May 29, 2021

May Garden = Slow Garden

Who can relate?!

One of the things I love about blogging is that it's an excellent way to document things over the years. Like my garden. In looking back over my May gardens in years past, I can definitely say we had a slow start. But then, we had  cooler spring than usual. We had a late last frost, and even though it warmed up a bit after that, we dipped back into cooler temps this month. So much so that we actually lit a fire one evening because the house was so chilly! We've never had a fire in May before!

On the other hand, that kept my cool weather veggies have been happy. 

Snowpeas. Not a bumper crop,
so these usually go into salads. 

Jericho lettuce growing happily with
snow peas, dandelions, and violets.

Stored grocery store potatoes sprouted like crazy.

I planted some in the garden and some in large containers.

Sweet Lorane fava beans.

Seed patch of heirloom wheat in early May.

Same patch in late May.

Still to harvest:

Multiplier (potato) onion blooming.

Also in the onion bed:

Last year I bought and dehydrated a bunch of celery. I planted
the ends of the bunches as an experiment. This one made it.

Of summer veggies, almost thing has been slow to show and grow. First from the chilly temps, now from heat and no rain. But my tomatoes are doing well!

Tomatoes are blooming.

Most of my frost bitten tomatoes survived; I only lost a few. To fill in the gaps, I planted the last of the seed directly in the ground. I have a long enough growing season to do that. 

Direct seeded baby tomato plant

Also in that bed are marigolds, Swiss chard, and one sweet basil. 

Then there's corn, another slow starter. I think because the soil was cold the first planting didn't do well. I've replanted all the bare spots now that it's warmed up.

Cherokee flour corn.

In the same bed, 

"Sweet potato" winter squash.

Speaking of sweet potatoes, my slips arrived the other day and are now planted. My own slip growing hasn't worked out very well, although there's still a chance.

These are Virginia Baker sweet potatoes
from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

I've been trying for slips since mid-April!
These are my tried-and-true Vardamans.

I could probably take a bazillion photos of the garden because I try to appreciate everything I see. 

Little bits of color from volunteer turnips, collards, and radishes.

Anyway, that's it for May. How about you? Hopefully, June will bring the right amount of rain and our gardens will thrive.

May 25, 2021

Book Review: A Year in an Off-Grid Kitchen

Last December, I told you about a Kickstarter I was participating in, for Kate Downham's then upcoming cookbook, A Year in an Off-Grid Kitchen. The Kickstarter was a success, and Kate's book is available starting today! I received a copy for my support and want to tell you about it, and about a giveaway. 

A Year in an Off-Grid Kitchen: Homestead Kitchen
Skills and Real Food Recipes for Resilient Health

What I really like about this particular cookbook, is that it is more than a recipe book. It's a manual of how to harmonize a healthy, seasonal diet with a healthy, natural lifestyle. The introduction is filled with valuable tips and information. It discusses the traditional foods approach to eating, tools for the off-grid kitchen, an excellent section on cooking on a wood cookstove, ways to keep food fresh without a fridge, and cooking with small-scale solar. All very practical!

The sections that follow are organized according to season. Each section includes recipes, how-tos, and preservation techniques. It should be noted that the author is Australian, and so follows Australian protocols for canning. She encourages those who follow USDA recommendations to do so. All recipes are easily adaptable to USDA guidelines.

Recipes are keyed so you can find gluten-free, paleo-friendly, grain-free, dairy free, vegetarian, and other options. Recipe notes and useful tips are scattered through-out the book. The recipes include both Celsius and Fahrenheit temperatures, and metric and imperial measurements. 

Winter begins and ends the book with a seasonal focus on root cellar vegetables. Recipes include bone broth, soups, and stews. Interesting, informative sections include developing your own soup and stew recipes, cooking a perfect roast on a wood cookstove, and getting started with home butchery. 

Early spring begins with eggs and greens (both garden grown and foraged); late spring adds dairy. Recipes include rice bowls, soups, casseroles. basic cheese making, plus other dairy goodies. Informational sections discuss nettles as a storable superfood, edible weeds and wild plants, and how to keep diary products fresh without a fridge. 

Summer moves into fresh vegetables with a variety of recipes for vegetable dishes, dips, and hummus. Late summer includes fruits and preserving the harvest. You’ll learn how to preserve fruit without cane sugar, how to make apple core cider, making jam the old way, and how to make herbal medicines. Summer preservation techniques include dehydrating, pickling, and water bath canning. 

Autumn introduces lacto-fermenting with techniques and recipes to try. The seasonal focus is on potatoes, fruits of the season, preserving tomatoes, and how to utilize all parts of the yearly pig. How-tos include butchering without a saw, stuffing sausages, rendering lard, and how to make your own ham, bacon, and sausages.

The last section, “Grains, Sourdough, and Year-Round Recipes,” is also excellent. It includes discussions on grain intolerance versus glyphosate intolerance, soaking and cooking grains, and whole grain baking. There are loads of tips, tricks, and recipes for sourdough, including gluten-free sourdough. I especially appreciated the off-grid approach for baking bread in both winter (when it’s too cold!) and summer (when it’s too hot!) Recipes include crispy Dutch oven bread, tortillas, pizza and foccacia crusts, pie crust, crackers, and sweet baked goods. Kombucha and condiments round out the year-round recipes.

As both a cookbook and reference manual, this one is comprehensive, well written, and interesting reading. Hardcover and paperback copies are available at Amazon, and the epub edition is available at Permies. Plus, is hosting a giveaway. Between now and Friday, participants can enter to win one of four copies. Details here.

May 21, 2021

Writing: What I'm Working On

I haven't blogged about my book writing in awhile. What I've been working on is updating and revising The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos. Almost all of the books were given a pretty good overhaul: updating links, updating content, adding images, and expanding the information included in each. How To Make a Buck Rag underwent a major transformation; in fact, I re-titled it! It is now titled, How To Play Cupid for Your Goats: Everything you need to know about successful goat romance and breeding. I'm thinking I'm going to do something similar in the future with How To Make Goats' Milk Mozzarella. I'm thinking I'd like to expand it to include more of the Mediterranean style cheeses I routinely make. I'm thinking about renaming it to How To Make Cheese Without a Cheese Cave: Warm climate cheese making and storage (or something like that).

I also just finished a new addition to this eBook series. 

How To "One-Straw" Revolutionize Your Pasture: Adapting Masanobu Fukuoka's Natural Farming Methods for Small-Scale Pasture

I think of all the books I've read and methods I've studied, Masanobu Fukuoka's natural farming has been the most applicable for us on our homestead. The title is linked to take you to it's webpage, blurb, list of chapters, and where it's available. (Smashwords link.)

Well, why not show you all of them? Maybe you'll see something useful. They're all available at Amazon (Kindle version), B&N (Nook Book version), Smashwords (your choice of mobi, epub, etc.), and Permies Digital Market (PDF version), and whatever other outlets I'm aware of. The titles link to each book's webpage and more information.

Getting goats bred isn't as easy as you'd think! Originally published as How To Make a Buck Rag but greatly expanded. I hope this title is a little catchier. Smashwords link.

Always free! As the introduction to the series, offering it for free is something of a gimmick. It gives folks a chance to check out my writing style and see what kind of information I present. Smashwords link.

How To Bake Without Baking Powder is also available in paperback. Smashwords link.

Smashwords link.

Please let me know if you have trouble with any of the links. I'm pretty much used to the new blogger interface, but it sometimes seems to have a mind of it's own and kept messing things up.

May 17, 2021

Naturally Fermented Elderberry Wine

Last summer, I put mesh bags on my clusters of elderberry flowers to protect the berries from the birds. I was rewarded with a ton of elderberries.

Elderberry harvest, September 2020

I made jelly, vinegar, and tincture with them; dehydrated some and froze the rest (the rest being 6 or 8 gallons-worth.) What to do with them? I'm not much of a wine drinker, but what the heck. I decided to try my hand at elderberry wine. 

I did a little research and found myself looking at two choices. One was the commercialized method, where I buy additives and yeast. The other was a natural ferment. Well, ya'll know me, it was natural ferment or forget it. I know the argument against it – inconsistent results. It's the same argument used for natural cheesemaking and natural dying. But let's face it, even a commercially prepared batch can flop. And since I'm not trying to impress anyone, who cares if the batches vary? Makes for a more interesting outcome without having to buy anything.

I didn't find many resources for natural fermented elderberry wine, but these two videos helped me work out a recipe:
This last video is more generic but brought it down to bare basics along with the rationale for the steps (my kind of video):

I made a one-gallon batch.

1 kg elderberries (defrosted okay), 100 gms
 unsulfured raisins, 2 L non-chlorinated water.

Both elderberry wine videos called for the raisins, although I'm not exactly sure why. One said as a source of natural yeasts, the other said for sweetness. Does anyone have a clue?

Mix the fruit and water, and mash to release the fruit juices..

Transfer to a gallon jar and cover
with clean cotton cloth. Stir daily.

The purpose of the cloth is to allow natural yeasts in the air to inoculation the fruit juice, while keeping out bugs and debris. 

After 3 or 4 days, strain the liquid from the fruit.

I used my wine (tincture) press to squeeze.

Add 1 kg sugar and stir till dissolved. Add more water.

Cover again with cotton cloth and stir daily. After 3 or 4 days
it should be producing bubbles, indicating fermentation.

The next step is to siphon again, this time into a carboy, avoiding any scum at the top or dregs on the bottom of the jug. A "real" carboy is clear glass; mine is actually a gallon glass jug that I bought organic apple cider in. Of course, I saved the jug. 

Air gaps in the siphon tube because
I had to step back to get this picture.

The jug was topped off with a little more filtered water and a water filled airlock installed.

Make-do carboy with airlock.

During fermentation gases are produced (mostly carbon dioxide, I believe). The airlock allows these to escape but keeps oxygen and contaminants from entering the jug. 

It's stored undisturbed in a cool place for three to four months, or until fermentation is complete. Experienced people use a hydrometer to test for alcohol content. I used a more beginnerish method and just watched the bottle. When fermentation is done, it no longer produces bubbles, and there is sediment at the bottom of the jug from the spent yeast. I did test it with my hydrometer because I was curious about it. The alcohol content is about 5%. 

The bottles must be sterilized to avoid contaminants which produce off flavors. I didn't want to use chemical cleaners, so I put the bottles into a cold oven, heated to about 225°F (110°C) for 15 to 20 minutes.

Bottles sterilizing in the oven.

Then the oven is turned off and the bottles are allowed to cool completely. The wine is siphoned from the carboy into the bottles.

Bottling is easier with two people.

The bottled wine is stored in a cool, dark place, where the final product is said to improve with age. We had a partial bottle leftover, which of course we sampled! I've already mentioned that I'm nowhere near a wine connoisseur, but I can tell you that it's the best wine I've ever tasted.

Something for special occasions.

I immediately started on a second batch! And I can see a little experimentation in my future. 

May 13, 2021

Summer Project: Outdoor Kitchen

Something that's been on our project list for a long time is an outdoor kitchen. Dan has been grilling meat on his wood-fired grill for years, so expanding the outdoor cooking possibilities makes sense. Under cover makes sense too, although I think many modern outdoor kitchens are out in the open. But we want to be able to use it when it's raining, and the carport seems like the perfect place. 

The carport would be a good place for an outdoor kitchen.

So, what should go into an outdoor kitchen?

  • barbecue grill
  • stove
  • pizza oven
  • cold smoker?
  • someplace to store my solar oven
  • work/dining table

That's what's on our list. We have the grill, so we've been looking at cooking surface for pots and pans (the stove), and a pizza oven. Here's what we've come up with.

For the stove, we're going with the Walker Wood Fired Masonry Cook Stove (that links to where we bought the plans). Here are some front and back pictures from one of Matt Walker's videos.

Oven and fire viewing window side.

Firebox side.

The selling points (from his website, link above) were

"Incredible efficiency and smokeless performance, with an easy temperament. Easy to use, quick to light, and stable to cook on. . ."

The plans are highly adaptable; for example, we probably won't include the fire viewing window. And we've been able to source almost everything we need locally. It would almost be perfect, except that the oven is smaller than a standard size oven, more along the size of the oven in my wood cookstove. And the problem with that is that it's too small for my pizza stone. Hence the addition of a pizza oven!

But! This is not going to be the typical cob style pizza oven that is so popular. This is going to be a J-tube oven. 

From the building plans

I got a free copy of the plans for supporting the passive greenhouse video Kickstarter last year. It's made from two 55-gallon metal drums, so it will be plenty big enough for my pizza stone or a week's worth of other baking. The selling point was how much less wood it uses than a wood cookstove oven. 

So, there's our summer project! Or at least, that's that's the plan for our summer project. All subject to change, of course. 😺

May 9, 2021

Peanut Butter Granola

 Another pecan recipe that I want to know where to find. 😄

Yes! Those are our strawberries! (With slug bites trimmed off).

Peanut Butter Granola

  • 8 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (1 large 42-ounce box)
  • 2 cups chopped pecans
  • 2 cups unsweetened coconut
  • 1 cup natural crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp salt (optional)
  • dried fruit (optional)

In a saucepan, gently heat peanut butter, honey, and salt until liquidy. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Stir well. Spread out on baking pans or sheets. (I use three 9x13-inch pans). Bake at low heat (225°F / 110°C), stirring every 10 to 15 minutes until golden brown (about 40 to 50 minutes). Remove from oven and continue to stir occasionally until cool. Makes a gallon jar's worth. 

Recipe Notes: 
  • If adding dried fruit, add after baking so it stays soft and moist.
  • I only add dried fruit when fresh fruit isn't in season.
  • Any or all ingredients can be substituted!
  • different rolled grains
  • different nuts
  • different sweeteners
  • different spices
  • different nut butters
  • substitute butter for nut butter

We eat our granola with kefir instead of milk. 

Peanut Butter Granola © May 2021 by Leigh