Pickle Madness!

pickles in jarspickles sliceddilly beansThe green beans, cucumbers, zucchini, and yellow squash are rolling in with no sign of letting up any time soon. In fact, this is just the beginning! As much as I love garden fresh produce, I tire of the more prolific veggies before the end of the season. I hate to waste them, yet have trouble managing them. This year, I vowed to use as much of my produce as possible.

Since it’s impossible to eat every fresh green bean, cucumber, or zucchini I harvest, I’ve decided to preserve some of my precious produce by freezing and canning. I started with the green beans and froze a few quart bags. I also made a jar of pickled refrigerator dill beans. I made a simple brine using white vinegar, sugar, garlic, peppercorns, and fresh dill from the garden.

Next, I tackled the cucumbers, zucchini and yellow squash. I didn’t have enough to warrant dragging out the canning paraphernalia, so I made three quarts of pickled refrigerator pickles and squash (zucchini and yellow). I used Ball pickling mix, though you can create your own, of course. It was easier to use the mix given the small quantity.

You know what’s great about refrigerator pickles? Since they won’t be stored long term, they don’t require official canning jars and lids. I did use one canning jar because I happened to have it. I used empty spaghetti jars for the other two. Reuse whenever possible! The other advantage of pickled refrigerator produce is that you can enjoy it a lot sooner than its canned counterparts. Refrigerator pickles are ready in about 4 days, though three weeks is ideal. If you can wait that long, good for you! I confess to trying mine after day one.

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MY BOOK IS NOW AVAILABLE ON AMAZON!
Pickin’ A Chicken – Softcover
Pickin’ A Chicken – Kindle

Thinking about getting a few chickens? “Pickin’ A Chicken” will guide you step by step through the chicken selection process. By the end of the book, you will be able to pick the perfect chicken with confidence.

Cast Iron Cobbler

cobblercast iron skillet cobbler 1cast iron skillet cobbler 2cast iron skillet cobbler 3It’s no secret that I love my cast iron cookware. When I discover a new way to use it, I’m on it like flies on the best seat in the outhouse! Not an appetizing image, is it? Okay… erase that visual from your mind and think juicy berries in a lovely cake. Better?

This berry cobbler is even more delicious when served warm with ice cream. It’s not difficult to make and easily pops out of the skillet. I used blueberries and raspberries, but you can use any berries you like or happen to have on hand.

 

 

CAST IRON COBBLER

Ingredients
1 ½ cups flour
1 cup sugar
3 Tbs. honey
2 ½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ cup butter
1 ½ cups milk
3 cups berries (fresh or frozen)
Juice of one lemon

Directions
Preheat oven to 350.
Add half of the berries, honey and lemon juice to a 12” cast iron skillet or dutch oven over medium high heat. Stir for 10-15 minutes until berries break down and the mixture thickens. Pour the berry mixture into a separate bowl and mix in the other half of the berries.

Add the butter to the skillet melt it over medium low heat.

In another bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Then, add milk and stir until the mixture is smooth.

Add the flour batter to the butter in the skillet and mix until combined.

Evenly drop the berries into the batter. DO NOT stir them in.

Bake for 35-45 minutes. You will know it is ready when the edges are slightly brown and a toothpick poked into the center comes out clean.

Give the cobbler 10-15 minutes to cool. Then, slap on a scoop of ice cream and dig in!

 

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MY BOOK IS NOW AVAILABLE ON AMAZON!
Pickin’ A Chicken – Softcover
Pickin’ A Chicken – Kindle

Thinking about getting a few chickens? “Pickin’ A Chicken” will guide you step by step through the chicken selection process. By the end of the book, you will be able to pick the perfect chicken with confidence.

Rotten Straw

straw 1straw 2I was so excited when a friend gave me four bales of half rotted straw! This was exactly what I needed to mulch my vegetable garden. Three bales filled a 16’x20’ area to a depth of approximately 4 inches. The other bale is on standby. If I don’t need it during the rest of the garden season, I will spread it over the garden this fall and let it break down with the rest of the straw.

The not-so-exiting part was that the straw was soggy, slimy and filled with ants. A good pair of leather gloves protected my hands from the mush and slime, but not the ants.

Why is rotting straw good for a garden?
  • Unlike fresh, yellow, new straw, the weed seeds in rotting straw have had time to sprout and die.
  • Straw will keep weed seeds in the soil from sprouting.
  • It will help the soil retain moisture.
  • The straw will break down over time and leave behind excellent organic material.
  •  Less watering and weeding! Need I say more?
Tips when using straw mulch…
  • Don’t smother the base of the plant with the straw. It could cause the plants to rot.
  • Make sure the straw is well seasoned. If not, the grains in it could start to sprout.
  • Loosen it up as you scatter it around your garden. Tightly packed clumps will mat. Matted straw will not allow water into the soil as readily as loose straw. Also, it will not break down as quickly.

The next time you see a bale of rotting straw, you will no longer see it as something that needs to be discarded. Rather, you will see it as baskets laden with fresh, delicious produce!

 

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___________________________________________

MY BOOK IS NOW AVAILABLE ON AMAZON!
Pickin’ A Chicken – Softcover
Pickin’ A Chicken – Kindle

Thinking about getting a few chickens? “Pickin’ A Chicken” will guide you step by step through the chicken selection process. By the end of the book, you will be able to pick the perfect chicken with confidence.

Whip It!

lettuceon towelburritograb towelwhippingThe spring lettuce is ready and we made our first cutting today. So buttery soft. So fresh. So delicious! The downside is that cleaning lettuce is no picnic if you don’t know how to do it.

I’m going to share my top secret lettuce cleaning and drying method with you. It’s easy and it doesn’t require fancy/expensive equipment (a salad spinner). My salad spinner happens to be a cotton dish towel. It does a fantastic job. As a matter of fact, it spins the water out better than a salad spinner, doesn’t cause as much bruising, and it takes up far less space in my kitchen.

Immediately after I harvest lettuce, I dump it into a sink filled with cold water. I gently slosh the lettuce in the water. The tiny bits of dirt drop off and sink to the bottom. I then scoop the lettuce out of the sink and put it in a colander to drain. Next, I lay out a cotton flour sack-type dish towel. I use this type of towel because it is light enough to allow the water to “spin” out. I then put the lettuce on the center of the towel and fold the sides over with a generous overlap. Pretend you are making a giant lettuce & towel burrito. The next step is best implemented outside. Gather up the ends of the towel and whip your homemade salad spinner around and around. It’s fun! Water will fly everywhere, but it won’t matter because you are outside. You remembered to go outside, didn’t you? Oh well. It’s just water.

For the best flavor and freshness, harvest lettuce one hour or less before your meal. After you clean and spin it, gently wrap it in clean, dry dish towel and put it in the refrigerator to rest.

 

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___________________________________________

Linking to

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Homestead Barn Hop
___________________________________________

MY BOOK IS NOW AVAILABLE ON AMAZON!
Pickin’ A Chicken – Softcover
Pickin’ A Chicken – Kindle

Thinking about getting a few chickens? “Pickin’ A Chicken” will guide you step by step through the chicken selection process. By the end of the book, you will be able to pick the perfect chicken with confidence.

Bean Pole Experiment

pole bean seriesI’ve never grown pole beans and, until recently, didn’t know much about how to build a support for them. My research uncovered everything from bean pole teepees to bean fences. I took a little from each of the solutions I found and created my own design.

My pole bean supports are like mini raised beds. They have a wall/barrier separating them from the ground and they contain potting mix rather than Carolina red clay. A simple trim with a weed trimmer will keep the grass (okay, weeds!) around the planter tidy. I considered building a 2’x12’ raised bed for the beans, but knew it would need a lot more soil than five planters would need. Plus, I just wanted to try something new!

I buried the planters to keep them from tipping over. I also hope that burying the pots keeps them from drying out as quickly as above ground planters.

To build your own buried pole bean support, you will need:
Plastic planter
4’ or longer length of rebar
5’ or longer piece of PVC pipe (with an opening large enough to slip over the rebar)
Strong garden twine
Drill and bits (3/8″ and 1/4″)
Hammer
Shovel

Here’s how to build it…

1. Drill 3/8” drainage holes in the bottom of the planter, including one in the center.

2. Drill four or more 1/4″ holes in the rim of the planter for the string supports.

3. Drill a 1/4″ hole through the PVC pipe (about an inch from the end).

4. Dig a hole for the planter and bury approximately two thirds of it.

5. Place the rebar in the center hole of the planter and pound it approximately 12” into the ground.

6. Slip the PVC pipe over the rebar (hole at top).

7. Add soil.

8. String the twine through a hole in the planter rim and then through the hole in the top of the PVC pipe. Run the string through the next hole in the planter and continue stringing until complete.

9. Securely knot the twine at the top of the PVC pipe.

10. Plant your beans and watch them crawl up the string!

 

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___________________________________________

MY BOOK IS NOW AVAILABLE ON AMAZON!
Pickin’ A Chicken – Softcover
Pickin’ A Chicken – Kindle

Thinking about getting a few chickens? “Pickin’ A Chicken” will guide you step by step through the chicken selection process. By the end of the book, you will be able to pick the perfect chicken with confidence.

Linking to Clever Chicks Blog Hop
and Homestead Barn Hop

My Five Chickenpower Tiller

chicken tilled for blogMy chickens worked overtime this spring clearing weeds and grass for my new vegetable garden bed. Every few days, I moved their 5’x10’ run and they went to work scratching, digging and tilling.

This photo shows you just how efficient chickens are when it comes to clearing land. My five little hens cleared a 15’x20’ area in approximately one month. The only thing I did was rake the dried grass and weeds out of the area after they did their thing. The chickens did the rest. I kid you not!

As a bonus, the girls left behind a little fertilizer. Chicken manure is super rich in nitrogen and the best organic fertilizer available. I plan on adding more of this valuable commodity from a pile of “coop cleanings” that is now composting. It’s important to let the manure break down in a compost pile for several months before using it. If you apply fresh chicken manure to your vegetable garden, it could seriously harm/kill your plants. The amount they produce while they till isn’t enough to do any damage. From what I can tell, chickens do most of their pooping while roosting at night!

Don’t worry about my chickens having to work for their room and board. They enjoy being outside eating bugs and grass. It’s what chickens do! This summer, when they are no longer allowed in the garden, they will be rewarded with extra produce. As a matter of fact, I am going to plant watermelon and pumpkins just for them. In turn, they will give me delicious eggs and more fertilizer. I can’t think of a more perfect relationship!

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MY BOOK IS NOW AVAILABLE ON AMAZON!
Pickin’ A Chicken – Softcover
Pickin’ A Chicken – Kindle

 Thinking about getting a few chickens? “Pickin’ A Chicken” will guide you step by step through the chicken selection process. By the end of the book, you will be able to pick the perfect chicken with confidence. Looking for a great egg layer that is also friendly, a fancy bird that can withstand cold winters, a meat breed that is an economical eater, a fun pet for the kids? The perfect chicken for each of those situations (and more!) is in this book. “Pickin’ A Chicken” provides you with important information you need to know before starting a flock, chicken terminology, space considerations, cold/heat tolerant breeds, and more!

Linking to Homestead Barn Hop

and Farmgirl Friday

Book Giveaway

Thinking about getting a few chickens? “Pickin’ A Chicken” will guide you step by step through the chicken selection process. By the end of the book, you will be able to pick the perfect chicken with confidence. Looking for a great egg layer that is also friendly, a fancy bird that can withstand cold winters, a meat breed that is an economical eater, a fun pet for the kids? The perfect chicken for each of those situations (and more!) is in this book. “Pickin’ A Chicken” provides you with important information you need to know before starting a flock, chicken terminology, space considerations, cold/heat tolerant breeds, and more!

To celebrate the launch of “A No Nonsense Guide – Pickin’ A Chicken”, I’m having a little giveaway. Would you like to win a copy? It’s easy! Just enter below by “liking” ModernStead on Facebook. If you’re already a fan of the page, you’re ready to enter. Just click on +1.

 

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 AVAILABLE ON AMAZON
Pickin’ A Chicken – Softcover
Pickin’ A Chicken – Kindle

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Purdy Pile of Pasta

The other day, I tried my hand at homemade pasta. I’ve wanted to make pasta for many years but never got around to doing it. Now, I wish I would have tried it sooner.

I dare you to find a recipe with simpler ingredients. What are these simple ingredients? Flour and eggs. That’s it! While researching pasta recipes, I found some that also used water and olive oil. Other recipes used things like tomatoes and spinach to add color. My initial attempt followed a recipe using semolina flour, eggs, water, and olive oil. It was a disaster. The semolina flour was too grainy (almost like cornmeal) and produced dry, crumbly dough, even after I added small amounts of water. I don’t recommend semolina flour for beginners.

Attempt #2
Since I already had a mess, it didn’t make sense not to get something from it. So, with the semolina flour disaster still sitting on the countertop, I pulled out my good old all-purpose flour and two more fresh eggs. The recipe I used called for two cups of flour and two large eggs. Perhaps the eggs I used weren’t large enough because the dough was way too dry. No problem. I just added another egg and the dough was perfect. The result was smooth dough that was easy to handle and had good manners.

Ohhhh, and the pasta was so delicious in my cobbled together lemon pepper shrimp with caramelized zucchini!

If you’d like to give pasta making a try, this is an excellent resource on how to create pasta both by hand and with equipment…
Mangia Bene Pasta

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2012 – an EGG-cellent Year

My flock of six started laying eggs mid-July. Collecting their eggs never grows old. I can’t say the same about cleaning their coop. Still, I love my chickens and appreciate their delicious, nutritious gifts. The eggs, that is, not their manure. Though, my flowers and vegetables will benefit from the manure, which in turn will benefit me. So, I guess I enjoy both of their gifts, after all.

Egg production started slowly. One egg here. One egg there. Sometimes even two eggs a day! Since then, they’ve given me at least one egg a day (but usually 3-6), even during the winter months when most chickens stop laying altogether. By the end of the July, all of the chickens were laying and the fridge was NEVER without eggs. We gave many of the eggs to friends and family, and still had more than enough for our own consumption. While collecting their eggs is a pleasure, it doesn’t compare to the joy that comes from giving them to people who appreciate them.

Out of curiosity, I tracked the girl’s egg production from day one. The results? In 173 days, they produced 702 eggs! That’s four eggs per day and just about two and a half dozen a week. Wow!

Ya know… I get a kick out of zipping past the egg section in the grocery store without giving thought to whether or not I need eggs.
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