Incoming Fruit!

Pear-Grape Jam & Pear Butter

fruitDespite the April freeze, which managed to hit after a March so warm that all the fruit had already blossomed, a goodly amount of concord and muscadine grapes managed to overcome the stress, and the cinnamon pears are falling at easily twice their usual size. And while harvest is a few weeks early this year due to the extraordinarily warm spring, the fruit is super-luscious from a summer of more than ample rainfall.

After the hail got my corn crop and the super-weeds got my tomatoes, it’s nice that something’s coming in with enough abundance that I’ll be able to trade pear butter and jam for all the crops that failed in the lower terraces. Will need another two or three dozen half-pint jars before it’s over, but August is its usual perfect weather (August and September in these mountains are absolutely the most perfect-weather months of the year, though not the most colorful). It’s cool enough to start the indoor processing, so that’s just what I’m doing.

Processing is a several-part ordeal, but will then give me plenty of pear mash and grape mush to construct the goodies. Today I have enough pears to fill my heavy stock pot half full after chopping, about 18 individual pears. Wash and remove the stems. Quarter and then half the quarters. Even bruised areas are good, just be sure to excise any actually rotten spots. Add enough water to keep the pears from sticking (about half a cup), and bring to a boil covered over medium heat for about 12-15 minutes. Stir it a few times to make sure all the pieces get good and soft, remove the lid and simmer for another 5 minutes to reduce the originally added water. Push the resulting ‘stuff’ through a sieve to get the seeds and skins out, stir in a tablespoon of ascorbic acid (available in the canning section) or two tablespoons of lemon juice, and set the pulp aside.

Then it’s the grapes’ turn. Add a quart of stemmed grapes to a half pint of water and again bring to a boil covered, over medium heat. When it’s been going for about 10 minutes mash with a potato masher to separate the innards from the skins. Continue to boil lightly uncovered until the innards liquify (about 10 minutes). Sieve the results as with the pears to remove seeds and skins. Reserve juice.

Now you’re ready to make Pear-Grape Jam…

Easy, Low-Sugar Pear-Grape Jam

• 3 1/2 cups pear pulp
• 3 1/2 cups grape pulp
• 4-inch sprig fresh rosemary
• 1/2 cup raw local honey

In a heavy stock pot combine the pulps, honey, and rosemary. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, for 30 minutes or until liquid is reduced by about a cup.

Remove from heat and let steep for 5-10 minutes. Remove and discard the rosemary sprig (be careful to not lose any of the needles). Pour or ladle the jam into hot, sterilized half-pint condiment jars, leaving 1/8″ head space. Wipe the rims clean and attach sterilized lids, screw on the caps finger-tight.

Process 10 minutes in water bath canner, cool on a wire rack. Before storing make sure the lids have popped to indicate vacuum. Should fill 6 half-pint jars.
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Ball makes very pretty half-pint jars, which are just the right size for gifts or trade. These can be further “fancied” for the purpose of gifting by cutting out circles of bright fabric to place over the lids but under the screw caps. Great hostess gifts for the upcoming holiday parties, and as part of Christmas edible gifts of fudge, cookies, dried veggie crackers and jam.

If you, like me, have way more pears than grapes, you can always just make pear butter to gift or trade (or delight your own family with at breakfast time)…

Easy Pear Butter

Process pears as above, then sieve to remove seeds and skin. Return to pot and add [per 3 cups of pulp):

• 1 tbsp. ascorbic acid
• 1/4 cup raw local honey
• 1 1/2 tbsp. cinnamon
• 2 tsp. ground ginger
• 1 tsp. ground allspice
• 1/4 cup orange juice

Slowly bring mixture to a simmer, stirring frequently. Continue to simmer for 5 minutes. Ladle into sterile half-pint jars. Wipe lips clean and attach lids, screw caps finger-tight. Process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes, remove and cool.

Financial Mistakes that Newlyweds Make

Many couples differ in their methods of spending and when you agree to wed, it may come as a shock to discover that your future spouse doesn’t exactly have the greatest finances. Marriages often revolve around the idea of compromise and honesty. Even so, around 50 percent of all marriages will end in divorce, many of which are caused by lack of communication and money troubles.

In this article, you will have the opportunity to see what kinds of monetary stresses couples face and how they can be resolved with minimal conflict.

1. A spouse loses their job

The problem with losing a job is, for the most part, a lack of multiple incomes for wedded couples. While it is unfortunate, you have to start tightening your budget in order to survive. If you haven’t done so already, make a note of both of your debts, expenses, and account totals. Start with your static expenses such as your rent or mortgage, car payments, student loans, and any other necessities. Next, you’ll want to write down your variable expenses which can change according to your lifestyle and work on reducing them.

 

Designing a budget based upon this information will reduce your chances of requiring emergency cash. Following this method could also help with future finances, even after your spouse returns to work.

2. Separation of church and debt

Though you are now in an equal partnership, the debt may not be equal for both parties. Make a financial plan to get yourselves, as a couple, out of debt. If nothing else, avoid getting married until you can afford it or until you have paid off your negative balances. Sit down with your partner and decide what you can afford to spend on various expenses. Don’t be afraid to compromise when deciding what is necessary and what isn’t. Just don’t sacrifice your finances for things you don’t think you can absolutely afford.

3. No emergency fund

Life is always going to throw those curve balls at you and if you’re financially unprepared for these little hitches, you may find yourself in a hole. If nothing else, this will give you financial security and ensure that you both can sleep at night. By the time you establish a fund, it should be able to support the two of you for at least three to six months of unemployment. Although it may sound grim, looking into getting a will drafted up in the case of you or your new spouse’s untimely death may be wise.

4. Buying the house on the hill

It may sound like the American dream to buy a house after you get married, but it may not be a reality. Before buying, realize your house payments shouldn’t exceed more than 25 percent of your pay after taxes, though you might bump that down to 15 percent if you’re unsure about the future.

5. A baby

It’s important to keep in mind that it costs around $300,000 to raise a child from diapers to college. Babies also require a lot of time, patience, and a definite plan for emergencies so don’t put off saving up money. Keep the unexpected expenses in mind, the cost of college, and the possibility that you’ll be sending them money after they graduate while they work to secure a career for themselves. Regardless of all your careful planning, if you run into an emergency situation you’ll always have the ability to get money.

Conclusion

Marriage is a bond between two people and is the start of managing everything together as a team. One person’s financial problems can quickly pull down the other if you don’t manage it wisely from the beginning.

Finishing Up Last Year’s Food

Waiting for ‘Spring Enough’ to spend real time outdoors to clear and dig beds for this year’s spring crops can be maddening. I’ve folded up dozens and dozens of newspaper seedling pots, have some of them filled halfway in preparation for planting – which can be done as soon as the local garden supply outlets get their annual allotments of potting soil. They’re not used to doing that before Valentine’s day, I’m guessing the USDA’s recent re-figuring of our planting zone took them by surprise.

I’ve gone through the seed basket to see what I’ve got, what needs planting first, and what I need to order. I’ve pulled the crispy brown leavings of last fall’s crops, and turned the compost. I’ve dug several 5-gallon buckets full of old compost out for adding to the beds and covering the perennials (asparagus, strawberries, artichokes). And I’ve planned what will go where while trimming the dry stalks of last year’s herbs and splitting root systems to spread them out a bit.

But it got cold again, and too rainy to ignore. So I figured it was a good time to do what I’ve been putting off all winter long – finishing up the processing of last year’s crops.

Sure, most has been eaten by now, though there’s still a pumpkin (MUST bake that thing soon for stew!) and some potatoes I’ll cull through for this year’s crop. But it’s the frozen and dried bounty that now needs to be finished up so I can clean out the ‘fridge and freezer in preparation for the coming bounty. That’s the jars, strings and coffee cans full of dried celery/celeriac, beets, kale, tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic and leeks, plus the many more jars of dried herbs and flowers. All of these were dried hard in my solar dryer last summer/fall and have been kept refrigerated until I got around to “the rest of the work.”

Once dried, these foods take up very little room. For instance, I still had what amounts to more than a bushel of tomatoes that only half filled a single 2 pound coffee container. Pounds and pounds of beets, carrots, celery, onions, leeks and garlic filled just three quart-size canning jars. But unless you’re making some serious soup or stew from dried ingredients, the food isn’t very palatable in that very brittle form. So for the past week I’ve been doing what needs doing to get all of it into easily consumable form – the way my family likes it, and will serve to add lots of extra tasty oomph to all sorts of foods we’ll be consuming this year from the garden and farmer’s market.

So I got my old Braun coffee grinder out from under the cabinet, cleaned it up good, and put it to work. Washed and removed labels from the many 3 and 5 ounce spice jars I’ve saved (always buy in bulk, glass jars). Some of those have been reused year after year, kind of like Ball jars – they can always be relabeled using paper and Scotch tape. My spice race is full of home-packed and labeled goodies. With my trusty grinder, a strainer and my favorite Japanese lacquer rice bowl I do the time consuming but satisfying job of grinding all those dried goodies into fine powder. I have some nice 8-ounce Tupperware cup things with tight lids I picked up at a yard sale a few years ago, put the powders into these as they’re ground. Tomato powder, beet powder, leek powder, carrot & celery powder, onion and garlic powder, pepper powder (for that I need to wear a kerchief over my mouth and nose, as the powder is quite irritating if you breathe it), greens and herbs powders. These make fine flakes for general use so I save some for that, but for a good table salt, bullion or soup stock, or sprinkle blend they need to be as powdered as the rest of the ingredients. Then from these I concoct my ‘blends’.

People are actually getting quite used to flavoring blends, I see them at the store and these have helped to give me some ideas for my own blends. Sometimes I go ahead and buy some powders if I don’t have enough to round out the collection. You might be surprised by some of the good deals at places like Dollar General or the Family Dollar Store on things like garlic and onion powder, kosher and sea salts, white pepper and whole black peppercorns in quantities larger than what’s along the spice aisle (and outrageously priced) at the grocery store.

The whole trick is to get all the ingredients to the same consistency so they will truly blend together instead of separating into layers. The strainer helps to ensure that. I pour what I’ve ground into the strainer and shake it over the bowl so the finest powder comes through. What’s left goes back to the grinder for more. Eventually just about everything is fine powder (this takes awhile, so be patient), including the salts. I also powdered some dried kelp flakes, and use that in some blends where I don’t really want straight salts (as for a salt substitute table blend) because it is naturally salty because it’s a sea vegetable.

Finally, when everything’s been carefully powdered and sifted into its container, it line up the jars, funnel, measuring spoons, paper, Sharpie pen and Scotch tape for labeling. I like to label ingredients in order of appearance, which gives me a quick idea of what each blend is good for and what else might be added to a dish to round out the flavor I’m going for when cooking.

Had enough tomato powder to bottle 6 ounces into a jar of its own. It will end up going faster than any of the blends, as it adds a very nice tomato punch to just about anything. Straight tomato powder is powerful stuff, you don’t need much to sprinkle on a casserole or salad or dip. Experimentation is a good idea before you go hog wild on this very concentrated powder. The rest has been divvied up. Most as the base powder for my veggie soup broth blend. Which also includes beet, carrot, celery, onion, kale, kelp and basil powders plus salt, black pepper and a bit of red pepper powders. A tablespoon of this blend in boiling water makes a fine vegetable and/or bean soup broth, more for straight beans, or a teaspoonful in a cup of hot water for bullion. I’ll usually add another teaspoon of straight tomato powder, but again you’ll have to experiment.

Leek and garlic salt powders are nice for the table, good on most cooked veggie dishes or cream soups. Tomato with salt and basil flower powder is tasty on any kind of pasta or salad. Tomato with garlic, onion, red and black pepper, lemon rind, tarragon, kelp and salt powder is a must for shaking onto grilled, baked or broiled fish before cooking and at the table. A hot blend of peppers, tomato and salt powder is a great flavoring base for a good barbecue sauce, just shake a spoonful in a jar with a little olive oil and a jigger of vinegar and an equal amount of water, let it sit for a couple of hours before brushing onto what’s being grilled. Some people like a sweet barbecue sauce, you can always add a spoon of brown sugar or blackstrap molasses. Another good additive when you’re barbecuing is a spoonful of mustard, or a half a teaspoon of mustard powder. Barbecue is a strange thing – everybody’s got their favorite sauces and some are definitely way better than others. Again, this is something to practice with. Don’t worry, friends, family and neighbors will invariably be impressed when you brag that the primary base ingredients came from your own garden!

I put off this last step in the dry processing of last year’s bounty because it is quite a lot of work, but when I finally get around to it I enjoy it almost more than I enjoy any other stage of food preservation. It’s fun to feel like a sort of mad scientist or old-timey apothecary mixing up blends and tasting them and adding a little of this or that and then being happy with it. The best part of all is that all this bounty that you took the trouble to grow and dry and grind and mix adds real, honest to goodness nutritional value to anything you use it for, in a much more significant way than commercially processed powders and table blends can boast. And it’s always a good feeling to know that all your work to plant and grow and preserve the food pays off – the nutritional value for you and your family doesn’t go to waste.

Not everyone will want to go to all the trouble to preserve foods this way, but drying keeps much more of the original food value than canning or freezing. Plus, well dried foods have a much longer shelf life – years as opposed to months. Oh, yeah. That brings me around to what was in the freezer that I finished up today… the last of last year’s grapes. I’d frozen them in quart size bags because I didn’t have time to properly process them into jam, thinking I’d get around to that sometime before Christmas. Which I obviously didn’t. So I took out a bag, thawed it a bit and put it into a gallon glass jar with a quarter cup of sugar and filled it with boiling beet water (water with ascorbic acid in it, in which I soaked the sliced beets I finished harvesting last week – beautiful red, slightly sweet. It’s now steeping and cooling on the counter. Tomorrow morning I’ll strain out the grapes, add a little lemon juice and more spring water in two gallon jug and have it for a refreshing iced drink for company this weekend.

A Merry Christmas Re-Post

Merry_Christmas

This was originally posted to this blog on Christmas Day of 2007. It still applies, even though it’s not a white Christmas here at the ‘stead this year. Best of holiday wishes to one and all…

During this 2007 holiday season, it seems the children are all nestled asleep in their beds, with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads… oh, wait. You say the “children” are all teenagers now, terminally bored with Christmas and expecting a 10-gig iPod loaded with every album too objectionable to be played in public, plus keys to your a car and $400 worth of “Prison Chic” pants that hang somewhere around the thighs and show off their underwear?

Did the fudge never set, so you had to run to the store to buy enough ice cream to disguise the un-set fudge as super chocolate syrup? Were those tollhouse cookies hard as a rock, breaking grandpa’s dentures with the first bite? Did cousin Jim finish off the entire bottle of rum you’d brought for eggnog before passing out under the tree? Did the dog eat that perfect glazed ham before you could get it into the oven to heat? Did it snow during the night and hide all the firewood you’d stacked somewhere in the yard for the Christmas Eve fire? Are the in-laws insisting on watching Enemy of the State as a “Christmas Movie” instead of It’s a Wonderful Life for the 16th time?

Be of good cheer, enjoy yourself anyway, and…

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Farm Bill Up for Vote (and Veto)

Here we are nearly halfway through 2008, and the 2007 farm bill is slowly but surely making its way through House and Senate disagreements on its way to the chamber floors for vote this week or next. The final compromise, USDA chair Ed Schafer bluntly informs us, will be vetoed by President Bush.

food_fight

If farm legislation doesn’t directly affect many of us rural and semi-rural homesteaders, it’s a sure bet that it will affect our neighbors who do farm on a commercial scale. Thus it’s something we should be paying attention to. According to lawmakers nearly 3/4 of the spending in this bill over the next decade will be for feeding the needy. Another 16% goes toward commodities, crop insurance and disaster relief. Increasing nutrition spending (feeding the hungry) 8+% over the previous farm bill is reasonable given the worsening food crisis both in America and world wide.

This farm bill addresses biofuels diversion of food crops (like soy and corn) by providing more than a billion dollars to expand alternate use of biomass (like switchgrass and algae) and crop by-products (cornstalks, wheat straw, etc.) rather than diverting the grain itself. It also tightens payment limits, eliminating the “three-entity rule” that the previous bill contained as justification to funneling most ag payments to huge agribusiness concerns rather than smaller farm cooperatives or family farms. It limits subsidies to anyone making more than $500,000 in non-farm adjusted gross income [AGI] per year, and entirely ending direct payments to anyone with an AGI of more than $750,000 from any source. This will effectively put Big Agribusiness in the business of actually doing business instead of simply sucking up free corporate welfare as smaller family farms disappear.

New homesteaders usually aim to grow an increasing amount of their own food, as this is part of the whole homesteading impetus in the modern world. Those who have been at it for awhile – and have managed to secure ~10 or more acres for their homestead – are increasingly producing food for local markets and even joining the CSA movement by allowing individuals and families to “buy-in” to the season’s crops. The nation’s farm bill policies (the 2002 bill expires on Friday, May 16th) usually don’t affect what homesteads of 50 acres or less produce, and nobody from the government tries to tell them what they can or can’t grow. And as long as production remains tied to the local/regional market the government isn’t likely to interfere.

So why, one might reasonably ask, has President Bush promised to veto the legislation? First, he’d wanted a $200,000 AGI cap on ALL farm subsidies, essentially getting the government fairly well out of the business of subsidizing agriculture altogether. The politicians claim their $750,000 figure is more realistic as a way of weaning farmers off support payments. Which under the present soon-to-expire bill allows an AGI of $2.5 million. Surely then the higher cap is reasonable as a step-down without throwing US agriculture into total turmoil just when food is becoming a precious commodity.

And while the amount of money American taxpayers must provide to farmers in order to have a safe and ample supply of food is certainly too much in real terms under the 2002 bill, that’s not the most controversial aspect of the 2007 bill. That would be the “commodity title” – the program through which the government tries to smooth out the financial uncertainty of farming itself. Bush wants those out altogether because they’re a sticking point in global trade deals (and, presumably, because we don’t have any money left from his oil wars in Afghanistan and Iraq). These payments usually go to the biggest farming concerns, so serious economic recession should be a factor in their continuance.

However – and most important to rural homesteaders producing or planning to produce within the next few years food for local/regional markets – this bill contains $5 million in annual mandatory funding for “Community Food Projects [CFP]” over the next 10 years. The bill also allows public school to favor local farms in bids for school food supplies, and this can significantly improve both local markets as well as school nutrition in general. It eliminates a major barrier for schools and will make Farm to School programs much easier to establish county-wide or even regionally. This will help producing homesteaders significantly.

While schools are still limited to spending a mere 70¢ to $1.00 per day per student for food, communities could get creative with other subsidies and program funding that would pay local farmers a decent price for their produce (including meat, dairy and chicken/eggs). The Conservation Title in this bill will tend to reward small farmers and producing homesteaders for their land and water conservation efforts too, and since we’re doing it anyway it’s nice to think that we could enjoy a small stipend to maintain the practice.

There are significant boosts in funding for organic agriculture, including a quintupling of payments to cover the heavy price of organic certification, and a seven-fold increase in funding for organic research and extension. It’s not a lot (and nowhere near the cash devoted to industrial-scale agribusiness), but it’s something. Something is always better than nothing, particularly since most of us homesteaders are growing food anyway.

I’ve been encouraging homesteaders to network with their neighbors and communities in a number of ways, and food production, distribution, nutrition programs in schools and for the needy in our communities are important aspects of local governance and planning homesteaders can contribute much to. We don’t HAVE to be paid by the government to love where we live and do what we do, but if our areas can manage to lasso some help from the big guys then we should be attempting to get all we can. Farm and rural policies are important even though we are striving for independence. So keeping up with what affects farmers in our areas is very important.

Dessert Fads in 2011

Even though everyone enjoys a bowl of ice cream or a few cookies, there are still major trends in the dessert industry every year that overshadow the classics. A handful of delicious sweets always gain huge popularity and spark tasty and beautiful dessert creations. These are the top 5 dessert fads of 2011 and a breakdown of when they were most popular online. I’ll also take a stab at predicting what the biggest trend of 2012 will be, so if your sweet tooth is acting up, you might want to grab a brownie before you read another word!

Macaroons
Macaroons

Cupcakes

Many people said the cupcake fad would die in 2010, but these tasty treats are still going strong, and it doesn’t surprise me in the least. Why go back to eating cake when you can have an adorable, mini cake individually frosted and flavored? The variety of decorative possibilities and the controlled portions make cupcakes an amazing choice.

And cupcakes’ popularity remained steady throughout 2011. In fact, their biggest peak was in April of 2011, proving that the doubters were wrong about cupcakes’ tapering popularity. So there you go, cupcakes. Don’t let the naysayers get you down. (And yes, I am directly addressing cupcakes. Don’t judge me.)

Cake pops

Cupcakes aren’t the only miniaturized cake treats getting attention. People are loving cake pops, which are basically little round pieces of cake on a stick, hence the “pop” part of the name. Instead of having traditional wedding cakes, many brides and grooms are choosing to go with cake pops to put a modern twist on an old-fashioned dessert.

Cake pops are at their Internet search peak in October, probably because October is one of the most popular months to have weddings. Not only have married-couples-to-be noticed the cake pop trend—even commercial retailers like Starbucks have spotted the fad and started selling the pops in their coffee establishments. Nice looking out, Starbucks.

Macaroons

Despite looking like the Pretty Patties SpongeBob invented (Google it), macaroons will delight your taste buds. The French type is sweeping the dessert world, and while the coconut variety is popular, the multi-colored ones more frequently appear at weddings because they add both flavor and decoration to the dessert table.

Macaroon hype peaked in April and experienced a second worldwide Internet search peak in September, though that’s just for the search term “macaroon,” which would also include the common coconut variety. The search for the term “French macaroon” peaked in March and October. Looks like people need their treats at their weddings and in the spring!

Whoopie pies are also getting attention on the wedding circuit, and just like every dessert listed before them, theytastelike they belong to the cake family. (Sensing a trend within a trend here?) It’s essentially a cake sandwich with cream or frosting in the middle, which means making these things is always a good decision.

Whoopiepies were searched online the most during the months of February and March, and while they’ve been less popular than the other desserts on this list, they’ve maintained a steady interest throughout the year.

Finally breaking from the cake theme, pies of all types made a real showing in the dessert world this year. From apple to chocolate cream, people have a taste for pie these days, which is sparking more and more shops to open up that are strictly dedicated to baking and selling homemade pies.

In terms of search popularity, “pie” blows everything out of the water, though we have to assume some of these searches were actually for “whoopie pies.” Poor whoopie pies — never getting any of the credit.

2012 trend prediction: Homemade packaged desserts

Baking enthusiasts have been whipping up their own versions of classic packaged treats like Hostess Twinkies and Cupcakes this year, and it looks like it’ll be a trend that’ll really gain some steam next year. Dozens of recipes exist on recipe sites like Recipe Finder and foodie blogs for homemade versions of Pop-Tarts, HoHos, MoonPies, and more, but this trend seems to have started toward the end of 2011. Let’s hope 2012 brings us delicious,non-processed versions of the treats we loved as kids.

Conclusion

Cake’s boring. Or at least that’s what seems to be going on here. Cake is like a super popular, old-school TV show that’s now the cause of four amazing spin-offs. Appreciate pies and cake-like treats for these last few months, because new trends will be arriving in 2012 that will surely grab our attention and satisfy our sweet cravings!

Best Thanksgiving Perk: Cranberries

CranberriesThanksgiving is just over a week away, which means one of my absolute favorite fruits are now being sold fresh in bags – often on half price sale – at grocery stores everywhere. For Thanksgiving I use just one of those 12-ounce bags to make my famous Crackberry Sauce (regular whole cranberry sauce with a bag of frozen blackberries added). But I buy as many as I can afford when they go on sale so I can dry them as “craisins.”

I’ve written quite a bit about how much I like drying food from the garden rather than canning. Which is a hot and expensive way of preserving things. But this time of year my handy-dandy home-made solar dryer is fairly useless, there’s just not enough hours of sun to make it work. So I use the oven, which can also be a relatively expensive proposition. Still, good craisins are expensive from the store in those little brand name bags, so it works out fairly. Even better, if you make your own craisins at home you can do some pretty spectacular things with them flavor-wise.

This year I’m doing the “Double-Dry” method for orange flavored craisins. It’s easy enough – just dry the craisins in single layers on flat baking sheets in a barely warm oven – I use the lowest setting, 150º – and keep the door propped open a couple of inches to allow the moisture to escape in natural convection. Takes awhile, and many of the berries retain their size and shape until they’ve cooled completely and wrinkle up into the ‘usual’ raisin-like form. I put these into a glass bowl and cover them with hot orange juice. Then cover the bowl and let the berries reconstitute. Then dry them again.

You could use any type of fruit juice to flavor your craisins, even wine or brandy if you want. Just be sure to label the containers you put them in so they don’t get mixed up. They are wonderful additions to holiday cakes, breads and cookies, or just as handy snacks. If you want your craisins to be sweeter, just thoroughly dissolve a tablespoon or two of sugar or honey in the reconstituting juice, it will get absorbed.

It’s cranberries this time of year, but drying and double-drying fresh fruit works any time of year, whenever the local harvest has big lots at the farmer’s market. I haven’t yet double-dried apples, as dried apple slices go so fast as snacks around here that it seems the hoards just stand around drooling to get them as fast as they can be produced. But if ever I did happen to have dried enough for, say, a Thanksgiving pie, I’d probably reconstitute them in spiced juice (mulled cider or even wine) just before putting them into the pie crust, using leftover juice as part of the filling. Just add sugar and corn starch to thicken.

Cranberries don’t grow in my locale, but blueberries sure do. I’m planning to dedicate several terraces on the upper yard slope to the ridge to blueberries, once I find a good source of thinned bushes I can get for free. Say, 4 100-foot rows of good producers, which works out to ~25 bushes per row spaced at 4′. Good producers will return ~5 pounds of berries per bush (some will give 10, but I’m being conservative here). Once they’re producing at that level, I’ll be getting an average crop of 500 pounds a year! That’s big enough to supply my family and friends as well as the local munchy market. Besides, blueberries come in high summer, which would let me use the sun instead of expensive electricity to do the drying.

Old King Coal, a Filthy Old Soul

Old King CoalBack in June I posted a disgusted ode to King Coal’s most outrageous method of extracting the combustible black rock from these most beautiful and abundant Appalachians. In that post, Desperate for Fossil Fuels, I described the environmental horror known as “Mountaintop Removal” and offered a bunch of useful links for further information, environmental coalitions and direct actions aimed at stopping this crazy rape of the earth.

Just six months later on December 22, an earthen dam gave way at a coal ash holding pond in Kingston, Tennessee, spilling more than a billion gallons of the sludge into a neighborhood as well as into the Clinch and Tennessee Rivers. Three homes were completely destroyed, many others within the 300 acre sludge zone had to be evacuated, dead fish littered the banks of the rivers and the people of eastern Tennessee as well as the rest of the nation suddenly became familiar with what this waste product of burning coal contains. It’s not pretty.


Concentrated in this nasty toxic waste are poisons and heavy metals such as arsenic and mercury, nickel, vanadium, beryllium, cadmium, barium, chromium, copper, molybdenum, zinc, lead and selenium. There are also concentrations of radioactive elements including uranium, thorium and radium. These substances readily leach from the ash into water, and the rivers and wells around the spill site have tested high in arsenic and other pollutants – residents have been warned to drink only bottled water until they hear otherwise.

Yet despite the fact that there is a toxic load in the millions of pounds of ash produced in America every year from burning coal, the EPA does not regulate it as toxic waste and some states don’t regulate it at all. Thus despite known problems with retention of the sludge, this waste product is actually considered to be a valuable commercial product all by itself!

There are actually marketers of coal fly ash that do nothing but re-sell the stuff for use in concrete and cement, as structural landfill and mine reclamation, as base for roads, for making bricks, and even as “inert filler” in agricultural fertilizer (along with waste from other industries, like steel production). Is it any wonder that our once-fertile plains now need ever-increasing amounts of fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides and genetically engineered crop cultivars in order to grow anything at all?

Those of us who are committed to lovingly managing our land and producing as much of our own sustenance as possible using the most organic of tried-and-true methods can use the sad experience of the people in eastern Tennessee as an opportunity to learn more about what ‘standard practices’ our rural neighbors may be using that could threaten our family’s health and livelihood. Large farms upstream of our homesteads could be using industrial waste-based fertilizers that will leach contaminants into our water sources as easily as their in-season chemical sprays will.

While arsenic in the water is a serious concern for our drinking water, irrigation water and livestock water, heavy metals can wreak terrible havoc as well. Round-Up doesn’t contain heavy metals, your neighbor may think he’s being responsible. So he probably needs to know what’s in that fertilizer too, as he may be wondering why his crops do so poorly and his livestock are so sickly. Do your research, put your findings into an easy-to-read format, and present them at future meetings of your extension classes or community farm planning groups. Pass them out at the farmer’s market and contact environmental groups in your area who are or should become involved in dealing with these issues.

This earth is our only home. Our homesteads – our beloved little corners of earth – are our pleasure, our pride, our freedom and our example to the world. If we won’t protect and defend them, no one else will. So as we move into this hopeful new year with a new administration with a commitment to sustainable energy policies for the future, don’t let anybody fool you about “Clean Coal” – there is no such thing.

We can choose to go with clean, efficient, renewable energy sources. We can choose to diversify our production so that gigantic mega-watt plants aren’t necessary to supply our needs. We can choose to stop raping and pillaging our planet for the short-term gain for the wealthy few, while ignoring basic livability for our children and grandchildren’s future. Get mad, get involved, get busy!

Links:
Desperate for Fossil Fuels
“Mountaintop Removal”
Coal Fly Ash
USGS: Radioactive Elements in Coal and Fly Ash
Fear in the Fields: How Hazardous Wastes Become Fertilizer

Livestock: A Rabbit In Every Pot

rabbitI’ve been looking into the various classified ads locally for livestock I want, to get an idea on budgeting first for proper quartering and actual animals. Chickens are of course a first choice. Also want bees, been looking at hives and queens for sale. If I can site them properly, bears shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Goats are sometime in the future, will need more fencing than we’ve got.

On those classified pages I discovered an awful lot of meat rabbits for sale, and remembered some homesteader friends in Virginia about 25 years ago who were big into meat rabbits. At the time we’d recently become vegetarian and I rejected the idea for our just-started homestead, but all these years later I think the ease of raising rabbits might make them an excellent livestock choice… so long as I don’t have to be the one who slaughters and prepares them for sale. There are surprisingly ample markets locally for good rabbit meat, especially organically raised. Even including some of the high-end eateries and B&Bs who are my regular fresh organic herb and sauce customers.

I ordered a book entitled Raising Rabbits to Survive, which promises to be a very handy reference and educational tool. Even better, the book comes with 5 supplemental books covering just about everything you need to know.

In the meantime and most serendipitously, I also encountered an interesting 5-part blog series about the same subject, which is immediately accessible. Looks like this is something my homestead should be seriously aiming for, before the year is out.

Many of you, like me, will remember raising and keeping rabbits as pets as kids back when we lived in far more urban areas, and think bout how rabbits as livestock could be a considerable cog in our self-sufficiency machinery as homesteaders. Because homesteading these days isn’t always about living way out in the country.

Rabbits are quiet, they don’t take up much room, and with proper care and feeding will readily reproduce on an amazingly quick schedule. You might be surprised that there’s a market for rabbit meat, but homesteaders I knew a quarter century ago raised meat rabbits as well as chickens and goats, for that very purpose. They never could manage to saturate the market. Go surfing through some of the internet’s ample offerings of food and recipe sites for “rabbit recipes.” You’ll get way more than just a camp version of rabbit stew. Things like honey roast rabbit, Chinese sweet and sour rabbit, fried rabbit in breadcrumbs, Louisiana Creole rabbit… the possibilities are endless.

One Rabbit Recipe site notes that rabbit meat is high in protein, low in fat, uric acid, cholesterol, sodium and calories. It is also easily digested and is recommended in diets that restrict red meat. Rabbit is all white meat, fine grained and has a mild flavor. It substitutes well for any recipe calling for veal or poultry. I haven’t personally eaten meat (other than fish) for about 40 years, but I’m not averse to growing rabbits as an organic meat offering if I don’t have to do the slaughtering. I’m fairly sure I could find someone locally who would do the job for a cut of sale price at any of a dozen local organic meats suppliers and cooperatives.

So. How easy or hard is it to go with raising rabbits as a homestead food stock? Apparently not that hard, or even terribly expensive. If you’re willing to do the work. Here’s an overview of the series by DawnG I mentioned, and hope interested readers will take the time to check each installment out. They each contain valuable and useful information.

Part 1 introduces the many good reasons to consider rabbits as livestock, and lists some of the downsides. Such as how difficult it is to not love them as pets. Which for many of us, might be overwhelming.

Part 2 talks about food independence on the homestead, even if you don’t plan to make money (or trade) on your stock. Very good rundown on the details of proper housing for the rabbits, food and watering details, and things to look out for. DawnG also suggests supplying your rabbits with toys, as their teeth grow perpetually and they need things to chew on as well as to play with.

Part 3 looks in depth at rabbit food, commercial and supplementals. She includes the proper protein/fiber ratio for producing the best meat, and varying feed requirements depending on season. Some of the supplementals are things our homesteads can provide quite readily for free, which means they won’t be an added expense. Grass hay, sunflower seeds, fresh or dried fruit, fresh veggies and herbs, weeds and lawn clippings, etc. I figure all the bruised and otherwise compromised fruit and veggies I usually compost could go through rabbits first. Then I could compost the droppings!

Part 4 looks at the best breeds to get as your original breeding stock, and what to look for in each one as to health and pedigree. I had no idea there were so many meat breeds, or that there are show rabbits, and stud rabbits, and an entire sub-business involved in selling such rabbits to other homesteaders for starting their stock. Maybe that’s something a vegetarian could go for as far as participating in meat production.

Part 5 gets into the nitty-gritty about… um… rabbit sex. How old your buck and does should be before you let them breed, what to look out for, what records to keep to ensure your best breeders are the ones producing stock (and not getting eaten), and how to care properly for pregnant does and fresh litters. Also advice on paying attention to mothering traits, culling does that don’t measure up.

All terribly interesting, not very expensive an investment, and something to seriously consider as part of our homesteading adventures. The economy isn’t scheduled to get any better for at least a decade, as social support systems are scheduled to be cut to the bone or entirely eliminated. Self and community sufficiency is only going to become more and more important in the coming years, we homesteaders need to be ahead of the game.

Extra $ on Your Outbuildings

solar_outbuildingI was reminiscing the other day to my gathered grandchildren about the annual childhood vacation journeys my family used to make from wherever we were living at the time to my paternal grandparents’ home in central Kentucky. Dad let us take turns as navigator in the shotgun seat, getting us from point A to B in a day’s drive, using nothing but those “little blue roads” through the rural countryside he loved so much. Occasionally one of us kids would get us good and lost, then the next in line would have to find a way out. He was never in a big hurry, we often spent more days than necessary getting to Grandma’s house.

One of the things I recall most fondly were the painted advertising barns we’d see along the way. “See Rock City” barns no matter where we were or how far it was from there to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Ubiquitous tobacco barns in Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky painted to advertise for Mail Pouch or Red Man or some other cigarette, chew or pipe tobacco. Some very unique painted barns advertising for local or national businesses. We used to keep a page of the trip log for listing those, along with each eagerly anticipated Burma Shave series of one-word jingles and the usual list of state license plates seen along the way.

Those old ad-barns are quickly falling into distantly remembered history, as tobacco bases become increasingly rare and as the barns themselves deteriorate. Some have been salvaged as ‘conversation piece’ paneling for fancy rural log McMansions, pulling in a pretty penny for those who dismantle rotting outbuildings in a newer generation. In an age of interstate highways lined by boring billboards, seeing a unique working barn with a real advertisement on it is becoming a rare occurrence.

Would it surprise you to find that barn painted advertising is making a comeback? It surprised me, but then again, I don’t go far from home very often, and then mostly via interstate. But barn painted advertising still has its uses, and can return money to a landowner equivalent (or better) than from simply renting space for a billboard to be erected. All it requires is that the farm/homestead have frontage on a well-traveled roadway, and a good sized barn that can be easily seen from that roadway. Thus ‘selling’ the side and/or roof of a barn or other large outbuilding to a company for advertising could possibly be a good source of ‘extra’ income for homesteaders to think about.

You can do this yourself, though it wouldn’t be as quick a turnover to income as going through a company that contracts ads for billboards and such, that might consider your barn. For local companies, check with advertising directors to pitch your location and visibility of your outbuilding(s). This can work for regional companies as well, but national companies generally go through those advertising firms. You could try both, take the deal that offers you the most for your offered advertising space. Lucky homesteaders may in this way earn extra income just for having outbuildings visible to the public, and in return get a showpiece of a barn that can someday be worth even more as salvage!

And don’t forget to consider that you can always advertise on your visible barn/outbuilding your own farm logo if you belong to a CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] cooperative, offer Agri-tourism attractions and/or B&B accommodations, or deal directly with the public for U-pick or fresh harvest produce, eggs, honey and/or meat. In such ventures advertising pays, and being visible to the public can only help.

Links:

Barn Painting & Advertising
Merced Sun-Star article
Rock City: Barn History