October 29, 2020

Random Shots: October

Time got away from me this month, and now, October is nearly over. Was it the same for you? Here's a round-up of random shots from my October photo folder that never made it into blog posts.







Goat check

Greens, preparation

Greens, cooked


Kudzu basket




Chickens, old

Chickens, new

Ground pine




Looks like we may get our first frost this weekend. Winter is on the way!

Random Shots: October © Oct 2020 by Leigh 

October 26, 2020

Reviews for The Sequel Are Starting to Pop Up and They're Good!

I had to interrupt my regularly scheduled blog post because reviews for 5 Acres & A Dream The Sequel are starting to pop up and they're encouraging!

One so far at Amazon, here.

And two at Permies.com, one here and one here.

Any author will tell you that after pouring their heart and soul into their work, they hope against hope for good reviews. That's what gets the word out. Most of us (especially Indie authors) ask, beg, and plead for people to write reviews. But for whatever reason, folks are rarely willing to write them. So that means that the reviews I do get, are all the more exciting and precious to me! 

These reviews also encourage me to keep writing. They tell me that I have something interesting and useful to offer. That the hours, weeks, and months I put into it have been well spent. It's like getting comments on blog posts. What blogger doesn't like getting comments? Every comment is an encouragement!

Anyway, I'm excited so I had to share. I hope you'll take a few minutes to read them. I'll be back to regularly scheduled blog posts next time. 

October 23, 2020

Elderberries for the Natural Medicine Cabinet

For the past couple of months, I've been working on late summer and autumn harvested herbs to fill my herbal medicine cabinet. One of those is elderberry (Sambucus); actually a fruit with medicinal properties. It's well-known for it's healing support for colds and flu.

August was my month to harvest the berries. I was thrilled that my berry nets worked and I harvested so many clusters of elderberries. 

I froze quite a few and dehydrated some too. Of the fresh berries, I made two preparations: elderberry vinegar and elderberry tincture.

Herbal vinegars are nice because they can be used as culinary vinegars: as salad dressing, in cooking, marinade, switchel, etc., or wherever vinegar is called for. Yet they contain the medicinal goodness of the herb. They're also very easy to make. 

Fill a jar about ¾ full of fresh elderberries and cover completely with your choice of vinegar. The vinegar should cover the berries with about an inch to spare. Give the jar a shake once a day or so.

Compare the photos above and below. Above is freshly made, below is about a week later. You can see the color change in the vinegar.

It's stored in a cool dark place for a minimum of two weeks. I made a quart and strained out the first pint after two weeks. 

I'll strain the rest after we use up the first. 

I also made elderberry tincture. It has a longer shelf life than the vinegar, and is used for medicinal dosing. I finally strained it the other day. You can read how I make an herbal tincture, here.

Squeezing the berries with a wine press.

One other preparation folks like to make is elderberry syrup. I thought about it, but it has a shorter shelf life than either the vinegar or tincture. I wasn't sure we could consume it in a timely manner, so I didn't make it for now. I figure I can always do it later from my frozen berries. 

Of the frozen berries I'll make jelly this winter (a favorite). And who knows, maybe I'll try my hand at elderberry wine(?) I certainly have an abundance to experiment with.

October 19, 2020

How To Can Brats, Kielbasa, & Smoked Sausage

Canned sausages like this are one of my absolute favorite home-canned convenience foods. Go into the pantry, grab a jar, heat 'em and eat 'em. A meal doesn't get any quicker than that. The other day, I found 19-ounce packages of these sausages for $2.95 each at my favorite discount grocery store.

Now, I know some folks assume discount groceries are either outdated, dented, or busted packages and cans. Sometimes, but less often than you think. How's that? As a retired truck driver's wife, let me tell you about something that goes on in the food distribution world behind the consumer scenes.

Food is generally shipped and delivered on shrink-wrapped pallets. That makes it easy to move large quantities with a forklift. However, if the pallet has been damaged in any way: maybe a small dent in one corner of the pallet or one box of cereal got punctured, then the entire pallet is rejected. Often, the entire pallets-worth (even the undamaged stuff) gets thrown into a dumpster. Sometimes, it's donated to food banks or auctioned off to discount grocery stores. (This kind of waste isn't just with food. If you want to hear about the ludicrous waste that goes on in manufacturing, ask a truck driver!)

I have no idea about these packages of brats and Italian sausage, but they were intact, not expired, and had been frozen.

Canning these is super simple. They must be pressure canned, with wide-mouth jars being the easiest to work with. They can be canned whole or sliced into chunks.

We like whole ones on brat buns. For those, I like four per jar.

There are two reasons for this. One is practical. It's a good number for just two people. The second is for safety. Because I'm canning a dense (thick) item, I need plenty of space between the sausages to make sure they are all heated properly in the pressure canner.

Five packages gave me six quarts of sausage with one left over. As an afterthought, I wondered why I didn't get six packages so I could can seven quarts (a full canner load), but at the time it was more about making sure my food dollars stretched to cover everything on my shopping list. As it is, that lone sausage was cooked and diced to add to scrambled eggs.

Another option is to cut the sausages into slices or chunks before adding to the jars.

A quart jar can hold five sausages if they're cut like this. They aren't packed down, just loose to allow for heat circulation during the canning process. I can add these to spaghetti and meatballs, or serve with rice.

Raw meat requires no liquid be added to the jar.

This is because it cooks as it cans and makes its own broth. If I was canning cooked sausages (or any cooked meat), I would add liquid to each jar according to instructions for headspace.

Quart jars of meat require 90 minutes in the pressure canner at whatever pressure is recommended for your altitude. Your canner's manufacturer's directions will give step-by-step details of the process. Generally, steam is vented for ten minutes prior to letting the pressure build up. Processing time starts from whenever the correct pressure is reached.

Canned whole brat sausages.

Canned Italian sausage chunks.

So there we are. What about you? What's your favorite home preserved convenience food?

October 18, 2020

Blogger's Custom Theme Settings

Warning! Don't mess with Blogger's custom theme settings. I just tried to change the background image on my blog and they shrank the full-size photo I uploaded down to a teeny thumbnail and stuck it in the upper left-hand corner. They want you to tile it, which looks terrible. So I picked one of their generic backgrounds and lost my blog's unique look. The other consequence is the blacked out date of the post. Not sure where that came from because there's no setting to change that. 

If their goal is to take the fun out of blogging, they're certainly succeeding.

October 15, 2020

An Experiment With Solar Dehydrating

Something I researched early on was solar dehydrators. I have my Excalibur, which I love, but being able to dry foods with just the sun always interested me. What I learned from my early research was that solar dehydrators have limited usefulness in areas of high humidity.

Most of our weather comes up off the Gulf of Mexico, which means most of our weather includes a high level of humidity. That's not always the case, but humid days outnumber dry ones and changes in our humidity are unpredictable. The other problem is that our sunny summer days often turn cloudy by mid-afternoon. More than once I've had to take a solar started dinner and finish it on the stove. Between those two factors, I've not been inclined to invest the time and money to either make or buy a solar dehydrator.

My solar oven is a Sun Oven. The other day, I recalled the solar cooking webinar I hosted several years ago for that brand's manufacturer. (Does anyone remember that? It's still available online, here.) I remembered that one of the things discussed was how to use the oven as a solar food dehydrator. The technique is different from using it for cooking, so I knew there would be a learning curve. Before the remnants of hurricane Delta blew through, we had a week of day-long sunshine; perfect weather to give this a try.

I chose something inexpensive for my experiment, onions. My first go-round was not successful; I cooked the onions rather than dehydrate them. But we still ate them and I learned from that experience. My second try turned out much better.

I started with two pounds of whole onions.

Three things turn the Sun Oven into a solar dehydrator. The first is the optional baking/dehydrating rack. Parchment paper keeps the food from falling through the wire.

The second is to set the oven lid on top of the lid latches. To use as a cooker, the latches hold the oven door firmly in place, allowing it to do its moist heat magic. Leaving the lid ajar allows moisture to escape.

The third difference, is to offset the direction the oven is facing, so that it is not pointed directly at the sun. The holes in the door handle enable tracking of the sun to maintain baking temperatures.

By offsetting the direction of the oven to the east, the temperature can be kept at a lower dehydrating temperature. The recommended adjustment is about six inches, and I soon figured out how to adjust it to keep the oven temp in the dehydration range.

Sun Oven in dehydrator mode. 

With my electric dehydrator, I can just set it and forget it. Using the Sun Oven required frequent checking and adjusting. I learned to rotate the trays and remove onions as they became dry enough.

It took three full days to dry the first batch of onions. Final yield for two pounds of fresh onions was about ¾  of a quart jar dry.

My solar dried onions.

The main disadvantage is that the Sun Oven doesn't hold much. I had five trays-worth of sliced onions, but only have four trays. But I combined trays as the onions shriveled, and added a new tray of fresh as room allowed. I'm not on a time schedule, so it really doesn't matter unless humid or cloudy days push in!

So! After this success, I found a DIY solar dehydrator that is claimed to work even in humid weather. It's at this website. It would still be a huge project to acquire materials and build, but I'm no longer assuming that solar dehydrating isn't feasible for me. Maybe someday?

October 11, 2020

Moving Day for Little Chickens

The day quickly came when the chicks outgrew their brooder box. Time to move them to the chicken tractor

We left them in the tractor coop for a couple of days and then opened the door to the great outdoors.

Some of them seem to really like it outside, others prefer to stay in the coop. None of them is having  trouble negotiating the ladder.

It looks like of the twelve, we have about 7 or 8 roos. That's about what we expected (sigh).

Moving Day for Little Chickens © Oct 2020 
Leigh at http://www.5acresandadream.com