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Now, I know some folks assume discount groceries are either outdated, dented, or busted packages and cans.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

October 7, 2020

Seed Bombs

I've been a fan of Masanobu Fukuoka ever since I read The One-Straw Revolution five years ago. I've blogged about modifying his grain planting method for seeding my pastures. Another of his ideas is coating seed with clay before planting. I've thought this would be an excellent way to hide the seed from birds. And goats! But I never quite understood how I'd do it. Then I watched this video on how to make seed balls and seed bombs. Last month, I finally made some for seeding several small bare soil areas in the pasture. So, here's my first attempt.

Mix of pasture seeds.

Because it's for winter pasture, my seed mix contained cool weather grasses, legumes, and forbs: crimson clover, arrowleaf clover, hairy vetch, purple top turnip, annual ryegrass, wheat, oats, winter peas, rape, radish, white clover, perennial rye, timothy, brome, echinacea, chicory, and oregano.

Here's what I needed to make them.

Seeds, compost, and clay.

The mixture calls for equal parts of each.
How do you like my southern red clay?

And enough water to dampen.

Mixing and testing if it can be shaped.

Formed and pressed into balls (bombs).

My yield was roughly 4 pounds worth.

These could be dried and saved for later or planted immediately. I went out and dropped them onto various bare spots as soon as I was done because the forecast was for rain.

Seed bomb on a bare bit of soil.

The clay protects the seeds and gives them soil to get started in. The compost feeds them. Here they are several weeks later.

Has anyone else tried this? It would be a great activity to do with kids! Like mud pies but better! Kids would have fun planting them too.

Seed Bombs © October 2020 by Leigh 

October 3, 2020

Fall Foraging: Muscadines

It appears that my October 1st post never registered with the feed readers. You can see what it was and what happened here, "How To Make a Comfrey Salve." The coupon is good through Sunday. 

I was thrilled to find muscadines this year!

Muscadines are the South's wild grapes, but they aren't consistent producers from year to year. So a good season is always exciting.

We have two types.

The greenish bronze ones are scuppernongs.

Some of them are fairly easy to find and pick.

Scuppernongs hanging close enough to pick from the ground.

Others, such as in the first photo, are windfall finds.

Muscadines way up there.

Zooming in.

The vine is loaded with them, all too far to reach.

I have several places that I check daily and gather what I can. Then I weigh them, bag them, and put them in the freezer.

First day's foraging harvest.

Muscadine jelly is my favorite, so I'm looking forward to that. Anyone else forage wild grapes?

Fall Foraging: Muscadines © October 2020

October 1, 2020

How To Make a Comfrey Salve

Several of you have wondered what happened to my "How To Make a Comfrey Salve" post. It showed up on feed readers, but the link rendered a "not found" error. That was because I accidentally hit "publish" before it was ready. I quickly reverted to draft, but feed readers don't make retractions, so that's what happened. Here it is with a slightly different title, in hopes it will hit the feed readers afresh. UPDATE: apparently the feed reader didn't recognize it, even with a new title. 😖 So I changed the title back again.

In my "Peppermint Tea" blog post, I mentioned that autumn is my time to work on many of my herbal preparations. Recently, I finished a batch of comfrey salve.

Of the 90 comfrey roots I've planted over the years, only
 a dozen survived. They seem to like it under my fruit trees.

Comfrey is also known as knit-bone. Modern science cautions against taking it internally, but it makes an excellent salve for muscle or bone bruises. It can be used on cuts and scrapes too, with the precaution not to apply it to dirty or deep wounds. 

The recipe is simple. It requires dried comfrey leaves, a carrier oil such as olive oil, and some beeswax. It can be picked fresh and partially dried. The high water content of fresh leaves can shorten shelf life, so wilted or dried leaves are recommended.

I dehydrated my fresh leaves for a couple of hours.

Recipe from my herb notebook.

The first step is to make an infused oil.

Enough olive oil to cover the comfrey.

The healing properties are extracted from several hours of low heat. Then it's strained.

Isn't that a lovely green!

Next, the oil is returned to the pan and the beeswax added.

Adding shredded beeswax to the infused oil.

Just enough beeswax is added to give the oil a spreadable but still soft consistency. To know if I've got that, I drip a little of the melted mixture onto a spoon and place the spoon in the freezer for a minute or so. That gives me an idea of what it will be like after it's cooled.

A good consistency. If the salve is stored in the fridge,
then it will be stiffer until warmed to room temperature.

Then the melted salve is poured off into a jar and allowed to cool.

Half-pint jar is perfect for a small batch.

Then it's lidded and labeled.

The same recipe can be used to make a variety of herbal salves, which are very handy to have around. Which makes me think this is the perfect time to run a special on one of my little eBooks, especially since it's been newly revised.

How To Make An Herbal Salve: an introduction to salves, creams, ointments, & more from The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos. Updated with more information and new photos. Available in a variety of e-formats. $2.49. You can find out more about it and where to find it at this link.

Now through Sunday, get it free at Smashwords.com with coupon code RG76E (expired).

How To Make a Comfrey Salve 
© Oct. 2020 by Leigh at