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6/5/2014

Erin SheehanIf you have imported oranges or other citrus fruit sitting in your refrigerator or on your kitchen counter right now, please read on: this post is for you! You do not have to get Vitamin C from fruits coming out of Latin America. Though they seem to be currently out-of-favor and perhaps old-fashioned, fruits like rhubarb, currants and gooseberries are excellent sources of Vitamin C. Fortunately you can grow them easily in your own backyard. Starting a rhubarb patch and planting a couple of berry bushes will help reduce your dependence on the grocery store and help you to eat locally. Admittedly, rhubarb, gooseberries and currants are so tart that you will be hard-pressed to eat them without the addition of a fair amount of sugar or other sweeteners…

rhub

At this time of year most home-gardeners are swimming in rhubarb. You do not need any special gardening skills to grow rhubarb, it pretty much grows like a weed once you get it started. One of my favorite ways to use it is in muffins. We put a batch or two in the freezer and heat up a couple at a time to have with afternoon coffee.


muffins

Here’s my tried-and-true rhubarb muffin recipe:

Rhubarb Muffins

2½ cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1 cup brown sugar

½ cup oil

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

½ cup sour cream

½ cup water

1½ cups rhubarb

½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)

3 Tbsp white sugar

Mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon together. In separate bowl, mix brown sugar, oil, egg, vanilla, sour cream and water well. Add in dry ingredients and mix just until blended. Do not over-stir or your muffins will be tough. Spoon into a greased, floured muffin tin. Top with a sprinkle of white sugar and press it in with a spoon just a bit. Bake at 350F for about 25 minutes. Makes 24. 



5/30/2014

Erin SheehanOur rhubarb patch has plants from three sources: my mom and two of our neighbors. After just a couple of years the plants have taken hold and we harvest enough for several pies, muffins, rhubarb wine and jam.

 

rhubarb recipe

patch

Rhubarb is delicious and loaded with vitamin C and vitamin K. It pretty much grows like a weed once you get it in, so it’s worthwhile to try to track some down if you don’t already have a patch out back.

We made a Rhubarb Pie last weekend with our first harvest of the season. I know most people like to mix rhubarb with strawberries in a pie, but this recipe may surprise you. The addition of a little orange peel makes it delicious! Straight rhubarb pie needs a fair bit of sugar to balance the tartness of the rhubarb, but that's OK, we only eat it a few times a year, right?

cutting

pie

Old-fashioned Rhubarb Pie
Yields 1 10-inch pie.

1/4 cup white flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups sugar
Grated peel from one orange (or 1 tablespoon dried orange peel)
4 1/2 cups chopped rhubarb
1 egg
Pastry for double-crust pie

Combine flour, cinnamon, sugar and orange peel. Add rhubarb and egg and mix well. Line the bottom of your 10-inch pie plate with pastry. Add filling. Top with second pastry. Cut slits in the top to allow air to escape during baking.

Bake at 425 F for 50 minutes to 1 hour. Cover edges of crust with aluminum foil to prevent over-browning. Remove from oven when your crust is lightly browned and the filling is bubbling.



5/23/2014

Erin SheehanWe fully planted plot No. 1 of our two vegetable gardens this week. Typical of most gardeners, we complain that our plot is both too large and too small: When we’re about 2/3 of the way done planting and want to quit because we’re so tired, it’s too large. But when it’s fully planted and we’re looking down at five neck pumpkin seedlings that we simply can’t squeeze in, it’s too small!

 seedlings

working

We have a strategy with the plot. It’s three blocks from home, so we plant only crops that take up lots of space, require little maintenance, and can be harvested pretty much all at once. This year we put in Sweet Meat Squash, Neck Pumpkins, pie pumpkins and watermelon. Sweet Meats grow to about 10 to 15 pounds and are supposed to be great keepers, with rich, sweet flesh. Neck Pumpkins grow as large as 2 feet in length and weigh up to 20 pounds. They have a small seed cavity, so you get many pounds of delicious, vitamin-packed flesh in each one.

Due to changing weather patterns, we seem to get more deluge-type rains in this area. To protect our tender seedlings from drowning, we mound up the soil and put the plants high on the mounds. We also cover the entire plot with layered newspaper and then weigh it down with 75 or so wheelbarrows full of mulch. (Now you know why we’re so tired after planting!) Newspaper helps combat weeds by smothering weed seeds underground.

We hope to harvest at least 150 pounds of squash and pumpkins in the fall. People always ask me what we do with all of it. Because we don’t eat meat, we eat a lot of stews, soups and casseroles. I add a little squash to each one. I also make pumpkin soup, pumpkin waffles, pumpkin pizza and pumpkin bread throughout the year.  Somehow we use it all up. The gourds store well until round about December, when I cook or bake them all up and stick them in the freezer. Perfect timing as there’s not much to do out in the garden in December ….

If you have a lot of space, try out a Neck Pumpkin or a Sweet Meat this year. Let me know how you make out! 



5/15/2014

Erin SheehanThings around our homestead are kicking into high gear as we get ready for another growing season.The garden looks pretty bare now but won't for long.

 

 

garden

Our seedlings have graduated from the grow lights to spending a few hours every day outside soaking up the sun and experiencing the wind. Seedlings are tender and have to “harden off” before we can stick them out in the garden. In a week or so they’ll be ready to face the outside world for good.

lettuce

lettuce2

We have our cold-loving crops pretty much all planted: a few kinds of lettuce, Swiss chard, broccoli, kale, spinach, peas, and several herbs. The garden is slowly filling up. Jim’s tilled in the winter rye cover crop twice in the hopes that it won’t come back again.

broccoli

peas2

peas3We planted onion sets at the community plot last week. We haven’t tried growing onions in the past, but onions are about the only vegetable we buy instead of grow, so we thought we’d better give them a try this year.

My “Sweet Meat” and “Neck” pumpkins finally sprouted. The seed packages say 10 to 14 days, and they took nearly that whole time. I started them in pots on warming mats, but they sit on our front porch, which has been quite chilly this spring due to the unusually cool weather. We had a warm spell last week and on day 12 all but one had popped out of the dirt! It was so exciting to see those tender shoots finally coming up. I grew Neck pumpkins last year with great success, but the Sweet Meats are freebie seeds I got from the community garden supply. These types of pumpkins take 110 to 120 days, a real stretch in our area. We hope to get them in the ground in the next week or 10 days.

I bought some marigolds and alyssum at a local church flower sale to use as companion plants in the garden. They help repel the bad insects and attract the good ones so we do try to squeeze them in. Grandpa always put marigolds in his garden, and my mom has always had them in hers. This is our first year trying alyssum, I read in a magazine that it’s good to have in the garden so we’ll give it a try.

With so much still to put in the ground, we have a whole lot of work ahead. It’s a busy time at our homestead. But it’s also the most hopeful time of the year as we see the potential of a great growing season. I hope your garden is starting up well this year, too!

 flowers2



5/7/2014

Erin SheehanMy grandmother made her own soap, using rendered fats. I don’t remember much about it other than it didn’t smell all that good and it was cut into odd shapes. I’m not sure what prompted me to make my first batch of soap, but I don’t think it was the memory of those yellow bricks!

That said, making your own soap is fun. It can be a little fussy but the finished product can be well worth the effort. It will also give you a sense of accomplishment.

soapdone 

I use what’s known as the cold process method, which involves oils, water and lye. I’ve used the recipe below many times. I hope it works for you as well as it has for me! Before you begin, read and understand each step and make sure to wear eye and hand protection. Never leave your oils on the stove unattended or leave your lye solution where children or pets might find it.

Equipment needed: kitchen scale, large cooking pot used only for soap (I use a retired pressure cooker), 2 candy thermometers, molds (I use cheap plastic containers), large wooden or metal spoon used only for soap, 1-quart or larger pitcher used only for soap, stick blender, gloves, glasses or safety goggles.

Ingredients:
4 ounces lye
12 ounces distilled water
16 ounces vegetable shortening
7 ounces white coconut oil
1 ounce cocoa butter
7 ounces olive oil (the cheaper the better)
Essential oils, and/or color, if desired
Herbs and spices, if desired

The first step is to make your lye solution. Put your pitcher on the scale and zero out the weight. Add in the distilled water. Using the same process, weigh your lye in a plastic or glass container. SLOWLY add the LYE to the WATER. Do not add the water to the lye. Gently stir the mixture until the lye is completely dissolved. It’s going to heat up fast and emit some strong fumes, so keep your face away from the pitcher. When you remove the spoon, use care – the liquid on it can burn you. Set the lye in a safe place to cool. I set up a glass candy thermometer on the edge of the pitcher and put it out on the front porch, where it’s cold. You want it to cool down.

While your lye is cooling off, weigh your oils and get them melting on the stove in your pot. Use your second candy thermometer to monitor the temperature. It’s better if the oils don’t get too hot as they cool slowly.

oil

stove

You want both the lye mixture and the oils to be within 5 degrees of each other, with both coming as close to 110 F as possible. Juggling temperatures is tricky, but you’ll get better at it with experience. You can warm the oils back up on the stove, or cool them off using an ice bath in your kitchen sink, depending on how the lye is doing. When you have them both right around 110 F, add the lye mixture slowly to the oils. Use your stick blender in short bursts. Be very careful not to splatter. Use the blender as a stirrer in between bursts of blending. Do this for 3 to 4 minutes.

If you want to add any herbs, colorants or essential oils, now is the time.

scents

dye

Be careful not to add too much in the way of essential oils as it may mess up your saponification process (what forms the soap) if you add too much. Also make sure any oils you use are safe for contact with skin. I like lilac or lavender oil, but I don’t use any preservatives so the scents generally don’t last too long.

Time for your molds – I use plastic containers, but you can use just about anything you like. Pour the soap into the mold. Cover it (a good reason to use plastic containers), and wrap the molds carefully with a blanket.

wrapped

Set in a warm place. Do not touch or disturb for 24 to 48 hours.

Once you can’t wait anymore to get in there and look at it, unwrap your molds and try to get the soap out. I’ve found that stubborn batches benefit from a few hours in the freezer; once they are cold enough they usually pop right out.

soap

Slice up the soap into bars and set on a baking rack or other area with air flow to cure. It needs about 4 weeks before you can use it.

Good luck and happy bathing!



4/30/2014

Erin SheehanA couple years back I paid 25 cents for an unused gardening journal at a church rummage sale. When I got it home my husband asked me, “Why on earth did you buy that?” Wouldn’t you know, we started using it that spring and since then the journal has become like a bible for us. We consult it regularly, and I’m not even sure how we ever lived without it!

A gardening journal helps you keep track of what you planted where and when. Equally important if you put food up, you can use it to record your yield and consumption as well. Tomatoes are one of our largest and most important crops. Last year we wrote in the journal that we had 16 tomato plants. We froze and canned 25 quarts of whole tomatoes, canned a dozen pints each of salsa and pizza sauce, and canned half a dozen quarts of spaghetti sauce. I’m about out of frozen tomatoes, but I have too much pizza sauce and not enough salsa. Being able to look back with accuracy rather than trying to rely on memory helps inform what seeds we’ve started and what we’ll aim to put in the ground this year. It will also play a role in deciding how we preserve our harvest this coming fall.

Journal

Journal2

The journal helps us stay on track, so we know what we’re supposed to be doing each week, especially at this time of year when we have so many different kinds of seeds to start. Some of our crops, mostly pumpkins and winter squashes, require as long as a 120-day growing season, which is pushing it for our area. Timing is critical for getting the seeds started and figuring out when we can plant. Last year I harvested more than 150 pounds of squash and pumpkins. We’ve eaten all but one frozen quart and won’t harvest again until late September, so I know this year to try to put in a few more plants. (Don’t ask me how we’ll fit them in the garden, though!)

Another value of the journal is keeping track of your crop rotation. We use graph paper and sketch out the garden each year as we go along. We look back at several years of sketches to make sure we aren’t planting the same things in the same place too often.

Reading the journal brings back memories for us, good and bad. We record floods and droughts. We also record firsts – first tomato of the year, first zucchini, etc. I enjoyed picking up the journal during our long, hard winter this year just to remind myself of the possibility of summer.

The journal I have is only meant for a single-year use but I’m cramming it full of as many years as I can. It’s easier if everything is in one place and why buy another? If you aren’t keeping a written record of your gardening activities, it’s never too late to start. Maybe you’ll get lucky too and find a garden journal a local rummage sale. 



4/23/2014

Erin SheehanStore-bought granola is pricey and you can’t control what’s in it. When you make your own you can make it to suit your own tastes and budget. Ingredients like pumpkin seeds and pecans are pretty pricey, but I have found sunflower seeds (far cheaper) taste almost as good. Next year maybe we’ll harvest enough butternuts to use in a few granola batches, or at least I hope so!

jargranola

ingreds

crockpotI’ve tried making granola in the oven. Invariably it either comes out all burned or half burned and half raw. I’ve never been able to nail down the right oven temperature and length of time I suppose. I’d pretty much given up on homemade granola until I recently came across a slow-cooker granola recipe. I was so skeptical but it makes perfect granola every time! Just the right amount of crispiness that I could just never get right making it in the oven. Using the slow cooker also means I don’t have to use my oven in the summer just to make granola.

Here’s the recipe I have been using:

 Slow-Cooker Granola

5 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1/2 cup nuts (walnuts, pecans)

1/2 cup seeds (pumpkin, sunflower)

1/4 cup canola oil

1/4 cup sweetener (honey, agave nectar, maple syrup)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 teaspoons cinnamon (or more to taste)

1/2 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut

1/2 cup dried fruit (raisins, pineapple, apple)

Start by spraying or oiling your slow cooker inside so you don’t have problems with sticking. Combine all ingredients except the dried fruit right in the slow cooker. Set to high setting but leave the lid slightly askew for venting. Cook for about 90 minutes. Stir after 30 minutes, then stir every 20 minutes thereafter. Add your dried fruit and then cook on low for about 30 minutes more, stirring a couple of times. Your cooking time may vary based on how powerful your slow cooker is. You may also have to stir more or use the lower setting throughout if your cooker runs hot.

granolabowl

The smell of your granola baking is going to make you anxious to try some! It fills the house with deliciousness. I hope you try some tasty homemade granola in your slow cooker and let me know how it comes out. 





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