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Whole-Fed Homestead by Crystal@wholefedhomestead - 1M ago

This Cucumber Lemonade is summertime in a glass! It’s the perfect refreshment to cool down with after a long day spent in the garden or doing outdoor chores in the hot sun. Trust me, we have a lot of those around here! It’s incredibly refreshing. Even Karl likes it, and he doesn’t especially care for cucumber, or anyone else in the cucurbit family for that matter…

While this recipe was born partly out of necessity (because who thinks that 2 people need 6 cucumber plants?) it has turned into one of my favorite summertime refreshments! It’s oddly addictive.


I was a little surprised by how much I fell in love with cucumber lemonade, because I’m not generally a crazy-for-everything-cucumber kinda gal. You might not guess that based on my irrational tendency to grow a lot of cucumbers.

A friend of mine mentioned she’d been chugging the stuff lately, and when I found myself with 10 pounds of cucumbers, I had to give it a try!

There are a lot of cucumber lemonade recipes out there, and this is my version. I think it’s perfectly balanced- just lightly sweet from the honey (how to find the highest quality raw honey here), enough to take the edge off the lemon juice, with a perfect background of cucumber, but not an overpowering amount.

And the color! It almost looks like it could be fake- but that beautiful green glow is all from fresh cucumber.

Cucumber Lemonade Sweetened with Honey

Makes 1 generous serving
1/3 cup fresh cucumber juice
1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1-2 Tbs raw liquid honey
1 cup water

Makes 4 generous servings
1 1/3 cup fresh cucumber juice
1 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/4 to 1/2 cup raw liquid honey
4 cups water

Start by getting the juice from your fresh cukes- if you have a juicer, great. It isn’t necessary though: I cut the cucumber into chunks, whirled it through the blender (I used a Vitamix but I think most blenders should work just fine) until smooth, and then strained it in a regular sieve for about 10 minutes. I collected the juice and gave the pulp to the chickens.

I found that 2 medium-sized cucumbers = about 2 cups of cucumber chunks = 1 cup cucumber juice.


Meanwhile, combine the honey and lemon juice in the bottom of a tall glass and stir and swirl it around until the honey completely dissolves, which will take about a minute. I think a shy two tablespoons of honey per serving is perfect and wonderfully sweet- if you like it a little more sour, err on the side of one tablespoon.

Once the honey is dissolved, add in the cucumber juice, water, and top with lots and lots of ice! Add cucumber and lemon slices to make it extra fancy.

*Pro-tip 1: Prep the cucumber/lemon/honey concentrate ahead of time and store in the fridge for up to a few days. Then just add water and ice to make yourself a glass whenever you desire. The color does change from vibrant green to off green, which is not as pretty. If you’re making it for yourself, no problem… if for a crowd, fresh is best!

*Pro-tip 2: Add a shot of Vodka for a refreshing summer cocktail!

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The post Cucumber Lemonade Sweetened with Honey appeared first on Whole-Fed Homestead.

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Whole-Fed Homestead by Crystal@wholefedhomestead - 1M ago

Making lard soap… is there anything more homestead-y than that? Karl’s grandma (a real-deal homesteader and farmer) tells a story about how when she was young, she would bring home the used tallow from the fryers at the local diner she worked at, and they would make big batches of tallow soap cooked in a kettle over an open fire at their farm. I just love that story.

Maybe they did it out of necessity, or maybe they did it because they were resourceful farmers who didn’t let anything go to waste. Or maybe they did it because they had good taste; they were eating french fries cooked in tallow after all… which I think says a lot!

Karl’s grandma passed away recently- she was 87 years old and tough as nails to the very end- a true homesteader through and through. I am sharing this lard soap recipe in her memory.

♥♥♥

Soaps made from animal fat have a creamy luxurious lather, and in my opinion, they have the perfect amount of cleansing and moisturizing… the Goldilocks of soap! Plus, making lard soap is a great way to practice using the whole animal and not letting go to waste parts that are often looked at by some as less desirable.

Want to render your own lard? My full instructions here, including why I WON’T use a slow cooker to render lard!

Lard Soap Making 101 Don’t Fear the Lye, But Do Respect It

Want to make lard soap but you’re afraid to use lye? Let me stop you right there- don’t be.

The first time I made soap I was terrified. I was cautious and followed all the directions… and of course I had no problems at all. The second time I made soap, it was soooo much easier. I was comfortable with the lye. I mean, not dangerously-disregard-the-rules-kinda comfortable, but I knew what to expect, and it wasn’t a big deal.

Don’t let fear of lye be the reason you don’t make soap- learn to safely handle it, and make all the soap your heart desires. And trust me, your heart will desire this soap!

And on that note, if you’re new to soap making, make sure and read through these instructions completely and way ahead of time, and probably more than once. My Wild Rose Lard Soap is a very easy soap recipe, and I wrote these instructions with the beginner soap-maker in mind.

Soap making is not hard, but it does require that you pay attention to detail.

I gained SO MUCH confidence in soap-making and working with lye by reading through Simple and Natural Soap Making by Jan Berry. This book changed my whole relationship with soap-making. Not only are the instructions easy to understand and safety conscious, but the soap recipes are simple but inspired. This is a fantastic book!

Above are the Vanilla Bean & Egg Yolk (yes egg yolk!) flower soaps that I made from Jan’s book, Simple and Natural Soap Making…And these flower molds were wonderful to work with and would be great for this Wild Rose Lard Soap as well!

General Rules for Soap Making

Always, always run the recipe through a lye calculator, no matter where the recipe is from. Yes, even this one. Human and printing errors are not uncommon, and it’s good practice to always double check.

NEVER substitute fats or oils, or alter the water or lye amount (unless you are a seasoned soap-making pro). You must rework a recipe if you need to change one of these components because each different type of fat requires a different amount of lye. This is a big soaping no-no.

Protect yourself: wear long sleeves, goggles, and rubber gloves. In my opinion this isn’t an activity to involve young kids in. If you have pets that like to counter surf or linger around your feet in the kitchen, lock them out while you work.

Use dedicated equipment- most pros recommend you don’t use the same equipment for soap making as you do for food preparation.

An accurate digital scale and an immersion blender are essential to soap-making.

Do NOT use aluminum, cast iron, or non-stick containers or utensils when working with lye.

Ingredients & Equipment for Wild Rose Lard Soap

Lye (buy here online)
I had a hard time finding the correct lye at my local hardware and farm supply stores, so I ordered it online. I read all the reviews on multiple brands and settled on this one. Glad I did- I have made several batches of soap with it now and they have all turned out wonderful and as expected. This type is nice because it is “micro-beads” and easier to work with than the finer powder or flakes of lye- which are more likely to go airborne. This type is food-grade, which means it is less likely to have impurities that could mess up your batch of soap.

Lard (instructions for rendering your own or buy here online)
You want good quality, hand-rendered lard for this soap. Not the really cheap kind that comes in a one-pound block that you can find at most grocery stores, which often has additives like BHA and BHT.

Do not use lard with additives.

The better quality your ingredients, the better quality your finished product will be.

However, soap-making is a great way to use up lard that maybe smells a little porky, or got a little darker than you intended during rendering- those smells will go away during the soaping process.

Coconut Oil (buy here online)
You can use any type of pure coconut oil for this soap, and no worries- the smell of coconut won’t come through in the soap.

The coconut oil is to give the bar a little extra lather. Lard by itself doesn’t have that much lather, so the coconut oil makes this a much better bar than lard alone in my opinion. This recipes makes a bar that has a creamy and luxurious lather.

Rosewood Essential Oil (buy here online)
If you have an essential oil brand you love, great, use it! I am not affiliated with any brands myself- I use and love a few different ones. You can also omit the Rosewood Essential Oil from this soap recipe if you’d like.

Rosewood has a scent that is warm, woodsy, and floral. And the amount used in this recipe is such that the overall scent in the soap is very faint- it smells lightly of walking through a patch of wild roses at the forest’s edge. It’s one of my personal favorite scents! And it is reported to have a lot of beneficial properties for your skin as well.

Rose Clay (buy here online)
This clay adds a natural, gorgeous, rosy pink color to your soap. It also has beneficial properties for your skin. This is the only coloring agent I used in this soap recipe- and I think it turned out beautifully!

If you want a less feminine option, I’ve also made this soap recipe with French Green Clay (in the same amount and using the same technique as the recipe below indicates) which also turns out lovely, so go ahead and substitute that if you’d like.

You can also omit the clay entirely, though I think it is part of what makes this such a great bar of soap!

Dried Rose Petals (buy here online)
You may be able to buy these in a smaller quantity in the bulk section of your local natural food store. Or go out and collect and dry your own! …just make sure they weren’t sprayed with anything. Pink crabapple blossoms also dry to a pretty pinky color and would be a good substitute to try, and no one would even know they weren’t roses.

Use the rose petals sparingly. I picked out the prettiest, pinkest ones and used about 8-10 small rose heads for this batch of soap.

Digital Scale (buy here online)
Soap ingredients are always measured by weight, not volume. An accurate digital scale is essential for soap-making- and luckily they are very inexpensive nowadays.

I like to always have backup extra batteries for it (would hate for it to die in the middle of measuring things!), and I make sure it is weighing accurately by using the methods outlined here.

Immersion Blender (buy here online)
While this isn’t totally necessary for soap-making (your grandma probably didn’t have one!) it is… well, necessary in my opinion. I haven’t made soap without one, so I can’t give you instructions for that, but I have heard that it takes HOURS of hand-whisking to do what this blender does in 5 minutes. Absolutely worth it.

While you should have a dedicated immersion blender for soap-making (I do), if you’re not going to heed my advice here, this is a good one to get because the head is removable, allowing you to safely soak it in the sink for a long period of time.

Thermometer (buy here online)
I can’t say enough about an infrared thermometer. It allows you to take the temperature of both your lye and fats without having to touch them or dirty a thermometer probe. Also surprisingly inexpensive!

You could also use a regular digital kitchen/meat thermometer, but again you would want it to be dedicated to soap-making.

Goggles & Gloves
We always keep a big box of rubber nitrile gloves on hand (see what I did there?) for various homesteading tasks. You will need several pairs for soap-making in case you need to take them off at anytime, like to use the bathroom or itch your nose.

Goggles should be actual safety goggles and not safety glasses- the difference is that goggles protect your eyes from spills and splashes, where as glasses do not. Lye isn’t something you want to chance.

Soap Molds (buy loaf molds here online, buy flower molds here online)
This is the fun part! What do you want your soap to look like? While I love the feel of a good soap bar, these flower soap molds were lovely. They were also very easy to work with- the soaps popped right out of them!

Various Containers

For Measuring Dry Lye: Dry lye can be weighed in a glass, plastic, stainless steel, or even a paper drinking cup. I prefer to use something disposable myself, like a large yogurt container or plastic cup.

For the Lye Water: This should be something made of stainless steel or #5 heavy duty plastic. When combining the lye and water, a reaction occurs which heats the solution to a very hot temperature… enough to shatter glass and even pyrex. I use a cheap medium-sized stainless steel kitchen bowl for this (just make sure your bowl is not aluminum).

For Combining the Lye Solution and Fats: The combined oils and lye can be mixed in plastic, pyrex, stainless steel, enamel, or ceramic. They are not very hot at this point, but they are still caustic.

I have a dedicated stainless steel pot that I heat my fats and mix my oils in, then I pour the lye water directly into that and mix them together right in the pot. This is nice because the pot has a flat bottom that allows the immersion blender to reach well, unlike a round bowl, which would make this harder.

Various Utensils & Equipment

Stainless Steel Spoon: Used for scooping lye from the container and into your dry lye measuring cup.

Stainless Steel Fork: Used for mixing the lye as you pour it into the water.

Rubber Spatula: For scraping every last bit of soap from the pot!

Teaspoon Measuring Spoon: For measuring the clay and essential oil; this doesn’t need to be dedicated to soap-only.

Small Bowl: For mixing the rose clay and water together; this doesn’t need to be dedicated to soap-only.

Paper Towels: For wiping out the soap pot after you’ve scraped it with the spatula. You do not want to put large amounts of fresh soap down your drain. Also dampen them and use for wiping down counters to pick up any granules of lye you might have spilled.

Box, Cutting Board, or Pan: Something to set the molds on, and transport the soap molds on, especially if you are using individual-style ones, like the flower molds.

Cutting Board & Sharp Knife: The sharper your knife, the smoother the bars will look. This does not need to be dedicated to soap-only.

Wild Rose Lard Soap Recipe

I wrote these instructions so that a beginner could follow them and make soap successfully- you’ll notice that the instructions are rather long. As with anything detailed, I’d recommend reading the instructions through entirely, before you start. 

Wild Rose {Old Fashioned} Lard Soap Recipe
Soap weight 2.283 lbs, 5% superfat

Ingredients:
9 oz (258.55g) distilled water
3.41 oz (96.69g) lye
19.2 oz (544.31g) lard
4.8 oz (136.08g) coconut oil
2-3 tsp rosewood essential oil
2 tsp rose clay combined with 1 Tbs distilled water
8-10 mini wild rose buds

1- PREPARE: Make sure you have everything prepared and easily accessible, including your soap molds. If using a wooden mold that needs to be lined with parchment, do that now.

Gather all your equipment and have it set out and ready to go. Put on protective gloves, long sleeves, and goggles.

2- WORKING WITH LYE: Dry lye can be weighed in a glass, plastic, or stainless steel. The water that you will combine with the lye should be measured into a #5 plastic or stainless steel container. (When combined with lye, it can heat up to over 200F quickly, which can shatter glass.) 

I use an older stainless steel spoon to transfer the dry lye into the measuring cup. Don’t use plastic, as have found it causes a static cling situation with the lye, which is not something you want.

Measure out the distilled water and place it in your bowl in the sink. Measure out the lye.

With a window open or ventilation, and working in the sink, slowly ADD THE LYE TO THE WATER, stirring with the fork as you add it.

Allow the lye to cool for about 30-40 minutes or until it reaches 100-110F.

Always add the lye to the water, do NOT add the water to the lye, or it could volcano. Make sure all the lye dissolves and isn’t stuck at the bottom of the container- this shouldn’t be a problem if you pour the lye in slowly and stir well while doing so.

Tip: An infrared thermometer is incredibly handy for soap-making! You just shoot the laser light at what you want to measure and it reads the temperature without having to stick a probe into anything. Before I had this I used a meat thermometer, which worked fine.

3- PREPARE THE FATS: Solid fats should always be melted in a double boiler or very slowly and carefully if over direct heat. Don’t overshoot melting them, or they won’t be cool enough by the time your lye water is ready.

Combine the lard and coconut oil and heat until JUST BARELY melted. 

4. COMBINE THE FATS AND LYE WATER: We want the melted fats and lye water to both be a similar temperature, around 100-110F when they are combined. In my experience making this particular soap, if you get the fats melting as soon as you are finished mixing up the lye water, and you don’t overheat the fats, they will have just enough time to cool and end around the same temperature as the lye at the same time.

When the melted fats and lye water are both around the same temperature of 100-110F, add the lye water to the fats.

It is okay if they vary a little from this- your lye water might be down in the 90s, while your fats are still around 110, which is okay for this recipe.

I have a dedicated stainless steel pot that I melt the fats in, and then I add the lye water right to that.

Other people use a dedicated stainless steel bowl or big #5 plastic cup for mixing the fats and lye together. If you go this route you could heat the lard and coconut oil in whatever you’d like, then pour it into your soap-only mixing container of choice and then add in the lye water.

With the immersion blender OFF, use the head of it to stir the fats and lye water together until they are just combined and no lye water is visible any longer. Then you can turn the immersion blender ON.

This is so you don’t get any lye water splashing or sputtering on you.

Immersion blenders can be tricky if you don’t understand them. You want to keep the head completely submerged while the motor is on, otherwise it can splatter on you. Remember, the soap is still caustic at this point, so if you get any on you, rinse it thoroughly with water right away.

If you’ve never used an immersion blender before, you should practice and test its temperament in a bowl of plain old water before you try making soap with it… so you know what to do and not do.

Stir the almost-soap until it reaches light trace, which can take anywhere from 2-10 mins.

Light trace means that when you drizzle a small bit of the mixture over the surface, it will leave a faint pattern or “trace” before sinking back into the mixture. Think pudding.

The soap is still caustic at this point, so be sure to continue wearing all safety equipment.

6. ADD THE EXTRAS: Once you’ve reached trace is when you stir in the oils and clay.

At trace, hand stir in 2-3 tsp of Rosewood Essential oil, and 2 tsp Rose Clay mixed with 1 Tbs distilled water. Use a spatula, not the immersion blender for this.

The clay tends to want to settle to the bottom of the water. Give it a stir right before pouring it into the soap.

A rubber spatula is the best tool for this job. Stir in the essential oil and clay water until the soap is uniform in color.

You can feel free to leave out the essential oil or clay in this recipe. This soap made with French Green Clay instead of the Rose Clay is also very lovely.

7. POUR INTO MOLDS: I hope you have your molds prepared already!

I have a homemade wooden soap mold that requires lining with parchment paper. I’ve also used these silicon ones with the wood support, and these flower molds as shown above- which don’t require any prep.

If you are using the flower molds or other individual molds, place them on a large sheet pan, cutting board, or in a box. It’s nice to have something rigid to support them, otherwise you won’t be able to move them because they are flimsy.

Carefully pour the soap into your molds, and use a spatula to scrape every last drop from the pan. 

If you’re using a loaf mold, use something like a plastic spoon or knife, or popsicle stick to smooth the top and add a decorative pattern.

Sprinkle on the crushed dried rose petals- use sparingly.

You can sprinkle a light layer all over the top, or a simple line of them down the middle or off to one side. If you are using the flower molds, sprinkle the crushed rose petals on the back of the soaps.

8. CURE THE SOAP: let it rest, and do note that it is still caustic at this point.

Set the soap in an area that is safe from pets and children, and over-eager soap enthusiasts. Keep out of direct sunlight, and allow the soap to stay in the mold for two days. After two days, remove the soap from the mold.

Longer is not better. If using the loaf mold, cut the soap into bars when it is firm enough to not stick to the cutting tool- for me this was right away after I un-molded it after the two days. If it seems very very soft, let sit un-molded for a day and try again.

You want to cut it within a day or two of un-molding, otherwise it will get harder and more difficult to cut.

Cure the bars on a..

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Eventually everything comes back into style, doesn’t it? I’m happy to see lard back in a positive light, and even happier to see old-fashioned skills, like learning how to render lard making a resurgence!

While you can buy rendered lard that’s ready to cook with, making your own is often more affordable, plus it’s a great skill to have. Before we get into the details (I’m using a technique I haven’t seen anyone else use to render lard!) I think it’s important to talk about the merits of lard, because there are plenty.

Besides being good for you, lard makes fantastic food! I am quite surprised at how often I get asked what I do with lard. Cook really awesome food, that’s what! Karl uses it for frying eggs in the morning. It excels at roasting vegetables, deep frying, popping popcorn, and making incredible baked goods. It’s a great fat for high heat cooking- try it for searing steaks and chops in a cast iron pan!

If you’re gasping at the thought of all that saturated fat, let me stop you right there. Lard, when sourced from properly raised and pastured pigs, is extremely nutrient-dense. And saturated fat is not the heart killer it was once thought to be. If you haven’t yet recovered from the saturated fat scare of the 70s and 80s, I would encourage you to dig a little deeper.

And while this post is about how to render lard yourself, not on why you would want to eat lard (because that’s really a whole post, or a whole book all its own), I’ll point you towards some wonderful, credible resources on the merits of saturated fat and the myths surrounding cholesterol, heart disease, and health:

BOOKS
Nourishing Fats: Why We Need Animal Fats for Health and Happiness by Sally Fallon Morell
Eat the Yolks by Liz Wolf

ARTICLES
The Skinny on Fats by The Weston A. Price Foundation
The Diet-Heart Myth: Cholesterol and Saturated Fat are Not the Enemy by Chris Kresser

How to Render Lard the BEST Way – NOT in a Slow Cooker

I think there’s a better way to render lard. I know, because I’ve found it. Typically lard is slow cooked for a long period of time- hours, until all the fat is melted away from the meat, skin, and connective tissue. But the more time the fat spends heating up around the these other meat bits, the lower quality it becomes. In my opinion anyways.

Our lard goals are:
1. to make a beautiful white lard
2. to make lard that has a clean and neutral taste, not “porky”
3. to make lard that is shelf stable

Let me explain. The whitest, purest tasting lard will come from removing the liquid lard from the pan as soon as it melts. However, removing the lard quickly and not giving it a chance to heat for a while means there could be residual moisture from the meat bits… which doesn’t bode well for the shelf life. See the predicament?

The solution is this: remove the liquid lard from the pan as soon as it melts in order to get it away from the meat part. Put the liquid lard into a second pan and heat it for a while to remove the moisture. Since there is no meat, we can safely heat the lard to evaporate the water, without risking discoloration or a meaty flavor.

See how a slow cooker doesn’t fit in well here? Plus, most slow cookers only have a couple settings and cook way too hot for rendering lard. I may be a bit of a lard snob, but I think a slow cooker is the worst tool for the job in this case. It may be the easiest, that’s true. But if I wanted easy, I wouldn’t be a homesteader. :)

How to Render Lard 

Ingredients & Equipment:
Any quantity of pastured pork fat, ground
2 pots, each large enough to hold your quantity of pork fat/lard
2 large metal mixing bowls
2 fine mesh sieves (you can get away with only one)
Paper towels, cheesecloth, or clean cotton tea towels
Storage containers, I use and love these plastic freezer containers

You will need ground pork fat- you can grind it yourself with something simple like a hand crank meat grinder, or kitchen-aid mixer grinder attachment. If you get your fat from a butcher, ask them to grind it for you.

This method might work with pork fat cut by hand into small pieces, but I haven’t tried it. Having the pork fat ground is really the first step in making great lard.

Remember to keep a watchful eye; rendering lard is easy to do, but it does require your attention.

SHORT INSTRUCTIONS:
1. heat ground pork fat over very low heat until most of the fat is melted
2. strain everything through a mesh sieve into a bowl
3. strain the melted fat that collects through a second sieve lined with a paper towel
4. heat the pure fat to evaporate any moisture

LONG INSTRUCTIONS:
Place the ground pork fat into Pot #1, but don’t fill the pan more than about 4-inches full (you may have to work in batches). Heat on the lowest possible setting, and stir frequently to help facilitate the melting.

Set up the first filtering station, which is your largest sieve, Sieve #1, over a large mixing bowl.

Once most of the fat has melted off of the pieces of meat and skin, but hopefully before those bits start to turn from pinkish to brown- indicating they are cooked, ladle the melted fat and pork mixture into the sieve, straining out the meat and skin and allowing the fat to collect in the mixing bowl. You want to do this all at once… and while you don’t have to work that quickly, don’t dawdle because the lard will start to solidify as it cools.

While you let the fat continue to strain for a minute, prepare the second sieve, Sieve #2. Set the clean sieve over Pot #2, and line the sieve with a single layer of paper towel (you might have to slightly overlap a couple paper towels, depending on the size of your sieve and the size of your paper towels, which is just fine).

Set the meat and skin in the sieve aside, and pour the liquid fat in the bowl through Sieve #2, through the paper towel and let it collect in the pot below. It strains slowly, so I had to keep adding a little bit of fat at a time as there was more room in the sieve. The paper towels will collect fine sediment, and eventually clog up so that the fat stops dripping through- when this happens you’ll have to swap out for a new paper towel.

If you have more pork fat that needs melting, go ahead and start the second batch now.

When all the pure fat is strained into Pan #2, turn the heat on medium, and heat over medium to medium-low heat for 5 minutes for every pound of pork fat you started with. I had about 7 pounds of pork fat, so I heated my lard for about 35 minutes. This will evaporate any moisture and help the lard to be more shelf-stable.

Pour the lard into whatever containers you plan to store it in. I use these freezer containers because I store my lard in the freezer for long term keeping.

What to do with the leftover pork bits? You can make cracklins, though I’m not an expert in that. What do I do with them? I put them all back in Pan #1 and heat until just cooked through, then I give them to the chickens. They go nuts for them!

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This post may contain affiliate links, which means that if you click through them and end up purchasing an item (any item, not necessarily the one I recommended even!)  I may receive monetary or other compensation. The price you pay is unaffected by using this link, and buying stuff you were going to get anyways through an affiliate link is a great way to support your favorite blogger and fellow homesteader! Thanks!

The post How to Render Lard the BEST Way – And Why I WON’T Use a Slow Cooker appeared first on Whole-Fed Homestead.

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Wassailing- you did what?! This is something I think is so cool. And something that also makes me feel like a huge dork, if I’m being perfectly honest. At least the Maple Bourbon Wassail recipe turned out AWESOME!

There are two parts to this: the act of Wassailing, and the drink Wassail.

Wassailing is a medieval Christmastide ritual that used to be (and actually still is!) practiced in England in order to bless the apple trees so that they will bear plenty of fruit for cider. Basically a big drunken party in the orchard with singing, dancing, and a few odd rituals… it runs deep with history and it’s wonderfully weird. Perfect!

The drink Wassail is what you’ll have while you’re Wassailing- there are a lot of Wassail recipes, but typically it’s a hot mulled cider or ale, sweetened and spiced, sometimes made boozy, sometimes thickened with eggs, and sometimes topped with toast. From what I can tell, the drink should always have roasted apples- which will be bursting with pulp spilling out, resembling wool, giving wassail its alternative name “Lamb’s Wool.”

The hot Wassail is poured into a large vessel, topped with toast, and passed around so that everyone can take a drink. They would raise the glass above their heads and shout “Wassail,” which comes from “waes-hael,” meaning “to your health.” It is because of this type of celebration, we “raise a toast” when having drinks. Pretty neat, huh?

Yes, Karl and I made our very own wassail.

Wait, it gets better…

And then we made some toast.

And then we trudged out to the apple orchard, sang a little song, gave cheers, hung the toast in the tree, and poured the wassail on the ground. Yeah, we did that.

We thought about inviting our neighbors. We didn’t, and instead we hoped the neighbors didn’t see or hear us.

One of my favorite things about gardening, especially growing heirloom varieties… which extends into our orchard and the antique apple varieties we’ve planted, is how it makes me feel connected to the past. And I treasure that- the many generations of people who grew these things before me, who are the only reason I’m able to grow these same plants and trees today; like a gift, from someone I’ve never met, but I imagine was a lot like me. And I intend to do the same, to grow as many of these amazing things as possible, and carry on the traditions around them.

Karl and I Wassailed our orchard with enthusiasm and heart- which is the only way to Wassail. It was all in good fun. And we’ll have a bounty of apples this coming fall because of it, I’m sure!

Wassailing: How to Wassail an Apple Orchard

Find Something to Wassail
You don’t have to have an orchard- though Wassailing an apple orchard is traditional, you can Wassail anything that could use a blessing, like other crops or even livestock… though they may give you a funny look.

Pick a Date
Traditionally, Wassailing was done on twelfth night, or the twelfth day of Christmas… which, depending on which region and which calendar you follow, can occur on either January 5th, 6th, or 17th.

We picked “Old Twelvie,” the 17th of January, following the Julian calendar and honoring the position of the earth and sun relative to each other when this type of merrymaking first historically occurred. It also happened to be like -15 degrees here on January 5th and 6th, so there was that.

Really though, there’s probably never a “wrong time” to go Wassailing.

Select a King and Queen
These are important shoes to fill! The Wassailing ceremony is led by the king and queen, who take their followers dancing around the trees. The queen is lifted up into the oldest tree or sometimes the largest tree, the one supposed to have the greatest root structure and influence over the rest of the orchard- where she can spear onto the branches pieces of toast that have been soaked in Wassail, as an offering to the tree spirits of the orchard.

The King and Queen can be chosen in different ways, but my favorite is “election by cake.” Because why wouldn’t you elect someone by cake if that was an option?

A cake is baked, often called a King Cake or Twelfth Night Cake, and it’s filled with rum-soaked fruit and lots of spices (not unlike a fruit cake I imagine). A dried bean and dried pea are placed into the cake batter. The man who finds the bean will be the King; the woman who finds the pea will be the Queen. If a woman finds the bean, she gets to choose the King, and vice versa.

It was just the two of us, Karl and I. But I’m sure I would have been the one to find the pea anyways… naturally.

Make the Wassail
There are a LOT of Wassail recipes out there- with a lot of different variations. I imagine that because of the time period that this tradition dates back to, it was a “use what you have” kinda concoction- which happens to be my favorite type!

While the earliest Wassail probably never contained bourbon, ours does- because it’s what we keep on hand and it’s what we like to drink… so while maybe it’s not totally traditional, it’s still in the spirit of the festivities. Plus, apple + maple + bourbon are pretty good friends!

For our Wassail I chose a base of apple cider we made the previous year- if you have it, using something homemade from the orchard you’re wassailing is encouraged. If you want to really party, you should use hard cider.

Add a little sweetener and some warm winter spices- whatever you like… cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, allspice, orange. Heat everything together gently, and add your hard liquor, your eggs, and your toast. Kidding- you don’t really have to include eggs and toast. I didn’t, which maybe makes me a medieval party pooper, but I wanted to make something we’d actually enjoy drinking.

You’ll find my Maple Bourbon Wassail Recipe at the bottom of this post.

Wake the Tree
Use sticks to tap on the tree branches -gently- to wake up the apple tree. It’s been a long winter, just let it know you’re there. Wake it up in the way you’d want to be woken up right before a bunch of apple-enthusiasts who’ve been drinking start to serenade you.

Choose Your Wassailing Song
The Gloucestershire Wassail is our favorite version- give it a listen. It’s catchy!
You may even find yourself humming it around the house…

Loreena Mackennitt - Gloucestershire Wassail - YouTube

This is the song we both loved- Karl sang and I played the sleigh bells! We made it our by changing the names and making up a few verses of our own.

Formalities
When everyone has raised a toast to the tree and taken a drink of Wassail, the tree gets one too- just pour a little bit onto the ground where the roots are. The queen should then place the Wassail-soaked toast into the tree, pierced onto a branch.

Put on a Show
Not only is there singing, dancing, and general merrymaking, Wassailing celebrations often included short plays and skits, performed around the apple trees. It can be whatever your imagination can come up with… but there is usually a bad guy and some good guys, and of course the good guys always win, often with much cheering from the crowd.

Torches and lanterns are optional.


Get Rid of Those Evil Sprits
This is the last piece to round out your orchard Wassailing! And it’s where you can really let your personality shine- from banging on pots and pans to firing off shotguns… as folks dance around the trees, others make the loudest noise they can to scare evil spirits out of the orchard.

We didn’t figure we had too many evil spirits, so we left the shot gun in the house and opted for banging some large sticks together.

And Now, We Feast!
You aren’t required to have a feast at your Wassailing celebration, but in my opinion most good parties do.

After we were done Wassailing the orchard, we retreated back to the house, bellies warm with cider, for a homegrown dinner of venison stew and honey cakes. A majority of the ingredients in our feast were produced right here, from the meat and most of the veggies in the stew, to the honey, eggs, and raspberries used in the cake were produced right here on the homestead- our little piece of this world that we care for, and in turn cares for us.

Waes Hael!

Maple Bourbon Wassail Recipe

Serves 4, recipes easily doubles or triples!
For the Roasted Apples:
4 small apples
1/4 cup maple syrup
4 tsp salted butter

For the Wassail:
1 medium to large organic orange
4 cups unsweetened apple cider
1/3 cup real maple syrup
2 tsp salted butter
1/2 tsp apple pie spices (yes, this one is worth the price)
Bourbon, for serving (optional)

To make the roasted apples: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Scoop out the core from the top of the apple, leaving a well. Do not cut all the way through the apple. Fill each apple hole with 1 teaspoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of maple syrup. Place the apples into a pie pan and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the apples have softened. Save any drippings from this pan to add into your Wassail.

Use a paring knife or sharp peeler to cut a few strips of zest (take care not to get the white pith underneath the skin) from the orange first. Next, squeeze the juice from the orange and put it into a pot along with the zest strips, apple cider, maple syrup, butter, and spices. Whisk to incorporate the spices and mix everything together.

Heat over low, allowing the ingredients to steep in the cider without boiling it, for about 10-15 minutes, or until just starting to simmer. Try not to let the mixture come to a boil.

Serve the Wassail from a bowl, with the roasted apples “lamb’s wool” floating in it.

In a mug (or a white maple bowl if you’ve got one!) put 1-2 ounces of bourbon, and pour over about 1 cup of the warm Wassail.

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The post Maple Bourbon Wassail Recipe + How to Wassail an Orchard appeared first on Whole-Fed Homestead.

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Our Best Harvest Season Yet!
It finally feels a little bit like we’ve arrived. For four years we’ve worked hard shaping our homestead into what we imagined- building orchards and gardens, planting trees, installing mushroom logs… it has been a lot of work with little reward so far, until this year. Things are finally starting to produce for us and it feels wonderful! This year was definitely a turning point.

We put in a second garden this year, which means we’ve been doing a lot of harvesting the past few months. Because of the increase in space I was able to plant more dried beans than ever before- these are beans that grow just like green beans, but instead of picking them you let them hang and dry on the plant, then harvest the dried beans inside. We’ll cook them up for soups and stews and Mexican-inspired dishes.

It was a pretty rough year for tomatoes again due to the wet weather and blight running rampant here- but we did get plenty for fresh eating, just not enough to can. Seems like tomatillos are the thing to plant here, as they don’t get blight and they are incredibly productive. I was able to make a ton of tomatillo salsa and enchilada sauce from only about 4 plants!

Squash and carrots did very well this year too- in fact, we grew some of the biggest carrots I’ve ever seen! We harvested a hundred or so pounds of potatoes, and a good bushel of purple sweet potatoes. Corn was a new vegetable we planted this year (yes, I’ve never really grown corn before!) and it did not disappoint! We planted a few different colorful varieties for grinding into flour and for popcorn- they are still drying, but I hope to try popping some soon.

Related posts:
Homemade French Onion & Herb Dip

Plum & Crabapple Fruit Leather

What’s This Wiggly Thing in My Raspberry Jam?
This was the year we finally got around to planting raspberries- and we went big! We planted 100-row feet of raspberries, with about 10 different varieties, some we ordered, but many came from a friend.

I knew that there was a raspberry pest in the area, the dreaded Spotted Wing Drosophila… but I was hoping that we didn’t have it on our homestead. It’s a terrible pest, accidentally introduced into the United States from Asia a handful of years ago, and it has spread wildly across the country. It’s a fruit fly, but instead of seeking out already rotting and fermented fruit, it is able to pierce and lay eggs in unripe fruit, and it loves raspberries. The eggs develop and hatch into maggots, just as the fruit becomes ripe and perfect for picking. It can decimate an organic raspberry harvest like nothing.

And yep, we have it. I spent a lot of time battling it this fall- in order to stay on top of it I had to pick the raspberries clean every single day, then sort them all by hand, feeding the wormy ones to the chickens and immediately freezing the good ones to prevent the fruit fly eggs that were inevitably in there to keep from hatching. It really took all the fun out growing raspberries. Missing one day of picking meant losing over 50% of the harvest the next day, plus allowing more flies to hatch and the problem to become worse. And I know I ate a fair amount of wormy berries, which totally grosses me out.

There’s really not a lot you can do to get rid of them if you want to grow organically. I’ll be spending some time this winter brain-storming, looking into permaculture solutions, and hopefully coming up with a plan for next raspberry season!

Related Posts:
Raspberry Maple Butter Sauce
Simple Baked Fruit

Liquid Gold
It was an up and down year for our bees- we got two new hives this spring, and one took off and did wonderfully all summer, growing their numbers and making a good amount of honey, and the other really floundered. Truthfully, we didn’t do a great job as beekeepers this year. We should have inspected and managed the hives a little more than we did… we’ve always been more hands-off than micromanaging-type beekeepers, but this year we were a little too hands-off. The strong hive ended up swarming at the end of summer, which set back honey production for us.

The good news is that the strong hive is looking good going into winter, and we were able to harvest around 40 pounds of the best honey we’ve ever had! Our honey has always been spectacular, but this year’s was unbelievably good!

Related Posts:
Old-Fashioned Honey Taffy
Spiced Canned Apple Slices Sweetened with Honey

Garlic Crazy
Karl had to reign me in a little on the garlic planting this year. We planted 20-something varieties last year, and got over 200 bulbs… of which I was hoping to try them all and narrow it down to my absolute favorites this year. But I think I need another year or two of using them before I can do that, so we planted about the same again this year (I wanted to plant more!).

We planted them in the newer garden where the soil isn’t as stellar as our original garden, so we amended it with tons of composted chicken manure and some fresh- which is perfect for garlic because it has a high nitrogen requirement.

We’ll keep eating lots of garlic, and I’ll keep taking notes on how good each variety is. Which is another problem… they’re all good!

Related posts:
Double Garlic Cast Iron Meatballs
Smashed Sweet Potatoes with Garlic Butter

Homestead Improvements
October was special because Karl earned a sabbatical from his work and had the entire month off. It was an incredible opportunity for us to get a lot of things done… those little things that just never quite made it to the top of list but really did need to get done, you know the ones.

The biggest projects were finishing the insulated shop attached to our garage, installing a hardy kiwi trellis, and giving the land a makeover by clearing a lot of brush and re-grading the ground around the chicken coop. It’s pretty amazing how fast a month goes by. We were able to go into winter feeling good about the status of all our projects, clearing a lot of little tasks off our plates, and looking forward to the spring.

We are officially tucked in and hunkered down for the cold Wisconsin winter ahead. Winter is the time when we do all our planning, studying, and research… so as soon as the holidays are over, we’ll be back at it, dreaming about the season to come!

♥♥♥

Hope you have a productive season as well! Thanks for being here with us and following along on our homestead journey!

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The post Homestead Quarterly – Fall 2017: Harvest All the Things! appeared first on Whole-Fed Homestead.

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