. for less than $50. The rest I found locally or did without.

Plum Wine:

  • 3-1/2 lb ripe plums
  • Campden tablets
  • 1 tsp citric acid – not necessary with wild plums
  • 4lb granulated pure cane sugar
  • 3 quarts distilled, or boiled chlorine-free water
  • 1 package yeast
  • 1 quart distilled, or boiled chlorine-free water

mushed plums

  1. Sterilize all equipment with boiling water and Campden tablets.
  2. Wash plums. Remove any spoiled spots or fruit.
  3. Smash fruit with hands, food mill, or potato masher. Be sure to keep skins in the mixture – they’ll add a bit of body to the final product.
    Add 3 quarts water and one Campden tablet and mix. Cover loosely with a lid or cheesecloth.
  4. Allow to rest in a warm, dark room for ten days.
    At the end of ten days skim any residue off the top. Remove fruit with a slotted spoon or spider, draining well. With a cheesecloth, strain and squeeze liquid into a sterile carboy/watercube.
    Dissolve sugar in 1 quart boiling water. Once it is cool add to fruit with yeast and citric acid.
  5. Close container with airlock or a balloon stuffed with cotton ball.
  6. Cover and stir daily for three days.
  7. use your original bucket (cleaned and sterilized) and tubing to siphon the fermenting liquid from the sediment. Place your bucket on the floor and your carboy/watercube/jug on a table or counter. Insert one end of tubing into the wine and suck just a bit to get the siphon action going.
  8. While the siphoned liquid is resting in the bucket, clean your carboy/cube/jug and re-sterilize along with your tubing.
  9. Siphon the liquid again – back into the cleaned carboy/cube/jug
  10. Close container with airlock or balloon as before.
  11. Let rest for 3 months or longer so that the yeast can work its magic. Once the mixture stops bubbling (if you’re using an airlock) or the balloon deflates the wine is ready to be siphoned into your sterilized bottles and corked.
  12. Allow the wine to rest for at least another 3 months before sampling, but it will taste better if you let it age longer.

pour

Come back next week when I share some dandelion wine recipe I’ll be using for brewing. Visit my previous post for information on making blackberry wine.

You can find Jennifer over at Unearthing This Life where she blargs about life in rural Tennessee while waxing poetic (or whining miserably) about growing up in suburbia south of Chicago.

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wine

If you’ve read some of my previous posts you’ve probably gathered that I enjoy a glass of wine every now and then (read: “now” as 4:30 and “then” as 5:00 pm). I really can’t think of a much better way to keep my wine guzzling sipping experience as local as possible other than making it myself. Sure, we have several good vineyards and wineries in our region and I love to purchase from them when possible. Keep in mind, though, that many wineries import some of their fruit to blend with their local selections.

Homemade berry wines are often referred to as “country wine.” I began brewing my own wine last year as an experiment. I had so many blackberries that I couldn’t give them away. I had jars and jars of jam that were given freely as gifts. I think my poor mail delivery gal was bursting with my jam. I have perfected several types of cobbler (which the mere thought of still makes me quiver from having eaten so much). My hands and arms are permanently scarred from last year’s harvest simply because we were so plentiful! So being a wine lover I couldn’t think of a better way of using up my bounty than to experiment with wine. I will admit that I am barely practiced on this subject, but I thought I’d share my learnings and experiences thus far in hopes of building upon all of our practices. Please feel free to comment and make suggestions!

Country Wine: Equipment and Ingredients

It is possible to make wine with minimum equipment and purchases. The bare necessities (in my humble experience) that you’ll want include:

  • Food-grade bucket, preferably 5-gallon. Check with a local bakery or deli.
  • A large strainer or sieve plus some cheesecloth.
  • About 4-5 feet of food-grade tubing. Look in the plumbing section of a hardware store.
  • Gallon-sized glass carboys or 5-gallon collapsible water cubes. Carboys can be saved from juice purchases. The water cubes are fantastic for making odd-sized batches of wine and can be found at camping supply stores.
  • Balloons and cotton balls, or  airlocks.
  • Yeast. You can use regular baking yeast, but if you want a better flavor you can opt for different “wine” strains of yeast found at winemaking/brewing stores. I’ve used Montrachet as it’s recommended to balance the flavors of berry wines.
  • Bottles and Corks. I save all my bottles from other purchases like wine, vinegar, juice, and so on. I purchased “mushroom” corks since they don’t require a tool to insert them into the bottles.

Optional:

  • Campden tablets to sterilize equipment, remove stray yeast and bacteria (highly recommended unless you have problems with sulfites).
  • Tannin, citric acid, or Earle Grey tea for flavor balance in sweeter wines.
  • Extra sugar or wine conditioner to sweeten and brighten finished wine.
  • Pectic acid for removing extra pectin and “clarify” wine.
  • Yeast nutrient to feed yeast. Recipes without nutrient require extra sugar.

You can purchase all of these items from a wine and beer making supplier or spend a little more energy and locate many things locally. I purchased my airlock, water cube, yeast, campden tablets, and corks from E.C. Kraus. for less than $50. The rest I found locally or did without.

One note about sugar – many of us prefer to use honey or raw sugars in our every day cooking in order to stay away from processed foods and HFCS. I have read that professional beverage makers use white sugar because the sweetness levels are more predictable to work with. I honestly don’t know if there’s any truth behind this or if it’s a matter of expense. For my recipes I’ve used granulated cane sugar. As I get into more honey I will be trying a few batches made with honey in place of sugar.


IMG_2579
Blackberry Wine (1 gallon):

  • 4.5 lb fresh berries
  • 4 cups distilled or boiled, chlorine-free water
  • Campden tablets (optional)
  • 1-3/4 cups granulated cane sugar
  • 6 cups distilled or boiled, chlorine-free water
  • 1 packet yeast
  • 1-3/4 cups granulated cane sugar
  • 2 cups distilled or boiled, chlorine-free water
  • 1-1/2 cups granulated cane sugar
  • 2 cups distilled or boiled, chlorine-free water
  1. Sterilize all equipment with boiling water. If you purchased campden tablets you can crush one per gallon of water to ensure sterilization.
  2. Wash berries and pick out any spoiling fruit before crushing in your bucket. Using bare hands is tons of fun, but you can use a food mill if you prefer to keep your nails stain-free. Be sure to add the pulp back into the juice if you are using a mill.
  3. Add one quart of water – cooled – and an optional campden tablet. Wait 24 hours.
  4. Boil 6 cups water and 1-3/4 cups sugar together for 1 minute. Allow to cool to room temperature.
  5. Activate yeast in small amount of warm water.
  6. Add cooled sugar-water and yeast to fruit mixture.
  7. Cover and let rest one week.
  8. One week later, strain fruit from mixture with cheesecloth and sieve being sure to get every ounce of juice from the berries. Put liquid in clean and sterilized carboy or water cube.
  9. Boil 2 cups of water with another 1-3/4 cups sugar for one minute. Allow to cool to room temperature before mixing into fruit liquid.
  10. Close container with airlock or a balloon stuffed with cotton ball.
  11. Allow to rest 10 days.
  12. Ten days later, use your original bucket (cleaned and sterilized) and tubing to siphon the fermenting liquid from the sediment. Place your bucket on the floor and your carboy/watercube/jug on a table or counter. Insert one end of tubing into the wine and suck just a bit to get the siphon action going.
  13. While the siphoned liquid is resting in the bucket, clean your carboy/cube/jug and re-sterilize along with your tubing.
  14. Boil 2 cups water and 1-1/2 cups sugar for one minute and allow to cool to room temperature.
  15. Siphon the liquid again – back into the cleaned carboy/cube/jug and mix in the last of the sugar-water.
  16. Close container with airlock or balloon as before.
  17. Let rest for 3 months or longer so that the yeast can work its magic. Once the mixture stops bubbling (if you’re using an airlock) or the balloon deflates the wine is ready to be siphoned into your sterilized bottles and corked.

winemaking collage

I highly recommend waiting at least 6 months from the original date before drinking your wine. This makes a fabulous gift for the holidays. We celebrated New Year’s Eve with all of our friends across the country by opening the wine at midnight. This year I believe I’ll add a bit of conditioner or glycerine to add some extra sweetness to the finished wine since my batch was dry.

I’m already anticipating New Year’s Eve this year. Winemaking definitely gives me a local, homemade something to look forward to during the bleak, chilly months of winter. Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting a few more winemaking recipes including wild plum and dandelion.

What are your favorite Country Wines?

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Compared to the start of our Real Food Challenge, getting local food is a breeze this time of year. How much more local can you get than your own backyard? Spring is good for items like ramps and morels. Summer in our region has quite a few beauties to look out for. If you don’t have immediate access to wild foods ask around. Sometimes people are happy to share their sources. If you find a source of wild food be sure that it’s not on private property before harvesting. If in doubt, ask the owner for permission.

Disclosure: Please note that I am not an herbalist or a doctor and trying any new and/or wild foods should be done with caution. I highly suggest having an experienced someone help you forage until you are comfortable with your own knowledge. Just like other foods, wild foods can cause allergic reactions and even death in some instances. Please proceed with caution.

 

blackberries

wild blackberries

Wild berries are a must! Blackberries and raspberries are starting to come in here. I picked my first ripe blackberries yesterday. I’ll be hitting the hillside every few days throughout June and deep into July to get bucketfuls. For what? Oh, let’s see – there’s cobbler, buckles, sorbet, syrups, jams, and my favorite, wine. Whatever’s left gets frozen for fruity toppings for pancakes and smoothies later in the year.

 

Sassafras

sassafras

Sassafras grows like mad on our property. The roots can be used to make tea, root beer, candy, and jelly. It can even be used to make mead and wine! (See a connection here?)  Sassafras was at one point completely banned because it was linked to cancer in lab rats. If you ask my opinion anything can cause cancer when given in such large doses. Even if you don’t feel like consuming sassafras I recommend at least picking off a leaf or two just to smell the amazing fragrance!

 

chickasaw plums

Chickasaw plums

Fruit trees are a glorious source of nommy goodness. Down here we’ve got Chickasaw Plums which are a very small fruit in comparison to the cultivated or imported types. What are they good for? Jam and … can you guess? Yep! Wine!

 

dandelion

dandelion

While springtime is fabulous for dandelion green salads, in late spring and summer I like to pick the flowers to reserve for tea, jelly, and you got it: wine.

 

sumac berries

sumac berries

Last but not least is the Sumac family. Not to be confused with Poison Sumac, these trees can grow upwards around 30 feet and have brilliant red berry cones that ripen in early to mid summer. You know they’re ripe when you can touch the outside of the berries and get a tart flavor. Note that if you are allergic to cashews or mangoes to avoid the sumac tree. Native Americans use the sumac to make a type of lemonade. The fruit contains high levels of citric acid giving it a tart flavor. Native Americans also used a brew to treat blisters and sunburns. I have yet to try either of these recipes. I wonder if it can be used for wine?

What kind of wild edibles do you look for this time of year?

 

Jennifer can be found at Unearthing this Life where she snarfs and blargs about her life in the country with a Kid and Hubby.

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Foraging for Wild Food

Here at Chiot’s Run, we love finding foods that we can forage from the wild without having to cultivate them. Each year we learn more and more about wild edible plants and we’re enjoying the nutritional benefits they add to our diet. It can be an overwhelming and scary thing to learn about wild foraged food. Knowing what you can and can’t eat from the forest is one of those skills that’s been lost along the way. There are plenty of books you can read and websites where you can learn how to identify free edible wild food (see below for a few that you might find useful).

Of course you want to make sure that you’re correct on your plant identification before harvesting and eating something since some plants are poisonous. It’s also wise to harvest and eat just a small amount to make sure someone isn’t allergic to the new wild food.

I’d also suggest taking it slow and learning a few new wild foods each year. When you do it this way to learn to properly identify different edible plants during the entire growing season and you can practice cooking and using them medicinally. It can be overwhelming to try to learn them all at once and the information is often forgotten. You also run the risk of making a mistake when harvesting if you’re not 100% percent familiar with what the plants look like during each season. We make it a point to learn a few more wild foods each year. Several years ago we started eating morels that we find and last year we started eating a lot of garlic mustard as well as bittercress. We started using plantain for medicinal purposes and a few other weeds. This year I’m hoping to harvest some nettles for tea.

This summer we’ve been enjoying a lot of wild greens and flowers in our spring salads. Since I didn’t get any spinach overwintered, we’ve been relying on garlic mustard, bitter cress, wild violets, and dandelions for our salads. We’ve also been enjoying wild flowers, they really make the salads beautiful (who wouldn’t want to eat one of these salads). The wonderful thing about wild plants is that they’re nutritional powerhouses. This is one of the reasons we started eating more wild foods. We’re always looking for ways to ramp up the nutritional quality of what we eat.

As with plants you grow in your garden you want to make sure the wild plants you harvest are not in an area that is sprayed with pesticides or other chemicals. I’d stay away from plants in ditches along the road as well since they’re most likely covered in exhaust and chemical and salts from the road. I’d also stay away from gathering near large commercial farms since they use lots of chemicals. I found a few nice stands of wild asparagus, but they’re in a ditch right by a field that they spray with sewer sludge, so no wild asparagus on our plates.

Do you harvest any foods from the wild? What’s your favorite wild food to eat?

Susy can also be found at Chiot’s Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Simple, Green, Frugal, Co-op.

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Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by emphelan

I realize this won’t make it into the blog until after Thanksgiving, but this will be the first Thanksgiving that I am officially in charge of cooking the turkey… and I have no idea how. I would love to hear favorite turkey recipes or any information about cooking one.
Thanks!
Maria

Well Maria, you’re in luck. I am running with your question before Thanksgiving. Now boys and girls, this is good for all of us. I am not choosing favorites here.
Picture 914
With all cooking you want to choose your main ingredient well. If you are in charge of picking out the turkey, a good rule of thumb is to purchase 1 pound of meat per person. However, if you want left overs, than go nuts! A frozen turkey will take 24 hours for every 6 pounds of bird to thaw. If you thaw at room temperature, it is 1 hour per pound. For those of you butchering your own turkey, you can read about my first experience at it, over on A Homesteading Neophyte: Butchering your own Turkey. A warning, it is graphic. And those of you that are hunting Wild Turkey, the bird, not the liqueur, Wild Turkey, is another article I have written.

Ok, now we are past the picking and choosing part of the program. Now comes what to do with that thing. There are many different ways to go with the flavoring. The above articles have a recipe or two. But my favorite way to deal with a turkey, is brining him in apple cider and ice for 24 hours , put him into the oven, breast down, at 4 am at 400F for 1 hour, then reduced the temp to 250F. After 4 hours I stuffed him with chopped apples, onions, celery, roasted pecans, celery, carrots, brown sugar and white wine, after flipping him breast side up. From there he slowly baked for 4 more hours before I returned the temp to 400F for the last hour. Ok so this recipe takes 10 hours, but my goodness is it well worth it. Also the turkey I am speaking of was 38 pounds. You can reduce the cooking time. For a turkey cooked straight through at 325F, here’s a chart;

8 to 12 pounds 2-3/4 to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds 3 to 3-3/4 hours
14 to 18 pounds 3-3/4 to 4-1/4 hours
18 to 20 pounds 4-1/4 to 4-1/2 hours
20 to 24 pounds 4-1/2 to 5 hours

You can also go the route of those turkey bags as well.

When it comes to flavoring your turkey, there really isn’t too much in variations that aren’t acceptable. Personally I choose to use fall ready fruits and veggies to flavor. The type of bread stuffing you choose can be a good clue to the way you should prepare the turkey. For your store bought turkey stuffing, a simple butter, salt, ground black pepper and sage will be the best way to go. All to taste of course. If you are making your own stuffing, look at your main fruits or veggies as well as the seasoning. Pears, apples, apricots, raisins, celery, leeks, cranberries, pumpkin, and winter squashes go best with any turkey. I would stay away from broccoli flavored turkey, anything from the cabbage family just doesn’t taste right with your bird.

Oh, and don’t forget to pull the giblets and neck out of the cavity. Some stores stuff there turkeys with other goodies as well. Make sure everything is removed, and wash the inside and outside of your bird before cooking, pat dry.

Any Questions?
Picture 915
Howling Hill wishes for me to add;
Thanksgiving can be a trying time for vegetarians and for the family of vegetarians. No longer do I eliminate meat from my diet though I did for over a decade. It caused quite a bit of anxiety at Thanksgiving for me and the chef’s. Here’s my advice on how to keep everyone happy.

First, call your vegetarian(s) and ask them what for recipes or what foods they like about a month before Thanksgiving. This gives you and the vegetarian enough time to find recipes, ingredients, and the time to prepare the food. It also takes the anxiety away from the non-meat-eater because s/he knows there will be something for her/him to eat. Many times I ate before I left home because I knew there would be little to nothing for me to eat at dinner time. This made me sad that I had to pre-eat and certainly led to my weight gain.

Second, Don’t isolate your vegetarian by providing on one meal for them. That is, just because someone asked for a rice and bean meal doesn’t mean the rolls, vegetables, and stuffing aren’t desirable to the vegetarian. Anything with a meat ingredient can be made without meat and still be edible. For instance, stuffing made in a separate pan without turkey or turkey broth. Beans without pork fat, rolls without beef fat. If you make a few extra and put them aside for the vegetarian(s) nothing will make them feel more at home. For example before I went vegetarian I made a Thanksgiving dinner with my ex. It turned into the misfit Thanksgiving because many of our friends, both vegetarian and non, came over. One woman, Window, said to me at the end of the meal “that’s the first time I could eat everything on the table instead of just bread.” It really made me happy that I could feed her, something her mother couldn’t seem to manage.

Be careful with hidden meat ingredients. Many times chicken, beef, or turkey broth will be used in can goods even if they say “vegetarian.” Check labels. Also, vegetarians can be really sensitive to how their food is prepared. Putting vegetable kabobs on the grill isn’t a good idea because the veggies will be coated in meat.

It’s the same with pots and pans. If you use the same pots and pans to cook the vegetarian meal/components make sure you wash thoroughly. Also, have separate utensils to dish the food out. While I wasn’t as neurotic about this as my ex, his belief was if there was meat on the spoon it was “contaminated” and wouldn’t eat anything which had been touched with it after it touched meat. Thus, for the pork beans and the vegetarian beans, have separate spoons.

That’s about all I can think of. If you have any questions feel free to contact me!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Picture 918

There are some tried and true recipes in an article called A Vegan Thanksgiving Guest. Shameless plug.

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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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Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by Gina

Almost every October since we met, my husband and I spend a few days camping and salmon fishing in the wilds of Northwest Michigan (lower peninsula). Most years, we don’t bring a lot home, but the few days and nights spent in the fresh air, with no schedule or concrete plans, does our souls (and sometimes our relationship) wonders.

This year was an unusual exception. Because of the abnormal warm temperatures and lack of rain, the salmon run was a few weeks late (we are usually there right at the tail end of the up river migration). Nearly every cast resulted in a catch (although bringing them in is a whole skill in and of itself). We ended up landing about 20 fish, but, for legal (and ethical) reasons,* we only brought home four big specimen, which is plenty for us. We cut two into steaks and the other two we smoked.

Now, let me get the disclaimers out of the way before I go on. One, I am not a huge fish fan. I don’t like the smell and I am not fond of the taste. I do like “fleshy” fish (so salmon counts here) the best, but I still wouldn’t rank them in my top ten favorite food items. Second, many fish are over fished and our oceans, rivers, lakes and other bodies of water are quickly being depleted according to some (and I believe this). Wild salmon are particularly vulnerable to over fishing and water pollution. I am not suggesting by this post that you run out and fish. Salmon are not native to the Great Lakes and are carefully monitored by Michigan and Indiana DNR. However, there are still a multitude of problems with sport fishing and I have touched on one particular issue that gets to me on my personal blog. Here I just want to talk about the benefits if you happen upon one of these fish. Third, there is that whole mercury level thing (sadly) to consider, so if you are pregnant, female, a child, a human, canine etc. be aware of the claims.

Now that I have that off my chest, I am going to tell you about one of the ways we prepare fresh caught salmon. And, for this picky fish eater, I love it! Second, because these beautiful creatures gave us their lives for nutrition, I don’t want to waste their nutritious carcass (or lives for that matter), so let’s make fish stock while we are at it. I’ll let you know what you can substitute for salmon if you aren’t in a salmon area of the country (maybe you can find something more local from the list). If you live by an ocean, you are really in luck!

Senior’s Fried Rice with Smoked Salmon (he actually made this one up!)

Smoked salmon (or other fleshy fish, list to follow. It also doesn’t have to be smoked, but it‘s really good!)
4 eggs
Celery, Carrots, Peas, Onions, Peppers
Asian vegetables
Whatever veggie you like really
Sea salt
Pepper
Mustard seed
Cumin (or curry, Asian spices, or whatever you like)
Soy sauce
Long grain rice

Basically prepare your rice and set aside. Scramble your eggs and set aside. Sauté your vegetables in olive oil (or fish oil) until heated thoroughly, but still crisp. Add spices and soy sauce. Add rice and eggs and stir and heat.

Easy, easy recipe! And, even if you don’t like fish well, this dish is quite delicious and nutritious. Even my kids gobbled it up.

Now, I had husband keep all the bones and juice when he was deboning the smoked meat. I then took all the scraps from the vegetables in the dish, the bones and a bit of smoked skin, some herbs (rosemary, thyme and bay leaf), and water to cover and simmered the mixture for about 40 minutes. I did not notice any sort of “fishy” smell and, in fact, the smell reminded me of a Thai food restaurant (one of my favorite “ethnic” foods). Fish stock (which is actually a broth) is chock full of minerals and vitamins and will be a wonderful addition to winter foods. I let it sit for 15 minutes (to let solids settle), strain and then I freeze it in small quantities (I use jelly jars and leave space for expansion). It should, ideally, be used up in six months.

So what if you don’t live up here where salmon fishing is easy? What can you use instead? Some people say not to use “fatty” fish like salmon anyway (although I am a firm believer some fats are good for you and some are especially good for children). One thing you can do is ask your butcher/fish market for the heads and bones of fish he filets for sale. He should know to cut off the gills (and the guts too, but you never know!) Out of one head and a few bones you can make quite a bit of stock (to me, a little goes a long way). Or you can purchase (or fish for) whole fish and filet them yourself (another post!) saving the heads and bones for the stock. Just like chicken broth, you can use any scraps of vegetables you have around. In fact, it is one of those ‘anything goes” kind of things!

Salmon substitutes: any lighter flesh colored fish such as Pollock, tilapia, grouper, halibut, trout, red snapper, sole will make a milder tasting stock. Otherwise, feel free to substitute any fish (bass, perch, bluegill) but the darker the flesh the more “fishy” tasting the broth will be. I would also avoid catfish, but that is because I am not sure about that one. In fact, I probably left out a bunch of species. Salmon is the only fish I actually fish myself and I rarely purchase fish.

Fish stock can be added to stews, chowders, soups, sauces and stir fry. It can be made into dressings for greens and salads. It can be added to anything a chicken broth might be added with similar results (but different taste) Me? I am imagining using my salmon stock this winter in some great Thai dishes!

*If the fish is not hooked in the mouth, it is considered a “snag”. We release all non-mouth catches as well as fish that have any snag marks or hooks in other parts of their bodies (we removed line and hooks before release). Sadly, “snagging” fish is an action that others participate in and it is not only illegal, but greedy, in my opinion).

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Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by Gina

 

 

 

According to Slow Food USA, Shagbark Hickory Nuts are endangered enough to be listed in their Ark of Taste catalog. This means that the nuts were once deemed a valuable food resource here in the U.S., but have since fallen out of favor in more recent times.

 

Mature hickories are very easy to identify. They have a huge Eastern North American range (Eastern Canada; Maine to Eastern Texas); however Kentucky, Indiana and Michigan have the highest population density of shagbark hickories. The bark is “shaggy” (hence the name!) and grayish in color. They are deciduous (seasonal leaf loss) and can reach heights of over 80 feet. Their leaves are pinnate with 5-7 leaflets. I tend to find them in forests than contain oak, walnut and other “old growth” species.

 

Historically, the Native Americans foraged for shagbark hickory trees not only for the delicious rich flavored nuts, but also for the wood which has a high heat density and smoky flavor. My husband and I gather shed shagbark limbs and bark in the fall and use it to smoke meats on the smoker through the winter. Turkey and ham are both excellent smoked with hickory wood and bark. Additionally, syrup can be made from the extract of hickory bark. Unlike maple sugar syrup, hickory syrup is made from cane sugar and a flavoring in the shagbark hickory’s bark (although old literature mentions that sap was sometimes used). Stay tuned for the run down on making this type of syrup (end of post).

 

When should you gather hickory nuts and bark? Right now! When the nuts mature, they are released from their thick skinned outer cover and the creamy white nuts are easy to spot in the grass under a shagbark hickory stand. For the past week I have been picking up buckets of the delicious nuts. I gather what I can, put them in the freezer if I don’t have time to crack them (to kill pests), and shell them for cookies and other desserts over the winter. Other animals, like squirrels and deer love them too, so you have to be quick. They are also susceptible to insect infestation and for every few nuts you find meat, you will also find wormy duds. The nuts are really hard to shell. If you have a nut cracker, you are half way there. Some sort of nut pick will make life easier as well.

 

Ok, so do you want to know how to make Hickory Syrup? The recipe dates back to colonel times (or possibly even further back in the NA indigenous cultures). It requires patience and a bit of shagbark bark. The fortunate thing is the shagbark naturally sheds its bark and grows new bark, so taking the bark (in the falling off stage) won’t harm the tree. The syrup is a different sort of syrup than maple. It tastes similar to the taste of hickory smoked meats: slightly sweet, kind of savory with a ‘green’ undertone. It’s good on pork, pancakes or can be made into a unique soda pop (or beer)!

 

Shagbark Hickory Syrup

 

1.  Make a decoction extract: break up several pieces of the bark and submerge under water (in saucepan). Boil 20-25 minutes. Strain out bark pieces and return the amber colored water to a boil. Reduce to medium heat. This is the most popular technique, but I am going to offer another way. I use my camp stove percolator coffeepot. I break up the wood pieces small enough to fit in the grinds holder and let it percolate for 10-20 minutes. Then, I put the liquid in a pan and proceed.

 

2.  Gradually add regular sugar (either brown or cane), stirring between additions until sugar dissolves. Keep adding the sugar until desired consistency is reached.

 

3.  I’ve heard you can use the nutshells to flavor the syrup as well, but haven’t tried using them.

 

4.  If you don’t live in the Shagbark region, you can get some of the syrup at Hickory Works located in Brown County, Indiana. They are the only commercial manufacturer of hickory syrup. 

 

*Disclaimer: I have no personal affiliation with the company and I have not tried their syrup!

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I hated that song when I was teenager.  Growing up in a rural area, where we spent a part of each week patrolling for trespassers, I resented the people who trespassed on our land.  The 70’s was a time of rebellion against the establishment, and our lifestyle smacked of establishment.  But, it didn’t start then, I was just beginning to be painfully aware of how differently people think, and that definitions of stealing differed, depending on how bad you wanted something.   Each decade of my life here on this farm, (5 and counting) trespassers have stolen something different from our land.  When I was a child, fir cone pickers that were “wildcrafting” would steal fir cones from our land.  The timber companies offered $3.00 a bag for a gunny sack full of cones.  This was for seed, since they hadn’t really started growing super trees yet.  The other thing that commonly was “wildcrafted,” was Chittam bark, Cascara sagrada, this was for pharmaceutical companies.  Our stripped trees still remain as a constant reminder.  They are everywhere, my Dad would consficate the bark or fir cones, if he found the people doing it, but it was a small reward when you would rather just have the live trees, or the fir cones to regenerate your own land, and feed your squirrels and birds.

Chittam tree that was killed by bark stripping in the late 60’s.  You have to be pretty bold to climb through someone’s fence, and cross a 20 acre field just to kill a tree for a few dollars.

These days, wildcrafters strip the woods of old growth moss for florists, edible mushrooms for buyers and restaurants, and medicinal native herbs for the herbal trade.  There are several companies around here that say their wildcrafters are easy on the land, but it is not true.  A good friend of mine who is a well known herbalist, says it is a crap shoot to take any kind of over-the-counter herbal remedy.  Plant identification is woefully inadequate, and sometimes for instance, in the case of digitalis being picked instead of comfrey, could cause severe reactions. 

Five years ago, we discovered someone had spent some considerable time digging up a 1/4 acre patch of Devil’s Club.  They left their garbage and they destroyed the patch.  The worst thing, they harvested at the wrong time of year, rendering the product useless medicinally.  So senseless.  I’m sure if you’re buying some Devil’s Club tincture (poor man’s sang) you want it to work, but if it is gathered at the wrong time, you’ve been duped.

I don’t know the answer, should people stop buying items that have been wildcrafted?  I fear the land around us private,//i33.tinypic.com/6r6e8j.jpg" target="_blank">View Raw Image</a>or government owned is being wildcrafted to death.  I know on our land, I expect to be able to pick from my Chanterelle patch to give us mushrooms through the year.  If we take 1/2, and leave 1/2 for regeneration, then somebody doesn’t heed our NO TRESPASSING sign, and climbs through our fence, this person make take half, and leave half, which is leaves 1/4 for the next trespasser.  That really is me being a dreamer, they usually take all of the the mushrooms, and we get none.  And, they do damage to the forest floor too, because IT’S NOT THEIR LAND, AND THEY DON’T CARE!!! 

I guess to wildcrafters I may seem a little crabby about this subject, but it is a practically a full time job, asking people to leave our property.  I believe part of the problem may be the layout of our farm, with a county road dissecting our land.  But, really our property is all fenced and we bear the liability of people getting hurt on our land, even if they trespass.  Last week, someone got burned in a hot springs not too far from here.  The people trespassed on private land to reach these hot springs and now they are hospitalized.  So who is at fault?  Does everything have to be idiot proof?  I’m not very popular when I say, that if you don’t have your own mushrooms, moss, beef, fruit, etc., grow it yourself.  But, really, why isn’t it stealing to poach one of our steers or pick all our mushrooms.  I probably do seem unreasonable when I find someone in our field eating blackberries, but if you’re the third person that day that has inconvenienced me, why shouldn’t I be a little testy.  Or, if you decide I couldn’t possibly use all those apples, how does anyone know how many apples I need, or if I need to leave those for the deer so they stay out of my garden.  If I go to town, I can’t help myself at the store, or at someone’s kitchen garden.  I can’t have a picnic on someones lawn, or take a crap by their mailbox.  I guess I could, but I’m sure I would be in the clink.  So why would anyone think it is OK to do that to me?  If I could ask one thing, it would be that people respect the the land and other people’s property.

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Oh thanks for tearing down my sign, I guess that makes it OK to hunt…

I DO want to keep Mother Nature in – does that really make me a sinner?

Matron of Husbandry farms, gardens, packs heat, and stays on her side of the line at her family’s original, 1881 homestead in the Pacific Northwest.  You can keep abreast of what’s happening at the farm on the blog, Throwback at Trapper Creek.

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The Noble Grape

Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by Gina

The homestead we recently purchased came with an established grape vine. It was one of the major attractants when I first looked at the property. This summer we were blessed with our first large grape harvest. I have made several half-pints of jelly, preserved quarts of juice, baked two concord grape pies (recipe coming soon!), and there are still pounds to be picked. My next project is wine.

One of the things I am learning is how to care for an established grape vine. Over the years and at two other properties, I’ve planted grapes. All grew well and I actually harvested a small amount off one of the planted vines this year. In fact, it was a vine I had given up on. However, I have never had such a mature vine and I have never had to prune one back in the winter.

Reasons I have planted grapes

1. Shade on chicken yard
2. Permaculture landscaping
3. Food resource (berries and leaves)
4. Wildlife attractant
5. Easy to grow & tend
6. Nostalgia (my father grew Concord grapes on the suburban property I grew up on)
7. Wine
8. Natural decoration (the trimmed vines)
9. Medicinal properties
10. High (for domestic fruit) pest resistance

Grapes are easy to grow and care for with only a small amount of gardening knowledge. In fact, I think they are one of the easiest and fastest growing fruit sources to plant on either an urban, suburban or rural homestead. The main thing to keep in mind is to pick a variety suited for your geographical location. Here in the Eastern half of the U.S., Concord rules, but it also does pretty good everywhere else too. Those of you residing out in the Rockies and beyond westward will like the vinifera varieties. Knowing the type you are planting will help you provide ideal conditions and the proper training. I won’t go into great detail about variety types here (because that would be a post in itself), but I’ll give you a few examples.

Mediterranean-types
Merlot
Pinot Noir
Chardonnay
Zinfandel
Ok, you’ve probably guessed these are the traditional wine grapes

American-types
Concord
Fredonia
Catawba
Niagara

I’m partial to the American types because I love the strong “wild grape” smell. I have no experience with growing the viniferous types (as they do better in a warmer climate), but I do know they need to be started low and trained to grow upwards along a trellis. The Concord-types, on the other hand, grow in a more droopy fashion and need to be allowed to grow in this pattern. Concords are distantly related to the wild grapes you can forage around this time of year (here in the Midwest anyway), also called ‘fox grapes”. The wild types look, smell and taste like the typical purple-skinned Concord (only stronger tasting and smaller berries). In fact, Vitis labrusca (the common Eastern North American wild grape) gave us the Concord and Niagara.

One common misconception is that you cannot eat wine grapes and you can’t make wine from table grapes. This stems from the fact that table grapes will develop a different sugar and acid content when ripe than the wine grapes. However, many homemade wines were made from table grapes and plenty of people eat wine grapes. However, that being said, wine grapes tend to be seedy and table grapes don’t make a superb wine. This is something to consider when choosing a preferred variety to plant.

When grapes start to turn color (called verasion), many people begin harvesting them right away. Sometimes this is a mistake. Generally the color develops before the sugar content reaches its maximum. This is one of the reasons people can become disappointed in their grape products.

Grapes offer more than just a food source for the self-sufficient wannabes. They are high in antioxidants and flavonoids which are used for anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-allergic effects. The skins and seeds are used to make an extract with multiple health benefits. Historically, the leaves of the red skinned grapes were used to treat heavy menstruation, diarrhea, and uterine hemorrhaging. Current research is showing the positive benefits of grapes in treating cancer and heart disease. Phytochemicals in the grapes have shown to have both anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties.  

In future posts, I will go into more detail about pruning, fertilizing and general care. We can learn together! I just wanted to introduce the topic and encourage a discussion on growing grapes on the homestead. Meanwhile, I encourage you to do a little grape research this winter and consider planting a vine or two somewhere in your landscape this spring. They are inexpensive depending on your source (in fact, you can take cuttings from someone else’s vines). Before you know it, you’ll be making too many half-pints of jam, quarts of juice and the sweet & sour grape pies.

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