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Renee-Lucie BenoitDedicated to my good friend Roberta who once told me that sourdough is the healthiest kind of bread.

Some researchers and health practitioners say that fermented food products are very good for you. We’ve all heard of the benefits of pro-biotics. Let’s just state for the record that I’m not a researcher or health practitioner so I’m not making any claims. I’ve just heard that some people say that we should stay away from gluten products and that if we must eat grain products they should be fermented. They say that the gluten chain is already partially digested by beneficial micro-organisms before we even ingest it. So that’s good. Then some of these micro-organisms make their way into our gut and thereby making it healthier. That’s also good. Me, personally? I just like the way it tastes.

In this recipe we will be starting with the fermented part – a California sourdough base because this is California after all. Wherever you make your sourdough it will be your own unique sourdough.

It’s very easy. Into a crockery bowl or any non-reactive non-metal bowl put and mix 1 tablespoon  active dry yeast, 2  1/2 cups warm water, 2 teaspoons sugar or honey, and 2  1/2 cups rye flour or whole wheat flour to make a thick mud consistency. I have used my Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown for years. I always refer to it for basic understanding of bread baking.


Don't use a metal spoon to stir it. Use wood or any other non-reactive utensil. Set it aside covered loosely with plastic wrap and a towel for 4 to 5 days. Once a day, stir it to add air to the fermenting process. Watch while bubbles begin to form and then it will settle down and start to smell “sour.” This means it’s working. It doesn’t mean it’s going bad. Watch out that you use a big bowl! I had a lovely crockery container that I thought would work fine and then the next thing I know I’ve got Lucy Ricardo-washing-machine-overflow going on. But if this happens, don’t worry. Just scoop it up and put it in a bigger bowl. The sourdough starter is very forgiving. I wish I had a picture of my “volcano.” It was so funny.

Now you can store your starter in the fridge indefinitely. Just stir it once in a while. But better yet use it at least once a week to make pancakes or whatever your little heart desires.

Danish Fermented Rye Bread

This is my Danish friend’s recipe. Her name is Andrea Hejlskov. She writes a wonderful blog that you should check out. Andrea told me that this recipe is not bullet proof or authoritative. This is how she does it. So that is how I do it, too.

Take 2 cups starter and add 4 to 5 cups rye flour into a big bowl. Add 1 cup at a time. You might have to add more. Stir it well. The consistency of the mix should look like what you see in the picture. Thick, sticky mud. Consistency is important when making rye bread. Don’t worry. It’s going to be wetter than a normal yeast bread where you add flour and then knead until it’s dry and springy. No kneading in this recipe.


Now add rye flour or water until you think it looks right. You can also add oil, 1/2 to 1 cup. Not more. I don’t add oil at all and it turns out real nice.


Then in another bowl mix 1 cup sunflower seeds, 1/4 cup each of poppy seed, flax seed and sesame seed, and 1/2 cup each of cracked wheat and cracked rye. Use your imagination. All I had was nine grain hot cereal instead of cracked wheat and rye so I added that. It was perfect. These additions will give the bread a very nice texture. Cover the grains and seeds with water. Andrea and I always use the wooden spoon that we used for mixing the sourdough, and we let it sit in the grains and water for a while. Andrea says, “It’s a superstitious thing.”

Cover both bowls and let them stand for at least 12 hours.

Now it’s time to finish, but before you do, you should replenish your sourdough by putting some of your flour mixture back into the container. Use a couple big dollops and stir it in. Store it for the next time you need a sourdough.


Now back to your bread mixture. Add a little bit of salt, a handful of sugar and a couple teaspoons of fennel in this bowl. You can also use anise. Either one is traditional.


Note: There are a lot of rye bread recipes out there and in most of them you will find ingredients such as syrup, beer or malt. Even chocolate! You can add this stuff if you want, but we find that using simple salt and sugar is the easiest and the bread gets as dark as we want. We think syrup tends to make the bread pasty and beer tends to make it a bit bitter. Experiment around. See what works for you.


Then pour all of the soaked seeds and grains on top of it. The seeds and grains will probably soak up all of the water but if they haven´t drain out the water. Just use the grains.


 Stir well and add more whole grain rye flour until you get a consistency that looks like mud.

Coat your loaf pans with a good olive oil.


Fill them halfway up. Then let the batter rest for a while. At least a couple hours, but you can let it rest for longer. How long it takes depends on how robust your yeast was. The dough will rise more and be ready to go into the oven. Here’s where good experience will tell you. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that the dough will tell you. If it looks like it’s rising out of the pans, the dough is telling you it wants to go into the oven.


Preheat your oven to 250 to 300 F. This wet dough needs a long baking time. It might be 2 to 3 hours. That’s why we’re using a slow oven. Just keep an eye on the bread and when you think it’s done take it out and tap it with your finger. If the loaf is the color you want and sounds hollow when you tap it then it’s done.


Immediately take out the loaf from the pan. This is done to keep the crust on all four sides of the bread crisp. If you only want it to be crisp on the top leave the bread in the pan a little longer.


The bread should be firm. If it wobbles, quickly put it back into the pans and into the oven for a little while longer. It's real hard to burn in a slow oven. You'd have to completely forget about it and hours later you will have adobe bricks. That's useful, too!

Once you take the bread out, this is NOT the time to cut the bread – however tempted you may be – let a couple of hours pass. It makes the bread pasty. The loaf needs to rest, just like everybody else.


Andrea suggests that you eat it with good cheese and carrot marmalade or pastrami. I drizzle it with honey from our ranch and put a good California jack cheese on it. Very delicious and good for you!


I sit on my front porch and eat it while there’s warm afternoon sun. I notice that the quail came to the feeder and that the surrounding landscape is the same color and texture of the bread.


Renee-Lucie BenoitI’m about to do the unthinkable. I'm going to share a cherished family recipe with you. My husband says they are so good that I ought to go into business and sell them at county fairs. He thinks I can get $5 for each and I probably can, but they are a bit of work so I think I’ll just keep the recipe for the family and share it with you.

I don’t make them all the time and I don’t make them in summer. It’s a perfect fall and winter comfort food. I hope you enjoy them. Even though the recipe takes time and a lot of ingredients, the outcome is so very worth it. Especially 10 minutes out of the oven while still warm.

Our Family's Sticky Buns


Start off by making yeasted coffee cake bread dough.

Combine in a large bowl:

1/4 cup warm water (feels warm not hot when you stick your finger in it)
2  1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk (room temperature)
2 large eggs (room temperature)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt

Mix with a whisk until blended.


Stir in 2 to 2  1/4 cups bread flour.


 Mix until the dough comes together.


Knead by hand for a while until the dough is smooth and elastic and doesn’t stick to your hands or the bowl. You may have to add a little flour. Add 6 tablespoons really soft butter (room temperature) and knead it in.


This is very messy but persevere and it will all incorporate. After the butter is incorporated, you will have to add a little flour to make it knead up smooth again.


Put the dough in a greased bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and set it in a warm place to rise until it’s doubled in volume.

If you have a gas stove, the warmth from the pilot light usually makes the top of the stove a warm area. I have an electric stove so I turn the oven on at the lowest setting. The heat rises from the oven and makes the stove top warm. Take care not to put the bowl right over a really hot area. We heat with wood and sometimes in the fall or winter the kitchen can be quite cool. This rising might take about an hour and a half.

After it’s doubled punch it down, knead it a little bit and put it back in the warm place until doubled again.

Now it’s time to start the assembly phase.

For the Topping

Melt in a medium saucepan:

1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup honey


Remove from the heat and add:

2  1/2 cups chopped pecans


Grease your pan or large muffin tins, and pour or spoon in the topping. This is going to be like Pineapple Upside Down Cake. That is, upside down. Let the topping cool while you make the rolls.


Spread the dough out on a lightly floured surface and roll out to a big rectangle; 12-by-16 inches is just about right. Brush the surface with melted or really soft butter. Then sprinkle with:

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar mixed with 2 teaspoons cinnamon

Roll it up on the long side so you have a long cigar-shaped roll.

rolled and ready for slicing

Cut it crossways into slices,


and put them down in the pecan candy syrup pans.

ready for baking in a round pan

Don’t crowd them too much.

baked in a muffin tin

They will swell up in baking.

Preheat your oven to 350 F while your buns are resting covered loosely with plastic wrap while you clean up. When you’re done and they’ve risen again a bit, pop them in the oven for about 30 minutes. Keep an eye on them because they can go to burning quickly so set that timer for 15 minutes and add more time until they are nice and brown. Tap them with the tip of your finger. They should sound hollow.

baked in a muffin tin 


Out of the oven let them sit for 15 minutes to cool and then invert them over your plate or cake server.


I like to use a cake server because after all this work I feel proud and want them to be fit for a king or queen and look like it! As I’ve said these are best served while still a little warm so get your tea kettle boiling and make some tea or coffee. This recipe is the personification of nothin’ says lovin’ like somethin’ from the oven! (Sorry, Pillsbury).


Renee-Lucie BenoitThe recent change of the clocks to an hour earlier got me to thinking, "How in the world did such a thing come about?" As we all know the clock doesn’t mean a whole lot to people on a homestead, ranch or farm. Chickens still need to be fed, cows milked, fields plowed and so forth. None of this is by the clock and certainly the animals don’t care a fig for what time it is. They have one time: feeding time and that’s that.

So what’s the point? I decided in my own mind that daylight saving time. (And by the way it’s daylight SAVING time not daylight SAVINGS time) (really, Renee? does anybody care?) is for city dwellers who have to punch a clock. On the ranch we still get up at the same time. The clock just says something different now.

So I looked into it for my own education and I thought you might be interested in what I found.


Morning light on the hay barn. Photo:

Benjamin Franklin did not originate the idea of moving clocks forward. By the time he was a 78-year-old American envoy in Paris in 1784, the man who espoused the virtues of “early to bed and early to rise” was not practicing what he preached. After being unpleasantly stirred from sleep at 6 a.m. by the summer sun, the founding father penned a satirical essay in which he calculated that Parisians, simply by waking up at dawn, could save the modern-day equivalent of $200 million through “the economy of using sunshine instead of candles.” As a result of this essay, Franklin is often erroneously given the honor of “inventing” daylight saving time, but he only proposed a change in sleep schedules – not the time itself.

The person who actually did was Englishman William Willett. While on an early-morning horseback ride around the desolate outskirts of London in 1905, Willett had an epiphany that the United Kingdom should move its clocks forward by 80 minutes between April and October so that more people could enjoy the plentiful sunlight. The Englishman published the 1907 brochure “The Waste of Daylight” and spent much of his personal fortune evangelizing with missionary zeal for the adoption of “summer time.” Year after year, however, the British Parliament stymied the measure, and Willett died in 1915 at age 58 without ever seeing his idea come to fruition.

Germany was the first country to enact daylight saving time. It took World War I for Willett’s dream to come true, but on April 30, 1916, Germany embraced daylight saving time to conserve electricity. Weeks later, the United Kingdom followed suit and introduced “summer time.”

Daylight saving time in the United States was not intended to benefit farmers, as many people think. Contrary to popular belief, American farmers did not lobby for daylight saving to have more time to work in the fields; in fact, the agriculture industry was deeply opposed to the time switch when it was first implemented on March 31, 1918, as a wartime measure. The sun, not the clock, dictated farmers’ schedules, so daylight saving was very disruptive. Farmers had to wait an extra hour for dew to evaporate to harvest hay, hired hands worked less since they still left at the same time for dinner and cows weren’t ready to be milked an hour earlier to meet shipping schedules. Agrarian interests led the fight for the 1919 repeal of national daylight saving time, which passed after Congress voted to override President Woodrow Wilson’s veto. Rather than rural interests, it has been urban entities such as retail outlets and recreational businesses that have championed daylight saving over the decades.

For decades, daylight saving in the United States was a confounding patchwork of local practices. After the national repeal in 1919, some states and cities, including New York City and Chicago, continued to shift their clocks. National daylight saving time returned during World War II, but after its repeal three weeks after war’s end, the confusing hodgepodge resumed. States and localities could start and end daylight saving whenever they pleased, a system that Time magazine described in 1963 as “a chaos of clocks.”

In 1965, there were 23 different pairs of start and end dates in Iowa alone, and St. Paul, Minnesota, even began daylight saving two weeks before its twin city, Minneapolis. Passengers on a 35-mile bus ride from Steubenville, Ohio, to Moundsville, West Virginia, passed through seven time changes. Order finally came in 1966 with the enactment of the Uniform Time Act, which standardized daylight saving time from the last Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October, although states had the option of remaining on standard time year-round.

Not everyone in the United States springs forward and falls back. Hawaii and Arizona – with the exception of the state’s Navajo Nation – do not observe daylight saving time, and the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands also remain on standard time year-round. Some Amish communities also choose not to participate in daylight saving time.

Evidence does not conclusively point to energy conservation as a result of daylight saving. Dating back to Willett, daylight saving advocates touted energy conservation as an economic benefit. A U.S. Department of Transportation study in the 1970s concluded that total electricity savings associated with daylight saving time amounted to about 1 percent in the spring and fall months. As air conditioning has become more widespread, however, more recent studies have found that cost savings on lighting are more than offset by greater cooling expenses. University of California Santa Barbara economists calculated that Indiana’s move to statewide daylight saving time in 2006 led to a 1-percent rise in residential electricity use through additional demand for air conditioning on summer evenings and heating in early spring and late fall mornings. Some also argue that increased recreational activity during daylight saving results in greater gasoline consumption.

So there you have it. The exercise in silliness (in this writer’s opinion) continues on. Maybe we could change? I recall something Margaret Mead, the well-known anthropologist, said, “It’s easier to get people to change their religion than their eating habits.” I extrapolate to Daylight Saving Time. I’ll wager now that we’ve done it so long that it will be troublesome to get rid of it. In the meantime, we farmers, homesteaders and ranchers will continue: Business as usual!


Renee-Lucie BenoitWinter’s coming. It’s more apparent in some areas than in others. That is to say, some areas of the United States have already experienced their first frost or snowfall while others linger in fall-like conditions. Out here where we live it’s the latter. It’s the time of year that I really enjoy because the temperatures are mild, it’s easy sleeping weather, and we’re getting a lot done. I love it because I can work all day in jeans and a shirt and not feel like I have to run and hide near the air conditioner or bundle up. It’s a good thing, too, because on a homestead, fall is the busiest season of all.


A large blue oak in front of our house.

For one thing, firewood needs to be cut and split. We actually started working on this in late summer. We’ve had deadfall – limbs that have naturally fallen off the tree – over the past two years, and we’ve made mental notes of what fell and when so we know that whatever we’re cutting and splitting is well seasoned. In other words, dried out. The best large branches were there at least a year before we cut them. Better yet if they are two years old.


We love oak firewood.

So now we have approximately three cords ready, and it’s stored and covered close to where we need it. A full cord is a large amount of wood. It measures 4 feet high by 4 feet wide by 8 feet long. The amount of solid wood in a cord varies depending on the size of the pieces, but for firewood it averages about 128 cubic feet.

We cut oak for our house because we like the quality of how it burns. We’re lucky to have a lot of blue oak, pine and cottonwood on our property. But of all the wood here, we think oak is the best because when oak is seasoned – and it needs to be well seasoned – it gives the most heat and the least smoke and ash. It takes a little more to get it started so we stocked up on lighter fluid and cut kindling from the building projects we had this summer. We use the 2x4 debris, and they split nicely into little matchsticks that properly stack.


An example of treated wood.

Just a note here, preservative treated wood should not be burned. For many years, the most common preservative mixture used for treated wood was a combination of chromium, copper and arsenic. When wood treated with this preservative is burned, some of the arsenic is released into the air and the rest is concentrated in the ash that remains in the fireplace. Newer preservative formulations that do not contain arsenic have largely replaced CCA, but it is still not recommended that they be burned. The most common types of treated wood are green in color and have little marks all over the wood. They usually can be easily identified. These materials should go to the landfill. Treated wood that has been outside for a long time may turn gray and can be hard to identify – if there is any doubt, throw it out. Wood that has been painted also should not be burned. As a matter of fact, in the realm of firewood, natural is key for clean burning and safety. Along with that, please resist the urge to burn garbage in your wood stove or fireplace. This just causes greater build up of soot. Here’s why: chimney fires.

That is the other reason we burn well-seasoned oak. It doesn’t have a lot of pitch in it and it burns hot so we don’t worry about cleaning out the chimney to avoid a chimney fire as much as someone who burns a lot of pine. All fires create soot and residue build-up, especially wood-burning fireplaces and stoves. There are many factors that can lead to the build-up of creosote. For example, the burning of unseasoned wood leads to the fire burning at a lower temperature and then soot build up is greater. A higher temperature fire tends not to have as much creosote build-up and so oak is a good choice.

The location of your chimney may also contribute to the amount of creosote buildup your chimney has. For example, a chimney on the exterior of a home will produce more buildup than a chimney in the center of the home because an exterior chimney will have a cooler interior temperature than one surrounded by the warmth of your house. Suffice it to say, if you have a wood stove that you’ve been using for years without having it inspected or cleaned out, you should clean it out right away. It’s very simple. Measure the inside diameter of your chimney then get the right size brush that fits it. Make sure there’s a long enough rod that goes all the way down your chimney. Then close the wood stove doors or cover up your fireplace front. If you don’t, there’s going to be a lot of soot in your house. Then climb up on the roof, take the chimney cap off and scrub away several times. Trust me, you don’t want to have a chimney fire, and cleaning will prevent this.


What we use each day.

Then the elephant in the room is always this: How much firewood do I need? The answer is frustrating: It all depends. Is wood heat is your only source? And, of course, how cold does it get in your area and for how long? We used about two cords of wood last year, but we have mild winters and we have a small electric wall heater. We use the wood stove to take the chill out of the room in the mornings and at night. The heat in the wood stove lasts for most of the day. We don’t heat at night. We use an electric blanket on our bed to warm the bed and then turn it off when we turn in. So we use about 2 1/2 cubic feet of wood per day from November through February and perhaps a little into March. That’s four months of 30 days so that’s 120 days of 2 1/2 cubic feet of wood a day equals about 2 1/2 cords of firewood.

We find it’s better to calculate for too much than not enough. Wood keeps from year to year properly stored so if you overdo it it’s no big deal. But if you under do it, it’s not so nice to have to go out and cut and split in the middle of rain or snow.

We have a gasoline-powered log splitter, Estwing axes and hatchets, and a small Echo and large Husqvarna chainsaws. This is our opinion: Don’t even bother with electric or cheap chainsaws. They just don’t have what it takes to cut firewood and they break down way too much. Get a good one! This is where they got the saying, “Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten.” In another blog post, I will discuss chainsaws and chainsaw safety.

In the meantime here’s a short list of firewood qualities courtesy of the Boy Scouts and the University of Oregon.

Red alder: Seasoned alder burns warm, but fast. Wet alder puts out a lot of ash and very little heat. Alder cuts and splits easily with an axe.

Apple: Apple burns slowly and steadily with little flame but good heat. The scent is also pleasing.

Oregon ash: Wet or dry, ash wood will produce a decent fire, but with a lot of, well, ash. Most ash cuts and splits relatively easily as long as it is still green.

Beech: Beech is a rival to ash, though not as good and only fair when green.

Birch: The heat birch produces is good but it burns quickly. The smell is pleasant.

Cedar: Cedar needs to be fully dried. It’s full of snap and crackle. It gives little flame but much heat, and the scent is beautiful.

Cherry: Cherry burns slowly with good heat. It’s another wood with the advantage of a pleasant scent.

Douglas-fir: This ubiquitous tree has medium heating value, doesn’t make too much ash, and is probably the best of the conifers for firewood – better than some of the hardwoods. Older Doug fir is easy to split. But some younger, second growth, smaller diameter trees can be extremely difficult to split.

Elder: Elder is a mediocre firewood. It is a very smoky, quick burner with not much heat.

Elm: This wood is unpredictable because of Dutch elm disease. It can, but not always, smoke a lot. But if it’s good, one large log put on before bed will keep the fire going until morning.

Horse Chestnut: This produces a good flame and heating power but spits a lot.

Larch: Larch is crackly, scented and fairly good for heat.

Big leaf maple: Maple is pretty close to the quality of ash and has similar cutting and splitting characteristics. It burns slightly cleaner, sparks a lot more and doesn’t heat quite as well.

Oak: Properly seasoned oak is hard to beat. It holds a fire, doesn’t spark, and much of it splits moderately well. But, it won’t produce much heat and will produce lots of ash if it isn’t adequately seasoned.

Madrone: When seasoned, this hard, dense wood burns very hot and produces long-lasting coals. Having little bark, madrone is clean to bring indoors. Some madrone is knotty and difficult to cut and split. It is expensive to purchase, but a little goes a long way in heating.

Pear: Pear makes good heat and a good scent.

Lodgepole or Ponderosa pine: From the east side of the Cascades, lodgepole burns hot and fast, and it cuts and splits easily. Ponderosa from the west side burns hot and fast, but may be difficult to split and full of pitch.

Plum: Plum has good heat and scent.

Poplar: Poplar is only poor to fair.

Acacia: Acacia burns slowly with good heat but with acrid smoke.

Spruce: Spruce burns too quickly and with too many sparks.

Sycamore: Sycamore burns with a good flame with moderate heat.

Walnut: Walnut is good firewood with a pleasant scent.

Willow: Willow is a poor firewood. It burns slowly with little flame even when seasoned. It is apt to spark.

Yew: Yew is one of the best. It burns slowly with a fierce heat and the scent is pleasant.

A rhyme to help you to remember:

These hardwoods burn well and slowly,
Ash, beech, oak and holly.

Softwoods flare up quick and fine,
Birch, fir, larch and pine.

Elm and willow you'll regret,
Chestnut green and sycamore wet.


Renee-Lucie BenoitThe turkey is well-known for being wily and smart. Ben Franklin wanted to use it for our national bird but as we all know the bald eagle won out. While it’s not easy to bag a turkey, if you know a few things about them and their habits, you can have an easier go of it and perhaps even get one for your Thanksgiving table. Don’t wait until the last minute or you might be eating meatloaf from the freezer.

There are a couple types of turkey. The one I’m going to discuss is the best known. It is the common turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), which is a bird native to North America. As we all know the wild turkey has been widely domesticated for the table and barely resembles the wild turkey in color and weight.

Did You Know?

Domestication of the common turkey was probably begun by the Indians of pre-Columbian Mexico. The birds were first taken to Spain about 1519, and from Spain they spread throughout Europe, reaching England in 1541. When the bird became popular in England, the name turkey-cock, formerly used for the guinea fowl of Islamic (or “Turkish”) lands, was transferred to it. English colonists then introduced European-bred strains of the turkey to eastern North America in the 17th century. Turkeys were mainly bred for their beautifully colored plumage until about 1935, after which the breeding emphasis changed to their meat qualities.

The common turkey found today in Mexico and in the southeastern and southwestern United States differ slightly in feather markings and in rump color, but all are basically dark, with iridescent bronze and green plumage. Adult males have a naked, heavily carunculated (bumpy) head that is normally bright red in color but turns to white overlaid with bright blue when the birds are excited. Other distinguishing features of the common turkey are a long red fleshy ornament (called a snood) that grows from the forehead over the bill; a fleshy wattle growing from the throat; a tuft of coarse, black, hair-like feathers (known as a beard) projecting from the breast; and more or less prominent leg spurs. The male turkey, or gobbler or tom, may be 50 inches long and weigh 22 pounds, though average weight is less. Female turkeys, or hens, generally weigh only half as much as the males and have less warty heads than do the males. (Taken from the Encyclopædia Britannica. Last Updated 3-25-2014)


A big tom and a hen. Courtesy of US Fish and Game.

The wild turkey prefers woodlands near water. We have land that happens to be perfect for turkeys. We have oak savanna and brushy areas for roosting and cover, and a big creek that runs through the property although right now it is dry except for a couple large water holes in the creek bed. Turkeys eat seeds, insects, and an occasional frog or lizard. When alarmed it may run rapidly to cover, but it can fly strongly only for short distances (about a 1/4 mile).

My husband and I decided to take a long walk the other day to see what turkey sign we could find. We have a couple of young friends who have taken their gun safety courses and are all raring to go hunt turkey so we can have a real traditional Thanksgiving. Last year they weren’t successful in their hunt so this year we thought we’d help them out by scouting for turkey sign. As you will see we were very successful.

First, look for the geographical area turkeys like to congregate. Look for water and wooded areas with brush near water. Keep in mind turkeys – like chickens – roost at night so if you can find places where there are trees with horizontal branches, that’s good turkey habitat. So much the better if you can find bluffs by your water sources and wooded areas. Turkeys prefer to roost out of the wind and a bluff or hill will block the prevailing wind.


Oak grasslands below a creek bluff. See the hill in the background? That’s the bottom of the bluff.


Brushy areas with trees near water are prime turkey habitat.


The all important water hole.

Then pick a day, maybe bring a lunch and some drinks, and have your turkey walk. Look for the geography that fits and then get your nose to the ground. Look for dust baths and areas where the turkeys – again, like chickens – scratch for worms and insects. You might get lucky and see feathers and poop. You might have to look hard. Go slow and look carefully. We’ve only had one problem. We’ve looked for turkey roosting trees with poop on the ground underneath, but we’ve never found any. If turkeys like to roost in sheltered spots you’d think you could locate a lot of poop underneath the favored tree. We haven’t been successful in finding any of this sign. If anyone can explain this I’d like to know what your opinion is. Maybe we just didn’t look hard enough in the right place.


This should be a perfect turkey roosting tree.


I Spy! A feather by the left toe and fresh poop by the right.


This turkey feather is the same color as the background.


The “Turkish” dust bath.

turkey scratch

Turkey scratch sign in the leaves under a tree.

turkey tracks

Turkey highway! Tracks in the sand near the water hole

Turkeys roam all over from early morning until early dusk. We got lucky and saw this.

wild turkeys 

Turkeys fleeing across the meadow to the safety of the bluffs.

turkeys on the hill

Up they go! Aren’t they a beautiful sight?

We scouted because just like in the olden days knowing your game’s habits and territory makes it all that much easier to get lucky when you go out on the hunt. This is important: Always practice gun safety and keep up with your target practice when you’re in between hunts. It’s best to go for a clean kill. It’s not easy taking a life but when you do it right and it goes on your table to feed your family, that’s a lot to be thankful for!


Renee-Lucie BenoitYears ago I found a cookbook I fell in love with called “Real American Food” by Jane and Michael Stern. I’ve used it so much it’s falling apart so I might put a new copy on my Christmas list. Yet, I’m sort of fond of its used (I mean really used!) condition so I don’t know. Maybe I need a new vacuum cleaner more.

The following recipe came from the Café Society section and in the section it’s called “Prairie Cooks Tortilla Salad” for the original cookbook where it came from. Along with dinner plate size pork fritters and Maid-Rites this is one of my favorite mid-western treats.

Did I mention that I’m from Iowa? Even though I live in California and have done so a lot longer now than I ever lived in Iowa, well, you know what they say, “You can take the girl out of Iowa but you can’t take the Iowa out of the girl.” Well, maybe they don’t say it quite like that but you get the idea.

I think this recipe is quintessential Iowa. Why? Because Miracle Whip is one of the essential ingredients. When I was a kid we loved Miracle Whip so much we would regularly insult good homemade bread by slathering it with Miracle Whip and eating it just like that. So when you’re from Iowa and you find a good recipe using Miracle Whip you feel good.

Here’s my version of this very robust salad that is eaten as a main course. Very easy to prepare and delicious!



Tortilla Salad
Yields 4 to 6 big salads.

1/2 pound ground beef (you can use grilled chicken, too)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 can (16 ounces) pinto beans (black beans work fine, too)
1 teaspoon crushed cumin seed (powdered cumin works fine, too)
1 large head iceberg lettuce, torn into bits (or any salad greens)
1 onion, chopped (I use sweet Walla Walla, red onion or green onions)
1/2 pound cheddar cheese (or shredded Mexican blend)
1 avocado, cubed (optional but delicious!)
1 large tomato, chopped (late from the garden)
1/2 cup Miracle Whip salad dressing (mayonnaise won't taste as good. Trust me.)
1/4 cup taco sauce (I think salsa works well, too)
1 teaspoon chili powder
Doritos to taste (or any kind of tortilla chip)

Brown beef with salt; add beans and cumin. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, combine lettuce, onion, cheese, avocado and tomato. Add beef and beans (still warm) and toss.

Mix salad dressing, taco sauce and chili powder. Stir into salad.

Mix in tortilla chips, broken but not pulverized, just before serving.

You can simply layer everything, too. My mom always said it just gets mixed up in your stomach anyway!

NOTE: I’ve added a handful of chopped cilantro to great effect. A blop of sour cream on top would be good, too.


Renee-Lucie BenoitI was lucky enough to have grown up in Iowa in a family that honored old timey ways, including hunting for hickory nuts. Many of you will know what I’m talking about. My dad was an avid hunter and regularly brought rabbits, squirrels, pheasants, ducks and fish to the table. He hunted with bow and arrow when he went after deer. Once he got a moose in Canada with his buddies. We ate moose for a year, and I still remember the kind of dry but tasty quality of the roasts Mom prepared. My mom was adept at canning, and they both worked hard in their garden. We kids learned to “pitch in.” We also learned how tasty fresh food was that was gotten by our own efforts.

Red Hickory tree | Creative Commons/Tom Nagy

A Red Hickory tree, located in southern Ontario, Canada. Photo: Creative Commons/Tom Nagy

One of the best things we did every year was “hickory nutting.” We’d all pile in the car with our burlap bags and go to a local woods on the land of a farmer we knew. Some place where the trees had not been bulldozed to plant corn, soybeans or alfalfa. It would be in the fall, usually in October. It would be after the frost and there would be no mosquitoes or flies. The nuts would have fallen, and the hulls were mostly separated from the nuts.

The day would be crisp and clear, and it was lovely underneath the big, old trees. I mean, these trees must have been old because they were big. Really big! My dad called them Shagbark hickories, and he knew when to go and what trees produced the best from year to year. Dad knew that some trees could bloom earlier in spring and then frost might keep them from producing. He also knew that some trees held their nuts into winter while others dropped in early autumn. So we’d go when Dad said, and little by little we learned how to become good “nutters” ourselves.

By experience we discovered that all nuts are not created equal. We found that a large nut might not have any more nutmeat than a smaller one. We found that just because the hull or shell might be thick, it didn’t necessarily mean that the nutmeat was going to be bigger either. We did find that the thinner the shell the easier it was to crack. There were different color nutmeats, and I always liked the taste of the lighter colored meats. I still do.

Shagbark Hickory tree | Creative Commons/Dcrjsr/Duke Forest Korstian Division

A Shagbark Hickory tree. Photo: Dcrjsr/Duke Forest Korstian Division, Durham, North Carolina.

My dad carried a hammer with him. He’d crack a few nuts at each tree he came to. He was checking for easy cracking and large nutmeats. If he found that three out of four nuts under a tree were wormy, he would move on. If we found a nut with a tiny little hole in it, we’d know that a worm had already had its way with the nut so we tossed it aside. What we were hoping to find was a thin-shelled nut with a plump, light-colored nutmeat that would come out whole or nearly so. They were like a prize.

Looking for nuts was a perfect job for a kid. Kind of like Easter egg hunting. Of course, our closest competitors were the squirrels. We often thought how nice it would be to train a nut squirrel like they train truffle hounds. Squirrels were the master nutters and often they got to the best nuts before we could.

Eastern Hickory tree | Creative Commons/Pookie Fugglestein

Clumps of fruit show on this Eastern Hickory tree in Pennsylvania. Photo: Creative Commons/Pookie Fugglestein

When we got home with our bounty, sometimes we’d put the nuts into a bucket of water to separate out those in which the nutmeats had not developed. Those would usually float to the top. Sometimes we didn’t do that step, but Dad always put the nuts in the back of the pantry and after about a week he’d bring them out and start cracking them. He said doing that made them crack better. He said his dad told him this and it always worked so “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Whatever he didn’t crack he’d put in the freezer along with the nutmeats he wasn’t going to use immediately.

We kids got pretty adept at not whacking ourselves with the hammer when we helped. We’d go out back on the concrete porch steps and whack away and fill our little baskets. We figured out how to set the nut on one of its two edges and hit it with the hammer just right. This skill had to be learned by trial and error, and the error part made us get handy real fast. If a nut was too hard to crack it would go into a pile for a cold winter night. Then we’d sit before the wood stove and whack harder. Nuts ricocheting off the walls once in a while. Then we'd patiently pick. Sometimes we’d listen to the radio. As a matter of fact I remember Paul Harvey while picking hickory nuts. “And now you know the rest of the story.”

My dad was a child of the Depression. His family gathered wild nuts to get by. We did it because it was fun and tasty. The hickory nut is just as good as a pecan and much less expensive. As a matter of fact, the hickory is a type of pecan so it has that same luscious, buttery flavor. My mom used the nuts in any recipe that called for walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts. We got the lovely flavor, and it didn’t cost us a dime except for gas. We also got to spend time with each other outdoors working in harmony. That’s what I call Good Times!

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