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!
We have two oregano beds that survived the winter. This plant is interesting because it is obviously not native to this region, yet is survives our ridiculously difficult winters. There is always some die-back and some sections of the beds don’t come back, but they always spread.
Both of our oregano beds have a north facing exposure so this is even more interesting to me. Because this herb is so useful, it is a good idea for everyone to plant a little and dry some for use in the off season.
This year I am planting more because of our venture into market gardening. The old beds needed refreshing so I harvested as much as I could very early. The stems were very short but I pinched them down to the ground.
The second bed has even more to be harvested which has yet to be done. All of this will be dried for our own use. The first batch I dried on an old cookie sheet but the second harvest will be dried in our homemade dehydrator.
The remaining beds will be removed, some good sections will be replanted in different locations, and the dead sections composted. The roots on these plants are VERY tough and difficult for me to even get a shovel into. This must be why they are so good at surviving the winters here.
I use oregano in many different things that we eat like the obvious – pizza, tomato sauce, salsa, salad, etc. but I also put some in my dog’s food – dried of fresh – from time to time.
Some people believe that giving greens to dogs is a not species appropriate but I don’t think that at all. In small amounts this and other culinary herbs are a benefit to dogs. I have been using them for years with no issues. Dogs that are not used to things like this should be started on them slowly using COMMON SENSE.
So I harvested quite a bit of early oregano for drying and now that is something I don’t have to think about for the rest of the summer. We have as much as we need for ourselves so I can concentrate on selling the rest.
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.
Since our homestead is in a village, we have a restricted amount of space that we homestead on. Obviously it is going to be smaller than most. We have in total about one and 1/4 acres.
Normally one would think that you can’t do much on a small property and I used to believe that too. We have found though, that anything you want can be grown or produced even on a small homestead. It is similar to what the amazing things you can do with a can of paint for redecorating or how you can live in a tiny house, which we know that many people do.
Below are the things I have come up with that work for us the best when trying produce food on a small homestead.
We make use of all the space we have. This one is clearly the most important and actually includes most of the ones below. This space includes everything. Cupboard space, yard space, garden space, and any storage space. I guess we could always do better but for the most part, we get creative about storing things.
We don’t buy something if we can make it or do without. Buying things takes storage space. We don’t have storage space. It really is the same as living in a tiny house. You just don’t have room for the extra stuff.
An example of things like this are machines of all kinds. We bought a new riding lawnmower out of necessity and definitely had to have a place to park it indoors. The only shed that it will fit in is off the ground about a foot, so Ernie had to make a ramp – out of scrap wood of course – to drive it into the shed. So now the shed is mostly taken up with this lawn mower and to put up another shed will take space away from the garden so there is basically no more room for any new machinery. Luckily we don’t need a tractor, yet. Anyway I think you get the idea. We have no room for boats, cars, or fun toys etc. We do without those.
We only plant what we know we will eat. This way food will not go to waste and the space won’t be taken up by something we don’t need and put to good use growing what we do need.
We grow some of our vegetables upwards. Cucumbers and peas are planted on vertical fencing or lines to have them grow upwards. We also are fussy about pinching the tomatoes – taking the sprouts out of the branches so that the plants grow more upwards and don’t sprawl all over the place. This all saves space in the garden.
We make changes if something doesn’t work out the way we thought it would. If we do have something on the homestead that we thought we would like or might be useful but it turned out not being needed or not working out, we change it as soon as possible.
For example, we bought a gooseberry bush several years ago and put it in the back yard. Unfortunately, the dogs were also in the back yard often and would run into it regularly. Luckily no one was injured as they have thick coats. They would also EAT the berries before we had a chance to pick them. So we moved the bush to a totally different location and now it is growing well and producing so that we can use the berries.
So, producing big on a small homestead is mostly about creative use of space. If we had livestock, we would still be able to house them and feed them with what we have now. We would just keep it to the scale that is appropriate for the size of the property. I have said it before that homesteaders are pros at adapting to new environments. I also believe we are pros are being creative with what we have.
I can’t believe it but we actually have too many potatoes. We never have too many. But this year Ernie says that if we don’t use them soon or give some away we will have to waste them. He has already planted as many as we can room for in our garden so what ever is left must be eaten.
So, we are making potato dumplings otherwise known as perohy in Ukrainian or perogies in Polish. I’m sure most of you have heard about these. They are a carbohydrate lovers dream. Mashed potatoes with onion sometimes with cheese, mixed in or just plain cottage cheese, saurkraut, or prunes, put inside a white flour dough, boiled and then either fried with more onions or just eaten boiled with sour cream.
When we make them we just have a potato and onion filling. Nothing fancy.
This food is really just a way the homesteaders and pioneers used up fproduce so that it didn’t go to waste. So even though they taste amazing, they are traditional and useful.
The recipe is fairly simple. The dough is flour, water, and oil. The filling is really whatever you darn well feel like filling it with. Cut out dough circles, put in a dab of filling and PINCH closed.
It really couldn’t be more simple. But you can screw them up. If you don’t pinch them right, and add the right amount of flour, they will fall apart in the water as they are boiling. If you make the dough too thick, you will have huge perogies. If your dough is not stretchy enough you will have trouble with everything.
But even though there may be a failure in the procedure, everything is still edible. That is the beauty of this food. At worst you will end up with half moon pasta pieces. Delicious.
Again it seems like us homesteaders are focusing on food.
On a recent camping trip, a loaf of pre-sliced homemade raisin bread that we brought along ended up being moved back and forth between locations in the vehicle. This happened because we had more food than space to store it in and the bread got kicked out of the cooler. When we started out it was a fresh loaf and when we arrived home with it uneaten, it was in mostly tiny pieces.
I was able to salvage about 3 pathetic slices for breakfast after we got home. My first thought was to toss it, but then I quickly realized it could be made into bread pudding. I have never made or even eaten bread pudding, but have heard many people rave about it. So I used the whole loaf and made some up.
Luckily my husband eats anything, because after tasting it, I decided I am not a fan. This is not to criticize anyone who loves it, for sure. It is just my opinion. What I do love about it is that the bread does not go to waste, which is likely what happens a lot to bread that has become stale in most households. One of our goals in life is to waste nothing and live frugally, and I believe this is where bread pudding originated – from people living frugally and not wanting to waste anything. If the bread had not had raisins in it, I would have likely given it to the dogs over several days mixed in with their regular meals.
The recipe for bread pudding is simple – bread, cream or condensed milk, hot water, butter, salt, vanilla and eggs. You mix the milk and hot water, and pour it over the bread in a bowl. Once it cools to luke warm (so the eggs don’t cook in the bowl), you pour the mixture of eggs, vanilla, melted butter and a bit of salt into it, mix it up and bake at 350 F for 1 hour.
If I didn’t remember the recipe and needed to make this I would just make it to taste using the above ingredients. You don’t even really need vanilla. We used real maple syrup as a topping but anything sweet could work. The recipe called for a runny brown sugar topping but since we don’t have brown sugar in the house, the maple syrup was more than acceptable.
With the syrup, it tasted to me sort of like soggy french toast. This stuff could definitely pass for a breakfast and could be gussied up with more raisins and maybe even walnuts and cinnamon. I think I might have cooked it in a pan that was too high though. It did puff up quite a bit and would have overflowed if the pan had been smaller, but after cooling it shrank considerably. The texture was the part that I found the most unappealing.
I don’t foresee making this again for a very long time, mostly because I hope we don’t destroy bread this way again. If we have any dried out bread that is not in so many crumbs and pieces, I will attempt to make croutons, which I prefer to the sweeter and softer bread pudding.
So to clarify, there is really no need to waste anything, especially food. We go out of our way to use up anything that we haven’t eaten soon enough in different ways, like this bread, and of course we compost everything else that is inedible for us or the dogs. Our dogs really appreciate any real food we can give them that is not spoiled.
I have tried the pudding once again and doctored it up with walnuts and cream and I can now say that I like it.
For us, history is very much a part of why we homestead. We have a strong tie to the land where we live and to the history of our ancestors who lived and worked here before us. We still do many of the things that they did during daily life. Making certain foods is obviously going to be one of these things.
In my last blog post I talked about eating whole or real foods.
Just as an aside, I was not trying to show anyone how great we are for doing this and I feel that maybe some people may have taken offence to what I wrote. This is how WE do things and how we WANT to live I was not criticizing anyone’s food choices, merely stating mine. If you feel that you don’t agree with me that we are able to eat only whole foods, then you may need to evaluate why you might think that or even care. We simply are doing it.
With that out of the way, we are still eating 99% whole foods. There are only a few things that have multiple ingredients or additives on the labels for the things we buy from the store.
Kutia (pronounced koo-ti-ya) is a traditional Ukrainian dish that is normally served at Christmas. Both Ernie’s and my families served this for Christmas eve supper and then again for breakfast the next morning.
The ingredients are:
Cooked wheat berries, poppy seeds, honey
Cook the wheat, add ground up poppy seeds and warm honey water – honey melted in hot water. Mix together. Eat.
That’s it. This is a meal made out of three whole foods that is nutritious and extremely tasty. Our source of honey is a local farmer (a one minute drive or a five minute walk). Our source for poppy seeds is our garden. Our source for wheat is Saskatchewan Red Spring Wheat from the local store.
When we made Kutia this time I found that some of the poppy seeds had not been dried properly before storage last fall and were mouldy. Ernie went to the store and bought some (still a whole food) and we made half with store bought poppy seeds and half with what was left of our own that was not mouldy. They tasted pretty much the same in the end.
This dish is a true homesteader’s food because it was made and eaten by our ancestors in this area after they immigrated to Canada. The tradition has been passed down and is a delicious one. Poppies were a flower that were seen in many gardens in this area. The flowers seeded themselves each year and provided a beautiful backdrop for the vegetable gardens. Obviously wheat was also grown in the area and is highly nutritious.
This dish is eaten on Ukrainian Christmas eve because it has no animal products in it. The tradition is that no animal products are eaten then in reverence to the animals at the birth. This is not to say that Ukrainians are vegan or even vegetarian. It is just a tradition.
If you want to watch us make this food see the video below.
This year we have started making an effort to buy only “whole” foods. This means that there is no ingredient list for the food or there are no additives on the ingredient list.
I probably don’t have to explain this to most of you, but I will. For example, a banana has one ingredient – banana. A bag of oatmeal is usually one ingredient – oatmeal. When I buy cheese, I make sure there are only 3 or 4 ingredients on the list, and no flavours or colours added. I just won’t eat it if there is. I have stopped buying most cheddar cheeses because they are usually coloured orange which is unnatural.
This way of eating is, I believe, important to food safety, health and control of our own ability to procure food for ourselves. With every purchase we make at a food store, we are making a kind of vote. We are telling large companies and stores what we will and will not accept about our food.
Some of the food we are buying now are things that we cannot grow at this time of year for ourselves nor can we put it away for the winter from our harvest. For example, we had very little spinach last year, likely due to the harsh winter we had. Our spinach is volunteer, so most of the seeds didn’t germinate. What did come up we froze and had very little for fresh eating. So we are buying some spinach for fresh eating this winter. Not ideal, but necessary for us to feel we are eating healthy.
If you want to see what we bought and why check out the video below.
So our focus on food this year is to keep buying whole foods and to buy as local as possible. Once we have been doing this for a while, it will become habit and we won’t be tempted to buy “treats” or sugar filled garbage food.
Today I am cooking beets. Every year we have a good crop of beets even though we don’t plant many. For some reason they grow and grow. This is the pic I posted in a blog post last fall. We store the beets and other root vegetables in our cellar which is essentially an area under the house that was dug out and filled (sort of ) with concrete in some places. In other places, there is just dirt. But it works.
Here’s what it looks like:
The partitions were put in many years ago by Ernie and his dad.
Anyway, as usual we left the beets until now and they got squishy. We put them in pails with newspaper which works not bad to keep the ones that are lower down from getting soft.
Our main use for beets is in beet soup or in Ukrainian (our ancestry) – Borshch (not borsht with a t, but BORSHCH). We are able to grow all the ingredients (except olive oil, salt, pepper, and vinegar) for our borshch in our garden: beets, garlic, onions, dill, potatoes, beans, tomatoes and usually carrots but our carrots are finished now so we won’t buy any, unless we can find locally grown carrots in the store.
So the process of making borshch is simple. Fry onions and garlic in fat (I used olive oil but you can use whatever you want), then add water, beets (I grated them with a large-holed grater we bought at a yard sale), dill, green beans, tomatoes and if you want carrots. I also put some garlic tops that I had frozen two years ago.
So there you have it. A simple, nutritious soup to use up your beets even when they are getting soggy! A true homesteader food.
Today, we had to process what is left of our tomatoes. They were one day away from the compost due to being in the house in pails on the floor for too long. This was a result of having planted too many plants in the garden and having a spectacular growing year. We had the hot day, almost hot nights and LOTS of rain.
We peeled and boiled down the tomatoes, so that they simply don’t take up as much space in the freezer. We decided not to can anymore because we already have 60 quarts canned and put away. The freezers are also loaded with many other vegetables, but can probably fit a few more jars.
Sometimes we add salt, garlic and basil and sometimes we don’t. It is a good idea to mark the jars with what is in the mixture so that no more salt is added by accident when heating it up or using it in something else like chili or soup. I’ve made that mistake several times, and have even put salt in saurkraut soup by accident! Silly me.
There are a few pails of tomatoes, some Roma and some regular, left on the kitchen floor, but we intend to put those in the fridge and eat them fresh.