Do you have a dream?
My dream is to have 2-5 acres to homestead again and raise pork, turkeys, more chickens, a dairy cow and of course grow vegetables. After eight years of farming on 3 acres in NC, we had to move up North and are on 1/4 acre. I have downsized considerably.
It is very important to have dreams and hope and faith. Life would be so empty without a vision. As I get older it sometimes gets harder to wait for a dream to become reality. I find myself fretting that it will happen too late in life and I will be too old to fulfill the dream. Dreams are in our hearts and spirit. Fear and insecurities are in our minds and emotions, so it is best to stay out of our emotions. When I find myself getting sad and disappointed that my dreams are not coming true fast enough, I go to my gardens.
Somehow seeing plants growing and fulfilling their purpose gives me peace and occupies my emotions, carrying them from sadness to delight, from disappointment to wonder, and a contentment washes over me that seems to make the wait a bit easier. I remember the end of the Summer I walked around my gardens and looked at my sad, tired looking potato plants. I felt bad that the excessive heat we had endured for a week appeared to have taken its toll, and I worried that the potatoes had not had enough time to take nutrition from the plants and develop fully. I thought I might give them a boost of fertilizer and lots of water, but I knew they were past reviving so I decided to clean out the bed and harvest what they managed to make.
To my surprise, the plants produced abundantly, even better than I expected. They had completed their journey and my dream of a successful potato crop was realized.
As the end of the year approaches that is when I find myself dreaming more. Of next Spring and what a new year will bring. Yes, it will bring another birthday and I will be a year older, but I try not to think about that. I find the passion in me for homesteading seems to give me a youthful spark. New energy surges through me and I start planning, just in case that acreage comes along and my dream is realized.
So don’t be afraid to dream and hold onto a vision that you have for your life. Dreams gives us hope and hope can carry us through very difficult and disappointing times. Like a new day dawning, so our dreams bring hope for a new day.
When it comes, you are all invited to come by and visit us.
Susan ~ Itzy Bitzy Farm
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When I was a child more than the lights and sounds at Christmas time, the aromas were the most wonderful. The delicious scents coming from our kitchen meant it was Christmas time and those scents seem to be the frame that held all the other wonderful traditions in our home together.
One of those aromas that always came from the kitchen on Thanksgiving and Christmas was the smell of a mincemeat pie baking in the oven. My Mother was of Irish descent and she had her Grandfather in her life until she was in her mid twenty's and he into his 80's. He immigrated with his family from Tipperary Ireland straight to Boston when he was a young boy. I imagine that is where her introduction to mincemeat stemmed from and at an early age. I don't remember my Father eating the pie my Mom made on the holidays, he was Italian. But I do remember my older siblings eating it and yes, my Mom. I, as a child, hated it. I confess. I was never one to take to raisins and even though mincemeat has many other fruits in it, as a child it seemed all I could taste was the raisins, BLUKK!
Mincemeat has a very old history. There are recipes dating back to the 15th century that can still be found in records or in historical prints. It is believed mincemeat originated in England, Ireland and other British countries. The original purpose of mincemeat was to preserve meat and stretch the meat available to last through the Winter by mixing it in vinegar and spices with suet added to this. The meat was minced very fine and combined with figs, currants, raisins, beef suet, sugar, spices and vinegar.
As the centuries passed and recipes were passed down from one generation to the next, preserving meats became less of a necessity and the meat was eventually taken out of many mincemeat recipes. Though suet did remain a constant ingredient mostly fruits were used with spices. Vinegar was also replaced in recipes by brandy or rum.
Original mincemeat pies were made in hand held size for portability and freezing. In the 17th & 18th centuries Victorian homes made fruit mincemeat sweet as a desert rather than as a savory dish with meat in it. It was then that the pies were made larger to be served to many people at one time and presented with other deserts. Mincemeat was often reserved for Christmas time only.
I can remember my Mom telling me about the suet and that being the trigger that also made the pie unappealing to me. Many years passed as I became an adult without mincemeat pie in my holidays, my fondness was for apple or pecan and so those were my traditional pies that I made during the holidays for my family.
As I grew from a suburbanite to a homesteader my canning repertoire expanded and one day while browsing through a new canning book I had purchased I discovered a recipe for fruit mincemeat. Suddenly I found myself longing more for the aroma than the taste of a mincemeat pie. I had also discovered over the years other recipes that called for mincemeat such as bar cookies and a wonderful Italian fig cookie that would be suited to mincemeat filling as well. So I ventured into making my own version of mince-fruit, as I like to call it. My first attempt at mince-fruit was wonderful. The preparation was very nostalgic for me and I remember how it smelled while cooking on the stove. When I removed the first jars from the canner pot I was amazed at how it looked exactly like the mincemeat I remembered from my childhood. The taste was so wonderful and the knowledge that it had no suet in it made it even more delicious for me. My Mother would be proud; I had finally acquired a taste for mincemeat pie.
It is best to plan on making this recipe in September or October since it will taste better after having a few weeks or months to mellow and take on the flavor of the spices and brandy. This recipe is intended to be canned in a water bath canner and will make approx. 4-5 qts. One qt jar is the perfect amount for a nine inch pie shell. Mixture could be frozen in gallon freezer bags after completely cooled if canning is not preferred. To use, simply remove from freezer and allow to thaw at room temperature before making pie or using in other recipe. So, let's get started.
Here is what you will need:
4 lbs Granny Smith apples
4 lbs Bartlett Pears (ripe but still firm)
1 C Golden Raisins
1 C Currants
1 C Craisins
Grated rind and juice of one orange
1 C finely chopped walnuts
2 C Brown Sugar
1 C Apple Cider (juice, NOT vinegar)
1 C Brandy
1 tsp Allspice
2 tsp Nutmeg
½ tsp Ground cloves
Measure out all spices, juice, brandy and sugar, set aside in separate measuring cups and bowls.
Grate orange rind and squeeze juice, set aside. Discard remaining orange.
Chop walnuts, set aside.
In large heavy bottom pot, pour apple cider, orange juice, orange rind, brown sugar, spices and ½ C brandy.
Peel, core and finely chop apples. Place immediately into pot and toss to coat with orange juice and brandy mixture.
Remove core from pears by cutting in half first and cut core out. I do not peel the pears because I like the sweetness and texture the peels add to the recipe. Pears can be peeled also if you prefer. Dice pears same as apples and add to mixture in pot. Add chopped walnuts.
Turn heat on to med high to bring mixture to a gentle boil. Lower heat to medium, stirring often and cook until mixture begins to darken, sugar is dissolved and fruit begins to break down and get tender. Some of the fruit will begin to come to an applesauce consistency with some chunks remaining. This is the point I stop the cooking process. Remove pot from heat and add remaining ½ C of brandy, stir to mix. Mixture should mound when dropped from spoon and have small amount of liquid.
While mixture in still hot fill cleaned and sterilized qt canning jars. Seal and process in hot water bath for 40 minutes.
The jar on the left in this photo was last years mince-fruit and the jar on the right is this years. You can see how it darkens with time, though the color will vary depending on your fruit and spices. The flavors will blend beautifully in a couple of months. By Christmas you will have a delicious homemade mince-fruit worthy of our wonderful Colonial New England heritage.
I hope you enjoy this recipe and make it one of your family traditions.
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Recently I visited a craft store to get inspired. While I was browsing I noticed beads, jewelry making aisles, scrapbooking aisles, but where were the needlework crafts?
My grandmother crocheted intricate lacy doilies and bureau scarfs. She made arm rest covers and lacy tablecloths.
My aunt made lovely needlepoint gifts for many of us in the family.
Another aunt used to hand sew aprons out of whimsical materials trimmed in lace and ruffles. She also made all her own curtains, equal to any that could be purchased at the finest stores.
When you think about these vintage crafts, you may ask yourself why would they take the time to make such items? Or an even better question might be, where did they find the time to do these crafts?
My grandmother used her crochet talent as her “me time,” and even though she would often give her beautiful doilies as gifts, it was still the time she relaxed and rested. Back then they did not have television, or the internet or cell phones. For many years my grandmother didn't even have a radio. She would just sit and crochet while chatting with family members or waiting for dinner to cook.
The vintage crafts were a form of relaxation but also a time to express creativity and talent. Many times these crafts were also a necessity if one wanted to decorate their home or complete their desired décor. My aunt told me once that had she not made her curtains she would not have had any. Store bought curtains were costly for many families, and so they would purchase material which was less expensive or even use material they may have already had on hand. These were self-sufficient women who made their homes a castle for their families while living on a very modest budget.
Many mothers and grandmothers would pass these talents on to their daughters and granddaughters and so share the gift of creativity, patience, relaxation and beauty.
Today families are rushing, stressed and getting instant gratification from many hobbies that are quick and easy. For me, winter is my favorite time to sit and crochet. I learned to crochet when I was 14 and though I do not seem to have the talent my grandmother had for intricate work, I do enjoy making afghans, mittens, hats and such. Working each individual stitch that when together create a lovely throw or wearable item is very gratifying. I hope to learn needlepoint one day and let each stitch take me back to a simpler, quieter, less hurried time. When you look at a framed needlepoint piece you can almost see the love, patience and relaxation within the picture.
Simpler days, simpler times. Crafts that share love, tradition and talent.
Here are some links to our favorite vintage crafts sites with patterns and ideas.
Vintage Crochet Patterns
Vintage Apron Patterns
Susan Berry is a Horticulturist/Farmer and Homesteader. Susan and her husband Don live on a ¼ acre homestead in Southeastern Massachusetts, aptly named Itzy Bitzy Farm, with their two dogs and twelve hens. Susan raises organically grown heirloom asparagus crowns till established at three years old and raspberry plants to sell to home gardeners, nationwide. You can follow Itzy Bitzy Farm's blog by signing up at www.itzybitzyfarm.com
Having lived through many New England winters, I fancy myself an expert on comfort food. Being of Italian descent, I must admit I do lean toward pastas when the initial thought of comfort food crosses my mind. But, for me on a cold, snowy winter's eve, it has to be soup. There is nothing like a fire in the wood stove, the aroma of fresh-baked crusty bread and a pot of simmering soup on the stove.
Cooking a large pot of soup can last my husband and I a good five days, and there is no point in making soup if you don't cook a pot full. After a couple days of the same soup, though, the taste buds can get a little bored, so I would freeze the left over soup. This works fine for some soups, but not all of them freeze well. Also, after losing power during storms and losing my freezer full of food, I learned this was not always the desired saving method for my soups.
Having been a canner for over 30 years, I decided to learn how to can my soups. Chicken soup was my first attempt at canning. To my surprise, it was wonderful, even better than right out of the pot. The process of pressure canning made the chicken even more tender and moist. Keep in mind, though, it is not recommended to can pasta or rice in soups, so I add these when I open the jars to serve it.
Chicken Soup in Canning Jars
While canning soup is easier than one might think, the process intimidated me at first. But after my first couple of batches, I was an expert and ventured into new and exciting territories of soup making.
At this juncture, I must advise you in the process of canning soups. Assuming you know some basics of canning, you know that low acid foods must be pressure canned and high acid foods can be processed through a water bath canner. BUT, I always process my canned soups through a pressure canner for safety’s sake. In this sharing of my experience canning soups, I must guide you in following to the letter the instructions and guidelines set by the USDA in the National Center for Home Food Preservation or by Ball Canning.
It is very important to correctly process canned food to assure safe-guarding against health risks caused by improper processing.
Now, on to the fun part ...
Favorite soups to have on hand in the pantry are my own – not store bought! I always make chicken soup. A simple recipe of chicken meat that I pre-cook by boiling with herbs. I then add carrots, celery and onion to the broth after I have removed the chicken from the bones.
A favorite of my husband’s is Minestrone Soup. Minestrone typically has small pasta in it, but I never get the chance to cook it and add it at serving time since Don just loves it the way it comes out of the jar.
Minestrone Soup in Canning Jars
Another one of my favorite soups is Potato Leek Soup
My favorite potato to use for canning is Yukon Gold potatoes because they keep their firmness well during processing. This is a very simple soup to make with just potatoes, leeks and vegetable broth. Another version is Cock-A-Leekie soup, made with chicken meat, leeks and chicken broth.
Potato Leek Soup
Another great time saver is to make your own recipe for beef stew and can it in quart jars but DO NOT thicken it before canning. Leave it as broth, and when it is time to use, thicken it into stew or for a beef pot pie.
Once you can your first batch of your favorite soup, you will always have homemade soups ready to serve in your pantry. For those long, cold winters, there is nothing like soup – the ultimate comfort food.
For all of our favorite soup recipes, visit our blog.