Category Archives: Life on the Farm

Keeping Your Sour Dough Alive and Using It!

Sourdough Starter

Active Starter has lots of bubbles

25 years ago my mother gave me a start of Sour Dough Starter.  She got it from a friend the previous year who got hers from a friend and I am sure that it could have come from a longer line then that.  I would love to know if the history went farther back than that, but at least I have a 27 year history behind my starter.  I have heard of starters of 100 plus years old.  One could start their own each time they make sourdough, but I think keeping the starter alive is somewhat of a rugged pioneer spirit.  And, I think the flavor is fuller then a new batch. 

Sourdough is a fermented dough that was traditionally found in mining camps, chuck wagons and it was a staple for pioneers.    In the pioneer days yeast was hard to come by and when it was available, it was almost always dead from the extreme conditions.  Supplies were so precious and the use of an active Starter was always dependable.  Sourdough has always intrigued me, even though it is such a simple, but yet rustic process.

If you can’t obtain an heirloom or close to heirloom starter (mine has a few years to go), the next best thing is to make your own.  Combine 2 cups cooled potato water (made from boiling potatoes with skins) 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 cups all-purpose flour (white or wheat).  Beat by hand until you have a smooth, creamy batter.  Keep this in a crock or bowl of at least 8 cup capacity so your starter will have room to grow.  Active sourdough starter will have large bubbles and double in size.  Cover with a clean cotton or linen cloth or a lose fitted lid.  Make sure you don’t seal the container off airtight or you will be looking for an exciting explosion of dough all over your kitchen.  Set your starter aside in a warm place for 3 days to begin fermentation.  The starter can be used at this point as long as you have nice big bubbles, but it’s best to wait a few more days to have a more active starter and better “sourdough” flavor.  At this point feed your starter with equal parts water and flour everyday to every other day depending on how often you use it.  You will have to discard all but 1/4 cup of the starter each time you feed if you didn’t use it for making bread.  I don’t always make sourdough bread, so I will feed it and put it in the frig for a couple of weeks and let it go dormant.  Don’t let it go more than 3 weeks without feeding it or you could loose it’s vitality.  When storing in the frig I always feed with white flour rather than wheat because wheat will go rancid faster.  To feed it just pull it out, bring it to room temperature and then feed as above and you should be ready to make bread the next day. 

The night before you make your bread, feed the starter and cover with a towel.  Overnight the wild yeasts will develop.  This will be your leaven.  By morning your starter should smell sweet in an overripe fruit sort of way.  You can always test your starter by dropping a spoonful of starter into a luke warm bowl of water.  If it sinks, it’s not ready.  If it floats, it’s ready. 

Basic Country Loaf:  I like to start my bread in the early morning so I have enough time for resting and rising.  In a large bowl add 700 grams (I like to weigh my bread dough ingredients) of luke warm water and 200 grams of leaven (starter).  Mix to disperse the starter.  Add 1,000 grams flour (80/20 white/wheat if desired).  Mix Thoroughly by hand until you do not see any bits of dry flour.  Let the dough rest 25 to 40 minutes.  Don’t skip the resting period!  After resting period, add 20 grams of salt and 50 grams of warm water to the dough.  Incorporate the salt with your hands.  Fold the dough on top of itself and place dough in a bowl for its first rise.  Cover with a cloth and place in a warm room, 78 degrees  for 3 to 4 hours.  Dough will be rather sticky.  Turn out on a floured work service and start to knead with a dough spatula.  Use as little flour as possible.  Divide the soft dough in half and start to shape by folding dough into the center and creating a smooth surface on top side. Place dough on a floured pizza/bread paddle or in a cast iron pan, folded side down and cover with a cloth.  Let rise for 2 to 3 hours.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees. If using a paddle and pizza stone make sure your stone is also preheated.  Once dough has risen, slash tops with a very sharp knife or dough slicer.  Slide into oven on stone or cover with a lid for the cast iron pan.  Splash oven with water to create steam.  I use a an old cast iron pan with lava rocks preheated and at the time of adding the bread I will quickly pour in 2 cups of water to create steam.  You have to be very careful not to burn yourself when doing this, but it makes the best chewy crusts ever.  Bake  until the color of the crust is deeply carmelized, 20-30 minutes or longer if you want a strong crust.

Nothing beats the smell of fresh bread!

A couple tricks of the trade:  Never use metal to stir, store or rise your dough.  Metal causes a chemical reaction with sourdough.  Don’t use tap water unless it filters out the chlorine.  I feel that when using chlorinated water the sourdough never bubbles as well.  If you feel like you can’t feed your starter for a long while you can dehydrate some of your starter on wax paper sheets, then powder it and store in an airtight container in the freezer for up to a year.  I do this anyway just in case I lose my starter for some reason, I will always have a back up.

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Filed under A little bit of Old Fashion, Life on the Farm

Long Winter’s Nap, Not So Long

I love this time of year when I can settle down with a good book or seed catalog, near the crackling wood burning stove.  Casper (the perfect cat) nestles into my lap, my dog Sage warming my feet and wanting more attention then the cat is getting.  Inside projects are getting finished that got pushed aside for several months of the year for gardening chores.  I love winter months.  But the real side of me is still yearning for those warmer winter days here in Southern Utah.  Freezing by night and comfortable by day.  These are days I gather leaves, turn compost and will be on the look out for that first narcissus to poke its leaves through the cold hard ground.  Sometimes we get an early bloom at the first of January on the Southeast facing side of the house.  What a welcome sight and a sweet fragrance they put off.  This is the time when I take mental notes of what needs to be done, what I aspire for next year and what beauty I can add to the garden or flower beds.  I watch over my fruit trees seeing what branches need to be removed due to old age or wind damage.  It’s time to prune the grape vines and make grape-vine wreaths with the long spindly cuttings, feed those hungry birds that depend on me for their winter food.  The vegetable garden still has many living things that require watering during dry spells such as the leeks, garlic, and the greens that are under row cover.  One can get so much enjoyment walking through a winter garden, you just have to look a little deeper.  A garden gives so much this time of year and asks hardly nothing in return.  Not much care required.  A break from weeding and what seems like constant watering.  With a root cellar full of a bountiful harvest from summer  saying,  job well done and all the fresh greens we can eat from under protective cover in the garden during the cold winter months gives us satisfaction until new spring crops.  I spend much of my time in the greenhouse this time of year.  It won’t be long before hundreds and sometimes thousands of little pots will be sprouting there first little leaves so green and healthy.  The first session of early crops were just started from seed this week such as brocoli, kohlrabi, kale and other greens.  The smell of the citrus blooming while the Meyer lemons are almost ready to pick entices me to come back soon to the greenhouse.  Who says winter is dull.  It’s only as dull as we make it.  Grant it, I don’t live in a very cold climate where the snow drifts make it impossible to visit the garden.  I think a winter garden should have interest and a mysterious side to it. 

This is such a great time to plan your next years garden.  This year I will be planting only heirloom varieties in my vegetable garden and careful planning will ensure I don’t miss a beat.  Sketch out your garden.  Include crop rotation, succession plantings, leave room to try a new variety this year, add some interest to your usual planting by adding herbs here and there.  Go walk through your garden and get inspired.  Plan on the best garden ever!  Try new flowers in your flower garden, pop some in your veggie beds.  Add veggies to your flower beds for even more interest.  I love to see Tuscan Kale grown amongst pink, red or purple flowers.  Eggplant is such a colorful and outstanding accent. What a better way to make an edible flower garden.  I love perennials, but you can’t beat some old-fashioned heirloom flowers like ‘Kiss Me Over The Garden Gate” over the garden gate!  Try some new long-term shrubs this spring for next years winter garden like dogwoods popped in a few places.  Their beautiful red twigs on cold winter days add so much visual color to an otherwise bleak garden.  Choose shrubs that have berries through the winter time like Winter Berry, Holly or Snowberry.  They are great summer time fillers, but flashy winter time thrillers.  Enjoy winter, embrace it, because spring, summer and hard work are just around the corner!

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Filed under Casper the Cat, Flower Gardens, Gardening, Heirlooms, Life on the Farm

Pressing Apples

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Apples are somewhat romantic to me.  From the blossoms in the spring, to the harvest in the fall.  We have 10 apple trees here on our little farm.  Some for cooking and some for fresh eating right off the tree.  Our trees are still in small production, but we cherish every last one.  About five years ago we purchased a fruit press for making apple cider.  Not only does it look neat on the porch, but it’s functional.   I read up on making great cider.  We cut up our apples into small pieces and put them in the press and ta-dah!  We had apple cider!  ?  We wish…. We cut up each apple into about 8-10 pieces, put into the press and pressed and pressed and pressed.  Drip, drip…  hum…  Out of a bushel of apple we ended up with not even a quart of hard-earned juice.   Since then we purchased a fruit crusher.  This made our job much easier.  We cut the apples into quarters for the smaller ones and eighths for the bigger apples.  We ran them through the crusher.  The crusher just simply mashes up the apples into a smaller, juicer, softer form.  Once crushed they go into the press.  Stems, seeds, skins and all.  When the apples have been through a crusher they produce so much more cider and the crank turns so much easier.  Once you see that liquid gold come out of the spout from the press, your work has become pleasure.  You can line your apple press with cheese cloth, but I don’t.  It does help hold in all the pulp better.  We get about 3 1/2 gallons to two bushel doing it this way.  Of course this will depend on the type of apples used and if we let them sweat or not. Once we have pressed all the apples, I  strain the cider and pour it into half-gallon Ball jars.  I freeze most of it so we will have apple cider all year.  Leave a space for expansion.  Fresh apple cider will only last about a week in the refrigerator so don’t forget to use it up.  Well, how could you?

What should you do with all that leftover mess?  The leftovers, skins, cores, seeds, stems and pulp is called “Pomace”.  Fern my cow and Ivy my goat are delighted to see this rare treat.  Stock relishes pomace, but if you have large amounts you shouldn’t feed it all to them at once because it can cause diarrhea.  It can be kept in a cool place for a day or just toss the rest into the compost pile and mix it in. 

Apple Types for Making Cider

 A sweet and tart mix of apples seem to always turn out the best tasting.  There are thousand of apple varieties and just to grab a mix will sometimes give you an overpowering taste.  It really seems to have some science to getting just the right blend.  I asked an old-time apple farmers and cider maker what his mix is and he so kindly shared his knowledge.  2 parts Winesap, 1 part Johnathan and 1 part Red delicious.  This is a great combo, but me being me, I always add a few different types of odd ball apples in the batch.  This year I added 6-8 apple of these varieties;  Pink Airlee, Banana and Fuji.  With just these few additions, our cider seemed to have a little more mellow flavor.   Always use mature, ripe, sound apples.  Do not use unripe or windfalls.  Immature apple make inferior cider and windfalls are loaded with undesirable bacteria which will contribute unpleasant off-flavored juice.  One trick I have learned to get the most out of your apples is to let them sit, or “sweat” for a week or so.  This will mellow and improve the flavor of the cider as well as increase the yield.  Make sure you clean your apple well and get organic if possible. 

Hot Cider, or also Known as Wassail

On cold nights I love make up a batch of hot sipping cider.  I love the taste from our homemade cider so much better than the store grade.  Besides, it’s so much better for you, but if you don’t make your own, look for cider and not the juice.  I never measure, so you don’t have to be exact with this and all of the spices are whole.  2 cinnamon sticks, 6 cloves, 2 star anise, 10 allspice,  1-2 T dried orange peel.   If you don’t have dried orange peel you can use clean fresh orange peels or even add fresh orange juice.  About a 1/2 cup should do it.  Put all the spices into a piece of 6×6″ cheese cloth, tie off and toss in 1/2 gallon of cider.  Add 2-3 T brown sugar or honey can be used, depending on your taste and simmer for about 10 minutes.  I don’t think I have ever timed it.  I just wait until it smells good!

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Filed under Fruits from the orchard, Life on the Farm, Preserving, Recipes from the Garden

Cooler Weather Approaching

Ahhh Fall!  What’s not to enjoy?  Isn’t this the best season of all?  I enjoy fall time as the leaves begin to turn, weather  becomes cool and pleasant, mornings are crisp and the fall rains start to moisten the ground.  Gardening chores are at a low roar. Casper the Cat enjoys when I start to slow down and spend more time writing my blogs, studying gardening books and planning next years garden as he settles in to add some assistance by either sleeping on the keyboard or in the middle of the my book.  The hummingbirds are gone except an Annas hummingbird that stays over winter here on our little farm.  The chicken egg production is almost up to 100 percent.  Fall crops are just starting to set and just a few weeks out for fresh new greens.  It’s time to harvest the sweet potato crop before it freezes.  Garlic, leeks and shallots will be planted this month.  Pretty pansies, snaps and chrysanthemums are blooming.   Pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkins…….  And the smell and sounds of fall!  Wouldn’t you agree?  This has to be the best time of year!

This is the time of year I love to cook and create foods that make you feel good inside.  Pumpkins are abundant during autumn and I love to decorate with them as well as cook with them.  Heirloom pumpkins are really just a pretty squash that taste great.  If you didn’t grow any this year check out your local farmers market and grab a dozen or so!  They are loaded with vitamins and minerals and they last for several months in cool temps.

Here is a simple and great side dish perfect for fall! 

Crusted Pumpkin Wedges

Ingredients: 1 1/2 lbs pumpkin, 1/2 freshly grated parmesan cheese, 2 T dried breadcrumbs, 6 T finely chopped fresh parsley, 1 1/2 tsp finely chopped thyme, grated zest of 2 large lemons, 2 large garlic cloves crushed, salt, white pepper, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup sour cream, 1 T chopped dill. 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  

Cut pumpkin into 3/8 inch thick slices and lay them flat on a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper.  Mix together parmesan, breadcrumbs, parsley, thyme, half the lemon zest, garlic, and a small amount of salt and pepper.  Brush pumpkin with the olive oil and sprinkle with the crust mix making sure to cover all the pumpkin.  Pat the mix down to hold it in place.  Place the pan in the oven and roast for about 30 minutes or until tender.  If crust darkens too much you can tent with foil.  Mix sour cream with the dill and some salt and pepper.  Serve pumpkin warm with a sprinkle of remaining lemon zest and a dollop of sour cream on the side.

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Filed under Casper the Cat, Life on the Farm, Recipes from the Garden