Fried Dandelion Heads

My husband and I rarely see weeds as mere yard infestations. Usually he’s the one asking, “Can we eat it? Make something from it? Use it for some medicinal purpose?” It’s no different when dandelions begin popping up everywhere in the spring.
Fried Dandelions Feature
(By the way, the violets in this picture are edible too.)

Dandelions are one of the most common intruders creeping into yards everywhere. While many people spend time, work, and money trying to keep their lawns free of the brightly colored visitor, others spend just as much time and work (though rarely money) to find uses for the golden weed.

Dandelions have been used for human consumption in many different ways. Dandelion leaf salad, dandelion root tea, and dandelion wine are just a few examples to get you started. Today, I will share a recipe with you that my good friend Alexis taught me how to make: fried dandelion heads.


They taste very much like fried chicken cutlets- only the “meat” inside is free from your yard!

dandelion2Ready to get started? You will need:

  • About 2-3 C Dandelion heads
  • White Vinegar (just a splash)
  • Olive Oil as needed (try starting with about ¼ C)
  • 1 Egg
  • About 1 C Plain Bread Crumbs
  • 1 Tbsp each Garlic, Italian Seasoning, & Parsely (or to taste)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Unfortunately, the above amounts are just estimates. Depending on how many dandelion heads you have, you may need to alter this recipe accordingly. The nice part about breading & frying is that you can always add more oil to the pan or more bread crumbs & seasonings to the mix if you run out.

1) Collect and Wash Dandelion Heads! This is a great time to get your kids helping you. J loves it when I send him on flower-picking assignments.

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* Make sure that you haven’t been spraying your yard with anything toxic if you’re out foraging for weeds!

Pick just under the bloom, where the head easily snaps off. Rinse them off well through a colander if you’re not into eating bugs.

2) Coat your dandelions. First, mix your dandelions with a splash of white vinegar. Next, set up your assembly line for coating. Beat egg into one container. Combine dry ingredients in another. It should look something like this:

dandelion4Heat oil on stovetop over medium heat until it’s shimmering. Dip your dandelion heads first into the egg, then into the bread crumb mixture, making sure that they get completely coated at each step.

3) Fry ‘em up! Carefully place the dandelion heads into the hot oil using tongs or some other such tool. (Or jump back as you drop them so you don’t get splattered.)

Turn them partway through frying to get both sides nice and golden brown. This step won’t take more than a couple of minutes if your oil is good and hot, so watch them carefully to avoid burning them.

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4) Drain and enjoy! Remove the dandelion heads with tongs and place them on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the oil. Once they’ve sat a couple minutes, you can eat them up immediately!

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You’ll most likely keep popping them til they’re gone. If by some chance you don’t finish them, it’s always fun to pack leftovers for lunch and relish in telling your co-workers you’re eating fried weeds. And besides, they’re yummy, I promise! Hope you give them a shot. 🙂

Make these delicious flower poppers with weeds and just a few ingredients you already have in your pantry.

How to Identify & Forage for Stinging Nettle

 

Spring Gives, We Forage

I have to be honest, I haven’t been thinking about the land since the fall. I have been so involved in other projects that I STILL have not given more than a fleeting thought to planning our garden.


But, no matter how negligent I may be, spring calls me now. It has wooed me back to the land, and I know now that the problem was truly me–not it.

I have foraging on the mind once again, though I feel a bit rusty after a winter in the damp, dark tool shed of my own isolation. Seeing green popping up and out all over has reminded me that I need to be present among these growing things, that I need to learn what they are, what they have to offer, and how our family can best use them.

Find out how to forage for stinging nettle!

Spring gives, we forage.

But, before we do, we recall three simple foraging rules: correct identification, minimal harvesting, and safe, legal picking.

Stinging Nettle

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) has done much to draw me out of my wintry malaise. When I first noticed it peeking out from beneath our slumping retaining wall, I suddenly felt the urge to tour our yard and greet all the new plants bursting up. We love this plant in our household–stings and all.

Identifying Stinging Nettle 

Stinging nettle is fairly distinctive. Like any plant it looks different at different times of the year. At certain points it may be easier to identify than others, but stinging nettle has three distinguishing attributes all year long that make it pretty easy to ID. There are a few other varieties of nettle that it can be confused with, but if you pay attention to the following features, you can be pretty confident of a correct identification.

First, the leaves. They are mostly oval or slightly heart-shaped and heavily toothed or serrated at the margins. They come to a point and are covered with fine barb-like hairs. The leaves are heavily veined and the undersides tend to have a purple hue between the veins.

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Compare this leaf to some of the older leaves in this image from the USDA, which are more distinctly heart shaped:

Large Photo of Urtica dioica

Next, the stem.  The stem of a stinging nettle, just like the leaves, is covered in small, barb-like, stinging thorns or hairs. And the leaves attach to the stem opposite one another.

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Finally, the sting. If you touch a plant that looks like nettle and gives you a noticeable sting, it is probably stinging nettle. The sting is not excruciating, but it is real, and the pain from it does hang on for some time–from a few minutes to hours. The small hollow hairs contain the chemicals that cause the sting, so to avoid the sting, avoid breaking them–handle with care. A UK chemistry teacher writing at the blog Compound Interest has done a great job explaining some of the chemistry behind nettle’s sting. Check it out for more info. (Note also that the sting is removed during cooking.)

Of course there are other things to pay attention to if you want to be absolutely sure of your identification of stinging nettle, but out of the many plants you can forage, stinging nettle is pretty distinctive because of the thorny, hairy, toothed stinging leaves. For help distinguishing it from the other nettle lookalikes, I heartily recommend this article at Identifythatplant.com.

Harvesting

Stinging nettle lives up to its name, so if you want to avoid the sting, either:

  • Wear decently thick gloves, or
  • Carefully fold and grab the leaves while pulling toward the leaf tip. The goal here is to avoid breaking the hollow barbs off in your skin–that’s when you get stung. Here is a video demonstrating this technique:

With both of these techniques, you can–and perhaps should–use scissors or some other suitable cutting tool, though you may gently pinch the leaves off as well.

Following the simple foraging rules, remember to be sure that it is free to harvest. Are there critters living in it? Is it on your grouchy neighbor’s property? And be sure to harvest no more than 1/3 of the plant. Leave some for it to thrive and propagate.

The young smaller leaves, which emerge from the very apex of the stems, are usually the most tender and palatable. Choose those over the older ones, unless you don’t mind a more robust experience. Don’t harvest the stems. It’s not that they will poison you, they are just not very palatable. The stems are apparently useful for making rope because the fibers are so strong. If you’re interested in doing that, have at it.

The best time to harvest it for eating is now–in the early spring when they first start to emerge, and especially before they flower. Some believe that after nettles have flowered, consuming them in great amounts can lead to kidney stones. Which is ironic because they are also used as a prevention against kidney stones… But, to be safe, if you mean to eat it or drink a tea made from it, harvest nettle before it flowers.

In case you are wondering, it looks like this when it flowers:

Image result for flowering stinging nettle

Preserving

Since nettles are best in the spring, you’ll want to preserve some to enjoy year round. Nettles can be preserved by:

  • Dehydration: We simply dry nettle in our food dehydrator, but any other method for drying herbs will work.
  • Freezing: Blanch and freeze whole nettle leaves in freezer bags. Alternatively, you can freeze nettle pesto in an ice cube tray, or nettle soup in glass containers.

Uses and Recipes 

You may be wondering about the sting. Why would you want to consume something that leaves you tingling? Surely that must be unpleasant. Be assured that cooking removes the chemical compound that causes the sting, and nettle leaves are perfectly safe to consume once prepared.

Nettle is highly nutritious and can be enjoyed as a fresh or dried tea, a pesto star, in a vinegar, or even as medicine. Give it a try! Here are some recipes & resources to get you started:

Have you harvested stinging nettle? How do you like to use it? Leave us a comment and let us know!

How to identify and safely harvest this super food!

 

 

Herbal Teas to Grow or Forage Yourself

Most of us are familiar with vegetable gardens and herb gardens- but what about your own tea garden?

Delicious herbal teas that you can grow or forage!

(Catnip tea brewing in our Tea Posy pot.)

I love a good black tea in the afternoon, but herbal teas are my friends for various health benefits. I have paid premium prices for a small bit of tea ($9 for 15 tea bags?!?)- and would continue to buy said tea if it was something we couldn’t easily access at home- but there are so many home-grown and wild options to try first!


You can either plant a specific area as a tea garden, or you can simply look around your yard to forage for flowers, plants, herbs, and weeds that can easily be turned into teas.

As always, make sure you double and triple check the identification of any wild plant you find before consuming it, and consider consulting with a local foraging expert. It’s also not a bad idea to try a new plant in small amounts to see how you tolerate it before overdoing it.

Here’s my list to get you started- though it will likely continue growing. 😉 (This post contains some affiliate links.)

Online Herbalism Courses for all levels

  1. Mint– Prolific, easy to grow, hard to take out of the ground. Make sure it’s where you want it. 😉 Here’s some inspiration for various mint tea recipes, and here’s some info on the health benefits of peppermint.
  2. Lemon Balm– This iced tea recipe is good for anxiety, wounds, and sleep disorders. You could also try this recipe for lemon balm-green tea and learn about why lemon balm is just a great plant to cultivate in your yard. Plus, it tastes and smells good. (It’s also a member of the mint family.)
  3. Chamomile – This flower makes a relaxing tea that is also renowned for many health benefits.
  4. Plantain– Known as a medicinal plant used for many purposes (treating insect bites and stings being one of them), it can also be made into a tea for when you’re feeling ill.
  5. Stinging Nettle– I first tried dried nettle tea from a local bulk tea and spice boutique. I had a light bulb moment when my husband suggested drying the stuff in our yard (or boiling fresh leaves) instead of continuing to buy it!
  6. Dandelion Root– I actually haven’t tried making this one at home yet, but I’ve got some dried dandelion roots sitting under my spice cabinet, waiting to be tasted. I’ll have to give these instructions a whirl.
  7. Red Raspberry Leaf– This tea is famous for uterine health. I’ve been enjoying a daily cup of homemade “Mama-to-be-tea” from a local boutique that features raspberry leaf.
  8. Carrot Greens– This is one that you’ll have to do your own research on. Some say that carrot greens are toxic, others say that they’re a market vegetable in many countries. This article pulls in favor of consuming carrot tops, and references several other discussions on the topic. I won’t tell you that you should consume carrot greens. I’ll just say that we’ve made iced tea out of fresh carrot greens several times and haven’t died (or gotten sick) yet.
  9. Echinacea– I didn’t realize for a long time that those gorgeous summer purple cone flowers are actually echinacea! Known for immunity benefits, echinacea is easy to harvest and prepare for tea.
  10. Basil– Apparently, this tasty herb works well for sore throats, headaches, and upset stomachs! I didn’t know that before reading this!
  11. Wintergreen– Here’s the secret to enjoying foraged wintergreen tea that’s full of flavor.
  12. Catnip– We drank catnip tea all winter long to help get over colds faster. Between that, homemade stock, elderberry syrup, and raw honey, none of us stayed sick more than a couple of days. Here’s how to identify catnip.
  13. Red Clover– This medicinal plant grows wild all over the place! Just look down!
  14. Drink your fruitsThis post covers instructions for blackberry, raspberry, strawberry leaf, elderflower, and orange peel teas. How exciting is that?
  15. Winter teasThis blogger details how to make teas out of four forage-able wild winter plants. How cool! (No pun intended.) Who says you have to grow and dry tea in the summer months?

Stinging Nettle- perfect to harvest for herbal tea!

A patch of stinging nettle- perfect for brewing a cup of tea!

You can also check out Herbal Academy’s post on homemade tea recipes for cold and flu season. Gather and dry your ingredients now, then mix and use them all winter!

(If you live in a warm area, you can grow regular “black tea” as well. Our northeastern area isn’t well suited to this warm weather plant, so that’s one tea I’ll keep buying.)

To enjoy your teas fresh, simply pour boiling water over the herbs. (It helps to have a tea ball of some sort to contain them.) You’ll learn over time to adjust the amount and steeping time to your liking. If you prefer to dry them first, you can hang them up, use a dehydrator (I have and love this one), or look up instructions for drying individual herbs in your oven. Then store and use as you would dried tea throughout the year.

What’s your favorite herbal tea?

Learn how to grow or forage for these delicious herbal teas!

A Review of Heaven’s Harvest’s Heirloom Seeds

This year is supposed to be our year of no new projects. We want to just improve on what we already have going, so we don’t get caught up in “overwhelm” (can that be a noun?) and frustration.

The garden is one project that we’ve wanted to simplify this year. We’re going to let our main plot lie fallow, and plant in our newer, smaller beds instead. But somehow, we got to April and we still hadn’t picked out or started seeds! (Have I mentioned that I’m a procrastinator?)

When I had the opportunity to review Heaven’s Harvest’s heirloom seed bucket, I breathed a sigh of relief. I wrote the company in an email (and this is a direct quote), “Honestly, it would make my life a lot simpler to be handed a kit of seeds instead of having to go through and hand pick every one.”


Take a look inside the heaven's harvest heirloom seed Kit.

So, receive a seed kit I did, and I am so happy for the opportunity to share what’s inside this bucket with you!

I received a free bucket of seeds from Heaven’s Harvest in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. 

About Heaven’s Harvest

Heaven’s Harvest is a small, family owned company that offers various emergency preparedness supplies, including water filtration systems, greenhouses, and of course, seeds! I spoke with Meredith from Heaven’s Harvest before accepting a seed bucket, and she was very courteous, helpful, and prompt in her responses. It makes me very happy to deal with small, dedicated companies like this one.

What is a seed kit? 

Generally speaking, it is simply a collection of seed varieties that are fit for growing in most common garden zones. Heaven’s Harvest specifically offers emergency preparedness seed kits- that is, kits that focus on providing enough protein and nutrition to feed your family in case of a situation where grocery stores would not be available.

There are several sizes of seed buckets available. Today, let’s take a closer look at the “homestead” vegetable seed bucket– the largest seed kit available from Heaven’s Harvest.

What's inside a homestead seed kit from Heaven's Harvest.

What comes in the homestead seed bucket? 

Approximately 130,000 individual seeds in 38 different varieties arrive in a hardcore polycarbonate bucket. Each seed type is packaged in a UV radiation-resistant, resealable mylar foil bag that’s meant for long term storage. In fact, if stored properly, Heaven’s Harvest says these seeds should last up to 10 years!

All seeds from Heaven’s Harvest are non-GMO, non-hybrid, open pollinated heirloom seeds. Why is this important? The short answer is that these seeds can be saved year after year to reproduce the same varieties as the parent plants. Conversely, many seeds on the market today cannot be saved, or will not reproduce true to type.

It’s worth noting that for the long-term, sustainable garden, seed-saving is a valuable, money saving skill that’s worth acquiring. For a clear discussion of different seed types, I encourage you to read this short article by my friend Susan.

Things I love about my seed kit:

  • It came with its own storage container.
  • The seed packs are resealable. (No more spilling seeds!)
  • I can save the heirloom seeds year after year.
  • Most varieties included should work well in a variety of garden zones. (Scroll down on this page for a full listing of seeds in the kit. Make sure the plants will grow well where you live!)

The only thing I wish were different is that there are no planting instructions on the back of the packages. If you are unsure of how to plant these seeds, you will need to refer to an internet search or another gardening resource.

Bean seeds from Heaven's Harvest heirloom seed kit

Are these seed kits a good value?

The homestead seed kit includes 130,000 seeds and costs $249.99. That may seem like a lot to you, but the truth is in years prior we have spent about $150/year on far fewer seeds. (And most of them were not heirloom!)

I found seed kits for less online, but they did not include nearly so many seeds. (Or they didn’t even include seed count!) Similar kits rang in at $0.0026- $0.0033/seed. (A small price, I know!). However, Heaven’s Harvest’s kit costs $0.0019/seed. That is significantly less, especially considering that Heaven’s Harvest is sure to include vegetables with high protein and high caloric intake.

If you don’t want that many seeds, the good news is that Heaven’s Harvest offers smaller kits: The neighborhood kit, with 24 varieties for $149.99, and the condo kit, with 12 varieties for $74.99. Seed packets can also be purchased individually as desired.

These seed kits are marketed as a survival tool. How will they help me in an emergency?

Some people buy an emergency preparedness seed kit and put it on the shelf to save for when the stuff hits the fan. If this is your primary intention when purchasing seeds, you will be sorely disappointed if you ever find yourself in a true food shortage situation. Seeds take knowledge, time, practice, and effort to grow into viable food for you and your loved ones. If you ran out of food before your garden was growing, you would likely starve before harvest time.

However, Meredith and John from Heaven’s Harvest encourage you to start using, saving, and sharing your seeds in your bucket today. They recognize that gardening is a skill that takes time to cultivate. They have designed their seed kits to promote longevity and sustainability:

  • Heirloom seeds can be saved year after year. Start your garden & begin seed saving this year, and you will have free seeds for years to come afterwards.
  • A large seed count means you have some insurance against crop failure. (Heaven’s Harvest tries to err in your favor with approximate counts.)
  • Extra seeds can be kept in resealable bags to be used for future gardens, shared with friends, or saved in case of a crop failure.
  • Seed varieties include greens, squash, asparagus, tomatoes, peppers, melons, root vegetables, beans, cabbage family veggies, so there is significant variety to ensure 1) that you’ll have enough caloric and nutritive intake, and 2) that you’ll find plants that are successful in your garden zone.

A seed kit will only work for survival if you have practiced with it. Take advantage of the fact that Heaven’s Harvest’s seed kits are designed for long-term development of gardening skills, and don’t wait for an emergency to plant your garden!

Is a seed kit the right fit for you?

This seed kit might not be the best fit for you if:

  • You live in an exceptionally hot or cold garden zone.
  • You like to individually pick seeds.
  • You prefer hybrid seeds to heirloom varieties.
  • You prefer to purchase smaller amounts of seed at one time.

Heaven’s Harvest seed kits might be a good choice for you if:

  • You live in a common temperate garden zone.
  • You don’t want to spend time slaving over seed selection.
  • You want to save seeds for following years.
  • You want long term seed storage for your seeds.
  • You are interested in emergency preparation
  • You value heirloom, non-GMO seeds.
  • You like to buy in bulk for the best value.

For this procrastinator, a seed kit from Heaven’s Harvest was a wonderful solution this year. I look forward to planting from my seed kit and practicing saving seeds from these varieties. I will be sure to come back and update how the seeds did!

Check out all of Heaven’s Harvest’s seeds and emergency preparedness supplies here.

Look inside an heirloom seed kit to see if it's right for you!

 

The Perfect Hard Boiled Egg

I used to work in a few different cafes, and each sous chef hard boiled his eggs a little differently- often with adverse results. The most amusing occasion was a boss who microwaved an under-boiled egg as an attempt to speed its readiness. Said egg ended up exploding when the boss peeled it prematurely. Thankfully, no one was hurt in the process.

Hard-boiled eggs that end up liquidy, un-intentionally green, or explosive are all undesirable outcomes. I’m happy to say that my mom tipped me off to an egg-boiling method that lends the perfect hard boiled egg- every time.

The Perfect Hard Boiled Egg


Now, as a caveat, you must know that I don’t eat hard-boiled eggs. I only do this for an occasional seventh grade science project (for my hubby’s students) or Easter egg dying. But every time, on all the different stoves I’ve tried, it comes out right!

Ready?

1) Put your eggs in a pot and cover with cold water.

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2) Turn on the burner and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes only.

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3) Turn off the heat. Let the eggs sit in the hot water for 22 minutes.

4) Run cool water over the eggs.

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5) Let cool completely before peeling.

That’s it!

The kids were slightly suspicious of their eggs…

April 2015 022 April 2015 028But I thought they looked just right! 🙂

Thanks to my mom for sharing another great life secret. If you’re a hard-boiled egg eater, let me know how these taste to you!

How to finally get the perfect hard boiled egg, every time.

Six Natural Immunity Boosters

Every fall, I am reminded of sickness season when I take the kids for their checkups. It seems that I have to ward off flu shots left and right! However, even the onset of spring and summer doesn’t mean we’re exempt from catching a bug. No matter the season, there’s always a need to arm ourselves against common ailments.

Simple, effective ways to boost your immunity!

 


Our family’s personal preference is to boost our immunity naturally as possible. Over the years, we’ve developed an arsenal of preventative measures to fight common colds and bugs. While we still occasionally fall ill, we’ve found that following a precautionary regimen can help ward off sicknesses before they come- and curtail them if we do happen to catch them!

Here’s how we work to prevent (& fight) sicknesses in our house:

1) Adequate sleep. There’s nothing like a good night of shut eye. It turns out that lack of sleep actually can suppress the immune system, making you more susceptible to illnesses. Also, losing sleep can make your body less effective at fighting sickness, so you’re left feeling worse for longer. (Source.)

One of the best habits we’ve formed since the start of the new year has been getting up at the same time every morning. Not only does the early wake up time help us to start our mornings off right, the regular sleep schedule has really helped both of us to feel better in terms of energy and overall wellness.

2) Overall good nutrition. There’s a lot of articles out there on what to eat and what not to eat to boost your immunity, but most say that the immune system is so complicated that it’s difficult to tell how much your food affects it. Here’s my theory: nourishing foods help your body function at its best. If your body is functioning well, you’ll be more likely to be able to fight illnesses. (I am not a doctor. This is merely my hypothesis. 😉 )

3) Avoiding excess sugar. Too  much sugar can seriously hinder your immune system. According to Dr. Sears, “Eating or drinking 100 grams (8 tbsp.) of sugar, the equivalent of about two cans of soda, can reduce the ability of white blood cells to kill germs by forty percent.” (Source.)

Have you ever noticed that kids tend to get sick just after Halloween and Easter? It’s not that the candy itself makes them sick. However, all that sugar consumption significantly reduces their body’s ability to fight germs. We are all more likely to fall ill when we binge on sweets.

This has been really challenging for me over the years. As much as I love real food and all that jazz, I also really love chocolate! However, another major change that we’ve been working on over the past month or so is largely eliminating white sugars from our household. This is definitely one of those imperfect journeys.

4) Elderberry syrup. This is one of my favorite anti-sickness tools, and our kids love it too! Elderberries are rich in antioxidants and contain anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting flavonoids. We tend to take a spoonful most days throughout the winter, and then up our intake to several times daily at the first sign of sickness.

Studies haven’t confirmed whether or not elderberry syrup is effective as a preventative measure. However, it has been shown to significantly shorten the course of the flu- as much as by 50%! (Source.)

For the past two years, we’ve made variations of this recipe from Wellness Mama. If you don’t have the time to make it yourself, you can easily purchase syrup online.

5) Chicken soup (& other chicken broth concoctions). It’s actually a real thing- chicken soup can help you feel better. Carsonine, a compound found in chicken broth, helps your body fight sickness. The steam from the soup can help clear congestion & improve your cilia’s function. (Those are the little protective nose hairs that keep out the bad guys. Source.) Add to that the goodness of garlic, onion, and all those veggies, and you’ve got a complete, delicious immunity booster. Here’s how I make my chicken stock.

6) Fermented Foods. How do fermented foods help to keep you from getting sick? In short, fermented foods help to promote good bacteria and probiotics in your gut- and having a healthy gut means having a healthy immune system! Here’s an interesting article on how a healthy gut flora influences your overall heath and immunity.

Read more on fermentation here.

Now, if we do actually get sick, we kick these preventative measures into high gear. Then we go to town with garlic, ecinacea supplements, catnip tea, ginger root & lemon tea, apple cider vinegar, and some various essential oil usage. But that, my friends, is for another post.

Simple, natural immunity boosters that you simply must try!

How do you boost your immunity and avoid sickness? Share below in the comments!

Water Bath Canning 101

 

How to water bath can, plus a free printable checklist!

(Your checklist is at the bottom, so keep reading!) 

My great-grandmother lived in the last house at the end of a street in a little town that time forgot. The seven lot yard sprawled out to the garden and backed up to the dike by the town river where the kids liked to go fishing. A bench swing at the end of the porch rocked lazily in the summer breezes.


My Granny had two kitchens- an indoor kitchen, complete with cast iron cook stove and a cheery multi-color dish set, and an out-kitchen by the smokehouse. She also had a concrete-floor cellar beneath the house. Every time we saw her, she would take us down into it.

There were treasures there. Shelf after shelf of what she had “put up” for the season. Meat, vegetables, fruit, all lined up neatly in jars. Barrels of potatoes enough for the winter time. It wasn’t as plentiful as when Great-Grandpap was living, but there was still an impressive array of food. She was so proud of all her hard work.

These memories made me love the idea of growing and preserving food. However, it was years and years before I tried canning myself. I was in my mid-twenties and we had a tiny pot garden on the deck of the house we were renting.

Our first little pot garden on which we practiced our preserving skills.

(This post contains affiliate links.)

My mom offered to come help me can our tiny tomato crop. Sure, I’d give it a try, I thought.

We spent the afternoon in the kitchen, where she walked me through the process. It took a long time. (It always does when you’re first learning!) When all was said and done, I think we canned a grand total of six quarts of tomatoes.

Fast forward about six years and there were seasons that we were canning almost fifty quarts of tomato products- whole tomatoes, tomato sauce, salsa, and tomato juice. We’ve canned jellies, peaches, applesauce, pickled beets, dill pickles, maple syrup, and more.

My mom, awesome lady that she is, also bought me a Presto pressure canner for my 30th birthday. I was so thrilled. That year I canned turkey soup, chicken broth, green beans, and other low-acid foods.

My pantry still isn’t as stunning as my Granny’s used to be, and it may never be. But canning has become a passion and a joy to me over the years. I want to share a “quick start” guide to canning 101 with you. Hopefully it will take out some of the mystery and fear of canning, and give you the motivation you need to give it a go yourself.

Note: canning isn’t really what I’d call quick process. However, it doesn’t have to be laborious and intimidating, and once you get the hang of it, it will become more simple. It will take practice, so have patience and enjoy the process!

How does canning work? 

When you practice home water-bath canning, you aren’t actually using cans.  You are preserving food in glass mason jars designed especially to withstand the heat and temperature changes that come with canning. The food is heated high and long enough in the jar to kill off any potential harmful bacteria. As the jar cools, a vacuum seal is created so that no oxygen can enter the jar and spoil the food. A properly processed jar of food can be shelf-stable for years!

What types of food can I can? 

You can can almost anything, BUT there is an important distinction you must know for safety. Today, we will go over water bath canning. Water bath canning is safe for high-acid fruits and vegetables only. If you want to can meats or low acid vegetables, you must use a pressure canner. This is because a water bath canner cannot heat the food to a high enough temperature to kill off potential bacteria in low acid foods.

How do you know which is which? Simple- always check an approved canning recipe to ensure that you are canning safely.

Reliable recipes have been tested by the USDA (or an equivalent source) for safe pH levels. That means they help to keep you from creating food poisoning in a jar. Why is this so important? Because you can’t see or smell botulism, and if you don’t have a way to test pH and bacteria levels at home, then you can’t tell if your experimental recipe turned out okay or not.

Play it safe. NEVER change the amount of acid in a recipe (or any proportions when you’re first starting), as doing so could make your food unsafe. Here are some very reputable approved canning recipe sources:

Note that you should use a modern preservation cookbook. Some of the ones from 50 years ago have some pretty sketchy guidelines.

If you ever have any questions about a recipe, you can always contact your local county extension office. Questions by phone or email are happily answered!

Learn how to water bath can!

Supplies Needed

For a full description of canning supplies, you can read this post. If you just want the quick-start version, here’s what you need:

  • Water bath canner with canning rack: essentially a big pot, specifically sized to fit multiple canning jars. The canning rack can be lowered and raised to put jars in and out of the water.
  • Mason jars: Size & mouth style will depend on recipe
  • Lids & rings: New packs of jars come with lids & rings. However, each new jar you can needs at least a new lid. The rings will need to be replaced as they become rusty or bent. Make sure your lids & rings match the jar mouth style.
  • Canning tool set: This should include a canning funnel, canning tongs, a ring tightener, and a magnet lid remover. Some also come with a tool to remove air bubbles, but a long spatula should do the trick.

Terms

  • Water bath canning: The type of canning in which jars are submerged in boiling water for processing.
  • Pressure canning: The type of canning in which jars are processed in a small amount of water inside a pressure canner. They are heated at high pressure to a high temperature in order to safely can low-acid foods.
  • Head space: Refers to how much space is left at the top of the jar. Necessary head space can vary widely by recipe, and is measured in inches. Measure from the very top rim of the jar down. Too much space can cause spoilage of the food, and too little can cause the food to expand and break the jar.
  • Lids vs. rings: Lids are the flat, round piece that you put on top of the jar. Rings are- you guessed it- the thing that looks like it could be a big ring. Or, more accurately, a bracelet. It’s pretty self-explanatory, but if you’re new to canning it can all sound confusing.
  • Finger-tight: Many recipes will say to secure the rings “finger tight.” This simply means that to screw on the rings as tight as you can using your fingers. It doesn’t mean to screw it on to death. You can use the special ring tightener from your canning tool kit to avoid handling hot jars, but only screw it on as tight as if you were using your fingers.
  • Process: In canning, the term “process” refers to boiling the jars in the canner. So when a recipe says to “process for 20 minutes,” that just means to start the timer when the water comes to a boil, and leave the jars in for 20 minutes.
  • Approved recipe: A recipe tested for safety by the USDA or equivalent.

Safety Rules

  • Always wash your jars, lids, and rings, & sanitize as needed.
  • Always wash your hands before handling food or equipment.
  • Follow an approved recipe & processing time to ensure a safe acidity level and sufficient heating.
  • Remember to be careful as you handle hot tools and food.
  • Avoid sudden temperature changes. Keep jars hot before putting into boiling water, don’t put freshly processed jars directly on a cold counter, etc.
  • Follow safe practices as outlined below to avoid broken jars or introduction of unsafe bacteria.

Process

  1. Check all jars for cracks & chips. Run your fingers along the rim of your jar, checking for cracks or chips. Check the bottom and sides as well. Any imperfections in the jar can compromise your canning project. Better safe than sorry. Only use jars in perfect shape!
  2. Wash and/or sanitize jars, lids, & rings. Wash all parts in hot, soapy water. I sanitize my jars and keep them hot by putting them in a 200 degree oven for 20-30 minutes. I place my lids in rings in a pan of hot water on the stove top to sanitize them. Note that lids should NOT be boiled during this step, as it will wear away the seal on the jar.
  3. Prepare canner. Fill the water bath canner with hot water and bring it to a boil while you prepare the food. (All that water can take a while to heat up!)
  4. Prepare food. Prepare the food you want to can according to an approved recipe for water bath canning. Often this can be done ahead of time, then reheated when you’re ready to can. The only caveat is that you don’t want to cook the food to death before it goes into the jars.
  5. Ladle food into hot jars. This is where it gets exciting. Ladle food into hot jars, using a canning funnel to avoid hot messes. Remember to pay attention to the recipe’s head space!
  6. Remove air bubbles. Put a long spatula (or the specific tool from your tool kit) down to the bottom of the jar, and run it once around the outside edge of the jar. Any air bubbles should pop to the surface. This will prevent breakage later on.
  7. Clean jar rims. Wipe rims clean with a clean towel to ensure a sanitary and strong seal.
  8. Secure lids & rings. Place lids on top of jars, then screw on the rings finger tight. Optionally, you can use the lid tightener in your canning tool kit. Just remember that those jars are HOT.
  9. Put jars in canner, lower canning rack & close the lid. Carefully place the jars upright onto the canning rack in the water. Once the rack is full, lower it into the water and put the lid on.
  10. Process jars for correct amount of time. Start the timer only when the water comes to a boil. If you start your processing time when the water isn’t boiling yet, it might not be hot enough to properly kill off bacteria in the food. Keep the jars submerged in boiling water for the full time the recipe suggests.
  11.  Remove jars from canner. After the processing time is complete, use oven mitts to help you lift the rack out of the water. Now, use your trusty canning tongs to remove the jars from the canner and place them gently on a towel. (The towel helps avoid sudden temperature change.)
  12. Let jars cool completely. Leave the jars on the counter until they’re completely cool. Don’t move them or touch the lids during this time. You should hear little pings and pops as the jar lids seal. (The most satisfying part of canning!) You want the lids to seal, and you don’t want to accidentally burn yourself or break a hot jar of food.
  13. Check the seal. After the jars have cooled, run your finger over the lid to make sure the “button” in the middle is down. This means your jar sealed and you are ready to store it! If your jar didn’t seal, it can be stored in the fridge and eaten soon, or it can be reheated and reprocessed with a new lid.
  14. Remove rings and store jars. Unscrew the rings from your jars to reuse for your next canning venture. (I do this to avoid rust! Of course, you can always put a ring on if you plan to gift your canned food.) Store the jars in a dry place.

These are the basic steps and rules to beginning safe home water bath canning. I know it might seem like a lot, but once you try it once or twice it gets easier. You can join our mailing list to grab your own printable water bath canning checklist. It’s a great tool to keep in your kitchen to follow as you first learn to can.

Here's a reminder checklist to keep in the kitchen while canning!

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Now you can take pleasure in your own home-canned pantry If you found this post helpful, please share it with your friends!

Learn the basics of water bath canning & get a free printable checklist!

 

 

Adventures in Making Herbal Ale

To me, herbal homebrewing conjures up images of a hipster with a man bun tinkering away in his home kitchen laboratory. He sniffs at delicate green herbs and tastes worts with care and refinement. He pours carefully from carboy to bottle, and shares generously with his skinny jean wearing friends.

Happily, brewing herbal ale is for anyone who is interested in reaping the benefits of plants in their beverages. You don’t have to be a hipster, a drunkard, or a pinky-in-the-air connoisseur to learn the craft. (Dear hipster friends, I love you and I’m not really making fun of you!) Though I warn you, you just might develop a kitchen laboratory by the time you’re done. 😉

How to brew your own herbal ale at home.


This post contains affiliate links. I received a free copy of the Herbal Academy’s Herbal Fermentation Course in exchange for my honest review. 

One stereotype that homebrewing usually isn’t associated with is the alcohol-obsessed, “give-me-more-beer,” drunken and foolish brand that we are all too familiar with. Generally speaking, the people you find foraging for edible weeds and thoughtfully crafting them into a fermented beverage are not the same people looking for Bud Light and hot girls at a party. In fact, most folks who are specifically interested in herbal homebrewing are interested in the nutritional and medicinal properties of the drink.

Most of us recognize that many herbs are wonderfully beneficial ingredients in home cooking and home remedies. According to the Herbal Academy Herbal Fermentation Course, fermenting herbs also means making them more bio-available to your body. So quite literally, creating an herbal ale means creating a powerhouse for nutrition and health.

Foraging has become one of my passions over the last several years. Although I still consider myself a novice, I get quite the thrill out of hunting for wild food. Fermenting has also become a favorite pastime– so the idea of putting the two of them together? It’s almost more excitement than this 30-something mama can take at one time. 😉

Note: The Herbal Academy prefers to use the term beer instead of ale. The course instructor feels that “ale” has nose-in-the-air connotations, but beer, by contrast, speaks of community and every-day accessibility. I’m using the term “ale” in this post because that’s what it technically is called when brewing with herbs, but I’m all for community too.

So here I am, experimenting with adventures in herbal home brewing. I want to share the basic process with you, but please know that I’m new at this, and I’m learning right along with you.

  1. Find tasty, edible herbs or plants. You can purchase bulk herbs online, or you can hunt for them yourself in the wild. Just be sure to know your plants and follow basic foraging safety and ethics. A quality guide to wild edibles is a must when you are learning to identify plants.
  2. Make an herbal tea. This can be done via an infusion (pouring boiling water over the herbs and letting them steep) or a decoction (simmering the herbs in water for a longer period of time). The method depends on which herb you have chosen. The tea should be made in a non-reactive container. I’m using (you guessed it!) two half-gallon mason jars.
  3. Add sugar. You need about a pound of sugar to make a gallon of ale. (Don’t worry, all that sugar will be eaten up during fermentation.) The type of sugar you use will affect the end flavor of the ale. Generally, you can use malt extract, brown sugar, white sugar and 2 tablespoons molasses, honey, maple syrup, or straight molasses.
  4. Add the yeast. Different yeasts will behave differently, so it’s a good idea to read the instructions on the package!
  5. Install an airlock and let it ferment. I use Fermentools airlocks– and I love them because they work with mason jars! Alternatively, you can opt for a traditional fermenting vessel and accompanying airlock. Your ale should ferment until it stops bubbling and the ale is clear- and maybe a few days past that. (Make sure the fermentation is complete so you don’t create a potential explosive inside the bottle later on!)
  6. Bottle the ale & perform a second ferment. Using clean bottles, put 1/2 tsp of sugar in the bottom of each 12 oz bottle to start a second ferment. Pour in the ale through a funnel and cap the bottles.
  7. Let the second ferment complete & monitor bottles. Let the ale sit at room temperature in the bottles for another week or two to create carbonation. During this time, watch to make sure there is no increasing air space in the bottle. If you see this, it’s an indication of increasing pressure, and you may have a potential bomb on your hands! However, this can be avoided by making sure the first fermentation was complete before bottling.
  8. Enjoy! Move to the fridge, and/or keep in cool storage for up to year. If you keep your ale at room temperature, do so in a sheltered location to avoid the possibility of a a sudden temperature change that could re-introduce the danger of explosion.

Homemade nettle-ginger ale in its bottles!

For full instructions, helpful videos, answers to FAQs and a more experienced teacher than me, consider purchasing the Herbal Fermentation Course from Herbal Academy! You’ll also get units on herbal mead, herbal kombucha and water kefir, and lacto-fermentation of fruits and vegetables- starring herbs, of course! I am having an absolute blast with the course and recommend it to anyone interesting in playing with herbalism and fermentation.

The Craft of Herbal Fermentation Course by Herbal Academy

I’ll be sure to come back and update/write more posts as I learn more! Stay tuned. 🙂

Make delicious & healthy herbal ale at home!

 

All-Purpose Homemade Cleaner (Kid-Safe & Food-Safe)

I remember the day I sprayed some kitchen cleaner on my counter top and then went to knead bread on the same surface. I paused for a moment before turning out the dough, and picked up the cleaner bottle to read the back.

What did I see? CAUTION: Not for internal use. Eye irritant. Call a poison control center immediately if ingested. Keep out of reach of children. Etc., etc.

I got out a cutting board for my kneading my dough.


How to make a safe and easy cleaner for all your surfaces!

But as a non-crunchy, uninformed young girl in my first apartment, I had no idea what to use as an alternative. Natural homemade cleaning products weren’t even on my radar. For a while, I just wiped down my counter with a wet rag and dish soap.

Somewhere along the line, I was introduced to the world of homemade cleaners. What a novel idea! My sister-in-law emailed her recipes, I searched the blog world, and eventually came up with a cleaner that works just fine for multiple surfaces in our household.

I know there are 30 gazillion homemade cleaner recipes out there, but I figured this might help some other first-apartment newlywed who had never heard of a homemade cleaner before either. Here we go:

Fill an old spray bottle halfway with vinegar and halfway with water. Then add about 10 drops of essential oil of your choice. (I like using orange EO for some yummy citrus freshness.) And that’s it.

It’s cheap, it’s simple, and it’s completely safe for food surfaces and kid usage.

If you’re not going to use it for food surfaces, you could also add some tea tree oil for an anti-bacterial effect. Usually, however, I make the cleaner without it, and just add a splash of tea tree in the toilet before scrubbing. That way, my all-purpose cleaner stays all purpose.

Go now, and scrub without worries. 🙂

Aug 27-28-2014 008

How to make a SAFE and easy cleaner for many surfaces!

 

 

Improving Upon Our Current Systems

Each year since we’ve been in our house, we’ve added something new. The first year it was a garden plot expansion. The next year it was a flock of backyard chickens. Next came the goat, then meat rabbits, then new garden plots.

Each year has also included some home DIY project. At first it was things like wallpaper removal, moving the laundry upstairs, and painting. Then it was a porch rebuild, a chicken coop, a garage rebuild, and creation of a music studio.

Last month, I wrote a post on considering which homestead projects are right for your family. As it turns out, we’ve had to bear this in mind too! As we considered a host of new ideas, we came to a realization- we shouldn’t add anything new this year.


Improving upon our current sytems feature

Why? Well, we have a lot of balls in the air at any one given time. When we do too much, none of these balls land where they’re supposed to, and we’re left having to pick up the mess we’ve made. So many of the projects we have going really need major fixes to work more efficiently for our family.

We still have projects that we want to complete this year. However, instead of adding something new, we are focusing on improving the systems we already have. This way, we avoid burnout and make the projects we are already doing much more profitable and enjoyable.

That being said, here is our 2017 spring and summer project list:

Garden: Our main garden will likely lie mostly fallow this year- the soil needs some rest and revitalization to grow strong, healthy crops again next year. Instead, we will plant in our other newer plots and focus on building up the soil through lasagna gardening methods.

Chickens: Our flock has nearly outgrown their coop. Too many birds means needing to clean it more often, and overcrowded birds are unhappy birds. Also, the original coop was completely built out of re-purposed and scrap materials, so there were parts of it that didn’t function as efficiently as a standard coop.

It’s time to either 1) put some birds in the pot to make more space or 2) build a new coop. Since we’ve had high demand for selling fresh eggs (and since we’d like to expand our flock in a year or two), we want to keep the birds, but make them a new home. Preferably, this will be a walk-in coop.

Rabbits: Oh meat rabbits. They are a really great venture for so many reasons. However, our current housing system is not efficient. We started out with having them in hutches that were converted into “tractors” that could be drug around the yard. However, because of the design, they are extremely hard to clean and too heavy for efficient rotation.

We tried setting up one of the hutches on blocks to create a fertilizer collection system. However, then the rabbits don’t have access to the grass beneath them, so their diet is largely feed. Not ideal for a pastured meat source.

Our hope is to build a colony location for the rabbits. (Read about colony raising rabbits here.) However, because of the slopey nature of our yard, this is a really big project and one that might not get done this year.

Goat: I really, really wanted to breed our one goat this year so we could have 1) babies and 2) milk. However, I am realizing this just isn’t the right time for it. We are facing several complications, a positive CAE test being our main concern. While we are hoping the test results are false, we’re realizing that there are more things to take care of for the arrival and care of baby goats than we are able to commit to currently. This might just not be the year to take on this project.

House improvements: Our plan for the summer is to build a mudroom right outside our kitchen door. Currently, our closet-less house is spilling over with shoes, coats, and backpacks. A mudroom would give us a spot to put all that STUFF, plus it would provide a functional place to keep for outdoor/animal supplies that don’t currently have a home. Not to mention it might give us that little extra push to do a cheapie DIY kitchen remodel… 😉

Another eventual project is to put a greenhouse on the back of the house. We haven’t made it that far yet, and we’re not sure if we will be able to do it this summer. This falls into the category of expansion, not improvement.

Our main goal is to avoid burnout and try to improve upon the systems we already have. Once they are running efficiently, then we can consider whether or not we want to take on a new one!

What projects will you be working on this spring and summer? 

Why we are taking time to improve the systems we have instead of adding new ones.