What we think we know…

This post is part of the Simple Lives Thursday blog hop at A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa, hosted by the beautiful, talented, incredibly intelligent, and all-around fabulous Diana!

There’s a really interesting – sad, sort of telling, but really – bottom line – very pathetic – conversation happening over on our PDX Backyard Chickens Yahoo Group.

A member of our group (and one of my own fabulous neighbors!) gifted a loved-one with fresh – just laid, probably not been out of the chicken more than hours fresh – eggs from her backyard flock of chickens.

The loved one – suspicious of the thick shell and brightly colored yolks – threw said gifted eggs in the trash – sure that they were not as safe as the factory farmed eggs she was accustomed to purchasing for a song at the local grocery store. Yeah – you know – those eggs. Eggs like those half a BILLION that were recalled of late due to a very real risk of salmonella poisoning.

How have we – as a society – strayed so far from real food?

From knowing what a real egg from an actual healthy chicken looks, feels, and tastes like?

How can it be that a local teacher has informed her students that backyard chickens are at higher risk for salmonella – which she, I’m assuming emphasized for dramatic effect for her high school aged students, would quite potentially kill the consumers thereof.

UGH!

It makes me mad.

But maybe more than that – it makes me sad.

Remember this?

Do you see the reference to the date there? 1918.

My Grammy was 6 years old then.

For her – growing up in town in Booneville, Arkansas – it was normal, matter-of-fact, routine that they would have a flock of backyard chickens. Some for meat. Some for eggs. In fact, she told a hilarious story about how one day she was left in charge – as a teenager – to prepare a meal for her Father and Grandfather (both of whom worked on the railroad) and would be home for their noonday meal – expecting a roasted chicken dinner. Both men came home to a squawking – beakless – young roo voicing his outrage around their yard – and a vegetarian meal! She’d tried – she’d seen her Mom harvest a chicken several times a week her entire life – but her aim was not what her Mother’s was! (Her Papa came to the rescue, and roasted chicken was on the menu for the evening meal that evening!) She said when word of it got out pretty much everyone in town had a good laugh – with her, of course, but at her too – because – hello!? – who doesn’t know how to take a chicken from the backyard and get it to the table?!

Um – nowadays – pretty much everyone.

Not only can we not harvest a chicken that has been healthfully raised (as opposed to what is the norm – warning this video is graphic).

I’m always amazed when I take Americans to Spain and give them a tour through the Central Market – sort of like an indoor farmer’s market for those who have never been fortunate enough to experience this.

Sights like this:

and this…

are the norm.

Americans are shocked to see animals being butchered – in plain sight – and more times than not – really don’t know how to handle it.

I’ve had grown adults break out in tears – because they’d never put two and two together that the cute picture of the little farm animal in the advertisement had anything to do with the item that ended up on their plate.

How have we gotten to this point?

What can we do to change it?

I – for one – want to make sure my children know and understand that their food comes at a price – and not just financial.

I want them to respect the process that goes into raising healthy food – be it animal or vegetable.

And I’ll continue on – committed to healthy, local, organic, sustainably grown REAL food.

…and pasturing the girls, and keeping them happy, healthy, and hilarious!

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No potato famine here!

Hooray! Simple Lives Thursday, and another great way to save a few pennies with a simple, basic investment of a little time and effort.

Every summer and fall – as long as we’ve lived here – a group of gleaners has come through and asked permission to glean the leftovers from our blackberry bushes, pear trees, and garden. We’ve always been happy to oblige.

Some months ago one of the gleaners stopped by. I assumed he was coming to buy eggs – we get a lot of people dropping by to buy eggs. Instead, he came to ask if he could gift us with something. He wanted to know if our girls (i.e., the chickens) would like to have the “leftovers” of their gleanings. It would typically involve produce that was still not really bad, just not as pretty as you would typically see at the grocery store. He mentioned there’d be a lot of greens. The girls LOVE greens. I said, “Yes! Of course, we’d love to receive those!”

Since that time, at least once a week he drops by a box – or four! – of gleanings that the girls have great delight in greedily consuming. Sometimes, however we are the happy recipients. Like a few weeks ago – when I was canning beans – and he had some lovely yams and several cantaloupes (the best I’ve tasted in years!) for us. In return, I share eggs with him now and then.

This past week he dropped by a box that had quite a few perfectly lovely potatoes in it – and I simply couldn’t bring myself to do anything but find a way to work them up and put them to good use!

It’s a lovely mixture of red potatoes, white potatoes, and Yukon gold potatoes. What a blessing!

At first I thought I might pressure can them. But then I thought about the fact that – in reality – we don’t really use canned potatoes – ever.

One thing we DO use a lot of, though, is hash browns. Have I ever mentioned how fabulous, genius, or absolutely amazing my husband is? ‘Cause if I haven’t lately – he is – all of those things. And one of the things that everyone looks forward to every Sunday morning is the great breakfast John makes for us. It always includes hash browns, fresh scrambled and cheesy eggs, as well as bacon or sausage or ham. Yummy.

So, I determined to turn my box of bonus potatoes into hash browns for the freezer. And why the heck not? The large bag of them we buy at the grocery store runs us close to $5. Free hash browns will – without a doubt – taste all the better! Right?! Right!

And honestly, it’s a breeze to go from box of potatoes to bags of hash browns for the freezer.

I gathered my food processor, my ridiculously large mixing bowl and cake pan (both featuring prominently when I recently made granola), a cutting board, a potato peeler, a knife, a bowl, and a colander.

And then I jumped right in – peeling potatoes.

You might think me slightly deranged, but I actually enjoy peeling potatoes. So this task was not at all dreaded by myself. I just put on some good music and set to work. I should also interject here that having a potato peeler that you love does help considerably. I love mine. It’s old, it’s rusty, and not very pretty. In fact, some years ago certain individuals who shall remain nameless determined that I needed a newer, prettier, fancier potato peeler. Didn’t like it. So they tried again. Didn’t like the next one either. They tried hiding my favorite potato peeler. I went out and bought another one just like it. They gave up and now I have TWO of the good potato peelers – and that makes me smile. 🙂

Okay – peeled the potatoes…

…lots of potatoes. And amazingly – out of all of those potatoes – only one was bad – and only a portion of it was. I’ve had worse outcomes on potatoes I’ve paid a premium for!

It’s important to note here that you want to keep these potatoes in cold water. In fact, they need to stay covered in cold water. I left the water trickling over them and rotated the potatoes so that the newest additions got submerged.

Once they were all peeled and had soaked in the cold water for at least 5 minutes, I transferred them to a bowl – well, best as I could, there were really too many for the bowl, so a few had to wait their turn.

Being the hash brown loving kid that he is, BiL decided to help out.

He’s male. There’s a power tool involved. And his favorite potato dish factored in. He was thrilled to help!

Looks proud of his work, doesn’t he?

Once potatoes were shredded, they got transferred to the now empty ridiculously large mixing bowl.

Once again, run cold water over them. The great thing about this bowl is that it doesn’t really quite fit in the sink – it just balances, and is suspended a bit. It works out beautifully for this task, as the weight of the water allows it to tip just a teensy bit to allow the starchy-water to escape.

I made sure to sink my hands in there ever few minutes to make sure that the cool water gets to completely circulate over every surface of potato.

After about 10 minutes of rinsing, I transferred the washed, shredded potatoes to a paper towel-lined colander, set in a bowl:

Aren’t they pretty?

After about ten minutes of sitting in the paper towel-lined colander sitting in the bowl, I transferred the potatoes to my cake pan – also lined with paper towels – four layers of paper towels:

Two loads of shreds fit into the pan – just barely. I left them for about 20 minutes to dry out some.

At the conclusion of that 20 minutes, I pulled out my kitchen scale and aimed to get about 3 pounds of hash browns into each bag.

All tolled 16 pounds 13 ounces of shredded potatoes. Five bags of about 3 pounds-ish, and one with 1 pound 11 ounces.

Enough for several months of fabulous Sunday breakfast hash browns!

Hooray!

Cost: potatoes – free; 6 gallon-sized ziplock bags

Saved: about $15.00

Not bad for a little investment of time!

REAL Canned Beans

spaininiowa

I got a tip from another blogger about this great Blog Carnival going over at girlichef featuring REAL food.   And Diana has launched Simple Lives Thursday at her blog.

So totally up my alley!

Especially when I’ve been pondering things that I probably ought to have known, and well – just really didn’t!

Do you ever just buy stuff because you always have?

Does it ever rock your world when it occurs to you that you can make it at home – better, and more often than not – WAY cheaper?

Ugh! I hate that I’m such a consumer sometimes!

So… Some time ago I came across a great post over at Foodie With Family about a copy cat barbeque bean recipe. For canned barbeque beans. Said beans – according to all who have tried them – will turn all consumers into diehard fans for ever more. I read that post and recipe and suddenly the light bulb went on!

DUH!

I can buy dry beans in the bulk foods section and can beans until my little heart’s content!

I love beans.

I put them in soups…

I put them in salads…

I put them in stews…

I put them in chili…

They’re packed with tons of great stuff for you.

And I carefully monitor all of the grocery adds to see when my favorite canned beans go on sale – cause they’re not cheap! And I’m not just gonna throw a buck a can at them without thinking it through.

Especially when said beans cost me $0.49 (yes, that says forty-nine cents) a pound on sale this week in bulk foods!

Dang!

I’m SO canning beans, people!

Being a bit unsure how my experiment with canning dried beans would turn out I hit the net and did lots of reading. You know what? There are LOTS of different opinions out there on how it ought to be done. But I chose to stick with a method from my Grammy’s 1926 cookbook, which followed closely to the Ball Blue Book. I then went to the bulk foods section at the grocery store and choose about a pound of several different types of beans…

Black eyed peas

Small red beans

Black beans

Navy beans

Garbanzo beans

All tolled – given the price differentials – this about 5 pounds-ish of beans cost me about $5. I happen to have an embarrassment of riches in the canning jar/lid/ring department (Freecycle rocks!) – so no outlay of cash there. The biggest thing required? Time.

It all started last night – yes, I confess, I was still up at midnight putting said beans in bowls, filling them with water, and then covering them with plastic wrap. (Yeah, that took all of about 5 minutes – so totally not the reason I was up way too late!) These babies need to soak anywhere from 8 to 18 hours – depending on who you believe. My Ball Blue Book said 12 hours, so I went with that.

A little after noon – after I’d done dishes, and sanitized the kitchen, I set my big kettle and a saucepan to boiling.

The big kettle holds the clean canning jars, the saucepan holds the clean lids and rings. See?

Pretty much, all you gotta do from this point in time is…

Rinse the beans… You discard the liquid they’ve been soaking in, pick through and make sure you get out any discolored beans or debris that might have made it through the packing process before being marketed.

I dumped the beans from the bowl with water into a colander over the kitchen sink. Then transferred the beans back to the bowl they’d soaked in (after giving it a quick rinse), and rinsed again with cold water. Drained once again with the colander. At that point I place the colander on top of the now empty bowl, and transfer over to my work area adjacent to the stove.

Then it was time to pack the jars…

I pull a few jars out of the boiling water and put the funnel on the jar closest to the bowl of beans. These puppies are HOT – so I use silicone wrapped tongs to work with them, it’s so much easier!

I got about 1 1/2 cups of beans per pint jar. I pulled out my electronic scale to check out how it weighed in. Just bean weight – roughly 9 ounces – within about an eighth of an ounce. The important thing here is to be certain to maintain an inch head space on the jars.

Now you put 1/2 a teaspoon of salt in each jar.

And then you fill each jar with boiling water – again, maintaining that 1 inch head space.

It’s important to get rid of air pockets that may be stuck in the jar. I pull out a handy dandy chop stick and gently stir to dislodge any air. If the volume is significantly affected, then I top off with additional boiling water.

Now all you do is wipe the rims and tops of each jar, and then put the lid and band on!

We’re fortunate enough to have a 23-Quart Pressure Canner (and yes these MUST be pressure canned!) – so I packed it with the beans… It’s important to make sure you get the right amount of water in the base of the canner, too. Mine calls for 3 quarts (12 cups) of hot water. And you GOTTA have the insert in the base of the canner, too. You don’t want exploding canning jars going on, right?!

That’s two layers of pint jars in there. When you do two layers of jars like this, it’s important to use another insert between the layers. I also stagger the jars so that no jar is sitting directly over another one.

That middle jar up there- it’s a “mix” jar. I do this when I’m making jams and jellies, too. Does it ever just bug you that you never have an exact right amount – always a little too much or not quite enough? I just keep an extra jar on hand and fill it with the leftovers. Life goes on, you know? And I’ll always use them.

Once you get the canner loaded, you put the lid on and put the heat on the eye on high. You want the steam to start to build up in there. Once steam is built up enough to be exiting the vent, set a timer for 10 minutes. When that 10 minutes are up, place the regulator on the vent tube.

Pressure needs to build to 10 pounds, and pint jars need 70 minutes at that pressure.

It’s really important to set a timer when you’re doing these stages. It’s just too easy to get sidetracked and lose track, and when you’re working with a pressure canner – NOT okay.

Once the 70 minutes is up, you remove the pressure canner from the heat, making sure it’s resting somewhere on a level surface. I had John move it to the dining room table (with appropriate heat pads underneath, of course). It took about 45 minutes for the temperature to drop and the steam to release.

The unveiling….

Pretty, huh?

All-in-all, probably one of the easiest canning projects I’ve ever tackled.

For my $5 investment in beans I’ve got

6 pints of black eyed peas

4 pints of small red beans

4 pints of black beans

5 pints of navy beans

5 pints of garbanzo beans

Not bad. Not bad at all!

This will definitely NOT be the last time I can my own beans! In fact, I think I’m giving up store bought beans from here on out!

Now – I’m off to finish up canning the yams the gleaners dropped off for me this afternoon. An unexpected blessing!