For years I have been toying with the idea of learning how to ferment vegetables; sauerkraut in particular. It’s a condiment I’ve always loved—that crisp, tangy flavor brightens any number of dishes. I loved the versions I found in German markets or restaurants over the insipid, limp store bought kind.
But, in reality I was intimidated by the process of foaming, fermenting veggies under my kitchen sink. I, mistakenly, thought the process was hard and time consuming, like some kind of grandiose chemistry experiment. Time was something a mom with a farm and a kid has little of and I dreaded getting half way through the process and pulled away by, well, life.
But, boy was I wrong! Very wrong.
Nothing could be easier or simpler than slicing cabbage, sprinkling it with salt and mushing it around with your hands until those wonderful fermenting juices start to flow. After that the process pretty much handles itself.
I got my courage up when my favorite little market had cabbages on sale, 4 for $1.00. What did I have to lose, I thought, if I screwed it up. I could afford to waste a quarter if it all went to hell. Besides, the chickens or compost pile would be the happy recipients of any disastrous efforts anyway. So I dug through the display to find the smallest cabbage they had. We are, after all, a 2 person household and I knew I didn’t want a mound of kraut even if everything did turn out fine.
The recipe below is for one head of cabbage, but if you’d like to make more just double the recipe. It doesn’t take any more time to make a big batch versus a small one.
How to Make Sauerkraut
- 1 head, green cabbage
- 1-1/2 Tbsp. sea salt (the finer the better so it dissolves easily)
- 1 quart-size canning jar (I had 2 at the ready just in case)
Remove any damaged or wilted leaves and wash in cold water. Cut cabbage into quarters and remove the core.
Cut cabbage with a knife into 1/4 inch slices. Or, use a Mandoline like I did to make the slices even and the job faster. Either way is fine. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
Place cabbage in a bowl large enough for you to work in. Sprinkle 1-1/2 Tbsp sea salt over the top.
Let this stand for about 15-minutes or so to let the juices start flowing, then you can begin mushing. I used my hands because it was easier to mix it up well and dig down to the bottom of the bowl, but you can use whatever you like–wooden spoon, wooden fork or anything that is blunt. The goal here is to mush the cabbage to release the juices.
I mushed and kneaded for about 10-minutes and that gave me a nice pool of juice at the bottom of the bowl. That’s what you want.
Now you can start packing your jar. I used a wide-mouth quart size canning jar. Place one or two handfuls of cabbage in the bottom of the jar and tamp it down with a wooden spoon. The goal here is to get rid of any air bubbles.
Continue packing and tamping down until you reach about 2-inches from the top of the jar. You should have enough juice to cover the cabbage completely, but if you don’t make a simple brine and fill to 1-inch from the top of the jar. (the cabbage has to be submerged in the juice or you’ll get mold and scum on the top, and that’s just gross!)
BRINE — dissolve 1 Tbsp of sea salt in 4-cups of water, but not tap water. It creates a reaction and will spoil your kraut. If you have extra brine, put it in a jar and store in the fridge. It lasts forever.
Pour the brine over the cabbage, but leave about an inch of head space. If the cabbage floats at the top use the cores, wedged under the lip of the jar to hold it down. Any cabbage exposed to the air will need to be thrown out.
My batch made one quart and one pint jar, so it’s always a good idea to have an extra jar handy. Place the lid and band on the jar and screw down finger tight only. Place jar in a cool dark place at room-temperature for about a week. After a few days you can loosen the lid so the jar can “burp”, releasing any gasses, then tighten it again. It’s also a good idea to put the jar on a plate or shallow dish in case it leaks, which they can do from time to time. Now all you have to do is wait for nature to take its course, which will take about a week or so.
Once you’re sauerkraut is ready it can be stored in the fridge. The great thing about fermented veggies is they keep for a long time when properly stored.
The other great thing about sauerkraut is its health benefits. It’s a wonderful probiotic and digestive aid. Wonder what the ancient Germans knew that we have forgotten? Keep in mind, though, that to reap its health rewards the sauerkraut must be raw. Canning, cooking or heating kraut diminishes its health benefits because heat destroys the good bacteria and enzymes.
There you have it…quick, easy and full of nutritious benefits. My sauerkraut experiment wasn’t a science experiment at all, but a wonderfully successful 20 minute project. After this, why use store-bought kraut again?
A Few Notes for Success.
- Use only wooden utensils and a glass or ceramic bowl. Metal causes a reaction with the brine.
- If you prefer a little flavor to you sauerkraut try a bit of celery seeds, caraway seed or juniper berries.
- When the sauerkraut is exposed to air it may turn brown or develop a scum on the top. Just spoon that off and you’re good to go. Sauerkraut is a lacto-fermented food full of good bacteria to keep it, and you, safe. However, if at any time your batch smells funny, rancid or has a sharp flavor toss it. Better safe than sorry.
- Not all salts are made equal, and sea salt works much better for fermenting that iodized salt does.
Ever since I can remember my one dream (or fantasy) has been to have a large orchard of my favorite fruits; chalk full of crisp juicy apples, sweet plums, pears, pluots, and peaches. I can see in my mind’s eye tall grasses and colorful wildflowers growing in between the trees, and let’s not forget the heady scent of blossoms floating on a light spring breeze. This is surely my kind of decadent.
But, on a small suburban homestead where space is at a premium and a large variety of trees is not practical, how do you make the dream a reality? Add to that the fact that most fruit trees take time to produce…sometimes several years, and the mind reels.
How do you go from dream to reality? My answer…step-by-step, that’s how.
STEP 1: Start with a Plan. As with most projects on my homestead they all started with pencil and paper. It actually started years ago with a master footprint of my property laid out on a large piece of graph paper. Once the perimeter lines of the property were drawn I penciled in the house, patio, walkways and stationary structures like the barn and the greenhouse. I also included large shade trees, raised beds, arbors and flowerbeds. At that point I knew the areas I could plant fruit trees in.
Needless to say, a small plot of land fills up fast, but it’s important to see where available space is in the greater picture rather than just digging a hole and planting a tree.
STEP 2: DREAM! Dream Big. This is the time to go crazy. Make a list of all the fruit trees you’ve ever wanted, and especially the ones your family enjoys most. Don’t worry about whether or not the variety will work in your climate, just dream.
STEP 3: Take your list and start researching. Check out growing zones for each tree. Some trees can’t handle hot dry weather while others shrink in humidity. You’ll also want to check the chill hours required to set fruit, especially for stone fruits, which need a certain number of hours below 45 degrees. This USDA plant hardiness chart will be helpful, while this chart at Grandpa’s Orchard gives a lot of good chill information. If you don’t see the variety of tree you want to plant just research it individually. No sense in going through the expense and work of planting an orchard only to have it fail.
Master Gardener programs, local nurseries, Cooperative Extension and local gardeners are also good resources for specifics about growing fruit in your area. And, they have a vested interest in helping you get it right.
Something else to consider…How much could your Orchard Produce?
As an example, a mature citrus tree can produce 200 pounds or more, while a mature stone fruit tree, like peaches or plums, will give you about 75 to 100 pounds of fruit. If you have multiple trees…that’s a lot of fruit!
So, unless you have a farm stand or family, friends or neighbors who you love to eat freshly picked fruit, you’ll need to think about preserving the harvest or limiting the number of trees in your orchard. Even a few trees can be a boon to your homestead production.
STEP 4: Check out Tree Pollination. After you know what trees will do well in your area you’ll want to know which ones are self-pollinating and which ones need another tree in order to pollinate. Self-pollinating types include: apricots, pomegranates, citrus, figs, grapes, persimmons, most peaches, most berries, and European plums (although they produce better with two varieties).
Trees that are not self-pollinators will need another tree for pollination in order to produce fruit. The trick here is you need to have two different varieties that bloom at the same time. If one tree blooms in spring and the other in summer they cannot pollinate each other. In a suburban setting you do have the opportunity to pollinate off a neighbors tree, as long as it isn’t much more than 50-feet away. Find out what variety they have and buy a different variety in order to cross pollinate.
Trees that require pollination include: Apples, pears, Japanese plums, cherries and all nut trees.
STEP 5: Space is always a consideration living on a small suburban homestead. But, that doesn’t mean an orchard cannot be in your future. With the surge in urban and suburban gardening and homesteading there is a plethora of fruit trees specifically for small areas. From dwarf to pole to espaliered trees you should be able to find what you’re looking for that will fit into your homestead plan. Remember also, that in a suburban setting you probably won’t have the traditional large orchard. Your fruit trees will probably be intermixed with flower beds, vegetable gardens, even planted close to a fence.
Dwarf fruit trees are regular fruit trees hybridized to grow less than 10-15 feet tall, while standard fruit trees can grow as tall as 10-20 feet with a spread about the same. Espaliered fruit trees are specially pruned to grow flat against a wall or fence, which makes them perfect for small areas. Pole fruit trees are just like they sound. They are fruit trees that have been hybridized and pruned to grow vertically like a pole. They too take a bit more pruning to keep them manageable, but it is well worth the effort to have your own productive orchard.
STEP 6: Walk your plan. Take your master plan and your list of fruit trees and walk your property. See where you have space and if the space is enough for a standard tree or if you’d be better off with a dwarf, pole or espaliered tree. Visualize how big the tree will be full grown and if it will over shadow other important areas of the homestead like the berry patch or veggie garden. No sense making a future problem for yourself. Also check water sources and proximity to neighbors. Once you plant your trees be sure to put them on your master plan and keep it safe for future reference.
STEP 7: Planting. Don’t think you have to plant all your trees at once. An orchard is a long term project that will unfold over several years. Of course, if you just moved in and are setting things up this is a perfect time to plant and orchard and other long lived perennial plants like berries, artichokes and asparagus. Planting a few trees each year won’t take long at all before your homestead has a full grown productive orchard.
Before you know it you’ll have juice dripping down your chin or sinking your teeth into a crunchy apple. Now that’s what I call Heaven!!
Our rain fall this year has been practically nothing, but the lack of showers did not hamper the blooming of May flowers. The farm is bursting with color and I will relish it for as long as it holds out.
Antique roses cover every arbor on the farm and the delicate fragrance that wafts through the night air is intoxicating.
Apple blooms are a promise of fall’s juicy crispness. Cider, tarts, pies and fresh eating are still months away, but nonetheless thought of.
The little peach tree is laden with small fruit. By July we’ll be eating them by the dozen. I can’t wait to make the first tartin of the season.
The deepest purple of this bearded iris makes it look almost black. Flowers like this are a reminder of wonderful friends. I got a few rhizomes from a fellow garden club member who loves to share. And, I will share too, I have no choice, everyone who sees it places an order for a bulb at dividing time. Fortunately for me that won’t be for another year or so.
Buttermilk has been the beloved traditional ingredient of many southern dishes for decades. Whether sipped from a glass or poured from a measuring jar this old-fashioned favorite is experiencing a modern-day revival.
So—what is buttermilk? It’s a by-product of churning butter, the cloudy liquid flecked with tiny yellow bits of butter. It’s this delicate combination that makes ‘traditional” buttermilk the perfect ingredient for bringing southern flare to biscuits or southern fried chicken.
For centuries family farms and homesteads had their own milk cow and thus had a ready supply of buttermilk. But, in today’s world many modern day homesteaders live in areas that don’t allow large livestock. For some, though, housing and caring for a milk cow all year long is not part of their homesteading plan. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t have good quality buttermilk for your southern specialties. It just means you have to make your own. If you have access to good quality organic milk you can make your own buttermilk. It won’t be quite like the real thing, but it is a good substitute.
The recipe below uses lemon juice as the acid, which I think gives the buttermilk a pleasant tangy smell. The added benefit to making your own is that you can make as little or as much as you need for a given recipe. And, when used in your favorite recipes that call for buttermilk you will not be able to tell the difference.
How to make buttermilk
Step 1: Purchase a good quality organic whole milk. Or, purchase raw milk from someone who has a dairy cow.
Step 2: Combine 1 cup of milk and 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice in a mason jar and stir gently.
Step 3: Let mixture stand at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes, but check the consistency after 5 minutes. It may be thick enough. If not, let it stand a bit more. The desired thickness is personal, so play around with it until you find what you like best. When finished, you’ll have thickened milk and bits of curd floating around. Perfect!
Step 4: Use the buttermilk and the curdled bits in any recipe that calls for buttermilk, like buttermilk biscuits, smoothies or buttermilk soaked fried chicken.
Store finished buttermilk in a covered mason jar in the fridge. Will last about a week or so.
Need a cool treat for a hot summer day?
Try this Mango-Buttermilk Smoothie and bring a bit of the old south to cool you off.
4 cups frozen diced mango
1 cup homemade buttermilk
1 tbsp. fine white sugar
½ tsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp. cardamom
Pour all ingredients into a blender and process until smooth. To change the consistency, add more buttermilk, one tsp. at a time. Serve in a chilled glass with a slice of fruit on the side, and cool off!
When you think of a suburban homestead you do not immediately think of predators killing your livestock. But you should, because your perimeter fencing, whether it be chain link, block wall or wood fencing, may not be sufficient to ward off animal attacks. Suburban homesteads are just as vulnerable as any other homestead or farm, maybe even more so because of the proximity of domestic dogs and feral cats.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, predator losses can be prevented. But, it’s the homesteaders’ responsibility, obligation even to be cognizant of the area in which you live and what critters live around you. Do not mistake the cute cartoon characterizations of raccoons, skunks, weasels or foxes as harmless. They all have the potential to wreck havoc on your small livestock. A raccoon can literally pull a chicken right through a wire fence and weasels can kill a nest full of chicks or kits (baby rabbits) in just a few minutes. Even foxes will kill, given the chance. Then there are the airborne predators – like eagles, hawks, falcons, and owls that can swoop down and pick off rabbits and chickens.
Free-ranging chickens will look good to stray cats, while the smell and noise of your livestock can be an attractant to wandering dogs. (Personally, I think domestic dogs are the worst most indiscriminant predators. A wild animal killing for food is heartbreaking, but somewhat understandable. But, a domestic dog that runs an animal to death or grabs at legs and flesh just for play, with no intention of consuming it is intolerable.)
With information about local wildlife and domestic animals in hand, you can plan and build structures and pens that will keep out what you don’t want in.
Barns, Sheds and Outdoor Pens
Structures and fencing do not have to be extravagant or expensive to provide proper protection, but they should be solid and secure if they are going to be successful in protecting your animals. Read the rest of the story »
Green + Brown + Water = Black Gold for the garden.
No garden is complete without a compost pile! A compost pile acts as a giant recycling bin for most decomposeable yard and kitchen waste. What’s more, compost does triple duty as a soil conditioner, mulch and fertilizer. All this wrapped up into one spade full of rich, friable black gold! It’s referred to as black gold because compost feeds the soils’ microorganisms that help to keep plants strong and healthy and adds nutrients like nitrogen to the soil, and helps less than perfect soils like clay and sand drain better.
Fall and winter is a great time to start a compost pile, too. With gardens being pulled up and put to bed for the winter and leaves falling in all those brilliant colors there is plenty of ingredients handy to feed your soil making bin.
Compost piles can come in all shapes and sizes too. Some can be made from shipping pallets or wire, others from scrap lumber or bottomless barrels. Still others can be purchased from home improvement stores or city parks departments. With the surge of home food production and recycling there is a wide variety of compost barrels and bins to choose from.
Compost housing aside, the main focus in producing good quality compost is the kinds of ingredients you add to the pile.
To build a compost pile that is easy to make, fast to decompose and dosen’t smell follow these simple steps. Read the rest of the story »
Bees are a versatile addition to any homestead and kitchen. A single hive can produce enough honey to maintain a family for a year, with a bit left over to sell, trade or share. From the earliest times honey was a prime commodity for selling or bartering. Many early-Americans came from beekeeping countries and used honey extensively in cooking and for medicinal uses. This rendition of southern peanut brittle is inspired by those early homesteaders. For a change of pace try using other nuts like pecans or almonds, or use this brittle crumbled over ice-cream for a cool and crunchy summer treat.
Honey Peanut Brittle
4 cups roasted & salted peanuts
1 cup sugar
1 cup honey
½ tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp. baking soda
1 tbsp. butter
Pinch of salt (optional)
In a deep pot bring peanuts, sugar, honey and lemon juice to a boil, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Continue boiling until a candy thermometer reaches 300. Remove from heat.
Carefully stir in baking soda, butter and salt (if you are using it), but be careful, the baking soda will make the mixture frothy. Spread mixture over a well-buttered baking sheet and cool completely (about an hour). When cool, break into pieces and store in an airtight container in a cool dry place. Keeps for a week, but guaranteed it won’t last that long.
Want to have a great garden along with a great life? Try these time-saving garden tips and you can have both.
Spring planting time always makes me giddy as a school girl. I wait with anticipation all winter for the seed catalogs to arrive and with baited breath I haunt the mail box until the seed orders arrive. I gingerly plant the delicate seeds in starter pots, work the soil to plant potatoes and onions and work until dark without a care in the world. And when my veggies emerge from the soil I talk about my garden, to anyone who will listen, as if I’m talking about my first born child. It’s a glorious and carefree time.
Then—the weeds begin to take over and the bugs descend, ravaging the growing beds. It’s then that we realize gardening is a lot of work and daily chores are the only thing that makes gardening less impossible. Using a few time saving tips early on can reduce the workload later when storms or sun threaten to squelch our garden magic, making our garden more enjoyable all season long.
Mulching to prevent weeds and conserve moisture. A three to four-inch layer of mulch like grass clippings, straw, hay or shredded leaves helps hold in moisture and can cut watering time by half. Mulching when crops emerge from the soil can also help prevent weeds from taking hold.
Grow a potted kitchen garden. For decades farmers and home gardeners grew often used plants like herbs close to the back door, saving footsteps to the larger garden. Potted sage, parsley and chives can be grown just feet from the cook’s domain.
Plant perennials. Perennial veggies like asparagus, artichokes and rhubarb come back year after year saving time in replanting. Many herbs can also be perennial in milder climates. Try sage, rosemary, thyme, marjoram and tarragon for great herbs all year long.
Create your own seed bank. Living in a year-round gardening area keeps me looking at my garden in all four seasons. Before placing an annual order I list all the seeds I want for the entire year. That way I save time from reordering and I can take advantage of specials and free shipping, saving me money. Saving seeds and also save you time and money in ordering.
Supercharge garden soil. When preparing garden beds and subsequent plantings be generous with nutrient rich compost and organic fertilizer. Well-built soils help plants stave off disease and resist insects.
Grow flowers to attract bugs and bees. Planting flowers that attract beneficial insects and bees helps reduce the need for pesticides and increases a healthy balance between good and bad bugs. Bee friendly flowers will help increase bee populations and in return increase pollination of fruit trees, berries and other flowering veggies. For a simple start edge garden beds with sweet alyssum or tuck it into garden nooks and crannies. Crepe myrtle can also help in warmer climates.
Cover plantings with row covers. If harmful bugs can’t find your garden they can’t do damage to your plants. Garden fabric, float cloth, row covers and mesh are all fine enough to keep bugs at bay. Cover plants when transplanted and secure around the edges. The coverings can also protect plants from garden loving wildlife and the weather.
Hoe weeds daily. Hoeing lightly every day will cut down young weeds and prevent them from growing larger. It is also a good time to hill up potato plants and look for garden problems while they are still small.
Put tools back in their place. More time is wasted in the garden searching for needed tools. Store long-handled tools like rakes and shovels on hooks near the garden or in a potting shed or tool shed and replace them each time they’re used. Smaller tools like trowels, spades, weeders and pruning shears can be color coated with paint, markers or tape to stand out amongst a colorful garden. Stored in a bucket or basket near the entrance to the garden they will always be easy to find.
Take time to smell the flowers. With all the time you saved by following these tips you can quietly relax and enjoy the garden you’ve worked so hard to create. Sit and soak up the sights of colorful flowers and growing vegetables, enjoy the sounds of birds chirping and bees buzzing, and smell the blooms of fruit trees or the deep rich soil. You’ve worked hard for the rewards of a healthy productive garden, so sit a spell and enjoy it!
Tired of the same old plain scrambled eggs? Looking for something with a bit more style and elegance?
Well, have I got a recipe for you!
Eggs are the one thing most homesteaders have on a regular basis. And, sometimes we even have an overabundance of them, making eggs the center of quite a few meals. When eggs seem to make their way onto my weekly menu more times than is probably wanted I turn to my favorite Herbed Scrambled Egg recipe, the one I first discovered in France many years ago. Leave it to the French to find a way to up level even the humble egg into something that we actually want to eat several times a week.
Suburban Homesteading is only part of my picture. Another part is world traveler. I love visiting other countries, exploring their culture, their history and most of all their food. It was on such a trip that I was introduced to the delicate flavor, or decadent flavor, of their morning eggs. They weren’t just plain old scrambled eggs or scrambles with cheese or bacon or ham or any of the other bits we often mix up with our scrambled eggs. These were lightly seasoned, had herbs and even a hint of cream cheese. They were sublime! Paired with fruit and toast with fresh made jam those eggs were heaven on earth.
When I came home I vowed to never eat boring, plain scrambled eggs again…and I haven’t!
To make your own French style scrambled eggs, mix up a batch of Herbs de Provence and start seasoning.
Herbs de Provence
4 tbsp. Thyme
3 tbsp. Marjoram
3 tbsp. Savory
2 tbsp. Rosemary
½ tsp. culinary Lavender (optional)
Place all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Store in an airtight container, like a mason jar.
Herbed Scrambled Eggs
4 Large farm fresh eggs, beaten with a splash of milk
½ tsp. Herbs de Provence (more if you prefer)
2 tbsp. Cream cheese, cut into small pieces (try white cheddar for a savory change)
Salt & pepper to taste
In a medium bowl, beat eggs with milk; mix in herbs and salt and pepper. Mix well.
Over medium-low heat skillet with a small amount of butter, let pan heat up and pour egg mixture into skillet. With a wooden spatula or spoon, gently stir eggs and cook over low heat. When eggs have almost lost their “raw look” toss in pieces of cream cheese and continue stirring. Once eggs are no longer runny, but are still moist and creamy looking remove from heat. Serve immediately with sliced fruit, toast and jam. Makes 2 servings.