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Changes To The Blog

After not having written a post since March, I wondered why I was not interested in doing so, or why I hadn’t. My conclusion was that the blog needed an update.

For those of you who follow us, you may notice that the blog address is different as well as the name of the blog. “Conserver Life” instead of  homesteading 101.

We are still what we consider homesteaders. But our focus as homesteaders, I have been finding, has been leaning more towards not spending money and doing as many things as we can ourselves.

Actually, most of my past posts are about that, but I always felt I needed to stay true to the original idea for this blog so I tried to make it revolve around homesteading specifically. Now the blog will move even more towards not spending money as homesteaders and as non-homesteaders.

I really appreciate all of you! Thank you!

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How We Reduced Our Food Spending

Last month I told you about how we are attempting to spend less money on food. The result of our February experiment was that we spent $280 for the month which ended up being $109 less than February last year (2017). It’s also consistent with the $10 a day spending experiment that I have been doing to see if it is possible to eat well for $10 per day for two people. It IS possible.

The main things that made this possible were the following:

Eating in season. We bought blueberries when they were in season in the summer at a great price and then froze them for use now. We also froze most of our own fruit, including currants, raspberries and apples.

Not buying convenience foods. This is an obvious one. Convenience foods may look cheaper to start with but they are used up faster because the quality is poor. You end up spending more because you have to repurchase more often.

Eating a bit less. There is nothing wrong with eating less. I found this quite liberating. We were eating better quality food, and therefore not needing to eat as much because there were no cravings.

Cooking everything for ourselves. This is a must. I have found that eating at restaurants is actually not that fun for me. It’s really for convenience. I prefer the food that we make for ourselves, for the taste, the control of the quality, and time spent together. I know where the food is coming from and what goes in it.

Having a garden. Naturally, growing your own food is going to save you a bundle. It is more work for sure, but the quality of the food, at least in our case, is superior to anything we’d buy from the store.

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The Coming Months

We are continuing our spending freeze on food for the next two months at least to see if it can be kept up. We are definitely going to run out of potatoes this year but that should be about it and not sure if we’ll buy from the store when we do. We’d only buy if they are locally grown potatoes so we can’t predict if there will be many or any to buy in the spring.

Our source for meat is local, which provides us with grass fed beef, humanely slaughtered on farm, so we don’t need to buy meat at the store. This also saves us money. Even though we don’t eat much meat, I eat it for the energy it provides me. Not every one needs to do this but by the same token, not everyone can be healthy by eating only plants.

As an aside, but following the nutritional topic, our dogs eat a raw meat and whole food diet (no kibble or canned dog food). We are able to keep their meal costs to $100 per dog per month (more or less, as the dogs are different sizes and eat accordingly) which is extremely good.

So, all in all, our experiment is providing us with an interesting and useful pastime with a very good result so far.

The Results Are In – Homemade Vinegar!

Hi everyone!

These are the results of our vinegar experiment.  It is useable and we have a lot of mother of vinegar as well.

I did some research and found that I needed to cover it in the fridge to store it, which I did. I also re-strained it because there was more “mother” in the vinegar. I then covered the mother with some of the vinegar and put it back in the fridge.

This was what was suggested by the info I found online.

If you look back at the pictures in my last post about vinegar, you can see there is a definite change in colour of the liquid. It has darkened quite a bit. Also, it seems that all of the vinegar is continually producing mother of vinegar if left long enough, which is OK from what I have learned.

I ended up with two cups of useable vinegar. Right now I am giving it to the dogs by the teaspoon with their meals, as it has benefits for them as well.

All in all the vinegar experiment was successful and I am looking forward to making a larger batch next year.

MAKE YOUR OWN STUFF!!

Making Our Own Vinegar

This fall I decided to try making vinegar.

This is part of  my goal to be able to make more of what we eat from our own produce, and to teach people locally how to do this.

I know, I know, I just wrote a post about doing homesteading the way you want and not trying to do things just like a “real” homesteader.  I still want to do that though. It’s not that I would necessarily rely on making our own vinegar all the time, but I think it’s important to be able to know how to do it.

That means we need to try to make it ourselves.

This fall we had an abundance of apples. I mean a LOT. So after we used up and froze as many as we could I decided it was a go on the vinegar.

I used chunks of apple, not fruit scraps, just because we had that many apples and we didn’t need to process any more whole ones. We cored and chopped enough to fill the jar we were going to use and put in a honey/water brine. I weighed down the apples with a regular drinking glass and a shooter glass inside that.

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I tbubbled away for a little more than a week and started to smell like alcohol – the desired result of the first part of making vinegar.

I think I left it a little too long because the apples started to brown and some of the liquid evaporated from the jar. Below is the result of the this first part of the process. Here I am getting ready to filter the liquid through a linen cloth.

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I thought it should be a bit clearer than it turned out, but it SMELLS right, so I’m going to keep going with it. This picture is the final liquid after the filtering.

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I am storing it on a shelf in the corner of the kitchen out of the light in a glass casserole dish.

We’ll see what happens in a few months. Hopefully it won’t take too long. I’ll post an update when it is ready.

Happy Homesteading – however you do it!

Harvest Is (Well) Over

Last night we had a killing frost. Not that there was much on the garden. Just Brussels Sprouts, Rhubarb, some beans drying, and Horseradish of course.

Inside the house, however, is a different story. Mostly with regards to the tomatoes. In fact it seems that everyone in our area had a bumper tomato crop and we can’t give the things away.

So we’re canning juice, freezing ketchup and plain tomatoes and making soup. We were able to reduce the bags of frozen tomatoes from last year to zero, but we still have over 30 jars of canned tomatoes from last year in the cellar.

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Update:

We decided to stop processing the tomatoes because we have enough. This is the total of what we put away:

29 canning quart jars of juice

11 large freezer bags of whole tomatoes

10 reused peanut butter jars of marinara sauce

18 pb jars or ketchup

and we have some romas still in the fridge for fresh eating.

and again this is added to the 29 canned jars already in the cellar.

Nuts, I know.

Next year we will not be planting tomatoes. Well, OK we’ll plant a few for fresh fruit but that’s it.

We did have some left and Ernie took them to his sister who doled them out at the Drop-In and to immediate family that needed some. That went over quite well and none were wasted.

About The Garlic

I planted the garlic by myself this year. Ernie was busy with other things so I did all the planting, which is fine.

We bought new garlic seed this year from professional garlic growers. Marino, Gaia’s Joy and Northern Quebec are the names. This garlic is prairie adapted to our area.

We also purchase new seed from the organic vegetable farmer we originally bought from years ago and found out that he buys seed every year from a different province. This means it is not prairie adapted and would likely explain why we are having trouble with it.

We will therefore be reducing the plantings of this variety – I can’t remember what he said the name of it was – in favour of smaller types of garlic produced locally.

Altogether I planted 250 cloves in three different locations. Below is a picture of the new garlic bed. The chairs and pail are to help prevent the dogs from running through it.

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Peppers Were Successful

We had a pretty good crop of peppers considering we didn’t plant as many as two years ago. There were enough to put away quite a few containers in the freezer. Peppers are on par here with garlic with regards to importance. We have decided to up the pepper production next year.

We now have a good method of starting, transplanting and increasing speed of production for our area. Pepper tents are a must here and work wonders.

peppersAnd of course cabbage, herbs, beans, peas were all good this year as well. We left most of our beans to dry and will do that next year as well. Neither of us care much for processed beans, so we will only be eating fresh.

We had trouble with corn since it was so dry and grass bound so they were stunted. But they gave a little produce anyway.

And the potatoes. Well, lets say we’ll be buying in the spring. This year was so dry that we got half of what we had last year. We need to plant in a different location next year as well and make a few soil amendments that I will discuss at a later date.

So that’s it for the garden. Now on to other homestead things like cooking and eating, crafts and art and small town life. And maybe a bit of travelling. And writing…

Happy homesteading!

Eating Well On Little Money Part 2

Over a year ago, I did an experiment of sorts in my kitchen. Using the local Co-op weekly sales flyer, I chose food items up to $10 per day to see if a family of two could feed itself well on that amount.

The problem I have found is that eating “well” is a subjective term. Some people think that eating well means eating at restaurants or buying as much convenience food as they want. OR it could mean a certain quality or price of food.

All this is just avoiding learning how to eat well for less. It can be done.

To remind ourselves from the last post: The daily food purchases for Day One and Day Two are as follows:

Day 1: Eggs, Butter, Pasta (made from white flour, not great but that is what we used for now), Salt.

From this you could eat for the day and if you did have some condiments such as ketchup or left over from previous purchases of food you could use those to spruce things up.

At our food store, this all cost $9.54 cents. At other stores you could get it for less, I’m sure, but that is not part of the project.

The point is use what is available.

The belief is often that you can’t eat well and cheap, locally.

Day 2: Carrots, Banana, Potatoes, Onion, Barley. Cost: $10.00

With the ingredients from these two days, I made a vegetable soup that was unbelievably good.

So now you have pasta and soup with some fruit.

We figured out that our soup cost us 38 cents a serving while a store brand, canned, cream of mushroom soup cost about 24 cents. However, the nutritional content of the canned soup is clearly lower. Eating this canned food is NOT what I would call eating well.

I expect that some people don’t know how to make soup from scratch, and therefore think that they have to buy canned and therefore can’t eat well.

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The key to eating this way is to learn how to cook. It’s as simple as that, or as difficult.

Cooking for oneself takes time and effort, just like anything else worthwhile.  Our society has moved away from that. The focus is on ready made, packaged foods. You get addicted to these. They are part of the disconnect between how people work and how people live. They are easy and simple – and not nourishing.

I am not saying this to point the finger of blame at anyone or of how people live, just a statement of fact. My goal is to educate people to see that it is not as difficult as they might believe and to encourage a bit more food security into their lives – learning how to prepare their own food. That is the whole point of this blog.

Many people go to jobs daily that suck the life out of them. They are then exhausted and don’t have the energy to prepare good food for themselves. There is a different way.

This happened to Ernie during his working life in the big city. Work was from 7 am to 3 pm. Luckily his commute was only about 20 mins each way, but at the end of the work day he would go home and sleep for an hour before eating a meal or two hours after the meal. When he changed his life from working at this job, his food selections changed as well.

Working at something you don’t feel good about or are not connected with depletes your energy just like eating crappy food. I know, I’ve done both.

If you feel defensive when reading this post you may not be secure in your food or other choices. Please don’t post a negative comment. The intention is not to try and insult you (I am not that much in control of your thinking anyway ;-).

There are people who need help and it is to those people that this post is directed. Thanks you.

I will continue this experiment as planned and post the results here shortly – with a few modifications. Day 3 and 4 will be posted on soon.

The Greenhouse Is Done – But You Don’t Really Need One

Our greenhouse is finished. Well, except for painting the trim. The plants that have been in there so far this summer are growing somewhat faster than those outside, but I feel this is likely due to transplant shock of those that were put out.

As I have said before this greenhouse was built with mostly scrap/recycled/savaged materials with the exception of a few pieces of wood and the roof plastic. Even the vinyl siding was salvaged from the dump.

It is functional, not bad looking and seems to be working well.

As for the plants that are growing inside, they are also doing quite well. We have tomatoes, peppers, and herbs in there as well as outside on the patio.

This is all really an experiment for me. I wanted to try to grow vegetables in pots, in and outside of the greenhouse, to see if and how easily it could be done here in our climate.

What I have found is that it is easy to grow your own food in pots on balconies or outside on your patio. The easiest things I have found to grow are herbs, onions, obviously tomatoes, peppers, kale… well everything really.

I even have corn growing in two pots just to see if it would work. And yes it works.

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Recently, several people have complained to me about the increased prices at the grocery store, particularly vegetables. Of the people who complained to me, some lived in the city and some lived in rural areas.

I can understand that there will be certain places in urban areas in which it will be difficult to have any kind of outdoor space for plants. But everyone has an indoor place for one plant.

So there is really no excuse not to do this except that you are completely set against doing it.

Why should I grow my own food? Isn’t it time consuming?

My answer to this is, no. But it IS a lifestyle. My opinion ( if it matters) is that everyone should learn how to grow SOMETHING of their own, even if it is just flowers or houseplants. I believe tending to garden, even a small one, is an important part of being human. But you don’t have to start out growing everything at once. And of course if you don’t want to that is your choice. Just don’t complain to me about the price of food.

When you learn how to grow even the most simple and small amounts of food for yourself, you are connecting to nature, you can control where some of your food comes from and you learn something new every time you plant something. This last point is the most important one of the three in my mind.

What to grow

Growing your own herbs is the best way I have found to start growing food. You can grow all of the oregano, basil, coriander, parsley and dill you need for a whole year in pots in a small space. Parsley can grow inside all winter in a sunny window, and early in the year you can start coriander (cilantro), dill and even small onions in pots to pinch for fresh flavour in your cooking.

Multiplier onions can provide green onions before they mature AND just the greens if you want. If you leave them to mature, the bulbs can be saved and planted at another time. There is really no way to make a mistake in planting them.

Other really useful plants to plant in pots are tomatoes and peppers. They take a little more attention, especially pruning for the tomatoes but nothing that can’t be handled.

Tomatoes never have to go bad because if you grow too many because you can freeze them whole and use them anytime during the non-growing season.

Anyway, I’m not getting rid of my greenhouse just because I don’t need it. I love it and will use it to start the large amount of veggies we need each year.

But it is time for people to take matters into their own hands and start growing some of their own food if only just to eat something amazing.

Just start.

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Multiplier onion growing in a reused plastic “pot”.

How We Source Our Food

One of the things (or should I say the main thing) that I am obsessed with here on our village homestead is buying as much food produced locally or producing as much food as we can ourselves (as some of you may be).

Where we live, it is very easy to get meat from farmers/ranchers. This is what we do for beef and chicken. We did have a pork source but the farmer stopped doing that. The meat was so much superior to what we have bought from the store in the past that I no longer eat pork.

If we can’t find a good product we just won’t buy it.

Eggs are fairly easy to get locally but in Canada the public sale of eggs by private individuals is prohibited so people give them away. We purchase honey from a couple who live three blocks away.

The basics are usually what give us trouble in finding. We need to buy flour from the store (even though we are surrounded by grain fields), and anything else needed to bake. Nuts obviously are not grown locally with the exception of wild hazelnuts if you can find them.

We actually grow our own beans (regular and broad beans) and peas and then dry them for  later use. But right now we need to buy other grains like barley, wild rice, lentils and buckwheat. I would love to be able to grow enough for ourselves. Maybe one day.

Dairy is one thing that we can’t get from nearby farmers. We have to buy it in the store. We buy cheese that is produced in our province from milk also produced in the province but milk for drinking (like in coffee or cereal) is not local. I no longer drink milk as is nor use it in cereal.

For fruit and vegetables we now only buy bananas, cauliflower (because we have not been able to grow any substantial amount in our own garden), locally grown mushrooms and the occasional sweet potato as long as it is grown as close by as possible.

In season once a year we buy cherries, blueberries and sometimes strawberries. We have our own local sources for the “Saskatoon” berry and cranberries otherwise known as the Serviceberry. We have more of our own apples and raspberries than we can handle.

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Ernie recently read an article about sweet potatoes and found out that the majority of what we get here comes from China. Unless it specifically says that it is from a closer place, I won’t buy them anymore.

We all know that it is crucial to be able to get as much food as you can on your own. Getting food locally is important for the experience of enjoying the food, knowing where it comes from, how to procure it and use it, and being thankful for it.

The disconnect between humans and their food is obviously affecting our health, most especially children. This also applies to those who no longer eat meat (not everyone but some).

The idea of food being “cruelty free” food is impossible.  Other animals and many many insects always die as a result of plant harvesting methods – even in organic agriculture.

And unless you are buying certified organic, most grains have been sprayed with herbicide in the fall to “burn” them so the farmer can harvest everything at the same time. Did you know that %75 of conventionally produced sunflower seeds are “dessicated” this way? See an article about that here

Another reason humans need to be aware of where their food comes from is so that they won’t worry about how to survive on the occasion that there is no food available for purchase.

I think I’m interested in trying the 100 mile diet, or here in Canada the “160 kilometre” diet, where you source all you food from places within that radius.

I know I don’t have to tell all of this to any of you who are homesteading. This is something that homesteaders already think about just by their nature.

Happy Food Procurement!

M is for Meaningful.

Since we got back from our “vacation” we have drastically reduced our spending. This is part of how I have always wanted to live anyway so it is not much of a problem.

I think I have explained in past blog posts that we prefer to spend money on things that are important to us and not just willy nilly on everything for a quick fix. This is very easy to do sometimes, and is mostly just a bad habit.

In case you haven’t already guessed, M also stands for money, in this post anyway.

One of those things we buy for a quick fix is eating restaurant meals. When we make a regular trip to the city for supplies in the past we have purchased a meal there. This was done completely for convenience since we would be there at the same time as we would normally have lunch or supper.

Just for fun, or to torture ourselves, I have calculated the amount of money we have spent over one year on fast food when we were away from home. I was able to do that because Ernie keeps a daily journal of what we do, eat, etc. and has done so for three years.

We averaged $80 a month.

Some places are more expensive than others but in general a meal for two people is pretty much $20 – $25 each time. If we had a take out meal at home (purchased in our village) that would be added on as well. I did not include convenience foods that were included in a grocery purchase simply because I did not have that info.

This amount and habit is unacceptable to me, so we stopped buying food in restaurants and any extra convenience food items. Now, some people WANT to buy meals out, and reap great benefits from that (this is different for everyone), which is fine. However, for us it is not that important to do on a regular basis. It has always been my belief that (unless you are independently wealthy) you can’t buy everything you see. You have to weight how much benefit you get for something over how much it “costs” you.

Actually, even if someone has lot of money to spend, it could be considered irresponsible to buy a bunch of things just for the sake of buying, convenience, or just because one can. Purchases that are well thought out (to me) are much more satisfying and useful. And less impactful on our earth.

I feel life is more about experiences than buying things, and I’m sure many of you reading this feel the same way as well. Sure, if you want to experience travelling to different countries you’ll need money, or to experience staying at a first class resort.

The way I like to look at it is these things are worthwhile if they are meaningful experiences. If they are, then great. But if they are just for relaxing and pleasure because you work too hard, or if they are for bragging about, then they are likely not meaningful experiences.

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So back to the original point of this post.

We stopped spending money on food in restaurants because it is more meaningful to us to eat our own food that we prepared at home.

There may be an occasion for buying a meal at a restaurant at some point, but for us the regular habit of it is gone. We will take the time to make food at home before we go anywhere, and then save the money for a more meaningful experience later on.

I admit it takes more planning and a bit of organization to get it done, not to mention the time. For me though, time spent making and growing our own food is one of the reasons I am a homesteader, so again it is not an issue.

Getting out of the habit of buying what you think of will immediately “solve your problem” is the most difficult part. It requires desire to change and live differently. It was something that we felt we had to do. Again, not everyone will feel this way about spending money on meals, but there may be something else. What is a meaningful experience for you that you spend money on?

Happy Homesteading.

 

How We Make Sauerkraut

We don’t make sauerkraut every year but this year we had to because of all the cabbages that decided to grow.

For this process we have a ceramic crock that Ernie’s mom used. It is a large high – sided pot really, that was made in Medicine Hat Alberta, Canada. Ernie’s parents were given this crock in 1967 by neighbours but we really don’t know how old it is.

For things like that I just call them “vintage”.

This year we used 18 heads of cabbage for sauerkraut. We also used some of our own onions and of course, coarse salt.

Sauerkraut is so simple. And so tasty. And good for you. So we have decided to make more of an effort to use what we make. Often we forget that we have it, and it gets left over from year to year. This year though I think we have run out so our crock full will definitely get eaten.

Many of you already make this food but I will go over it again anyway because you can do it with almost any container, just on you counter.

Chop or coarsely grate (we grate) the cabbage into the container to about 2 inches or 5 centimetres. Add some onion and the appropriate amount of pickling salt. For us it was 2 tablespoons per layer of cabbage.

Then we filled the container about 3/4 full. As  he went along, Ernie would squish the cabbage in his hands to get the juices out.

Once done filling the crock a clean pail full of water was used to weigh down the cabbage to stay underneath the liquid. Ernie cut two pieces of pine board to fit on top of the cabbage inside the crock that the pail sits on.

Check out my video below to see all the steps.

In the past, Ernie’s mom used to use a board similar to what we use, only she weighed it down with a big rock that they had found here in the yard. I opted for the pail although I’m sure there are many things that could be used to do this job.

Ernie kept tasting the cabbage to check it for sourness over the next two weeks or so. Once it reached what he figured was ready, he squeezed the liquid out by hand and packaged it for freezing.

Not difficult to do at all, and so very good for you.