Homemaking

Fresh Elderberry Syrup

One of my favorite fall activities is harvesting elderberries to make elderberry syrup.

I have two black elders (Sambucus nigra) and one blue elder (S. nigra ssp. cerulea), and most years can harvest 40 lbs or more of fruit from these three shrubs.

 

Most of the fruit can be reached from the ground, but I have a pole-pruner to help me access the large clusters up high.

We had a heavy rain which washed all of the forest-fire ash off, so it seemed like a good time to harvest the second round of fruit.



I let the poultry out of their run, so they could hunt for worms and bugs in the rain-soaked mulch.   Ducks don’t like elderberries, and the chickens will only clean up a few.  They would much rather go for the protein-rich invertebrates which abound in the shade garden.

One of the black elders makes smaller clusters than the other, but each individual berry in the umbel is larger.

All parts of the elder contain cyanogenic glycosides. The berries contain the least amount, which dissipates during cooking.   However, stems, leaves, and roots contain toxic amounts.  Elderberries need to be removed from the stems which hold them in a cluster before they can be cooked.   Even the small stems which hold the berries together in their characteristic umbel shape need to be removed before cooking.


The berries stain clothes and skin, and can be fiddly to remove from the stems.   I use a fork.  Freezing the berries first can make it easier to remove them from the stems, as well.

After the berries are de-stemmed, they are washed to remove any grit, bugs, spider webs, and dried flowers.   I then make a batch of fresh syrup, and freeze the rest in packages to make more syrup throughout the winter.   I have dried them in the past, but feel that freezing better preserves the flavor and nutrition.

 

I take elderberry syrup regularly during cold and flu season – straight, stirred into hot tea, or even mixed with seltzer water.  Elderberries contain very high quantities of vitamin C, and are rich in vit A, iron, B6, and potassium.  They are a nutritional powerhouse, and I feel very privileged to be able to grow them at home, where I can control how the fruit is produced.  The berries and plants are never sprayed.  The shrubs are fed with rock dust minerals, organic poultry manure,  worm castings, comfrey and compost tea.  I know that I am feeding the soil so the plant can benefit and produce for me the most nutritionally-dense berries possible.

If you’re local and interested in some of my all-organic elderberry syrup, please check out the order form HERE (details are on the form). I will be making a batch that will be ready for pickup (or delivery to Oaks Park for derby folks) on Sept 27.  Because I’ve had issues with folks ordering and not paying in the past, I’m going to take payment before I make a batch this time around.

If you have any questions about growing elders or making syrup, feel free to shoot me an email at angela@ParkrosePermaculture.com or leave a comment below. Thanks!

Tea and a Visitor

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One of my kids’ favorite rituals is afternoon tea.  We used to have a high tea on Thursdays, but as the kids have grown and their needs have changed, we’ve shifted to having a casual afternoon tea any day of the week they want to sit down and have it.

dsc_0879George inevitably wants to have tea every day, whether or not his siblings want to.  He loves getting out the china and his favorite mint tea and feeling very grown up.

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With our tea, we had the last of the Seckel pears from our tree, and the first of the medlars (well, I enjoyed them.  George wasn’t so keen.  He did like the pears – I don’t think anyone can resist a pear whose taste matches its nickname,”sugar pear”.)

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While George enjoyed his tea, Hal got some snuggle time with our favorite houseguest: Annabelle the Pionus parrot.  She is the most sweet-tempered, gentle parrot I’ve ever known (and I’ve known a lot of parrots).  She has such a calm demeanor and likes hanging out with the kids, although she seems to prefer Hal to everyone else – which is a good thing, because he absolutely adores her.

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One thing I really enjoy about tea-time is that I can sit and knit while George and I chit-chat.  Today I finished a remnant hat while we were hanging out.  I seem to have lots of small balls of various greys and yellows  in worsted weight and have made a few hats with grey and yellow stripes – I really like the combination.  I’ve now worked through all my grey odds and ends and George has asked me to make him a cotton hat with red in it, so that’s next on the list for knitting projects.  (I also have a shawl on the needles, but I usually like a mindless, easy project to fall back on at the same time, and hats or socks always fit that bill.)

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I’ll be back tomorrow for Ginny’s Yarn Along.

A Morning Indoors

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Hal is at ReWild’s Nature Immersion program on Fridays.  It’s the highlight of his week.  He gets to run around outside all day, learn primitive skills, and engage in loads of imaginative play with his friends.  He comes home tired, filthy, and very, very happy.

It’s not just a benefit for him:  In a house with lots of kids, sending just one kid off for the day has lots of perks.  It not only provides him with adventure apart from his siblings, but it also reduces the conflict, mess, noise, etc in the house by a significant portion.  And considering that resolving sibling conflict normally comprises the bulk of my “parenting” lately, Friday is a day I’ve been looking forward to, as well.  I get so much accomplished on Fridays, all while having a quiet, peaceful morning.

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I got a loaf of sesame-spelt bread baked early this morning.  It has 2 cups of unbleached flour, and 1 cup of spelt, so it takes longer to rise, but it gets some loft eventually.  It is much less dense than an all-spelt bread, with the nutty flavor of the spelt still coming through.

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While the bread was rising, I worked on a pair of top-down mix-n-match socks I started ages ago.  I’m down to the toe on the last sock, and then I can block them!  (Joining Ginny’s Yarn Along. These are 100% wool yarn my sister-in-law gave me some time ago.  They’re leftovers from another project she did, so I’m not sure of the brand.)

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While I’m knitting this morning, George has been alternating between working on a puzzle and playing with items on the nature shelf.  He loves to look at the agates and limpet shells we collected at the beach last month, and added some hazelnuts from the backyard.

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It seems that everywhere you look in the kitchen, there are medlars strewn about.  The kids and I keep bringing them in as they fall from the tree.  They need to sit on the counter for a few weeks to soften and be edible.  I can’t wait to eat them:  they taste intensely of autumn to me.  (See my new video about growing and eating medlars here.)

This weekend is packed with derby.  I’m officiating four bouts, in three days, as well as a few scrimmages.  But next weekend I’m taking the weekend off to work on fall garden clean-up and transition some of the front yard garden from annuals to perennials.  The plan is to add two new pawpaw trees, another pomegranate, and a “Nikita’s Gift” persimmon amongst the shrubs and herbaceous perennials I established the last two years.  Finding derby-life balance is hard for me, especially as autumn in the garden is still a busy time, but I’m looking forward to a crazy derby weekend starting today and a permaculture weekend next weekend.

Autumn Gifts

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I’ve been busy the last few days making things for loved ones.  I have lots more to share, but am behind on uploading and editing photos.  So, for now, a few pictures of the gifts We’ve been making this week.

Above:  A little indoor fairy garden as an early birthday present for Bea, who maintains the fairy garden outside in the yard, and is always sad to see it go dormant over the winter.  Now she’ll have her own little garden to tend to right in the windowsill.

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I have an abundance of beets, and my dad really loves beet salad.  George helped me make him this one with candied nuts, bleu cheese, and a balsamic dressing.

 

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Lastly, I finished and blocked a shawl for a friend who is going through a difficult time right now.  It’s a prayer shawl, made in 100% Brown Sheep wool.

More soon.  Hope your weekend is filled with good things.

Herbal Salves

 

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The past few weeks, I’ve been working on batches of healing salves, both for custom orders and to stock our soon-to-open Etsy store.  We grow the herbs with all organic methods (of course!), and dry them in a solar dehydrator, utilizing only the energy of the sun. Other ingredients in the salves include local beeswax from natural beekeepers, and organic oils.

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The herbs (such as calendula, above) are infused into organic coconut oil and organic olive oil by sun-infusion or by simmering in a double boiler for 6-8 hours.  Don’t the blossoms turn the oil a lovely sunny shade?

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All of the salves are made in small batches with custom essential oil scents.  As of right now, I’m making four types of salves:

Calendula-Plantain Soothe Salve for rashes, ezcema, and dry irritated skin.

Arnica-Vervain Bruise Balm for bumps, bruises and sports injuries.

Comfrey Bone Balm for broken bones, bone bruises, sprains.

All-purpose Healing Salve with Calendula, Lavender, Plantain, Rosemary, Yarrow.

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While the salves are cooling and setting up on the counter (and filling the house with the soothing scent of sweet orange oil and cedarwood), I’m off to print labels for the tins.  The rest of the day is filled with prep for homeschool co-op tomorrow, Life of Fred mathematics, and some fall clean-up garden projects.

Blessings on your weekend!

Eve of Autumn

Eve of Autumn

Today we said goodbye to summer and anticipate the impending arrival of autumn.  It has been warm and sunny during the day, but the crispness of fall has definitely made itself felt in the air.

We’ve been pulling out pants (only to discover George has outgrown every pair that fit this spring) and mittens and vests and rain jackets.  The kitchen has been really chilly in the mornings, and it gives me an excuse to bake:  I’ve made bread two days in a row, and have plans to get up before the children to bake banana bread for breakfast tomorrow.

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Speaking of mornings, The Hudson’s Golden Gem apples are ready right in time to welcome in fall.  I’ve been eating one off the tree every morning with my coffee, and Ruth and George have been enjoying them with dinner.

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The young tree sits right outside our front door, planted in a polyculture with rhubarb, comfrey, clove currant, Egyptian walking onions, blood sorrel, rosemary, English lavender, bearded iris, calendula, and Oregon iris.  Around the perimeter – in an area amended with pine needles – are highbush blueberry and lowbush blueberry and red currant.  This weekend I also added a Haku Botan pomegranate – prized for being very dwarf, cold hardy, and producing double-ruffled white flowers which set into white fruit.

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If you need another apple to add to the family garden, the Hudson’s Golden Gem is an excellent choice.  The fruit is yellow and heavily russeted – nothing much to look at.  But the flesh is creamy white, and very crisp, but with an exceptionally buttery quality – not grainy or gritty or mealy at all.  The flavor is a good balance of sweet and acid with undertones of butter and hazelnuts.  It’s an apple that children and adults can both enjoy very much.

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To mark the shift of seasons, we had mint tea this afternoon and burnt a little myrrh in the hour or so before dinner.  In studying ancient Egypt, the children had become interested in what myrrh actually smelled like (we’d burned frankincense at Christmas before).  I had to order a few things from Mountain Rose Herbs, and included myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) and sweet myrrh (Commiphora opoponax), which have markedly different scents.  They arrived in plenty of time to test them out today.

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You can’t simply light myrrh unless you want it to smell, well, burnt.  (It’s like the difference between a great cup of coffee and a scorched cup that’s sat in the pot with the burner on – they’re both coffee, but one is the right way to appreciate it, and the other is a waste of coffee.)  Instead (a video tutorial is here), light a disc of charcoal, place it in salt or sand, sprinkle it with more salt (to form a buffer layer between the charcoal and the myrrh), and then place a very small piece of resin on top.  It will slowly melt and darken, trailing up a wisp of intensely fragrant smoke as it does so.  Two tiny half-pea sized pieces were enough to fill the whole house with the soothing aroma.

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While the kids drank their tea and made dragons before dinner, I finished a few pairs of children’s’ mitts.  I’m working on stocking up handmade goods to open a little Etsy store before Thanksgiving.  Something about the chill in the air, the winding down of the garden, the early-setting-sun that makes fiber-folk want to knit and spin in earnest.  So the turn of the season seems like a good time to get things finished up and get that Etsy store open.

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Hope to be back later in the week with some of our unschooly activities and setting the fall Nature Table.

Blessings on your family as you settle into the rhythms of the new season.

 

Tuesday Evening

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The garden always starts to look a little more wild and unkempt than normal this time of year.  Some plants are past their prime and looking scraggly.  Some have spilled over their boundaries to scramble over paths and up tomato cages.  Some (like the mile-high lettuce in the center-background) are allowed to bolt so I can save the seeds or are permitted to self-sow about the garden.

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After dinner, George helped me pick some tomatoes and plums and summer squash for a delivery in the morning.  He got a thrill out of being hoisted up to help reach the first wave of ripe Stanley plums.

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He thought this Pink Brandywine tomato was really cool and deserved a close-up.

 

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As the sun was getting close to setting, Ruth brought out her favorite chicken, Cookie, to peck around in the Rain Garden before she and Casey locked up the poultry for the night.

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It’s a good thing Cookie is the world’s snuggliest chicken, because Ruth absolutely adores her.  She’s a total puppy dog and wants to be picked up and held at every opportunity.

 

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All in all, not-too-shabby for less than an hour’s picking with small children “helping”, especially considering I also picked another dehydrator-load of calendula and comfrey, and some golden raspberries for the kids’ dessert, and weeded as I went along.  Definitely, not-too-shabby.

Healing Salve Recipe

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‘Tis the Season to make Christmas gifts, and Bea and I started yesterday morning, making another, larger batch of comfrey-rosemary salve.  (Joining the KCCO today.)

Comfrey, also known as knit-bone, is touted as having strong healing properties.   I have used it daily on my broken ankle once the stitches healed (don’t use the salve on open wounds), but it is also commonly used on bruises and other injuries.  It is a soothing salve to rub onto bumps, bruises, sore muscles, etc – all of which are common place in a house with 3 roller derby girls and very active, energetic kids.

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Bea and I made this batch early in the morning before the other kids woke up.  At ten years-old, she can work with the hot wax and oil safely (with a little supervision, of course).

We have a $0.25 pot from the thrift store that is used only for beeswax-based projects.  Most of the jars were also from the thrift store, as well as some baby food jars given to me by a friend.

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I grow loads of Russian Bocking Comfrey in my garden because it is a dynamic accumulator and sequesters all sorts of minerals in its leaves – thereby making it a great fertilizer in the garden, as well as excellent duck forage.  It has deep tap roots (up to 12 feet deep!), which help break up our dense clay soil, and its delicate purple flowers are a favorite of bees – blooming for a long stretch.

I had picked the comfrey and rosemary a few months ago and dried them, but you can also order the dried herbs online if you don’t have a source in your yard.

Once you have the ingredients gathered, the salve takes only about 15 minutes to make.  Here’s our recipe:

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Comfrey-Rosemary Salve

3/4 cup organic olive oil 

4 Tbsp dried comfrey leaves

3 sprigs dried rosemary (you can substitute 2 Tbsp dried lavender if you prefer)

1 Tbsp vitamin E oil

3/4 cup organic coconut oil

6 Tbsp chopped beeswax

10 drops tangerine or 4 drops patchouli oil (if using dried lavender, substitute with lavender oil)

Directions:

– Infuse the dried herbs in the olive oil.  This can be done two ways:  either place the herbs and oil in a double boiler and heat gently over water (do not boil the oil over direct heat) for 30-45 minutes, or place dried herbs in the oil, cover and store in a dark place for 3-4 weeks.  (Note: Do NOT use fresh herbs – the water in them will cause your oil/finish salve to mold.  Herbs must be thoroughly dried.)

-Strain the dried herbs from the finished olive oil and discard them in the compost.

-Place the chopped beeswax, infused olive oil, coconut oil, and vitamin E oil in a pan.  Heat on medium-low heat, stirring constantly until all ingredients are completely melted.

– Immediately remove from the heat, and stir in the tangerine oil.

– Pour into jars, and let cool with the lids off.  Once thoroughly solidified, the salve will keep in a dark place at room temperature for 6 months or more. (Our kitchen was very cold when we made the salve, and it cooled very rapidly, resulting in cracks on the surface of the salve.  Next time, I will wrap towels around the jars or perhaps cover them with a pot so they cool more slowly.)

Back tomorrow for the Yarn Along!

Our Daily Bread

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We bake bread several times a week here.  When the girls were little, we only made bread once a week.  But now with four active, growing children, we can polish off a loaf every day – sometimes in just one meal.  Thankfully, it is an activity I have always enjoyed – especially when the kids help.  (One day, we hope to get a wood-fired bread oven built in the backyard that would be available for the community to use when we fire it up once a week.  But for now, we are content to warm the house on a chilly night by baking in the kitchen.)

IMG_8442Recently, I got together with some moms from our homeschool co-op, and a guest came to share her orange-glazed sticky bun recipe with us.  She also shared a beautiful poem
(found in an old cookbook) about the artistry and importance of the simple act of baking bread, and I want to share it with you:

Our Daily Bread by Grace Noll

An ancient rite, as old as life is old:

A woman baking bread above a flame

Its value is far greater than pure gold,

it is ageless, timeless, and the simple name

Of bread is wholesome as the summer sun

That has lit and warmed the fields that men might eat;

It is as clean as are the winds that run

Their light-food way across the waving wheat.

A loaf is only half a loaf unless

We share it, and unless we say

Our grace above it, asking God to bless

That bread that He has given day by day

O women, handle flour as you should!

It is a thing God-given, priceless, good.  

 

Elderberry-Rose Hip Syrup

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A friend very kindly picked me loads of wild rose hips.  These red-orange fruits of fall are loaded with vitamin C, lycopene and beta-carotene.  They can be dried for tea, or used fresh for syrup and jam.  (Take note – the seeds inside are covered with irritating hairs, and if the fruits are cut up, the hairs need to be removed.  The seeds and outside of the fruit are edible.)IMG_0069[1]

Late in the summer, when our elderberries were in full production (and I was still out of commission), my husband picked and froze loads of berries for me.    Adding the rose hips to my elderberry syrup seemed like a great way to boost the health-benefits of this winter-time supplement.

Here’s my updated recipe:

Elderberry Rose Hip Syrup

Ingredients:

5 cups fresh or frozen elderberries (see prep below)

2 cups fresh unsprayed (preferably wild) rose hips (see prep below)

thumb-sized piece of ginger, skin peeled off

5 cups water

4-5 cups organic unrefined sugar

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

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Step 1: Remove all stems – even the smallest ones – from the berries (see my notes on elderberries and cyanide here.  (If using frozen berries: Let the berries thaw slightly (as seen above),  then use a fork to easily knock them from the stems.  Discard all stems and leaves in the compost.  Rinse berries to remove any debris or spiders.

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Step 2: Rinse the rosehips, and remove any that are soft and mushy.  With your fingers, pull off the dried brown petals from the blossom end of the hip (also called a “haw”).  Measure out two cups of whole hips (the hips will not burst when cooked, so I don’t cut them open and remove the hairs/seeds for this recipe).

Step 3: Add berries, hips, ginger, and 5 cups water to a heavy-bottomed pan.  Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer with the lid off, for 45 minutes.

Step 4: Strain the liquid ad berries, using a fine strainer or clean tea towel, carefully crushing the hot fruit pulp as you do so.  Discard the mashed fruit.  Measure the quantity of juice.  It should be around 5 cups.

Step 5:  Add strained juice back to the pan.  For every cup of juice, stir in 2/3-1 cup of sugar (less sugar will yield a runnier final product).  Bring mixture to a boil, and boil, stirring frequently, until mixture is reduced by one-third to one-half, and thickens to desired viscosity.

Step 6: Add balsamic vinegar (or substitute with 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar for a brighter flavor), and stir.  Ladle hot syrup into jars, and store in the refrigerator for up to six months, or process in a hot-water bath canner.
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The syrup is very good over ice cream, or pound cake, or mixed with a little hot tea or brandy.

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As a health supplement, the syrup is commonly taken as 1/2- 1 tsp daily in the fall and winter.  My children enjoy it in a small glass of seltzer or orange juice.

Back tomorrow with some garden work from today.  Hope you had a restful weekend.

Homebodies

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Autumn is settling in, and we’ve put the feather comforters and extra quilts on the beds.  My ankle hasn’t healed enough to drive yet, so we spend our week keeping busy at home.  Any moment it isn’t raining, we’ve been in the garden.

Some images from our quiet week around the house.  Above: Hops, rosemary, and comfrey drying in a sunny window seat.

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Collecting columbine seeds for Christmas gifts, and a few to sow around the garden.

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Baking bread.  The kids can eat a loaf every single day, and I certainly don’t mind baking.  This is molasses-shredded wheat bread (my kids love shredded-wheat cereal, and we save the crushed bits in the bottom of the bag for making bread.   Tossing a half-cup into the recipe adds a nice texture, and nothing goes to waste).  Butter spread on top when the loaf is warm makes for a soft crust children enjoy.IMG_9989[1]

The Nature Table is transitioning over for autumn.  It includes whatever the kids collect: birch bark, a paper wasp nest, as well as shells and rocks discovered in children’s pockets when we go to do the laundry.

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A volunteer brought the children a nest she found in our raspberry patch.  We find several every year around the yard, but the kids always get excited about them – they have an almost mystical quality because of their ephemeral nature, and each one is unique.

The perpetual calendar in the upper right is from MamaRoots, and was a birthday gift to Bea last year.  She dutifully keeps track of it for us, and it is one of the best instructional toys we’ve purchased.

IMG_0001[1]A few days in the sun, rotated a few times a day, and the hops and such have dried, and been packed into jars until we need them.

Autumn is always bittersweet – I love the baking, sticking close to home, the warm wooly things of fall.  But the garden winds down and is put to bed for the year, and the weather turns grey and rainy and chilly.  Especially this year, where I missed an entire summer laid up on the sofa with my leg, the changing of the seasons hits a little hard.  Fall is here though, and I’ve got to take the good things the season offers and be content… seems like the right time to bake some gingerbread.

Blessings on your weekend.

 

 

December Afternoon

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Knitting a few rows on some Toasty mitts ,

IMG_9031IMG_9040Daily checks on fermenting veggies.  Jalapeno Purple kraut all finished and getting jarred up for gifts.  Plain sauerkraut coming along nicely.  It will be ready to serve with Christmas dinner. (The weight goes back on top when I’m done checking, so all cabbage is submerged below the brine.)

IMG_9024Vying for space in front of the heater vent to thaw frozen fingers and toes,

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Enjoying the ever-rotating display of Christmas decorations the children arrange and rearrange as they play with them.

Back tomorrow with a recipe for the coming Solstice, and some more knitted gifts.

The Best Dilly Beans EVER

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Lately I’ve been getting back to making home fermented foods, for our health and for simplicity’s sake.  I routinely make sourdough, yogurt, and buttermilk, but had gotten away from cultured vegetables (life gets busy).  But the past several weeks, I have re-discovered how much we love lacto-fermented veggies.

Lacto-fermentation is the process of using beneficial bacteria (primarily Lactobacillus acidophilus and L. bifidus) to create lactic acid and ferment raw fruits and veggies into foods that are more easily digestible and have more bio-available nutrients.  The process also preserves food for many months.

The garden is bursting with produce, but my schedule is hectic and time is precious, so even setting aside the health benefits, lacto-fermentation is the best option for preserving and enjoying much of our garden produce.  Unlike canned pickles, lacto-fermented veggies do not require heating up the kitchen and hours slaving over a canner on hot summer days.  They only require a few minutes to prep the ingredients, a little care in setting up the ferment.

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Today, a batch of Dilly Beans finished after five days on the counter, and I couldn’t wait to crack into the jar.  I must say, they are superb.  They are exponentially better than the less-than-crisp hot-water bath canned bean pickles I’ve made in the past.  A completely different and superior food, and I can’t stop eating them!  These beans are crispy, crunchy, salty, tangy, with just the right balance of dill and garlic.  Did I mention how crunchy they are?

Here’s my recipe, but first a few notes that will help your fermentation be successful:

On the brine – in order to create the proper environment for the good bacteria and inhibit mold growth, the brine MUST be salty enough.  The traditional ratio is 3 Tbsp of salt for 1 Qt. of water.  Also remember that all of your pickles must be fully submerged in the brine – any pieces sticking up out of the brine may mold or grow funky bacteria and spoil your batch.

For a less salty, and quicker fermenting brine:  omit 1 Tbsp salt and substitute in 1/4 cup whey from making yogurt, creme fraiche, or cheese.  (You can strain a cup or so of store-bought yogurt with active cultures (REAL yogurt, not one with added guar gum and thickeners and such) to get your whey if needed.  I like Nancy’s Organic Wholemilk Plain.  It’s what I use as a starter for homemade yogurt, too.)

On the fermenting vessels – My friends at The Liberated Kitchen suggested picking up large fido jars at Ross or Marshalls.  What a great idea!  For $3 or $4 each you can snag half-gallon and gallon-sized jars which work great for fermenting.  I pack my veggies in, add the brine, and then insert a small juice glass to push the veggies under the brine before sealing it up.  (Note: I used to believe that you had to burp the jars to reduce pressure and avoid spill-over or breakage, but have since learned that Fido jars actually allow gases to escape through the gasket, without oxygen re-entering or the need to burp the jars.)

Best Dilly Beans EVER

1 1/2-2 lbs of fresh, organic green beans

4 cloves of garlic, smashed with the side of a knife

2 heads of dill buds/flowers OR a good handful of dill fronds (which aren’t as potent)

1 heaping tsp black peppercorns

Enough brine to cover the beans +1 inch (My beans were quite long, and I needed about 1 3/4 Qts.)

Directions:

1)Place garlic, dill, and peppercorns in the bottom of the jar.

2)Stack beans (standing up on their ends) into the jar.

3)Fill jar with brine, being sure to fully cover beans, but leaving headspace.

4) Leave on the kitchen counter (60-80F is ideal) for 5-10 days, until desired tangyness is achieved, then move to the fridge (Be sure to  check the contents daily, and don’t overfill or  you may break your jar, especially if it is warm in the house and it ferments rapidly).  Will keep for several months in the fridge.

For more info on lacto-fermentation and other fermented foods, plus tips on trouble-shooting and inspiration from other fermenters, visit the Wild Fermentation FB Group.

Peonies and Raspberries

Dessert last night - chocolate cake with chocolate mousse and raspberries.
Dessert last night – chocolate cake with chocolate mousse and raspberries

Well, I’ve been knocked down somewhat with a summer cold, and didn’t make the Yarn Along this week.  I finished a pair of socks for a friend, and hope to post photos next week.

Calendula in bloom
Calendula in bloom

We have company visiting, and volunteers in the garden, and swim lessons and so much summer goodness and fun.  We’ve been baking and playing with the neighbor kids and cutting posies in the yard.  And stuffing ourselves full of raspberries on a daily basis.

I had volunteers here this morning, and together harvested loads of organic produce for BCS – baskets full of Spanish shallots, raspberries, 4 kinds of mint, herb packs, French Tarragon, rhubarb, Russian Red kale, Rainbow chard, snow peas, currants, and lavender.   I was too busy picking to take photos, but will try to make a point of documenting next week’s harvests.

Hope you have a good weekend.  We are looking forward to:

-hanging out with Grandma and Grandpa B, who are visiting from Florida

-making Mujaddara, falafels, and kale salad for dinner tomorrow

– biking at Sunday Parkways with my sister

Blessings!

Making Butter

I made a bit batch of beef stew for dinner this weekend – enough to last for two meals.  We rarely eat beef or pork (other than a small amount of ham or bacon to flavor veggie dishes), so it was a real treat for all of us.  All day long, the kitchen was full of the aroma of leeks, smoked paprika, merlot, allspice, and cinnamon.

Ruth suggested we make butter and loaf of bread to go with dinner.   I happened to have 2 cups of organic heavy cream in the fridge.  Okay, let’s make butter!

To make butter

take a 1 quart mason jar, and add:

2 cups of heavy cream

a pinch of ultra fine popcorn salt (optional!  I prefer mine without salt)

screw the lid on, and shake.  And shake and shake and shake.  For about thirty minutes.

(Ruth, concentrating hard on the jar, willing the cream to separate!)

It was a weekend morning, and Casey was reading books to the kids, so we just passed the jar around, each person shaking and swishing until s/he got tired, then passing it to the next person.   After about 15 minutes, it was perfect whipped cream.  Then after about half an hour, suddenly there was a large chunk of bright yellow butter sitting in buttermilk (top photo).

This was the perfect opportunity to get one of the antique butter molds Casey’s grandma, Ruth Young, had given me a few years back.  I believe they were her grandmother’s.  After we had squeezed all the buttermilk from the butter (exactly one cup of each), and chilled the very soft butter in the fridge for a while, we pressed it in the oiled mold.

(The cup of buttermilk was used to make the bread later in the afternoon.)

 The butter smelled buttery and looked so beautiful, and the kids couldn’t wait to eat it.  I never got a shot of the finished molded butter, because as soon as I turned to get some crackers (the bread wasn’t made yet), the children had already dug into it with spoons!  Ah, well.  Next time.  It was absolutely delicious, though.

Great choice, Ruth!  It was a fun activity, and went perfectly with the crusty bread and beef stew for dinner.  Now, if only we had a neighbor with a cow and steady supply of fresh cream…

Tutorial: How to Waterproof Wool Diaper Covers with Lanolin

Over the weekend, I made a new batch of wool and wool/cashmere soakers from thrifted sweaters.  Some are for George, and some are for gifts, but all needed to be water-proofed, along with some knitted covers.

There are many methods of lanolizing wool soakers, and this is the one a friend taught me way back when Bea was a baby.  It works really well, and doesn’t leave spots on the covers, unlike some short-cut methods I’ve tried.

Why do you need to lanolize a wool cover?  On its own, wool diaper covers will be somewhat waterproof since wool naturally wicks moisture, and there is some lanolin left in the fiber, but over time, with lots of washing, you may notice that covers are less waterproof.

If water doesn’t bead on the top of the cover when you first put it into the sink to wash, it’s time to add that waterproofing lanolin back to into the wool (typically every 4 or 5 washes).

You only need two ingredients to do this:  A gentle wool wash – NOT Woolite (I prefer Eucalan, in the honey jar on the left) – and Lanolin (you can purchase this in quantity on the internet, or also pick it up at any store that carries breastfeeding supplies.  I got this tube at Target).

Your covers need to presoak in order to absorb the lanolin.  Add a 1/2 tsp of wool wash to the sink under running warm water.

If you need to need to wash a dirty soaker first, do that before you begin the waterproofing process.   I like to let them soak for 15 minutes, gently swishing now and then.  Then, I flip the cover inside out, and gently swish some more.  Another 15 minute soak, and then gently rinse out.  If any scrubbing is required, it is done carefully so as not to warp the cover or full/shrink an area too much.

Now add any clean covers to the water, an let them become thoroughly saturated with the lukewarm water.   Do not agitate or wring the fabric or you risk shrinking or deforming the covers.  (The fabric isn’t super delicate, just be careful.)

Now, find a smallish jar (I keep an old dijon jar with the laundry supplies for this express purpose).  You will use this to prepare the lanolin to be added to the wash.

If you were to simply squirt it from the tube into the water, it would sit there as a blob (obviously, since oil and water do not mix.)  So, how to you take a waterproofing (hydrophobic) substance and mix it in water so that it distributes evenly over the covers?  The jar is the key.

For each diaper cover or two, add a pea-sized amount of lanolin to the jar.

Also add several drops of wool wash, which will help break the oily lanolin up into tiny beads.  This is really important in evenly distributing the lanolin and preventing globby oil spots on your covers.

To further break up the lanolin, fill the jar about 1/3 full with very hot water, put the lid on, and shake vigorously.

Continue shaking the jar until it is very sudsy, and the water is milky looking.  Then shake it a bit more.

Hold the jar up to the light.  There shouldn’t be any obvious globs of lanolin in the water.  If there are, continue shaking (if your water has cooled too much like mine did in our chilly bathroom, add some more hot water first).

Set your clean, soaked diapers aside.  As you refill the sink, add the jar’s contents, under running warm water, to the sink.  Be sure to rinse all the little beads of lanolin into the water.

Now place your covers in and gently submerge them.  Let them sit 30 minutes...or overnight if you tend to forget they’re there, like I do.

Now, let the water drain completely.  Do not wring out any soakers!  The goal is to expel as much water from the soaker without deforming its shape or fulling it.    Here’s the best way:

Lay the soaker flat, and arrange into its proper shape.

Fold soaker in half.

Fold in half again.

Now press the water out with the palm of your hand.  Flip over and repeat.

Here are the four soakers from this batch folded in fourths and pressed as dry as I can get them.  The will look a little fuzzy, but shouldn’t be fulled or twisted.

Now gently arrange the soakers on a dry towel.

Roll the towel up into a tube, and then step on it repeatedly to draw out any of the water let in the covers.  Again, do not wring or twist!

Now, hang your covers up to dry.  Ideally, you need to lay them flat.  You can place them on a towel, or if you’re busy and in a hurry like me, just spread them over a number of rungs on the drying rack.

Your lanolin-coating will last 3 or 4 washes, and then it is time to repeat the process.

If you have any questions or need any clarifications, please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments and I will answer them as soon as I can.  Thank you!

Autumn Weekend

Ruth busy at her sculpture and painting for the nature table,

Bea on a Core of Discovery themed camp-out with her Girl Scout Troop,

George, at his favorite play-spot, saying, “Cook, cook, cook.”

Casey taking Hal to the library to escape the grey and the rain for a bit.

And for me – sewing projects, potting up paperwhites, and some Christmas crafting.

Tonight, the kids are tucking into bed early, and I will be washing and waxing more furniture from my grandparents.  Tomorrow Thanksgiving preparations begin in earnest.

Hope you had a simultaneously productive and restful weekend, as well.  Blessings on the start of your week.

Eggsceptional

Washing eggs in the late afternoon.

Bolt, our Speckled Sussex, lays pinkish eggs with lavender speckles.  When I find one of hers in the nest box amongst the deeper browns laid by the Australorps, and blue and greens of the Auracanas, I can’t help but smile.  So utterly different than anything on a grocery store shelf, and so very beautiful.

Every time I wash a batch of eggs, a certain poem runs through my head, and I chuckle to myself.  Ruth was helping me box up the clean eggs, and gave me a raised eye brow and a bit of an eyeroll.  (Because moms are so corny to an almost-ten year-old, you know?)

Here it is, so that when you’re washing (or cooking, or eating) eggs, you can chuckle to yourself, too.  🙂

EGGS RATED

by  Shel Silverstein

These eggs
Are excellent.
I’m not exaggerating.
You can tell by my eggspression
They’re eggceptional–
Eggstra fluffy,
Eggstremely tasty,
Cooked eggsactly right
By an eggspert
With lots of eggsperience.
Now I’ll eggsamine the bill….
Ooh–much more eggspensive
Than I expected.
I gotta get out of here.
Where’s the eggxit?

15 minutes

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“This day is not a sieve, losing time. With each passing minute, each passing year, there’s this deepening awareness that I am filling, gaining time. We stand on the brink of eternity.”
― Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

Raspberry Oatmeal Bars

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This post originally published in  October 2009.  I’m baking a raspberry batch for homeschool co-op and a peach butter batch for the neighborhood kids/my kids today.  I make this recipe several times a month, even for breakfast, and the recipe is frequently requested, so I thought it was worth republishing.

PLEASE NOTE –   I no longer make it in a 9×13 pan, but instead on a large jelly roll pan with the parchment on the bottom – I freeform a rectangle in the middle (it will not fill the entire pan).  This makes it easier to cut and serve afterward.

These raspberry oatmeal bars were a hit with the kids, so I thought I’d share the recipe.  It’s an adaptation of this recipe, which can also be found in Martha Stewart’s Cookies. The original recipe called for a more complicated raisin puree in the middle,  and my girls weren’t so thrilled with it.  Also, I found it didn’t fit the pan requirements very well,  and made a few other small changes.

Raspberry Oatmeal Bars

For the filling:

approx 2 to 2 1/2 cups raspberry preserves (Edit 2011 – or any berry preserves or fruit butter)

For the bars:

1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 1/4 tsp salt

1 1/4 tsp baking soda

3/4 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup shortening

1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed

1 large egg (edit 2011 – a great way to use our duck eggs!)

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups old fashioned (not quick-cooking) rolled oats

organic sanding sugar, to sprinkle on top

Directions – 1.  Preheat oven to 350 F.  Line a 9 x 13 casserole dish with parchment paper and grease with butter.

2.  In a large bowl, combine flours, salt, baking soda, oats.  In a stand mixture with paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening until fluffy.  Add brown sugar and beat thoroughly.

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3.  Lightly beat egg and vanilla together.  Add to the mixture and beat until combined.  Reduce speed to low and slowly add the flour/oat mixture and beat until just combined.  Mixture should be crumbly (see above).

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4.  Spread half of the flour/oat mixture into the bottom of the pan.  Push thoroughly into the bottom of the pan.

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5.  With a spatula, spread the preserves in a liberal layer over the flour/oat crumb mixture.  Lastly, add the remaining half of the crumb mixture until over the top, gently pressing it down.  Sprinkle with sanding sugar (optional).

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6. Bake approximately 30-40 minutes (rotating half-way through) until bars are beginning to brown on top and preserves are bubbling up around the edges.  Remove from oven and let cool completely before cutting into 2-inch squares (this is a very important step, if you cut them while the preserves are hot and have not reset, the bars will crumble.)

Enjoy!

Oatmeal-Honey-Molasses Bread

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I let the kids sleep in, and worked on tidying up a bit since the neighbor boys are coming over this morning for a play date (Bend-a-roos and Playmobils and sofa-cushion forts are on the agenda, according to the girls).  Chickens and ducks were let out and fed a breakfast of mashed, roasted pumpkin, scratch and oatmeal.   It was too rainy and cold to do any yard chores this morning, so after poutry-duty, I got to come in and have a few minutes to get a nice breakfast going and read my book.

Breakfast this morning is a new recipe I’ve been tweaking – Oatmeal-Honey-Molasses Bread.  My kids really like the flavor of molasses (in the winter, we make some kind of gingerbread a few times a month), and we have a good quantity of honey on hand at the moment, so I thought I’d alter the oatmeal bread recipe we make frequently.  Here’s the work-in-progress recipe (although, it taked pretty darn good this morning, and had a lovely caramely-color):

Larksong’s Oatmeal-Honey-Molasses Bread

1 1/2 tsp dry active yeast

2 cups high-gluten bread flour

1/4 cup whole-wheat flour

1 Tbsp vital wheat gluten

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 cup rolled oats

1 1/2 Tbsp hazelnut (or olive) oil

1 1/2 Tbsp molasses

2 Tbsp honey

4 oz warm milk

6 oz warm water

Directions:

1.  Proof yeast in warm milk for 10 min.  Combine dry ingredients in KitchenAid with dough hook.

2.Slowly add wet ingredients (including yeast/milk), except water.  Process on slow, drizzling in water until good doughy consistency is reached (it will be a little sticky.  You may need a teaspoon or two more or less than the recipe indicates, depending on humidity in your house.)

3.  Knead with dough hook on medium speed, or by hand, for 10-12 minutes until dough becomes less sticky and holds together in a nice ball.  Place ball of dough in oiled pan, rolling to coat, cover with a damp towel or Saran Wrap, and let sit in a warm place until doubled in size (in my cold kitchen, that took 1 hr 15 min, but may take 45 min in a warmer kitchen).

4. Punch down dough, and shape,  rolling edges of dough under until formed into a nice loaf.  Place in well-oiled loaf pan (I like a ceramic 9×5), cover lightly with towel, and let rise an additional 45 min, or until loaf has risen nicely over the edge of the pan (in a warm kitchen, it should take about 30 min.)  During this time, preheat oven to 350, with rack in the middle.

5.  Place loaf in hot oven, and quickly dump 1 cup of hot water in the bottom of the oven.  The steam will make a nicer crust.  Bake loaf for 35 min or until bottom of loaf makes a hollow sound when thumped.  Let rest 5 min and remove from pan and let cool before cutting.

Enjoy this very moist, sweet loaf simply sliced with butter, or use leftovers for really yummy bread pudding or French toast.

A good, quiet morning

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…reading a few chapters in Ann Voskamp’s book before the children were up…
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…enjoying granola in the breakfast nook after morning chores, watching chickens, ducks mucking happily around the yard  (Cran-Walnut Granola recipe at the bottom)

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…quilting for a neighbor’s baby, due in 2 weeks, while the children had breakfast.

A welcome reprieve before tackling the general chaos of the day.

Larksong’s Cranberry Walnut Granola

Preheat oven to 325F, and get out two large jellyroll pans.

In a large bowl, combine:

6 cups old fashioned oats

2 cups unsweetened, unsulfured coconut

1 cup wheat germ

1 heaping cup sesame seeds

1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

1-2 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp ground cloves

pinch of sea salt

In a saucepan, on med-heat, combine 1  cup of honey, 1/2 cup maple syrup, 3 tbsp dark brown sugar, 1 cup veg oil (I use 1/4 cup hazelnut oil, 3/4 cup veg oil), and heat until warm and honey is thin.  Stir vigorously, and then pour over dry ingredients.

Toss all until combined, then spread over two sheets and bake 20 min.

Remove from oven, stir, scraping around the edges especially, since they will brown first.

Return to oven, and bake approx 20-25 min more, scraping and stirring granola every 5-7 min to prevent scorching in parts.

When granola is dark, toasty, and fragrant, remove from oven and immediately stir in 1 1/2 cups dried cranberries.  While granola is still hot, transfer to a glass or other nonstick bowl, or granola will stick to sheets as it cools.  When totally cooled, break up with a fork and put in sealed jars to keep crisp.  Will keep 1 month, but ours is eaten up in less than a week.

(Cost comparison: similar granola at New Seasons Market – $8.99/lb.   Estimated cost of homemade – about $2.50/lb (all items purchased in bulk to cut costs considerably, except walnuts, which were gleaned from a friend’s tree.)

Ducklings!!!!

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We’ve all been dreaming of them for such a long time, and now they’re finally here!!  3 fuzzy little day-old Indian Runner ducklings came home with us this past Wednesday.

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The duckings are just about the cutest things we’ve ever seen!!  They’re comical, inquisitive, interested in people, and love to snuggle their little heads in the crook of your arm.

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The little drake and two ducks will make a great slug-seek-and-destroy team, as well as provide us with up to 400 eggs/year (for the pair of females), and endless entertainment.  Besides being good egg-layers with sweet dispositions, we choose Indian Runners over other breeds because they cannot fly (or cross any fence much over 2 ft tall), and do not need a pond.

While Indian Runners don’t go broody easily, and often don’t make good mothers, we got a drake in the hopes that one of our chickens will go broody and raise a few clutches for us down the road if we want to increase the flock (Chickens, especially Buff Orpingtons like Cookie, will sit until the clutch hatches (a few days longer than chicken eggs), and then care for the ducklings with devotion.)

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The ducklings were a mix of fawn/penciled and we won’t know exactly how they’ll look for another number of weeks, but they sure are adorable right now!

Radical Homemakers

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Things are crazy busy here at the moment, so I’ll just drop in to say that there’s an interview with me and some other ladies (including author Harriet Fasenfest) on the topic of Radical Homemakers in this month’s Metro Parent (you can read the article for free by following the link – we’re on page 22-23).

Be back soon with some blogging about food justice, garden happenings, and a few recipes.

Mason Jar Cozy Giveaway!

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Well, somewhere I’m going to have to find some time to knit this, because I’m going to give one away via the Salt of the Earth Urban Farm Facebook page! When we hit 100 likes, I will randomly select one of those 100 folks to win a mason jar cozy in their choice of colors.  Only 7 spots left, so click on the sidebar link, and like us on FB for a chance to win!  Thanks!

(For those inclined to knit their own, here’s the free pattern!)