Jun 12, 2017

Gearing Up for the Canning & Preserving Season

Gearing Up for the Canning and Preserving Season
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 I think I'm almost set for the bustle of canning and preserving season. I can't wait to preserve the food growing on our homestead; the still-green blueberries taunt me, and the tiny baby apples are calling my name! And this year, I purchased a few inexpensive tools to help make preserving easier.
Use it for plums, not apples!

Apple Corer...For Plum Pits

A time saving addition to my canning and preserving tools is this apple corer. I won't be using it for apples; I tried that with a similar model last year, and it broke. Instead, I'll use this tool to quickly pit plums and prunes. Last year, my dad-in-law introduced me to this idea and loaned me a corer from his kitchen. It made pitting those plums so much faster! This winter, I carefully researched the sturdiest model I could find, and came up with this. (By the way, for actually coring and cutting apples, as well as peeling them if desired, I use something similar to this.)

A good cherry pitter is a must.
Sturdy Cherry Pitter

Another good addition to my arsenal is this cherry pitter. I have a plastic one in my utensil drawer, but this stainless steel version will hold up much better to the large amounts of cherries I hope to have on our trees this year.

A decent mandoline makes things much easier.
Mandoline Slicer

Last year, I also purchased a new mandoline. I had a plastic one for years and rarely used it; eventually, I gave it away. But now that I'm a dehydrating fiend, this baby comes in very handy. I like this model because it's affordable, but not flimsy, like so many mode sold today. But I'm prone to cutting myself if I'm using any sharp tool, so an important accessory are these cut resistant gloves.

One Time Use Canning Supplies

Naturally, I'm also gathering one time use canning supplies. I like to do this now, before I'm in the middle of canning, for a couple of reasons. One, canning lids and similar items often go on sale in the spring. Two, having everything I need on hand reduces stress and the need to go into town at the last minute because I have pounds of produce that need immediate canning. I've bought some lids, and also a few seasoning packets. I don't typically use those - homemade seasonings are better. But I do like to have a few on hand for making pickles.




The Heavy Hitters
I've loved my Nesco dehydrator for years.

And of course, I couldn't do any preserving without my heavy hitters on hand - my Nesco American Harvest dehydrators (I now have two, with added trays) and my Presto pressure canner, which I also use as a water bath canner. I still need to pick up an extra sealing ring for the canner; having a new one on hand is a must, because if I'm in the middle of canning and the ring stops working, the last thing I want to do is abandon everything and run to the store. Incidentally, years ago, I bought a rocker gauge for this canner so I wouldn't have to go to the Extension office every year and have the pressure regulator checked. (More on that here.)

My Presto pressure canner is high capacity.
And...The Preserving Kitchen

My other - rather large, ahem! - preserving investment comes in the form of beginning work on my preserving kitchen. Why would I want a separate kitchen just for preserving? Well, for one thing, my kitchen stove runs on a propane tank. I can't imagine how many times I'd have to refill that tank if I canned on it. For another, it's hard to boil water on my stove; I don't know if I could get a canner up to temperature. And finally, in the summer, canning inside makes the house so hot. Since our house has a lot of thermal windows in the combined kitchen and living area, and since the house is well insulated, this is a much bigger problem here than it was when we lived in a leaky 1950s house in the suburbs.

I could definitely just create an outdoor canning set up with propane burners, but...we have the original homestead building sitting near the house and it's already wired and plumbed. Right now, we use it for the washer and dryer - and we use the old tub inside it for washing the dog. But there's also an old farm sink with a drainboard in there...so all we really need is an electric stovetop. We plan to buy one used.
The original, old building on our homestead...and my future canning kitchen.



You can't see it here, but the old metal roof currently leaks like crazy.



A lovely vintage farm sink. It just needs a little cleaning!

And then there's just the tiny task of filling in all the holes and cracks in the un-insulated, wood plank walls. And putting a new roof on. And adjusting the foundation. But, the contractor who's putting on a new metal roof is supposed to come today, so maybe I'll be using the canning kitchen sometime this year. How exciting would that be?!


Jun 8, 2017

How to Make Celery Salt (Plus: How to Dehydrate Celery)

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We have but one celery plant in our garden, yet it's enough to supply all our celery needs. That's because celery is a "cut and come again" plant, meaning you can cut off the stalks and new ones will grow in their place. Given that our plant is prolific, and given that it's getting huge now that it's spring, I recently cut all the larger stems off and decided to preserve them as celery salt (SO delish on meat and eggs!). I also made some plain dried celery.

Dehydrating the celery was easy: I cut up the stalks, laid them on dehydrator trays (covered with fruit roll sheets that prevent small pieces from falling through the trays' holes), set the dehydrator to 135 degrees F., and waited for the pieces to dry. It only took about 5 hours. These chopped, dried, stalk pieces are perfect for adding to soups and stews, come cool weather.

But I also had a ton of celery leaves I wanted to do something with. When I cook with fresh celery, I normally chop up the leaves and add them to whatever I'm cooking. They add celery flavor, but not crunch. So I dehydrated the leaves, too - and could have left them as is, to also add to soups and stews. But instead, I made really yummy celery salt.





How to Make Celery Salt

You can make celery salt with dried celery leaves, dried celery stalks, or even with celery seeds (but not seeds designed for planting in the ground; they may be treated with chemicals). For salt, I  recommend sea salt, since table salt or iodized salt will impart a less pure flavor. You may use either coarse or fine salt.

1. Powder dried leaves, stalks, or seeds. I used a food processor, but you could use a blender. If you're using leaves, a mortar and pestle, or even your fingers, will also do the trick.

2. Combine the salt and celery powder. The ratio you use is a matter of personal preference. I used half and half (equal parts), but some people prefer a 1:2 ratio, using more of whichever flavor, salt or celery, they want to emphasize.

3. Pour the celery salt into an air tight container, like a glass jar with a lid.

Watch this video to see just how easy it is!



Jun 5, 2017

Crazy Easy No Sugar Chocolate Peanut Butter Bites

Here's a recipe I think everyone can agree is healthier than that certain famous peanut butter candy - and delicious, too. There are tons of copycat recipes for that famous brand, and even many no-sugar and keto-friendly adaptations. But I wanted to make something simple. I wanted to make something without any added sweetener. And I wanted a treat - a fat bomb - that would satisfy me. Here's what I whipped together. And now my only problem is they are so yummy, I'm tempted to sit down and eat them all!

Those of you eating carby foods will, I hope, appreciate this as a good alternative to sugar-laden candy. Each piece is only about 9 calories. But those of you in the low carb or keto world will also enjoy this treat as a dose of fat that will keep you filled up and satisfied until your next meal. In fact, if you want to make this recipe even fattier, you can easily do so by simply adding more coconut oil.

Do we miss the sugar from that famous brand? Nope. Even my sugar loving kids beg for these babies.

And by the way, this recipe also proves you don't need to buy special fat bomb making molds. My sis-in-law actually recommended an ice cube tray, which most of us still have laying around somewhere or can buy for a buck at Walmart. It works perfectly for this recipe.




https://sites.google.com/site/proverbs31womanprintables/crazy-easy-chocolate-peanut-butter-fat-bombsCrazy Easy Chocolate Peanut Butter Fat Bombs

Note: I used Lilly's dark chocolate chips, which are lightly sweetened with Stevia. You could also use a chopped up Lilly's chocolate bar, or any other no sugar, low carb candy bar you prefer. Many health food stores carry Lilly's; if not, Vitacost has the best online price I've seen. And hey, place your first order with them, though this link, and you'll get $5 off your order!)






6 oz. Lilly's dark chocolate chips
2 teaspoons coconut oil
Natural, no sugar added peanut butter (I used Adam's; you could also use other no sugar added nut butters.)

1. In a small saucepan placed over very low heat, melt the chocolate chips and coconut oil, stirring often until smooth.

2. Spoon about 1 teaspoon of melted chocolate into the bottom of one cube in an ice cube tray. It should make a rather thin layer of chocolate.

3. Put about 1 teaspoon of peanut butter on top of the chocolate.

4. Drizzle about 1 teaspoon of melted chocolate over the peanut butter.

5. Repeat until the chocolate is all used up. Freeze.

Makes about 17 cubes.

Approximate Nutrition per cube: 1.17 g. carbohydrates; 2.74 g. fat; 1.3 g. protein; .33 g. fiber; 9.15 calories. (I recommend you do your own calculations based on your ingredients and the size of your ice cube tray.)


Jun 2, 2017

Weekend Links

In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page.

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site! 

"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."

James 1:2-4
 ________________________________________

* To paraphrase a blog title, fats make your pants fall off...and turn your shirts into tents, too! When I started the keto lifestyle just before Christmas, I couldn't button up this shirt. I'm a little bummed that certain weird foods are spiking my blood sugar; I'm a lot sicker than even I realized. But I'm SO happy with the keto lifestyle. My blood sugar is still a thousand times better, and I feel a thousand times more energetic, too. Plus...shirt tents. (Check out a recent newspaper article on why eating fat helps you lose weight.)

* The previous owners of our homestead left behind all kinds of junk. Piles, and piles, and PILES of it. We are using what we can, sorting out scrap metal, and will spend thousands hauling the rest to the landfill. One of the things they seem to have collected were broken tools, including rakes with broken or missing handles. Last week, I had hubby turn some of them into the BEST garden tool organizers. They are totally practical but also look like they've been there a 100 years. (Hubby wants me to tell you that normally he'd have everything lined up perfectly like the type A he is, but he knew I wanted the old, imperfect look...so he gave it to m.)

* I have an article on growing and using figs in the summer issue of Self-Reliance​ magazine. It includes my super yummy homemade "fig newton" recipe! Grab a copy of the issue - or better yet get a subscription of this terrific homesteading magazine - right here.


* Graco car seat recall.

* Tuna recall due to hepatitis.

* Recall on Kroger's macadamia nuts, due to listeria.

* Hot dog recall due to metal shards. 

* How 36 million pounds of soybeans treated with pesticides became "organic."

* Make your own organic, liquid fertilizer with compost or manure: A video from my YouTube channel.

* Chicken coop mistakes that will cost you. 

* Tips from Christian author Tricia Goyer on teaching kids to give generously. 

* Think you know what drowning looks like? Then you better read this. 

* Lots of free homesteading ebooks! 

* How to homestead even if you live in an apartment.

* Lacto-fermented garlic scape pickles.

Oldies But Goodies:

* Activities to go along with the Little House on the Prairie books.
* Canning Strawberry Rhubarb pie filling.
* How to Make Brownies FROM SCRATCH.


Jun 1, 2017

6 Ways to Teach Children to Worship God, Every Day

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site! 

This post was originally published in 2015.

As Christians, it's vital we learn to worship God through our ordinary, every day experiences. The wonderful thing is, if we as parents do this, our young children will follow our example. And once that habit is established, it's likely to stick. On the other hand, if we reserve worship for Sunday mornings alone, our children will mimic that example, too, and their spiritual lives will be awfully narrow because of it. Are you encouraging your children to worship as an everyday, natural part of life? Here are some ideas to help.

1. Play Christian Music. This could be popular Christian music or worship songs, but I challenge you to dig into music with deeper meaning - namely, hymns. In addition to this, young children should have simple Sunday school type songs (some are deceptively simple, but hold important spiritual truths, such as "Deep and Wide."). Even more important, give them Bible verses set to music, such as those found on Hide 'Em in Your Heart. Try to spend at least 10 minutes a day focusing on worship music. Then play it during breakfast. In the car. While doing chores. And use it as background music, too.

2. Practice Thankfulness. As you mature in Christ, it's difficult not to cry "Praise God!" throughout the day. But if you're not quite there in your walk, make an effort to thank God out loud whenever possible during your day. Your children will pick up on this thankful attitude, and soon you'll hear them praising God, too.

3. Have an Alter in Your Home. An alter is really just a place to meet with God. Maybe your alter is the kitchen table. Or maybe it's a sunny porch, or a cozy chair. Wherever it is, make sure your children know about it, and give them opportunities to delay their wants and not bother you when you are using it. Then encourage your children to find alters of their own.



4. Pray Throughout the Day. Yes, more formal prayer at meal times and bedtime is good, but show your children they can talk to God throughout their entire day - about anything and everything. Let them see you give praise, ask for help, ask questions, and so on. Say your prayers aloud - and your children will follow suit.

5. Don't Use His Name in Vain. This is a tough one if you're around other people who have this disrespectful, sinful habit. But using God's name in vain is the opposite of praising him. Check yourself, and ask out loud for God to forgive you if you slip up. Remind your kids how important it is to honor God, even though our society constantly says things like "OMG."

6. Teach Your Children the Law. Yes, teach your children about God's amazing grace, but don't neglect to teach them the law, too. Only by knowing the law (the 10 commandments and Jesus' explanation of them) can anyone truly know just how much they need grace - and just how sweet grace is. By understanding how much we fall short, and how much God has forgiven us for those sins, we can praise him all the more earnestly and joyfully.


May 30, 2017

How to Grow BIGGER Garlic

If you grow garlic, eventually it will send up "scapes" - long stalks with bulbs, and eventually, flower heads. You can leave them entirely alone. In fact, flowering garlic is really pretty in the garden.
Courtesy of Panegyrics of Granovetter
But if your main goal is to grow food, you'll want to cut them off. That's because scapes provide additional food - and removing them creates bigger garlic! Learn more in this short video:



And check out my posts on How to Cook with Scapes and Great Garlic Scape Recipes.


Courtesy


May 26, 2017

How to Make Your Own Garden Soil

lasagna gardening, sheet mulching
This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site!

I continue to struggle with setting up our garden. A lot of things have delayed creating vegetable beds on our homestead: particularly, a hurricane-force wind storm that blew the roof off my greenhouse and lead to the loss of every single plant marker (oy!); my husband's limited spare time and projects that I simply needed his help with; weather that seems to make everything bolt (go to seed); and too many holes for our income. So I've decided to do what homesteaders should: Make do with what I have. The problem is, good soil is something we have almost nothing of. And though I don't have the ability to bring truckloads of soil home, I'm doing my best to find creative ways to produce the soil I need.

Building Your Own Soil 

I began by considering lasagna gardening (also called, much more boringly, "sheet mulching"). This is not only easy, but it's ideal for people who have terrible garden soil. The idea is simple: Lay cardboard or many layers of newspaper on top of the soil (no need to remove weeds or grass) and get them thoroughly wet. Then put layers of organic matter on top. That's it!

To help the materials break down more quickly into soil, it helps to alternate "brown" and "green" materials, just like you would when composting. (Not sure what that means? Click here for an explanation.) But it's not absolutely necessary. Any organic matter you use will eventually break down and create great soil.

So what kinds of things can you use for lasagna gardening? Almost any organic matter you can get your hands on, including compost, animal manure that's not "hot;" a thin layer of grass clippings, fall leaves, clippings from the garden (but none that have gone to seed), straw (that hasn't been treated with weed killer), coffee grounds, a thin layer of wood ashes, dryer lint, shredded newspaper...

Ideally, you start layering lasagna gardens in the fall and the beds will be mostly decomposed and ready for planting by spring, but Patricia Lanza, author of Lasagna Gardening, says you can plant seedlings directly into a just-created lasagna bed. Just remember that as the bed decomposes, it will shrink in height.

How I Did It

You can make a large, proper garden with the lasagna gardening method, but I'm having to scramble more than that since my garden area currently has our motor home parked on it. (If you're reading this honey, "Ahem.") For example, recently I drug an old bathtub (which the previous owners left behind) and put it in a sunny spot. (It's 1950s pink. It's got retro charm, dontcha know.)





To prep it, I took a broken piece of terracotta pot (also left behind by the previous owners) and placed it over the tub's drain hole. This will keep the soil in the tub while still allowing water to drain from the hole. Next, I added a layer of bad soil. This happened to be super dry, dead potting soil left in buckets by the previous owners. (Noticing a trend here?) For you, it could be soil from your yard. I broke up the clumps, but I allowed the small roots in the soil to stay there. They will decompose eventually.
My stylin' retro pink bathtub garden bed.

Next, the rabbit cage needed cleaning, so I put a thick layer of rabbit manure and straw (which we use as bedding) in the tub. The wonderful thing about herbivore manure is it doesn't need to sit and compost before you can use it in the garden; it can go directly into the soil without danger of burning plants. (For more info on using manure in the garden, click here.) Finally, I added a bucket or two of decent soil that I'd bought in bags and had previously used for seed starting. I watered this all down well, and voila! I had a garden bed. (But who knows what's planted in it, since all my seed markers went missing...)

A Few Other Tips

* If you're using a deep container for planting, you can prevent the need for quite so much soil by placing small nursery pots, broken terracotta pots, or even packing peanuts in the bottom of the container. This is not, however, recommended for veggies with long roots, like tomatoes.

* If you have woods nearby (that you own, or that a friend or neighbor has given you permission to use), you could remove topsoil from the forest and use it in your beds. You'll probably bring some weeds with you, but they should be easy to distinguish from desirable plants. Obviously, you'd want to do this gently and not remove too much soil from the natural landscape.

* It might pay to check with your local city. Some offer free compost to people residing in the area. Technically, if the compost is completely "finished," you can use it in place of soil. But I find it's almost never finished when you rely on someone else to determine that for you, so it's best to use compost only as an amendment. Nevertheless, it can add bulk to your garden beds, reducing your need for quality garden soil.

* Use kitchen scraps to bulk up your beds. Yes, scraps that aren't composted! Just put fruit and vegetable scraps in the bottom of the garden bed, and cover them with other organic materials. They will decompose there and help create fantastic soil.
Mystery seedlings.



May 23, 2017

Does Dehydrated Food Lose Its Nutritional Value?

dehydrated fruit, dehydrated vegetables, dried fruit
This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site! 

Years ago, when my children were toddlers and I first dipped my toe into the world of home dehydrating, I remember a friend saying, "But why? Food loses all it's nutritional value once you dehydrate it!" In years since, I've heard similar thoughts from friends and readers - but the question is, are they right?

First, let me be clear that today I'm only addressing home dehydrated food. Store bought dehydrated food usually has sugar and preservatives added - which is definitely not something I want for my family. Home dehydrated food, however, has no preservatives and no added sugar (unless you chose to add it). In addition, I'm discussing food that's dried either by the sun or by a conventional electric food dehydrator, not food that's preserved in a home freeze drier, which is something else entirely.

Does Dehydrating Remove Fiber Content? What About Sugar?

A common belief is that dehydrated fruit and vegetables do not contain fiber. This is untrue. The fiber does not dry up and float away - in fact, compared to fresh fruit, there's more fiber in proportion to weight. This is why dried fruit is often used as a remedy for constipation; there's simply more fiber per bite than fresh food can offer.

I also think it's important to note that the carbohydrates or sugar in food do not diminish when that food is dehydrated. Just like fiber, sugar stays put - which means dehydrated food has a higher sugar content than the same food in fresh form.

Plums prepared for dehydrating.
Does Dehydrating Remove Minerals?

Some sources claim dehydrated food loses no minerals, while others claim food "generally retains its mineral content well during the drying process." However, if you blanch food before dehydrating - a practice sometimes used to help retain the food's color and vitamin content - it will lose more minerals than if you don't. Still, the mineral loss is scant.

Does Dehydrating Remove Vitamins?

The quick answer is: To a certain extent. The amount, and which vitamins, depends upon the methods used to dry the food.

According to Harvest Right, the makers of a home freeze drying (not dehydrating) machine, canned food retains 40% of its nutritional value, while dehydrated food retains 60% of its nutrients. (Home freeze dried food, they claim, retains 97% of its nutrients.)





This jibes with what I've read elsewhere; a nutritionist in The New York Times states that a cup of fresh, halved apricots "is 86 percent water, with 74 calories, and a cup of dried fruit is 76 percent water, with 212 calories. Fresh apricots have 3.1 grams of fiber versus 6.5 for dried; 0.6 milligrams of iron versus 2.35 milligrams; 15.5 milligrams of vitamin C versus 0.8 milligrams; and 149 retinol activity equivalents of vitamin A versus 160."

According to the University of Missouri Extension Office website, Vitamins A and C are most likely to see a reduction through dehydrating because they "are destroyed by heat and air." In fact, if you cut a piece of fruit, it will begin losing those nutrients right away, just from air exposure. In addition, heat - including heat used in cooking or dehydrating - reduces the amount of vitamin C in any given food.

What About Enzymes?
Dehydrated tomato paste (made from tomato skins).


Whenever you heat food, some enzymes are lost. However, the low temperatures used in home dehydration are less likely to kill enzymes than cooking that same food.

How to Prevent Vitamin Loss in Home Dehydrated Food

The single best way to preserve as much of the nutrients in home dehydrated food is simply to dry it at the right temperature. This is one area where an electric food dehydrator trumps using the oven or a solar dehydrator to dry food: Controlling temperature and keeping it low equals more nutrients in the finished food. This easy guideline ensures that almost all the food's original nutrients remain in place. So it pays to follow the standard heat recommendations for home dehydrating:

Herbs - 95 degrees F.
Nuts and seeds - 105 degrees F.
Fruit and vegetables - 135 degrees F.
Pasta - 135 degrees F.
Meat - 160 degrees F.

Dehydrating jerky.
Other things that can help retain nutrients in home dried food include:

* Pre-treating by dipping vegetables and fruit in lemon juice or citric acid. This not only helps prevent browning, but it helps preserve vitamin A and C in the food. Unfortunately, this treatment can also reduce thiamine in dried food.

* Blanching vegetables before dehydrating helps preserve their carotene...but it also lowers a food's vitamin C content and may cause a small amount of mineral loss. Steam blanching is less likely to reduce nutrients in food than blanching in boiling water.

* Not letting the food sit in direct sunlight. This is why dehydrated food should be stored in a dark location - and also why solar dehydrators should have a shading cover (like this one).

* Slicing food evenly, to ensure you don't over-heat and over-dry smaller pieces. Using a mandoline to slice makes this much easier. (This is mandoline I use.)

* Rotating dehydrator trays to prevent over-heating and over-drying of some portions.

* Planning ahead. If a food is likely to only take a couple of hours to dry, for example, don't put it in the dehydrator at bedtime, or by morning it will be over-dried.

Related Posts:

* Making Dried Apples in an Oven
* Drying Tomato Skins to Make Easy Tomato Paste
* Why I Love My Dehydrator
* How to Make Jerky in a Dehydrator