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A Thanksgiving poem, written 40 years ago – but still very relevant!

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A Country Thanksgiving

A country Thanksgiving’s

the most glorious kind.

For we saw the food raised,

from the stalk and the vine.

We are no stranger

to the hoe and the plow.

We’ve each known hard labor,

and sweat on our brow.

But that labor’s behind us

the crops are all in.

Let’s humble ourselves

and be thankful again.

For the food on the table

a result of our task.

And for strength for the labor

a labor now past.

Father, a blessing,

we know we’ve received here.

You’ve shown us Your mercy

throughout the past year.

And on through the future

please show us the way.

As we strive more to serve You

with each passing day.

Betty J. Newman ©1976

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When it gets to the end of summer and I see how much good food I’ve let go to waste, and how pitiful my herbs look… I feel like such a failure. Yes, I’ve canned a lot and preserved a lot and dehydrated a lot – but look at how much I lost – because I just couldn’t (or didn’t) get to it…

Yes, there were other “fish to fry” and other responsibilities to attend to – but let’s face it – sometimes I was just plain lazy…and it weighs on me and I promise to do better next year. Yep! If the trumpet don’t sound, and Lord willing – I’ll do better next year!

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It has been said that experience comes from learning from your mistakes and wisdom comes from learning from the mistakes of others. Today I learned two great lessons of what not to do. So let me share a word of wisdom with you.

I had about a peck (1/4 bushel) of ripe roma tomatoes that needed canning. I had found a recipe in the 2015 Ball Canning book for “Roasted Roma” so I thought, “That sounds good!”

The problem was, we don’t have a gas grill. Not to worry, the recipe said they could be roasted in the oven on broil…

What a mess! They didn’t roast – they cooked and turned into a mushy mess! Oh well, I finally got them peeled, but won’t try that again!

(By the way – there are no pictures because I was up to my elbows in tomato goo!)

Next the recipe called for 3 bulbs of roasted garlic. I LOVE roasted garlic, but I always roast it by peeling the cloves, drizzling with olive oil and wrapping in aluminum foil and roasting for about 30 minutes @ 350°. However this recipe said to drizzle the olive oil over the whole bulbs, then wrapping in foil and roasting…

Well, ok… let’s follow the recipe. Again – what a mess! Doing it this way necessitated squeezing each clove to extract the garlic “goodie” out. I had olive oil all over me, and it took “two-forevers” to get all the cloves squeezed out. And pictures? Forget it!

Anyway, I (sorta) proceeded with the recipe (I used roasted peppers from the freezer instead of fresh peppers) and added the onions. By the time everything had been added and cooked I really just had some chunky pasta sauce (which is what I renamed the recipe).

The “Roasted Romas” recipe called for processing the pint or quart jars for 85 minutes! I know that length of time was considering that the tomatoes would be mostly firm… they were anything BUT firm! It was sauce! But… I processed them for that amount of time. I knew it wouldn’t hurt anything – and might even thicken up the sauce.

After that I still had some regular tomatoes that needed canning so I thought, “Shoot! I May as well try another new recipe!” (Some days I’m just crazy like that…)

So I prepared the rest of the tomatoes using a “Chili Sauce” recipe. Simple and only needed to process 15 minutes. I used up the rest of my roasted peppers.

All in all not a bad day and I learned two very valuable lessons – and maybe you can learn something from my mess to save you time and effort in the future.

By the way – about roasting garlic – I love to roast it, mash it up and dehydrate it. Then I grind it up into a coarse powder. It is absolutely delicious!

And here’s a picture of the finished product. The quart jars are spaghetti sauce I canned yesterday. The pints are the (ahem) “Chunky Pasta Sauce” and the half pints are the chili sauce.

#farmstewardship at its best!

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In the past week I’ve put up okra, tomatoes and cabbage (all separate endeavors, by the way) but since I’ve written about different ways of canning tomatoes, I thought I’d share how we put up okra and cabbage.

I dearly love fried okra, but couldn’t find a method that suited me in terms of not only taste, but ease. One of my cousins was known for her “fresh tasting” fried okra – even in the dead of winter! So I learned to fix it her way – and you know what? It is both extremely easy AND delicious!

So – now this is how I fix okra for the freezer. Wash and slice okra as if you were preparing a meal.

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Next bread the okra with meal (one thing I do differently is I add purple onions – delicious!)

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Next, fry up in a big ole cast iron skillet using your oil of choice. (Bacon grease adds that extra special Southern flavor – but you can use other oil if you must… and I guess you could use another frying pan – but be careful about too many changes there, lol!)

Don’t salt or add other seasonings to the okra as it’s frying. Fry it until it is *almost* as crisp as you’d like for serving then drain on paper towels.

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After it has drained and cooled, spread it on a parchment lined baking sheet (in a single layer if possible) and freeze for 2-3 hours.

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After it has quick frozen, fill freezer bags and return to the freezer. By preparing the okra this way you can fill gallon bags and only take out as much as needed for a meal (even a single serving!)

To prepare for serving, pour desired amount into a baking dish, add salt and pepper to taste, and cover with foil (no need to thaw first).  Bake for about 30 minutes (depending on amount preparing) @350° or until it is hot throughout and as crisp as desired. You can remove the foil if needed for the last few minutes.

I love preparing okra this way. I can spend one or two days frying okra and have enough for all winter! Serving it is quick, easy AND delicious!

 

Now for putting up cabbage. A few weeks ago I harvested 12 heads of cabbage, soaked them in salt water to remove any unwelcomed visitors, put them in plastic bags and stuck them in an extra fridge. I’ve given several away, but prepared a couple for us yesterday. I cut them up and blanched in boiling water for a couple of minutes, then immediately plunged into ice water.

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And because I like onions in nearly everything, I also blanched some purple onions, too.

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After draining the cabbage I put some of the leafier pieces in the dehydrator and spread the other with onions on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.

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I quick froze this just like the okra, but I vacuum sealed it in smaller bags. Some I’ll fry as a side dish, and some I’ll add to soups. I stored the dehydrated cabbage in a half-gallon jar. Amazing, about six trays if cabbage yielded this little dab if cabbage. But it will be great when I want just a little extra cabbage in my soup.

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Add to the okra and cabbage these tomatoes and there you have it – just another week on the farm! #farmstewardship

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If you look in the background of many of my cooking photos you’ll find cast iron – and lots of it! This post is about how to maintain it and use it every day!

On a Facebook page someone asked about purchasing some cast iron skillets – if they were a “good price”. I asked if she was purchasing them for the value or to use them. She replied that she wanted to start using cast iron again as it had been many years since she had.

Many people love the idea of using cast iron, but either are afraid to use it or simply don’t know how to care for it. I’ve used cast iron my whole life, so I thought I’d share how I care for mine. Note – this is simply maintaining their use. If you are buying antique cast iron, I’d recommend getting a lead-testing kit from your local hardware store to check if the cast iron has been used for other purposes in the past. I bought the dutch oven in the photo above at an antique tractor show. Before I used it I scrubbed it and tested it for lead – and now it’s a “daily user” in my kitchen!

I love cooking in my cast iron skillets. I have a dozen or so varying size skillets, a couple of Dutch ovens and a “chicken fryer”. Most of these have come from my and my husband’s parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Who knows how old they are. Many people avoid using cast iron because they say it is a pain to maintain, or it sticks. If it sticks, it is not seasoned properly – and the maintenance is not as bad as you might think. Cast iron is the original “non-stick” cookware. It is actually beneficial to your health to cook in cast iron – plus – you don’t get any of those “Teflon-y” particles in your food!

There are varying opinions on whether one should wash cast iron – my mother always did, therefore, so do I. (I make too much gravy not to wash mine!) If you have really cruddy cast iron, have bought flea-market cast iron, or your cast iron sticks horribly – you might want to strip it and re-season. There are several YouTube videos that explain the process; however the best videos (and recipes) are from “The Culinary Fanatic” (Jeffrey B. Rogers).

For a quick and easy re-seasoning process, or for just occasional maintenance of your cast iron you can do the following (this is how I season mine):

Wash your cast iron in mild warm soapy water, using a plastic “scrubby” if necessary. Rinse and dry with a paper towel. Wipe the cast iron lightly with Crisco, covering well, but not gobbed on. Place the cast iron in the oven set on 200° for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, wipe the cast iron with paper towels or an old dishrag and then place it back in the oven – upside down – and increase the heat to 300° for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, wipe the cast iron again, and return to the oven increased to 400° for two hours. If your cast iron still sticks, check your recipe or method of cooking (right temperature for what you’re cooking, or maybe trying to turn the food too soon – that often is the cause).

If possible, simply wipe the cast iron after use, but if food is stuck on or you make a lot of gravy, too – then wash it, wipe very lightly with Crisco and place in a hot oven for just a few minutes each time you use it.

Just a few photos of things I cook in my cast iron:

 

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I went by a local market this morning to pick up some peaches for canning (we have a rather nice orchard coming along – but no fruit just yet). When I got there I saw that they also had some “June Apples” AKA “Early Transparent” apples! SCORE!

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The peaches will hold a couple of days so I set in on the apples. First I washed them with water and a little vinegar in the water (since I didn’t raise these, I don’t know if they’ve been sprayed or not) and then I got ready to peel them.

When I do apples I prepare 3 pans – 1 for the peeled and sliced apples, 1 for the peelings and cores, and 1 for the “blossom ends” and any imperfections. The pans for the apples and peelings each contain water and about 1/4 cup fruit fresh to keep them from turning dark.

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You may wonder why I save the peelings. I have mentioned before in this blog that my parents and grandparents lived through the Great Depression, and in addition to that we were very poor as I was growing up. My mother learned to “make do” and stretch foods to use every scrap. So, following in her footsteps, I save the peelings to make apple juice. 

Most recipes for making juice call for cooking the whole apple, but my mother learned that by peeling the apples and using both the apples and the peelings they went twice as far!

I debated whether to dehydrate the apples for making stack cakes this Fall or to make applesauce. Applesauce won out. So after peeling about 8-9 pounds of the apples, I put them on to cook.

To make applesauce, put the peeled and sliced apples in a pot with a little water to keep them from sticking and turn on med-high.

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Most applesauce recipes call for cooking the apples until soft and then running them through a strainer or food mill, however Early Transparent apples are very tart (which keeps me from snatching slices as I peel) and they cook up to “sauce” consistancy without the milling step.

When the apples begin to get mushy, add sugar for sweetening. For this many apples add 2 cups of sugar and taste for desired sweetness. I ended up using 3 cups of sugar to get them just right. If you want, you can add cinnamon and other spices, but since this is mainly for our 9 month old grandson, I left this batch plain.

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Once the apples are the consistancy you want, fill clean, hot jars (pint or quart) leaving 1/2″ headspace. Wipe the rims, seal “finger tight” and place in a waterbath canner (or large pot with a rack to keep the jars off the bottom) with water covering the jars by 2 inches.

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Once the water comes to a rolling boil, process the apples 20 minutes (both pints and quarts). When the time is up, turn the heat off and let the jars sit in the water 5-10 minutes before removing from the water.

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The reason this fruit separated was because I put just a little too much water in the apples when I started to cook them. This was my first turn of apples for this year and was out of practice. I’ll make a note of that for next time. This won’t hurt the apple sauce, I’ll just need to stir it up when I open a jar.

While the applesauce was processing I put the apple peelings in the same pot that I had cooked the apples in (no need to wash it first – it’s all apples!) Add water just to nearly covering and turn on med-high.

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After the peelings have cooked down let them cool and then strain.20160614_19515520160614_195200

Cheesecloth works pretty well for straining the juice, but I prefer an old cotton diaper. Squeeze the peelings until all the juice is out – or – until you’re tired of squeezing.

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I had a half gallon of apple juice from these peelings. I put the juice in the refrigerator and will can it in pints tomorrow. I use this apple juice for the syrup mixture in canning other fruits.

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8-9 pounds of apples = 9 pints of apple sauce and 1/2 gallon of juice – pretty good for an afternoon of work, wouldn’t you say?

Edit: A couple of days later I made chunky apple sauce out of the rest of the apples. I had 19 pints from this half-bushel of apples.

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When I was little, my favorite after school snack was a peanut butter and pineapple preserves sandwich. Since I’m all about “do it yourself” I make my own.

Last year our local grocery store had a “midnight madness” sale where peeled pineapple was at a GREAT price. I bought 10-12 pineapples and canned them.

Canning pineapple is really easy. Peel and cube pineapple. Because pineapple is really sweet, it doesn’t need additional sugar for canning. It can be packed in plain water, unsweet pineapple juice, unsweet apple juice or white grape juice.

In a large sauce pan heat the liquid and let it simmer 10 minutes while you fill jars with the chunks of pineapple. Add liquid to 1/2″ headspace. Remove air bubbles, wipe rims with a damp cloth, seal and waterbath pints for 15 minutes and quarts for 20 minutes.

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To make pineapple preserves I took 5 pints of canned pineapple, drained the liquid off (and enjoyed drinking it!)  Then I chopped the pineapple into small chunks. (I’m sure you could this in a food processor – but since I don’t have one – hand chopping it is!)

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After chopping pineapple, measure out 4 1/2 cups pineapple into a 6-8 quart saucepot. Add about 1 tbsp butter to reduce foaming (opt). Stir in 1 pkg of pectin (Sure Jell or I used Jel-Ease) and bring to a rolling boil that doesn’t stop bubbling with stirred. Stir pretty much constantly to keep from sticking.

When it is at a rolling boil, add 4 1/2 cups sugar and return to a full boil. Let this mixture boil for 2 minutes. (Sure Jell calls for 1 minute, Jel-Ease calls for 2 minutes). Remove from heat and fill jars.

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Fill jars to 1/4″ headspace. Wipe rims with a damp cloth and seal. Waterbath for 5 minutes. Let the jars sit in the canner for an additional 5-10 minutes after turning the heat off, then place upright on a towel to cool. Let them sit for 24 hours and check for a seal, then remove rings.20160610_150656

You may have noticed that I had a half jar leftover – and it was lunchtime – so what better lunch than a peanut butter and pineapple preserves sandwich… Folded over, of course, because that’s how Mother always made it! Enjoy!

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