Time to Make the Sausage

When the weather forecasts started to predict snow and below freezing temperatures for last week, I knew I would be spending some quality time with the grinder. We raise a couple of hogs for the freezer every year and butcher them when the weather turns cold. The first day is taken up with killing, dragging, gutting and hanging, and the second with cutting and wrapping the chops, roasts and ribs. Then I get to play with spices and make sausage.

I love my electric grinder!

I love my electric grinder!

I start with chunks of pork, making sure to include some fat for flavor, and send it through the grinder for the first go.

Chunks of pork ready to grind

Chunks of pork ready to grind

After I’ve ground everything once, I add the spices to the mixture and send it through again. This year I made three batches: breakfast, sweet Italian and smoked. For the breakfast sausage, I added sage, onion powder, garlic powder, mace (which is the outer covering of nutmeg), salt and black pepper. For the sweet Italian, I used oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, a bit of crushed red pepper flakes, garlic and onion powder, fennel seeds and salt. For the sausages I plan to smoke, I used half pork and half venison with onion and garlic powder, salt and black pepper. Yum!

Ground pork with seasonings added

Ground pork with seasonings added

After the mixture goes through a second time, it is ready to stuff into casings. I prefer natural hog casings, which are pig intestines that have been washed and salted. I buy them from the butcher at my local grocery store, H & H Super Duper in Saegertown, Pennsylvania. I am so thankful to have a local grocery store that still cuts their own meat and sells locally-grown produce. They are right next door to an actual hardware store, too. Makes my shopping trips very convenient!

Back to sausage! The casings come on a strip of plastic and are easy to load onto the stuffing attachment to the grinder.

Sleeve of sausage casings

Sleeve of sausage casings

This amount of casing is supposed to make 25 lbs. of sausage. I think that’s about right, although I didn’t weight the finished sausages. I just know there were a lot.

Sausage casing on the stuffing attachment

Sausage casing on the stuffing attachment

This part gets a little tricky, but once you’ve done it a few times, it gets smoother. Being somewhat uncoordinated, my first few tubes of sausage are a bit wonky, but by the end they look much better. You have to feed the spiced, ground meat into the machine with one hand and slip the casings off the tube with the other.

Sausage awaiting twisting

Sausage awaiting twisting

One thing NOT to do: do not tie a knot in the end of the casing, or it will blow up like a balloon and you don’t want that! Leave about three inches at the end and the casing will fill nicely with no trapped air. Also leave a couple of inches at the other end. Now it is time to twist the sausages.

Twist each sausage in the opposite direction

Twist each sausage in the opposite direction

Unless you want a long coil of sausage, you will probably want to make it into smaller potions. You can do this by twisting the tube. I like my breakfast sausages about four inches long and my Italian and smoked sausages six. To maintain the twist, alternate directions with each sausage. So if you start with a clock-wise twist, do the next one counter-clockwise. You only need a couple of twists to separate the sausages.

Twisted sausages ready for the freezer

Twisted sausages ready for the freezer

I froze the Italian and breakfast sausages, after sampling, of course, but I plan to smoke the others, so they went into the refrigerator to set up over night. Actually, some of them ended up on the back porch out of reach of the dogs and cats. In this weather they will stay plenty cold. I love my natural fridge!

In the next post, I will show you how to smoke the sausages. Here are the recipes that I used. I pretty much cook by sight and smell, but I have attempted to figure out amounts.

BREAKFAST SAUSAGE

To 10 lbs. of ground pork, add half a cup of dried, crushed sage leaves, one tablespoon of onion powder, one teaspoon of garlic powder, one teaspoon of ground mace, two tablespoons of salt and a teaspoon of cracked, black pepper.

SWEET ITALIAN SAUSAGE

To 10 lbs. of ground pork, add two tablespoons of oregano, one tablespoon of basil, half a tablespoon each of rosemary and thyme. I used dried herbs, but you could use fresh and adjust the amounts. You could also add a couple tablespoons of parsley, but I didn’t have any. Add one tablespoon each of onion and garlic powder, salt and fennel seeds. I added half a tablespoon of crushed red pepper flakes, but you could add more to make it hotter.

SMOKED SAUSAGE

To 5 lbs. ground pork and 5 pounds ground venison, add a tablespoon each of onion powder, garlic powder, salt and cracked black pepper.

 

 

 

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Another Greenhouse

I have started another greenhouse. I think this is my fifth or sixth one. Some have been more successful than others, but I have learned something from every project. Most of them have been made out of found or recycled materials, too.

My first greenhouse was made out of something called Starplate connectors. You can use them with boards to make a dome-style shelter. This worked pretty well for a while, although the long, slim green houses seem to have more usable space. We bought them from the Stromberg’s Chicks and Game Birds Unlimited and they still sell them.

The next version of a greenhouse was a frame made from aspen saplings and straw bales covered with plastic. This was also pretty successful and I used it for three years before we took off the plastic and let it compost itself. The patch of blackberries that grew up where that greenhouse was produces berries that are an inch long or bigger.

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Then I began to experiment with hoop houses with varying amounts of success. None of them seemed to stand up to snow load very well. I thought I had it licked a couple of years ago when I used cattle panels with plastic over them, but two feet of wet snow one night flattened it to the ground.

Cattle panel hoop house

Cattle panel hoop house

After that I began making small hoop houses to protect plantings of greens, carrots and beets for the winter. These worked very well for that purpose, but I didn’t have anywhere to store my plants when it was too cold to put them in the garden yet. I hope I have finally solved the problem.

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Today I began to put together a hoop house using PVC pipe that began life as color guard flag poles from the high school marching band. I have to wait until my next pay day to buy the connectors I will need, but I think this one will be strong enough, or at least I hope it will! It will have interior bracing along the hoops on both sides, so that should do the trick.

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No More Wasted Garlic

I just made my first batch of garlic powder and it was really easy. I know I’m ridiculously proud of myself, but I hate wasting things and in years past that’s what happened to the garlic. Garlic is a bulb and like onions, daffodils and tulips, it begins to sprout in the spring. These little green shoots start to grow out of the top of the cloves.

 

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Photo by Diane Sloan

 

Those don’t bother me, but as they grow, the clove begins to dry up and turn brown. One year I just tossed the garlic I hadn’t used on the compost pile. I STILL have garlic coming up in that spot years later!

One of my favorite YouTubers is Mrs. Wolfie from Our Half Acre Homestead. She dries and grinds up all kinds of things. She even makes her own chicken bouillon! I figured I could do the same with garlic, and it worked!

I pull my garlic in July and hang it in the barn for a week or so. When the heads are dry, I brush off the dirt, trim the roots and sort the heads. I keep the largest ones for planting in October, and I put the rest into a mesh bag and hang it in the kitchen where I use the garlic fresh from July through April or May. This year when I noticed the little green shoots coming, I decided to take the rest of the garlic and chop it up. I filled a half-pint jelly jar with chopped garlic and poured olive oil over it. Some people keep garlic in olive oil on the shelf, but I am putting it in the fridge just in case.

I spread the rest of the chopped garlic on two of my dehydrator trays and dried it until it felt hard and crispy–about 12 hours. Then I used my spice grinder–also known as the extra coffee grinder–to grind them up into powder. It took seconds and now I have a jar full of homemade garlic powder and no decomposing garlic bulbs to deal with. This makes me so happy.

 

Tin Can Challenge: The Aftermath

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My daughter, Emily, and her cousin, Sarah, did the tin can challenge the other day. This involves buying ten cans of miscellaneous food, taking the labels off and numbering the cans. Then they each picked numbers and had to eat at least one spoonful of whatever was in that can. They filmed it and my sister, Tricia, and I were amused by the whole thing, but I have to admit that I think the real challenge begins after you open the cans. What do you do with all that food?

Immediately after filming, Sarah ate the rest of the pasta Os, and Emily ate about half of the cherry pie filling. After they were finished, I covered the cans and put them in the fridge. The next morning, the fruit cocktail became a casualty when it fell out as Sarah got out the milk. So much for No No Cake. I decided to pull the rest of the cans out to prevent any more mishaps. I took the pie filling; the sweetened, condensed milk; cream of mushroom soup; black beans; tomatoes and jalapenos; and whole berry cranberry sauce home with me. I left the canned spinach for Tricia, because she said she liked it, and I left the canned peas for her chickens because I loathe them.

When I got home, I made some black bean dip. I melted a tablespoon of my home-rendered lard in a skillet, and added the beans. I let them cook and then mashed them. I added the can of tomatoes and peppers plus a teaspoon of ground cumin and about a cup of shredded cheddar cheese. That and half a bag of pita chips became dinner (Emily was staying with a friend).

The next day, I was planning to make a small cheesecake with some cream cheese and the sweetened, condensed milk and top it with the cherry pie filling, but I discovered that Emily had eaten the cream cheese. I made some pie crust and made mini cherry pies instead. I used a biscuit cutter to make rounds, put a spoonful of pie filling on each round and covered it with another. They were yummy.

The sweetened condensed milk was mixed with a can of milk my mother gave me a while ago and a couple tablespoons of Irish cream coffee flavoring. Now I am ready for upcoming Irish holidays and I don’t have to buy fancy creamer.

For supper, I thawed a chicken breast, cut it into chunks, and sauted it in butter with some onions and garlic. Then I mixed that with some frozen veggies, the can of mushroom soup, and a cup of brown rice. Then I added a quart of home-made chicken stock and popped it in the oven for about an hour. I would have added mushrooms, but I didn’t have any.

I probably should have had some cranberry sauce with my chicken casserole, but I forgot it was in there. I think that I will use it sometime this week to make a sauce for pork chops. It should be yummy mixed with the juice of the last two mandarin oranges that are rolling around in the fruit bowl. All in all, the tin can challenge was fun!

This is the No No Cake I was planning to make.  Shelly Sutter gave me the recipe years ago.

No No Cake

1 1/2 C all purpose flour

1 C sugar

1 t baking soda

1 T vinegar

1 t vanilla

1/3 C oil

1 C some kind of liquid

Mix everything together in a greased, 8 inch cake pan. I double the recipe and use a 13 X 9 pan. Once you have all of the ingredients in the pan, add some kind of fruit. Canned fruit cocktail works well, as does pineapple or peaches. Sometimes I add chopped apples and a bit of cinnamon and cardamom to the batter, and put a streusel topping on it. It is great with frozen blueberries or blackberries, too. For a really decadent treat, add about 1/3 C of cocoa powder, some chocolate chips and some chopped nuts.

Bake the cake at 300 deg. F for about an hour until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out  clean. Let it cool as long as you can before cutting. Shelly told me that this was called No No Cake because there are no eggs in the batter. I just call it delicious!

 

Crab Apple Jelly

I love this thing. It’s a Mehu-Maija, or steam juicer, that I picked up at a second-hand store in Finland several years ago. It took some finageling to get it home:  one piece in each bag and then stuffed with socks and underwear. It was worth it, though. I bought it for 1 E, and they sell for a couple of hundred dollars new.

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I mostly use the Mehu-Maija to make juice for jelly. It is so much easier than cooking the fruit and then hanging it in a bag! This one is aluminum, so I don’t use it for juice that we will drink, but we don’t eat that much jelly, so I’m not going to worry about that.

I love the color of the crab apple jelly. You can also spice it with cinnamon or even steep mint leaves in the juice and make mint jelly if you like such things with your roast lamb. One of the best uses for crab apple juice, however, is as natural pectin. Forget that store bought stuff! I freeze the juice in ice cube trays and then throw a couple of cubes in with other fruit juice that I am using for jams and jellies.

Crab Apple Jelly

I started with one peck of crab apples. I washed them, sorted out any dried up ones and put them in the top pan of the Mehu-Maija. I didn’t cut them or take the stems off. Then I filled the bottom pan of the juicer with water, added the middle pan–this is where the juice collects–and put the top pan and the lid on.

I put a step ladder up to the stove to sit a stock pot on. This is so that the juice would run through the little hose on the front of the juicer and collect in the pot. It took about two hours to cook the apples down and get the juice out of them, and I had to add water to the bottom pan about half way through. I poured the juice out of the pot and after freezing some for future use, I had eight cups of crab apple juice. At this point, I watched a Halloween movie with my daughter, and then went to bed.

The next morning, I heated up the juice, and then added six cups of sugar. I decided to cover all of my bases, so I used a candy thermometer, but I also tested the jelly periodically with a spoon. When you hold a spoonful of jelly over the pot and tilt the spoon, the liquid will drip back into the pan. When the jelly is ready, the last few drips will come together to form a single one. This is called “sheeting.” Supposedly, this happens when the liquid reaches 220 deg. F, but I find that it happens just a few degrees shy of that. I decided to take my pan off the stove when I saw the sheeting, rather than wait for the temperature to get to 220.

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It was the right decision. The jelly is perfect. I love that red color!  Happy Autumn!

The Cider Press Rises Again!

To celebrate our marriage in 1994, Jay and I bought a cider press. We spent many glorious fall weekends squeezing apples and grapes, and turning them into cider, wine, hard cider and vinegar. The marriage didn’t last, but the cider press is still around. I’m afraid I haven’t treated it very well. It was stored in a shed that collapsed and it got really wet and then sat around for several years when I was either too busy to make cider or there were no apples on the trees that season.

The cider press when it was delivered to Rich.

The cider press when it was delivered to Rich.

This year the apple blossoms didn’t get hit with a late frost, and it looked like we would finally have a decent apple harvest again, so I decided to send the cider press for a “spa treatment.” It was long overdue. All of the metal pieces were rusty and seized up, and some of the wood was dry rotted. My friend, Rich Konkol, got the metal pieces apart and his neighbor sand-blasted and painted them. Then we picked the press up and took it to another friend, Chris Herendeen, who made a new follower, a new bottom tray, a new hopper and stabilized the supports.

The restored press with one of it's saviors in the background.

The restored press with one of it’s saviors in the background.

The press had its second launch yesterday. We made six gallons of cider from our own apples and pears, and there are plenty more on the trees. I now have five gallons of cider turning to vinegar in the basement, and some of the next batch will go in a carboy with an airlock to become hard cider. And, no, I do not pasteurize  my cider. I wash the fruit before it is pressed and cut out any bad spots. It is a gorgeous, opaque, somewhat thick, brown beverage that is more refreshing than anything else you can drink. Home-made cider from your own apples is the essence of autumn.

Two bushels of apples and pears from our trees and Mini trying to avoid my camera.

Two bushels of apples and pears from our trees and Mini trying to avoid my camera.

Here is a video of Rich at work. He is a welder and always works in a kilt. http://www.goerie.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2013309179955

 

 

 

Rolo’s Dog Treats

The weather continues to be uncooperative as far as collecting sap is concerned, so faced with another snowy, blowy day, I decided to bake some dog treats.  I’ve been saving bacon grease and I had a little bit of peanut butter in the bottom of a jar, so that became the flavor.  I don’t have much experience with dog treats, so I figured I would just proceed as I would with cookies:  cream the fats, add egg and any flavorings, add the dry ingredients and some water to mix.  That seemed to work well.

Cream the fats to start, just like you would for cookies.

Cream the fats to start, just like you would for cookies.

Some recipes call for sugar, but I didn’t see any reason to add that.  I may be culturally conditioned to consider sugar a treat, but my dogs have always seemed to prefer three-day-old road kill, so I left out the sweetener.

All mixed up

All mixed up

Rolo smelled them before they even made it to the oven and came out to the kitchen to watch and to see if he could trip me and get to eat some raw.  I was on to him, though, and they all made it into the oven.  When he finally got to taste them, he pronounced them delicious.

Roll out to about 1/8" thick.

Roll out to about 1/8″ thick.

Rolo’s Treats

1/2 C. of bacon fat

1/2 C. of peanut butter

1 egg

1 1/2 C. whole wheat flour

1/2 C.  wheat germ

2 T. water (approximate)

Cream bacon grease and peanut butter.  Add egg and mix until creamy.  Add flour and wheat germ.  Mix to combine and add enough water to mixture so that it forms a ball.  Roll out the dough on a floured surface and cut into one inch shapes.  Bake at 300 deg. 18-20 minutes until slightly brown.  Cool on wire racks and stash in a container before the dog eats them all.  Makes about 70 treats.

Gimme the treat!  Gimme the treat!

Gimme the treat! Gimme the treat!

Sugaring, Part One

I tapped the maple trees today.  While my neighbors in New England are digging out from three feet of snow this weekend, it is sunny here and the high is supposed to be close to 50 degrees today.  Warm temps with a foot of snow on the ground mean the start of sugaring season.

It feels good to get out in the woods again after a couple of months indoors next to the stove.  I get a bucket and gather my tools:  a cordless drill with an extra battery (charged, of course!), a bag of plastic taps, 50 feet of plastic tubing, a tubing cutter, a handful of rubber bands, six plastic jugs, and my camera.  Off to the woods I go with Rolo running out in front.  After a few yards, I hear insistent meowing behind and there is Nyan Cat following behind.

 

Rolo waiting patiently for me to finish.

Rolo waiting patiently for me to finish.

It has been four years since I tapped the maple trees.  It was something my husband and I did together, and the year after we were divorced I felt too sad to tackle it on my own.  The next year was a warm winter with poor sugaring weather, so I didn’t bother.  The following year I was all set to do it, but I couldn’t find the taps.  I didn’t have the money at that point to go out and buy more, so no syrup that year.  Last year I was in Norway in February, and it was another short season, so I missed it.  This year I decided to switch to the newer system of plastic taps and tubing, since I still haven’t found the metal spiles.  The taps are called tree savers, because you don’t have to drill as deep into the tree and the holes aren’t as big around as traditional spiles.

There are many maple trees on the property, but I mostly tap six  old sugar maples that grow next to the west creek, three on each side of it.  They are huge, ancient trees, and I only put two taps in each tree.  I’m not doing this to make money, only to have some syrup for my pancakes, so there is no reason to get greedy.  Twelve taps usually give me a gallon of syrup; in good years we made three.

I tap the three trees on the house side of the creek first.  I drill into the trees on the south side, directly over large roots.  I clean out the hole with a piece of stick, and the sap is already starting to drip out of the hole.  I place a plastic tap in each hole, and gently hammer it in with a rubber mallet, and then attach a piece of tubing to the tap.  I attach the two pieces of tubing together with a rubber band and then push them through a hole I drilled in the top of the lid for the plastic jug.

Tap in the tree before the tubing is attached.  There is a drop of maple sap already coming out.

Tap in the tree before the tubing is attached. There is a drop of maple sap already coming out.

I am using kitty litter jugs to collect the sap this year.  I used to use milk jugs, but I don’t get milk in plastic jugs anymore, and when I got them from other people, they often had a sour smell no amount of rinsing would get rid of.  I have used two gallon kitty litter jugs for many years to carry water to the barn.  They are well-rinsed and have no odor to them.  As an extra caution, I rinsed them with the One Step solution I use when bottling mead.  I am not worried about using them, because, as I said, they are well-rinsed, the sap will not be in them for more than a day or two, and once the weather goes much above fifty, the sap flow is over, so I’m not worried about them getting too warm.  It’s my syrup.  If this bothers you, don’t come to my house for pancakes.

Finished sap collecting set up.

Finished sap collecting set up.

Once I finished tapping the trees and setting up the jugs, I headed back across the creek and home.  As I passed the first trees I had tapped, I could hear the sound of the coming of spring:  the plink, plink, plink of maple sap hitting the bottom of the jug.

Dandelions

I have been dealing with dandelions lately.  Of course, in my case, this does not involve a man in a truck spraying chemicals on my yard.  I have been turning over the garden beds and as I do, I dig up the dandelions, roots and all.

Years ago, as I was working in the garden in the early spring, a friend stopped by.  She remarked on the lovely, big dandelion plants that I was tossing into the compost pile. “Aren’t you going to make tea?”

I had heard of a coffee substitute from roasted dandelion roots, but not tea.  She gave me a recipe for Power to the People Tea and it is one of my favorites.  Like many activities connected to simple living, it is time-intensive, but very tasty and good for you.  All summer long, I gather the ingredients, dry them, and then come winter we have a lovely brew that is completely home-grown.

One of the things I love about dandelions, aside from the fact that they are beautiful and cheerful, is that you can use all parts of the plant.  The roots can be roasted (see instructions below) and ground up and brewed, while the leaves are tasty in stir fries, and the blossoms can be battered and fried or used for dandelion wine (which I have never liked).

CAUTION:  Make sure you know that the area from which you are gathering any wild food has not been sprayed with chemicals!  I get things from my own yard and I know there are no chemical residues here, but if you are thinking of gathering from a public park or someone else’s yard, you don’t know if that area has been sprayed. Better safe than sorry!  Watch the area for a bit before picking anything there.  Vacant lots are usually a safe choice.  No one cares if weeds grow there.

Preparing dandelion roots

Power to the People Tea

Recipe from Ellen Benek via Linda Frey

This tea can contain whatever you like best, but Linda recommens leaves from alfalfa, red clover, nettles, oat straw, and raspberry, blackberry or strawberry leaves.  You can also add mint, oswego, verbena, or lemon balm according to your taste.  Dry the leaves.  Mix in rosehips, dandelion roots, and dock root.

Roots need to be dried, chopped, roasted before you can use them.  After you dig up the roots, remove the greens (I usually eat them), and give the roots a couple of good soaks in cold water and a really good scurbbing.  Remove the small side roots and then chop the tap roots into half inch pieces.  Arrange on a baking sheet and bake at 200 deg. F for about 30 minutes.  Let cool and then grind in a coffee grinder.  I am always on the lookout for these at thrift stores.  I use them for spices, incense ingredients, and natural dye materials, so I need several (don’t use the same grinder for edibles and non-edibles).

Mix the dried leaves and roots and store in a jar in a cool, dark place.  Use a tablespoon per cup.  This makes great sun tea, too.