Category Archives: Natural Cooking

How to Make Homemade Apple Cider

Ever wonder how to make your own apple cider from apples you have picked? Well this quick 1 minute video gives you the quick run-down, but if you want more detailed instructions keep reading…

List of supplies:

Now the process:

  1. Get apples… Do I need to explain?
  2. Wash Apples (you do not need to be perfect in washing them, but that depends on what your level of “grossness” is)
  3. Cut apples, if necessary (we use small apples)
  4. Pulverize apples. We use small apples, so we just can just throw a whole pile of them in the vitamix and pulse it a couple times. However, please be careful on how hot your vitamix will get. I accidentally overheated mine, it doesn’t kill it, but it will put you back about 30 minutes until it cools down.
  5. Set up your press: make sure it has a tray as the apple cider is extracted and can flow into a pot or something that easily can catch the apple cider.
  6. Put apples through the press. If you buy the Tabletop Fruit Press 1.25 Gallon it’ll be pretty self explanatory instructions. You can go cheap if you make your own press, but you need to have access to a hydraulic press or find a way to press the apples extremely hard.
    1. Make your own press: Get a clean five gallon bucket and drill small holes all over the bucket.
    2. Put as many extra long twist ties in between each row of holes.
    3. Put a pan underneath the bucket to direct apple cider flow to your pot.
    4. Put a paint strainer in the bucket so that the apples do not plug up the holes.
    5. Put bucket in the press. We cut a circle shaped board that covers the apples so we can easily press the apples. Add wood blocks into press as it gets more compressed.
  7. Catch the apple cider! Drink right from the flow!
  8. You can either keep your cider plain or spice it up! (if you are worried about e coli or other diseases boil cider at 185 degrees. We have never had issues with sickness and it kills lots of good nutrients and bacteria so we personally do not do it, but you make that decision).
    1. If you spice your cider, put it on the stove and bring it up to a hot temperature. Place cinnamon sticks, vanilla extract and cloves in (do is based on how much you like each spice).
    2. Let it simmer for about an hour so that the flavors get fully incorporated. Stain out the spices and then drink warm or cool.
  9. Poor cider into jars and keep in refrigerator, can the apple cider or take gallon sized freezer bags and poor it in there and freeze them (that’s what we do).
  10. Enjoy all your hard work!

Natural cider has plenty of sediment in it, so make sure to leave the bottom of the cider after it is chilled.

Raising Free Range Cornish Cross Chickens

This was the first year we tried raising Cornish Cross chickens for our customers. To say that it was a success, would be an overstatement, but to say it was a total failure would be… Well, almost correct, but it was not a complete loss, we at least broke even, but in a business, “breaking even” is not quite what you are aiming for.

The first batch of chickens we started with 200 chicks and ended up with 107 successfully making it to harvest. The second batch of chickens we started with 200 chicks and ended up with 134 successfully making it to harvest.

A little background on Cornish Cross chickens will give you a little bit of a better idea why they are so difficult to raise. Cornish Cross chickens were developed for confinement chicken houses, they are designed to be on a steady diet of antibiotics, have a perfect temperature at all times and have the perfect protein ration diet. By 8 weeks of age they go from weighing almost nothing to an 8-10 lb chicken that develops heart and leg problems due to the unnatural rate of growth in that time.

Now you are probably wonder why we even tried raising these birds in particular and not go with another breed. Well, there is literally no other breed that gives you that much return in such a short period of time. They are also double breasted bird, which means their breast as twice the size of any other chicken, this is the chicken you buy at the supermarket, and no one is used to the “old style” thin breasted chicken anymore. All other breeds of chickens take at least 12-16 weeks to get to full size and their full size is typically 5-7 lbs and dress out at 2-3 lbs, compared to the Cornish Cross which will dress out at 8 weeks between 4-6 lbs. If you let them go for a few more weeks they can dress out close to 8-11 lbs (hello, small turkey?)

Obviously, with a bird that gains so much in such a short period of time, there’s bound to be problems, and we discovered almost all of them. These birds do not handle outside stresses like a standard chicken does, so temperature fluctuations, timing in feeding and the amount of chickens in space can affect their growth.

We bought our first batch way too early. They were in a brooder in our shop, but we think since they were in a smaller confined area, it was too cold for little chicks. Drafts were not an issue, but just the air in general was very chilly. We lost around 30 chicks in the first 3 weeks in the brooder.

chicks keeping warm under their brooder

chicks keeping warm under heat lamps

By the 3-4th week the chicks we getting big and the brooder was difficult to keep clean, so we decided to turn them out in the movable pens. However, it was clearly way too cold at night (we live at 4000 ft elevation, so it gets very cold at night). These chickens do not handle temperature swings well. If it was 70 during the day, it would be around freezing at night. Remember, most people raise these chickens in confinement housing their entire life so they can’t handle unstable temperatures. Chicks started dying all over, so we put heat lamps in and turned them on at night. Well, then they would all gather together under the heat lamp and several would get suffocated in the night. At this point we did not have enough space to put them back inside, they had to make it outside at this time.

DSC_3362

Our movable chicken coops

Every night my husband would go out and put a piece of cardboard over the entrance of their movable coop so they would stay in and keep warm. Eventually their deaths started to slow down, but we consistently lost 1-2 chickens a night. When we brought them to chicken processing the owners suggested that we probably lost most of our birds due to a disease called “water belly.” Sure enough, it sounded like that was the problem with them, the main cause? Temperature fluctuations and elevations over 3000 ft. At higher elevations available oxygen is lower, and these birds are known for respiratory problems, so thinner air is very difficult on them.

The second batch of chicks had difficultly at first as well, due to the cold temperatures, but it warmed up by the time we needed to turn them outside and it wasn’t freezing anymore at night. It was amazing how much better they did outside. We maybe lost a total of 5 chickens from the time we turned them outside, compared to losing 1-2 every day with our first batch. So, we learned the warmer temperatures are critical for these chickens. However, on the other end, they do not do well in temperatures over 85 degrees, so we are thankful that our chickens were processed this last week when it was still in the 80’s compared to this week which is scheduled to be in the 100’s.

Cornish Cross around 4 weeks old.

Cornish Cross around 4 weeks old.

Pasture raised chickens are so much healthier for the birds and for those consuming them, but since they are not necessarily designed for outside lifestyle you must factor in death loss and difficulties that those who raise them inside do not have to deal with.

Will we raise them again? Well, it’ll depend on whether we can get someone at lower elevation to raise them for us, because it is very difficult to successfully raise them at 4000 ft elevation, and when the weather is good to raise them, it’s a short period of time before it becomes too hot.

A beautifully finished pasture raised Cornish Cross chicken.

A beautifully finished pasture raised Cornish Cross chicken.

Reuse It: Building a Root Cellar Out Of an Old Refrigerator or Freezer

Another “reuse it” episode. If you thought making a smoker out of an old freezer was neat, wait until you see this next little project. Building a root cellar out of an old refrigerator or freezer.

First off, what would you use a root cellar for? Despite modern technology, some things are just better the old fashioned way, and root cellars are one of them. By using the ground’s natural temperature (55 degrees) you can keep certain foots for long periods of time in tip-top shape. The name behind “root” cellar is because most of the products that store well are root type plants: potatoes, carrots, parsnips, onions, etc. However, you are not limited to just root vegetables: winter squash, fermented vegetables and several other things store well in a root cellar. If you have a naturally cool and damp basement then you probably can make do with storing things down there, but for us, we don’t have a basement and there is no place in our house that is consistently cool enough to keep certain things from spoiling. Which brought us to building a root cellar.

The house that we live in used to have a root cellar in the backyard at one point in time and after several decades it eventually wore out and fell apart, but pretty much all the old homesteads had a root cellar at one point in time. Refrigeration was expensive and it doesn’t do the same job that a root cellar could do, so everyone had one. In fact, my father-in-law rebuilt his root cellar and I must say that I am quite jealous of it’s nice walk-in space and nice shelving. He did a nice job!Old root cellar

But when time and options are limited, you make do with what you’ve got. This is how we built our small, but handy refrigerator root cellar.

***Word of Caution*** Placing a refrigerator in the ground can be dangerous for children. It is your responsibility to make sure that there is a large and heavy top OVER the refrigerator to make sure children cannot get into the fridge.

1. Find an old or broken refrigerator or freezer.

2. Take all working parts off of the refrigerator or freezer, this includes stripping the backside of it off and removing the mechanical parts. Leaving you with just the shell of the fridge.

inside the fridge3. Once you have the shell of the fridge you need to start punching holes in the back side. We used a drill bit attachment to our drill. Worked pretty well, but don’t be too worried if the plastic breaks. The holes are absolutely crucial. This allows air flow from the ground into the root cellar. The air in the ground stays around 55 degrees which keeps your vegetables from getting frozen during the winter.

4. Place a bug netting over the holes. Even though you will be deep in the ground, you don’t know what time of creepy crawly bugs can get into your root cellar.

5. Make a hole at the top and bottom of the fridge. Once again, this is about air circulation. This allows the air from the holes on the bottom to be sucked out through to the surface. Don’t worry, this will not allow the cold air to enter if done correctly (enough circulation).
IMG_0186 IMG_0185 6. Put pipes at both ends of the fridge. The length of the pipes is going to depend on how deep your going to place your root cellar in the ground. Our pipes were about 3ft out of the ground. We also put vents on the top of the pipes so that water and dirt would not fall into the pipes, thus going down into the root cellar.

7. Dig a big hole. Once again, all depends on the size of your fridge and how deep you want it, but it needs to be at least 3-4 ft deep to get below the freezing level. Some heavy duty machinery really helps this part go faster, Sean dug the hole with a backhoe, but not everyone has a spare backhoe laying around…

Sean in the holeIMG_01888. Make a level stack of rocks or bricks underneath the fridge. This allows better airflow.

9. Place the fridge in the ground in it’s final rest spot. Make sure to leave enough space (if you are placing it next to a building) so that you can open the door without too much trouble.

10. Start filling in the dirt.

IMG_019611. Leave a space around the fridge. As you can see here we placed a board next to the fridge and made a small box around it. This is because we didn’t want to be kicking in dirt when we opened the fridge and also we wanted to put a large and heavy cover on top of the fridge. We put a top on it for two reasons. 1. We have small children. No need to make an accident happen.

2. When it gets to the middle of winter, it gets cold! We laid insulation on top of the refrigerator and put the cover over the top. This lessens the amount of cold wind blowing over the top of the fridge causing it to freeze.

12. Make a cover to go over the fridge. As listed above it is important to make this large and heavy top. It is cumbersome but it absolutely keeps the fridge from getting extremely cold.

13. Fill the fridge with your root vegetables and winter harvest! This is the best part… Reaping the fruits of your labor.

Our experience: Everything has a learning curb. We placed a lot of potatoes, apples and winter squash in our freezer and all was well, until it started freezing extremely hard. One day I went out there and all our winter squash and some potatoes were frozen solid. Oops. The squash was done for, but the potatoes survived.

Even with the proper planning it still did freeze, but I was too lazy to simply put a temperature sensitive plug in the fridge that would turn on a light bulb when it reached freezing. A simple halogen light bulb can keep your fridge from hitting freezing and when it increases above freezing it’ll turn off. Simple solution, we’ll see how much better it does this year.

Also, this fridge has a hard time staying below 55 degrees during the summer. By May it’s best to have most of your vegetables removed, plus, they probably would be rotting at that point anyways.H

Have an experience of your own? Feel free to share!

 

Real Food, Real Cheap.

Real food is affordable. Real food is better for you. Real food will make you feel better and live a healthier life.

What is real food? Well, in my world, real food is food that has not been adulterated or processed. It’s recognizable to your great grandparents and most likely doesn’t come in fancy packaging.

Today people think that real food only comes from Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, but this is just another marketing hype to keep people in the grocery stores. If you want real food for your family that you can afford, you need to leave the supermarket and return to the farm.

I’m not talking about driving 3 hours outside of town every week to go get some eggs, meat and milk (though some people are willing to do it). I’m talking about finding someone who grows good quality food, close to home that you can personally trust.

CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture), food clubs and drop points are a great way to get good food for your family. Local Harvest is a great website to find your local agriculture.

We are apart of a CSA. We buy a half share, which is around $300 and we get a box of veggies for 30 weeks. That’s right around $10 a week. Can you afford a box of organic vegetables for $10 a week? How much would that same box of veggies run you at the supermarket? Probably at least $50 considering it’s all organic. It’s fresh, right out of the garden and a local neighbor gets a little extra income for the hard work they are putting into a beautiful garden.

So that’s one way to get vegetables. How about beef?

Once again, there are several options for affordable, high quality beef from a trusted source. At Cunningham Ranch we sell beef in bulk quantities. This is a HUGE savings for the consumer. It’ll run you between $4.50-$6.50/ lb but that’s for all the cuts! High quality steaks, roasts, ground beef, all for the same price. We get a small premium on our beef compared to selling it at the sale yard and you get high quality beef in your freezer. (interested? Order Beef now!)

Other beef suppliers offer different methods. Some will let you buy smaller quantities of beef over a period of time (pickup point every week or month). You can go to the farmers market, but you are going to be paying more of a premium for their services of coming to you. But the biggest savings is when you buy in bulk.

To wrap up this post. The cheapest way to buy high quality real food, is to go directly to a local source.  I forgot to mention, it’s also the safest method to.

Support Local Agriculture. It’s good for the community, the farmer and for you and your budget!

Celebrating Good Fats! Lets Make Lard!

It’s about time the fat myth got busted.

Wall Street Journal Article

Time Magazine Article

Now since all these fabulous sources say it’s true, now we can believe modern medicine… Right? Well, animal fats have never been bad for you, regardless of what Time and the WSJ tell you. But now since it is “officially” busted, it’s time to return to those once forgotten, good-tasting fats. Let’s celebrate with making LARD!

What is Lard?

Lard is what you get from pig back fat once it is rendered by cooking it down to excrete the fat into a liquid form. Once it cools it returns back to it’s solid form.

The first thing you need is pig back fat. You can get this at your local butcher shop or if you order a pig from a farmer you can request it from the butcher to be put in a sack for later use. You can freeze the back fat and then unfreeze it and render it.

This is back fat from a pig we butchered ourselves. It's not as pretty as it would be if you got it directly from your butcher.

This is back fat from a pig we butchered ourselves. It’s not as pretty as it would be if you got it directly from your butcher.

The next step is cutting the lard up into tiny pieces. The smaller the better (even smaller than this if you can).

The next step is cutting the lard up into tiny pieces. The smaller the better (even smaller than this if you can). Your hands will hurt by the time your done.

Load all the little back fat pieces into the slow cooker and tun on "low." You can also do it on the stove-top on a low setting as long as you watch it carefully.

Load all the little back fat pieces into the slow cooker and tun on “low.” You can also do it on the stove-top on a low setting as long as you watch it carefully.

After a couple hours your back fat will start to render and it'll become very greasy. Stir often and don't let it burn! Once it's burned it'll ruin the whole batch of lard.

After a couple hours (3-4 hours) your back fat will start to render and it’ll become very greasy. Stir often and don’t let it burn! Once it’s burned it’ll ruin the whole batch of lard.

Once your back fat has let out more fat then remaining back fat then it's time to strain it

Once your back fat has let out more fat then remaining back fat then it’s time to strain it

What you will have remaining is cracklings. You can try to render them down even further, but I find it just ends up with burned lard.

What you will have remaining is cracklings. You can try to render them down even further, but I find it just ends up with burned lard.

Ta-Da! Lard! This is what the lard looks like after it's settled and hardened. We just keep our lard right next to our stove and use it for cooking!

Ta-Da! Lard! This is what the lard looks like after it’s settled and hardened. We just keep our lard right next to our stove and use it for cooking!

Lard is extremely good for cooking at high temperatures and deep frying. Get rid of the Crisco for the good of your health and replace it with high quality animal fat!

Tips:

  • Put the slow cooker outside! Lard can have an unappealing smell when it’s rendering, not to mention during the summer it makes your house really hot, so put it out on the porch and let it cook out there.
  • I normally pour the rendered lard into a bread pan. After it cools in the refrigerator I run hot water over the back until the lard falls out and cut it into smaller squares. I then wrap it in cling wrap and put it in the freezer. It keeps in the freezer almost indefinitely, which is where I keep it when I’m storing it.
  • Burned lard is not appealing at all, so make sure it doesn’t burn when rendering.
  • Be prepared to get greasy, lard making is not a clean activity.
  • We leave the lard that we are currently using for cooking on the countertop for all cooking purposes. If lard is rendered properly it should not spoil at room temperature. It usually takes us 1-2 weeks for us to go through one of our small blocks of lard for everyday cooking.
  • (Back Fat Lard) It’s great for frying your morning eggs, greasing pans, deep frying, and roasting things.
  • (Leaf Lard) Perfect for pastry cooking, it’s what people used before nasty Crisco was invented.

Reuse it: Old refrigerator or freezer turns into a smoker

Update: This has been the most popular post I have written, so I have gone back and updated a few things and added links to get products you need to make this project possible.

Refrigerators can be a pain when the burn out. Their big, bulky and have Freon, which is apparently bad for the environment, thus making it difficult to get rid of an old freezer or refrigerator. However, there are some thrifty ways to reuse an old fridge, especially if you enjoy smoking meat 🙂

A friend once told us that you can take an old refrigerator or freezer and turn it into a smokehouse. We were skeptical at first, but a couple weeks later our freezer burned out, so we decided to give it a try. Without much construction, we had a beautiful smoker.

Old freezer

…beautiful isn’t the word.

Functional is more of the word we are looking for. It was pretty simple. All we did was take off all the Freon contaminating things on the back (took that to the recycling plant) and put the freezer in a location that was accessible. (Maybe keep it away from structures in case of the off chance it catches on fire).

We use apple wood chips. You can use whatever type of wood you would like.

We use apple wood chips. You can use whatever type of wood you would like.

We cut a small slat at the bottom so we could run an electrical cord into the freezer for the hot plate. We bought a basic cheap hot plate at a consignment shop for heating the wood chips that was placed at the bottom of the freezer, I mean, smoker. We cut a coffee can in half to place the wood chips in, then placed that on top of the hot plate.

Hot plate, or element... Whatever you would like to call it.

Hot plate, or element… Whatever you would like to call it.

tent over the can of wood chips

tent over the can of wood chips

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also made a small little metal tent that covers the element and can with wood chips in it. The reason we do that is because whatever your smoking can sometimes drip and you don’t want that going into your wood chips.

You don’t have to worry about making any openings on the freezer. The seal on a freezer is not air-tight so the smoke will go through the seal of the freezer. NOTE: Keep an eye on the temperature if you can, we let it go overnight one time and got so hot that it melted the plastic on the inside door and totally cooked the bacon. Not a huge problem, but just check it every hour if possible.

The next thing we do is load the racks up with… BACON. Smoked bacon is amazing. However, it’s not limited to bacon. Smoke whatever you would like: Fish, hams, roasts, etc.

BACON!

BACON!

We soak the wood chips a couple hours in water, then when we are ready to smoke we just turn on the hot plate and wait for the magic to happen. Within a short period of time you’ll start to see smoke pouring out of the top of the smoker, and then you’ll know all is well 🙂

hmmm, smoked bacon

hmmm, smoked bacon

There you have it. The most simple thing to do with an old refrigerator or freezer.

Enjoy your smoking! And remember… Eat lots of bacon!

 

How to Press Your Own Apples to Make Cider

I’m pretty sure Sean and I have to try everything at least once from scratch… This year it was apple cider. Actually, we were kinda forced into making our own cider this year. The orchard that we like to buy our cider at had a series of unfortunate events that did not allow them to make and sell their cider this year. We love apple cider, so there was no way we could get away without having apple cider so we decided when life gives you apples… Make cider.

We have a small piece of private property up on a mountain and on that property there is an apple tree that was orginally planted when the spot was homesteaded. We have no idea what type of variety it is, but it produces apples every year. They are hardly worth eating since they are small and usually full of worm holes, but it’s perfect for apple cider!

Our very old apple tree

Our very old apple tree

This is the original homestead up on the mountain. A 12x14 dry laid rock house

This is the original homestead up on the mountain. A 12×14 dry laid rock house

The small bitter apples, but great for apple cider

The small bitter apples, but great for apple cider

Our family went and picked the apples with intentions of making lots of apple sauce, but after several batches they got burned out and let us experiment with the apples by making apple cider.

How to make a cider press and harvest apple juice from apples:

You can make cider with an type of apple you want… Free is always good 🙂

First clean your apples and slice out the bad parts of the apple to the best of your ability and patients...

First clean your apples and slice out the bad parts of the apple to the best of your ability and patients…

Sean sorting and slicing apples

Sean sorting and slicing apples

We then ran the apples through my KitchenAid slicer attachment. This will help the juice be expelled easier.

We then ran the apples through my KitchenAid slicer attachment. This will help the juice be expelled easier.

Freshly cut up apples

Freshly cut up apples

We used a 5 gallon bucket, drilled holes in it, wrapped it with ties (this doesn't allow it to expand under pressure) and we put a paint strainer bag in to easily remove the apples and keep them from getting stuck in the holes.

We used a 5 gallon bucket, drilled holes in it, wrapped it with ties (this doesn’t allow it to expand under pressure) and we put a paint strainer bag in to easily remove the apples and keep them from getting stuck in the holes.

It's always nice to have a helper.

It’s always nice to have a helper.

Once ready, put a wooden circle that fits the hole on top and start pressing!

Once ready, put a wooden circle that fits the hole on top and start pressing!

Ok, so we are pretty lucky, we have a hand jack that we borrowed from a neighbor, so you might have to build your own or put lots of weight on top of your bucket with bricks or find some way to put an extremely large amount of pressure to press the apples.

Ok, so we are pretty lucky, we have a hand jack that we borrowed from a neighbor, so you might have to build your own or put lots of weight on top of your bucket with bricks or find some way to put an extremely large amount of pressure to press the apples.

You can see the apple juice seeping out the sides! Beautiful!

You can see the apple juice seeping out the sides! Beautiful!

If you don’t have the luxury of owning a press, then you will have to make one, click this link on how to make a cider press. Kudos to him for helping us know how to do this in the first place.

It takes a lot of apples to make apple juice, so be prepared to be disappointed if you don’t use a lot. We used 5, 5gallon bucket full of small apples and got about 3-4 gallons of apple juice.

From here there are a couple things you can do with the juice… You can leave it as apple juice, make apple cider, or make hard cider. Our first batch, Sean made into hard apple cider, so it’ll be several months before we know the outcome of that.

Bubbling hard apple cider in the making

Bubbling hard apple cider in the making

How to make hot apple cider is your next step! Follow the link!

How to Make Raw Milk Yogurt

Yogurt is so good for you. However, like most other dairy and health products at groceries stores yogurt has been adulterated to the point that most of the beneficial parts of yogurt is null and void. Pasteurization is the major killer of beneficial bacteria and enzymes which all yogurt sold at the store has been pasteurized to some degree. Plus, then adding tons of sugar or high fructose corn syrup basically defeats the purpose of eating yogurt. Why is that? Well, when you are trying to fight off bad bacteria with good bacteria (such as yogurt) you need to cut out sugar to help fight off the bad bacteria, since bad bacteria thrives on sugar.

So what’s the best way to make yogurt? With raw milk! (I’m sure you already knew the answer to that). Yogurt is so extremely simple to make, it’s amazing that more people don’t do it. Without further delay here’s how you make yogurt out of raw milk.

NOTE: This recipe is for RAW MILK yogurt, not pasteurized yogurt. There is a slightly different process making yogurt out of pasteurized milk, so please do not use this same recipe.

Things you need to make raw milk yogurt:

  • 1 gallon of raw milk
  • 2-4 tablespoons of another yogurt start (can be store bought plain yogurt)
  • Some sort of strainer (cheese cloth, old t shirt)
  • Warm location (about 90 degrees)

The first basic step is getting your milk. Make sure that it was properly milked and cooled (if you are milking a cow yourself). I personally like to skim the cream off the milk before making it into yogurt, that is up to you, but I find that once the yogurt sets up it just strains right through the cloth and gets lost (I guess I could mix it better once it’s set up) but I just like to skim it. Once skimmed (if desired) put the milk in a jar (or jars) or some sort of glass container with a top.

Once skimmed (if desired)

Next you put the milk in a hot bath of water. Our sink water gets so hot that it makes it perfect for a hot bath, but if your sink won’t get above 110 degrees then you need to boil water and submerge the jars into the hot water, you are aiming for 110 degrees.

After some time

After some time (depending on how vigilant you are at watching the temperature) your milk should eventually get to 110 degrees. If it gets too hot, just add some cold water to the bath until it reaches 110.

Adding your starter is the next step.

Adding your starter is the next step. I either use starter from a batch of yogurt that I have made recently or a starter from a store bought plain yogurt. Add 2 tablespoons to each container of milk you are using (if you are using half gallons then 2 tablespoons for each one, if you are using 1 gallon of milk by itself then only use 2 tablespoons of starter). Shake or stir till mixed well.

Leave on a hot summer day to culture.

Next is allowing the milk to culture, you can leave it outside on a hot day that’ll keep the milk around 90 degrees. It takes a minimum of 8 hours to culture.

Or use an oven

Or if you don’t like the idea of leaving the milk out in the sun all day you can use several other warm places. You can use a dehydrator at 90 degrees or put it in your oven with the light on. Believe it or not the oven will keep the milk warm enough to culture just by leaving the light on. I typically like leave it overnight so I don’t end up needing the oven during the day.

After

Once your yogurt is cultured it’ll be a very liquidity substance (there’s lots of whey in homemade yogurt), so this the point where you get to choose how much whey you keep in your yogurt. I find whey adds a very bitter taste to yogurt, so I like to strain it for a long time to remove as much whey as possible. I use an old t-shirt over a bucket with a rubber band to secure it. You can also hang the corners and allow it to drain (it’s just harder to catch the whey if you want it for anything). If you want a slightly strained yogurt then a couple hours will suffice. If you want more of a greek style yogurt, then overnight in the frig will do it for you. The more you drain the whey the shorter the yogurt keeps, so remember that.

Mixing it

After I’ve allowed the yogurt to drain to the desired consistency I like to run it through my blender to make it nice and smooth. If you have made a very thick yogurt this can be tough on your blender and difficult to get it to blend, so you can do it by hand if you want or use another device. I just love the smooth taste of yogurt, whereas the recently strained yogurt is still chunky.

Beautiful

Here’s the finished yogurt after it’s been through the blender. Now grab some fruit or granola and dig in!

Have questions or comments? Leave them below!

 

The Buckaroo’s Breakfast

Breakfast, I believe, is my husband’s favorite meal. He loves the way I cook lunch and supper, but breakfast is what gets his day going and sets his pace. So what does this buckaroo eat every morning to get his day started? Well, according to diet fanatics, it’s a meal that will terrify cardiologist and the low fat fanatics.

First off, I do not cook breakfast. In fact, since I got pregnant I hardly ever eat breakfast with my husband anymore, since he typically is out the door before I start to stir. Sean doesn’t wake up extremely early (usually about 6am) it’s just I don’t like to wake up early anymore since I’m up about 3-4 times a night having to go to the bathroom since the baby loves to punch my bladder. Either way, in Sean’s family the man always gets up and cooks breakfast. This is such a relief for me because it’s one less meal I have to worry about.

Sean cooking breakfast

Sean cooking breakfast

Sean starts off his morning by putting on a kettle of water for his morning coffee. He really loves his coffee and it is truly a sacrifice for him not to have his warm cup of goodness every morning to kick-start his day.

This face is enough to kick-start our day :)

This face is enough to kick-start our day

Next he pulls out two of our handy-dandy skillets. Our egg skillet literally never gets washed. It has an absolutely beautiful seasoning on it that has been developed over the years of cooking with it, nothing sticks and it gives the eggs a fabulous flavor. The second skillet is what he uses to cook his bacon or sausage on, which we faithfully has everyday, unless we forget to thaw it out the day before. This skillet gets washed every now and then because the bacon will get little chard pieces and cause the pan to stick. Also, I cook in this pan different things like ground beef and tomato based things and that can cause the seasoning to come off and needs to be washed… We are working on making it a better seasoned pan 🙂

When we cook our eggs, we use what most people would consider a heart attack waiting to happen… Lard or butter. We love lard. Every year when we butcher a pig for our family we take the fat off the pig and render it into useable lard for cooking. God gave us beautiful animal fat for a reason and it wasn’t to clog our arteries  despite what popular science says, but lard, butter and other animal fats used to be apart of everyone’s diet since it was what was readily available. In fact we go as far to say that we believe that vegetable oils (yes, that does include canola oil, which for some reason people think is good for you) are extremely dangerous and something we don’t even allow in the house. Just butter, lard, olive oil, coconut oil and other animal fats. That’s it.

Beautiful lard

Beautiful lard

So before I went on my tangent… Sean will take a big scoop of lard and place it on the skillet and cook his eggs in it. The eggs come from our chickens that are moved around and have plenty of bugs, non-GMO feed and grass to eat. The yolks are a deep hugh of orange, it’s unlike any other egg you have ever eaten. We typically eat our eggs over easy but sometimes Sean will make himself an omelet in the morning and use about 3-4 eggs.

You think we have enough eggs?

You think we have enough eggs?

Deep orange yolks

Deep orange yolks

While he is preparing his eggs he will either make sausage patties or bacon. Once again, we raise our own pigs for our family once a year and have started learning how to render our own ham, bacon and sausage. The sausage is just ground sausage (we would love to learn how to make sausage links) which is basically all the trimmings from the pig, lard and seasonings all thrown together through a grinder, it’s a mastery of flavors in your mouth. The bacon was Sean speciality this last year. After using a wet-brine to cure the bacon he then made a smokehouse out of an old freezer and cut up some applewood and smoked the bacon for several hours. Most of our bacon is homemade, applewood smoked bacon and it is a quite the treat to eat.

The well-seasoned skillet

The well-seasoned skillet

 

Essentially Sean’s buckaroo breakfast is fairly simple. Just 3-4 eggs, 2-3 slices of bacon and a big cup of coffee. However, it would’ve been boring to have just said it like that 😉

The "families breakfast"

The “families breakfast”

On days that we forget to thaw out the bacon or sausage ahead of time we revert back to Sean’s childhood meal, which is oatmeal. If I remember or know that we are going to have oatmeal in the morning I try to soak it overnight in water and either yogurt or lemon juice. This helps break the oatmeal down and allows it to be digested easier, especially for me because I get a really bubbly stomach if I just eat oatmeal without soaking it prior to eating. Sean just cooks the oatmeal then adds milk, molasses or sucrant and raisins and he is happy as he takes a stroll down comfort food lane.

Sundays is our big breakfast day. I’m glad we don’t do a big breakfast everyday, because it’s just a lot of work, and having a big Sunday breakfast always makes the day so special. What we eat for Sunday breakfast is totally determined by what’s available around the house. If I have left-over bread from the week we will probably have french toast, if I made butter the day before and I have buttermilk left over it’s buttermilk pancakes and if their sour cream that needs to be used, it’s sour cream pancakes. Then we have our typical eggs and sausage or bacon, coffee and some fruit if we have any. We try to all work together to make it a big happy family meal as we celebrate the start of the Lord’s day.

I love my breakfast!

I love my breakfast!

Breakfast is the cornerstone of our day on the ranch, without a good breakfast it’s hard to get started on the right foot. Sean burns several thousand calories a day just doing basic ranch work so it is important that he has something that is going to stick and give him plenty of energy to get through… till lunch 🙂

A Trip to the Lavy Dairy Farm

Last week Sean, Cecilia and I went to St. Louis to visit my side of the family. After living on the ranch for three years I can safely consider myself a “country folk” and consequently I  really don’t enjoy the suburbs, tv and small manicured lawns that could be grazed by animals. With that said, after being at my parents house for two days we were itching to get back the country and see what an active agriculture life Missouri has.

On Tuesday we visited some friends that we went to college with and throughly enjoyed visiting with them. It was just our luck that they subscribe to the “natural” lifestyle and are apart of a milk CSA (community supported agriculture) where they get fresh raw cows milk once a week from a local dairy that delivers to a nearby country store. Since they were headed out of town the next day they offered us to take their milk share for the week so Cecilia would have her normal raw milk (we don’t drink pasteurized milk). We gladly accepted and picked up the milk at the country store that day.

The next day we made a trip out to this dairy farm to see the farm and milk operation. We drove about an hour north of my parents house to Silex, Missouri to find a small family dairy at the end of a dirt road, surrounded by beautifully growing hay meadows (I wish I would’ve taken pictures). When we pulled up to the farm we were greeted by an older gentleman by the name of Hubert. Hubert was delighted to bring us down to the barn and put us right in the heart of action; he brought us into the milking parlor where his son (the owner of the dairy) was busy hooking up his dairy cows to milk machines. Tim (Hubert’s son) greeted us happily and invited us to join him on the milking floor as he continued to hook up milking machines to his cows and move cows out of the barn as they finished being milked.

We watched Tim as each cow filed into place into the milking parlor and stood uneventfully waiting to be milked. Tim then walked down the line of cows and cleaned each tit with a fresh cloth and dipped the tits in iodine to make sure they were sanitized prior to being attached to the milking machine. Once the machines were attached to the cows tits, immediately the milk started to flow through a series of pipes into a cooling unit which lead to their large milk vat. Once the machine detected no more milk flow the suction would stop and the milk machine would drop from the cow. Tim then would go down the line again and clean off their tits and out the barn they went back to pasture.  The most enjoyable part of the whole experience was how laid back Tim was as he cleaned each cow and stopped to talk in between. He wasn’t in a rush and was just enjoying the company, despite the fact that he still had about 30 more cows to milk.

Tim’s dairy is not your typical dairy. It’s more like the old fashioned dairies that used to exist before high operating costs, extreme government regulations and mega-dairies pushing the small dairies out of business. It was fun to see the colorful arrangement of cows since he has several different breeds mixed together: Jersey, Brown Swiss and Holstein are his mix of breeds. Not too long ago Tim had 200 Holstein cows and was running a certified organic dairy. Despite having that niche market of the organic industry he was still considered a “small dairy”, lived far off the trucking route and was losing money rapidly as his milk was being sold off to different states and trucked thousands of miles before people received it. He decided that was not the way he wanted to run his dairy, so Tim sold off almost his entire certified organic herd and started a new journey into the raw milk industry.

Missouri’s regulations are less restrictive than in Idaho or Oregon which allows the producers to actually make money while running a raw milk dairy (crazy thought). Tim now only milks 50 cows a day and sells his milk raw and cheese locally. On 50 cows he is able to make more money and spend less time stressing out since his dairy is a much more manageable size. Everyday people come to his farm and pick up milk and on Tuesday’s he delivers milk to the Lake St. Louis area as apart of their CSA program. People can feel good knowing that their milk only came from a couple miles up the road, the cows are fed fresh grass and not stuffed into holding quarters until their next milking, and the milk is never pasteurized, which kills essential enzymes, vitamins and minerals.

Lavy Dairy Farms is also known for being resourceful with their left over milk before they clean their milk holding tank. All leftover milk is tubed into their new cheese making room. From there Tim will turn 50 gallons of milk into 50 lbs of cheese. This is a new enterprise for their family and is going really well, there is still trial and error with new cheeses like how much caraway seed to put into caraway cheese but it is helping them use all their resources effectively. All milk that is spoiled, becomes warm and the remaining whey left over from cheese making is given to the couple pigs they raise. This was very fun to hear because we have been soaking the grain we give our pigs in water/whatever milk we have left over for the last couple years. Pigs do great on dairy!

Tim’s sons were running around the farm helping with odd things and were just being boys! It was such a refreshing sight to see young children involved in the day-to-day work of the farm and smiling the entire time. The Lavy family enjoy their vocation as farmers and do everything with a smile, which was obviously rubbing off on the kids, because they were sure happy as well! There are not too many farms that you can visit and have 3 generations all happily working together.

After a couple hours of visiting and sampling some cheeses we said goodbye to the Lavy family and thanked them for such a great time. We highly encourage anyone in the Missouri/ St. Louis area to consider going to their dairy farm to see their operations and understand where milk comes from. They are an extremely welcoming family and are more than happy to show people how their operations work.

Check out their website at: www.lavydairyfarm.com