Sustainability

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beans
It all started early this summer and I have to say I had an accomplice. Up until that point, in order to actually can foods I had to borrow a friend’s canner. Well then my father-in-law dropped one off when he visited the family so I guess if my quickly filling cabinets have anyone to blame it is him.

After a new gasket the canner saw its first use in a while and I quickly became smitten. Organic potatoes we purchased in bulk at a deep discount were the first victims. The boys peeled and chopped, I packed and processed. It was just too easy now that a pressure canner lived right in my own kitchen.

And the gardens happened – the most productive garden we’ve had since inhabiting this land. Both green beans and squash were fermented and dehydrated, until I just couldn’t keep up with it and threw a couple of baskets full into the canner. These were the first jars of homegrown, home canned produce we’ve seen here in Texas.

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I took a break through August when my manuscript was due and September too as I finished the photos. But then I found a stash of dried beans so old no amount of boiling seemed to help. Our neighbor who’d been over helping with housework (hiring help when deadlines loom has been a win!) mentioned how her mom pressure canned them and they were soft and tender. Dozens and dozens of quarts later is when my hobby started to turn into a… situation.

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Then apple season happened and bulk organic apples at a good price means applesauce. But then two large boxes of longhorn bones showed up on our door and desperate times called for desperate measures so several more cases of jars came home with us… and, filled with broth, now join the collection taking up just a bit of space in our cabinets.

So, I thought I’d wait until we took a bull to the butcher before I filled any more jars. The many quarts of meat and broth would surely be enough to deter me from filling more jars and more cabinet space, right?

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Well, potatoes and apples and beets came into season once again. So now one hundred pounds of potatoes and forty pounds of apples and twenty-five pounds of beets are hollering for help and who am I to say no?

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Canning lots of food was really never on my to-do list, but when you live off-grid and are still working on that root cellar and have no refrigeration for produce, it certainly helps. The gallons of turnip kimchi on the counter indicate that my dedication to fermentation has not waned, I’ve simply added to the many, many jars we go through around here.

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I’ll probably need more jars… and cabinet space… or better yet, a root cellar! I’m rallying for a huge potato patch in the spring, more squash, and bushels of green beans! Surely, I don’t have a problem here, right?

Oh, and if you stop by, sorry for the slowly decaying food odor – kimchi always tastes better than it smells. Come back in a month and it will be spot on tasty… and after another turnip harvest, Lord willing, I’ll only have added to my reeking counters and sagging cabinets.

Anyone know if you can purchase jars by the pallet load?

egg-carrier

As is often the case, the lunch discussion yesterday revolved around troubleshooting homestead issues. The day’s topic was egg production, spurred on in part by my reading of Little House in the Ozarks. But also because oddly low egg-production has been an on-going issue around these parts.

So we kicked around some ideas for what to change, what needs fixing up, and so on. By the time we had finished all of the salad, broth-boiled rice, and leftover meat and potatoes, we got to what is often the end of such conversations – a list of things we’d do when we had the time and money for it.

Stewart and I often joke about how futile such conversations can be. Not that the brainstorming and idea batting isn’t helpful, but if it is not peppered heavily with Lord willing it simply becomes a don’t-worry,-we’ll-figure-it-out conversation.

And that never ends well.

We parted ways, Stewart back to his work on propagating boysenberries, me back to organizing and labeling my recent canning endeavors. Generally after lunch I give the boys a short list of chores to do before school and so off they went as well.

Moments later Abram shot through the screen door beaming from ear to ear. I turned around from the kitchen sink in time to hear “Egg nest! Ma, I found an egg nest!“. The boys and I have been hunting for some such thing for weeks now, knowing that something wasn’t lining up with the numbers.

And so there it was, in an old tote filled with baby things once worn by the egg nest-finder himself – the Lord’s answer to our attempts at figuring it out. We had scrambled eggs this morning after fourteen of the nineteen eggs tested fresh using what I call the “Water-Test Method”.

The process is simple.

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Water-Testing Eggs for Freshness

  1. Fill a pint-sized vessel 75% of the way with clean water.
  2. Carefully submerge egg in water.
  3. Observe for any vertical movement of the egg. You want the egg to lay on its side as in the photo above. A small variation of horizontal is fine but any large movement puts the egg into questionable territory. Some say the reason for this the air pocket in the egg, some say otherwise. Frankly, I don’t know for sure what the reasoning is but it seems to work as I’ve never cracked a rotten egg I’ve properly tested.
  4. Straight up and down, as in the photo below, is not good. Chuck that thing as far away from the house as it can get. Anything nearing a 45 degree angle is also out, in my book.

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I only test the eggs just before cooking, as the washing process removes the protective coat that allows us to keep our eggs on the counter without refrigeration. Once you have culled the bad eggs, crack the fresh ones into a cast-iron skillet with a bit of lard and continue on with breakfast.

Sourdough toast, hot coffee with goat milk, and milk kefir are all good accompaniments to unexpected egg blessings.