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.
Staunch disagreements sweep across the country debating the benefits and economics of grass fed animals versus grain fed. Pasture raised meat might be better for you, but that could depend on the quality of the pasture they are raised on. And, when it comes to the taste and tenderness of the meat the grass vs. grain could bring a whole different story to light.
Grass vs. grain is an added dilemma, especially for suburban homesteaders or those trying to live a self-sufficient life on a parcel too small to pasture large meat animals successfully. This has always been our challenge…wanting to raise quality meat and process it humanely, but not having the space for them to roam as we’d like.
Our dream may be of wide open spaces, rolling grasslands dotted with livestock, but our reality is not that grand. For us, our reality is a 1/3-acre lot at the edge of town, with pens large enough for animals to roam around and laze in the sun, and sheltered areas so they can come in from the rain.
Old-time farmers and leather-faced cowboys may scoff at the idea of raising a hog or lamb in a few months on feed store grains. They may prefer the aged taste of hogs raised mostly on acorns, or beef raised on the range. My late father-in-law had a way with meat, whether it came from the range, the barn, the grocery store or was hunted. He had his special mixes of herbs and spices and rubs. He was particular about how to rub the meat, whether to inject brine into a turkey or lamb before cooking. And, of course, there was the wood he used for smoking; hickory for hams, cedar for fish and citrus for lamb and poultry. He was very specific that each wood gave the meat a distinct flavor. But his steadfast rule, the one he never altered from, was that to get a moist, juicy and tender piece of meat you must cook it low and slow. That was his motto.
Over the years, I have raised animals on pasture while living on a 700 acre farm and in smaller accommodations now that I live on a 1/3-acre suburban homestead. I have followed the principles of good nutrition, given my animals plenty of water, fresh air and sunshine. And, I’ve tried to follow my father-in-laws instructions on how to cook meat. His work was magic that was not pasted down, though.
I have butchered year old rams raised on pasture, 6-month old freezer lambs raised on grain and hay, and 7-week old chickens, rabbits and ducks raised on our suburban homestead. I have developed my own style of cooking, not so similar to his, but one that is all my own. But, the real reason our meats tastes so good is not because it was raised on grass or grain, but because I became a better cook over time.
Tonight I enjoyed a lamb shank dinner. It’s a cheaper cut of meat that can be tough whether raised in a factory, on a farm or on a suburban homestead. I dredged it in flour and seasoned it with salt and pepper before searing it to seal in the juices, but that was just the beginning of creating an entrée that would end up falling off the bone and so tender it would almost melt in your mouth.
The magic was in the olive oil and balsamic vinegar; the spices, wine, garlic, and herbs that I have learned to use from fellow sheep breeders, cooks and fine epicurean magazines. Out came a shank as luscious as any rack of lamb, leg or loin produced by a 5-star restaurant.
Even a cheap chicken wing can taste like manna from heaven if you use the right seasonings and the best southern frying methods. You can even make cardboard taste good with the right seasonings and cooking techniques.
I think the taste of our chickens today is influence somewhat by their ability to grub around in the dirt, and the way in which we butcher, cool and freeze them, and I know that our home-raised lambs taste a lot different than what I’ve eaten in restaurants, but the real difference is in the art of the kitchen. My chickens taste just as great whether they are raised on feed store grains or kitchen scrapes, worms and bugs.
So…what’s the point of my story?
Don’t get hung up on whether you have rolling pastures for grazing or a round pen on a suburban lot for grain-fed. The bigger issue, the bigger point is that you are raising something on your own, for your own family. You are learning about animal husbandry, processing livestock and stocking up; taking one step closer to being as self-sufficient as you choose to be. And that in itself makes a great end product. That’s the magic!
There’s nothing easier for a new gardener than to grow spring peas. Their variety, quick germination, easy growing habit and short to harvest nature are bound to boost any gardener’s confidence.
Peas are a cool weather crop and are usually the first seeds to be planted indoors in pots or outdoors in the ground. No garden, or garden season, would be complete without this old time favorite. And, after you have grown and eaten your own fresh peas I think you’ll agree.
There are three main varieties of peas:
- Sweet Peas, sometimes called Shelling Peas because their shell is not edible like other peas. These peas are taken out of the shell before cooking or eating.
- Snow Peas have flat edible pods with a tiny pea inside. These are common in Asian dishes or stir fry’s.
- Snap Peas also have an edible pod, but the pea inside is full size. These can be blanched and eaten, or eaten raw.
To have the most success with your pea beds start in the fall with a rich layer of well-rotted compost and manure turned into your planting area. Peas love well-drained soil, but do not like fertilizers much, so use it sparingly, if at all. Peas do however, like phosphorus and potassium, and a good sprinkling of wood ash worked into the soil before planting would be to their liking.
In most areas, peas can be directly sown in the garden 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost. Pt up peas for indoor growing in areas of the country that stay cold into the spring months. Peas are a cool weather crop, so soil temperatures should be between 45 and 70 degrees. The ground should be cool when planting, but not wet. It can be tricky to time the weather conditions. If you have wet soil for long periods consider creating raised beds or plant in pots.
Plant pea seeds 1-inch deep and 2-inches apart. When the shoots emerge you can set your poles or trellises for climbing varieties. Peas do not like a lot of water so water sparingly, but don’t let the roots dry out or no pods will form. Also, pea roots are fragile, so be cautious when pulling weeds and avoid hoeing a pea bed. If peas are a staple in your garden it’s best to rotate with other crops to avoid a buildup of soil-borne diseases.
To keep a pea crop producing long into the season, pick the pods often as this encourages more pods to develop. The best time to pick is in the morning when the dew has dried. It is also the time of day when peas are the crispiest. When picking, it’s best to use two hands, one to hold the vine secure and one to pick the pea. You don’t want to run the risk of breaking the vines off. Fresh peas can be kept in the fridge for about 5 days, but to enjoy your pea harvest well into the warmer months freeze them. If any peas miss being picked you can still use them. Simply dry and shell them. Dried peas are prefect in winter soups and stews.
But, let’s not forget—It’s Spring! And with that comes the start of salad season at our house. Yep, we are die-hard consumers of salads in many shapes and styles. The long hot months cry out for light and cool, yet nutritious meals. If it can be chopped, sliced, diced or shredded and laid on a bed of lettuce greens we are happy women. And, why not? Our area is considered the salad bowl of CA; a state that grows over 250 different crops.
But, this early in the season means only one thing…Pea Salad!
A wonderfully light and crispy salad accented with Pancetta, cheddar and onions, and a hint of fresh dill. What could be more glorious, except for maybe that delightful little POP each time you chomp down on those fresh peas. It makes the perfect side dish or potluck take-along and goes great with grilled meats. Even a baked salmon dinner will scream SPRING when served with this pea salad at its side.
PANCETTA, CHEDDAR & PEA SALAD
- ½ pound of pancetta, cooked, drained and crumbled or finely chopped
- 1 pounds vine fresh peas (or frozen, thawed in fridge overnight)
- ¾ cup coarse grated extra-sharp white Cheddar cheese
- ½ small red onion, peeled, and finely diced
- ½ cup of mayonnaise
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon fresh dill, chopped fine
- Stir all ingredients together, put in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for several hours so the flavors have a chance to meld. Gently stir from top to bottom before serving. Store in fridge for up to 3 days, but it won’t last that long…trust me!
NOTE: The salad can be served immediately after making it, but tastes even better if allowed to sit, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for an hour or up to three days. It should be eaten within 3 days of being made, though.
What is your favorite way to serve peas?
This breakfast favorite is not English at all. In fact, the Brits never even heard of it until the 1990’s when Best Foods began shipping it to England.
What we know today as an English muffin was the invention of English immigrant, Samuel Bath Thomas. Yes—that Thomas. Sometimes called a “toaster crumpet” or “Union Jack”, it was first created in 1894 as a replacement for the very English “crumpet” and was immediately embraced by fine hotels and restaurants in New York as a more elegant alternative to toast. Ultimately, it became the quintessential American favorite for breakfast.
Homemade English muffins are so delicious that you won’t want to go back to store-bought ever again! And, they are the perfect complement to your homegrown and homemade jams and preserves! The only drawback—the process will keep you close to the kitchen for several hours. But, they are well worth the time and effort.
English Muffin Recipe
1 cup whole milk
¼ cup melted butter (salted or unsalted)
2 tbsp. white sugar
6 cups all-purpose flour
1 yeast package
2 tbsp. Wheat Germ
1 cup warm water (110 degrees)
1 teaspoon salt
Warm milk in a small saucepan until it bubbles; remove from heat. Mix in sugar, stirring until dissolved. Let cool until lukewarm. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
In large bowl, combine the milk, yeast mixture, wheat germ, butter, salt, and 3 cups of flour. Beat until smooth, add salt and add the remaining three cups of flour, or enough to make a soft dough. Knead. Place in a greased bowl, cover with a towel, and let rise in a warm place. About an hour.
Punch down. Roll out to ½-inch thick. Cut rounds with biscuit cutter or an inverted drinking glass. Sprinkle cookie sheet with cornmeal and set the rounds on top to rise. Dust tops with cornmeal as well. Cover and let rise for ½ hour.
Heat a greased griddle to about 270. Cook muffins on griddle for about 10 minutes on each side. Keep baked muffins in a warm oven (no higher than 250) until all have been cooked. Each batch takes about 20 to 30 minutes. Allow to cool and place in plastic bags for storage. They freeze well.
To serve, split and toast. Serve with butter and your favorite homemade jam, jelly or preserve.
For a great weekend breakfast, toast and top the muffin with a cooked sausage patty and a poached egg then smother the whole thing with homemade gravy for a fabulous Barnyard Benedict.
For a lighter treat, toast and spread with homemade cream cheese and sliced seasonal fruit.
For a kid friendly breakfast or snack, toast and spread with peanut butter and a drizzle of honey.