Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Garden Accounting - August

Here's the August installment for the Garden Accounting Series (you can see the totals for June here and July here) - boy, is the produce rolling in now!

I ended July netting about $150, so everything I harvested this month was gravy. The biggest payer this month was the pickles (I grew the cukes, dill, and garlic, so all I had to purchase was the vinegar), which on their own saved me $145 (yup, almost as much as everything last month combined!) Coming in a far second was the potatoes at $66 (and I've only harvested half of them so far!), then the wild mushrooms (I harvested them from my yard, so they count!) and the elderberries (did you know 4oz of elderberry syrup costs $18 at my local health food store? My feeble little 1/2 cup (which made 10 oz of syrup) just saved me $45! Ka-ching!) Grand total: $409 and change, bringing my garden "earnings" for the year up to roughly $560. What a blessing this garden has been!

Here's the tally of what I harvested this month:
48 quarts of pickles
55 pounds of potatoes
20 pounds of zucchini
4 dozen ears of sweet corn
4 pounds of tomatoes
7 slicing cucumbers
9 bunches of chard
9 small onions
8 pounds of carrots
1 1/2 pounds of broccoli (hopefully my fall planting does better!)
2 1/2 pounds of beans (they're just getting going - hopefully I'll have a lot more next month)
10 bunches of parsley
6 bunches of chives
20 cloves of garlic
14 grams of peppermint, dried for tea
3 oz (dried) mushrooms
1/2 cup elderberries

This post is part of the Homemaking Link-Up at Raising Homemakers and Frugal Tuesday at Learning the Frugal Life.

For the continuation of this series, click here.

The Perfect Soup

I think I may have discovered the perfect soup. It fits all of my criteria, and more:

1) it's made almost exclusively of things I raise myself (no, here in Wisconsin I can't make my own salt)

2) because of #1, I know it's free of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, so it's good for us

3) it's full of stuff from the garden, so I know my kids have eaten plenty of veggies for the day

4) the home-raised pastured chicken stock is great for their immune system

5) the kids love it (well, three out of five . . .)

6) and it's helping me lose weight! Bonus!

This is a very simple "throw-in-what-you-have" soup. I try to include leafy greens, carrots, fresh herbs, and potatoes (and of course that nutrient-dense chicken stock!) to get all the vitamins I can into every bowl full.

Our Daily Soup
2 quarts chicken stock
4 medium potatoes, cubed
1 cup chopped or shredded carrots
1 cup chopped celery
1 bunch chard or other greens, chopped
1 bunch fresh parsley (or about a tablespoon dried)
1 onion, chopped (or a bunch of chives, snipped)
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp salt

Boil all together until potatoes are soft, then either serve as is (for a more broth-y soup, which is how my 9yo daughter prefers it) or puree it with a stick blender for more of a chowder-y consistency (which is how the rest of us like it). Season to taste and serve (with a little shredded cheddar cheese sprinkled on top for good measure!)

We've been having this almost every day for lunch lately, and it really is helping me lose weight, without worrying about missing out on valuable nutrients my body needs. I really love this soup!

This post is part of Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop.

Friday, August 26, 2011


Believe it or not, before this month I'd never had gazpacho (or any (intentionally) cold soup, for that matter!) I was intrigued by the seeming simplicity of it, so I "tested" it by ordering at a restaurant (before I made a whole batch that ended up going to the chickens). I LOVED it, so I found a promising recipe off the internet  (which I changed, of course!) and made some at home. The kids gave it mixed reviews (2 for, 3 against - but of course I intend to give them time to get used to it) but I found it just as good as the bowl I'd had in the restaurant.

I love that I can make this almost entirely from what's in the garden right now and that it doesn't heat up the house! The perfect soup for August!

1 cucumber, chopped
4 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups tomato juice
¼ cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
½ Tbsp salt
1 tsp pepper

Mix all in a large bowl and chill before serving. The longer it sits, the more the flavors develop.

(The original recipe also called for 2 bell peppers, which we don't like - feel free to add them if you do like them!)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Homemade Elderberry Syrup

I found these walking out to get my mail the other day - the elderberries I planted last fall finally have ripe fruit!

I gathered all of the berries (I snipped off the base of the umbel and brought it in the house that way, then picked off the fruit in the kitchen) and off of both bushes I got a grand total of - duh da duh! - half a cup. Not as much as the buckets full I saw on the sites I searched for elderberry recipes, but I suppose these are, comparatively, baby plants - I'm just grateful to have any!

After a quick search online, I found this informative site, and used the recipe there (halved, obviously) to make my very own syrup:

Elderberry Syrup
1 cup fresh or 1/2 cup dried elderberries
3 cups water
1 cup honey

Heat the berries and water to a boil, then reduce to simmer for 30-45 minutes. Mash the berries, strain, and stir in honey. At this point, it's ready to use (up to 1 teaspoon every 3 hours from the onset of a cold). This will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 months.

I'm planning to keep mine in the freezer until January (about when the post-Christmas colds hit) and then keep it in the fridge until spring.

Hopefully in the future, when I have more berries, I can make enough to use as "preventative medicine" - a.k.a. yummy pancake syrup!

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday at GNOWFGLINS.

Creamy Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup

By now you know that I’m a little strange, and I’m sure this post is not going to detract from that image. Inspired by finding cute little white mushrooms all around my yard after a recent thunderstorm, I went online to find a good mushroom identification guide. This search led me to Edible Wild Mushrooms of Illinois & Surrounding States. I perused this book for the last couple of days, and was inspired this morning to see if I could find any of the mushrooms from the book out in my yard.
Alas, no – but I did find a few interesting mushrooms I thought I’d check out online:

I found out that these are White Pine Boletes (Suillus americanus, for those of you who like to know such things), otherwise known as Chicken Fat Mushrooms (how fitting, right?). We have TONS of them growing under the pine trees in our front yard. Apparently they’re edible, but not anything special.

My internet search found that they were actually the Mushroom of the Month for July 2004 on UW-La Crosse professor Tom Volk’s webpage (check it out - all you never knew you wanted to know about the Chicken Fat Mushroom!)

Well, not one to pass up free food, I gathered up a all of these lovely 'shrooms that I could find and put most of them in the dehydrator. The rest I saved for supper - Creamy Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup.


Now, I WISH I could say that I went out and harvested my own wild rice, too (I do live in an area where wild rice was once abundant - I even had to go to the nearby city of Rice Lake to buy some! But alas, back in the big logging boom in the 1800s, they put in a dam that changed the lake so now rice won't grow there. *sigh*)

Anyway, as I was saying, with my lovely little boletes I made this warm and creamy soup:

Creamy Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup
1 cup wild rice, cooked in 3 cups of water
4 oz bacon, chopped
4 Tbsp butter
8 oz mushrooms, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 Tbsp flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups chicken broth
3 Tbsp parsley
1/2 tsp pepper
1 cup heavy cream

In a large pot, cook bacon and melt butter. Sautee onions and mushrooms. Sprinkle with flour and cook until the flour starts to stick to the bottom of the pot (scrape it up as much as you can). Add wild rice, parsley, pepper, wine and broth. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in cream and serve.

Just because I couldn't resist, I’ll close with a picture of a cute little baby bolete, nestled among the clover, dandelions, hawkweed, and grass under the pine trees on our front lawn:

This post is part of Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade and Fat Tuesday at Real Food Forager.

Homemade Applesauce, Apple Syrup, and Apple Cider Vinegar - all from the same apples!

Although our own apple trees aren't producing yet (boo!), a friend asked us last week if we wanted to come and pick some apples off of her tree (Wahoo!) So the kids and I went over with a borrowed apple picker and went to work.

An hour or two later, we were home again with two five gallon buckets brimful of apples. The kids washed them while I quartered them, leaving the skins and cores intact and only cutting out any bruises (for "wild" apples (not sprayed) there weren't many worms at all!) Then I put the quartered apples in my smaller canning kettle, which I filled about half full of water. I boiled the apples until they were soft, and then let them cool a little before I processed them using my KitchenAid strainer attachment.
You can see in the picture that the sauce drains out into the silver bowl on the left, while the seeds, stems, and skins push out of the little hole in front, falling into the big glass pickle jar.

I used a slotted spoon to lift the apples out of the kettle, leaving most of the juice behind. When most of the pulp had been scooped out, I poured what was left in the kettle through a mesh strainer to separate the last of the pulp from the liquid.
I set the bowl of juice aside, then went back to the first bowl and ladled out all of the yummy applesauce into jars (using my stainless steel wide-mouth funnel - I was so glad I found this! I hate food (especially hot food) touching plastic!) and canned them (ten minutes in a water bath).

While the canner was boiling, I poured all of that lovely juice into a saucepan, boiled it down to about half the original amount, added honey to taste, and canned that for syrup for future pancake breakfasts (again, ten minutes in a water bath).

Now on to the scraps! Can't waste those! All of the peels and cores that had been strained out by the Kitchen Aid attachment had been collected in jars as I worked. I made sure each jar was only half full of apple scraps, then added honey and water,* leaving at least an inch of head space. In about a month, I'll have around 5 gallons of raw, organic apple cider vinegar!

So, from my FREE ten gallons of apples, I got 14 quarts of applesauce, 5 pints of apple syrup, and 5 quarts of apple cider vinegar -  over $90 worth of food!

*The exact recipe (adapted from the Nourishing Traditions recipe for pineapple vinegar) calls for a pint of apple scraps, a quart of filtered warm water, and 1/4 cup of rapadura or honey, mixed well. Cover with a towel or cheesecloth (or just the cover, loose - mine was hissing at me this morning because I'd left the top on tight after I shook it up! Fermentation is happening!!!) Stir once a day if you can.

After about a week the liquid will start to darken, and that's when you strain out the fruit scraps (you can compost them, or feed them to your chickens). You need to let it ferment 2 or 3 weeks longer, stirring it every so often, and then it's done! Easy peasy!

After reading the Sauerkraut Survivor series (and battling fruit flies in one of my jars of fermenting scraps) I'm going to  try making my ACV in heremes jars (if I have any left - I've been making lots of pickles lately!) I'll let you know how it turns out!

This post is part of Real Food Wednesday, Simple Lives Thursday, and Raising Homemakers.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Homemade Taco Seasoning

Homemade Taco Seasoning
(This makes about 1/3 cup, but can be easily doubled)
3 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp ground red pepper

Mix all ingredients well. Cover and store in an airtight container. Use 1 tablespoon per pound of meat in place of a seasoning packet.

They Ate It!

As I noted in a previous post, we had our roosters from this spring's batch of layer chicks butchered recently, and, attempting to get the biggest return for our input, I asked them to save the giblets. Which of course meant that I had a bag of giblets to figure out what to do with . . .

After quite a few days of intending to do *something* with them (but really not wanting to . . .) I finally pulled them out this morning and resolved to deal with them. It turned out that what was in the bag was only gizzards, lungs, and hearts (which was disappointing; I thought I'd be getting the livers, too). After looking at one gizzard and realizing what a pain it would be to clean and peel it, I quickly weeded those out (perhaps in the future I'll have the fortitude to deal with them; this year I would concentrate on the rest of the bag).

Which left the lungs and hearts. I'm all for organ meats; they're packed with nutrition (if you're not sure about this, I would encourage you to read Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig. That book changed the way I'll eat forever!) My kids, however, don't really care about the nutritional value - they only care about what it tastes like.

Thankfully, I have a tried and true "hide the organ meats" recipe that works every time (I was first exposed to this recipe through my mother-in-law, who gleefully asks whenever she serves this dish (after we've finished eating, of course), "Guess what I put in it this time?" She's my kind of gal!) Today I was as successful as my mother-in-law; I ground the hearts and lungs in the meat grinder (another of my handy-dandy Kitchen Aid attachments) and mixed it in instead of the ground beef. Lo and behold, EVERY SINGLE ONE OF MY KIDS ATE IT! My picky five-year-old even asked for seconds!

And now, without further ado, I will share this magic recipe with you:

Sombrero Dip
1 pound ground beef (or "mystery meat")
1/4 cup taco seasoning
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup ketchup
2 cups mashed pinto beans (or 1 can refried beans)
1 small can tomato sauce (or about a cup of pureed homegrown tomatoes)
8 oz grated cheddar cheese

Brown ground beef and drain. Add taco seasoning, onions, ketchup, beans, and tomato sauce. Spread into 9x13 pan. Top with shredded cheese. Bake at 350 until heated through, about half an hour. Serve with taco chips and sour cream, black olives, lettuce, etc. - whatever you prefer.

This post is part of Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Garden Accounting - July

So I tallied up my "income" from the garden for July the same way I did for June - here's what I came up with:
I finished off June still "owing" $28.83 for supplies, seeds, started plants, etc. Well, July definitely payed that off, and more! This month's total: $179.89, which puts the garden very firmly in the black, with a balance of $151.06 (can't wait to see what happens when the tomatoes start rolling in!)

The big payers, oddly enough, were the herbs - I figured I harvested $46 worth of chamomile (that's a lot of tea! And we will certainly use it - never realized how much I spent on my winter evening soother/summer afternoon cooler!) and $12 of chives (a fresh bunch for our pizza every Thursday, as well as a bit for soup here and a little to go in my omelet there). We also brought in quite a bit of dill, which went toward making almost $20 worth of pickles. I love how the plants that need the least care and attention (all of these are prodigious self-seeders) provided the best return!

Here's the complete tally of what came in this month:

10 oz spinach
5 green onions
1 head of garlic (I was desperate!)
20 pints of rhubarb (the plants I divided this spring are doing so well I had to thin them out - they were showing signs of rotting at the base from overcrowding in this hot, humid weather!)
167 grams of chamomile
4 pounds of peas
1 quart of cherries
13 1/2 pounds of swiss chard (frozen for soup this winter)
3 oz  green beans (didn't plant nearly enough!)
4 pounds potatoes (again, I got desperate)
3 zucchinis
1 pound broccoli
2 slicing cucumbers
Dill, garlic, and cucumbers for 5 quarts of pickles
1/2 pound tomatoes (one big early one)
1 1/2 pounds of carrots

This was very much an "in-between" month. The spring crops were petering out, and the big summer vegetables were just getting going. Now it's time to start planting the fall veggies and canning up all of the summer bounty!

For the continuation of this series, click here.

Pancake Powered Kitchen Appliances!

I have finally found the answer to every mother's question - why can't I somehow bottle up my child's endless supply of energy and use it for something useful? Oddly enough, I found it at a rummage sale:

Both my ten year old boy and my four year old boy are fascinated with my new toy. We shredded two zucchinis and a pound of cheddar with it this morning (and they were begging to do more!)

In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I already have a gadget like this that hooks up to my kitchen aid stand mixer (the slicer/shredder attachment). But, honestly, it's kind of a pain to clean (by which I mean it takes up a lot of room in the dishwasher . . .) and store (yeah, it's my own fault for keeping it waaayyy back in the lower cabinets, so I have to dig it out whenever I want to use it . . .)

Ok, yeah, I saw a new toy and had to get it. It was only $2! And it's so earth-friendly it runs on completely renewable pancake power! You never know when there might be a power outage and you just NEED some shredded cheese!


This gadget actually caused an "Ah-ha!" moment for me. I had never seen a gadget like this before, and honestly, I never even thought to wonder if there could be a gadget like this. It just assumed that my big, bulky, plastic, electricity-driven shredder was all there was (other than that little flat cheese grater thingy I have in my utensil drawer. And maybe a salad shooter - which of course is simply a little, useless, plastic, electricity-driven shredder . . .)

But when I saw this, it dawned on me - most of those electric kitchen gadgets (the useful ones, anyway) probably started out as non-electric kitchen gadgets, since people have been preparing food for thousands of years, but electricity has only been widely available for less than a hundred.

Which (in my mind, anyway) went along with one of the ideas that drives this blog: processed foods, with all of their unpronounceable chemical ingredients, are simply poor imitations of real, homemade food. This was actually a revelation to me. I know - duh! I honestly used to think that you couldn't make things like ketchup or mayonnaise in your own kitchen, that you needed some kind of industrial machinery and unavailable-to-the-average-person chemicals.

But slowly, after I married and we started a family, I began to learn how to actually cook - not just warm up pre-packaged frozen pizzas and lasagnas (my poor husband put up with a lot of hamburger helper those first years!) Thanks to the internet, I found recipes for things like spaghetti sauce (millions of them!) and discovered what to do when you don't have a can of cream of mushroom soup.

So, part of the reason I started this blog was to help people like me - to give back, in a Titus 2 kind of way.

But also realize that I'm still learning - feel free to share your tips with me, too!

Talking Turkey

Yesterday we took our first batch of turkeys to be "processed". We had gotten them from a friend of my sister-in-law (normally when you buy turkeys from a hatchery, you have to buy a minimum number to ensure that they will stay warm enough in shipping. In this case, she'd been required to buy at least eight, but only wanted four. Purely by accident, we'd found each other through my sister-in-law's facebook page (both of us commenting on the same post), and I agreed to buy the four extra poults from her - a hen and three toms) so we weren't exactly sure how old or even what breed they were. By the time we got them, they were well past the poult stage and ready to go straight into the range pen (a.k.a. Salatin-style chicken tractor - which ended up being too short for them, so we moved them to a taller - also movable - pen later).

I had made an appointment to take the young roosters in ("When they start to crow, they need to go!" is my husband's feeling on the subject) so I decided on a whim to weigh the turkeys, too, and see how much longer they'd need before I should make an appointment for them.

My ten year old son went out, caught the hen, and brought her to me. I had him stand on the bathroom scale holding the hen (NOT in my bathroom - we brought it outside!) then put her back in the pen and stand on the scale again. A quick little bit of calculating (homeschool moment - Math In Real Life!) and we found our little girl weighed in at 17.4 pounds! I was thinking, for comparison, that I usually buy a 12-pound turkey from the store, so this seemed almost too big! Right away, I called in and added the turkeys to the roosters' Friday appointment.

After more than a few hugs and kisses (my kids love our poultry!) we loaded the turkeys into an old wire dog kennel in the bed of the pickup and left them there for the night. In the morning, bright and early, we headed down to the processor's and dropped them off. Five hours later, they were chilled and ready to go, and we were given our final numbers - 15.8, 13.4, 12.8, and 11.8 pounds (that last one was our little hen - she'd lost almost 5 pounds from her live weight; some of that, however, was giblets, which we were given in a separate bag). Not too shabby!

So, final thoughts on our first turkey-raising experience?

1) Turkeys are so much fun! They definitely have different personalities than chickens. They are much more curious, and completely fearless. At feeding time, chickens will flutter away from you; turkeys walk sedately up to check things out.

We also enjoyed their plumage. My ten year old thought it was particularly fun to run up at them, yelling at the top of his lungs, to get them to fan out and gobble (that was the only time we ever heard them gobble - most of the time they made small, contented noises). They did puff up without being "attacked", though, displaying at each other whenever the mood struck them. I never realized before that you can actually hear a whoosh of air as they fan their feathers out!

2) They were very easy. Granted, I didn't have to deal with the poult stage, which apparently is the hard part. But these four would stand outside in the rain, even through some pretty nasty storms, and look at me the next morning like nothing had happened. They were no trouble when I moved the pens - not flighty like the pullets; they just walked sedately along (trying to peck at my fingers, which apparently look very tasty to them! Their inquisitive pecking never hurt, though.)

If one of them got out of their pen (which happened once or twice) they would walk up to me when they saw me coming, and stand while I picked them up and returned them to their cage.

3) I would definitely buy a heritage breed again. Granted, I haven't cooked them up yet,* but as far as raising them is concerned, I had a wonderful experience. I don't feel like the grow-out time was too long (although perhaps I should have let them get a little bigger - I wasn't sure how live weight would convert to dressed out). Perhaps some Bourbon Reds next year . . .

This post is part of the Homestead Barn Hop on The Prairie Homestead.

*I did finally cook one, and boy, was it good! I wrote about it here.