With the exception of wishing I had room for a larger table, I’m content for the time being with what I have. While we have eventual plans for adding on to our house which will allow for a kitchen expansion, I know that that will not be happening in the near future.
So I’m excited to share with you today some before & after photos and details on how this project came together.
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Now, I’m no interior decorator by any stretch of the imagination. But I did know that the best way to make a small space feel bigger is to go with a lot of white. So I knew that I would be painting the walls and ceiling as white of a white as I could find. I also intended to paint all of the cabinets white. (And can I just say that in doing so, I discovered how terribly yellow my kitchen- which I’d always thought was a slight shade of off white- actually was?).
But because I do love color, and especially love red in my kitchen, I did not want to go with a totally washed out white look. So I chose red and what I like to call “vintage canning jar” aka the turquoise-ish color of old canning jars- as my accent colors. With just a touch of brown/wood to ground everything.
The first big thing to happen in this makeover, after moving everything out of my kitchen, was to take down the cabinet that hung on this wall. My original plan was to put in 3 floating shelves (I ended up only putting in 2, however, it just ended up looking better that way) using some old reclaimed lumber. These shelves were painted with several coats of paint, randomly, in shades of aqua and mint, white chalk paint and milk paint. They were then distressed both by hand sanding and by wet distressing to pull off some of the layers all the way down to the wood, and other layers down to the color below to give it an aged look while also pulling in that vintage canning jar color.
The tricky thing about open shelving is styling them in a way that is balanced lest you risk looking cluttered. And in a small space, you can go zero to cluttered in no time. And since I’m a bit of a collector of all things old, I have been known to get out of control with my collections and just want to put alll the things on my shelves.
So in sticking with my color scheme (which also helps keep things look clean and balanced and uncluttered), I arranged on the lower shelf the items that I use most- dry baking goods, for example- while putting up high those things I don’t use as much (such as the scale and the nut meat chopper). I then added in pieces that are just for looks- the antique bottles, pieces from my enamel collection, some of my vintage red handled utensils, and some favorite chicken figurines.
The walls and ceiling were skip trowel textured- mainly because I have zero patience for patching/sanding imperfections on the wall and making them disappear under paint. This way, I was able to patch the wall and then texture over it, giving them an old look while hiding all the imperfections. Win/win.
The cabinets were an interesting adventure. And by interesting I mean annoying. My plan had been to get them cleaned up, sanded, and painted first with chalk paint and then with milk paint so they would hopefully chip of randomly to make them look old without actually having to go out and replace my cabinets with something else. The idea was to get what was in my head into my kitchen for as little money as possible.
But of course, things don’t always go as planned, especially when you’re me and you are not a painter or even someone who enjoys painting in the first place.
So I get them all removed, cleaned, and sanded. You’re not supposed to have to prime with chalk paint which I was going to be using as my base, so away to painting I went. After my first coat of chalk paint, I noticed some yellowing that was coming through. I assumed this was the dreaded bleedthrough I’d read about, but I figured- hey, it’s pretty pale, let’s just paint another coat and it’ll be fine.
Well, it wasn’t fine. It was actually worse.
It looked like I’d taken a pale buttery yellow and had distressed the doors with it. Which I guess wouldn’t be so bad. But I didn’t want yellow and it just made them look dirty. So then I do some research and see that you can use a few coats of Shellac to seal the doors thus preventing any further bleedthrough. The problem with that, or so I was told, was that I then wouldn’t get my milk paint to chip, or it wouldn’t turn out the way I’d wanted it to.
Ugh. Total defeat. And here’s the deal: only half of my doors had bleedthrough. The other half didn’t. So I thought, “Okay. Let’s Shellac the doors that have the bleedthrough and I can still distress them, just not get the chippy effect I’d wanted. But since the other half didn’t need to be Shellac’d, I’d at least get those to chip and I’d have a mixture of distressed and chippy cabinets. Okay, I can live with that.
Next problem arose when I discover nobody in town carries Shellac, only a Shellac base primer. Whatever. It was white, it would work, at this point I wanted to throw in the towel but I just went for it come-what-may.
So I spray the problem doors with the Shellac base primer, and while they were drying I went ahead with a couple coats of the milk paint on my non-bleedthrough doors.
Once the primed doors were mostly dry, I went at them with the milk paint as well. And as they dry, I start seeing this amazing alligator crackling happen, and when I went after them with the sander, they start doing this awesome chippy thing that I was wanting in the first place.
In the words of my nephew, I was all like, “What. The. Butt.” Like, what-the-actual-butt. Capital letters. And throw in some exclamation points too.
So what do I do, I run out and spray the other doors with the primer, and follow up with a coat of the last of my milk paint which runs $16/pint and I refused to buy more. And what happens to them?
Absolutely Nothing. No alligator crackle. No chippy. No nothing.
Omg. What else could I do besides some wet distressing and sanding and make it all look very on purpose.
Which is what I did. And I actually really love it. I added a few coats of sealing wax and some hardware and let it be. I’d actually intended to use some antiquing wax but for now decided I like them as is.
It’s possible I was most excited- above all else- to get this dinosaur of a microwave out of my face- and my space- forever. For the last 6 years, this big black eyesore has been plaguing my kitchen’s existence. And mine. My husband, being the logical being that he is, didn’t understand why I would get rid of a perfectly functioning appliance. I really don’t think he knew I was totally serious about it either until I made him take it down at 6 AM before he went to work that day.
It left behind gaping holes from the hardware, but also left behind a 30-inch wide space that could finally breathe at last.
And so could I.
It was decided that the unused floating shelf from the original trio could be cut down and added in here to hold my bacon grease, chunky salt, garlic, and other items that I like to have close at hand when I’m cooking.
As far as the microwave goes, it’s now gone and in its place is a tiny compact microwave that sits in our laundry room for when I need to quick melt or soften some butter. Or reheat coffee. Because what else does the dumb thing get used for anyway?
Let’s talk lighting. Above the sink had been a 4-foot fluorescent box light. The other two kitchen lights were 1980’s fixtures that held all sorts of dead flies, no matter how much you tried to keep them emptied out.
But I was trying to do this project on the cheap, right? So as I started researching lighting options, I was reminded of the fact that I’m a thrifty soul, and I am a collector of many things, and I’m known to pick things up that are old and cool and that just might come in handy someday. Including old barn lighting that I’ve been using as decor in my garden.
The only problem was the fact that my garden is sitting under nearly 100 inches of snow and my memory was not exactly 100 percent certain of where these fixtures may be.
Thankfully, I had 2 of them in my porch. But the bigger one that I wanted for over the sink- I knew I had 2 of them out by my garden and I was pretty sure of the general area where one of them rested last fall. So I trudged out through snow up to my chest and, after a bit of digging, successfully located the fixture.
With some basic hardware we were able to replace all 3 of these lights.
Now let’s talk curtains. These old window frames were also in my garden:
And had to be dug out, which I did of course. The little bit of paint left on them was lead paint, which I removed entirely and then repainted and distressed. They were then mounted to my actual kitchen window frame with hinges so they can open if need be.
Then, after not finding any curtains that I liked, went ahead and ordered up some fabric and set to making curtains despite the fact that I haven’t used a sewing machine since Home Ec class 20 years ago. And the fact that I did not realize that an extra half yard of fabric gave me more length top to bottom- and not width from left to right- as my brain tricked me into thinking. Doh.
But they turned out just fine thanks to YouTube. Except for the fact that not 5 minutes after I put up the sink skirt did I splash sweet and sour pork juice all over them. No joke. What the butt, right? So I had to wash my dry-clean-only curtains, but they ironed out okay and peace was restored once again.
And that’s pretty much the end of the story. Oh, that pretty accent wall? That’s Sweetie Jane from Sweet Pickins milk paint. I don’t recommend painting a large..
I’ll give you an example: based on what we grow and put in the freezer or have canned from the previous year, we consume a lot of green beans, tomato products, garlic, onions, carrots, potatoes, peas, wild berries, and broccoli.
Seasonally, we enjoy apples, lettuces/greens, garlic scapes, corn, etc.
If you HAD to pick just 3 things to grow, what would they be? (1 point for each)
If you HAD to eliminate 3, what would they be? (minus 1 point)
Which of those can be harvested in more than one season? (1 point)
(ex./lettuce can be grown in spring, fall, and early winter, given the right protection. Most varieties turn bitter once it gets real hot out, but shade cloth can extend the life of your lettuce).
We enjoy lettuce, spinach, and other greens from spring through fall and they take up very little space.
What preserves well? (1 point)
What doesn’t preserve well (or at all)? (minus 1 point)
What can’t you grow in your zone? (remove completely from your list)
If you have gardened in the past, what has given you the most trouble? (minus 1 point)
(ex./corn is really hit-or-miss here, depending on the summer. If it’s good and hot, it does great. If it’s a mild summer, I end up wasting a ton of garden space trying to grow it). So I actually opted out of growing corn at all this past season and while I missed it (and we just so happened to have a really hot summer which would have been great for corn), it gave me the space to grow more of those priority crops.
While sweet corn is hard to beat, it’s always a gamble growing it here. If the summer isn’t hot or long enough, I risk wasting a large amount of space on growing something that I may never harvest from (and yes, this has happened).
What has grown really well for you? (1 point)
Bush peas have always been a prolific producer for me. This one bed gives me a year’s worth of peas in the freezer.
Now pick your highest-scoring Top 5.
For me, these are: potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, garlic/onions, berries. So I know that I need to devote a larger portion of my growing space to these crops.
This isn’t to say you can’t have the others. But when it comes down to prioritizing the use of your space, you should be giving preference to these things: they grow in your zone, your family is consuming these things on a regular basis, they preserve well, they’ve performed well for you in the past, and some of them might even give you multiple harvests.
Now take these Top 5 (if you can’t adhere to 5, don’t stress. Pick your top 8 or 10 or 3. Whatever, don’t over-complicate it) and jot down how many times per week you and your family are eating these things (or how many times per week you would like to).
Ex./We eat potatoes at least 3 times per week, green beans 2x per week, tomato products 2x per week, etc.).
Ex./We know (after a few seasons of experimentation) that we need 125 pounds of potatoes per person in our family of 5. That means we need to produce 600 pounds of potatoes, by way of planting 30 pounds of seed potatoes.
Next determine how much growing space is needed for each of those crops. Sketch out your garden space with measurements. Fill in these crops into your growing space according to plants that get along with one another, while also keeping in mind those that don’t (ex./I try to keep my potatoes and tomatoes far apart).
Once you have given priority to these highest-scoring crops, you can now start delegating your space next to those crops that didn’t score as well, and to new varieties too.
I never recommend devoting a large space (unless space isn’t an issue) to an untried variety or experimental crop. Because failure of this crop could be detrimental to your season. Instead, grow a small trial crop and see how it does. If it turns out to grow well and it’s something your family eats/wants to eat regularly, be sure to add it in to next year’s priority list.
How many new things to try? That completely depends on your space. But because it can be easy to get over-excited about the new stuff, you might end up neglecting the crops that you actually know grows well for you and that you need.
So start with maybe 3 fun & new things. This is a manageable number. Keep a good record of planting date, how it grew (or didn’t) throughout the season, weigh out your yield, document the actual flavor of the end product. How does it compare to what you’re already growing? A perfect example for me was when I gave a lot of priority to growing a purple shelled pea. While they were gorgeous to look at (and easy to find on the vine!), their flavor was lackluster compared to my tried-and-true favorites. In the end, flavor is king. If pretty just plain old doesn’t taste good, then it doesn’t deserve a piece of prime real estate in your garden.
So, to wrap this all up in a nutshell for you:
Prioritize the plants that meet the following qualifications: (1) it grows in your zone, (2) your family eats it on a regular basis, (3) it can be preserved in a way that you actually like to eat it, (4) it has performed well in your garden in the past, and (5) you can harvest in more than one season.
After you’ve given priority to those crops, you can next add in other crops if you have the space to do so.
Finally, try out 3 new varieties per year. Don’t go crazy.
Did you grab your worksheets yet? They are super easy: just fill in, apply the point system, narrow down, and commit to your top selections. Click the image below to claim yours before you go
I hope you feel confident going into the next growing season.
There’s something about a hoard of potatoes that makes me feel safe.
Let me explain.
As someone who raises and grows food with the intent of feeding the family year-round, I find myself focusing on those foods that can be grown in large quantities and that store well- long past their harvest date.
Root crops are the first to come to mind: carrots, beets, rutabagas, and of course: potatoes.
All of these (and more of course) have long been valued for their ability to be stored for many months. And after months of eating fresh from the garden, there’s something very special about being able to pull out a basket of potatoes in January and still be able to indulge in that blissful feeling of bringing garden produce to the table in its original form- despite there being several feet of snow covering the ground outside.
With every garden season that comes and goes, I’ve learned to place a lot of focus on growing a lot of what gets us through the dormant season. While I love a fresh salad, and I grow it as early and as late as possible, I cannot store lettuce. Therefore I grow only what we can eat while it is in season, and instead offer up as much growing space to crops like potatoes.
Now, I’m sure you’ve seen allll the methods out there for growing potatoes. Everything from growing them in towers to bags to stacked-up tires, to raised beds and in-ground. So many thoughtful, creative ways. And I have quite literally tried them all.
Yes, all of them.
I was romanced by the Pinterest images of elaborate wood structures where you carefully remove one board from the bottom to harvest the largest potatoes.
Super easy bags of dirt and easily harvested tubers.
Towers made of fencing with layers of straw and compost.
I have done it all.
But there’s one thing I’ve learned: if you want to grow lots of potatoes- and lots of large potatoes- they need a few key things in order to do so.
That is what we’re going to discuss today
Room to Grow
First, let’s talk about size. If you want to grow big potatoes, you absolutely have got to give them the room they need to get big. This means planting your seed potatoes 12″-14″ inches apart. No exceptions.
This is why bags, towers, and the like often fail or only produce either small numbers of potatoes or just small potatoes in general. They cannot offer the planting distance necessary for growing lots of big potatoes.
The closer together you plant your seed potatoes, the smaller the potato you will get.
But give them the room they need, and you will be rewarded with big potatoes. My plants all regularly offer up 1 1/2- 2 pounders, and multiples of them. Every single plant. So just give them some room, don’t skimp. I personally space all of my plants 12″ apart.
A note on seed potatoes: if you have large seed potatoes, you can cut them down and get several plants from it. Aim for pieces that are the size of a chicken egg, with at least 1- preferably 2- eyes. Allow the cut side to dry in the sun for about an hour before planting, to form a scab over the cut surface which will help prevent rot or other issues underground.
Plant them Deep
Another important factor in growing lots of big potatoes is that they need to be planted deep.
I dig a trench that is 12″ deep and place my seed potato at the bottom. They are then back-covered with 4-6″ of loose, well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. This gives them lots of wiggle room and a greater area for shoots to form in. As the plants emerge, continue to back-fill in the trench, burying the plant by at least half (or even up to its top leaves).
Throughout the growing season (until flowering) I will actually haul in compost and composted manure to further mound up and bury the plants. The more surface area of dirt they have to thrive in, the better they will produce for you.
This applies to both the type of soil you are growing your potatoes in, as well as the location and planting vessel (whether in-ground or raised bed) you are planting them in.
The problem that can arise with growing in the ground when it comes to potatoes- or really any crop- is when you have a particularly wet season. If you find yourself with a rainy stretch and your soil does not have good drainage, your potatoes will rot right in the ground.
However, if you have soil with a high content of organic matter, and you have made it a point to never walk where you plant (therefore avoiding compacted soil that does not drain so well), planting potatoes in the ground can work just fine for you.
But if you know that you have soil that does not drain well (compacted, clay, etc.) and especially if you live where rainy seasons are common, I would advise planting above ground in either a raised bed or in a hugelkultur bed (both should have well-draining soil of course) to avoid rot.
Along with room to grow, planting deep, and good drainage, your potato plants need some pretty vital nutrients if you want to grow a big crop.
The one thing I’m always sure to add at planting time is bone meal. Bone meal offers up phosphorous and calcium to potato plants. Phosphorous is instrumental in both potato yield & quality, so don’t skip out on this part.
The great thing about bone meal is it is a slow-release type of fertilizer, which means it’s hard to over-do it. I sprinkle about 1/4 cup right where I will be placing my seed potato. So drop the bone meal and place your seed directly on top of it. This is the only time I use bone meal through the growing season.
But because potatoes also require quite a bit of nitrogen, I side-dress and bury my growing plants with composted manure as I mentioned earlier. These two very simple things are all I need nutritionally to grow really productive plants.
If you’ve been doing these things but have had trouble in the past, I would highly recommend a soil test. Even if it’s just a cheap DIY pH test kit you can buy at the hardware store or garden center. Potatoes prefer a more acidic soil ranging from 4.8-6.5. If you find that your soil is more on the alkaline side, work in some sphagnum peat moss.
Nature always keeps the ground covered in some way. Even sidewalks can’t escape the dandelions, nor can driveways rid themselves of purslane and crab grass.
Your garden’s soil should be protected from the sun, the rain, and the wind. Because if you don’t, nature will do it for you- in the form of weeds, just as it does everywhere else- yes, even the sidewalk.
My favorite mulch to use to cover up everything is the straw bedding from my ducks and sheep (which come with a bonus side of nitorgen thanks to their manure). I pile it up in the spring after cleaning out their sheds, and use it throughout the season after planting or any time a little more protection is needed.
Not only does mulch protect against the elements, but it helps keep your plants cooler when the sun is blazing, protected when the temps drop, and helps maintain moisture and keeps it from evaporating- thus requiring less frequent watering and much happier plants.
Potatoes require a decent drink of water to keep them happy, so keep them covered up and make sure they don’t get dried out.
Hill/Mound Up Until the Plants Start to Flower
You can continue to add compost and/or manure, or hill up around your plants until you start to see flower buds forming (for me, this usually means about 3 times of adding and/or hilling). These flowers are a sign that potatoes are being formed and you do not want to disrupt the roots with your raking. So back off and enjoy.
At this point, I focus on watering and waiting. About two months after planting, I will usually dig my hand down and find the first potato, just to see how they are coming along.
And throughout the growing season, this is how I will harvest (and why I love deep, loose, rich soil in my hugelkultur beds): I will dig around the bottom perimeter of the plant’s roots to find the biggest tubers and harvest just those. I don’t pull the entire plant until they are done for the season. That way, the plant can continue to produce, and the smaller potatoes can continue to grow.
So if you are looking to grow potatoes for storage, you need to know when is the best time to harvest them.
If you pull potatoes while the plant is still green and growing, you will notice that their skins are very thin- they often come right off when you are scrubbing them clean in water. These are known as “new potatoes” and are extremely delicious- but their skins are not adequate for protecting them for long term storage.
Instead, wait for your plants to die off. I usually wait 2-3 weeks after the plants have started dying back before I harvest them
When you’ve decided you want to harvest all of your plants for storage, choose a day that is dry. Better yet- after you’ve had a stretch of dry days.
If you’re growing potatoes in nice loose soil, you can pull the plant by hand and shake the potatoes off of it. I definitely prefer pulling by hand as opposed to using a fork or shovel because you don’t want to pierce the tubers. However, if your soil isn’t loose enough to pull the plants by hand, then just be very careful/gentle when using a tool to pry the plant up. Try to get underneath it as best you can and check over the potatoes, setting aside any that got damaged for immediate use rather than storage.
Chieftain Red Potatoes
At this point, potatoes need to undergo a curing process before storing. Move them to a space that is dry, dark, with good airflow and humidity (I use my enclosed porch for this). Lay them out on newspapers or sheets of cardboard, or on drying racks in a single layer and let them sit there for two weeks.
After the curing process is complete, I will brush off any excess dirt (do not wash them!) with my hands and then I start to transfer them to their storage boxes. These are in the form of produce boxes that I pick up at our local co-op, as well as milk crates and bushel baskets- any vessel that can breathe and hold weight.
I will put a sheet of newspaper in the bottom, layer them in a single layer, then top with another sheet of newspaper and another layer of potatoes. I usually stick to only 2-3 layers deep in each container. This is because I try to regularly (once a month) check on my potatoes in storage through the winter to pull out any that have gone bad.
I also arrange my potatoes by size and mark each box accordingly. That way, if I’m looking specifically for small potatoes, I can readily see where to find them. Likewise with medium or large potatoes.
They are then stored in my basement crawlspace for their long-term storage. Ideally, you want a space that is dark, dry, well ventilated, and humid- and around 40-45 degrees. Obviously you don’t want them to freeze, so an unheated garage might not be a good idea- unless it doesn’t get that cold where you live (in which case, an unheated garage might be perfect).
My crawlspace isn’t quite that cold, it is more in the low 50s. But even at that temperature, I am able to keep potatoes all the way until spring, and usually only have to wait a month or two until the garden starts giving up potatoes come the first of July. In the meantime, we survive on our canned potatoes, which is another great way to store them.
So I know you’re just dying to ask, even after allll the details on how to grow your best potato crop yet:
“But Erin, how did you know how much to plant in order to grow 600 pounds of potatoes? And what in the world do you need 600 pounds of potatoes for?”
Great question. Or, questions.
First of all, to estimate the number of seed potatoes needed in order to grow your target goal, think of it in these terms: for every 1 pound of seed potatoes planted, the average yield is 10 pounds of potatoes harvested.
For me, using the above described methods, I know that my typical yield is (conservatively) 20 pounds of potatoes for every 1 pound of seed. Sometimes more. But I like to lean toward the conservative end to make sure that I at least reach my goal. Anything more is just bonus.
That means, I have to plant 30 pounds of seed potatoes to yield 600 pounds of potatoes.
But also, we love eating fresh new potatoes straight from the garden all growing season long.
Therefore, I wanted to plant enough potatoes where I could eat them all summer without feeling like I was taking away from what we would need to store for winter, and I wanted to be able to eat as many potatoes as we wanted all winter long without running out.
It may take you a couple of seasons to figure out your own family’s needs. We started out by storing 200 pounds, then 350, then 450. It took a few tries to find what we really actually needed. And as the kids grow, that number could change.
So there you have it. All of the secrets (although they really are not secrets at all). For all of you who have followed me for some time, and have asked me how in the world I did it. Only to discover that it takes just 30 pounds of seed potatoes to do so- and not a whole heck of a lot of space, either.
Just remember: give your plants the width and depth they need to produce big numbers for you, as well as the proper nutrients & soil conditions, hill them up (but stop hilling once they flower), keep them watered and mulched, and you will certainly be rewarded.
And if you’d like to learn more about how you can have your best growing season yet, grab my free eBook below
I go into detail on how to feed and thus build your soil, creating compost, garden design elements to consider, maximizing your growing space, companion planting, successive planting, and more.
It may sound surprising, but I make most of my jam during the winter months.
Primarily due to two reasons:
(1) Berries freeze extremely well. And since you have to mash the berries to make jam, the freezing process makes that part significantly easier.
(2) From the time the snow melts until it falls once again, I am BUSY.
Busy tending to the sudden onslaught of baby chicks, turkey poults, piglets, ducklings, and lambs.
Busy prepping the gardens and the greenhouse.
Busy cleaning coops, sheds, hauling manure, laying woodchips in the garden walkways, planting and pruning and planning.
And, as summer stretches on, I am picking wild berries of all sorts. Berry picking- while it is one of my most favorite summertime activities- is very time consuming.
But being able to sort and freeze those berries until they can be turned into jam during the winter months is not only a time-saver, but it also allows me to extend my canning season into a year-round activity rather than a seasonal one. (I’ve shared some other favorite winter canning projects previously in this post should you share my affinity for canning).
Recently, as I noticed our jam supply getting low (I have 3 kids who could live on peanut butter & jelly), I dug in the freezer for a new combo to try out on the crew.
Last summer was a bountiful one for berries, and the wild raspberries that grow just around the perimeter of my gardens filled my berry basket every day for weeks. So as I pulled a container of wild raspberries from the freezer, the bag of frozen organic mangoes stared back at me as well, just the same as it had for almost six months now.
They were purchased on a whim, with the intent of adding them to smoothies. Except I hadn’t made smoothies in a real long time, and so there they sat. And since I figured it was now or never for the mangoes, I decided to pair them with the raspberries and see how that went.
And, no surprise, this combo was a winner. Because it’s pretty much impossible to go wrong when raspberries are involved, am I right?
Of course I am.
And of course I’m going to share the recipe with you.
(adapted from the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving)
Place the peeled & chopped mangoes into a sturdy bowl. Mash them as best you can with a potato masher (I used my fingers to more finely crush them). Alternately, you can dice them very small and skip the crushing step.
Combine the crushed raspberries & mangoes in a heavy-bottomed stock pot. Add in the lemon juice, pectin, and approx. 1 teaspoon butter (butter is optional, but helps reduce foaming). Stir to combine.
Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a full rolling boil over high heat (a boil that does not stop with stirring). Pour in the sugar and be quick to stir it in to prevent the sugar from burning to the sides of the stock pot.
Continue to stir constantly, and return to a full rolling boil. Boil hard for 1 minute. Remove from heat.
Ladle jam into hot, sterilized pint or half-pint jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe jar rims clean and fit with prepared lids & bands.
Process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes.
Remove from canner and allow to cool for at least 12 hours. Check seals, and then store in a cool, dry, dark place.
Makes approx. 7 half-pint jar.
P.S. If you’re in the jam/jelly making mood, why not grab my free resource below! I love using petals I’ve dried from edible flowers to make jelly during the winter months as well. Enjoy!
If colorful jars full of home grown food is what your dreams are made of, my-oh-my do I get you.
My fascination with old food, old ways, and even old mason jars goes way back to my childhood. Hands-down my most favorite home we ever had was the 100-year old single room log cabin with the outhouse, chicken house, the loft that my siblings and I shared, and no running water. It was there that I can recall my earliest memories of watching and helping my mom can jam, veggies, and venison.
Standing barefoot by the stove in that tiny kitchen has always been such a fond part of the fiber that makes up my being.
I have always been the dreamer of old ways. And I know I’m not alone.
Whether you grew up slingin’ mason jars or not, there’s an old soul inside of you that gravitates toward this thing called canning.
Perhaps it’s a result of our corrupt food industry. Or maybe it’s this fast-paced world around you creating a need to slow down and return to a way of life where we work with our hands. Where we learn things. Where we have a distinct knowledge of the journey that our food took in getting to our table- because we got it there. Start to finish.
But there’s something holding you back.
And that something is fear.
Canning has long had this stigma of danger attached to it.
Images of canners exploding like bombs and killing people plagues your imagination.
And death by botulism.
And then there’s the trying to distinguish between pressure canner, pressure cooker, and water bath canner which is enough to make your brain hurt.
While these are all legitimate concerns (and I commend you for not taking these issues lightly), I promise you that following some very basic guidelines will not only put your fears to rest, but have you canning like a boss in no time.
Are you ready? I thought so.
Then let’s get to it by jumping in to the first of several canning topics that I will be covering in the coming weeks: how to decide what type of canner you should be using and when (plus a free cheat sheet to have on hand until this becomes second nature to you- which it will).
If you break down your foods into two categories, you will have a good idea of which canner you should be reaching for.
Foods are classified into two groups: low acid and high acid. Those with a pH of 4.6 and lower are considered a high acid food, and can be processed in a boiling water canner. Think: fruits, fruit spreads like jam and jelly, or foods that use an acidifier like vinegar in pickles or lemon juice in tomatoes. These types of foods can be safely canned in a boiling water canner which reaches a temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit.
Low acid foods, with a pH level greater than 4.6, need to be processed in a pressure canner. Think: vegetables, meat, soups, and seafood. Only a pressure canner can reach the necessary temperature of 240 degrees Fahrenheit to destroy the bacteria and toxic mold spores that low acid foods can produce.
What makes a pressure canner different than a boiling water canner? Water boils at 212 degrees (depending on altitude, of course- more on that later). A boiling water canner simply cannot exceed the temperature of boiling water. However, the pressurized steam inside of a pressure canner raises that temperature to 240 degrees by use of weights (most commonly 10 pounds).
Whatever method you are using, it is important that you
reach the target temperature and maintain that for the amount of time as called
for in the canning recipe that you are using.
It is also important that you know your altitude and make adjustments as needed. For example, we are at about 1200 feet above sea level. Most canning recipes are based on weight and time that is calculated for locations that are at or below 1000 feet above sea level. That means I have to increase both my processing time (when using a boiling water canner) and weight (when using a pressure canner), due to the fact that higher altitudes result in reduced barometric pressure- which affects the temperature at which water boils. If you are unsure of your own altitude, try out an app like My Elevation to do a quick check (go ahead and remove the app after you’re done). Or call your county extension office. Then make necessary adjustments when canning.
Finally, with regard to pressure cookers: these are NOT pressure canners. InstaPot has brought back new life to the pressure cooker, but these cannot be confused with or used in place of a pressure canner.
While pressure cookers are great for speed cooking your meals, they may not maintain proper pressure throughout processing time, and they heat up/cool down too quickly to safely can your food.
To summarize: water bath your high acid foods, pressure can your low acid foods, and save the InstaPot or pressure cooker for pulling off fast meals only. And grab your free cheat sheet below, which lists out dozens of the most commonly canned foods and which canner you should be reaching for.
You see? I told you you’d be canning like a boss in no time.
↑ Download your beautiful free printable cheat sheet. Stash it with your favorite recipes, put it up on the refrigerator, or keep it in your pantry for a quick reference next time you reach for those canning jars.
So you want to start baking from scratch, but you’re not sure where to begin or what essentials you need to stock your pantry. All you know is you’re tired of boxed cake mixes and refrigerated cookie dough and you are all kinds of sure that there’s a better way of doing this baking thing.
I hear you. Loud and clear.
And I’ve got great news: baking from scratch is not something to be intimidated by. I assure you, the ingredients list is far more recognizable (and easier to pronounce!) than what comes in a box.
Look no further than this simple starter list of ingredients that will keep your pantry well stocked and on standby to help you bake almost anything from scratch.
It’s as simple as that! My biggest piece of advice in building your scratch baking pantry is to invest in quality ingredients. I source most of these items from the bulk section of our local whole foods co-op. And if you are buying larger quantities at a time (such as a 50 pound bag of flour), you can often get a discount (we get 20% off as a member). And I’ve found these ingredients to be much fresher than those found in a package.
(Tip: when buying in bulk, store the excess in your freezer for optimal freshness).
I hope you are confident and ready to take that first step in baking delicious goodies for your family, knowing you will have on hand everything you need to start baking just about anything from scratch.
And next time, instead of reaching for that box of cake mix, I hope you find yourself reaching (like a boss) for a recipe and your very own ingredients instead. You’ve got this.
I’d like to think that I’m the opposite of a snob.
I’m not ashamed to only own one pair of jeans- my “going out” pants. The rest of the time you can find me in comfy stuff.
I have no idea what is in style.
My favorite shoes are my duct taped camouflage Muck boots that I’ve owned for years.
I drive an old truck that is alllllways dirty.
You will see my hair done up usually in one of two ways because, let’s be honest, I’m not out there winning any fashion shows.
Or hearts (I’ve already got the ones that matter).
I turn up my nose at modern interiors, high heels, and girly drinks (unless, of course, the beer runs out).
But when it comes to our food, I cannot deny.
I’ve been known to be, at times, a bit of a snob.
Yet, not in the Mean Girls snob sort of way.
My convictions in the kitchen have ebbed and flowed through the years, and I’ve finally found myself settling into what feels right for my family.
And today, I’d like to share those with you.
I’d also like to help you in your journey in deciding on your own food-related convictions, because we all have them whether we realize it or not.
What is a conviction?
You’ve probably heard the term “conviction” before. Perhaps you’ve heard it on your favorite law & order-type show when criminals get convicted of crimes.
You’ve also likely heard of religious convictions. Our belief system that we hold close and that we stand up for.
Whether we realize it or not, we all have convictions in many areas of our life.
Including what we eat.
It may be your conviction that you don’t care about where your food comes from, as long as it’s cheap.
It may be your conviction that we are all going to die anyways, so bring on the Diet Coke.
It may be that you will only buy grass-fed, or organic, or non-GMO.
But one thing is for certain: when it comes to food, there’s a multitude of options, information, studies, and opinions out there.
It can be difficult to navigate what’s truth, what’s not, and ultimately where we draw the line in our own life with regard to what we overlook and what we can’t.
My deal breakers.
For me, there are a few things that I absolutely will not bend on:
Raw or grassfed/organic milk.
We are absolutely blessed to be able to purchase raw milk from our one and only local dairy. To be honest, raw milk isn’t even technically legal in Minnesota. But this local dairy farm who has served our county for over 100 years has been fighting the system while providing this amazing product to people like us. And we will definitely support them as long as we can.
When we first switched over to raw milk several years ago now, the change was difficult. I remember thinking that raw milk literally tasted like cow. But now, it is the most delicious stuff on the planet, and if I have the unfortunate experience of tasting store-bought milk , it tastes like aluminum. The only exception I will make for raw milk- in the event that they are sold out for the day at the farm- is I will buy organic grassfed milk from our local co-op. And as good as that second option is, the kids immediately taste the difference and will moan and groan about the terrible “store milk”.
So why raw/organic/grassfed only? There are several reasons, beyond the benefits of drinking raw milk. Conventional milk cows are often subjected to hormone injections to increase milk production (hormones that are illegal in dozens of countries due to evidence that they may lead to an increase in IGF-1, a cancer causing hormone), which then lead to more frequent cases of mastitis, which then leads to treatment with antibiotics. We are then, in turn, exposed to these hormones and antibiotic residue in the milk we drink. Which, in itself, lends to our increase in antibiotic resistance. Not only that, but conventional milk cows are also fed a diet consisting of crops that have been exposed to herbicides & pesticides, which are then transmitted into the milk that they produce.
There’s just too many reasons not to drink conventional milk, and they are enough for me. Therefore, they are one of my personal food convictions.
Organic cane sugar & flour.
I ditched white sugar and bleached flour long ago.
Let’s start with sugar. Now, to be honest- sugar is sugar, and nutritionally, it just plain isn’t good for you and should be used in moderation.[This, by the way, is where you might part ways with me on this conviction- you might decide that you don’t want to use any sugar at all in your home, and that is just fine. Own that. But for me and my family…we will consume sugar in moderation].
But if you must use it (and I get it, I like me some sugar too), then you need to decide which form you are going to settle for. Conventional white sugar or table sugar goes through an extra refining process and is grown using conventional farming methods which include the use of herbicides, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, etc.
Raw organic evaporated cane juice or sugar is still sugar- it still undergoes some refinement, less than that of white sugar, but is not exposed to the levels of chemical treatment that you find in conventional sugar. I use both this type of sugar, as well as turbinado sugar in my baking. And of course I opt for natural sweeteners like maple syrup and honey. Once again, moderation.
The use of organic flours in my home is another of my personal food convictions. Conventional wheat is treated with herbicides that feature glyphosate, the deadly ingredient at the heart of the $289 million dollar Monsanto lawsuit. Residues of these herbicides & pesticides (15+ different ones in fact) then show up in the flour that is milled from these crops.
In addition, conventional bleached flour has undergone a chemical bleaching process to expedite whitening in flour that otherwise occurs naturally (albeit slowly) This bleaching process strips the flour of the majority of its nutrients, and produces a byproduct that is known to produce diabetes in lab rats.
As much as I love me some chocolate chip cookies, I must admit- paying the high price of organic, fair trade chocolate can sting a bit.
But I do it.
There’s more than one reason to buy fair trade chocolate, including supporting sustainable farming practices which benefit the environment. But for me, the change came when I learned of the child labor, slavery, and trafficking involved in the chocolate industry. The majority of our cocoa beans come from Ivory Coast and Ghana in West Africa, where children are bought, sold, and trafficked (often by their own family members), but also voluntarily go to work on cocoa farms at a very young age. Just a little bit of research will reveal the horror behind cocoa farming and be enough to scar you for life. The BBC documentary “Chocolate the Bitter Truth” which can be found in parts 1-5 starting here delves into this topic, and explains why buying Fair Trade is the only way you can even get close to (and this still is not foolproof) consuming chocolate that was not harvested by the hands of trafficked and enslaved children.
Potatoes & apples.
You are likely familiar with the dirty dozen– a list of produce with the highest pesticide load (as well as the clean fifteen– those with the lowest). Apples and potatoes have long been prominent members of that dirty dozen list. Conventional potatoes “have more pesticide residue by weight than any other crop”, and almost all conventional apples were found to contain “diphenylamine, a pesticide banned in Europe” and has notoriously been at the top of the dirty dozen list for years. Other chart toppers? Strawberries, spinach, grapes, tomatoes, peppers, and more.
What this means for us is we typically only eat apples seasonally- when we get loads of them during apple harvest time, and in the couple months that follow when they are priced affordably at the co-op. But when they are $10/pound out of season, we go to our canned apples and applesauce until the season comes back around.
This is also why we grew 600 pounds of our own potatoes this year. They store for many months in our crawl space, and when they are too long gone, we have our canned potatoes to get us through for the short couple of months before the garden is giving them up once again.
Meat, especially chicken and pork.
We raise and harvest all of our own meat- with the exception of treating ourselves to the occasional organic grass-fed ribeye steak once a year, as well as grassfed beef, mainly when our venison runs out.
But it has been years since we’ve purchased chicken or pork at the store. Enter super snob mode right here.
There are few things more repulsive to me than 6 pound slimy conventional chicken breasts.
They are so unnatural it makes me crazy.
I don’t even want to get into ruthless conventional chicken farming (and really all conventional meat production) practices because I can’t stomach the lengths that the industry has gone to to produce cheap meat. (Have you watched Food, Inc.? No? Do it).
Not only that, but since switching over to eating our own meat, many of my former stomach issues have completely disappeared. I actually used to think I had a problem with cheese or dairy. It wasn’t until we eliminated conventionally produced meats from our diet that I realized that they were to blame. Now, if I go to a restaurant and have chicken on my Caesar salad, I’m sick within the hour.
But stomach ailments aside, it’s the cruel conditions and treatments of those animals that does it for me. Raising your own or buying from a small farmer whose practices you can witness for yourself, whose motives are not driven purely by greed or by supplying the demand for more at less cost, will always get my vote. I will willingly pay more to those who are doing it a better way.
This one is admittedly new for me. Like, a month ago new. Not only is conventional coffee known to expose its consumers to pesticide residue, but the coffee farmers are subjected first hand to those pesticides used on those farms. Not to mention the hybrid coffee plants that are now designed to grow in full sun, leading to mass deforestation.
Coffee beans raised on sustainable coffee farms grow their coffee in the shade, providing habitat for the creatures who live there. They are also given a fair price for their coffee, so that they don’t get undercut by the big conventional companies. And while organic does not mean fair trade, or vice versa, you will often find that the two go hand-in-hand and is what I try to reach for now when making my coffee purchases.
Real maple syrup & honey.
My good friend Becky and I started tapping maple trees a few years ago and have not looked back. We tap about 80 trees which give us several gallons of pure maple syrup. While table syrup is little more than high fructose corn syrup and caramel coloring, real maple syrup is made from just one, good, natural ingredient- maple sap that has been boiled down. When you think of it in those terms, what do you want poured onto your morning pancakes?
Honey is another sweetener where I opt for raw and organic over the stuff in the squeezable bear container. It’s no secret that raw honey has like a zillion health benefits and that the fake stuff has none. This one is an easy choice for me and my family. And while it’s next to impossible to raise bees where I’m at, I’m happy to pay the price tag for the good stuff instead. If we are going to be using something, why shouldn’t it be in the natural, original form created by God before humans got a hold of it and turned it into something so far from what it was?
I have been raising my own laying hens for so many years that I almost forgot this one. But it’s such a good one. I cannot tell you the last time I have purchased eggs from the store, but I tell you what- it is such a treat when I hear from someone who has bought eggs from myself or from my 8-year old (who has his own egg business) how vastly different they are from what they are used to. From the color to the flavor to the shells themselves- it’s no secret that good eggs just make people feel…good. There’s something about homegrown eggs from happy, free-ranging chickens that makes breakfast extra special.
The health benefits of eggs grown in this way were outlined in a super old article I wrote almost five years ago, which quoted a study published in Mother Earth News. This study revealed that free range chicken eggs vs. commercial eggs resulted in a nutritional profile that revealed the following:
1/3 less cholesterol
1/4 less saturated fat
2/3 more Vitamin A
3x more Vitamin E
2x more Omega 3 fatty acids
7x more beta-carotene
But even putting these things aside, by boycotting commercial chicken eggs, we are not having a part in supporting battery hen operations. Even the so-called “free range” label on commercial chicken eggs cannot offer peace of mind. Often, “free range” means they are not locked up in cages, yet they are still stuffed by the thousands into dark chicken barns.
How to decide on your own convictions.
So where does one even begin with this process of deciding where you draw your own line, in your own life?
My number one tip would be to start slow. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Pick one area at a time, and go with that. Do your research. Find what moves you. Where does your conscience guide you?
For me, I first started with raw milk. And then I started making my own bread and buying only organic flours for doing so. Along the way, we eliminated more and more store bought meat from our lives as we built up the livestock that we chose to raise on our homestead. This meant ducks one year, then meat rabbits, then turkeys and pigs and sheep- but all over time. Do both you and me the favor of not overwhelming yourself with radical changes all at one time. Because you will burn out and give up.
Sit down and put some things to paper:
What am I eating right now that makes me feel just gross, both physically and mentally?
What am I consuming that I know is bad for me (ex./pop, candy, and other processed/packaged foods)?
What kind of foods make me feel good when I eat them?
What things do I enjoy making from scratch? What are the ingredients in those foods? Are they made from a lot of prepackaged things that I could be making myself (ex./cream soups, canned biscuits, packaged gravy, etc.)?
What kinds of fruits and vegetables do we eat most often- and where do they sit in either the dirty dozen or the clean fifteen lists? If they’re in the dirty dozen, start buying organic- one at a time, starting with the one you eat most often.
What can I be growing myself?
What could I be sourcing locally?
And as you make this list, break each individual piece down further:
Take, for example, those things you are eating that you know are bad for you. Maybe there are several things on that list. Pick one. Maybe it’s drinking pop- because, come on- we know pop is so not good for you. Can you go without it for a day? Can you go without it for a couple of days? And so on. Believe it or not, I used to be a Diet Coke freak. Something happened during my pregnancy with my middle child- the day he was born, I ordered a Diet Coke on my very first meal tray. I had never been a pop drinker. But after that, I couldn’t put it down. It took a couple of years of frustration and substitutions- from super syrupy fizzy drinks to cappuccino to everything in between. Until I discovered that what I was really actually craving was the carbonation. Which in turn led me to sparkling water every day to now the occasional one.
Sometimes these processes take a long time to see completion. You might not be able to give something up overnight. And that’s okay. It’s also okay if you don’t always stick to your own rules, too. I’ve bought a cheap steak here and there. I have a hard time resisting potato chips that my husband brings home. Don’t let these parameters become chains of guilt. We already have enough of those in life.
For those who would really like to start putting their thoughts into action today,I’m including some worksheets for you. Print them off, do a bit of journaling, and put these worksheets on your refrigerator where you can be reminded.
In closing, I just want to say that ones’ journey with food can be very personal, and while I may food snob at times, it’s not directed at those people who eat differently from me, but rather at the goings on behind the foods I’ve banned from my home. My own convictions have taken years to develop, and I still feel that I have so much further to go.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these thoughts today, and that you are excited to start on your own journey.
Until next time,
don’t be a snob, my friends.
Unless it’s about foods you believe in, of course.
Whether well-intentioned or otherwise, just about every person who has stepped foot in my home has managed to remark on its size.
Or lack thereof.
Yes, by today’s standards, we live in a small house. A family of 5 dwelling in about 1000 square feet split between two levels can at times feel a bit cramped. Especially when we have company.
The size of our home is consistent with that of those of the 1920’s, not the 2020’s.
But you know what? I love my small house.
In fact, when we purchased our home nearly 6 years ago, it felt as if I were moving into a mansion. You see, we had spent the previous 2 1/2 years in a cabin without running water. We had no toilet, no shower, and we hauled water daily. Water had to be heated up for dishes, sponge baths, and for cleaning up after sick kids in the middle of the night. My daughter was born while living in this cabin, just 13 months after my 2nd born. I raised 3 children ages 0-4 in that home. The cabin was half the size of my house now.
And so, when we moved in, I felt so freaking fancy.
Look at me and my fancy running water. And my fancy bedroom with a real door. And fancy cupboards for all my fancy kitchen stuff.
And yet, to the average person, we were not fancy at all.
We were moving into what was, at the time, a one bedroom home. For a family of five. The upstairs was at first separated into bedrooms by hanging blankets for walls.
To the average person, we were just some poor people who didn’t know any better.
And yet, in my past life there was a time when I had a very large home. I’ve known what it’s like to clean 5 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms and 2 living rooms. I know what it’s like to have a whole bunch of space that I felt needed filling. I’ve had an outrageous mortgage payment and all the stress that goes along with that burden.
So I do know better.
I know that the home is shelter from the elements.
This structure that keeps us warm at night and dry and protected from the weather is not life itself or what defines us as people.
The real home is in our family. It’s in the outdoors. It’s in the incredible bountiful forest that surrounds us. It’s in our hands and their ability to work. It’s in our thoughts and actions and interactions.
Our home is small, but it is cozy and keeps us close wherever we are. Whether it’s crowded around our small table in our much too small kitchen or piled on the couch in our narrow living room the size of a hallway.
It means we are forced to be intentional about what we bring into our home because it means sharing what little space we have with it.
Would I hate to do an expansion on my kitchen or my living room? No. I would love it. Someday.
But that does not mean that I’m not content with what I have today.
I am blessed, man. So blessed. I have a home and land and my own sliver of happiness on this great earth.
So please, don’t feel pity for me and my small home.
Because I have a home.
And I’m dang proud of it.
I’m proud that I don’t have to feel that my worth is tied up in the stature of my dwelling place.
I’m grateful that I don’t have to compete with anyone else in order to feel self worth.
I’m thankful to know and understand what Jesus said when he advised that our life does not result from the things that we possess (Luke 12:15).
I hope you know and feel this too, wherever you are, whatever you have.
You are alive.
You are a living, breathing, functioning human being.
You are so much more than the size or contents of your home.
I was not always on board with processing my own animals.
Not that I ever felt that somewhere other than home or someone else other than us would be better for the job. Not that at all.
But I didn’t always have the heart.
You see, growing up, my most favorite pets on the planet were my chickens. My sister and I spent countless hours with them. They were tame as tame can be. Even to the point of allowing us to dress them up in doll clothes.
They all had names, they were all so deeply loved. And when one got inured or sick or taken by predators, we were there through it all. We learned of love and loss with those birds, as dramatic as that may sound. And I tell you what- there was nothing more dreaded than butcher day.
Back then, I thought my mom was just cruel. That every 2 years the old layers were processed to make room for new ones. And what’s worse- I had to help! I remember saving my favorites for last, and just crying and begging that my mom let me keep them. And cruelly- or so it seemed- she would flat-out refuse, and I would just cry. I didn’t understand that it just simply wasn’t cost effective to keep animals that weren’t laying, or laying well. I didn’t see the value in raising and eating our own meat. And I certainly didn’t seem to appreciate what it took for her to allow me to keep the heads of my favorite chickens in the freezer all winter just so I could bury them in the spring.
Yeah. I was that kid (cue creepy music right about now).
Fast-forward about 20 years. When it came time to butcher our own first chickens. I had vowed I would never do this. I had been determined to never pluck another chicken in my life.
And yet, here I was, cringing and just doing it.
It was hard.
But as hard as it was, it got easier.
In fact, processing is now one of my most favorite things to do.
If that sounds twisted or sadistic, I get it. But for me, harvesting an animal is so much more than killing.
Do I enjoy the actual killing? No. But I also understand that that animal gets one bad day in its life. The rest of its days were as good as I could give them. Even if it means poop everywhere, fencing anything and everything of value in so that it doesn’t get destroyed, electric netting around my greenhouse to keep it safe, and apologizing to the UPS guy every time for the gang of turkeys that loudly gobble in unison every time he starts his truck back up.
So while the killing is not my most favorite part, I would not want anyone else to do it for us.
And the processing gives me the chance to reflect on the WHY of what we do.
My personal WHY includes:
the satisfaction of knowing every moment of that animal’s life, from beginning to end and everything in between.
feeling confident that what I’m feeding my family is safe.
knowing that the skills it takes to do this life are not lost on us.
knowing that our kids will have the ability to sustain themselves.
we are not supporting a corrupt meat industry wrought with cruelty.
If you don’t have a personal WHY, then you may never be able to get past your apprehension. I would say that few people really truly love killing and/or processing animals without a good reason for doing it. Unless you are a psycho, and if that’s the case then please leave my blog.
But if you have developed your WHY, and you are wondering where to start and what you should have on hand, then you are in the right place.
Over the years, I have collected a variety of favorite publications and resources, and have found what equipment and supplies are most beneficial and necessary. I have compiled these into a free printable PDF at the bottom of this post.
Please note that while some of the following suggestions contain affiliate links, some do not. And every single one of them I personally use myself and recommend. So click with confidence!
Books (click on any of the images to learn more):
If you get no other book, get this one. It is your one-stop-shop for processing your own animals at home. For real, this book is big and it is full of beautiful, clear, detailed (and stunning!) color photos that walk you through the harvest from start-to-finish. It covers everything from tools to butchering methods and techniques, to packaging & freezing your meat, and of course step-by-step butchering of chickens, rabbits, pigs, sheep, and goats. If there was a butchering bible, this is it. You will not regret this one at all.
I love Meredith Leigh, not only as an author but as a person. She is amazing and has mastered the craft of not only butchery but charcuterie- so if you’re into that, you must check her out. I had Meredith’s book before Adam Danforth’s book, and her book helped walk us through processing our very first pigs. While the photos are not in color, this book is very concise and more condensed for those who like something a little smaller and lighter while giving you everything you need. She covers beef, lamb, pork, and poultry with the added bonus of charcuterie and recipes throughout.
This is more of a niche book, for those of you interested in- obviously- curing & smoking your own meat. If you process your own animals at home, it is much easier to get the cuts you want/need for these projects And there’s no better go-to than this River Cottage handbook if you want to go about this the most natural way possible.
Again, for anyone interested in going beyond the basics, In the Charcuterie walks you through a variety of meats and parts and details how to go about creating not only charcuterie projects, but also great recipes for things like pancetta (or bacon) wrapped pork tenderloin (a favorite around here).
I grouped the three of these together because they are more cook books than how-to books, but of course they all contain their own genre-specific how-to’s. For those who are really interested in diving in to using all parts of the animal- and I think you should be- each one of these books offers something for you.
Jane Grigson offers not only a fabulous, eloquent read but a true appreciation for every part of the animal- and I do mean every. She makes you want to eat like she does, trust me.
Jennifer McLagan’s books are very specific, one being focused on fat and how we can- and should- get back to appropriately appreciating fat and all that is has to offer. But keep in mind that not all fat is made equal. Fat from your own homegrown beast that has been cared for in and on open air and ground as opposed to dark commercial confinement, as well as their diet will greatly alter the taste and quality of that fat. The beautiful fat of the pig is one of the reasons we choose to scald & scrape our pigs as opposed to skinning them. We strive to preserve as much as that glorious resource as possible.
Odd Bits covers all of the parts that you don’t as often see in the grocery store: brains, eyeballs, feet, tail, tongue, all of the offal- to name a few. This one is for the adventurous at heart. While I cannot hardly get my husband to eat anything beyond the heart and caul fat, I am open to just about anything. Even my daughter ate the eyeball from our roast pig’s head. So this one can be fun for the whole family!
There are a variety of tools that we’ve accumulated that have become must-have items to complete the various butchering tasks that we undertake. Some of these may apply, some may not, depending on what you are processing, therefore I will put in parenthesis next to each tool what type of animal we use it for so that you have a better idea of what your needs may be.
Meat Grinder (wild game, pigs, lamb, beef)
I mentioned this one in my sausage making post, and I will stress it again: get a good grinder, folks. If you plan to do any amount of regular processing, especially if you are dealing with larger animals like deer or pigs or cows- and you do/would like to do ground meat or make sausage, you will need a good grinder. Yes, you can use a hand grinder or a cheap grinder if you don’t mind taking forever to get it done. But if you’re dealing with hundreds of pounds of meat, you cannot make a better investment than a good grinder. We use this one from Cabela’s, but if you don’t want to go through them, get a grinder with at least a 1 hp motor.
Gambrel (wild game, pigs, lamb, poultry, beef)
A gambrel is essentially what you use to hang your animal by its feet for skinning, gutting, etc. After trying a few others, we now exclusively use this cinch gambrel, which is great because not only is it adjustable (we used to mess around with a smaller gambrel for pigs, a larger one for deer, both of which involved cutting holes in the legs to fit the ends of the gambrel into) to fit whatever size animal you are hanging, but the cables cinch around the legs instead of having to cut holes in the legs which is great. We’ve even used this for skinning rabbits and hanging poultry.
We weigh pretty much everything we process, and this scale has met all of our needs. It has a 440 lb. capacity, so it would not work for cows, but pretty much everything else it will cover. This is great for creating accurate records for personal and commercial use.
Hoist and Winch (wild game, pigs, lamb, beef)
For those of you like me who don’t have a tractor or other machinery for lifting large animals, you will need some way of doing that. For us, we’ve used a winch attached to the door frame of our wood shed, and then this year we bought a hoist that can be attached to a tree, along with the winch. What we found to be great about using the hoist is it allows us to place it much higher, which makes dealing with large animals much easier. We found that the winch that came with the hoist, however, was not so great- but the arm itself is exactly what we needed. So just make sure you use a good winch and you will be good to go.
There are many ways to go about what kind of smoker you want to use. But if you plan to make your own bacon and hams, you will need a method of smoking them. While we have plans to build a smoke house in the future, we have been able to get all of our smoker needs met with this electric smoker.
Turkey Burner/Outdoor Gas Cooker (pigs, poultry)
An outdoor cooker is an essential tool for scalding & plucking poultry, as well as scalding & scraping pigs. We also use it for shrink bagging our poultry. Basically, this is a portable propane cooker that you can use to heat large (or small) vessels of water needed for scalding.
Large Stock Pot(s) (all)
To go with the cooker, it’s a good idea to have a large stock pot for scalding and for shrink bagging, as well as countless other uses around the homestead. I have a variety of stock pots in various sizes on hand.
55 gallon food grade barrel (pigs, turkeys)
We use a 55 gallon food grade barrel for scalding & scraping our pigs. We also like to use it for scalding and plucking our turkeys since they are larger animals and the bigger barrel really works great for them. I was able to find mine on eBay from a seller who shipped to Minnesota addresses, but there are many others on there with free local pickup and other options- so do a little bit of research. You may also be able to find them on Craigslist or through local restaurants.
Knives, Cleaver, Meat Saw, Kitchen Scale (all)
I grouped these together as they are all kitchen tools that are must haves for the home butcher.
A boning knife and a skinning knife are two tools we could not live without. I love to secure old antique carbon steel knives because they hold an edge like no other, but whatever type you prefer- it needs to be sharp. My husband really loves using a Havalon knife for skinning because it has disposable blades, so he doesn’t have to stop in the middle of butchering to sharpen it. It’s also small which makes it easy to maneuver.
We almost exclusively use our meat cleaver for processing pigs, and it is a must-have for that.
A meat saw is what we use to saw the pig carcass in half, as well as remove the legs of deer and lamb. It is used for separating the loin quarter from the belly quarter on pigs, and many other cuts. Meat saws can be frustrating if they are not sharp, so keep an extra blade on hand and decide if you want the blade to cut on the push or on the pull, and switch the blade in the direction that meets that need. And be sure to get one with a longer blade (think 22 inch, not 16 inch).
A kitchen scale that allows you to measure grams, pounds ounces, and milliliters is a vital tool if you plan to do home curing projects as measurements need to be precise. I use this cheap one and it works great.
If you grind your own meat, you will want some good freezer bags designed for this purpose. I purchase these ones on eBay because they offer the ability to buy in large or small quantities, whichever you prefer. Yes, they are technically “wild game” bags, but I use them for everything and just use a Sharpie marker to write “pork” or whatever else is on there. Then check whether it is burger or sausage, and record the date and weight. You can buy special tape to close these bags, but I usually just use freezer tape.
Shrink Bags (poultry)
You know when you buy a turkey or whole chicken in the store, how they are perfectly and tightly packaged in this plastic casing? Those are shrink bags, and I cannot recommend them enough. I will never go back to any other way of putting my poultry into the freezer. I have always purchased my bags through this website. They have written and video tutorials, and bags of all sizes available- even for when you part out your poultry instead of freezing them whole.
Freezer Paper, Freezer Tape, Plastic Wrap
When I finally learned how to properly wrap and package meat for the freezer, I almost eliminated freezer burn completely. I did a ton of research and trial and error on this- but believe it or not, you do not need a vacuum sealer to safely freeze your meat. Just remember: double wrap in plastic wrap, then do a proper wrap with freezer paper.
For tying up roasts, rolled roasts, pancetta, tying the legs of roast turkey & chicken, etc- a good quality butcher twine is great to have on hand. And a 1 pound roll will last you a long time.
I’ve used my meat hooks for many things- hanging bacon, guanciale, prosciutto, and cacciatorini from my ceiling, as well as lamb carcasses in my kitchen. In the off season, I even use them to hang herbs.
My most favorite resource of all time for all things butchery is the Farmstead Meatsmith. I cannot say enough good things here. Many of you have heard of him, but if you have not- please have a visit. Brandon has a monthly membership available as well which gives you access to an insane vault of information. His videos on butchering pigs was life-changing for me. No joke. Please check him out.
And because I am sure that all of this information is overwhelming, I have a free pintable checklist that condenses all of these resources for you. Please don’t feel that you have to go out and spend a ton of money all at once gathering these things up. These were collected over years for us. We have a rule that we make just one big purchase per year for our farm (ex./ meat grinder, smoker, hoist, etc.) and work the smaller things in where we can. There were years where we did things the hard way, without the necessary equipment, because that is all we could afford to do.
Additionally, as we were growing our homestead, we only added one new thing per year: ex./chickens and ducks, then rabbits, then pigs, then sheep. We did not go out on the first year of owning our home and buy up everything at once. One thing at a time. So maybe next year for you it..
Winter canning is probably my favorite canning because it is in the off season.
It means I have more time.
It means I have a cold house that needs heating up (totally the opposite case during peak canning season, amiright?).
It means I am choosing a canning project not based on the prevention of overripe green beans in my garden or rotting tomatoes sitting in a corner of my kitchen, but rather on my terms. What I want to do. What I feel like doing. What I’m craving.
And, best yet, it means I get to feed my canning addiction year-round.
If you’re like me and mason jars are right up in there in your favorite things department alongside your husband, your kids, and your cat, then I feel you.
But what is there to be canning in the off season? When the garden lies dormant and not a green plant is to be found?
Here are my top seven canning projects to tackle during the winter months.
Stew tends to be one of the earliest off-season canning projects for me because it coincides with both bear and deer hunting season. I have actually never made beef stew because we don’t raise cows. Instead our red meat sources are bear, deer, and lamb. But whatever red meat you prefer, this recipe works for them all. Additionally, the vegetables in beef stew can all come from the garden- and if we get bear meat in September, many of these ingredients are still actively growing in the garden (carrots, onions, celery, etc.) and I just have to run outside to gather my ingredients. This is one of those recipes where I don’t have to buy a single thing from the grocery store to produce it. It doesn’t get much better than that.
The greatest thing about canning your own stew (as well as a few of the other upcoming winter canning suggestions) is that it is heat-and-eat. Meaning, the finished product is completely cooked. All you have to do is dump it in a bowl, heat it up, and eat it. Talk about fast food. The only difference is this fast food tastes like something you took all day to cook.
Canning your own beans takes inexpensive dried beans and turns them into their more expensive canned counterpart. Not only that, but you can do so in large quantities and without the fear of BPA exposure as can be found in store bought canned goods. This is a project that I like to tackle early in the winter season as well, as that is when I used canned beans the most. Winter weather means chili season has come to town.
Speaking of chili season, home canned chili is another perfect cold weather product that you can make in the dark days of winter. For me, chili making follows tomato caning season as the recipe calls for canned whole or crushed tomatoes. This is another great heat-and-eat option for a quick lunch that will warm you right up.
For starters, there is a difference between stock and broth: Stock is a product that is the result of taking animal bones, vegetables and other aromatics, covering them with water, and simmering them over the course of a long period of time (anywhere from 6 to 24 hours or longer). Broth is most often made from meat (sometimes with the addition of bones) and vegetables that have been cooked in water for a shorter time and is often seasoned.
Whatever your preference, both are excellent winter canning projects to tackle. I always keep a healthy supply of stock on hand to be used for making soups, stews, gravy, cream soups, and so much more- I often replace water with stock in many of my recipes. The health benefits of stock are numerous.
This is another hunting season favorite: canned meat. Canning meat is not only easy, but the resulting product is simply awesome. Canned bear meat or venison is hard to beat. It seriously takes 5 minutes to turn canned meat into what tastes like an elaborate meal.
It’s also a great way to make room in your freezer. You can can any meat you want: chicken, pork, beef, rabbit, venison, bear etc. The process for canning chicken, rabbit, and other white meats are the same. Red meats are also canned the same, therefore you can follow my venison canning post to can your beef, bear, lamb, or other red meat of choice. (Pork falls into the red meat category).
If you’re a berry picker like I am, you probably have loads of berries in your freezer. While I love making that very first batch of strawberry jam in early summer, or wild raspberry jam later on, I do the majority of my actual jam making in the off season. Berries (as well as fruits) are super easy to freeze, and lend beautifully to homemade jams and jellies. Waiting until the winter to make these sweet spreads also means you have more variety to pick from for mixed berry/fruit recipes.
Most of my sauces are created from peak fall harvest produce: tomatoes, pumpkins/squash, and apples. These all seem to come on at the same time in mass quantities. The most simple way to deal with them is to get them in the freezer and make your sauce in the winter when you can do so at a comfortable pace. While I must admit, I have a huge aversion to frozen tomatoes. They freak me out. So I often will get my tomatoes sauced and canned- and from there use my tomato sauce to make other tomato products like spaghetti or pizza sauce. But apples and pumpkin or squash can be frozen and then later mashed/pureed and turned into applesauce, apple or pumpkin butter, etc.
And there you have it, my favorite canning projects to tackle in the off season. I’d love it if you would share with me your own personal favorites.
Until next time, keep feeding that canning addiction, my friends.