August 17, 2018

Cheesemaking Challenges in a Hot Climate

A few of my does: Belle & Violet (front) Daisy & Jessie (back).
I love my Kinder goats!

Milk products are an important part of our diet, especially cheese and kefir. (Also ice cream!) Milk production is highest during summer, so that's when I work on making as much cheese as possible for the upcoming winter months. Because I don't have a cheese cave, I've had to learn what cheeses I can make in a hot, humid climate, and how to preserve them for winter eating.

What's a cheese cave? Commonly it's a small refrigerator set between 45 to 58°F (7 to 14.5°C) and 80 to 98% humidity. These are the conditions necessary to properly age cheese. People often keep a small fridge like a wine cooler for this purpose. I've thought about getting one, but I honestly don't have the room for it. Instead, I've experimented with cheeses I can make without controlled aging. Here are the ones that are working well so far. The names of the cheeses are hyperlinked to directions for making them.

Mozzarella

Grating homemade goats milk mozzarella.

Mozzarella is always first on my seasonal cheesemaking list. It's easy to make, requires no aging, freezes well, and is a must for Friday night pizza! I grate it, measure it, and freeze it in freezer bags. Each bag contains enough for one pizza. These individual bags are stored inside a large paper grocery bag in the freezer.

Paneer

A paneer cheese wrapped and ready for the freezer.
Paneer wrapped and ready for the freezer.

I first made this for fried cheese. Then we figured out it was great for snacking, for sandwiches, in eggs, and for added taste and texture in things like refried rice or spaghetti and meatballs. It is absolutely the easiest cheese in the world to make. Follow the link to learn how. The bonus is that it freezes well.

In the photo above you see my substitute for freezer paper. Freezer paper has really gone up in price, so I started wrapping things first in wax paper, then in a paper bag or packing paper. 

Feta

Last year I learned to make feta and experimented with ways to keep it. This is a brined cheese, native to the Mediterranean area where caves for aging and storing cheese aren't readily available. Instead, it is aged and stored in a salt brine solution. The aging requires no special temperature, which means it can be done in a refrigerator. Those things make it a good cheese for my climate.

Feta cheese curing in salt brine.
Feta curing for two weeks in brine.

I made several batches last year and tried two ways to store it: some in brine and some with herbs in olive oil. The feta stored in brine gradually got saltier as time passed. It can be rinsed off in cool water, but what I really liked was the feta stored in herbed olive oil.

Feta cheese stored in herbed olive oil.
Crock of feta, rosemary and oregano sprigs in olive oil.

The cheese kept a wonderful flavor and the oil's cheesy herb flavor makes it wonderful for sauteing vegetables, for cooking eggs, as a salad dressing, as the oil in pizza dough, or as a dipping oil with French bread. I'll make a couple of crocks-worth of feta in oil for winter eating.

Farmers (fresh) Cheese

Fresh farmers cheese.
Salting a Farmers Cheese

For a harder cheese I've been making farmers cheese. It's mild, tasty, and meltier than paneer. Farmers cheese is meant to be eaten fresh, so I make as needed. However, this same basic cheese can be waxed or bandaged and aged for a more flavorful hard cheese.

Aged Cheeses 

Since aging (curing) a hard cheese requires a specific temperature and humidity range, that means waiting for autumn when our daytime temps drop to facilitate curing cheese. Last fall I made one aged cheese, Farmhouse Sage. It was fantastic, so I'm hoping to make a variety of aged cheeses this year.

The problem is that winter is usually the time the does are dried up in anticipation of spring kidding. So my goal is to have at least one doe in milk at all times of year. You can read more about that in my "Year Around Milk" blog post. I'm planning to only breed two does this fall, and milk the other two throughout the winter. Plus, I have Ellie.

Ellie looking like she has a secret.
Hopefully Ellie has been bred for an October kidding.

She is my first attempt at an early summer breeding for a fall kidding. For that, we're on wait-and-see status, because I haven't had her pregnancy confirmed. But if I can vary when kids arrive, then that will help with that year around milk supply. Year around milk supply will not only add variety to my cheese making, but also let me keep a year around supply of kefir and chèvre. These are examples of dairy products that can't be stored and so need to be made fresh.

Part of seasonal living is learning how to adapt to one's seasonal challenges. It takes a bit of trial and error, but in the long run it's well worth it.

August 15, 2018

How To Preserve Eggs, Revised Edition

I'm pleased to announce that How To Preserve Eggs: freezing, pickling, dehydrating, larding, water glassing, & more from my The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos has been recently updated and revised. It's now available for free!

I hadn't planned to write a second edition, but while researching for Prepper's Livestock Handbook I found information that was perfect for this little eBook. As I read through the text once again I saw how it could be better organized. Before I knew it, I had a nice little second edition. You can download it from:

If you like it, please consider writing a review. Customer reviews are key to sales and ratings. Authors usually have to beg for reviews, and I guess I'm no exception. But if you like a book, any book, writing a review is a very small way to help the author out.

To those of you who do and have written reviews for me, a huge thank you! By doing so you are part of the 5 Acres & A Dream support team. My book sales enable us to do so much of what we do, and I'm grateful to everyone who is a part of that.

Oh! And if you've been wanting to buy a copy of 5 Acres & A Dream The Book, Amazon currently has it priced at $7.77. (Check it out here). That's the lowest price I've ever seen, but I don't know how long that price will last.

There are several other topics I've been researching, so I hope to have a few more updates to my homesteading series in the future.

August 12, 2018

Cheesecake Ice Cream

Cheesecake ice cream on carrot bundt cake.

Our days have turned hot again, so what better treat than ice cream! After my Heavenly Chèvre Cheesecake turned out so well, I got the idea for cheesecake ice cream. The cheesecake batter is so similar to the custard for making ice cream that it seemed a logical step!

Cheesecake Ice Cream

My ice cream freezer is a small Cuisinart. I love it because it makes it easy to make ice cream for just the two of us. The proportions in this recipe are for that and make about a quart and a half of ice cream. Adjust for a larger machine.
  • 2 cups chèvre*
  • 1 & 1/2 cups cream
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • pinch sea salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla or flavoring of your choice

In a sauce pan heat cream, milk, sugar, and salt until sugar melts. Beat egg yolks in a blender, continue blending and slowly add milk and cream mixture. Add the chèvre and flavoring. Blend well. Refrigerate overnight. Churn it up in the ice cream maker the following day.

This paired really well with carrot cake. I'm not keen on cream cheese frosting, so I bake carrot cake in a bundt pan and we enjoy it without frosting. The cheesecake ice cream, though, was better than frosting!

*If you don't have chèvre, I think ricotta or cream cheese would substitute nicely.

Cheesecake Ice Cream © August 2018 by

August 9, 2018

Dehydrating Cucumbers

Once upon a time I planned my food preservation according to how much of each food item I would need until the following harvest season. If I wanted to use a pint of pickles per week, then I would need 52 pint jars of canned pickles. It was a logical system, I thought, that should give me enough for year-round homestead eating.

Enter REALITY. The fact of the matter is that everything doesn't grow consistently every year. For a myriad of unfathomable reasons, some years are better than others when it comes to the harvest. So my philosophy changed. Now I just put by everything that's available and do some creative menu planning to suit.

This year's blue ribbon bounty winner is cucumbers. I had one volunteer plus planted a 16-foot row of them. Before the row I planted ever produced Cucumber One, we already had more cucumbers than I knew what to do with from that volunteer plant. We eat them at both lunch and dinner, I feed them to the chickens and goats, and I've been making pickles. Trouble is, we don't need a decade's worth of pickles and relishes. So I was casting about for something to do with the extras when I remembered a book I reviewed awhile back, Prepper's Dehydrator Handbook. One of the food items in it is cucumbers. So that's what I've been doing with our many extras.

Slices of fresh cucumber on the food dehydrator tray.

Because of our high humidity this summer, it took a lot longer to completely dry the cucumbers than the book's suggested time of 4 to 6 hours. It took me more like 12 to 24.

Cucumber slices dried.

I also learned that I need to put these up as soon as they are cool. If I don't, our humidity makes them limp again in a very short time. After I put them in jars I vacuum seal them. (Details on how to do that in my "Dry-Pack Vacuum Canning" post.) The vacuum sealing keeps them fresh and keeps pantry moths out!

I kept some of the dried cucumbers in slices, some I powdered flaked. 

Half-gallon jar of dried cucumber slices and quart jar of dried cucumber flakes.

What will I do with them? I'm not sure! The Prepper's Dehydrator Handbook has recipes for dehydrated cucumber pickles and cucumber salad dressing, so I will be sure to try those.

How about you? Have you been preserving anything unusual lately? Something new for you?

Dehydrating Cucumbers © August 2018 by

August 5, 2018

Goat Barn: Moving-In Day for the Girls

No, the goat barn isn't finished yet, but it's close.

First of several windows to be installed.

We still have the rest of the windows and trims to do, but everything was ready for the girls to move in. With a forecast for several inches of rain on the horizon, indoor projects were in demand. What better thing to do than to get the goats out of the Little Barn so Dan could start turning it into a workshop and storage area.

I waited for a lull in the rain and then dragged Jessie (under protest, of course) over to the new barn. The rest followed reluctantly.

Ellie, Violet, and Anna. Curious but cautious.

Since it was raining out (and goats hate rain) no one was willing to run back "home." There was nothing else to do but explore their new quarters.



The hay feeder is working out very well. Being two-sided there is plenty of room for everybody to eat at the same time.


Filling it is working out well too.

Hay loft after our "Unexpected Hay Harvest."

I just drop the hay down the chute.

Hay chute works great!

To guard the hay loft we have Meowy.

Hay loft guard.

The gate to the hay loft is recycled from my original goat shed. It is the top half of the Dutch door Dan made eight year's ago to separate the goat stall from the milking room.

Hay loft anti-goat gate.

So far it's kept the goats from trying to climb the stairs (not that they still don't try.)

Belle and Baby.

Feeding time was a bit of a fiasco at first with a lot of balking, pushing, and shoving.

Every goat has her own spot.

The concrete pad the milking room is on is quite a bit higher than the ground, so there is a big step up from the barn floor into the milking room. Dan accommodated the girls by giving them a board for their front feet to stand on.


They don't mind and I really like that now they can't scratch their back sides on it and deposit poop in the feeders.

After a couple of days they got used to their new surroundings and were less skittish.


Violet (front), Belle, and Daisy (back).

While Dan has been working on organizing his new workshop I've been working on organizing my new milking room. I'm still trying out different arrangements in the milking room.


I love the how bright it is from the skylight, and I really like the concrete floor in this working area.

Three and a half inches of rain later the skies have cleared, and it's back to outdoor projects as usual. Hopefully the remaining items on the to-do list will be checked off soon. Then it's on to other projects.

August 3, 2018

Unexpected Hay Harvest

Dan standing at the back of a field that was supposed to be feed crops.

The paddock was thick with lush grass. The only thing was, that's not what I planted. What I planted was grain sorghum, cushaws, amaranth, black turtle beans, and a living mulch of ladino clover. But all we could see was grass; completely engulfing everything else, except some of the cushaws, which have managed to send out quite a few sprawling vines over the top. So much for weed control.

The cushaw squash rose wasn't daunted by the invasion of grass.

It looked really good though, and we wondered what it was. In looking through a website about native grasses, my best guess is Florida paspalum. I would have liked to turn the goats into it, except I didn't want them eating the few planted plants that actually made it. What else to do but cut it for hay.

Dan scything the grass.

Dan has both high-tech and low-tech tools for haying: a sickle mower and a scythe. This would be a good job for the sickle mower, but it's on the fritz (again) and at a point where replacement parts can't be found. That's the bad thing about buying older used equipment. Fortunately he still has the scythe.

European scythe with grass blade.

Actually, he has two scythes. The first he bought is an American scythe (shown in this blog post, "New hand Tools"). The one he prefers is pictured above, a European scythe (which I thought I had blogged about but apparently not because I can't find a post about it.) He prefers it for several reasons.

I don't know who manufacturers American scythes, but they are all the same size and have fixed hand grips. Unfortunately, that size is only appropriate for a very short person. Anyone taller has to stoop to use it. That's tiring! Comfortable scything is done with a straight back. The rhythmic swinging movement is in the hips. Because people are different sizes, there is no one-size-fits-all tool for the job. That means the American scythe is only going to be useful for a limited number of folks. 

European scythes are ordered according to one's height. The snath (wooden part) is straighter, lighter weight, and has hand grips that are adjustable. All of that makes it comfortable to use.

Unlike the American scythe, a variety of blades are available for European scythes. Dan has been slowly acquiring different blades and finds it's very helpful to have a choice depending on vegetation and terrain.

The other tool we've found extremely useful for haying is a hay rake.

A wooden hay rake is a huge plus for hay making.

Ours is wood but nylon hay rakes are also available. We used to use a garden rake, but the hard tines continually got caught in the underlying uncut vegetation. A proper hay rake makes the job of turning and raking up so much easier!

Dan tried to work around the cushaw vines and discovered one squash.

Green cushaw squash. It will turn pale orange as it ripens.

My black turtle beans were completely engulfed and didn't do well, but I managed to find a small harvest of dried bean pods. He left the grain sorghum too, which hasn't done well either. It looks pretty spindly and I suspect it's getting too much shade.

Lone sorghum plant looking poorly.

However, if I can at least get a seed crop out of it and the black turtle beans for next year, then I'll feel like I at least broke even. Ditto for the amaranth.

The funny thing is that Dan had recently suggested that we use this paddock for growing our hay next year. It appears nature got a jump start on that one.

The grass was thick and took several days of turning to dry it. It dried more brown than green, but had a very nice scent. Once dry, we raked it up and carted if off to the barn. That evening the goats all got a sample. Approved!

Native grasses tend to be regional. If you are interested in identifying some of your own native grasses, head on over to this article at On Pasture online magazine. It has links to good resources for identifying those native grasses by your region.

Unexpected Hay Harvest © August 2018 by

July 30, 2018

Photo Wrap-Up for July

Lots of color in the front yard.
July color: echinacea and crepe myrtles.

July has been such a busy month that it seems I should be saying it's a relief it's nearly over. But August will be just as busy, as building, gardening, harvesting, preserving, and researching continue their fast and furious pace. The amazing thing about July was all the rainfall and cooler temperatures. "Cooler" is a relative term, of course, but the highs only got to about 90°F (32°C), many days cooler. That's ten degrees cooler than what we usually expect this time of year.

To close out the month, here are a few shots from my July photo folder.

Tomatoes are just starting to ripen and okra is going gang-busters.
Freshly picked okra and tomatoes

Small patch of Truckers Favorite corn in the garden.
Corn in the garden.

Cucumbers on cattle panel trellis.
Cucumbers in the garden.

Homegrown salad of cucumber, hard-boiled egg, and goat feta cheese.
Cucumbers in salad (with hard-boiled eggs and feta cheese)

July is blueberry time with pie to prove it.
Blueberries in pie. (That first fresh blueberry pie is always the best!)

One of my Kinder bucks
Hudson hoping for a treat of leafy blueberry branches.

My pears have done really well this year.
Harvested pears

First load of canned pears.
Canned pears

My first ever pear pie! Yummy!
Pied pears

Mother and daughter Kinder goats.
Iris and Jessie in the old goat barn. (Moving day approaches).

Muscovy Mama on the tree we need to cut up for firewood.

Figs are ripe early this year.
Fresh figs

First figs went into the freezer for jam making this winter.
Frozen figs

First time to try figs in pancakes. I'll do it again!
Figs in gingerbread pancakes

Love my Sun Oven.
Solar cooked comfort food at the end of a busy day.

Our best mouser.
Meowy at the end of a busy day.

Photo Wrap-Up for July © July 2018 by