Preserving the Harvest

The reason for having a garden is not only to have fresh fruit and vegetables in the summer, but also to preserve them for the winter months. That can be done by canning, drying or freezing. This year, we didn’t have much of a garden so we didn’t have anything to put up, except for a few herbs that I am drying.  That is about the limit of my drying experience: herbs. My preferred method of preserving is canning although I’m still a novice and have a lot of learning to do. I save freezing for shorter term preservation.

As you know, we planted fruit trees last spring, and while they are all doing well, it will be at least three or four years before they produce any fruit. However, I am getting some preserving the harvest practice in this year because I was given several pounds of pears and granny smith apples.

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Pears are funny things. They do not ripen on the tree. They fall off and then ripen. You have to catch them quick because the window between green and rotten is very small. So what did I do with thirty pounds of pears in varying stages of ripeness? I made an enormous batch of pear butter. Let me just say in advance, that it wasn’t a good idea.

I used the pear butter recipe in the Ball Canning book. It called for pounds of pears per recipe and gives the approximate yields in pints (this is also where I rediscovered that my water bath canner is only large enough for pint jars) One recipe makes about four pints. First it says to peel and core the fruit. So Chicken Girl and I did that. We had to take a couple breaks to wash our hands and the knives because, if you didn’t know, peeling pears is a sticky mess.

Anyway, we filled my largest stock pot with pears. Then I was supposed to add some water and cook it until the pears were soft…um some of the pears were already soft…Then I needed to use a food mill or a food processor to make pulp, being careful not to liquefy it. A food mill is on my wish list, (and would have been a much better choice) but you use what you have right?

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Yeah, it’s full. Not a good idea.

Then I was supposed to measure out two quarts of pulp per batch. I had six quarts so that is three batches…but I started with thirty pounds of pears which was five batches? Fine, three batches it is.

So I added the sugar and spices and put it all back in the stock pot. I was supposed to cook it down until thick, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking. What it did not say (anywhere in the book..I looked) was that this cooking has to be done on LOW and takes a long time (like hours). I had my fire too high and even stirring constantly, I could feel it sticking. What do do. I turned it off and went to look online for more information…Yeah low and hours…oh look there…crock pot! Yes! I have crock pots

So I pulled out both my crock pots and filled them. The bottom of my stock pot had thick black gunk stuck to the bottom that we are still trying to get out. My take from that is that I tried to cook too much at once over too hot a fire, in a pot with too thin a bottom.

Anyway, I left it all in the crock pot overnight. And canned it the next day. I ended up with twelve pints. I’m not impressed with it. Bam Bam said he thought it was ok, but then Bam Bam really likes pears.

As for the apples, learning from the pear butter experience, I went a little different route. First I made an apple pie (I don’t do home made pie crusts very well, but I wanted to give Chicken Girl the experience..she doesn’t do them well either). The pie tasted good, but it wasn’t very pretty. Then I came across a recipe for fresh apple cake. That was so good it was gone in about a day. Unfortunately, I didn’t get pictures of either.

Of course, I had to try apple sauce and apple butter, but only one batch at a time. If I could do that, then I would do more. I found recipes for both that used the crock pot. I’ll try the old fashioned way again, when I have better cooking pots.

I did apple butter first. I found the recipe here. So we peeled and cored the apples. I’ve had this little device for years, and I can’t tell you how much I love it. It pretty much does everything for you. Even if you need to chop them up more finely, it’s easy to do with them already peeled, cored and sliced.

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Love this apple corer/peeler/slicer!

Making the apple butter was an all day thing, because it needed to be in the crock pot for a total of ten hours. The first hour on high, the last hour with an open lid, and the eight hours between closed and on low. You can imagine how good it smelled. Anyway, it was supposed to make three pints. Well, it didn’t quite. It was more like two and and three quarters, so I canned two pints and left the third one open in the fridge. Ed and I had some with left over biscuits this morning for breakfast. Yeah, this is a keeper recipe.

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after the first hour

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All done!

Next came the apple sauce. Again, I found an online recipe. So, this morning, Chicken Girl ran five pounds of apples through the peeler. It took a little longer because the apples are beginning to spoil, so we had to go through a few bad ones. Sometimes, you can’t tell they’re bad until you cut into them, or until the corer gets stuck and you realize the core is no longer solid. Yuck. Anyway, back in the crock pot. This time on high for three hours. Again, the house filled with the smell of apples and cinnamon.

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Ready to cook

At the end of three hours, I opened the crock pot and took a look. Then I used a potato masher to mash the cooked apples and poured it into a glass bowl. Isn’t it pretty?

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Apple Sauce

It’s good too. It’s a little tart, which is ok with me. Ed liked it better than the apple butter and I did too. Like Bam Bam, he thought the pear butter was “ok”. I don’t. It tastes scorched to me. Looking at the jars side by side, you can see how much darker the pear butter is than the apple butter (the pear butter jars have labels).

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See how much darker the pear butter is?

Oh, and as for Chicken Girl? She won’t taste any of it. She only likes fresh apples. Once they’re cooked, she won’t touch them.

My thought for now is to see how many of the remaining apples I can save and turn them all into apple sauce.

What is your experience with preserving the harvest?

Connie

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Soaked Oatmeal

Yeah, you read that right: soaked oatmeal.

There is a school of thought that says the reason so many people have digestive problems and do not tolerate grains is that we do not prepare them properly. Proper preparation includes soaking them before we cook them. It can’t hurt, right? I mean, we soak dry beans before we cook them, don’t we?

I found this recipe for soaked oatmeal in Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions, but I have quadrupled the recipe so that we have leftovers. I do that because another recipe in the same book calls for leftover oatmeal to make what you could call oatmeal pancakes, and they are awesome!

Anyway, I take four cups of old fashioned oats, four cups of warm water, a half a cup of buttermilk (you can use apple cider vinegar if you can’t handle dairy), mix it up, cover it and leave it to sit at room temperature for at least seven hours. I usually let it sit over night.

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I think I took this picture the night before, right after I mixed it up. It doesn’t look like it’s been soaking.

The next morning, I put another four cups of water, two teaspoons of salt and a heaping teaspoon of cinnamon in a large pot. The recipe doesn’t call for the cinnamon, but we like it. Bring the water to a boil. You can also add nuts and raisins or other dried fruit. I didn’t do it this time because I didn’t have any, but normally I do.

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Simmering water, salt and cinnamon.

Once the water starts to boil, add your soaked oatmeal, and stir. Let it cook about five minutes, stirring occasionally. That’s it. I usually add a couple sticks of butter and let it melt in. Since we all have different tastes about sweetness, every one fixes their own bowl and then adds whatever sweetener they want. This makes a lot. Ed, Bam Bam, and I can eat this for at least two days and still have enough left to make a batch of oatmeal cakes. Chicken girl won’t touch oatmeal, no matter how it’s fixed.

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Stirring in the soaked oats.

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Yummy!

I’ve been making oatmeal this way for over a year now, and I couldn’t tell you one way or the other if its effect our digestion, but I can tell you we like it. A few months ago, I hadn’t soaked any the night before. I needed something quick for Bam Bam and I, so I just made it like it says on the box. We both decided that we didn’t like it nearly as well as we did the soaked.

If you try it, let me know what you think. If you want a smaller batch, divide the recipe by four. One cup oats, one cup water, two tablespoons buttermilk for soaking, then one cup water and a half teaspoon salt for the next morning.

In other homestead news:

We are nearly out of the drought, thank the Lord! We are now at level D0 which is “abnormally dry”. Last week we had nearly ten inches of rain, which lead to flooding and road closures. Our creeks are running full again.

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You can see what it looked like before here

This morning, a full ten days earlier than our “average frost date”, we had a hard freeze. We woke to find the pastures white with frost. The growing season is officially over. A few days ago, when I heard this was coming, I harvested all the herbs I could and took the potted plants I wanted to save back into the greenhouse. I also picked all the green tomatoes that were big enough to fool with. The plants were still blooming, as was the watermelon, volunteer pumpkin, and one of the blackberry bushes . There were some enormous green berries on it. Alas, they are no more.

Once it warmed up a little, I went out and looked at the wild grapes, since you are supposed to pick them after the first frost. What little I found is quite a ways over my head. So I don’t know if I will get those or not. I did however get this picture. Pretty isn’t it?

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butterfly on mulberry tree

I’m not sure what Ed has in store for you next week, so you’ll just have to come back and see.

Have a great week!

Connie

Baking Bread

Welcome to the homestead kitchen, where we specialize in cooking from scratch, and using real food. Today we’re going to talk about bread. There is nothing quite like the smell of baking bread to bring people from all parts of the house to the kitchen with anticipatory smiles on their faces. Ask me how I know.

I also know the idea of baking bread can be intimidating, but don’t let it scare you too much. We’re going to have some fun!

There are two basic types of bread: Quick Breads and Yeast Breads.

Quick breads use baking powder and/or baking soda as a leavening agent. Biscuits, pancakes, cornbread, and nut breads are examples of quick breads. Today, specifically, we’re going to talk about biscuits.

When I was twelve years old, I started visiting my dad and step mom in Georgia during the summer. My step mom, Dot, is a traditional southern cook, and her fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits are to die for. I watched her, in fascination, as she formed each biscuit by hand (without a biscuit cutter), leaving a pan of biscuits that looked like they came out of a machine, but tasted like they came out of heaven.

It was years before I actually tackled it myself, and no, mine don’t look like hers. None of my bread is “pretty”. It just isn’t. I must not hold my mouth right or something. It does however, taste good.

Baking powder biscuits just need a few things: flour, salt, baking powder and a liquid. If your liquid is butter milk, you will also need baking soda. Dot always used self rising flour, which has the leavening included, but I don’t. I use plain white flour, and sometimes, if it’s in the budget, I’ll use some whole wheat or spelt flour too.

So, let’s get started shall we?

First, we need flour. I’m using four cups of all purpose flour, to which I will add two teaspoons of salt, four teaspoons of baking powder and a half teaspoon of baking soda. I use a whisk to mix it all together.

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Whisk the dry ingredients together

Then I add a cup of shortening. You can use whatever solid shortening you have on hand. Today I used what was left from some Crisco that I had for something else. Usually, I stay away from vegetable shortening because I don’t think it’s good for you, but I had it and I needed to use it up. Otherwise I would use butter or lard. I mix it in with a pastry blender until it looks like course crumbs .

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Adding the shortening

Next comes the buttermilk. The recipe would call for two cups, but it really depends on your flour, so I start with one and a half cups and add more if I need it. Mix well.

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this was still a little dry so I added more buttermilk

Now, you need to put your dough out on a floured surface. I use newspapers, because it cuts down on the mess. I can just roll it up and throw it away when I’m finished. You can roll the dough out with a rolling pin or pat it out by hand. You can use a biscuit cutter and cut them out, or you can pinch off pieces and roll them between your hands. I do the latter.

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my floured surface

Put your rolled pieces on a greased baking sheet, sides touching.

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ready to go

Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until brown on the top.

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Ready to eat!

See, they aren’t pretty, but they sure were good! There were only two left after breakfast, and all four of us were home for breakfast.

Baking bread can seem like a daunting undertaking, but don’t let that put you off. Like many things, it just takes some practice. My great grandma Marie said of her bread making experience. “My neighbor asked me, ‘How’d your bread turn out Marie?’ I said, ‘right out there in that trash can!’” Grandma didn’t give up though and by the time I came along she was an experienced bread baker. When I was about 13, after what seems like months of begging, she finally agreed to teach me how to make the bread she only made for family get togethers at fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Yeast Breads use yeast as a leavening agent. The yeast can come from a package or from the air as it does with sourdough bread. I haven’t mastered sourdough bread yet, so we won’t cover that today. I’ll keep working on it though and I’ll share what I’ve learned with you when I do. I buy my yeast at the store. Since I make a lot of it, I buy it in jars instead of the little envelopes.

Yeast breads really only need yeast, flour and a liquid, but if you want it to have a nice texture and taste you need to add a few more things, like shortening and salt. You can add sugar and eggs too, depending on what kind of yeast bread you’re making. Yeast bread recipes can also be used to make rolls and cinnamon rolls.

The bread that I make on a weekly basis actually comes from the book “A Cabin Full of Food”, by Marie Beausoleil at Just Plain Living, so I’m not going to actually share a recipe for yeast bread, but I will show you the basics that apply to any type of yeast bread baking.

One thing I do that is different is that I use a bread bowl. I found this one in a flea market several years ago. It saves a lot of the mess of having that “floured surface” on your table or counter, because you can knead your bread right in the bowl.
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Ok, the first thing you have to do is get your liquid hot enough to melt your shortening. If you’re using water, that means boil it. Liquid can be water, milk, potato water, and probably a few other things I haven’t thought of. Your shortening can be oil, butter, vegetable shortening, lard, and a combination of those things. Grandma’s bread used both butter and vegetable shortening. Like her, I only make that at the holidays.

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This is a half stick of butter. I just wanted to give you an idea of the size of this bowl.

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boiling water and butter

Then you have to let the liquid cool to luke warm. 105 degrees is what you’re looking for so you can add the yeast. You want the little yeasts to be cozy. Dried yeast is actually a dormant bacteria. When you put it in the warm water it wakes up. If the water is too cool, they take too long, and if it’s too hot, they die. So it has to be “just right”. It will feel just barely warm to the touch. Now at this stage, you can also add some sugar, or other natural sweetener. If you do, let it sit for about five minutes before you do anything else. That gives the yeast a chance to get good and awake, and start eating the sugar. You’ll know they’re working because your liquid will start to look bubbly.

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bubble bubble

Now stir in your flour and any other ingredients. You want a sticky looking dough. This is called the sponge. You can let the dough rest for 30 minutes to an hour at this point.

Now comes the fun part. You want to put your dough out on a floured work surface, or add flour to your bread bowl.

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flour in the bowl with the sponge

You want to work in enough flour to where the dough is smooth and elastic. You do this by pressing down on the dough, folding it over, and pressing down again. When it sticks to the work surface or your hands, you add more flour. Kneading like this can take anywhere between eight and fifteen minutes. You cannot over knead. Grandma always said you have to let the bread know who’s the boss!

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All kneaded

Some recipes may have you let the dough rise until double at this point, before you do anything else (like my grandma’s recipe) or it might have you form the bread into loaves and put it into greased pans before you let it rise. If you put it in pans you will only have one rising before you bake it.

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Ready to Rise

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Ready to Bake

After the dough has risen, you bake it in a 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes or so, until the tops are golden brown and they sound hollow when you tap the bottoms.

I didn’t get a picture when they came out of the oven. This was taken later after the first loaf was already gone.

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All baked. 

Well, I hope I haven’t scared you off too badly, and I do hope you try your hand at baking bread.

Connie