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blueberrylavenderjam_little-house-dunes

by Heather Harris Brady

Okay, so now we have our pretty little lavender sachet all ready to go. We’re ready to jam!

This is a freezer jam, if your freezer’s anything like mine you’ll need to plan accordingly. Freezer jam can make you feel like a rock star. It’s super easy and it keeps the great flavor of bright, fresh fruit. If you put the finished jam into the little one cup containers or jars it would make a beautiful hostess or holiday gift. I have to apologize in advance for these photos, it was REALLY late by the time I got making jam. Dusk is not my friend when it comes to blogging. . .

Blueberry Lavender Jam, Makes about four cups

3 c. fresh blueberries, washed and picked over

1 c. water

1 box of low-sugar pectin

2-1/2 c. sugar

One lavender sachet (see previous post)

Wash your jam containers in hot, soapy water and dry them thoroughly.

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Bring the cup of water to a brisk boil and put in the lavender sachet. Let it steep for 15-20 minutes. The water will take on a rosy-lavender color. While you are waiting chop the blueberries in a food processor. We’re not going for a puree here, just a rough chop. Pour them into a large bowl.

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Pour the lavender tea into a saucepan. Combine the sugar and pectin in a separate bowl, then stir it into the water. Bring it to a boil and boil for one minute.

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Pour the pectin mixture into the blueberries and stir for one minute.

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Make sure you mix from the bottom to the top, to spread the sugar and pectin all the way through. Ladle the jam into the containers and when it has cooled a bit, put on the covers.

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They need to sit out on your counter for 24 hours. Usually the jam will start firming up in four-five hours. Put the finished jam in the freezer until ready to use on hot, buttered biscuits. Every once in a while your jam won’t get as firm as you like, typically it happens to me with peach for some reason. But all is not lost, it still makes a great sauce for pancakes or ice cream!

blueberrylavenderjam6_little-house-dunes

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dryingherbs_little-house-dunes

by Heather Harris-Brady

Although you can expect to pay gourmet prices at the store for a jar of blueberry lavender jam, it’s easy to make your own. While you can totally buy dried lavender buds, in part one here I’m going to take you through the process of drying your own herbs in the microwave and making an herb sachet. In part two we’ll get to the jam.

I used to dry herbs in brown paper bags but now I do them all in the microwave. It’s super fast and easy. I grow lots of different herbs in our yard as part of the landscaping, but this time of year you can find them at the farmer’s market or grocery store if you don’t grow your own. If you are using lavender, you should pick it while the flowers are still in the bud stage. Most of the other herbs tend to be leaves (basil, thyme, sage, etc.).

Drying Fresh Herbs

Wash the herbs and lay them out in a single layer to dry on a paper towel. When they are completely dry put the towel on a microwave-safe plate and microwave it on high for one-two minutes.

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Take them out and test them. The branches should be completely dry and crispy. The buds will snap right off if you brush them. If yours haven’t reached this point, just put them back in for another minute. Mine sometimes dry unevenly and I will end up putting some of them back in. If you are using the leafy herbs you will be separating the leaves from the stalks.

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There you have it! A clean, dry pile of fresh lavender buds. Store your fresh dried herbs in an airtight container until you’re ready for them.

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Making a Sachet

I use organic plain muslin for teabags and sachets. A very thin old (clean) handkerchief would work too. Even if your sewing skills leave something to be desired it doesn’t really matter because over time these are going to get stained anyway.

You can make them any size you like. For soups and larger pots you may want to make bigger ones, but here I’m just making a small one out of a 7″ circle. Hem it all around the outside so the muslin doesn’t fray.

herbsachet_little-house-dunes

To use it, put your herbs in the center of the circle and bundle the edges up.

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Tie with a length of kitchen twine, leaving a long tail to help you fish it out later on.

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While you can certainly add a drawstring, I like this method because they open completely flat and are easy to clean. For the jam in the next post we’ll be using a sachet with 2 T. of dried lavender buds.

One Year Ago: Everyday Oatmeal Chip Cookies

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There’s probably not too many twisted kitchen geeks like me who will stare down the barrel of a three-day weekend and think awesome – finally I have time to make cheese! But there must be a few of you, right? Helloooo. . . .

Actually you don’t need a long weekend to make ricotta, a regular one will do. What you do need, though, is good milk that’s been pasteurized at a low temperature and is not homogenized. (Here’s a good milk list for my far-flung readers.)

Here by the dunes I buy the amazing milk from Shetler’s Dairy. Aren’t those glass bottles adorable?

In addition to a good source for milk you need scrupulously clean utensils and pans, cheese muslin and citric acid. Don’t be tempted to substitute cheesecloth, it’s way too coarse a weave. Cheese muslin, sometimes called butter muslin, is a much finer weave. I have cut mine to different sizes so it fits my different sizes of drainers.  Contrary to what you might think, you don’t need a lot of special equipment – especially in the case of fresh cheeses like ricotta.

Creamy Fresh Ricotta – Small Batch (Two finished cups of ricotta)

One 1/2 gal. whole milk, low-temp pasteurized and non-homogenized

One quart whipping cream, same as above

1 t. citric acid, dissolved in 1/4 c. water

Thermometer

Clean and sanitize the thermometer, muslin, a colander big enough to hold all the milk products, a large heavy pan and stainless steel slotted spoon. Set your colander over a large pan or sink to drain and line it with one layer of the muslin.

Pour the milk and the cream into the pan, slowly bring them to 190 degrees. Stir in the citric acid without breaking the surface of the milk. I draw the slotted spoon up and down beneath the surface.

Leave the pan on the heat for 10 minutes until you start to see curds forming. Pour the batch into the colander and set it aside to drain.

Here it is after two hours:

After four hours:

After spending the night draining in the refrigerator:

Once the ricotta is at the consistency you prefer, pack it into a clean and sanitized container. It is best to use it immediately – within a day or two at most, as it will continue to drain whey over time and there are no preservatives. Use it as you would any ricotta and store any leftover in the refrigerator.

Cheesemaking is strangely addictive. Once you get into the rhythm it’s easy to see how farm wives would have fit cheesemaking into their daily routine. It does take a while for the draining process, but the actual hands-on time is less than 20 minutes. In a future post I will be demonstrating how to make your own cheese draining baskets, in preparation for future posts on aged cheeses.

For some reason WordPress has been having problems with my pictures lately. Sorry about that, I’ll work on getting it fixed.

I am the proud owner of one vigorous Cascade hop plant. What  you’re seeing is just a tiny fraction that has sprouted up through a hole in the landscaping fabric. I bought it about four years ago and put it at the south end of our gravel patio. Someday I hope to train it up over a pergola to shade one of the great goals in my life: a wood-fired outdoor oven. The oven has yet to appear, but the hop plant is doing its thing admirably.

If you’ve never been around hops, they have largish leaves that resemble serrated maple leaves. The leaves grow on bines (bines, not vines in this case) that can easily reach 30′ in length. They also grow fast, up to a foot a day in the heat of summer, so they make you feel like a really good gardener as well as provide a substantial amount of summer shade quickly if they’re trained upwards.

Last year the cones weren’t ready until mid-September, but this year most of them matured around late August. The bines are covered with microscopic barbed hairs, which give most people – including me, a rash. You can either wear gloves to pick them or just wash and slather on aloe when you’re done.

The cones are ready to pick when they feel light and papery. If you pull one apart inside you should large deposits of yellow powder. This is called lupulin, and it is what lends beer its hoppy flavors.

As I picked I packed the hops directly into freezer bags, about four oz. per bag. I squeezed all the air out, wrapped them in a black garbage bag and put them in the deep freeze surrounded by gallons of water. The idea is to keep a constant temperature around the hops, unaffected by light and the open/close of the freezer door. They will keep their brewability for about a year.

Since I’m not a microbrewer last year I gave my entire harvest to a friend, this year I thought I would try to sell some so I have listed them on my etsy page, put up a craigslist ad and a few bulletin boards. I have 12 four ounce bags – to date – from the one plant. It can be hard to find fresh local hops in the small amounts required by homebrewers, plus buying them locally saves the cost of shipping. I will also be dividing the mother plant and starting some smaller ones for sale in the spring.

If you are interested in trying a hop plant of your own it is worth asking around to find out what varieties do well in your area. Here in northern Michigan, most of the “C” hops do well, Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, etc.

My husband has been making a concerted effort to limit his intake of sugar, but it is amazing how much sugar is hidden in condiments. It is equally amazing how much it can cost to purchase sugarfree versions! So, because I had some beautiful tomatoes from my aunt’s Amazonian tomato patch, I made him a batch of sugarfree ketchup based on a recipe in my trusty 1940’s Farm Journal Canning & Preserving cookbook.

Back in the day there were as many types of ketchups as there were varieties of fruit available. They all follow the same principle: wash and dice your fruit, cook it down with some initial seasoning (usually onion), puree, add more seasoning and cook to a desired thickness. I’ve followed the same basic process here. In cooking school we often used large carrots for sweetness as opposed to adding sugar, so I’ve added in a carrot here.

Sugar Free Tomato Ketchup

12-14 red ripe in-season tomatoes, a mix of varieties is great

1/2 c. onion, chopped

1 large carrot, chopped (I’m using this in place of the refined sugar)

1/2 c. apple cider vinegar

1 t. cinnamon

1 t. allspice

1/2 t. garlic powder

Gorgeous tomatoes (a dozen or so), check.

Wash and chop the tomatoes into a large pot along with the onion and carrot. I left the skins on the tomatoes but you could remove them if you like.

Cook down until all the vegetables are very soft. Then puree, I used my immersion blender and pureed right in the pot itself.

(Sorry for the blurry photo – it’s the steam!). Add the additional spices and cook down until it’s at your desired thickness.

This recipe makes about 3-1/2 cups of ketchup. I kept some out for the refrigerator and packed the rest into small plastic containers to freeze for future use.  So I have about three commercial bottles worth of sugarfree ketchup (which usually sell for over $5 per bottle) for less than a $1.00 in ingredients since my tomatoes were free!

My sugarfree ketchup, fulfilling its destiny!

After the last post on Goat Cheese Salad I thought it would be a good idea to talk a little bit about storing leaf lettuce. The colander of lettuce, above, was one week’s haul from my itsy-bitsy garden. While I would love to have a huge garden to roam around in and grow all kinds of exotic vegetables, I’m still a commuter. So, I have a series of five 4 x 4 raised beds. Two of them have three rows of leaf lettuce each, with tomatoes in between.

One of the great things about growing your own food is that you become so much more aware of the effort. Once I have gone to the trouble of getting the beds ready, planting and watering I am not going to waste the delicate leaves I cut. Through trial and error I have found a way to successfully store leaf lettuce for a week or more.

Storing Leaf Lettuce

1) Cut your leaves early in the morning if possible, when they are the least stressed.

2) Wash them thoroughly and pick out any badly damaged leaves and debris.

3) Shake off most, but not all of the water. You want a few droplets still clinging.

4) Get out a large freezer bag. I use the one gallon size. Dampen two paper towels and stack them in the freezer bag.

5) Lay your leaf lettuce on top of the paper towels, seal the bag and place it towards the door of the refrigerator. (I’ve found ours is colder in back and the leaves can freeze.)

Typically it’s the lettuce that’s pressed to the bottom of a bag that goes bad first. So the paper towel both protects the lettuce from touching the plastic while providing a breathable surface that can also soak up any extra moisture. I’ve kept leaf lettuce in top condition for 10 days using this technique for all types of leaf and heirloom lettuces.

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