Friday, October 23, 2009

Making Lard

Whenever we, or someone we know, have a pig slaughtered we always ask for the fat to make lard. Rendering lard is quite easy and nothing makes better doughnuts than homemade lard.

We follow the directions in Stocking Up: The Third Edition of America's Classic Preserving Guide
Start with your pieces of fat and cut into 1/2" cubes. Put about 1/4" inch of water in a large heavy bottom kettle and add your cut up fat to it, being careful not to fill the kettle too full; it is better to add to it as it cooks. Keep the burner on as low as it will go. A wood cook stove works well for this, as you can slide the kettle around to get the heat you want. You want it to melt, but not scorch.

fat to turn into lard

It takes a very long time for the fat to melt; we have been as long as 4 days to get all our fat cooked. Be sure to stir frequently to mix in the new fat and to keep it from sticking. Patience is needed.

As the lard renders, the cracklings, which are the pieces of fat that do not cook down, (why, I do not know) will float to the top and eventually sink to the bottom. That is when it is time to jar your lard. (The temperature will be about 255o F)

Sterilize your jars, strain the cracklings, and pour the strained lard into your jars, filling to the top. Chill as quickly as possible to produce a finer grain shortening (we set our jars outside….for us, lard making is always done in the fall for a few reasons; it is usually the time people slaughter their pigs, the wood stove is going and it is cool outside)

Store the finished lard in a cool dark place.

Many people enjoy the cracklings (the part that didn’t cook down that was strained off before bottling) and eat them with some salt or as bacon bits. We haven’t really enjoyed them too much, but are still hoping to find a use so they do not go to waste.

Lard, the finsihed product

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Compost Tea

Compost Tea

Compost Tea Made Easy

For a few years my husband and I lived in a small apartment with no actual garden space; however we did have a deck. On that deck we grew tomatoes, all kinds of greens, herbs and flowers. A compost pile, however, was something I missed having.

We spotted theSpinning Composterfrom Real Goods and ordered it. It worked out great on our deck and we were able to make some nice dirt.

When we moved back to the country we were afraid our composter would go unused, but that was not the case.

We no longer use it to make as much compost, but we do use it for making compost tea. The base the composter sits on is hollow and fills with water when it rains; the rain goes through the compost and settles in the bottom, leaving us a liquid that the plants love.

We dilute the liquid with water and use it as a liquid fertilizer.

Each year when we drain the base we fill a gallon jar and use it all winter (diluted) to feed our house plants.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Easy Baking Recipes, Desserts: No Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

No bake cookies are fun and easy to make, perfect for unexpected company.

No Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
3 cups quick oats

Bring the milk to a boil over medium high heat, being careful not to scorch.

Add the honey, cocoa powder and butter.

Turn the heat down to low and cook for one to two minutes, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat and stir in the peanut butter and oats, mixing well.

Cover a large cookie sheet with parchment or waxed paper.

Drop teaspoonfuls of cookie onto the paper and refrigerate until firm. These will not firm up as much with honey as they do with sugar, but the taste is wonderful and the honey makes them a bit more health-ful. 1/2 cup of sugar can be used instead of the honey.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

No Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

Friday, October 9, 2009

Easy Baking Recipes: Breads, One Rise Bread

One Rise Bread
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 cup water; warm
2 tablespoon butter; melted
1 tablespoon honey
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon salt

Place all ingredients in bowl of an electric mixer. Using the dough hook mix well, about 8 to 10 minutes. Grease a bread pan. Place dough in pan and let rise until about 1" over the top of the pan. Bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes.

We do this recipe as a one rise bread. The loaf comes out a little more dense than a 2 rise loaf, but the flavor is great and the time we save makes it well worth it.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Free Cold Weather Refrigeration

My husband is always thinking of new ways to become more self-sufficient. When he said “free refrigeration“, I was all ears; and ready for another project. Here’s his story:

In this off the grid homesteading life we live, there are a few issues that require a bit more attention than most, such as water pumping and refrigeration. Of those two, refrigeration is probably the most difficult to address, at least it has been for us. We have been using a propane refrigerator for the past few years (a solar one is just too expensive for us, and we are not sure if our system is large enough to handle one), but with the cost of propane on the rise we are trying to find an alternative.

We have managed to come up with a partial solution, at least for the cold months of the year. We got a small electric refrigerator someone was going to throw away because it stopped working. I have a friend who does appliance repair remove the gas from the compressor. Then I removed the compressor and the coils off the back of the unit. I left the thermostat in the refrigerator and found the two wires that control it on the back. These I left in place. Our mud room is on the north side of the house and from there you walk out into the woodshed. We cut a hole in the mudroom wall just big enough to fit the refrigerator into; the only part in the mudroom is the door and about an inch of the refrigerator. The rest is actually in the woodshed.

I made a shelf for the refrigerator to sit on because the woodshed is lower than the mudroom floor. I drilled a 4” hole down through the top of the refrigerator and put in a 4” diameter dust gate. A dust gate is a 4” round device with a sliding door so you can open or close the hole. I use them in my woodworking shop for sawdust control. I took a 4” 90o PVC elbow and mounted a 3 ½” muffin fan (computers use these, so they are easy to find and not expensive, plus they run off 12 volts) inside the elbow. I drilled a small hole in the elbow to run the fan wires through. One wire connects to one of the wires in the thermostat inside the refrigerator; the other connects to the positive side of our battery bank (which happens to be in the same room). The second wire on the thermostat connects to the negative side of the battery bank. This enables the thermostat to control the fan. When the fan is on, it pulls cold air in from the outdoors. With the elbow in place, I then cut a hole through the outside wall of the woodshed and ran a section of 4” PVC pipe from the elbow to the outside. The pipe extends about 4” past the wall. I put a piece of aluminum window screen over the end of the pipe and then slid a 22o elbow over the end. This holds the screen in place and keeps bugs etc from entering the pipe (all pipe is schedule 20).

Once everything was put together and tested, I sealed around the refrigerator with insulation and added trim.

By the end of October or so we are able to move our food to this refrigerator and can turn off the gas one. Last year we had a cool spring and didn’t have to start using the propane refrigerator until mid April….almost 6 months of free refrigeration!

Winter refrigerator, inside house, before finish work.
Winter Refrigerator

Vent pipe (with fan inside) on top of the refrigerator(black flat part at the bottom is the dust gate).
Vent From Top Of Refrigerator

Friday, October 2, 2009

Drying Fruits and Vegetables

This year has not been a good one for our gardens, production is way down. Usually we can many, many jars of food; this year we are drying more.

Living off the grid, we do not have an electric dryer, so the drying has always been done in the gas oven. This year we did some in the oven, but really wanted to get away from that, so we have been experimenting with drying in the greenhouse (bringing things into the house at night to avoid excess dew) and air drying. So far things have been going well.

Cauliflower, berries, beets and fruit leather has been done in the gas oven. Greens and roots have been done in the greenhouse. Apples, grapes and green beans have been strung up and hung in the kitchen to dry, as have corn cobs. So far the apples and green beans have done very well, although they take a long time to dry.

The corn just got hung up two days ago, so we will see how that works out (I read that it takes a month for the corn to dry). After it is dry we will remove it from the husks and grind it into corn meal.

There are many books on the subject of drying and preserving, but one of our favorites is Stocking Up: The Third Edition of America's Classic Preserving Guide In this book we can usually find most of the information we need.

Making Raspberry Fruit LeatherMaking Raspberry Fruit Leather

Raspberry Fruit LeatherRaspberry Fruit Leather

Drying CauliflowerDrying Cauliflower

Corn, Ready To DryCorn, Ready To Dry

Air Drying Corn, Grapes and ApplesDrying Corn and Apples

Drying Sunflower SeedsDrying Sunflower Seeds

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Turning Grapes To Wine

The grape harvest this year was not huge, but large enough to make some sauce and, more importantly, wine. Making a basic wine from grapes is quite easy, with very little equipment needed.

We usually make one gallon batches for a few reasons: you don't need as many grapes; if it doesn't come out quite right you haven't wasted a lot of ingredients and the equipment needed is minimal.

We de-stem the grapes and put in a kettle. Cook like you would if you were making grape juice; simply add a little water to the grapes and cook over low heat until the grapes burst. We use a potato masher to help things along.

Strain the grape mixture over another kettle to save the juice. Add the pulp to the compost pile.

Add honey to taste to the juice (over low heat) and get it to where it tastes good to you.

Sterilize a one gallon wine jug and fill 3/4 full of the grape juice, adding some water if necessary.

Pouring Liquid into Gallon Jar

Let cool to 100oF and add about 2 grams of wine yeast. Cork, and add your air lock. (Corks and air locks are available at home brewing shops).

We let the jug sit in the kitchen sink over night since it is possible that it could bubble over (the honey really makes the yeast work)

Let sit until the wine (air lock) stops “chugging.” Watch for bubbles in the wine. When the fermentation process has finished, bottle the wine.

This is the way we make our raspberry and blueberry wine, as well.

Grape Wine, FermentingGrape Wine, Fermenting