"Commentary from the Countryside"
Thoughts on current events,
history, homesteading, preparedness, real food, and anything else I find interesting, from a cranky, middle-aged woman's common-sense perspective.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cleaning and Excitement

Love my pantry!
I don't know about you, but I generally don't get excited about cleaning.  However yesterday's chores included a few seconds of panic, mayhem, and a little excitement.  I started the day by putting some beef bones in the kettle, covering them with water, and setting the pot on the stove to simmer.  I'm determined to learn how to can broth!  While the pot was simmering I went about washing dishes, and cleaning and organizing the pantry.  All of a sudden I heard a "wumph!" and turned to see flames all around the pot, reaching for my over-the-stove microwave.  Yikes!  The flames shot higher as I grabbed the flammable stuff that was laying on the counter right next to the stove so the fire wouldn't spread, and shut off the gas. I reached for the fire extinguisher but didn't need it as the flames quickly subsided and went out.  Whew! No real harm done, and the soot stains can be scrubbed.  Even though the pot never boiled over, it seems that some grease from the simmering bones had seeped under the lid and dripped down the sides of the pot, and once enough had accumulated, the burner flame ignited the whole mess.  So I had to transfer the broth and bones to a different kettle and burner to finish cooking, and do a lot of extra scrubbing.  At least I still managed to get the pantry organized.  And thank God I wasn't out hanging laundry or something when it happened!

I've been canning things like applesauce, pickles, and jams for years, but this year has been a whole new adventure as I branch out and try to learn how to use a pressure canner to do up broth, vegetables, and meat.  It hasn't gone well, so far.  I started with canner loads of sweet corn in pint jars.  It takes a long time for the canner to cool and reduce pressure so that it's safe to open it and remove the jars, and the last load finished quite late at night, so I simply shut off the heat and allowed the canner to sit overnight.  Later I learned you can't do that, as the food won't cool properly, and may spoil.  Another time I tried to can chicken, nice boneless, skinless chickien breast cut into chunks and canned in pint jars.  That went well, and I was happy with the results, until I realized I had read the wrong line on the chart, using the processing time for bone-in meat instead of boneless.  So instead of jars of ready to use chicken on my pantry shelves, I now have jars of chicken taking up space in the freezer.  But I'm not giving up! With the Blue Ball canning book, and a lot of advice and encouragement from my friends in the homesteading forums, I'm going to keep trying.  My next challenge is to can up the broth I made yesterday, which spent the night in the fridge.
Add perseverance to the qualities a homesteader needs to have!
Note:  the instructions for canning and the time charts referred to are found at http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_05/stock_broth.html.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Tweeting, facebooking, updating, texting, messaging - it seems folks are just constantly "plugged in" anymore.  Radio, tv, internet - it's a constant bombardment of information, much of it of questionable worth.  I'll admit to a little more internet time than may be healthy, but I'm reading up on recipes, checking prices on the Kitchen Aid stand mixer I'd like to have, and reading homesteading forums.  I rarely watch the news, turn the radio on, or check anyone's status, so I guess I'd be labeled "unplugged".  Even my Dad, who is certainly not of the tech generation, is way ahead of me when it comes to the news.

So I was quite dismayed when I ran across a forum post where the writer cited an article detailing what happened last week, listing assault, shooting, trampling, and rioting.  Did this happen at an emotionally charged political rally, over high-priority issues?  No, most of it happened at WalMart, over video games. 

Video games!!!  Talk about unplugged! Are we disconnected from wisdom, discernment, and self-control?  Divorced from reason? How did owning a game become more important than caring about the person standing next to you?  I think it's time for a priority check, to assess what's really important. What is this season about, anyways?

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, a season of joy, hope, and thanksgiving, celebrating the birth of our Savior two thousand years ago, and anticipating His glorious return.  Traditionally it's also a time to connect and share with family and friends.  Think about it.  Maybe it's time to plug in to what's important.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Gift Day

I suppose some will call this "Black Friday", a day to rush about and spend money.  I'd much rather stay home and avoid all the crowds.  Besides, standing in line to buy a video game just doesn't make sense to me.  No, I call this a "Gift Day" because of the weather. 

The term, and ability to recognize such a thing, started when I was a kid cultivating beans in the summer.  This was back before huge tractors with comfy, air-conditioned cabs and 20-row cultivators.  Heat and humidity were never good for me, and there I was, on a noisy ol' tractor with a 6-row cultivator, going back and forth under a burning hot sun....(yeah, I had to walk to school through the snow uphill both ways too)...anyways, it was miserable.  But every now and again, the wind would back 'round to the northwest and sweep across the Great Lakes, scouring out the humidity and bringing fresh, cool Canadian air.  Such a day was a "gift day" - bright blue skies, comfortable temperatures, the sun laying gold and brilliant over the fields, a soft breeze rich with the smell of hay fields and fresh earth.  I always felt such a day was a gift from God, bringing relief, rest, and just a small idea of the glory yet to come.

Today was such a day.  Late November in Michigan, and we had sunshine and warm breezes, not the damp, gray dreariness we would expect.  The air was thin and golden, smelling of sugar beets, leaves and woodsmoke, and the sun was gentle, reaching tentative rays through the bare tree branches, highlighting the last few yellow mums.  Outside chores were a joy, and a few hours in the deer blind gave the perfect vantage point on a sunset of glory flinging banners of pink, purple, and deep fiery red across the western sky.

Loading a dehydrator tray.
Dried apples going into storage jars.
No venison yet, but the apples and carrots are done, which marks the end of the garden harvest for the year.  A 2.5 gallon bucket full of apples slices put through the dehydrator yielded 5 quarts of dried apples now safely stored away in glass jars.  I'll turn to these apples throughout the year for pies, applesauce, apple bread, apple-oatmeal cookies, and so on.  It's amazing how easy it is to dry, store, and use apples, and how versatile they are for many recipes.  End tally for the year's apple harvest is 50 quarts of canned applesauce and 8 quarts of dried apples, not to mention what we've used for fresh eating.  And all from my one old tree! I'd have to say home-grown apples are a must for any homestead pantry.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Well, not quite, but it's getting there.  There's a batch cooking down right now, and the smell of apples and cinnamon is a great counterpoint to the scent of the pumpkin pies in the oven.
Using the strainer.
I use two methods for making applesauce, depending on how many apples I'm processing at once.  When I have a large amount, say a bushel or more, I start by washing the apples thoroughly, and then cutting them into fourths.  I don't peel or core them, just make sure to remove rotten spots or bugs.  Then, using my biggest stock pot, I boil the quarters until soft, scoop them out with a slotted spoon, and put them in a colander to drain and cool for a few minutes.  Then I put them through on of my favorite kitchen gadgets, the Victorio strainer.  This nifty tool squashes the apples, sending all the seeds and skins out the end and beautiful, pure applesauce out the front.  It's a great timesaver!  Then it's quite simple to re-heat the applesauce and can it up. 
The second method for processing apples is to wash them, then sit and peel and core them by hand.  I only do this when I have less than a bushel, or I want to have apple slices for drying.  My tree isn't sprayed or thinned, and I often get gnarly, tiny apples, so doing them by hand is a painstaking task.  Being a vintage northern spy apple, though, the flavor makes it worth the work.
Canning applesauce is pretty simple.  Bring the applesauce to boiling in a large, heavy pot to prevent sticking and burning.  I usually add sugar and cinnamon during this time, but it's only for taste, the sugar doesn't affect the preservation.  This is when you allow the applesauce to 'cook down' to the desired consistency.  While the applesauce is heating, I thoroughly wash and rinse the jars in very hot water, and set them upside down on a clean towel.  On another burner I have my large water-bath kettle heating, half full of water with a 1/4 cup or so of vinegar in it.  If I don't use the vinegar, my jars come out all cloudy because of the minerals in my well water.  A separate smaller pot has the lids simmering in hot water. 
When everything is piping hot I begin by adding 1tbsp. of lemon juice to the jar (to ensure that the contents are acid enough for water bathing) and then using a funnel and a large ladle, I fill each jar to within 1/2" of the top (a good rule of thumb is to fill to the bottom of the ring at the base of the threads).  Then I use a clean damp cloth to wipe the top of the jar, add the lid, and secure it with the screw band.  This process is repeated until there are enough jars to fill the canner.  Once the full canner is heated to a good roiling boil, I set the timer, 20 minutes for quarts or 15 minutes for pints.  The processed jars are carefully removed with a jar lifter, and set on a towel on the countertop, in a corner away from drafts.  That's all there is to it!  With a little work, you can have jars of tasty homemade applesauce ready to enjoy all through the year until the next apple harvest.
Unless, of course, you happen to have a little nephew that just loves it!  I'm making extra for him this year, so we won't run out again.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bibles and Apples

Do you ever cry at church?  Sometimes I get choked up, when a certain hymn we're singing just hits a chord with me and I'm overwhelmed.  But today it was something different.  During a recent Bible class I had mentioned that someday I would like to buy a copy of the new Lutheran study Bible, since the margin notes had so much good information.  At church today there was a gift bag sitting by the mailboxes with my name on it, and one of the new Bibles in it.  No 'from' tag.  Someone of my church family cared so much that they took the time and trouble to give me such a gift!  Wow.  I sort of just sat there holding it with tears in my eyes for the longest time.  Like Jesus says in Matthew 6, "so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."  May God the Father richly bless my benefactor.

Yesterday was a busy day with chores, and some time spent deer hunting.  No venison yet; hopefully I'll be able to fill my tag before the season is over.  Finished gathering all the apples from my old apple tree, I think all told this one old tree produced three bushels this year. This last batch will be dried, and some canned up as applesauce.  Time to set and peel them all while watching football!

Here's an old family favorite:

Cottage Pudding

1 1/2 cups flour                                   1 egg
2 teaspoons baking powder                 1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt                                  1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup sugar

Sift together dry ingredients.  Mix in remaining ingredients, pour batter into shallow pan, 8x8 inches.  Stick fresh apple slices into the top of the batter, about 1/4 inch apart.  Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.

I'll share recipes, canning and baking ideas, and homestead projects as I go along on this blog.  Though there's certainly a lot of bloggers out there much more experienced than me, and plenty of knowledgeable folks I've met through websites that have been doing the homestead lifestyle since birth who could give better advice.  So I'm not looking at this blog as as place for me to pontificate about the "right" way to do things, but rather a way to share experiences with others who are bumbling and stumbling toward the goals of simple living and self-sufficiency.  Please join me on the journey!

Friday, November 18, 2011


November isn't usually a time of beginnings.  Say "November" and folks will think of turkey dinners, early sunsets, the end of the garden season, and finishing fall projects before the snow flies.  But this year, for me, it is a time of beginnings.  I choose to look at it that way, with thankfulness and hope, despite the fact that I've just been laid off from my job.  It wasn't much of a job, as such things go.  Attrition is an ugly word but we here in Michigan know it by heart.  Industry fails, the economy falters, politicians fiddle, and my job falls victim as the house of cards collapses.  Full time with benefits becomes part time without benefits, becomes less time, becomes nothing.

There's a line that says "Whenever God allows a door to close, somewhere He opens a window".

So here, my friends, is the beginning of my search for the window.