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Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

Welcome to 2011!

Beans, Greens, Ham Hocks, Spices, and Crusty Harvest Bread

New Year's Feast

 

Happy New Year to you! 

Yes, like so many others, I partook of a new year traditon by having black eyed peas, ham hocks, and greens.  Okay, I know, I know.  This isn’t what everyone’s tradition is, but it’s mine.  I tried the Hopping John with the rice and beans and it really turned out awful – major suckage, you might say.  But I do have the pork and the beans in there and instead of having cabbage I have greens.  And because I seem to be out of corn meal (oh the horror!), I am having a wonderful harvest grain bread instead of corn bread. 

A friend of mine, Monica (Hi Monica!) asked on Facebook yesterday where the traditions of eating pork and cabbage, or pork and beans, or some other combination came from and what they mean.  I know I’ve read the explanation at some point but there are likely to be as many explanations as there are traditions.  So, I’ve decided to make up my own explanation.  Yeah, like you didn’t see that coming!

So anyway, I thought about it and of course the greens are in the hope that the new year brings me lots of green so I can continue to feed the critters and pay the bills.  But what’s up with the pork?  And the beans?  Hmm, I guess it could be indicitive that I hope I have enough gas to keep me running about and to keep my car warm but well, okay, that’s not what I want my tradition to be about.  So here is what I’ve decided the history behind MY tradition will be:

The ham hocks are from the lowest part of the hog and is a part that’s overlooked and probably pitched out by some.  The beans are warm, nourishing, and filling.  The greens are simplicity at its finest.  Some people might call them weeds and bypass them but they’re part of the bounty that the earth gives us.  And they’re the color of money (okay, some habits die hard).  With this new year’s day meal I’m reminding myself that it’s the simple things that are going to make me happy and comfort me most in the year ahead.  I don’t need the newest or best or brightest new toy that comes out to make me happy; that happiness would be fleeting and I’d be waiting for the next toy.  All I really need are the warm comforts of home and the simple pleasures of family and friends and the bounty that I can find outdoors and in nature.  And if you know me you won’t be surprised that I added a healthy dose of hot sauce to my meal because even the simple life needs spice!  So that’s what my tradition is all about.

Oh yeah, I AM hoping for some green too!  And for those of you who are cringing about that old cutting board – it’s just a photo prop.  But I like it so I keep it around, mostly hanging on my wall waiting to be used for a photo.

Happy new year to you all.  I’m hoping the year brings you the comforts that make you happy.

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A beautiful bounty of home canned vegetable soup!

Last week while I was on vacation, my parents and I made vegetable soup.  A single batch recipe makes about 14 quarts of soup.  I had in mind that I wanted to share 3 quarts with friends who are always generous with me.  I hated to miss out on those 3 quarts, but giving the wholesome product of our labors was what I wanted to do.

Now, with this recipe, if you have a little extra of one thing or a little less of another it doesn’t really matter and you use what you have.  It just happened that this year the “little bit extras” yielded 3 extra quarts of soup!  If that isn’t a little life lesson, then I don’t know what is.  Don’t be afraid to share because you’ll find you always have what you need.

With that in mind, I’m sharing the recipe for the vegetable soup.  We’ve been making and canning this in my family for as long as I can remember; I know my mom’s been making it for over 50 years.  I hope it will be a favorite of your family too.

Barb’s Vegetable Soup Recipe
12-14 quarts

1 peck (2 gallons) of tomatoes (peeled, cored, and chopped)
1 quart carrots
1 pint (or one can) lima beans
1 pint (or one can) peas
1 single bag celery
3 green peppers
5 large onions
1 tablespoon paprika
½ cup salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup quick cook barley
½ cup (1 stick) butter or margarine

Clean and chop your vegetables.  If using canned peas and beans, don’t drain.  Cook the vegetables separately until just soft – don’t let them get mushy.  Boil the barley for 10 minutes.

Mix all ingredients together in a big pot and cook until it begins to boil.  After it’s at a boil, cook for 10 minutes.

Fill your prepared jars and, using a pressure canner, bring pressure to 5 pounds and cook for 2 minutes.

If you want to pressure cook your vegetables before adding all of the ingredients together:

Pressure cook carrots and celery with ½ cup water at 5 pounds for 2 ½ minutes.
Pressure cook onions and peppers with ½ cup water at 5 pounds for 1½ minutes.
I do not advise pressuring the beans and peas – they could clog the pressure vent and cause a dangerous and messy explosion!

When I open a jar of soup to serve it, I add cooked potatoes and meat and any other veggies I choose to throw in.  I cook the potatoes in beef broth and then add my soup, meat, and veggies right to the pot.  I’m known to add a shot of hot sauce, too.

Serve with bread, corn muffins, or biscuits and some sliced cheese and you’ll have a fabulous meal.  Enjoy!

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If I had unlimited funds or even close to enough funds to do it, I’d start a school.  When I think about the field to the north, I envision heading down a road in that direction where there are trees, gardens of herbs and vegetables, fruit bushes, and of course various animals.   Chickens, goats, cows, guinea fowl, cats, dogs, and whatever else comes our way would be present.

Beyond the plantings and animals, I see various buildings – barns of course, but also large cabins with flower boxes at the windows and rocking chairs on the porches, buildings that would house classrooms, workshops, offices, and a small shop where we can sell some of the products that we would make here year around.

What would we teach here at the school?  The traditional arts that are so rare to find these days.  I would bring in artisans and craftsmen to teach the lost skills of chair caning, blacksmithing, quilting, candlemaking, soapmaking, herbalism, distilling and brewing, weaving, furniture making,  how to bake breads and make cheeses, and much, much more.  All of those skills that used to be part of the lives of our ancestors would come to life again at the hands of masters and students.   I would love to go to “camp” at a place like this and surely there are others.  I know.  I know if I build it they will come.

It sounds like a huge undertaking but I’ve had this dream in my heart and my brain for so long now that I see it clearly.  And the truth of the matter is, I already know the people who could teach most of the classes and those people know other people.   I would set up a schedule of classes and bring in people to teach those I, or members of my family, can’t teach.  Our students would come to stay for varying periods of time – 2-3 days or perhaps even a couple of weeks.  Those who wanted a reduced rate on their stay could work in the gardens or help with some sort of maintenance to help pay for their tuition.

Who are those students?  Ahh, they are a varied bunch:  business people who want to have a few days at a slower pace, families who want to get a taste of some of the skills needed for homesteading, retirees who are looking for a new hobby or talent to keep busy, and people like me who just love to learn and learn about the traditional skills.

I have heard of a place such as this and I would love to attend some time but what I really want is to have it all here.  Where I can look out and know I’m part of a revival and that I’m making a difference in the way people live their lives, if only for a day.  Here.  Where I could look out over Swisher Hill School of Traditional Arts  and smile.

Oh yes, I have this dream…

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Easy Tomato-Cucumber Salad

I’m joining some of my friends in a Cucumber Blog Party and my first submission is my lazy version of Tomato-Cucumber Salad.  I don’t usually measure anything when I cook so adjust the recipe to suit your taste.

Lazy Tomato-Cucumber Salad

2 large tomatoes, diced
1 cucumber, diced
1/2 – 1 tsp dillweed
10 Tbsp dressing – I prefer buttermilk ranch or homemade blue cheese dressing
a good handful of roasted sunflower seed kernels

Mix it all together and put in the fridge to chill and meld the flavors.  Or just eat it immediately, like I usually do.  That’s why the photo above doesn’t have any sunflower kernels in the salad – I made some this morning but ate it all before I took a photo!

It looks prettier if you use a lemon zester and don’t take all of the peel off of the cucumber before you dice it but that’s entirely up to you.  Enjoy!

Want to see more of the fabulous Cucumber Blog Party recipes?  Check these out!
Creamy Cucumber Salad from Maryanne
Refreshing Cucumber Cocktails from Becky
Tzatziki Cucumber Spread from Cindy
Cucumber Lime Salsa from Tina

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Blackberry Cordial blooming among the vines

The weekend’s not over yet, but already I’m considering this a great one.

Yesterday I met my mom at the Clinton Farmer’s Market and then we headed to the Urbana Farmer’s Market.  I wanted to get some blackberries from Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery but was afraid they’d all be gone by the time we got there… Laurel to the rescue!  My friend Laurel, who is also a soapmaker, sells her soap at the market so she picked up 4 pints of blackberries for me.  Yum!  Thank you Laurel!

I visited with Laurel and her hubby for about an hour while mom was at the fabric store keeping them from economic hard times.   I didn’t buy anything but the blackberries but that wasn’t for lack of wanting!  I did intend to get some pupcakes for my 4-legged babies but I forgot.  (It’s that Etch-A-Sketch memory again!)  I wanted to get some of the gorgeous flowers that were all around, and some cheese but I will get some the next time I’m there.  I was watching my pennies this weekend and the real reason for the trip was to see Laurel.  I hadn’t seen her in a very long time and I missed her.

From the market mom and I went to an estate sale in Decatur where everything was marked 1/2 off by the time we arrived.  Got some good stuff – simple items but they made me happy.    I got a couple of small paperback booklets on identifying wildflowers and plants, a side rail off of a doll bed that I will hang from the wall as a drying rack for herbs and garlic, a picture that is the same as one Grandma Olive had in her kitchen, and a pair of Snowflake Obsidian bookends.  The bookends are very large and heavy and I almost didn’t buy them.  My love of rocks, geology, and nature in general won out and I’m glad I brought them home.  Some areas of the bookends are very smooth and glass-like, some are duller, and some is left in the natural uncut/unpolished rock.  Here’s a bad photo of them.  Maybe when I get them set up with books I’ll take another one.

Snowflake Obsidian Bookends

So, at the end of Saturday:  New treasures found, blackberries made into Blackberry Cordial (now 6 weeks of anticipation), time spent visiting with friends, and a wonderful day out with my mom which ended with a ride through the country and around the lake.  How can it not be counted as a great weekend?  I hope you’re having a great weekend too!

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