Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Fall Forage I Was Too Lazy To Post - Cattail Flour

Last fall while wandering the woods behind our building I found a path that went right down to the river's edge next to a stand of cattails. 
 I had always read that cattail roots were a great source of flour so I decided to root around in the muck. I took a garden weasel, a bucket, and some hand shears to see what I could find.  After a short learning curve I was able to pick out a few choice roots.
Covered in muck I dragged them back to the picnic table and gave them a quick scrub.
The hard part was keeping the muck out of the broken ends and the smashed sections.  I washed them better in the sink and then peeled the outer layer off of them, discarding the bits that had gotten muddy.
I found at this point the easiest way to separate the starch from the pulp was to immerse them in water and then just work all the fiber until the starch falls out, then decant and dry.  I also tried drying the roots then mashing the flour off it, this was much more labor intensive though there was a color difference in the flour.
You can see the dried then separated on the left.

I had also tried boiling sections of the root, this didn't do anything to help the starch fall off but it did cook it into something resembling a potato with fibers in it.  If I were lost in the woods this would probably be the best way to turn those cattail roots into something palatable.  I might also try in the future to make chicha using this method, it will probably be way easier than chewing on all that dried cornmeal.

Early Boxelder (Maple) Sugaring, I Make My Own Spiles.

Looking at the weather forecast last week I saw the upcoming week's temperatures would cycle in the range that is good for sugaring maples.  I have been procrastinating buying spiles for about a month now, and last Thursday I decided I would try to make my own out of some scrap tubing I had lying around.
Here is what I came up with.  I would say it was better than paying a couple dollars each but I broke my bandsaw blade in the process.  A bit of scrounging and 4 extension cords later I headed out to the treeline and installed it in a boxelder tree growing out back.
After installing it I promptly forgot about it until Sunday morning.  I headed out to check the pail.  It had collected a quart of sap, not much but enough to see if there was a decent sugar content.  I boiled it down on the stove until it was very thick and then stuck it in a 250° oven to drive the rest of the water off.
There was my yield out of that first quart, 3/8oz.  This would work out to 1.5oz/gallon of sap.  The Lohman's maples yielded 2oz/gal in previous averages, and the previous time I sugared this particular tree I got an amazing 4oz/gal, though reading through previous posts I only yielded 2 gallons of sap (and I can't remember if I got more after that post.)  I suspect the yield was low because it is so early in the season.  In the 2 intervening days I found about a quart each day, and that little jar is now full to the top of sugar.  I have yet to weigh that but I will give weekly totals as this season goes on.

I personally prefer to take the sap all the way to sugar because the first time I sugared maples some of my syrup got moldy.  In a sugar state it is a lot more shelf stable, and I could always rehydrate it into syrup if I wanted.
Oh, and for Sharon who asked about bird poop getting in the bucket, it seems ants are a bigger problem.  Filtration is still the solution.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Here We Go Again!

Peter sent me a text last night.

He wants to run the original Starting from Scratch challenge.  Therese and Kathy also agreed to join.

The challenge will take place August 27th through September 2nd, 2018.

Collecting will commence immediately. 

Anything participants can farm, forage, fish, or hunt is allowed.  Nothing purchased is permitted.  Trading between participants IS permitted.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Making Cheese. From Scratch. With Things In Your Kitchen.

A few times during the last challenge I experimented with making cheese out of milk on the ragged edge.  Since then I have done a little more experimenting, and here are my results.

Ingredients: Old milk, vinegar, salt.

I used whole milk and waited until it had expired by 8 days, never having opened it.  I had previously used partial gallons that were near spoilage, but in this case I wanted to determine the yield on 1 gallon to accurately calculate the yield.

For 1 gallon of milk, add 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar.  Add salt too, I don't know how much becuase I didn't add enough.

Put it in a pot. Stir it for a while.  No, just keep stirring.  I promise it will eventually turn into cheese.

See? There it is getting all clumpy.  When the background fluid (the whey) looks pretty clear you're done stirring.

Now dump it into a collander lined with cheese cloth.  drain as much whey off as you can.

Tie the bundle, cover it with a plate and put a weight on top.  I used a pizza tray with holes in the bottom and my SFS Hammer of Victory as the weight. 

A few hours later (I think I left it for 2 or 3) you have a very crumbly cheese.  Yield on 1 gallon of whole milk was about 17oz. 

Sure, you could age it for weeks in optimal conditions, or you could just build a smoker and chuck it in.  I had previously smoked some queso fresco I bought in the store and knew it would work well.

Raw cheese goes in 

Smoked cheese comes out.

It should have come out better but it was 20 degrees out with a driving wind when I put the smoker outside, and the chamber was a little too cool to melt it consistently.  I ended up

How does it taste? Not salty enough.  I think I only added a few tablespoons to the gallon so if you're trying yourself go from there.

Was it a good value?  No.  Shopping at the store the other day, 8oz blocks of cheese were on sale for $1.69.  The milk was $2.89/gal and yielded about a pound, so that 's 49c for the labor, fuel, and cheese cloth.  I would do this again with milk about to expire or to say I made cheese but not because of the savings over store bought product.

Oh, and here's a video of the pot close to the end.  Riveting, I know!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Apples are IN!!!

A family friend has an orchard.  He invites us to come and pick apples for free every year.  Mom, Carolyn and I went apple picking on Monday morning.  Carolyn and I picked from one tree and didn't even put a dent in the amount of apples still on the tree.  There were SO many apples that some of the branches were almost reaching the ground.  We didn't pick for a real long time as I had to go to work. We'll probably go back on Sunday for more!!!  I LOVE applesauce.  That's a good thing because I made and traded so much for the last challenge that the rest of the challenge participants are tired of applesauce.  More for ME!!!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Is anybody out there?  Too bad we are not involved in the challenge now.  I got my first harvest of beans (both purple and green-see picture), tomatoes and pea pods.  I have tons of garlic, onions, leeks, eggplant, celery, lots more tomatoes, beans, squash and plenty of herbs still to come.  Oh, I forgot about the numerous tomatillo plants that seem to come from nowhere every year.  Lots of sage, mint, basil, lavender, and sorrel as well.  Unfortunately, the robins eat most of the strawberries as soon as they show signs of getting red.  The pear tree is loaded with pears as well.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Final Tally, Final Notes

$365.01.  That's $4.10 per day, $2.05 per person per day.  Translating lunches we give to those who do work for us into per diems, it would bring the average to about $1.75.

If we started again (which I am not going to do) I am confident that $50 per person per month is possible.  I learned a lot, made a few mistake purchases (why did I spend $1 on frozen spinach when there is a can of spinach here!  Why did I pay $1.99 for a 2-liter, ever?  The list goes on...)

I realize this blog has not been very interesting to follow during this challenge.  It was not a romantic challenge like the previous two.  It did not harken back to a time long forgotten when we used sticks to hunt game. This challenge was about being poor, but being smart about being poor.

Restaurants, particularly fast food, offer food that is cheap and convenient.  It is really bad for you.  You don't know until you spend the time eating quality food for a few months that you come to realize this.  For less money you can create a higher quality of food in that room next to the dining room, the kitchen.  The dining room, by the way, is the one with the big table and all the bills stacked on it.  You can pay those bills by saving money on food!

Here is my very practical advice to you, if you are trying to save money on food.

1) Find websites for the stores around you.  You're obviously capable of getting on the internet, or else you wouldn't be reading this blog.   In our area we have a local chain called Apples, a regional chain called Marc's, a Save-A-Lot, several Dollar General and Family Dollar stores, and a GFS.  There are other stores nearby as well, I don't shop there are their food carries premiums.  All of these stores publish their circulars on line.  I bookmarked them on my phone, so I just check them all once I made my list.

2) Pay attention to who stocks your needs, cheapest.  I don't super coupon, I don't even regular coupon.  I still managed a $60 person/month budget.  We drink a lot of soda, for example.  We decided per fluid ounce 2-liters would be far more economical.  At $1.99 for a 2-liter (a fairly common price point here) you would basically get four and a half free cans over buying $6 12-packs.  I wish, in retrospect, that I had bought all of the Sunkist the Dollar General had at $.88/2-liter a few weeks ago!

3) Never buy boneless skinless anything.  Chicken is an excellent meat source.  One local store often carries it for $.49/lb, another $.59/lb, and another $.69/lb.  They usually come in 5lb o 10lb bags, sometimes frozen, sometimes fresh.  Get over the idea that white meat tastes better, it doesn't if you prepare it correctly.  And all that bone and skin? The bones make the best soup stock you ever had, and the skin fries up delicious.  I will in the future post my recipe for soup.

4) Stock up on things when they are cheap, but only if you will use them or they store well.  Milk always spoils in our refrigerator.  Always.  Cheese holds up for a lot longer, and so does sour cream.  Cheese has the added bonus of being freezable.  Once you're at this a bit you will be better able to anticipate your needs and how long supplies will last you. Potatoes, for example, are used in heavy rotation here.  I was looking at the sales flyers for my shopping trip tomorrow (as I am in the habit now) and I am struggling because I cannot find what I consider a good enough deal on potatoes!  Buy small amounts of the very perishables as you need them, and wait to purchase more rugged goods until they are on sale.

5) Keep track of your money.  Budgeting is a practical skill that not enough people employ.  Whatever your allowance is, just write it down and then map out how to use it most effectively.  If you do the math there in the store (bring a calculator if it doesn't happen in your head) you can figure out by the pound or by the ounce what is cheapest (or, if you've looked at the circulars like I suggested in #1, you'll already know going in.)

6) STOP GOING OUT.  As mentioned we went out to visit with a friend last week, and went to a local tavern.  We had dinner beforehand to reduce our expense.  It still cost $17, for 4 drinks!  Even the most premium of delicious beers, Kentucky Bourbon Barrel, is only $12.99 for 4 drinks at the store.  Using my extreme price comparing skills, I could buy 4-16oz 6-packs of Molson Ice and a 24oz Honey Brown (yes, I even price shopped the most cost-effective beers, and that comes out to 2-1/8 gallons.)  Even not on the subject of beer, dining out is expensive, and the food is usually of a middling quality.  Cooking is labor intensive, without a doubt. You'll find a sharp increase in quality and an equally sharp decrease in expense.

As a closing note, on February 5th I had a doctor's appointment.  Just a routine appointment, nothing of interest.  I weighed 217-3/4lbs when I went in there.  After 3 months, never being hungry, simply shopping thrifty and cooking our meals, I am 8lbs lighter today.  Jessica has lost over 20lbs, and had to go buy new pants because she can take her old ones off without unbuttoning them. Though we aren't going to keep to such a shoestring budget, we are going to continue to eat like this.  This challenge took a long enough time to change our fundamental habits and not just feel like a crash diet.

I shall see you all in perhaps a week, when I will share some of my cooking knowledge with you.