Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Tour of Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company Review

Back in December I went on a long road trip, and I was able to fit in a side trip to Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company in Mansfield, Missouri. Winter time is not the best time to visit a farm because plants are not in their full glory, but the seed store was still amazing. There were row after row of seed packets. This will make even the largest seed displays at your local nursery look pint size.

The old town displays were cute. My kids enjoyed going inside the model shops and seeing the homemade soaps and candles. My kids also enjoyed seeing the animals on the farm which surprised me a little since Baker Creek sells a vegan cookbook, The Baker Creek Vegan Cookbook, by Jere and Emilee Gettle. The other thing that surprised me was that very few seeds are actually produced on the farm in Missouri. Most of the seeds are grown by hand selected growers around the world where the seeds originated. If you are coming to the farm to see lots of different types of plants all growing in one location, then you will be disappointed. The demonstration garden was not producing anything when we went because it was winter time, but I am sure during summer you will be able to see at least a decent variety of plants growing but do not expect to see a sample of every plant they sell seeds for being grown on the farm. I am bummed that we did not show up on Friday to be able to eat at the on site restaurant.

Here are some photos from our trip:
Farm animals
Canning jars
More farm animals
Old town demonstration stores
Fields where some seeds are produced
The restaurant is open daily expect during winter when the restaurant is open only on Fridays

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Canning Cranberry Orange Sauce

Winter time is when a lot of canners slow down for the season, but I can't help but can a few jars of food with special winter produce like my beloved cranberries. I adore tart fruits. Some people get excited about sweets or salty foods, but I love lip puckering tarts foods like fresh cranberries, limes, or Myer lemons.

The sad thing is that cranberries have a relatively short season, so every year I can a few jars of cranberry sauce. I love to eat this special cranberry sauce flavored with orange and lemon with Brie and crackers. The pretty tart sauce makes a nice compliment to creamy mild Brie.

Cranberries have a lot of natural pectin in them, so there is no need to add extra pectin to make this sauce firm.

Note: 1 pound = 16 ounces

Ingredients (makes about 4 pints)

4 lbs cranberries
1/2 cup water
2 oranges
2 lemons (I used Meyer lemons)
2 cups sugar


1. Add the cranberries and water to a large sauce spot.
2. Zest the orange and lemon. Add the zest to the cranberries.
3. Juice the oranges and lemons. Add the juice to the cranberries.
4. Add the sugar to the cranberries. Stir well.
5. Heat over medium heat stirring occasionally until the berries burst and sauce starts to thicken, about 15 minutes.
6. Add the sauce to hot, sterile jars.
7. Remove any air bubbles. This sauce does have a tendency to build up bubbles, so do not skip this step.
8. Leave 1/4" headspace. Add the hot lids and adjust the 2 piece caps.
9. Process pints in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Garden Prep That You Can Do During Winter

If you are anything like me, then you get anxious to start your yearly garden when new shiny seed catalogues start tricking in from the mail. However, my garden is sitting under several inches of snow and there is a winter storm advisory in effect right now, so there will be no digging on in the garden right now, so what is a girl to do? I have been brainstorming things that you can do in the middle of winter for your garden.

1. Read garden books: I read all types of gardening books to expand my knowledge. Some of my favorite gardening books include How to Grow More Vegetables, Seed to Seed, and Rodale's Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. I am currently searching my public library for good books on growing squash, melons, composting, and companion planting. I already have a baseline knowledge of these topics, so I am looking for more advanced information. If you have recommendations, then please leave me a comment below.

2. Write seed reviews: Gardeners love sharing their experiences on what seeds work well in their garden. I really love it when a reviewer tells me what zone they are located in, what type of soil they have, anything special they did to germinate the seeds, and how the fruit/vegetable tasted. I use seed reviews from other gardeners to help me plan my own garden. I have been working on putting up my seed reviews on suppliers websites and my Pinterest board. I do not write negative seed reviews until I have tried a seed 3 times to account for potential growing errors on my part.

3. Build trellis, spacing templates, insect houses and other building projects: Now is the time to complete all of your building projects for next spring. During winter time is on your side before the hustle and bustle of planting and harvesting season starts.

4. Plan your garden for next year and order seeds: Now is a good time to get out the graph paper to plan your garden beds for next year. During this time of year I look back at what we grew, bought, and ate over the past year to assess what we need to grow more or less of to accommodate our changing family. I also decide if we should invest in some new crops in our garden. Some of my favorite seed companies are Seed Savers Exchange, Bakers Creek Heirloom Seeds, and Kitazawa.

5. Gather gardening supplies: During this time of year I gather recycled items that can be used in my garden like citrus bags, glass and plastic bottles, and pots. My local hardware store also give generous rebates on anything in the store during the winter months. I use this time to stock up on gardening tools and materials for seed starting.

6. Sharpen garden tools: I hate when I stick my shovel into the ground only to realize that I forgot to sharpen the edge. Now is a good time to sharpen your garden tools so you do not have to stop and do it as you are about ready to take on a new gardening project.

7. Set gardening goals for the year: This year our family wants to increase our vegetable sustainability. We also want to germinate enough seeds to have plant starts to sell to other gardeners. Our final goal is to increase our winter gardening.

8. Eat the current harvest: Right now we have lots of peas in our freezer, and I have plenty of winter squash, onions, and potatoes that need to be eaten before the spring season.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Canning Slow Cooker Cranberry Applesauce

I have not experimented with a lot of flavored applesauce, but I really wanted to try cranberry applesauce this year because the problem with cranberry sauce is that you have to add a lot of sugar to the beautiful tart little berries to take some of the sour edge off the berries. I love tart foods, but even raw cranberries are a bit much for me, so I wanted to make an applesauce that highlights the flavor of the cranberries without bowls full of sugar.

The cranberry applesauce came out with a nice pale red color. The sauce was tart from cranberries and Fuji apples that I gathered from my storage apples. The cranberry flavor was muted compared to regular cranberry sauce but still present. This cranberry applesauce makes a nice snack or side for brunch. Surprisingly, my family enjoyed this tart applesauce. I was expecting rebellion against this cranberry sauce due to the tart flavor, but the family decided that this sauce was a nice change of pace from regular applesauce.

I decided to make this cranberry applesauce in my slow cooker, so I would not have to baby sit a pot of apples all day long on my stove. I used an 8 quart crockpot for this recipe, but if you do not have a crockpot that large, you can always make this cranberry applesauce on the stove over low/medium heat and the occasional stirring. The cranberry applesauce is ready when the apples and berries can easily be smashed with a potato masher or pureed with an immersion blender.

Ingredients (makes about 3 quarts)

6.5 pounds apples, cored, peeled, and sliced
24 ounces cranberries
2 tbsp bottled lemon juice


1. Add the apples, cranberries, and lemon juice to the crockpot. Cook on high for 4 hours with the lid on.
2. Puree or smash the cranberry applesauce with a potato masher or immersion blender. If the apples are too hard to puree, then cook for another hour. At this point, the applesauce will be too liquidly.
3. Cook the applesauce on low with the lid off for 2 hours or until the applesauce is the desired consistency. I did not stir my cranberry applesauce, but you may consider stirring your applesauce if you know your slow cooker has a hot spot.
4. Transfer the applesauce to a large pot. Bring the applesauce to a boil (212 degrees F.)
5. Ladle the cranberry applesauce in hot, sterile jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace.
6. Remove air bubbles and adjust 2 piece caps.
7. Process in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Pressure Canning Carrots

I love home grown carrots. You can grow so many unique heirloom varieties with pretty colors and unique flavors. Some of my favorite carrots are spicy, red dragon carrots and sweet, fat, orange Parisienne carrots. Carrots can be stored with their green tops trimmed in a bucket of sand through the winter. However, I like to pressure can carrots some years when I end up with a huge batch of carrots. Pressure canned carrots can be stored for 3 years in a cool dark place. One of the nice things about pressure canning is that you can grow crops on a rotation since the canned food will last for more than 1 year. I really like that there is not rush to eat the pressure canned food like there is to make sure jams and jellies are all eaten every year.

I rarely add salt to my pressure canned items because I prefer to add salt to final dishes and not basic ingredients since I am very salt sensitive and do not like salty foods. If you choose to add salt to these carrots, then use iodine free salt. Fine sea salt without iodine or canning salt will work for canning.

The canned carrots come out soft and sweet. After opening they can be pureed as a base for carrot soup or baby food. My older kids enjoy them reheated in a small sauce pan over medium heat until warm all the way through. They will eat them as a side to dish to any meal. I like them because they can be served on a busy night after diving practice as part of a quick meal.

This recipe is NOT safe for boiling water canning. According to the National Center for Home Preservation, an average of 17 1/2 pounds of carrots is needed for 7 quarts of carrots or 11 pounds of carrots is needed for 9 pints of carrots. A bushel of carrots weighs 50 pounds and yields 17 to 25 quarts of carrots.

Ingredients (makes about 1 quart) from Blue Book Guide to Preserving p 67 and National Center for Home Preservation

2-3 pounds of carrots per quart, sliced 1/4" thick
1 tsp iodine free salt (optional)


1. Place carrots in a pot. Cover with water. Bring the carrots to a boil.
2. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and simmer the carrots for 5 minutes.
3. Put the carrots in hot, sterile jars leaving 1 inch headspace.
4. Add 1/2 tsp of salt to pint jars or 1 tsp of salt to quart jars, if desired.
5. Ladle the hot water over the carrots leaving 1 inch headspace. Remove any bubbles from the jars using a bubble remover.
6. Place the hot lids on the jars and adjust the bands around the jars.
7. Process in a dial gauge pressure canner for 25 minutes at 11 lbs of pressure for pints or 30 minutes at 11 pounds of pressure for quarts. Alternatively, process in a weighted gauge canner at 10 lbs of pressure for 25 minutes for pints or 10 lbs of pressure for 30 minutes for quarts.

Posted on Homestead Barn Hop

Friday, October 25, 2013

Tutorial: How to Make Sugar Skulls

One of my favorite things about living in Texas was seeing all the pretty decorated sugar skulls around Halloween time. The sugar skulls were for the celebration for the Day of the Dead or El Dia De Los Muertos celebrated on November 1st and 2nd (1.) The holiday celebrates the belief of indigenous people from Mexico held that on October 31st the gates of heaven open up for the spirits of deceased children are allowed reunite with the families on November 1st (1.) On November 2nd the spirits of deceased adults are allowed to visit their families (1.) Families will set up alters and offerings for loved ones. A child's alter might contain small toys and their favorite food (1.) Adult alters usually contain alcohol and food (1.) Candles and marigold garland are common on both types of alters (1.) El pan de muerto bread is also common on the alters (1.)

Every year our Spanish classes growing up would celebrate El Dia De Los Muertos with El pan de meurto and Mexican hot chocolate. I wanted to give my homeschooling group a taste of this Mexican holiday a few years ago, so I decided to make some sugar skulls for our group to decorate along with some marigold necklaces from flowers grown in my garden. The sugar skulls take 2 days to make from start to finish. They can be a bit labor intensive, but they are worth it in the end. Decorating these sugar skulls has been one our group's favorite events. The skulls were decorated using royal icing which dries hard. Candies, feathers, and plastic gemstones can also be used to decorate the sugar skulls as well.

The skulls are not intended to be eaten because the ingredients are handled a lot during making. However, everything in the sugar skulls is edible. A few of our kids did eat their sugar skulls, so make sure you have very clean hands when making sugar skulls. You should avoid making sugar skulls during a rainy week because the skulls will not dry properly. I currently live in a rainy climate so I used  a dehumidifier in the room where I made the sugar skulls to combat our rainy weather. The sugar skulls turned out fine with the dehumidifier in the room. The sugar skulls can easily be made months in advance and stored in a cool dry place until decorating time.

There are several mold options for sugar skulls. Larger molds take more sugar and meringue powder and therefore are more expensive to make. Small molds to not give you a lot of decorating space. I think the large molds look the best when decorated, but my budget only allowed me to make medium size skulls because I was making skulls for a large group of kids. The meringue powder can not be skipped when making sugar skulls otherwise the sugar skulls will not get hard and hold their shape. Bulk meringue powder can be found on-line or in places that sells cake decorating supplies. I got my meringue powder from a local kitchen store.

Large Sugar Skull

Ingredients (yield 10 large skulls, 40 medium skulls, 200 mini skulls) from Sugar Skull Making Instructions

Sugar skull mold (can be ordered here)
10 lbs of granulated sugar
1/2 cup meringue powder (about 2 ounces)
7 tbsp water
thick cardboard rectangles to hold the sugar skulls (I used 2 rectangles per skull)
Optional: spoon
Royal Icing (recipe below)
Optional: dehumidifier


1. Mix the sugar, meringue powder, and water together with your hands. The sugar should be fully moistened and feel like cool sand in your hands. When you squeeze some sugar in your hands, the sugar should hold together and leave an impression of your fingers in the sugar. If the sugar falls apart, then add a 1 tsp of water at a time until the sugar is moist enough.
Too dry: needs more water
2. Pick a mold. I used a medium size mold.

Large Mold: contains a front and back mold
Medium size mold: contains a font and back mold
3. Press the sugar mixture into the mold.
4. Flip the mold over onto cardboard rectangles. If the sugar mold crumbles easily and does not hold its shape, then there is too much water in the mixture. Add 1 tsp of sugar into the mix until the right consistency is formed and start the molding process over again.

5. Allow the sugar skulls to dry for 24 hours. If you are in a humid environment, then run a dehumidifier in the room while the skulls are drying.
6. This step is optional. This will step will allow you to make more molds from your sugar mixture. However, if you are in a hurry, then you can skip this step. Flip the sugar skulls over and scrape out a hole into the sugar skulls using a spoon. You want to leave at least 1/2" all the way around the sugar skull to keep the integrity of the sugar skull. You can do this to the front half and the back half of the skulls. The scraped out sugar can be used to make molds. Add 1 tsp of water to the sugar mixture until the right consistency is reached (see step 1.) Repeat steps 2-5 again with the old sugar.
7. Place some royal icing on the edges of the backside of the sugar skull. You want the icing to be more runny than you would use for decorating.
8. Paste the backside of the skull to the front side of the skull.
9. Allow the royal icing to dry for 2 hours.
Finished skull with no decorations
10. Decorate the skulls with royal icing, beads, foil, feathers, or candy.

Royal Icing Recipe (makes enough for 5 pounds of sugar skulls) from Sugar Skull Making Instructions

2/3 cup water
1/2 cup merinegue powder
2 pounds powdered sugar
Optional: concentrated paste food coloring (not the liquid drops)

1. Mix the water, meringue powder, and powdered sugar with an electric mixer until peaks form, about 9 minutes.
2. Add optional coloring. I dip a toothpick into my paste coloring then I dip the toothpick into the icing and stir. It is better to go too light and add more color since you can not remove color.
3. For pasting sugar skulls I add an extra tsp of water to make the icing more runny. For decorating, you can add an extra 1-3 tsp of powdered sugar to make it stiffer if you want firmer icing. Firmer icing is harder to place into pastry bags with tips for decorating, but I find it easier to control once in the bag. This is up to personal preference.

Other Day of the Dead Activities:

Day of the Dead and Sugar Skull Tradition

For more information on the Day of the Dead see my El Dia De Los Muertos pinboard

Children's Books about the Day of the Dead

The Day of the Dead by Bob Barner and Teresa Mlawer
Day of the Dead by Tony Johnston and Jeanette Winter
Day of the Dead by Kitty Williams and Stevie Mack
Day of the Dead Crafts: More than 24 Projects that Celebrate Dia de los Muertos by Kerry Arquette This book had more advanced crafts

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

How to Make Smoked Paprika

I love smoked paprika, and I grow paprika peppers every year in my garden, so I decided to try my hand at making my own smoked paprika. Paprika peppers are grown the same way that you grow a bell pepper, so they are very easy to grow. Each pepper gets to the same size as a large red bell pepper. In fact, you could substitute a large red bell pepper in this recipe if you do not grow paprika peppers or you could try smoking and dehydrating another one of your favorite pepper plants.

Homemade smoke paprika has a heavier smoked flavor than store bought smoke paprika. The color is also brighter compared to store bought smoked paprika . I zest the smoked and dehydrated peppers by hand so my smoked paprika looks like small flakes instead of a fine powder of store bought smoke paprika. If you have a food processor, then I could attempt to make a powder using a food processor. However, I do not own a food processor so I have to use the more laborious method. Two peppers makes ½ pint of smoked paprika. We use this smoked paprika for Texas Mesquite Smoked Brisket and in chili recipes. You could even skip the zesting steps and just use strips of the smoked paprika directly in your chili recipe.  This smoked paprika makes a nice economical DIY gift for someone who loves to cook.

Ingredients (makes about ½ pint) from my own kitchen

2 large paprika peppers (or other favorite pepper)
Wood chips (I used a small handful of hickory wood chips)
Aluminum foil

Special Equipment

1.       Core and remove the seeds from the peppers. Slice the pepper into ¼ inch strips.
2.       Poke some holes in two pieces of aluminum foil.
3.       Place 1 piece of foil on the bottom rack of the grill. Add a small handful of chips on top of the aluminum foil.
4.       Turn on the grill. You only need to heat under the wood chips. Heat the grill to 150 degrees F. I usually keep my flame on low setting.
5.       Place the second piece of aluminum foil on the top rack of the grill above the wood chips. Place the peppers on top of the aluminum foil.
6.       Close the grill and smoke the peppers for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes the peppers will have shrunk in size, become darker in color, and the edges might be curled up a little.
7.       Allow the peppers to cool to room temperature.
8.       Place the pepper strips in the dehydrator. Dehydrate for 8-10 hours at 125 degrees F (or use the temperature suggested by your dehydrator.) The peppers will be dry and flexible. If the peppers are mushy, then dehydrate for another 1-2 hours. If the peppers are crispy and not flexible, then you have dehydrated them for too long.
9.       At this point you can use the peppers in strips in chili recipes or you can zest the peppers to make small flakes. We zest the peppers for dry rubs.

10.   Store in an air tight container. We use half pint mason jars.


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