"The greatest fine art of the future will be the making of a comfortable living from a small piece of land."
-Abraham Lincoln

A Season of Harvest

Have I mentioned yet that I love fall?  I hate winter but I LOVE fall.  The weather is wonderful, the colors are fantastic and, of course, it's harvest time! This is the time when all that hard work really starts to pay off.  Sweet corn, popcorn, Indian corn, tomatoes, pumpkins, squash, gourds, apples, cabbage, heck we even have watermelons still coming up and ripening for us.  Yep, it's an all around pleasant time of year. 

The picture above is some of our popcorn this year.  We set it out at our pumpkin stand with the plan to take store and eventually eat any of it that doesn't sell.  Given modern society's woefully poor appreciation for the joys and usefullness of Indian corn and homegrown popcorn, I think there will probably be plenty left over for us.  With the type of summer we had this year I was very pleased to see how well the Indian corn and the popcorn colored up. 

I've been bringing in tomatoes and watermelons from the garden almost daily this last week.  The kiddos are loving the watemelons.  I grew the smaller, "personal" sized watermelons this year and it's turned out really nicely.  We can generally slice up and eat one whole watermelon between the six of us in one night without any leftover to take up space in the fridge.  

The kids have been having a blast making drums out of last year's dried gourds.  We took one of our smaller round dried gourds, cut it in half and cleaned it all out and made a rubber mallet out of one of a larger sized bouncy ball, some super glue and a dowel cut down to size.   Then the kids put the gourds into a basin of water, cut side down, and they drum away.  This is definitely a project for everyone with kids to try, it's easy and fun and the sound will surprise both you and them.  

Even the chickens that we bought this summer are getting in on the action by laying their first eggs (2 weeks early)!  It was a pleasant surprise to find them already laying fairly large for first timers, beautful brown eggs. 

I sincerely hope your fall has been a blessed one so far, as well.  :)

Today We Make Butter...and Buttermilk!

Ok, I may already have a post on here somewhere about making butter.  In fact, I'd say it's pretty likely.  However, I can't find it so I'm going to blog about butter anyway.  I mean, butter is kind of like bacon, it may not be good for us but we love it all the same.  Why bother making it at home, you might ask?  Well, for the love of butter of course!  Butter made at home is generally made of higher quality cream for less money. It's customizable.  You want honey butter?  Done.  You want rosemary and thyme butter?  Done. Garlic butter?  You betcha.  Plus it's easier than you might think.  You don't have to dress in colonial era clothing and spend all afternoon toiling away at a butter churn. So let's get on with it.

 Step 1: Add heavy cream to your mixer bowl.  I used cream from our cows but if you don't have that luxury you can always get some from your local grocery store.  If you want organic, by all means, go for it.  If you have a dairy down the road where you can buy your cream good and fresh all the better.  But even if you have to go with plain old heavy cream from the refrigerator aisle of your local Walmart you'll still be doing just fine. 

Step 2: Mix away until your cream starts to thicken.  Start on low unless you want to be cleaning cream off your walls, counters, fridge, and everything else in your kitchen.   Once it thickens some you can turn up the juice.  You could stop here, at the point of the above picture, and you could add a little vanilla, fold in some confectioners sugar and you would have wonderful homemade whipped cream perfect for your hot cocoa or anything else you want whipped cream on but that is for another day and another post.  Right now, we're making butter so we move on.   
Step 4: Keep mixing.  A short time after the whipped cream stage, and I mean a very short time, you will start to notice a change in your bowl.  The cream will separate into two components, liquid buttermilk and solid butter fat.  At this point you've hit paydirt!  You're butter is officially churned.  

Step 5: It's time to get your hands dirty.  You need to reach in there and mash the butterfat together into a ball.  Reserve the liquid left behind, DO NOT THROW IT OUT.  It's honest to goodness, actual factual, buttermilk.   Grab up your butter ball and place it in a clean bowl or you can use cheesecloth if you have that.  

Step 6: Rinse.  You'll want to put your bowl with your ball of butter under a running faucet of clean water.  Rinse and squeeze your butter then dump the water.  Repeat this process until the water in your bowl is clear and clean. Squeeze out any and all remaining liquid.  This is an important step because it will help keep your butter from going rancid.   At this point you can add salt, I usually only add a pinch, if you want salted butter.  You can also add honey, garlic, herbs or anything else that you think would make for good flavored butter if you'd like.  

Step 7: Pack it up.   You can put your finished butter in a small mason jar and store it in your fridge if you like or you can roll it into a log in some plastic wrap if you prefer.  You can store it in the freezer as well, just put it into a freezer safe container or take your log in your plastic wrap and place it in a ziploc freezer bag.   For the butter milk you'll want to run it through a strainer and put it in a clean mason jar and store it in your fridge.  It'll be ready to use for your next batch of buttermilk pancakes.   

Canning Apples

 My jars are sterilized and ready to go in the waterbath canner

In the last post I mentioned picking a giant bushel of apples.  What did I do with those apples, you may ask?  Well, truth be told, we ate most of them fresh.  My kids can pack away fresh apples like nobody's business.  BUT, I did can some.  That's right.   I canned them.  Good old fashioned Mason Jar type food preservation.  You can can too.   Little play on words there...anywho, on to the tutorial!

There are really two big rules in home canning.  1. Plan before you can and 2. When in doubt, throw it out.  Keep those two things in mind and you will do just fine. 

Apples are an easy starter food to get your foot in the door to home canning.   They are fairly acidic so they can be canned using a waterbath canner instead of a pressure cooker, they generally hold up well to processing and they are versatile.  

Step 1 in the canning process is gathering your supplies.  You will need:
  • Several sterilized quart sized mason jars with new lids and neck bands
  • A peeler
  • An apple slicer  *this isn't "necessary" but it is helpful and makes the job go much faster
  • A waterbath canner
  • A jar lifting tool
  • A spatula 
  • A saucepan
  • About 30 apples (to get around 3 quart sized jars)
 Tip: keep the lids in a pot of simmering water until you are ready to use them. This softens the adhesive on the lids and makes for a better seal.

 Step 2:  Make your syrup.
  • You can choose to make either a medium or a light syrup.  If you are going to be mainly eating them straight from the jar, I personally like a medium syrup.  However, if you are going to be using them for applesauce or baking, then I prefer a light syrup.  In this case I used a light syrup.  For a light syrup I use 3 c. of sugar to 6 c. of water.  For a medium syrup I go with 4 c. of sugar to 6 c. of water.  Heat the sugar water to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until the sugar completely dissolves.  Reduce the heat to low to keep warm but don't allow it to boil down.  
Step 3: Prepare your apples
  •  Peel your apples and then core and slice them.  If you are worried about discoloration you can use citric acid or a fruit preserve powder, both of which you can find in your canning aisle at your grocery store.   Just follow the directions on the package.  Personally, I don't really worry about a little browning, that's me.  
Step 4: Packing the apples
  • Apples are a hot pack process.  That means that you cook the apples a bit before processing them in the jars.  Add your apples to the syrup and bring them both back to a soft boil at medium-high heat.  Boil gently for 5 minutes.  Pack the apples into the hot sterile jars using a slotted spoon, leave 1/2 inch head space (that part is important so check the chart below to see how to determine head space). Pour syrup of the apples, still leaving 1/2 inch of head space. Using your spatula, press the apples around in the jar to remove air bubbles.  Wipe down your jars, especially around the rim, center the lid and place the band.  Twist the band until just tight.

Step 5:  Process the jars.
  • Place your jars in the water bath canner and fill the canner with water 1 in. above the tops of the jars.  Process your jars in boiling water for the amount of time specified for your altitude.  Don't start timing until the water is actually boiling.  If you are at sea level, boil for 20 minutes.  Add 2 minutes for every 1000 feet above sea level.  So, for example, 1000 or less feet above sea level=20 minutes, 1001-2000ft above sea level=22 minutes, 2000-3000ft above sea level=24 minute and so on and so forth.
 Step 6: Allow your jars to cool
  • I sit my jars on a folded towel on the counter to minimize heat damage.  Allow them to sit for 24 hours.  You may begin to hear random pinging/popping noises...don't be alarmed, that's a good thing.  After 24 hours check your jars for a good seal.  If your jars have sealed properly the center of the lid will not move, or have any "give", when you press on it.  If all goes well, your newly canned jars of apples will last about 12 months, IF you can keep from eating them for that long!

Change is in the Air

It has been unseasonably cool this summer, not that I'm complaining or anything, but it has certainly felt more like fall than summer.  Even as I'm typing this I'm sitting with an afghan I made a few years ago wrapped around my shoulders.  I have a couple of windows open and the chill is working it's way through the room.   Tonight would be a good night for a warm glass of tea. 

Today was filled to the brim with hustle and bustle.   First it was check-ups at the doctors office for two of the four munchkins, then swim lessons and a workout at the Y, then home to make dinner and clean.  Our upstairs shower and toilet have been less than perfectly functional for the last two weeks or so and we are finally getting a plumber in to take a look at it tomorrow so the upstairs bath needed a good scrub down.   After that it was out to the orchard in the late evening to pick a giant bushel of apples before the last bit of sun was gone. 

With the cooler weather my thoughts have been turning to those of sweaters for the youngsters.  Oldest needs a couple of new ones as does Middle and the baby.  I have been spending much of the precious little downtime I've had lately scouring the internet for cute patterns to try.  I may break out the knitting machine and work a few up on it this year.  It might be fun.   I also need to be working on a warmer blanket for DS number 3.

It seems like lately I have more projects than time.  I'm going to have to slow down eventually.  I'm already tired just thinking about everything that still needs done.  The apples need put up, the sweaters need made, the house needs cleaned, the laundry needs washed, I need to start getting the kids ready for schooling, then there are the dinners to be made, the shopping to be done, the bills to be paid, and on and on it goes. 

This weekend we are making a trip to the zoo with the kiddos.  It will be a much needed distraction and break from the daily grind.  I think stepping back, even just for a day, will do us all a world of good.   I love this lifestyle, I've been doing it for many, many years.  The country is gorgeous.  Life is "simpler".  We work hard and we sleep well.  But even something as well loved and as wonderful as the simple life can become overwhelming if you don't take a break now and again to regroup. 

Blessings be unto you and yours until next time. 

The Chickens Have Landed

A little chicken love to brighten your day!

 This is one of our marans (we think) sitting out enjoying the sunshine in front of the big barn.

 Here she is again. 

And this one is one of our barred rocks.  She's extremely friendly.  LOVES to perch on my husbands shoulder.

Well that's it for the moment.  Just a little chicken break.  Enjoy it.  :)

Happy Fourth of July...

Ok, so I'm a day but I hope your Fourth of July was a good one.  For us, meh...  There was a light drizzle here so our tiny midwestern town decided it might melt if it held it's fireworks display so they postponed it for tonight.  Unfortunately, we didn't get the message and we packed up all the kids in our finest patriotic gear, grabbed the camera, grabbed a picnic basket and headed for the fairgrounds.  At least we didn't feel too dumb, there were several other people there who didn't get the message either.

We spent most of our Fourth of July morning and afternoon working out in the garden planting and weeding and weeding and planting and working on the old Ford tractor that hasn't been run in more than two years.   After hooking the chain up to it and pulling it with the truck around the barn once or twice we were able to get it started and it ran really well.  The only problem with is it refuses to start back up once it's shut down so obviously we need to work on the starter a bit more but just the fact that ol' reliable started up at all and ran for any length of time was a wonderful thing. 

The garden itself is doing pretty well.  In the little garden we've attempted a "mostly" no till approach.  The only tilling we have done has been in the planted rows themselves and, considering the small size of this particular garden space, that has only been about six rows all told.  I can honestly say I don't think I'll take a no till approach next year but the garden has grown, we do have celery, chinese lettuce, peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, watermelon and corn popping up.  We even have a musk melon coming up that we didn't even try for.

Our summer flowers are starting to bloom. 

We finally have our chicken coop MOSTLY finished and our girls have been in their new home for about a week now.  They seem to really enjoy it.  We still have a few odds and ends to work on like their window and cutting out the door to their outside pen area and adding a couple more perches but overall it's done.    It's a nice change from the small, portable coop we did have.  This one is secure in the barn and should, hopefully, be much nicer for winter.  The girls seem to really enjoy it.

I think the only one who doesn't like the new coop is Miney the barn cat
He can watch the chickens in their new space but can't get at them, which he's just not real happy about.  :) 

Strawberries and more

Spring is easily one of the busiest times of the year for us, second only to fall.  In the spring we clean, we till,we fertilize, we plant, we fertilize a little more, we pull weeds, and pull weeds, and pull more weeds, we do a lot of the work on the buildings that we neglected to do over the winter and we wrap up our schooling on top of all that. 

This spring was particularly busy.  We ordered approximately 30 young trees to start our new orchard.  We spent a good portion of the beginning of spring planting all the new apple, peach, cherry and apricot trees we acquired, hopefully in about 2 years we will start to see the fruits of our labors.  Very exciting. 
This is one of the larger peach trees we planted.  It already had a few small peach buds on it but those have mostly shriveled away. 

The kids have been out foraging as of late, a past time we readily encourage but only after they have been taught what to look for and what to stay far away from by us adults.  They've been bringing in bountiful harvests of wild strawberries and mulberries and hopefully by the middle of next month they will be bringing us blackberries for pies and jam.  

 This is not one of the wild strawberries found on our property.  Those, although plentiful, were considerably smaller than this one.  This was, however, one of the excellent berries my mother-in-law picked for us from another local farmer.  Sooo good. 

This is one of the many blackberry bushes on our property.   The berries aren't quite ready yet, but they are getting there.  

We've been working hard in the garden as well although I don't have any pictures from the garden to share with you at the moment.  The corn is coming along nicely, so are the watermelons, tomatoes, peppers and herbs. This year's garden is much smaller, with far fewer crops than previous year's gardens because I had just given birth when it was time to start planting and, frankly, I just didn't have the energy to do a large garden this year.  Good thing we still have lots of canned and frozen veggies and fruit from last year.  

Another sure sign of spring around here....baby chicks.  We ordered 29 (of which we still have 25) baby chicks of various different breeds (all brown or colored egg layers) back in January so much of the last part of the winter was not only spent preparing for our new little human but also for our new baby chickens as well.  
 Aren't they cute?  We have a couple easter eggers in there, and some marans, rhode island reds, a delaware, a couple salmon favorelles, some welsummers and langshans among others. 

They are much bigger now than they were when this picture was taken and are currently residing in a much bigger "pen", right in the middle of my kitchen no less, until they are big enough to head out to the coop in the barn.   Speaking of, I think I need to refill their water container and give them some more feed.

So long for now. 

So Much to Talk About but so Little Time

Well, as you may have noticed, I've been offline for quite awhile.  That seems to happen to me at various points and I really do apologize for that but this time I have a good excuse, namely a brand new addition to the family in the form of a fairly small (albeit getting much bigger all the time) little baby boy. 

Yes this new little guy has kept me pretty busy.  He had me working well before he was born.  For this reason, I, the prodigal daughter, do not return to you empty handed.  I have pictures of many projects that I worked on over the last several months.  Check them out.

First up is the John Deere baby blanket that I made for the munchkin. 
 I made this out of a simple John Deere fabric panel that I found at JoAnns.  I picked up a matching blue and white polka dotted soft, flannel fabric for the backing.  I put right sides together, ran a simple straight stitch around the edges, leaving about a 1in. to 1 1/2 in. opening for turning it right side out.  Then I stitched the opening closed and there you have it, a simple, super cute farm fresh blanket. 

The next blanket was made for the munchkin by a wonderful friend of mine.  The fact that her blanket was also a John Deere blanket was a really rather amusing coincidence.  She had no idea that I had already made a similar blanket.  Great minds think alike, I guess ;) 

After I made the John Deere blanket I worked on a swaddle blanket.  I found a super cute owl patterned fabric and matched it with a really soft, green minky fabric.  This has been, hands down, the most useful thing I've made for this baby.   The pattern was incredibly easy and I will most definitely be making more of these.   The hat is a crochet owl pattern.  It worked up fast and I've gotten more compliments on it than you could believe.  Apparently there is something irresistible about babies in owl hats.  Who knew?

 The last bit is a simple baby sweater, knit in garter stitch and a pair of basic baby socks.  Very utilitarian, no?  Simple but necessary. 

Next up, a bit of knitted eye candy.  This blanket was a baby gift from my amazingly talented aunt.  Believe me, the picture does not do it justice.  It is such a beautiful blanket and so soft.  I absolutely love it.  She's got skills, my aunt.  

And the last is a crocheted blanket with a song bird applique and some appliqued music notes.  The blanket is easy.  Ch. 127, double crochet in the second chain from the hook and continue working double crochet stitches across the row.  Ch. 3. Turn. Double crochet the next row.  Just keep doing that for as many rows as you like until you get the length you want (I worked 62 rows) and then work a border of single crochet around all the edges.  Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.  The songbird pattern you can find here.   I worked the music notes a bit differently than in the pattern.  I simply tried to embroider them on, and I think they would have turned out nicely that way if it weren't for the fact that I was making this blanket during a thunderstorm and therefore I had to contend with a 55lb. dog/scaredy cat who was desperate to climb onto my head for safety.  

That's it for now but I have lots more coming up including new recipes, brand new baby chicks who should be arriving in the next few weeks, new garden happenings and, of course, many more crafts.  We'll have fun! 

Homemade Biscuit Mix

Food costs have been steadily increasing for the last several years and are expected to continue to go up, up and away.  With more and more families finding that their grocery bills are increasing $100, $200, sometimes even $300 a month without buying any more than they used too, many people are scrambling for ways to cut food costs.   Making at home and making in bulk is one way to do just that. 

A family of four will, on average, spend about $700-$900 a month on groceries.  A family of 6 will spend an average of $1,200 to $1,500 a month.   By homesteading (raising our own, growing our own, making our own, canning our own, and freezing our own) our family of five, soon to be six, spends an average of only $200 a month on groceries.  $1,000 to $1,300 less a month than most other families our size.  That's not including the costs we save on other items we make ourselves like soaps, detergents, clothes, even some furniture.  Even small steps towards a more self-sufficient lifestyle can be well worth it.  

So what's the homesteading tip for today?   Making your own biscuit mix!  Replace store bought mixes like Bisquick and Jiffy for a much more economical homemade mix.  The recipe I use makes biscuits, pancakes, waffles, muffins, some breads, cake and more all from one convenient mix that takes only a few minutes to prepare. 

What you'll need:
1. A large bowl
2. An air-tight container
3. All-purpose flour
4. Sugar
5. Non-fat, dry milk
6. Salt
7. Baking powder
8. Vegetable shortening
9. Sifter
10. A food processor or pastry cutter

The mix:
 Sift 6 cups of flour, 1 cup non-fat dry milk, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup baking powder, and 2 t. salt into the large bowl and stir to mix.

 Add 3/4 cup shortening and either grind in a food processor (my preferred way) or cut in with a pastry cutter until mixture looks like coarse crumbs.

 That's it.  Store it in an airtight container at room temperature or, even better yet, in the fridge for as long as it takes you to use it.  Simple. 

Some things make with it:

Preheat oven to 425°.
Mix 2 c. biscuit mix with 1/2 c. water.  Stir well.  Turn onto floured surface and knead just a few times.  Roll or pat to desired thickness (I generally use about 1/2 in.)  and cut with a biscuit cutter or lightly floured glass.   Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet 12-14 minutes or until lightly browned. 

1 c. biscuit mix
1/2-2/3 c. water
1 egg
1 T. vegetable oil

Beat together egg and water.  Stir together egg/water mixture, biscuit mix and oil just until moistened.  Cook on a hot griddle.   Makes 18 3-inch pancakes. 

2 c. biscuit mix
2 eggs
2 T. vegetable oil
1 1/4 c. water

Mix the same as for pancakes.  Cook in hot waffle iron.

Oat Muffins:
1 c. biscuit mix
1/2 c. rolled oats
2 T. sugar
1/3 c. raisins
1 egg, beaten
1/2 c. water
2 T. melted butter, margarine or vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350°.  Combine dry ingredients and raisins in a bowl.  Combine egg, water, and oil in another bowl and then stir into dry ingredients until just moistened.  Spoon into 6 well-greased muffin cups.  Bake for about 25 minutes.  Makes 6 large muffins.

Raisin Cinnamon Bread:
3 c. biscuit mix
1/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 t. cinnamon
2 t. grated lemon rind
1 1/4 c. raisins
1 egg
1 c. water
2 T. melted butter, margarine or vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 325°.  Combine biscuit mix, sugar, cinnamon, lemon rind and raisins in a bowl.  Combine egg, water and butter and stir into dry ingredients.  Beat on medium speed for 30 seconds.   Turn into well greased 9" x 5" loaf pan.  Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Turn onto a rack to cool. 

Quick and easy cake:
1 1/3 c. biscuit mix
3/4 c. sugar
1 egg
1/2 c. water
1 1/2 t. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350°. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl.  Combine egg, water and vanilla.  Stir 1/2 of liquid mixture into dry ingredients; beat on medium speed for 1 minute.  Stir in rest of liquid mixture and beat 1 minute longer.  Turn into greased and floured 8 in. cake pan.  Bake for 25 minutes or until done.  Allow to cool before frosting. 

Goodbye 2012

The last year was interesting to say the least.  Nationally we watched the economy dip and turn on it's own roller coaster ride.  We paid $4 or more a gallon for gas at times (I can still remember my parents complaining for paying nearly $.75 a gallon in the late 80's, early 90's).  We saw turmoil in  Europe and the Middle East.  We dug deeper into our pocket books to pay for groceries and healthcare premiums.  We suffered through a crazy election cycle and we are, if we're smart, bracing ourselves for dramatically increasing costs in every area from healthcare to groceries to buying a car.   We also cheered for our athletes in the 2012 Olympics, lost our beloved Twinkies, and saw communities pull together in the aftermath of a hurricane. 

Here at home we suffered through droughts and storms.  Some harvests were bumper crops, others offered almost no yields at all.  We made a major move.  We spent warm days outside on the porch swing.  We received help from family and friends and we gave help to family and friends.  We started to new construction, we welcomed new life, we hunkered down and we held our heads up.   It's crazy how much can happen in one year.   As far as quality goes, 2012 wasn't a terrible year.  I've seen much worse but I've also seen much better.  My New's Year's resolution this year are to do everything I can personally to make sure 2013 is spectacular.  I hope to head to church more, spend less, work even harder to show my family how much they mean to me and spend more time on things I really like to do.  

God Bless, everyone.  Have a wonderful New Year!