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Erin SheehanRoasted pumpkin seeds are delicious and good for you. They are high in Magnesium, Iron and protein. For years we discarded ours as we processed pumpkins from the garden. This fall we realized that we have been throwing away usable (and yummy!) food all this time, so no more!

Here’s an easy how-to for roasted pumpkin seeds. Next time you process a pumpkin or a squash, hold onto those seeds!


How to Roast Pumpkin Seeds:

  1. Cut pumpkin and remove seeds, working them out of the pulp as much as possible.

  2. Clean the seeds using a colander and running water. You aren’t going to get them perfectly clean, but at least get the chunks of pumpkin off of your seeds.

  3. Dry the seeds on a small towel. They don’t have to be totally dry, but not soaking wet either.

  4. Preheat your oven to 400 F. Place oven rack on top shelf.

  5. Spread the seeds onto a baking sheet in a single layer. If you have too many seeds to spread in a single layer use two baking sheets. Some recipes call for oil but I’ve never found it to be necessary and adding oil can even make your seeds chewy instead of crispy, which you don’t want.

  6. Sprinkle the seeds with salt to taste.

  7. Roast from 10 to 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so with a spatula. How long you roast depends on how large the seeds are and how crispy you want them. I like them very crispy and go the full 20 minutes, but you don’t want them to burn, so be careful!

I hope this inspires you to never throw away the good food lurking inside of your pumpkins and squash ever again!


Erin SheehanOur garden is covered in snow and the thermometer reads minus 10 F today. Winter has certainly arrived at our homestead. I know most of you gardeners want January to pass as quickly as possible so you can get your hands back in the dirt and start growing food. And we look forward to that as well, but we’re also happy to take advantage of the opportunity to sit back and rest up for a while.


From mid-March through early November, Jim and I are full-on and all-out, growing, harvesting and preserving food. We’re serious about self-reliance, which drives us to squeeze as much food as we can out of our home garden and our community garden plots. As long as the weather and the rabbits and insects all cooperate, our efforts are worthwhile …. We finished up 2014 with a full chest freezer, a full canning cellar, and apples, garlic, squash and pumpkins in the attic. It’s a labor of love and the rewards are tremendous, but I admit that we breathe a small sigh of relief when the garden closes for the season!

Winter lets us catch up on inside projects. Last weekend we re-webbed a couple of summer chairs that had nearly broken through. This weekend I have a sewing project planned, “un-paper towels.” Meanwhile, my “read” list on has been growing by leaps and bounds.

But leisurely reads of library books will give way to seed catalogs as January marches on. Although in a few weeks we’ll get out our graph paper and start planning the garden for real, for now we dog-ear the pages on the catalogs and talk about our gardening pipe dreams.


Growing our own food is hard but joyful work. Jim and I love the garden and we love growing food together. But for now, until spring rolls around, we will take time out to sew, read, play guitar, sing, bake, and cuddle the cats for a change.


Erin SheehanScottish novelist James M. Barrie wrote, “God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.” And as the temperature plummets and snow blankets the ground, how often do you find yourself closing your eyes and thinking of a warm August afternoon? If you are like me, you call to mind harvesting summer’s bounty from the garden under the summer sun.

As I get older and the years seem to pass more and more quickly, I find memories slipping away, and I realize I don’t recall the happy ones often enough. Even looking back at 2014, I find it hard to remember the triumphant moments, the highs, the good times.

Memories fade and grow worn with time, but we can keep them alive if we try. While everything around us changes constantly, memories remain constant. Especially if we have some help now and again to bring back the good ones.


For 2015, I have created a “Memory Jar.” Starting January 1, I will write down the good things that happen to me on scraps of paper and put them in the jar. On December 31, I will open the jar and relive all of the good times I had in 2015. Simple, right? American poet Elias Lieberman said, “Memories are all we really own.” And in 2015, I’ll rely on my Memory Jar to help me own a few more of the good ones. Happy New Year to you, dear reader!


Erin SheehanI needed a quick batch of cookies earlier this week to share with friends and relatives. Looking for inspiration, I picked up Grandma's 1931 Successful Farming Cookbook. In the cookie section she had many handwritten recipes that she had added into the book.

One of her handwritten recipes is for ginger cookies. The recipe is very simple but looking it over I realized that it would be challenging for me to try to make them.


First problem is that her recipe calls for lard, which I don't keep on hand. Next, the amount of flour needed, "enough to make stiff," isn't very specific. The recipe also doesn't include the oven temperature or the number of minutes to bake, and I couldn’t tell if I should grease the cookie sheet or not!

I searched around online to find other (more detailed) ginger cookie recipes and ended up putting together a few recipes with Grandma's. What I came up with is below. They came out very gingery! I wish Grandma could have tried one, but I did bring them to my mom and she gave a thumbs up.

"New" Old-fashioned Ginger Cookies

1 cup butter or margarine
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 large or extra-large egg
1/2 cup molasses
1 heaping tablespoon minced fresh ginger root (I used jarred)
3 3/4 to 4 cups flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter or margarine and brown sugar. Beat in egg, molasses and minced fresh ginger root. In a separate bowl mix together 3 3/4 cups of flour, ginger, baking soda and salt. Add to batter and stir well. If dough is sticky and not stiff, add an additional 1/4 cup of flour.

Cover dough and refrigerate for at least two hours.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Shape dough into 1-inch balls and drop on ungreased baking sheet at least 2 inches apart. Bake 10 to 12 minutes on a conventional pan or 15 to 17 minutes on an air-bake pan. Wait one minute after removing from the oven so they firm up a little and cool on a wire rack.




Erin SheehanMy grandmother’s recipe box has several wine recipes, including dandelion, rhubarb, gooseberry and grape. As soon as I laid eyes on the rhubarb wine recipe I knew we had to try it as well. Our backyard rhubarb patch supplies us with more than what we need for pies and jam. No better way to use the excess then in wine!

Because we have a friend with a large blueberry patch, we also have an excellent supply of blueberries every year. Straight rhubarb wine seemed like it might be a little rough, so we modified Grandma's recipe by substituting blueberries for half the fruit.

Grandma's recipe

Making wine takes at least 10 months. But with lots of care, some skill and a little luck, it can really be worth the wait.

If you’ve never made a fruit wine, you’ll want to visit a beer/wine making supply store for equipment and help.

'Bluebarb' (Rhubarb/Blueberry) Wine
2  1/2 pounds rhubarb
2  1/2 pounds blueberries
5 pounds white sugar
1  1/2 gallons water
2 Campden tablets
1 teaspoon acid blend
1/2 teaspoon grape tannin
1 package Red Star Cote des Blanc Yeast (dry wine yeast) plus another 1/2 cup warm water

Make sure to start with frozen, chopped rhubarb. When rhubarb is frozen and thawed it releases its liquid a lot easier, which is your goal, so make sure your rhubarb has been in the freezer for at least a few days before you start. We also started with semi-frozen blueberries. The blueberries need to be chopped just a bit in your food processor, otherwise they are very hard to burst. We found it was best to chop them slightly frozen so they don't completely turn to mush.

Line a plastic fermenting bucket with a straining bag. Put your thawed, chopped rhubarb and roughly chopped blueberries into the bag. Add a 5 pound bag of sugar. Mix well. Cover and let stand for 24 hours.

pressing the fruit from the bag 

Use straining bag to drain as much liquid out as possible. Pour about a half a gallon of water into bag at a time to rinse the pulp repeatedly until your remaining pulp is as well-rinsed as possible.

After rinsing and discarding pulp, add Campden tablets, acid blend and grape tannin. Cover bucket with lid and place air lock in the hole on the cover. (Air lock relies on a small amount of water to operate.) The Campden tablets will kill all of the wild yeast present on your fruit and any other accidental contamination. You need to wait 48 hours so that the tablets dissipate and don’t kill the yeast you are about to add.

Start your yeast (any good wine or Champagne yeast will work) 48 hours after straining fruit by stirring it into  1/2 cup warm water. Open your fermenter and add the yeast. Cover and replace fermentation lock.

Allow to ferment three months or until the float in the air lock has settled.

yeast has been added and the mixture has been sitting for three months 

Open fermenter and transfer wine to a glass carboy using a siphon tube and 1/4-inch tubing, being very careful to limit the amount of oxygenation. Replace air lock and let rest in carboy for another 2 to 3 month at which time the wine can be bottled.

Siphon off from carboy, bottle and cork.

bottling the wine   bottling the wine

Age in the bottle at least six months. Open a bottle and toast the success of your efforts.

the finished product 


Erin SheehanThere’s something special about eating fresh food from the garden even as winter has crept into our area. We had our first real snow almost a month ago now, but some of our hardier crops have only just recently given up the ghost. I picked fresh kale last Sunday – December 7! Although it was probably the last picking from the plant, it was so exciting to make an entry in our gardening journal for December! That month’s page is usually totally blank.


We think we may still have collard greens, but right now they are buried under about 10 inches of snow. I haven’t been out to brush them off and see how they are doing under there, but I’m pretty curious. We’ll try to harvest a few this weekend. We’ve heard they do pretty well even in cold temperatures. The kale, meanwhile, still appears to be alive, but there’s not enough growth really to harvest anymore.

We still have carrots, winter squash and garlic in storage. Although we picked them a while back, I still consider them “fresh” as we haven’t frozen or processed them yet.


My grandfather always used to say, “Snow is the poor man’s fertilizer.” So every year we hope for lots and lots of snow to help out our garden come spring. Looking out at the garden now it’s hard to believe that spring will ever come, but we have to believe that it will.

I hope your gardens are all getting lots of free fertilizer these days as well, readers! Happy winter!


Erin SheehanI recently borrowed my mother-in-law’s Household Hand Book: Containing reliable hints and suggestions for the household, by Lily Haxworth Wallace. It was published by the makers of Runford Baking Powder in 1915. As you can imagine, many gems lie inside that worn cover.

I’ve never been more grateful for that clothes washer sitting down in the basement than after reading the section, “Laundry Work.” Removing stains in 1915 was serious business. The book recommends removing paint stains by scrubbing them with turpentine, benzene or chloroform. Blood stains get treated with kerosene. No thanks!

cover   back

In another recommendation Ms. Wallace recommends that her readers soak all clothing and linens overnight before washing day. She also offers a recipe for “soap jelly,” to be used on delicate fabrics. The reason for the jelly is that delicate fabrics can’t survive having soap rubbed directly on them. Because doing laundry involved manually rubbing soap directly on clothing that apparently were soaking overnight in large metal tubs! It makes my hands feel dry and cracked just thinking about it.


The book goes on to offer instructions regarding the “Division of Labor” in the household, providing a to-do list for each day of the week. Monday is for needlework. Tuesday is wash day and starts with “boiling the clothes.” Getting up early on Tuesday is also recommended, in preparation for the long, hard day ahead. Wednesday is for ironing (does anyone iron anymore?) and Thursday afternoon “must be left free, being the usual ‘afternoon out.’” I had no idea that people went calling on Thursday afternoon but I guess they must have. Needless to say, Sunday was the only real rest day, and not much of one at that, as the woman would have had to still come up with a big Sunday dinner.

Reading books like this reminds us of how hard our grandparents and great-grandparents worked. Especially the women. So next time you’re feeling particularly nostalgic for the “old days,” throw in a load of laundry! You’ll feel a lot better about living in 2014.

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