June 30, 2011

June Harvest

My canning jar lids tell a story. They tell the story of what I've preserved and when I preserved it. I can rummage through my old 2010 lids and tell you that last year, my canning season commenced in May with strawberry jam. It ran the summer gamut of vegetables and fruits, and ended in November, when I preserved the last of the green tomatoes after first frost, as green tomato salsa. In June the green beans were in, and I can recall that every day I was either picking, cleaning and snapping, or canning green beans.

This year will tell a different story. It will be different because I planted different things, and because I planted them at different times. Chapter one in 2011 is still strawberry jam, but June turned out to be different.

It started with fresh peas, which we'd been eating since mid-May. Last year I planted Little Marvel, but out of a 30 foot double row, only one plant grew. This year I went back to Wando, a proven variety for the South. I planted one packet, and would have loved to have eaten more fresh and frozen some. We did eat several delicious pea and pecan salads, but the rest, I saved for seed. Next planting I'll have more to plant and a larger harvest for preserving. This is a slow way to increase, but it's more economical than buying larger seed packets.

Next it was peaches. 

This is one of the two peach trees we planted in December of 2009, and is the first time we've gotten fruit. Unfortunately they were plagued with fruit moth larvae, a problem I will need to deal with if we want a decent harvest next year.

Preservation? None, but we managed to get a fabulous peach pie and have fresh peaches on our morning cereal and yogurt. I have to admit that in spite of losing much of the fruit (which the chickens loved), these were so delicious that I'd like to plant another peach tree or two.

Cucumbers starting coming in too. These are Marketmore 76, a different variety than I planted last year. Very prolific and very tasty.

So far, I've been able to preserve 11 pints of dill pickles, complete with our own fresh garden grown dill. This is the same amount I put up last year, and we still have 6 pints of those left. Sweet pickles was a different story. I put up only 2 jars and had only 1 left. I've got 10 pints of sweet pickle chips canned so far, and I'll do at least another batch. Ordinarily we would go through a lot of pickles, but instead, we ate quite a bit of sauerkraut and sauerruben (lacto-fermented turnips) over the winter.

Swiss chard. I planted this last spring. It survived the winter and I've been wanting to let it go to seed. The problem is that it will cross pollinate with beets, which I'm also wanting seed from. I keep cutting the Swiss chard back, to give the beets a chance, and finally decided to try lacto-fermenting it. The raw leaves had the strong flavor of an old plant, but fermented, they are quite tasty.

Swiss chard, is something I don't plan to can this year. I still have 26 of the 33 pints I put up last summer. I did plant some Ruby, a different variety from the Fordhook I'm showing you here. Next summer I plan to save some seed from it, and have two varieties in my homestead seed bank.

At the tail end of the month, the first okra pods were ready to pick.

Surprisingly, I wasn't terribly excited about them. This is because I froze 25 quarts of okra last year, which we've been eating it right along. Plus, I still have 11 quarts in the freezer. This said something to me about the joys of seasonal eating. As much as we need to preserve a winter's supply of vegetables, I am hoping to focus more on root crops this fall. These, we can mulch heavily, leave in the ground, and pull during the winter as needed. We enjoyed fresh carrots, turnips, and beets this way. I'd like to add parsnips and Jerusalem artichokes to that list as well. And, if we put some row covers over cool weather crops like kale, collards, and broccoli, I can put up less summer vegetables and we'll enjoy fresh, year round seasonal eating more.

Of the 11 remaining quarts of frozen okra, I think I'll defrost them when the tomatoes are ripe, and can them as tomatoes and okra. I put up three quarts of that last year, and they were a tasty change of pace in our diet. We ate them with black turtle beans and corn bread, a hearty meatless, complete protein meal.

In addition, we harvested our wheat earlier this month (which I already showed you). We enjoyed the last of the strawberries and lettuce, plus volunteer turnips and potatoes (no photos). I've also been collecting seed from last year's fall garden: broccoli, turnip, lettuce, radish, carrot, and hopefully those beets.

Hard to believe June is over, isn't it? We've been having adequate rain, so things are growing well! July should prove to be very busy with the harvest indeed.

June Harvest © June 2011
by Leigh at http://my5acredream.blogspot.com/

You can also read this post at Before It's News

June 28, 2011

The Economics of Food Self-Sufficiency

One of our goals is to grow and raise our own food. Consequently, I write about gardening and food preservation quite a bit. From time to time I show you my pantry and give you a progress report on the status of my food stores. Currently, we're producing all our own vegetables, eggs, milk, cheese, and most of the fruit we consume. This year, we started growing some of our own grain: wheat and corn. In the future, we will focus on more types of grains and meat.

I still grocery shop, for things like coffee, cereals, meat, black olives, tuna fish, baking soda, chocolate, sweeteners, a few stock-up items. You'd think because of all we grow I'd be saving a lot, but actually, my food budget remains the same. Why? Because instead of buying people food, I now buy grains and pellets for the chickens and goats too. Add to that other supplies necessary for their well being, more seeds in the spring, and the rising cost of food (both human and animal), and I have to admit that my budgeted food spending hasn't changed a cent since we started working toward food self-sufficiency.

A question often arises amongst homesteaders regarding raising one's own food - is it worth it? Is it cost effective to grow and preserve all one's fruits and vegetables, and to raise one's own eggs, meat, or milk? Realistically, wouldn't it be cheaper to buy them?

I think the answer to that depends on several things. The temptation is to compare our actual cost with the price tags at the grocery store. Yet what is on grocery store shelves is commercially produced. The quality of food suffers because the ways and means of industrialized agriculture focus on quantity and profit, not quality and nutrition, nor on the well-being of their animals. Are my eggs, produced by free ranged chickens who eat bugs, worms, seeds, grains, fruits and vegetables, equal in quality and value to factory eggs, produced by chickens who are fed formulated pellets and never see light of day? Or, can I really compare my pure raw goat milk to ultra-pasteurized, rBGH grocery store milk? Then there are the added values of manure for the compost, increases in flock and herd, meat and/or sales from culling, plus the endless hours of delightful entertainment watching animal antics. Shouldn't these be factored into the value of producing one's own food?

More importantly is one's world view, one's mindset, because this ultimately determines how we set our priorities in life. I discussed this in detail in this post, "Mindset: Key to Successful Homesteading?". For our purposes here, we need to consider how mindset determines our motivation toward how we feed ourselves. Am I seeking to raise my own food to gain a financial benefit or a return on an investment? Or because I want to eat real food, to know where it comes from. Maybe I'm motivated by environmental concerns. Or it's simply for the love of doing it. Perhaps I do it because of concerns for the way our world food supply is being managed, and for the sense of purpose, security, and freedom food self-sufficiency affords.

In terms of food self-sufficiency, I honestly think money is a poor standard of value. If I look at my garden harvest and only see what it's worth in terms of money, I must realize that its value is unstable and changes as conditions fluctuate. Yet, I always need to eat. That doesn't change. It doesn't change if produce is worth 25 cents a pound, or if it's worth $5 a pound. I still need to eat.

For the homesteader, the questions about raising one's own food should be personal and ethical, not financial and economical. The questions we need to ask ourselves are: How do I want to nourish my body, my family? What kind of food do I want to eat? How do I want it grown? How do I want it produced? Do I want to contribute to the environmental problems created by modern agribusiness practices, or help heal them? What are my self-sufficiency goals and how does raising my own food help meet them? Whether or not the cost of raising one's own food is worth it, will depend upon one's answers.

For my husband and me, our ultimate goal is to decrease our need for money and our dependency on the consumer system. Raising our own food is an important step in meeting that goal. We are working toward raising all or most of our own animal feed, beginning by planting the wheat, the corn, and black oil sunflower seeds. We will look into other crops as well. We will research pasture improvement and what kinds of hay mixes will grow well in our part of the country. What we can grow will eventually determine the number of animals we can keep; we must strive for a need based balance. It will be a step by step process, but will enable our homestead to be more self-sustaining in the long run.

Is it worth it? There's obviously no one-size-fits-all answer, but it is something every homesteader needs to consider. For us, the answer is a resounding yes.

June 26, 2011

My First Mozzarella

My first goats milk mozzarella cheese
Perhaps I should call this, my first successful mozzarella. After showing my failed first mozzarella (Contemplations On Making Cheese), Renee (Fefyfomanna) found a link for a 30 minute mozzarella cheese recipe that didn't use a microwave. It used a gallon of milk, citric acid, and rennet. From that one gallon of raw goat milk, I got an 11 ounce cheese.

Mozzarella is one named cheese that doesn't require a special culture to make. Citric acid is used to lower the milk's pH, facilitating the separation of the curds from the whey. Sometimes lipase is added, so that the cheese develops a more characteristic Italian flavor, but apparently this isn't necessary when starting with unpasteurized milk. Pasteurization kills the milk's enzymes, of which lipase is one, so it is often added by cheese makers. [Note to vegetarians: lipase, like rennet, can be either animal or vegetable derived.]

Encouraged by my first success, I tried my hand at two more. The first (pictured), took me an hour to make, but the second went more quickly. It yielded a 10 ounce cheese. The third was a disaster, in that for some reason it wouldn't stretch and ended up in crumbles, much like my first cheese. I'm not entirely sure why, but happily no attempt is so disastrous that it needs to be discarded. One can always find a good use for cheese.

Mozzarella is classified as a pasta filata cheese. Translated, that means "spun paste," because the curds are heated and pulled or stretched to give it that customary stretchy texture. It does not have to be aged and is meant to be enjoyed fresh.

Fresh, it had a very mild (okay, bland) flavor, and grated beautifully.

Grated, fresh mozzarella

It melted beautifully too...

The real test - Friday night pizza

How did it taste?

Couldn't stop eating it!

Absolutely fantastic. I think it was the best pizza I've ever made.

Now that the twins are weaned (under protest I might add), I'm getting about a gallon of milk a day. I reckon this is pretty good for a first freshener and a doe producing on only one side. This amount will slowly decrease until it's time to dry the does up before kidding. Milk is technically measured in pounds, a gallon weighing roughly 8.6 pounds depending on the amount of butterfat. Gallons is the unit used in cheese making, so for now, that's how I think of it.

With all that milk, I'm thinking I will make, shred, and freeze as much mozzarella as I can. I'll measure it into pizza size amounts for freezing, and then I'll be ready to go when Friday night comes around. Freezing does change the texture of cheese, making it more crumbly after it's defrosted. That's not good for slicing cheese, but for shredded cheese, who cares?

For a year's worth of mozzarella for pizza, I'm mentally estimating that I need about 20 pounds worth, which I think (again off the top of my head) translates roughly to about 32 gallons of milk. Of course, I should probably have a little extra on hand, in case we have company or I want to make lasagna, for which I'll also need some ricotta, which BTW, can be made from whey. Looks like I've got my work cut out for me.

[UPDATE 7/18/11- For my updated, improved recipe - click here]

My First Mozzarella © June 2011 
by Leigh at http://my5acredream.blogspot.com/

You can also read this post at Before It's News

June 24, 2011

Book Review: The Joy of Keeping A Root Cellar, by Jennifer Megyesi

I sometimes get requests via my blog to publish guest posts or promote various products. I have always declined these, because this is a blog about our personal homesteading journey. It's about our successes and failures as we work toward a simpler, more self-sufficient agrarian lifestyle. It's about what we're learning, and serves as a record of our homesteading adventure. Hopefully it is an encouragement to others who also seek to do the same. When Skyhorse Publishing contacted me however, and asked if I'd be willing to do a book review, I was delighted. Books, particularly books on any homesteading topic, are a valuable resource and a joy to share.

I don't know if you're familiar with Skyhorse, but they do publish a lot of books relevant to homesteading interests. The book I got to review, is The Joy of Keeping A Root Cellar: Canning, Freezing, Drying, Smoking, and Preserving The Harvest, by Jennifer Megyesi.

The concept of root cellaring is an old one, and I'd have to say the easiest method of preserving food. Even so, the art and science of it is all but lost to modern culture. I think this is because the more industrialized we've became, the more our sense of security lies in our earning power and monetary wealth. Homesteaders sometimes tend to have a different take. One might preserve their monetary wealth through any number of plausible calamities, but if there's no food on the store shelves, so what?

For those new to root cellaring, questions arise: ...how do I make a root cellar? ...where should I put it? ...what conditions do I need to maintain? ...temperature? ...humidity? ...what kinds of foods can I store? ...for how long? ...how much should I plant? ...do they need special preparation? ...is it true some foods can't be stored together? ...what do I do if things go bad?

Okay, enough introduction. Time to get down to the nitty-gritty. The book is divided into two parts: part one covers storing and preserving fruits, herbs, and vegetables; part two covers preserving meats and poultry. Here are some of the things I really like about it:

In Part One (fruits, vegetables, & herbs)

  • alphabetical listings of fruits and vegetables with best methods of preservation, and best crops for root cellaring
  • charts for: gardening (seed amounts and expected yields); planting & harvesting; length of storage with preferred temp and humidity; 
  • tips & trivia on seed saving
  • types of root cellars and tips on building, temperature, humidity control, light
  • planting and harvesting chart
  • other foods to store in a root cellar
  • methods of dehydration & specifics for various fruits, vegetables, even dried sourdough starter!
  • canning basics, and specifics for various fruits and vegetables, including a chart of yields
  • pickling and lacto-fermenting (with or without whey)
  • freezing, including an 8 page table on preparation methods for various fruits and vegetables, along with freezer lifespan
  • recipes

In Part Two (meats & poultry)

  • raising livestock with food preservation in mind
  • legal considerations
  • average yield chart for selected livestock (beef, pork. lamb, kid, turkey, chicken, duck, goose)
  • table of selected breeds of cattle, goats, & sheep & their uses
  • methods: smoking, curing, canning, drying, freezing
  • safety considerations
  • preserving dairy products and eggs
  • recipes

In the back of the book are an index and references, also a glossary, and state resources (cooperative extension contacts).

The other thing I need to mention is the photography. These are the kinds of photos that make you want to stop and study each one. Photographer Geoff Hansen's work is a beautiful addition to the book, the icing on the cake so to speak.

Food is at the heart and soul of homesteading, both growing and keeping. That's why books like this are good to read, and valuable additions to our home libraries.

June 22, 2011

Electrical Work Begun

Well, perhaps I should say preparations for the electrical work have begun. Now that Fort William is at a good stopping point until cold weather is imminent, we are able to turn our attention back to the next big house project, the kitchen.

Top of the list here, is to move the circuit panel from it's eyesore location behind the stove on the kitchen wall....

Note circuit panel behind the stove

... to the more logical (newly created) utility room. This requires not only putting in a new panel and some rewiring, but also moving the electrical wiring on the outside of the house....

Kitchen window on the right

Here's how they did it back in the day.

We're not sure when electricity was added to our 90 year old house, but we only have 60 amps going in, which explains why everything flickers when something is turned on. It desperately needs to be upgraded.

The other thing that needs to be done, is to have the meter moved from the utility pole out by the street...

Our electric meter

... and attach it to the house as is customary! We are puzzled why previous owners never had that done, except perhaps the expense of the upgrade (this is not a do-it-yourself job!) As it stands now, the electric company is responsible for everything going to the meter.  We are responsible for everything from the meter to the house.

The line runs from the utility post, through
the branches of several crepe myrtle trees

When we had estimates done for this job, one of the electricians recommended that we have the line buried. Good idea. According to the electric company, we first had to locate and preferable remove the old, buried, heating oil tank, which happens to be where the underground lines will go.

Like every other project, we always debate whether to pay someone to do it, or to save the money for something else and do it ourselves.

Dan finally decided to start on it himself. It's a round tank, 69 inches long, 48 inches in diameter, and partially filled; the oil level reads 19 inches on the measuring stick. All of this translates to heavy.

That's where we stand today. How in the world we're going to get it out of there, and what we're going to do with it (and the oil) after we do, is the current topic of discussion. After that we can get on to the fun part.

Ah, the joys of buying a fixer-upper.

Electrical Work Begun © June 2011 
by Leigh at http://my5acredream.blogspot.com/

You can also read this post at Before It's News

June 20, 2011

Companion Group Gardening: Early Summer Notes

4 beds in my companion group garden

Companions in this bed: marigolds,
petunias, cow peas & potatoes
This year we decided to experiment a bit with our approach to gardening.
  1. We decided to make permanent, terraced beds
  2. We decided on companion planting groups, mixing vegetables, herbs, and flowers
If you're interested in my whys and whats for this approach, you'll find those in these posts:

Going has been slow, I admit that. Besides having to create the beds, the weather has had its challenges; it's either too wet or too dry. In general though, I have to say that I'm quite pleased with the new gardening system. When everything grows as expected, the beds are beautiful.

2 Fingerling salad potato beds.
Front bed includes purple petunias & cowpeas
Back bed also contains cabbages & marigolds

Front bed: broom corn, cucumbers, marigolds
Behind that: the potato beds shown above

Some beds haven't done as well because of poor to non-existent germination.

Okra bed with lots of no-shows including egg plant & habaneros

With the okra, for example, I planted eggplant, habanero peppers, and cosmos. A few cosmos have begun to grow, and maybe an eggplant, but the rest have been no-grows. Perhaps this is due to the quality of seed, or it may be due to the long, 2 and 3 week dry spells we had in May. Looking back, I know I should have watered more frequently, but everyday the forecast was for rain tomorrow. Tomorrow never came! While waiting, I fretted over my dilemma, do I wait or water? I hate to water only to have it rain the next day. I hate the feeling that I've wasted water and I hate seeing our water bill skyrocket. On the other hand, waiting certainly wasn't the right choice.

Sweet potatoes planted with dill. Summer savory was a no-show

One thing that helps keep the soil moist is mulch. Last year I was slow in mulching and once canning season started, the weeds took over every unmulched spot in the garden. I promised myself that wouldn't happen this year. However, I'm finding that with the companion group approach, I'm still not getting everything mulched in a timely manner.  Since not all companions in each group sprout and grow at the same rate, I'm having to wait until the littlest plants are tall enough to be mulched.

As you can see, I still have quite a bit of mulching to do...

Hutterite Soup Beans & Red Pontiac Potatoes.
After I hilled the potatoes, I planted mirabilis (4 o'clocks)

With this soup bean and potato bed, I'm waiting for the 4 o'clocks to grow. On the plus side, mulching seems easier to do with the permanent beds. Weeding too, seems easier than when planting in rows.

Most things I've tried to plant for a densely covered bed...

Black Oil Sunflowers & Green Nutmeg Melons

Theoretically this should help shade some of the weeds out, which it appears to be doing. In my Roma tomato bed however,

Roma tomatoes, calendula, Swiss chard, & marigolds.
The broad leafed parsley was a no-grow

... I didn't allow enough room for plant spread. The tomatoes are crowding things out. This will be something I'll have to adjust next year.

I'm still planting. The other day in fact, I planted three beds of calico popcorn, starting with the bed containing the hills of Sugar Baby watermelons.

Watermelons and just planted popcorn

The other two beds I'll fill in with Christmas lima beans and luffa sponge gourds, once the popcorn is about 4 inches tall. I planted the popcorn late so it wouldn't cross-pollinate with our field corn. And speaking of field corn, would you like to see how it's doing?

Truckers Favorite field corn

Great in some spots.

Could have wished for better germination

Not so great in others. We're not sure why; I'm guessing soil pH. Something else to work on for next year. The concern here is for good pollination, which in turn fills out the ears with lots of kernels. This is the first year we've tried field corn, so in some ways we view it as a learning patch. I planted Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans and Small Sugar pumpkins in this patch as well. Some of the pole beans are coming up, but not the pumpkins. I want lots of pumpkins this year, so I'm replanting those.

So far, I'm quite satisfied with our new garden plan, even with the few things I need to figure out in the future. It's too early to tell yet whether it will help keep insects down, or increase yields. At the very least, the aesthetics alone make it worth it. All the rest I'll let you know about later.

June 17, 2011

To Bud Or To Disbud, That Is The Question

Surprise's Twin Bucklings
One difficult goat care question, has been whether or not to disbud the bucklings. I was in favor of it, but Dan is very much against any number of livestock management techniques that aren't what he considers natural. Besides that, he likes the look of horns. We spent several weeks discussing this.

We have had problems with horned goats in the past. One of our first goats, Abigail, used hers to bully Surprise when she was the newcomer. One time that meant broken skin and drawing blood. Plus, Abigail would get them caught in the hay feeder and get stuck (useful for giving her vaccinations or trimming her hooves however).

Then there was Petey, the Twins' sire. He would use his horns to push everybody around, including us, including my llama, Charlie. A couple of time I found clumps of Charlie's fleece caught in Petey's horns. Needless to say that guaranteed that Petey would either get a new home or become sausage once he finished his job.

When we finally decided we would indeed disbud, Dan looked online for more information. Unfortunately, he found a couple of how not to videos on YouTube. How not to, as in someone had burned a kid's skull all the way through to its sinuses. Well, that made him furious. More research indicated that we had waited too long anyway. The kids were about three weeks old then and they really should have been disbudded within a week to ten days, or as soon as the buds could be detected. Needless to say, they still have their horns. It's just something we'll need to deal with next time around.

June 15, 2011

Contemplations on Making Cheese

I reckon that anyone with their own source of milk, begins to have more than enough rather quickly. When all those jars of milk begin to fill the fridge....

3 half-gallon jars of raw goats milk

..... it doesn't take long to begin thinking about trying to make cheese. Actually I had anticipated this quite awhile ago, and in preparation, bought Ricki Carroll's Home Cheese Making: Recipes for 75 Homemade Cheeses. I also bought some liquid vegetable rennet from the co-op. I felt quite prepared.

We mostly consume our milk as yogurt. From that I also make quite a bit of yogurt cheese. Hard cheeses though, are only something I watched someone do at home once, a very long time ago. One day, when I had a lot of extra milk and plenty of yogurt, I decided to give hard cheese a try. I picked Ricki's 30 Minute Mozzarella, because something one can make in 30 minutes has to be easy. Right?

My first mistake was starting at 4:30 in the afternoon. Then my rennet didn't set up as quickly as it was supposed to. When it finally did, I muddled my way through until I got to the part about microwaving the curd. I don't have a microwave and to heat via the stove was supposed to require working with the cheese at a temp of 170 F and therefore rubber gloves. Well, I don't have any rubber gloves and besides that, it was already way past my bedtime. I rigged up a cheese press with plates and a cast iron pot, plopped the cheesecloth wrapped blob of curds into it, and went to bed. In the morning, I had this.....

My 1st attempt at hard cheese

Not exactly what I envisioned. However, it melted great in scrambled eggs, so all was not lost. Obviously I needed a better way to press it. For my next cheese, I decided to try something that didn't need a press, cottage cheese...

Raw goats' milk cottage cheese & home canned figs

That turned out fairly well, except that what one ends up with is a dry cottage cheese. The moist creamy kind we're used to from the grocery store requires the addition of cream. Lots of cream. More cream than I could manage for the amount of cottage cheese I ended up with.  On top of that we really don't eat much cottage cheese. So. The chickens loved it, what can I say?

I started to look at plans for making a cheese press, until Dan suggested that I could probably use my tincture press for the time being. With that, I looked through Ricki's book again, read through the directions for various cheeses, and realized these were not what I was after. This is recipe book for specific cheese recipes. They were developed in other parts of the world and many have been made for centuries according to local tradition. Those traditions combined with a local milk from animals eating a local diet, and a starter culture made from local bacteria, are what made those cheese what they are. For me to reproduce them, would require special starters and attendance to time, temperature, pH, etc. This is perfect for the hobbiest with an intense interest in cheesemaking. But I'm a homesteader. I don't want to be buying lots of special ingredients, nor do I have time to spend over the stove making sure the temperature increases exactly 2 degrees every 5 minutes. I just want a way to preserve the extra milk we get and another food for my pantry. I just want to make a homestead cheese.

At that point I set that book aside and reached for The Little House Cookbook by Barbara M. Walker. On pages 172 to 176 is a description of the basics of making cheese. I decided to start with that. For my starter, I remembered something I read in Ricki's book, that back in the day, cheesemakers saved whey from a previous batch to use as starter for the next cheese. I used the whey from my cottage cheese.

My tincture turned cheese press 

Everything went well, and I used my tincture press as my cheese press. It's a wine press actually, though we've never used it for that. Since it doesn't have a way to actually drain the whey, I rigged it up as you see above, allowing the cheese to drain. This is how we drain our tinctures too, and have found it works pretty well.

1st hard cheese. Could certainly use a proper cheese press

One thing I didn't have was a proper follower. The follower is a flat disk that fits perfectly into the cheese mold. It is the follower that comes into contact with the cheese as it is pressed, making it as flat on the top as it is on the bottom. My tincture press left a depression in the top of the cheese, so I had to trim this off and use the fresh "green" cheese in cooking.

Once the cheese had dried several days and formed a rind, I waxed it....

Waxed cheese

It is supposed to age in the fridge for several months, then we'll give it a try. First bites weren't impressive. It is boringly bland, so hopefully aging will help. I've actually made three of these cheeses now. For the second I used the whey from a yogurt cheese. For the third I used the whey from that. The third cheese actually had a mild but pleasant flavor, so I am hopeful aging will improve upon that. Perhaps each successive batch will get more flavorful.

To keep track of my experiments, I've started a cheese diary.

Click to enlarge

Since I don't stand over it, my times and temperatures vary with each cheese. To keep track of which cheese is which, I embed a bit of paper in the wax, with the cheese number and date made. For this cheese (#0003), I'll weigh it again after it's dried and record that weight. I'll also note the date I wax it and put it in the fridge.

It's too early yet to sample any of my cheeses! I've warned Dan that it will probably take awhile and a lot of milk before we start to get one's we really like. I doubt cheddar or gouda cheeses were perfected first go round.

As a closing bit of trivia, here is the whey drained off that cheese. Remember, I started with 3 half gallons of milk...

Cheese whey produced from 3 half-gallons milk

What do I do with the whey? Oh, I'm finding lots of things to do with it. More on that in another post.

June 13, 2011

New Book: Making & Using Dried Foods

Michelle at A Green Acre recently hosted a book giveaway. The book was Making & Using Dried Foods by Phyllis Hobson. I'm delighted to say that I won the book and it arrived the other day.

Until now, my home library has had only two books in the category of dehydration. One is the owners manual that came with my Excalibur dehydrator. It has a few recipes but mostly instructions, times, and temps for dehydrating various food items. The second is Just Add Water by Barbara B. Salsbury. This is a food storage and preparedness oriented book, so it is mostly recipes and tips on using purchased dehydrated foods. (I have to admit it's a book I don't use very often.)

Dehydrating blueberries

The actual foods I dehydrate are few. I showed you my current inventory lists recently (here), and you may have noticed that I haven't used a lot of these items. Dan and I didn't care for dehydrated summer squash or green beans and I have yet to try the dehydrated Swiss chard. I do use things like dried fruits, onions, and mushrooms however.

Dried yellow summer squash

One thing I like about a dehydrator, is that it can preserve any quantity, especially amounts that are too small for a canner load. Freezing can be used the same way, but frozen foods have a shorter shelf life, and will taste freezer burnt eventually. Dried foods keep longer with less loss of flavor and nutritive value. Plus they aren't effective by loss of electricity. The drawback, is that they just don't do the same as fresh, frozen, or canned foods, even after reconstituting. Nor for me anyway.

Making & Using Dried Foods has instructions and recipes for almost every food imaginable, including fruits, vegetables, herbs, and meats. Those are pretty common, but how about drying dairy products? Not so sure I'll ever try that, but I am definitely interested in making some of the homemade breakfast cereals in the grain section. And the crackers in the hiking and camping section. Also I'm interested in the dried soup mixes. I think I may get more use from my dried tomatoes as tomato soup mix powder than slices.

Dehydrated figs

This book also has sections on things to consider when purchasing a dehydrator. Also instructions to make your own. Then there's the other uses for the dehydrator section, where there is a definite must-try recipe for cheese.

Many thanks to Michelle for the book. I can already tell it will be my go-to book for dehydrating. That's something I should do more of, and I think this will give me the inspiration.

How about you? Have you done much dehydrating? What dried foods do you like to use? Care to share any tips or a favorite recipe?