Category Archives: In the Kitchen

The Craft of Herbal Fermentation: A Course Review

Foraging for plants in your neighborhood. Fermentation and bubbling jars. Homemade concoctions and kitchen experiments. Community. Joy! Can the combination get any better?

I received a free copy of the Craft of Herbal Fermentation Course in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. 

If you’ve been reading for the past few months, you may know that I was gradually working my way through the Craft of Herbal Fermentation Course from Herbal Academy. Today, I wanted to follow up on my previous posts and sum up my experience with the course.


If you’re looking for the conclusion before you read the review, this is it: it’s FABULOUS. The course was super fun, educational, engaging, inspiring, chock full of information, and bursting with possibilities.

The Craft of Herbal Fermentation Course by Herbal Academy

What You’ll Learn Through the Course

I’ve been fermenting various things for over a year now, so I’ll be honest- I was wondering how much I would learn by taking the course. As it turns out, I discovered there’s lots I don’t know about fermentation- particularly in relation to herbal ferments.

Here’s what you’ll learn to make through the Herbal Fermentation Course:

  • Herbal beer
  • Herbal wine
  • Herbal mead
  • Herbal kombucha
  • Herbal water kefir
  • Herbal lacto-fermented vegetables

These items are covered in four main units. Each unit includes both written & video lessons that cover every possible question you could have about how to make a particular fermented food or beverage. These lessons will cover topics such as:

  • History and/or cultural significance of the food or beverage
  • List of necessary (and unnecessary) supplies
  • Basic instructions for preparation
  • Video and/or pictorial instructions for visual learners
  • Printable reference charts
  • Specific recipes & guidelines for experimentation
  • Storage needs and/or bottling instructions
  • Safety guidelines
  • FAQs & answers

Pouring yeast into our wildflower mead mixture.

Attention to Detail 

I love the Herbal Fermentation Course’s approach to detail. All lessons include precise information such as a plant’s scientific name, the full name of bacteria strains, or the special title for a particular style of mead. The terms are specific so that you can pursue accurate foraging and fermenting endeavors. The detailed information is also a great starting point for further and deeper research.

What if all that detail seems overwhelmming? Don’t worry. Some of us- myself included- have no idea what the Latin name for such and such a plant is and feel hopelessly unable to remember it. Be assured that the information in the course is presented in such a non-intimidating way that you can easily learn all that you need to know without prior botanical or bacterial knowledge.

The Craft of Herbal Fermentation Course by Herbal Academy

Qualified & Inspiring Teachers

The teachers in each course unit are experienced, qualified, and spirited. From ethnobiology to acupuncture, all are well-studied teachers with multiple backgrounds, credentials, and learning experiences behind their names.

Each teacher brings his or her own unique personality and fervor to the course material. Listening to each instructor feels like getting to know a friend just as much as it feels like learning. The Herbal Academy says this about its team of instructors:

“We offer high quality, affordable herbal studies programs to empower our students, and celebrate the community- centered spirit of herbalism by collaborating with a wide diversity of herbalists to create an herbal school that presents many herbal traditions and points of view. ” (Read more here.)

Gorgeous & Practical Course Materials 

The course itself is very visually appealing to anyone who loves plants or fermentation. The videography is tasteful and the photos are beautiful. While you must complete the course within a certain amount of time, the materials are downloadable and printable so you can keep them forever. Additionally, you can choose to upgrade your course purchase to include laminated recipes and charts delivered to your home.

Conclusion

The Craft of Herbal Fermentation course is beautiful, informative, inspiring, and enabling. it took me from “that sounds intimidating” to “I can do this!” In fact, I have now successfully made several kinds of herbal ferments that I have never tried making before.

I highly recommend the course to anyone interested in herbs, foraging, fermenting, probiotic health, or just becoming more engaged with the natural world around them. The Herbal Fermentation course show us just how rich with possibilities each edible plant can be, and helps us to infuse not only our plants, but also our lives with the goodness of creation’s bounty.

Click here to learn more about the Craft of Herbal Fermentation.

The Craft of Herbal Fermentation Course by Herbal Academy

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Roasted Asparagus & Almonds

Asparagus grows more like a shrub than a quick garden plant. If you plant it from seed, it takes about three years before you can harvest it. But once it’s coming- oh my!- those fresh stalks are so delicious and tender. I hardly get them inside because I’m usually eating them straight from the ground.

If you happen to have some fresh asparagus in your yard, count yourself blessed and go pick some for this recipe. If you don’t, take advantage of seasonal sales to bring some home from the store this spring!


One of the reasons I enjoy asparagus is that it’s pretty versatile. It can easily be eaten in eggs, on a sandwich, or as a dinner side. It can be dressed up or down, depending on the occasion. And when it’s really only fresh for a few weeks in spring, it makes it all the more special to use it frequently at this time of year.

Roasted asparagus is super simple to make, and it’s one of our very favorite ways to use this seasonal treasure. My son discovered it this year, and now goes back for seconds and thirds of it. No joke.

He also likes to get into my attempted food photography:

And he likes to do his own food photography. 😉

And add things to my beat-up old baking pan…

Ahem. Anyway.

My apologies… this will be a cook by the look, not by the book recipe. But it’s so easy that you’ll soon adjust it to your tastes.

Note: We love it with the almonds on top- it’s so simple and earthy tasting, and pairs perfectly with the asparagus. However, if you don’t eat nuts, it can easily be made without! Likewise, you can play with different seasonings if you have a flavor profile that you’ve been waiting to try.

You will need:

  • 1 bunch of asparagus
  • Chopped almonds (I generally use about 1/2 cup)
  • Lotsa butter (about 4+ Tbsp)
  • Salt & pepper to taste

  1. Set oven to broil.
  2. Break off the woody ends of the asparagus. (I actually don’t always do this when the asparagus is fresh from the garden because I don’t mind chewing through the thick stuff. Do as you will.) Lay asparagus stalks out in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet.
  3. Sprinkle chopped almonds over top of the asparagus.
  4. Slice butter and place over top of the asparagus.
  5. Sprinkle with salt & pepper.
  6. Roast under the broiler until tender, about 4 minutes each side. You will need to take it out and turn the asparagus spears once, making sure to distribute the butter evenly.
  7. Eat it!

This one-pan, simple side is easy, crowd pleasing, and SO yummy. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Did you try it? Like it? Let us know in the comment section & share it with your friends! 


Fermentation: Building Culture & Community

Lacto-fermentation is a hot trend right now. However, though it may seem like a new thing for young, health-conscious weirdos, the practice has  been around for thousands of years. In fact, for about as long as there have been people, there has been fermentation. As it turns out, it’s also been a huge part of culture and community for all that time.

How fermentation has played into culture and community for thousands of years.

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Preservation & Food Safety

Fermentation is a fantastic way to preserve food without refrigeration. How does it work? While methods vary from food to food, generally the process  is the same. Fermentation occurs when the naturally occurring bacteria on food is combined with some sort of culture: whey, wild yeasts, or, in modern days, a purchased strain of starter culture. Keep the fermenting food away from oxygen and leave it at room temperature. The good bacteria will grow, and the food will transform into a tangy, bubbly treasure that can safely be stored in a cool environment for months.

You can imagine how helpful a process fermentation would have been in the days without refrigeration, freezers, or dehydrators. Food could be thrown in a vessel with some salt, covered, and safely fermented for long-term storage. Vegetables became pickles, milk became cheese- you get the idea.

You can also imagine how this would have improved food safety. How did people drink without access to clean water? You guessed it: beer and wine. The fermentation process eliminates any bad bacteria and creates a nutritional drink that can be safely consumed.

Traditional Foods

Every culture has foods that are traditionally prepared through fermentation. Some of them are easily recognizable; others I’ve never heard of. Here are some examples:

  • Sauerkraut
  • Yogurt
  • Sourdough bread
  • Cheese
  • Kefir
  • Kombucha
  • Kimchi
  • Togwa
  • Pickles
  • Soy Sauce
  • Miso
  • Wine
  • Beer
  • Tempeh
  • Natto
  • Salami
  • Whey
  • Fermented condiments, chutneys, etc.

The list goes on and on… Some of these foods have geographically specific origins; others have been made across so many regions that it’s hard to tell where they started. Regardless, it’s safe to say that fermented foods are wide-spread and common across cultures and times.

The Craft of Herbal Fermentation Course by Herbal Academy

Celebrations & Traditions

Food has always been a part of almost any celebration. It seems that the craft and time taken in preparing fermented foods only adds to the sacred nature of a special occasion.

I was absolutely fascinated by a lecture on “cultural topsoil” by Marc Williams, ethnobiologist and teacher of the herbal mead brewing portion of the Herbal Fermentation Course. Marc writes:

“Brewing herbal mead can be much more than simply making an alcoholic beverage. Indeed, for me, brewing herbal mead is a ritualistic journey of celebrating community—honoring the people, places, and plants that have provided guidance, knowledge, friendship, or support throughout my life. In fact, brewing herbal mead is one method, among many in the realm of fermentation and food production, that can even be used to honor the changing of the seasons, times of year, or memorable milestones in your life and the lives of those in your community.”

How true that so many foods- fermented and otherwise- can play into our cultural traditions and celebrations.

Think about it. It’s a holiday in your house, and you’ve pulled out your great-grandmother’s special recipe that has been passed down through the generations. You may only make it once a year, but that makes it all the more special.

I know a lady who makes friendship fruit cakes every Christmas- she begins the process in November, ferments her cake batter for 30 days, then bakes them and shares both the cakes and the starters with friends.

The joy of fermented foods in particular is that they take so much time and care to create. Cabbage fermented from your own garden feels much more connected, grounded, and personal than a can of dead sauerkraut from the grocery store. An herbal ale or mead made at home from foraged plants speaks of craft, thoughtfulness, and nourishment- not drunkenness and foolishness. The fermented cake recipe from my friend tastes strongly of tradition, love, and generosity. After all, I know she’s been culturing, baking, and sharing from the same starter for years on end.

Community

Not only can fermented foods be a big part of special occasions, they can also be a beautiful part of community building. I’ve seen it over and over again: someone hears about what’s bubbling in my kitchen. She’s interested, so she wants to try a little bit. I share my creations and pretty soon she’s giving it a whirl too. I may not know her all that well, but we now have a common bond: a three year old sourdough starter (or kefir grains or kombucha scoby) that’s in both of our kitchens, actively functioning and feeding both of our families.

It’s not long til that food-sharing inspires more connections. We get together again to share another kitchen experiment. Maybe we pass it on to another person, and maybe that person shares it with someone else. It’s funny how a fermented food can become a conversation starter, an inspiration, and a friendship builder.

Culture Your Culture

Give it a try. Venture into fermented foods and see how culturing food can play into your cultural traditions. Pull out a fermented food or beverage at a special occasion and watch to see the interest it sparks. Build new connections with people who you may not know too well. Share a scoby, a bottle of kombucha, or a loaf of sourdough. Watch to see how the foods can become part of your traditions and the connections made can foster generosity, friendships, and cultural richness.

The Craft of Herbal Fermentation Course by Herbal Academy

I highly recommend the Herbal Academy’s Herbal Fermentation Course. As a moderately seasoned fermenter, I have already learned so much! Click here for more information. 

I also love my Fermentools kit for easy, worry-free fermentation in mason jars. Check them out here. 

Build into your culture and community with fermentation!


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.

dandelion3

* 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.

dandelion5
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!

dandelion6
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.

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.

April 2015 009

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

April 2015 010

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

4) Run cool water over the eggs.

April 2015 011

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.

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.
      9. 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!

         


Violet Jam & a Recipe Round Up!

We recently talked about one of my favorite ways to eat dandelions. Now let’s talk about another beautiful, edible wildflower: violets!

Violet Jam & a Recipe Round-Up!Our first spring at our house brought hundreds thousands of violets. And what would we do with them besides figure out if we could eat them?

Upon seeing this glory spread through our front lawn, we first made sure that we did indeed identify the plant correctly. Next, we checked on its edibility. The flowers and leaves are edible, but the roots and seeds can make you sick. So make sure you only pick the tops, please, and always double check your plant identification and edibility when foraging.


I found a recipe for violet jam on the blog Emergency Outdoors. J has always been eager to help gather flowers, so this project was a welcome excuse to get a bowl and get picking.

Spring 2013 081We washed our flowers and got ready to make the jam.

Spring 2013 087After sanitizing my canning jars and lids, we blended up the ingredients as per our recipe, and ended up with this lovely lavender gel:

Spring 2013 095This was a sweet, floral jam that pairs well with lemon poppy seed muffins or a light springtime bread. The color made me think to give it away for Mother’s Day. While I prefer jams with less sugar, it was still very satisfying to prepare a treat from wild food growing in our yard.

Spring 2013 100 Emergency Outdoors provides all the details for this violet jam recipe. You will also find a wealth of information on violet there, including edible, medicinal, and perfumery uses- not to mention recipes for violet vinegar and violet syrup. Yum!

While we enjoyed trying the jam, I’d like to branch out this year and try using violet in other ways. I’ve compiled a list of violet recipes & resources that I’d like to try:

The Common Blue Violet– Common Sense Homesteading shares a violet jelly recipe (for those of you who prefer a clear spread), and shares various medicinal uses of violets.

The Health Benefits of Violets– From the Herbal Academy of New England. This amazing website provides a thorough review of violet and her medicinal uses. Check out her instructions for several different violet teas for health.

Let’s Talk About Violet- Amber of Pixie’s Pocket is bursting with enthusiasm for the little purple blooms that fill her yard each spring. Visit her blog for information on using violets for warts and acne, as well as a few links to wild violet recipes- like adding them to a wild greens pesto? That sounds delightfully different!

How to Make Wild Violet Syrup– ABCs & Garden Peas shares a method for making violet syrup- without heaps of sugar- and some ingenious ways to put it to use. I may have to try this to change up our maple syrup habits for springtime.

Five Uses for Violet Vinegar- I’ve seen a few recipes for violet vinegar, but always wondered what in the world you used it for. The Nerdy Farm Wife takes out the mystery and gives you five concrete ideas to get you started.

And of course, you can just plain eat them. They go well in salad, and the flowers are a wonderful outdoor playtime snack. The kids think it’s tons of fun to sit and munch flowers with mama. The novelty masks the health benefits, so they consume the blooms without hesitation. 😉

Did you know violet can also be used for personal body care? Try your hand at Herbal Academy’s Violet Leaf Soap Recipe, or The Nerdy Farm Wife’s recipe for Herbal Deoderant for Women’s Health.

Which recipes are most appealing to you? What will you try first this year? I am eager to get started soon!

How to make pretty purple violet jam- plus a round up of other violet uses!

 

Easy Slow Cooker Venison Pot Roast

At the end of deer season, we had a friend text us early in the morning: “Could you use any venison? We got an extra deer and don’t have space for it all!”

What followed was a somewhat humorous scramble to say yes to the deer meat. Moving around stuff in the freezer, looking  up YouTube videos on how to process venison, staying up til 2 am trying to make cuts out of a quartered deer… you get the idea. Complete novices working hard to save meat without a clue what we were doing.

However, we ended up with a freezer full of some of the best meat you can get– free range, organic, pesticide free– you name it, this was healthy, wild meat to feed our family.


An easy "set it and forget it" venison recipe.

Enter the pot roast recipe. We actually used the deer neck for our roast, based on an internet recommendation. (Do let me know if there’s other parts suitable for a good roast!)

The nice part is that this is a “set it and forget it” type recipe- just dump the ingredients into your slow cooker unceremoniously and leave it for several hours. You’ll have magic when you get back.

Easy Slow Cooker Venison Pot Roast

  • 1 large bone-in venison neck roast
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, diced
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt & pepper (enough to generously rub the surface of the meat.)
  • 2 cups water

This is SO easy. Just put all the ingredients in the crock pot, rub the Venison with salt & pepper, and cover with water. Put a lid on it and cook on high for about 4 hours.

Done!

I served mine with oven-roasted potatoes & buttered carrots and peas. I’m sure you could easily put vegetables in the crock pot with the meat if you prefer a one-pot meal.

Another great part about this meal is that it makes its own broth. After we ate our pot roast, I made venison stew the next night with the leftover meat and broth. It was absolutely delicious.

If you’ve never tried venison before, this is a great way to begin! It tastes very similar to a beef pot roast. The meat is soft and falls apart under the fork. No tough, dry venison stereotype here!

We hope you enjoy it just as much as we did. 🙂

Glorious Potato Patties (Made from the Best Mashed Potatoes)

This post should be called “potato patties, a.k.a. heaven in a pan, gently heated to a golden crisp.” Or at least something like that.

Potato patties are, in my mind, the absolute best way to use up leftover mashed potatoes. Sure, you could reheat them in their original state or put them atop of a casserole, but why do that when the angels could be singing over these glorious beauties?

The best mashed potatoes, and the best way to use up the leftovers. It's easy and amazing.


Of course, in order to make delicious potato patties, you must start with delicious mashed potatoes. Now is the time to bid farewell to any mashed potato powder in a box. No longer will you tolerate the texture of pasty bland fluff. You are moving on to truer and purer things.

The process for great mashed potatoes is simple:

  1. Peel potatoes & chop into 1-2″ chunks
  2. Place chunks in boiling water
  3. Boil for about 15 minutes, or until potatoes are fork-tender.
  4. Drain water.
  5. Add REAL butter, milk, salt, & pepper. How much? That’s up to you, but I’m pretty generous myself. I usually add a whole stick of butter for about every eight medium potatoes, then pour in a little milk at a time while I mash until the consistency is right. Next, I salt and pepper it and taste it til it’s yummy. I might even double dip. (Shhhh…)
  6. Mash with a fork or potato masher. Blend them with a beater if you must, but I prefer my taters a bit chunky.

That’s it! Real mashed potatoes are very simple to make and far surpass any box you could buy. The only problem with making them yourself is that you’ll no longer take joy in most restaurant mashed potatoes because your own are so much better.

Now, for the best part of mashed potatoes: the LEFTOVERS!

Here’s how you make The Ever Glorious and Delightful Golden Potato Patty. It’s even easier than the mashed potatoes.

  1. Heat 1-2 tablespoons of butter in a cast-iron skillet. Make sure the pan gets thoroughly heated.
  2. Drop rounded spoonfuls of leftover mashed potatoes into the skillet. Flatten to about 1/2″ thick with the back of your spoon.
  3. Flip when the bottom of the patties is turning golden-brown and crispy.
  4. When both sides are golden, they’re ready to eat!

Potato patties are delicious with eggs in the morning, as part of lunch or dinner, or as a late-night snack. They really do make me deliriously happy. Don’t we all need a little bit of that in our lives? 😉

Go forth and eat potatoes.

This has to be the best way to eat the best mashed potatoes. Be still, my heart.