Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Adventures in Raw Milk - Buttermilk

Buttermilk, oh buttermilk. For my dad and grandpa, it's something that you drink. For my mom or
me, it's something used for baking or culturing cheese. It comes in many forms - white bottles in the dairy section, or powdered stuff that you can rehydrate. And when you have extra raw milk around, and no room in the fridge, it's something you make with that extra half gallon of milk to buy some time. :)

Making Buttermilk

There are four main ways to make cultured buttermilk.

- Make cultured butter. First, culture your cream (think sour cream), make butter from it, and the residual liquid is cultured buttermilk. I've done this before, but as my dad prefers sweet cream butter over cultured butter, and my mom and I are rather indifferent, we're not likely to make cultured butter on a regular basis.

- Culture regular milk (or sweet cream buttermilk) with existing buttermilk. This method is very similar to making Filmjolk or other mesophilic yogurts - take 3 cups of milk (pasteurized or raw, avoid ultra-high temperature [UHT] if possible, it has inconsistent results) and 1 cup of cultured buttermilk (store bought or from a previous batch, just so long as there is a live, active culture) and stick them in a quart jar. Stir it up, cover with a towel, and let it sit on the counter 12-24 hours until it clabbers.

- Let raw milk (or raw sweet cream buttermilk) clabber all by itself. Put it in a jar, cover with a towel, and let it sit on the counter until it clabbers, 12-48 hours. This is my preferred method, since the last of the old buttermilk usually gets used up before I can make a new batch with it.

- You can also buy a starter (either direct set or heirloom) from somewhere like Cultures for Health. For things like my water kefir or yogurt that I couldn't easily start myself, I use their heirloom starters. In the case of buttermilk, I find that it's easier and cheaper to use one of the above methods.

Note - if your temperature gets a little too warm (say, above 77*) your buttermilk may split into curds and whey. It may split anyway, even if it doesn't get too warm. This isn't really a problem, just shake it up and it'll go back to normal looking, or as normal looking as clabbered milk gets.

Yes. My buttermilk is my only non-pirate culture at this time.
When the whey separates out, he looks kinda fluffy - hence, the name.
***If you're like me, and culturing multiple things at once, keep a distance of a few feet between each ferment while it's on the counter. Long John the sourdough lives on the island in the kitchen, Captain Flint the Filmjolk yogurt gets cultured by the coffee pot once a week (he's the most finicky on staying warm), Fluffy the buttermilk lives on the opposite end of the counter from Captain Flint, Jim Hawkins the vinegar lives in the garage, and The Dread Pirate Roberts the water kefir lives in the summer kitchen in the back. Yes, they have names - they ARE alive, after all.*** 

Now that you've made the buttermilk, you might as well have a few fun things to do with it!

Cheese and Other Cultured Things

Instead of going out and buying a packet of cheese culture, there are a ton of recipes out there using buttermilk or yogurt to inoculate milk for cheese. This one for Creole Cream Cheese is tried-and-true awesome. A side note on this recipe - where most recipes tell you to use cheesemaking animal or vegetable rennet (NOT Junket that you get at the grocery store) my grandparents taught me to make this recipe using Junket rennet, and it works just fine.

Sour Cream

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1 cup cream
1 tablespoon cultured buttermilk or mesophilic yogurt

- Mix the ingredients together in a glass jar, cover loosely and let it culture at 70-77* for 12-24 hours or until thickened.
- Use it to make cultured butter, or eat it on your tacos!
- This "recipe" can be scaled up or down as long as you keep the proportions the same.


When the milk is cultured, it's chemically changed and made more acidic than regular milk. It will react differently in a recipe than if you were going to use normal milk. Where "regular" recipes might just call for baking powder, buttermilk recipes tend to call for baking soda. Many recipes call for both, and hey, that's okay, too.

Baking soda is a base - mix it with an acid, and you get a chemical reaction. In the case of baking, this is what makes your bread or cake rise. In the case of 5th grade experiments, this is what made the carbon dioxide bubbly lava stuff come out of your science fair volcano. Buttermilk is acidic, so it needs a base (like baking soda) to react with.

Baking powder, on the other hand, is a combination of baking soda (a base), cream of tartar (an acid), and a buffer like cornstarch to keep them from reacting in the jar. Baking powder doesn't need an external acid like baking soda to react and produce carbon dioxide.

Buttermilk Biscuits

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1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup lard or cold butter
3/4 cup buttermilk

1. Preheat oven to 450*.
2. Sift together flour, salt, powder, soda and sugar.
3. Cut in lard or butter.
4. Add buttermilk and lightly mix.
5. Turn out dough to a well floured board. Knead gently for 30 seconds, adding flour as needed.
6. Pat dough into 1/2" thickness.
7. Cut with floured knife or biscuit cutter (this is the one I use) - do not use a glass or anything with a dull or rounded edge. Your biscuits need a sharp cut to rise properly.
8. Place in greased cast iron skillet (almost touching is great). If you don't have cast iron skillet, that's okay, they just rise better and bake more evenly in there.
9. Bake for 15-25 minutes until just beginning to brown.

Fake Buttermilk
In the event that you have a buttermilk baking recipe, and no cultured buttermilk, there is a workaround option. Put 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar into a measuring cup. Fill with milk to make 1 cup. Let it sit on the counter for a few minutes, and it will clabber up a bit. It will be acidic like the cultured buttermilk and lend a comparable flavor to your cooking. You just can't culture a new batch of buttermilk from this.

Shared On
The Homestead Blog Hop
The Homesteader Hop
Simple Saturdays Blog Hop

Sally's Baking Addiction - Baking Basics - This is a great series to read when you have the time (or just run to it when you have an urgent question).
Cultures For Heath - Cultured Buttermilk Troubleshooting - This page assumes you've used their heirloom buttermilk starter, but the questions/answers apply no matter how you cultured your buttermilk.
Chef John Folse's Creole Cream Cheese - This man has a ton of great recipes on there, not just the cream cheese.
Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker (1975) - My mom got this for me at a used book sale at the library for a quarter. Old cookbooks are almost always a better option than new ones! It's filled with great recipes and techniques.
CDC on Raw Milk - Some people (your friendly federal government most prominent among them) have issues with raw milk. There is the possibility of bad bacteria getting into just about anything that you eat or drink, but I'm content with using good food safety practices and not being stupid about raw food. If you care to read what Big Brother has to say on the subject, go read and make your own decision.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Adventures in Raw Milk - Filmjolk Yogurt

Our lovely mini-Jersey/Zebu cow, Arya, and her male counterpart, Gendry, recently had a calf - Nymeria. (I don't have a Game of Thrones obsession - just a general fantasy novel obsession.) Arya had been giving us about half a gallon to a gallon of milk a day, plus whatever Nymeria drank. Then she got mastitis. While she was sick, we ran low on milk and I had to go to the grocery and buy regular milk. :( Happily, she's all better now, but that store-bought milk is staring at me evilly.

Milk - plain, old, ordinary milk. But it's sooooo deliciously tasty as cheese or butter or yogurt...or as milk. :)

We didn't need the store milk to drink, we had pre-mastitis milk for that. I needed pasteurized milk to keep my yogurt going. Captain Flint (my Filmjolk yogurt culture) needs to make a new batch of yogurt at least every seven days to maintain his fierce vitality.

Filmjolk is an heirloom yogurt culture - meaning it won't die out after a few generations. When I was little, Mom made yogurt with milk, store-bought yogurt and a yogurt maker. Every batch of yogurt made, you had to inoculate the milk with the store-bought yogurt. No matter how hard you tried, you couldn't keep it going by inoculating it with yogurt you made in a previous batch. Eventually, the culture would die out and nothing would happen. With heirloom cultures like Filmjolk or Villi, it's much simpler. Make a batch of yogurt and eat it. Save a bit, and then make some more. Each generation is made from the leftovers of the previous batch, no need to keep buying an outside culture.

Captain Flint is also a mesophilic culture, meaning that I can culture him at 70-77* on the counter - no crock pots, yogurt makers or pilot lights in the oven required for heat. I put him by the coffee pot, since there's a tank on it that keeps water hot, and he stays a few degrees above room temperature. The other type of yogurt culture is thermophilic, and it cultures at 110*. It will give you a bit thicker final product, but I like the ease of use I get with mesophilic cultures. Toss it in a jar, let it sit and refrigerate. It's idiot-proof (perfect for me) as long as you make it at least every seven days.

I've had Captain Flint since December 2016, and he's only made pasteurized milk yogurt. Before him, I kept a batch of pasteurized Villi yogurt going from August 2013 until late in 2015 when my life got stupid-crazy-out-of-control. Given the choice between the two, I like my Filmjolk better than the Villi. Captain Flint takes abuse and comes out fighting. Every time I forgot to make my Villi at the right times, it got ropey and funky for a generation or two, and I had to nurse it back to health. Too much headache, I'll take the Filmjolk.

I used to put towels on top of my yogurt, until people kept using them
to dry their hands on. Solution - piece of an old pair of blue jean leg
with a piece of loose mesh shirt sewn for the top. Now it fits perfectly,
and it has a little home by the back of the coffee maker.
Making pasteurized heirloom mesophilic yogurt (boy, that's a mouthful) really is that simple. You'll need 2 tablespoons of yogurt for every pint of milk you want to culture. (I usually make it one quart at a time.) Put the yogurt in a canning jar and fill with milk up to the threads. Screw on a lid and shake it up. Remove the lid, and cover loosely with a towel. Keep at 70-77* for 12-18 hours. Sometimes it gets too cold overnight, even if I keep it near the coffee pot - but that's okay. Just leave it on the counter for a few extra hours, and it'll thicken right up. After you refrigerate it, it'll thicken a bit more.

The raw milk counterpart to that takes a bit more work, but really isn't any harder. You need to keep a mother culture made with pasteurized milk going to inoculate each batch of raw milk. Raw milk will culture all on its own if given the chance, though you may not like what you come out with. Keeping the mother culture with pasteurized milk will keep your yogurt from getting funky. Culture 1 tablespoon of yogurt in a half pint jar of pasteurized milk. Use that as your starter, and remake it every 7 days. From that starter, use 1/4 cup to culture a quart of raw milk. Depending how much yogurt you eat a week, you may need to keep a pint or more of the starter going, instead of just the half pint. To pasteurize your raw milk for the starter, slowly heat it to 160* and then let it cool back to 70-77* before you add the culture.

Some people (your friendly federal government most prominent among them) have issues with raw milk. There is the possibility of bad bacteria getting into just about anything that you eat or drink, but I'm content with using good food safety practices and not being stupid about raw food. If you care to read what Big Brother has to say on the subject, go here. It reads like the intro to an episode of Elvira Midnight Madness, though...Hello darling, and welcome to Big Brother - it's me again, Elvira, the government hair with the authoritarian flair! Tonight we're going to delve deep into the daunting darkness of RAW MILK!!! (Insert dramatic music from 1940's horror flick here.) I suggest reading it and making your own decision.

This yogurt will be thinner than what you're used to getting from a container of Dannon or Yoplait, and if you're into Greek yogurt, don't get me started. There are ways you can thicken your yogurt, from straining it to adding powdered milk or other thickeners. Not all thickening methods work with all types of yogurt. I've never tried thickening my yogurt, so I can't recommend one over the other. This page at Cultures For Health has plenty to get started with, though.

Throw it in the fridge for about 6 hours, it'll thicken up, and you're ready to go!
Aside from just eating your yogurt with fruit or jam, there are a multitude of fun things to do with it. You can use it to make cultured butter and buttermilk, or cultured cheeses (like Creole cream cheese, farmer's cheese and cottage cheese). It can also be used in recipes calling for yogurt or buttermilk, and it's great in smoothies. Below is a great Thousand Island salad dressing recipe you should try out. Get cultured!

***If you're like me, and culturing multiple things at once, keep a distance of a few feet between each ferment while it's on the counter. Long John the sourdough lives on the island in the kitchen, Captain Flint the Filmjolk yogurt gets cultured by the coffee pot once a week (he's the most finicky on staying warm), Fluffy the buttermilk lives on the opposite end of the counter from Captain Flint, Jim Hawkins the vinegar lives in the garage, and The Dread Pirate Roberts the water kefir lives in the summer kitchen in the back. Yes, they have names - they ARE alive, after all.***

Thousand Island Dressing

1 cup plain yogurt (or 1/2 cup yogurt, 1/2 cup mayonnaise)
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons vinegar
4 teaspoons sugar
4 teaspoons sweet pickle relish
2 teaspoons dried minced onion
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Whisk all ingredients together, and refrigerate.

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Cultures For Health - This site is a wealth of knowledge. When it prompts you to enter your email address and get the free e-books, I strongly suggest you do so. Those books are worth the read. There are great recipes, but these guys explain the THEORY behind almost every cultured food you could want to learn about. Give it a read, you won't be sorry.
CDC on Raw Milk

Shared on: The Homestead Blog Hop, Simple Homestead Blog Hop, Clever Chicks Blog Hop

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Getting Pumpkins Out of Your Shower - or - Dehydrating and Rehydrating a Pumpkin

An offset spatula is your friend - not only is he great for cake frosting,
but he helps out with spreading pumpkin, too.
Pumpkins (and other winter squash) store well – this is one of the many awesome things about them. However, they’re not exactly the most convenient thing to deal with in the world. Before you can make delicious pies or breads, you have to bake and puree the darn thing. Most have a fairly long shelf life, but if you don’t store your winter squash in the right conditions, they can spoil rather quickly. One of the easiest ways to get around this is to dehydrate and powder your pumpkins and winter squash, leaving you with a space-saving convenience food.

While pumpkin may be canned, there's a few reasons I stick to dried. First and foremost, there is the issue of wetness. Boiling versus baking versus roasting versus Libby's will all yield different amounts of water in your puree. Cushaw versus Cinderella versus Sugar Pie - each pumpkin variety will be different. When you dehydrate and powder, they all become equal, allowing you to choose the moisture level upon rehydrating.Secondly, pumpkin will dry down to one quarter of the size it is when wet. For some people, that may not be a big deal. As I tend to fill up shelves with all kinds of other canned things, storing five quarts of dried pumpkin is way easier than about twenty quarts (or more) of canned pumpkin cubes. Coincidentally, that leads me to my third and final point - pumpkin cubes. Sadly, Big Brother tells us that we cannot can pumpkin puree, but oddly enough, neglects to mention why. This post on Living Homegrown goes into the reasons why you don't want to can puree - mainly, pH and viscosity. Since I find dried pumpkin easier to deal with in the long run anyway, I'm ceding this round to him.

This year, our pumpkins and other winter squash lived in the shower in the laundry room (don’t worry, we used the other shower instead). It was the best place we had to store them – cool room, no direct sunlight, and they weren’t likely to get kicked by accident. Eventually, though, they were coming to the use-it-or-lose-it point, so Mom and I cut them up, gutted them, tossed them skin-up on some half-sheet pans and threw them in the wood stove for a few hours.

There’s a few ways to cook pumpkin. When my wood stove is hot, I’ll use the oven there. Since the wood stove oven doesn't vent out the steam like a normal oven, I don't bother adding water to the pan. If I'm not burning a fire, I use the regular oven on 250* and pour some water on the bottom of the pan. I’ve seen some people who cut the meat off the skin and boil it. No matter what path you choose, cook the squash until it’s fork tender. Let it cool a bit, and remove it from the skin.

Once it’s off the skin, start pureeing the pumpkin. I like to do this in my food processor, but you could use a blender or food mill, if that’s what you have. (The smoother it is now, the easier it will powder and rehydrate later.) Spread the puree out about 1/4" thick on your fruit leather dehydrator trays – an offset spatula for cake frosting is really helpful here. My refurbished LEM dehydrator didn’t come with fruit leather sheets, so years ago, I ordered these that were made for Excalibur dehydrators, and they work like a charm for me. In the event that you don’t have/want to buy fruit leather sheets, you can use a gallon freezer bag split down the seams to make 2 sheets. It’s thicker than plastic wrap, and therefore less likely to tear and leave pieces of plastic in your pumpkin. I’ve also seen people who use parchment paper, but I’ve had bad luck using it in dehydrators. If it goes too long in there, sometimes the parchment paper will shatter into your food when you’re removing it.

The reason I don't worry about precise temperatures on dehydrating food is simple.
On my dehydrator, there are exactly two precise temperatures - 90* and 150*.
If I need something in between those two temps, I take a guess and it tends to work out well.
After you've got your sheets in the dehydrator, crank the heat to about 130-140* and let 'er rip. Here in super-dry Oklahoma, pumpkin will dry in about 8-12 hours. In Louisiana, where humidity is a way of life, I had batches that took 18 hours, and some that took all the way up to 48 hours. 8-12 hours is a good place to start, but if you've got high humidity, don't be surprised when it takes longer.

Your pumpkin is done when it feels dry to the touch and is no longer glossy. It can be peeled away from the fruit leather sheet and comes off in a solid mass. Break it up into chunks for easy handling, and it's time to grind! (If you think it's too wet, it probably is. You should be getting nice snapping noises when you break it up.)

In the past, I've used a variety of methods to powder dried pumpkin. Up until I killed my little Bullet blender, that thing was great for getting it down to a fine powder. How did I kill it? By grinding too many pumpkins in it, probably. Note that I have 5 quarts of ground pumpkin on my shelf, pumpkin dries down to about a quarter of the original size - I have run a LOT of pumpkin through there. It's not like this baby died overnight from gentle, loving use - it got abused regularly. But if you're more reasonable than me, and don't have THAT much pumpkin THAT often, blenders, food processors and even a mortar and pestle are good options.

My current go-to solution for grinding pumpkin is our Grainmaker grain mill. That thing is a beast. So far I've used it on corn and pumpkin, and it works fabulously. You can adjust the fineness of the powder that comes out. Again, the finer the pumpkin powder, the easier it will rehydrate.

*NOTE* No matter what you're using - blender, grain mill, food processor - toss a very slightly damp towel over the top, otherwise you'll sneeze pumpkin for days. (Ask me how I know...)

So! You're all ground up and ready to go. In south Louisiana, I put the powder (all my dried goods, really) into old glass jars and sealed them with my Pump-n-Seal. Think vacuum packer that works with any jar with a rubber gasket (old canning lids, salsa or jelly jars, etc.) and uses only manual labor to work. It's really neat, and when you live in a place with 90% humidity, you need some kind of way to seal up stuff. In northwest Oklahoma, I don't bother with the vacuum sealing. Today it's 10% humidity - yes, eventually that massive amount of humidity may get to my foods before I die, but they store just fine on the shelf in their canning jars with old mayonnaise lids on them for now. Also, I think my Pump-n-Seal is still 15 hours away at the old house in Louisiana...

Moving on - rehydrating pumpkin (or winter squash in general) is simple. Take 1/4 cup of powdered pumpkin and a scant 1 cup of boiling water. Mix and let sit until desired consistency is reached (should take maybe fiver minutes). This is where the texture of your powder really comes into play. If you've got a texture like corn flour, your pumpkin should come back to the original texture fairly quickly with no lumps. If it's more the texture of dried grits, you're probably going to have to help it along a bit. Just encourage it a bit with the blender (stick blenders work well here) and you'll have nice, thick pumpkin in no time. Then you're ready to bake deliciousness!

You can see the color variations - there's at least 4 different types of pumpkins in 2017 alone, not too sure on the others.
My 2015 has some larger pieces in the top, I either need to regrind him or just take the stick blender to him when I get ready to bake.
Shared on: The Homestead Blog Hop and Simple Saturdays

So Easy to Preserve - 5th edition, by Cooperative Extension, the University of Georgia.
Home Preserving Pumpkins - National Center for Home Food Preservation
Why Canned Pumpkin Puree is a No No - Living Homegrown

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Baking Cookies in a Kitchen Queen 480 Woodstove

Let’s take a moment to discuss one of the most highly revered topics in the history of mankind – the cookie. These gems have transcended culture, religion, species. They’re a staple of any diet where mental health is important. Who doesn’t enjoy cookies?

Mom and I decided to bake cookies for Singles Awareness Day – okay, she wanted to make Valentine’s Day cookies. I made SAD cookies. Since it was snowing when I woke up, and it’s only 35*F right now, we thought baking them in the woodstove would be way more fun than using the regular gas oven. Our stove is a Kitchen Queen 480. There’s a learning curve to baking in a woodstove, if you’ve never done it before. In the end, though, it’s much more rewarding than baking in a gas or electric oven.

There's still broken limbs in almost every tree out there from the ice storm a few weeks back.

In my Kitchen Queen, there is a firebox on the left side, the oven on the right side, the stove top, and above that, two warming ovens. Our house is VERY well insulated. I’m talking, it’s 35* right now, and we’ve got the windows open. If you want to heat your woodstove up enough to bake in, it will most likely warm your house up a bit.

To get the temperature high enough, I prefer to use smaller pieces of wood (either split logs or just smaller branches cut up). I find 2-3” diameter to be a good size. I don’t use specific hardwoods or anything fancy to burn – I use wood picked up on our 160 acre property or along the roads where the county cuts trees by power lines. I know there are some woods preferable to others for burning because they will burn longer or hotter, but I’m not that fancy. Anywho – more small branches will give you control where a big log will not. Save the logs to burn overnight when you don’t want to add logs every few hours. While you’re baking, you can open her up, toss some branches in and heat up the oven. Since you’re using smaller wood, you’ll need to add to the fire more often – but you’re standing there cooking anyway, it’s not like you’re not around.

Regular ovens don’t take long to heat – my gas oven will take about ten minutes to preheat to 350*. But – you guessed it – the woodstove is a different animal. Your best bet is to start preheating at least an hour before you’re ready to start baking. This will allow everything to get hot enough, and you won’t have to fight fluctuating temperatures.

On my stove, there is a temperature gauge on the oven door. I just went out and checked with an infrared thermometer to see the temperature variation within the oven. The gauge on the door said 290*F, the back wall was 285*, the wall by the firebox was 420*, the wall opposite the firebox was 320*, and the cookie sheet on the oven rack was 340*. Take-home lesson here – don’t go by what that temperature gauge says on your oven door. On my oven it’s roughly 40* warmer where the food’s actually cooking.

Once you get the hang of adding wood to the fire at even intervals, it’s much easier to keep a steady temperature, and half the battle’s won. Next up, you HAVE GOT TO remember to bake for the recommended time on your recipe. Every time you open up the door, you’re dropping your oven temperature. It’s not like a gas or electric oven – there’s no internal sensor to regulate the heat and get it back to where you had it before. So, unless you’ve got a really profound reason, don’t leave the door open.

My biggest problem with baking in the woodstove is the fact that this Kitchen Queen oven is sealed quite well. If you’re baking bread and open the door, don’t stick your face by the oven. Steam billows out like you wouldn’t believe. That’s great for bread, but if I wanted a sauna, I’d go to a spa or something. The second big issue with the oven sealing like that is that you can’t smell food the same way you do in your regular oven. Let me explain.

In the regular oven, when I’m baking bread and get a good whiff of fresh, yeasty bread, it means that the bread’s almost done. It’s on the last ten minute stretch or so, and it’s time to go check on it. In the woodstove, when I get a whiff of bread – I’d better be hauling butt back there ASAP, because that bread is probably just about perfectly done.

Cookies are not so forgiving as bread. When you smell them in the regular oven, it’s probably time to take them out. When you smell them in the woodstove…well…let’s just say some of my sugar cookies are indistinguishable from my peanut butter cookies today.

This is not the be-all, end-all, definitive guide to woodstove baking. It’s just what I’ve learned in the past three months, starting with baking M&M cookies before Christmas. In the intervening time, I’ve baked a few pies, a few batches of cookies, a dozen pumpkins and a whole lotta bread in that oven. I have a very long way to go before I master the mysteries of baking in a woodstove, but at least my dad and brother will eat all the overdone cookies in the meantime!

My 28 year old brother has an undying affection for chocolate sprinkles, so like any good baby sister, I made a pan of chocolate sprinkle hearts just for him. Some children never grow up...
Shared on: The Homestead Blog Hop, The Homesteader Hop, Simple Saturdays

Saturday, February 11, 2017

It's the Most Wonderful *Stock* Time of the Year!

After the fat has been skimmed, it's got a beautiful color and opacity.
Wintertime in places where temperatures drop below freezing – there’s both ups and downs. One of the major high points is the ability to run the woodstove. Where I used to live in Louisiana, we got to use the fireplace maybe three times a year. In northwest Oklahoma, it’s a bit of a different situation. The woodstove gets to run quite often, which offers unique opportunities, of which, making stock is my favorite. Stock can be added to almost any recipes in place of water – soups, stews, gumbo (my favorite). You can use it to deglaze a pan when you’re cooking down meat or browning onions. Aside from the taste, there’s lots of other benefits, as well. According to Sally Fallon Morell in Nourishing Broth, it “can help prevent and control arthritis, bone loss, digestive disorders, skin problems, and even cancer and mental illness.” It also tastes good.

I keep a “stock bag” in the freezer all of the time. Any time I peel carrots, onions, garlic – the peels go in the bag. If I chop up tomatoes – the annoying little spot where the stem attaches goes in the bag. When there’s chicken for supper – the bones have an after-dinner engagement with kitchen shears, and in the bag they go. (It’s not just chicken bones, any bones get put in there, we just happened to have chicken the other night and that’s what the most recent stock is primarily made from.) Once I run out of room in the freezer or the bag gets overfull, then I make stock.

Stock can be made from a wide variety of items. The official canning recipes you’ll see are something like this one from the Ball Fresh Preserving site. Naturally, I don’t make my stock like that, but I do follow the general idea. Most recipes call for some type of meat, followed by onions, carrots, celery, garlic, maybe some herbs. Those are a good safe place to start. If you’re a bit more adventurous, as I myself am, here’s some stuff to add, and some to avoid.

The "Good"

Alliums – Onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, green onions. You name it, they are great in stock. I toss skins from all of these into my stock bag (the end with the roots included, as long as it’s not totally full of dirt).

 Carrots – Skins, the end where the greens were, the dried out funny-looking ones you forgot in the fridge for a few weeks. As long as it’s not stinky and slimy, toss them in.

 Celery – Use the leaves, the root end and everything in between. Normally my dad eats the in between part, but sometimes it ends up in the stock pot, too.

 Tomatoes – Probably my favorite thing to grow in the garden. All summer/fall while the tomatoes are going strong and coming into the house in droves, they get used 100%. I chop off the stem end (cherry/plum types) and cut the cores out (paste/slicing types) and toss all that into stock bags. My tomato-season stocks tend to be a little heavier on fresh-frozen tomato than my off-season stocks. At that point, I just add in some dried tomatoes or tomato powder to the pot.

The "Bad"
Brassicas – Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, pak choi, turnips. These guys all add an overpoweringly strong flavor to your stock. Put them on the side to feed to your pets – rabbits, pigs, chickens, small children - all benefit from eating this stuff. Or compost it. Just don’t put it in the stock bag.

Slimy/Stinky Things – Yes, you can use old-about-to-go-bad veggies. Just remember, you’re going to be eating this stock. If it doesn’t look like something you’d consider eating, don’t put it in the stock bag. If you’ve got stuff that will go bad soon, and you know you’re not going to eat it, don’t let it go bad – put it in the stock bag or feed it to the animals, just don’t waste it.

The "Use Sparingly or Else It May Get Ugly"

Herbs – They’re great. But certain herbs can be very strong, especially fresh herbs. When I’m not abusing my herb plants and trying to kill them, I actually harvest them. Any stems or not super-pretty herbs go into the stock bag, and the good stuff goes into the dehydrator. My stocks usually have parsley stems, little bits of rosemary and thyme, maybe some oregano. I’ve seen many recipes that call for 1-2 bay leaves for a 2 gallon pot of stock. At our old house in Louisiana, we have a bay leaf tree. I love my fresh bay leaves, but I would never put 2 of those things into a pot of stock that I planned on leaving on the woodstove for a few days. They’re STRONG. Like, don’t accidentally leave them in a pot of red beans in the fridge overnight strong. Whatever herbs you put in here, remember that this is a generic stock that you’ll want to put into a wide variety of dishes. Don’t load your chicken stock up with cilantro if you ever want to make egg drop soup again. :)

Potatoes, Corn Cobs, Cucumbers, Lettuce – They don’t add a whole lot of flavor or healthy juju (getting some real fancy words in, ain’t I?) You can put them in, but I prefer to turn them into bacon and eggs – send them to the barn, and those guys will eat ‘em up.

Peppers – I do sometimes add bell pepper scraps to my stock, but not so much hot peppers. That’s about the only thing our pigs don’t like. Just don’t add a ton, and it’ll add a nice subtle flavor.

Crack the bones before you make stock,
and bird bones hollow out like this.
When I’m actually ready to make the stock, I dump everything into my cooking vessel. Add cool water and vinegar (see section below on vinegar), and let it sit for about 1 hour. Bring it to a simmer, and let it cook. The bare minimum for flavor that I’ve found is 4-6 hours of cooking. That will give you stock like you’d get at the store. If you want the real, super-gelatin, healing awesomeness that you see in books like Nourishing Broth, let it cook. I let it go until I can break the bones easily by hand, and the stock looks opaque. Typically, I let it go on the woodstove, in the crock pot or electric roaster for 36-48 hours. (If it’s on the woodstove, I usually leave it longer, and we just get stock out of it as we cook.) Once the bones are beginning to fall apart, I take the pot off the stove, let it cool, and start straining everything. I use a normal strainer first (with the big holes) then pour the liquid through a jelly bag to remove any remaining sediment. Then into the fridge (or on the porch, if it’s cold enough) to let the fat separate. Remove the fat - if you don’t get the fat off before you process the jars, it may get between the jar and the seal, causing your seal to fail. At this point, you can put it into ice trays and freeze stock cubes or you can pressure can it. I’m guessing you could probably put it in a few shallow pans in the dehydrator and come out with something like Better than Bouillon. As I haven’t tried it, though, who knows. It’s an eventual project, and I’ll let you know how that works out.

I choose to pressure can my stock. The times I provide in my recipe come off of NCHFP recipe for canning Meat Stock (Broth). They also happen to be the same as what is on the Ball Fresh Preserving site for Chicken Stock – Pressure Canning. It’s also what’s in my All American Canner instruction/recipe book. And, since I’m still mildly paranoid, I bring all of my pressure canned foods to a boil for 10-15 minutes (10 minutes for elevations under 1,000 feet, and 1 minute for each additional 1,000 feet). That will kill any botulism that could have potentially grown in the food. (NCHFP For Safety’s Sake)


When you let the bones soak in cool water with vinegar for a while, it helps the minerals in the bones begin to break down. I’ve always added vinegar to my stock, for just that reason. A while back, however, I was nosing around on the interwebs, and came across this post by KerryAnn on Intentionally Domestic. She recommends soaking the bones in the vinegar/water combo before heating, because the pores on the bones close up once heat is applied, and the vinegar has a harder time getting in there. I’m no chemist, but if I’m going to take the time to make stock, letting everything sit on the counter for an extra hour can’t hurt anything. KerryAnn suggests 2T vinegar to 1 gallon water for chicken bones, and ½ C vinegar to 1 gallon water for beef. My stocks are usually a lagniappe mixture of bones and veggie scraps, so I generally lean closer to ½ C vinegar per gallon of water. I’ve also seen people say you have to specifically use white vinegar, raw cider vinegar, or some other type of expensive vinegar. We make our own vinegar at home from fruit, so we’ve had plum, pear, apple and peach vinegars in stock. No complaints about funky fruity-tasting stock so far, and it jells just as well as any others I’ve seen. :)

print recipe

Pressure Canning Stock
This is my general guideline recipe for making and canning stock. It's not Big Brother Approved, but it works well enough for Baby Sisters. :)
  • Bones
  • Veggies
  • Herbs
  • Water
  • Vinegar
Crack the bones with a meat cleaver or kitchen shears. (If you can’t crack them, it’s okay, you just won’t get as much marrow from the bones unless you cook them a long, long time.)Add the bones, veggies and herbs to your stock pot, roaster or crock pot.Cover with cool water and vinegar. (See notes on vinegar, should be roughly 2T – ½ C per gallon of water, depending on bones.)Let stand for about an hour.Bring to a light simmer, and let it cook at least 4-6 hours. Add more water as needed.Strain out bones, veggies and herbs in a large colander.Pour stock again through a cheesecloth, jelly bag or coffee filter to remove remaining solids.Put the stock in the fridge, and let the fat come to the top.Remove the fat once it’s congealed.Bring the stock to a boil. If the stock is not gelled to your satisfaction, now’s the time to boil it down some more to condense it. Fill hot pint or quart jars with 1” headspace. Wipe rims with a towel soaked with vinegar and water (this helps remove grease while still being food-safe). Add lids.0-1,000 feet – process pints 20 minutes, quarts 25 minutes at 10lbs pressure. Over 1,000 feet – process pints 20 minutes, quarts 25 minutes at 15lbs pressure.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: Varies

Washi tape works great for marking jars. Last fall we started with color-coding years with washi tape labels. If all goes well, 2017 will be polka-dots.

Ball Fresh Preserving Chicken Stock - Pressure Canning
Intentionally Domestic The Five Biggest Bone Broth Mistakes You Might Be Making
Jennifer's Kitchen A-to-Z List of Vegetables to Include or Exclude from Vegetable Stock or Broth
National Center for Home Food Preservation For Safety's Sake
National Center for Home Food Preservation Meat Stock (Broth)
Nourishing Broth by Sally Fallon Morell

Shared on: The Homestead Blog HopSimple Saturdays Blog Hop

Monday, January 30, 2017

Seed Starting, Part the First

In the past few years that I’ve lived up here, each year I’ve grown a garden (my Louisiana gardening was a bit more sporadic). I don’t buy plants usually, because the varieties I’m interested in aren’t available in a small town of 500 people, and because I’m not a fan of spending that much money anyway. Seeds are much cheaper, and it’s fun watching them grow from the very beginning. This is the first year, however, that I’ve actually started seeds at the *correct* time. Weird, right? I’m usually a few weeks late at best, and completely miss my chance at worst.

With the giant ice storm that came through the other week, we were out of power for 5 days, meaning we had a bit of technology-free time on our hands. My parents helped me make paper pots to start seeds in (with this awesome PotMaker), and a large portion of those were used up this weekend. I love the little paper pot maker – the pots are convenient, they can be planted straight into the ground with minimal root disturbance, and they use up old paper. The paper used to make this year’s pots actually came from the 2015 Seed Savers Exchange yearbook. We just tear or cut the pages in half, you end up with strips about 4" x 11", and that works great. If you don't have old newsprint seed catalogues lying around, you can always use newspapers or something similar. This is the fifth year I've used this pot maker, and it's still going strong. If you don't want to buy one, though, you can make your own "southern engineered" version. Wrap the paper around a tomato paste can, and press it down inside of an empty green chile can - similar effect as the PotMaker, just slightly more annoying.

I put down a plastic tablecloth, then thumbtack it to the wall behind the counter. Then meat trays work great for holding the pots. It's a second use for them before they get tossed to the trash, and it's another layer between the moisture of the seedlings and your counter or table. 

I like growing plants from heirloom/open-pollinated seeds when I can. I started saving tomato seeds a few years ago, just to cut down on my gardening costs. The cost of the initial seeds goes down every year that you save seeds and plant them again. This either means you can save a lot of money, or justify buying random other heirloom seeds – don’t judge me because I tend to fall in the latter category.

Sometimes, though, you just can’t justify NOT buying seeds, whether you know if they’re open-pollinated or not…a few years ago, the dollar store in the town where I worked was clearing out all of their gardening stuff at the end of the season. Seed packets that were normally $0.25 or $0.50 were marked down to $0.02! Needless to say, I bought just about everything that was left – carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, pumpkins, birdhouse gourds, zinnias and marigolds. While I was doing that, my parents came across a similar sale at one of those open box/bargain center stores. They came home with seeds for tomatoes, broccoli, cucumbers, lettuces, spinach, zucchini, yellow squash and more marigolds. Not all of these were open-pollinated varieties, but for that price, I’ll sure enough try growing them.
Aaaannnd the illustrious ginger pot. :) The back row is all Abused Plants, hopefully some will survive.

This weekend, Mom and I started seeds. I’m still unsure how well certain things will grow up here, but I’m trying them anyway since I had the seeds. Some of the seeds that I’m starting indoors are normally supposed to be direct seeded, whereas I’m starting them in paper pots. With the sandy soil, heavy winds and inconsistent rainfall we have up here, by the time seeds should be germinating, they’ve usually been blown or washed away from here to kingdom come. If this year’s plan of transplanting works, cool. If it turns out to be a lot of wasted work for nothing, I’ll survive, and try something different next time around. 

So without further ado, here’s what all I played with.

Another quick tip - if you need a watering can that doesn't rust and has decent aim, take a plastic Coke bottle or a gallon Arizona Tea jug and remove the cap. Grab a hammer and a nail, and put some holes in the lid. Don't overdo the holes, or the cap will start to crack. Whatever kind of bottle or jug you use, make sure that it's not so stiff that you can't squeeze the sides (don't use something like Vitamin Water or Powerade, or you'll just get a trickle of water). Also, make sure the cap screws on, don't use a snap on kind - that tends to result in a large mess rather quickly...

Here's a few links that are really helpful for planting at the right times.

Seeds For Generations Garden Planning Calculator. You just put in your last or first frost date (depening on fall or spring planting) and it will give you dates for just about anything you could wish for.

OSU Extension Fact Sheets - Living in Oklahoma, these are the sheets put out by the extension office that are relevant to me. Just Google your state name and "Extension Fact Sheets" and you'll end up with some for your state. They're not all related to gardening, so you may have a lot to sift through, but it's worth it.

USDA Hardiness Zone Finder - This is another helpful tool if you're just starting. Type in your zip code, and it gives you the hardiness zone for your area. There's also some pretty cool maps to check out, as well.

Old Farmer's Almanac Frost Dates - Put in your zip code or city and state, and this page will return your average first and last frost dates.

Pretty neat, huh?

Shared on: Clever Chicks Blog Hop, The Homestead Blog Hop

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Hello World! Love, Baby Sister

Greetings, outside/real world! Welcome, one and all, please take a seat and stay a while. My name is Elizabeth, and I am “Baby Sister.” While I’m originally from southeast Louisiana, on December 26, 2013, I moved to northwest Oklahoma with dreams of becoming a homesteader. It’s been a bit of a change, for multiple reasons. For a gardener who grew up planting things in a swampy zone 9A, moving to a bone-dry zone 6A presents a few challenges – did you know it SNOWS up here in winter? At the current moment, I’m living with my family on their 160 acre homestead out in the middle of nowhere, though my dream is to have my own little place in the next year (or so). We’re becoming more self-sufficient, one step at a time. Much of what I post here will chronicle that journey: cooking, canning, dehydrating, gardening, raising and butchering animals, making soaps and lotions, herbal salves and teas, and my current endeavor – doing it all without a “normal/straight” day job. I went to college to become a music teacher, and became disenchanted with our school systems. I spent almost 3 years killing myself working for an oilfield trucking company, and realized that I was tired of stressing out over somebody else’s money. So as of December 2, 2016, I’m a free woman. Here, I will include my journey to make a living from farmers markets, craft shows and other additional income sources. The worst that happens is I have to get a “real” job again, right?

Arya, mother of Nymeria, playing in the ice.
Dear reader, you may at this point be asking, “Why Baby Sister?” In all honesty, I really do have a genetic older brother (and a bunch of male friends that act like older brothers), so that’s half the reason right there. The rest of the logic, though, is a bit more Orwellian…I’m not a fan of Big Brother (as you will come to learn if you continue to read this blog). There are a lot of things that are regulated that just don’t sit right with me – but that’s neither here nor there. Many of the canning recipes (water bath and pressure) I use are not Big Brother/federal government approved. I will put notes on any recipes that are my own, and why I feel safe in canning them, even though Big Brother tells me not to. Like anything else, a little logic and research goes a long way.

Continuing in the vein of disclosure on where my canning recipes come from, I intend to source the information I give to you. In this modern age of information, the internet can be an amazing tool. It can also kick you in the butt if you’re not careful. Gone are the days where one could easily trust the published word – today, any nut job can have a blog or publish a book (see yours truly for reference), and there is little consideration given to the validity of information. Apologies to my high school English teacher, Coach Walther if it’s not 100% perfect. The point here is to allow people to see where my information is coming from, not to pass your bibliography-writing tests.

So without further eloquence, I welcome you, intrepid reader, to enter my world. Tread lightly, as the terrain tends to be a bit rocky.
Nymeria, our new baby.